These Present Sufferings

Sometimes God makes you struggle for a long time before giving you understanding as to why.  Sometimes the understanding never comes and you just have to struggle your whole life without it.  Other times the struggle and the understanding come together.  I like those times.

I have a mixture of both these days.  There are long-sufferings so old I’ve long given up hope of  seeing resolution on this earth, and then there are shorter frustrations that turn around pretty quickly.

Like today, the internet went down at work just as two groups of customers walked in.  “Perfect…just my luck”, I thought.  I made the first set of drinks hoping the internet was just experiencing a glitch and would come back on so I could take their credit card payment.  No such luck.  I took the second set of orders and apologized that it was taking so long.  When I explained that my internet was down, one of the men in the second group said it was okay, that he could pay with cash.  He then offered (or rather insisted) on paying for the first set of customers in cash as well.

This sparked a short conversation about currency, during which a lady walked in and got in line.  She paid for her drink in cash, but then decided to add something else to her order.  The second group of customers had left (the ones who paid for the first group’s order) but the first group was still there.  To pay it forward, they left cash to pay for the lady’s order before they left.  She wasn’t aware of what had happened, so I explained it to her.  She was so touched by the gesture, she left $5 to pay for whoever came in next.  That $5 is now sitting under my register waiting for the next customer who walks in.

As luck would have it, my internet returned right after the whole group left and now I’m standing here wrapping my heart around it all.  My very first thought when the internet went down was “great, of course this would happen to me…”.  But now, not 30 minutes later, at least two people were blessed because of it…something that never would have happened if I was able to take that first payment.

I wish all frustrations in life were so quickly resolved.  But God is also showing me tiny glimpses into the long-sufferings that have plagued my life for, well, all my life.  Least of which being the torments and traumas that have so mangled my inner being.  The evils of this world bother me more than most, I think.  Probably because I have lived my entire life on the losing side of them…a fact I’ve been giving God my what-fors about lately.

Today He showed me something, though.  He gave me a glimpse into the inner-beings of the so-called “winners”.  You know, the ones who always seem to have life work out for them, get what they want, somehow always get others to give them things/serve them, etc.  He showed me inside the ones who don’t have the slightest idea what struggle and suffering really is…and it was not pretty.  In fact, it was so ugly it turned my stomach and changed my mind around from “why me?” to “thank you, Lord.”

He showed me that there is a choice between an easy life with a sick, petrifying soul or a difficult, suffering-filled life with a purified one.  Each soul can either submit to the purification process, which means submitting to suffering, or they can reject it..in which case Satan is right there, dressed like an angel, waving a “This way to the easy life!” sign.  And most people follow that sign…that road is wide, after all.

But given what He showed me, I’m happy choosing the difficult life.  Injustice bothers me more than anything in the world, and that’s not likely to change.  But God showed me something – that those who have it so easy never make it to the mountaintops of God’s presence.  Why?  They never develop the legs for it.  So many people sell their spiritual heritage for ease and for comfort.  They get winded and turn back to their comfy chairs and baby bottles at every inconvenience…how could they ever survive the storm that is our Lord’s presence?  And it is a storm.

So I stand here again and thank God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Why?  Because I know it is producing in me a strength that will one day be able to withstand the all-consuming fire that is our God.  Our perfect, omnipotent, fire of a God.  And on that day I know that I will bow at His feet having accepted the sufferings from his hand (not always gracefully, but accepted nonetheless).  And I’d rather do so as a weather-beaten warrior than a whiney little baby.


So thank you God, even for the sufferings I don’t understand.  Because I know that in you, no suffering is wasted.  Give me grace to trust you more, and more than anything….come.  Lord Jesus, come.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18

 

 

 

 

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Lord, You Rescued Us Again

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“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

 

Lord, you did it again.  

You rescued us.  You helped us.  You were good to us again.

We cursed you and yet you blessed us.  We bit your hand but you fed us still.  We blasphemed you even as you intervened on our behalf…and yet you intervened still.  

Lord, we do not deserve you.  Your love is too great for us.  It’s greater than we know.  We ask for grace, then reject it when you give it.  No Lord, we do not deserve you.

Your knowledge is far beyond ours, and yet we judge you as though we knew you.  Your understanding is limitless, and yet we curse you as though you were foolish.  You rescue us from enemies we can’t even see yet we blame you for our troubles still.  

Oh Lord, we are a foolish people.  We are arrogant, prideful, entitled, judgmental, and ignorant.  We say we trust you and then we curse the gifts you give. 

And yet, you love us still.  You bless us still.  You help us still.  You rescue us still.  We didn’t deserve this rescue.  We don’t deserve this love.  But I am so grateful, Lord.  So grateful.

You are so good and we are so faithless.  Let us repent and seek your face.  Let us drop our prideful hearts, give up our haughty spirits, and submit again to your sovereign love.  Let us thank you for our gifts.  Please open our eyes in the places we cannot see them.  Let us give praise for your intervention, and rejoice that you are not a man but a God who’s love does not depend on our faith.  Your love depends on your faithfulness, which is perfect beyond measure.  May we never doubt it again.

Thank you, Lord.  Amen.

 

The Heart and The Mouth

Above all else, guard your heart.  For everything you do flows from it.  – Proverbs 4:23


Everything comes down to the position and motivation of the heart.  Everything.

Jesus taught this when he says, “…but the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man ‘unclean’.” (Matthew 15:18-19)

That which we speak comes from our hearts, and it is our hearts that determine how clean or unclean it is.

For example…

Say you notice something different about your friend.  Where once he/she was thoughtful and giving, now they are more reserved.  A loving heart would perceive this as concern for them and you will approach them in love and ask what is wrong.  If you love them and care for them, you will listen to the answer and provide them with emotional support and care. If you love them and care for them, you’ll make sure you understand what they are going through and why they are acting differently than normal.

But if you do not love them, you will judge them without even knowing what is really going on.  You won’t talk or even ask before casting a judgment.  If you do ask, it’s with the agenda of casting judgment.  Unloving hearts doll our judgment to friends and strangers alike without any form of understanding of what the truth may be.  Unloving hearts get upset only that they “changed” and then become sullen and self-pitying because the friend isn’t serving you as they used to.  Unloving hearts expect or demand love without ever offering it.

Unloving hearts also accuse others of being judgmental, simply because they feel convicted of being wrong.  They feel convicted, refuse to address such conviction, and so accuse others of being “judgmental” simply for speaking honestly.

But here’s the funny thing.  You can’t call someone judgmental without being yourself, judgmental.  And since hardly anyone makes that accusation with a heart of love, that also makes the accuser not only judgmental themselves, but also prideful, haughty, and hypocritical.  You accuse someone of what you believe is wrong (which may not actually be wrong, since you didn’t bother to look into the matter), and you end up incurring three more wrongs upon yourself.  Funny how that works, huh.

Is it any wonder Jesus taught us not to point out the speck in someone’s eye before removing the plank in our own?  He didn’t say “never point it out.”  He just said to check ourselves and approach all matters with a pure heart.  Because when, and only when, our hearts are right is it a beautiful thing to come to someone in love and concern about theirs.  We are called to speak the truth, in love, and to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron.  We are even called to rebuke those who are stubborn in their sin and, if they are causing harm to others, we are to remove them from our inner circles so as to protect ourselves and those we love.

Unfortunately, most people in today’s world (just look at social media…holy cow) throw around accusations and judgements to people they don’t even know, never took the time to talk to, and have no actually love or concern for.  People get a rush of god-like delusion from casting judgements on everything and then calling it “free speech.”  People with planks so big they can’t even see straight, setting out with prideful and arrogant hearts, seeking only to expose the specks in everyone else’s eyes.

Christ calls us to be different.  May we, as followers of Christ, be ever more wise and discerning in the purification of our own hearts, and leave the hearts of others to the real Judge, who knows and sees all.

Spiritual Abuse and Forgiveness

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For many, the idea of forgiveness brings with it a feeling of inner peace, comfort, and freedom.  For those who have walked the road of deep remorse and regret for their own wrongdoings, forgiveness can taste very sweet.  As Jesus says in one of his parables, “…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50 ESV).  Likewise, he who is forgive much, loves much.  Forgiveness is, and should be, a wonderful thing.  But it isn’t always…

Like any other inherently good thing, forgiveness can be misused.  It can be taken out of context or used selfishly to further one’s own ends, or it can be applied inappropriately in ways that bring about harm instead of healing.  In these cases, forgiveness does not bring freedom at all, but rather further harm and in some cases, psychological and emotional trauma.

Here are some honest aspects of forgiveness and how they commonly get misused.

  1. Forgiveness is both a free-will choice and a process.  Forgiveness is misused when it is demanded, guilted, or otherwise manipulated from a person who has been wronged.
  2. Forgiveness requires a full acknowledgement and assessment of the wrongdoing and its effects.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with or implied to necessitate condoning, excusing, forgetting, or denying the wrong that has been done.  (As Pastor Mark Driscoll states, “forgiveness does not come with a side of amnesia”).
  3. Forgiveness is the process by which rightful emotions stemming from wrongdoing are resolved.  Forgiveness is misused when it is spiritualized in a way that dismisses the need for emotionally processing valid feelings of anger or pain associated with being wronged.
  4. Forgiveness is a personal process that takes place within the self.  Forgiveness is misused when it is equated with reconciliation with another person, especially when the other person has neither acknowledged nor repented of their wrong.

Forgiveness is, essentially, about our own heart and our own actions that flow from our heart.  It’s about not exacting vengeance or seeking retribution for the wrongs done against us (which is different from seeking justice, which should be pursued if violent or criminal activity is involved).  Forgiveness is the process through which we are able to both process and effectively resolve anger, pain, loss, and even rage resulting from harm that has been done to us.  The only emotion we are to look out for is that of resentment, which is simply the unresolved, unprocessed anger that has taken root in our hearts.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “be angry, and do not sin.”  It actually says “be angry!”  Anger is healthy and necessary to feel and process.  The only thing we aren’t supposed to do is use that anger as a reason or excuse to cause more harm.  But the emphasis of that scripture is on controlling our actions and responses, not in denying the initial emotions themselves.  Clearly, scripture expects anger (Jesus got angry a lot), especially in the face of wrongdoing.  However, scripture does expect and implore us to control it and handle it in healthy ways.

Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable with the emotions of anger and rage, hurt, or grief.  Yet these are healthy and necessary emotions to feel, especially in the wake of loss, betrayal, or abuse. The full range of emotions need to be felt and acknowledged in healthy ways which, depending on the severity of the offense, may take anywhere from weeks to years to fully analyze, assess, and process.  And while it’s true that dealing with hurt feelings isn’t always easy, expecting a person not to have them when they have been harmed (or dictating how long you think they should last) is not only irresponsible and ignorant, it is further damaging.

If the rightful feelings of hurt, pain, loss, or anger are not allowed to be communicated or expressed in healthy ways, the only alternative is for them to settle into resentment or repression…that’s just how it works.  Allowing people around us to feel and healthily express the full range of emotions, especially in response to wrongs done against them is necessary and good.  We must understand that the entire concept of real forgiveness was hijacked for many people, not being used as a healing balm to restore but rather as a battering ram meant only to control, shame, and manipulate.  We need to understand how to help those people work through their feelings without further traumatizing them.

When people have been abused this way, they may hear the word “forgive” and, quite naturally, have a negative reaction.  Conscious nor not, the body and mind remembers former attempts at manipulation or psychological/emotional abuse and will respond instinctively to avoid it again.  What emotionally battered people need is compassion, a listening ear, and the freedom to both feel and communicate their emotions in healthy ways…not more dismissal of, shame about, or demands to feel or not feel their feelings.  This, as one can expect, only pushes a person into resentment…not lead them out of it.

I believe it’s our job as Christians, friends, parents, pastors…or just as compassionate people in general… to understand what it means to have suffered from spiritual abuse and learn how we can help and not further hinder those who have suffered it.  And whether intentional or not, callous dictates to “just let it go” or “move on” or “forgive and forget” can, and often do, deepen the emotional and spiritual damage of an already battered person, pushing them further away from healing than ever.  I hardly think that’s the goal of any well-intentioned individual, Christian or not.

If we are to truly help those who have been wronged or spiritually abused, we need to properly understand the emotional and psychological ramifications of that abuse.  We need to learn how to walk with people through the turbulent waters of emotional, psychological, or spiritual trauma so that we can patiently, kindly, and compassionately lead them to a place of healing and peace.  Then, and only then, is true forgiveness possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Diamond, Perhaps

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When it comes to faith, the Grand Canyon feels like a smaller rift than that which separates what I know to be true from the emotional realities I experience every day.  One is no less true than the other, but neither do they agree.

In my life, faith has felt a lot more like hauntings than tangible realities.  It has seemed more of an unseen and entirely intangible truth.  However, a truth none the less.  And actually, sometimes the hauntings feel far more real than anything else I feel or even experience firsthand.  Sometimes misunderstood, unnerving, inexplicable, and maybe even frightening…yes.  On one hand, they’re easier to deny than material things I touch and feel, and yet, harder… because, like hauntings, they never allow me rest.  Always gnawing on my insides and in the back of my mind, demanding attention as though constantly whispering (which sometimes sounds like screaming) in my ears.

“Okay, okay…” I say to myself.  “What are you trying to say?” and I turn to face the whispers.  But as I face them, they stop speaking.  “What do you want??” I demand.

…they flee…

Apparently, faith doesn’t respond well to the insolent and angry demands of those it provokes.

And I do suppose that makes sense.  Actually, it supports everything I know to be true about faith, but it’s no less frustrating.  I’m a foot stompin’, hands on hips, give-me-the-answers-right-this-minute kinda gal.  Faith does not work that way.  No wonder we are so often at odds.

People have often told me they’re shocked to learn how strong my faith is.  “You’re just so….logical” they say, as though that somehow negates the capacity to believe.  Yes, I’m logical…and that’s a large reason why I believe the things I do.  What I believe makes far more logical and rational sense than any other explanation or theory in existence.  It has more scientific support as well.  It’s not a difficult leap at all, as long as you have the information of course.  If you’re ignorant, or have false information, or have petty emotions standing in the way of rational thought, faith may be more difficult for you.  But for me, it is quite simple.

Simple, but not easy.  Faith isn’t even easy for those who already believe, so I’d assume it’s downright impossible for those who don’t.  It is tested at every turn, pressed in on every side, and it seems as though the universe is intent on taking all faith and pushing a person beyond the breaking point, just to see if it remains.  I will not lie and say I’ve never been driven to despair of my faith and of my God.  I have…many, many times over.  And yet…the dust and ashes of what I’ve believed get pressed together in such a way as to create a whole new substance.  A purer substance.  A simpler substance.  A substance I never had before.  A diamond, perhaps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering for Christ

Suffering“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” – Romans 8:16-17


There are two things I’ve noticed when it comes to these verses.  1) I always seem to hear the first part…the “children of God” and “heirs with Christ” part… in Christian teaching.  2)  The second part….the provision of suffering in order for any of the aforementioned statuses to be true…that part doesn’t seem to make it into the sermon.

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t feel like an honest portrayal of Christianity for anyone inside or out of the Christian faith to proclaim that we are heirs of Christ while not mentioning the pre-requisite for that status.  It seems more admirable for American churches to focus on and teach what scripture actually says about our position in the Heavenly realm rather that what simply feels good.   I mean, come on, we’re supposed to be the image bearers of Christ and the proclaimers of His truth…not a gimmicky marketing campaign.   Contrary to how the verse is often presented, this portion of scripture in no way indicates that the provision for attaining the status of “children of God” and “heirs with Christ” involves going to church, doing ministry, worship, listening to “Christian” music, dressing “modestly,” or any other rule that church people tend to focus on.  The provision for attaining the status of “children of God” and “heirs with Christ” is one thing….that we suffer with Him…end of verse.

I mean, let that sink in for a minute.  We are heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him.  Provided that we suffer with Him.  Provided that we suffer with Him.  And….Jesus suffered a lot.  He suffered in a lot of different ways.  He was misunderstood, despised, rejected, lied about, constantly accused of untrue things, betrayed by people who swore to follow him, left alone in his greatest moments of need, and then tortured and killed.  And Scripture tells us to be like him.  To follow in His footsteps, and to suffer with him.  And only if we suffer with Him, are we children of God as He is.

How many of us (myself included at times) in moments of not even real suffering but rather just minor inconveniences, remember that actual suffering is the pre-requisite to being an heir of Christ, and in that knowledge, thank God for it?  I’d venture to say, not many.  I know I certainly forget way too often.  But I read this scripture and get angry at the Americanized churches that conveniently forget to teach that suffering is absolutely the pre-requisite to being an heir of Christ.  That if we aren’t suffering, we aren’t doing something right.  That if we’re totally comfortable in our lives, we’re actually doing something wrong.  And if we’re seeking nothing but comfort and ease, we’re DEFINITELY seeking the wrong things.

It’s a truth that counters both culture and what is often taught from the pulpit.  It’s a mindset that is totally foreign to our current culture and society.  But it IS the truth and reality of Scripture, and I think we need to fully grasp and understand it (and other hard truths like it) before we jump on a bandwagon we don’t honestly know anything about.

Without Thanks

“Does he [the master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants;we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:9-10


lord-have-mercyI’ve been using a reading plan to go through the New Testament every day, but sometimes a passage in my reading strikes me so hard, I’m forced to sit and meditate on it for a couple days.  This is one of them. The overwhelming attitude of our culture seems to expect more reward and payback for less work and investment.  I constantly encounter people who don’t want to do anything to earn it, yet they somehow want to obtain all the money, respect, food, relationships, and kudos they desire.  What makes even less sense to me than physical laziness is emotional or relational laziness.  People act like it’s their right to be trusted without actually doing the work it takes to keep their word or be honest.  People act like it’s their right to be forgiven without ever owning or even acknowledging their mistakes, much less repenting or making up for them.  People act like it’s their right to be respected without them ever actually doing anything for it.  People want their needs and feelings to be considered, without ever giving thought to the needs or feelings of others.  And to top it all off, their only excuse for not working for these things is that they “don’t feel like it.”  I’m not even kidding.  And this from people who say they’re followers of Christ!

I just…have they even read the Bible?  ::HMMMPH::

While it seems like genuine and humble work-ethics (working hard without an attitude of entitlement) are hard to come by, I am assured that it is the path that God laid out for us.  That as Christians, it is a mark of our difference from the world.  A mark of true integrity, work-ethic, and humility is so incredibly rare, it can’t help but be noticed.  God doesn’t just expect us to be obedient in our actions, he expects us to be obedient in our hearts, attitudes, motives, words, and certainly relationships.  And those are just the basics.  That’s the mothers’ milk…and we aren’t going to get a cookie every time we do what we’re supposed to do to begin with.  Nor should we expect to.

We have basic duties as adults and as Christians that are just… basic.  But we live in a culture that expects over the top kudos and praise for doing, well, absolutely nothing.  Being honest and having integrity (keeping our word, owning and repenting of our mistakes, etc) is simply the basics of what it means to live as a Christian.  It’s no more exceptional or reward-worthy than a grown adult going to the bathroom.  It’s just…what you do. I honestly see so many people drenched in this lazy, prideful, entitlement attitude that I can legitimately see them standing before God’s throne, with full-blown pride and arrogance, saying, “Look at everything I did, God.  Isn’t it great?”  And I honestly think they’ll expect a huge grin and pat on the back from God.  But according to Matthew 7:22-23, they’re going to have their world turned upside down when God replies something to the effect of, “I’m sorry, do I know you?  Get away from me, you’re evil.”  In contrast, the humble person spends their whole lives giving all they have and working to be obedient to God’s word with all their strength (often times without the slightest hint of acknowledgement…much less reward) and they still reach God’s throne in holy terror, knowing it was never enough to actually earn a reward.

The latter…I think that’s where God’s grace is found.  Not in the arrogant “hey look at me, aren’t I awesome?” attitude or the “It’s okay, I can be lazy and selfish because God already forgave me and I don’t have to do anything now” attitude.  No no.  Face on the floor.  Holy repentance.  And the ever-present, ever-pervading truth that we are unworthy servants, obliged to do all that is commanded.  Without thanks.