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Thicker Skin: The Benefit of the Doubt

I’m currently in a season where I believe the Lord is molding me into having thicker skin. This is simply a part of growing up and maturing, not only as a Christian, but even just as an adult. I’ve learned that overly sensitive people have a pride issue that they are usually unaware of and they require so much validation and affirmation to the point where it pushes people away. For me personally, one way of developing thicker skin is simply giving people the benefit of the doubt. I am learning to choose to believe the best about people, despite their actions or inactions because this is the only way to remain at peace with others and not allow offense come into your heart. Because in actuality, I’ve found myself getting offended with people for a variety of reasons, but I realize that it’s solely based upon my perception of what they did or didn’t do. I’ll give you a couple of examples…

I was part of a men’s small group at my church for about a year and overall it proved to be somewhat of a hurtful experience. However, the good news is that I also learned from it. God will sometimes allow us to experience situations in order to grow us up and to remind of us of our need to keep our focus on Him. During my time with the group, I would often get left off of the email list when it came to group activities and overall, I just seemed to remain on the outside looking in… I would think I was making a connection with some of the fellas through conversations before, during and after group but would soon realize that the connection was only in that setting… However, some of their relationships amongst each other clearly extended outside of the group. Yes, rejection sucks (especially within the body of Christ), but I now realize that it is not always intentional and sometimes it can be more perceived versus being reality. Yes, it would have been nice to have connected with some of the guys on a deeper level, but friendships can’t be forced. Being in the same small group with someone doesn’t guarantee friendship, no matter how much you might try to show yourself friendly, like the Bible says. Hard lesson learned, but it has made me stronger. As a result, thicker skin is forming in my personhood. Now in retrospect, I don’t believe the rejection I experienced was necessarily intentional or malicious. The other men are genuine followers of Christ and just have different interests and have had different life experiences than I.

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As I said earlier, I’m in a difficult season of growth and maturity. Unfortunately, I lost my grandfather and father within months of each other. What shocked me during this whole experience was the number of people whom I’ve known for a long time who didn’t seem to show a whole lot of compassion or empathy. Some folks still to this day haven’t reached out to me or even asked me if I needed anything. As a result, I began questioning my relationships and was very hurt by my perception of their lack of compassion. However, Holy Spirit reminded me that there were those that prayed for me and my family, even though I was unaware. Also, through conversations with others, I also had to consider that people respond to situations differently simply because of the fact that they’re human. What’s best for me is to release the offense and move on. I can’t expect everyone to respond to situations the way that I would. I now realize that’s unfair. People are different and process life events in their own way, and so another layer of thicker skin is being added to me, as I choose to believe the best about folks, even in this situation. I must have peace because offense only keeps me internally conflicted and suspicious of others. Thick skin is a must in order to get promotion from God. Thick skin is a must in order to walk with Him even when you’re disliked and/or ignored. I must have thick skin if I’m ever going to truly be Christ-like. I must have thick skin if I’m going to love God’s people in a way that truly honors Him.

Colossians 3:12-14 12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (NKJV)

Jesus Christ’s willingness to the cross as a sinless man was evidence of His thick skin. He had to rise far above human emotions as He was beat, marred, mocked and ultimately killed. But I also notice that he evangelizes one of the thieves on the cross, despite the horrific brutality that He had already suffered. That’s the ultimate example of having thick skin!

Lord help me to continue growing layers of thick skin that will help serve as armor on the battlefield so that I’m not unhealthily dependent on others. I will be the clay as you shape and mold me into who You desire me to be. Help me to love people even when that love isn’t returned and help me to keep my eyes fixed on You. Affirm me with Your love and hide me in the shadow of Your wing so that I am free from the opinions of others. Amen.

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“Yuck”

A few weeks ago I was walking into a Family Dollar Store (yes I go in there once in a blue moon) and I walked past a young lady who was talking on her cell phone. She was a couple inches taller than I and had long braids that went down to her hips. I didn’t get a close look at her but thought nothing of it. As I walked through the store, it appeared as though she was following me. When I stopped to look at something, she walked past me while still engaged in a phone conversation. That was when I got a closer look at her and realized that she was in fact a he

My immediate thought was “yuck,” and I even said it under my breath… I saw him again and noticed that he wasn’t cross-dressed per se, he was just extremely effeminate. Well as soon as I began to walk down the aisle, Holy Spirit instantly convicted me… Yuck? To a person and soul that Jesus Christ died for? To a person who is obviously very broken and whose sin just happens to be more visible? Yuck to someone for whom God has a plan for his life and someone who God loves just as much as me. I judged this young man without even knowing his story, his deepest hurts, his darkest secrets, his inner being that has obviously been severely wounded…

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Matthew 7:1-5 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (NKJV)

I’ve always considered myself to be very compassionate towards others. I believe that a good part of my calling in this life is towards social justice. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love kids and that I hate seeing injustice. Something gets under my skin when I see people suffering wrongfully. However, this particular experience showed me that I still have some growing to do. Because to tell you the truth, seeing guys like him isn’t exactly out of the norm in Atlanta, GA. Spiritually speaking, there is a very strong principality of sexual sin that rests over this region and one would likely see guys like him quite often, whether it’s at the gas station, the grocery store, or any other retail store. Personally, I’ve found myself mouthing silent prayers for them when I’ve crossed their paths. But I guess this incident revealed that there is still some haughtiness and/or arrogance within me that needs to be purged out.

Leviticus 19:15-16 You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. (NKJV)

So as I drove away from the Family Dollar store, I began to ponder how many other people react to guys like him in the same way. I imagine that this young man gets judged all of the time. Sadly, too many of us who are followers of Christ Jesus react to people like him no different than the world. We should be the ones to show these individuals love and compassion. The love of Jesus Christ should flow forth from our words and actions towards everyone. After I walked into my house, I continued to think about him and how so many of believers would never be willing to be a light to him. Not to be too presumptuous, but I believe too many of us would even be afraid to be seen with someone like him. My lord… We have a LONG way to go in terms of truly emulating Jesus Christ. This young man represents a group of people who are ignored and maybe even feared by the Christian community. Have we forgotten that they are souls who need the same salvation that we were privileged to access? Father God loves these individuals too and desperately wants them reconciled back to Him. Father God wants to heal them and restore all that has been lost to them. We are the vessels that He yearns to use to show forth His love. What I should’ve said under my breath that day was “Be healed in Jesus’s name.”

Father I’m sorry for judging this young man. I pray that he will repent and be made whole, and that You will send the right vessels to minister to his soul. I pray that this young man’s heart will be healed and that his mind will be renewed. May he be a walking testimony to bring hope to others who are facing the same identity crisis. And Father God continue to change my heart that I may lose any pride that would prevent me from being a light to people like this young man. Amen.

Nathan Allen Copyright ©2014

 

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Speak the Truth in Love

How many of you have tried to receive correction from a fellow believer, but they made you feel like a total loser in the process? Have you experienced the same thing in the world? I imagine these situations would likely come up in the workplace, with friends or acquaintances, recreational activities, etc. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have come to realize that it is not just about what you are saying. It is equally, if not more important, how you say it.

Ephesians 4:14-16 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (NKJV)

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When you give someone constructive criticism, it should be with a heart that echoes, “I love you and want to see you do better and be better.” It should always be for the best interest of the person, not your own. Unfortunately, there is something about the flesh that likes to “put people in their place.” There seems to be some twisted enjoyment in belittling others and that “I’m better than you” tone often times surfaces. I am thankful for people who are sensitive enough to go out of their way to consider other people’s feelings and emotions.

Now I know that some of you might be squirming because you might be thinking that I’m encouraging “coddling” or “sugar-coating” the issues when confronting or ministering to someone. Please be assured that that couldn’t be further from the truth. I know all too well that coddling and babying folks doesn’t work. If we love someone or at least have their best interests at heart, we tell them the truth no matter how hard it may be. These types of situations can even result in the loss of a friendship, but we have to trust the Lord even more. The Word even endorses a sharp rebuke, but it doesn’t endorse belittling and making people feel like crap.

Titus 1:13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, (NKJV)

People are going to naturally be offended by the truth. We can’t do anything to control that. However, when the truth is not spoken in love, it does more damage than good. The individual who needs to hear the truth is unable to because of how it was presented to them. Whether it is a nasty disposition, a mocking/taunting attitude, unnecessary facial expressions and body language, those things can get in the way of the person hearing the truth in their hearts. In essence we actually end up trying to play the Holy Spirit and the result often times is that the person gets hurt even more than before because of how they were addressed. Now I do want to clarify that a sharp rebuke is still supposed to be done in love. The problem comes in when one talks down to people instead of talking with them. We have to remember that the truth in itself is already going to hurt them to a degree. Truth does not need our help to get its point across.

I can recall various times when I have heard pastors and ministers in church talk about people with specific issues and it didn’t feel like ministry at all. There words and taunts might have been laced with Scripture, but they did not lead to godly sorrow, which leads to true repentance. The spirit in which they operated brought on belittlement and shame. There is a huge difference between the two! It is hard to receive truth and/or correction when someone is talking down to you and treating you like you are beneath them. Sometimes you can unconsciously do this and not be aware of it. I know I have done this over the years and it was brought to my attention a number of times. Thank God I have a changed heart and now I go out of my way to make sure that I’m showing people the proper level of respect when it comes to ministering or just giving constructive criticism. From personal experience, I can receive harsh correction from someone if I believe that they are coming from a sincere and loving heart. But if someone is talking at me and making me feel like some kind of idiot or even resorting to name-calling, it becomes nearly impossible to receive what is being spoken to me. At that point, I don’t even believe that it is necessarily correction. It’s just a form of bullying.

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God shows us new mercies every day. He is more than patient with us, as well as gentle with us. He will chastise and rebuke, but He never does it in a way to trash or demean us. After all, He is The Father. No father would hurt his children in that way, at least not intentionally. So let’s all follow the example of Paul and remember to do our best to speak the truth to others with a spirit of love.

Nathan Allen Copyright ©2013

 

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