Category: Christian faith

Relationship Boundaries for Christians… Part Two

(Welcome to Part Two of a little series dealing with setting healthy relationship boundaries as a believer in Christ. The questions are: Should we set boundaries? And if we should… What does that look like? If you missed Part One, it would probably be a good idea to go back and check that one out, first.)

Once I learned to root my identity securely in what Christ says about me, I began to model the scripture that told me to “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37). I learned to speak the truth in love, even if it ruffled a few feathers with those who heard it. Once my sense of self was no longer dependent upon what people thought of me, I learned how to construct healthy boundaries in my life. Finding my identity in Christ (believing everything He says about me over what others may say or think) fueled a new ability to walk in the newness of life that Jesus offered me. If I am living my life according to who He says I am, then I find I make much wiser choices, and my boundaries are easier to secure.

Photo Credit: Vyacheslav Chistyakov

I’ve also learned another very important lesson. Guilt and conviction are not the same thing. Guilt is a tool that the enemy uses to shame us. It is controlling and manipulative… two fiery darts he loves to send flying toward those who are vulnerable. Guilt can be visited upon us through our own thoughts of insecurity and through the words of others. More than once in my relationships I have been asked how I could possibly be a Christian and hold a certain boundary with someone. I am sad to admit that the dart found its mark a few times. 

Conviction, on the other hand, is an instrument that God uses to shape and mold us more into His likeness. The Holy Spirit visits conviction upon us to grab our attention when have done something that harms our relationship with God or someone else. Conviction holds no shame and does not intend to control or manipulate. It gently convinces us that there is a better way (“Here is the way, walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21). Guilt kicks us when we are down, encouraging us to wallow in our failure. Conviction recognizes our failure, but helps us up and renews our strength to try again. Please take note of the difference. 

So, what about those people who have deposited harmful things inside our boundaries? Well, first we give ourselves a good talking to for allowing it to happen. And then we forgive them. Why? Because we must. Not because they need it, but because we do. We are to set up a boundary around our hearts because it is out of our hearts that our lives flow (Prov 4:23). To allow unforgiveness to remain poisons our hearts and sets up the breeding ground for bitterness and resentment. I’ve seen what that looks like over time, and it isn’t pretty. 

Keep in mind that a willingness to forgive is not necessarily a mandate for reconciliation. It simply allows love to replace hurt, even if it is better that we love some people from a distance. Forgiveness is about the things of the past while healthy boundaries are setting up a better future. Protecting ourselves from future hurts will make room for us to have the capacity to love people who are difficult to love, even if we must allow time and space for our hearts and minds to heal.

Matthew 7:6 tells us: 

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

So often, as Christians, we continue to engage with people who repeatedly trample under their feet what is sacrificially given and precious. Time and again, they tear us to pieces with their thoughtlessness. I think about taking valuable, beautiful pearls and throwing them into a pig pen, only to watch them be carelessly trampled into the muck. I am so thankful that God’s grace extends so far that He allows us to be protected from such abuses. Yes, we invest in others, but not to our own, useless destruction. God is a God of reconciliation, for sure… but there must be evidence of repentance, remorse, and renewal before we think about loosening up those boundaries.

(Hang in there for part three. We are headed somewhere good. The answers are where they always are: within God’s character and in His word. Stay tuned!)

Unopened Gifts

The Christmas gift exchange at my parent’s house on Christmas Day was super crazy when our kids were growing up. Between me and my brother, there are six grandkids. After we had all eaten our fill of my mother’s amazing cooking, the kids would begin begging to open presents.

In a matter of minutes, my parent’s living room floor would be covered in boxes, bows, and wrapping paper. It was a free for all. It was hard to tell who had more joy showing on their faces, the grandkids or the grandparents. It was both wonderful and completely ridiculous.

Invariably, after all the hoopla would die down, one of the kids would notice a present or two left under the tree. They would ask their grandma who it was for… hoping against hope it was a forgotten gift… maybe for them, as if they had not already received more than enough gifts. My mom would always tell them who it was for- either a friend or another relative they had not yet had a chance to see for the holiday.

“Oh.” The child would say.

After a few minutes, another child would see the gift and ask the same question. My mother would answer again that it was for someone else.

“Oh.” That child would say.

After another kid or two would spy the gift and ask again and again, my mom would gather the gift and go put it away, out of sight… out of mind. The absence of the unopened gift settled the kids and they could then focus on all the wonderful things they had gotten.

The unopened gift under the tree posed such a problem because who likes an unopened gift? It sits there beckoning to everyone. “Open me. Come on. I was meant to be opened! Don’t just leave me sitting here.”

When Jesus was born, his parents took him to the temple as was their Jewish custom. There, they met a man named Simeon. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the promised Messiah, the Savior.

Simeon was at the temple the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there. He took the child into his arms and looking into the face of God, he knew instantly he had lain eyes on the Messiah.

And he said,
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon saw the gift and new it was an important moment. He knew that child in his arms was the long awaited one… God’s gift to humanity.

At Christmastime, Christians often say that Jesus is our real gift. It’s trite, but it’s true. Through him we are made whole, connected once again to the Father, justified and made holy.

This Christmas season he beckons to everyone, Receive me. Come on. I was meant for you! Don’t just leave me here discarded or forgotten in the cloud of your distraction.

Let’s make sure we’ve opened all the gifts this year. The ones carefully picked out and chosen just for us by friends and family, and the one sent to us by our heavenly Father.

Many of us will acknowledge the gift that Jesus is, but many fewer of us will actually open it and experience him to the fullest. Like Simeon, we hold the gift in our arms, what are we going to do with Him now?


Resurrection Sunday

There are many reasons to love Easter. Easter comes at a most beautiful time of the year. It follows a desolate time of year where many suffer from seasonal depression and hopelessness. In a matter of a few days, winter is no more and spring has come. It’s truly magnificent. For the Christian, the celebration of Easter involves a time of reflection and a time to recognize the journey Jesus took to become our sacrificial Lamb. If it were not for this special time of year, we might continue in our platitudes and never slow down enough and force ourselves to think of the reality of His great sacrifice on our behalf.

Many will pause for Easter, and use it as a time to celebrate with egg hunts and one mutantly large bunny. It will be nothing more than a time for a family gathering. My oldest son can’t seem to tolerate the name, “Easter” any longer. For him, the word represents nothing that has to do with Jesus and his suffering and death conquering on our behalf. There is some debate as to the origin of the word, Easter. Some claim it has pagan origins, while others claim its basis in Christendom. I told my son he could quite correctly begin calling the day, Resurrection Sunday, if he wanted to.

That whole discussion piqued the interest of my daughter who, recently listening to a series by Andy Stanley on her daily commutes to school, popped up with, “And did you know that Jesus never referred to people as Christians? That’s what Andy Stanley says. He says Jesus called us disciples. That Christianity can mean many different things, none of which have much to do with following Jesus. “

All true, Andy. Thank you for sharing.

So here’s the deal. If we want to be very clear about this day we all celebrate, it can come down to semantics. As disciples of Jesus, we emulate Him. We die daily to the things we want, to the way we want our lives to go, in favor of His way. We take up our crosses. We bear the burden of what being a follower of Jesus entails. We are disciples, Christ followers. The Bible may not be clear on what a Christian is, but its pretty darn clear about what a disciple of Jesus is to look like. As disciples of Jesus, we celebrate Resurrection Sunday tomorrow and we clap, shout, jump up and down if necessary to let Him know how thrilled we are that He saved us. We can have Easter without the eggs, the mutant bunny, and without family lunches after church, but we cannot, would not, have Resurrection Sunday without Jesus.

Had He not left the safety and pleasure of heaven, to be born into a world of moral decay, lived a sinless life worthy of a perfect sacrificial lamb, taught us how to be disciples, suffered horrendous and unspeakable pain, watching as His Father turned his back upon Him, died and then with the power of the Holy Spirit, be raised from the dead, there would be no celebration of anything related to this day. No Jesus? No eggs or bunnies.

I love the talks I have with my kids about these things. It tells me they are thinking these things through for themselves and coming up with good conclusions, all on their own. So as followers of Christ, disciples of Jesus, we will celebrate Resurrection Sunday tomorrow. It is our hope; it is our rescue. And here’s some truth from my pastor. Jesus doesn’t want you to celebrate Easter; He wants you to experience it. It is freedom, the only real freedom you can ever have.

Image Bearers

When I was a little girl, my grandmother owned and operated a beauty shop in Oneonta, Alabama. It was called, “Glamour Beauty Shop”. I loved to go to her shop and spin around in the chairs and play with her rollers and brushes. Ladies would come in and out of the shop, and if they knew my grandmother, almost without fail, would ask of me, “Is that Jean’s daughter?” They would be referring to my aunt. My grandmother would say, “Oh no, that’s Tommy’s girl.” And they would say, “Well, she looks like her aunt!”

I didn’t get it. I knew my aunt. I didn’t look anything like her. She was old. At the time, she was younger than I am now. Shame on my little self!

In time, I took the remarks in stride, and went on about my business of chair spinning. When your grandmother owns the store you can do what you want to do.

One day, after a long day at the shop, I went home with my grandmother to her house and she called me into her bedroom. She was holding a little school picture. She handed it to me, and asked me who I thought was in the picture. I took the picture and looked at it. I was looking at a picture of me. Only it wasn’t me, exactly. The hairstyle was different than mine, and I didn’t own a pink shirt with a Peter Pan collar. It was a picture of my aunt at my age.

Finally, I fully understood why all those ladies at the shop had thought I was my aunt’s daughter. I did look just like her! In all honesty, it was more than a little disturbing.

All those women could clearly see my aunt in my face because I bore her image. I looked like her. So much so, that they assumed I had to belong to her.

We are image bearers of God. In Genesis, when God creates man, he does so in His own image. In Colossians, Paul refers to Christ followers in Colossians 3:9-10 as image bearers of Christ.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

As I have grown older, I don’t look as much like my aunt as I once did. Her image has faded from my face. As followers of Christ, we bear his image, and we are to be constantly striving for that image to grow stronger, and for that image to become clearer to those around us. As human beings, everyone is an image bearer of God. As believers in Christ, we are to bear testimony to what he has done for us and in us. We are to reflect the savior.

We may not be the only Bible someone ever reads, but we might very well be the first one they read. Let us show his love, demonstrate his grace, and extend his mercy. May it never come as a surprise that they see Jesus when they look at us. May we act in such a way that it comes as no surprise that we belong to him.