Don’t Be So Quick To Quote Scripture At Your Friends

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Is there ever a time not to quote Scripture? Imagine this scenario. Sunday after church your friend approaches you asking to talk. He’s having struggles in his marriage. At the office a project is requiring extra hours and at home the kids are in a high-octane phase that’s driving his wife nuts. The result is a household full of tension and irritability, with a number of petty, smoldering conflicts gradually merging into one ongoing conflagration.

“I know these arguments don’t please the Lord, and I know I’m partly to blame,” your friend says. “What do you think?” It’s your opening. Time for Scripture, right? “Bro, you just need to love your wife as Christ loves the church. I’ll pray for you!”

It’s biblical (Eph. 5:25). It’s true. It applies to his situation. But is it what he needs to hear? Surprising as it may seem, the answer is no. Not yet. Why? Here’s the principle: don’t quote Scripture until you can personalize the truth. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church,” is true – gloriously and challengingly so. It’s also generic, one-size-fits-all. Husbands from Papua New Guinea to Pennsylvania can apply it. But your friend isn’t a symbolic representative of all husbands everywhere. He’s one person walking out his life before the Lord, loving a specific woman and specific children in a succession of unrepeatable, never-to-be-duplicated moments. God’s ultimate goal is for Ephesians 5:25 to be embodied in concrete, particular ways in real time, at 5:47pm on Friday the 29th and 9:30 on Saturday morning after breakfast.

What does that mean for you? Simply this: ask more questions. Don’t use a Bible verse to end a conversation before it requires too much of you. Find out how your friend is struggling, in specifics: when did it happen last? Where? Why? When you can help your friend see what loving his wife, in this season, this week looks like – then you can remind him that planning to take the kids Saturday afternoon or pick up pizza for dinner Wednesday night so she doesn’t have to cook is his personalized expression of Ephesians 5:29.

Sometimes, even with good question, you may not know how to help someone particularize truth. You know a verse applies, but you’re not sure how because the situation is complex. That’s okay. In that case you’re honest with your friend, and Scripture doesn’t become a conversation stopper. You talk about the verse. You pray together. You commit to helping walk with your friend while you both grow in wisdom. But the goal is to make truth personal – even when it takes time.

Why is this so important? The ultimate answer is because God is personal. He is not a general truth about life, but a person. And he relates not to abstract humanity, but to real people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The living Redeemer writes down names, whole chapters of them (see Romans 16, for instance).

So yes, your friend needs Scripture. So do you – but Scripture that’s personalized, melded to real life. Don’t be content with abstractions. Ask questions. Pray for wisdom. And then speak.

Photo by Brett Jordan

Not Perfect, But Worth Imitating

I urge you, then, be imitators of me (1 Corinthians 4:16).

“God has designed the Christian life so that much of one’s progress comes through imitating other Christians, imperfect though they be.” — ESVSB

Every Christian should seek to live a life worth emulating.  What do your friends see in you that they can imitate?  What do your children see?  What would a new believer want to replicate?

Are you cheerful in trials?  Humble?  Do you have a heart to serve?  Is your faith worth imitating?  Do you consistently pursue the Lord?

I want to imitate Charles Spurgeon’s love of Jesus, John Newton’s joy, CJ Mahaney’s humility, David Powlison’s compassion.  I want to imitate the way so many in our church serve, and the perseverance of so many of my friends in affliction.

Who do you seek to imitate and why?

photo by dbz885

That’s OK, Tonto, I Can Figure It Out

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God commands believers to bear one another’s burdens.  Implied in this command is that we must allow others to bear our burdens as well.  To me, this is harder than bearing the burdens of others.

I would rather shoulder my own load and not bother others.  Sometimes this is because of pride.  I don’t want to appear weak.  I don’t want others to know that I’m struggling with discouragement or unbelief.

Many times it’s because of the fear of man, or craving the approval of others that I don’t share my burdens.  I don’t want others to know I fail as a parent.  I don’t want others to know I’m having challenges with my teen or that I’ve been harsh or lax.  I want to look like I have it all together, that I’m the perfect parent.

I don’t want others to know I’ve sinned.  I don’t like to admit I’ve lied or given a false impression, or given in to lust or anger.  I don’t want others to know I’ve been living in unbelief.  I’ll just work through this myself.

Sometimes I fail to let others bear my burdens because I’m unteachable.  I think I can figure things out on my own.  Thanks for your suggestions, Tonto, but I got this one under control.  After all, I’m the LONE Ranger, remember?  Maybe the Marlboro Man could use your advice.

We need friends who will ask questions, like, “How are you doing in your heart?  Are you tempted to unbelief or discouragement?  Are you tempted to anger or being cold toward your child?  Is Facebook a source of temptation for you in the midst of your marriage problems?  Are you feeling bitter toward that person who sinned against you?”

It’s humbling.  But humility is the path to victory.  If we seek to cover our sins we won’t prosper, but if we confess and forsake them, we’ll find mercy.

How about you?  Do you struggle to allow others to bear your burdens?

Don’t Bother Me With Your Problems

Confession: I’m not a big fan of other people’s problems. I’m a wicked sinner who’s got a pile of his own sin to deal with on a daily basis. When someone comes to me with a problem, whether it be physical, financial, relational, or spiritual, I’m not doing a jig of excitement.

Working through problems with others takes work. My lazy heart doesn’t like work. It takes work to sit down and have a long, painful conversation about a friend’s current struggle with lust. It takes effort to pick up the phone and call a friend at 10:00 PM when all I want to do is sleep. My mind sinfully begins firing off excuses.

  • Look Stephen, these aren’t your problems. Let them deal with them.
  • You’ve had a long day and you just need R&R, TLC, and ABOC (A Bag of Chips).
  • Why do I always get sucked into these situations?

Can you relate to my sinful, selfish distaste for the problem of others? The truth is, I don’t want to get my hands messy. People (myself included) are messy things, and I don’t want to get my hands dirty messing with other people’s problems.

Yet when I read the example of the Apostle Paul I’m deeply challenged. Paul was a guy who, out of deep love for the saints, didn’t hesitate to get messy. The book of Philemon illustrates this wonderfully.

Here’s the deal. Philemon has a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus, not being a Christian, steals from Philemon and then proceeds to high-tail it out of town. While on the run Onesimus meets Paul, who in turn leads him to Jesus. After becoming a Christian Onesimus realizes that he needs to return to Philemon and right what has been wrong. All this equals a very messy situation between two messy sinners.

Enter Paul. He writes a letter to Philemon, pleading with him to be reconciled to Onesimus. He offers to pay any monetary debt owed by Onesimus. He even asks Philemon to prepare a room for him so that he can come and visit. Out of love for Onesimus and Philemon, Paul gets his hands very messy.

I want to be like Paul. I want to have such a love for my fellow Christians that I’m not afraid to get my hands messy.

What about you? Can you relate to my distaste for messy people problems? How do we grow in our love for the saints?

+photo © Jenny Rollo

Refreshing Souls

Naps, along with fire, the wheel, and steak, are perhaps the greatest thing ever invented. Why? Because they are so refreshing. I just woke up from a nap and I feel like ten million bucks. Before the nap I felt like sludgy pudding. Now I feel like a superstar.

I recently read the following words in Philemon 4-7:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

I absolutely love the words, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that was the regular effect that we had on others? Wouldn’t it be beautiful if after spending an hour with us, our husband/wife/child/friend said, “My heart feels refreshed in the Lord!”? We don’t live in a vacuum. Our actions and words directly effect the people around us. I want to be like Philemon. I want people to feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and refilled in the Lord after time with me.

What was it about Philemon that made him so refreshing to others? “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love…” Philemon was bursting with love for other Christians, and the result was that he refreshed the saints around him.

Is my heart brimming with love for those around me? Do I have the affection of Christ for the saints, which in turn leads me to refresh them with my words, my time, my money, my care? I’m not there yet, but by grace, I want to be.

So here’s to refreshing souls. And to naps…

+photo by Dominic’s pics