Sunday, February 19, 2017

Three helps, when you're working on forgiving

Back to forgiveness, again.

Sometimes I think that when Jesus told Peter that he should forgive seventy-seven times--or seventy times seven times--the point was not so much that people would continue to sin against us, and need to be forgiven many times (although they surely would).  Rather, I think the point may have been that as many times as a wrong reoccurs to us, as many times as we remember and feel a twinge of pain, we need to forgive.  Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

Forgiveness is hard.  I've written about this many times already.  It's hard to forgive when somebody doesn't apologize.  It's hard when somebody apologizes, but continues to repeat the offense.  It's hard when somebody makes excuses, or transfers the blame back to us.  It's hard when the offense was something we feel that we would never do--we know better--and it seems that the offender has absolutely no defense for acting so inappropriately.  Forgiveness is hard.

Forgiveness is also necessary.  We all need grace.  God tells us in His Word that we are to forgive, because He has forgiven us.  In God's eyes, sin is is sin.  Even what we might consider a very small sin is enough to separate us from fellowship with the Lord.  When Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, He died for the little lie, the selfish attitude, and the stapler stolen from the office desk just as surely as He died for the drug runner, the sex trafficker and the serial murderer.  We all struggle with the temptation to consider that our own sins are less offensive, less serious, and that other people's sins are much worse, especially the ones that hurt us.  However, Jesus doesn't see it this way.  To Jesus, a prideful Pharisee is just as guilty as a cheating tax collector, perhaps even moreso if he refuses to acknowledge his faults.  Every sin is fatal if it is not forgiven.  Jesus actually said, "If you will not forgive others their sins, my Heavenly Father will not forgive you your sins" (Matthew 6:15).  This is awfully serious business.  We often talk about how we need to forgive for our own good, which is completely true.  We will be miserable as long as we cling to our grudges.  But beyond that, beyond the truth that forgiving is a release that is good for us, we need to forgive because God commands us to, and there are dire consequences if we refuse.  Forgiveness is necessary.

Because forgiveness is both necessary and very difficult, I've come up with three helps, things you can think about and work through if you need to forgive and are having a difficult time with it.

1.  Learn this truth:  Hurt people hurt people.

When people have been hurt, they often hurt others; it's like dominoes.  People who are bullied turn into bullies.  People who are abused turn into abusers.  People who are neglected do not learn how to show compassion.  A person who is having a very difficult day might turn and lash out at someone else, perhaps even a completely innocent party.  We can never predict which straw will break the proverbial camel's back.  All we know for sure is this: when stress mounts up, at a certain point it breaks a person.  (As a corollary, one should try to be a person who alleviates stress, as much as rightfully possible, rather than yet another in the chain of people heaping stress onto someone.  If you add to someone's stress, even in a very small way, there is always the chance that it will be your action that becomes the last straw.)

Healthy people do not go around hurting others.  Damaged people are the ones who hurt others.  You may not see their internal damage.  You may be hurt by someone who seems to be much more fortunate than you: stronger, richer, more popular, more beautiful.  Think about it, though.  People we call "spoiled" are those who have always been catered to, always given their way, always allowed to have what they want.  But what do we call them?  "Spoiled."  Something spoiled is ruined, damaged.  What would have been good has gone bad.  Some people have been hurt by their upbringing.  They were never  taught to be sensitive to others, never taught to sacrifice for someone else's good, never taught to be humble, or to listen, or to apologize and make things right.  Indulgence itself is a type of hurt because of the bad results it produces.  People who have been indulged as children grow up ill-equipped to navigate life, handle disappointments and interact with others.  In this way, even seemingly fortunate people can become very insecure, and thus meaner than ever, as they have negative experiences in adult life because of their lacking skills.

Pain and insecurity make people unable to see past themselves to attend to the needs of others, breeding selfishness, which manifests in hurtful behavior.  Whenever someone hurts you, remember that he or she is merely failing to compensate for his or her own past hurts.  This should help you become more compassionate and more forgiving, as you seek to demonstrate Christlike love.

2.  Learn people's backstories, when you can.

Learning about someone's backstory can also help you in the forgiveness process.  When you understand more about where behavior comes from, you can have compassion on the person who offended you.  Sometimes you might find yourself needing to forgive other, additional people as you learn backstories, because, as we mentioned, hurtful behavior is a domino effect, and there was always another domino behind the one who hurt the person who hurt the person who hurt the person who hurt you.  Ultimately, the original domino was Satan, who introduced sin into the garden of Eden.  He is the origin of all the hurts in the world.  In the end, God is going to deal with Satan and get rid of him forever.  In the meantime, the rest of us must have compassion for each other, and forgive each other as we struggle together under the cumulative effects of sin.

Here's a trick:  if you aren't going to be able to learn someone's backstory, for whatever reason, make up an imaginary backstory for that person.  Imagine what kinds of past life circumstances and events might have induced you to fall into such a behavior pattern yourself, and then attribute those circumstances to the person who was hurtful toward you.  Be generous.  Don't say, "I would never do that, no matter what!"  You would not do it based on the knowledge and experiences that you have had, but what if you lacked a lot of the knowledge you have, and had totally different experiences?  Also, think about what kinds of things could have been different in your offender's past, that might have averted the problem.  Grieve for the offender that things were not that way.  (This exercise might also open your eyes to be more thankful for your own situation.)   Be gracious and cut slack in the same way you wish people would cut slack for you in your own failings which, while they may be completely different, certainly do exist.  Because all have sinned.  Yet, in Christ there is always hope.

3.  See people in terms of what they can become with God's grace, rather than defining them by a collection of their past mistakes.

People change.  God works miraculous transformations in people's lives.  Choose not to characterize a person by something he/she did that you didn't like, defining him/her as a "bad" person forever after that.  Instead, pray for the person to change.  Believe that God is able to change him/her.  Have faith.  Expect to see our good and glorious God do good and glorious things.  Accept and affirm change when you see it.  This will help you forgive.

The Bible says that we are to forgive others in the same way that God forgives us, in Christ Jesus.

When we speak of forgiving as God forgives us in Jesus Christ, the big take-away is that forgiveness is costly and painful.  God forgave us in Jesus when Jesus was crucified and shed His blood to pay the price for our sins.   Don't expect forgiveness to be painless.  Forgiveness is a form of suffering that we choose to share with our Savior.

A corollary take-away is that God knows everything about us, understands our weaknesses and has compassion on us (Psalm 103 -- He remembers that we are dust).   Just as His perfect wisdom is part of His grace, the more we understand about a situation, the better we will be able to extend grace.

Another corollary take-away is that God knows what we will be like in our redeemed, perfected state, and He is willing to work with us and help us until we attain perfection, which won't be until eternity (1 John 3:2).  We are called to trust God, to work with Him on our sanctification (becoming more Christlike), and to grow in the grace we receive from Him, extending it to other fallen beings in the world around us.  Believe that God is working in others, just as He is working in you.

If you still struggle to forgive, spend some time meditating on how much you have been forgiven.  When we grasp what great things the Lord has done for us, it frees us to love as we have been loved, totally undeserving.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oh no. Medical bills again.

So.  Shawn went for a physical.  You know, that basic physical, the one you're supposed to have every year, that is "covered" under your insurance plan, even though you have a high deductible.

And . . . he got lab bills for about $700.  Yep.  Insurance denied two of the three basic labs that go with the physical.  Because they are denied, not only do we have to pay for them, but the costs don't even get applied to our deductible.  Of course, these are the jacked-up rack rates for the services, the inflated rates that are billed because the provider knows that the insurance company always "adjusts" to what they call "allowable" expenses.  The problem, for us, is that our insurance adjusts nothing if it denies coverage and washes its hands of the whole situation.

The doctor, in the office, told Shawn that she thought this would be covered.  Of course, she didn't say that it would be covered for sure.  A doctor would never place herself at that risk of liability.  But she said she thought the labs would be covered.

We, as consumers, have no way of knowing.  If we knew ahead of time what labs the doctor was going to ask to run, maybe we could call the insurance before we went to have them done, but that's not generally how it works.  Anyway, even if you do call the insurance to try to check on what they cover, they are very dodgy about what they will tell you.  I know this from experience.  My frustration with insurance representatives is superlative.

The insurance company just slides along under the rider that says, "coverage is subject to change without notice."  So there's that.  That's what you get when President Obama invites the insurance industry to write the policy on how insurance works, after everybody is required by law to purchase it.  It's unfair, and it shouldn't be legal, but it is legal, because the insurance industry got the privilege of designing the law.

And yes, the doctors are overcharging, because if they don't, the insurance companies will drive them into bankruptcy.

Once upon a time, health insurance got involved in health care and started messing everything up.  The insurance companies started telling doctors what they could and couldn't do, and how much they could charge.  A doctor would provide a service that cost him $10 to provide.  He would charge, say, $17, so that he could make enough money to pay the rent on his office, compensate his receptionist and his nurse, earn his own salary to support his family, buy malpractice insurance, and make payments on his medical school loans.  Insurance got involved and said, "No!  We will only reimburse you $8.50 for this service!"  Well, obviously, the doctor couldn't remain solvent in that scenario, so the next time he performed the same service, he looked over his numbers and figured, "Insurance reduced my rates by 50%, so in order to remain viable, I will need to charge $34."  And he did.

This back-and-forth parry in rates and reimbursement went on for years, inflating medical costs ridiculously, until many people simply could not afford to get medical care, but the insurance executives continued to profit off the system while doctors struggled to provide healthcare to people who were desperate enough to brave the billing process, and often the doctors simply didn't get paid (which induced them to raise their rates even more, because the money has to come from somewhere, and if half the people are going to default, the people who actually pay their bills must become the financial backbone of the system).

The system was broken beyond repair.  Health care costs were skyrocketing.  Many people had no way of paying their bills.  People began to get angry that it was so difficult and expensive to receive health care.

What would you think the answer to such a problem would be?

Doesn't it seem obvious that insurance is a totally unnecessary layer that inflates costs while enriching savvy business executives while providing no real service to anyone?  Doesn't it seem obvious that health insurance needs to be phased out, and some other (ideally non-profit) system invented to help communities help each other out with medical costs?

Apparently not.  Apparently all the smart people in President Obama's cabinet thought it would be best to pass a law requiring all American citizens to purchase health insurance, or else be fined by the government.  This must be unconstitutional.  How can the US government possibly say that its citizens have to buy a particular product?  The government can tax its citizens, but how on earth can it mandate a particular purchase?  And slap a fine on anyone who fails to comply?  Seriously?

But, unconstitutional or not, they decided to write The Affordable Care Act (which brings to life all of the horror of Orwellian doublespeak).  Not only that.  They invited the insurance companies themselves to send in representatives to write the policy.

And then, after it was passed into law and turned out to be terrible, they feigned surprise that big business had not written a very nice policy.  Also, they did nothing to try to fix it.

This is why the democrats lost the last election.  It is not because we have a country full of mean-spirited people who want to wipe out Mexicans and Muslims and homosexuals.  Most Americans are much more live-and-let-live than you could even imagine.

It's because average people are fed up with being forced by law to pay $1200 per month for health insurance that still has a $6000 deductible, and then going to the doctor for a basic physical--which was supposed to be the one thing that was covered--and coming home with a bill for $700 that will not even be applied to that $6000 deductible.

This is why Hillary lost the election.

In case you were wondering.

(And I did not vote for Trump.  But I certainly did not vote for Hillary.  And when I heard that Trump was working to repeal Obamacare, I actually felt a glimmer of hope.  That hope has not yet come to fruition.)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The very best advocates

When you pray for something for a long time, and God's answers come slowly, you can get discouraged.

A thousand years might be like a day to God, but a slowly moving timeline can be like a traffic jam on I-95 to us, feeble little creatures that we are.  Have you ever been stuck on I-95?  I should just ask, "Have you ever been on I-95?"  Because if you've been on it, you've been stuck on it.

While we're on traffic analogies, here's another one.  Have you ever been a parent, in a car, on I-95 headed to Florida, or perhaps Cape Hatteras or Myrtle Beach?  And have you had a gaggle of young ones in the backseat, eagerly anticipating their fantastic vacation?  And have they ever asked, over and over, "Are we there yet?"  Of course, as you sit at a standstill while the fuel fumes rise around you, and you try to calculate the likelihood of death by heat stroke and asphyxiation if you turn off your car (and thus the car airconditioning) against the likelihood of  running out of gas and being stranded forever on this congested corridor, your anxiety is already high, and you are wondering the same question as the kids, although in different terms, and every aspect of life seems tortuous.  In fact, you berate yourself for ever imagining that going on vacation was a good idea, anyway.

Aren't you so incredibly thankful that God is not like we are?  We must be, to Him, like those impatient children in the back of the vehicle, whining for the journey to be over.  But God is not like the frazzled, discouraged parent.  God is calm, compassionate, capable and completely in control.  Yes, He is.

Still, even though God is who He is--wonderful, merciful and powerful beyond our wildest conceptualizations--waiting is hard.  Continuing to pray while we wait is hard.  As baby steps result in tumbles and bruises, it can be tempting to give up hope that these feet will ever be fit to run a marathon.

But Jesus told His disciples always to pray and never give up.  We must do the same.

He is good.
He is attentive.
He is not only resourceful, He is actually The Source of everything.
He is gracious.  He pours out grace bountifully.
He delights in bringing His will to pass.
He delights in delighting us with His glory.
He loves us.
He is for us.

He is for us.

"What shall we say about such wonderful things as these?  If God is for us, who can ever be against us?"  (Romans 8:31 NLT)

How do we know God is for us?

"Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won't He also give us everything else?"  (Romans 8:32 NLT)

And that's not all!  No, there's more!

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us before God the Father --

"Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words . . . the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  (Romans 8:26, 27b ESV)

The Holy Spirit is not the only part of the godhead advocating for us as we pray.  Jesus Christ Himself, at the right hand of God, is also interceding for us.  If God is for us, who can stand against us?  And if Jesus Christ is interceding for us, who can condemn us?

"Who is to condemn?" asks the Word of God, going on to explain:  "Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us."  (Romans 8:34 ESV)

This points back to Romans 8:1 -- "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."   Jesus deflected our condemnation by dying for us, and He stands at the right hand of God as a remembrance of this victory.

The price has been paid.  The death was died, the blood shed.  Jesus did it.  It's settled.  God triumphed.  Jesus rose from the grave to eternal life, and the devil, sin and death have no power over Him or His.

Since God is for us, and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are actively interceding for us, we will absolutely experience the goodness of God's unfailing love.

God is invincible, and we belong to Him, so everything is going to be okay.

"Everything is going to be okay."  That doesn't mean trips to Hawaii or fancy houses or delicious steak dinners or good grades or sports victories or financial blessings or escapes from calamity or healing from diseases.  Maybe sometimes those things will happen, but they definitely won't always happen, because although those are all nice things, they are not important things.

Important things are things like knowing God, understanding how Jesus' death and resurrection made our forgiveness and salvation possible, growing in faith and holiness, being filled with the Spirit, and advancing the Kingdom of God.  These are some of the things that God deems important.

God desires for all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (see 1 Timothy 2:3-4)

If we share in His desire, and we labor in prayer for that desire, wouldn't that be what He's talking about in Romans 8:32?  If He gave His own Son for us, did not spare His own beloved Son, how would He not also give us "everything else"?   If He purchased our admission into Heaven at the price of His blood--paid for it in full--He's going to help us get in.  Our God is mighty to save!

As we labor in prayer for the souls of those we love most, let us also remember what Jesus told His disciples just before He was crucified:

"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
(John 14:13 ESV)

"If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it."
(John 14:14 ESV)

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, He may give it to you."
(John 15:16 ESV)

If there is anything that we can believe is according to the will of God and the name of Jesus, it is this: That the triumph of the blood of Jesus shall be made known when the Holy Spirit shines the light of truth into a formerly darkened heart, unmasking deception, trampling down evil and saving a lost soul.


Thank you, Lord, for Romans 8.
(And all the rest of the Bible, but today I am especially grateful for Romans 8.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Grape juice and the stomach flu

There's a thing going around the internet right now: They tell you to drink grape juice to prevent the stomach flu.


Yes, grape juice is supposed to change the ph in your digestive system so the stomach flu germs can't grow there.  That is my ultra-scientific explanation and interpretation.

It must be 100% grape juice, no juice mixes or artificial flavors.  Welch's is often named (and may be behind the whole thing).

You have to drink your grape juice before you exhibit symptoms, if it is going to work.  Do not--I repeat do not--drink a bunch of grape juice after you have begun vomiting.  Dark purple is not a good vomit color.  For heaven's sake do not give 100% grape juice to a vomiting child, if you value your towels, bed linens and carpeting.

The first to fall will fall.  This preventative is a family thing: when the first person gets sick, as soon as the first person gets sick, everyone else should start drinking copious amounts of grape juice.  By copious amounts, I mean an 8 oz. glass with breakfast, lunch and supper.  That's a lot of sugar.  Cut out all other sources of sugar.

I actually tried this recently, and it seemed to work.  Hallelujah!

I love grape juice.  I love the way it looks, the way it smells and the way it tastes.  When I tried this preventative, it was actually a bit late for prevention.  Although I'd not vomited, I was definitely feeling very funky, and things were "off" to the point where I would not be able to claim the label "prior to symptoms."  However, when I poured up my first glass of grape juice, even the wafting scent seemed to calm my stomach a little bit.

A memory flooded my consciousness, a memory of childhood stomach flu.

When I was a child and I came down with the stomach flu, my Grandpa Rainbow always used to appear on the doorstep with a brown paper bag of presents to cheer me on my day home from school.  I remember this.  My bedroom had a window that looked back at the portico outside our front door, and I remember hearing the shuffle of someone walking up to the door as I listened listlessly on my bed.  I remember hearing the doorbell ring, and my mother conversing with the visitor in the front hall.  Then my mother would come into my room with the brown paper bag of gifts.

Usually there was a small craft or activity, something I could do quietly in bed while I was recovering.  Once there was a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, On the Banks of Plum Creek.  Always, there was a bottle of Welch's grape juice, just for me.  I assumed that this was simply because Grandma and Grandpa Rainbow knew how much I loved grape juice.  Now I'm wondering if they knew something special about grape juice.

My mother (who valued her towels, bed linens and carpets) would never let me have the grape juice right away.  "This is too strong for you," she would say.  "Does it even appeal to you?" she would ask.  Well, it did.  Still, I had to wait before she would let me have it.  I remember it as one of the first and best things I imbibed as I was getting better.  I remember the luxurious pleasure of a glass of grape juice and a soft boiled egg on white toast.  I had forgotten, but I recently remembered.

Oh, my dear old grandfather, with his floppy cap and the slight hunch of his shoulders.  He'd float up to the house in his big old boat of a green Chrysler, faithfully deliver the goods to the front door, and then go back to his car and float away.  What a blessing to have a grandfather and a grandmother who cared when I was sick and did what they could to cheer me up.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for Grandpa, who was so kind and faithful.  Thank you for Grandma, who probably had the inspiration to send him out on the mission in the first place.  And thank you for the grape juice, the fruit of the vine, that made me feel so much better.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Today I come to my computer simply to process.

Since the beginning of the year, I've been wondering why I blog.  Why do I come back, again and again, to write where so few stop in to read?  Why don't I take a blogging course and seek an audience?  Or, if not that, why don't I pull myself off the internet and write in privacy?


I have no answers.

This past weekend, I cried a lot.

The weather has been gray, for one thing.  I've thought, more than once, "This isn't even any better than Syracuse."  But it isn't just the weather.  It's a weariness in the battle for faith, gratitude, hope, joy and the salvation of souls I love more than life itself.

Weariness.  Grayness.

In the past couple of weeks, a young man, 18 years old, committed suicide.  His brother found his body.  This forces me to confront my deepest fears.  It knocks the breath from my lungs.  The gray sky looks grayer.

In the past couple of weeks, a young woman who was trying to conceive did conceive.  Then she miscarried.

Does it ever seem like people are just dying left and right?

When it's cloudy, it often feels like God has turned his face away.  I know this is not true.  It's just a feeling.  We can't trust feelings.

We are trying a new church.  It has been a conflicted process.  We loved our old church, but it was so small, so very small.  I felt lonely there, useless.  There were no children.  It was easy; no responsibility, minimal disagreements.  But oh how lonely it was.  I've lived here for over three years now.  I want some roots.  I want to feel like I belong somewhere.  I want to matter to someone.

This is all about feelings.  Am I ruled by my feelings?  I try so hard to be be good and base my actions and decisions on truth, not feelings.  And yet, feelings are here, all around me.  What am I supposed to do with them?  How do I determine which feelings are from God and which are from the enemy?  Sometimes I can tell, but often I cannot.

I have no answers.

Last Sunday, for the first time, we attended Sunday school at this new church.  The class was about Job.  Eight or nine years ago, I taught a class on Job.  It was excruciating, not something I wanted to do.  The process scared me.  The topic scared me.  Yet, by the grace of God I grappled with that book, and I learned.  By the grace of God, we all learned.  The intensity of the experience has never left me.  So, when Shawn and I appeared in this Sunday school class about Job, for the very first time, to my horror, I found myself answering question after question that the teacher asked.  I was mortified.

Dear God please help me learn to keep my mouth shut.

I have no answers.

Between the embarrassment of Sunday school, the grief of the suicide and the miscarriage, the weariness of seemingly unanswered prayers, and the grayness of the skies, I spent the remainder of Sunday sobbing on my family room sofa.

But Monday surprised me by being a very good day, filled with laughter, sunshine and precious family time.  Dear Lord Jesus, how does it all work?

Today is also sunny, bitter cold but blue-skied.  Today I finished a prayer journal.  By finished, I mean all the pages are full of writing.  This is a sadness to me, because I had hoped that the matter of prayer for which I began that journal would be resolved by now, over two years later.  It is not.  Admittedly, I had a premonition that this matter of prayer would require more than one journal.  I wondered how many journals it would take.  Two?  Twenty?  As I neared the end of this journal, I wrote less and less, hoping that I would not have to carry this matter into another volume.


It reminds me of our nightmare kitchen saga.  When that began, the contractor said it would take 4-6 weeks to remodel our kitchen.  To make a long story short, it took over four months, over 16 weeks.  During that time, I measured the progress against the tablets I use to disinfect the retainer I wear at night to keep my teeth straight.  Every morning, I pop the retainer into a container with 1/2 a fizzing tablet to disinfect and clean it.  These tablets come in sheets, and you tear off the edges of the packets to get them out.  Each time I got a new sheet of dental tablets out of the linen closet, I would think, "Maybe the kitchen will be done by the time this sheet of tablets is gone."  Time after time, it did not happen.  Eventually, it did.  Oddly, I have no memory of where I was in the sheet of tablets on the day we gave the contractor his final check and he went away.

A nagging fear plagues me, that I will start notebook after notebook, and fill them up with prayers, and there will be tedious weariness and discouragement before anything happens.  I could die before anything happens.  Somebody told me that.  I think the person meant to encourage me with the thought that there is still hope, even after my life is over.  That is, surely, a point of hope.  But I want to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).  I suppose the truly living ones are those who are raised to new life in Christ, and their land is heaven.

I want.

I want resolution, restoration, joy.

Joy does not depend on restoration.  Joy is joy, with or without restoration.  Joy is confidence that God is good.  God is in control.  God has good plans for me, and he will bring them to completion, according to his almighty power.  Joy is being full of gratitude that God is faithful and good, and I do not need to worry about outcomes, because he is on my side, for me, fighting for me, and he is invincible.  There will never be an outcome that is outside of God's control and God's purpose.

I will not give up.  I will not stop trusting.  I will not cease to give thanks to the Lord for who he is and what he has accomplished through Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection.  These are two immutable facts: the existence of God with all of his attributes, and the victory of Christ, accomplished once for all.

Dear Lord Jesus, please tell the devil that I am your baby girl, and he needs to get his dirty hands out of my life.  Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that you have already paid the price so I can be yours.  Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for today's sunshine.

I will start another notebook.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Faith and Gratitude

(I already wrote a long post about this, but here I intend to write a shorter one.)

Faith and Gratitude are my words for 2017.  I am excited about these words.  They don't frighten me.  They point me victoriously to Christ.

Faith comes first.  Our spirits are dead within us until God grants us faith.  Faith is the ability to perceive God, to believe in God, and to love God.  We cannot muster up faith on our own; it is the gracious gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  Unfathomably, God reaches down to us while we are dead in sin--while our spirits are literally dead in sin--and shines a life-giving light into our souls, enabling us to perceive, believe and respond to Him with love and thanksgiving.

Yes, thanksgiving--Gratitude--is the result of faith.
When, by faith, we perceive that God exists,
When, by faith, we believe that He sent His Son to purchase our deliverance from sin--
paying with His very own life-blood,
When, by faith, we joyfully accept His offer of forgiveness, fellowship and eternal life,
then we find our hearts full of gratitude.

Gratitude is more than being thankful for salvation--
it is about rejoicing in the very essence of who God is, 
giving thanks for all of His attributes and His mighty acts.
Faith is more than the moment of conversion--
it is an unwavering confidence in our sovereign God 
and all of His great promises.

Faith is being planted in the Holy Spirit, as though I am a tree and the Holy Spirit is the fertile soil along the riverbank where I am planted, into which my roots dig deep for stability and nourishment so that I will grow up tall and strong, bearing fruit to feed people and medicinal leaves to heal them.  Having faith, abiding in Christ, walking by the Spirit--these are all different ways of saying the same thing.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,
continue to live in Him,
rooted and built up in Him,
strengthened in the faith as you were taught 
and overflowing with thankfulness.
~Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

We receive Him, open our hearts to Him.  We make ourselves vulnerable to Him so He can change us.  This, too, is faith: knowing and trusting that my Lord is the only one with whom I can be completely vulnerable, and still be completely safe and secure.

Faith results in gratitude and joy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to Him in song.
~Psalm 28:7 (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

I must point out that we are to rejoice always, but the rejoicing is in the Lord.  We don't rejoice in the plane crash, the addiction, the rape, the abortion, the war, the cancer or the hurricane.  We rejoice in the Lord.  We rejoice that our hope is in Him, not in any part of this poor old broken world.  This is where the gratitude originates: we are thankful for the hope He gives us, enduring hope in His unfailing love.

When we are grateful for the hope He gives us, an amazing thing happens:
We start to be able to thank Him for what He will do in the future.
We start being grateful in advance.
This is the kind of faith I strive for:
To be grateful because my confidence is in Him,
and He is good,
Lord of all.

He is for us.  He is on our side.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  He never forgets, never sleeps, never misses anything, never makes a mistake.  He fights for us, and He always wins.  When we live with this kind of confidence in the Lord, we walk in the victory of faith.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank you for who you are and for your Divine nature, even though I will not fully comprehend until the day I meet you in glory.  

Thank you that you are completely faithful.  Thank you for all the wonderful promises you have fulfilled in the past, and thank you that I can trust you to continue to be faithful for all eternity.  

Thank you for the cross, where you demonstrated that you are good, kind, compassionate and full of mercy and grace.  Therefore, I can put aside my fears and trust your work in my life and the lives of those around me.  Thank you that you are working and will continue to work until your perfect purposes are all accomplished.  Thank you that you never fail.

In the triumphant name of Jesus, who died and rose again, I pray in confidence:  Your will be done!  Show me your glory at work in the world.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Redeeming a past pain

In the quietness of my empty nest, sometimes I get to remembering, especially when something cues a memory in me.

In the ripeness of my present age, I am feeling more brave about tackling things I'd shelved for many years.  There is a time for everything, the Bible says.  By the grace of God, I did not bring up certain issues earlier, when I was clearly unable to handle them in a balanced way.

Now might be the time.

I've written about giving and receiving criticism before.  Rereading what I wrote, I still stand by it.

Recently, a friend brought up the topic of speaking the truth in love.  Many people responded to him with abhorrence for the idea.  This makes me sad, because the truth is beautiful and praiseworthy, and the truth should be spoken and received.  Yet, more often than not, it seems that truth is spoken ineptly, and received badly.

Incidentally, I am quite convinced that this is the work of Satan, the great deceiver, whose primary purpose and main strategy is to keep people from the truth.  How better to do that than to make them hate both truth and truth bearers?  I've written about that, too.

But back to the topic of speaking the truth.

I can understand why people recoil.  I myself have had some traumatic experiences on the receiving end of "truth speaking."  I will tell you about one.

We were attending a church, actively involved.  My own duties included teaching Sunday school, working in VBS, volunteering with the youth group, leading ladies' Bible studies and singing in choir.  Shawn had his own long list.  We were in our thirties, with four busy, school-aged children.  In the midst of it all, Shawn was invited to be a deacon.  This particular church ordained deacons, and Shawn's deacon ordination was scheduled during a Sunday evening service.

The Sunday morning before Shawn was ordained, a woman from the church pulled me aside at the end of the worship service and steered me into an empty Sunday school room.  "I need to talk to you," she said.  She sat me down in a chair and began. "I've never been able to like you.  You really offend me, and I am struggling with the thought that your husband is going to be a deacon." She proceeded to list an onslaught of complaints about things I had said and done that she found offensive, and malicious attitudes she attributed to me.  She went on and on for a long time.  I was stunned and silent, trying to listen and make sense of what I was hearing.  She told me that I was selfish, ungenerous and inhospitable, and that with all the resources I had, it was shameful that I didn't share my home with those less fortunate than myself.  Astonishingly, she finished by telling me that she had gone over this with another woman in the church, and that the other woman hadn't seen things the way she did, "So," she finished, "since I trust her judgement, you must not be quite as bad of a person as I think you are, and I need to give you another chance.  I am sure that once your husband is a deacon, you will rise to the occasion and become more friendly and hospitable, and have people over to your home for meals."

When things like this happen to me, my initial reaction is, mercifully, numbness and shock.  I told her I was sorry for having offended her, and floated home in a daze.  It was only after I had replayed the conversation in my mind a number of times, that I began to cry.  In trying to process it, I talked to my husband, and one trusted friend.  I sobbed.  I wept.  I was deeply hurt.

Now, interestingly, the part of her criticism that I remember most clearly was the part that was at least partially true: I was not very open with my home.  This was a shortcoming that I regretted and wished I could overcome.  Lots of excuses existed--mostly things related to being busy, overwhelmed and naturally shy.  But it was true that we very rarely had anyone over (and sadly, people very rarely invited us over to their homes in return).  She reprimanded me for a host of other things, too, but most of them were either based on misunderstanding or misinterpretation.  Although I had some desire to set the record straight and defend myself, my husband assured me that it was best to let bad enough alone and resist engaging again.

So I limped on.  Lonely and forlorn, I wished more than ever that I had friends, a loving group of people who would congregate in my home for good food and warm conversation.  However, after that confrontation, I felt less confident, less secure, less able than ever to make the first move towards being friendly and hospitable.  I was traumatized.  I was crushed.  If I had been so offensive to her without realizing it, how many others had I unwittingly offended?  How many others harbored a hidden annoyance at seeing my face walk into church?

I do not write about this in order to condemn that woman.  No doubt she was absolutely convinced that she was acting in love, speaking the truth in love.  No doubt she thought she was doing me a kind favor by pointing out the error of my ways so that I could get busy and make the appropriate corrections.  No doubt she believed that not only I, but the entire church would benefit from the effects of her words to me that day.  I truly don't believe she had any idea that she could have hurt me the way she did.

I write about this because I think it is important to examine how we respond to the things that happen to us, sometimes really hurtful things that are done in the name of Jesus.

1.  We need to go to Jesus with our hurts and ask Him to help us.

2.  We need Jesus to help us sift what has been said, and separate the true from the false.  We need to ask Him to help us forget the false, and not get hung up on it.

3.  We need to ask Jesus to help us forgive the person who hurt us.  It is okay to be patient with ourselves in the forgiveness process.  The forgiveness comes as the pain fades, and the pain fades as the memory fades, and when the memory comes back, we may need to choose to forgive yet again, and again.  Jesus will be faithful to help us every step of the way.

4.  We need to remember that Jesus allows every single thing that happens to us in our lives.  He not only allows things to happen, He has good plans for how He is going to use each thing to teach us and shape us for His glory and for our best benefit.  We need to trust Him.

5.  When there is painful truth that needs to be applied, we need to apply it, as best we can.  Whatever we do, we need to work with the Holy Spirit to be formed by grace and to learn whatever He has to teach us.

In my situation, I cannot honestly say that I became more hospitable as a result of the truth that was spoken to me that day, although I desired to, and even tried to.  I recognized that this was a true and fair criticism of me, and I wished like crazy that I could overcome it.  I even prayed for help with it.  But, honestly, if anything, I had even fewer people over to my home after that.  It was as though I'd been crippled, paralyzed.

I believe that God allowed this paralysis to happen for a reason, too.  I think perhaps He was working to teach me more about speaking the truth in love than about being a hospitable deacon's wife.  If undergoing this experience spared me from similarly going out and causing great pain to someone, then I am deeply grateful for it.  I am sure that it made me more aware of how much damage critical words can cause.  Although I realize that I have often failed to use my own words as kindly as I ought, I hope that this experience has made me kinder than I would have been without it.

Beyond that, being paralyzed by criticism demonstrated to me that verbally assaulting people rarely helps them grow in a better direction.  Even when people can see and agree that a critic is right about something, if they are crushed and smarting under a violent barrage of rebukes, they may find themselves disabled from making the recommended corrections.  This woman told me that I was selfish, unsharing and inhospitable with my home.  What if instead she had said, "You have such a pretty house and a nice, big dining room table.  I'll bet people would just love to be invited over for a meal with you.  You could host some really great fellowships in your home.  Have you ever thought about doing something like that?"

This is what I need to take away.  When I want to help people discover and use their spiritual gifts, I need to be an encourager, free with honest compliments and positive predictions.  "I am sure that once your husband is a deacon, you will rise to the occasion and become more friendly and hospitable, and have people over to your home for meals," is not a positive prediction.  "I am excited to see how the Lord will grow you as a deacon's wife!  You have such lovely resources that you can use in ministry to many people," is a positive prediction.

We need to learn from criticism, and we also need to learn from the experience of being criticized --how we can most effectively help people grow when we speak the truth in love.

I'm still learning, but I'm trying!  May Jesus bless and help us all.