Grudge Not!

I can’t seem to get away with gossip. What I mean is that I usually get caught red-handed, or maybe I should say foot-in-mouth. Here’s how it happens. I complain about someone—in confidence to another friend—only to turn around and discover that the person about whom I’m speaking is right behind me! Or within earshot. Now the person didn’t necessarily hear what I said about them. But I’m ashamed and convicted, nevertheless. Busted, as my kids used to say!

I remember once in junior high school that I casually pointed out to my friend that a rather awkward boy in our class “ran kinda funny” on the playground. I turned around and gasped as I noticed that same boy had changed seats and was sitting right behind me! Did he overhear my thoughtless comment? I was never quite sure, but I felt terrible. The thought still makes my face flush, all these years later.

This kind of thing has happened often enough that I’m now very watchful about my words. It’s as though the Lord just won’t let me get away with speaking badly about someone. Perhaps it’s because He knows that words can be so destructive. Not just to the hearer, but also to the speaker.

The Bible spells it out plainly: “Do not complain against one another, believers, so that you will not be judged [for it]. Look! The Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:9 AMP).

The word translated as “complain” is stenazo. It means: “to groan, sigh, to give vent to critical or censorious feelings. To call attention to someone’s flaws.”  Other versions use words like grumble, murmur, or groan. I especially like the way this rather antiquated translation puts it: Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:9 DRA).

My paraphrase? “Grudge not…so that you are not judged!” It’s not just our words that God is warning us about. It’s also the thoughts behind those words.  As believers, we’re on the same side in a war against our enemy, the devil, and his minions.  Grumbling about one another not only hurts feelings, but it breaks our unity.

In 21 Days of Strength, we learned the importance of “sticking together” if we want to be strong—especially in battle. Breaking faith with our fellow believers leaves us especially vulnerable to the enemy. Let’s remember, the word for devil is diabalos, “the divider.” His specialty is strife. As I heard the head of a large organization once say, “I have only one immediate firing offense—stirring up strife.”

Maybe I stepped on your toes today. I sure came down hard on my own. Let’s soberly reflect on the warning in God’s Word: “Grudge not…that you may not be judged.” Like I’ve learned the hard way: The judge might be standing at the door!


The Power of Love-Day 21

Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of 21 Days of Strength. I hope you’ve found a few strategies that will help you strengthen yourself in the Lord. Remember. God is near to the broken hearted.  He loves us when we’re weak.  But He delights in making us strong.

We’ve talked about the importance of abiding in Christ, of spending time alone with God in His Word and prayer. Jesus Himself reminds us to make time to “go to our room and shut the door and pray to our Father in secret.” If we want to remain strong in the fight of faith, it’s important to stick together with our fellow believers, to de-clutter the sin that weighs us down, to obey God’s calling, and to give our lives away to others.

Growing strong in the Lord occurs as we fervently seek Him day in and day out. But even when we grow weary and weak, we know that God is ready and waiting to give us His strength. It’s His character and His very nature to give out of His own storehouse of strength and power to His children. The Apostle Paul puts it this way as he pours out his heart in prayer for all believers, including you and me:

“I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:14-16).

Did you catch that? Strength comes in the form of power through the Holy Spirit in our inner being. We grow strong so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Amazing. No wonder God wants to make us strong!

The next verses give more reasons to grow strong in the Lord: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).

Strength from the Holy Spirit helps to ground us….to root and establish us in love.  Together with other believers, united by love,  we’re enabled to grasp this enormous love of Christ.  A love that’s beyond comprehension.  A love that fills us with the “fullness of God.”  A love that gives strength and power!

Paul attempts to describe this wonderful love-power in his final benediction.  May this promise from the Word of God send us back out into our hurting and broken world, armed with unshakeable strength and wrapped in love:  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” ( Ephesians 3:20).  -Amen!


Breakthrough in Strength-Day 20

Strength comes as we give life to others. It’s another of the Bible’s beautiful ironies. Jesus said it this way: “Whoever would gain his life must lose it.” We’ve focused on finding strength in the Lord through 21 Days of Strength.   At times, we may discover that strength–even healing–comes when we’re encouraging someone else.

I can still remember that steamy, hot August day when I experienced this truth firsthand.  I was sitting beside the shallow end of our local YMCA swimming pool.  Our daughter splashed happily in the waist deep water with a little girl she’d befriended a few minutes earlier.  Her name was Janie.   The child seemed a bit insecure and quite needy.  No wonder.  As I watched the interactions between Janie  and her very surly father, one thing was clear.  This little girl probably lived in an angry home.  My heart went out to her.

Now, since our daughter was a toddler, she’d had a fear of water. Our happy and active child was fine in the shallow end of the pool but terrified to put her face in the water. A well-meaning swim instructor had once tried to “dunk” her under the water to teach her how to hold her breath.  After that, my strong-willed preschooler resisted learning to swim.  She informed me in no uncertain terms: “Mommy, I don’t want to swim now, or ever. And when I am a teenager, I will walk through the water.” Our family had always loved the water, so I wanted her to enjoy swimming.  Plus, I couldn’t trust her to be safe in the water since she couldn’t swim.

Earlier that same summer, my husband and I had made the decision that we would enroll our daughter in the public kindergarten that coming fall, rather than the local Christian school. This decision came with lots of prayer, but also some apprehension.  This was back in the days of forced busing, and our school drew from some rough neighborhoods.  Quite likely, a few of our young daughter’s classmates would come from fragile and broken families. How would my five-year-old handle leaving the “cocoon?”

Deep in thought, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation next to me between two moms who were discussing how excited they were that their daughters Brittany and Sally would be kindergarten classmates at the nearby private Christian school in the fall.

My heart sank a little. Were we doing the right thing for our daughter? Should we have considered Christian school?  Instead of the “Brittanies and Sallies,” our daughter would be with the “Janies”—the broken, hurting, unpredictable Janies of this world.

The two little girls continued splashing in the shallow water. Suddenly, I caught my breath as our daughter stood up up in the waist deep water and did a beautiful dolphin dive beneath the water’s surface!  I sat there in awe as she began swimming under the water halfway across the pool.  My “terrified to get her face wet” five-year-old emerged from the water laughing and playing, completely unaware that something of a miracle had just occurred.

I looked at my watch and realized it was exactly twelve o’clock noon.  Quietly, the familiar words from one of my favorite verses,  Isaiah 58:10, swept over me: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

At exactly twelve o’clock noon, the “night” of my child’s long-standing fear of water had become as “noonday.” While she was busy loving on a little girl named Janie who needed a friend, our daughter experienced a breakthrough in a long standing fear of water.  And I found my own faith strengthened, along with a sense of peace that God could be trusted as He called us to this new adventure.


The Virtue Nobody Wants-Day 19

If you want to be strong, be humble. Strength comes through humility. The Bible consistently reminds us of this paradox. As believers, we are called to be servants. To give up our rights and die to self.  During our 21 Days of Strength, we’ve been reflecting on ways to find strength in the Lord.  In considering humility as one of those ways, I’m reminded of Paul’s realization that only when he was “weak,” was he truly “strong”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Bottom line? If I truly want to be strong in the Lord, I must also be humble. So I want to spend some time reflecting on the delicate balance in the Bible between strength and humility.

We hear a lot about humility, but it seems to be the virtue nobody really wants. We admire it when we see it in others. But it’s so against our nature to walk in humility that most of us run the other way.

I once read a quote that said something like this: “Truly great people are also the most humble. Arrogance is the consolation price for those who aren’t at the top.” I’ve found this to be true. Some of the most outstanding and honorable people I’ve met are also humble. It’s a virtue I greatly admire, and one I’ve tried to teach our children as they were growing up.

The Bible is clear about the connection between humility and honor. We’re reminded that “humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).   “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up,” comes the strong admonition in James 4:10. Humbling ourselves in this verse literally means “to be made low.” Another version adds weight to this promise: “He will lift you up and make your lives significant” (James 4:10 AMP).

A friend of mine who actually seems quite confident expressed his understanding of humility this way: “Without Christ, I am an incredibly insecure person, and so I stick close to Him.” Isn’t that what humility really is? Apart from Christ, I’m weak and I know it. So I’m going to make a point of sticking close to Him.

This is also called abiding. Jesus made it clear that abiding in Him is the secret to our strength. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).


Training for Trials-Day 18

Trials are the food of faith. –George Mueller

The Olympic Trials will be held this summer. They’re sure to be spectacular events, with young athletes from all over the United States competing for the few coveted spots on the 2016 US Olympic team.  These athletes have endured strenuous training regimens–sacrificing a normal life–all for the chance to compete in these trials.  Some will even make it to the Olympic games.

As believers, we, too, should train for our trials.  Have you thought about how your daily routine of prayer, reading and obeying God’s Word, day after day,  prepares you to stand strong when faced with a trial?  Training for trials prepares you in advance to fight the fight of faith.

Friends, do you love the fight?  Paul calls the fight of faith a “good fight.” It’s been said that we should love the contest of faith in the way an  athelete loves his sport.

I can’t say I love trials.  But there is something invigorating about approaching each day on the offensive, strengthening myself in God’s Word and being intentional about prayer. Thus, the reason for  21 Days of Strength.

I should walk away from my time in prayer and study each morning armed and ready.  Expectant and watchful.  Alert to signs of God at work and opportunities to step out in faith.  Ready to share the Gospel, to meet a need, to take back territory from the enemy.  Prepared to stand strong in the inevitable trials that are part of daily life in a broken world.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

Let’s reflect on these verses.  We challenged to consider trials as an opportunity for  joy.  The same kind of joy awaits us when we prevail in our trial that the athlete experiences when winning his race.  Another great reason to grow strong and train for our trials!