Passively Aggressive

One of the most significant struggles with communication for a Christian is the use of passive-aggressive speech. This type of speaking is marked by disagreeable statements, negative attitudes, non-active resistance, and avoidance of direct confrontation. It is the use of words to resist an idea or the person presenting it indirectly.

I hear people say things like, “It was wonderful that people came to your aid in that time of crisis. I really wish someone cared about me enough just to drop me a text.” Another time I heard, “I’m not mad, but I think it could have been handled better if you just used your head.” These are the kind of statements that destroy relationships in the home and the Church.

For many of us, it has slipped into our regular dialog so much that we do not even notice it anymore. Unfortunately, it should not be a part of how we communicate if we wish to form stable, Godly relationships in our lives.

One quest for a believer is not just to change the kind of words we use but also how we use them. Sometimes that means we need to keep our mouths shut. Other times it means we need to ruthlessly eliminate the passive-aggressive statements we have used since we were kids. The phrases seethe with anger, and we feel like if we use them backhandedly, then we will accomplish our goal without confrontation. In reality, we are building walls and alienating people, even in our own homes.

Christians are to use words that help build others up. We are to speak the truth in love. We are to be kind, gracious, and wise with the things we say. When issues need to be addressed, we do it directly.

Here is a simple challenge. This week evaluate your conversations and see how many times you are passive-aggressive in your speech. Know that one time is probably too much.

The Voices in Your Life

When the darkness sets in and you are all alone with just the thoughts in your head, whose voice do you hear? 

Is the voice one of an approving or disapproving parent?  Is it the words of a spouse who loves you or is disappointed in your behavior?  Is it the calming speech of a loving friend or the harsh words of a critic? Whose voice do you hear when you are alone? Do you hear comfort or criticism, encouragement or anger, joy or sadness, or even possibly love?

We all have those voices who speak loudly into our lives.  I think that one of the quests of believers is to make that voice the word of God.  One reason to read your Bible and then return to it repeatedly is to increase the volume of the words above all the others.  When God is the primary voice in your life, then you will hear exactly what you need to hear at just the right time. 

Some days it will sound like a coach pushing you to greatness, and other days like a nurse comforting your pain.  Sometimes phrases will make you uneasy and stretch your thinking, while other passages will remind you of what you already know to be true. 

One goal for all believers is to listen to the right voice and silence the crowds who are not inspiring you to be more like your Savior. 

The Grit and Glory of Love

Sunday is Valentine’s Day.  This is the weekend we celebrate the love between a man and a woman.  In particular, my sermon on Sunday will focus on married couples and the joy of their union. 

Love inside of marriage is a beautiful and unique thing.  The word of God says that marriage makes two people into one.  There is an intimate connection that unites people physically, but also emotionally, and spiritually.  I believe it is God’s great gift to humanity; to experience intimacy with another human at its deepest level.

The downside is that maintaining this relationship is not easy.  Every couple has issues and disagreements as they are forming this new union.  The glory of love is only realized through the grit of determination.  For two to become one, each individual must commit to staying together even when times are tough.  They must be willing to hang on by their fingernails when others are giving up on their marriage. 

Before you can experience the best that God has to offer in a marital relationship, you must develop the grit and determination to see it through to the end.  Long marriages filled with love and joy are not the result of a special gift given to your spouse this weekend.  (Although that is rarely a wrong move.)  No, great marriages result from two people who are unwilling to give up when times are hard.  The difficulties are what make the good times so sweet. 

I Would Rather Have the Mess

When I entered ministry right out of Bible college one of my mentors wrote an article that has stuck with me for over 25 years.  He wrote a little devotion in the magazine for our brotherhood of Churches based on one odd proverb in the Old Testament

Proverbs 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests.

There are two simple thoughts in this passage.  The first is that without oxen, you have nothing to clean up.  There is no work to gather and store food and no getting up early to feed them or staying up late as they give birth.  The manger and barn are empty, and life is easy. 

But if you want a great harvest, you need to have oxen.  If you own oxen, you can plant more and therefore harvest more.  Having an ox may require work, but the payoff is seen at the harvest

In his article, he then applied the logic of that proverb to the Church.  Having no guests at Church will keep the place clean.  If there are no children or children’s ministry, there will be no markers to clean up or dirty hands making a mess of the sink.  Having lots of people at the Church building each week makes a mess for someone to clean up after it is over. 

But if you want to see people come to know Jesus.  If you’re going to see lives transformed by the power of Jesus, it will require you to have people coming to the Church building.  

In other words, not having non-believers come to Church will keep things nice and clean, but the glory of a Church is when they are reaching new people for Jesus. 

So the question is, does the Church want to be neat and clean or have the mess that comes with ministry?  I would rather have the mess.

Jesus Hates This

We rarely associate Jesus with hatred.  Jesus is all about love.  He tells us to love one another because he loved the world, and his followers will be known by their love.  But did you know that the Bible tells us that Jesus also hates things? 

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John is writing down the words being revealed to him on the island of Patmos.  The first part of his vision is of the resurrected Jesus and the glory of his might.  The next part of the book contains his letters to the seven Churches of Asia Minor.  In this section, Jesus tells the Church in Ephesus, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6 – NIV 2011)

According to early Church fathers, the Nicolaitans derive their name from one of the deacons enlisted to serve in Acts chapter 6.  Nicolas was said to have apostatized and become the founder of a religious sect.  This conclusion is somewhat of speculation as there is no direct evidence.  Others have said that he did walk away from the traditional faith but did not form a sect; thus, his name is used like Balaam and Jezebel in these chapters of Revelations as symbolic with those who deny proper religious belief.  We can be sure that this group stepped away from the New Testament teachings somewhere in early Church history and formed their new religious congregation. 

Most scholars agree that this group had severed themselves from the Church in two ways, and probably both as they overlap.  The first mistake they made was to accept a teaching called Gnosticism. This teaching states that the only thing significant in faith is what you know and believe in your heart.  Faith is separate from actions.  You can do whatever you like as long as you hold the right convictions.  The second part of their belief is a natural outworking of the first.  If it doesn’t matter what you do with your physical body, then giving oneself over to all sexual relations was acceptable.  Living together, adultery, homosexuality, and all forms of sexual immorality are permissible as long as you still believe Jesus is your Savior.  While there is some speculation as to the extent of this group’s depravity, everyone does agree that their step outside of faith was marked by immorality.

The words of Jesus in Revelation chapter 2 remind us that Jesus hates people who claim to follow him and yet have no desire for holiness.  They speak of grace without transformation.  They teach justification without sanctification.  Their words are of Jesus as Savior but not Lord.  The message of salvation is not connected to discipleship.  The people wanted all the good parts of the gospel without taking up a cross. 

Jesus says, “I hate that,” and he is happy that this Church does too. 

Sometimes we need to be reminded that grace is not cheap and following Jesus calls for radical transformation.  That message may sound harsh in the eyes of the world, but a true love of Jesus requires that we hate what is evil. 

Minimum Required Service

Numerous people I encounter want to know, “How much ministry should I do?” They may not use those exact words, but their intent oozes through in other questions.  After all, we have a limited amount of time, so how much service does God require of me?

I hate this type of questioning as it feels like people are asking, “What is the least amount of effort I can put into serving the Lord that will still make him happy with me?” It sounds like the students I have known who did the bare minimum to get a passing grade. 

Do we really think this is a good question for us to be asking?

Christians worship a God who is believed to have come to earth to give of himself.  The words of the New Testament are that he “poured out” himself.  Philippians chapter two says that he made himself nothing.  He demonstrated his willingness to serve by washing the disciple’s feet.  His ministry’s final great act was to surrender himself on the cross as a ransom for many.  The result of this work is that his followers receive grace upon grace.  The abundance of his love, compassion, and mercy for his people is unmatched in all the world. 

If this is the God we worship, then should we ask, “What is the minimum amount of effort I can serve and still make God happy?” It seems like we should be seeking to give him our greatest effort and not our least.  It was Jesus who said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 – NIV 2011) 

Some days I really do wish it were easier to follow Jesus.  I would love to lie on the couch all evening, along with weekends.  I would spend more lazy time asking the world to serve me and my needs.  But faith is no place for the weak or lazy.  It requires us surrendering our entire life to the one who gave his life for us.  Grace is amazing, and our response should be nothing less than our best. 

An Unexpected Thank You

There are numerous things in my life for which I never thought I would be thankful.  Many experiences that I imagined I would look back upon with remorse have turned into the doorway to a better today and a brighter future.  So I want to take a few lines to write “thank you” to all my unexpected friends on my faith journey. 

Thank you to pain for helping me appreciate the moments of joy.

Thank you to heartbreak for teaching me the value of love.

Thank you to trials for making me stronger.

Thank you to failures for keeping me humble.

Thank you to those who turned their back on me for making me value my real friends.

Thank you to sorrow for instructing me on how to express my emotions.

Thank you to other’s mistakes, which enable me to show compassion and mercy. 

Thank you to the wounds that make me wiser in the future.

Thank you to darkness for opening my eyes to the light.

Thank you to loss for allowing me to treasure the time I have left.

Thank you to sin for showing me God’s amazing grace.

The next time I want to complain, my goal is to stop and see what I am learning and how I am growing through the experience.  Perhaps you will join me in being more thankful, even for the things that are difficult to endure.

The Culmination of Small Things in Marriage

This Sunday, I am kicking off a two-week sermon series on love and marriage.  Whenever I preach this type of series, I begin to think of all the struggling marriages that I know.  I want to offer them hope and help. Here is one of the things I tell couples who wish to improve their marriage.

Your relationship with your spouse is the result of your actions.  If you invest time and energy into your relationship, it will always improve as you grow closer together.  If you neglect each other for whatever reason, you will grow apart, and your relationship will struggle. 

Here is the part that most people do not understand.  They immediately think that to save their marriage, they need to take some significant action to change everything.  They believe their spouse wants them to give up all their hobbies, friends, and personal pursuits so they can spend every minute together.  That is RARELY the case. 

What your relationship needs to grow and thrive is small things often.  Doing things like sharing a 10-minute conversation each day can bring you closer together.  There is a long list of little gestures you can do to help your marriage thrive.  You can send a text every day to say that you are thinking of them or that you love them.  A touch, a look, a word, and a little time are all actions that will improve your marriage. 

The old question is, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “One bite at a time.” And how do you improve your marriage?  The answer, “One small action at a time.”

People Caught in Sin

Almost every day, I hear a new story about someone whose sin has been made public.  They were caught in a lie, exploded in anger, found to be having an affair, or discovered to be immoral in one of a thousand ways.  These stories make headline news and are fodder for conversation at Church prayer meetings. We all know the stories, and even a non-believer can tell you about the hypocrisy of people calling themselves followers of Jesus and then not acting like their leader. 

My question for today is, “What is your response when you hear stories like that?”

Do you respond with a sense of moral outrage?  How could someone with their knowledge and experience behave like that?  How shameful.  They are such a disgrace to believers everywhere. 

Do you respond with compassion?  I feel sorry for them trying to lead this double life and not know the freedom found in Christ.  They need grace now more than ever.  I hope this is the catalyst for change in their lives, and I want them to know the grace that gives them a second chance. 

Both of these reactions are logical:  Righteous indignation over sin and compassion over sin.  Either one of them are normal responses, BUT only one is helpful when people are hurting over their failures. 

What You Don’t Want to Hear

That might be the exact thing you NEED to hear. 

Perhaps no one has told you the truth.  Your friends knew it would hurt your feelings.  Those closest to you are often the last ones to say anything about your struggles.  On the other hand, you would not listen to strangers. 

Painful words can often be the most helpful. 

If you will listen closely and recognize the truth being spoken to you.  Then take that nugget of information and apply it to your life. 

No one wants to hear that they are angry, overweight, selfish, mean spirited, negative, pessimistic, domineering, unorganized, unhelpful, or a variety of other issues.  But how will you know unless someone tells you?  You obviously cannot listen to every critical person, or you will be utterly discouraged all the time.  But you can see the grain of truth behind their words that you really need to hear. 

Every person has some area of their life that they need to improve for God.  Would you listen to someone if they told you that truth you need to hear – even if you don’t want to hear it?  Perhaps someone is already trying to say something to you, but you have chosen not to listen.  Today could be a painful day as you understand the truth about yourself.  It could also be the day that makes you more like Jesus.