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.

God is the source of hope for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Lots of people are gathering food and party supplies to ring in the New Year with snacks and togetherness. Some folks (like my family) are planning a quiet evening of movie watching. And then? Well, the New Year will begin, and we’ll all get back into our routines. And, if previous years are any indication, the momentum we gathered at the beginning of the year will run out about a month into it.

And there are all sorts of explanations. It might be a lack of discipline. It might be general laziness. It might be too much stress or too little sleep or both. Many factors play a role in derailing resolutions. But in my experience, there’s nothing that can derail me worse than a loss of purpose or direction. If I don’t know where I’m going or if I don’t have a goal to reach, I wander. I hesitate. I second guess myself. I give up. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

nature-flowers-plant-springToday’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People have to have hope. You can’t live without it. Love lasts forever, yes, and your faith can fail. Mine does often. But if I ever lose hope, I’ll stop completely. I’ll lose faith if I lose hope. I’ll stop loving if I lose hope. My hope in the Lord gives me the strength to have faith, to love people who don’t love me in return.

When we get home and receive everything God has promised us, we won’t need our hope anymore. But while we live on earth, hope is a necessity. And fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to cling to hope in Him. He’s demonstrated His goodness. He’s proven His Word. He’s shown us that He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises.

When you know God like that, you trust Him, and when you trust Him, He gives you joy and peace. At that point, your hope becomes something confident, something unbreakable, something unquenchable. And that’s how I want to face 2016, with unquenchable hope.

Don’t mistake hope with naivete, though. I think a lot of people do. Just because you hold on to hope doesn’t mean you’re living in denial. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the facts. It just means that you’re placing your trust in Someone who is big enough to make all the negative facts work together into a positive result.

2016 is going to bring a lot of challenges, but you know what? God is bigger than the challenges I’m facing, and I trust Him completely. So the hope I have in Him can be confident, because He is where hope comes from.

Where would you be today without your team?

One of the things I’ve always loved about camping is the teamwork. Everyone has a job to do, and as much as possible (when we were younger) we were given jobs that matched our skills. I mean sometimes you just had to wash the coffee pot out, even if you didn’t drink coffee or didn’t like washing dishes. But it was your turn, and coffee pot needed to be cleaned. By doing your part, you helped the whole team.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers forget that we’re on the same team. We hurt each other by what we say or by what we don’t say. We misunderstand each other. We jump to hurtful conclusions. We take sides. We point fingers and exclaim that if the offender was a good enough Christian, he or she would know better than to behave like that. And we forget about grace and mercy and forgiveness, and that without them, we’re just like those who have no hope. And our little team falls apart.

21503D358DToday’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The whole world doesn’t belong to the same family. We aren’t all children of God by birth. We become children of God when we choose to follow Jesus. When that happens, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you’ve done or where you’re going. You are immediately adopted into God’s family. And that means the Christian who’s sitting next to you in the church pew is your brother or sister, and you’re going to spend eternity with him or her.

That’s great news if you like the Christian sitting next to you. But what if you don’t like them?

Oh, unscrew that halo. There are plenty of Christians in your life that you don’t like. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not a sin to dislike someone. But as a Christ-follower, you are called to love them. Period. There’s no discussion. And love means something a little different than our culture believes. Real Love takes a lot more focus and energy and sacrifice and endurance than what our culture calls love. Real Love is only possible with God’s help.

People fail. Even Christians fail. They will disappoint you. They will hurt you. They’ll reject you and betray you and falsely accuse you. And in the face of all that, you are to love them in return. You are to respond to their anger and hurt and misinformation with grace and peace and patience.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you shouldn’t respond with name calling or rumor spreading. You shouldn’t call names. You shouldn’t lash out with angry accusations. And you shouldn’t threaten. Please, please don’t threaten. Threats never help anyone, and they certainly never deepen a relationship. People who are on the same team should never threaten each other.

Instead of threatening, lashing out, trying to hurt your brother or sister in Christ, think of how to approach them with love. Try to consider how they feel. Think about where they are in their life and what might be causing them to act the way they are.

It’s so easy to misunderstand. Are you willing to destroy another person simply because you assume you know what he or she is feeling? Remember, we’re on the same team. Remember, Christ died for that person too. Remember you aren’t perfect, and you’ve probably made as many or more mistakes than the Christian you’re angry at. Where would you be now if the Christians in your life had just given up on you?

Maybe you’re hurting, but don’t hit back. Believe it or not, the whole situation probably isn’t about you anyway. Hurting people hurt people, and none of us are perfect. It’s up to you whether or not to be gracious.

Just know that God has enough of a sense of humor that if you don’t let it go, He’ll make you be next door neighbors in heaven for all eternity. Wouldn’t you rather sort things out down here before He comes back to get us?

We all need each other. So give teamwork a chance. God’s got us on the same team for a reason.

Sacrificing for the right reasons doesn’t feel like a sacrifice

I’ve heard it said that the best definition of love is sacrifice. If you love someone, you’ll sacrifice for them. But what does it mean to sacrifice?

In American culture, the concept of sacrifice has such a negative connotation. If you sacrifice something, that means you’re giving something up, and everybody knows giving something up stinks. But I have a problem with that definition, especially when it comes to the concept of sacrificing for God.

When you sacrifice for God, is it really a sacrifice? Have you ever thought about it that way? Because when I sacrifice something–my time, my energy, my focus, my finances, etc.–for God, I always get back more than I’ve given.

See we think of sacrifice as giving something up and never getting anything in return, but that’s not the case. Well, maybe it’s the case if you’re sacrificing for selfish reasons. Nothing done with selfish motivation ever pays a return–not really.

But turn that around. When you sacrifice for selfless reasons, you’ll be hard-pressed to see your choice as a sacrifice. I know tons of people who sacrifice every day. They sacrifice their time and their emotions and their money. They sacrifice possessions and privacy and personal desires. They sacrifice all kinds of things, but because they’ve got their perspective straight, they don’t see it as a sacrifice at all. They see it as an opportunity to do something kind for someone else.

desertToday’s verse is Hebrews 11:24-27.

It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.

Just about everybody knows the story of Moses, whether it’s The Ten Commandments version of his life or the Prince of Egypt version. And we all like to focus on the fact that Moses talked to God and went before Pharaoh and said things like “Let my people go!” and brought the plaques on Egypt, etc. etc. etc. (no, wrong Yul Brenner quote…. so let it be written, so let it be done).

But how often do we focus on the fact that Moses had every right to stay in Egypt and claim a position of lordship? Moses might not have been born Egyptian, but he’d been raised in the palace. He could have stayed. He could have claimed title and land and riches and status. But he didn’t. He chose to walk away from it, and he ended his life doing what God had called him to do.

Talk about sacrifice, right? Walking away from a life of privilege to herd sheep at the hind end of the desert? Releasing his rightful claim to comfort and security in exchange for a barefoot conversation with a burning bush? But if we could talk to Moses today, regardless of all the crap he had to go through leading the Children of Israel, I don’t think he’d say that he sacrificed anything. On the contrary, he had a front row seat for some of the greatest miracles in recorded history.

Perspective is everything.

Are you in situation right now where you feel like you’re sacrificing and no one is recognizing it? Well, I hate to be the rain on your parade, friend, but sacrifice has absolutely nothing to do with recognition. If you sacrifice, you aren’t necessarily going to get to see your name up in lights. If you sacrifice for someone you love, they may not even notice. But if you’re sacrificing for the right reason, it won’t matter.

If you give up something you want expecting something in return, that’s not sacrifice. That’s bartering.

If you keep seeing your sacrifice as something you “had to do” for whatever reason, you’ll never move past it. If you keep bringing it up, you haven’t sacrificed anything. You’re still holding on to it. And you can’t walk that line. You can’t say you’ve sacrificed something if you’re still clinging to it.

But if you let go of what you want, especially if you’re letting it go for God’s sake, and you don’t pine after what could have been, you’ll be surprised at the turn your life will take. Maybe at the beginning, it’ll feel like you’re walking away from the best dream you’ve ever had, but when it’s over, you’ll be standing on a mountaintop talking to God like He’s your closest friend.

Just because you give up something you want doesn’t mean your life is going to be unhappy. It doesn’t even mean that you’ll end up losing out. In fact, you might even end up with more than you had to start.

We all struggle to love somebody

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day, otherwise known as Single’s Awareness Day. Facebook filled with funny cards and photographs. The grocery stores had aisles that practically glowed red with all the candy and flowers and stuffed animals.

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I mean, it’s all right. I’m sure it’s very sweet and romantic if you’re in a relationship, and it’s certainly fun to find cheap chocolate everywhere (unless you’re really not supposed to be eating it anyway). But I’m not sure my feelings about it would change even if I were in a relationship.

In our culture, Valentine’s Day has become known as a holiday of love, where everybody makes it a point to do something special for that special someone in his or her life. And, again, that’s perfectly fine and dandy. It just seems to me that loving each other shouldn’t be a once-a-year thing. Shouldn’t it be an everyday thing? No, maybe buying each other hearts full of chocolate shouldn’t happen every day (though that would be lovely), but spending special time with someone on a regular basis should be a part of a long-term relationship. That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

Valentine’s Day is like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It isn’t something we should celebrate just once a year. It should happen all the time–and even more often if you are a follower of Christ.

valentineToday’s verse is John 13:34

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

This is Jesus talking to the Disciples at the end of the Last Supper. He is preparing to go to the cross in mere hours, and this is one of the final things He says to His followers.

Jesus isn’t being vague here, is He? Love each other. There’s no option there. It’s not, Love each other if you feel like it. Or, Love each other as long as you treat each other the way you want to be treated. All Jesus says is, Love each other. Period.

No frills. No wiggle room. No other options. Love each other. But He doesn’t stop there. He tells us to love each other the way He loves us. So that begs the question, how did Jesus love us? Well, He died for us, didn’t He? He loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His title, His throne, His home, His comfort, and His glory to die a humiliating and excruciating public death.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone that much. Not even myself.

Jesus doesn’t say it would be nice if we could love each other that much. He doesn’t say it would be in our best interests if we could love each other that much–or even that it would please Him if we loved each other that much. He just says do it. He commands it.

Loving each other isn’t convenient. Whether it’s romantic love or the kind of love Jesus is talking about, love takes hard work. It’s not always an easy decision, and it’s rarely without cost. And, frankly, it has very little to do with how you feel. At least, that’s been my experience.

I have to choose to love people. I’m not a recluse or a hermit, but I have those tendencies. Love and mercy are not my gifts. I’ve mentioned before that some people say I’m uncompassionate, and I am. Love doesn’t come easily for me, but I choose to love people because Jesus commanded me to do it.

Granted, some people are easier to love than others. But then, some people make it almost impossible to love them. But somehow I’ve got to figure out how. That doesn’t mean I have to be their best friend. That doesn’t mean I have to go out of my way to spend all my time with them. But it does mean that I need to be kind to them, regardless of whether they are kind in return or not.

So who’s the person in your life that you are trying to love today? Everybody has someone. Don’t be ashamed. We all struggle to love somebody. Just remember that you don’t have to do it alone.

God provides what He requires. He always has. If He requires us to love each other, He will give us the strength and the opportunity to show His love to the people around us. Just be open to it, and live your life the way Jesus would. If you’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, living a life of love will just happen.