Relationship with Others

Matthew 17-19 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He provides a way for us to reconcile with others

Counselors, therapists, mediators and coaches spend a great deal of time helping clients resolve conflicts in their lives, and they accomplish a lot of good and help people move past difficult situations.  It’s not surprising, however, that the Bible offers some guidelines for believers within the church who find themselves at odds with someone.

For those individuals who have never experienced conflict with anyone, I suppose this devotional may be irrelevant.  Still, just in case a conflict should someday pop up, it could never hurt to be aware of the plan Jesus offered to resolve conflicts. 

@ Matthew 18
It’s troubling that God’s straightforward set of guidelines for conflict resolution is so seldom followed.  Maybe because it’s so clear-cut, we feel it just isn’t profound enough to help, or perhaps we’re just too cowardly to try it.  I’m not sure. “If another believer sins against you,” this is what we should do…according to Jesus:

  • “Go privately and point out the offense.  If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.  But if you are unsuccessful,
  • Take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.  If the person still refuses to listen,
  • Take your case to the church.  Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (18:15-17)  Now that would be a memorable Sunday service.  And to be considered a tax collector – the ultimate disgrace!

If we find ourselves in conflict with someone, common sense should prevail.  If I am upset because someone says something insensitive to me, fails to compliment a new hairstyle or ignores me, etc, it’s probably time for a little dying to self on my part. In Matthew 18, Jesus was talking about “if another believer sins against you,” follow these guidelines.

If we fail to follow the Lord’s instructions, we often end up sinning ourselves with an unforgiving heart or by gossiping and causing division.  There will always, absolutely always, be someone close at hand who is willing to listen if I choose to gossip instead of following His guidelines. In our conflicts, God will provide all the grace we need to resolve them, but there may not be grace for those uninvolved individuals that we choose to include through gossip.  They, in turn, pick up our offense without grace, and it always turns out badly.  Sometimes rather than follow His guidelines, we may feel it’s just easier to keep our hurt, keep it to ourselves, let it fester and grow into bitterness.  Ugh!

When we follow the Lord’s plan to resolve conflict, we find ourselves back in unity, in agreement.  I love that Jesus followed these guidelines with a promise of help in matters of conflict and discipline, and I believe, for prayer in general as well, “If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.  For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (18:19-20) Who doesn’t want that!

Moving Forward: Imprint these guidelines on my heart, Lord, that I might not sin against you. Help me live in such a way that no one has the need to approach me regarding sins I have committed against another.  With His help, all things are possible. 

Tomorrow @Romans 15-16

Romans 13-14 (NLT)

Discover His heart: His gift of love compels us to share it with others

Several years ago I saw a touching movie about a young boy who started a campaign to encourage everyone to pay forward the kindnesses that others had shown them.  He alleged that in doing so, the world would be a better place and people’s lives would be changed for the good.  I agree!  I can’t help but feel indebted to those in my life who have shown kindness to me without any desire for payment and believe me, I am indebted to countless wonderful individuals.

I remember being given a car many years ago by a very dear couple, and this kindness changed everything for us.  Since that time, we have had the opportunity to pay forward that great kindness on two occasions, and nothing has thrilled us more.  But I have one debt that, frankly, I will never be able to pay, but I’m going to keep on plugging along at it until Jesus comes. 

@ Romans 13
“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.” (8)  Accepting God’s wonderful gift of love through salvation has forever indebted us to Him, and since His love is continual, we are obligated to continually extend our love to one another.  When we truly have experienced His love, this is not a negative obligation, but we are compelled by His sheer love and goodness to pay it forward.

“For the commandments say, ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.’  These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (9)   Paul said it here and in Galatians 5:14; and Jesus said it in Matthew 22:39, so I’m assuming it is acceptable for us to love ourselves.

I’ve known some people who are in love with themselves.  They think about themselves all the time, lavish themselves with gifts and praise, and it’s obvious that there is a love affair going on.  This isn’t the self-love that Paul was talking about.  If we didn’t love ourselves, we wouldn’t care for our needs by eating properly, clothing ourselves and providing a roof over our heads.  So with this obligation to love others, we naturally should be concerned that others have food, clothing and shelter. It almost sounds like some sort of compassionate welfare program where no taxes are required to pay for it, just love.  Sign me up!

All the commandments are summed up in this commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We wouldn’t steal from ourselves, covet or tell lies about ourselves because we love and care too much about our own welfare, and so it is when we love others.  However, love for others such as this is impossible without God’s help.  “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NKJV)   We don’t have to drum up this love for others on our own because the Holy Spirit equips us to love and to pay His love forward.

Compelled by God’s love and goodness and equipped by His Holy Spirit, we will obey the great commandment to “Love our neighbors as ourselves.”  But we need to understand that this is one debt where we will always have an outstanding balance because we just can’t outgive God, and we will always be indebted to Him.  It’s just the way it is. 

Moving Forward:  I’m planning to pay some on my debt today, as much as He enables me, because I’m compelled and equipped by His great love. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 24-27

Psalms 9-11 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  From His Holy Temple, He observes both the righteous and wicked alike, but the righteous will see His face

Head for the hills! Cut and run! Turn tail!  Take to the woods!  Fly the coop!  Skedaddle! Hightail it!  There are a lot of ways to put it, but they all mean pretty much the same thing – retreat, run from the battle.  While sometimes we feel we have to pick our battles, we really aren’t comfortable admitting retreat, even though the situation may call for it.  As a warrior, David faced this dilemma over and over again. 

@ Psalm 11
I trust in the Lord for protection.  So why do you say to me, ‘Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety!’” (1)  David sounded insulted that his advisers would suggest that he retreats.  Did he back down from Goliath? Did he not send the Philistines to flight?  Why would he fly to the mountains for safety?  David put his trust in the Lord for protection.  David was not afraid.

We understand from scripture, however, that David did retreat from the battle on occasion.  Did he not trust the Lord during those moments?  I’m sure David must have had moments of apprehension, but he was a brave warrior who knew what battles to pick.  He would have been put in a position of kill or be killed had he come face to face with Saul, the anointed king of Israel, or with his own son Absalom, so David chose to hide from them.  Can you imagine looking into the eyes of your own son and facing the decision to kill or be killed?  I would retreat as well.

Sometimes we find we have an enemy that should not be an enemy at all, but aggressive and hurtful things have been said and done to us.  We’re ready for an all-out attack, no running for the hills, we’re ready to rumble!  While victory may feel good for the moment, an altercation could possibly destroy that person in one way or another forever.  Do we really want to be responsible for that?  Better to have the heart of David.

Just as David was a warrior, we suit up every day in our battle dress from Ephesians 6 to fight the devil.  We are not afraid!  But we, too, have to pick our battles and be led by the Spirit when it comes to those individuals who oppose us.  When it’s all said and done, no one ever really gets away with anything. “But the Lord is in his holy Temple; the Lord still rules from heaven.  He watches everyone closely, examining every person on earth. The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence. He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked.” (4-5)

For the wicked, the future does not look good. However, for those who trust in the Lord for protection and live a virtuous life, it’s all good! “For the righteous Lord loves justice. The virtuous will see his face.” (7) 

Moving Forward:  I’ll trust the Lord to protect me whether in battle or at peace; and with His help, I’ll live a righteous life so that I may see His face. 

Tomorrow @ Job 7-8

Romans 7-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has adopted us as His very own

Back in the ’70’s, America was singing and dancing to “We are family…I got all my sisters with me.  We are family…get up ev’ry body and sing.” (Rodgers/Edwards, 1979)  Our post Vietnam/Watergate nation was looking for kinship and trust in somebody.  With the rise in broken homes and families over the past few decades, we find teenagers in a similar search for family.  Symbols and colors have separated youth into alternative families that hold their loyalties and commitment.

Aside from the occasional hermit, most everyone longs to be part of a family, something bigger than themselves, a place of belonging.  When God created the family unit back in the Garden, this desire of connection and belonging became a part of us.  When Jesus came along to redeem us, He sealed the deal with his blood, and we were adopted into God’s family.  We are family! 

@ Romans 8
“You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, ‘Abba Father.’  For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (15-16)  Our family has a daddy, and we have inherited His spiritual DNA.  Paul really stepped out on a limb when he addressed God in this familiar way because this Aramaic word “Abba” was not used to reference God in Paul’s day.  Paul wanted us to understand that the Father is our Father, our loving, approachable dad.

“All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” (14,17)  We have siblings!  And although it may be difficult to understand, we adopted siblings are blood relatives thanks to the sacrifice of our elder brother, Jesus, whose blood covers our sin.  “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:5)

As with all families, sometimes we siblings fight and don’t get along, but we would do well to remember of what family we are a part.  Our family is to be known to the world by our love for each other (John 13:35), and some of His “house rules,” help us to behave like His family should, “You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)   These rules alone should keep us too busy to fuss at each other.

I love our family gatherings, on Sundays or whenever, with the Father and our older brother.  We often talk about the great family reunion we all will attend one day.  There’s no worry about being left out or being disinherited because, unless we choose to leave it, we are blood relatives forever.  This is all because Dad loves us.  “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (38-39)  We are family – forever! 

Moving Forward:  I’m thankful today that I’m one of His kids, with no fear of abandonment or rejection, so thrilled to be part of His amazing family. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 12-17

Job 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Unthreatened by our questions, He answers those at the heart of our need

The tales I’ve heard about the language mother’s-to-be have used in the throes of delivering their babies could make a grown woman blush, especially in the days before the pain relievers available today.  I think of the dear father coaching his sweet wife along in the process when the pain of an absolute explosion occurring in her abdomen causes her to lash out at the instigator of all this pain.  Obviously, the lack of understanding in his advice was insulting and not welcomed.  Poor guy – he was just trying to help!

Just like these fathers, we may experience something similar when we offer advice after listening to someone’s woes.  That well-intended advice could come back to bite us. Some questions come to mind from our reading today in Job:  In the midst of a struggle and in our telling of it to others, what response are we really expecting from them?  What is our responsibility as a listener? 

@ Job 3
In all the trials that Job faced, he did not take his wife’s advice to curse God, but he did do some cursing.  “At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth.” (1)  So miserable was his existence that he asked that the day of his birth be removed from the calendar. (6)  Job just wanted to die.  Jeremiah expressed similar words in Jeremiah 20:14, “Yet I curse the day I was born! May no one celebrate the day of my birth.  I curse the messenger who told my father, ‘Good news—you have a son!’”  Some struggles in life are so painful that dying just seems easier.

Job began his questioning of why, seven times just in this chapter alone. “Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die…Why is life given to those with no future?” etc. (11-23)  God isn’t really threatened by our questions because He made us and understands our desire to know the answer to our why; but in this testing, God had more important truths for Job to learn.

Job’s friends had come to him and sat in silence which was the custom of the day, but also because grief and anguish leave many of us without words.  However, when Job started to ask his many questions, his friends felt compelled to answer, and answer they did.  As in the mother scenario, Job did not care for their answers.  Perhaps we can learn from Job’s experience that when going through a crisis, we can express our sadness and pain to caring listeners, but for the answers to our difficult questions, we are wise to go to those who may have actual answers, and even more so, we should seek the Lord. 

@ Job 4
Put on the spot, Eliphaz, the most seasoned of Job’s friends, felt obliged to answer, “Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed?  My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.” (7-8)  Because we are privy to the dialogue of Chapter 1, we know that Eliphaz, in all his experience, was just offering his opinion in Job’s case and even had the audacity to say he was speaking on God’s behalf.  His counsel to Job was inaccurate and wasn’t helpful.

In Galatians 6:2, Paul strongly encouraged to “Share each other’s burdens,” and this is one of the many blessings we receive as believers.  Sometimes we feel all we can do is listen to our hurting friend, but so often, that is exactly what is needed.  The most valuable time Job’s friends spent with him was when they sat in silence.  From Eliphaz’s poor counsel, we learn that the best and most helpful advice is based on fact and not on opinion.  Finally, praying with our friend is the one thing we can do that opens the door to God’s supernatural intervention for their need. Whether He uses us or someone else to help our friend, He is the One who knows all the right answers to all the questions and reveals them at just the right moment.

Moving Forward: For those I meet today who may be hurting, I pray that my response is Spirit-led, whether in simply listening or in sharing truths. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 7-11

Job 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: Because He loves us so, He allows testing to strengthen us and help us grow closer to Him.

Florida is a beautiful place to live with its warm winter temperatures, lush colorful landscape and delicious fruits and vegetables.  If you can get past the alligators, snakes and sharks, the waters of Florida are delightful as well.  The dream of many individuals is to spend their waning years playing golf and relaxing in the sun, but the Year of the Hurricanes, 2004, changed a lot of dreams.  When three of the four hurricanes that year passed through my county, they left a path of devastation that took years to restore and the downed trees will take decades to replace.  It was a rough year and many people lost their dreams.

It was difficult to drive around our city after the storms and see the hundreds of lofty laurel oak trees uprooted and on their sides.  They couldn’t weather the storms because of their shallow roots, but the bright note in the landscape as we traveled around town was the collection of palm trees still standing tall, lacking only a few fronds.  One would think those skinny palms would be the first to go, but they survived because of their root system that grew deep enough to find a source of nutrition and because of their ability to bend and withstand winds up to 145 miles per hour.  Job was like the palm tree.  When the storms passed through his life, he was able to survive because he was rooted to the Source and because of his ability to bend…but it wasn’t easy. 

@ Job 1
“There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil…He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area.” (1-3) Growing tall and stately, Job caught the attention of God and Satan in their discourse about humanity.  Satan accused Job of only respecting God because God was good to him, and he sought to remove God’s blessings and watch Job crumble.

And this is where the good news in Job begins!  This is where we read that Satan does not know the future or he would not have asked to test Job – God was secure in allowing this testing of Job because He knew the end result.  Secondly, Satan must get God’s permission to touch God’s children – God is not taken by surprise in the trials we face and provides comfort and help when we need it most.  Thirdly, Satan can’t read our minds or he would have known Job’s commitment to God – God knows every thought we think even before we think it!  And finally, although he has little imps to help him, we know that Satan is not omnipresent because he had to patrol the earth to watch what was going on – God is everywhere he chooses to be, all the time. Outside of accusation and temptation, the accuser is greatly limited in what he can do in our lives unless, of course, we open the door to him.

But the greatest message from the Book of Job is not about what happened to Job, although it was tragic to be sure, nor is it about why this happened to Job.  The great message of Job is about who, the Sovereign Almighty God, and about one man’s, one good man’s, journey of total surrender to Him.  We should not be afraid of Job’s journey and its message because they will only make us better. And there’s always Chapter 42 to look forward to. “But the godly will flourish like palm trees…” (Psalm 92:12) 

Moving Forward:  I’ll seek out and stay grounded to the Source today so that I can withstand the storms that may come my way.

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 1-6

Song of Solomon 7-8 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He longs to seal us with His forever kind of love

The popularity of tattoos over the past decade by young and old alike has surprised me.  For someone who struggled over the thought of putting holes in her earlobes, I am stymied by the notion of permanently marking the body, intentionally.  Today’s tattoos are sometimes worn just because they are trendy and popular but many depict commitment to a variety of things – loyalty to movements and ideals, likes and dislikes, people, places and things – a seal of loyalty, if you will, that will last forever.

Years ago a soldier going off to war would tattoo the name of his sweetheart on his arm to express his commitment to her while he was gone.  I’ve always wondered how the woman he eventually married felt about him bearing the name of an old flame.  I, for one, would not care much for it, but for the young soldier and his girl, it was almost a sign of ownership – she was his girl!  At the end of the beautiful love story of Song of Solomon, the Young Man was asked to wear his lovely Young Woman as a tattoo of sorts, a seal of ownership and commitment.

@ Song of Solomon 8
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.  For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.  Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.  Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it.” (6-7)  The love of the Young Woman for the Young Man was a forever kind of love that would never be removed, sealed forever by the affection of his heart and by the protection of his arm.  In her committed heart, their love was as permanent as death, with a bright unique cable flame from its fire.  Wow!  I’d say a tattoo may be in order here.

This kind of committed love could not exist in our world without God because God is love.  It began in Him, flows out from Him and is complete in Him. He ordained the love found in Song of Solomon between a husband and a wife.  The depths, the intensity and the eternal commitment of the young couple were His idea, His plan for us.

God desires for us to be forever sealed to Him with a commitment even greater than that of this couple, a love deeper than they felt and a fire brighter than they could ever know.  Just as the young couple yearned for one another, He calls us to search for Him, call to Him and surrender to Him, and place ourselves like a seal over His heart. We are His forever. 

Moving Forward:  His Word inspires and challenges me today on many levels.  That I remain forever sealed to him and to Him is my desire.

Tomorrow @ Revelation 18-22

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