Temperance as a Characteristic of Love

If we’re allowing others to dictate how we act or feel, we’re giving them far too much control over our lives.png

Leave it to the Lord to save the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) for last.  Yes, today, we’re talking about temperance—another word whose usage has been lost over the centuries.  However, if we pinpoint the beginning of the word, we’ll see something we’re all painfully familiar with—temper.

In its simplest definition, temperance means self-control or restraint.  It carries with it the idea of keeping a tight rein on our words, actions, attitudes, and desires.  This is not a popular principle in this day and age where people live to “get what they deserve.”  Between all-you-can-eat buffets, credit cards, and social media, our self-control is tested every day.  Should I go back for another plate, or is three enough?  Should I go ahead and spend the money on that new furniture even though I don’t have the money to spend?  And don’t even get me started on the rants that take place on social media.  Of course, this is only a few areas where our temperance is put to the test.

First Corinthians 13:5 tells us love is “not easily provoked.”  Jason and I joked about this on the way to the grocery store this morning.  He was in one of his playful moods (which translates into seeing how much he can annoy me) and was making this terrible clicking sound with his mouth.  After about ten seconds, I looked over at him, and I guess the expression on my face was comical because he burst out laughing.  “I was wondering how long you’d let me do that before giving me that look.”  I laughed too and told him how my devotion today was on temperance.  I don’t think his clicking truly provoked me but had he continued, I may have become a bit irritable.  So much for self-control, right?

As if that phrase doesn’t make us squirm enough, Paul doesn’t stop there.  He goes on in verse 7 to remind us that love bears all things.  The word “bear” in this verse implies a covering, as in love covers all sin.  It’s not that we excuse the sins of those we love but instead, we choose to overlook their faults and focus on their strengths, and let me tell you, that takes a lot of self-control.  So many times, it’s easier to see the bad than the good.  Dwelling on the negative leads to bitterness which then leads to hateful words and harsh actions.  From there, the downward spiral continues until marriages are ended, friendships are ruined, and other relationships are destroyed.

As I was praying about and considering my word for 2019, one that ranked high on the list was the word “choose.”  Had I decided to use it as my daily motto, it would have served as a reminder that I have a choice in how I think, act, and feel.  Each day, I choose to dwell on the positive or the negative.  I decide whether or not to surrender my will to God fully.  I determine how I act and what my attitude is like.  Each day is full of choices.  I can choose to let my temper get the best of me—to be easily provoked—or I can choose not to sweat the small stuff.  So what if Jason left his socks in the middle of the floor again?  In the grand scheme of things, does it matter?  Isn’t it more important that I focus on the fact that he took time out of his day off to help me with the grocery shopping so the task wouldn’t be too much for me?  Absolutely!

One phrase we carelessly use in our everyday language is the phrase:  “make me.”  For example, “he makes me so angry” or “she made me feel bad.”  Dear one, if we’re allowing others to dictate how we act or feel, we’re giving them far too much control over our lives.  No one can “make us” angry or emotional.  We choose to give in to those feelings, and that’s where temperance comes in.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  When someone says something unkind, my first reaction is to take the comment as a personal insult and give into the painful emotions that accompany that choice.  Instead, I should shrug my shoulders and hold fast to the truth found in God’s Word.  If someone doesn’t like it, oh well!  As long as I’m doing right, that’s all I need to worry about.  It’s not my job to please everyone in the process, and the sooner I get that through my thick skull, the better off I’ll be.

Temperance.  Self-control.  Restraint.  How are you doing today?  Are you easily provoked by someone’s annoying habits or quirky personality?  Do you find it difficult to look past the negative to focus on the positive?  Do you blame others for how you feel, speak, or act?  If so, you may want to talk with the Lord about helping you work on your temperance.  After all, if we—as Christians—lack self-control, how can we adequately portray the love of Christ?

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
— II Timothy 1:7

No One Can Tame the Tongue

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As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. I knew better than to allow such nastiness and negativity to take over, yet I seemed powerless to stop it. The hurtful words flew like an arrow, straight and true, piercing the person I love most in this world. And in that instant, a battle broke out as we hurled both blame and insults like sworn enemies instead of treating one another as husband and wife.

When two people—no matter how much they love one another—are tired and stressed, there are bound to be arguments. With both of us working full-time and doing deputation, “tired and stressed” wouldn’t be a stretch. Still, the disagreement wouldn’t have erupted like it did if I had kept my mouth shut. I should have. I had just finished writing a beautiful devotion about love and how I planned to incorporate it into my life this year. As the negativity rolled about in my head, I tried to replace it with the truth: Love is kind. It isn’t easily provoked. But despite my attempts to hold my tongue, I spewed my cruel words like a dragon breathes fire. What is wrong with me?

According to the Bible, the answer to that question is this: the same thing that’s wrong with everyone else. In continuing our series on the Negatives in the Bible, I want to move on to the phrase “no one.” Let’s begin with this:

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
— James 3:8

Wow! That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? No one can tame the tongue. Not you. Not me. Not the “saintliest” of saints or the sweetest old lady at church. No one! Why? Because the tongue is unruly. It doesn’t take instruction. It does what it wants and says what it feels like saying. Or does it?  Yes and no.

As I read this morning’s verse, I was heartbroken. “Great! So you’re telling me no matter how hard I try to watch my words, it’s impossible. Good to know! (Insert sarcasm.)” Seriously, though, I found this news discouraging. Over the past decade as a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher, I’ve instructed many to guard their tongue and pay attention to their words. Could it be I’ve been teaching it wrong all along? Again, the answer is, yes and no.

The tongue cannot be tamed. The Bible makes that clear. However, the heart can, and what’s in the heart comes flowing out of the mouth.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
— Luke 6:45

Rewind to the, ahem, discussion I had with Jason a few days ago. The thoughts were rolling around in my head long before I said them, which means the bitterness and resentment had already poisoned my heart. It was only a matter of time before they spewed from my lips. The problem, then, wasn’t my tongue. It was my heart. I had allowed past hurts and perceived injustices to eat away at me until I was harboring “evil treasure.” And once my heart was full to overflowing, all that evil treasure came pouring out, and it was ugly!

So, how do we keep this from happening? How do ensure our heart is full of good treasure? The first thing we must do is spend time with God. Read and meditate on His Word. Allow it to become a part of our lives, not just a few words we read in the morning before starting our day. No, we must allow it to sink in, all the way to the heart. Only then will it change us.

We also need to stay in constant communication with God. It’s challenging to think evil thoughts and nurse our hurts when we’re talking with the Lord. I know we’re all busy, and it seems like it’s too time-consuming to stop and pray, but I’m not talking about ceasing from our daily tasks. We can pray while we work. Use the drive time or the time waiting in the grocery line. Steal away the minutes we use in frivolous activities like social media. We can always find time to pray, and it will do us a world of good.

While we’re at it, let’s praise and worship God. Again, it’s nearly impossible for negativity to find a hold when our hearts are focused on how good God is and how much we’ve been blessed. Praise focuses our hearts on the positive in life and even has a way of making the bad look good.

Lastly, we need to pay attention to what comes in through our eyes and ears. The music we listen to, shows we watch, and people we hang around with impact our hearts. We must guard against allowing garbage into our lives because when garbage goes in, garbage comes out, and its favorite exit is the tongue!

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
— Proverbs 4:23

Battitude!

Bad attitudes are just as contagious as the flu..png

Today was errand day, and let me tell you, it's certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there.  No, I'm not referring to the decorations, toys, Santas or bargains, although those are certainly hard to miss.  Rather, I'm talking about all the Scrooges out there.  Good grief!  How is it that, at the most wonderful time of the year, people can be so grouchy?  What happened to peace on earth, goodwill toward men?

I was standing in the long line at the grocery store, annoyed yet not surprised by the many people with carts full of goodies for Christmas parties and dinners.  It is, after all, less than two weeks before Christmas.  Others, however, were not so gracious and understanding despite the goodness of others.

Seeing that the man behind me in line only had a few items, I allowed him to go ahead of me.  He thanked me and took his place in line.  At that point in time, the cashier was having trouble with the conveyor belt.  She pushed the button to make it advance, but it seemed to be stuck.  She tried again, but the thing refused to move.  She looked a bit panicked and embarrassed, then noticed that one of the separator bars (you know the little beams that you place between your order and those before and behind you) had inched its way forward just enough to cause the conveyor to bind.  She slid it to the side, and immediately, the conveyor surged forward.  The guy in front of me turned and snickered, saying sarcastically, "Yeah, duh.  If you move the thing, it will go."  Then he proceeded to use the Lord's name in vain and looked up at me to smile.  I'm not sure exactly what he saw on my face, but from the way he frowned then turned back around, I'm guessing it wasn't pleasant.  In fact, I was disgusted.  Here, I had just shown him grace, and he turned right around and gave someone else a hard time.  What's up with that?

At this point, I noticed an elderly gentleman behind me, clutching a pack of paper towels.  "If that's all you have," I said, "you can go ahead of me."  He smiled, thanked me and moved ahead of me in line, leaving another elderly couple in my wake.  The man behind me leaned in, looking for one of the separator bars so that he could begin loading his groceries onto the conveyor.  I walked forward, grabbed one of the bars near the front of the line and placed it behind my groceries.  You'll never believe what he said to me.  "Well, isn't she just being lazy, keeping all those things up there instead of sending them back here like she's supposed to."  I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and frankly, I had had enough.  I turned to him and said, as kindly as I could, "I believe it just got stuck up there.  After all, as you can see, it is quite busy in here."  He harrumphed and turned around.  Oh, bah humbug to you too!

By the time I finally reached the register, I wasn't feeling very cheery.  Yet, that still, small voice inside me whispered, urging me to chat with the cashier.  "Has it been this busy all week," I asked, "or did I just pick a bad time?"  She looked up at me with weary eyes.  "I don't know.  This is my first day."  Oh, the poor thing!  I thought back over the complaints in my line and wondered how many she had already heard that day.  "Well, I want you to know that I think you're doing a fabulous job."  She smiled and beamed.  "Seriously, I would have already run out of the store crying by now."  That did it!  She laughed out loud, and suddenly, the weariness in her eyes was gone.  I wished her a good day and a merry Christmas and left the store feeling that I had done my part to spread a little good cheer despite the Ebenezer Scrooges around me.

Today's post is a bit of a rant, request and warning all in one.  Please don't be too quick to judge someone.  I can't help but wonder if either of those men would have made the remarks they did if they had known that today was the poor girl's first day.  Perhaps, they would have, but I doubt it.  Let's give a little grace, show a little mercy and watch our attitudes.  After all, bad attitudes are just as contagious as the flu and far more serious.  This is the season of love, so let's pass the love along instead of jumping up and down on our high horse.

Be gone, badittude!

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
— Romans 2:1
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