Grace is for the one who broke you

What does grace look like? No, not a dancer. Not your friend named Grace. God’s grace, the gift He offers to us freely that forgives us from our sins and provides us with a second chance after we fail (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Grace, in a religious context, is always about God’s unmerited favor. It’s God giving us something we don’t deserve, something we could never earn or ever repay. Grace is even a cute churchy acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Nice. Sweet. Easy to remember. But what does it mean? What does it look like?

Maybe I’m too practical, but while the cute little mnemonics are nice for memory, what good will they do if I don’t know how to apply them? If grace is essential to following Jesus, I should know how to use it.

So many times, I think grace and forgiveness and trust all get muddled together, as though they’re synonymous, and nothing is further from the truth. Rather, they’re all part of a process that’s connected to following Jesus. But if you do all three at once, you’ll end up back where you started.

Grace is for our enemies

God demonstrated grace for us when He sacrificed Jesus to save us while we were His enemies (Colossians 1:21-22). Did you realize that? We hadn’t done anything good enough to deserve Jesus’ blood. We can’t ever do anything worth His sacrifice. That’s what makes it grace. That’s what makes it a gift. It’s undeserved.

Grace is loving people who don't deserve loveThat’s the picture of grace we’re supposed to use. Grace is loving people who don’t deserve your love. It’s showing compassion and mercy and kindness to people who have done absolutely nothing compassionate, merciful, or kind for you. Maybe they’ve even done the opposite. Maybe they’ve hurt you, lied about you, gossiped about you, but no matter what they’ve done to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t love them (Matthew 5:44).

No, you can’t love them in your own strength. The only way you can love people who’ve hurt you or betrayed you is with Jesus’ strength. Practically that’s going to look different in every situation. In some cases, loving someone means speaking kindly to them or about them. In some cases, loving someone will mean stepping away from them, getting out of their lives and letting them face the consequences of their actions without you there to soften the blow. But one aspect of loving someone remains constant: Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is hard

There’s something in our natures that wants to cling to old wounds—or even to new wounds. We think that holding on them will make us stronger somehow, that rehashing every cruel word or deed will provide us with wisdom to face the same situation again. My dear friends, that’s a lie. Going over those hurtful memories constantly doesn’t make you stronger. It only makes the tear in your heart wider and harder to heal. And maybe it will harden you, thicken your skin so that you can withstand future hurts, but you won’t be withstanding them with God’s power. And your power will ultimately fail.

Let it go.

Grace is for the one who broke you

Pry your fingers off those old wounds. Stop digging into them. And let God work. Recognize that whoever hurt you is imperfect, just like you. And maybe they’re wrong, maybe the enemy is using them as a sledgehammer to bludgeon you, maybe they need to face consequences for what they’ve done. But that’s not your job (Romans 12:19). Your job is to forgive. To take those hurtful words, that painful situation, that horrible memory and stop holding it against them.

I know. It’s impossible. But only if you try to do it alone. God has promised that He will give us strength to do impossible things (Philippians 4:13). Once you throw off the heavy burden of all that pain and grief and sorrow, you’ll truly be free.

But what does it look like?

Because if you forgive someone, doesn’t that mean they’ll hurt you again? Doesn’t that mean they’ll just repeat what they did before? Or maybe they won’t even stop. Maybe they’ll see it as a sign of weakness.

guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your lifeThis is where Christians get so messed up. Forgiveness isn’t restoration. Forgiveness is choosing (sometimes daily, sometimes hourly) not to hold past sins against another person. But restoration is trust, and once trust has been broken, it must be earned back. The Bible tells us to offer forgiveness freely but to trust cautiously (Proverbs 4:23). Don’t just hand over what’s valuable to someone who will misuse it; you’re asking for trouble if you do (Matthew 7:6).

Be careful with people who have hurt you. They’ve done it once, and they may do it again. So think long and hard before you let them back into your life. That’s trust. That’s restoration. That’s wisdom. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven them.

Forgiveness means taking the hurt and the pain and the memory of what they did or said and turning it over to God. Stop turning it over in your mind. It’s not helping you. Capture each one of those damaging thoughts and choose to forgive. Move on. God’s got it. He knows the truth, and He’ll deal with each of us in His own time.

Live Jesus’ love

Regardless, extend grace to everyone (Romans 12:17-21), no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Always be kind. Always be truthful. Always think the best of others. Always help others. And don’t do it because you want to make them feel ashamed. Don’t do it out of some passive aggressive tendency to make them pay. Do it because you love them. Do it because that’s the way you’d want to be treated. Do it because tomorrow, you may be the one who has hurt someone else.

Following Jesus isn’t about you. It’s about Him.

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Upset your fruit basket

Did you ever play that old crazy game Fruit Basket Upset? We played it in youth group when I was young. I remember it vividly because it was back when skirts were the order of the day at church, and you haven’t lived until you had to run around the room in an ankle-length denim skirt.

Always Peachy Fruit BasketIt was a pretty awesome game, sort of a cross between musical chairs and Duck Duck Goose. The rules were easy. Each player was assigned a category of fruit (apple, orange, banana, etc.). The leader would announce the category of fruit, and everyone with that category had to get up and find another seat. While they were up, a chair (or chairs) would be pulled out, and whoever was left standing was disqualified. But sometimes the leader could yell, “Fruit basket upset!” and everyone had to find another seat. It was always wild and fun, and you could play with 30+ people.

What’s in your basket?

Every Christ-follower has a fruit basket of sorts. Did you realize that? At the moment you chose to trust Jesus for your salvation, God filled you with His Holy Spirit. That means within you is all the power of the Holy Spirit, free for you to access at any time.

No, not like superpowers. You can’t fly or see through walls or shoot laser beams out of your eyes. But you can love people who don’t deserve it. You can forgive people who hurt you. You can walk away from addictions that have enslaved you. Maybe those aren’t comic-book superpowers, but those are real-life superpowers.

Galatians 5:22-23 Always PeachyA Christ-follower’s superpowers are the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—these are the nine specific character qualities that every Christian has. Just not every Christian chooses to use them.

Which fruit do you need?

Well, sometimes I need more of one than another. Do you know the feeling? Like when I wake up in the morning and all the extroverts I know are talking my ear off, I need patience. Or when I’m having a horribly stressful day and chocolate bars are on sale at the store, I need self-control.

So when I’m facing these difficult situations, I pray and ask for more patience or more self-control or more meekness. I ask God to help me with those individual qualities, but is that the right way to handle it? I mean, I’m not sure it hurts anything, but I’m not convinced that’s the right perspective to take with the Fruit of the Spirit.

Because they aren’t Fruits of the Spirit. They are Fruit. Singular. They act as a unit. One whole instead of nine pieces. You don’t get one without the others, and I’m not sure you can display one without displaying the others too.

And in the end, is it better to ask for just patience or just self-control? Shouldn’t we ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us up instead? Shouldn’t we be focused on becoming more like Jesus? After all, I’m dead (Galatians 2:20). When I chose to follow Jesus, I chose to die to myself, my own selfish desires, my own flawed perspective. (Colossians 3:3)

So the next time life throws you a curve ball and you’re tempted to lose your cool, don’t just ask for one of the Fruits to help you get through it. Instead, upset your fruit basket. You don’t have to ask for them. You already have them. So use them.

You don’t need more patience or more self-control. You need more Jesus.

The grace in thinking twice

I never thought it would happen to me. I was sitting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, eagerly anticipating my pumpkin spice latte. I pulled up to the window, offered my smart phone screen for the barista to scan the code of my Starbucks Card Account. And the barista leans out and says: “The car in front of you paid for your coffee.”

We all heard about the rash of “pay it forward” acts of kindness that seem to strike people in the drive-thru lanes of coffee and fast food establishments. I’ve even done it before, paid for the order of the person behind me. And it’s an amazing feeling!

But this isn’t a post about being grateful. This isn’t even a post about being generous. This is a post about how you shouldn’t feel.

Because when this happened to me, my initial reaction wasn’t gratitude. It was irritation.

Why? Because all I needed was one more purchase on my card to earn a free drink. And because some overly nice person in front of me bought my coffee for me, I’d have to come back again to earn my free coffee.

Yes, I’m that bad of a person.

Yes. Please laugh at me. Because it will make me feel better about being such a horrible, ungrateful person. Goodness.

This is what the Bible means about taking captive every thought, folks (2 Corinthians 10:5). Maybe your initial reaction to something isn’t what it should be, but that’s not the reaction you have to act on.

Tough stuff can happen in life. Things go on that make us question what we believe or lose our faith in others. And then sometimes good things happen too. Sometimes we expect the good things that happen, and other times we don’t. Regardless, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’re still supposed to be thankful for it (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I would love to get to the point in my life that my first reaction to anything is spiritual, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. I would love to be the person who can look at any situation and see the beauty of what God is doing immediately. But I’m not there yet. Maybe someday I will be, but until then, I have the grace of second thoughts.

Gratitude isn’t my default. Faith isn’t my default either. My initial reaction any situation is to try to fix it myself or to evaluate it based on my own capability. But, frankly, it isn’t my initial reaction that matters.

My initial reaction to a situation only matters if that’s what I choose to act on. If somebody paid for my overpriced latte and I continued to feel irritated about it because I didn’t get my way, that’s a problem. The question comes down to what’s in your heart? What is your true attitude?

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

Initial reactions normally reflect our sin nature. People have bad days. We have difficult seasons that color the way we see our lives and other people. And if you catch us off guard at one of those moments, with a good thing or a bad thing, the way we react at first might not match up to what we say we believe. But that’s not hypocrisy. That’s a startled reaction from a flawed human being.

What matters is how we choose to act from that point on. Second thoughts are usually the point where I get a hold of myself and calm down. My second reaction is usually calmer than the first, reasoned and thought-out, once I’ve had a moment to think about how I feel, what I feel, and why I feel that way. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one out there who would say this.

So what can we all take away from this?

Don’t base your understanding of someone on their initial reaction to a situation. It takes a lot longer than a snap decision to get to know another person. Sure, a snap decision can tell you a lot about someone, but not the deep stuff.

And for those of us on the snap decision side? Maybe a spiritual reaction isn’t our default, and maybe it never will be, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for it. No, we’ll never be perfect, but the more often we choose the right reaction to a situation (good or bad), the sooner that choice will become habit.

So, thank you, whoever you are, for paying for my pumpkin spice latte. It was delicious! And thank you too for helping me understand the grace in thinking twice and the habit of gratitude.

You don’t have to agree with each other to listen

fools-wisdom-understand-anger_1170x350

I watched an episode of a television show the other night where God played a character on screen. Immediately, I knew I probably wasn’t going to agree with it. And I was right. God was portrayed as an absentee parent who had given up on His children and needed a pep talk, basically.

Needless to say, it made me pretty angry. But I kept watching. And the more I watched, the sadder I became. Because is that how people really see God? Is that the lie people have bought about Him? What a hopeless existence if our Creator gives up on us, if our God struggles with the same things we struggle with.

I watched the whole episode, and I disagreed with everything. But I finished it, and I gained some really interesting insight into how the writers of the show see God. And it gave me the opportunity to really question what I believe and why I believe it.

Yet last week I encountered someone who wouldn’t even finish my novel because he disagreed with something I had written. Which is perfectly fine. People are free to like or dislike what I write, but how can you give an honest review about a story without actually reading it?

Christians are expected to lay down and hang our heads. Oh, no! Our beliefs made someone angry! Alas! But what about when people of other faiths make a Christian angry? How is a Christian supposed to react when that happens?

Ask the culture, and they’ll say we’re too sensitive. Aren’t you supposed to show grace and forgive and let it go? Ask a Christian, and they’ll tell you that you shouldn’t have been reading/watching it anyway.

So which is it? Let it go or bury your head in the sand?

I say neither.

Instead, seek to understand it.

I love Proverbs because it’s so full of good advice, and Proverbs 18:2 is a classic example. “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.

Hatred never solves disagreements, and insults rarely make you sound smarter.Too many times we stop reading a story or stop watching a show because we disagree with it. But stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you can’t always judge the end by the way the story begins. How can you understand a story before you finish it? How can you even know you’ll disagree with it if you don’t even know what happens in the end?

It’s a very personal thing. We all have to make our decision about where (and how) we’re going to stand. And if a book or movie or TV show contains things that you believe will damage you, you should definitely stop. But that line is different for every person.

People really hate Christians now. Openly. That’s new in my lifetime. And, yes, I’m generalizing. Because I have many many friends who don’t believe the same way I do, and I love them, and they love me. But others decide that I’m an idiot without even knowing me. Others decide to hate me and they haven’t even spoken to me.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Since when do we have to agree with each other to be kind to each other?[/su_pullquote]

Since when do we have to agree with each other to be kind to each other, to be civil with each other? I know we get passionate about what we believe, but hatred never solves disagreements. And insults rarely make you sound smarter.

I know where I stand. I stand with Jesus Christ. He is my everything, and the Bible is His Word that tells me how to live. But that’s my choice. That’s my life.

You can stand wherever you want. It’s your choice, and I respect that whole-heartedly. You can write what you want. You can tell whatever story you want to tell. You can believe whatever you want to believe, and I won’t tune out. I won’t shut the TV off or stop reading your book or close my ears to your voice. It matters to you, so it matters to me. I may disagree with you, but I’ll still listen.

And all I ask for in return is the same consideration.

God’s Law is a ruler, not a sledgehammer

I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?

God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.

So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?

metric-cmToday’s verses are Romans 5:20-21.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.

But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.

God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.

Seriously. People are a mess.

But God knows that.

Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.

So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.

Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.

Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.

If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.

The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll act like a Child of God

I used to frequent this particular site online where I could read and download information on a television show I enjoyed. It took me a little while to understand that there was a code of conduct expected among the users of the site, and the site owners had no qualms about banning users if they got out of line. I almost wonder if it were a joke at times because of the number of users they would ban. They actually kept a log where everyone could see who they banned by IP address and the reasons why. As you can imagine, people pleasing me did everything in my power to never be on their bad side.

Have you ever been in that situation where you have a code of conduct you need to obey or else face consequences. Some consequences are more dire than not being able to access a website. Depending on where you are, it could be demerits from a college, punishment from a boss, and so on and so forth. It’s true that sometimes codes of conduct are biased or full of prejudice or impossible to keep, but regardless of your opinion on the validity of that code of conduct, if you break it, that means you’re not a very good representative of that establishment.

R0C7A5M4WB_1440x960Today’s verses are Matthew 5:43-48.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

This is one of those passages I’ve heard over and over and over again, to the point where I skim over it. But I saw something this time around that I hadn’t noticed before. Jesus says that by loving our enemies and praying for the people who persecute us, we will be acting as true children of God.

Whoa. Back that up. Think about that.

I’m a child of God. I believe in Jesus. I’ve welcomed Him into my heart and my life, and I strive every day to live for Him and Him alone. But you know what? I get angry at people who hate me. And I sure don’t pray for people who persecute me. So if what Jesus is saying here is true (and it always is), I can be a Christian but not be acting as a child of God.

Ouch.

But then, is it important to act like a child of God? Can’t I just say I’m a Christian and go about living life however I want? I guess you can, in theory. But what’s the point? Why would you claim to be a Christian if you aren’t going to live like one?

Saying you’re a Christian is easy. Living like a child of God is one of the hardest choices you’ll ever make. It’s easy to love people who are kind to you. And people who do nice things for you? Loving them is effortless. But what about the people who call you names? What about the people who go out of their way to say hateful things to you and about you, to your face or at your back? What about people who hurt you or who hurt the people you love? Loving those people isn’t just hard–it’s practically impossible.

Again, you can say you love them all day long, but love isn’t just saying a word. Love is doing. Love is action. Love is doing something kind in return for the cruelty your enemy does against you.

Jesus put such an emphasis on this because it goes completely against human nature, but this is a picture of what it means to live and act like a Child of God. It’s not just a title. It’s a lifestyle. And it takes strength only God can give. It takes supernatural love. So don’t hesitate to ask for it, because you’re not born with it.

If you want to be more than just a Christian, with Jesus’ help, you can live like a Child of God. Look for opportunities to be kind to people who hate you. Look for the chance to do good to people who do evil to you. Loving people who love you is nice, but loving people who hate you? That’s legendary.

The difference between being Christian and being Christ-like

Imagine, one day you meet someone who says he or she is a writer. That’s awesome, right? So you ask them what they write, and they respond: “Well, I’m not really writing anything now. But I will soon.” Are they really a writer?

Let’s try another job description. One that’s not artsy. How about an engineer? If someone tells you they are an engineer, generally you ask what they build or what they design. But what if the engineer you’re talking to has never built anything or designed anything?

There’s a big discrepancy in both of those situations. You can claim to be a writer all day long and never act like a writer. You can know everything you need to know to be an engineer but never act like an engineer. So why do we think it’s different with our faith?

roads-divergingToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

My Bible study group recently finished a section on the Book of Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ instructions to the Children of Israel before they are about to go into the Land of Canaan.

God is really straightforward with them, and He repeats Himself a lot. Basically what He says is that if they obey Him, they’ll be blessed, and if they disobey Him, they’ll be cursed. Pretty simple, right? If you’ve read the book, you know how that story goes.

And, yes, God is speaking directly to the Children of Israel in this particular verse, but what He’s saying relates to our lives today as well.

We all face choices every day. We can choose to take God at His Word and obey Him, regardless of whether it’s fun or not. Or we can choose to live life on our own terms. Those are the only choices we have. You choose life or death, blessings or curses. Just like the Children of Israel did.

And just like the Children of Israel, if you want to be obedient to God, you need to love Him and commit yourself to Him. That means doing what He says is right. That means living your life in a way that would please Him. That means making choices that honor God. That means living a Christ-like life.

But how many of us know it’s true that you can call yourself a Christian all day long but not be Christ-like?

Just like a writer who doesn’t write or an engineer who doesn’t design, a Christian isn’t automatically Christ-like. That’s a choice you have to make every hour of every day.

I know a particularly troublesome Christian who is sometimes the least Christ-like person you’ll ever meet. I saw her in the mirror this morning. 😉

I’m stubborn. I want my own way. I think I know best. And I don’t want to do it God’s way because He’ll take me down a road that won’t be fun, and I just want to have fun. And believe me, I’ve lived through the consequences of those choices, and I can tell you from experience that it’s better to listen to God. But I’m a work in progress. Every Christian is.

You’re a Christian the moment you trust Christ for your salvation, but becoming Christ-like is a process.

If you want to call yourself a Christian, fine. Carry a Bible. Memorize Scripture. Go to church. Do the Christian thing. But what difference will a title make in your life if you don’t do what a Christian is supposed to do? A Christian is supposed to be Christ-like, and that doesn’t happen just because you install a Bible app on your smartphone.

Learning to follow God is more than just going to church or memorizing Bible verses or going to a Bible study. You follow God in the little things. Following God happens in the small moments–or at least, they may be small moments to you. They’re the moments when you refuse to participate in office gossip. They’re the moments when you decide to bite your tongue instead of saying something rude. They’re the moments when you do something kind instead of something mean. They’re the moments when you choose to love someone you don’t think deserves it.

In those moments, you choose to do those things for no other reason than God told you to. Those are the moments when you are Christ-like, and that’s far more important than being a Christian any day.