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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The moments that tell you who you trust

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Throughout my childhood, many of my heroes always talked about how God had directed their lives, and that sounded so fantastical to me. So as I grew, part of me expected God to show up in my life with a big flashing arrow to point me down the right roads. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed when He didn’t.

I’ve been a grownup person for a while now. It’s hard to remember when I still don’t like wearing shoes and would gladly eat ice cream for dinner. I’m not sure when I made the transition from child to grownup, but there were no trumpets sounding, no confetti falling, no awards handed out. Suddenly I had responsibilities and budgets to manage and meals to prepare and deadlines to meet.

Fast forward ten years or so, and I’m still waiting for the heavens to open up and point me in the right direction. God has never popped up in front of me and thundered directions or commands audibly. He has never appeared to me on a grilled cheese sandwich or a ceiling tile.

When the time came for me to make a choice about my life, I tried to make the best choice I could. I used Bible verses. I used what I knew about God. I listened to counsel from godly people. And I moved forward trusting that God would hold me up, regardless of how I felt about the entire situation.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.Trust Him, and He will help you.Sometimes that led me into uncomfortable situations. Sometimes that led me into a lot of stress and responsibility. And every time my life would hit a new, frustrating low, I’d feel peace because I trusted Him to work things out. And every time, He did. I didn’t get to hear angels sing when I made a decision. Actually, most of the time, I felt worse after I made a decision, but I’d cling to the hope that I’d made my choice because I did it for God’s glory. And every time, life would just work out. Not the same day. Not the same week. Sometimes not even the same month. But always eventually.

[su_pullquote]That’s not an accident. That’s a miracle.[/su_pullquote]

From my first job out of college to my last “real” job to where I am now working for myself, His fingerprints are everywhere. I can trace the path of my life back from childhood to where I am now. I can map every bump, every pit, every road block, and I can tell you how what I learned as a result got me where I am today. That’s not an accident. That’s a miracle.

No, God didn’t show up in flashy display of power and majesty, but He did show up. God has always been with me, every moment of every day, but He hasn’t always been obvious because I haven’t always been looking for Him. And that’s the key I think we forget sometimes.

We expect God to bend over backward to get our attention. We look for signs and wonders in the sky to prove to us that He exists, when the very fact that we do exist should be wonder enough.

The Bible says over and over again that we’re supposed to trust God, but how many of us really do it? How many of us even try? Psalm 37:3-7 tells us, “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” It’s not easy to live this way. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But God wouldn’t have told us to do it if it weren’t important.

Trusting yourself has limits, because you are limited. Trusting God is terrifying because He is limitless in every sense of the word. But when you put your whole trust in Him, He can take you where He wants you to go. He can do impossible things through you, but you have to trust Him. You have to turn your will over to Him. You have to turn your plans over to Him.

Sometimes you’ll feel stuck. Sometimes you’ll despair. Sometimes it will feel like nothing in your life is going right. Those are the moments that tell you who you trust.

If you want to see stars, get away from the distractions

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You can see the universe from the front yard of Safe Haven Farm. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not far from the truth. Out in the country, the Milky Way stretches out across the sky in all its hazy glory, and even the Pleiades is easy to spot.

I’ve always loved stars. Maybe it was the influence of Star Trek so early in my life, or maybe I’ve just always been a nerd, but I love studying the constellations and the names of stars and who discovered them. I love studying the planets and their moons. I’m so nerdy that I even follow NASA and read about new discoveries and the ongoing programs trying to get to Mars.

To me, stars represent entire worlds that I’ll never see, aspects of creation that are so much bigger than I am, reminding me that I’m just a tiny piece in the overall puzzle of God’s great masterpiece.

It makes me think about how Christ-followers are supposed to live. Not distant and mysterious–but like little pieces of God’s big plan, the evidence of a life beyond, proof that there’s something more amazing out there than what we have on our little old planet Earth.

In Paul’s amazing letter to the Church at Philippi, he talks about how Christ-followers can shine in a world covered in darkness. In Philippians 2:14-15, he writes, “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]There are just as many stars in the sky in the city as there are in the country. It’s just that in the city too many things get in the way.[/su_pullquote]

Isn’t it interesting that Christ-followers can lose their shine just like stars? And it’s not that they aren’t Christ-followers. It’s just that other things get in the way. We complain. We argue. We stumble and fall. And before you know it, any light we had is muddied, and we look exactly like the people around us.

Living out in a rural area, you cut out all the distractions that the noise of the city throws into the sky. The pollution and the big buildings and the trees and the bright lights all take away from the beauty of the heavens. It’s not that the stars aren’t there.

There are just as many stars in the sky in the city as there are in the country. It’s just that in the city too many things get in the way, and they block out the stars that can be seen with other things.

I want to shine for Jesus. I want to be a light in the dark that points people to Him, because He’s done amazing things in my life, and I didn’t do anything to deserve any of it.

Christ-followers aren’t called to complain or criticize or argue with each other. We’re called to points of light in a world of darkness, showing people that there’s more to life than this broken existence.

If you want to see the stars, you have to get away from the things that distract from them. If you want to make a difference for Jesus, you need to get away from the things that steal your light.

So don’t complain. Don’t argue. Hold on to your faith and your trust in God, and let the world see you do it. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to believe.

 

God’s great grace and the power of second chances

People hurt each other all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Most times it’s not, and it just happens because nobody is perfect. Communication breaks down. Misunderstandings happen. Maybe you do something you aren’t supposed to do, and you lie to cover it up. Then you have to lie more to keep it covered. And you can’t lie that long without there being consequences, whether you get caught in your lie or not.

In any case, you end up at odds with people. But you forgive them. Of course, you forgive them. Maybe it’s not the strong, independent thing to say, but I usually forgive people pretty quickly, especially if it’s only my feelings that have been hurt. If I’m the only one who has been wronged, it doesn’t bother me that much. But there’s forgiveness and then there’s restoration. And there’s a big, big difference between them.

Unless you’re God.

AD76394B17Today’s verses are Romans 8:1-3.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

I love how God approaches forgiveness. When you come to God with a true view of your sin and your dependency on Him, He doesn’t push you away. He doesn’t scorn you or make you feel guilty. He sees you from a far-off distance and runs to meet you. He wraps you up in His arms and welcomes you home.

There’s nothing in this passage that discusses how we have to prove ourselves to God so that He will restore us to a right relationship with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t. All we are capable of doing is turning our hearts, our wills, over to Him. And He knows full well that we might turn away from Him again (we probably will), but He doesn’t let that stop Him from showering us with blessings and making us feel loved and wanted.

God is a God of second chances. And third chances. A fiftieth chances. And two-hundredth chances. I know that’s been said to death, but it’s true. God doesn’t push anyone away. Not ever. Nobody who ever came to God seeking help has been turned away.

I need that. I need someone who will forgive me when I screw up, because I screw up a lot. Do I think it’s wise to instantly restore another human being to a place of ultimate trust after they’ve betrayed me? No. We can’t prove anything to God, but when it comes to our relationships with each other, trust needs to be earned again after it’s lost.

But still… how often are we too harsh on someone who has let us down? How often do we feel the need to punish those who have hurt the people we love? And is that really what God has for us to do? Are we supposed to make it harder for someone to earn our trust after they’ve failed us?

Jesus says in Matthew that people with vulnerable hearts are happy. Sure, that guy hurt you. Yeah, that gal might take advantage of your kind spirit and stomp all over your heart again. But isn’t God’s grace strong enough to withstand the failings of other people? I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. When someone you love stabs you in the back, it hurts. When someone you trust turns out to be different than you thought, it’s like your insides twist all up. But who are you trusting for your happiness?

God’s grace is enough.

It’s enough to free me from slavery to my own sin. It’s enough to help me forgive people who’ve hurt me. It’s enough to help me forgive people who will keep hurting me. And if God loves me enough to give me second chances over and over and over again, can’t I afford to do the same for someone else?

The size of your trouble doesn’t matter

A few days ago, the lightning woke me up. It was a storm of epic proportions bearing down on my house, driving rain, ferocious wind, and the storm system on the map was all sorts of red and yellow. But because of the crazy winds, the storm was moving fast. No warnings had been issued. No alarms were going off. As near as anyone could tell, it was just a thunderstorm. And moving as quickly as it was, it would blow itself out soon enough. So what did I do? I went back upstairs and went back to sleep.

You learn to read a weather map at a young age in Kansas. You figure out really quickly where your city is on the map too, so when you watch the riotous march of primary colors that represent a storm system on the television screen, you know just where your house is in relation to the storm. You know how bad it’s going to be. And you know if you have time to run out and take photos before the hail tries to give you a concussion (then you decide whether or not the concussion is worth it).

I’ve ridden out crazy storms in this old house of mine, alone and with family. I’ve experienced the scary storms, and I knew just by looking that the most recent storm wouldn’t be much trouble. And it’s that kind of perspective that we need arm ourselves with as we face the trouble in our lives every morning.

DC6TBI9X7JToday’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Life is full of trouble, but if you can keep it in perspective, it won’t feel so overwhelming. The thing about trouble, though, is that is tends to gang up on you. It’s not just one problem. It’s usually three or four or maybe more, all at once in varying levels of trauma or frustration. But when you run into trouble (or when it finds you), give yourself permission to stop for a moment and think.

I guarantee this isn’t the first trouble you’ve experienced in your life, and it won’t be the last either. But it may not be the worst.

Either way, the size of your trouble doesn’t really matter. If you get right down to it, your trouble is too much for you anyway. Like the storm, it’s not how big it is. It’s how fast it’s moving.

Time is a tough concept to understand sometimes, especially as a Christ-follower. We’re going to live forever. Forever. That’s longer than a long time. That’s forever! Do we get that? I don’t think I do. My soul may be wired for eternity, but my brain isn’t. My brain is still in the here and now, but who I am as a person will live long past the expiration date on this old asthmatic tent I’m living in right now.

So what’s a day or two of trouble? Heck, what’s a year or two? Maybe you’re not comfortable right now. Maybe you’re going through a storm. And believe me, I know that’s not fun. Storms are wet and windy. Sometimes you get hailed on. There are scary moments. And there are moments when you think it’s going to get better and then all of a sudden it just gets worse. But that’s the nature of a storm, and storms don’t last very long.

Life’s no different. And neither is following Jesus.

So what trouble are you facing today that’s got you down? What difficulty is in your path that you’re afraid you can’t overcome? Don’t you know who’s on your side? The God of the Universe. The Creator of All Things. Better known as Abba Father, who is reaching out to offer you His personal help.

Storms get worse often before they get better, but that just means they’re moving. So just be still and let them blow around you. God will give you the strength to stand your ground until it’s over, and then He’ll give you the wisdom you need to move forward.

Even in the darkness, you never walk alone

Have you ever been in a situation that goes from bad to worse? I mean, before you even have a chance to wrap you brain around the first problem, another one pops up? It’s like trying to catch waves on the beach. Just when you think you’ve stopped one in its tracks, it slips away, only to knock you over with a bigger one.

Everybody knows that life is like that, but there’s this idea that following Jesus isn’t. And that’s a lie. If anything, following Jesus just makes life feel harder sometimes. Because you know what’s wrong with the world, but you can’t do anything to fix it. You even know what’s wrong with yourself, but you have the same problem. And regardless of how sad you feel or how alone you feel or how useless you feel, you’re not supposed to let on, right? You’re just supposed to keep that happy face plastered on so nobody will think your faith is weak.

Well, friends, just being honest here … that’s silly.

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.

This is Paul talking. The Paul. This man had an encounter with Jesus Himself. He’s responsible for penning most of the New Testament. And this is him talking about his great achievements, right? How he always faced difficulty with a stiff upper lip and a spring in his step?

If you got that out of the passage above, I suggest reading it again.

Paul was always honest about what He was feeling. He wasn’t the emotional type, like Peter, but he never hesitated to let people know what was on his heart. This man was a leader of the Early Church, and right here he’s admitting that he nearly gave up! He expected that he was going to die.

But….

I love that word but. It means that the story isn’t over. It means that there’s something better coming.

But … Paul said when he realized the situation was beyond his control, he learned to rely on God. Oh, if only I could learn that lesson too. In those moments when life is too much for me (they come frequently), if I could just remember to trust God, I think I would see my situation much differently.

It’s not easy, because you keep thinking there’s something you ought to be doing. And maybe there is, but most of the time what needs to happen is beyond your control anyway. You need to let go, and you need to trust that God will bring a solution when it’s time.

I love what Paul says. That God rescued them from mortal danger, and that He would do it again. That rescuing them was something God would continue to do. Not just something He did once or twice. Not just something He did in the past. He would always come to their rescue when they needed Him.

There’s no shame in admitting you feel lost and confused. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you’re lonely or angry or sad. We all feel that way. We all want to give up. We all experience that moment of balancing on the brink, where one wrong move might send us toppling over. But God’s pretty good at rescuing people. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s good at putting pieces back together again too.

The world is a dark place. It’s full of hurt and hurting people and broken dreams and sorrow, but you don’t have to walk it alone. God is strong enough to get us through it. He’ll come alongside us and walk with us and help us. No matter how dark the darkness gets, you don’t have to face it by yourself.

Spider webs in the sunlight at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Real is what you can’t see

You can’t see them very well, but the ground beneath the cedar trees in this photograph is layered with spider webs. I couldn’t get the light right to show how many there were, but you can see a few of them. But the only way to see them at all is with the sunlight. Without the sun setting behind them, I wouldn’t have noticed the light reflecting off the webs at all.

So if I didn’t see them, would that make them unreal? If I said that, you’d tell me I’m nuts. The spider webs in this photograph are real whether I can see them or not. So if that’s true with spider webs, why can’t people believe the same thing about following Christ?

Spider webs in the sunlight at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Spider webs in the sunlight at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I don’t know why the human mind has trouble accepting the truth of something it can’t see. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it unreal, but for some reasons our brains aren’t wired that way. We have to experience it to understand it. It’s the whole “see it to believe it” mentality, and it’s prevalent in our world today (for everything except evolution, but that’s a different topic altogether).

Since when did people’s experiences dictate truth? I’ve never been to Japan, but I know Japan exists. I know people who’ve visited. I’ve read stories about it. I’ve seen it on a map and in photographs. But since I’ve never experienced it for myself, I could take the position that Japan isn’t real. Now, you’d tell me I’m crazy, because everyone knows Japan is real. And that’s the truth, whether I believe it’s true or not.

The way the world tells us to think is so backwards from what the Bible says. Every day the world tells us to believe our eyes, but that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live. Actually, it’s the exact opposite.  The world would have us believe that real is physical, that it’s the things and people you can touch and see. But that’s a lie.

The things we see, the parts of life we can touch and feel, are temporary. Our bodies. Our possessions. None of it will last forever, and when you die, you can’t take any of it with you.  All of it will end.

Real is what you can’t see. The human soul. Love. The intangibles of following Christ are the things that you’ll never lose, even in eternity.

So how is that encouraging? Well, I can tell you that one thing I see a lot of is trouble. Financial trouble. Health trouble. Political trouble. And because all of those things are front and center in my vision, it’s easy to think that they’re real problems. But if real is what I can’t see, all of that is just a passing inconvenience. Why waste time focusing on any of it?

Real is what you can’t see. It’s people, not their bodies, their souls. It’s relationships. It’s families and friendships. Don’t focus on the temporary things that are just passing through; focus on the real, eternal parts of life.

You can’t see them normally. You have to look for them using the Bible as a filter. The Bible reveals life and living in a whole new light, sort of like the perfect angle of a sunset can reveal a patch of ground layered in invisible spider webs.

Just because you can see it doesn’t make it real. The trouble you’re going through right now is temporary, so don’t waste time thinking about it. Focus instead on what will last forever. Your relationship with Christ. Your friends and family. Love.  Your troubles won’t go away, but they will get easier to handle because your perspective will change.