HOW IMPORTANT IS AFFIRMATION?

Did the title of this post get your attention? And if it did, were you thinking about receiving affirmation or giving affirmation? My experience with others, as well as personally, is that affirmation is extremely important. And it is important to both give it and receive it.

Who doesn’t appreciate being affirmed? In a book I wrote using letters I received during my 44 years of pastoral ministry I included a lot of positive letters I had received. And in connection with that I mentioned an article I had read in which the author got my attention when he used the phrase affirmation addiction. Now addiction is a strong word. And I can see how someone who is motivated by, starving for, and seeking approval could create all kinds of problems for himself or herself. And perhaps some do need to guard against it; but appreciating being affirmed is no indication of being addicted to it.

I have often quoted Mark Twain who revealed, “I can live for two months on one compliment.” Most of us can identify with that. Being complimented feels good, energizes us, and encourages us. (I think people are affirmed when they post something on Facebook and get “likes” from their friends.) No one should undervalue the importance of compliments and affirmation. And I do not hesitate, nor am I embarrassed, to say through the years I have been greatly encouraged and my work has been enriched by those who complimented and affirmed me.

What about giving affirmation? And I do not have in mind insincere flattery or saying something just to be nice. But if we grasp how important being affirmed is, doesn’t it follow that affirming others is also important? I have in mind those with whom we are closest in our families (spouse, children, parents, etc.) all the way to the person who waits on us at the store or restaurant and everyone in between. Can we cultivate a greater awareness of the good things that people do and grow in the practice of letting them know we appreciate them and what they have done?  I think Jesus’ words in Luke 6:31 are relevant, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you” (NLT). One of the greatest statements of affirmation I know of came to Jesus following His baptism in a voice from heaven, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (Mt. 3:17, NLT).

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WALKING WITH GOD–SOME THINGS THAT HELP

In the first of two previous posts we suggested the Old Testament phrase of “Walking with God” is a good image still today for those who belong to and live for God. My favorite Old Testament example of someone who walked with God is Enoch who is mentioned only in Genesis 5:21-24, but is twice said in those four verses to have “walked faithfully with God.” In the last post we underscored three specifics that hurt our walk with God: pride, worldly-mindedness, and spiritual laziness. In this final post of the trio I want to highlight three broad categories (with some specifics) that help our walk with God.

First, it will help our walk with God if we cultivate the relationship. As we noted previously, the idea of walking with God is a picture of a relationship. And having a relationship with God is in many ways like our other relationships; if it is going to grow there must be a cultivation of the relationship through communication and spending time together.

One of the clearest ways God speaks to us is through the reading of the Bible. and while Bible study is important, I want to stress simply reading the Bible. I grow in my relationship with the Lord by trying to read His Word at least five days every week. (Why not seven days? I usually do, but five days is a good goal.)

Through prayer we speak to God. There are all kinds of aids and methods to help us pray, but eventually it comes down to deciding we are going to pray. Calvin Miller notes, “Prayer itself is not hard, but the will to pray is.” Some of us find it easier to talk about God than it is to talk with God. But if we will consistently pray it will enhance our walk with God.

The third specific for cultivating the relationship is worship. God is God and He is to be worshiped. And, of course, we can worship Him on our own in private. But I also believe we need to regularly gather with others to worship Him corporately to cultivate the relationship.

A second broad category to help our walk with God is to cultivate a generous attitude, spirit, and heart. And this includes the generous giving of our financial resources to honor the Lord and fund His work. But a generous attitude, spirit, and heart includes far more than just the giving of money. It includes the giving of our time and energy to the service others—fellow believers and non-believers alike. A generous follower of Jesus will also refrain from harsh criticism, ridicule, and judgement of others and not be rude. Instead, generosity will be expressed through the expression of affirmation, encouragement, courtesy, and gratitude to others.

Finally, the practice of Christian fellowship will help our walk with God. There is a real sense in which Christianity is “a team sport” because we need each other. (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 for some perspective.) In terms of Christian fellowship we need to accept care from others. That’s so hard for some to do, but we need support and encouragement. And along this same line, we need accountability. We give and receive care and accountability to a degree through the local body of Christ at large, but we really need Christian fellowship in smaller groups. Church sponsored small groups (or life groups) are great, but we can practice care and accountability also through less structured and informal relationships as well. At this stage of my life and ministry all my deeper experience of care and accountability come informally through my closest Christian friendships.

I hope you have found these three posts challenging and encouraging. I believe walking with God is the secret to life. Many years ago I loved the stage play as well as the movie “Godspell.” I especially was touched by the music and one song filled my heart to overflowing. The words request, “Day by day, day by day; O dear Lord—three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly; day by day.” May that be our prayer as we walk with God.

I welcome comments and questions below.

(The inspiration and some ideas for these posts come from a presentation I heard by J.I. Packer over 25 years ago.)

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WALKING WITH GOD–SOME THINGS THAT HURT

In the previous post we looked at the Old Testament phrase of “Walking with God” as an image of those who belonged to and lived for God. My favorite person cited as walking with God is Enoch who is mentioned only in Genesis 5:21-24, but is twice said in those four verses to have “walked faithfully with God.”

In that discussion I suggested the beginning point in walking with God is realizing and accepting His love. And with that foundation in place, walking with God is about cultivating and living with a childlike trust in Him. Of course there is more to walking with God than knowing He loves us and trusting Him as His children, but what a great reminder and starting point!

Walking with God is a picture of relationship and fellowship, and like all relationships, walking with God is not automatic or without challenges. And those who have given themselves to walking with God know that is true. In this post I want to underscore three specific things that hurt our walk with God.

Pride can damage a person’s walk with God. As a matter of fact, pride is often the stumbling block to beginning a walk with God. Micah 6:8 tells us that one of the things God requires of us is “to walk humbly with” Him. Jesus’ intended audience of His Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is so telling: “To those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on others” (Luke 18:9). Read the story in Luke 18:10-14 if you don’t remember it. Pride causes us to think more highly of ourselves than we should and to look down on and be critical of others to the neglect of our own shortcomings (See Matthew 7:1). Ouch!

Worldly-mindedness also hurts our walk with God. Obviously we could say sin hurts our walk, but I think this idea of worldly-mindedness is more focused. Remember the Apostle Paul’s call in Romans 12:2 “not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing” of our minds. And consider the relevance of the Apostle John’s challenge: “Do not love the world or anything in the world” (I John 2:15). In verse 16 John specifies “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” come from the world.

Finally, laziness hurts our walk with God. This takes us back to what we noted in the first post that walking as an image suggests effort. It takes effort to walk with the Lord, we have a part in it. It’s hard to imagine how a person could be spiritually lazy and at the same time have a fulfilling and fruitful walk with God. (In the final post I will suggest some things that help our walk with God.)

I welcome comments and questions below.

(The inspiration and some ideas for this post, the previous one, and the one that is to follow comes from a live presentation by J.I. Packer I heard over 25 years ago.)

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WALKING WITH GOD

One of the Old Testament’s favorite images of those who belonged to and lived for God is that they walked with Him. Of the many examples, my favorite is a man named Enoch. He is mentioned only in Genesis 5:21-24, but we are told twice in those four verses “Enoch walked faithfully with God.”

Walking with God is an image that many still use today. We often speak of Christians as those who are “walking with the Lord.” Or if a believer has backslidden someone might say he or she is no longer “walking with the Lord.”

The image of walking with God is one I really like for the Christian life because it suggests a picture. Walking is an activity that calls for a certain amount of effort. Walking suggests movement and progress. When we walk we are going somewhere, even if we are just taking a walk. But walking is an unspectacular activity. Running can be spectacular, but walking rarely is.

Walking with God is a picture of relationship and fellowship. Often when we literally walk we don’t walk alone but with someone. Walking with someone promotes interaction. My wife and I have some of our best conversations those evenings when we take our dog for a walk together. As important as worship is, to be a Christian and to live the Christian life is more than just going to church on Sundays. It is to walk with God.

A basic understanding that is foundational to walking with God is the realization and acceptance of His love. The greatest truth in all the world is that God loves us. And I sometimes wonder if we have heard that so often we begin to take it for granted. Hear it again as you read this post: God loves you and all you have to do is accept it.

With that foundation in place, to walk with God is to cultivate a childlike trust in Him. In Psalm 131:1 and 2 David affirms, “My heart is not proud, LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” Jesus’ favorite designation for God was Father and He taught His followers the same. He spoke often of us as God’s children.

Some may well think there is a lot more to walking with God than knowing He loves us and trusting Him as His children.  And they would be right. But isn’t this a great reminder and a crucial starting point? Father, I know you love me; help me trust You more.

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WATCH OUT FOR THIS!

I was reminded again recently that to give ourselves the opportunity to be healthy both emotionally and spiritually we need to guard ourselves against bitterness.  A growing and stubborn bitterness is one option we have in the aftermath of being wronged or hurt by a specific person or group or even life in general.  But this option does us and those close to us no good, especially our spouse and children.  Hebrews 2:15 cautions, “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”  The poison of bitterness will rob us and those around us of the joy of life.

To guard ourselves against bitterness does not mean we pretend we were not wronged or it wasn’t such a “big deal” after all.  Something did happen and we were hurt.  But relentlessly holding on to it is not helpful.  To feed and water it by rehearsing it over and over in our minds will only facilitate its growth.

Somewhere along the line we have to begin to at least neutralize our negative feelings toward those or the one responsible and eventually begin the process of forgiveness.  And to do this does not mean we have to put ourselves in the position of being thumped again or completely restore the relationship.  It means we have to prevent the root of bitterness from growing deeper and larger inside of us.

The Apostle Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:31 connects bitterness with some of its frequent traveling companions:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander.”  Bitterness often produces strong anger, harsh words, and slander in those who are bitter.

If you find yourself struggling with bitterness and can’t get moving forward in dealing with it I encourage you to get some help.  Of course you need to get help from the Lord, but He may want to use a professional counselor or pastor or mature Christian friend to get you started and to encourage you along the way.  If this is an issue for you, for your own sake as well as those you love, do something.

Have you ever needed to hear this challenge? Do you need to hear it today? Do you know someone who is bitter?

Adapted from Chapter 12 Preacher’s Pen Columns in the book “A Pastor and the People: An Inside Look through Letters”

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IF YOU’RE GONNA BOAST

Most of us learned when we were young that we shouldn’t boast because bragging isn’t polite and doesn’t make us look good. As a matter of fact, we now know it turns others off because when people around us boast it turns us off. But you may be surprised to learn that God approves of a certain line of boasting.

In Jeremiah 9:23 and 24 the Bible tells us “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.” God says if you are gonna boast, boast about Me and that you know and understand Me.

It seems obvious to me that one of the ways Christians boast about God is through worship. For example, of the many places in the book of Psalms that invite worship, Psalm 89:15 affirms to God, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you.” David gives us an example of acclaiming the LORD when he praised the LORD in the presence of the people in I Chronicles 29:11, “Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” Part of what we do when we gather for worship is boast to one another about God through our singing and testimony.

Now when we boast that we have the understanding to know God there are a couple of things we must avoid.  One is that we never suggest that we completely and perfectly understand and know God. I love the story of the little boy who was intently drawing a picture in his Sunday school class.  His teacher asked him, “Johnny, what are you drawing?” To which he replied, ” A picture of God.” She then noted, “Johnny, that’s silly; nobody knows what God looks like.”  Without looking up he declared, “When I’m finished here they will.”  Sometimes we come across like Johnny; as though we understand and know God better than we really do.

The other thing I think we must not do in boasting about our understanding and knowledge of God is to intimate that we know God but but others have no clue. Too many Christians, especially leaders and long time believers who have a lot of Bible knowledge come across as though they have a handle on God and those who disagree with them on something just don’t get it. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have convictions about what we believe, I’m cautioning us to watch our attitude and how we come across to others when we boast about the LORD.

I hope if you are going to boast, you will boast about the LORD. Can you do it without overdoing it?

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FOLLOW THE LEADER

In my daily devotional reading earlier this week something Eugene Peterson said really got my attention. Reflecting on those who are well known in our society he observed, “There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture.” Now that is not true of everyone, but it is for the most part. And not that as Christians we need heroes as such, but it is helpful to have some good examples and models. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Peterson when he notes, “We have celebrities but not saints.”

As I continued to mull over these thoughts and reflected on my life I realized I have had lots of good models and examples.  Going all the way back to my church of late childhood and youth I can recall many who displayed much to admire as well as imitate. And I did both. Then in college and graduate school I was greatly impacted by several I would characterize as real saints; teachers who not only taught well but also gave me much more.

The truth is in a real way I want to be someone others admire and imitate. But I want them to imitate and admire me because I am living for the Lord. I want to be an example and a model because they see me as a follower of Jesus who is growing and maturing. I want to be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). Admittedly, too many times I am not the example I know I should be.  But I am making progress; and I hope you are as well.

Who is following you and whom are you following?

(Adapted from Chapter 12 “Preacher’s Pen Columns” of my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. You can check it out on the ‘my book’ page or at amazon.com.)

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