Make Understanding a Priority

And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 AMPC)

Today’s scripture instructs us to be kind, understanding, and forgiving.  Today I want to focus on being tenderhearted or understanding.  To be understood is a desire that most all humans crave but seem to have less intentionality in providing it to the others we interact with or have relationship with.  One of our greatest challenges for pursuing understanding is with our spouses and children.

Most of us have very little understanding of other people including our mates. It has been said that it takes a huge amount of understanding to make a marriage successful.  Yet many of us, despite relational difficulties, have not made a concerted effort to truly understand those we say we love. 

Our marriages require accepting a life-long project and commitment to learn to understand each other. It is only in coming to understand the other that true love can exist and thrive.  If we can invest our time and energy into understanding our mates, the rest of life’s complexity will seem easy in comparison. In order to understand and really know your spouse, you must study them.

Studying our mates is to observe them as the unique and complicated being they are.  There are no two of us who are exactly the same because God has created us as unique individuals who are ever changing as life happens.  We need to note habits, likes and dislikes, humor, what pleases or upsets.  We need to know when encouragement, affection, admiration, confirmation, or calming support is necessary.  Simply put, we must know what makes our spouses tick.

By making our spouses the center of our attention, we will begin to understand them with their and God’s help.  We started with the directive to be kind, understanding, and forgiving.  In coming to know our spouses, we will know the thoughts and acts of kindness  we can provide for them. Understanding one another reduces the conflict caused by misinterpreted motives, and actions. When we understand, we can realistically love and forgive each other just as God does.

Make understanding those you love a priority so that true love can be expressed in kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.  Give your spouse the gift of being able to say, “I get you”.  (Adrian)

Imprisoned by a Grudge

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. (Proverbs 17:9 NLT)

Why is it so difficult to let go of the hurts inflicted upon us? Being hurt by the people we love, most especially our mates, can be hard to overcome. But why is that? Could it be just a matter of acting out our natural impulse to protect ourselves, or is it a need for retaliation? Is it a matter of withholding forgiveness to use as a power tool?

There is a part of our natural humanness that wants to protect ourselves from future hurts and pains. Think of falling off a horse. It is painful and disturbing. The memory of such an incident may cause you to never want to get on another horse as long as you live. However, what is typically said? “You have to get back on the horse, immediately.” Why is that? If you don’t, you will have the opportunity for the memory to linger; and as you dwell on it, the fear of it grows more intense. The same thing is true in our relationships. When we are hurt, unless we freely forgive quickly, we have a tendency to dwell on it giving the devil a foothold and causing a rift.

Focusing on an offense imprisons us. It invades our thought life; and if we are not careful, we will start planning our vengeance. It allows the enemy (Satan) to convince us that we have power over the offender by not forgiving. The fact is, we couldn’t be more wrong. Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand, but the inability to forgive does not affect the offender as much as it affects us. We are the ones who suffer. It tears us up on the inside. Consider the following quote: “The failure to forgive fosters debilitating attitudes of resentment and rage. Many research studies show significant correlation between resentment and anger and the reduction of the efficiency of the immune system–the effect of which is to increase our vulnerability to illnesses ranging from the common cold to AIDS. Other people, unforgiven, literally make us sick” (Robert Caldwell, The Difficult and Compelling Art of Forgiving).

The sad fact is that we, ourselves, hold the key to the prison door. It’s a decision we must make to let the offense go and seek God for healing; and it’s not to say that the feelings will just dissipate into the atmosphere. It may take time, but we still must remind ourselves that the decision has already been made to let it go.

Because we have been born again, we no longer have to rely on our “natural humanness” to muster up the courage to let go of a grudge we may be holding against our beloved.  Remember that “you belong to God, my dear children…the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world “(1 John 4:4, NLT). God’s Spirit empowers us to do the “unnatural” thing.

Let’s break free from the prison of grudge holding. Let’s always be willing to give to our mates the same thing God gives to us – unlimited forgiveness.  Let’s allow our love to prosper by forgiving our spouses faults. Besides, we probably have many more than they do. (Pam)

Choose To Accept

to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV)

I’ve written a lot about choices we need to make in order to effectively follow God’s word, and here’s one more: Acceptance. This scripture lets us know that because of God’s mercy and grace, which is His nature, He has made us accepted in His Son Jesus Christ (the Beloved). Acceptance here is defined as to be endued with special honor or is highly favored. It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and receiving Him as Savior, that we are reconciled and accepted by God. God made a way for us to be included in His family despite our continued imperfections because it is a gift of His grace not the result of our works.

In our marriages and other relationships of life, one of the most challenging ways of expressing our love is through true acceptance.  In a world of social media where everyone seems to have an opinion, and an associated criticism, people are afraid to tell you who they really are.  The truth is that, if they share who they really are and you reject them, that is all they have to give.  Most people will not open up to you unless they feel accepted.  Many will only risk vulnerability if they know they are accepted with all their faults, hang-ups and idiosyncrasies.  The truth is that acceptance is a perceived feeling.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, if God can accept us because of the work of Jesus with all our imperfections, why can’t we choose and learn to accept the people we say we love.  In our marriages, the differences between spouses is what makes for a fuller experience of life and shared love.  I am so glad for the different talents, perspectives, humor, sensitivities, opinions, tastes, and appearance of my wife.  I realize that I am a better person and enjoy life more as a result of my involvement with someone very different (but determined to be a blessing) from me. 

In our attempt to be more accepting we might ask ourselves how many times a day  we ask our spouse or friend, “Why?”  You know, why did you do this or that? Consider that the question of why may be intimidating or even threatening.  Have you considered that it may be an indication of your level of acceptance? As you go through the day, count how many times you ask why. Evaluate whether it is an indication of genuine curiosity or just your way of voicing subtle disapproval without actually saying, “I wouldn’t have done it that way,” which signals a lack of acceptance.  To express your acceptance of other’s differences, work to reduce the number of times you ask why. 

The more we can make people feel accepted, the more they will open up to us and allow us to see and get to know the real person.  One of the true enjoyments of life and relationships comes from experiencing the freedom that is created through acceptance.  Let’s share God’s acceptance of us with others.  (Adrian)

Living Face to Face

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. (1 Thessalonians 3:12, New Living Translation)

We often hear of couples who say they’ve just grown apart, and therefore, find little in common with one another anymore. More than likely, what has happened is that they lived their lives side by side instead of face to face. Some couples can live in a house together, raise children, even attend church and other events together. Yet they never take the time to really notice what each is doing.  Married life was never meant to be just a series of activities and duties that couples do together in the same house. I’m certain God meant it to be a rich, fulfilling experience, to be a daily, loving encounter with Him and each other.

Living face to face means paying attention to each other. It means noticing when one or the other is down or going through a rough patch. It’s also sharing in the triumphs and victories in your lives. It means, “I see you at your lowest and your highest.”

Think about how often you and your mate actually make eye contact. All too often, couples are so involved in the minutiae and busyness of life, they neglect one another.  With that neglect comes a slow death of the relationship. No, it doesn’t happen all at once, but little by little, perhaps, a trickle at a time; but as each bit mounts up over time, you can start to see the beginning of the end. Remember when you were first dating and getting to know each other? You made spending time together a priority, and you couldn’t wait for each date. Your heart raced at the thought of seeing each other again. Then life happens. You get married and all your attention now goes to the responsibilities of managing a household, paying bills, parenting and the list goes on and on. Now you no longer enjoy the experience of just being together.

The scripture above encourages us to allow God to make our love for one another not only grow but overflow. That means that there should be such an abundance of growth that it overflows to other people.

There is a tried and true method for keeping your love from shriveling up. Remember the idea of a weekly date? I know some people “pooh pooh” the whole concept, but having that weekly, set-aside time for just connecting with your mate is invaluable. It’s a commitment that has to become a priority.  It’s an opportunity to look into each other’s eyes and share who you are again. It’s an occasion to notice the growth and maturity in each other, to rediscover the gifts you both bring to the relationship, to begin to see past the titles of “mother”, “father”, “business man or woman” and, instead, see each other as partner, lover, friend.

If you find that you are living life side by side with your spouse, I encourage you to turn and face each other and determine that that is how you will now live and do life together. You may find that you will rediscover some interesting and wonderful things about each other or even notice new things. I believe I shared before about how I, sometimes, found my husband just watching me; and when I inquired why, his response was, “I find you fascinating.” Who could not feel about that! But that’s the benefit of living face to face. With God’s help, you can do it.

Choose To Listen

A [self-confident] fool has no delight in understanding but only in revealing his personal opinions and himself. (Proverbs 18:2, AMPC)

Life today is filled with so many choices that, sometimes, we find it overwhelming.  The challenge of choice is to choose the path that leads to our desired destination or result. Christ came to earth to live, die, and rise from death that we might have the opportunity to choose Him as our personal Savior and have our sins forgiven.  This choice restores our relationship with Father God and allows us to live life in fellowship with Him. Fellowship with God through Jesus Christ provides access to constant help and assistance in doing His will daily.

One of the many choices to be made every day is choosing to listen with the purpose of understanding.  In our marriages and other relationships, we find ourselves trying to communicate with others without really listening to them.  Typically, while talking to someone, we are already formulating our response without focusing on what they are actually saying.  Proverbs 18:13 (AMPC), says,  He who answers a matter before he hears the facts—it is folly and shame to him. When we find ourselves sitting on the edge of our chairs, perched, just waiting  for someone to finish talking so we can express our thoughts, this is the time God reminds us that a fool does not delight in understanding but only in revealing their own mind. This is the time to choose to listen to understand, with God’s assistance.

Ask God to help you learn to listen without interrupting the person who is speaking.  Interrupting others is a habit that’s detrimental to listening.  If we can practice listening without interruption and then share what we believe we have heard, this will allow confirmation of what was said by the speaker.  The talker can then, possibly, correct any reception errors allowing you to properly respond from a position of understanding. This is basically “Listening 101”.

To have a real conversation requires both parties to listen to each other. If you find yourself trying to converse with someone who appears to not be listening to you, perhaps you need to examine yourself to determine the reason why.  To discover the reason you are not being listened to, may require you to ask God to help you search your heart and thoughts to uncover bad habits, unkind word or critical attitudes that may be causing them not to listen to you.  God can help us to be the type of people others desire to hear and be worth listening to.  Proverbs 10:11 says, The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain;…

Choosing to listen and to be heard is essential to successful communication.  God wants to help you to have good communication with your spouse and others.  Allow God to be your partner in evaluating any hindrances to your listening skills or to having others listen to you. Listening is a valuable skill once it’s learned, but it takes a great deal of practice. (Adrian)

Fruit That’s Always in Season

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

It’s finally autumn. That’s a big deal for Arizona. With our scorching, hot summers, fall and winter are the seasons we look forward to the most. Although relatively warm compared to other parts of the country, our temperatures of low eighties and high to low seventies are like paradise after the sizzling heat of summer.

I have to admit, though, there is one aspect of summer that I really enjoy no matter what state I’m living in and that’s summer fruit. There’s nothing quite like walking through the farmers’ market in Iowa and picking out my favorite summer fruit: cherries, peaches and nectarines, apricots, pineapples, strawberries, etc. Cherries are like my summer candy. In Upstate New York, you only have to drive every few miles before running into a roadside fruit stand chock full of a delicious array of wonderful summer fruits.

Now that fall has arrived, it’s difficult to find those juicy summer delicacies. Of course, some stores may import them from other parts of the world, but it’s nothing quite like the stuff that’s locally or regionally grown.

When we are born again, there is a fruit that is given to all believers at the time of their new birth: The fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are never out of season. The fruit of the Spirit is the change in our character that comes about because of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. This fruit is with us all the time and accessible anytime.

I specifically want to zero in on the fruit of self-control. Philippians 2:13 tells us, For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. It’s so easy, sometimes, to forget, during the heat of a battle, that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help control our emotions, our thoughts and our actions. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to shake our coaching couples (not literally, although the temptation was there), particularly those who profess Christ,  into the realization that they can actually control the vitriol that proceeds out of their mouths when trying to win an argument. We hear all too often, “I couldn’t help myself,” and we remind them Who lives on the inside of them. Therefore, self-control is readily available for access if they would only use it.

The fruit of self-control is not simply will power. Rather, it’s the power of the universe, God’s Holy Spirit, dwelling on the inside of us that allows us to live victorious lives in this sinful, challenging world. So, when you feel like you have what I call the “can’t help its”, remember, you can!

In Matthew 8:2-3, we see this account:  Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. “Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. My question to you is: Are you willing to ask God to help you allow the fruit of self-control to be an everyday part of your life? I pray your answer is, “I am willing.” (Pam)

Fullness of Joy

… And be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold. (Nehemiah 8:10, AMPC)

I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing. (John 15:11, AMPC)

The verse in Nehemiah quoted above tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. The Hebrew word used for joy is defined as rejoicing or gladness. I believe that the joy of the Lord is actually a product or manifestation of the grace of God. When we know that we are loved and cherished by God Almighty Himself, we can’t help but to be filled, to overflowing, with joy.

The strength that we experience comes from our trust in the faithfulness of God.  John 15:11 quotes Jesus regarding His joy that resulted from Him doing the will of the Father.  Jesus came to earth to be humanity’s personal Savior and sacrifice for sin.  God loved humankind so much that He gave His only son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place that we might be reconciled to God.  Knowing the extent of God’s devotion and desire to provide for an opportunity of salvation for humanity should inspire our confidence in God’s will and ability to satisfy our greatest needs.

As always, our strength does not come from us but from God.  Therefore, when we face what, in reality, is beyond our capability, we can do as Christ did and say not our will but God’s will be done.  We can prevail in knowing that God is working in us and through us. Consequently, as we pursue the will of God for our lives, we can share in the joy and delight that Jesus spoke of.

In John 15, Jesus talks about how He kept God’s commands. He then challenges us to do the same in loving one another.  We must come to understand that only by doing God’s will can we truly experience the joy of the Lord in its fullness. The joy of the Lord is far superior to happiness because it is not dependent on circumstances or people.  The joy of the Lord is founded on a relationship with God, the ultimate promise keeper.  Jesus wanted His joy to be ours in full measure – complete and overflowing.

Fullness of joy is a choice we can make by receiving God’s gift: His Son as our personal Savior.  Allow the joy of the Lord to be your endless supply of strength to face the challenges of life and eternity. (Adrian)

Fear is a Thief

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. (2 Timothy 1:7,AMP)

The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? (Psalm 27:1, NLT)

Fear, dread, trepidation, and apprehension all denote agitation and anxiety that’s caused by the presence or imminence of danger. That danger could be real or just an anticipation of something unpleasant. There are, of course, many types of fear, and not all fear is bad. Some fear can keep you out of a lot trouble, but it can also cloud your judgment and blind your perspective. The type of fear that keeps us out of trouble is our fear of something obviously dangerous. For instance, we should have a healthy fear of jumping into a wild animal’s cage or of playing Superman by leaping off a tall building without preparation to defy gravity.

I want to concentrate on the fear that causes undue anxiety due to the expectation of something unpleasant. That kind of fear is a dangerous enemy.

When I began my teaching career, the first grade I taught was kindergarten. I enjoyed it, but I knew that it wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with children who were a bit more self-sufficient. I eventually worked my way up through other grades and finally landed at grade six.. When we moved from California to Iowa because of Adrian’s new position in the company, I had to make a shift. I did some substitute teaching in various grades, and it was fine; but I didn’t necessarily want to teach full time any longer.

A friend of mine from church, who was an adult basic education teacher, and also helped prepare clients (students) to take their GED, told me she was changing positions and asked if I’d be interested in taking her place. She worked at a residential treatment center for substance abuse. This facility also housed a mental health institute. I told her that I was interested, but inwardly, I was uneasy. The day she invited me to come and observe, I could feel my fear wanting to take over. I almost changed my mind about going, but I soldiered on. Part of me had to deal with the surprising prejudice I realized I had about working with that population of people. I had never been around folks who did drugs and such, so I didn’t know what to expect. I stood aloof (my heart beating fast) as I observed her interaction with the clients. She was occupied with one student, so another one approached me and asked if I was a teacher. I reservedly said yes, so he asked for some help with his math. Reluctantly, I sat down with him and, suddenly, all the fear just washed away, and that prejudice just took a dive off a cliff somewhere. Afterwards, I readily accepted the invitation to take my friend’s place. This turned out to be one of several of my most rewarding teaching roles. In fact, I became the teacher with the highest percentage of people successfully achieving their GED. I almost allowed fear to rob me of some of the greatest joys I experienced in teaching.

I used to be terrified of computers. I believed I was going to be that person who could irreparably damage one.  I was assigned to teach a specialized adult class that concentrated on getting displaced workers back on their feet by learning new skills. One of those skills was basic computer. Yikes! How was I going to do that? Of course, fear stepped in and almost caused me to not take the position. I thank God for an understanding and helpful husband. As I would look ahead and see what I was supposed to teach on a particular day, I would share that with Adrian; and he would teach me the concept so I could teach my students. My confidence was now growing; and after a few weeks, I discovered that I actually had a genuine proclivity for computer science. I began experimenting with different things and was able to give my students even some advanced knowledge.

Fear can stop us in our tracks if we allow it run our lives. God wants us to walk in victory even when circumstances seem daunting. Faith is the opposite of fear, and faith is where we as Christians should be walking, daily. Some scary situations may give a start, but we want to learn to grab hold of ourselves quickly, and allow Holy Spirit to get us back on track.

There are so many things God wants us to accomplish in our walk down here on earth; but if we walk around with timidly and being afraid of our own shadow, we will miss out on all the blessings that come with obedience. Sometimes, obedience takes courage and boldness – in other words, fearlessness. God wants our thoughts well balanced with self-control so that when He tells us what He wants us to achieve here in history, we will feel empowered by Him to do it.

We can’t forget what Philippians 4:13 tells us: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It’s not our strength, but Christ’s. What got me through the “scaries” in my life was allowing God to be my partner. We will always need His strength to help us to obey Him and allow Him to take us where He wants us to go. (Pam)

Grace Received

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. (Romans 5:1-2 NLT)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

Through our faith in Christ, God saved us by His grace, even while we were lost in sin. And that only happened because of His rich mercy and great love for us.

Grace, defined as a place of undeserved privilege and unmerited favor that is not motivated by anything other than the devotion of a loving God, was made available to mankind through our acceptance and faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.  Through receipt of God’s grace, we have peace with God and restoration of relationship with Him, thus making us beneficiaries of His operational power (another definition of grace).  

By faith we are brought into relationship with God, devoid of works on our part.  We have been spiritually born again into the family of God and Jesus Christ. Now that we are in the family, we have relationship or a bond with God. When we think of our human family, we are related by birth; but there may be no other basis of affiliation.  Some people are separated from their parents at birth and know little or nothing about the character or personality of their birth parents.  In these cases of family alienation, what’s missing is fellowship.  God, in His wisdom and love, desires and has made provision for us, to have fellowship with Him.  The only catch is that we must choose to have fellowship with God through Jesus. It is our choice to be made after becoming a part of the family by spiritual birth.

After receiving grace as a free gift from God, the desired response God is looking for from us is to return His love through pursuing fellowship, friendship, companionship, and solidarity.  Fellowship with God requires us to be followers of Jesus Christ and also to imitate Him in demonstrating love to mankind.  The better we know the character and personality of God, which was personified in the life of Christ, the more enhanced our fellowship with God will be.  For example, think about your natural father telling you that all you have to do is come by the house and he will give you a gift.  Some people may respond, “ I want nothing to do with my father.” Despite that declaration, you are still his child by relationship of birth.  The only thing preventing you from enjoying the full benefit of relationship is your lack of desire for fellowship.

God not only wants to rescue you from the destructive effects of sin through a new-birth experience, He wants to lavish and enhance your life by sharing every moment and activity of your existence through fellowship.  Don’t run from God as a fearful father, but run to Him and embrace the love, peace, joy, and fulfillment He desires to give.   Grace received requires the love that spawned it to be shared.  Scripture tells us that God so loved us that He gave Christ that we might have life.  Understand and receive the freedom of knowing our faith in Christ has saved us, not our good works.  Then return God’s love by asking Him to help you to confidently and joyfully follow and imitate Jesus daily. God is waiting on you to come home. (Adrian)

Givers Need Takers

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NKJV)

The other day I was thinking about the whole concept of giving and taking. I thought it was interesting how we tend to criticize takers, but the truth is that without takers, givers wouldn’t be able to do their jobs. If we try to give but no one is taking what we give, our giving is fruitless.

We typically reflect on takers in a negative way. They take but never give. I guess we would see them in a better light if we describe them as receivers.

I considered how God was so willing to give His Son as a sacrifice for our sins. But what if no one ever actually received His gift? Obviously, the consequence would be that we’d all wind up in Hell, totally condemned for our sins. Perish the thought!

Have you noticed how much easier it is to love someone who loves you in return? Of course, you have; it’s what we expect. Unfortunately, there are times when our acts of love and kindness are not reciprocated. Now what?

The solution to this dilemma is really quite simple when we look at God’s Word. Romans 5:8 tells us: This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (NLT). This is what loving unconditionally is all about. The definition of agape, the God-kind of love, is the act of deliberately giving oneself to meet the needs of another person. This is the kind of love this passage of scripture is speaking of. In other words, it doesn’t matter so much what your spouse, or anyone else, does or doesn’t do, you must still choose to love. There are definitely risks involved. And this is where we need those takers or receivers to feel validated.

Here’s the thing, though. The risk we take when we choose to love unconditionally is rejection. God took that risk when, while we were still in our sin, Jesus died for us. Being the omniscient One He is, He knew that many would reject His love. That, however, did not stop Him. He was still willing to take the risk.

Remember, God didn’t wait until we were perfect before He gave us His greatest sacrifice. He loved us as though we already were! As challenging as that sounds, He wants us to do the same. Trust me, this cannot be done in our own human power; it requires the power of God.

When we choose to do things God’s way and love unconditionally, He blesses our obedience. Scripture teaches us that to know God is to love Him, and to love God is to obey Him.

Let’s not shy away from giving that love. Even if we don’t receive a visible return immediately, let’s  still be willing to obey God. Who knows? Your demonstration of love may turn those receivers into givers, themselves.

So, to all those takers out there, this is an opportunity to take and not be criticized. Givers need takers.  And to all those givers out there, remember it is more blessed to give than to receive according to Acts 20:35.  (Pam)