Understanding Stress and Stress-Relieving Strategies

This world-wide COVID pandemic has increased humanity’s stress load beyond anything most of us have personally experienced. First, I want to point out that stress is a fact of life and actually improves performance up to a point (see chart above), but it must be managed or we’ll be overwhelmed. So, let’s take on the challenge, identify the pressures, prepare as best we can, and repair what’s already broken.

The first step is assessing the situation. A sense of having no control fuels stress in crises, so we need to control what we can to maintain as much good health as possible. As a wise pastor explained to me: “You may not be able to control your circumstances, and you shouldn’t try to control others, but you can and should control your attitudes and actions.” Not dealing with stress now can result in PTSD or other long-term psychological and physical problems, so it’s important to recognize and respond well to stress with appropriate self care. Assess these areas of your life:

  1. Sleep: Are you getting adequate rest? Are you sleeping enough but not too much? If you’re having trouble sleeping, the best way to improve sleep habits is to set an alarm to get up at a reasonable hour and train yourself to wake up and get up at the same time each morning.
  2. Exercise: Regular, daily exercise is critical to good health. If you can, get outside and walk! Use this time to relax. Intentionally use your five senses to increase your pleasure! Listen to the birds, feel the warmth of the sun (or rain!) on your face, smell the freshness of spring. Breathe deeply (but not as your neighbors pass by 🙂 ) and appreciate the break from being inside in quarantine for most of your time.
  3. Diet: Not going on a diet, but eating well. This is not the time to try to lose weight (which increases stress), but it’s important to eat healthy, nourishing, regular meals. If you can’t enjoy your normal supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, consider using a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Alan and I have never been fans of supplements, but a supplement is better than becoming malnourished. On the other hand, this is a critical time for disciplining yourself against binge eating, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, or eating foods that are bad for you due to medical conditions. I’ve been making one dessert per week as a special treat, but this would not be a good way to improve “self care” for those who have diabetes (for example). Find ways of relieving stress that are within the parameters of your health needs!
  4. Medical/Emotional Needs: Continue to care for your medical conditions, including emotional and spiritual needs. Don’t ignore them just because you’re afraid to go to a clinic or hospital! Contact your physician, therapist, or minister as needed for advice and counsel.
  5. Spiritual Needs: As a Christian, I find my daily “quiet time” critical for my sense of peace and well being. Studies show that people of all faiths (or no faith) profit from 20 minutes (or so) of quiet meditation each day. I meditate on the Bible and pray, and I recommend this 100%. In my personal appraisal of stress, my devotional time comes second only to my sleep in effecting my overall sense of well being. (I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never suffered food or shelter deprivation, but I’m sure that would severely effect my sense of well being too!) Don’t underestimate the importance of getting in touch with your spiritual side—and the God who created you!
  6. Social Needs: The sense of isolation that results from being quarantined tends to amplify tension and stress, so find ways to spend time with loved ones, even if it means communicating through Skype, WhatsApp, Signal, FaceTime, Zoom, etc. There are many ways to keep up with family and friends besides being physically present together (which is everybody’s favorite way). Be creative. I had to learn how to use WhatsApp and Signal, but I now have more active communication with some of my nieces and nephews than I did before COVID hit! My monthly prayer time with my two prayer partners has moved to a Zoom Room. I’d way rather have my kids and grand kids visit than all this virtual stuff, but—praise God for virtual connections! Let’s be glad for what we have during times when we can’t have everything we want and think we need!

The second step is to try to prepare going forward by building some stress-relieving activities into your schedule. During times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to be intentional about self-care and care for others. Get together with those in your sheltering-at-home unit and open up with one another about your needs. Solve problems as a family. Plan “alone” time for each of you into your day to replenish your energy for being together. Parents and elders need to lead well by slowing down, being intentional about earning trust and respect by making wise decisions, asking for forgiveness when they fail, and being “servant leaders” without being overly self-critical or perfectionistic in their expectations either for themselves or those in their care. Be honest, transparent, and timely in communicating the changing circumstances. Don’t try to hide the facts to protect your spouse or kids. They’ll know something is amiss and become uneasy, feeling “betrayed” when the truth comes out later. Keep communication open and flowing. When communication stops, people tend to imagine the worst! Be a good role model. People are eager for good leadership during crises, and your family will be very likely to follow your leadership if they trust and respect your judgment.

How to relieve stress? Here are some ideas:

  1. Plan breaks for relaxation: This may mean some down time for reading a book, playing music or watching a video. For children, it might be some free time to play games; for adults, it might include time for a leisurely hot shower or a soak in the tub. I realize with small children, these might seem close to impossible luxuries, but maybe you can take turns giving your spouse a little time off for a quiet breather!
  2. Be grateful and thankful: Look for the good and focus on that. Be appreciative. Try to compliment others and become an encourager. I remember during one particularly difficult time in our marriage, we were both advised to try to find at least one thing each day to appreciate and thank our spouse for doing or being. I’ve heard that a really good relationship will have about seven times as many compliments and expressions of appreciation as bits of correction or critique.
  3. Look for the silver linings and humor: Laughter is good medicine and a great stress reliever (as long as you’re laughing with and not at someone). Think positive! I remember reading about someone incarcerated (unjustly) who found delight in an ant racing across the floor of the prison. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, read the biography of Joni Eareckson Tada, who became a quadriplegic as a teenager after a diving accident. I recently listened through her incredible story, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus. After reading this book, I feel like I’ll never have anything to complain about again!
  4. Take time to learn something new: In a way, I feel like the COVID pandemic has enforced a bit of “sabbath rest” on everyone (at least those of us who are older), because we can’t go anywhere and are so limited in our options. This is the “perfect” time to pick up that hobby you’ve always wanted to try. If you have internet access, there are tutorials on just about every subject under the sun, so now’s your golden opportunity to become proficient on the guitar, painting, star gazing, needlework, language, and on and on! If you have kids, possibly you can involve them too! I think most of us totally underestimate how much our children can understand and enjoy things that interest adults too.
Ken and Joni (Eareckson) Tadi—
and she’s still glowing after more than 50 years as a quadriplegic!

So, if we’ve assessed our situations and taken some positive measures to prepare for less stress going forward, the last thing on our “to do” list is to get rid of the things that impact our family negatively. Here are some important stressors to avoid:

  1. Too much media, including T.V. radio, phones, social media: Use only sources you trust and limit your exposure so that you’re only learning what you need to know in order to protect yourself and live a healthy life. More news than you need will only promote anxiety: “While anger can lower one’s perception of risk, fear ratchets it up” (Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 15, No. 6, 2006). Reduce stress by reducing fear.
  2. Faulty coping techniques: Humans tend to have three responses to fear: flight, fight, or freeze. Faulty “flights” (escapes to avoid dealing with reality) are theoretically “stress relievers” but actually add to stress. These include such things as giving in to addictions like alcohol, drugs, porn, playing video games, binge eating or over sleeping, etc. Faulty “fights” include taking your stress out on others instead of taking responsibility for yourself in your situation and learning how to handle the problems appropriately. Becoming verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive solves nothing and does great damage to those around you. Take a break. Count to ten (or 10,000 if need be). Get down on your knees and pray, asking God for help to control your anger. Go for a walk, but don’t hurt the ones who love you the most! Finally, faulty “freeze” responses include things like isolating or withdrawing socially even beyond what is necessary, becoming vegatative or dysfunctional, hiding in your room or refusing to talk to anybody. Short term you may think this is easier than meeting the challenges head on, but like the rafter heading into the white water, if you don’t lean into the waves, you’ll get washed overboard out the back.

Hope this helps a little! We can’t control COVID, but we really need to control ourselves, and by learning to control ourselves, we will lessen our own stress and help alleviate the stress in those around us. I realize that controlling our own fear sometimes seems completely beyond us. If you are feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve already been washed out the back end of your rescue raft, then I pray you will meditate on these verses and ask the LORD to help you find peace in your soul:

Let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4).

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die” (Judges 6:23).

In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me” (Psalm 56:4).

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

If you don’t find any of these verse consoling, then perhaps you don’t know the Lord Jesus as your savior. In that case, “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:7)! If you want help in knowing God and being able to “depart from evil,” then please click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this post and read about how you can find peace with God.

(Credit for the first chart and much of the inspiration for this post was found on the website for Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where my husband serves as the Chief Medical Officer. This site has a host of valuable resources related to mental health issues. I’ve added the link below just in case you have other questions on your heart too.)

Domestic Violence During COVID

This is a tough subject, but one that needs addressing! I was out walking our lane last week and a young woman was trespassing, although when I stopped to talk to her, I discovered that she was either mentally ill or being abused, or most likely some of both. In the process of trying to help her, I’ve been digging into research and discovered that domestic abuse and violence is becoming distressingly higher during the world’s COVID lock down. Hospitals that are not overflowing with COVID patients are actually significantly down in their censuses. Our psychiatric hospital’s census has been down, and I naively imagined it was because families were home together and better able to attend the needs of their mentally ill family members. I don’t know the “true” truth, but it appears that people are avoiding hospitals for fear of contracting COVID, but this does not mean that the mentally ill are being graciously and patiently cared for by loving family members. In fact, alcoholism, drug use, and abuse are sky rocketing, and in the areas where reporting of abuse has gone down, the fear is that this is only because it’s become harder to get the privacy to make calls for help without being detected.

If you or anyone you know or love is being abused, there is a Hotline for National Domestic Violence in America: 1-800-799-7233. I haven’t actually tested this number, but if you call and find it unhelpful, there probably is a number in your city or country where you can call for help. In America, you can always call “911” and they can direct you. For most people, the danger of coronavirus, though real, may not be as potentially lethal as a violent spouse. For instance, an article in the New York Times on April 17, 2020 reported that “according to various unofficial Covid-19 trackers that calculate the death rate by dividing total deaths by the number of known cases, about 6.4 percent of people infected with the virus have now died worldwide.” This same article went on to say that the death rate “in the United States, [is] around 4.3 percent, according to the latest figures on known cases and deaths.” According to other sources, at this point 80% of those dying are over 65 or have an underlying medical condition. So, if you are under 65 and otherwise in good health, your chance of sustaining a serious or life-threatening injury from a violent partner is greater than your risk of death from COVID, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help!

Last night Alan and I watched the 2019 adaptation of John Bunyan’s immortal tale, Pilgrim’s Progress (animated version). We both loved it, and I want to recommend it. But beyond thinking it was a well done retelling of one of the world’s greatest classics, one the most significant points of the movie is that if we call out to God for HELP, He will help us. This is not just fairy-tale romance, this is true! God will reveal himself to those who seek him sincerely: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). God is alive and well, and He is able to help you. I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do if you’re in distress, but I can promise you that if you sincerely repent and surrender your heart to God, He will save you and show you the right path to take. He can do for each of us what no human being can do, and He will if we ask.

My (new) young friend at first could not believe that God loved her, as her father had never claimed her and her mother had died in January. She said she wanted to kill herself because God—if he did exist—did not love her and wouldn’t want her or help her. Thankfully, she did listen to God’s Word and did believe! “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If you will reach out and ask God for help, he will help you too! Please reach out!

(Please don’t think I’m taking this problem lightly in any way by using graphics from the animated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, but (of course) I can not use real photographs of real people for this terribly difficult subject. God knows what you need. He can help you!)

When to Wed?? Unasked-for Advice from a Busy Body

A few weeks ago one of our young friends married his beloved bride in his living room with family and friends watching online . . . formal reception to follow . . . whenever we get through the COVID crisis!

We have another young friend who’s paid for deposits for their planned June 13 wedding, and now she’s anguishing over what to do. Should they wait and hope it all works out, or cut their losses now and just get married with the reception to follow?!?

If you’re thinking about getting married but wondering how and when, I’d like to recommend a really cute “feel good” movie called Winter Wedding (the 2017 version also called Wedding Wonderland). It’s about a young couple trying to figure out if they should wait for summer and her “dream” wedding venue or get married in the winter. Of course, there are all the issues of trying to please everybody else, but in the final analysis, the message was: “Do what you two (the couple) really want to do!”

This, I think, is sterling advice for any of you thinking about marriage sometime in the not-to-distant future! Of course, I’d better think so, ’cause that’s just what Alan and I did 47 years ago when our dream plans for an April Easter wedding (back in 1973) were falling through! If you’re interested in the details (which you probably aren’t), they are here:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/the-armstrong-archives-1-wedding-in-just-one-day/

Suffice it to say, we had a “Winter Wedding” (or a “Wonderland Wedding”) in just one day. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the wedding in the movie, but neither of us have ever been sorry we didn’t wait those extra two months. The plot of this film may seem ludicrous for some of you, but Alan and I just smiled at each other and held hands!

I will say, if you’re asking for my advice (which I know you’re not), “Ask God! Pray about it! He’ll know how to make your wedding just perfect!!” And, one other bit of unwanted advice from the Peanut Gallery that I’ve learned over the years: “Orchestrating your wedding truly is a challenge…but it seems like nothing compared to conducting the rest of your life! (if I may say so myself).” 🙂

His God instructs him and teaches him the right way. All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent” (Isaiah 28:26&29 NIV).

Is It Okay to be Gay for Christians?

If I may start at the end and work backward, I’d like to begin this with a quote from the end of Karen Keen’s book on this subject: “The end results surprised me. Rather than a black-and-white answer, I heard God saying ‘freedom.’ Not the kind of freedom that celebrates licentiousness, but the kind of freedom that loves you no matter what, even when you don’t measure up.” In a nutshell, this conclusion resonates in my heart as well.

That being said, let me point out places where I question the logic in Karen’s lines of reasoning in her book, Scripture, Ethics, & The Possibility Of Same-Sex Relationships. It would take hours—possibly even a book—to adequately discuss and counter all her arguments (at least the ones I disagree with, which aren’t all of them, of course! 🙂 ), and I am open to discussing any points or details she’s written about, but for the sake of this post not turning into an alternate doctoral thesis, let me address her four main topics:

1. Attending to the overarching intent of biblical mandates
2. Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances
3. Discussing honestly the feasibility of celibacy
4. Reflecting on the fall in light of science

1. I agree that the overarching intent of biblical mandates is to provide for the common good of all people, and the law can be summed up in “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:36-40). Where we disagree is in what it actually means to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus expanded on that in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (See also John 14:21 and John 15:10). Our love for God is proven by our keeping his commandments, but in the spirit of love, not without it. (See the beautiful description of what love in action looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.) 1 John 5:3 enlarges on this: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we truly love God with all our hearts and souls, even the terribly difficult things we endure for his sake will not grieve us, because we understand that our self-sacrifices are done out of love for Him and for the good of others . . . which fulfills God’s mandate.

God’s commandments were given to us for our good and for the good of others. God created us; He understands us; He has given us commandments to train us in the way of godliness. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5). Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith will naturally follow from the prayerful practice of God’s commandments, and it will also result in knowing what true love for others looks like. True love will persevere through failure, but true love doesn’t condone breaking commandments for the sake of accommodating someone else’s failures. Jesus never broke any of the commandments. He fulfilled the law, although he had compassion on the failures of others. To break any of God’s commandments is a failure to love God and our fellow man, and it comes from a lack of faith. From Genesis through Revelation, God is trying to teach us to trust Him to solve our problems rather than break laws attempting to find our own “better” solutions. He doesn’t want us to take matters into our own hands, like Sarah, to make things “turn out right.” They won’t! When we disobey, we open the door to failure, not success. Compassion unhinged from righteousness creates evil, not good. God calls us to overcome evil with good, not succumb to evil because persevering in good is too hard.

Before moving on to her second point, I do want to applaud Karen for her honesty in reporting: “The Old Testament authors speak only negatively of same-sex relations” (17; see Lev. 18:22;20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18). She goes on to explain, “In the New Testament, all mention of same-sex relations is negative” (18; see in particular Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Karen goes on to ask: If both the traditionalists and the progressives agree that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, “then why the debate? Doesn’t that mean the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong?” (19). I would say, “Yes! Preach it, sister! 🙂

However, Keen goes on to suggest that the authors of the biblical books may not have had insight into all forms of same-sex relationships, so they “may not” have been addressing homosexuality generally. To me, that is like saying that the Bible always condemns adultery . . . but it may not have been addressing some of the extenuating circumstances. For instance, what if your spouse has an incurable illness and is no longer sexually available? Based on how difficult it is to be celibate, might the Bible turn a blind eye to the man who seeks to relieve sexual tension and find some comfort with another woman in that devastating situation? Or, what about many single people who have the same sexual urges all of us experience but have not been able to secure a mate? What about the widows and widowers who yearn for sexual release? What about those who are imprisioned and can’t be with their spouse? So far, our society does not make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, and although most Christians would feel compassion, no one would deem such behavior godly or to be celebrated.

2. Our response to the second issue is directly connected to our view of the Bible . . . and man’s first temptation: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1). The basic issue is whether or not the Bible’s teachings were superintended by an all-knowing God whose precepts were and always shall be an immutable standard for life and conduct, or whether the scriptures were written by various men who were limited in their understanding, bound by cultural issues, and not aware of current scientific theories, rendering their ideas no longer binding or sufficient. Karen feels we can improve on some of them to better meet the needs of modern people.

“Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances,” in common parlance, is suggesting that even that which was ordained at the time of creation—such as God creating male and female as complimentary halves of a marriage unit—is now up for debate and possible reinterpretation. In part, Karen justifies this by saying that science has disproven the Genesis account of creation. For instance: “Instead of Adam and Eve, the data indicates Adams and Eves” (86) and makes the assertion that the scientifically approved “Y-chromosome Adam” [as the progenitor of all living males] “was not the only Homo sapiens alive in his time nor the first. In other words, he is only the father of male lineages that happened to survive to the present” (86).

To me, it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the authority of Scripture with someone who no longer believes the biblical accounts are accurate. For instance, Keen claims that “both science and Genesis indicate that bodily decay and evil existed prior to Adam” (87). Evil pre-existed the fall: The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin. However, the Bible clearly teaches that “by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21). Yes, evil existed, but not the principle of death and decay working within the bodies and spirits of Adam and Eve.

Keen’s theory that same-sex attraction may be simply variation in species development rather than natural fallenness is based on a failure to understand the clear teaching of Genesis. Keen says  Genesis indicates that bodily decay predated the fall because Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden to keep from eating from the tree of life. This is faulty thinking. At the time they were cast out of the garden, they were in the process of decaying, but that is because they had already sinned. The Genesis record is explicit: God said they would die if they ate from the forbidden tree. Death was the result of failing to believe and obey God. Keen can imagine that scientific “evidence” proves death and decay were already present, but there is nothing in the Bible to support her claim. To the contrary, the Bible makes clear that death came as a result of disbelief and disobedience. Also, no ethical scientist would purport to be able to “prove” via any scientific examination of non-existent remains that this woman, named Eve, was predisposed to death before disobeying God. Scientific theory is based on present-day human genetic programming, which according to the Genesis account was changed by the fall rather than predating it. Sending Adam and Eve out of the garden lest their decaying bodies continue to live forever in a state of spiritual death was a mercy! It is only through being born again spiritually that we receive eternal life, and it is only through the process of physical death and resurrection that we will inherit a new, incorruptible body.

The book is filled with hermeneutical inconsistencies. As a couple of examples, she compares homosexual behavior to someone who has Tourette’s. This isn’t even close. Homosexuals make conscious choices to engage in what comes naturally to them. The tics of those with Tourette’s are not controllable by the patient any more than an epileptic can control his seizures. Also, likening people who have a homosexual preference to those who become left-handed as an amoral, natural variation is incompatible with any consistent interpretation of scripture. The 700 elite troops from Benjamin who were left-handed were praised in Judges 20:16, and God used Ehud, who was left-handed, to deliver Israel from the Moabites. Being left-handed is never condemned in the Scripture, whereas homosexual behavior is never approved but always condemned.

3. Okay, let’s have an honest discussion on the feasibility of celibacy. Keen reports: “I came to a greater appreciation that no evidence exists that it’s possible for all people [to remain celibate], I saw that setting a bar that cannot be reached renders the mandate meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” (113). This is the voice of reason apart from faith and the Judeo-Christian moral code, because the God of the Bible does demand perfection in all areas: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The purpose of the law is to make us realize our inability to attain perfection and to bring us to faith in Christ as our only hope for salvation: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that we can’t keep the law does not “render the mandate meaningless,” however. Instead, it should drive us to Christ for help, as we are taught a few verses later: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:16). To say that we can’t keep the law perfectly makes it “meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” is logical to an unbeliever, but not to a person of faith. Reason without faith is not Christianity. It is agnosticism.

Lest I seem too harsh, I want to stand on record as having a clear recognition that celibacy is nigh unto impossible for most of us. However, it is how we respond to this challenge that will guide us into the paths of life! If you can be celibate, and want to be celibate, by all means do so! Great good can be accomplished by those who are not distracted by mates and family, and we should all honor and help provide community support for those who feel called by God to forgo the joys (and difficulties) of married life in order to serve God unencumbered.

However, for most of us, the awareness of our own need for sexual intimacy drives us to find a mate, and for those of us who believe that sex was created as the uniquely sacred privilege of marriage . . . well, we become driven to marry! Single people who have been unable to find a mate are not off the hook. Again, I’m sure many people feel compassion toward those who end up involved in sexual encounters outside of marriage, but such acts are never condoned in the Scripture. “Fornication,” which is the basket term for sexual immorality, (and if you use the Greek word, “porneía” it’s pretty obvious that pornography would be included) is always condemned.

Personally, my deep conviction that if I left my husband, Alan, I should remain celibate helped keep me in my marriage, because I knew my chances of remaining celibate for the rest of my life were about zippo. 😦 I would recommend that homosexuals who take the Bible seriously consider this point, because I also firmly believe that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you find yourself attracted to the same sex, and same-sex relationships are condemned as wrong in the scripture (which everybody agrees is true), then please keep taking your temptation to the Lord. People have some plasticity and ability to change. I have only known a couple dozen homosexuals well enough to say this, but of the ones I’ve known, all of them have had some interest in the opposite sex at some point in their life. I know that the dopamine rush from homosexual behavior can light up your brain like a Fourth of July fireworks and permanently rearrange and reshape your brain chemistry, but if you sincerely believe there is no way out except by learning to love someone of the opposite sex (and I do mean “learn,” as an act of the will, just the way most of us have to “learn” to love our heterosexual partner), then you may find that you are capable of forming a heterosexual union. And, eventually, I am convinced (by faith) you can find deep and lasting fulfillment with that partner, whether or not it’s the most erotic relationship you could ever imagine with a same-sex partner. Frankly, if people could be honestly polled, my guess would be that most people are married to someone who was not the single most sexually attractive person they ever met! However, I can say from experience, that sexual attraction is not the best indicator of whom will make the best life-time partner or most satisfying mate. The best mates are those most like Christ. Think about it! There is hope beyond celibacy. No one HAS to refuse attempting to develop a satisfying relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Be honest, but be willing to try. That is your choice!

4. “Reflecting on the fall in light of science.” For a starter, Keen kind of says it all: “Currently, there is no scientific consensus on why people are gay or lesbian” (91). “Genes do not cause a person to be gay” (93). Fact! To date, scientists cannot explain how people develop an attraction to same sex individuals. Obviously, there are a few (very rare) cases of true hermaphrodites (“intersex”—people born with characteristics of both sexes), but the vast majority of people who self-identify as homosexual have no genetic basis for their orientation (at least, none presently known). Research has been able to find some statistically significant correlations between birth order, sexual abuse, and dysfunctional family life, but so far nobody—including gays—can clearly trace the course of their sexual development. In the few personal histories I’ve known, most of them were abused (or allured) by a homosexual and were caught off guard at first but then “fell in love.” Seduction isn’t the whole answer, though! All sorts of people attempt to seduce others (and by far the greatest number—as reflecting the general population—are heterosexual). What makes one person “fall for it” and another shun the seducer/seductress? Our minds and bodies are so intricately interwoven and complex that even we ourselves can’t understand everything that goes on within us!

Despite the “no known reason yet” of science, we are left with the reality that a small percentage of our population definitely experiences same-sex attraction. As a society, how should we respond? Karen’s answer is completely dissatisfying to me! She sees the desire of Christians to see homosexual people become heterosexual as a “lust for perfection” and suggests that we should re-envisioning how we respond. However, Jesus sets the standard at perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and the Bible calls us to holiness rather than simply accommodating sins: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Bible never suggests we give up on our efforts to live godly lives, although it does offer forgiveness for us in our failures and imperfections. The Bible never approves simply accommodating natural fallenness with sinful alternatives. For example, someone who feels like they can’t stop lusting isn’t therefore given a free pass to watch porn without any consequences, because there are always consequences for sinful behaviors. To simply say, “It’s okay to be gay” goes against the uniform guidance of scripture on how to provide for a good and just society, and we would do well to heed the Word of God!

If I may, I would like to end back at the beginning. God does give us freedom to choose how we will live our lives, including with whom we choose to live them. He has definitely gifted us as humans with a great deal of autonomy, and in this life on earth, we are granted the right to be the master of our own fate in many ways. BUT, God has provided a way of wisdom through Jesus Christ, who is “the Word made flesh” and the living “Word of God.” If you are a believer, then “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Jesus set us free—but His desire is that we obey his commands (found in His Word, the Bible) because we love HIM. His commands are for our own good, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

One verse that has really helped me in my own wrestlings with the lusts of my flesh is found in Psalm 16:7, “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” The counsels of the Lord in the Bible lead us into the right paths, and his reins (the restrictions that bind us) help us during the times when we are confused and can’t tell clearly which way to go. If you will allow God’s commandments and the reins he puts on us to guide your heart day and night, He will bring you to the place of fullness of joy. As David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). May God bless and guide us into the Light as we seek to walk by faith. I know it’s never easy to “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12).

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:7-14)

Same-Sex Attraction and Homosexuality

Some topics are a joy; others are painfully difficult. This is one of the latter, but the subject of same-sex attraction has become one of the most prominent issues in our culture today, and it’s beginning to touch the lives of so many both in and out of the church that I feel led to address it. I’ve actually read a lot of books on the topic over the past couple of years, and rather than individually reviewing them, I would like to recommend a few of the ones I’ve found most helpful for trying to understand what’s going on.

Frankly, facing questions about same-sex attraction have almost become routine for our young people today, although it was virtually non-existent (as an issue) just one generation ago. (Both Alan and I first learned about homosexuality in college at the end of the 1960’s but we never even heard the term “same-sex attraction” until post 2000.) Today it’s an in-your-face everywhere issue that all young people have to negotiate. If you have children growing up in the public schools, you can be sure they will be exposed to the opportunity to consider whether or not they prefer the possibility of sexual interaction with their own sex over that of the opposite sex. Even children with robust heterosexual inclinations will be asked the question and have to consider it. So, “same-sex-attraction” is going to be on their radar, and many children and young people will find it confusing.

As parents, I think it’s important to be able to listen, guide, counsel, and give our children space to make wise decisions without responding with revulsion. I don’t think same-sex-attraction is any different from any other temptation, and as human beings, we all have to face and deal with the temptations in our lives. Our sexuality is ingrained in every cell in our body (literally), and controlling our physical appetites for food and sex are among the most difficult lifetime challenges all of us face. There’s no shame in this; it’s just acknowledging the reality of our human natures. However, how we respond to those challenges makes a huge difference in our lives and can deeply effect our wholeness and holiness.

If you are a parent with a child (or adult offspring) who is struggling with same-sex-attraction, I would like to recommend Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story, by Dr. Christopher Yuan. This 2018 book is up to date with the latest research while maintaining a balanced, sensitive approach, written by a professor at Moody who himself struggles with same-sex attraction but is living a vibrant, holy life of faith. Two other excellent resources for parents (or mature young adults, as they are heavy reading—can you tell by the covers? 🙂 ) are:

Kevin DeYoung. What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015.

Robert Gagnon. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002.

If you have a young person who has taken a firm stand that he/she has committed to a gay lifestyle, then I highly recommend two more books for your own mental and emotional health:

Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. This 2011 book was co-written by Christopher Yuan and his mother, Angela and gives insight into the problems and pains of both the parent and “child” (offspring), with a lot of opportunities to think through what was and was not helpful to them, and what might be most beneficial as you pray for and continue learning to love your own son or daughter.

Another excellent resource is When Homosexuality Hits Home, published by Joe Dallas in 2015 through Harvest House Publishers. This book definitely tackles the arguments from both sides (with talking points), but it also gives some really practical advice on topics like how to negotiate family boundaries, whether or not to attend same-sex weddings, and what does love look like in the face of grief?

This Thursday, I’ll be discussing the arguments found in Karen R. Keen’s book, Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships, recommended to me by a young friend who was studying for the ministry before recently deciding that it’s okay to be gay. The author of this 2018 book describes herself as someone who was a celibate gay for sixteen years but is now reconsidering her position. I’ll let you know if her deliberations change my opinion on what the scripture teaches, but meanwhile, I would also like to hear your thoughts! Thanks! I’d also appreciate your prayers, as this is one of those hot topics that’s sure to discourage some of my followers, more than a handful of whom self-identify as homosexuals. Blessings on you all as you seek to walk in the Light!

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

If you’re more apt to listen than buy a book just now, here’s a link to a very helpful and insightful discussion with Dr. Christopher Yuan on his latest book, Holy Sexuality. (Dr. Jonathan Armstrong, the interviewer, also teaches at Moody and is my son, so this conversation was especially interesting to me! 🙂 )

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (65): Casting Beams

Have you ever had the experience of looking into someone’s eyes and feeling light and peace, like you can see straight into their soul? I have. I have also had the experience of looking into someone’s eyes and sensing impenetrable darkness, like a black, iron curtain has been drawn to keep me from understanding their thoughts. One makes me feel loved; the other gives me the creeps! Do you know what I mean?

In today’s text for meditation, Jesus warns us not to judge others, but to “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I want to consider and contrast the “beam” and the “mote.”

“Beam” has many meanings. All biblical translators and commentators seem unanimous in their opinion that Jesus is using hyperbole and referring to a large timber used for construction, but I’m such a concrete thinker that this word picture never really makes sense to me. You can’t have a literal beam of timber in your eye, because no eye could contain something that large. I’ve heard preachers try to explain it by saying it’s probably just a splinter that looks like a beam of wood to the person who has it in his eye. However, a splinter would totally block a person’s vision and be terribly painful. Anyone with a splinter in his eye naturally goes into a state of emergency and can hardly think of anything else until it’s removed.

No, this “beam” has gone unnoticed by the person. It is of huge significance, but it has blinded him and made proper judgment impossible, even though he is oblivious to this truth. So, that’s made me think about other possibilities for what Jesus could have really meant, and it occurs to me that a beam can also be a shaft of light.

A mote—on the other hand—is a speck . . . just a tiny particle . . . a bit of dust floating through the air and drifting across a shaft of light. If you put those two thoughts together, it makes a beautiful picture of what Jesus might have intended for us to understand on the spiritual level regardless of how we interpret his metaphor! Could it be that Jesus is warning us that when we judge and condemn others, we are most often doing it from a state of our own darkness. Our understanding has become skewed. We are not thinking God’s thoughts; we are judging based on our own selfish, self-serving opinions. Our heart has become blind, and what’s coming out of our eyes are beams of darkness that cause ourselves and others to stumble. Jesus points out, “Can the blind lead the blind?” (Luke 6:39).

Look at the orchids above. Only the ones that have been illuminated with light are clearly visible. There’s no way we could we know if there’s a tiny mite or a speck of fungus threatening the health of the flowers in the background which are out of focus and in the dark. Similarly, I think Jesus is telling us to cast the beams of darkness out of our own eyes so that the Light of life can illuminate us from within. Then, and only then, can we see well enough to know what the real needs of our friends are . . . and not simply what they are doing that irritates us!

Also, I love the vision of a mote as a tiny fleck floating along through a beam of light. Although specks of dust can be seen in strong shafts of light, most of them are insignificant and will drift into obscurity before long. I wonder if God, with his infinite patience, watches us with longsuffering, knowing that the bits of dirt in our lives will soon enough pass into oblivion, cleansed away by gentle puffs of the Holy Spirit.

Are we casting beams of light or darkness to those around us? Do you suppose others sense that we love them—or are they feeling creeped out? Does the light in our eyes illuminate or darken others? How much better to concentrate on becoming filled with Light! Then we will see more clearly to give others true help . . . and I suspect many of the motes that are so disturbing to us now will float away . . . or at least turn into mole hills. 🙂

Want more light in your soul? Look up at Jesus. Fill your heart with his Word, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). “They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Psalm 34:5). Jesus said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18). “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Shine On Us
(—Phillips, Craig and Dean)

Lord, let Your light
Light of Your face
Shine on us
Lord, let Your light
Light of Your face
Shine on us

That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way in the darkest night
Let Your light shine on us

Lord, let Your grace
Grace from Your hand
Fall on us
Lord, let Your grace
Grace from Your hand
Fall on us

That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way in the darkest night
Let Your grace fall on us

Lord, let Your love
Love with no end
Come over us
Lord, let Your love
Love with no end
Come over us

That we may be saved
That we may have life
To find our way in the darkest night
Let love come over us
Let your light shine on us

Passages for today’s text: Luke 6:39-42, “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-6, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (63): Forgive and Be Forgiven

As 2019 draws to a close, I can’t think of any commandment more appropriate than Jesus’s teaching on giving and seeking forgiveness: “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). What a perfect way to end the year! Some people never reconcile with those who have offended them; some wait until they’re on their deathbed or at the funeral of a mutually beloved family member. But, what a waste! Why not offer and receive forgiveness before the year dies rather than waiting until WE die?!!

There are many diverse opinions out there on what it actually means to forgive, but I believe the one from Wikipedia is right on: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be), and with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledges offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).”

Here are some wise insights from William P. Young’s The Shack: “Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.”

If you wonder whether or not you’ve really forgiven someone, test yourself with these questions: Do I still erupt in anger when I remember the event(s)? Do I truly hope the offender will recover and become a trustworthy person, or am I more focused on wanting the person to be exposed, brought to justice, and punished? Am I willing to accept their confession and request for forgiveness, or do I refuse to believe they’re sincere?

If you’re struggling to forgive anyone, please understand that God tells us to forgive—not on the basis of the offender’s worthiness or repentance—but based on God’s willingness to forgive us for our sins: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus instructs us to forgive, not only for the sake of the offender but also for our own emotional health and healing. It’s not just the Judeo/Christian heritage that promotes the value of forgiving others either; it’s a part of every major religion! Even among the non-religious, there are literally thousands of quotes about forgiveness, In fact, there are 3012 quotes on Goodreads alone! (Here’s one of my favorites: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”― Mark Twain. Talk about a good, challenging resolution for the New Year!! 🙂 )

Below, I’m sharing seventeen of my favorite quotes on forgiveness. I hope you’ll take time to pray your way through, asking the Lord to help you forgive anyone against whom you are still holding a grudge. Before this year ends, may we all be free from the bondage of unforgiving hearts!

(Photo credit for first photo: “I Will Give You Rest,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission of Havenlight.com .)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (62): Condemn Not

I was part of a panel lately on the subject of how to deal with in-laws, particularly during the holidays. Do you cringe at the thought of going home for the holidays because you’ll feel condemned as “not good enough” in some area? If you’re sponsoring holiday festivities, do you worry about “not measuring up?” Alan’s parents died forty years ago, and they were very kind to me, so I was startled by just how real and how difficult it is for most young wives to negotiate the holidays, particularly vis-à-vis their mother-in-laws. Yikes!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a better mother-in-law since then, particularly in light of this week’s reminder from Jesus: “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). It occurs to me that for many (most?) people there is some ambivalence around Christmas that has to do with unmet expectations and feeling unloved, and most of the conflicts revolve around the questions of with whom and how to spend our precious vacation time.

Ouch! If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed, and frustrated by just how frantic and unfulfilling the holiday season has become for you, may I recommend this: Continue on as planned this year, but start praying about how to improve the holidays for next time. Observe how you and your loved ones react to this year’s game plan and afterward talk through what happened with your spouse (loved ones, or yourself if you’re single). Strategize about how to make the holidays more of a win/win for you and your loved ones, and start now to lay the groundwork for a happier, healthier, more Christ-like Christmas celebration for next year.

Here’s a little imaginary look into the hearts of those of us who are working hard to make Christmas wonderful—those of us who are functional and happy! (BTW, this is based on gleanings from the panel discussion, not the inner workings of my own family, but you get the drift . . .)

From the mother-in-law’s perspective: “I just want to hold my daughter-in-law close, the way Jesus holds us as his sheep. I want to tuck her under my wing and make her a part of our family! I want to celebrate the same cherished traditions that have always made our family so happy together! If we have to share, it should at least be 50/50.” This can also devolve into: “I deserve to be loved and honored this Christmas. I’m doing all the work, so I want to do it my way. Besides, if my son really loved me, he’d be trying to take care of me. I spent the past (XX) years of my life giving everything I had to bring him up the best I could, so I deserve his attention too. His wife just isn’t fair!”

From the daughter-in-law’s perspective: “I don’t want to be absorbed into my husband’s family as if I’m just another child. Husbands are supposed to ‘leave’ their parents and ‘cleave’ to their wife. I am an adult with a new, independent family, and I want to protect that space so we can develop our own traditions.” This can also devolve into: “Besides, I like the way my family celebrates better, so if we’re going to visit, I’d rather visit my parents. If my husband really loved me, he’d defer to what I want! After all, ‘happy wife is happy life,’ so he should be trying to make me happy! My mother-in-law is so critical that I don’t feel comfortable being around her. His mom just isn’t fair!

From the son’s perspective: “I’m not sure what to do! I love my parents and want to honor them, but I also love my wife, and I want to make her happy. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but all the work and tension makes me super tired and isn’t pleasant at all! I go back to work every year more tired than when we left for our ‘vacation.’ It seems like there’s no way to win!”

Jesus: “I came to earth to bring peace and goodwill to all people. Christmas isn’t meant to be about conflict, competition, and condemnation! If you celebrate my coming to earth, please do it in my spirit: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:2-7).

Can you imagine how the spirit of Christmas would change if we all took Philippians 2 to heart and practiced Jesus’ command to “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37)? Instead of judging and condemning one another as unfair or unloving, let’s focus on Jesus and try to follow in his footsteps, finding ways to put others first and meet their needs! Besides that, there are a world of lonely people who have no one to love OR even fight with this Christmas! 🙂 Can we reach out to some of them? Let’s make Christmas about loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus did!

(Photo of Yongsung Kim’s picture of Jesus with the snowy lamb used by permission of Havenlight.com. As we celebrate Christmas, may we snuggle into the everlasting arms of Jesus, who will keep us warm in his love!)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (61): Judge Not

This has been a really challenging post for me to write, because by nature I am a moralist, and as I’m slowly learning—also a legalist. So, to figure out what Jesus was teaching—and is (present tense) expecting from those of us who attempt to be his disciples, I studied every verse in the Bible that talks about judging. . . and there are literally hundreds! From Genesis 18:19, where Abraham is commended as someone who will “keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” all the way to Revelation 19:2, where God is worshiped because “true and righteous are his judgments,” the Bible is filled with admonitions about the importance of understanding and keeping God’s laws, of living justly, and doing right.

So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Luke 6:37 ), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2)?

The first thing that struck me from studying is that Jesus doesn’t mean, “Don’t attempt to discern right from wrong.” The entire weight of scripture promotes a life of knowing and keeping the “way of wisdom,” embodied in knowing and keeping God’s laws: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9). Being a moralist and a legalist is not all bad. God wants us to know and do what is just and good. “Mind over matter.” “Do right ’til the stars fall.” “Keep on keeping on.” These aphorisms are right and good! Don’t shove your moral compass (the scriptures) into a back drawer; keep your Bible as the GPS on your dashboard!!

The second thing I learned is to distinguish between discerning good from evil and judging people. I think Jesus is saying, “Judge not [people], that ye be not judged [by other people].” So, the standard is personal purity for ourselves while not assuming responsibility for the actions of other people . . . or passing judgment on them. You can call it a “Double Standard” if you want, and I think that’s almost appropriate, but the double standard puts the burden for purity and uprightness squarely on our own shoulders. It is up to us to do right regardless of what anybody else does.

What does this look like day to day? Jesus didn’t come only as an example to us (He came to die for our sins and become our redeemer), but He is the perfect example for us to follow, and in studying the life of Christ, we have many accounts of how he interacted with people—all of whom had character flaws, and some of whom were characterized by immoral behavior. Jesus never shunned anybody! (If you can correct me, please do, but I haven’t found a single instance.) Jesus rebuked those who confronted him with sinful behavior: “Sin no more” (to the woman caught in adultery, John 8:11) and even “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (speaking to his most passionate disciple, Peter, in Mark 8:33). Jesus’s most violent reaction was to the religious leaders who had turned God’s temple into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Jesus was clearly enraged by the spiritual leaders hypocritically oppressing the people, and he cleansed the temple, but he didn’t lay a hand on anyone . . . anyone. If Jesus—who could have called down fire from heaven to devour evil men—never harmed anyone and only rebuked sinful behaviors, then none of the rest of us ever has the right to attempt to take justice into our own hands and repay evil with evil.

How do I know? Because the scriptures are crystal clear on how God intends for judgment and justice to work:

*God is ultimately responsible for judging: “He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

*God, as the creator, ruler, and sustainer of Earth, is the only one with the ultimate right to judge: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

*God is the only one who can judge and execute justice perfectly: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30).

*Furthermore, God does care about good and evil, and He is at work, even though it’s not always obvious to us: “God is angry with the wicked: God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).

*God has ordained governments and church leaders to serve as judges in disputes between people: “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him” (Deuteronomy 1:16). Also: “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:12).

*In situations where we are being personally oppressed, we are free to pray for relief and for God to judge— based on our personal uprightness and innocence: “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Samuel 24:12). ” The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).

*Because Jesus did not come to earth to judge, we are relieved of that responsibility at this time also: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

*Our responsibility is to teach the Bible to others so they’ll understand right from wrong, because it is ultimately the Word of God in the Bible by which people will be judged: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

*We are specifically warned against judging other people: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

* We are reminded that we are also not without sin: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1).

*Instead of being judgmental, we would do well to pray for those who are trapped in sinful lusts, doing everything we can to help them overcome: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

*Instead of being angry and shunning those who are doing evil, we need to learn to be broken-hearted for them, as they will eventually become miserable, whether or not we can observe it from the outside: “Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Romans 2:8-9).

*Lastly, let’s remember that there will ultimately be a judgment for our entire earth, where good will be vindicated and evil punished: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

*Still confused? I am sometimes! But thankfully, if we are believers, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to interact with others, and we can remember that it’s HIS JOB to convict people of their sins, not ours!If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).