Introducing Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church

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If you are wondering why my blog activity has slowed down this year, it is because we have been led of the Lord Jesus to start a church. This idea of planting a church has been years in the making for me. Having attended a number of church planting boot camps and conferences in the past, coupled with much prayer, consultation, and recent providential circumstances, we believe God has given us the green light to launch out on this endeavor. So allow me to briefly introduce you to Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church.

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As with all Christian churches, our mission is based on Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And so we state our mission this way: We exist to make and grow disciples of Jesus.

Simple and straightforward.

We are humbled and grateful that God would choose us to join other fellow Christian churches here in the southwest region of Dallas, TX (and beyond) to reach non-Christians with and grow Christians in the Good News of Jesus.

We can’t wait to share more with you in the days ahead. We are in the process of working with a webhosting company to develop our website. Until then, please connect with us on the following social media outlets:

Facebook: Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church

Twitter: @harvestfbc

We ask that you will join us in praying that God will continue to open doors of opportunity for us to share the Gospel with non-Christians, that He would continue to send Christians who will join us on mission, and that He will provide the plans, provisions, and strength we need to have a solid launch later this year.

If you would like to learn more about Harvest Fellowship, join our Launch Team, and/or financially support us, please contact us at harvestfbc@gmail.com.

Blessings to you!

Top 5 Posts of 2015

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Well, as we wrap up another year, here are the top five most-read posts (i.e., articles) from my blog this year.

#5 – Prayer and the Purposes of God

#4 – Submission Isn’t For Your Wife Only, Brother

#3 – How Long, Lord?

#2 – “Catching the Holy Spirit”

and – drumroll, please – the number one post of the year is…

#1 – Before You Date

As I bring this last post of 2015 to a close, allow me first to say thanks to each and every one of you for taking time out this year to read, share, follow, and comment on my blog. I am truly humbled and grateful. I pray that something I wrote has enlightened, enriched, and encouraged you. I hope to bring you even more content next year.

Until then, have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve.

P.S.: This year I was blessed to write and publish my second book, Husbands By Design: A Biblical Blueprint of Godly Husbands (Lucid Books). If you haven’t already done so, be sure to go to Amazon.com (click here) to take an Inside Look, read the reviews, and purchase a copy or two. Your support is greatly appreciated.

 

Jesus Is For Everybody (Sermon)

Sunday-Sermon

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of preaching God’s word at the DiscipleNow Student event and Sunday morning service of First Baptist Church (Justin, TX). This church is pastored by Dr. Roger Ferguson. The Adult and Student Minister is Shawn Finney. It was a joy to worship and fellowship with this wonderful group of believers.

If you are interested, you may listen to my sermon here.

“Catching the Holy Spirit”

Catching the HS

When you grow up and are involved in church life, you hear a lot of things, a lot of sayings, especially if you visit churches of a different denominational stripe than your own. I will never forget the time I heard someone use the phrase, “Catching the Holy Spirit.”

“Boy, did you see Sister So-and-So today? She caught the Holy Ghost during worship service today. She was shouting all over the place.”

“Wasn’t service awesome this morning? I saw you catch the Holy Spirit today when you were singing and crying.”

“The Holy Spirit must have really come upon you today because you were raising your hand during worship, which is something you rarely do.”

And the examples could go on and on. Am I about to strain at – what some would consider – a theological gnat in this post? I wouldn’t say that. However, I do think this issue is important enough to address because there are unhealthy spiritual and theological ramifications that could result for embracing such an idea.

But before we delve into this topic, I need to make something clear. Human emotions have a place in the worship of God. Psalms give evidence of this. This hymn book of Israel captures the affections we are to display in praise and worship to our God.

“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11)

“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1)

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

When centered on the character, acts, and word/gospel of God, praising and worshipping God with emotion is an appropriate response. The truth of and about God must be at the wheel of our worship (and our lives). But if we allow our emotions or feelings to occupy the driver’s seat, we can easily find ourselves spiritually careening off into terrain that is dangerous and damaging to our souls. This point may seem like I have digressed from the subject at hand. I assure you I have not because it is related to this idea of “catching the Holy Spirit,” which you will see in a moment.

Here are four potential ways in which the acceptance of this phrase “Catching the Holy Spirit” is spiritually detrimental to our lives:

It equates the evidence of God the Holy Spirit being in our lives with a specific emotion, feeling, or response.

For example, there are those who, if they do not have a certain experience during corporate worship or in their personal devotional time with Jesus (i.e., crying, a warm sensation over or in their bodies, shouting, dancing, kneeling, sitting, laughter, etc.), erroneously conclude that because they did not feel, respond, or emote a certain way in those moments that maybe they missed the move of the Holy Spirit or that he was not active among them, or, even worse, that he had perhaps departed from their lives due to sin.

Brothers and sisters, there is no doubt that when the Holy Spirit impresses the truth of Scripture (whether through song or preaching) on our hearts, we will at times emote, feel, or respond with exuberance or solemnity. But the evidence of God the Holy Spirit being present in us has more to do with the fruit we exhibit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23) than a feeling/emotion/response we experience in a worship service.

It mistakes the person of God the Holy Spirit to be that of a force or power.

The Holy Spirit is not an it, a thing, a feeling, or a power. He is the Third Person of the Godhead or Trinity. He is not something you catch, but rather someone you obey. We are not to grieve, quench, or sin against him. We walk after him. We submit to him. We revere him.

It intimates that the presence of God the Holy Spirit is primarily outside of us rather than inside of us.

To catch the Holy Spirit implies that he is primarily present outside of us. This is not how the Scripture, specifically the New Testament, speaks of his presence in our lives. We don’t have to welcome him into the room when we gather for corporate worship as the church.  He does not need to be invited into a service or into the hearts of believers. And we don’t have to worry about him leaving us. He is forever present with us because he permanently indwells us (John 14:15-17; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 1:22).

It reduces, in our minds, the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Adopting this phrase, this belief can lead us to think that the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our lives takes place largely on Sunday mornings during our designated corporate worship time. This severely limits and reduces our understanding of His work in our lives as Christians. What he does in our lives is not relegated to an hour or two on weekends, nor is it solely about giving us a feeling of euphoria. He does much more than that on and beyond Sundays.

  • He makes us into Jesus’ image.
  • He comforts us in our affliction.
  • He convicts us of our sin.
  • He illuminates our minds/hearts to understand the Scriptures and the immensity of God’s love for us in Jesus.
  • He strengthens us to serve the church (through general acts of service and the exercising of our specific spiritual gift or gifts that he has given us).
  • He guides us into the Father’s will for our lives.
  • He assures us of our salvation in Jesus.
  • He prays to the Father on our behalf.
  • He empowers us to preach the Good News of Jesus to the lost.

So, in light of this, I encourage you to retire the phrase, “Catching the Holy Spirit”, and embrace the concept Paul gives us in Ephesians 5:18 related to the Holy Spirit:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit

Being filled with the Spirit has to do with allowing yourself to be led by him (according to the Scripture) on a continual basis. It is about living life under his influence. There is no need to catch him; yielding to his control in and over your life will be just fine.

Submission Isn’t For Your Wife Only, Brother

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If there is one verse that guys have memorized, it is Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Yet many of us have misconceptions about submission and thus misapply it in the context of our marriages. Our view of submission almost, at times, seems to closely resemble the “She’s Your Queen To Be” scene from the 1988 classic movie Coming to America more than it does the Bible. Prince Akeem (played by Eddie Murphy), heir to the throne of Zamunda, is introduced to his arranged-bride-to-be, Imani Izzi (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway). Prince Akeem kindly leans over to Imani and asks to speak to her in private. He escorts her into a private chamber to have a conversation.

Prince Akeem: “So…”

Imani Izzi: “Ever since I was born, I’ve been trained to serve you.”

Prince Akeem: “Yes, I know this. But I would like to know about you. What do you like to do?”

Imani Izzi: “Whatever you like.”

Prince Akeem: “What kind of music do you like?”

Imani Izzi: “Whatever kind of music you like.”

Prince Akeem: “Look, I know what I like. And I know you know what I like because you are trained to know what I like, but I would like to know what you like. For instance, do you have a favorite food?”

Imani Izzi: “Yes.”

Prince Akeem: “Good! What is your favorite food?”

Imani Izzi: “Whatever food you like.”

Prince Akeem: “Are you saying that no matter what I tell you to do you will do?”

Imani Izzi: “Yes, your highness.”

Prince Akeem: “Anything I say you’ll do?”

Imani Izzi: “Yes, your highness.”

Prince Akeem: “Bark like a dog.”

And then the awkward hilarity commences. She complies and barks like a dog, and according to Prince Akeem’s other requests, even hops on one leg and makes a noise like an orangutan. We all know that is Hollywood, but in reality there are unfortunately men who want, expect, and even demand robotic submission from their wives. Don’t express your opinion, no matter how respectful the tone and approach, unless it is solicited. Agree with everything we do. And definitely don’t lovingly hold us accountable. Just do as we say and all will be well. This is submission, some think. It might be that way in a movie, but not in real life and especially not according to God’s script.

So my aim is simply to help us as husbands to understand biblical submission. To begin, I want to bring to the surface two common beliefs many men in general, and husbands in particular, hold to as it relates to submission, and examine them under the microscope of God’s word to see if they are true.

Submission is for Women

Is submission solely relegated to our female counterparts? In other words, is submission for women only? The answer is no. If you take a cursory read through the New Testament letters, you will discover that submission is a virtue of the Christian life and, therefore, applicable to all believers, no matter your gender.

 All Christians Submit to Jesus. Interestingly enough, in the very same passage of the verse that was just referenced at the outset of this chapter, Paul uses this idea of the church, or all Christians, submitting to Jesus as an example of how wives should submit to their husbands. He writes, “Now as the church submits to Christ…” (Ephesians 5:24a). Submission is a way of life that is to be continually exhibited by all Christ-followers, men and women alike.

All Christians Submit to their Parents. Paul commands us as children to obey our parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1; also cf. Colossians 3:20), whether we were raised by a father and mother, a single mom or dad, grandparents or some other relative, or foster parents. And even though we are married and living in our own place, this command is still valid. The dynamics of it look different now, of course. So, although we are not directly under their authority anymore, when we go home, for example, to Mom’s and/or Dad’s place, it is their house, their rules.

All Christians Submit to the Elders/Pastors of their Local Church. When we join in covenant membership with a local church, we come under the pastoral leadership, care, and preaching and teaching of those elders/pastors. The writer of Hebrews instructs all believers to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

All Christians Submit to the Governing Authorities. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, directs all of us Christ-followers in Romans 13:1ff to individually submit ourselves to the governing authorities. If there ever was a morally loose and corrupt, and religiously idolatrous, pluralistic and syncretistic government, it was the Roman Empire. And yet Paul commands the believers in that sociopolitical context to submit to the authorities. So it is for us in America and for our other brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries around the world as well. Should Christians be involved in politics to help shape and steer legislation according to God’s word? Absolutely. Is there a time for civil disobedience? I am sure there is, especially those believers who find themselves in closed countries (i.e., where the government is explicitly hostile towards Christianity). But, overall, we are to submit to, honor, and respect our governing officials and authorities, from the President to the police officer. Regardless of how democratic a government is, it will never be perfect because flawed, sinful, and even lost human beings are involved. But that does not circumvent our obedience to the Lord Jesus in submitting to the authorities he has established and sanctioned, as long as they are appropriately executing their authority according to, and informed by, God’s word.

Women Should Be Made To Submit

Quite frankly, this is just absurd. Excuse me for being passionate and straightforward when it comes to this point. But this idea of husbands feeling justified in their passive or aggressive attempts to bring their wives in subjection to them is patently unbiblical. I would even go so far as to say that if we seek to do such a thing we are sinning against God and our wives and need to repent. On what basis can I make such an indictment? Fair question. And I don’t think it will be difficult to substantiate. There is a real simple explanation. Let’s go back and read Ephesians 5:22, 24: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord….Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything their husbands.” Who does Paul address in these verses? Wives. To whom is the command directed? Wives. So who is responsible for carrying out this divine instruction? You guessed it…wives. Submission in marriage is the sacred responsibility of our wives to fulfill out of reverence for the Lord Jesus. It is up to them to see to it that they respect us (Ephesians 5:33). Did it say anywhere in those two verses about husbands forcing this upon their wives? No. Absolutely not. God will always call a foul on us when we seek to force them into submission. Any attempt to manipulate or threaten our wives into submitting to our leadership is an offense against them and God and an insidious abuse of our headship as husbands.

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Note: This article is adapted from a portion of the chapter “Understanding Submission” in my book Husbands By Design: A Biblical Blueprint of Godly Husbands. To read more, purchase your copy here.

Before You Date

My wife and I started dating in High School. Having been married for 13 years now, I sometimes look back on that time and think, God, how in the world did I end up with such a saved, solid, smart, and supportive woman?! The answer to that question is: God and God alone! It most definitely was him because I was young and dumb.

I had an example of a good woman at home in the person of my mother. And, yes, my father shared some wisdom with me (a bit at the beginning of our dating relationship and some more as we became more serious). But in all honesty, at that point in my life and in my relationship with Jesus, I really didn’t see (or care to see) the importance of what she modeled before me nor what he taught me. I was, in many respects, simply thinking and operating from a sense of infatuation. That doesn’t mean I didn’t give any thought to who we were as two individuals before we began dating; but it wasn’t nearly as spiritual, serious, and substantive as it should have been (and, yes, I believe that Christian teenagers – with guidance from his or her Christian parent(s) and/or other maturing believers – need to pray and think soberly about this aspect of life before they engage in it). Because of that, thinking retrospectively, we could have easily found ourselves caught in a toxic relationship or gingerly, with regret, attempting to pick up the fragments of our shattered hearts from a failed one…but God! Though our dating relationship began on somewhat shaky ground (and was far from perfect), God intervened.

Thank God for his grace towards the naive.

But we ought not to arrogantly presume upon it, as if God is obligated to keep us from the consequences of our sinful or foolish dating decisions, especially when we know better. For God to give us his wisdom concerning relationships (which is found in Jesus, recorded in Scripture, and often communicated through godly counsel) should be viewed by us as an act of his grace, and should not be ignored. So in that vein, I want to offer five characteristics single Christians should desire to see in the life of those whom they are interested in before they make a decision to enter into a serious dating relationship with the end goal being marriage (which is another post for another day).

Note: The Scriptures referenced in this article obviously do not, in their respective contexts, have anything to do with dating. What I have sought to do is take the selected verses and see how they might apply to this particular topic.

1. Healed

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

Has he or she turned from sin and trusted in the person and work of Jesus for salvation, for the forgiveness of sin? Do they believe in the perfect life of Jesus, his substitutionary death on the cross for our sin, and his bodily resurrection from the dead? This, by far, is the most important characteristic that should be evident in the life of someone whom you are interested in dating. How does one go about finding out this information? Here is a suggestion: Ask if he or she is a Christian. If the answer is yes, then ask – How did you become one? His or her response to this follow-up question will be telling, so listen carefully. If you hear anything other than the good news of Jesus, don’t go any further with that person. It is best that you both stay casual acquaintances or friends.

“Well, maybe God wants me to be with him to help win him to Jesus.”

“I think God is leading me to date her so that I can influence her to Jesus.”

Missionary dating is not only dangerous; it is, I would contend, also disobedient (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Don’t do it!

To date someone who is not a Christian, who has not been spiritually healed by Jesus, is to constantly be in close proximity to someone whose highly contagious sin-sickness has not been cured and is not in remission, but is actively coursing through his or her spiritual veins, which will eventually infect and affect you as well.

2. Hungry

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2)

Well, let’s just say she’s got the first characteristic. Great! But there’s more. When we are born again by grace through faith in Jesus, we become children of God. With this new birth comes a desire, a hunger for God’s word. God’s word, as Peter describes it, is pure spiritual milk, which provides the nourishment for our souls. It is the means by which we grow up into salvation. It is how we mature in Jesus.

This is why it is important to not only know if that person of interest is healed from sin in Jesus but also if he or she is hungry for God’s word. Here are some diagnostic questions to think about:

  • Does he have a growing desire to learn the Bible?
  • Does she read and study the Scripture more than just on Sunday?
  • Does he have a regular diet of the word of God?
  • Where is she getting her spiritual milk from? And is it pure or spoiled?
  • Who is he sitting under for spiritual nourishment?

It’s awesome that he or she is saved. But how is his or her appetite for God’s truth?

3. Holy

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

“So, I’ve checked, and, yes, he is healed and hungry.”

Good deal. Let’s continue then.

A mark of a maturing Christian is what is often called, total life worship. It is presenting our whole selves (actions, thoughts, desires, and speech) as living sacrifices to God – to live and do as he pleases. In short, as growing believers we will progressively live holy lives; lives that both revere and reflect Jesus. As you can see, this goes deeper than simply whether or not a person goes to church. Regularly attending corporate worship is good and is part of what God has commanded us to do, but it is definitely not all that he has required of us. Jesus rightly deserves and demands our total allegiance and the full abandonment of our lives to his will and purposes. Does your dating prospect show evidence of a life lived in continual submission to King Jesus?

4. Honest

And he told her all his heart… (Judges 16:17a)

Granted, the historical account of Samson and Delilah is nowhere near the paragon of healthy relationships. Plus, the intent of that biblical story is not to give dating tips. One thing, however, that does surface clearly in the text is that Samson eventually gives in to Delilah’s nagging, deceitful, and malicious persistence to tell her the truth about where his strength lied. I think we can at least say this: whereas Samson’s honesty got him in trouble, your honesty and that of your prospective boyfriend or girlfriend could possibly keep you out of a whole lot of trouble…with God and with each other.

Truth-telling should be non-negotiable, especially when you are on the front porch, seriously thinking about entering through the dating door. You absolutely need to know what you are about to walk into before you cross that relational threshold! Obviously, if this is your first time meeting him or her, or you have only known him or her on a casual basis, then you shouldn’t expect or require to know everything about him or her at the outset, nor should you divulge too much information about yourself out the gate. But shortly after the initial meet-up or first couple of dates, you need to start digging, especially if you are seriously and exclusively looking to date this person. He or she needs to be honest with himself or herself and honest with you, and vice-versa. “Honest about what?” you ask. Consider at least these four categories and some questions to think about and maybe even pose to him or her:

a. Family Upbringing: What was her (or his) home life like growing up, and how has that impacted who she is today?

b. Past Relationships (if applicable): How many persons has he dated before and how did the relationship(s) end?

c. Personal Habits: What does she routinely engage in? Is that activity life-giving or life-draining; fun or foolish; wise or wasteful; positive, negative, or neutral; righteous or sinful? And what type of effect might it have on you if the two of you decided to get together?

d. Life Aspirations: What does he want to do at this juncture of his life? What does he hope to achieve? What goals is he shooting for?

5. Humble

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

I can sum up this final characteristic with one simple question: how does he or she handle personal triumph, trials, temptations, and transgressions?

If she reserves credit for God for her successes, if he runs to God as a refuge in times of suffering, if she relies on God to help her resist satanic and fleshly seduction, and if he repents to God if and when he falls into sin, then you have an individual who is in pursuit of humility.

As it concerns how he or she will relate to you, whether or not he or she is full of pride or humility, one thing you can do is observe (you can also talk to his or her family, friends, and/or co-workers), over time, how he or she generally stacks up against Philippians 2:3-4, which says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If he (or she) shows a pattern of not figuring you into his thoughts, plans, or actions – and it doesn’t bother him one bit, or he begrudgingly confesses it, or he doesn’t sincerely work to amend his selfish ways – then it might be time to subtract him from the equation. It is better to be whole by yourself, than to be treated like a tenth of a fraction by someone else.

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The point to all of this is: Don’t just blindly jump into a dating relationship with an individual. Be sure and do your homework on him or her. Oh, and please share your findings with other godly family members and friends. And if they express legitimate and serious concerns, don’t blow them off. God just might be using them to save you from a great deal of heartache down the road.

P.S. – These characteristics need to be true of you as well. So, don’t just look out the window at others; be sure you are looking in the mirror at yourself.

Prayer and the Purposes of God

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I have heard the following said at various times and in various ways: “The purposes of God do not just happen [in our lives and world] just because he wants them to. Someone has to pray it.” Brothers and sisters, everything that sounds good isn’t good.

Now, I don’t wish to come off as being nitpicky or harsh. I am a preacher, a flawed and imperfect one, of course. So I am certain I have had my share of theological gaffes. When such blunders are made, a person will either, in the speaking moment, catch himself and make the correction on the spot, or may come to the knowledge of his mistake afterwards and issue a retraction and correction in some form. Unfortunately, in some cases – and specifically the one that was the impetus behind my writing of this article – that does not happen. With this particular situation that I am thinking of, the speaker didn’t even seem to think he had committed a doctrinally faux pas. But he did. And here is why.

To use the definite article “the” in connection with “purposes of God” says to the hearer that whatever the speaker says next applies to all of God’s purposes. So, with this in mind, when we add in the rest of the statement, here is what was being communicated: None of what God purposes happens simply because he desires it. Someone has to pray for it to become a reality in our lives and in the world, otherwise it won’t.

Of course, some would say, “Ed, come on now. If you would give a charitable listen to what he said, you would understand he was not meaning to refer to all of God’s purposes but to some of them.” Even if that was what he really meant to communicate and just botched it, that train of thought and assertion is still biblically and theologically troubling.

All of God’s purposes – from the workings of his creation to human affairs to his grand redemptive plan in Christ – happen precisely because he wants them to (Psalm 135:6; 115:3); and some he has ordained to arrive on the wings of our prayers (e.g., James 5:16b-17).

We ought not think our prayers to be inconsequential to God’s purposes being fulfilled; but neither should we think them to be indispensable to the same. God does not need our prayers in order for him to do his work. But he does his work in many ways through our prayers.

Prayer is not intended to change God’s purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment.

Arthur W. Pink

Rest for Your Soul (Quote)

Rest

The soul seeks God with its whole being. Because it is desperate to be whole, the soul is God-smitten and God-crazy and God-obsessed. My mind may be obsessed with idols; my will may be enslaved to habits; my body may be consumed with appetites. But my soul will never find rest unit it rests in God.

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (John Ortberg)

Dealing with Overly Critical People

Criticism

“Father, help us to apply the message we heard from your word today. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.”

Service was now over. I grab my ESV (English Standard Version) Bible and my iPad and step out of the pulpit to meet and greet some people. As I work my way around the room, I run into a particular fellow believer in the Lord. We make eye contact and speak. After exchanging pleasantries, this person immediately proceeds to critique my sermon. And I think to myself, Is this really happening right now? Again?! Every time I see you, you always have some “constructive” criticism you feel you need to share with me. Instead of speaking my mind, by God’s grace, I held my tongue, smiled, listened and nodded my head to let this person know I heard what was said. But when I left that encounter, I was a tad bit perturbed. I knew I had prayerfully done my best to rightly interpret the Scripture passage and worked hard on the sermon structure and presentation. But apparently that wasn’t good enough; at least for this individual.

Although this incident was somewhat unpleasant to me at the time, it got me to thinking about how to deal with such people. Here are seven thoughts on the matter:

1. Pray for them

We are commanded in Scripture to pray for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). This of course includes, by way of application, our critics. And it would be better to offer intercessory rather than imprecatory prayers (You know, those prayers where we, like David, asks God to bring judgment on our enemies).

I have found that in praying for them God has a way of inclining my heart towards them; to see them “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Through praying for them, I am also reminded that we all as believers stand as sinful yet redeemed saints (because of and) in the presence of our sinless Savior, and are all in need of the Spirit’s help to continue to repent of and fight against sin and to live holy, grace-filled, Christ-like lives.

2. Be genuinely cordial

God, through the Apostle Paul, instructs us to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12).  Don’t get tripped up by the holy kiss statement. Paul is essentially saying, welcome and accept one another in whatever way is culturally and personally appropriate and acceptable in your particular context and to the person or people whom you are with.

We have a tendency to pull away from people who are routinely critical of us to the point where we might even try to avoid speaking to them. As hard (or maybe convenient) as it might be at times, when you come in contact with them, pray for God to help you sincerely acknowledge and not dodge them.

3. Accept any kernels of truth

I believe it is Billy Graham who is noted to have said, “There is a kernel of truth in every criticism.” Though not always the case, I would say that is generally true and a good maxim to live by.  To say it another way, when overly critical people come to you, learn to eat the meat (if there is any) and spit out the bones.

I know how difficult it can be at times to hear criticism from that person. But if and when it is true, see it as a precious jewel from God to be received even though it came in an undesirable package.

4. Don’t assume motive

Some people who criticize you don’t always do so out of jealousy or envy. Sometimes people are just passionate and want to see the best for the ministry, church, company, etc. They have a knack for spotting what is wrong, which can be of benefit to your life, work, and leadership. They just don’t know (or care to know) how to be tactful. And, yes, you do have those who have impure, sinful motives or impetuses behind their critique. But my point still remains, when you don’t know why someone is incessantly pointing out things about you to you, be careful about assuming the negative concerning them. You may have good reason to be skeptical of their motives, but try to stay as neutral as possible. Seek to give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise.

5. Dismiss their misconceptions

I remember one time after I had preached a person came up to me at the end of service and proceeded to adamantly correct me on a point I made in the message. I am by no means above correction or making mistakes, but I knew in this instance I had done my homework and that my statement was true to the Scripture.  But he/she insisted that I was wrong. There was no convincing this individual that I was indeed correct in what I had said. So, I just nodded and said “That’s interesting. I hear you. I appreciate it.” But in my mind I simply dismissed his/her misconception.

“Why didn’t you correct them on the spot?” you ask. Certainly, there are times when we can and should do so. But, for me, I felt like that was not one of them; plus, I didn’t think it would have been beneficial or received well. That following week the individual came up to me and apologized.

6. Talk with them about their approach

There are those who mean well in their criticism but may be clueless as to how their delivery is negatively affecting it from being readily received. At some point, you probably will have to call them out on their approach. Remember: do it prayerfully, lovingly, sensitively, privately, and directly.

7. Limit your interaction with them

Unfortunately, even after lovingly seeking to address someone’s overly-critical tendency and insensitive approach towards you, he/she might remain obstinate in his/her ways. When all else has failed, one of the best things you can do for that person and for your own sanity and sanctification is to limit your interaction with him/her. You don’t necessarily have to walk in the opposite direction when you see him/her coming your way. Just walk by, speak (if you stop and talk to them, keep it short and sweet), and keep it moving.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)

Forgiveness: Who Is It Really For?

Forgiveness_wordle

“Forgiveness is not really for the one who did you wrong; it is for you.”

I’ve heard that statement or some variation of it before, and you may have too.  The classic illustration and train of thought that usually accompanies it goes something like this: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to die. It only hurts you in the long run. So, therefore, you should forgive the other person, not necessarily for the good of the one who hurt you, but for your own. It helps you not to become angry, bitter, resentful, and full of hatred. Forgiveness more than anything else is about self-love.

This all sounds good and right. But the questions we must ask ourselves as Christians are: Does this way of viewing forgiveness square with Scripture? Does God primarily call us to forgive for our own benefit? Is self-love the principal reason or motivation for why we should forgive someone who has sinned against us? Is forgiveness, at its core, really for – and about – us?

A cursory look at two passages of Scripture will sufficiently and succinctly answer these questions:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“…if one has a compliant against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)

Did you catch the primary motivating reason in those verses for why we should forgive?

Is it self-love? No.

Is it so you won’t be depressed? No.

Is it about you being free and happy? No.

The reason we should forgive is because we have been forgiven by God in Christ Jesus. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

Are there some resulting benefits we experience by forgiving others who sin against us? Sure. But they are not central to why we should forgive.

Forgiving others in Jesus’ name is not ultimately about or for us, or about or for the offender. It is about Jesus and for God’s glory.

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