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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Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

The secret to happiness

What is the secret to being happy? Is there a magic formula that you can just mix up some random things and expect to create happiness for yourself? Is it at the end of a rainbow, like a pot of gold? Does it even exist? Life can be so dark sometimes. People have to endure so many things, so many hurts, so many disappointments. How can you be happy when you have to face so many discouraging obstacles, whether they’re of your own making or not?

Yesterday, I posted about how Paul said we can be content. And it’s true. We can. There’s a difference between contentment and complacency, but we can be content where we are. In one of yesterday’s verses, Paul said that he had learned the secret to being content, but it didn’t strike me what it was until I read today’s verse.

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:13.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 is one of those hallmark verses that just about everybody knows, whether you realize you know it or not. People who don’t read the Bible know it. It’s almost as prevalent as John 3:16, but have we really stopped to think about what it means? It’s comforting, yes. And whenever I read it before, it calmed me down because it helped me to remember that God can empower me to accomplish great things.

But what we need to remember is that the Book of Philippians wasn’t originally broken down into chapters and verses. It was one long letter Paul wrote to the Church of Philippi, and while most verses can stand on their own, if you consider them in their original context, they take on a different meaning.

This is an example. This verse can stand alone and be true. We can do everything through Christ. Christ gives us the strength we need to get through life. That’s true. But where is this verse located in the grand scheme of Philippians 4? It’s in one paragraph that reaches from verse 10 to verse 14.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.

It’s a good habit to get into that whenever you see a verse that begins with For or Since or But that you read the previous verses, because that word indicates a connection to the sentence that comes before it. So what comes before verse 13, our verse today? Well verse 12.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

See what I’m getting at? Do you see the difference? Do you see what I saw this morning that I’d never really paid attention to before?

If there’s a secret to being content, to being happy with life, it’s right here. No matter what you’re going through, no matter where you are, no matter what you have or what you don’t have, you have strength to do everything because Christ is with you. Christ gives us strength for the bad days. Christ gives us strength for the good days. So whether you’re celebrating a win or mourning a loss, you can still be happy because you can trust that Christ will strengthen you no matter what.

Trusting that Christ will help me face a day no matter what it brings is enough to make me happy. It’s enough to make me content with where I am in life and where I’m going. I don’t have to be afraid of the future, because with Christ I can handle whatever is coming. I don’t have to have to regret the past, because with Christ I can learn from my mistakes and leave them there. I can love people, I can rejoice in difficulty, I can live without worry, and I can be secure enough to disagree with people I respect because Christ gives me the strength.

I think the Message encapsulates Philippians 4:13 best: Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Want to be happy? Want to be content? Embrace this. You can do everything through Christ.

Q'eqchi School on the hill

Being tough and stubborn only wears you out

I’m pretty tough. And I’m really stubborn. A friend once told me he could outlast me in stubbornness because he was Irish. I had to inform him that I was Irish and Scottish, so he was doomed. And I have had many friends tell me they wished they could be tough, but let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. And when you throw stubbornness and pride into the mix too, it’s a recipe for disaster.
 
There isn’t much I can’t handle on my own. I don’t say it to be proud. It’s just the truth. But that means I grow accustomed to walking in my own strength and relying on my ability to understand things. So when the days come (and they have come) that I can’t handle something, I falter.
Q'eqchi School on the hill

Q'eqchi School on the hill - Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

 The most difficult physical circumstance I’ve ever experienced was my trip to Guatemala in 2011. I have posted my journal about the trip, and the two others I’ve taken, here on this blog. Please understand I’ve been on a lot of rough trips, and I wasn’t worried or scared. But I was acclimated to an office job.

Our goal was a little Q’eqchi village deep in wilderness area, called Esfuerzo II. We had to ride a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the beginning of the path, and then the only way there was hiking or on horseback.

So when we hit the road and started hiking (because I refused to ride a horse), I didn’t anticipate how quickly I would dehydrate. I’d drank all my water and still couldn’t start sweating again, and we were only halfway there. I knew I was in trouble, but I thought I could keep going. Why? Because I’m tough. And I’m stubborn. And I should have stopped right then and asked for a horse. I thought about it. But I don’t like horses, and I don’t feel comfortable with them. And I figured I would cause more trouble if I tried riding one. So I pushed on and didn’t say anything.

Well, I didn’t push on long. I was so fried I could hardly walk, and I’m thankful I had someone on the trip with me who’s more stubborn than I am (yes, Colonel, I’m talking about you). I ended up on a horse for the rest of the way (I would never have made it otherwise), and then the village found some gringo-size horses for us to ride back. And they got the biggest kick of watching me trying to mount a horse on a plastic chair. Probably the best entertainment they’d had in months.

I remembered this story when I read today’s verse, Philippians 4:13.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

It’s a common verse, one just about every Christian knows. But I think we know it so well that we think we don’t have to live it. Or it’s one of those verses that falls to the backs of our minds because we’ve heard it so many times.

What if we could really live like that? What if we could actually live every moment in Christ’s strength instead of our own? I know people who do, and I want to get there. Because living in my own strength, I’m limited. In my own strength, there are things I can’t accomplish, and I don’t to miss an opportunity to do something amazing for God just because I was too stubborn to accept His strength and tried to achieve it on my own.

I’m not saying that Christ is going to give people strength to climb on horses and ride around in the jungle with no water. I mean, He could if He wanted to. But generally, you have to work up the physical ability and the tolerances for things like that.

But what about loving people? What about being bold? What about having courage to do something no one expects from you? What about stepping outside the box? Shoot, what about burning the box? Most of those things are more frightening than dying of dehydration in a jungle, as far as I’m concerned.

If you’re living in Christ’s strength, nothing is impossible. There’s nothing He can’t do through you. You just have to let go. Being tough and stubborn about it, isn’t worth it.