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.

Be more willing to give mercy than receive it

We’re coming off the Independence Day holiday here in the United States. It’s a time of great celebration, family togetherness, cookouts, potato salad, and–of course–fireworks! I’m a big fan of fireworks, but I’m a bit of a pyro. Growing up in the city as children, we didn’t set off a lot of fireworks. And then, growing up on the farm, we lived in a county where you can’t shoot fireworks at all. So we’d go to friends’ houses where we could.

But something I noticed a lot this year was the comments on Facebook and other social media about people shooting fireworks off at all hours before, during, and after the holiday. As you can imagine, most folks were pretty upset about it. Their dogs bark. Their kids cry. Etc.

So wouldn’t it make sense to keep track of which neighbors are doing it? That way, next year, when they’re all done shooting off fireworks and scaring people half to death, you can set off your own fireworks and wake them up in the middle of the night?  Not immediate enough for you? Okay, instead, wait a few weeks and then go ring their doorbell at 3 a.m. That should teach them to wake you up with their fireworks.

I mean, it’s only fair, right?

fireworksToday’s verses are Matthew 5:38-42.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.”

Of course, you know I’m joking. If you do that to your neighbors and tell them it was my idea, I’ll point them to the rest of this post, which says very clearly that repaying evil for evil is never a good idea.

This is Jesus talking in the passage above, and He’s teaching people how to respond when they’re wronged. Because it’s our first reaction to respond to being hurt by hurting the offender. That’s the natural reaction. But we aren’t called to a natural life. We are called to a supernatural life.

Jesus advocated turning the other cheek. This doesn’t mean He was weak–quite the opposite. But in personal relationships, you were never to pay someone back because they hurt you. Jesus believed in giving mercy more than receiving it.

Mercy is great as long as we’re the ones getting it, right? We love receiving mercy. It makes us feel good, all warm and fuzzy inside. Oh, but turn the tables, and mercy is a lot harder to give out than it is to accept. We don’t do so well when we have the choice to dole it or pour salt on the wound.

People are going to hurt you. They’re going to offend you. Heck, they’re going to wake you up at 3 a.m. because they’re shooting off fireworks. But do you know what you’re supposed to do? Go out there and make sure they have enough matches. Offer them a glass of water or something.

Makes you made, right? Makes me mad just thinking about it. Doing something thoughtful for people who are completely inconsiderate? That’s foolish. They’ll walk all over me. They’ll set off fireworks everyday if I let them think it’s okay with me.

Will they?

I really think we underestimate the power of mercy and kindness in people’s lives. And the thing we forget about this principle is that it’s not the world’s rules. It’s Jesus’ idea. This is what He teaches. To offer mercy and kindness to people who have hurt you. Take the risk that they’ll take advantage of you, and don’t be surprised if they do. Because they probably will. But don’t worry about it. Let God sort it out. You just be the person you’re supposed to be, and do what Jesus did–be more willing to give mercy than receive it.

It’s not easy, but Jesus never said following Him would be.


Justice and wanting to hurt someone are never the same

It’s so easy to hurt someone when they hurt you. Have you noticed that? If someone makes you angry, automatically you want to make them feel anger. If someone hurts your feelings, your automatic response is to hurt them in return.

That’s human nature. And what’s more that’s how the world tells us we’re supposed to live. In the words of the inimitable Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Joss Whedon’s Firefly: “If someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill ’em right back!”

That’s how we’re wired. And, honestly, it just makes sense. You have to stand up for yourself. You can’t let people think they can push you around. Can you?

accuseToday’s verse is 1 Peter 3:9.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.

When another person takes something from you or hurts you in some way, what are you supposed to do? Culturally speaking, this varies from country to country, mostly depending on what sort of laws are in place to protect private citizens. The United States is very blessed to have the law enforcement officers who genuinely want to protect others and who work every day to uphold the law. America may not be what she used to be, but we’re still the most fortunate country in the world. Our laws are still designed to protect people for the most part.

But what about in a Third World country where there is no law? What about in a country with a vicious regime dedicated to genocide or religious persecution? What about a country whose laws exist to benefit the rulers rather than the common people?

I do believe there is a line to be drawn. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with standing up for yourself or your beliefs. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with protecting what is rightfully yours. Where that line needs to be drawn is motivation.

It’s not wrong to want justice when you’re wronged. It’s not wrong to protect your family or the people you love when they are being threatened. But before you go to respond to someone who has hurt you, stop and think for a minute and take a good long look at your heart.

Do you want to hurt them back because you’re hurting? Most likely, that’s what’s motivating you. When we are hurt, we want to hurt others. That’s our nature. But if you’re a Christ-follower, you have a second nature to draw on–your redeemed nature through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s one thing to want justice. It’s something else to want to hurt someone just because they hurt you or someone you love. Justice is fair and even, a requirement for law and order. Wanting to hurt someone because they hurt you is more like revenge. And the two are never the same.

Besides, ultimately, justice isn’t even our responsibility. It’s God’s. God has promised justice to His children. It’s all over the Bible, but somehow we still forget.

If someone has hurt you, it’s a horrible thing. Maybe it’s physical. Maybe it’s mental or emotional. Maybe you were publicly embarrassed. Maybe you wrote a blog post that sent the internet into a vicious uproar. Maybe people said all sorts of mean, hateful things to you. What’s the best thing to do in response?

The Bible says bless them. That means to say good things about them. Maybe you can’t think of anything good to say about them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t focus on what you learned from the experience.

Yes, they were wrong. Yes, you were a victim. But God’s still in control. He still knows what He’s doing. And if you belong to Him, He won’t let any wrong go unpunished. You just need to let it go and let Him work it out.

What hurt are you holding on to today? It’s not worth your life. It’s not worth your happiness. And it’s definitely not worth distracting you from your relationship with God.

Choose to see the hurts in your life as something you can learn from. Don’t snap back. Don’t take the same low road as your accusers. That won’t accomplish anything.

Instead, choose to see cruelty and general meanness of the world as an opportunity to grow. It will make you stronger, and God has promised to bless you in return.

A gorilla in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being bullied is a privilege

The world is full of bullies. If you don’t encounter them every day, I’m sure you know someone who does. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes too. They aren’t just thugs who are after your lunch money anymore. A bully is anyone who uses any kind of intimidation to get what he or she wants. They are in offices and homes and on the street, and they aren’t always physical. Bullies can be passive aggressive too.

So how do you handle bullies when you’re a grown up? If you’re a kid, you’re supposed to be able to go to an authority. But as an adult, sometimes your authority is the bully. What do you do in that case?

A gorilla in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A gorilla in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:28-29.

Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

The Bible says over and over again that we shouldn’t repay evil for evil, that vengeance belongs to God and not to us. And that’s a tall order, especially if I know a bully is involved and he or she has hurt someone I love. But as followers of Christ, we are commanded to love and forgive people who hurt us, but for a bully, that is just a signal to them that you’ll roll over and take the abuse.

So when I encounter a verse like this that says not to be intimidated in any way, I want to know how that’s going to work. Because it’s easy to say that you won’t be intimidated by someone who’s out to get you, but when you’re face to face with them, and their sole purpose is to frighten you or upset you, they’re probably going to get their way.

I really think it comes down to a choice. You can choose to be intimidated or not. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s true. You don’t have to cower or shrink away when a bully is trying to beat you down. You don’t have to fight back either. You can just calmly stand your ground. That’s a choice you can make, and a bully isn’t going to understand it.

You can make that choice because of what the rest of today’s verses tell us. You don’t have to be intimidated because God is behind you, and He’s watching the whole thing. He knows who is in the right. He knows who the aggressor is, and He won’t sit back and let one of His children be mistreated.

If you have the strength to calmly, lovingly stand your ground in the face of intimidation, eventually that person coming after you will get the picture. You won’t break down because you’re relying on Someone stronger, and that Someone will eventually get involved and set things right.

So where do you find the strength to stand up when a bully just wants to beat you down? Look at the second verse listed. You’ve been given the privilege of suffering for Christ.

Suffering for Christ is an honor. Have you ever thought about it that way? Whenever I hear the phrase suffering for Christ, I think of the oppressed and persecuted Christians in Asia and the Middle East. That’s suffering. But being intimidated by a passive-aggressive bully and choosing not to strike back is suffering too. When you choose not to strike back and take the situation into your own hands and trust that God will take care of it, you’re doing that for the glory of God. You’re suffering for Christ.

And that is a privilege. Not everyone gets privileges. That’s why they’re called privileges. I know it doesn’t feel like a privilege when you’re being emotionally raked over the coals, but that’s because our perspective is skewed.

When a bully sets out to tear you down, remember that having the capability to love him or her in return is a gift that God has given you and a privilege you have. If you can look at the opportunity to be bullied as a privilege, you’ll respond to it differently.  You’ll respond to the bully differently.

Who knows why they are the way they are, but there’s always a root cause. People aren’t born bullies.

You’re going to face people who want their own way every day, and some of those people are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want, including trampling over you and anyone else. Stand your ground calmly and lovingly in the name of Christ. Don’t be intimidated in any way by those who would tear you down just so they can get what they want. Love them. Forgive them. But don’t give in to them.

Who knows? Maybe the day will come when they’ll ask you how you got so strong, and then you can tell them. You never know what having a Christ-like attitude will accomplish in your life or in the lives of others around you.

So stand firm. Don’t cower in the face of intimidation. The Big Bad Wolf will eventually run out of breath, and you can face him victoriously, still on your feet with your testimony intact.

The moon in the evergreens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Living in peace when you’re hurting

Has somebody hurt you? Most likely, the answer is yes. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, people hurt people all the time. It’s an unfortunate fact of living in this broken world.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the church, but the majority of people who have hurt me are Bible-believing Christians. That shouldn’t hurt worse than if a nonbeliever hurt me, but it does. Because you expect more from a Christ-follower.

So how do you deal with life when you’re hurt? Whether it’s a Christian or a non-Christian who hurt you, the answer is the same.

The moon in the evergreens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The moon in the evergreens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 12:17-21.

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Living peacefully among people is a difficult task, but it’s not impossible. With God’s help, we can do anything, but achieving peace with imperfect people is a doozy.

The plain and simple truth is that some people won’t be peaceful, no matter what you do or say. Some people insist on chaos between people, and that is up to them. If that’s the way they choose to live, that’s between them and God. But if you want to live the way God commands, you need to take steps to live at peace with the people around you.

The best way to do that is to live the way God says. Love Him. Love people. Forgive people. Be kind. Be generous. Be faithful. Be reliable. Be the kind of person people can see Christ in.

Will that bring peace between you and everyone you meet? No. Because some people refuse peace, but that’s their choice. Your job is to live your life so everyone can see that you belong to Christ, even when people hurt you.

Don’t drop everything you believe in and attack the people who’ve hurt you. Don’t aim to discredit the people who’ve hurt you. Don’t do everything in your power to hurt them back. Yes, communicate with them. Yes, tell them that they hurt you, give them the chance to reconcile (half the time, I swear people don’t even know the damage their words and actions do). But don’t take it on yourself to set things right because that’s a task too big for you.

We’re puny, weak little humans. We don’t know what right is. The only one who can set things right is God, and it’s up to Him to sort things out in the end. And He will. He’s promised He will. It won’t be in our timing. It won’t be when we want Him to, but He will make it happen.

But in the mean time, ask God for help to forgive the people who’ve hurt you and move on with your life. In my experience, those times when I’ve been hurt so deeply I couldn’t move on were at moments I really needed to. But that could just be me. I’m really, really stubborn, and sometimes God needs to use a 2×4 on me to get me to budge. So it may have been the only way to get me to open my eyes. And in that case, how can I think poorly of the people who hurt me? They’re just as flawed and imperfect as I am. And without what they did to me I wouldn’t be where I am now.

God can take hurt and pain and transform it into something beautiful. He can take the wreck of our lives and make it into something new. Don’t take that precious gift and throw it away just for the temporary satisfaction of hurting someone who hurt you. It’s not worth it. That’s like on step forward and three steps back.

You’re going to get hurt. That’s the way life works. But you don’t have to live in fear of it because God can use it. God can use anything. And when all is said and done, God will set everything right. He sees everything, and He sees the truth.

So let it go. Stop holding on to the hurt. You don’t have to. You’re free to love people, especially the people who hurt you.