Tough Love

Old West 253“If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

There are times when tough love is necessary. When the person is outright refusing to see the cliff they are approaching, or they are blatantly disregarding harm they are bringing to others and have ignored repeated warnings.

At other times, tough love is mostly counter-productive.

For the person who hasn’t really realized the gravity of their choices, tough love could merely trigger defensiveness, denial, or counter-attack. Once the walls go up or their sword is unsheathed in response, they are not likely to think very rationally.

For the person who is trying to do the right thing, tough love could cause them to recoil in shock and make vows to not be honest anymore because it only brings judgment, accusations and pain. If trying to bring their struggles or mistakes into the light only results in harsh responses, they’ll slam the lid back shut and nail it closed more securely than before.

In either case, what has been accomplished is the opposite of the stated goal.

We sometimes have this tendency to want to thump our chests and proclaim the necessity for tough love. Somehow it makes us more of a courageous Christian if we can say “I told them exactly what they needed to hear and I didn’t hold anything back.  I know it hurt, but it needed to be done!”

Actually, the truth is, it probably was exactly NOT what they needed to hear. And NOT what needed to be done.

Sure, we may feel good about our bold uncompromising grit in “standing up for what is right and telling so-and-so a thing or two.” We may feel an extra swagger in our step, like the Dirty Harry of Christian morality, bravely keeping our churches free from riffraff (“Do you feel lucky, punk?”).

But this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he said “keep watch on yourself.” It’s easy to fall into the harsh attitudes of religiosity and pride. And no matter how many times we lament outwardly “I hated to have to do that” it doesn’t change the pridefulness that’s under the surface.

The truth is, probably what the person really needs to hear is that they have someone who will stand with them and hold them up.

They need to hear that someone is there who will be brutally honest with them when necessary, but first and foremost will be there to love and encourage them. And when brutal honesty is called for, it will be with a heart of compassion and sensitivity, not a broken display of hubris disguised as fearless candor.

What they need to hear is that someone is there for them who will pull out the ‘tough love’ only when it is absolutely necessary, and then will only do it gently and prayerfully…and *always* with more ‘love’ than ‘tough’.

Because in the end, most situations don’t need a Detective Harry Callahan.

They need Jesus.

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Courageous Grace

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“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I wrote last time about battlefield etiquette. Particularly, how to properly care for the wounded among us on the spiritual battlefield.

This takes courage.

It’s easy to show grace to someone who has been hurt by someone else or by their circumstances.

But it’s much harder to show grace to someone in the throes of addiction or suffering the consequences of their own poor choices.

First, we must get past our initial ‘religious’ instinct to condemn and distance ourselves.

Then comes the hard part – facing all of those who insist on clinging to that religious instinct. You see, not everyone manages (or even desires) to work past that initial reaction. Some people are perfectly happy in their religious reaction.

Often, whether we admit it aloud or not, we fear the condemnation of these people if they see us helping a broken person.

What rumors will start about me? Will I become guilty by association? Will the religious lot suddenly put me in the ‘condemnation box’ with them because I am coming to their side?

The truth is none of these things matter.

The words in Joshua 1:9 were spoken by God to a man who was about to venture into a foreign land and step onto many physical battlefields.  If you look through the entire quote (verses 2-9) you will see that God used the term “be strong and courageous” three times (vv 6, 7, 9).

God knew that when Joshua led the armies of Israel out onto that battlefield, he was going to be hit all sorts of opposition.  Not only was he going to face sword-wielding adversaries from outside his camp, he was also going to have to deal with criticism-wielding antagonists from within.

God wanted to be sure he knew that if he was doing what God expected of him, he could hold his head up and know God was beside him.

It’s the same for us.  We may not be facing savage blood-thirsty warriors who want to split our heads wide open. But we sometimes face assailants who are trying to get into our heads and maybe even soil our reputations – intentionally or unintentionally.

If you are loving people the way God wants you to, though, know that “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” and because of that you can be “strong and courageous.”

Next time I’m going to write a little more about how God has our back, and why we can confidently draw courage through our trust in Him.  But for now, let me leave you with a quote from Joe Dallas:

“Courage is not an absence of fear; instead, it is a willingness to do the very thing you are afraid of.”

So don’t be afraid to step out there and help the wounded. Be courageous. He has your back.

Proper Care of the Wounded

Civil War 014This life is lived on a battlefield. And as with any physical battlefield, our spiritual battlefield includes punches and counter-punches, strategy and happenstance, really solid decisions and really lousy decisions.

And the result of the lousy decisions, the unexpected counter-punches, or the happenstance (happenstance from our perspective mind you, because nothing surprises God), is often wounding. Wounding that affects both good warriors and bad warriors. Wounding that is very often self-inflicted.

As part of the body of Christ, we have an obligation to care for these wounded and do everything we can to get them to safety and help them heal.

No warrior deserves to be left to bleed out on the spiritual battlefield.

Yet so often, that’s exactly what we do.

We consider their sin too atrocious, or their struggle too embarrassing to be associated with, or their spiritual/emotional condition too untouchable.

And so we act like the priest and the Levite who turned a blind eye to the dying man, instead of the Samaritan who stopped to lend aid (see Luke 10:30-35).

And that’s at best.

At worst, we kick them while they’re down, wag our heads in disgust, and go off to speculate about them and their brokenness in the comfy circles of the mask-wearing gossips. You know, those circles where the real goal is to keep the focus on the one whose mask has slipped so as to avoid anyone noticing what is behind our own mask.

That’s not the way Jesus’ church is supposed to act.

How many times did Jesus Himself kick someone who was down? Never. If it can be said that He kicked anyone, it was the ones who were standing upright in a spirit of arrogance and pride (which incidentally were the ones who were consistently kicking or neglecting the wounded).

Let’s take a page from His playbook.

He treated the adulterous with love and compassion – why can’t we do the same with the sexually broken?

He embraced the tax cheats and extortionists and inspired them to make positive change – why can’t we do likewise for those caught in the downward spirals of substance abuse?

He took a few hot-headed sailors (who probably had the demeanor and vocabularies to match) and empowered them to change the world – why can’t we show grace to those in our midst who might not fit our idea of ‘acceptable church people’?

This isn’t to say everything is okay. Sexual brokenness, substance abuse, greed, abusive tempers, etc. do not allow anyone to reach their full potential. And there is so much damage done to innocent people when such things go unchecked. Cycles of brokenness have to be addressed and personal change (sometimes drastic personal change) must be pursued.

But if a warrior is lying wounded in a pool of his or her own blood, and is desiring restoration and wholeness…neither criticism nor desertion are what they need.

Love them like Jesus. Bind their wounds. Stay at their side. And see what happens.

Chances are, you’ll witness a miraculously changed life.

Three Keys to “Being There”

People - General 194All our differences aside, there is one great equalizer among us – we all make some pretty lousy decisions once in a while. The nature and gravity of those decisions vary, of course, but the act of making poor choices is pretty much universal.

And subsequently there are times when we have to face up to our choices and the consequences.

That this is a universal phenomenon means we see it from both sides as we travel through life.  There are times when I must face my choices and consequences, and times when someone else in my life is facing their choices and consequences.

Particularly for those of us who have been there, we often find ourselves driven to be present for the next person.  It’s something I refer to as ‘paying grace forward,’ and I think it’s a natural response/drive (Jesus Himself talked about this principle in Luke 7 while He was hanging out at Simon the Pharisee’s house).

So how do we encourage someone going through a rough patch?

Really being there for someone is more than just showing up, isn’t it?

Well, actually, it does kind of boil down to simply that.  Kind of.

Often we think we need to have some profound advice or witty contribution. When we don’t have something wondrous to say, we feel like we’re a huge let-down. The truth is: just being there is comfort enough.

But of course, there are moments when having something to say is important also. It’s about balance.

Based on my own experiences on both sides of this coin, I think there are three things to keep in mind. I’ve seen (and felt the effects of) positive and negative applications of these principles. And I think all three of them are key to helping us find what to say and what not to say.

Don’t judge.  I know that one sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes it’s hard to resist that knee-jerk reaction of saying “What in the world were you thinking?!?” Or to make sure they understand all the consequences of their actions.

But in reality, if they’re grappling with this, they’ve probably already thought about that ad nausea. The last thing they need is someone reinforcing their negative self-talk. What they need is understanding, encouragement, and help developing a plan to get through this and make things right.

Save your judgment and indignation for the ones who are actively and blatantly bringing hurt to others. Don’t kick the wounded.

Don’t assume you know. If you’ve never been there, don’t assume you know what they’re going through. You don’t. Maybe you’ve been in something remotely similar. Maybe your Aunt Sally has been there. Maybe you’ve been associated with numerous people who have been there. It doesn’t matter. None of that makes you qualified to say “I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Even if you have personally been there, don’t assume you know what’s going on inside them. You may have first-hand experience of their pain, but you are not them. One thing I’ve learned from my own journey, and from helping others through theirs, is: we all process differently. A mentor of mine once told me that, and I’ve found it to be consistently true.

That doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to say “I can relate.” Just don’t think you have them all figured out.

Don’t try to solve it. Listen intently, pray fervently, be the shoulder to lean on, help them talk through it, even throw in a few suggestions on what they can do.

But know that coming up with a complete solution is not your purpose.

It can be tough, being there in the right way.  There are judgment calls involved, and you will miss a few. But if you keep love and grace at the forefront you’ll be a good friend and the right kind of supporter.

And they’ll appreciate it.

You Never Know

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“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.” (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7 ESV)

You just never know. That word of encouragement that you bring today may seem so insignificant, so ineffective, even unnoticed. But you never know how God is using it.

Probably no one thought that someone as great as Paul would be so encouraged by a young understudy like Titus, or the now nameless people of the Corinthian church. But here we see evidence to the contrary.

From someone who has bought into labels and lies myself, I know all too well the feeling that whatever I have to say isn’t going to contribute anything worthwhile.

  • “Why would anyone care what my opinion is?”
  • “Do I really think someone as together as ___ would even have the time to listen to a lightweight like me?”
  • “How could I think that any person would hear advice from someone as spiritually ugly as I?”

Sound familiar? Maybe the questions in your head have sounded a little different, but I bet something similar has crossed your mind on occasion.

Sometimes when you speak into someone’s life, in your mind it appears like the conversational equivalent of tumbleweeds blowing across the plain. The right words aren’t there, the words that do come seem inadequate, or it seems the words are just not heard.

Most of the time this is your own self-image talking. Like me, you have convinced yourself that nothing you say can possibly be of value. The person you are speaking to is smarter, more spiritual, better educated, more experienced, too pretty, too popular, too cool, or [insert your own reason here], to listen to you.

But God is using it. He told the people of Israel “My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11, HCSB). Likewise, He also promises us that the things he prods us to speak into the lives of others will not be wasted.

The best rule to live by is amazingly the same as it is for about every aspect of life: Always let God’s promises (“My word will not return void”) trump the Satan-inspired and self-imposed lies (“Nothing I say is worth hearing”).

Just remember that our impression of the situation is not perfect or complete.

The truth is we don’t really know who is paying attention or how deeply our words are penetrating. But God does.

We all need more encouragers in our lives. We all need to be encouragers in the lives of those around us.

So let Him speak through you, even when it doesn’t ‘feel’ effective. If your focus is on obeying and pleasing Him (Whose opinion is the only one that counts anyway), you don’t have to worry about whether you’re being effective. He will use it, in His way and in His time. Just stay faithful.

Do you have a story of a time when you felt a word of encouragement flatlined the minute it left your lips, only to find out later it really did lift someone up? If so, leave a comment below and tell me about it – those are exactly the kind of ‘war stories’ we need to share.

Closer Than a Brother

“Now when he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1).

    The bible holds many testimonials to the value of friendships. 

    In 1 Samuel, as the story of David’s young life unfolds, we find a lasting and deep friendship forming with Jonathan, son of King Saul.  This friendship would prove to be true and binding, as we see by the progression of events in 1 Samuel 20.  David felt free to speak with Jonathan concerning his reservations about Jonathan’s father (v. 1), and even worried that Jonathan was being excluded from Saul’s inner circle because of their friendship (v. 3).  Jonathan in turn reassured his friend of his allegiance (v. 9, 13), agreed to breech the subject with his father (vv. 12-13), incited Saul’s anger and jealousy by the mere question (vv. 30-33), and faithfully returned to give David the not-so-good news (v. 42). 

    That’s a valued friendship.  It is said that most of us have very few friends that close, if any at all.

    However, Proverbs 18:24 talks of a “friend that sticks closer than a brother,” and I think it is very important to have someone in your life that you consider ‘closer than a brother.’  As mentioned in another blog post, you were never intended to face life alone.  There are challenges and struggles and victories and failures that need to be shared in order to be properly dealt with, or celebrated as the case may be.

    Great to say, but how does it happen?  I would propose two personal actions toward that end.

    Invest in friendships.  Proverbs 18:24 begins “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (NKJV).  Remember the old saying, “If you want to have friends, be a friend”? You probably first heard that in elementary school.  Well it turns out that’s a biblical concept!  Whenever you are first friendly to others, ‘friends’ are naturally attracted to you.

    Prayer.  Especially when we’re talking about someone who we can open up to about our personal struggles, we don’t want to just pick someone out of a lineup.  There are many – maybe even you – who have sworn they will never open up to anyone again because they opened up to the wrong person and it resulted in judgmentalism or gossip, or both.  This is why we need to be discerning about who to open up to.  And a big part of that discernment is prayer.  I firmly believe that if you are earnest in prayer and attentive to His voice, He will lead you to the person who can be that friend and confidant and accountability partner.

    Healing and life-changing transformations come at the hands of a trusted and safe friend.  Do you have a story about how you found that friend who was ‘closer than a brother’ (or sister)?  Leave a comment and tell me about it.