Does God Want Us to Be Weak?

MEME - Psalm 46 v 1 - EDITED May 20, 2018

(Suggested Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:20-31 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

Some questions make us feel uncomfortable. Some questions uncover deep wounds, fears, insecurities, and dashed hopes. Some can’t be answered on this side of eternity.

Browsing through the book of Psalms affirms God understands our need to wrestle with questions, process our emotions, and feel understood and confirmed.

Earlier this week, a reader sent me an encouraging note about a devotion I’d written for Our Daily Bread. After dealing with decades of pain, this reader struggled with the concept of God allowing Paul to live with a “thorn” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31).

“What is somewhat frustrating is that, unlike Paul and other great men and women of faith, I live a very common life and nothing extravagant has happened to me that God has had to purge potential conceit from my life.”

Sorrow filled me as I considered the weariness that led to this beloved reader thinking any life God created would be considered common‒ordinary, unexceptional, mediocre.

Anyone who has dealt with day after day of chronic pain knows perseverance is a gift from God, an extravagant display of faith and breath-by-breath trust in the Lord.

When we can’t take the simple things in life for granted, we may forget the true definition of weakness is lack of strength.

Anyone who has endured decades of pain may feel weary, but they are certainly not weak . . . even when we struggle to take each step.

This reader continued: “When I didn’t have pain and the accompanying anxiety I was a much more peaceful and contented a person than when I feel weak and impotent.”

Hallelujah! Another human . . . just like me.

Who wouldn’t feel more peaceful and content without pain and the anxious thoughts that tag-along with any type of affliction?

I wanted to shout, “Me, too!” But the reader’s next question tugged me into a wrestling match with truth.

“Do you think that God wants us to feel emasculated rather than strong?”

Oh, how a part of me wished I could give this reader a cheerful answer, holding my chin out and declaring with surety that the Lord wants us to feel strong, assured, peace-filled and worry-free all on our own.

That moment of insanity passed quickly.

Does God want us to feel weak and impotent (powerless, helpless, unable, and incapable)?

Does God want us to feel emasculated (ineffectual, feeble, unimpressive, and incompetent)?

I could give useless personal opinions or go straight for the infallible truth-source‒the Bible.

When I struggle with weakness and weariness, I think about the apostle Paul. He lived a “common life” fully aware that his strength came from Christ.

In my experience, there are no “great men and women of faith” who are not fully aware of their complete dependence on God.

Paul reminds us that “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” (emphasis mine,1 Corinthians 1:28-29)

The apostle rejoiced in God’s grandness by accepting the reality of his own lowliness‒meekness, commonness, and humbleness that led to willing submissiveness.

He stated, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (emphasis mine, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

God’s power. God’s strength. God’s wisdom.

If the Lord wants us to be weak, why would He offer to be our strength?

Why would He affirm that His “grace is sufficient” for us; His power “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

God knows we’re weak (Psalm 103:13-14). He knows we can do nothing without Him (John 15:5).

God knows because He chose to experience the feebleness of our fleshly existence (Colossians 1:15-20), without giving up His divinity (Hebrews 4:14-15).

We can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

God knows we’re weak, so He invites us to abide in Him, rely on Him, and submit to Him. He wants to give us all we need to stand strong, rooted in His unchanging truth and love.

Like the brave reader who couldn’t see the great courage and strength the Lord gave him to reach out with such vulnerability, I’ve succumbed to the weariness and worry that accompanies just about any waiting season.

Today, my physical pain has been constant and overwhelming. I’ve been trying to write this article for days, but my body and mind are tired and beat down.

Praying and knowing I’m covered in prayer, I’m finally typing this sentence with eyes half-closed and heart wide-open.

In God’s enduring love and sufficient grace, He is our peace, our faithful power source.

“Do I think that God wants us to feel emasculated rather than strong?”

 I’ll let His Word answer this question:

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.” (Psalm 28:7)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:4-5)

When our “hearts are set on pilgrimage,” we remember this side of eternity is not our final destination. He doesn’t want us to be weak. Our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, and all-faithful God wants us to let Him be our strength.

Lord, please help us stop believing the lie that You will never give us more than we can handle, so we can start living in the confidence that You‒our Creator and Sustainer‒will always be our strength. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 —–

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We Can Count on God . . . No Matter What!

MEME - Easter - Job 42 vv 2, 5 - March 31, 2018

Suggested Reading: Job 45:10-17

We don’t have to be overwhelmed with life-altering problems, suffering great loss, physically hurting, disabled by discouragement, or overwhelmed with worry to be tapping-our-foot-and-crossing-our-arms-impatient with God.

We can feel desperate for a breakthrough, even when we’re not quite sure what we’re hoping to break through.

How can our weary-of-waiting souls be refreshed when we can’t hear past our own exasperated grumbling, whining, or exaggerated sighing?

How can we glimpse hope when we can’t see past our hand-painted murals of if-onlys and what-ifs?

How can we experience the joy of gratitude and contentment when we’re scribbling comparisons and complaints in tattered wish-my-life-were-different notebooks?

Sometimes, all it takes is a slow drip of discontent to tempt our eyes to wander over our neighbor’s fence.

After my health took another dive, my slow drip of discontent burst into waves of disheartenment crashing against the weathering rock-wall of my resolve.

When will things get better? What else can go wrong now? Will I be able to take much more?

Even the minor inconveniences felt like huge blows.

Yet, with a loving outpour of mercy, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a man of great faith who endured immense personal devastation, who persevered through unfathomable suffering. Job.

When life’s circumstances socked him in the gut, punched him in the jaw, stomped on his head, and busted down the door to his grieving heart, Job spoke honestly to God.

Approaching the Lord with raw emotions and hard questions displayed Job’s depth of faith.

How did the Lord respond?

Scripture says He spoke to Job “out of the storm” (Job 38-41).

God didn’t explain Himself, reason, or promise to comfort to Job. He simply invited Job to reflect on the unquestionable majesty of His Creator and Sustainer of all.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)

“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?” (v. 12-13)

“Do you send the lightening bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” (v. 35)

“Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings to the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?” (Job 39:26-27)

Did Job wrestle with the reality of God’s bigness . . . of his own smallness? I know I have.

Did he cry out in awestruck wonder when the Lord listed the evidence of His glory? I know I do.

Did a humble whisper of worship trickle over Job’s trembling lips as he spoke? “I am unworthy‒how can I reply to You?” (Job 40:4)

Instead of allowing Job to withdraw in defeat, the Lord said, “I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (v. 7)

He affirmed His majesty. “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)

Everything . . . including all of His beloved children. And God cares for those He loves.

Job’s circumstances didn’t change. He didn’t wake up and realize his devastation was just a dream. His grief hadn’t faded or gotten easier overnight.

Though his weariness still lingered, hope glinted as he gazed upon the Lord and said:

“I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted . . . My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.” (Job 42:2, 5)

The confirmation of God’s grandness and Job’s smallness both comforted and humbled him.

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust in ashes.” (Job 42:6)

If we’re not careful, we can misinterpret this beautiful interaction between the Father and His beloved servant. We can fail to recognize the Lord’s incredible mercy.

After Job submitted to God, the all-powerful, all-merciful, and all-loving God lifted him to a place of honor as a servant, an intercessory prayer warrior (v. 8).

He accepted Job’s prayers on behalf of this friends (v. 9).

The Lord restored Job. He “gave him twice as much as he had before” (v. 10) and “blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (v. 12).

God wasn’t trying to replace what Job had lost.

Even after the Lord blessed him in abundance and empowered him to move forward, Job still had hard days . . . just like all of us.

Some days were harder than others. Some days were merely filled with little frustrations.

The only constant in his life, in this life, in our lives . . . is God.

Whether we’re feeling inconvenienced or crushed by the complications life tosses our way, the Lord doesn’t compare us or our circumstances with others or measure our hurts against the hurts of others.

When we’re feeling forgotten in the wait or beat up by life, when we’re tempted to slip into discontent, our loving Creator and patient Sustainer continues to love us, extends grace, and remains faithful.

Jesus loves us and remains with us through every trial.

He meets our deepest needs and increases our compassion for the hurting.

He strengthens and heals us‒according to His perfect plan and pace.

As Easter approaches, we can reflect on God’s grandeur and the priceless sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

We can rejoice and place our eternal hope in Christ, our Risen King, as we celebrate Resurrection Day.

We can count on God, no matter what, because He is and always will be unchanging, unlimited, and undeniably faithful.

Nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing can thwart the power of our Lord’s sovereign plan or throw a wrench in His flawless pacing.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thanks for giving us Your Word and being the foundation on which we stand, no matter how rough the road ahead feels or how long the wait seems. Please help us rest in the unshakeable peace of Your constant presence. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 Happy Resurrection Day!

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God’s Persevering Promises

MEME - Psalm 119 v 140

At the end of November, my physical and emotional endurance waned.

I praised God for some exciting ministry opportunities He’d brought my way. I thanked Him for helping me through some tough but necessary relational changes in 2017. He’d empowered me to support some friends through heartbreaking situations and provided in surprising ways as He helped our family process unexpected health setbacks. Though I continued trusting the Lord, my prayers began to sound repetitive.

Feeling like I needed a drastic change and spiritual refreshment, I asked God to wrap me in peace as I sat in His presence.

Day after day, He affirmed that I didn’t need a change. I needed continual reminders of His unchanging character and the consistency of His persevering promises.

My husband and I committed to connect with God daily by using the Our Daily Bread Ministries Bible in a Year Reading Schedule. I chose to read an unfamiliar translation, to help me prevent skimming through familiar chapters. Even though we’ve read through the Bible yearly since 2005, I had a hard time waiting for the start date.

If I wanted to thrive, instead of hoping to just survive in 2018, I needed more of God!

Over the last week, I’ve inhaled peace and highlighted verse after verse that affirmed the trustworthiness of God’s persevering promises.

The Holy Spirit tugged my heart toward repentance, as I realized I’d been worrying through the wait when I was weary from battling chronic pain.

How are You going to provide, Lord?

 What am I going to do now, Lord?

 How much longer? How much harder?

Before I realized it, I was wah-wah-whining.

At this point, I thanked the Lord for my husband. When one of us is weak, the other is strong. When he wants to jump in and fix things, I encourage him to rest in God’s presence. When I want to rush God along for fear of Him not coming through like He has every time in the past, my hubby reminds me to be still and trust.

Praying for an increase of faith during a rougher-than-normal week, I reflected on Abram’s responses to God at different times during his waiting journey.

When Abram first received God’s call, he didn’t even hesitate to follow Him into the unknown (Genesis 12:1-6). Abram accepted God’s promise (vv. 7-9), though he often struggled with fear (vv. 10-16). The Lord remained faithful (vv. 17-20) and reassured Abram of His persevering promises (Genesis 13:14-16; 15:4-6).

Unfortunately, Abram chose passive complacency instead of reminding his wife of God’s trustworthiness. Sarai refused to sit still on the sidelines. She hopped up and took the reins away from her husband and God, worrying her way through the wait.

When the Lord didn’t meet Sarai’s standards, or work according to her preferred timeline, she forced her own way and opened the door to generations of conflict (Genesis 16).

The Lord stayed true to His Word, affirming the now-99-year-old Abram wasn’t forgotten (Genesis 17:1-2). He transformed Abram and Sarai, beginning with their names (Genesis 17:5, 15), though it seemed He knew His servants still weren’t ready to receive the fulfillment of His promises.

They wanted instant gratification and quick relief. I’ve been there!

The Lord must have known they needed time to grow as His plan played out. He waited another year for Sarai, now Sarah, to give birth to Isaac (Genesis 17:21).

Though we can learn so much from how Abraham and Sarah responded to God, we can also find wisdom in Hagar’s prayer:

“You are a God of seeing . . . truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Oh, how many time I’ve compared my timetable to God’s, as if I could see the future or control my circumstances.

I’ve begged for relief, to be whisked out of the wait, without even realizing I’d be missing out on the rewards God was carving out for me.

As we remember the Lord’s consistent character, we can rely on His persevering promises.

He will comfort our hurting hearts, strengthen our resolve, prepare us for the path He’s paved for us, and help us to stop worrying through the wait . . . if only we take time to listen to His words and remember He stays true to His Word.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises.” (Psalm 119:148)

Lord, thanks for blessing us with the privilege of communing with You through the Bible in a Year reading schedule. Please help us trust Your plan and pace are perfect. Help us secure our hope in Your sovereign goodness, unfailing love, infallible Word, and persevering promises. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Are you more like Abram, Sarai, or a mixture of both when trusting God through the wait?

 How has God helped you wait without worrying or wah-wah-whining when you were weary, tempted to rush past the Lord, or determined to force God’s hand by demanding your own way?

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To receive Our Daily Bread devotions with the Bible reading schedule, please visit our website and subscribe today. I look forward to growing with you!

—–

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I Want to Know You More, Lord!

MEME - BLOG - 2 Timothy 3 v 16 - EDITED Jan 2018

The first time I read the Bible, I acted like a giddy schoolgirl. I couldn’t believe God’s story, His actual history, was available for me to read. The more I read, the more I realized the Bible was more than just another book. I can’t get enough of God’s Word and I can’t stop sharing His truth and love with others!

When I share that my husband and I have read through the Bible in a year since 2005, people have asked me several questions.

How can you finish that huge book in one year?

When following most Bible-in-a-Year schedules, the daily readings only take 15-30 minutes per day. We can break up the readings or savor the day’s planned chapters at one time, depending on our personal preference, our reading speed, and our available time. The important thing is remembering we’re not just reading. When we open up our Bibles, we get to spend time listening to God’s voice. Hallelujah!

Why are you so excited about reading a book that’s so boring and no longer relevant?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Talk about an amazing start for the greatest story in history! The Beginning and the End, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Maker of time itself . . . God . . . created every single thing in the heavens and on the earth.

As if that’s not enough, the God-breathed words of Scripture records God’s story and ends in the most thrilling cliff-hanger . . . Jesus will come again. Hallelujah!

While we wait, we’re invited to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and be known, loved, and forever changed by Him.

If you’ve read the Bible once, why bother reading it again?

Every year, I learn something new, love the Lord more, and accept the fullness of His love for me more. Whether God has changed my heart, my perspective, or my situation, His infallible truth remains the same. Through the power of His Holy Spirit, He reveals His immutable character and His unchanging plan and promises through His Word and equips me for what He has prepared for me each day. I need to connect with my Maker, my Sustainer, my loving and good Father every single moment of every single day.

What do you do when you don’t understand what you’re reading?

Faith isn’t about me being able to completely comprehend my eternal and sovereign God. We can ask Him to help us understand and trust Him. In His goodness, He provides resources to study Scripture, with the help of His Holy Spirit.

Why don’t you read smaller chunks so you can study deeper?

I do! I read through the Bible in a year for familiarity, to learn how His whole story connects from the Old to the New Testaments and into my life. For deeper study, I use resources, like concordances, commentaries, and word studies. Most importantly, I begin with prayer and invite the Holy Spirit to change me and make me more like Jesus.

How do you keep your reading from feeling like something you’re just checking off a list?

When we’re reading the Bible, we’re spending time with God. While we read Scripture, we’re experiencing God’s presence and hearing His heart beating with every syllable. We can commune with the Lord, talking to Him through prayer and listening to Him by reading the words He inspired and preserved in the Bible. What a wonderful gift!

How do you keep from giving up, especially if you fall behind?

When we’re focused on nurturing our relationship with God, we don’t have to worry about our performance. Perfection is not possible or expected. If we miss a few days, there’s no reason to feel pressured to catch up or to succumb to discouragement and give up. We can just brush off those guilty feelings and enjoy God’s abundant and all-sufficient grace.

Our time with God is as personal as our relationship with Him. As we spend quiet moments with Him, we can come as we are and ask Him to increase our desire to spend time with Him every day.

Why should we bother reading Scripture with a reading schedule?

While schedules are not necessary, they can help us develop consistency and accountability. Whether we choose to read the Bible in a year, use another schedule, or commit to a certain number of minutes per day, our main goal is to enter God’s presence daily and say, “I want to know you more, Lord!”

Lord, thanks for the privilege of hearing Your voice, placing our prayers in Your hands, and growing closer to You and others as we bask in Your endless love and saturate our hearts with Your truth every single day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Have you read through the Bible?

What have you enjoyed about daily Bible reading? about reading the Bible in a year?

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced and joys you’ve experienced while following a Bible reading schedule?

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To join Alan and me in reading the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread schedule, please click here.

If you’re going to choose another daily Bible reading schedule, please let me know. I’d love for us to pray for one another, as we seek the Lord through His Word and love Him with all we’ve got!

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Another Christmas of Faith-building Mishmash and Miracles

MEME - Merry Christmas to share with photo credit - Dec 2016As my husband, Alan, and our son, Xavier, helped me hang ornaments on the Christmas tree this year, I reminisced about the precious moments attached to each decoration.

The homemade ornaments brought back sweet memories from Xavier’s childhood. When he was only two years old, he brought home his very first December craft from school. Every year, he created a new ornament that I hung with joy. And every year I carefully packed away each priceless treasure so we could place them on the tree the following Christmas.

We have souvenir ornaments to commemorate our travels. Each one triggers conversations about our trips.

We remember. We laugh. We thank God for the countless blessings symbolized by those souvenirs.

Friends have given us ornaments. Some of those friends we still embrace like family, some we miss but haven’t seen in years, some are no longer a part of our lives, and some have gone to be with Jesus. Hanging those gifts fills my heart with both joy and sorrow, as I thank God for bringing those people into our lives . . . even if only for a season.

Tears streak down my cheeks as I admire the ornaments my mom sent Xavier, every year since she bought him his very first ornament in 1996. Now that she’s gone, we buy him a yearly ornament that we hope he’ll enjoy hanging on a tree in his own home one day.

But my favorite ornaments are the ones I bought after I received Christ as my Lord and Savior, after I learned the true reason Christmas was worth celebrating.

A beautiful shiny heart proclaims the Lord’s name and reminds me of His perfect love. A delicate slice of Olive wood with three crosses carved in its center celebrates Christ’s victory on Calvary. A jeweled cross that we used on a display at my mom’s Celebration of Life service hangs on a satin ribbon, comforting me with the hope of eternal life.

Almost lost in the branches, a simple nail hangs with a yellow slip of paper attached on a fading strand of curling ribbon. Inside, a poem by an anonymous writer declares Christ as Savior and the nail as evidence of His intimate love for each of His beloved children. The last two lines of the poem read:

“ . . . I know it was His love for us that held Him to that tree. But when I see this simple nail, I know He died for me.”

This Christmas, our family is rejoicing over all the wonderful ways God has worked in and through our lives. We’re also placing our heart-wrenching prayers at His feet.

We’ve endured great losses and faced difficult obstacles, but our Lord continues to fill us with peace and hope. Though we’re grieving much, we can’t stop counting the ways God has blessed us, ways that have nothing to do with material blessings.

We’re struggling with complications in my healing journey, as well as with finances and family strife. But we’ve also witnessed the Lord restoring relationships, giving us wonderful opportunities to serve Him, and giving our family all we need to continue trusting Him in this moment . . . one step . . . and sometimes one breath at a time.

Like the ornaments on our tree, this year and this Christmas is filled with faith-building mishmash and miracles that represent God’s proven faithfulness, sovereign goodness, limitless love, and endless grace.

As we approach the holiday that shines a light on Christ and consider the ornaments on our Christmas tree, I realized we’ve been celebrating Jesus all year and every year.

The circumstances we’re in currently won’t decide the measure of our love for the Lord, or the measure of His boundless love for us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for affirming You are with us always and worth celebrating every day of every year . . . not just on Christmas. Help us acknowledge the wonderful ways You’re working in and through our lives every single day. Please help us accept the tears and the cheers in life as priceless opportunities to experience Your constant presence, rely on Your limitless power, and surrender to Your immeasurable and trustworthy grace. Please, Lord, help us look beyond ourselves and our current circumstances, so we can love You and others with joy. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

What faith-building mishmash and miracles has God entrusted to you this year and this Christmas?

—–

 

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Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First

MEME - Forgiveness Frees the ForgiverThe first day I had the courage to step into a church, I came prepared for battle. Masking fear with my angry scowl, I shifted in my seat, picked my cuticles, and hoped no one would notice the too-huge-to-hide scars of my sinfulness.

As I heard the Gospel preached, the Lord patiently peeled back layers of my self-imposed guilt and shame. He knew my tender heart desperately needed His grace.

Still, I struggled. How could Christ, in all His perfection, forgive me for all the bad things I’d done, for all the times I’d rejected Him, for all the ways I’d hurt Him and others?

With loving gentleness, the Lord drew me deeper into His story.

The Father painted a perfect picture of mercy . . . Christ’s arms stretched wide, heart overflowing with undying and unconditional love for the very ones who hated Him.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

At first, I viewed God’s lovingkindness as a reason for me to hang my head in disgrace and stamp my passport with endless guilt trips.

I had no idea how to process or accept the completeness of God’s forgiveness possible through His grace.

I longed to feel forgiven.

But as I continued to focus on myself, I tightened the chains that bound me to guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness.

How could I forgive others when I hadn’t truly received God’s offer of forgiveness?

The Lord extended undeserved mercy, but I insisted on the self-imposed penance which hindered me from intimacy with Christ and others.

It wasn’t until I gazed closely at the cross that I began to realize that me being undeserving was the reason Christ offered forgiveness as a gift.

I didn’t have to, and couldn’t possibly, deserve it, earn it, buy it, or work it off with good deeds.

After I rejoiced and eventually received His priceless treasure of salvation, I understood why I couldn’t hold others under condemnation.

If I didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness, how could I demand others to deserve my forgiveness?

If I didn’t earn God’s grace, how could I insist others earn my grace?

If God didn’t force me to pay off my debt of sin with good works, how could I expect others to keep trying to make up for hurting me or others?

If God didn’t condemn me, why did I think I needed to live under the weight of guilt and shame after I’d repented, turned away from my sin, confessed and received His forgiveness?

King David racked up a list of sins when his idleness thrust him into a downward spiral into a pit of sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4). Soon, the consequences of his sin couldn’t possibly be hidden (v. 5).

Instead of repenting, he dug a deeper ditch of deception that led to the murder of Bathsheba’s husband and the death of their son, who was conceived through their adultery (2 Samuel 11:6 to 12:19).

Though David begged God for mercy, he couldn’t choose the consequences of his sin, limit the reach of those consequences, or prevent more innocent people from suffering.

Yet, he didn’t blame God, either.

David couldn’t change the past or fix what he’d destroyed, but he could repent and worship the Lord he trusted.

The king did his best to comfort his grieving wife, refusing to nullify the power and extent of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness by clinging to guilt and shame (vv. 20-25).

David and Bathsheba accepted God’s forgiveness and forgave themselves, as well as one another (vv. 24-25).

“Forgiveness is worthless to us emotionally if we can’t forgive ourselves.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall, p. 52)

Once we’ve received God’s forgiveness personally, accepting the completeness of His gift, the Holy Spirit can empower us to live in peace and freedom from guilt and shame.

Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

If we forgive as we’ve been forgiven, we won’t feel the need to shame our offenders or demand they feel guilty.

Radical forgiveness requires us to release our desire for punishment, which Kendall refers to as evidence of our own fear (p. 52).

But when we’re prone to making others feel bad when they’ve failed or hurt us, it may be a sign that we’re living in a cage of self-imposed condemnation.

Once we’ve repented and embraced the freedom of God’s forgiveness, we can experience the elation of being guiltless and loved by Christ, the hope of being saved and renewed by grace. We can begin to see our smallness in light of God’s majesty.

Repentance is an expression of gratitude and love for God and all He is and always will be.

If the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe loves and forgives us, who are we to hold ourselves or others under the wrath of guilt and shame?

Lord, thank You for the gift of forgiveness and grace that You offer freely and generously. Thanks for empowering us to repent and receive Your forgiveness, and in turn forgive others. Help us trust You to remain good, just, merciful, and loving to all. May You be glorified and Your power magnified, as You help us truly receive Your grace and extend grace to others as an expression of gratefulness and love for You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—–

 

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Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims

MEME - Only God Can Judge - July 24, 2017As I listened to the woman sharing how God helped her forgive her abusers, my heart ached. Her story mirrored some details in my past, but I couldn’t pretend to understand exactly how she felt. I couldn’t duplicate the ways she processed her pain, either.

Every innocent victim’s journey toward healing is complex and unique. There are no pat answers or secret formulas to help victims work through emotions and move forward.

Each one of us needs our healing path and pace to be respected. We need support from family, from friends, and often from professionals. We need understanding and, most importantly, patience and prayer.

There are no normal timelines in a person’s road to healing.

When we arrive at that crossroad moment and are faced with the choice of forgiving or clinging to unforgiveness, we need grace . . . especially God’s life-changing grace.

While that woman shared her heartbreaking story, I realized I’d been deceiving myself for years.

I’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over it. I don’t think about it anymore.

I was wrong, so wrong.

Although I’d went on with my life, I’d never forgiven those whose actions made me an innocent victim.

Without even realizing it, I’d settled for a guarded life behind a self-imposed prison of unforgiveness and armed myself with fear, bitterness, and denial.

I had allowed unforgiveness to control me and hinder me from embracing the completeness of my freedom in Christ, making my past an anchor.

But as I continued to get closer to God, the more I loved Him, believed Him, and trusted Him, I couldn’t escape that crossroad decision.

Would I forgive as I’d been forgiven? Could I?

As I listened to the woman’s sharing about what forgiving her abusers had done for her, I wanted so badly to experience that peace.

Forgiving wasn’t about letting my offenders off the hook, but being freed from them for good.

With support from my husband and God’s limitless power and patience, I finally understood radical forgiveness was hinged on learning what forgiveness is and isn’t.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4In Total Forgiveness (pp. 11-19), R.T. Kendall states forgiveness is not approving, excusing, or justifying the hurtful actions of others.

Forgiving is not pardoning the offender, because we’re not authorized to do what only God can do as the only rightfully crowned Judge.

By forgiving, we’re not denying what happened, turning a blind eye to the offense, or even forgetting how we were hurt. The Lord never asks us to minimize our hurts by not taking the offenses seriously or pretending the scars don’t exist.

When we choose radical forgiveness, we’re breaking down every wall of denial and facing the facts of what happened to us or the person we care about, so that true healing can begin.

A false belief about forgiveness is that reconciliation is mandatory. But reconciliation means both parties admit the offense and agree to restore the relationship, which is not always possible, healthy, or safe.

However, we can be blessed with restoration.

Restoration: a personal revival, the restitution of what was taken or lost, a dignified process of renewal that no one can prevent us from experiencing through the love of Christ.

God’s goodness is not tainted when bad things happen and innocent people are hurt in this fallen world.

Our compassionate Father grieves with us and remains close to the brokenhearted. He affirms nothing will remain hidden, that all people will have to give an account to Him for every action and every thought (Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

In light of all Christ has done, in light of all He promises to do, in light of His perfect love for us, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . even when it feels impossible and even when it doesn’t make sense.

Whenever I have a hard time placing offenders in God’s hands, I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-50).

His jealous brothers sold him to slavery and lied to their father about his disappearance. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attacking her, Joseph was imprisoned for years. He suffered abuse, endured betrayal, and bore the negative consequences of someone else’s actions.

We don’t know everything that happened to him during those years of enslavement and imprisonment, but we know how he responded to God.

Joseph lived in freedom and peace, despite his past or his current circumstances.

No matter what happened to him, Joseph trusted God, praised God, and obeyed God.

The Lord remained with Joseph and, at the right time, placed him in a position of power over Pharaoh’s house. When famine struck Egypt and his brothers showed up to ask for help, Joseph forgave them and everyone else who had hurt him.

Joseph knew God hadn’t wasted his journey.

Though he had every right and reason to be angry, Joseph had placed the past behind him and didn’t even bring up the past or seek revenge on those who had hurt him along the way.

Only healthy processing and peace through God’s power could have kept Joseph focused on the Lord’s purpose and allowed him to trust God to choose how justice would be served.

Radical forgiveness is impossible without God’s help.

Radical forgiveness doesn’t make sense.

Radical forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender or the offense.

By faith, we’re acknowledging that sin is sin and admitting we’re all sinners compared to our perfect and holy God, not one another.

As we place ourselves and our offenders in God’s hands, we’re accepting our freedom and declaring our trust in God’s character.

By forgiving we’re proclaiming our belief in God’s sovereign care and our confidence in God as the only rightful and completely trustworthy Judge.

We can trust God to bring all things to light, to right all wrongs, to hold all accountable in His way and in His time.

Through radical forgiveness, innocent victims break free from the bondage of the hurt that threatens to steal the joy, peace, and hope that is rightfully our inheritance as God’s beloved children.

Lord, there are some offenses and some offenders that feel impossible to forgive when we’re working with the wrong definition of forgiveness. Please help us remember Your command to release offenders into Your hands is intended as a first step toward restoring what was taken from us. Please help us trust You, as You make us more like You, so we can live the new life promised through You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God

MEME - Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt - Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Quote - July 2017“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

When I started planning this series a few months ago, I’d been asking God to help me forgive a few people in my life who had not admitted their sins against me or repented.

I wanted to obey God. I wanted to forgive. Period.

So, I asked for a heart-check and began studying what God says about forgiveness.

In my B.J. (Before Jesus) days, I boasted being a master at casting blame on the people I’d hurt. If I hurt them, they must have done something to provoke me. Besides, what they did was way worse than what I did. Right?

After Jesus exposed my plank-in-eye syndrome, I saw how justifying, minimizing, and excusing my sin worsened the hurt I’d caused others and pushed me further away from them and from God.

I’ve always had a hard time letting go of the hurt when receiving surface-apologies. These poor attempts at repentance usually begin with a phrase like, “I’m sorry you feel hurt, but . . .”

It’s painful when someone claims you caused their hurtful actions. It’s like an abuser saying, “I’m sorry I hit you, but you made me do it.”

Not only is that a lie, it’s passive-aggressive manipulation.

It took me years to realize the victim mentality, common in one who has not processed or healed from past pain, often resembles an abuser’s mentality.

My heart grieved when God began to help me recognize those destructive behaviors in others close to me, and even in myself.

Learning how to embrace the art of radical forgiveness required me to learn how to process my own pain in a healthy and holy way.

I used to slip on my victim-jersey, look for hints of offenses against me, and eagerly tell the world how I’d been wronged.

I named names and shared details with whoever would listen.

I disguised my gossip as prayer requests and enjoyed when people felt sorry for me or took my side. It felt good when people admired me for being so strong or so kind after being so wronged.

But in 2005, when I first read Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, God used the following statement to convict me on how I processed my pain:

“If you must tell another person what happened‒because you can’t contain the pain‒tell only one, and choose someone who won’t repeat it.” (p. 10)

By the time I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2009, God had carried me through plenty of tough ordeals that required me to put this skill into practice.

In one situation, mutual friends informed me someone was gossiping and slandering my name.

While I wanted to come to my defense, God stilled my tongue.

Oh, how I wanted to pray for vengeance like the psalmists who stood on the retribution principle.

But God made it clear I wasn’t supposed to tell Him how to fix my offender, prove how wrong they were, or demand everyone be told the truth about what really happened.

Instead, often through sobs and a few layers of stubborn pride, I remembered how Jesus prayed for those who cheered as He was crucified.

I asked Him to help me forgive.

The Lord wants none to perish. If my desire is to be more Christ-like, I would want none to perish, too, wouldn’t I?

Surely a trustworthy King would provide healing care, perfect justice, and fight on my behalf.

He did. He does. And He’ll continue to do so.

Being committed to radical forgiveness is a lifetime process of learning . . . and failing.

With my identity more secured in Christ, I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2014 after being hurt deeply by someone close to me. I praised God that I no longer felt the immediate need to play the victim and demand justice when I’d been hurt.

He helped me process my pain through personal prayer and Bible study. I shared minimal details with a couple of prayer partners who promised not to judge, who desired reconciliation and prayed for restoration, and who weren’t afraid to tell me when I was in the wrong.

By God’s grace, that relationship is now stronger than ever! Hallelujah!

I don’t always handle situations perfectly, but I’ve finally accepted I’m not defined by my sin or controlled by the sins of others.

Being rooted in my relationship with God makes forgiving a demonstration of my confidence in His trustworthiness and loving care.

In Matthew 18:21-35, the apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus’s answer is interpreted as perfect forgiveness, ongoing and complete, just like Christ has forgiven us.

Jesus shared the story of a servant begging for mercy when confronted with his insurmountable debt to the king (vv.23-26). Once forgiven, that servant went out and found another servant who owed him, demanded payment, and refused to extend the mercy he’d received from the king (vv. 27-30).

In referring to how the king responded to the unforgiving servant (vv. 31-34), Jesus said: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (v. 35)

As Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune so eloquently said, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.”

When we’re committed to living in radical forgiveness, God helps us realize our sin is no better or no worse than the sins of others.

He’ll help us trust Him to protect our reputations and heal our wounds, even when the scars run deep.

God will handle every offense and offender justly.

So, we don’t need to tell everyone how someone wounded us. We don’t need to prove we’re right and someone else is wrong. And we don’t need others to admit their transgressions before we forgive them.

When we submit to God and truly believe His grace is sufficient and His love unconditional, we can be freed by forgiveness, expecting and extending mercy . . . unlike that wicked servant.

Radical forgiveness is simply loving obedience to God.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, minimizing, justifying, or accepting sin.

Forgiveness never requires us to pretend we weren’t hurt or to allow the offender into our personal space to hurt us more.

On the contrary, forgiveness demands an honest look at the situation as we trust God to work.

It’s important to remember that we don’t always play a part in the sinfulness.

Yet, even when we truly are innocent victims, we can forgive because we trust God’s sovereign goodness and love will prevail as we’re all brought to account before His throne.

I’ll share more on how God is helping me accept this hard truth next week.

Until then, we can admit embracing radical forgiveness is hard and sometimes feels impossible.

But we can also expect God’s help.

Why?

Because forgiveness isn’t a preference or a choice.

God gives us a mandate, not an option, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . because He equips His followers to be freed by submission to His authority and empowered by His Spirit to live in courageous obedience and faith.

Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to forgive. Please help us process our hurts in ways that honor You. Help us recognize our sins and repent without excusing or blaming others for our sinful behaviors. Please prepare our hearts as we continue to dig into Your Word and discover what forgiveness is and isn’t. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4Photo taken by and used with permission from Dr. W. A. Dixon, Sr., my amazing husband and best friend.

Meme created by X.E. Dixon.

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You can join me in reading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, as we continue this journey toward experiencing the freedom of radical forgiveness.

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Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer

MEME - Christ's love leads to Radical Forgiveness - July 7, 2017(Suggested Reading: Luke 23:32-43)

Though a friend accused me of something I didn’t do, made hurtful comments, and chose to sever our relationship, I continued praying for her and believed we’d work out our differences when she was ready to discuss the situation. When a mutual friend referred to me as this person’s ex-friend, I decided to forgive her as I began to process my shock, anger, and sorrow. Still, resentment and bitterness began to take root in my heart.

Although I knew the answer and didn’t want to hear it, I cried out to God. “What do You want me to do, Lord?”

Forgive.

But she hurt my feelings.

Forgive.

But she’s gossiping about me.

Forgive.

But she hasn’t even apologized.

Forgive.

As I wrestled with the Lord, He reminded me of the countless times He’d extended undeserved mercy toward me and led me to Luke 23:32-43.

While Jesus hung on the cross, He willingly submitted to the nails that pierced His hands and feet. As an atonement for our sins, He paid the insurmountable debt our wickedness earned.

Christ’s love paved the way for a clean slate through His unfathomable offer of radical forgiveness.

Looking on the ones who cheered for His execution‒those who mocked the King of Kings without remorse or repentance‒Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

The ones He asked the Father to forgive weren’t remorseful . . . at all.

Yet, R.T. Kendall states that “[asking] the Father to forgive them showed that not only had [Jesus] forgiven them and released them from their guilt, but also that He asked His Father not to punish them or take revenge on them . . .” (Total Forgiveness, p. 3).

I considered the words Jesus cried out while hanging, bruised and bloody, on the cross . . . paying the price for my sins.

Have my attitudes or actions ever hurt the Lord or others without me knowing, or worse . . . without me even caring?

Have I ever gossiped or left a friend feeling abandoned or betrayed?

Have I unintentionally spoken unkind words or deliberately wounded someone with well-crafted harsh words?

Have I cast blame or refused to take responsibility for my wrongdoings?

Have I damaged or severed a relationship when processing my bruised feelings or healing from past hurts?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

As I imagined Christ hanging on the cross because of my countless offenses against Him and others, my complaints gave way to conviction.

I sobbed and asked for forgiveness.

The Lord didn’t need me to tell Him I’d been wronged. And I wasn’t helping or changing my situation by sinning in my anger or wallowing in my grief. So, I asked the Lord to help me release my offender into His loving and merciful hands.

No more pleas for payback.

No more daydreams of dishing out a cold bowl of revenge.

No more harboring resentment.

And no more pity-parties.

The more we pray blessings over our offenders, the more God helps us see them through His eyes of loving grace . . . and the more peace reigns in our hearts.

When we place the offense and the offender into God’s trustworthy hands, we no longer feel the need to demand apologies before forgiving.

We can choose right relationships with God and others, over insisting on being right or gloating in someone else’s remorsefulness.

We don’t have to miss out on God blessing us because we’re too busy being resentful, angry, or afraid over something we can’t change and something the offender isn’t losing sleep over.

In the situation with my ex-friend, I prayed for her to be overwhelmed with God’s love and blessed by His outpouring of kindness. We weren’t best buds when we saw each other again, but I wasn’t uncomfortable around her.

I was happy to hear how the Lord had blessed her since we’d last spoken. Not because the hurt didn’t matter or because I’d forgotten or healed completely, but because the Holy Spirit had empowered me to truly forgive her, even though she never apologized.

Choosing radical forgiveness enabled me to appreciate the time we shared as friends and freed me to trust God to empower me to love like Jesus loves.

Forgiving isn’t easy or natural to our self-centered flesh. But when we choose to forgive, the peace of God reigns and allows us to enjoy life without being derailed by tooth-decaying bites of bitterness.

There are some relationships I’m struggling with right now.

Forgiveness and reconciliation doesn’t always mean the restoration of a relationship.

Still, I’m asking God to reveal my part in the conflicts, to help me seek forgiveness for my wrongs, to forgive those who repent and seek forgiveness, and to empower me to prayerfully release all offenders to Him . . . even when they’re not remorseful.

As an imperfect human in desperate need of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, I’m sure I’ll need to forgive others and ask for forgiveness all the days of my life.

So, as I pray over my current relationships, I’m submitting to the Holy Spirit and digging deeper into Scripture.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4I’m also rereading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, a book God used to help me understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as well as what He says about forgiveness in the Bible.

I look forward to growing with you, praying with you, and living in the freedom and peace only possible through Spirit-empowered radical forgiveness.  

Lord, thank You for forgiving us and for empowering us to forgive. Please prepare our hearts to receive and submit to Your truth and love.

Show us our wickedness and lead us into the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Help us recognize, confess, repent, and turn away from our sins. Please help us reconcile, even if restoration of the relationship isn’t possible, as we embrace the peace and freedom of living in radical forgiveness. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Walking in Wisdom (A Prayer)

MEME - Proverbs 4 v 5(Suggested reading – Proverbs 4:1-13)

Lord, thanks for Your inerrant Holy Word through which Your Holy Spirit reveals Your infallible truth and unchanging, perfect character.

Please give us listening hearts. Prepare us to submit our wills to align with Yours, as You help us understand and live in loving obedience to Your Word (vv. 1-4).

Empower us to walk in wisdom and courageous faith, Lord (v. 5).

Please help us give up everything that hinders us from surrendering our all to You, no matter what the personal cost (vv. 6-7).

Help us respect You and honor Your Word, even when the world mocks us and attempts to tempt us into wandering from Your perfect love and the eternal victory You’ve secured for us (vv. 8-9).

Give us ears to hear You, Lord.

Give us the discernment and courage we need to accept Your truth, and the strength and wisdom we need to follow You‒the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6; Proverbs 4:10-11).

Thanks for making our paths lead straight to You.

Strengthen us, fueling our confidence with Your promised care (vv. 12-13).

Though the road ahead often feels long and seems overrun with weeds of discouragement and doubt, You are our sure hope.

We need You. We praise You. We worship You, Lord.

Please continue to make Your presence known as You empower us to believe You and walk in Your wisdom, one brave step at a time.

In Jesus’s name,

Amen

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