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Posts Tagged ‘Dying To Self’

white flagAs a Christian, conversion is an endless process for me, mainly because I face a never-ending challenge to become a fully submitted soul. It’s a constant battle to lay down my will, surrender my desires for the good or need or comfort of others or simply (and most importantly) put Christ and his will first in all I do. It’s not about becoming some kind of doormat or whipping post, but rather growing a servant heart, because let’s face it, surrender of my will is not my spiritual gift.

I can easily blame my self-focus on being a 150% Introvert, but let’s be honest. I’m wired to think of myself first. I always have been. It probably started in childhood when my mom felt compelled to spoil me by letting me have my own way because life around us pretty much sucked. It probably also stems from abuse that forced my will from me and robbed much from a needy little girl.

As a result, I’ve always been willful and ultra guarded of my will being taken from me, even in small things. Though this has been a long and frustrating battle, I finally realized that Jesus gets this about me. For decades, he’s been patiently challenging, encouraging and helping me lay down my will—in the right ways. Because unfortunately, I think when someone like me learns to guard our will against violation, we can create an iron will and may never experience the freedom that comes from surrendering to Christ.

Though I constantly fight “dying to the flesh”—that part of us that wants to be satisfied and fed, soothed and esteemed—I understand self denial is healthy. Vital, in fact. Maybe through denial of self, in a very small way, we can catch a small glimpse of what Christ has done for us on the Cross.

There’s a story in 2 Samuel 24 about King David whose sin had brought a terrible pestilence on his people. He begged for God’s mercy on them, so God directed him to build an altar on Araunah’s threshing floor. Araunah (clearly not struggling with the same issues I do) was pleased to give David everything he needed for the altar: the property, the wood, the oxen—the works. But David refused the gift and insisted on buying the man’s property and all the supplies he needed, saying, “I will not offer burnt offering to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.”

I’m reminded how easy it is to look at Christ’s gift of eternal life and his death on the cross without fully appreciating what it cost him. I don’t know if I will never fully appreciate it this side of heaven.

In the meantime, I lay down my will here and there when Jesus nudges me to let go or relinquish my plans or my comfort or convenience (more often now than before, so see, I’m making progress). And when I do give it up, I sense his pleasure. I also find, again and again, that though my flesh may grumble for a moment, the surrender is neither painful nor pointless. With each surrender, I find myself a little freer in my soul, a little less chained to my willful flesh, a little closer to Jesus, a little more like him.

And when you get down to it, that’s all I really want.

Q: Have you ever experienced freedom through surrender?

 

For a Similar post on Surrender, see: https://camilleeide.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/if-i-only-had-a-heart/

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Have you ever been faced with a challenge that goes against every fiber of your being?

In the story Like There’s No Tomorrow, a novel I hope to publish, a fictional Bible storybook called Daniel’s Friends Face the Fire plays a key role in the heroine’s journey. Emily is a selfless, caring young woman who has spent her life protecting others from pain and suffering, exactly as she believes God would want her to do. But as the story progresses, she learns she inherited the same disease that claimed her mom’s young life. What makes the news even more devastating is that she’s fallen in love with a widowed man, a man she has helped find healing and a renewed faith in God. A future with this man now is unthinkable. Yet he still wants to marry her. How could she? She has seen how loss of a spouse destroyed her father. She could never contemplate putting someone through that kind of pain, especially a second time.

How could God have the nerve to ask Emily to step aside and let him be God?

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are forced to choose between standing up for what they believe and losing their lives in the fire, or saving their lives by giving in to a psycho king’s whim. I love their reply: “Our God is able to save us. But even if he does not, we still will not bow down to you.” I admire their courage to not only stand up for God, but to trust his sovereignty and wisdom in the face of circumstances that make absolutely no sense.

Because getting tossed into a fiery furnace isn’t the kind of blessing and provision we typically expect from God.

In this scene in the novel, Emily and two little girls are looking at a picture in the storybook of four men walking around in the flames without being burned. Three of the men are the brave young Hebrew men. The extra man, we realize, is Jesus, standing in the fire with them. Here’s an excerpt:

Hannah looked up at Emily. “Would you be afraid?”

The fiery furnace scene lay open on the floor between them. The three young men must have been terrified, and certainly had no idea how it would turn out. All they knew was to trust and obey God without question.

Would I trust God enough to surrender to the flames and stand firm, no matter what?

God, would you really ask me to do that?

Both girls waited. A pulse-quickening urgency stole over her, as though her answer was somehow forever binding—a test.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.

Emily drew a calming breath. “I think if the Lord wanted me to go into a blazing furnace, he would—” Have to send me a text message. In all caps. “He would go with me and . . . give me the courage and strength I need to do it.”

That’s good, Em. You almost have yourself convinced.

I believe God desires to spare us needless suffering . . . sometimes. But he doesn’t promise a pain-free life. (John 16:33) What he does promise is that when the plan we’re following is God’s, he will be with us and will provide everything we need. Whether that be courage, provision, wisdom, strength, his presence, whatever. He is good, always. His ways are not always logical (to us), but they are right. Always. When we can’t see any possible good in the midst of difficulties, we must trust that he can. We may never see that good thing this side of heaven. This is where faith is so . . . FAITH. So confident, so fully trusting. That God is so good, so beyond us and our abilities. If we could understand, stand firm, or endure on our own, we wouldn’t need him.

Emily must decide if she is willing to put God to the test and surrender her worst fears to him, to take him at his word that he is truly faithful. And to truly trust him to take care of those she loves. Can she relinquish control?

Hmm, I wonder how it ends . . .

Q: Have you ever had to “put your money where your mouth is” when it comes to trusting God? Have you ever gone through a “fiery furnace” in your life and felt God’s presence and strength with you in the midst of it? Do you have a hard time believing that God can somehow bring good from suffering?

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Our baby girl is “Tying the Knot” this weekend. (Yes, I am too young to have a daughter old enough to marry, thank you for noticing.) J & M will repeat vows to one another similar to the ones you’ve heard or perhaps said yourself:

I take this man/woman to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, to love and to cherish until death do us part.

I do.

Those last two tiny words pack a wealth of promise, a lifetime of relinquishing, a commitment to ongoing surrender. It’s a vow to take on another set of sorrows and joys, victories and defeats, strengths and fears. Each person in the union lays down the right to retain his or her separate life and the whims of their previously independent (& possibly self-indulgent) soul.

And the two shall become one.

It sounds like a breaking down of the human will, this kind of surrender to another. If the vow is truly meant, it does involve some tearing down, and it can even be painful. But if endured with selfless love and truckloads of blinding grace, the two relinquished, surrendered souls shall become one, and a far stronger one combined than each one was alone. Not two weaker halves suddenly helpless without one another, but a stronger, combined force able to weather any storm.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

If two become one, what does three become?

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This isn’t some kind of put down. It’s truth, and it’s a warning, but it’s also a promise. Being united with Christ means he vows to be our Source, our strength, our sustenance, our safe haven.

So when Christ is woven into the center of two surrendered, entwined lives, the three form an unbreakable cord, able to weather every storm of adversity, sickness, trial, poverty, or hardship—without being destroyed.

A marriage of two cords is strong; but a three-cord marriage is indestructible.

J & M: Make Jesus the Center of your marriage. This is our prayer for you.

We love you. God bless you today and each day to come.

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Does talk of Christian holiness make you squirm?

Or do you think holiness is only for the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas? Should Christians be striving for lives that please God?

Is pleasing God even possible?

Oops, sorry. I forgot to mention there was going to be a quiz.

In my last post, One-Sided Romance, I offered some cheeky dialogue between a Bride-Groom and his less-than-fully-devoted bride. I sure hope this isn’t the bride Jesus sees in me. But I must confess it wasn’t hard to come up with some of those cheeky lines.

Last week, I attended a memorial service for a Christian brother unlike any I’ve ever known. Val and his wife Laura are humble servants who don’t own anything. They follow God’s lead, traveling from place to place, serving people in any way needed, whether it’s finishing a fence, cleaning gutters, stacking firewood, roofing a house, babysitting—whatever needs done. Graciously and cheerfully, without asking for anything in return. They live each day obeying whatever the Lord asks with sincere hearts that desire to please him. They don’t always know where they will sleep or where the next meal will come from, but they trust God to provide. Someone said that for a guy without anything, Val was the most generous man he’d known. If all Val had was one cracker and was starving, he would find a hungry person to share it with.

And yet, one of the most inspiring things I heard at Val’s funeral was that even this doggedly obedient, selfless saint struggled on occasion to obey. There were times he had to ask God for a willing heart because he just didn’t feel like obeying.

Know the feeling?

I obey God—when it’s comfortable and doesn’t infringe on what I feel/don’t feel like doing. But then, there are . . . those other times. I confess: it’s not in my nature to be generous, hospitable or sacrificial. To offer my coat also when someone asks for my shirt. Go out of my way for a stranger. Forgive people’s idiotic driving. I mean—turn the other cheek when wronged.

It’s not my nature to be like Jesus.

So… is my “natural” bent for willfulness an excuse for giving in to it? I’m pretty sure Val didn’t say, “Look, God, I’ll do what you ask when it’s convenient, but sometimes I’m going to be stingy with my time and energies. It’s how I roll. I’d rather go relax after a long day at work instead of taking groceries to a stranger on a scorching hot day with no AC. You understand, right?”

I don’t know exactly what Val prayed, or why he struggled to obey (probably not out of selfishness but rather some disagreement with the way God was handling something), but I believe he recognized the stubbornness in his heart at those times and asked God to line his heart up with God’s. Why? Perhaps he knew God would love to answer a prayer like that. Perhaps God knew others would hear of this humble servant struggling with obedience and be encouraged. I know I was. I was not only encouraged, I was reminded that I have also prayed for the willingness to do God’s will instead of my own, and he gave it to me.

For a whole day.

*sigh*

If becoming a 100% obedient, deeply devoted saint isn’t something I can picture myself becoming overnight, that’s okay. All I need to worry about is today. God can give me a willing heart and the strength to follow through. Like manna in the desert, one day at a time.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27

Striving to be a more obedient Christian isn’t about meeting somebody’s standards or proving that I’m holy. It’s about responding to the unwavering love and costly grace God has given me with a heart that longs to please him, out of love.

No, it’s not in my nature to be like Jesus. But it is his nature to empower me by his grace to become more like him. And he’s totally okay with me asking for help being willing to obey.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Oh, for a heart that longs to please You, Lord. And the willingness to follow through.

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I’m working on a novel in which a woman was recently jilted by a handsome young lawyer. Then when her mom suffers a life-threatening injury, she must help with her care and shoulder the burden of the family business. In the process of all this, she meets a man who shakes her world again for a disturbing reason: he likes her. For who she really is. Not the picture-perfect woman she works so hard to portray to the world, but the frizzy-haired, cosmetic-less, messy life real her. But her real problem is that she only lets people partially into her life. She loves that the new guy likes her—crazy hair and all—but realizes something’s wrong. It turns out she lost the last guy because she never fully “engaged” in the relationship out of fear of exposing an ugly part of her no one knows about.

 

Do you know without a doubt Jesus loves you? I hope so. The Cross speaks of Christ’s fierce love so completely, so beautifully. But do you, like my novel character, have trouble “engaging” in this “sacred romance”?

 

It’s great to wake up knowing I’m completely loved by God. What a wonderful, incredible, awesome feeling. But to be honest, which I must, I find it easy to soak up God’s love and go about my day with a wave and without a backwards glance.

 

 

Picture a bride getting up one morning to find her adoring Groom already awake.

Groom: Good morning, my precious. I love you so much!

Bride: Aw, thank you! You just made my day! I’m going to go post that on FaceBook right now.

Groom: Right now? But I’d like to spend some time with you, without any distractions.

Bride: Oh, right, but I gotta run, so just hold that thought. But you do love me, right? 

Groom: Yes, more than you could possibly know.

Bride: Oh! I just love hearing that! I feel so special right now. Like I could do anything. I’m going to go make plans right now to realize all my biggest dreams.

Groom: Um . . . your dreams include me, right?

Bride: (pouty frown) Well . . . some, but you don’t really expect me to include you in everything I do, do you? I mean, come on. I do have my own life. It’s not like we’re attached at the hip.

Groom: Not only the hip, but at your very core. I’m part of you. You’re part of me. I am the Vine, you are the branch. Apart from me you can do nothing.

Bride: Yikes! That sounds kind of controlling, don’t you think? I’m going to go check Pinterest for new posts about how you love me without any strings attached. I love looking at those.

Groom: Remember the day you said you were giving yourself to me? It was a very touching moment, so beautiful. You couldn’t hear it, but all of heaven broke out in spontaneous song.

Bride: Aw, that’s sweet. Yes, I gave myself to you, but that was to secure my future. You don’t actually expect me to hang around with you all day give up doing what I want to do? I thought you said you loved me. Didn’t know you were going to be so demanding.

Groom: My only “demand” is that you love me. Is . . . that a problem? This is a relationship . . .

Bride: (puffs out a slow breath) Okay, look. I don’t know what you want from me. I talk to you sometimes, don’t I? It’s not like I can spend all my time hanging around with you and talking about you. Everyone would think I’m a freak.

Groom: So you don’t want people to know about us?

Bride: Well . . . (smiling suddenly) Yes! Actually, I like telling people how much you love me. I do it all the time!

Groom: Yes, I’ve noticed . . .

Bride: Wait—you hesitated just now. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?

Groom: No. I love you so much I made the ultimate sacrifice for you. You are more precious to me than you know.

Bride: Oooo! Say it again! I just love hearing that!

Groom: Yes. I know.

Bride: In fact, I’m going to go Tweet it right now!

Groom: (sighs)

Bride: And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell someone how you just want me to be happy, although I hear about it everywhere. Those cute little Facebook memes, at the hairdresser’s, on book covers. So I guess most people already know that.

Groom: I want your ultimate happiness, but right now, not everything you go through is about happiness. I want what’s absolutely best for your life, the life I rescued at a tremendous cost. One day, you’ll be blown away by how much happiness I have prepared for you. I am going to knock your socks off—forever. I promise. But for now, I’m asking you to trust me. Watch my lead, follow my footsteps. Come when I call. Sit with me when I invite you. Listen to me; memorize the beat of my heart. Give yourself completely to me and to what I have planned. Will you do that for me, my beloved?

A relationship requires both parties to be fully engaged. He wants this kind of relationship with us. He wants our time, attention, devotion, and obedience – not because he’s self-centered and demanding, but because spending time with him is for our ultimate good. It’s a two-way relationship, not a one-sided, life-long pampering session.

He gives forgiveness, righteousness, love, provision, peace, blessings, wisdom, protection, help, healing, favor, strength through trials, and so much more. What am I giving him? Not out of duty, but of gratitude, of delight in him?

 

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Q: Is your relationship with God sometimes a one-sided romance? How do you “delight yourself in the Lord”?

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Ever make life plans and then wonder when God will exert a little elbow grease and shoulder some of the load?

Come on, be honest.

I woke to find a blog post entitled Man Plans While God Laughs by author Athol Dickson in my mail today and had to laugh. I have no doubt it’s politely sitting in my inbox by a quiet (and amused) act of Providence.

How odd is it (but sadly typical) that I would tell God what I’m going to do with this life he redeemed, the life I “gave” him when I “accepted” Christ as Savior, and then wonder why things aren’t falling into place as planned.

This is not rocket science.

I’ve headed in the direction I think he’s leading me in and smacked my face into a closed door, then rubbed my nose and looked back and wondered if I took a wrong turn. Wondered if I’m knocking at the wrong door, or if I’m supposed to stand on the porch and keep knocking.

Or if I’m nuts.

In his blog post, Athol said:

“Man plans; God laughs” as the old Yiddish saying goes. It’s so easy to forget the way of things, so easy to ask God to bless my plan, instead of asking him to reveal the blessings he has planned.

Are my plans just that—mine? Or God’s? How much of what I am striving for has eternal significance? And how much of it will be torched upon exiting earth?

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthains 3

Maybe a closed door or a seemingly lifeless dream is a God’s way of offering us an opportunity to trade in some wood, hay and straw for gold, silver and bronze, the stuff that will go with us into eternity. Maybe.

Q: Have you let a closed door or what seems to be a “Dead On Arrival” stamp on your dream make you question your dream, your plans? Or have you looked at it as an opportunity for deepening your trust in God’s grander, unseen, eternal plan for you? When is a closed door actually a gift, the chance to gain deeper trust, hope, a fully surrendered heart—that valuable stuff of eternal significance?

For a similar post, check out And Of Course God Is Nowhere In Sight

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The Fourth of July came and went for us this year without explosives. Not even a sparkler. My husband and I just don’t get excited about fireworks anymore since our three kids hit their 20s. (This will likely change when we get some impressionable grandkids.) But with or without explosives, I don’t know if we have ever spent Independence Day giving a lot of thought to our freedom.

In fact, I had to do a little surfing to refresh my knowledge of Independence Day and remember that our colonial ancestors were angry over taxation without representation in Parliament. It wasn’t so much about the taxes, but the principle. The tyranny. The bully who insisted on taking and giving nothing in return.

I appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in America today, and am very grateful for the many who have sacrificed family, health, and lives to make freedom possible. Freedom from tyranny is a good thing.

Freedom from condemnation is also a good thing.

Romans 8:1-2 says:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Because of what Christ did for us, it is possible to be in right relationship with our Maker, and for that I’m very grateful.

I am proudly tyranny free,

thankfully condemnation free,

and reluctantly sugar free.

But there’s one freedom I wish I didn’t have . . .

It’s the freedom to go my own stubborn, selfish way. I often take God and his amazing grace and fresh mercies for granted. I ask, plead, seek, then get an answer and go on my way. Or worse—ignore him altogether and just wander around doing as I please.

Until something goes terribly wrong, or until I’m faced with something I can’t handle on my own . . .

The author who penned the old hymn Come Thou Fount knew exactly what I’m feeling. It’s such a beautifully honest testament to the frailty of the human heart. I’ve included the song on a video below. Take a moment to listen and let the words soak your heart with truth.

I love the last verse. In fact, I am this verse:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it

Seal it for Thy courts above

Ah Jesus, how quickly I can wander off and lose sight of You. It’s not in my frail-yet-stubborn nature to stick close to Your side, not without Your Spirit’s kind, persistent help. Please bind my wandering heart to You, by Your goodness and sweet grace.

Amen.

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Have you ever heard of the Three Minute Testimony? It’s a 3 minute story of your life before and after coming to Christ to share when the opportunity arises.

Only three minutes? Uh . . .

This week at church, Pastor J asked us to break into groups to work on our stories. (I love being put on the spot to say something comprehensible on command. LOVE it. LIVE for it. So much that when I first suspected what he was about to do, I sweated for 5 solid minutes trying to think of a legit excuse for slipping out before the breakout session.)

But I’m glad I stayed. I had an interesting conversation with a sweet old lady in which we both learned some cool things—like how very different our salvation experiences were. She came from a Christian home and had loved Jesus as long as she could remember. Growing in her faith had been a steady, gradual journey.

Aaaaand . . . then there’s me. I’ll share my story shortly. For now, let’s just say finding Christ was a little more dramatic and my faith journey has not been a steady breeze. But it has been a journey of miracles, joys, and unimaginable distance traveled nonetheless.

This dear lady admitted to me that she hesitates to share her story because hers isn’t “dramatic” like some. With a smile, I said maybe her conversion experience wasn’t as radical as some, but I think whether you were a hard-core sinner or a cuddly toddler when you came to Christ, the daily sanctification or growing to be more like Jesus process is one of the most dramatic experiences we will ever know.

Dramatic, and for some of us, painfully slow. One faltering step at a time.

Perhaps you too have struggled with brokenness, pain, anger, addiction or other life-controlling issues and despaired of ever changing. Maybe, like me, you have felt like giving up. Please don’t do that. Hang on and let me tell you my story.

Before . . .

Because of numerous broken homes, broken people, and broken me, I grew up feeling abandoned, abused, and easily humiliated. Frequent moves as a kid meant I didn’t keep friends long. I became the oddball loner, the taunted outcast. I was the ugly girl with holey socks and high-water pants who just couldn’t seem to play the game like everyone else and turned to food for comfort, which ensured that I was both ugly and fat. Then because of added abuse and criticism at home, I went from sad kid to pissed-off teenager, finding the acceptance and approval I craved with the stoner crowd, skipping school, getting high and looking for trouble. Caught in the middle of a gang war at my high school, I dropped out and went to the local community college hoping to at least graduate. But though it was a new school, I gravitated to the same crowd. (It was hard to miss the perpetual cloud of pot smoke hovering over the center of the college cafeteria.)

And I still hated who I was. Changing schools hadn’t changed me. I became more deeply entrenched the college drug crowd, caught in a spiral sucking me down. I couldn’t function in class because I couldn’t say no to getting high. I couldn’t break free of the pressure, the familiar. Even though I wanted an education and a shot at a future, I was failing school at sixteen and felt powerless to change. I saw a future of partying and waking up in jail, or worse—never waking up again.

I’d heard about Jesus enough to know that he died on the cross for my sins, but didn’t see what good that did me. I wanted out of the life I hated but could not escape. Hopeless, I couldn’t see my life ever changing.

Meeting Christ . . .  

I remember getting stoned before class one day, then not being able to follow the lecture and wishing I wasn’t high to the point of silently begging God to sober me up. And oddly enough, my mind soon cleared. I began reading the Bible and discovered David talking in the Psalms about God’s presence and love and how he gave David power to succeed. I thought David was either crazy, or he really did know God. Maybe God was real. If he was as powerful and caring as David said, maybe he could help a dumb, hopeless girl like me.

One night I put God to the test by “challenging” him to take away my 5-year smoking habit. When I woke the next morning, all cigarette cravings had vanished. I was free of an addiction I’d failed repeatedly to kick. Not only was God real and capable of helping me, but he had answered me exactly as I’d asked. Not only did he want to help me, but more importantly, I understood that he wanted me to trust him. I gave my life to Jesus that day.

After . . .

In all honesty (this you expect from me, right?), mine has not been a straight shot, express train to freedom, shining success, and spiritual maturity. Which is possibly because I’m bent on learning things the Hard Way. I believe God answered me in such a powerful way that day because he knew how stubborn, fearful, selfish, stubborn (I know, but it bears repeating) broken and dysfunctional I was when I came to him. He knew what a long journey this would be—a long, bumpy road filled with tripping, falling, defeat, success, depression, rebellion, and some running away. He knew. And he has patiently, lovingly led me back, picked me up and encouraged me to hold onto him and keep going, time after time.

Because of the past, I have had a lot of catching up to do on the road to becoming a girl after God’s own heart. To be very honest, I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I can possibly count. I’ve been beyond sick of making mistakes and disappointing people. But eventually, God taught me to be more patient and accepting of Camille—by his forgiving, patient example. Not that he wants to leave me a mess, but to encourage me to keep at it, keep getting back up, keep learning to spot the obstacles and potholes before they trip me up. He forgives me, cleanses me, showers me with mercy, empowers me by his grace, and nudges me onward to be more like him. Teaches me to share with others the boundless, unconditional grace he’s shown me. Reminds me I’m his precious daughter. One day, one step at a time. Because he loves me more than I can possibly understand this side of heaven.

I’m not where I’d like to be in this becoming more like Jesus journey. Of course, it’s not like any of us will “arrive” anywhere while here on earth, because this journey takes us all the way home.  But I do find myself in awe sometimes when he invites me to stop and look back and see how far I’ve come from that sad, angry, hopeless girl.  I am not discouraged by how “long” the road has been, but rather, I am incredibly grateful for how far he’s brought me.

Yes, I still struggle with selfishness. I still fight to lay down my will and take up my cross daily. I still get easily bruised and filled with self-doubt when someone disapproves of or criticizes me, but God so faithfully pours out his love and forgiveness, and patiently keeps me focused on his promise:

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you

WILL carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6 (emphasis mine)

I love him so much.

So—have you ever prepared your 3-Minute Testimony? If you want, you can post it here, or if you have it posted on your blog or website, feel free to share the link.

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Last week, I shared the story of how my ability to forgive an offender required an uncomfortable lesson in praying for him. No. I don’t mean praying for an eighteen-wheeler to accidentally park on his head, but praying for good. Sincere, eternal good.

But forgiving one long-held grudge hasn’t made me a graduate of the school of forgiveness. Since we don’t live under a rock (or perhaps I should speak for myself), the offenses and frustrating behaviors of others will continue to affect our lives. From injuries that wound so deeply they leave twisted scars that forever alter us, to the feather-ruffling annoyances that pass soon enough, to those repeat offenses that scratch the skin just enough to draw little beads of blood, day after day.

Recognize any of those?

And yet, I know I’m not perfect. I may live in a fantasy world sometimes (it’s okay, I’m a novelist) but I’m not delusional. I am well aware that I have my moments. What polite name should we give them? Hiccups? Bad hair days? Stress?

It’s important for me to be honest about this stuff, because once in a while, my temptation to hold a grudge over an offense is coupled with a humbling reminder that I’m no one to judge. I am guilty of making mistakes. I sometimes act thoughtlessly. Speak critically.

Offend.

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

Just as.

Over the years, I’ve studied and pondered this line Jesus gave us in The Lord’s Prayer,

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors . . .”

I’ve found myself challenged by a little blink-and-you-miss-it two-letter word:

As.

What if that phrase “forgive us as we have forgiven” doesn’t mean while, as I’d always assumed, but in the same way? What if God were to only forgive me of my mistakes and sins in the same way and in the same measure that I forgive others?

“But some people are such jerks,” you mutter beneath your breath. (Don’t deny it, I heard you.) I completely agree! I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without being abused or disrespected or belittled. Or scammed. Cut off in traffic. Cheated. Lied about. Hurt.

I have the right to protect myself from harm.

I have rights!

But Jesus (if you’ve been around a bit, you knew a “But God” was coming) had rights too—full rights to the very throne of heaven as the Son of God, Prince of Peace, King of Kings. He had the right to be honored and revered and adored, to receive loyalty and total allegiance.

Yet he gave up those rights and walked resolutely through our decaying world of sin, pain, evil, suffering, abuse, offense—the worst those jerks we could throw down. Turning the other cheek. Enduring the scourging. Taking the nails. Because he had a single, unwavering purpose in mind.

Grace.

To demonstrate through both his life and his death the beauty of God’s immense, holy grace.

And I need that grace just as much as—

No. I was going to say “as much as the next person,” but who am I to judge?

A group of guys in John 8 were so offended at one woman’s sin that they gathered rocks intending to stone her to death. Justice was called for, according to the law, and they were prepared to deliver. Until Jesus interrupted them and said,

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Then, after he wrote something in the sand that sent each of her accusers running:

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand, but I do know I have no business throwing stones. Am I without sin? Maybe I’m not guilty of the same evil as the one offending me, but can I honestly stand with stone in hand ready to demand justice as though I have never been guilty of offending my gracious Lord?

The double barrels of Judgment and Justice that I aim at an offender could spin a one-eighty and aim their sights on me. I’d best not even pick it up. Besides, vigilante justice (bitterness, criticalness, grudge-holding) taken into my own hands never satisfies any laws; it just creates more sin.

It’s not easy, yet I must leave justice with God, in whose hands I find no grudge-holding, no stones for exacting justice, only the grace and mercy in Christ that I need.

. . . because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Gracious Lord, please fill my hands to overflowing with your grace until there’s no room left for stones.

Which is harder: Forgiving the offenses of others, or admitting your own?

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If you’re a Christian, how did you begin your God Life? Did you wake up one day and say “I need to clean up my act and start going to church”? Or “I don’t want to go to hell, so Jesus, please come into my life.” Or “Jesus, take the wheel, you’re in charge now.” Or did you grow up hearing about Jesus and you’ve always believed?

For me, becoming a Christian was the “Jesus, take the wheel” thing. I was a sixteen year old low-life stoner (pot-smoker if you missed the 70s) bound for jail or death—I knew without a doubt. I wanted out, but felt trapped in a cycle of addiction, pressuring peers, and failure. I wondered about God but thought even if he was real he couldn’t do anything about my screwed-up life. Out of options, I began reading a Bible that had somehow trailed me through several moves. It kept falling open to the Psalms where David often mentioned God’s presence and love, talking about God like he was real. Like he cared and had the power to help. I figured David was either crazy or really did know God personally. So if David wasn’t stoned or crazy, maybe God was real. And maybe . . . if God was as powerful and caring as David said, maybe he could help a dumb girl caught up in a hopeless, destructive lifestyle.

So one night I put God to the test. I told him he could prove himself by taking away my 5-year cigarette addiction. (Yes, I was an idiot, but remember I did mention drug use.) I said if he did that, then I’d believe in him. Like God needed my validation. When I woke the next morning, all cigarette cravings had vanished. I was instantly free of an addiction I’d failed repeatedly to kick. I realized not only was God real and capable, but he had answered my challenge just as I’d asked. He wanted to help me with my issues, but more importantly, he wanted me to believe in him, trust him. And I did. I gave my life to Jesus that day.

I sometimes cringe when I use that phrase “gave my life to Jesus.” I did make a conscious decision to give God control of Camille and let him call the shots. But was it a done deed?

Psalm 31:14
But I trust in you, LORD; I say, “You are my God.”

The Bible talks about laying down our lives and taking up our cross daily. Anyone else struggle with this? I do. Not that I want to do terrible things, it’s just that not all my days begin with “THY kingdom come, THY will be done . . .”

Sometimes I’ve surrendered my will and chose God’s way instead of mine. Yay, me. But there have been plenty of days in which I’ve ignored that nudging of his Spirit and did my own thing. Because I don’t feel like going out of my way. Or waking up early. Or being nice to an arrogant jerk. Or putting away the leisure thing and studying God’s word. Or skipping what I was planning to do because someone has a need. Or spending more than a few rushed minutes in prayer—on my knees. Or, or, or.

I have often despaired of being a good, God-led, dead-to-self person. Sometimes I wonder if I’m giving God a migraine. After all these years, you’d think I’d have it. I mean, he’s delivered me from addictions, healed some deep wounds, taught me to love, to trust. Why do I still fight to keep my grubby little grip on my will?

Once in a rare while, am reminded how far God has brought me. When God helped the Israelites cross the Jordan, he had them stop and build a memorial of river stones to help them remember where they’d come from and how God had delivered them. I rarely remember where I was headed when Jesus met me that night, and so forget to look at all he’s done in me since. He’s done miracle after miracle. Which makes me feel guiltier about this selective dying to self thing. But then I remember that, unlike his instant help with the smoking, the many other changes in me didn’t happen overnight. I am reminded that he knew what he was getting into and yet he helped me that night.

And he will continue to help me now.

As I pray-whined recently about this problem I have with laying down my will and submitting to his, I felt God remind me I can ask for his help. He can help my lips utter the words “Have your way in me, Lord, Your will be done.” And I only need enough desire and ability to do this TODAY. Not for the rest of my life, just today. My WILL is my weakness, my drug, my idol. I am reminded that like any addiction, I can’t change this without his help. My God can give me a heart of flesh, which is awesome because I need a heart like his daily. For some of us, it’s scary to say “have Your way, Lord.” I mean, he might ask me to go to Africa or New Jersey. Or downtown Portland. (Ack!) To give up comfort. To walk along the edge of a cliff with no safety net—other than his capable hands.

Sound too hard?

It is. Thank God he will be with me, giving me the ability, the courage, the strength, and the resources to follow through. And by his amazing grace, he will even help my heart be willing, just for today. Just one day at a time. That’s all I have to worry about!

Question: Do you find it hard to let God call the shots? If so, how does one day at a time sound? Or maybe one “shot” at a time?

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