My Brother’s (Sister’s) Keeper

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What does it mean to be my brother’s or sister’s keeper?

The question takes me to Genesis 4. Cain had sinned. God encouraged him to repent. Instead, Cain vented his anger on his innocent brother Abel—and killed him. 

God posed the question of Abel’s whereabouts to Cain who shrugged it off with another question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God’s short answer? Yes.

So, what led Cain astray?

1. Relationship with God

It was off. Though Scripture doesn’t give the specifics of Cain’s sin, it does say his offering was not accepted. Motive, heart, the offering itself—something was off and that something was obvious to both Cain and God. 

Cain’s response? Anger. God’s response follows.

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’” Genesis 4:6-7 NIV

2. The Slippery Slope

When we are frustrated and angry, as Cain was, it’s easy to focus on ourselves and to spiral down, down, down. Cain nursed his anger which fed his sin. 

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15

3. Enemy Identification

God identified the issue for Cain: sin. However, Cain refused to deal with it. Instead of repenting and asking for forgiveness, Cain took his frustrations out on the nearest target, his innocent brother.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

From the early books of the Old Testament to the Gospels and epistles of the New, Scripture proclaims God’s command to love and care for one another. “Love your neighbor” appears in Leviticus and the “one another” verses fill the New Testament. Clearly, being our brother’s keeper ranks high on God’s priorities. 

When my relationship with God is off, my relationship with others is affected too. When I’m struggling with temptation or a particular sin, I’m on edge until I’ve walked through it. God has given us two key points of focus: Himself and others. When we focus on loving Him and loving each other, that focus safeguards us against sin. The body of Christ offers a powerful community of acceptance, encouragement, and edification. We need each other. 

I am your keeper and you are mine. James 5: 19-20 says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

That’s a win-win for us all.

We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers.

Activities:

1. When has someone dumped on you in a fit of anger? How did you respond? When have you dumped on someone else? What drove your behavior?

2. When God convicts you of sin, how do you respond?

3. Practice grace. Think of a time when someone dumped on you. What could have driven that behavior? Make a list. How do you feel after making a list? What do you think they need? How will you respond?

4. Chose a “one another” verse to practice and memorize. (Check out this link for those verses.)

Choose Joy

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“Be joyful always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 NIV

Joy. My intersections with this word tend to occur around December when Christmas carols move joy to the forefront. The rest of the year, my melancholy personality fights to find it. However, a recent writing project brought some joyful discoveries:

Joy is commanded. “Be joyful always” is a command, and therefore, something I must choose. And if joy is a choice, it is rooted in something besides circumstance or emotion. Hope in God provides joy’s foundation. What a relief, because if my joy depended on my feelings? This girl would be in trouble. My choices have the power to change my feelings. For me, that’s great news.

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Romans 5:2-4

God’s sovereignty prevails. God is greater than sorrow, sin, or suffering. He delights in bringing good from bad. I just finished Almost Everything by Anne Lamott. She writes of the “but God” moments. Moments when the hundred-degree Texas summer makes you want to quarantine, but the crepe myrtles still froth with heady blooms of pink, purple, and white. In August.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Gratitude leads to joy. God gives good gifts to His children. He is with you. He is for you. Thankfulness warms up our joy muscles. One gift of quarantine has been walking. Wow! It releases the muscle tension of computer work, refreshes my mind, and burns calories too! I’m hooked!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Which good and perfect gifts come from God? Every one. 

Find something to be glad about. In Eleanor H. Porter’s novel of the same name, Pollyanna always saw the bright side of things. Her father challenged her to “find something about everything to be glad about.” COVID has slowed my pace and increased time with my stuck-at-home, used-to-traveling-every-week husband. Both brought challenges and blessings. Scripture continually reminds us: rejoice and be glad.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6

Joy grows. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It requires cultivation. Nurture. Food. Water. Have you neglected this part of your spiritual garden? I recently picked blueberries. With blueberries, you have to hunt under leaves and in between branches to find those dark juicy clusters. Likewise, our joy is growing too, but sometimes we have to move stuff out of the way to find it. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Sometimes, joy takes work. Be aware of the element of spiritual warfare. Our enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Often, our joy is the target. Remember your weapons of praise and worship. The foe has been defeated, but we must walk out the victory. 

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

Choose joy. Cultivate it. Look for it. Fight for it. God not only wants you to have some, He commands it.
To help with your obedience, check out Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in “Joyful, Joyful” by the Pentatonix.

Activities:

1) Take a family poll. Who sees the glass half-empty and who sees the glass half-full? Half-empties, how can you refocus? Half-fulls, how can you help others see what you see? Choose one way to accomplish your mission this week.

2) Play the Pollyanna game. Have each person share a challenge they face this week. Think of something to be glad about regarding each particular challenge. Help each other brainstorm.

3) Plant something. As you nurture that plant, remind yourself to nurture joy.

4) Take turns choosing praise music this week. 

Walk with Me

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My husband Russell and I plan to hike Half-Dome in Yosemite in the fall. We walk each weekend to prepare for the fourteen-mile hike. God calls us to walk with Him too. Stories spill from the pages of Scripture of those who did—and didn’t—walk with Him. 

Here are a few tips for walking together:

1. Align your goals. Our goal of hiking Half-Dome keeps my husband and me on the same page. We hold each other accountable.  I remind him to Vaseline his feet and apply Band-aids. He reminds me to bring a towel and sunglasses. 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus condensed the Ten Commandments to two: love God and love others. Though He has called me to the work of writing, my purpose, goals, and desires must align with His or I’m off. When my goals conflict with His, I’m the one in turmoil. 

2. Adjust your pace. If you struggle here, go back to #1. Russell and I do not walk at the same speed. He strolls. Preferably in flip flops. I powerwalk with our ginormous Belgian Mal. Walking together is not fun. Yet because of our common goal, we adjust—and finding joy in the adjustment. Walking with God takes adjustments as well. God sets a pace that stretches me but strengthens me too. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes.” Proverbs 3:5-7a

3. Prepare your equipment. Shoes, socks, water. When you walk for hours, you’d better not wear sandals. We break in our hiking boots to prevent blisters, cramped toes, and chafing on the big day. But how do you prep for walking with God? Daily habits set the groundwork for hearing Him speak. Prayer. Time in the Word. Worship. Spiritual disciplines. 

 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35 

4. Enjoy the walk. Russell and I hiked the Grand Canyon, rim-to rim. Was it grueling? Yes. Was I sore? Yes. Did I lose toenails? Yes. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! We bonded in a way I would have never anticipated (shared suffering?). Likewise, God has engraved highlights and milestones of our spiritual walk on my heart. 

 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

So, walk. One step at a time. Often with a backpack on your shoulders. But the view and the company? The best!

Activities:

Go for a walk or plan a hike together. The AllTrails app can direct you to trails in your area.

What challenges do you face when the family goes for a walk?

What benefits do you reap?

What makes the walk better? (FYI, taking the family dog helped our kids tremendously. Less whining. More walking.)

How did you prepare?

Have each person plan a walk with God. Report back. How did it go?

Playing Favorites, Missing Out

Favorites. We mesh with some people like puzzle pieces snapping into place. Seamless. Easy. Click. 

Others jar us, grate our rough edges, and stretch our patience. Uncomfortable. Difficult. Scraaape. 

The apostle James gives no quarter, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism . . . If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin . . .” James 2:1, 8-9 NIV

“Neighbor” extends to everyone as Jesus demonstrated in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-39). Every person has value because they were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Yet sometimes I’m guilty of assigning value to baser things. Do they like me? What do we have in common? What can they do for me?

I see this in families too. I have four kids: boy, boy, girl, boy. Our youngest had a strong draw to his older brothers. His sister? He didn’t connect with her until late high school and college—and he missed out. His sister is a gem he’s only recently discovered.

How many times have I missed out on the treasure of a person who was invisible to me—or just required more work than I was willing to give? Too often.

How about you? Do you have favorites? What’s the draw? And who have you missed in the process? At home, at school or work, at church?

Practice the royal law of love like James says:

1. This week, choose someone with whom you wouldn’t necessarily connect.

2. Reach out to them this week. 

3. Look for ways to give to them. 

4. Keep track of what God shows you. 

By all means, treasure those special friends and family God has placed in your life. At the same time, acknowledge the “neighbors” you encounter this week and see what you’ve been missing. 

Who is invisible to you? Are you invisible to others? Why?

Opposition: Pray—and Post a Guard

Big.

Intimidating.

Protective.

Delivery men step back when they come to my door. I bought Valor because I’m home alone. A lot. At 5’5”, I’m defenseless against the average male. Valor gives me leverage.

Jerusalem experienced defenseless too. Babylon destroyed the city. Though many Jews returned to their homeland, Jerusalem’s walls lay in ruins, leaving the city open to attack. Nehemiah’s job? Rebuild the walls. However, not everyone wanted those walls rebuilt. 

Here’s the scene:

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, . . . But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. Nehemiah 4:1-2, 7-8 NIV [Emphasis mine.]

Nehemiah’s foes trash talked, then ratcheted up their psychological attack with fear and intimidation. Note how Nehemiah handled his enemies:

1. Nehemiah was aware of his opposition. 

 “Hear us, our God, for we are despised.” Nehemiah 4:4a

The enemy targets you, your marriage, your family, and your ministry. Have you noticed that every time you try to do something as a family, the kids act up? Or you and your spouse plan time together, but you’re constantly interrupted? Coincidence? No. 

2. Nehemiah expected an attack. 

So Nehemiah prepared. 

“But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah 4:9

His people were armed, vigilant, and ready 24/7. 

3. Nehemiah had an answer for his opponents. The armor and weaponry weren’t for show. He and his men prepared to fight. 

“Therefore, I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows . . . and said . . . ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes’ . . . Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me (Nehemiah 4:13-14, 17-18).

Nehemiah never stopped working—and he kept the guards in place until they finished the job. 

Negativity. 

Discouragement. 

Thoughts that things will never change. 

A critical spirit. 

Fear. 

I face these opponents. Too often I pray and cross my fingers that God will take care of them for me.

Instead, He tells me to get to it. To test negative thoughts and deny them access. I need to be my own spiritual guard dog. When thoughts of discouragement come to the door, they need to step back when they see me. God calls me to be vigilant, armed, and ready to fight.

How about you? What’s your mission? (Marriage and family are mission enough. Don’t discount these areas of ministry.) Have you posted a guard?  Is your family or ministry armed with God’s Word, with godly character, and with strong leadership (yours)? Are you prepared to fight? To deal with thoughts and attitudes that bring negativity and death? 

Pray—then post a guard. 

Workout of the Week: Pray and Post a Guard

Memory Verse: “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah 4:9

Meditation Passage: Nehemiah 4

Do It: Be your own guard dog.