Monday, February 22, 2010

Thoughts on Forgiveness

A few days ago the memory of someone I hadn't seen for a really long time popped into my head. The nicest way I can describe this person is that they're a real pain in the lower posterior parts. (I apologize if that offends you.) This person didn't abuse me in any particularly horrific way, but they did hurt me a lot with their words and their actions were pretty unpleasant too. Just thinking about them made me want to give them a piece of my mind all over again. Ah! There was a clue that Jesus and I needed to have a talk about this. I thought I'd already forgiven this person and I had, but my gut reaction told me that there was more work to be done.

Jesus had a bit to say about forgiveness and He set the bar pretty high. How many times do we need to forgive someone who wrongs us? Pretty much to infinity. (Matthew 18:21-22) What if we don't forgive? God won't forgive us. (Matthew 6:15) (I find that one pretty terrifying since I need His forgiveness a lot.) When we let unforgiveness settle in it becomes bitterness and resentment. There's a whole lot about that in the Bible too and it's not good.

Whoever coined the phrase "To err is human, to forgive is divine" was really on to something. When it comes to forgiveness we really need the help of the Holy Spirit. The good news is that He's ready and eager to help us!

My thoughts on forgiveness led me to two conclusions: 1. When I don't forgive someone (or let go of my resentment) it's because I think they need to suffer a bit before I can be okay; and 2. I think that their actions can somehow thwart God's good plans for my life.

Romans 12:19 says:
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.
So, if we're not willing to leave the "payback" to God, does that mean we don't trust Him, that we don't believe He'll do what He says He'll do? When I think very long on this verse I find myself wanting to make sure my own accounts with God are clear.

As far as someone else's actions thwarting God's good plans for my life... Well, actually, I'm the only one that can do that!! A good way to do it is by hanging on to bitterness and resentment. The promise about His good plans for us in Jeremiah 29:11 doesn't say anything about "unless...". Unless someone abuses you or lies to you or gossips about you or says horrible and hurtful things to you or doesn't appreciate you or disappoints your expectations... It's a given that some or all of those things are going to happen to you if you interact with broken human beings. The Good News is that we don't have to live broken and devastated because of them!

Jeremiah 30:17 contains a beautiful promise: "'I will give you back your health and heal your wounds,' says the Lord." Hurtful things that are said and done to us can definitely cause great sickness in our spirits, souls and bodies. God says He'll restore our broken places if we'll surrender them to Him: "I will give you back your health and heal you." This just makes me want to snuggle right up close to my Papa, be healed, and let Him take care of the bad guys.

Of course, we have an enemy who wants the poison of resentment to remain in our hearts. As humans with a capacity to remember things, it's easy to let the toxins creep back in. Jesus told us a really good way to take care of this: "Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you." (Luke 6:28) If we start to pray for blessing in the lives of those who hurt us, two really great things are going to happen. There will be no room for unforgiveness, and God will be answering our prayers for them. Let me tell you that there have been some people I've had to pray many blessings on before I no longer felt a twitch at the thought of them! Someone asked me if I didn't think it was wrong to bless a person who was intentionally living in sin? Well, a huge part of God's great blessing in our lives is conviction of sin. What greater blessing is there than to be free of the curse of sin? When we pray for God to bless them, we're leaving it all in His good and perfect hands.

Filling my mind with all these thoughts of God's goodness and His promises made me want to repent of the bitterness and to let go of the pain and the traces of resentment toward this person. If anyone comes to mind that you need to forgive, or forgive again, I pray that you will and that God will bless you with a great awareness of His love for you. He's got it covered. He'll take care of the junk. He just wants you to let it all go so that your hands will be empty of the stuff you've been hanging onto--with your hands free you can receive His gifts. He's longing to overwhelm you with His goodness.

(Please note that this post isn't about having healthy boundaries with unhealthy people, just about the heart issues.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Blog About Fog

We live on the gentle slope of a hill that overlooks a valley and across to what the local, prairie-born folks call a mountain. It's just a small valley--maybe two miles across--with a road running along the bottom. The school bus comes along this road and I can see from my kitchen window when the bus is about five minutes away and can send the kids out at just the right time. For most of the last month we've had ice fog every day. It creates a beautiful diamond-encrusted landscape that sparkles when the sun burns away the mist. Many mornings we have been able to see this fog settled into the valley below us and it's impossible for me to see the bus coming until it's almost up the hill and to our house. I keep thinking about that bus driver down there in the fog...

She has no idea when the fog will end. She doesn't know for sure that when she turns the corner a breakthrough is just a half a mile away. It's thick--so thick we can't see the strobe light flashing on top of the bus. And yet, not far away, the sun is shining gloriously.

Fog is like that. Disorienting. Confusing. Discouraging. Endless. Unless we have a reference point outside of the fog.

"Fog" in our lives takes many different forms and lasts for different lengths of time. We're all facing different challenges. We have different prayers for which we earnestly desire an answer. For every one there's a promise in God's Word. That's the reference point to which we must cling. It takes faith to hold onto that promise. Faith is hard for us. We want answers and we want them now. But faith pleases God--not because He wants to see us suffer, but rather because He wants us to be at peace while He is at work.
"What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for will happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. God gave His approval to people in days of old because of their faith." Hebrews 11:1-2
Hebrews 11 is a litany of faith in everyday people who faced challenges and believed what God said about that challenge. It's easy to think that they were somehow special and not like us, but a careful reading of their life stories quickly reveals that they were every bit as human as we are and some of them really messed up big time! Yet, they made it to this roll call of Faith Heroes and they were called those who "pleased God". Why? Because they believed the promise even when they couldn't see evidence of it's fulfillment. This isn't the same thing at all as the "power of positive thinking" because the Power rests entirely in the One in whom we believe!

It's easy to think that we don't have enough faith for the challenge we're facing. Jesus said that even faith as small as a mustard seed is enough. Hebrews 11:34 tells us of these heroes that, "Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight." It's in the process of believing and then receiving that our faith grows stronger.

One of the best ways to strengthen and demonstrate our faith is to worship and praise God while we wait for Him to do what He promised. Praise has been known to tear down prison walls! (Acts: 16:25-26)

I pray that you will be encouraged and reminded of God's promises. His plans for you are good. (Jeremiah 28:11)

"God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary." Hebrews 6:18-19

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rest for Your Soul

I was recently having a conversation with a friend wherein we were talking about those moments in life when our shortcomings become glaringly obvious. Not a particularly comfortable place to find yourself and yet a moment containing a treasure. The comment was made that, "Boy, I have a lot of work to do!" It lingered in my mind and didn't ring entirely true so I had to give it some thought.

The idea of "having a lot of work to do" echos a bit of a philosophy of self-help, of I-can-do-it-if-I-try-hard-enough. However, I wonder if growing in God is like losing that after-Christmas weight? Can it be done if we follow Ten Steps to Becoming a More Mature Christian? Can we, by the strength of our own efforts and striving, overcome sin? Jesus said, "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?" (Matthew 6:27) This verse is in the context of concern about natural needs, but perhaps it can be applied to our spiritual growth too. Can we, by our own efforts, add an inch to our spiritual stature?

What should our response be when we come face to face with the reality that we have some spiritual growing up to do? We definitely have choices to make. We can blame things on others or humble ourselves in repentance. We can choose to pick up our Bibles rather drown our discomfort in a novel, television show or shopping spree. We can make a commitment to spend more quiet time alone with Him. There are definitely choices we can make that will contribute to our growth. All these steps lead to the same place: an intimate relationship with our Savior. Therein lies our hope! In relationship with Him, light shines into the dark places of our hearts and reveals the root of things. We become acquainted with the sound of His still, small voice (I Kings 19:12) that can stop us from saying or doing things that we shouldn't. It is His Spirit in us that gives us "the desire and the power to do what pleases him." (Philippians 2:13)

Not long ago I was feeling overwhelmed by awareness of spiritual need in my life and knew that others were aware of it too. Shame and accusation were alternately whispering and shouting at me. I was definitely feeling discouraged when I came across a verse in Isaiah 46: "I will be your God throughout your lifetime--until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you." (verse 4) He made me. He cares for me. He will carry me and save me. He will complete the good work that He started in me. (Philippians 1:6) In that moment I found peace. Turns out that I didn't "have a lot of work to do" so much as I just needed to get close to my Papa who has invested everything into completing the work He began in me.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.
Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear,

and the burden I give you is light."
Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

He Cares

Last weekend my husband and I attended a conference that is billed as "The Largest Equipping and Renewal Conference in North America". I do, indeed, feel more equipped and definitely feel renewed. Worshiping God with seven thousand voices raised in unison is an experience that feels pretty close to my best imaginings of heaven.

Ironically, I also found myself having a moment of uncertainty about the reality that God can be as intimate as I believe Him to be. In a milling crowd of seven thousand I was overcome by a feeling of insignificance. Not in a healthy you-are-not-the-center-of-the-universe way, but as a whisper of doubt. Seven thousand is only a small fraction of six billion. Is it really, truly possible that God is as involved and concerned about the intimate details of my life as I believe? Is the communion I feel with Him real or just my imagination? Alarm bells were ringing that these doubts were coming from a liar who is always seeking to steal our joy.

I'm comforted by the fact that King David asked these same questions. "When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers--the moon and the stars you set in place--what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4) King David also penned some of my favorite answers to this question: "O know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I'm far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head... You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!" (Psalm 139)

Lest we think that maybe David was just under some happy delusion when he wrote this, Jesus confirmed it in His own words: "What is the price of two sparrows--one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31) The very hairs of my head are all numbered? One look at my bathroom sink will confirm that this is a number that changes frequently! This tells us then that He's not just checking in with us from time to time, but is with us moment by moment just as David said.

Our small brains cannot comprehend a God so huge that this can be true about six billion people. I'm with David in saying, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!" (Psalm 139:6) Yet I know it's true.

I could relate many stories that confirm God is involved in the details of my life
and they would be interesting and faith-building, but not as personal as your own stories. If you're struggling right now with wondering if God really cares, I pray that God will send His Holy Spirit to remind you of moments when He has intimately touched your life. I also pray for a fresh revelation of His love. He wants you to know that He cares and part of the job of His Holy Spirit is to comfort you and "bring all things to your remembrance". (John 14:26 KJV) Today may not be the day that you get the answer to some of the struggles you're facing, but being reminded of His care for you will give you the confidence to hang on to your faith that He holds the answer.