From Hopeless to Hopeful: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 77 v 11

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 77)

During a flare-up a few weeks ago, I suffered severe muscle spasms and nerve pain that triggered a debilitating headache. As the hours ticked by with no relief and the pain increased, hopelessness closed in on me.

Help me, Lord! Have mercy on me! I can’t take it anymore!

I couldn’t think of the Bible verses that had lifted my heart so many times before. I couldn’t remember the attributes of God that had anchored my faith in the One who promises to never change, never leave me, and never let me down.

Curled up in a wah-baby-melt-down, I could barely whimper prayers for mercy so I thanked God for the prayer warriors who, though struggling with their own trials, stood in the gap to pray for me when I had nothing left to give.

Eventually, God relaxed my muscles and wrapped me in a deep sleep. But for the next few weeks I had limited energy. The Lord refreshed my spirit, as I rested in His presence, listened to worship music, and savored His Word in small bites.

Today, I’m still struggling with fatigue and trusting the Lord with my daily battle with chronic pain. I’m reflecting on the overwhelming sense of despair that had smothered me, that feels as if it’s closing in on me during the harder days.

How did I get in the deep, dark pit of hopelessness when I know God is and always will be faithful and trustworthy?

These feelings can tempt me to slink into shame for being faithless, but the Lord reminds me that the valley moments He’s brought me through are behind me. The faith He has authored and is perfecting in my life is still intact. He promises to remain true to His character and true to His Word whenever I face trials.

Was it a hard road? Of course.

Did I feel like giving up? More than once.

Did I truly believe I couldn’t take one more second of suffering? Absolutely!

But even though I felt helpless, I was still praying . . . though some of those prayers were silent tears slipping down my cheeks.

And even though I felt hopeless . . . somehow . . . I still knew my hope was secured in these truths:

God is listening. God is with me. God is the same trustworthy and loving God He’s been and always will be.

So why didn’t I feel like I knew those facts when I was focused on my circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by my suffering?

Because faith has nothing to do with feelings.

Faith doesn’t depend on the way I’m feeling when I’m suffering, the measure of my strength or weakness, or my ability to remember the right verses when I can’t even think straight.

When we’re drowning in despair, the Lord patiently allows us to process without leaving our side, without changing His character, without losing control of the situation.

As I continue to recover from the flare-up, I’m thanking God for being constant and true, loving and faithful and abounding in grace . . . especially when I can’t feel Him, when I can’t see His hand, or recall His words, or even attempt to say I believe.

We’ll all have times when we feel as if our faith is faltering.

Like the writer of Psalm 77, most of us have “cried out to God for help” (v. 1).

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (v. 2).

As the psalmist struggled through weariness, doubt, discouragement, and hopelessness, he rested in the unchangeable, secure foundation of faith‒God . . . simply God.

When he questioned the Lord (vv. 7-9), he opened his heart and reached toward God’s consistency (v. 10).

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds” (vv. 11-12).

The psalmist turns to praising what he knows to be true, the surety of who God is and what He’s done (vv. 13-15). 

He affirms God’s majesty as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe (vv. 16-19). He remembers that the strong people of faith never relied on their own strength (v. 20).

The psalter is filled with examples of God’s people coming before Him with raw emotions, struggling with suffering, doubting and dipping into despair.

As we read through these verses, we can see where the writer switches from being self-focused to being focused on God and how He’s worked in and through the lives of others who’ve come before him. But we can’t tell how long this process takes.

We don’t have to beat ourselves up or be ashamed of our times of weakness. We don’t have to hide our hurts or shy away from our moments of hopelessness.

During those inevitable difficult times, instead of sinking into isolation, we can reach out to others and ask for prayer. We can pray for others, remembering all God has done and reminding ourselves that the truths we’re proclaiming apply to us, too.

And we can experience the Lord’s power intimately, to feel His grace carrying us through because we cannot possibly imagine taking one more step on our own.

Every breath is a testimony of God’s sustaining grace. Every tear is a prayer caught in His loving hand. Every sob is a song of proclamation that affirms God hears, God cares, God is with us.

Every time a prayer warrior intercedes on our behalf, every time we pray on behalf of others, God proves He remains the same yesterday and today and forever.

When hopelessness overwhelms us, we can inhale a sense of peace.

We can trust God to anchor us to the unfailing hope of knowing Him and knowing He will stay true to His Word and His character no matter how we feel or how long these valley moments may seem.

Lord, thanks for affirming that we’re never too far for You to cradle us in Your everlasting hope. Please give us all we need to trust You one step at a time. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—–

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Relying on God, Not Self: Living Brave Series

MEME - Relying on God Not Self - Blog

(Suggested Reading – Judges 7:1-25)

In 2014 my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant. I was recovering from my first of two shoulder surgeries and working with doctors to manage the constant high-level pain caused by my upper thoracic back injury.

Still, I immediately agreed when my mom asked me to serve as her caregiver. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that reality hit.

How was I going to care for her when I was right in the middle of my own healing journey?

My husband comforted and encouraged me, as I sobbed and prayed. What were You thinking, Lord?

A few months after my second shoulder surgery, an injection in my back, and a new medicinal plan that would hopefully help me manage my pain while I cared for my mom, I flew to Seattle.

I suffered constant pain every day. And every single day, the Lord showed up and carried me through.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any harder, I tore muscles in my hip and pelvis.

The injuries in my shoulders and upper back flared up as I hobbled on crutches for weeks, cooking, cleaning our small living space, and monitoring my mom’s meds (and mine).

I learned how to depend on God the most on those days when I had no strength of my own.

My faith deepened as I watched my mom trusting God through her healing journey, too. She would read daily devotions from Jesus Calling, pray for others, and rely on the Lord daily.

During our time in Seattle, my mom and I were like our own little army against the world.

We took every step by faith, depending on God completely, surrendering to Him totally, and trusting Him implicitly.

To this day, I’m in awe at how the Lord brought us through the ordeal, how He blessed us with joy, peace, and strength we couldn’t have mustered up on our own.

I think back on those difficult months often, with my mom now at peace with Jesus and me heading into the sixth year of my healing journey.

I consider how Gideon must have felt when the Lord asked him to face an army with a whittled down troop of soldiers.

God had already guaranteed Gideon the victory and proved He would be with him through the battle. He remained patient when Gideon struggled with fear and doubt. He reminded Gideon that his own strength was irrelevant.

With pared down troops, Gideon would have no choice but to put his trust in God’s power, not his own abilities or the strength of his support system (Judges 7:1-6).

“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped [the water] I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’” (v. 7, emphasis mine)

God didn’t snatch the soldiers away.

Gideon had to choose to embrace his weakness, to let go of his safety net, before he could experience the power of God.

 In compassion, the Lord still offered Gideon comforting reassurance (v. 10-11).

God knew his servant would experience moments when doubt or fear muscled out every ounce of courage he had managed to muster up.

So, He allowed Gideon to hear testimonies of what others saw in him as the Lord worked in and through his life (vv. 13-14). Though Gideon couldn’t see past his own weaknesses, those around him witnessed God’s power surging through his obedience.

The “mighty warrior” God had called forth rose up to the challenge before him, using the simple tools he had been given (vv. 15-16). There was no doubt the Lord alone defeated the enemy Gideon had once feared (vv. 17-22).

Gideon’s courageous faith, made stronger through his moments of doubt and discouragement, emboldened those who witnessed the small army’s victory against the Midianites (vv. 23-25).

We’ll all face obstacles, enemies, or battles that seem impossible to overcome and make us feel inadequate.

When we feel too weak, too unprepared, too afraid to walk the path the Lord has paved for us, we can guarantee victory by lifting our arms in complete surrender to God.

We’re strongest when we let go of the false sense of security wrapped in self-reliance and embrace our weaknesses, admit our absolute need for God, and rely on Him for everything.

Like Gideon, we may have a few set-backs that will require God’s patient and loving pep-talks.

Because Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, there’s no way our skirmishes with fear and doubt can determine the measure of our faith.

The Lord knows when we’re weary, insecure, and in desperate need of His affirming love.

His sufficient grace is more than enough to help us when we’re tempted to give God our own brand of fleece-tests (Judges 6:36-40) to determine His proven faithfulness.

As we rely on God, not self, we can embrace our weakness and experience the peace of His constant presence as we walk in the power of His Spirit.

Lord, thanks for being patient when we waver and for being our strength when we’re weak. Please help us show that we accept the power You’ve placed in us by relying on You in all circumstances. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—–

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Carrying Shields of Faith, Not Fear: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 23

(Suggested Reading – Judges: 33-40)

For years after receiving Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I functioned with fearful instead of fearless faith. I prayed for protection and provision with inklings of doubts that raised my levels of anxiety instead of peace. Rather than proclaiming who God is with confidence, I pleaded for affirmation and begged God to give me favor and grant my wishes.

Once I stopped treating God like my personal vending machine of pleasure, I began to understand the interdependence of believers and the trustworthiness of God’s sovereignty.

I’m so glad the Lord’s answers to my prayers aren’t dependent on my limited vision or fear-filled desperation for personal comfort.

In His sovereignty, God knows what I’m going through. He also knows what’s around the corner and what I’ll need to get through an upcoming crisis or over an unsavory obstacle. I don’t.

In His goodness, God cares about my needs . . . more than my list of wants. He grieves when I suffer and desires what’s best for me, even when what’s best requires a personal cost physically, emotionally, or mentally. I, on the other hand, usually don’t mind settling for the more feel-good roads of least resistance.

It took a while, and I sometimes still forget, that what’s best for me doesn’t always mean what I want or what will make my current situation easier.

Even though God is all good, my journey in this world on this side of eternity will often include too much heartache, too much waiting, too much struggling. But the Lord always remains in the know and in control.

When God nudges me forward or beckons me to follow, I can trust Him as Promise-Keeper and walk with courageous faith . . . even when I’m fearful.

As believers, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. He is with us, empowering us, guiding, encouraging, comforting us. He speaks the truth of His Holy Word, assuring us of His proven faithfulness.

So, why do we sometimes hesitate when the Lord leads us to do something we’ve always dreamed of doing or something that requires us to depend on His strength because we know we can’t do anything in our own strength?

When we know God fights our battles and provides our strength, promising to be with us wherever He leads us, why do we sometimes shy away from risking failure or facing fierce opposition?

Because, sadly, our vision is often blurred by our human frailty and we act as if the measure of our faith depends on us.

Fear demands absolute proof of provision and protection. Spirit-empowered faith moves forward on the promised assurance of who God is and what He’s declared to be true‒the Bible.

Yet, in His goodness, the Lord knows we’re feeble. He’s persistently patient with us.

With awe-inspiring kindness, God respects our need to process our emotions and work through the layers of fear, insecurity, and self-sufficiency that prevent us from walking in the power of the Spirit.

Scripture affirms “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon” (Judges 6:34). This “mighty warrior” had all he needed to follow God with bold confidence.

Still, doused in unbelief, Gideon tested God’s honor by questioning His abilities: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised . . .” (v. 36).

If? Gideon’s two-lettered badge of faithlessness basically implied God was a liar.

The Lord had promised, but Gideon didn’t trust His integrity.

In love, God tolerated Gideon’s self-focused insecurities and his vain attempts to surpass faith with fleece-filled litmus tests (v. 37-40).

While it may be tempting to judge Gideon and criticize his limp faith-muscles, it’s more than likely that we struggle with the same desires for God to give us confirmation before we step out in faith.

Unfortunately, it often feels safer to stand in reluctance, waiting in the pit of disobedience, unwilling to walk in the power we’ve been given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because, like Gideon, we settle for a perspective distorted by our own imperfections and limitations.

God has given us all we need to live brave.

As we shift our thoughts to God’s reliability, we can risk rejection and face the possibility of failure.

 By embracing the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, we can abolish fruitless fears and carry a shield of faith molded with the surety of God’s inerrant truth and unchanging character.

Mighty King of Kings and loving Father, please help us accept the power You’ve given us to trust You, rely on You, and follow You with fearless faith. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

——

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Believing God When It’s Easier to Doubt: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 12Suggested Reading: Judges 6:1-16

In January 2014, I asked God to help me be braver. I longed to follow Him, even when He asked me to try new things, hard things, and, yes, even scary things.

That commitment led me down unexpected, exciting, and excruciating detours and delays on the path God paved and used to challenge me, sculpt me, and deepen my faith.

I had decided to pray for guidance daily and say “yes” whenever the Lord led me to serve. It wasn’t always easy discerning when it was God leading or other people insisting He’d put me on their heart so the task must be my responsibility.

As I continued seeking Him, drawing near to Him, and asking Him to show me “the next step” He wanted me to take, He increased my discernment and blessed me with the strength and courage I needed so that I could obey Him.

I had no idea saying “yes” to God would require me to say “no” to some good things, that following His lead might land me in some incredibly physically and emotionally difficult seasons or seemingly endless waiting periods.

Obedience to God often thrust me into painful in-your-face-moments that revealed how much I needed His life-transforming love to penetrate every aspect of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve discovered one thing I needed to do before I could serve the Lord as He intended.

I needed to believe God.

I needed to believe what He said about who He was, is, and always will be and who I am because of Him.

I needed to believe Him, especially when it felt easier to doubt.

As God helped me know Him, He helped me believe Him, which helped me to trust Him as He slowly, patiently, lovingly stripped away the doubts, fears, and insecurities that kept me from following Him with courage.

Focusing on my limitations, my lack of qualifications, my shortcomings, my uncertainties, and my past failings kept me from living for God.

How could I serve Him and fulfill the purpose of sharing Him with the gifts He’d given me, when my greatest naysayer and biggest adversary discouraged me and mocked me every time I looked in the mirror?

It seems obvious that Gideon fought his inner-critic, too. He seemed to have a hard time believing the LORD would consider him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:11).

But the angel of the LORD got close and personal with Gideon. He came alongside this ordinary steward who was doing ordinary tasks, using the gifts and fulfilling the purposes he’d already been given.

The divine messenger assured Gideon of God’s promise to be with His people. He labeled Gideon with a badge of strength, a role of persevering courage, pointing out the potential God had placed within him (v. 11).

Still, Gideon’s thoughts flipped back to the times when he didn’t get his way, when God didn’t meet his expectations, when his circumstances felt too hard, when life seemed uncomfortable, unfulfilling, and unjust (v. 13).

I don’t blame him. It often feels easier to keep our attention on the difficulty of the task at hand, the unfairness of our journey, the disappointments of our shattered expectations, and the ways we feel God let us down.

When we cast blame on God or others for the tough times in life, we can almost feel justified when we avoid trying, when we reason our way out of obeying, when we convince ourselves we can’t risk trusting the Lord again.

If Gideon’s “But Sir-speech” could prove God untrustworthy, maybe he could still end up looking like a good guy, a reasonable, wise, and safe guy. Or maybe he could just avoid being hurt, scared, disappointed, weary . . . or maybe he could avoid losing.

Who hasn’t wanted God to promise a risk-free road of obedience?

Fortunately, Gideon’s story assures us that the Lord understands our weaknesses.

The LORD turned to Gideon. Talk about an intimate vote of confidence.

“Go in the strength you have . . .” (v. 14)

Gideon didn’t need anything extra to accomplish what the LORD asked him to do, and neither do we.

“Am I not sending you?” (v. 14)

The LORD simply reminded Gideon that he was not alone or without purpose.

When God sends us down the pre-ordained path He planned for us, He remains with us, providing all we need to do all He entrusts to us as we follow Him, rely on Him, and surrender to Him every step of the way.

Yet, like Gideon, we can be tempted to turn our gaze to our limited resources and lack of status, listing the many reasons we aren’t qualified for the job (v. 15).

Of course, we’re not qualified! God doesn’t need us. He wants to use us to spread His truth and love to the ends of the earth, to serve Him by serving others, and to bring glory to His name by simply doing what He asks with what he provides.

We can go wherever God leads, in the strength we have with the gifts we have, because God is the one sending us.

When Gideon obsessed over his lacking, the LORD didn’t flatter him with words of affirmation to help him feel better about himself.

He simply confirmed He would be with Gideon and fight on Gideon’s behalf (v. 16).

God will help us surrender to Him, depend on Him, and trust Him to carry us over and through every obstacle He intends for us to face.

He doesn’t ask us to save the world, change the world, or carry the world on our shoulders.

He simply asks us to listen to Him, to look to Him, and to live for Him as we believe Him, even when it’s easier to doubt.

Lord, thanks for assuring us You’re with us. Please help us to be brave, as we seek You, obey You, and share You with every gift and every opportunity You’ve given us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Is God asking you to try something new, something hard, or something a little bit scary?

How can focusing on His faithfulness, His power, His grace, His goodness, and His constant presence make us brave, even when it’s easier to doubt?

I hope you’ll join me for my new blog series “Living Brave.” I look forward to drawing closer to God, trusting He’ll empower us to try those new things, hard things, and, yes, even those scary things as we serve Him and share Him with courageous faith.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Gina Latta Kelly.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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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 Diminishes the Power of Hate

MEME - 1 John 4 v 20As I watched the news reports about the violent, racist attacks in Charlottesville with tears in my eyes, I cried out to the Lord.

I’d started my Radical Forgiveness series as I struggled to forgive a few people who had hurt me deeply but showed no remorse, a few others who minimized, justified, and excused their actions while continuing to wound my heart through their surface-apologies.

My personal problems seem so small today.

Yet, the Lord has perfectly timed this study to prepare me for the overwhelming emotions I’m processing as I witness hate infesting communities across the world, the riots in Virginia being one more checkmark on evil’s scorecard.

What are Christ followers to do in the wake of such senseless violence?

We can start by living up to the name we claim.

Christians are, by definition, Christ followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells within each believer and purposed to live as representatives of the King of Kings.

The Bible clearly states that God’s servants cannot claim to love Him while hating others.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

The hatred and ignorance that instigated the racist terrorist acts of violence in Charlottesville stem from evil that cannot be minimized, justified, or ignored.

Christ does not condone hatred, racism, injustice, discrimination, or violence. Neither can we.

As Christ followers, we cannot be content with cowering in our comfort zones, hiding behind apathy, indifference, or approval through silence, in order to avoid conflict or criticism.

Faith in Christ should embolden us, empowering us to speak truth in love, with gentleness and respect.

As we place our hope in Christ, we can persevere in love, making a difference because our loving Lord did not give His life so that we could be indifferent.

Jesus Himself said that loving Him is synonymous to obeying Him. He also clearly declares the greatest commandment.

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

Truly loving God results in Spirit-empowered obedience, which would make loving our neighbors our top priority.

This love requires us to pray for those who are hurting and those who hurt, to rely on God for guidance, wisdom, and strength, and to stand in unity against the evil that feeds racism, which is rooted in a false sense of superiority.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus affirms that indifference is sin. He commends the Good Samaritan for having mercy on his fellow man and commands His disciples to “go and do likewise” (v. 37).

Loving our neighbors is showing mercy, a commandment not an option, if we follow Christ.

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9)

Ambassadors of Christ can . . . must speak out against injustice with courageous faith.

Through forgiveness and unity, we can begin a wave of healing that begins within our homes and extends into our communities, in person and online.

Radical forgiveness diminishes the power of hate.

As we’ve explored over the last four weeks of this series, it’s important to understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as we move toward healing in the power of Christ’s life-transforming love.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are intimate exchanges between us and God, requiring a process that doesn’t always lead to the restoration of relationship or guarantee an offender’s change of heart.

But as we pray for our offenders, asking God to overwhelm them with His life-transforming love, and yes . . . asking God to forgive them . . . we can be freed through forgiving, as we’ve been forgiven by Christ.

We can place the offenders in God’s trustworthy hands.

We can rely on God’s just and merciful love to work in and through the most painful circumstances, and even change the most hardened of hearts . . . just as He continues to change our often stubborn and hardened hearts through His loving grace.

Once the Lord helps us process our emotions and rise above resentment and bitterness, He can empower us to pray for those who persecute and hurt us, as we battle hate with love . . . knowing love prevails because God Himself is love.

Grief comes in waves, and the road toward change and healing will not be easy or short.

But as we stand together, we can celebrate the beautiful diversity of those God created and loves, even those who do not love Him.

Besides making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), this is our mission, our purpose as Christ followers:

To pray continually and depend on the Lord completely, as we love Him and all people with our words and actions, regardless of how we differ or disagree in beliefs . . .

To love all people as Christ loves us, because He first loved us . . .

To love all people by speaking up and inciting peace as we refuse to tolerate or ignore any act of injustice, violence, hate, racism, or discrimination . . .

And yes, even by embracing radical forgiveness as we forgive those who have not yet been forever changed by the love of Christ.

Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to love and forgive others.

As we watch the atrocities unfolding right before our eyes and grieve over the blatant hatred destroying lives, it is ever apparent that we cannot get through this without You, Lord.

Please help us place hate-filled offenders in Your hands, praying for them to be so impacted by Your love that they will be forever changed, like Paul, who once persecuted the Church then became a mighty advocate of love and forgiveness as He followed You and shared Your truth wherever You led him.

Yes, Lord, help us forgive first, so that we can be freed to make a difference in our world by refusing to be indifferent.

As we rest in the peace of Your constant presence, please empower us to seek peace, celebrate diversity as we stand in unity, and love selflessly and generously, like the Good Samaritan . . . all the days of our lives, starting today.

 In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken and used with permission by Begona Maier.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Radical Forgiveness is Possible

MEME - Radical Forgiveness Trusts God to Pour Out JusticeI started this blog series as an act of obedience and a search for guidance, discernment, courage, and healing. God’s been working in ways that haven’t led to paths I expected to walk.

I’ve chosen to forgive, though reconciliation wasn’t always possible.

I’ve forgiven offenders who continued to excuse and deny their wrong actions, who chose to cast blame rather than take responsibility for their hurtful behaviors.

Through my studies over the last few weeks, I’ve come to realize radical forgiveness is an intimate exchange between God and me that has nothing to do with my offender.

When I truly trust the Lord, I believe He will work all things out for the good of all who love Him . . . all . . . not just little ol’ selfish me.

“We all want mercy for ourselves but judgement for others.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall, p. 102)

The retribution principle‒demanding payback when wronged‒is evident in the psalms.

But Jesus turned that natural bend toward seeking vengeance upside down and inside out when He commanded us to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

Radical forgiveness requires us to go against our instinct and release the hurt and let God handle the judging and everything else.

When I first read the parable of the prodigal son, I ignored the part of the story that demonstrated the importance of letting go. I zeroed in on the running away, related to the wicked young man who demanded his inheritance because he wanted to gratify his sinful nature (Luke 15:11-16).

I’ve been there, not literally, but stuck in the mud and surrounded by the slop I’d created by my sinful choices.

Scripture says the son “came to his senses” and returned to his father, humbled and ready to repent. The image of the father running to his son exemplifies God’s grace in action (vv. 17-20).

I’ve been there, too, ready to repent and return to my heavenly Father. He met me with open arms. He didn’t shame me, demand explanations, or force me to live a life of penance.

So why do I and many others struggle with letting our offenders off the hook, even when they sincerely apologize?

When the prodigal son severed the ties with his family, his father let him go without trying to change his mind. Even though the father was hurt, he gave his son what he wanted and released him into his heavenly Father’s hands (v. 12).

Scripture says the father saw his son when he was “still a long way off” (vv. 20-21). He was looking out for him, waiting for him, probably praying for him, and most likely missing him.

Even though his child had wounds that needed healing, bad habits that needed breaking, behaviors and attitudes that needed changing, the father simply rejoiced in his son’s decision to return to his house and submit to his authority (vv. 21-24).

Without hesitation, the father wiped the slate clean and welcomed his wandering child back into his loving arms. The son hadn’t lost his place in the father’s heart or home (vv. 22-24).

Radical forgiveness. What a gift worth celebrating!

When we’re hurt by the poor decisions of others, especially when the offenders are people we care about, we often try to hold on, refusing to place them in God’s hands, which hurts more than helps.

Radical forgiveness often begins with letting go, giving God the chance to do the great work He has planned for us and our offenders.

As we discussed last week, reconciliation is not a requirement in a life devoted to radical forgiveness.

Sometimes it’s better and safer for us that relationships are severed, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Sometimes the prodigals don’t return. Sometimes the people who hurt us don’t repent. Sometimes offenders don’t seem to get the punishment we think they should receive.

Sometimes, we forget God’s sufficient grace is offered to all people because He wants none to perish.

It’s still hard for me to want forgiveness for those who commit atrocities against innocent people, especially children. But I’ve learned my responsibility and my ability to control don’t extend past my personal space. This boundary frees me to let God be God.

I don’t need to lose sleep when others hurt me or choose to remain in sin, because God will remain true to His Word and His character. He will make all things known and bring all things to account in His timing and in His way.

Radical forgiveness is trusting God to do what He promises, believing His grace is sufficient, and depending on the surety that His mercy and justice are His to pour out as He sees fit.

Yes, radical forgiveness is possible . . . because nothing is impossible with God.

Lord, thank You for loving us in our frailty, for giving us the courage and faith to trust You and rely on You, so we can experience the freedom of forgiveness, whether we need to forgive or we’re the ones who need forgiving. 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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