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Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

There are people who, based on their actions, seem absolutely bent on making it impossible for me to display grace and forgiveness. But this doesn’t change the fact that I must forgive. Tirelessly, and totally. Jesus made that very clear in Matthew 18:21-35.

 

Who must I forgive?

EVERYONE, no exceptions. Even my enemies.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

When?

Whenever they offend me.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

How?

Completely. No holding back.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2)

Why?

Because I was forgiven a debt I could never pay, and I am expected to do the same for others just like me.

JUST. LIKE. ME.

Wait—I don’t act like HER … I’m not a bad as HIM

Wait—in whose book did I deserve the grace I received?

he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. Psalm 103:10

Some people are hard to forgive because they are hard and unforgiving. Are they a lost cause?

Not to God.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9).

How will my bitter neighbor ever learn to show grace and forgiveness if I, a recipient of undeserved grace, can’t show him what it looks like?

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47)

…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

If it’s not my responsibility to exemplify undeserved grace, then whose is it?

What if you and I are the only example of Jesus that an offensive person will ever know?

i love u bc God loves u

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Let’s Talk: What has the Grace of God taught you, and how has it changed you? What does it allow you to do that you couldn’t before/on your own?

-Camille

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Have you ever met anyone with a cold, unapproachable demeanor that made you think twice about talking to them?

You know, the If You Take One Step Closer I Will Bite You type?

curmudgeon

How do you usually respond to people like that?

I confess: I’m a fraidy cat. If someone’s expression or body language tells me they don’t want anything to do with me, I am quick to oblige and pass on by. And if for some reason I’m forced to speak to someone who’s stabbing me a hundred ways with their eyes, I’m sure I put off some kind of hunted prey fear hormone, making the encounter all the more nerve-racking.

Just once, I’d love to be that radiant soul who smiles anyway and has the nerve to clap the grump on the back and shower them with sweetness and light.

But life—and some great examples in fiction and film—have taught me that people are not always what they first appear to be. I am *learning* not to let a gruff demeanor fool me or keep me from reaching out or from caring. I didn’t say I’m finding it easy. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s so needed.

I personally have this weird soft spot for fictional curmudgeons. An example I’ll never forget is Margaret, in the novel Some Wildflower in My Heart. A woman named Birdie in the story is a beautiful example of the power of friendship. If you like the tough shell/broken heart type of story, you’ll definitely want read that one.

Speaking of tough shells, in Like a Love Song, Sue shoots off prickly vibes when she’s forced to hire Joe at her ranch for foster kids. She’s a no-nonsense gal with a tough demeanor. Joe is personally challenged to show Sue the love of God, despite her manner, and this woman doesn’t make it easy. But before long, Joe begins to see that her demeanor is only a protective shield for a deeply wounded heart.

The curmudgeon I’ve most recently fallen for is Ove from A Man Called Ove (novel & film). Have you met him? What a fascinating, heart-tugging contradiction he turns out to be! And how our feelings about him change as we get to know him. (I highly recommend this story; it will SHRED you.)

Ove 8-31-19

I’m convinced that God also has a soft spot for curmudgeons. He can see far more deeply into our neighbors than we ever can, and he’s not intimidated by a gruff demeanor. He knows the hurt, the disappointment, the loneliness. He knows what pain is being guarded by that prickly exterior. And not only is he not a fraidy cat, he’s interested in bringing a healing touch to those hurting places.

And I believe he’s interested in helping us fraidy cats muster the nerve to look beyond the “CLOSED” sign and give a lingering smile, offer a little friendship.

Let’s Talk: What other story comes to mind with a character like Sue or Ove—cold and unapproachable, but inwardly hurting and alone? Do you hesitate to approach people who seem to want to be left alone? Are you inclined to stop and speak anyway, or do you tend to pass on by? Have you ever gone out on a limb and approached someone who seemed gruff and found them to be surprisingly receptive?

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Between the Pages header

Hey, there!

I’m kicking off a new series of weekly blog posts under the heading Between the Pages. We’ll be taking a look at precious gems of Truth found in fiction and film. Each week, we’ll talk about some of the novels, characters, films, and other forms of story that have left an impression on our hearts, or have impacted our lives in some way.

Bridge-to-Haven_3001I recently read Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers. It’s a beautiful allegory, and it doesn’t take long to see how Ezekiel and his son Joshua—a carpenter—symbolize God and Jesus. How a fast-talking charmer deceives and lures the main character, Abra, away from those who love her and into a path of ruination. How quickly she becomes enslaved, and how, with every bridge she burns, she feels more and more separated from her father. How unforgivable and unlovable she believes herself to be.

It’s a powerful and painfully raw story. But life is often painful and raw. Gritty. Enslaving. And the consequences of our choices often hurt more than we ever anticipate. But to me, the most heartbreaking consequence isn’t Abra’s lost innocence or the degrading enslavement she finds herself in. It’s the assumption she is too far gone, and her bitter resolve to keep running away from God and never look back.

sad girl bridge

Have you ever believed a lie like this? Felt you’d burned too many bridges? Believed that God is fed up with your repeated failures and you might as well just give up? We see God through human eyes, and assign him human qualities, such as impatience, resentment, frustration, etc. Even the enemy of our souls, the father of lies, knows that God will not write you off, let you wander off, lost and alone.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Luke 15:3-7

Jesus leaves the 99 and goes out in search of the one, his precious lost lamb, his beloved. He won’t force us to come home, but he will climb every hill and ford every stream and beckon to us, show us there is no place we can go that he has not already gone, no place we can hide that he is not already there.

The idea of leaving loved ones behind and believing oneself beyond redemption runs through my next book, Wings Like a Dove (Dec 2019). We’ll talk more about Anna’s story soon.

But in the meantime, let’s talk about burned bridges.

  • Have you ever burned a bridge with someone in your life? Left a trail of burned bridges? 
  • Have you ever felt you’d reached a point of no return with God or people in your life? 
  • Have you ever wanted to make amends, but didn’t know where to begin? How did you deal with it? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
  • What advice would you give someone who feels they are truly unforgivable?
  • What stories or characters have left a lasting impression on you about the relentless love of God?

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Does happiness elude you? Are you disenchanted with life?

It’s so easy to flounder in feelings of discontent. We don’t have to look far to find something to complain about. Government. Health. Finances. Longevity. People. Job Security. The other political party. Relationships. Rush hour traffic. Adulting. Taxes. Social Injustice. This world and this earthly life are full of imperfections that can interfere with our plans, mar our happiness, rob our joy, and jade our outlook.

I’m reminded that this world was never where our happiness was meant to come from. If the lasting peace we seek is based on everything in our life going “right,” or all the good things in life finally lining up, I’m afraid we will never be happy, because everything will never be fully right. Not in this broken world. Not in this life.

It’s not wrong to desire a more perfect world; our souls were created to crave this. And it’s not wrong to enjoy life and the world around us. But it’s short-sighted to look for lasting contentment on earth. We were created to long for an indescribably fulfilling eternity with the Creator of our souls, our loving God.

The enemy of our souls has myriad weapons and tactics, but one steady aim: to drive a wedge between you and God. He’s good at finding your weakness, your vulnerability. The crack in your armor. The crack he finds in each of us will vary. Is discontent your weakness? Discontent is not just a matter of your own unhappiness, it’s also a foothold for the devil to drive you farther and farther away from what you need most: God, and his body of believers to help you stay strong in your faith.

If it is contentment you seek, it’s not found in perfect circumstances, but in relationship with a perfect God.

Jesus said, “give thanks in all things, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Not just in the good times. One of the best ways to battle discontent is to stop and thank God for all he has done and for all you do have. Our pastor encouraged us yesterday to remember to thank the Giver before we run off to enjoy a gift, and to keep our eyes on Him rather than on what he gives.

May a heart of gratitude bring lasting peace to us now, because an eternity of abundant, endless blessings and beauty and perfect “rightness” awaits.

give thanks

… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Philippians 4:11

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The grace of God is difficult to understand. The idea of granting favor to people who don’t deserve it is so foreign to our small, justice-wired minds. His mercy is equally confusing: to be pardoned from the consequences our blockheaded behavior deserves.

I understand that I am to be a conduit of God’s grace, I really do. But even when I am willing to show grace or mercy, my sense of justice keeps rearing its score-keeping little head.

I don’t fully understand how God’s grace operates. Grace, like lasting love (because let’s face it—if it isn’t lasting, it isn’t love), isn’t an emotion, but a choice. Grace sometimes means thinking outside the box.

In fact, true grace often means throwing out the box altogether.

The Lord has been showing me that I need to stop wishing people would change when they don’t line up with my list of Things I Like in a Human. I not only need to stop wishing they would change, but I need to change the way I see others and be more accepting of our differences. I’m trying, truly. And yet, no matter how hard I try to change my attitude toward those who see and think differently, it occurs to me that I can never change enough. There are always going to be things about people that I just can’t reconcile. I need to be more open minded, and yet I can only open my little brain so much.

Ah, the limitations of being human.

That’s where grace comes in.

I don’t understand people. Shocking, I know. Christ says I’m to love people as he does, without condition (conditions include wishing they would stop being so anal/boasting/dramatic/verbose/needy/etc). So, in order to love as He loves (and commands), I must rely on grace—that mysterious spiritual blanket that falls on me and everyone around me like snow, coating us all until we are a bizarre collection of snowmen, mismatched in size and shape and yet oddly uniform, suddenly similar. His grace, like snow, puts a hush in the air, quiets the clamor in our judgmental minds, and blinds us to one another’s annoying quirks and all those other things we just don’t understand or—let’s be honest—like about each other.

They say love is blind. This doesn’t mean love turns a blind eye to destructive behavior. But I do think blind love means that with the help of the Spirit and grace of God, I could be far, far, far easier on others in the privacy of my heart.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Don’t secretly demand that people measure up to some standard that you and I, if we were to be honest, don’t always meet ourselves. Do you want a friend? Show yourself friendly. Do you want more attention? Be more attentive. You want more respect, show more respect. Not because giving is a magical formula for getting, but rather because wanting to receive what we’re not willing to give is selfish and hypocritical.

Wait, was that a snowflake…?

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My 92-year old father-in-law is an amazing person. And he has dementia.

He lives in a wonderful care facility but is often mixed up about where he is, how things work, where he believes he’s been. When left to his disordered thoughts, he gets fixated and rambles at length about things that make no sense. We sometimes find him alone on a bench in a hallway because his deep baritone voice carries and his loud nonsense speak disturbs the residents in the main room.

My husband and I find that if we ask him about history—of which he is highly knowledgeable—his thoughts become more ordered and he can carry on a relatively normal conversation, recalling people and events with astonishing accuracy. He will sometimes tell us about a world leader or an event unfamiliar to us, so we Google it while he’s talking and he’s always spot on. But he also thinks he’s on a ship or in a train station, and he often sees things that aren’t there. Once he thought Andy Griffith walked by.

And yet despite his disordered mind, he always has a positive attitude. When I ask him how he’s doing, he often says, “I can’t complain. I’ve had better days, but you know, you just have to make the best of it.”

This makes it easy to remember the man he was. Family, friends and people in his community have long known him as a wise, kind, generous man who would take a homeless person to a restaurant and buy him a meal; a hardworking family man, and a steadfast Christian who always attended church no matter what shift he’d just gotten off, and even while on vacation with the family. He would find some church in whatever town they were visiting and take the family on Sunday morning—the fishing and sandcastles could wait.  He prayed faithfully and read his Bible consistently, and everywhere he went, he never knew a stranger. He talked to people everywhere: at the gas station, grocery store, doctor’s office, and it didn’t matter if he knew them or not. He often encouraged people to look to Jesus and go to church. Without fail he was gracious, selfless, and respectful of everyone he knew, no matter where they came from or how young or old they were.

And he still does this today, even in his mentally incapacitated state.

The care staff has only known him as he is now: a nearly blind, nearly deaf, nonsensical old man who needs help with everything most of us do without thinking, like walking, eating, and using the bathroom. We’ve overheard him thanking the caregivers and apologizing for causing them trouble. They tell us often that he is one of the kindest people they know. This is a man who can no longer use logic and reason and has absolutely no control over anything he thinks or says. He has no filters, so what he thinks, he says.

Even with dementia—or rather because of it—he is teaching me something important about the indwelling Spirit of God.

I try to be kind, and I try to be generous, and once in a while, I try to be self-sacrificing, especially if I know it will bless someone. To be honest, kindness and selflessness are not natural reflexes for me (unlike sarcasm and sampling cookie dough), so for me to act this way is more of a conscious decision, a choice. As in an all-out flesh-wrangling choice. I’d like to think I’m developing more Christ-like reflexes…

Meanwhile, as I was praying for my father in law this morning, it occurred to me that this man has absolutely no choice over his behavior, and yet the fruit of the Spirit is clearly evident in him. The goodness and faithfulness and kindness and generosity he shows to those around him come from a place well beyond his mind—a much deeper place. He cannot will himself to act in any certain way. The way he treats others is motivated solely by his spirit, a place in which the Spirit of God clearly and fully dwells.

He didn’t build a cathedral or start a mega church or write a theology book or travel the world to preach the gospel. But what he did was just as phenomenal. His faith is simple and astounding. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back” could be his life song, because, as an adult who had tasted of the world, he gave his heart to Jesus and didn’t turn back and has lived out this decision for more than 50 years.  This man and his spirit-filled life have encouraged the faith of countless people. He aimed to follow Jesus all his days, and this aim has served him in the end because whether he knows it or not, he is finishing the race well. He doesn’t know it, but he’s teaching me about the miraculous indwelling of the Spirit of God, and he is inspiring me to be as purposeful in my aim, and to finish well. He doesn’t know this but his wisdom and his faith are still guiding me.

What a miraculous thing, to be so thoroughly motivated by the Spirit of God. I pray that Christ would so inhabit me that his likeness, the fruit of his Spirit, would flow as effortlessly from me.

fruitQ: Do you ever think about what you’d think and say if you had no controlling filter on your thoughts and words? What motivates your words and actions?

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I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned  in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –the Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-13

wind-treeContentment is so fragile, so subjective. If we truly desire to be content no matter our circumstances, or believe we’ve achieved it, soon something comes along to test this resolve. I can’t resolve to be content. And I’m tired of faking it.
I often see verse 13 plucked out of this paragraph, and yes, while always true, the apostle is specifically saying we need help to be perpetually content in every situation. The fact that Paul makes a point to say he needs God’s strength to achieve this tells me that continual contentment is important to have and yet impossible to achieve alone.

I live in a world that constantly tempts me to desire comfort and ease as a replacement for contentment, and it is quick to tell me what it will take. The latest fashion trend (which appears to be 90s Grunge at the moment-ehh, no thanks). Newer furniture. Bigger home. Perfect body. A newer-faster-cooler car. The latest app to make life easier. Healthier junk food. Stress-free relationships-job-commute-vacation-etc.

Deficiency or pain or discomfort or unrest or disunity or human imperfections (ours AND others’) will always be with us. ALWAYS. Contentment is going to need to be more deeply felt, more firmly established, less apt to be plucked away the moment something goes wrong.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
(She) will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.” Jer. 17:7-8

What shakes your sense of contentment? I confess that for me, and more lately as I am “feeling” age gaining, it doesn’t take much. How do you respond to adversity, or a rough day at work/home/with kids? Boneheads on the road? (um, I’ve never seen any…) Unsatisfactory customer service? Mind-numbing political rhetoric? Facebook feed? How long does it take for you to turn from the source and reach deeper for the Source, for the Lord’s strength and larger eternal perspective, for peace that passes understanding in the midst of discontent?

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