Grace with Enemies

graceIf you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. (Matthew 5:46-47)

Ponder It.

  • How do you define “enemy”?
  • What enemies have you had throughout your life?
  • Who would God say your enemies are?

Receive It. God gives us sufficient grace to extend to enemies. Enemies is an interested term. Sometimes we struggle to identify who our enemies are. We can’t imagine anyone really being an enemy; after all, doesn’t God call us to love everyone and hate no one, and if we slap on the label of enemy, isn’t that a non-Christian thing to do? The quick answer? No. Enemies are real, and they are biblical. We have enemies. God himself has enemies. Refusing to acknowledge we have enemies is like sticking our heads in the sand. Even when we identify our enemies, we can make critical errors in judgment. We often identify our enemies as someone who has done something to us that we don’t like. Getting our label of enemy is a burden the person brought upon herself because of what she did. It was her choice…or so we say as we blame. But blaming someone doesn’t make someone an enemy. Assuming someone’s motives doesn’t make someone an enemy. None of us have ever seen a motive, so we’re wise not to spend much time trying to mind-read what another’s motives are. Plus, enemies really aren’t for us to define. We’re not the center of reality and the crux of all justice. If we base the definition of enemy on ourselves, we’ll err. It’s God who determines the reality of our enemies. If we are for God, our enemies are his enemies. Our enemies are those who are against him, and we can’t actually tell who that is all the time. We can make assumptions, but he has a better perspective. He sees people’s motives and knows their hearts. He knows the outcome. And he knows how he wants us to respond. When we let God determine our enemies, we also need to follow his lead in our responses. He knows the boundaries we need and the commitments he wants. He knows when we’re to stand up, sit down, speak up, shut up, and pray. Trust him.

Live It. Pray for an enemy today. Don’t be content with a quick obligatory prayer. As you wholeheartedly pray for an enemy, God will begin to work in and through you in surprising ways.

Get Outside Your Circle

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxIt’s a bit easier to perpetuate the cause and effects of hurt when you hang out with a group that isolates itself and allows the hurt to multiply. We all need reality checks, and we don’t get them from the people closest to us if they’re not willing or able to shine a revealing light on the truth of a situation. We connect with people because we have things in common with them, so we affirm one another. However, when the affirmation becomes a crutch and pulls a blinding shade over accountability, we’re in trouble.

We need to choose friends who love us just the way we are yet aren’t content to leave us there—just like God. Affirmation is great as long as it’s biblical. However, our circles of friends—even in churches—can become gossip fests. Once the can of gossip is opened, it’s incredibly difficult to secure the lid on it, but the effort is worth it. We do a lot of damage spreading hearsay or gathering breakneck momentum based on our opinions instead of factually-based information and biblical truth. When our small groups of friends or Bible study groups begin to share opinions and gain momentum of what we think is happening or should happen with an individual or the church as a whole, it’s not long before we take the small leap that rationalizes we’re being “led by God.” Just because we’re a group of Bible-believing church folks who come to a consensus doesn’t mean our conclusion is God-directed. Were biblical principles followed throughout the process of coming to the conclusion, or was there misguided rationale, misinformation, and inappropriate sharing? You cannot reach a Spirit-led result with a man-led process.

There are many boundaries drawn between the “us” and “them” in churches. It can be old versus young or paid staff versus volunteer staff. It can be “old-timers” versus new members or regular attenders versus members. The division of groups is often perpetuated by assumptions. Because we tend to hang out with people most like ourselves, we quickly make assumptions about other groups as well as about what those groups must think about us. It isn’t long before we feel slighted, justified, or entitled, and the space between the groups widen.

The way to build a bridge between groups is to get to know individuals in other groups. It takes effort, because we have to reach across the aisle to approach the very people we have some unflattering assumptions about. We might find some aspects of the assumptions to be true, but we’ll likely find many more exceptions if we open our eyes and hearts widely enough to recognize and acknowledge them. If each person in your circle of camaraderie gets to know three people in one of “the other” circles, how many assumptions would be proven right and how many would be shaken or shattered? It’s worth a try to find out. Test the all or nothing perspective.

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Healing the Hurt , is’s current series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Search, Don’t Sulk

We planted a new tree this Spring.

toesWell, actually, someone else planted it for us. To let them know exactly where we wanted it, we painted an “X” with a large circle around it, so they’d know where to dig. We got a jumpstart on teaching our dog, Della, the tree would be off limits by pointing to the painted circle and firmly saying, “No!”

She was curious, but she listened. She walked around the circle, sniffing at the outer edge of the paint. Then she laid down to take a rest…placing the very tips of her front paws just outside the circle. She had a whole yard to play and rest in, and the area of the tree had never been one of her preferential areas. That day, it was.

Don’t we often do the same? We have an entire area where we can roam, run, enjoy, and rest, yet we go to “that one area.” (We’re not the first humans to do it. Remember Adam and Eve?) “No” seems to make us curious. Sure, we easily and willingly avoid some  “no’s,” but we all have some that seem to draw us near.

What are you getting dangerously close to? How are you rationalizing–perhaps asking yourself, “What could really be wrong with it?”

Instead of focusing on the “no” and thinking you’re missing out on something, open your eyes and look around. You are missing out on something. God doesn’t give you boundaries without giving you a lot of land to roam. Boundaries aren’t just to keep you out of some areas but to define the areas intended for you…areas that give you plenty of space, provision, and enjoyment.

Go ahead. Stand up. Look around. Enjoy what God has given you today!

Living Out Great Expectations


You have done amazing things we did not expect. You came down, and the mountains trembled before you. (Isaiah 64:3)

Many times, the difference between expectations and reality causes disappointment, but it can also cause surprise and celebration. Throughout the Bible, God showed up in amazing ways that people didn’t expect. Follow God’s lead.

Be understandable. If people don’t understand what you’re saying, they won’t follow, learn, and grow. They’re not going to understand everything you say – just as you sometimes won’t understand their perspective – but strive to find common ground and start there.

Be passionate. You’re not going to be excited about everything you’re doing all the time, but keep your passion level in check. People around you can sense if you’re going through the motions or if you’re seeking, learning, and growing. Passion is contagious.

Be protective. Avoid being overly protective or developing co-dependent relationships, but pay attention so that people aren’t getting left behind, lost, or hurt. Set healthy boundaries. Invite accountability. Learn lessons of responsibility and consequence.

Be attentive. Get to know the people around you – their interests, quirks, experiences, and dreams. As you get to know and care about people, they’ll trust you more. Listening might seem like it’s a small thing, but it’s one of the most inexpensive, sacrificial, generous gifts you can give.

Be Open, But Not Absorbent

The older and newer rock met with a drastic line.

11.3.14 Capernaum Synagogue (12)


Despite the images of the white stones of present day Israel, much of biblical Israel would have been darker stone, lava stone. It was (and still is) used for many things, because it is porous but not absorbent. It allows good aeration but don’t easily absorb water, food particles, and tastes and scents.

That’s confusing to me. Porous but not absorbent?

It’s like living in the world but not being of the world. Being open but not easily influenced and swayed. Being able to show compassion in the trenches without getting stuck.

Sometimes, living in the world but not being of the world is confusing. I’m not sure of the line of my motivation for serving. I don’t know how much others are influencing me, even in negative ways, more than I’m influencing them, hopefully, in positive ways. I don’t know how much I should share, give, or sacrifice.

Other times, it makes sense. I know where the line is, and I respect it. But if I’m honest, I often think I know where the line is more because of where I want it to be or expect it to be than where it actually is. I base the line on my experiences or my preferences. Instead, I need to ask God to take me to the line.

The line changes. Well, my experience of it changes. I’m not saying God ever changes. He doesn’t. But He changes me. He leads me to different experiences that I can handle at the time but that also change and prepare me for the future. So, the next time, the boundary might seem a bit different, because I’m in a different place. Living in the world requires more of me, because I give more of myself for God to use in the world. Not being of the world requires more of me, too. I don’t become more isolated. I become more sensitive to the needs, dangers, and opportunities around me.

I have given them Your word.
The world hated them
because they are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.
I am not praying
that You take them out of the world
but that You protect them from the evil one.
They are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them by the truth;
Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world,
I also have sent them into the world.
I sanctify Myself for them,
so they also may be sanctified by the truth. (John 17:14-19)


Freedom Can Be Misapplied

Everything is permissibleFreedom is not getting to do whatever we want.

“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is helpful. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. (1 Cor. 10:23)

In these verses, Paul is speaking, and he’s quoting a phrase, “Everything is permissible,” the Christians in Corinth likely said. Plus, he added a correction and a challenge for them to consider what is helpful and what builds (others) up. Just because we ‘re free to do something doesn’t mean it’s what we should do. Just because we believe it’s something we should do (usually because it’s something we want to do) doesn’t mean we should.

How many times do you express the right or freedom to do something as a rationalization or excuse? You believe you are in the right because you have the freedom to choose. If it’s difficult to see in yourself, try looking around you. What do others tout as their “right” because of freedom, but you disagree? Why do you disagree?

Now, consider why someone else would use a similar disagreement for something you claim as a right or freedom? How is your rationalization similar? Are you starting to see the slippery slope?

As a Christ-follower, you might throw in the added power punch of “I do it because I know God wants me to. I’m just following and honoring Him.” But are you, really? Have you checked with Him on your motivation and your heart? And have you checked with Him recently, or are you on auto-pilot? Do you truly understand what He’s prompting you to do in a specific situation? Are you letting others sway you, and possibly seeing that influence as positive? Are you jumping on a bandwagon Jesus isn’t leading? Worse yet, are you using Him name and encouraging others to follow when He’s not leading?

Freedom can be deceptive. What you believe is freedom might be bondage. In order to be free, you need to know what to choose, and perhaps more important at times, what not to choose. You have to discern, which means you have to yield yourself. You have to be humble and set yourself aside. It’s counter-intuitive. We want to think freedom is really about us, that we get to step up and do more because of our freedom. Yes, but…only when we give up ourselves. We then get to walk all over the places God has prepared for us. We have full freedom within His boundaries. And when we live in His freedom, those boundaries don’t seem limited. They seem protective and…freeing.

We don’t miss out when we live in God’s freedom. We miss out when we don’t. We miss out on the region of freedom He’s prepared for us.

Be careful not to define your own freedom. It’s not yours to define. It’s yours to receive and savor. Open your eyes, hands, and heart. God has a grand gift for you.

Set Your Boundaries Well

BoundariesSome people were even bringing infants to Him so He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, invited them: “Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

Google “how to set good boundaries,” and you’ll be flooded with advice with how to manage your time, relationships, and schedule. Boundaries are important, right? I mean, without boundaries, we’ll be at everyone’s mercy. We’ll lose all control. We’ll end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated. We’ll become so inefficient that we’ll be ineffective. Right?

Well, it’s not quite as clear cut as that.

The problem with setting boundaries is that we often want to set them based on popular opinion or our own preferences. Boundaries aren’t ours to set. Only God knows where our boundaries should be set. Jesus welcomed children despite being busy. He chose one thing over another. Of course, He also chose to retreat at times. He spent time in prayer. He taught the disciples. He healed people. He provided nourishment for people. He chose well. As He served, He didn’t say, “I will never,” just “I won’t right now.” He walked where God wanted Him to walk, one step, one choice at a time. He let His yes be yes and His no be no.

But let your word “yes” be “yes,” and your “no” be “no.” Anything more than this is from the evil one.
(Matthew 5:37)

If you want to set your boundaries well, don’t set them yourself. God has already surveyed the land of your entire life. You’ll need His help and His timing every step of the way.