By Julie Lyons
1. There is a spirit of division roaming about this country, seeking whom it may devour. You can see it in the political sphere, in the disproportionate animosity directed toward President Barack Obama and in the increasing level of distrust among races. But I have seen its corrosive effect even more in the personal and church spheres, where we have an enemy seeking to destroy every close, godly relationship.
How does this spirit of division work? By taking relatively small but real offenses and magnifying them to the point where they threaten to destroy longstanding relationships. It begins with offense; it progresses to contempt; it descends into bitterness and unforgiveness; it morphs into hopelessness about any prospect for healing in the relationship; and then it reaches a terrifying point where you realize you’re on the brink of hatred.
You will be vulnerable to the attacks of this demonic spirit to the extent that you are deficient in love. And guess what? Almost all of us are deficient in love. When this spirit finds you out, will you devour your brothers or humble yourself and seek God with every fiber of your being to manifest Christ’s love?
What is the goal of this foul spirit? To destroy our testimony to the world. We are representatives of Jesus Christ to the extent that we love our brothers. And this isn’t some sappy, simpering love; it is a love that suffers long, that perseveres, that never fails.
I have been awakened by the Holy Spirit many nights in recent months with one major agenda: to pray against the spirit of division. At the same time, I have seen myself sorely tested in the area of love. Oftentimes I’ve wanted to throw off relationships that had become difficult, or where I didn’t believe there was a fair exchange.
I came to understand something: There is never a fair exchange. Jesus Christ loved us and died for us before we even said we were sorry, much less returned His love. Either we seek to model this love of Christ—or we don’t.
2. Why is it that the label “Life Coach” always screams compromise to me? What’s wrong with simply being a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is it a little too blunt, a little too retro? Don’t we know that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others? Who are we seeking to impress anyway, God or men?
3. Herman Cain’s success as a Republican presidential candidate, however short-lived, says something about us as Americans. I’m not sure exactly what it says, but none of it’s good. Imagine: a Republican presidential candidate who was even less qualified than Sarah Palin, yet he enjoyed front-runner status for several sound bite-strewn weeks in 2011 until multiple sexual allegations sank his campaign. I’m not even gonna touch the weird racial dynamics that I suspect lay behind Republican voters’ brief infatuation with Herman Cain. I’m embarrassed for America.
4. Our much-maligned former president, George W. Bush, will be honored some day for his forward-thinking policies in a place whose strategic significance is often discounted—Africa. Bono gives props to Bush for his as-yet-unequaled contributions toward the fight against AIDS in Africa in a recent issue of Time magazine. Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, started in 2003, provided billions of dollars in medical assistance on the continent. When it started, only 50,000 Africans were receiving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which allow an HIV-infected person to life productive, relatively long and healthy lives. Just four years later, more than a million were receiving the life-saving treatments through numerous clinics financed by the United States—and still are today. An entire generation is being rescued from death in countries where ARVs are widely available—such as South Africa and Botswana.
Bush also led the condemnation of Sudan for its genocidal actions in Darfur and canceled billions of dollars in debt in countries where exorbitant interest payments were undercutting prospects of growth. Today, we are seeing the birth of a new Africa, with the rate of economic growth in large U.S.-friendly countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa far exceeding that of the United States and Europe.
He might never be as popular in Africa as Obama, a son of Kenya, but Bush will be cited in years to come for his historic role in an African economic and democratic revolution that is elevating the lives of millions.
5. This generation is missing it in the area of relationships.
Divorce among our church leaders. If they can’t hold it together, how can I?
Wives and husbands quietly disposed of, because he or she does not fit my “destiny.”
The sorry state of godly friendships, with Facebook connections serving as a lame substitute for the joy and, yes, occasional suffering that is part of all lasting, godly relationships.
Our willingness to slough off friends when the going gets tough or there’s nothing in it for me: I’m through.
The many women and especially men I know who don’t have a single truly close friend they can confide in and pray with–who they aren’t trying to impress, who provide no financial or career benefits, and who will tell them the truth, with kindness, even when it hurts.
A few things from Scripture stand out to me. Think about it:
● The Word of God says that every single one of Jesus’ close friends—His disciples—abandoned him as he went to the cross, including His three intimate friends, Peter, John, and James. Yet when He appeared to them after the Resurrection, He never even mentioned their desertion, and He gently restored the biggest offender, Peter.
● When Judas approached Jesus to betray Him, Jesus called him “Friend.” God does not lie, front, or act fake: Jesus truly saw him and loved him as a friend.
● Godly friendships move us away from self and toward what is best for the other person. At the end of the day, a godly friend wants nothing more than for you to step into your God-given calling, regardless of the cost to self—a desire so evident in Jonathan’s friendship with David. Saul’s son Jonathan was next in line to be king of Israel, but he gave up all he had to his friend—signified by his robe, his tunic, his sword, his bow, and his belt—because he knew David was God’s choice as king.
Wow. That begs a moment of thoughtful silence right here.
6. Joyce Meyer is aging well. I find myself listening to Joyce Meyer just about every day because of her no-nonsense Bible teaching—mixed with a big dose of compassion and humor. Meyer doesn’t follow fads or build a mystique around herself; she just preaches the Word of God in a way that’s equally rewarding to a babe in Christ or a seasoned believer.
I know Christians who look down their theological snout at this self-taught preacher, but I wonder if you can point to another Bible teacher of the last two decades who’s had as much sustained impact as Meyer. I was surprised to discover that she’s one of the most popular Bible teachers in the Middle East, of all places—in part, because of shock value. Folks are amazed to see a woman preaching. When they get past the novelty, though, they’re pulled in by her practical, personal teaching—including her blistering testimony of how she overcame the effects of childhood sexual abuse.
I guess I’m so sick of pulpiteers with sonorous voices and suspect character. I not only enjoy Meyer’s teaching and the way she honors her husband, Dave Meyer, but I look at her as a shining example of integrity. Meyer’s organization was one of six large media-based ministries questioned by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley in 2007 concerning their tax-exempt status, and hers is the only one that emerged stronger through the process. Meyer fully cooperated with the inquiry, while three of the organizations provided incomplete answers and one refused to provide any information at all. If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.
7. There is a critical lack of integrity concerning finances in the church world. Seriously, it has come to where I would rather do business with a secular enterprise than an individual or business that identifies itself as “Christian.” Y’know, I see that fish sign and just about want to run screaming in the other direction.
In the secular world, where I worked for many years, the rules are plain: I pay my money, I get something valuable in return. If I don’t deliver, I go out of business.
How many times have you heard this: “The check’s in the mail.” “I am so sorry, but I’ve been having personal problems.” “I can’t pay you all of it–I hope you’ll understand.” “Can you give me a discount?” “Do you ever give away this stuff for free?” “I’ll finish the work as soon as I can—please pray for me.” “I have this great idea to advance the kingdom of God—do you know someone who’ll pay for it?”
I’ve been studying Genesis lately, and I am struck by Abraham’s absolute integrity concerning material things.
● When the king of Sodom offered him the spoils of war after Abraham helped defeat several rival kings, Abraham refused to accept his gifts, because he knew it would create an entanglement that would hinder the calling of God in his life.
● After Abraham’s and Lot’s herdsmen quarreled—and it became clear that the men must go their separate ways—Abraham gave Lot the first choice of pastureland, because Abraham was so confident in the source of his blessings: the One True God. Lot tellingly chose the land that looked best to his natural eyes: the plain near Sodom. Abraham knew that God’s blessing would follow him wherever he went, as long as he walked in obedience. So he graciously took the “second choice,” which turned out to be a source of great material wealth.
● When Abraham needed a suitable tomb for his beloved wife Sarah, the men of a Caananite town offered it to him for free because of his stature in the land. Abraham insisted on paying in full, even when the owner of the burial site put forth an exorbitant price. Abraham was indeed a “mighty prince” among men—and he acted like it.
8. Not many of us can handle fame, fortune, or power, but many of us seek it. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on Proverbs 30:7-9, and I don’t mean from someone who believes Christians should be poor, pathetic, and barely making it: “Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
9. What you preach, teach, and practice concerning sex outside of marriage is the litmus test for faithfulness to Scripture in our time.
That’s all I’m gonna say about that.
10. I’m looking for a great year in 2012. I’m expecting the very best. And I know I’ll be a great success if I live solely to please Him—in my thoughts, words, and actions. May all of you be richly blessed by our great God and Savior this year.
Julie Lyons is a journalist, author, and editor. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son.