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.

—–

 

Facebook Twitter Email

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.

—–

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.

—–

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

—–

 

Facebook Twitter Email

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.

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

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

—————–

Facebook Twitter Email

God Doesn’t Forget Us

MEME - 2 Corinthians 4 v 17To respect my husband’s family tradition, we visited the cemetery on Memorial Day and brought new flags, in honor of his father’s service in the military. Although we know we don’t have to visit the cemetery to honor or remember his dad, although we know he had accepted Christ as his Savior and that his spirit is secured with the gift of eternal life, we place new flags on his headstone once a year.

On the way back to the car, I noticed the raised words on a sailor’s gravestone: World War I & II.

Weeds crawled over his name and dying year . . . 1975. No flowers. No decorations. Just weeds.

I glanced at the faded flags we’d taken out of my father-in-law’s marker a few moments earlier.

Every year, we drove to the cemetery to pay our respects to my husband’s dad. But there would come a time when no one would visit, when everyone who knew him would be gone.

The sailor’s headstone reminded me that there would come a day when all of us are forgotten on this side of eternity.

I’m sure we won’t be worrying about being remembered by other people when we’re praising God in eternity, but the thought of anyone being forgotten grieved me.

Kneeling before the sailor’s headstone, I twisted and pushed the wooden dowel until I’d secured the flag in the dry, cracking dirt. “Thank you, Sir,” I said.

Alan knelt beside me, without saying a word. He took the second flag from my hand and planted it deep into the ground.

I gazed across the yellowing grass dotted with grave markers and small waving flags and sighed. A group came every year to remember and honor veterans. We’d seen them before, placing new flags on the military headstones. The fresh flags waving in the slight breeze affirmed they’d finished their yearly task. Still, even they’d missed this lone sailor with the weeds covering half of the identifying words under his name.

I began plucking the overgrowth. “It’s sad,” I said, “the idea of being forgotten.”

My husband nodded. “We’ll bring extra flags next year.”

“I’d like that very much.”

And so began a tradition.

Even though there could be people who remembered these veterans without visiting the cemetery, and even though we believe our spirits live forever in eternity when we place our trust in Christ, we committed to bringing extra flags for those whose stories had long since stopped being shared with eager ears seeking to learn more about their families’ history.

We would be more intentional about thanking God for those who had given their lives to protect our freedom, those who had served sacrificially, those who had probably never imagined having weeds over their headstones, those who had never dreamed of the day they would be forgotten.

As the reality of my mortality sank in, God comforted me with the assurance that He knows each of us by name and loves each and every person He creates, even when we reject Him.

God knows us, cares for us, and will never forget us. He wants none to perish, and all to be restored in His love and grace (John 3:16-17; 2 Peter  3:3-9).

Gratitude filled my heart as I, once again, received His truth on a deep and personal level: God knows my name. He is always with me. He will never leave me, never forsake me, and never, ever forget me.

I never imagined there would come a day when I was concerned about being forgotten, until an injury and an extensive recovery time led me into a season of isolation.

These have been the most difficult days I’ve ever experienced.

When feelings of loneliness and sorrow threaten to destroy every bit of my joy, peace, hope, and faith, the Lord comforts and strengthens me with His constant presence and His infallible Word.

He’s increasing my compassion for the forgotten ones, the lonely ones, the hurting ones in the world.

He refreshes my hope by empowering me to live and love each and every day, in honor of our Savior Jesus Christ . . . because even when life is hard, this world is not where our lives end.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV)

We may not know what tomorrow brings, but we know there will come a day when all of the people who knew us will be gone. That’s no reason to lament.

Because of our new life in Christ, we can leave a legacy of faith that points others to His everlasting hope.

Lord, thank You for empowering us to make a lasting difference in this world by living and loving in the name of Jesus‒praying for others as we share Your Holy Word, and serving selflessly as we lead others to You‒the only One who can truly promise You will never leave us, never forsake us, and never, ever forget us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children‒with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.

The LORD has His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:13-19, NIV)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

—–

 

Facebook Twitter Email

Rejoicing Because God is God

MEME - Psalm 5 v 11bOn Thursday morning, I woke up praising God for blessing me with minimal instead of high-level pain. I thanked Him with grateful tears for over twenty-four headache-free hours. My body ached after a week of constant muscle spasms and nerve pain that caused debilitating headaches.

Though the painful days are an expected part of the recovery process after my recent nerve ablation in my neck and injection in my upper thoracic back, the journey often wears me out physically and emotionally.

By mid-afternoon, I praised the Lord for allowing me to enjoy a wonderful time of reading His Word and writing for His glory.

Then, I received bad news over the phone.

After sobbing prayers, God comforted me with His promise to be with me every step of the way, even if I wasn’t sure what my next step would be.

The Lord assured me He had already planned ahead for my needs and made a way for me to follow Him, if only I would be willing to place my confidence in His unchanging character and integrity.

I called my husband to let him know about what had happened and together we made a decision in the matter. As we trust the Lord to provide in ways we can’t even begin to figure out, we remain certain He’ll care for us. He always has and always will.

A few minutes after hanging up with my husband, I checked the mail and smiled when I saw a card from a friend.

Her timely, encouraging note felt like a hug from God.

I spent some extra time reading my Bible and shed a few more tears when the Holy Spirit drew me to this familiar verse:

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You.” (Psalm 5:11, NIV)

Soon after, I received another call. This time, the news was great.

After a roller-coaster-day of emotions, I praised the Lord with yet another sobbing prayer.

Those tears expressed an unexplainable joy.

My pain hadn’t gone away or improved, but it hadn’t gotten worse. My bad news hadn’t changed, but God had revealed His care once again.

Even as I type this blog post, my focus isn’t on the ever-changing good or bad circumstances in my life, the uncertainty of the future, or the complex emotions the inevitable changes evoke.

When we take refuge in God, we can rest in the knowledge of who He is and who He always will be.

When we place our hope in knowing God won’t change, we can feel secure even when the world around us feels totally out of control, which it totally is.

We can be glad because our good and loving God is constant, present, dependable, trustworthy, and faithful.

We can sing for joy because He is our Protector and Provider.

We can love His name, as revealed through Scripture, because His name affirms His unchanging character.

God is Jehovah, the Existing One, the Lord who wants to be known (Genesis 2:4).

He is Elohim, Creator (Genesis 1:1).

He is El Shaddai, The Almighty (Genesis 17:1).

He is Jehovah Jireh, Provider (Genesis 22:14).

He is Jehovah Rapha, Healer (Exodus 15:26).

He is Jehovah Shalom, “The Lord Our Peace” (Judges 6:24).

He is Jehovah Rohi, Johovah Raah, “The Lord Our Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

He is El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

He is El Olam, The Eternal God, everlasting (Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:31).

Because God is the Great I AM (Exodus 3:14), the Beginning and the End, we can call Him Adonai, our Lord and Master (Genesis 18:2).

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for Your infallible truth through which You reveal Your unchanging character. Please penetrate the deepest corners of our hearts and minds with Your loving, God-breathed words.

Help us seek You and rely on You to transform our hearts and minds, as You strengthen our resolve and deepen our faith. You are our peace, our refuge, our quiet strength, even when we feel our weakest. You guide our steps and make a way where there is no way, as far as we can see. 

You will never change. You will never grow weary. You will never abandon us. You will never forget us or ignore the cries of our hearts. Thank You, Lord. Thank You for loving us in ways we don’t even see.

Hallelujah!
In Jesus’s name, Amen 

—–

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

—–

For further study on the names of God, you can visit Bible.org or the Blue Letter Bible websites.

(At the time of this posting both of these websites were active and God-honoring. Though I am doubtful this would be the case, I would appreciate readers informing me if there is any questionable content on these sites in the future.)

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Am I Really Ready for Greater Love?

MEME - John 15 v 13 - Photo by Lori Renner(Suggested Reading = John 15:9-17)

 As my husband and I recently celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I reflected on how my definition of love has changed over the years we’ve been married.

When I first met Alan, I measured love by hugs and kind words and deeds. I believed he loved me when he met my needs, when he gave me my way, when he made me feel happy, safe, appreciated, and important.

Then, I met Jesus.

His words touched a deep and wounded place in my heart, I had ignored for years: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9, NIV)

The Father, the first Person in the Trinity, loves completely, generously, unconditionally, and eternally. Jesus, the second Person in the Trinity, loves like the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, helps us love like Jesus, like the Father.

The concept of such love seems too vast and complex to even begin understanding, a goal too lofty for a flawed human being to attain. But Jesus claims it’s possible if we remain in His love.

Because we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, it’s possible to abide in Christ, to spend time with Him, to stay so close that our hearts are grafted to His.

This lifetime process of intimate communion with the Lord changes us a little bit at a time. We become more like the One who loves us perfectly, as He transforms our thinking and changes our hearts so that we can respond to Him, and to others, in Christ-like love.

The more I received Jesus’s limitless love for me, the more my love morphed from selfish to selfless in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my relationships with others.

This is an ongoing process that’s often thwarted by my sin nature, which feeds my fleshly desires to put myself first.

But Jesus asks His followers to love one another as He loves us . . . to love selflessly, willingly, sacrificially, and unconditionally (v. 12).

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (v. 13)

That can feel impossible, especially when it comes to loving those who have hurt us, those who have rejected us, and those who persecute us.

When I struggle with showing “greater love,” I ask God to remind me of Christ on the cross.

When we truly consider how much Jesus loves us, so much that He gave His life for us, so much that He endured the shame of the cross, the ruthless and relentless persecution, rejection, abuse, and pain . . . it’s harder to be selfish.

Jesus reminds us we are loved sacrificially and intimately (v. 14). We are called God’s friends (v. 15). We are chosen (v. 16).

Being loved in such a way changes us . . . changes everything.

When we truly consider what Christ gave up, how He suffered physically and emotionally, especially when He willingly allowed Himself to be excruciatingly though momentarily separated from the Father when He took on our sins and took our place on the cross . . . how can we not respond with grateful praise as we rejoice in the life-changing power of greater love?

But greater love is risky.

Others may not love us back selflessly. Others may take advantage of us, hurt us, and leave us wounded by their selfishness.

They may demand their needs met. They may fight for their way. They may place personal happiness above all else.

I can’t even count the times I’ve accepted the Lord’s greater love, but still responded by demanding my needs be met, fighting for my way, placing my personal happiness above all else.

 But because of His greater love for us, God risks His heart for us every day.

20170326_172001When we first got married, my husband and I weren’t even close to ready for greater love.

We loved one another selfishly. We wrestled for the right to be first. We competed to see whose needs were going to get met more often, to see who would get their way more often, to see who would get to be happier, even at the detriment of the other person.

We wasted many years getting all we could from one another that we failed to see the value of giving all we could to one another.

Wising up, by God’s grace and in His mercy and power, we finally decided to submit to the Lord, and to one another, out of reverence for Christ, and longed to love like Jesus.

As we deepened our relationships with God and each other, He helped us to devote ourselves to greater love, to love selflessly, to give instead of demanding we get, to serve instead of scrounging for selfish gains.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, I began putting God and my husband first, serving the Lord and serving my spouse cheerfully as I gave generously.

I don’t always get it right, neither does my husband.

But God’s showing us the rewards of obedience (v. 14): fruit that lasts (v. 16).

Fruit . . . the bounty that results when we’re committed to loving like Jesus, giving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus.

God knows our joy will be complete, our peace will be unshakeable, and our faith will be secured when we love Him by obeying Him.

Jesus laid His life down for us, showing us how to enjoy greater love by laying our lives down for others.

Greater love requires sacrifice, knowing God is the only One who can truly meet our needs because people are fallible and will always fall short.

Greater love requires faith, trusting God’s way is better than our way.

Greater love leads to joy, which is so much better than happiness because it’s not contingent on ever-changing circumstances or the fickleness of feelings.

Greater love changed my marriage and continues to change my husband and me.

Greater love−that Jesus kind of love−saved me.

The commitment to greater love is costly, but the rewards are remarkable and reciprocal.

Thank You for loving us and empowering us to love You and others selflessly, Lord. Please help us place You first, abide in You always, and trust You completely. Give us the wisdom and courage to submit to Your way, surrender to Your will, and celebrate Your greater love, as we live for You−Jesus−the One who gave all for us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Are you really ready for greater love?

—–

Photo for meme taken by and used with permission from Lori Renner.

Meme Created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

—-

Facebook Twitter Email

Why Should I Love God When He Calls Me a Sinner?

MEME - Luke 19 v 10 - Photo by Dee Reeves Bright

(Suggested Reading: Luke 19:1-10)

Seeped in sin. Sometimes oblivious. Sometimes . . . okay, most of the time, completely and intentionally rebellious.

I believed God existed, but I’d never had a personal encounter with the Person−God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit−the loving and faithful One, the mighty and merciful One, the one and only True Triune God.

I’d grown up confused by wrong-thinking that led to seeing God as a punisher, a cruel judge who delighted in pouring His wrath on people. I couldn’t imagine turning to God just to be judged, condemned, and shamed into changing my life.

How could I love God if He called me a . . . sinner?

I perched in that tree of confusion, looking at Jesus from a safe distance, never daring to get close and personal, until He whispered my name and invited me to spend time getting to know Him.

The more I study the Bible, the more I know about God’s story, the more I submit to God’s Holy Spirit, the more I spend time loving Jesus and being loved by Jesus, the more I discover the extent of God’s incredible love for me.

I enjoyed sharing a part of my journey through blog series: “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.”

Contrary to my past belief, Jesus didn’t expect me to come to Him cleaned up and sin-free. He accepted me, drew me closer to His heart, and wrapped me in compassion and mercy, while I was still chained by my brokenness, my fears, and my sins.

Overwhelmed by Jesus’s love for me, I fell in love with Him.

He didn’t shame my sins away or make me feel like a total loser, like I’d expected.

Jesus showered me with grace, drew me so close I could hear His heart beating, and loved me.

He loved me and held on with gentleness and compassion, until I had the strength to lean toward Him.

Eventually, I wanted nothing more than to love Him, to please Him, to praise Him, to live for Him because of His love for me.

The more I lived for Him, the more I understood Jesus’s declaration that loving Him leads to obeying Him (John 14:15-27).

Sobbing on a cold cement floor of my garage on December 14, 2001, I had my Zacchaeus Moment. But it’s during my ongoing face-to-face encounters with Jesus that He helps me love Him more, receive His love more, and turn toward Him and away from my sins more and more each day.

What’s a Zacchaeus Moment?

Scripture says Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus when He entered Jericho (Luke 19:1-4).

Short in stature, the chief tax collector scrambled up that tree because the crowd kept him from seeing the Lord (vv. 3-4). His status, his money, his heritage couldn’t spare him from the badge of condemnation his community placed on his chest (v. 7).

Jesus could have passed the tree without glancing at Zacchaeus. The Lord could have rebuked him in front of the entire community, listing his sins, shaming, condemning, and demanding him to change.

Instead, Jesus called Zacchaeus by name and let the whole world know He wanted to spend time with the man He knew was a sinner (v. 5).

With a sense of urgency, his tone dripping with joy, gratitude, and even surprise, Zacchaeus “welcomed” Jesus into his home “gladly” (v. 6).

When his neighbors reminded him how unworthy he was (v. 7), Zacchaeus didn’t wait for the Lord to rebuke them. He repented and offered restitution before Jesus even said a word (v. 8).

And when the Lord called him a son of Abraham (v. 9), how did Zacchaeus feel? How could he hold back the emotion after being acknowledged as a rightful member of God’s family, because of who he belonged to, because of who loved him, not what he did or didn’t do?

Jesus made it clear that Zacchaeus belonged for one reason: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (v. 10), to save those lost in their sins . . . all of us.

Why should I love God when He calls me a sinner?

Because I am a sinner.

I am compared to God, who is holy, not anyone else.

I am a sinner in desperate need of rescuing, a sinner saved by God’s grace.

Being a good person will never save me, because I can never be good enough. Only Jesus is perfect, only Jesus is good enough, only Jesus can save.

And that’s why He came, why He died on the cross, why He rose, and why He whispers our names until we turn to Him and receive all that wondrous life-transforming love He offers us.

I lived the life of Zacchaeus, fending for myself, not caring who I hurt as long as I benefited, as long as I avoided pain.

But Jesus . . . oh, but Jesus . . . Jesus called me by name.

Jesus invited me to spend time with Him. He helped me accept His love and gently cracked my armor until I gladly welcomed Him into my home, my heart, my life.

Like Zacchaeus, I’ve had to repent and even offer restitution. But I’ve learned to enjoy the freedom of complete surrender to and total dependence on Christ, and shared a part of my story in “Accepting My Wings of Freedom.”

But, the Lord helps me remember what He revealed and affirmed during my Zacchaeus moment:

The Father sent His Son to save all sinners, which means all people. When we choose to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, He blesses us with His Holy Spirit who dwells in all Christ followers.

He invites us to commune with Him through prayer and the study of His Word. He helps us to know Him and know His Word, the more we spend time with Him.

He helps us receive the fullness of His grace, as He empowers us to repent and turn away from our sins so we can live for Christ and share His life-transforming love with others . . . because we are all lost without Him.

Lord, thank You for loving us and wanting us to know You intimately. Thank You for reminding us that when we surrender our lives to You, we are sinners no longer enslaved by our sin because we are saved by Your grace and renewed by Your eternal and unconditional love. Please help us love You, live for You, and share You, every chance we get. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

——

Photo taken by and used with permission from Dee Reeves Bright.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Why Should I Love God When He Doesn’t Seem to Care About Me?

MEME - EDITED John 11 v 40Waiting can cause doubt quicker than a wasp sting causes a welt. Whether I’m waiting for an answer or relief, faith can falter in the stillness, the silence, and even in the slow-paced progression.

It’s easy to think God doesn’t care about me when I feel like my prayers are falling on deaf ears. It’s harder to admit my dislike of waiting may be rooted deep in my selfishness and pride.

I want to know now, have it now, do this or that now, even if I’m not ready.

While God considers all of His beloved children all the time, I often succumb to the desires of my sin nature. I behave like a needy, spoiled, only-child. I insist, even if that insistence is passive aggressive, that the world revolves around me. I demand immediate attention, gratification, even rescue . . . now.

I don’t want to wait my turn or give up my spot so someone else will be blessed. I don’t want a no, so someone can receive their yes. Why can’t we all have what we want? What I’m really saying is why can’t I have what I want.

Self-first is as destructive as self-help.

Both attitudes defy God’s interdependent design for His church and hinder me from developing the selfless loving heart that best reflects my Savior’s.

These restless feelings slither into my relationships, my writing adventure, and even my attitude toward my healing journey, more often than I’d like to admit.

I know God is working in wondrous way, in and through my waiting seasons. Still, some days are tougher to endure.

Instead of waiting for His answer, I pout and start expecting His rejection. Confident faith fizzles into cowering fear of failure, even when I’m not failing. When I don’t get a quick response, I fear the worst and insist God must not care about me. What I’m really saying is poor me.

Impatience and fear, which are simply different forms of unbelief, chip away at my peace, joy, and even my hope.

If God truly wanted me to do this, He’d act fast and the road would be easy, right? Really? When has anything worthwhile come easy?

Yes. Sometimes the wait brings out the worst in me.

Sometimes that stomping-my-foot stubbornness triggers feeble attempts at praising Him that sound more like whines, “I know You can, Lord. Just do this already. If You care, why won’t You prove it?”

I laughed as I typed that last confession. Lord, help me!

Ever since I started following God, He’s proven waiting is hard but never worthless and my waiting never, never, never means He doesn’t care.

In John 11, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was ill (v. 1-3). The Lord had made His disciples a promise, fully intending to keep His word (v. 4). Still, they were surprised at His extraordinary act of love. Yes. Jesus’s delay in responding to their pleas was a beautiful expression of His great love for His disciples (v. 5-7).

The Lord could have sniffed and cured Lazarus, but His precious ones would have missed out on the glorious plan that would make many others believe in Him, the plan He had set in motion since before the beginning of time.

Jesus affirmed He would remain true to His promises, even though He didn’t have to explain or defend Himself (vv. 8-11).

Whether His disciples understood His motives, actions, or lack of action (vv. 12-13), Jesus’s mission wasn’t about their comfort or meeting their immediate needs (v. 14).

Our loving Savior understands it’s hard for us to see past ourselves, so He walks with us and sometimes reclines next to us, comforting us through our suffering (vv. 14-15). But He never stops caring about us or for us.

Jesus maintains His pre-planned and perfect pace, pit-stops and all, even when we give up our peace to fret over the ticking clock and cry over His apparent lateness (v. 17).

In His absolute goodness, He accommodates for our weariness and weakness, being loving and sensitive about our feelings and our unique relational needs (vv.20-36).

Of course it’s tempting to doubt when we can’t see past our current situation (v. 37). Thankfully, Jesus patiently reminds us what He says is true (vv. 38-40). He does so many things for our benefit, affirming us even when we shouldn’t need affirming, especially when He knows our circumstances seem impossible or hopeless (vv. 41-42).

When God seems silent or apathetic, we can dive into His God-breathed words of Scripture for all the truth we need. We can reminisce on our past encounters with the Lord or ask others for testimonies to strengthen our resolve. We can consider His unchanging character in the midst of our ever-changing challenges.

Would we dare risk missing out on God’s beautiful promise to work in all things, for the good of those, all of those, who love Him, “those who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine)?

Why, oh why, would we settle for patching up wounds in hopes for immediate relief when our loving Father desires to give us a new life?

Why should we love God when He doesn’t seem to care about us?

Because everything we know about our Heavenly Father, everything recorded from the earthly life and ministry of Christ, everything the Holy Spirit reveals through His Holy Word proves He is motivated by the unconditional, unmatched, and unending love He’s proven to have for us.

Hallelujah!

Thank You, Lord, for loving us too much to give in to the demands or pleas that would hinder us from encountering Your almighty goodness and power. When waiting is tough, even when waiting hurts, please help us surrender to You so completely, to depend on You with confidence, so that we can share Your love with contagious peace and radiating joy. In Jesus’s name, Amen

—–

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

—–

 

Facebook Twitter Email

A Love Worth Singing About

MEME - Psalm 89 v 1(Suggested Reading: Psalm 89:1-8, NIV)

Adoring and kindhearted Father, selflessly caring Savior, and intimately tender Wise Counselor, Your love is so worth singing about.

Even when we’re pitchy or our voices crack, even when we can’t find the perfect words, when we encounter You personally we can’t help but praise You and proclaim Your perfect love to the nations, to every generation (v. 1).

When we look to the heavens we see proof of Your eternal love.

You paint the skies with reminders of Your unending adoration and faithfulness, yet Your devotion can never be contained, never be fully grasped (v. 2).

Your attention to detail, Your creativity and dedication to designing beauty that none can equal or effectively capture are wonders to behold.

A glance toward the horizon affirms Your dependability, Lord.

You show up as consistently as the sun You make rise, the moon You make shine, and the earth You make turn on its axis.

You direct the wind and control the waves, while maintaining the vastness of the universe You created and sustain.

Each detail of Your glorious creation assures us we can never be out of Your infinite reach, never escape Your loving presence (v. 5).

The wisps of clouds, the radiance of the sunshine, the landscapes too marvelous to be fully appreciated, all speak of Your limitless and incomparable love (v. 6).

Mighty King of Kings, faithful Father, awesome God, You are worthy of all our praise, all of our reverence, respect, and unadulterated love (v. 7).

No love satisfies like Yours, Lord Jesus. Nothing and no one can compare with You.

Yet, You invite us to know You personally, to love You intimately. You fill our empty hearts with devotion that never runs dry (v. 8).

Your compassion and mercy flow endlessly.

Your great love covers us, hems us in, and wraps us up in a refuge sculpted and secured by Your unchanging faithfulness.

Thank You, Lord, for loving us first, loving us completely, loving us even when we struggle with loving ourselves.

Please help us receive Your love without question, without doubt, without hesitation, as we declare Your love is worth singing about, worth living for, and worth returning with all we’ve got.

In Jesus’s name, Amen

—–

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

—–

Facebook Twitter Email