Easter Offers A New Beginning

Life has been a flurry of different activity here, with things happening faster than I can think to write them down or blog about them. Such are the dynamics of modern 21st-century life in the big city. Work has picked up, with school demands increasing as the semester rolls on. Working on a Master’s degree requires a lot of reading and an immense amount of writing. It’s hard to find a niche of time for non-academic writing, but I continue to try.

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Holy Week 2017 is well underway. I have had the opportunity to reflect on what has been an active ministry year thus far. It seems to be a season heavily focused on healing, particularly praying over people as they experience the hardships so often accompanying our lives. No doubt, there is a lot of hurt in our world. I’m not sure if it is more or less than at other times, but I am certainly more aware of it these days. Holy Week serves as a good reminder that God knows our pain. Jesus knows our hurts. The Holy Spirit prays on our behalf with groans and moans.  We live in a complex world. There are things we see and things we don’t. Things we understand, and things beyond our human comprehension.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 6:10–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Pain hits harder when it arrives close to home. We wish we could make it go away. But it’s there. Our pain draws us closer to God or in some cases, pushes us away.  Before his work on Earth was done, Jesus experienced great suffering. His death was a horrific one, as we imagine death nailed to a cross would be. But his story did not end with his pain, nor his death. Rather, his story continued past the hurt of this world to the glories of Heaven. In Scripture, suffering almost always precedes glory.

Whatever your hurt is today, know that I am praying for you. Maybe you’re suffering from the loss of a loved one or the ache of a broken heart. If the Tin Man knew how much a heart can hurt, perhaps he’d reconsider his desire to get one. I pray your pain, whatever it is, draws you closer to the Lord and that through your pain, you recognize your dependence on Him. For without God, I could not go on. But God has showered me with His abundant love and mercy, extending me the favor of His grace. On this Easter, I am thankful that God so loved the World that He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Through Scripture, we know that Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.

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Have You Ever Suffered from a Critical Spirit?

I know I have. You don’t know quite how you got arrived at your negative outlook, but there it is, leaving your mouth in hurry, leaving devastation in its wake.

In Scripture, we are told to love the Lord our God with our everythingness and to love others as we would love ourselves. In his letters, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to do everything with a heart of gratitude and to have a spirit of thankfulness, continuously. Like ALL the time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that can be hard to do. But, as a believer, I want to live a life pleasing to God.

So what do you do when you feel overwhelmed by a dark cloud that only allows you to see the bad in people and the negative in the world? The best medicine I’ve found is in Scripture.

First, a reminder from the Gospel of Matthew, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In Chapter 7, verses 3 & 4, our Lord Jesus asks “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”

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If we are blind to our own shortcomings, how then can we possibly pretend to be experts in the flaws of others? Scripture tells us that if we want to truly help others we should first examine ourselves and then and only then, proceed with a spirit of gentleness. Criticism without a contrite heart and a genuine desire to help our brother is nothing more than idle gossip. We’re simply criticizing. We’re just complaining. We have no intent to do anything about what it is we’re bitching about. Left untended, this garden will only produce weeds rooted in bitterness.

When we are being critical we demonstrate a harsh, disapproving assessment of others. The Bible exhorts believers to see others in the best possible light. If we are critical of the Lord than we are lacking clear understanding of His purpose and His plans.

While criticism can be constructive, that is not the type of criticism we utter when we are suffering under the dark cloud of a critical spirit. Constructive criticism differs in its intent and its roots. When someone asks us to help them by providing a sincere assessment of an area of their life or skill they desire to improve, then our criticism tends to flow from friendly waters, striving to help our brother or sister. Negative criticism typically comes unsolicited and runs empty of any intent to build up our fellow human.

Scripture commands believers not to deal with one another with a grumbling spirit. When we criticize unduly, we are simply grumbling. Our grumbling is a manifestation of our dissatisfaction in another part of our life. It likely has little to do with the person we are showering our discontent upon.

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” James 5:9 ESV

What do you do? In the New Testament,  James tells us to bridle our tongue. “Shut your mouth!” is essentially his advice. That’s right, stop talking. Keep the thoughts in your head, formed in your heart, from leaving your lips. Swallow your indignation and give your pride a rest.

“We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.”
1 Corinthians 10:9-10 ESV

Realize what’s happening. The Enemy, in that moment you are overcome with criticalness, is winning. He desires to tarnish the image of God and is willing to destroy you and me to do it. But the victory isn’t his to claim. No, it’s yours through Christ Jesus. You don’t have to let that dark cloud  hover over your head. You can move out from under it. You have the power at your fingertips. God will provide you with all the strength you need. All you have to do is ask.

Check out Zach Williams/Chain Breaker:

Yes, the solution rests in prayer. When we feel that negative spirit creeping in, we can shut the door through prayer. In prayer, we rely on the Holy Spirit to turn our eyes back to Jesus, away from the flames fanned by our critical spirit. We do what Jesus did when He encountered the Devil speaking through Peter’s lips—“Get thee away from me Satan!”

There where our heart is there our treasure is also. Faced with a poor spirit, we do what we know to do—we turn to the Lord in prayer, beseeching the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings to rescue us from ourselves.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.: Philippians 2:14-16 ESV