THE BENEFIT OF DOUBT

 

When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you. [Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)]

crinium lily

“What did she mean by that?” we might wonder. We know better than to make insensitive, unkind, or inappropriate remarks but what about when we think we’ve heard those same kinds of comments? Unfortunately, what we perceive is not necessarily what was meant or said. Sometimes, we over analyze the things we hear: the words chosen, the way they’re said, and even the speaker’s tone of voice. We may assign unkind intentions or hidden meanings that aren’t there. When we do that, we can easily find offense where none is intended.

Let’s face it, we all have had “foot in mouth” disease and said the wrong thing or the right thing the wrong way more than once. We’ve used poor choices of words, been politically incorrect, forgotten something we were supposed to remember or mentioned something we should have forgotten. We’ve called people by the wrong names and probably even asked a heavy-set woman when the baby’s due! We didn’t mean to hurt anyone; we were just being the imperfect people we are! I suspect most people are like me, not anywhere near clever enough for veiled messages and double meanings. Nevertheless, I can analyze someone else’s remarks as if they’ve spent hours choosing their words and practicing their delivery. When I think about it, if I’ve felt hurt or offended by another person’s words, it’s usually because of my own insecurities.

I never intend to say rude or thoughtless things but, unfortunately, it sometimes happens. Lord, let your Holy Spirit keep my foot out of my mouth. When in doubt, remind me that silence is always a good option. Just as I want others to give me the benefit of the doubt when I speak carelessly, show me how to be willing to do the same thing. May your Holy Spirit help me assume innocent intentions on the part of those whose words upset or offend me. Guide me so that I not only speak with love but listen with love, as well.

This does not mean that love is gullible, but that it does not think the worst (as is the way of the world). It retains its faith. Love is not deceived … but it is always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. [Leon Morris, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 13]

Love patiently accepts all things. It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures. [1 Corinthians 13:7 (NCV)]

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GOD BLESS EVERYONE

CANADA GEESEYou have heard that it was said, “Love your friends, hate your enemies.” But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. [Matthew 5:43-45 (GNT)]

In “The Family Circus,” a comic written by Bil and Jeff Keane, little Billy is saying his prayers. “And bless Mommy and Daddy, Bless Dolly, Bless PJ, …um.” He pauses and asks his Dad, “Is it all right if I add a few ‘Don’t bless’ to my list?” Obviously, his little brother Jeffy (and perhaps others) irritated him that day.

Sometimes, it is difficult to ask blessings for certain people in our lives. Jesus, however, made it abundantly clear that we aren’t to pick and choose who to love or for whom we pray. That includes difficult bosses, irritating neighbors, bothersome in-laws, and even annoying little brothers. We may just find that after praying for those bothersome individuals they cease being so annoying. Their behavior may change or, more likely, our attitude toward them will. It’s not easy to remain angry or upset with someone when we’re asking God’s blessings upon them!

Heavenly Father, fill me with your love so I am as generous with mine as you are with yours.

Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Matthew 5:46-48 (GNT)]

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NO REGRETS

Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)]

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies. [1 Corinthians 15:42-44 (NLT)]

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bergamotWhen writing yesterday’s devotion (“It’s Curtains”), I couldn’t help but feel a brief pang of regret because I never had those conversations with my parents before they died. The thoughts, “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you,” may have been assumed but never were spoken. I was fifteen when my mother succumbed to cancer. I saw her that day in hospital but, when I walked out that afternoon, I was sure I’d see her again when I visited the following day. I never thought the next time I saw her she’d be lying in a casket. When people would say, “She looks so good,” I wanted to shout at them and say, “She doesn’t look good; she looks dead!” Five years later, I was in the same funeral home and surrounded by many of the same mourners. That time, it was my father’s body lying so still in the front of the room. Two day earlier he’d been hunting pheasants when his heart failed; he died in the middle of a corn field. I’d seen him just a few weeks before that and never thought our farewell was the final one. Did my parents know how much I loved them? Did they know how sorry I was for my failings? Did they know I forgave them for theirs? Did they know how thankful I was for the life they gave me?

If we’d had those conversations at that time, however, I’m not sure how satisfying they would have been. I was far too young to have any concept of what it meant to be a parent and make the difficult choices parents do. I was too immature to have a real appreciation of the sacrifices they made for me or to understand the depth of parental love and the pain that so often accompanies it. And, I was far too young to acknowledge how wrong I’d been in so many ways. I think of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.” Indeed, I did. Now, more than fifty years later, I have the blessings of faith, maturity, perspective, and experience but those conversations cannot take place. Surely, like me, there are others whose final farewells were nonexistent or less than satisfactory. Nevertheless, they were final.

Although I expect to meet my parents in heaven, I think we’ll be too busy joyfully worshipping God to bring our regrets with us to the afterlife. What’s done is done and those last farewells, as unsatisfactory as they were, will have to do. The past is just that—passed! There really is no room in our lives for regret or looking backward. After all, we still have a race to run.

To dwell on the past simply causes failure in the present. While you are sitting down and bemoaning the past and regretting all the things you have not done, you are crippling yourself and preventing yourself from working in the present. Is that Christianity? Of course it is not. [Martyn Lloyd-Jones]

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. [Philippians 3:13b-14 (NLT)]

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IT’S CURTAINS

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

Death never takes the wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go. [Jean de La Fontaine]

PEONYWithin a week of one another, two friends joined the ranks of widowhood. One was not surprised when she joined this club. Her husband surrendered to cancer several months ago when they chose to stop all treatment and make the most of their remaining time together. The other woman was caught by surprise; she went to bed a wife and awoke the next morning a widow. Her husband, who appeared to be the picture of health, had suffered a fatal heart attack during the night.

I thought of these women when reading an article in Prevention magazine by Dr. Ira Babcock. His experience as a palliative physician taught him the value of making four statements before saying our last good-byes: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Although the first family had an opportunity to prepare for that last good-bye, the second family did not.

We may picture a peaceful ending with family gathered around the bedside affording us an opportunity to say and hear whatever needs to be said or heard. In actuality, that’s probably not the way the last act of life will be staged. Any forgiveness that needs to be asked for or extended, any thanks that should be offered, and any words of love to be spoken cannot wait for the last act. We may not even know the play is nearly finished, the people to whom we want to speak may not be present, or conversation may not be possible.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. They’re all thoughts that shouldn’t wait to be expressed until we or the people we love are at death’s door. In their last moments, did either of those husbands regret having left something unspoken? When the casket was closed, did their family members weep because of words they’d left unsaid? I’d like to think the first husband and his family had expressed their forgiveness, thanks and love. As for the second husband—as he was gasping his last few breaths, did he wish he’d said “I love you!” before his wife went to bed? Do his children regret not apologizing for something or failing to express their love and appreciation for all he did? Does his wife wish she’d told him how much she loved him that night? Does she regret their morning argument or wish she’d thanked him for his incredible patience?

Lazarus died and was resurrected. If he or Martha and Mary left anything unsaid the first time he died, I imagine they didn’t the second. Unlike Lazarus, we don’t get a second chance at dying and, unlike Martha and Mary, we don’t get a second opportunity to say farewell to our loved ones.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. We don’t know when the curtain will close. Is there anyone to whom we should say those words before it does?

Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it…If we did, we would do things differently. … Forgive yourself before you die, then forgive others. [Morrie Schwartz in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom]

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. [Psalm 39:4-5 (NLT)]

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MARRIAGE VOWS

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. [Isaiah 54:5 (NLT)]

But you have been unfaithful to me, you people of Israel! You have been like a faithless wife who leaves her husband. I, the Lord, have spoken. [Jeremiah 3:20 (NLT)]

JUST MARRIEDThroughout the Bible, marriage is often used as a metaphor for man’s relationship with God. His covenant with Israel is seen as a form of marriage, their unfaithfulness as adultery, and their alienation from God as divorce. The book of Hosea is a story of a prophet with an unfaithful wife that parallels God’s relationship with his unfaithful people. Some scholars say the entire Song of Songs is an allegory of God’s love for Israel or the church. In the New Testament, John the Baptist describes the Messiah as a bridegroom and Jesus refers to himself as the groom in wedding parables. Marriage was ordained by God and the marital bond illustrates God’s relationship with His people.

In light of the many Biblical references to our spiritual marriage, I started to evaluate how I’ve done keeping my wedding vows with God. When a bride, I promised to love, comfort and honor my husband and to forsake all others, keeping myself only for him as long as I lived. I took him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and to love and cherish until we were parted by death.

Although I’ve done a pretty good job of doing all that I promised to my husband, I’ve not done so well with my God. In times of health, wealth and contentment, I often forgot who made those good times possible. Moreover, I was often distant or angry with God in times of sickness, scarcity and sorrow. I’m not sure I even forsook all others for Him. I followed my peers, often took the easy rather than right routes, and listened to the enemy when I should have listened to Him. Like a mistress or prostitute, I seemed to love Him for his gifts and often came to Him only because I wanted something. While I can’t comfort our Almighty God, I’ve probably caused Him a fair amount of discomfort and grief. Fortunately, there was nothing about obedience in my wedding vows because obedience hasn’t been my strong suit with God. While I haven’t failed completely as a spiritual wife, I haven’t fully kept our covenant relationship.

On His part, God, like the perfect husband, has been faithful and loved me in all circumstances. Knowing my every fault, He’s seen me at my worst but continued to love me. If I stopped believing in Him, He never stopped believing in me. If I rejected him, He never rejected me. No matter how unfaithful I have been, He has remained faithful to me. He’s been loving and true to me at my sickest, poorest, and most contemptible. He gave me unconditional love when my love often depended on circumstances. God asked Hosea to buy back his adulterous wife and continue to love her. God has redeemed me, as well. The gift of His only Son to save my sorry soul is evidence of that. As Hosea welcomed back Gomer, so God welcomes me.

At landmark anniversaries, people often remake their wedding vows. Our vows to God need to be retaken not just every ten years but every day. Merciful God, thank you for your unconditional and lavish love. Forgive us for being less than you deserve and thank you for giving us more than we could ever desire. In all circumstances, may we love, honor, cherish and obey you, now and forever.

Never again will you be called “The Forsaken City” or “The Desolate Land.” Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Your children will commit themselves to you, O Jerusalem, just as a young man commits himself to his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. [Isaiah 62:4-5 (NLT)]

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LET’S AGREE TO DISAGREE

I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges. [Philippians 4:2 (MSG)]

Sandhill cranesThese words from Philippians are the only mention of Euodia and Syntyche in the New Testament. Personally, if someone is going to read about me over 2,000 years from now, I would prefer something about how easy it was to get along with me rather than about any arguments I had. It’s been suggested that better names for these women would be “Odious” and “So Touchy.” Perhaps Euodia really was hateful and obnoxious while Syntyche was thin-skinned and quick-tempered. Then again, maybe they were just like us at our less than best: stubborn, indignant, and unwilling to listen or compromise. We don’t know what their problem was nor do we know who was “right” and who was “wrong.” In this case, by holding a grudge, they both were wrong!

Because people in conflict usually expect others to take sides, conflict doesn’t just hurt those directly involved. The women’s behavior was threatening the existence of the church at Philippi and their dispute was hindering God’s work. To save the church, Paul didn’t tell them they had to agree; he just wanted them to find a way to live in harmony.

Like churches, families can suffer because of quarrels. I have a friend whose two sisters have a long-standing feud and refuse to speak with one another. Each sister gets irate and offended if my friend spends time with the other sister so now she no longer visits either one! She’s been estranged from them as a result of their estrangement from one another. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even stop there—two parents and ten cousins are also affected by their vendetta.

Heavenly Father, knowing that we can’t agree with everybody all of the time, show us how to get along with them. Give us loving, forgiving and understanding hearts. Toughen our hides so that we don’t take offense so easily. Show us how to have harmony in all of our relationships. Help us to acknowledge other people’s points of view and guide us to respectfully agree to disagree with one another when necessary.

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. [James 1:19-21 (MSG)]

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