Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Pt. 6

Is it the right moment in your relationship with that person to offer this word of teaching or correction?

In the times that I have failed miserably in my attempts to instruct with gentleness, this was the point where I failed. Finding the right moment of the day or week relative to the person's situational temperament is certainly important, but that's not what I'm talking about here. This point is about the strength and nature of the relationship you have with the other person.

Many years ago, I was part of a church that was about half college students. I was out of college myself, but I had a pretty strong desire to mentor young men a few years behind me on the journey of life and faith. One such guy was a leader in training in his homegroup. I had observed him a number of times in how he interacted with others while in this role and noticed some things he could work on to improve. I honestly don't remember what they were, but I do remember speaking with him. We had a private moment at one point, and I shared my thoughts with him. He received them well, at the time, but just a few days later he pulled me aside and was very upset by the whole encounter. Among other things, he said something to the effect of "I just can't receive that from you right now."

It wasn't until years later that I began to understand my mistake. And it wasn't until I repeated the mistake recently and had it blow up in my face that I truly learned the importance of this point. Incidentally, that moment is what prompted this entire series on instructing with gentleness. And this is what God has taught me about this point:

The strength of your relationship must be able to support the weight of your message.

There is a threshold in every relationship, a moment beyond which there is an understanding and a trust whereby Proverbs 27:6 and 17 can really take hold:

6a The wounds of a friend are trustworthy
17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Some people can reach that moment in a matter of minutes, but for others it can take years. And in some of your relationships, you may never reach that moment. If you haven't reached that moment with someone you want to speak a word of teaching or correction to, you must take an abundance of extra precaution, especially in your method, to ensure that your message is received in a spirit of gentleness. You must also be open to the possibility that God may want to use someone else to deliver the message you feel like is from Him and that you should simply keep your mouth shut and pray.

Now, there is another side to this with a couple of key points. One, you may be the type of person who never lets others reach this moment with you. The end result is that no one has the freedom to speak truth into your life. This may be as a result of some past hurt in your life, or it may be pride. Either way, it's a dangerous place to be, and I strongly encourage you to find two or three mature believers in your life to whom you can give this freedom.

Two, the leaders in your church have a responsibility to instruct and correct you regardless of whether or not you have given them the freedom to do so. This does not preclude the need for them to do this with gentleness, but you do have a command from scripture to receive such instruction from your church leaders.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

In all of this, whether your are giving or receiving instruction, please remember Paul's instruction in Colossians 4:6:

Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

Strength will rise as you wait upon the Lord

Psalm 33:20-22
20 We wait for Yahweh;
He is our help and shield.
21 For our hearts rejoice in Him
because we trust in His holy name.
22 May Your faithful love rest on us, Yahweh,
for we put our hope in You.

Arise, O my soul, and prepare yourself to wait for the Lord.
Make ready your weapons of battle that the Lord may call on you in His timing.
Strive for stillness before the Lord that you may hear when He calls.
Now is the time to renew your strength, to drink deeply from His fount of steadfastness.

It is the Lord who is at work within you and around you; do not fear!
It is Yahweh, Jehovah Jireh, Who is sustaining you; do not be dismayed!
The timing of the Lord is perfect; the very hands of time are subject to His will.
His plans cannot be thwarted, nor can they be delayed.

The Lord is coming to rescue you; wait for the Lord!

-November 7th, 2008

Monday, April 29, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Pt. 5

Is your motivation to share the message born out of love for your brother or sister?

This is one of the most difficult parts to effectively lock in to when seeking to instruct with gentleness. As I mentioned in another post, one thing we can glean from Matthew 7 is that it is hard to see our own faults, and selfish motivations are no exception. Also, we so freely use the word "love" in our culture today that when Paul tells us to speak the truth in love in Ephesians 4:15, I think that sometimes we have a hard time even knowing what that means.

The Bible has a lot to say about what it means to love one another, much more than I could cover in a blog post. I do want you to think about a couple of familiar passages, though.

4 Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy,
is not boastful, is not conceited,
5 does not act improperly,
is not selfish, is not provoked,
and does not keep a record of wrongs.
6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness
but rejoices in the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13

That is a great checklist to compare your motivation against. If any part of your motivation doesn't line up with Paul's description of love here, then there's a good chance that you should keep quiet.

Philippians 2:1-4 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. 3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

What is our one goal (v. 2)? It is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Is your motivation driven by that goal for the person you seek to instruct with gentleness? Or do you wish to speak out a sense of rivalry or conceit? The heart of rivalry is all about elevating one person, team or group at the expense of another. If anything, you should be seeking to elevate your brother or sister at your own expense. That's what it means to consider them more important than yourselves (cf John 15:13).

One final thought. It's been said that actions speak louder than words, and James said something similar in James 2:18 when he stated that true faith can only be demonstrated by what you do, not what you say. Packaging up a harsh or false word with "I'm saying this in love" doesn't make it loving any more than ending a prayer with "In Jesus's name" transforms the content of that prayer into something that is seeking the will of God. If you are truly motivated by love for your brother or sister, it should be evident in all the interactions you have had with that person up to that point.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Humble yourselves

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time

For what does it profit the Lord to exalt a proud man, but that the proud man should claim for his own glory his exalted status. But the humble man exalted by God brings glory to his Father in heaven. In praise he lays his exalted status at the foot of the throne of the Most High.

- October 27, 2008

Friday, April 26, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Pt. 4

Is your mindset appropriate regarding the source of this message you have to deliver?

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. 2 If anyone thinks he knows anything, he does not yet know it as he ought to know it. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. 13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.

There is a significant chance for pride to well up in you when you seek to instruct someone else. The issue that Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 8 was about believers eating food offered to idols. Alistair Begg points out in a teaching on this passage that charring some of the meat of every meal as an offering to their gods was a common practice for unbelieving Corinthians, and young believers, having recently been called out of this idol worship, were concerned that eating such meat would somehow defile them or be a sin against God. The more mature believers recognized that such an idea was not true, and in their knowledge of this truth, they apparently exercised their freedom in such a way that caused their less mature brethren to stumble. Their knowledge did not build others up in love; it puffed themselves up in conceit.

It is easy to adopt an attitude of arrogance and superiority when you have knowledge that has not been revealed to someone else, as if this bit of insight you have to share somehow came about by your own great intellectual power. It is of utmost importance to recognize the truth that Paul reveals just 6 chapters earlier in the same letter: whatever we understand about God and His Word has been revealed to us by the Spirit, and whenever we speak that understanding to others in such a way that they receive new insight, it is only by the Spirit that this can happen at all.

Are you offended when someone doesn't take the great wisdom you have to share and immediately incorporate it into their lives? Who are you, and who am I, that people should listen to what we have to say? I am nothing more than a means to an end for God to give a bit of insight to one of His children. When your parents send you a birthday gift that you really wanted or needed, do you praise and exalt the UPS delivery guy for bringing you such a gift?

When you have a proper mindset regarding the source of the message you have to give, you realize that you are nothing more than a delivery driver transporting a gift of great value from one place to another. If the person receives it, give glory to God. If not, release that to God.  God is the only source of truth that changes lives. You are just the messenger.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Pt. 3

Is your method appropriate for the nature of the message?

Method covers everything from tone of voice and words that are chosen to the delivery mechanism itself. What I share here is more from experiential understanding than biblical revelation. As such, I am not dogmatic in this, but I offer my thoughts to you as one who has been on both sides of true messages delivered with poor methods.

In my experience, the biggest mistake people make in this area is trying to deliver a weighty word of correction over email. It's been said that less than 10% of what you say are the actual words themselves and that the rest is body language and tone of voice*. And for whatever reason I have yet to determine, when body language and tone of voice are absent, as they are in an email, we tend to fill in the worst possible assumptions about the intended tone of the message. What may truly be a message motivated by love for that individual cannot be properly expressed with a simple "I'm saying this in love" written in an email. A phone call is better, but face-to-face is best.

As for tone and the words chosen, I think that Luke 6:45 applies here.

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.

We will address this more when we get to motivation, but for now, it is enough to consider that if you really, truly love the person you are attempting to instruct with gentleness, it should be evident in your tone and the words you say, as well as your other actions towards and interactions with that person. As a general rule, if you have to say with your message "I'm saying this in love," then chances are that's not really true or the other person won't receive it that way.

One final thought on method. I am a direct person. When I have something to say, I say it, and sometimes that gets me into trouble. On the other hand, my directness has a way of working through the barriers that people try to place around themselves and getting to the heart of the matter. I encourage you to be as direct as you feel comfortable being, perhaps even a bit beyond your comfort level. If your message is true, your mindset sound, your motivation pure, and your moment right, then directness in your method will likely be received well, and it has the added benefit of genuineness that can greatly improve receptivity to your message.

*The psychologist that originally identified this idea, Albert Mehrabian, made a point of saying that his findings should only be applied when people are discussing feelings and attitudes. While a message of correction itself is about truth, the emotions and attitudes of both people involved play a significant role in how that message is received, so I think Mehrabian's ideas apply here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Pt. 2

Is your message true?

John 1:14 says that Jesus came "full of grace and truth." An interesting teaching I heard put it this way: He was not 47% grace and 53% truth. He was full of both grace and truth. Jesus said in John 18:37 that He came to testify to truth, and in John 8 He said that truth is what sets us free. Before you can instruct with gentleness, you must ensure that the message you intend to convey is true.

Truth is scary at times. Most of us don't like being wrong, and the more firmly we hold to a particular "truth" we know, the more difficult it is to accept correction. Some people respond by trying to find fault in the person presenting the truth, as if "bringing them down a notch or two" will negate their own need to change their behavior in response to the truth that was shared. I don't know about you, but for me there is a measure of embarrassment that comes with being confronted with where I have messed up, especially if it is completely out of the blue from my perspective. I shared with a friend of mine recently that the worst part for me about becoming more Christ-like is the feeling of utter stupidity that comes with thinking that I should have seen the flaw before it was revealed to me.

We instinctively recognize that truth can be hard to hear, so sometimes we err on the side of not speaking truth at all. If this describes you, consider this: everything Jesus said was the truth, and He was crucified for speaking it. The vast majority of His disciples died a martyr's death for proclaiming the truth.

Now, I know that the weight of what we have to say on a daily basis is not going to get us killed (at least, not here in America), but as I have already pointed out, we don't always see where we need correction. We need other people in our lives to show us where our lives don't measure up to the Word. If you refuse to tell your brother or sister the truth they need to hear, then you aren't acting out of love for that person. Rather than setting them free with truth, you are leaving them enslaved with tact.

Whether you speak or keep silent, you are conveying a message. If you want to be one who instructs with gentleness, you must start with a message that is true.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Instructing with Gentleness, Pt. 1

2 Timothy 2:24-25
24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.

I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about this verse. In context, the "opponents" Paul is referring to are likely unbelievers (see v. 26). However, I don't know about you, but in the day-to-day life of this American disciple, more often than not the opposition I face is from others who also claim the name of Christ. Paul tells us to be gentle with everyone, and to instruct with gentleness. What does this look like? When you have a word of correction you need to give to a brother or sister, how do you do this with gentleness?

As I pondered this idea, God brought to my mind five elements that I believe are key. There may be more, and if He gives me more I may update this later. But for now, I think this is a sufficient framework to start with. These are the five elements to consider:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

God will restore you

1 Peter 5:10 Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.

Several years ago I lost my job at the time, and after I took my wife to work the next Monday, I went to spend some time in solitude with God. This was the passage God took me to. It was the beginning of a 3 week journey that God used to teach me about myself, about who I am in Him, and about who I need to be to those around me.

At the time, what stood out to me was the fact that God must do the restoring, not me, and that He would personally do it, not "delegate" it to someone or something else. Isn't that amazing? The God of all grace will personally restore you. I am always moved by the personal touch of our Mighty God. He is the creator of all things, and He knows His creation so intimately that in my time of suffering, He brought me to a promise in His word that He would personally restore me. Praise God!

As I read this verse today, I saw it in a different light. Three things stand out to me. One, God will start with restoration. As my pastor is teaching in his current series, God sees what we can be in Him and what purpose He can use us for through restoration. The word translated here as "restore" literally means "to fit together, prepare". God pieces us back together and prepares us for His plan to come. This is a great promise.

Two, Peter uses three words that all basically mean the same thing - establish, strengthen, and support - to convey this idea: When God plants you in this new purpose He has for you, He will plant you firmly, supporting you from all sides, grounded and established in Him, strengthened for the purpose He has for you. As a favorite song of mine puts it, "no power of hell and no scheme of man" will be able to move you when you are established by God.

Three, what is necessary before all this takes place is that you suffer a bit. Sometimes I really wish this weren't the case, but we see it many, many places in scripture that becoming Christ-like through suffering is the way God does things.

Are you going through a period of suffering right now? Rest in the promise of this verse - After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace will personally restore, establish, strengthen and support you.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Accountability is beautiful

I texted some friends last night to see if they wanted to go practice at the archery range this morning. One had said no, and I had not heard from the other two before I went to bed. I was determined to go on my own, but as I woke up the next morning, my mattress was much more inviting than an archery range at 7:30am on a Saturday. I decided to check my phone anyway, expecting to see no responses so that I could go back to bed with a clear conscience. However, one of my friends had responded, and his desire to meet up was enough motivation for me to follow through with my original plan. We had a great time of fun, food, and fellowship at the range and then at breakfast afterwards.

This may seem like a trivial example of accountability, but it perfectly illustrates one of its underlying principles: staying committed to the path of being a disciple is easier when others have high expectations of you.

We all have the same goal in being disciples of Christ: being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As we all know, this can be difficult and painful, and lessons we thought we had learned often leave us at the very moment we need them. One interesting bit of understanding we can see from Jesus's teaching on taking the log out of your own eye before trying to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matthew 7) is that we are not always aware of where we fall short of this standard of Christ-likeness. That's where accountability comes in.

Have you given someone the freedom to examine your life and compare it with the image of Christ we see in the Word? Those are some pretty high expectations, and you won't always see where your own life doesn't measure up. And even when you do see, you will be more motivated to change if you know someone else is there helping to point the way to the goal.

My brothers, you need a godly man in your life who has the freedom to apply the friction necessary to sharpen you against the grindstone of the Word. My sisters, you need a godly woman in your life to do the same.

Galatians 6:1-2 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing,
you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit,
watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.
2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tact vs. Gentleness

Recently, a guy I know told me I have no tact. I've had a number of people say something similar to me over the years, and more often than not, it is with the assumption that tact is something that we should be striving for, that tact is somehow superior to non-tact, if that were a word. This time was different in that it was the first time it had happened since God began the process of teaching me to be more thoughtful in how I treat people some 4 1/2 years ago.

If you stick around this blog long enough, I'm sure at some point I will share the beginning of that story, but for now, considering this was something I had not heard in quite some time, I agonized over it for several days. Slowly, God began to remind me of something I had written recently as part of a project I'm working on. It was born out of my consideration of a passage in 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:24-25
24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient,  25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.

Being gentle with truth is a complex skill. There are many factors to balance, from tone of voice and words that are chosen to the when and where of the conversation and the delivery mechanism itself, not to mention taking into account the nature and strength of the relationship between the two people involved. Some err on the side of not speaking truth at all in order to maintain an air of pleasantness, which ends up really being nothing more than a facade masking real issues that need to be addressed. But for those of us who have a passion for proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, it is very easy to forget to heed Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love.

In considering this idea of tact vs. gentleness, I had to look up the dictionary definition of tact. Not because I didn't have a general sense of the word, but because I wanted to know the exact definition. This is the first part of the definition from dictionary.com:
  1. a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense;
I then began to contrast this with the ideas in the following verses (emphasis mine):
  • Ephesians 4:14-15 Then [once we are mature in Christ] we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.
  • John 1:14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • Colossians 3:16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.
  • Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Tact has as its goal to not offend. Gentleness has as its goal Christ-likeness. If your goal is to never offend, then you will at times have to avoid truth. But it takes friction to sharpen a blade, and it takes friction for one person to sharpen another. If you are a disciple of Christ, then you have an obligation to teach, admonish, and sharpen your brothers and sisters with truth, grace, wisdom and love. And they have this obligation to you as well.  

As I said before, doing this with gentleness is a complex skill, and I have a long way to go. Those around you may have a long way to go as well. When we don't do it quite right, please give us grace.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do not fail to extend grace

Hebrews 12:14-15 (ESV)
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

A friend of mine recently went through an extremely trying circumstance, through no fault of his own. However, during the course of this experience, a stranger also involved in this circumstance, supposedly a believer, said something to him to the effect of "You are here because of your own stupidity." This obviously hurt, especially considering the stress of the situation was still quite fresh.

I didn't get a chance to talk to him about it until a couple of days later, and the peace in his spirit was absolutely tremendous. Within hours of it having happened, my friend had forgiven this person. I was amazed and encouraged to hear that. I said to my wife after the fact that such grace and forgiveness is truly a mark of maturity in a believer's life.

Jesus endured more unwarranted abuse than we can possibly imagine and hopefully will ever experience, and in His final breaths on the cross, He asked the Father to forgive those who murdered Him. I can say confidently that any hurt or offense I have experienced cannot even be compared to what Jesus went through. They also pale in comparison to the sins I have committed against God, which, without the blood of Jesus to redeem me, are worth an eternity in hell.

Do you strive for peace with everyone? This same word translated here as strive is used in a negative sense multiple times in the NT and is often translated as "persecute" (e.g. Galatians 1:13, 2 Corinthians 4:9). With the same tenacity that the Apostle Paul, as Saul, persecuted the early Church, we should pursue peace with those who hurt us. 

Have those who caused pain to you obtained grace from you? Or is your relationship with that person defiled, or even destroyed, by a root of bitterness?

Matthew 6:14-15 

14 For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. 15 But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing. 

Knowledge, Love and Christian Freedom

Great teaching by Alistair Begg on 1 Corinthians 8.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Run with endurance

Hebrews 12:1-2
1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.

The writer of Hebrews called out something other than sin to lay aside, and that really stood out to me. Verse 1 encourages us to lay aside every "weight" along with the sin that easily ensnares us. I see a picture of a someone training for a race that wears weights around his ankles and wrists, and maybe a backpack as well. A former boss of mine used to train for hiking up strenuous mountain trails by filling a backpack full of bottles of water and then climbing 12 flights of stairs over and over again. When it came time to actually climb the mountain trails, he wasn't doing so with 30 lbs of water on his back! He set that aside and hiked unencumbered, and he was stronger and was able to endure the climb because of his training.

God uses the hardships of our lives to make us more Christlike (Romans 8:28-29). But sometimes, rather than laying aside these training tools when the time comes for running the race, we hang on to these hardships, and they become burdens that weigh us down. It's different with sin. Sin is a pothole or fallen tree or mass of vines that we have to keep an eye out for as we run this race so that it doesn't trip us up. But how much more difficult is it to do that if we are trying to run with a backpack full of emotional baggage? 

Failed relationships, wounds from our childhood, unhealthy desires for the praise and approval of others, sins others committed against us, these are all things that weigh us down. 

Today is a new day, and you can either run today's race unencumbered in the joy and strength of the Lord, or you can put on a backpack full of all the past hurts you have experienced. Lay aside the weight, and run with endurance.