Confusing Comfort with Godliness

Confusing Comfort with Godliness from genvealopez2012.com

In college, I took a World Missions class as an elective.  Once, we were assigned to read a book called “Peace Child” by missionary Don Richardson.  It is the true story of how Don and his wife, Carol, shared the gospel with a remote tribe in New Guinea.  If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to and I’ll try not to spoil the story here.  In a nutshell, though, it’s a great lesson on how ministry doesn’t always look like what we think it’s going to and how, even though doing things this way has worked in the past it doesn’t always mean it’s going to work that way in every situation.  We might have to try something different.

I was reading the story of David and Goliath the other night.  It’s a story I’ve read and heard a thousand times throughout my life, but even still, the other night I grasped something new.  You know the story, probably.  Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior, terrorized the Israelites for 40 days looking for an Israelite to fight him.  No one was brave enough until David.  While visiting with his older brothers, the young shepherd boy heard Goliath’s threats and he quickly volunteered to fight the giant.  King Saul told him he was too young and untrained to fight such a warrior, but David soon convinced him to let him try.

Before David set out to fight Goliath, King Saul attempted to prepare David for the battle.  1 Samuel 17:38-39 (NIV) says:

“Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic.  He put a coat of armor on him and bronze helmet on his head.  David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them…”

I imagine that it would have been considered a great honor for a king to offer you his own armor.  And certainly suiting up in this kind of armor would have been the logical thing to do before going to face one’s enemy in battle, especially one the size of Goliath.  King Saul no doubt used his armor often in battles and it surely protected him and served him well in defeating many enemies in previous fights.

But David wasn’t used to it.  He wasn’t trained in using any of it.  When he had gone up against lions and bears when tending to the sheep at home, he used other methods and came out victoriously.  So the story goes, he took off these garments and weapons and instead took up his slingshot and 5 stones and faced the giant Philistine, claiming victory soon after.

How many times have I rejected something or someone as ungodly or wrong simply because it didn’t look like what I thought it should?  Perhaps a pastor preached a sermon this way, but I didn’t like his style of preaching, so I automatically declassified him as a man of God.  Maybe the way this artist sings or plays music goes against what I like or what I’ve always thought of as Christ-like, so I automatically snubbed them as wrong or ungodly.

The thing is, we absolutely DO have to use discernment when we listen to sermons or music or view different ministries.  We should ALWAYS make sure that whatever is being taught or sung or practiced aligns with the Word of God, even when we think the individual preaching it, singing it, or doing it is an amazing individual.  This is something we should practice daily.

But too often, we dismiss others for the simple fact that they’re “not our style.”  We reject others for doing things differently than we like or prefer.  If it takes us out of our comfort zone at all, we are quick to dismiss it without further observation, prayer, or guidance from God and unfortunately, we attempt to stifle individuals from freely flowing in their own talents and gifts from God.

In this story from 1 Samuel, it’s important to understand that King Saul wasn’t wrong in what he was doing.  He was trying to prepare David as any soldier would prepare and in the past, King Saul had been triumphant handling battles in this way.  But David decided to approach the situation differently, much differently than any one else had ever done.  To many, it probably seemed absurd.  Yet, we see that David, given the opportunity to flow from his own talents, came out victorious.  Had King Saul forced David to do it the way he would have personally chosen to do it, would David have been successful?  We’ll never know, but the point is, he was successful doing it differently than others thought he should have.

Let us be cautious, then, in being quick to judge others as wrong, based solely on our opinions or preferences.  Perhaps God has blessed you and your ministry of choice as you’ve done things one way, but do not think for one second that just because someone else does ministry different than you, that they have not been called by God and that they are not being used by God.  Let us not confuse our personal comfort levels, Friends, with the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Does God Want Me to Forgive and Forget?

Before David inherited the throne, he was a servant of King Saul. The Bible talks about how well David served Saul, his loyalty to the King, and Saul’s appreciation for David’s work. But as time went on, King Saul soon became jealous of David, so much so, that he even began to try and kill the servant he once loved. As we read through 1 Samuel, we see the dark and dismal fall of King Saul as his jealousy consumes him. It’s a depressing end to what was once an incredible friendship and mentorship.

When reading these Scriptures, we often emphasize David’s response to this situation. The Psalms he most likely wrote during this turbulent time paint a better picture of David’s own struggles through it all. I imagine all he must have been thinking, all the emotions he must have been feeling. Shock, fear, anger, brokenness, sadness, confusion, grief. What a dark time in David’s life it must have been.

While David certainly experienced personal highs and lows through this time in his life, we eventually read about David’s incredible example of mercy and forgiveness. Though he had the opportunity to easily kill King Saul throughout this ordeal, he chose to spare his life. And when, later on in the story, David learned of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths, we witness him grieve deeply for them both, witness him refer to Saul, even after all he had done, as God’s “anointed one,” and compose a song praising the king for good things he had done.

I’ve always read those Scriptures as a beautiful picture of how God defines true forgiveness, focused on David’s refusal to seek revenge in both word and deed. And undoubtedly, it certainly does all of that. But as I was reading through these passages a few years ago, I was struck by something I’d never given much thought to before.

As Christ-followers, I think we can often be confused as to what forgiveness, as the Bible defines it, is and what it is not. I’ve often seen it taught in churches, or at the very least, implied, that biblical forgiveness is the equivalent of forgetting. After all, Scripture teaches us to turn the other cheek and forgive others 70 x 7 when they sin against us. But this notion wasn’t settling well with me, especially in situations where abuse was occurring.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “forgive” as the following:

  • stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for (an offense, flaw, or mistake).
  • cancel (a debt).

When we look at David and Saul’s story here, we see David wrestle through this process, but eventually, he most certainly lives up to this definition. Webster doesn’t mention anything about forgetting the offense when defining forgiveness, but does that align with Scripture? I found my answer in 1 Samuel 24.

In this chapter, we learn about how David spared Saul’s life when given the opportunity to kill him. When he makes this fact known to Saul, the king weeps and essentially begs David for mercy, which David agrees to. But then the Scripture reads in verse 22,

“…Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.”

Prior to Saul’s jealous rampage, David had lived with Saul and served as a high commanding officer in Saul’s army. David was best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan and several times, we even read David referring to Saul as “my father” and King Saul referring to David as “my son.” But despite all of this, we see in this verse of 1 Samuel 24, that though David chose to show mercy and not collect a debt from Saul, so to speak, it is also just as important to note, I think, that he did not return with Saul. In fact, he returned to a stronghold, which is a place where one seeks protection from attack.

While I believe the Church certainly gets some of the most vital components of biblical forgiveness right, we cannot forsake this equally important piece here: That forgiveness is letting go of revenge and animosity towards those who do us harm, but it does not require us to put ourselves back in situations where we are in danger, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Just as a physical stronghold protects us against those who seek to do us harm, personal boundaries work the same way, and they are necessary in life.

Forgive others, as Christ commands us. Allow Him to help you release resentment and bitterness towards those who have harmed you. But seek His wisdom and guidance, too, in learning how to set healthy boundaries with those who have harmed you. In some situations, perhaps He is calling you to reconcile the relationship and live as though it did not happen. But in other situations, He may want you to lean on Him as you let go of that toxic relationship, where there should be no reconciliation because it will only bring death and destruction to your life. Release the notion that biblical forgiveness is synonymous with forgetting and understand that Scripture teaches us that we can forgive an individual, but still protect our well-being by using the memory of the offense as the explanation for new and healthy boundaries with that individual.

DISCLAIMER:

This blog is for personal use only and not to provide specific mental health advice. By using this blog site, you understand that there is no therapist-client relationship between you and Geneva. This blog should NOT be used as a substitute for competent medical or mental health advice from a licensed professional counselor in your state.

The Biggest Threat to Christian America? Christians.

Christians: Christian America's Biggest Threat from genevalopez2012.com

 

“When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

I fear for the Christian faith in our nation, America, but probably not for the same reasons so many of my Conservative friends do.  I’m not living in fear of the Liberals, the Muslim refugees, the feminists, the LGBTQ community, the ACLU, and any other alleged enemy of our Christian ideals.   No, I’m much more frightened by my own brothers and sisters in Christ who seem to have forgotten that our entire Faith is based on Love and that the world will know we are Christ’s disciples only by our love for one another (John 13:35).

We have our precious Supreme Court Justices, now.  We have our National Day of Prayer.  We have our unwavering support of Israel.  We have our real news stories that always align perfectly with what we think we know and believe to be true.

But at what cost, my Friends?  I’m not saying that any of those things in and of themselves are bad, but I am asking, what did it cost us?  With all of that, do we also have more converts to our Christian Faith?  Do we have more people who don’t know Christ as their Savior, asking us how to know this God we serve?  Because while we posted that meme with the derogatory message against the “Libtards,” “Snowflakes,” and “Idiots” on our Facebook wall, we followed it right up with that inspirational message about the goodness of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Surely that counts for something.  Surely that “Libtard” who doesn’t know Christ, knows me by my love for others NOW.

We have become so fearful that our supposedly Christian ideals will be trampled on by those who do not know Christ, that upholding those ideals has become more important to us than even Christ himself.  We have forgotten to look to Jesus as our example of how Christ-followers should respond to a world lost in sin. We have forgotten, as Christ shows us through His own life, that it is entirely possible to uphold Truth, refuse to compromise our beliefs, and still love those who do not yet know that Truth.

Instead, like the disciple, we have responded to the lost who threaten Christ and His teachings, with violence, whether physically or verbally. And while we’re busy thrashing about our swords with little thought to our words or actions, Jesus is pleading, “No more of this!”  While we’re busy looking for that next best meme to attack our “enemies,” Jesus is still trying to work on patching up the bloody mess we’ve left behind in our last self-righteous rant against those who don’t yet know Him.

Let us be reminded that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  And while Jesus was blameless and more pure than any of us before or after Him, He never once fought or slandered those who persecuted Him, falsely accused Him, beat Him, or crucified Him.  In fact, some of His very last words that day were, “Father, forgive them.”

But before any of this, after His miracle of feeding the 5,000, people recognized Jesus as the One who had been prophesied about and they, not understanding from an eternal perspective, wanted to make Him king on earth.  And what was Jesus’ response to this?

 “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  (John 6:15)

Perhaps, then, in trying to force a Christian kingdom on this earth,whatever the cost, we not only further isolate the lost, but we also isolate ourselves from the very One we say we are defending, leaving us with a shiny earthly kingdom that has absolutely no eternal value and consists of only those who look just like us, think just like us, and vote just like us.

Heavenly Father,

Forgive me when I lose my temper.  Forgive me when I get in the way of Your Kingdom and Your ways.  Forgive me when, rather than lead others to You, I become a stumbling block in their path to You.  I pray that You would help me trade my earthly perspective for an eternal one.  I pray that You would lead me and guide me in standing firm in what Your Word says is true, while also loving others as You have commanded me to do.  Help me find the balance of a resolute Faith, unwilling to compromise Truth, with the tempering of Your unconditional love for all mankind.  And when I am tempted to yield my sword of self-righteousness against those who oppose You, help me instead, respond as Jesus would. 

Prayer

When God Asks a People-Pleaser to Hate Others

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:26

I know what you’re thinking.  “When God asks a people-pleaser to hate others? Geneva, you’ve always been a bit whacky, but THIS has definitely taken the cake, girl!”  I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But hear me out, ok?

I like to refer to myself as a recovering people-pleaser.  Some days, I totally kick the urge to fall into those old, ugly habits and other days, I fail miserably.  So, yeah, definitely still recovering and quite honestly, for as long as I live, I will probably always have good days and bad days with it; I’m just hoping those good days continue to be more frequent and the bad days become fewer and fewer.  

I first experienced God working on breaking these chains in my own life, with my relationships with peers and friends in high school.  Then later, I had major reconstructive surgery on my character in my professional life as a mental health and substance abuse therapist.  My concept of a “good” counselor was rocked when I realized that while being a good listener and being nonjudgmental were, as I presumed, certainly important traits of a counselor doing their job correctly, just as important was the need to speak truth to Clients.  Sometimes – often times – truth was difficult to hear. It was challenging to the listener and it would often be met with resistance and even dislike of the counselor speaking it. And that knowledge was hard for me to accept. Didn’t my Clients need to “like” me as a counselor?  How could I help them if they didn’t like me all the time? Oh, the growing pains I experienced as God transformed my character and understanding of my responsibilities as a therapist and once again chipped away at my natural instincts to please others.

Not so long ago, though, I looked back in awe at how far I had grown as a therapist in this area of my life.  I felt proud to realize that I was confident in gently speaking needed messages to Clients and that I was no longer paralyzed by fear to do so, despite the fact that it didn’t always make me popular with those I was trying to help.  And so I thought I had finally mastered my people-pleasing habits. I mean, where else could I possibly still need work in this area? Hadn’t God challenged me in every way possible to eliminate this habit?

Imagine my surprise when I soon learned that maybe, just maybe, God had actually saved my biggest problem area for last.  It was an area that I wasn’t at all prepared for and it has been met with lots of pain, heartache, and discouragement.

You see, growing up, I was always a bit of a “golden child.”  Gosh, that sounds incredibly snooty of me to say, huh? But that’s the only way I know how to describe it to help you really understand why this battle has been so difficult for a gal like me, so hang in there and let me explain.  I became a Christian very early on in life. I generally did what was expected of me, I made good grades, and I didn’t really go through any scary teenage rebellion. I was the stereotypical first-born child in my family, with my biggest show of irresponsibility being a constantly messy room (which by the way, I am totally paying for these days trying to raise a 6-year old to not be a slob. Sorry, Mom!)  My close-knit, southern family was proud of me and they supported my decisions in life. In the small church we attended, I was a leader. In college, I made phone calls every night to 3 people: my momma, my mamaw, and my aunt, who was like a second mother to me. The overall consensus among my family and those who knew me was that Geneva was a “good girl.”

Initially, I didn’t do any of these things to please others.  They were genuine acts from a genuine place in my heart and honestly, most of it was never a real act of heroism or courage to go against the grain as a teen.  My personality is just naturally inclined to generally follow the rules and live in peace, so if I’m honest, being “good” wasn’t ever something I could really brag about because it never required extreme sacrifice on my part. But looking back, I think I eventually became accustomed to the praise and the accolades to a point that my best behavior wasn’t always being done to honor God, but to please others. And as God’s most recent efforts to eliminate my people-pleasing habits have revealed, perhaps, even, it had become an idol in my life.  

I dread almost every election season because it’s always filled with mud-slinging, empty promises, and confusion.  The 2016 presidential elections were no different in that respect, except they seemed to be even uglier than normal.  This country, who I’ve never found to be particularly united, became even more divided than usual. My Facebook feed, like many of yours, was full of opinions, hatred, and nonsense.  I’ve never been a real fan of talking politics because I’ve never been a real fan of conflict. Oh, who am I kidding, I HATE conflict. But 2016 shifted something in me. Though still not a fan of speaking out politically, I found myself unable to keep quiet about some of the things I found disturbing.  And while I was expecting criticism, I wasn’t prepared for who most of that personal criticism was coming from: From people I had been a leader among, I had been admired by, and I had always been supported by. It seemed that my incredibly unpopular opinions on several political matters had hit quite a nerve among those I’d always felt the most comfortable around.  People who had shaped my life in great ways, been there for me in some of my darkest days, and who I owe a great deal of gratitude to for their influence and leadership in my life, suddenly felt like strangers to me. People I loved the most in my life were suddenly disappointed in me, shaming me, and even angry with me. And I wasn’t prepared.

I began to do a lot of soul-searching.  I questioned my motives for speaking out.  I questioned my beliefs. Was I wrong? I mean, according to a national survey, 80+ percent of the white, evangelical population all seemed to disagree with me.  Surely that meant something. I mean, believe me, I was used to having unpopular beliefs.  But I wasn’t used to not fitting in among my own; quite the opposite, actually. This was new terrain for me and I didn’t like it.  Was I allowing my mind to be tainted with worldly influences? These are the types of questions I wrestled with daily. These are the types of conversations I had with God at 3am when I couldn’t sleep.  I mean, how could I possibly be in God’s will here when nearly every spiritual and personal influence I’d had in my life at this point, disagreed with what I was saying. Clearly, I had to be wrong. Right?  

And then, I started praying about it.  People had accused me of being biased in some of my opinions because of my life experiences.  My immediate reaction to those accusations was to dismiss them, but I eventually came to a place of true brokenness and I found myself thinking that maybe they were right.  Maybe I was being biased. I didn’t know anymore. I started praying, “God, all I want is to be in Your will. If these passions of mine aren’t from You, then take them away.  I’m begging You, that if I am out of Your will here, strip these desires and this unrest in my soul away.” That became my daily prayer: “Not my will, but Yours.”

And you know what?  Things started shifting, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking they did.  I didn’t find those passions eliminated. I didn’t find God shutting my mouth. In fact, I came to realize that these weren’t just my personal opinions on topics, but they were things I clearly felt the  Holy Spirit convicting my heart about. I found the courage to continue to speak up for people God had burdened my heart for and to advocate for these causes, no matter the approval or disapproval of others. And while I still struggle at times with no longer being in the good graces among many who are important to me or among those I’ve always related to the most, I am learning that I used to depend on those opinions more than I depended on God’s.  

So does God really expect us to hate our family or our friends?  Of course not. But what He does ask of us, is that we do His will always, no matter the cost.  And rest assured, it’s going to cost us at some point. It may bring us to a place where doing what God has laid on our hearts just doesn’t make sense to our mother, our father, our husband, our wife, our brother, our sister, our son, our daughter, our uncle, our aunt, our grandfather, our grandmother…to anyone.  It might bring us to a place that feels desolate, where it feels like it’s just us standing in our brokenness, defeated, discouraged and confused. But be encouraged, Friends. Throughout all of this, God has been faithful in strengthening me through the wise words of some mighty leaders, establishing new, godly relationships in my life, and giving me the courage to stand for what He has laid on my heart, even if it feels at times that He is the only one supporting me in it.  What about you?  What is He asking YOU to do?

Where God leads, He always, always provides and He is masterful at breaking us, but somehow, if we let Him, He brings beauty from the ashes of our destruction.