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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We experience grace so we can extend it

Three years ago yesterday, I ran a red light at the intersection of Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita. It was not a happy day, although it was certainly much better than it could have been. No one was seriously injured, although several cars got pretty badly torn up. Even now, looking back on that day, I am overwhelmed with the grace God poured out on me.

It was my fault. I made a careless choice, and everyone had every right to throw it in my face. But nobody did. Instead, the police officer who showed up was kind. The guy who came to tow my wrecked car made me laugh. My local car dealership loaned me a vehicle off their lot for free so that I could drive around until I purchased a new car. Bountiful, abundant grace.

How on Earth could I hold anything against anyone else after I’ve experienced grace like that?

7D8934864C (1)Today’s verses are Romans 12:3-5.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Everyone steps into God’s story at a different point. Some of us have known Him longer. Others of us haven’t known Him long at all. But if we’re not careful, we can start seeing our experiences and our lives as the standard by which everyone around us should be judged.

Because we made a certain life decision and it worked out for us, that means we’re right, and everyone else is wrong if they don’t take our advice. Because I’ve found a way to use my skills in the church and it’s working for me, that means it’s the only way to do it. Or what if you meet someone who’s obviously living a lifestyle that goes against the Bible? They’re absolutely wrong, so that means you should steer clear of them and not have anything to do with them, right? I mean, they’ll only damage your relation with Jesus. Or, God forbid, you drink Starbucks coffee so you can keep up the conversation with the college kid you met in there the other day.

There’s always this big fuss about judging people, and that’s not the point of this post or this passage. It’s more important to always be ready to extend grace to people around you.

Do people know you as the Christian who’s against everything? Do people identify you as the Christian who criticizes or the Christian who puts guilt trips on other people? Or are you the opposite? Are you the Christian nobody can recognize as a Christian because you’re too busy doing all the same things non-Christians do? There has to be a balance.

Don’t look at someone’s life and decide they aren’t worth your time. You can’t make that call. You don’t know that person. That’s not judging. That’s having compassion on someone else.

Don’t hear someone’s story and instantly start talking about how they could have avoided trouble. Don’t throw it in their face if they’ve trusted you enough to open up to you. They already feel guilty. Laying a guilt trip on them will only make it worse. If what they’ve done is wrong, yes, that needs to be discussed but with the understanding that God can forgive any sin. And that we all need forgiveness. We all need God’s grace. Because we all sin. Each and every one of us.

The next time you see yourself in the mirror, just take a moment to remember that you have screwed up at least as many times as the guy tailgating you has. So let’s give each other a break, huh? I have done enough stuff in my life that I need every inch of grace God can give me, and I’m betting you probably have too.

 

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Why asking is better than demanding

Have you ever had to pull rank on someone? I don’t have to do it very often. The last time I had to do it was over the phone with somebody, which is awful. My best friend and I were trying to get to Philadelphia for a writing conference where we were speaking on a panel, and the airline had canceled her flight with no warning. And I ended up on the phone for four hours, arguing with three different airline representatives about the situation.

If it had been our fault, I would have backed off. If it had been a vacation, I would have backed off. If it was the weather, that would have been something else entirely. But we were committed to speaking at this conference, and it was the airline’s fault. So it was only right that they find us another flight. They just wouldn’t.

Until I got direct with them. Until I told the guy I was talking to exactly how I felt about the situation—that I would never fly their airline again (I haven’t) because I’d never experienced customer service so lacking (I hadn’t) and that I intended to contact them regarding the entire fiasco (I did). And surprise, surprise, he happened to have a flight waiting just a few hours later.

But I don’t like to be demanding, even if I’m demanding the right thing. With an airline, to a certain extent, I understand that they are limited by restrictions and regulations. Although, in this case, they should have done what was right the first time I asked them and saved us all four hours of anguish.

But what about between Christians? Have you ever had to pull rank on another Christian? Have you ever had to demand that a Christian do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do?

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Philemon 1:8-9.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

I love the way Paul approaches this entire situation. Onesimus was a slave that had run away from his master, Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, and when Paul met Onesimus in prison and led him to Christ, Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus.

If anyone could have pulled rank on Philemon, it was Paul. Paul was one of the greatest Christ-followers in history. I guarantee, if he told me to do something, I would have done it.

But Paul didn’t operate like that. Philemon was his friend and his brother in Christ and instead of simply demanding that Philemon forgive Onesimus, Paul just asked him instead.

Why does that work? Why is that better?

Well, for one, if someone makes the choice to do what is right instead of doing it because they’re told, you can know it’s because their attitude has changed. There’s a big difference between doing something because you’ve chosen to do it and doing something because you’ve been told.

It’s a bigger blessing for the one who chooses and a bigger blessing for the one who asked.

Does that mean you’ll run the risk that they’ll say not? Sure. And in some cases, you have to pull rank and demand what is right. But if you have the opportunity to ask instead of demand, take it. It’ll help you grow in your relationships with others, and it’ll give people around you a chance to do the right thing for the right reason.

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

The elephant in the room

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t done something they know they need to do? True, they may be really good at hiding it. But if it’s a friend you’ve known for a long time and you know they’re purposefully ignoring something they’re supposed to get done, what do you talk about? Sure, you can talk around the problem. But isn’t there a saying about the elephant in the room? It’s like a cloud that hangs over both your heads, that has a negative effect on your conversation and your relationship.

It’s like trying to talk to someone who has something in their teeth. Can you focus on what they’re saying?

I’ve noticed that’s true in my human relationships. So why wouldn’t it be true in our relationships with God?

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

If this looks familiar, it should, because this is the same verse I blogged about on Friday. But on Friday I only took the time to focus on asking forgiveness for our own sins. I didn’t touch on how we need to forgive others, which is just as important as asking forgiveness for ourselves.

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to forgive. Christ told multiple stories about forgiveness throughout the Gospels, and the Bible is full of stories about how people forgave those who had done them wrong. But that was then, right? Is it really still the same? Well, people haven’t changed. So why should this?

If you’re holding something over someone else’s head, that’s what you’re focusing on. That’s a part of yourself that’s tied down. A part of your heart is distracted. And God wants our whole heart. All the pieces not just the ones we’re willing to give Him, not the pieces that are perfect or in good order. He wants all of us.

Unforgiveness is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome, I think. At least, that’s been my personal experience. It takes a lot to really hurt me. Most of the time I just let things roll off. I don’t get offended easily, and I try to live understanding that people are perfect, that everyone has bad days, that life isn’t about me. But every now and then, I run into a situation where someone manages to hurt me on a level that I don’t expect. And as someone who doesn’t get hurt often, it’s difficult for me to forgive, especially if I’m not the one who was hurt. Forgiving others who have hurt people I love is more difficult for me than forgiving people who hurt me.

But unforgiveness is just as damaging no matter who got hurt. And holding on to it does nothing to the perpetrator while it poisons me from the inside out.

I’m not going to go into details but a long time ago I had a friend who stabbed me in the back. I was naive back then, and I didn’t see it coming. The one person I thought I could count on turned against me, and I didn’t understand why. I still don’t. Not really. I thought I let it go. I thought I left it behind me as I moved on with my life, but deep down inside I hadn’t. And that old hurt festered and turned to resentment and then to bitterness, and all the while I was living a good Christian life. Anyone who talked to me wouldn’t have known any different. But I knew I was holding on to it because every time I talked to God, it would come up at the back of my mind–a still, small voice that whispered, “Hey, you need to take care of that.”

And I knew I did. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

I’ll never forget. My awesome pastor preached a message called “Scar Tissue” ages ago in a series called Life Ink that really changed the way I looked at forgiveness. And I remember letting go. Finally. And I can’t tell you it felt like a weight off my shoulders. I can’t tell you that I noticed a change in my daily life. But talking to God didn’t feel strained anymore because I’d finally acknowledged what I hadn’t done yet, and I’d taken care of it.

It’s important to ask forgiveness for yourself, yes. We all do wrong. We all sin. And we need to acknowledge those sins when we talk to God, but we also need to forgive others who have sinned against us. If we don’t, holding that against them will change you, and it will have a negative effect on your prayer life.

Whatever you’re holding on to today, consider letting it go. I’ve never tried to talk to someone with a literal elephant in the room, but I can only imagine how distracting it would be.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Asking forgiveness isn’t for God’s benefit

I struggle with living in denial, sometimes. I can convince myself that just about anything isn’t a problem, or at least that anything can be dealt with later. In some cases, this is a big blessing because otherwise I would drive myself crazy with all the things that I can’t accomplish. Example? I live alone in a 100-year-old farmhouse that brings new meaning to the phrase deferred maintenance. It’s not that the place is falling apart, it’s just that there’s a lot to do and no way for me to do it all, especially not alone.

Right now, my yard (which is mostly weeds) is knee-high because my mower broke. My basement is still half put together after the flooding last week, and I still have towels under the leaky window well because it hasn’t rained enough since then to prove that we’ve fixed the problem. Also, the house is still damaged from the major storm that blew through a month or so ago, but we’re still in storm season, so fixing the damage is a bad idea until the majority of storm season is over. The chicken house is still mostly destroyed from the major windstorm in November, but the only way to fix it is to tear it down and build another one, and who has time/money for that right now? On one hand, this stuff could drive me nuts. But I don’t let it. I know it’s there, but I can live without it being perfect for a little while.

But what about the stuff that I can fix? That stuff isn’t so good to live in denial about. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know I have an aversion to doing the dishes. And putting away my laundry. And keeping my office clean-ish. And just housework in general. Granted, there’s no problem with living in denial about any of that, but it doesn’t make for a very orderly home. And I wouldn’t exactly say that being able to ignore those things is a blessing. It’s more of a bad habit, and unfortunately a habit like that can spill over into other areas of our lives.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Can you pray without asking for forgiveness? I can. And I really probably shouldn’t. If you can get through a day without needing to ask God’s forgiveness for something you did or something you said or something you thought, you must be perfect. Either that, or you’re living in denial.

There’s a reason asking for forgiveness, and conversely forgiving others, appears in the Lord’s Prayer. This month I’ve been studying prayer, and I started with the most famous prayer, which is actually more of a format to follow than a prayer to be repeated. This is the example Jesus gave for us to follow when we pray.

Why is it so hard to ask forgiveness? Well, who likes to admit when they’re wrong? Who likes to admit that they need forgiveness? Let’s be real here, Christians. It’s easy to say we need it, but it’s not so easy to live like it. It’s not so easy to ask it. It’s easy for me to sit at my computer and write about how I’m not perfect and how I need God’s forgiveness, but when I get out into the world and I’m making snap decisions and fast judgments and doing the best I can, living the way I’m supposed to isn’t always at the top of my mind. Not like it should be.

And when I make mistakes and realize it, I get defensive because I know better. Of course, I know better. I’ve been following Christ since I was seven years old. And there’s some part of me that tells me to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. It’s forgiven. It’s not a big deal. God knows I’m not perfect.

But what happens if we do that? What happens if we ignore our sin, even the minor ones? Well, in my case, I become accustomed to them. I don’t notice them anymore. I desensitize myself to them. And before long, they become a habit. And when sin becomes a habit, you’ve got big trouble because habits are hard to break, especially bad ones.

 

 

 

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Being patient with other people

Do you ever just want to haul off and smack someone? I do. Some people get under my skin to the point that I really just want to shake them. I don’t, of course. I usually resort to making faces at them and taking notes about their behavior to feature them as an irritating character in my next novel (you’ve heard it’s not wise to upset a writer, haven’t you?).

But is that the way we’re supposed to be? As followers of Christ, we all have the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We just don’t always choose to use it. According to Galatians 5:22-23, everyone who has the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Yesterday I blogged about being patient through circumstances. But what about being patient through relationships?

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Steps of a temple in the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

When it comes down to being patient in difficult situations, I can do that. Actually, anymore, the more difficult a situation gets, the better I am at being patient through it. In the last five or six years, I feel like every situation I’ve been in has been difficult, and this year has felt like a constant emotional roller coaster. We’re not even halfway through 2013 and I’m already exhausted. But I’m not impatient.

However, all it takes for me to lose my cool–I mean really lose my cool–is for me to come in contact with a stupid person. If you’ve ever driven in the car with me, you know this is true. I don’t get angry very easily, but when it comes to bad drivers? Wow. Yeah, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Today’s verse stings because I’m not very good at making allowances for the faults of others. I think it’s my own perfectionism. Deep down inside I hold myself to such high standards that I expect others to perform to a certain level, and if they don’t, I get impatient with them. After all, excellence isn’t that hard to achieve. If I can do it, why can’t they? Right? Any other perfectionists out there hear me?

But the heart of today’s verse is patience and humility. Maybe I’m driven to be perfect, but I guarantee you that I’m not. No one is. And everybody knows that, but there’s a difference between knowing it and living it.

When someone wrongs you, forgive them. Why? Because it won’t be very long before you turn around and wrong someone else, whether you intend to or not. And you appreciate being forgiven, don’t you? You appreciate people being patient with you, don’t you?

Granted, there’s a level of stupidity that you shouldn’t have to deal with. Some people are fools, and f0ols are dangerous to have in your life. Those are the people who keep making the same mistakes over and over again and never learn from them. But even those people don’t deserve cruelty. We should still be patient with them, even when we cut them out of our lives.

God forgave us. And when God forgives, He puts our faults out of His mind. They don’t exist to Him anymore. And that’s how we need to forgive others. When someone offends us or does wrong to us, we need to choose to see them as a human being who isn’t perfect, just like us.

Yes, there may need to be a change in the relationship, but don’t give up on them. Just be patient with them. People are people, and they don’t change until they start listening to God. And that is true for believers and non-believers alike because you can be a follower of Christ and not be listening to the Holy Spirit.

Think of a person in your life who drives you crazy. Identify why that is. I’ve got one in mind right now. Decide that you’re going to be patient with that person today, that you’re going to show them love and forgiveness even if they don’t reciprocate, that you won’t let their actions dictate your responses, that you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit’s whisper above the screaming of your heart.

It will make a huge difference in your day. And it might even make a difference in their heart. You never know how God will use you, but it starts with listening and obeying the Spirit.