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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

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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Neuralizer1My 91 year old father-in-law suffers from dementia. Beneath his confusion, he’s still the kind, selfless soul he’s always been, a man whose polite manners and devotion to God are still evident even in his befuddled state. He’s unable to grasp that he lives in a care home. Most of the time, he thinks he’s on a ship, in a church, or waiting at a bus station. People walking past are characters in a TV show. But ask him about specific battles of WW2, or which heads of state were meeting to discuss a peace treaty, or what king ruled Great Britain in the 800s, and he can tell you real history in surprisingly accurate detail. I know–I have to Google most topics on my phone as he talks just to keep up–and he’s right.

His ability to remember history, whether it be World, American, or his own, is stronger the farther back we go. Present events are beyond his ability to grasp. Perhaps, as a form of blessing, his mind retains what it wants to remember and blocks out what it doesn’t.

I don’t know how dementia works. And I don’t know why we remember some things and forget others. In my case, this is usually to my dismay. I find it distressing that I can remember hurtful words, but can’t remember all the cute things my children said as toddlers. I’d prefer it the other way around.

We remember the bad so well (or maybe I’m the only one?). I suppose the biblical notion of forgiving AND forgetting is too foreign to our human nature. We are so good at remembering the mistakes of others—especially if those mistakes affected us.

But the Bible says that when God forgives, he also forgets.

Do you find that notion hard to grasp? As in, God, I’m really grateful that you’ve forgiven me, but you aren’t really going to forget about that, are you? You’re God, you know everything. How can you forget what I did? What she did? What he did?

In my upcoming novel, The Memoir of Johnny Devine, John wishes the infamy of his Hollywood years could disappear. Even more, he wishes people could forget his past and see him in a new light, the light of God’s redeeming grace. But getting people to completely forget each other’s mistakes isn’t easy. In fact, I don’t know if it’s possible.

If only those nifty memory neutralizers Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith used in Men In Black were available. (!)

If you’ve ever made a mistake, or worse, made a full-blown career of sin, and later repented to God, who forgives and forgets, how do you face people who will never forget? God can throw our sin into the sea of forgetfulness, so why can’t people?

We can’t. Period. Past mistakes linger like a permanent stain in our minds. John (and we) can’t do anything about those stains. But perhaps there is use for them. Perhaps the memory we can’t erase can serve a beautiful purpose.

Perhaps the light of Grace shines all the brighter when held against darkness.

Perhaps hope is far sweeter when offered to the truly hopeless.

Perhaps God’s likeness growing more evident in a once-ugly life is the most stunning beauty of all to behold.

Perhaps…if we can’t erase the stain, we can use it to stir compassion in our hearts for others and pray they find the same hope of forgiveness AND forgetfulness we have found.

Perhaps.

JDmemes7

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imageResentment is a certain evil, a ready seed in fertile soil. Like a noxious weed, it takes over and quickly ruins anything good around it. It’s a hidden trap, a merciless captor. It has no place in the heart of a Christ follower. It causes self deception, destruction of relationships, and is a cancer to the one bearing it. It fosters sin, the unjust belief of lies, and replaces Grace with Judgment.

After receiving grace ourselves, what a dangerous place in which to live.

Trust me, I know.

Paul says “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” 2 Cor 2:10-11

The enemy of our soul hates relationship and is scheming to destroy what binds people to one another (body of Christ, spouses, friends) and to God. Human bonds, perhaps based on good feelings and emotions, are easily broken, sadly. Our feelings are hurt. Or perhaps our pride is wounded. Our worth or opinion is dismissed. Our needs are unmet. How easily we hold others accountable when we are wronged. And people in our lives should be held accountable for their actions, in a right and loving way. But accountability and forever labeled and blamed are not the same thing.

The bonds we as Christians have with one another, forged by God’s grace, are powerful and unbreakable. His is a Grace that doesn’t seek what it deserves, but what others need. Grace isn’t a fleeting emotion, but a powerful and deliberate act. It’s supernatural.

In fact, I think I’ll tattoo this to my forehead:

His is a Grace that doesn’t seek what it deserves, but what others need.

Want to thwart the enemy? Ask God for more grace and then choose to pray for the one you resent. I didn’t say it would be easy, but you can do it. (What Christ did for you on Calvary was much harder.) Choose to forgive and let go your case against them. Pray for them in earnest, and watch your resentment fade. Seek better for others, and seek Christ’s healing and comfort for yourself and your hurts. Be empowered by something far more powerful than a determination to hang onto your rights. Take your resentment to the Cross, where Christ accepted responsibility for your sin, and let grace help you leave it.

Question: when was the last time you chose to pray for the one who wronged you?

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hurtWhen you are hurt or don’t like the way a person makes you feel, do you assume they have wrong or hurtful motives toward you? Do you assume they are disrespecting you, or acting out of jealousy, or wanting to make you look bad or that they are dismissing your worth, or whatever is your particular “trigger” for feeling hurt or offended? (we all have one….)

Just how far have you let your assumptions run? Have you later found out you were wrong? That they were not out to hurt you? That you misread their actions?

I have. And it’s been done to me, so I know that it hurts to be falsely accused of wrong motives.

I have seen how my assumptions have caused me to foster and feed resentment, negativity, and thoughts that lead to sin. All based on an assumption (or suspicion). Sometimes those suspicions are founded, but more often, unfounded. But even if my assumptions about others’ motives are founded, I have found that harboring resentment causes attitudes and thoughts that lead to my sin, like critical words or some resentful/retaliatory act which can then cause far more hurt than the original thing that started it.

Who wants to see us fall into the trap of sin? Who is the one with TRUE malicious motives? The devil. God, as a triune being, is clearly a God of relationship. It is very important to him. The devil hates that we can have relationship with God and with one another. He prowls around seeking to destroy God’s children and our relationships. Do you realize that the enemy knows your sore spot and delights in finding ways to bait you so you will trip and fall?

Feeling hurt or offended can be a sin trap for some of us, so we need to be on guard and recognize the steps leading to it.

Hurt feelings/offense => assumption => resentment => sinful response => double hurt => division/destruction of relationship

If you also struggle in this way, let’s pray for one another that we will recognize the trap before us when hurt or offense leads to assumption, resentment, and beyond. Let’s check our thoughts. If you’re like me, critical thoughts can be hard to reign in even when recognized. Thankfully, the Bible tells us that we can take our thoughts “captive” with Christ’s help. By his spirit, we can do what is too difficult for us. If we ask, he will handcuff those suckers and march them off to jail.

Dear Lord, please help me not to assign or assume negative motives in others that result in resentment and other sinful attitudes and actions in me. Help me take my negative thoughts captive and hand them over to you (and leave them with you!). Help me bring hurts and offenses to you instead, and please heal me of the “triggers” that the enemy knows set me off so easily. Help me recognize the sin trap that hurt feelings can set me up for.

Amen?

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girl cage freeI find myself holding grudges, though I don’t mean to.

Okay, what that really means is that I know I shouldn’t, but that doesn’t stop me.

Do you have trouble holding grudges, either consciously or unconsciously? Does it matter whether or not harm was meant?

Should it matter?

How do we judge the actions and motives of others? Do we take circumstances outside our knowledge into account, such as the person’s background or current circumstances? Or do we, without hesitation, view every offense as an intentional injury? We are wired via human nature to hold others accountable. We feel it’s our right, even our duty. After all, people shouldn’t get away with doing that, not to us or anyone else.

In my upcoming novel, Like There’s No Tomorrow, the hero, Ian, faces his longstanding mortal hatred for a man who wronged and wounded him deeply. Ian can’t let go of his bitterness, and understandably. After all, he’s human. Humans are self-preserving. We are wired for survival. This is logical. We are logical.

But God is often not logical, and is, in fact, the God of Irony, as I have learned and am reminded again and again. A few examples:

  • But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matt 5:44)
  • Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. (Rom 12:14)
  • Vengeance is mine. (not yours) (Rom 12:19)

God’s ways are too often incomprehensible, too often unnatural to our way of thinking. Perhaps unnatural because He is supernatural. To align ourselves with the supernatural (and God-illogical) requires an uncomfortable amount of surrender and blind faith.

In this above-mentioned story, Emily, the heroine, suggests that Ian try praying for the man who wronged him. After all, she says, what can it hurt?

Is it possible to be free from bitterness and feel only compassion for the one who hurt you?

I bared my soul over a similar situation in THIS POST. No, you’re right, it’s no coincidence that a real-life experience ended up in my novel. Art has an interesting way of imitating life (or is it the other way around?).

I hope you will get a chance to read the book and keep the miracle that inspired that part of the story in mind. If you do, I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Q: Have you ever prayed for an enemy? If so, what happened?

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