HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE – Part 2 (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE – Part 2 (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on October 14, 2017)

How to handle toxic people - Abidan ShahMy last article, “How To Handle Toxic People,” drew more responses than any of my pervious articles! Evidently, it touched a nerve and God used it to meet a real need. Thank you for all the words of appreciation! Some of you raised a question that I feel the answer may benefit others as well – “Daily we go through minor toxic encounters that leave us feeling upset to one degree or another. Does that mean that for each of those incidents we have to go through the same process of praying for 20 days until we are free of the toxin?” Of course not. Toxic people and minor toxic encounters are two different things. The first are individuals who perpetually cause us to feel miserable and the second are chance happenings that inject just enough toxin in us to ruin our spirit. Although the latter are not as harmful as the former, don’t assume that they are completely harmless. If left untreated, those emotional fender-benders can cause us to ruin others’ spirits as well. Let me explain below.

Imagine several scenarios: a kid at the drive-thru messes up your order; someone cuts you off on the freeway; someone fails to thank you for your hard work on some project; and you wave at a friend who doesn’t wave back with the same energy. Or, how about the big one: You put a post on Facebook that you think should go viral and only 3 people like it…What do you do next? Each of those encounters have the potential to initiate an unhealthy conversation within you. For the kid at the drive-thru: “Kids these days are so disrespectful.” For the person who cut you off: “I hope he/she gets caught.” For the friend who didn’t seem that excited to see you: “I’m looking the other way next time.” For those who failed to appreciate your hard work: “I am not appreciated.” And yes, for Facebook, one of those: “If you are my true friend, you’ll comment below and repost.” Such negative self-talk will surely ruin your attitude and keep you from living up to your potential. Unfortunately, such unhealthy conversations don’t stay locked inside for long. Sooner or later they spill over on to the unsuspecting individuals in your lives. In other words, your quest for justice will not rest until someone is convicted, sentenced, or punished. Since you cannot prosecute the original perpetrators, you will substitute those innocent, weak, and docile individuals in your life. Your kids, your husband, your wife, your church family, your neighbor, and your best friend will pay for a crime they did not commit.

What is the solution? First, recognize when your spiritual equilibrium has been disturbed. In other words, acknowledge the gnawing feeling that some wrong may have been committed against you. Second, immediately take charge of your internal conversation. 2 Corinthians 10:5 reminds us that we should be “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” A runaway thought is like a runaway train. There will be casualties. Third, refrain from judging the motives of others. 1 Corinthians 2:11 “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” Ultimately, only God knows the true intents of each human heart. Fourth, pray for that individual. Nothing will neutralize hate and anger faster than sincere prayer. Follow the example of our Savior: Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” Don’t misunderstand. There may be situations where more than prayer is called for but there’s a big difference between restitution and retaliation. Fifth, practice the lost art of the unsent angry letter. Abraham Lincoln would often write his “hot letter” but postpone sending it until he had cooled down. He never sent most of them.

 

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah 

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 19, 2017)

It was a perfect end to a busy week. I had accomplished everything on my agenda, which is rare. Now it was time to head home and catch up on some well-needed family time. My face was smiling, my shoulders were relaxed, my mind was clear, my steps were unhurried, and I was humming Old Satch, “What a Wonderful World.” Then it happened. In a matter of seconds, the smile vanished, the shoulders became tense, the mind turned muddy, the swag was gone, and I think I began humming Old Hank, “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.” The family time was nothing like I had envisioned. If truth be told, it was a rather miserable weekend. You ask, “What brought such sudden and miserable change?” Well, I ran into a toxic person. You know the type who pushes you into Bunyan’s Slough of Despond, the fictional bog in which a person sinks under the weight of sin, guilt, shame, and discouragement. Have you ever been a victim of a toxic person? Let me share with you how to handle them:

First, recognize them for who they are. Toxic people come in all types. Dr. Travis Bradberry (double PhD in Clinical and Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence 2.0) identifies 10 kinds of toxic people: The Gossip, The Temperamental, The Victim, The Self-Absorbed, The Envious, The Manipulator, The Dementor, The Twisted, The Judgmental, and The Arrogant. Most of these designations are self-explanatory except for maybe the Dementor and the Twisted. The former are the kind who suck the life out of the room by their negativity and pessimism and the latter are out to hurt you, make you feel bad, or get something from you. Bradberry warns, “toxic people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs…Toxic people don’t just make you miserable—they’re really hard on your brain.”

Next, always be prepared to face toxic people. To think that we can avoid them completely is unrealistic and naïve. They might be in the family, neighborhood, workplace, or social organizations (even church!). Trying to ignore them or keep them at arm’s length will only aggravate the situation and attempting to mirror their behavior will only lead to disaster. Instead, learn their behavior patterns and establish the appropriate emotional boundaries in your mind. Don’t get smug like me and stumble into a bad weekend. Also, avoid any toxic song, show, movie, book, or event in your life. Such things only add unnecessary toxicity to your life.

What if the damage has been done? Many years ago I allowed a toxic person to steal my joy. It took a toll on my health, family, and spiritual life. God in his mercy sent a mature person into my life who immediately recognized my distress. He pointedly asked, “Do you want this toxin out of your system?” At first I pretended to be fine and then the Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride. This godly person told me that he too struggled with it and he found help in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44 “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” He said, “Start praying that God would bless this person who has been toxic in your life. Pray for the next 20 days for physical, spiritual, and financial blessing in their life. Be aware that the first time you pray that it will be impossible to mouth those words. Do it again the next day and you might feel sick to your stomach but don’t stop. Eventually, it will become easier and easier. Then, there will come a day when you will pray and actually find yourself praying sincerely as if for a friend. Somewhere towards the end of the 20 days, you’ll wake up one morning and realize that you are free. The toxin has cleared out of your system.” Guess what! It actually worked!

Ultimately, sin is the toxin and only the grace of God through Jesus Christ can heal your life. Give it a try today.

Love is Liberating by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS LIBERATING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Love is LiberatingIntroduction:  If you keep up with politics, I’m sure you’ve heard of Congressman Sam Johnson from Plano, Texas. He has served in the House since 1991 and will be retiring next year. He is an Air Force Veteran and a POW in Vietnam for 7 years at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” also known as “Hell’s Hole.” In recalling his experience, he said, “Starvation, isolation and torture were constant companions. There was no news from home, and the enemy worked hard to make us feel alone and forgotten.” He describes one of the torture treatments – “I could recall nothing from military survival training that explained the use of a meat hook suspended from the ceiling…During a routine torture session…the Vietnamese tied a prisoner’s hands and feet, then bound his hands to his ankles—sometimes behind the back, sometimes in front. The ropes were tightened to the point that you couldn’t breathe. Then, bowed or bent in half, the prisoner was hoisted up onto the hook to hang by ropes. Guards would return at intervals to tighten them until all feeling was gone, and the prisoner’s limbs turned purple and swelled to twice their normal size. This would go on for hours, sometimes even days on end.” The torture and malnutrition made Johnson stoop-shouldered and mangled his right arm, besides a cracked back and broken arm when his plane went down. After 42 months in a dark solitary cell with rats and filth, he was finally released and he remembers the sweet embrace of his wife Shirley and their three kids. He said, “I got through those hellish years by the grace and mercy of God.” Our final message in this series on love is titled, “LOVE IS LIBERATING.” There’s no true love in hate-filled, torture like environments. True love flourishes where there is true freedom.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Context: At the heart of all the problems in the Corinthian Church was the problem of love. They didn’t know how to love each other properly. Paul wrote this letter to teach them how to love each other the way Christ loves us. In today’s message, you will see that Christ never exposes, never suspects, never discourages, and never threatens.

Question: How do you love people? Do you at times expose the weaknesses and failures of the ones you love? Do you constantly suspect and doubt the ones you love? Do you discourage and steal hope from the ones you love? Do you give up on or threaten the ones you love? Are you saved? Have you truly experienced the love of God in Christ?

Let’s look at the words in Greek: The first is “love bears all things.” The Greek word for bears is “stegei.” It comes from the noun “stegei,” which means “roof.” I’m sure the Corinthians knew what this word meant. Archaeologists have found evidence that by the 7th century BC the temples and houses in Corinth had started replacing thatched roofs with fired tiles. Why? Because thatched roofs were a huge fire hazard, especially in a growing city like Corinth. These tiles were heavy, weighing about 60 plus pounds but they were durable, long-lasting, and protective from the rain, sun, heat, snow, and cold. The word “stegei” took on the idea of covering, sheltering, protecting, keeping out, and keeping in. When Paul says, “love bears all,” he is really saying, “love always covers and never exposes.” Meaning: Love does not find pleasure in exposing others to harshness. Love does not get joy in watching the other person squirm in fear or shame. In the Corinthian culture, it might have been okay to expose your enemy but not in Christianity.

Application: Do you cover people or do you expose people? In the Greco-Roman world, sometimes when the renters would not pay on time, the landlords would remove the front door or even strip off the tiles from the roof. Does that sound familiar? Someone is bound to say, “Are you suggesting we hide someone’s sin?” No. I’m simply saying what Peter also said in I Peter 4:8And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” Even though Peter uses a different word for “cover” than roof, the idea is the same. Love does not get pleasure out of exposing the other person but wants to help them in their moment of weakness and shame.

The second statement: “Love believes all things.” The Greek word for “believes” is “pisteuei,” which has the idea of trust in others. Again, the Corinthian culture was very competitive and status seeking. They were constantly striving to get ahead of one another by whatever means necessary. You always had to watch your back. Unfortunately, this mindset of distrust and suspicion had also entered the church. Even Christians didn’t trust each other. When Paul tells them “loves believes all things,” he was really saying, “love does not live in the zone of perpetual suspicion but is willing to trust others. It is the foundation of all relationships.”

Illustration: When God called me into the ministry, I went to Nicole’s dad and he helped me with my decision. I asked him if he would also help me find a good seminary. He took me to one. On the way, he told me that one of his good friends was a pastor nearby and he wanted to come visit with us. That sounded fine to me. This man came and after they caught up, he turned to me and began telling me how terrible people were and how they would stab me in the back and how they could not be trusted. He spent the next hour or two emotionally vomiting. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t naïve about church ministry. My dad was a pastor and still is. But I didn’t know how to take what he had just told me. After he left, Nicole’s dad said to me, “Don’t pay attention to anything he said. He must be going through some mess. Without trust, you cannot minister to people.”

Here’s the point: If you constantly operate as some kind of a KGB agent, always frisking people, always looking over your shoulder, always questioning their motives, you will never be able to love people. Your relationships will always be sporadic, seasonal, and short lived. By the way, get used to the idea that people will fail you. They will break your trust. If I may add, many times, people will rise or fall to the level of your expectations. If you keeping suspecting them, they will become suspicious. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Without it, there’s no true love.

The third statement: “love hopes all things.” The Greek word for “hopes” is “elpidzei,” which has the idea of expectation and wish. People often confuse faith with hope. They are related but they are not the same. They are related in the sense that they are both looking to something that is invisible and unprovable. But they are different because just a few verses later Paul says in verse 13 “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” What is the difference between faith and hope? Faith is what you can’t see but you are standing on. Hope is what you can’t see but you are looking for. If faith is the foundation that you can’t see but you are standing on. Hope is the window through which you are looking for what you can’t see yet.

Illustration: In the past few years, the Robertson family from West Munroe, Louisiana has become a household name. You’ve heard of their show – “Duck Commander.” They came from very humble background through some very difficult times. In the book “Duck Commander Family,” Willie Robertson writes this in the prolog: “The dinner table is where I learned to follow my dreams. This is where Dad told us he was going to start Duck Commander, and where I told my family I was getting married and heading off to college. Our hopes and aspirations were never shot down, never debated, only encouraged. We might have been eating fried bologna at the time because that was all we could afford, but there was hope that one day we would be feasting on a big fat rib-eye steak.” Would you agree that they are loving family? Would you agree that their hope has become more than a reality?

Here’s the point: You can have all the covering and all the trust but if you don’t have hope, you will shrivel and die. When a marriage loses hope, when a friendship loses hope, when a church loses hope, when a community loses hope, when a nation loses hope, it is the beginning of the end of love.

Application: Are you a hope giver or are you a hope stealer? Do you open the windows to your loved ones’ dreams and goals or do you lock them up like Congressman Sam Johnson in a dark, hopeless prison cell?

The fourth and final statement: “love endures all things.” The Greek word for “endures” is “hupomenei,” which carries the idea of being patient, remaining, and enduring. In other words, “love does not give up, doesn’t run out when things get tough.” In a transient culture like the Corinthians, when things didn’t work out with one person, move on to the next. If it doesn’t work out again, move on to the next. You don’t have to take anyone’s mess. How do we know this? Think about the different groups in the Corinthian church. I Corinthians 1   12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? The Corinthians had moved from one group to another when things didn’t work out with one.

Let me clarify: There are times when you may have to cut relationships because of physical or mental/emotional abuse. Having said, we need to learn to bear with others and their faults and failures. Listen carefully: When you love somebody, be prepared to be hurt. Hurting people will hurt people. But if you drop them, they will never get the chance to heal. In your marriage, family, church family, community, neighborhood, and workplace, you will come across people that you have to be patient with.

Application: Are you willing to endure? Are you willing to look over their failures and hang-ups? Are you willing to cut others some slack?

How can you have this kind of love? First, understand how God loves you. Remember, you can substitute Christ for every time love is mentioned in this verse – “Christ bears all things, Christ believes all things, Christ hopes all things, Christ endures all things. Christ never fails.” Second, understand how to love people. Begin today by setting people free. Think of yourself as a prison warden with keys to 4 cells:

  • Cell #1 Exposure (Remember, love covers all. Let the inmates know that you will always cover them.)
  • Cell #2 Suspicion (Remember, love trusts others. Let the inmates know that you will never doubt them.)
  • Cell #3 Pessimism (Remember, love gives hope. Let the inmates know that you see a bright day in the future.)
  • Cell #4 Threats (Remember, love endures all. Let the inmates know that you will never give up on them.)

True love will being to flow when you set the captives free.

Are you free? Are people in your life free? Are you saved

Love is Disarming by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS DISARMING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

love-is-disarming

Introduction:  Today’s message is titled – “Love is Disarming.” In other words, love allows you to drop your guard. Have you been around people who have their guard up – they’re always tense and uptight, they have a defensive perimeter around them? Have you been around people you have to be really guarded with – what you say, how you say, when you say? What is the common problem in both situations? Lack of trust. Why? Maybe at some point in time trust was violated. Something personal or private was shared, some weakness or vulnerability was exposed, and now it is used against the person. During counselling, the wife will say – “He’s so shallow.” Then the husband will reveal – “I messed up years ago or I told her something privately and now she brings it up every time we have an argument and has told everyone about it.” The wife is provoking her husband and he is arming himself. Other times, some people are just easily provoked. Nothing is being done to them but because of their personality or their past experience, they immediately react. Like siblings in the backseat – “She’s touching me!” but the other child is 3 feet away. Love creates a safe zone where no one provokes or is being provoked, where people trust each other and disarm.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Context: The Corinthian Church had many problems. One major reason for their problems was their nature of provoking and being provoked by each other. Their culture of jabbing and poking each other had come into their church body.

Question: Are you a person who is easily provoked? Are you the person who is provoking someone? I am talking in the context of marriage, family, church, neighborhood, workplace, and community. Do you feel like you are in an unsafe zone? Are you causing an unsafe zone? Are you saved? Without Christ, you are in the unsafe zone. He is the one who can bring you in the safe zone with God.

Let’s look at the words in Greek: “Love is not provoked.” The word is “paroxunetai.” It has the idea of “to irritate and to exasperate someone.” It means poking and jabbing someone in a subtle way that they finally react. It doesn’t immediately lead to full-blown rage but it does make a person feel “wounded or punctured by some sharp point.”

Paul also adds to this“love thinks no evil.” The verb “think” in Greek is “logizomai.” It can have several layers of meaning. It can mean “to count or to evaluate,” like Paul says in Romans 6:11 “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s like “thinking and mulling over a matter.” In some contexts, it can go a step further and have the idea of “planning or plotting evil.” In our context, it may have a double meaning of “sitting around and suspecting your neighbor of evil or sitting around and plotting evil against your neighbor.” There is one more meaning, a secondary one – “giving value or making much of.” This is especially strong when it is in a negative context like the one we are looking at. It has two implications. First, it means that you focus a lot on the evil you see in your neighbor. Second, it also means that you pay a lot of attention to the evil done to you by your neighbor.

Why did Paul bring this up in his description of true love? Because there was a lot of irritation causing behavior going on in the Corinthian church. There was a lot of poking and jabbing each other that was happening. History tells us that this was kind of common in the Corinthian culture. Let me give you one example. As you know, about a month ago Nicole and I were in Corinth, Greece. One of the most interesting sites is on the west side of the Agora, the marketplace, known as the Babbius Monument. It was a circle of Corinthian columns set on a square pedestal. What is very interesting is the inscription on the band above the columns. It says, “Gnaeus Babbius Philinus, aedile and pontifex, had this monument constructed at his own expense, and he approved it in his official capacity of duovir.” There are many monuments in the ancient world but not like this. You have to read between the lines to know what is really being implied. First, his name is a slave name. Apparently, he was a freedman who rose to power and became an aedile, a city manager. His job was to maintain the roads, supervise the food and water supply, organize the local games, among other things. He was telling those who were looking down on him for being a former slave – “I am no longer a slave. I am the city manager. Show me some respect.” But he doesn’t stop there. He adds another title to his name – pontifex, which means priest, probably to the patron god of the Isthmian games. Now, he was telling those who might be treating him like an outsider, “I am also the priest. I have spiritual authority now. You better show me respect.” Then he adds the line – “had this monument constructed at his own expense.” Apparently, people were spreading rumors that Babbius stole the city’s money to build the monument. This was his way of firing back – “Stop saying that. This is my own hard earned money.” The final line is really odd – “and he approved it in his official capacity of duovir,” which was a chief magistrate. Someone must have said – “He ain’t gonna last. Once he gets fired, we’ll take down his monument.” Babbius was sending a warning to them, “Don’t you think even about taking down my sign. I am the chief magistrate now.” This was a threat. By the way, he put a similar sign in four other places in the city! Every time people walked through the marketplace, they had to see those signs. This was part of the Corinthian culture – people were being provoked and they knew how to provoke others.

Now, there is a similar inscription nearby that we did not get to visit. It reads, “Erastus, in return for his position as aedile, laid the pavement at his own expense.” Again, this man Erastus was also a former slave who became the city manager. He was also sending a message to his critics that he did all this of his own money. Here’s something interesting – We don’t know about Babbius but Erastus was actually part of the Corinthian church. Paul actually mentions him by name in Romans 16:23 “…Erastus, the treasurer of the city greets you…” (Keep in mind that Paul wrote Romans from Corinth.)

Here’s my point: Provoking and being provoked was not only part of the Corinthian culture. It was also in the church! Paul mentioned this because there was a lot of jabbings and pokings going on in the church. You would hear a lot of – “Did you see how he looked at me?” “I know why she said that to me.” “One of these days, I am going to show her.” There was a lot of thinking and mulling over and planning and plotting evil happening. People didn’t trust each other. They only saw the evil in others. They only remembered the evil others had done to them. The Corinthian church was not a safe zone.

Sadly, this is true even today in churches, marriages, families, community, workplace. People are constantly constructed their subtle and not so subtle Babbius monuments and their Erastus inscriptions to provoke each other or respond to someone’s provoking. Are you the one who is provoking someone? Are you the one who is being provoked by someone? Are you the one who is constantly looking for the bad in others or thinking about the bad others have done to you? You constantly have your guard up.

What is the solution? To start with, remember how God loves you – He gives you a new identity in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in I Corinthians 7:22 For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.  If the world calls you a slave, God calls you free in Christ. If the world calls you free, God calls you his slave in Christ. Either way, God has given you a brand-new identity. You don’t have to live by your past or what the world says about your past.

So how are you to love others? 23 “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” In other words, stop giving in to the opinion and treatments of others. Stop worrying about what they are saying or thinking about you. If you have a lot of time on your hands, guard your mind. If not, you will pout, get upset, and start problems and then refuse to stop until those problems are resolved according to your personal satisfaction. You will become paranoid and build a Babbius monument to yourself. I’m not suggesting that you drop your guard against evil people. Instead, learn to be vulnerable. Disarm. Admit when you’ve messed up. Admit when you’re frightened. Admit when you’re lagging behind. Admit the truth about yourself.

For e.g. Swindoll gives the illustration of Uncle Zeke from Muleshoe, Texas. One of Uncle Zeke’s buddies was the blacksmith. They would spend time together and talk about stuff old guys talk about. One day, the blacksmith was working on a horseshoe before Zeke got there. He kept sticking it in the fire, pulling it out and hammering it. He did it again and again. It wasn’t cooperating so he tossed it on the sawdust on the ground just about the time Zeke walked in. Zeke didn’t know it was hot. He walked in, looked around, saw the horseshoe, reached down, picked it up, and dropped it right away. The blacksmith said – “Kinda hot, ain’t it Zeke…” Zeke said, “Nope, Just don’t take me long to look at a horseshoe.” How true that is of so many of us… Instead of saying, “Yeah, that was kind of dumb of me to pick that up” or “I should’ve checked with you first,” we say something similar that keeps us from looking vulnerable.

I think about Erastus who had his inscription on the ground. Why didn’t he remove it after he got saved? This is just my imagination. One day, Erastus and Paul were walking through the Agora and they came to that inscription on the ground. It was filled with bronze and fastened with lead. Erastus turned to Paul – “Paul, every time I look at it, it reminds me where God has brought me from. That’s how I used to think and live. Always telling my opponents how great I was and how I had climbed the ladder of success and power. But now, I walk on it and I remind myself that God has called the foolish, the weak, and the base things of the world so that ‘no flesh should glory in his presence.’” Later that evening when Paul was finishing his letter to the Romans and warning them to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17) and as he lists the names of his fellow ministers – Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Tertius, Gaius, he says, “Oh yes, Erastus, the treasurer of the city greets you.” If he wasn’t a changed man, God would not have included him in his Word.

Are you saved? Are you provoking or easily provoked by others?

 

OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on January 7, 2017)

bef00a78-d76b-461a-be58-7037520c4569This is the time of the year when many people struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions. According to some surveys, about 70% are broken by the end of January. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual resolutions like growing in Christ, reading the Bible, praying, serving in church, etc. Another year comes and goes and there’s zero progress. In Luke 9 Jesus met three such individuals who were buried in the graveyard of excuses. Let’s see if we can learn something from their encounters:

  1. Grave of Comfort – Verse 57 “…Someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” At first glance the speaker looks like an eager disciple willing to follow Jesus anywhere. In actuality, he was a young man looking to tag along Rabbi Jesus for a low risk, easy life with minimal sacrifices. Jesus knew his heart and bluntly challenged his assumption about being his disciple – 58 “…Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not calling him to give up his Sleep Number bed or his Tempur-Pedic pillow and wander around and live under some tree like a hermit. If that were the case, we’d all be in trouble. Instead, Jesus was telling him – “To follow me, you have to choose the uncomfortable life. Previously, it was comfortable to tolerate some old sin, habit, grudge, behavior, or desire in your life but following me will require giving them up. How much are you willing to sacrifice?”
  2. Grave of Obligations – Verse 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” What a strange request! Was the man’s father dead at home, waiting to be buried?! No. What the man was really saying was “My father is up in age. I need to be there for him. Once God calls him home, then I will follow you.” He was using a very common excuse – “I’ll follow God, when things settle down.” Again, Jesus knew this man’s heart too and responded trenchantly – 60 “…Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” How could Jesus be so harsh?! Was he actually suggesting that this man ignore his duty to his aged parents? The answer is “Yes.” Again, don’t misunderstand. The Bible is always about honoring our father and our mother. But in this situation, the man was using his obligations to keep him from obeying God. Jesus was telling him – “Life will never settle down. There will always be another obligation. Follow me now or never.”
  3. Grave of One Last Glance – Verse 61 “…Another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’” This sounds like a reasonable request, doesn’t it? – “At least my loved ones deserve to know that I’m leaving.” Again, Jesus knew this man’s real intention. He wanted to take that one last look to make sure that this was a right decision. Unfortunately, the world is full of people who took that fatal glance and like Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. What do they see? Some see pain and feel they can’t leave until they’ve healed; some see regrets and feel they can’t leave until they’ve fixed things; some see failures and feel their past would repeat again; and some even see the disappointed faces of their loved ones and feel they can’t let them down. Jesus warned him – 62 “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Many years ago when I preached on this passage, a farmer in our church told me that when he used to plow with a mule, he would find a fixed point in front and keep his eyes on it. When he looked straight ahead, he had straight rows behind him but if he turned back, he was all over the place. If your spiritual life is all over the place, it’s time to look ahead to Jesus.

By the way, before you can leave your grave of excuses to follow Jesus, you have to come out of the grave of sin and death by asking him to be your Savior. Happy Resurrection!

Love is Calming by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS CALMING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

love-is-calmingIntroduction:  This is the second message in our new series – “LOVE IS THE GREATEST.” As Valentine’s Day is approaching, we’re looking at what the Bible has to say about love. Again, please don’t misunderstand, the series is not just about romantic or marital love. It’s about love in general – in our families, church family, community, nation, and world.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Bridge: Kids have a way of saying things that make us laugh and think at the same time. A group of little kids were asked what they thought about love. Listen to what they said (This list has been floating on the internet for a long time):

  • “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” — Manuel, age 8
  • “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy – age 6
  • “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss” Emily – age 8
  • “During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy – age 8

In this series, we’re going to learn what true love is all about and how to show it.

Context: If you remember from last week, Corinth was the place to be in the ancient world. It sat on the crossroads between the north and the south and the east and the west, on the isthmus connecting Mainland Greece with Peloponnese. People from all over came there to make a life, to do business, or to watch the games. Paul purposefully chose to go there because plenty of lost people were there. After 18 months of working as a tent maker and preaching Christ, the Corinthian church was born. Paul moved on to other places but he began to hear that the church in Corinth was having problems. So, he wrote this letter to them not only to deal with their problems but to deal with a deeper problem – misunderstanding and lack of true love.

Question: Before we go any further, do you agree that at the root of a lot of our problems is a misunderstanding and lack of love? Do you understand what true love is really about? Are you truly a loving person? Will people around you say that you are a loving person? Are you saved? If not, today is the day to let God’s love into your hearts.

Today we’re going to look at the first description of love in verse “Love suffers long and is kind…” Before we start analyzing what the Greek word is for “suffers long” and “kind,” we need to step back and try to understand how words get their meanings. Many times people misunderstand what biblical words mean and they base their lives on some misinterpretation. I’ve seen it often and it’s very costly.

Here’s a very important statement: “Words have inherent meaning only to a certain extent. They get their true and full meaning from their context.”

Here’s a simple example, a silly example – think about the word “hotdog.” The context tells you that it’s not some hot canine. It’s a favorite American food.

Here’s an interesting example – think about the word “oversight.” “She had the oversight of that project.” It means she was looking over that project. It’s positive. “It was my oversight.” It means I missed something when I was going over it. It’s negative. Again, the context helps you understand the true meaning.

Here’s an extreme example – think about the word “set.” The Oxford English Dictionary gives 464 meanings for that word! Here’s just a few of them – the stage is set; I did a set of exercises; we had a setback; set it down over there; he’s set in his ways; get set go; we can go on and on. The context helps us to understand which use it is.

Here’s a cultural example – think about the word “smart.” Where I grew up, if someone was intelligent, you’d say – “He/she is really smart.” When we came to the NC, people would tell our children – “Now be smart.” I wanted to ask – “Why? Do they look dumb?”

The point is that words have some meaning on their own but they get their true and full meaning by how they’re used in their context. Here’s another very important point – biblical words also have some meaning on their own but they get their true and full meaning from the biblical context. In other words, many times, words in the Bible take on deeper and richer meaning than how they’re normally used outside the Bible.

Paul said to the Corinthians “Love suffers long and is kind…” To understand what “suffers long” and “kind” really mean, we have to go the biblical context. The Greek word for “suffers long” is “makrothumeo.” It comes from two Greek words “makros” = long and “thumos” = wrath or passionate longing. When you put those two together, it means “long wrath.” In English, you’ve heard of someone with a “short fuse.” It means someone who doesn’t take long to get angry or blow up. Long wrath is someone with a “long fuse,” someone who takes a long time to get angry or blow up. You may say – “Oh I get it. Love suffers long means love doesn’t get angry quickly.” True but there’s more to it.

For starters, this word was used many times to translate Hebrew words for patience in the Old Testament. (As a side note, prior to the LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, it is found only once before!) Let me give a couple of examples: Proverbs 19:11 “The discretion of a man makes him (makrothumein) slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.” Meaning: A wise man does not get angry quickly and is willing to overlook someone’s fault. But there’s another use for it – Proverbs 25:15 “By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, And a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” Meaning: If you want something done by a ruler, wait patiently for him to make up his mind. The point is “makrothumeo” has the idea of not getting angry but its more than that. It’s also about waiting patiently for someone to get to where they need to be.

This is especially true in how God relates with us. Listen to Exodus 34:6 “And the Lord passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.” Here God is meeting Moses for the second time on Mount Sinai. The first time God gave him the Ten Commandments, the people had already built the golden calf for themselves and 3000 died because of that sin. God didn’t give up on His people but told Moses to get a second set of stone tablets so he could regive his law to them. Then God passed before Moses and declared that he was “makrothumia,” meaning “willing to work patiently with people who were not ready to follow him.” This same idea about God is presented in Proverbs 103   8 “The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities.”

This same idea is found in the New Testament. When Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18 how many times he should forgive his brother, “up to seven times?” Jesus answered him “up to seventy times seven.” Then He gave the parable of a servant who owed a lot of money to his king. When it came time to pay he begged the king, “have patience with me, and I will pay you all.” The king had compassion on him and forgave his massive debt. But this man’s fellow servant owed him a fraction of the amount he owed to the king and he begged him with the same words, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you” but he wouldn’t and threw him into prison. When the king heard about it, he was angry. He caught the man and delivered him to the torturers until he would pay it all back. The point is, Jesus said, 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Meaning: If you’re unwilling to wait patiently on others like God waits patiently on you, then God will no longer wait patiently on you. The same idea is found in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The point is that the word “makrothumew” tells us not to be angry but wait patiently for others, just the way God does not destroy us in anger but waits patiently for us. Meaning: Yes, God is a god of wrath against sin but he’s not some cantankerous unreasonable old man – “Y’all better get your act together or I’m about to lose it and destroy all of you!” Instead, picture a loving father who patiently helps his little boy/girl ride the bike. The child falls again and again but the father does not get angry or give up but patiently helps him/her.

If all this isn’t enough to understand the true meaning of “makrothumeo,” Paul adds a word to it that is not found anywhere else. It is the word “chresteuomai.” It means “to show kindness.” It is connected to the word that Jesus used in Matthew 18 where He says, 28 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy (chrestos) and My burden is light.” I can go on and on, but here’s the point – God could burn us in His anger but because He loves us, He waits patiently for us and shows kindness to us.

I can imagine that when Paul heard of the divisions, the pushing and shoving that was happening in the Corinthian church, his heart was broken. How could those who were filled with love of God act this way towards each other? How could those whose sins had been forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ hold grudges against each other? How could they be so impatient and unkind towards each other when God has been so patient and kind towards them? He tells them – “Love waits patiently and shows kindness.”

Question: How do you feel when someone waits patiently for you and shows kindness to you? I can tell you in the definition of the 8-year-old I read in the opening – “During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy – age 8 Why wasn’t she scared anymore? Her dad’s love was calming.

Here’s a test: How do people feel around you? Do they feel judged, stressed, and misunderstood? Or do they feel calm? Someone might say – “Does that mean that I should tolerate anything and everything?” Does God tolerate anything and everything you do? Absolutely not but he works with us to bring us where he wants us to be. You can sense the calm assurance of His presence in your life. By the way, generally speaking men and women show love in different ways. Men may not say all the sweet things that women are able to say. Here’s the test: Did you feel the calm sense of their presence in your life. That’s love.

Invitation: Is God’s calming love flowing through your life? Can you people around you sense that same love flowing through you? Is our church a place where people feel that calm love of God flowing through us?

Hoi Polloi 17 – Dr. David Alan Black

Hoi Polloi Logo

In this episode, Abidan Paul Shah will be talking with Dr. David Alan Black about his newest book “Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching.” It’s about learning to deal with the pains of life in a way that draws us closer to the heart of God. Both laypeople and scholars will benefit from this book.

If you have any questions or topics you would like to be discussed, please tweet them to @hoipolloiradio.

A TALE OF TWO PRIORITIES (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

A TALE OF TWO PRIORITIES Article by Abidan Paul Shah

 

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on September 17, 2016)

a-tale-of-two-priorities“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

We are living in an age similar to the one Dickens described in his novel. On the one hand, we are the prosperous citizens of the Information Age, rolling in the luxuries of the knowledge boom. On the other hand, we are the penniless inmates of the Ignorance Asylum, rotting in the filth of foolish decisions. We are constantly looking down at our gadgets for tips and tricks when we should be looking up to the One who holds all truth. We are searching Google for answers when we should be seeking the Bible for wisdom. We are chatting on Facebook with strangers few states away when we should be talking face-to-face with loved ones a few steps away. We are giving our children all that we never had when we should be giving them all that they really need. We are talking about changing the world while we are chafing at the miseries of those down the street. We are content with wearing wristbands when we should be wearing work gloves. We are holding up signs of love and equality on the sidewalks when we have hate and intolerance hidden inside.

(Wow! Not sure where all those rhymes came from! Dickens would dig it if he could! J)

The point of this article is not to demonstrate my rhyming skills, which seem to have vanished as randomly as they came to me…Neither am I trying to advocate some kind of a primitive lifestyle, away from all the distractions of the Internet or social media. We’ve driven too far down the technology ramp to backup. All I am proposing is that we return to the two priorities Jesus gave when someone asked Him “Which is the great commandment in the law?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

Please don’t misunderstand those words. Jesus was not suggesting that we stick God and people on the top of our already crazy busy life. That would never work. Sooner or later we would push both of them off or supersede them with the mundane or the urgent. Instead, imagine your life as a circle with God as its center and everything flowing out of Him. He is no longer just someone we glance at once or twice a week but our entire life becomes an outworking of His love and truth. In the process we not only love Him with everything we have but His love radiates through us to those around us. Our friends and family feel it and so do our enemies. We begin to make wise decisions that are motivated by God’s love rather than our impulse or others’ incitement.

In short, a God centered life brings to us the best of times in spite of the worst of times.

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