Avoiding Rudeness

Journal 2008

But some “worthless fellows” despised King Saul, brought him no gift, and said, “How can this man save us?” (I Sam.10:27)

When Samuel announced Saul would be God’s chosen king, these worthless fellows were rude and loud-mouthed. Their characters were questionable. And Saul’s response? He held his peace. He acted like he was deaf.

By today’s standards, we think it’s commendable to ignore rudeness, but I wonder—as king, would Saul have been better off disciplining these men in some way? Apparently, he didn’t know his power yet. After Saul’s first victory in battle, the people urged him to deal with the worthless fellows, but again he said no, not today. “Today is a day of deliverance.” And that day he was crowned king. Was his response wise or foolish?

Later, while at war with the Philistines, his men were scattered, and he was given explicit orders to wait a week for Samuel to come to make a sacrifice. When Sam confronted him, Saul responded, “. . . I forced myself to offer a burnt offering.” Really!? What kind of foolish statement is that?! Shades of Aaron’s “I threw the gold in the fire and out came a calf!” Contrast those statements with David who later “encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord.”

Chapter after chapter reveal stories of Saul’s poor choices and character. For 40 years, he did kingly things: He fought against Israel’s enemies and “made it worse for them” and “He did valiantly and smote the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” But . . . we don’t remember him for his victories. We can only see his faults—which eclipse the good that he does.

So . . . I wonder . . . was Saul’s avoidance of rudeness or conflict a sign of weakness or wisdom? How best should I handle other people’s rudeness today?

The Missionary Measuring Stick

Journal 2005

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 NIV, when Jesus prayed for His disciples)

When I was growing up, missionaries loved to quote this verse and others like them to 1) guilt-trip Americans to become missionaries or 2) prove their pride in obedience to God’s command.

Here’s where my struggle has been for so long—believing that missionary life and calling is holier, better, and higher than any other calling. That was the message I grew up with. But after hearing story after story of nasty, ungodly missionaries, my bubble has burst. I have to take missionaries off that pedestal.

We were taught “sent into the world” doesn’t have to mean “sent to Africa.” It can mean “sent across the street to your neighbor,” but in the back of my child’s mind, that was not as spiritual or as high a calling as being sent to Africa. If you got sent to Africa, your measuring stick of importance was much longer than your measuring stick that only reached across the street.

The truth is, it’s not about works; it’s about relationship. It’s not about how many times I pray, go to church, tithe, read my bible, witness, do, do, do—but rather it’s about how much I love Jesus, and even more importantly, how much He loves me.

A 2022 Update. I almost didn’t post this entry because I am so very far removed from this mindset now. But perhaps in some circles the attitude is still present. Just substitute a different vocation or status (education, economic status, political clout, race). Any time I view myself as superior, it’s time to check in with humility.

Tender Mercies

Journal 2008. When I read “. . . heart of tender mercy and lovingkindness of our God (Luke 1:78), I have a hard time reconciling in my mind God’s tender mercies with His terrible judgment. Sure, I believe that murderers and rapists and idolaters need God’s judgment, but He died for their sins too.

My dilemma, however, is not with them but with me. Where in my life have I misunderstood and not accepted God’s tender love and mercy? Am I self-condemning where I should be accepting? Do I have a false belief that if I accept His tender mercies, it means I deserve it? That cannot be, for if I deserve it, it becomes my works, and then pride follows.

I am no better than the pagan. I have simply followed the path God put me on. He gave me the parents, the heritage, the grounding, and the training. Why wouldn’t I respond the way I have? If I had been born into a peasant hut in China of Buddhist heritage, would I not have followed the path He set me on and gone into a Christless eternity? How fair is that?

I am blessed, chosen, humbled, undeserving. Why did God choose me? I don’t know. But once chosen, I had a choice—follow Him or disobey. I chose to follow; I don’t know why. I could have had a rebellious, angry, defiant heart. I credit my response to my parents and how they raised me.

I was chosen for some reason. God likes me and the way He made me. He thinks I’m special. I cannot worry about His relationship with the rest of humanity. I can only sit in awe and wonder that He loves me—me of all people!

Jesus gave me gifts—a bag of chocolates. And He wants me to share them—hand them out, give them away, offer them to anyone who comes into my path. I’ve been chosen, yes—to be a blessing.

Hypocrites

Journal 2006. Some people declare they won’t go to church because there are too many hypocrites there. Perhaps true. Perhaps we all have hypocrite blood in us.

Jesus wasn’t too tolerant of hypocrites. He preached against them, insulted them, and angrily confronted them. That was His right as the Son of God. Would it be appropriate for me, however, to speak to someone that way? To someone’s face? In public? One-on-one? I’d feel pretty uncomfortable saying directly to someone: “You hypocrite!” I don’t know a person’s heart. I can only judge outward action and speech.

A hypocrite is someone who looks into a backless mirror—or is it a magnifying glass. . . . They cannot see their own reflection. They can only see others’ faults magnified.

Whose job is it to hold a mirror up to a person’s face? If I do it, the person may get angry at me, retaliate, and try to smash the mirror. If the Holy Spirit holds it up, then they are rejecting Him and not me. What if, however, God chooses to use me as someone’s mirror? Would I be willing? Only if He asked me to. Otherwise, I’d prefer the Holy Spirit to do the work.

And so, dear God, would You kindly hold up a mirror to my friend’s face? May she see her reflection, resulting in recognition and repentance. Yet You know the best time to give her that mirror. Too soon, and she may harden her heart. I have to trust You, Lord. Meanwhile . . . am I expected to love . . . a hypocrite?

Word for the Year 2021: Handicap

I confess I have an abysmal sense of direction, and it’s getting worse with age. I Googled “bad sense of direction” to get some tips for improving my odds and collected maps for cities I frequent. Every day for the first month, I studied our local map, trying to memorize street names and cement a visual mind map to guide me. What a useless endeavor! Apparently, I am incapable of thinking and driving at the same time.

When I read a blog by someone who unashamedly labeled his poor sense of direction a HANDICAP (and many people resonated with his plight), I concluded I cannot change my brain enough to warrant shedding my trusty GPS. So, there you have it—one Word for the Year tossed in the trash, and I needed a replacement.

Following my recovery from Covid in November 2020, I decided to chronicle my journey with another hidden HANDICAP—loss of taste and smell. First, I tried the famous burnt-orange trick that went viral (useless) and sniffed three different essential oils three times daily for the suggested smell training ritual. For two weeks I quadrupled my intake of zinc. Nothing.

I spit out my first cup of coffee, tasteless as water. When I tried sniffing freshly ground coffee beans, a disgusting malodor greeted my nose. At least I’m smelling something, I reasoned, but this annoying odor lingered nonstop for months. Everything smelled the same: smoke, pizza, cat litter. I became the designated dirty-diaper queen for my youngest grandchild.

In the first three months, I burned up three frying pans because I couldn’t rely on smell to alert me. I no longer dared leave the kitchen during the simmering process. I lost what little interest I had in cooking or making menu decisions. For the first time in our 46 years of marriage, I didn’t care if I ate my husband’s bland-diet preference over my spicy palate. It all tasted the same, so what was the point?! I now had to rely on him to inform me if meat had spoiled or the seasoning wasn’t right in a casserole.

One day we decided to treat our grandsons to ice cream. As we approached the drive-through, I asked the 10-year-old what he thought I should order since I wouldn’t be able to taste it. “Cheapest thing on the menu, Grandma!” he said. Smart kid! And later, his 7-year-old brother asked, “Why eat anything at all?” I explained that food fuels the body, but regrettably, I had begun to choose peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches over healthy salads. Growing our Tower Garden felt pointless.

With the loss of eating pleasure, I learned to tune more into how hunger felt instead of eating what I craved but, disappointingly, I lost no weight. Eventually I began to differentiate between salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, but could taste no nuances of flavor. I put hot sauce on everything, trying to elicit a little zing for the tongue.

I tried hard not to complain but failed miserably and so began a regimen of gratitude for my other four senses. When I finally got tired of hearing myself complain, I asked God for a better solution and stumbled on Isaiah 65:5b: These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (NLT)

And that’s when He gave me this idea: every time I smelled that repulsive odor, I would think about the stench in God’s nostrils and pray for someone. It helped refocus my attitude.

By August I noticed a subtle shift in relinquishing the malodor and enjoyed a hot curry Indian dish. Coffee became my gauge for progress. I went from gagging to tolerating a quarter cup, to drinking half a cup if I held my nose during the brewing process. I jumped in glee when I got a whiff of burnt toast. Someone claimed if you didn’t get your smell and taste back after nine months, it would be permanent. Oh, Lord, I hope not! I was into my ninth month and counting . . .

In September, someone suggested I try fascial counterpressure (whatever that was!). I found a practitioner 30 minutes away and promptly made an appointment but returned home with no noticeable results and fewer dollars in my wallet.

In October, I read Numbers 11:1-9 where the Israelites complained about eating manna every day. They missed their pungent fish, along with the flavorful cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. I could relate! I used to fault these people for their ingratitude, but now I felt convicted over my similar lament. I so missed the diversity of flavors. I wanted to discover the sweetness of holy manna and be thankful for what I had instead of grief over what I’d lost. How could I learn to leave Egypt behind and embrace the promise of a new land?

I continued to struggle with my attitude, complaining about my loss. I had an appointment with food three times a day, and three times a day I had to face the keen disappointment of loss of pleasure. Five times in Numbers 15 the phrase “an odor pleasing to the Lord” caught my attention. I couldn’t smell, but God could; and I wanted my attitude, thoughts, and deeds to be a pleasing odor in His nostrils.

It was like I was holding onto the end of a rope connected to taste and smell. Letting go of the rope didn’t mean I wouldn’t eat; it meant letting go the pleasure, the drug. When I dropped the rope, I watched in astonishment as it retracted like a tape measure into the food. The flavors were still there, but they were no longer tied to me. They don’t belong to me and therefore have no power over me. Now I can pick up food, examine it, see it, feel its texture, and experience it. It is what it is.

Over a year later now, I have adjusted (mostly) to my hidden handicap, and I rejoice in every whiff of smoke or incremental change in flavor. It’s okay that I can’t smell dirty diapers, but I sure do miss my coffee!

Oh taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (PS 34:8 KJV)

My biggest disappointment is not being able to taste injera ba wat (Ethiopian food)

For further reflection:

I checked out the Scriptures (RSV) and found the following words: Nose 12x, Nostrils 14x, Smell 20x, and Odor 43x. I even found a blog on the subject: Just a Thought . . . God’s Nose (constantcontact.com)

How Not to Study the Bible

Journal 2005

I’ve heard numerous sermons, sat through many classes, and read several books on how to study the Bible, and I’ve tried various techniques. I’m currently reading through a famous preacher’s study Bible, and I’m in awe of the massive amount of work and time he put into it. I’m grateful for those who have the gift of teaching, including a passion for research.

One pastor suggested we might want to diagram the sentences in the epistle we were studying. The exercise appealed to me as an English teacher, but I gave up in frustration. Sentence diagrams work well for the English language, but Hebrew and Greek don’t follow English rules of grammar. It’s like a two-dimensional object when you try to make sense of syllables and letters strung together. We would have to immerse ourselves in the original languages in order to truly understand the depth of the teaching.

The Western mind loves books like Romans and Hebrews because they fit neatly into an outline, but most Scripture does not. The African or Eastern reader would never think to box in a story using an outline. He would see it in three dimensions or four. The Bible has depth, layer on layer of meaning. Paul’s letters are not meant to be categorized and outlined, but to be read as emotional thoughts that randomly entered his head.

Obviously, there’s a need for scholarly textual analysis, but all the study in the world won’t replace the need for devotional reading. What good does it do to dissect a book into outlines, verb usage, sentence structure—if you don’t apply the words? Maybe our goal, instead, should be “how to live the Bible.” Now there’s a novel thought.

A 2021 Update. I’m in the middle of listening to a 204-episode podcast called Bema Discipleship by Marty Solomon, who teaches Scripture through the lens of a historical, Jewish perspective; and I’m slogging my way through the notes in the Jewish Study Bible. I’m excitedly learning a ton of new information, but in the end, the only benefit to me is when I live out the text.

What’s your favorite method of study?

Ask and You’ll Receive

Journal 2010. Charlie was a proud and bitter man. When he was a little boy, his big brother told him God always answers prayer. So one night, Charlie knelt by his bed and asked for some candy—but none appeared. That was the day he lost all faith in a god who would withhold good things from him.

As I studied John 16 this week, I thought about Charlie.

Jesus is explaining to his disciples what is about to happen. He’ll be going away for a while, and then they’ll see Him again after the resurrection. When Jesus senses that they want to ask Him [questions] about this, He explains a little more plainly. And then He says, “In that day [after the resurrection and when the Comforter comes] you will no longer ask Me anything.” (He did not say, “ask Me for anything.” He meant ask Me any questions you have.)

“And besides,” He says, “I won’t be here anymore. Instead, you’ll ask [questions] in My name and the Father will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for [about?] anything in My name.” (Before Jesus ascended, the disciples could ask Him any question face to face, but after His ascension, they could speak directly to the Father, through Jesus.)

“Ask and you’ll receive [answers] and your joy will be complete,” He says. “I’m not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you” (vv. 25-28).

The disciples respond: “Now we see that You know all things and that You do not need to have anyone ask You [questions]. (The rabbinic method of teaching was to ask questions, and Jesus’ teacher was the Father.) This makes us believe that You came from God.”

Jesus says, “You believe at last!”

Instead of “ask Jesus for anything” (as I’ve always been taught), this passage (context, context) is all about asking Jesus questions. Jesus said, “Ask what you will. . . .” He didn’t say ask for things or prayer requests.

If I’m reading this passage right, it would change a lot of theology, misunderstandings, and disillusionment when we ask Him to do something, and He doesn’t do it. Perhaps Charlie would have grown up a different man had he understood this concept.

Sharp Disagreement

Journal 2010. I assume Paul and Barnabas’s “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:36-41) included sharp words. This story leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Did they not bother to seek God’s face on this? How could they preach unity of the brethren under these circumstances? Both needed to kneel in humility and look upward. Yet they (Paul especially) had some pretty strong words to say with others. He was all about standing firm in the faith, and Barnabas was all about encouragement. They were Holy Spirit-filled men who had feet of clay. In the end, they left for their respective mission fields “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.”

Who was right? It would be interesting to interview 100 Christians and see which side they’d pick and then see if there is a corollary with personality or temperament. (I tend to side with Barnabas.)

So did this disagreement hinder the Holy Spirit’s work . . . or help? Or did He simply use it to bring about His glory, plan, and purpose? In the end, there was a win-win as four missionaries went out instead of just two.

A 2021 update. For the past year and a half, I’ve watched in dismay as believers wrangle over opinions over COVID and politics. Anger, hurt, and fear drive our discussions, and I wonder how God will sort this all out for His glory. All I can do is guard my own heart and emotions and kindly love those who disagree with me.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Jealousy

Journal 2010. My third grade Sunday school lesson for this week was on David and Saul. I began by asking the children to look at each other’s eyes and tell me their color. We had five children with brown eyes, and three who had blue. Next, I told them that I had a special gift for each of the blue-eyed children:  a one-dollar gift certificate to McDonalds. I instructed the brown eyes to clap and applaud for them. And then I paused, observing their response. I asked the brown-eyes how they felt. One said she felt “left out.” Another said, “sad,” and another “unfair.” They all admitted to feeling jealous.

And then it happened. Little blue-eyed Ethan stood up and walked over to brown-eyed Holly (who had made a decision just this week to follow Jesus) and gave her his gift certificate. I praised him and then immediately handed him a replacement.

I then launched into the story of David (handsome shepherd boy, beautiful-eyed, strong, courageous, musically gifted) being anointed king (not because of his outward appearance, but because of his heart for God), his brothers’ jealousy, his slaying of Goliath, and Saul’s subsequent love and admiration for him. And then how the women sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” and how Saul’s admiration turned to jealousy, to hatred, and then to attempted murder.

We discussed what things made 3rd graders jealous (toys, talents, privileges), and how jealousy can lead to bad things. We talked about how God gives each of us gifts—not for the purpose of self-glory, but to be used for Him and given away.

In conclusion, I instructed the blue-eyes to hand their gifts to the brown-eyes. Not fair? Oh no! Because when we give our gifts away to minister to others, God blesses us in return. And I handed each of the brown eyes a replacement. Now everyone had a gift certificate.

I told the children the gift was theirs to use as they wished. They could spend it on themselves, or they could give it away to bless someone else. It was their choice.

Brown-eyed Chandler said he was going to give his to his brother. Blue-eyed Ethan said, “I wish I could rip mine in half so both my brother and I could use it!” Melina observed that he’d given his away twice, and she tried to hand her coupon to him, but he declined. “It’s okay. You keep it,” he said. And then: “I know! I’ll spend it on ice cream, and I can share it with my brother that way!”

I think the children taught me as much as I tried to teach them that day!

How Would I respond?

From my 2016 Journal.

As I read Acts 5:16-6:15, I note a progression of violence, stemming from the Pharisees’ sin of unbelief, jealousy, and hard hearts. And the apostles’ responses are astonishing.

  • The apostles are imprisoned.
    • An angel frees them, and they return to preaching.
  • Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, beaten and let go.
    • They continue preaching.
  • Stephen is arrested, preaches to his audience, and is stoned.
    • His last words are, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Obviously, I wasn’t in their shoes, driven by God’s command and with the Holy Spirit propelling me forward, but . . . if I were in their situation, my first response would most likely have been fear, hiding, and kowtowing to the Pharisees’ bullying to avoid further pain. Flogging can be rather incapacitating, don’t you think! I wonder if God healed them instantly? Or did they go through a month of recovery with no antibiotics and their wounds miraculously not becoming infected?

In the flesh, I would have struggled for being unjustly treated. I would have cried unfair and prayed for justice, a staying of the abusers’ hands, a change to my circumstances . . .

Instead, they rejoiced! Extremely counter-intuitive!

I could claim I, too, would have responded in a godly way, but I’ve never been put to the test like this. God prepared the Apostles for this hour. I can trust God to prepare me as well for anything I must endure.

P.S. In Acts 7, Stephen boldly told the Sanhedrin to their faces that they were stiff-necked, stubborn murderers. When is it appropriate to call someone out for their sin? Obviously, the Holy Spirit guided his words, but I cannot even begin to imagine talking that way—to anyone! It’s not my temperament or personality. I’d be asking them all, “What are you feeling? How does it feel to hear me preaching? Why are you jealous?” I guess that’s why God didn’t call me to be a prophet!