“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It was for us, you and me, that Jesus endured the cross and rose again to life. Because of his sacrifice, we can be in relationship with the living God now in these last days on earth and forever in heaven. Never underestimate the power of his love and grace for us. No matter where we’ve been, what we’ve done, or who we think we are or aren’t, God created us, has a plan for us, and redeemed us through Jesus.
All we have to do is say “Yes. I want that relationship. I’m sorry for going my own way. Thank you, Jesus.”
During a discussion about the events of the recent murders, our love for our friends of all races, and how to navigate in a world where the violence of some escalated into ridiculous destruction, my husband asked a question.
“What about forgiveness? What would Jesus be thinking/doing in this situation?”
I thought he brought up a good point. One that has caused me to contemplate and consider my thoughts, opinions, and actions in regard to the racial injustice now and for hundreds of years previously.
So many thoughts and questions.
We talked about how we can’t fully understand what it feels like for someone of color to have to be careful where they go, what they do, and how they look. We haven’t been in a situation to have to instruct our children how to be careful when driving or being out with friends.
What little experience I have of that type of discrimination is when my younger brother, in our late teens/early twenties, was pulled over more than a couple of times because his long hair stereo-typed him as a drug user.
Or the numerous times I’ve been followed by men in cars trying to lure me, degrade me, or assault me because I’m a woman. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, a man in a doctor’s office elevator undressed me with his eyes. Not a pleasant experience.
But still, it only gives me a small taste of the concern and tension my dear black friends feel on a daily basis.
We talked about how people all over the world are discriminated against, persecuted, and maligned because of their skin, beliefs, or cultures. I asked Brendan, who’s from Australia, if he had any friends who were of Aboriginal descent, those who were native to Australia, and if they experienced the same kind of discrimination.
We talked about how we both felt uncomfortable now with people of color because previously we simply saw everyone we met or knew as people. Not white people or black people or Asian people or Latin people. Just as someone might use skin color as a description of us white folks, we might describe others the same way by their color or ethnicity or culture, but we didn’t think of it in a derogatory way. Is it?
But now, would people assume we did? Had we not been interested enough in the past to find out someone’s story because they were of a different color or background? Should we go out of our way to be kinder than usual to let people know we care about their color? Have I discriminated in some unknown way because the majority of the characters in my books have white skin?
I believe that black lives matter.
They absolutely do. I’ve been ignorant in my assumptions that black people aren’t treated badly “any more” as a whole. I’m grateful for the conversations that are opening my eyes, and breaking my heart.
And I also believe that every life matters.
Every single person whether they’re black, of another culture or race, white, young, old, male, female, unborn, or living with some kind of limitation or disability should never be thought of as “less than.” But haven’t we all at some point looked at someone else and thought they were not as good, right, talented, kind, handsome, fit, pretty, etc. as us?
Not to take away from this current crisis of racial injustice.
But the bottom line is our sinful hearts. Wrong motives. Selfish attitudes. Pride. Fear. Lack of compassion.
And what about forgiveness?
I believe there is a place for righteous anger. God has displayed his in numerous occasions in the Bible. And I believe he calls us to speak out against sin; not people, but sin, calling out evil and injustice. He tells us to speak for those who don’t have a voice. To stand up for those who are in captivity.
But I also believe God calls us to forgive. To lay down anger, and not let it make us sin. Not let the sun go down on it. Not let it turn into roots of bitterness. He says our anger will not bring about his righteousness. Even if we’d like to believe it will.
What the officers, as well as so many others we don’t even know about, did in killing innocent people or turning their backs as it happened, was so wrong. Unjust. Evil. It’s righteous anger that calls it out for what it is.
And, as my husband pointed out, Jesus was beaten, tortured, and murdered in a horrific way too, but he chose to forgive those who did not know what they were doing.
Of course, they knew what they were doing. But they had no real concept of how wrong their actions were. They were ignorant of what it meant in a bigger than human understanding way. They were foolish and led by evil, self-centered hearts.
Doesn’t that describe all of us?
Should we forgive? Jesus forgave us. He forgives the officers that killed Mr. Floyd and the others. He forgives the rioters and looters. And he forgives us for any of our opinions and fears and questions because our understanding about all of it is not his understanding.
He tells us that we see through a glass dimly. We can’t grasp all of what this means. We can’t. Even if we think we can and try to. So the best we can do is to spend time with him asking him to give us his eyes to see. His heart to understand and love with true compassion. For everyone.
Last week I shared about the anti-trafficking organization, Children of the Night, that confused; okay let’s be real, infuriated me, with its funding starting and continuing from Hefner’s Playboy empire. I shared the email I sent and the response from Lois Lee explaining briefly Hefner’s role in her business.
And I wrestled all week with it even in the wake of the horrendous violence happening in our country.
Death begetting more death.
Kind of like my impression of a pornography enterprise funding an organization rescuing those trafficked into prostitution.
But what kept coming back to me, in a gently convicting kind of way, in spite of my justified, righteous anger, was that I didn’t know this woman’s story. That I needed to pray for, not persecute, her.
I didn’t know why she chose to battle sex-trafficking to begin with. Was she exploited, abused, molested herself? Had she been a victim of sexual predators? I had no idea why she felt that Hefner and his Playboy enterprise was her only option for funding. Or how that relationship came about in the first place.
Jesus reminded me that I didn’t know her story.
We’ve all made choices, good and bad. I’ve made my fair share of terrible ones. Many of which developed out of my own background. When we’re confused and looking for answers, we’ll try whatever seems like the best option at the time, no matter what it is.
Sometimes the worst option looks really good in light of our experiences.
Just as I knew I needed to address concern for what seemed like a hypocritical use of funds to rescue children being exploited by the very same group funding the exploitation, I became convinced that I needed to reach out to Lois Lee and ask,
“What’s your story?”
Because Jesus cares about our story. He cares about how and why we landed where we did, making the choices we did. And more importantly, he forgives them all because of his love and compassion for us. No wrong can ever make him turn away from us.
She responded immediately.
Her email told me the basics of who she is—a doctor, a lawyer, an academic, a Catholic. I won’t share the email because now it’s a personal matter, no longer a letter to an unknown company. She gave me very little detail of what led her to begin except to say she’d been persecuted for her position in wanting to help young women in prostitution. She spoke highly of Hefner, even sounding as if he had been a dear friend.
I thanked her for sharing. I continue to pray for her to be blessed, healed, and loved by Jesus.
And I want to ask you, “what’s your story?” What led you to this place you are in today? What’s your life all about? Do you know Jesus like he knows you?
He cares about every moment of your story. So do I. Without judgment. His grace is enough for all of us—even the worst parts of our story.
And I know he started our story, has a better plot for it, and will keep writing it into something beautiful if we let him. So…
Maybe you’ve never really thought about that question. Or maybe you shake your fist at him daily. Perhaps you’ve had a loss or tragedy occur in your life, and you can’t reconcile the idea that a loving, all powerful God could allow something so horrific.
You’re not alone.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t at one time or in a lifetime question where God was when ________ happened. I certainly have.
As a matter of fact, for six years I was angry at God and didn’t even realize it. You see, I loved Jesus and believed God was good so I never considered that I could be harboring anger towards him. I believed he was in control in a good (well, mostly good) way and had brought me into a better place than I’d previously been in.
And he had.
But when God had spoken through someone that “turn around time” was coming for my life, I believed God meant that my failing marriage and business, my soon to be foreclosed on home and my hurting children would all suddenly turn around and come out rosy – you know, butterflies and unicorns stuff.
But it didn’t.
We lost our business and home, were forced to file for bankruptcy and ended up divorced with kids that had suffered far more than I ever thought possible.
What the heck?
So, six years later, to the exact day, when that someone who had spoken those promise-filled words showed up at my now different church (in a different state) speaking promises to people, I found myself perturbed. Conflicted. Angry.
I knew our pastor to be full of integrity and completely trustworthy so I wrestled with what I felt had been lies spoken to me years earlier. Later, after a strategically orchestrated meeting (only God made that happen, but that’s a different story), I drove away, parked my car in a remote location and let God have it.
Screaming, crying and recognizing my anger at him for the first time.
Until he whispered in my heart, “Didn’t your life turn around?”
Well…uh…yes. I guess it did. Because up until that point, I had accepted behaviors in my marriage that never should have been allowed. All that tragedy caused me to decide that I wanted a different life. As a result, I made new choices, and my life completely changed.
What I believed God meant and what he said were two different things. My perspective was shallow and off. We both wanted better for me, but he saw big picture and I saw immediate. He had change in my heart while I looked for change in circumstances. He set my course on a new, amazing life that would never have come if I had gotten what I asked for.
I realized I had to forgive God.
Forgive the one who forgives? Yep. That’s right. And thankfully, his grace and love for us it so great that he doesn’t hold our anger at him against us. He took care of me and my kids and blessed us incredibly during those six years that I was angry at him and didn’t know it. He knew it and waited for exactly the right time and orchestrated my circumstances perfectly to gently speak to me.
I cried, told him I was so, so sorry and our relationship grew deeper that night. I’ll never forget that night. Sometimes I share that story and it helps other people too.
As a matter of fact, I wrote a book, Rachel’s Son, about a young woman who felt that same anger when her only son was murdered. It took her many years and a path of destruction in her life until she could face her hurt and anger and finally forgive the Forgiver.
You can get the kindle version FREE on Amazon right now through tomorrow, March 3. And, the print version is more than half off. This is what one woman said:
“…I just finished reading Rachel’s son and it has changed my life. It was a gripping book. Couldn’t put it down but the most amazing thing has happened. When u got to the end…I sobbed.” (omitted words to avoid spoiler!)
It might be something that helps you handle anger with God, even if you don’t know you have any. I pray it will bless you.
“I will break the yoke of bondage from your neck and tear off the chains…” Nahum 1:13
This verse from the old testament prophet spoke of the ancient oppression of the Assyrians. The Lord promised his people that their freedom would come from his hand. So what does that have to do with us today?
We can be chained by pain from our past. Wounds caused by the actions of others whom we still haven’t forgiven or poor choices we made and their consequences, but often our bondage comes in the form of patterns we’ve developed to cope with daily life.
I love what author, Mary DeMuth, wrote in her devotional Jesus Every Day. Her words grabbed me with their simple truth.
“…the chains and yokes have become terribly familiar to me, like companions I nurture instead of anomalies I should shun. They are my normal. And so without even knowing it, I walk around shackled, and I can’t even see where they’re cutting my soul anymore.”
We all have those places that we don’t even recognize.
They can cause us to:
Get stuck in unhealthy ways of relating
Excuse our destructive behaviors
React unreasonably to the words or actions of others
Over react in common situations
Become isolated or suspicious of others
Feel haunted by our past
God wants to free us.
He uses his word, his presence and other people to do so. Connecting with a trusted, wise leader or good friend who will speak truth to us even if it hurts can reveal those hidden places of bondage and start us on a road to freedom.
Unfortunately, that can be scary.
We don’t like to be nudged outside our comfort zone. And as Mary writes in her “Chains” devotion Day 179, we like what has become normal for us because it’s how we navigate our lives.
“It’s like a comfortable blanket.”
The thing is, we might think those chained areas are secure, but they keep us from the abundant life God has for us. They keep us from good, healthy relationships with people who love us. They rob us by making our world very, very small.
So, I’m asking God to reveal those places to me that need to be freed up and changed. I’m trusting God can and will do it.
What if you’re influenced daily by the internal voices you hear?
We’ve all seen cartoons depicting a character torn between the voice of an angel on one shoulder and a pitchfork devil on the other telling him the right or wrong way to handle something. While the visual may be a comical representation of good and evil, the reality is we have a God who loves us and an enemy who hates us.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” I Peter 5:8
Each of them is communicating with us each day. So which one are we listening to?
God says: You’re my child. I created you. I love you. I died for you.
Satan says: No one wants you. No one loves you. You may as well die.
Think about it…
God says: You were wonderfully created, and I will continue to do a good work in you.
Satan says: You are worthless and hopeless. Nothing good will come from you.
Who is for us and who is against us?
God says: You sinned. Let me help you.
Satan says: You’re a failure. You’re not able to be helped.
One offers life, the other death.
God says: I delight in you.
Satan says: You’re a disappointment.
One welcomes us, the other cuts us off.
God says: Nothing can separate you from my love.
Satan says: You’re so bad, you’ve done something so terrible, no one could love you. You’re a loser and an idiot.
One offers freedom, the other slavery.
God says: I came through Jesus to save you and to free you from bondage. I am the way.
Satan says: You’ll always be trapped. There is no way out.
One relates to our suffering, the other causes it.
God says: I care about your pain. I suffered mocking, insults and torture. I understand. Let me comfort you and heal your wounds.
Satan says: God doesn’t care about you or he wouldn’t allow pain.
One brings good out of trials, the other makes us a victim.
God says: In the world you’ll have trials. I will use them to strengthen and grow you because I love you.
Satan says: Everything bad or hard that happens is because God doesn’t love you.
One offers forgiveness, the other seeks revenge.
God says: I forgive you freely. Forgive others in the same way. Put them in my hands, and you will be free.
Satan says: If you forgive, you’re letting someone off the hook. Hold a grudge, seek vindication and revenge so you can feel better about what was done to you.
One offers a way to live well, the other offers counterfeit living.
God says: I give you guidelines for life so you will prosper. If you trust and follow me, I’ll make your path clear and straight.
Satan says: God is a dictator who wants to control you. He wants to ruin your freedom and fun. Your intellect, ideas and plans are better.
One gives, the other takes.
God says: I gave my life freely so you can have abundant life. If you are generous like I am, I will give you more.
Satan says: God is trying to take your time, your money, your freedom, your life. If you give, you will lose.
One does for us, the other says we can’t ever do enough.
God says: I loved you first, even when you were doing wrong. Love me and others and you’ll want to do what’s right.
Satan says: If you do enough right, maybe God will love you. Oh, by the way, you’ll never be good enough.
Who are you listening to today?
(Gen. 1, Deut.29:9, Phil. 1:6, Psalm 139, 1 John 1:9, 1 John 4:7-8, Zep, 3:17, Psalm 23, John 3:16, John 10:10, Rom. 8:28, Jer. 29:11, Psalm 119:8-9, Rom. 8:38-39, Isaiah 41, Matt. 18:21-35, Isaiah 42:1, 7 & 16, Luke 12:6-7, Rom. 5, Rom. 8:1, 1 Thes. 5:9 to name a few…)
We say and do things we know are wrong, hurtful or leading us in a direction away from where we want to end up.
And every day we can decide to change our trajectory.
How do we do that? In the Bible, Luke 3:8 tells us to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Do we hate that word “repentance?” I used to. Until I learned that to repent simply means to turn around.
Like in 180°.
To see that we are headed the wrong way, catch it and say “I blew it. I’m sorry, God. I want to turn around.”
It’s really not as painful as we seem convinced it is. Well, okay, some things can be – like when we’ve lied to someone, or said something behind their back, or broken a promise. Yes, it is hard to come clean that we’ve been looking at inappropriate material or using the company card for our personal benefit. But when we’re taking our life forward into better, repentance is the way to go. Besides…
God already forgave us.
Done deal. So our acknowledging our sinful ways and receiving his forgiveness is a simple step. And every time we repent, it gets easier. Then we actually sin less. Some attitudes or action need to be repented of a hundred times in a day at first, but each time creates a new path. Thank goodness.
So what’s this “fruit of repentance?”
The evidence that we’re getting it.
God tells us there are 3 things that show when we are living a repentant lifestyle:
Generosity – A heart that is willing to give to those in need. Things, time, resources.
Honesty -No lying to secure something for ourselves. No accusing others for our gain.
Contentment – Being happy with what we have without trying to take more than our share.
I’m so grateful God forgives us and then gives us a barometer to remind us of how we’re doing. Embracing a repentant life means we’re living a freer life. I’m all for that!
Is there some area where you feel you need to make a U-Turn? I’d love to hear about it.
Last week we began looking at the story of the woman at the well in Samaria…
Jesus entered an unexpected, undesirable place.
He was tired from his journey and sat down by Jacob’s well. The place was deserted, as the disciples went off in search of something to eat.
I don’t believe this is coincidental.
Jesus could only speak openly with the woman he was about to encounter if she was alone. Her shame would have been too overwhelming. Which is why she probably chose this time, when no one else was around, to go to the most public place in town to draw her water.
She went to draw water, but Jesus was drawing her to Him.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ John 4:7
Okay, I think she might have been a little rattled. I picture her almost defiantly answering Him. In her shame, she felt the need to be on the defensive.
The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’” (verse 9)
She asked “How can you ask me for a drink?” Obviously she was surprised that a Jew would speak to her, and the fact that she was a woman was an issue as well. Nice Jewish men didn’t hang out talking to Samaritan women at the local watering place.
I think maybe she wondered how He was allowed by his “laws” to speak to her. Otherwise, she might have asked why He would, but instead she asked how He could.
Jesus was gentle in His response.
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” (verse 10)
We don’t ask for what we aren’t aware of.
She didn’t know that God’s gift was forgiveness for her sins and eternal life. She didn’t recognize Jesus. All she knew was her pain. When we are in pain and shame, we often can’t comprehend that Jesus is reaching out to help us even if we have been calling for him. Sometimes, like the woman, we wonder how He can even speak to us.
Our broken life doesn’t disqualify us from God.
It is the very thing that can drive us to him, if we let it. It is what he longs to restore and make right. If we’ll let him.
I don’t mean in a skeptical, it-won’t-do-anything kind of way. What I’m talking about is that deep searching of what prayer means. It’s not like God needs us to tell him what’s going on in our lives. He knows everything. And he knows what we need, so do we need to remind him? Besides, He is God Almighty, creator of the universe and the one who holds everything together and controls it all. Does he need our input?
So what is the purpose of prayer then?
Well, I asked Him. After all, in James he tells us if we lack wisdom to ask and he will give it to us. So I asked. And I guess that is the first purpose of prayer. God wants to give us things and he’s waiting for us to ask. He says if we ask, we will receive. And wisdom is a good thing to start with. But sometimes we can feel like we’re asking Santa for a Christmas list, and that’s not the point. Even though God longs to give us the desires of our heart.
I thought there was something more.
Partnership is a concept we’ve discussed in church. A former pastor, Daniel Brown, used to describe God wanting to partner with us in doing his will. Like a father asking his son to help him take out the trash. Dad doesn’t need his little boy’s help, but it’s about the relationship. Doing something together. I like that.
But, I still believed there was even more.
So when I asked, I was reminded of the Lord’s Prayer. We call it that because it is how Jesus told us to pray. Hmm…maybe there’s something in that.
I grew up reciting that prayer as a rote tradition. Even singing it, while deeply moving, didn’t impart the depth of it’s meaning to me. But the day I asked Jesus about praying, this is what struck me…
If God is all about us talking to him, and asking him for things, and partnering with us, then maybe praying that prayer would look something like this (translation my own):
Our Father, who is in heaven, I praise your holy name! I honor you as Almighty God. You are so holy! You are so worthy of my praise. Because You want to do good things for us, I invite you to bring your kingdom into my life and do your will just as you have purposed it already in heaven because you are great and good and have wonderful things planned for me. Whatever that is, I want it, so I ask you for it. Please, Lord God, I ask that your kingdom would come here to earth. That your will would be done here on earth. And please, since you know all I need, will you provide it. Just for today? I won’t worry about tomorrow, but trust you to give me what I need today. And about forgiveness, Lord. You forgive me for everything so will you please make me willing and able to forgive others the same way? Thank you that temptation is never from you. Will you please deliver us from evil? That awful enemy, Satan, who is looking to distract us from you and destroy our lives? I know you can and will do all this because your kingdom is glorious and powerful, and you love me so very much.
What do you think?
I’ve begun to pray this way, acknowledging who God is and inviting him to bring his kingdom to earth. That his will would be done in my life, in my home, my marriage, my children’s and family members’ lives, my friend’s lives, in my church, community, city, state and nation, as well as the world. Because if I believe God is who he says he is then I have to be open to and accepting of what he wants to do here on earth.
And I’m seeing incredible things happening.
Not always what I expect, but always great and good. In my life, my husband’s life, our marriage and family. Truly amazing.
God is a gentleman and never forces us. But he longs to do good for us, with us and through us. As soon as we invite him, remembering who he is and what is truly important, he will bring his kingdom to us.
I challenge you to give this a try and let me know what you see happen in your life.
How many times have I thought this, whispered it or screamed the words at myself? Too many to count.
I imagine you’ve done the same. Quick to believe the worst, we punish ourselves, by rehearsing our sins, bad choices or the lies we’ve believed over and over. Don’t we?
And so we reach the final focus in our series on forgiveness—learning to forgive ourselves. I’d experienced God’ forgiveness, and chose to believe Psalm 103:12 that says he forgives as far as the east is from the west (which is infinitely far if you keep going around the circle).I had finally forgiven the people I loved who had hurt me, releasing them into God’s hands.
But I couldn’t forgive myself.
After all, it was me who chose the life I ended up living. My poor judgment caused the pain I suffered. God had tried to gain my trust and attention and pointed out the truth about myself and my situation. But I hadn’t been willing to deal with the truth. It was too hard, too scary, too painful.
I caused my years of heartache.
As my children shared their hearts about all that had happened, I hated myself and my self-imposed blindness. They had come to me with their hurts from a dysfunctional family life, but I did nothing to intervene. I couldn’t forgive myself for the way they had suffered as a result of my leaving them unprotected over the years.
I was so intent on holding onto a dream of the marriage I wanted, that I sacrificed my children. I saw myself as the ancient worshipers of Molech, god of the Ammonites, who threw their children into flames as living sacrifices which God said, in Leviticus 20:1-5 and Jeremiah 32:35, was detestable (refer also to Leviticus 18:2, Deut. 12:31 and I Kings 11:5).
How could I do something so awful to the ones I love the most?
But in spite of my choices, God had been putting the pieces of my children back together. Still, I felt as if the damage was irreparable; that I could never make it up to them. How could crying and telling them how sorry I was ever be enough? How could my right choices and protection of them now make up for all the years I left them uncovered and vulnerable? My children were willing to work through forgiving me, but I was not willing to forgive myself. Then a friend showed me a verse in Job that spoke to my heart.
I felt my spiritual eyes open.
Jesus showed me the huge wall I had built around myself with my lack of forgiveness. It was keeping me trapped in places where He wanted me to be free. I had been judging myself and keeping myself weighed down with the need for justice against me.
He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food. But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you.
Jesus had already forgiven me and begun to restore my relationship with Him and my children. It was me not forgiving myself that kept me trapped. I had to let go of wanting to punish myself for not changing my life situation sooner.
I confessed my lack of forgiveness for myself.
God showed me His love for me in special ways unique to me, like seeing dolphins jumping in the ocean by my house. He reminded me of the good plans he had for me–even though I may not see them all yet. Through the Bible and other relationships, he taught me how to better love and help my children in their lives. My new freedom also brought the ability to let go of them. As I released myself from the guilt and shame I had been living under, I was able to let God work in His own way in each of their lives. That did more for them than me beating myself up on their behalf.
Forgiveness of God, others and self.
Each one holds an important key to the door of freedom.
Below is a link to a song that greatly aided me in the process of learning to forgive myself.