Monday, June 25, 2012

"Making the Impossible Possible"

This morning I read an interesting selection in this lovely book I'm reading, "An Extravagant Mercy" by M. Craig Barnes, and want to share it.

Making the Impossible Possible

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.  I Thessalonians 3:12

Have you ever tried to make yourself love someone?  It's pretty hard.  We prefer to think of love as something magical that happens between people who fall into it -- as if love were a delightful gift for which we are not responsible.  So, loving someone just because we decide to isn't easy.  People who hurt us are particularly hard to love.  It is one thing for the Bible to ask us not to seek revenge on these people, but how can it realistically ask us to love them?  Other people are hard to love because we just don't know them very well.  I've never known what to do when people I've just met smile and say, "I love you."  Frankly, loving people we don't really know seems a little cheap.  Yet Paul has asked us to abound in love for one another and for all.  How do we really love everyone?

It seems impossible, and maybe that is exactly the point.  There is no human way we can love everyone.  Yet with God all things are possible.  He can even change our hearts.  If we want to become more loving, the place to start is not by looking at our relationships but at our God, who is love (see I Jn. 4:8).  He can fill our hearts with so much of his love that it just keeps spilling over into everyone we meet. So maybe we're right.  Maybe love is a delightful gift for which we are not responsible.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Tutors

This year I've been reading a devotional book called "Jesus Calling."  It's unusual in that it's written as if Jesus himself is the author, and when I read it I feel like I'm hearing personally from Jesus.  Every now and then one has some extra special meaning to me, and feels as if it's written just for me.  Last week there was one of those special ones, and I'd like to share it with you.

When you are plagued by a persistent problem—one that goes on and on—view it as a rich opportunity. An ongoing problem is like a tutor who is always by your side. The learning possibilities are limited only by your willingness to be teachable. In faith, thank Me for your problem. Ask Me to open your eyes and your heart to all that I am accomplishing through this difficulty. Once you have become grateful for a problem, it loses its power to drag you down. On the contrary, your thankful attitude will lift you up into heavenly places with Me. From this perspective, your difficulty can be seen as a slight, temporary distress that is producing for you a transcendent Glory never to cease!

Young, Sarah (2004-10-12). Jesus Calling (p. 369). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Wow – what an interesting concept – view your problems as if they are your tutors, always there, ready to teach. If I don't learn, it's my own fault for not being willing to be taught. Of course, that goes against my natural inclination, which is to whine and complain about those problems that plague me, and certainly not to welcome them as dear tutors who are there for my good. I'm an obsessor. I obsess about the fairness of life, and why bad things happen to good people, and why can't we all just get along, and isn't that enough pain for now...

What a fascinating idea – let go of the obsessing and bitterness, and be grateful for the pain – because that hated “tutor” is actually leading me “up into the heavenly places” if I allow it. That ache that won't let go of my heart can actually be the tour guide who brings me right up to the throne of God, who is waiting to wrap His arms around me, and invites me to sit with Him for as long as I like.

And so, faithful tutors, always by my side, what lessons do you have for me today? :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Epiphanies on the Metro

Usually I have my "aha!" moments when I first wake up -- when I'm in that lovely state of being half in the dream world and half in the real world.  But this time, a few weeks ago, I had an epiphany on a crowded, noisy metro train, headed into the city to meet a friend for coffee.  Which just goes to show you -- you don't necessarily need peace and quiet around you to have some peace and quiet within you.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I've been struggling with the process of forgiving.  And I do mean it when I say "process," because it's been a long road -- this path of forgiving.  Some days I do better than other days.  And that day on the metro, I was trying something new.  In an effort to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," I was trying to pray for those I was trying to forgive -- not pray for them for my own sake, for some benefit to me, but really for them.  My first efforts a few days earlier were pretty laughable.  Even I didn't think I sounded sincere.  But that day on the metro, I thought I was getting somewhere.  I had decided that, based on their treatment of me and others over a long period of time, they didn't, they couldn't really know what God's love is all about.  And so I (who was trying to forgive, but wanted no further relationship with them) prayed that they would see His love, and know His love.

And that's when He whispered to me, on that noisy metro car, and reminded me that I am His hands and feet.  How will they know His love, except through people?  And if I choose not to forgive, if I withhold relationship, then I'm standing in the way of a demonstration of God's love.  And if I'm unwilling to be in relationship with them because I don't want them to think that they were right, because I don't want my willingness to be loving to be used by them as validation of the rightness of their actions, so that they can claim that they were right -- the enemy wins again.

I'm not responsible for their conclusions.  I'm not responsible for their reactions.  But I am responsible for my own attitude and my own actions.  I don't get to be the judge.  I don't get to tell them over and over, with or without words, that they were wrong, that they don't know what love is, that they aren't worthy of being in relationship with me.

It's my responsibility to love.  That's the bottom line -- love.  Love my enemies.  Bless my enemies.

It's taken me a long time to share this one, because it's a hard one for me to embrace.  It goes against all my natural impulses.  I can't say that I've yet fully embraced it, but I'm slowly unclenching my fists.  Love is a funny thing.  With some it comes so easily, and with others it feels like a battle.  But I'm committed to this battle, and I'm hoping for some more epiphanies on the metro -- more whispers of love in the midst of the noisy crowds.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8 - 3.4 K

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Belonging, Part 2

So I'm back with more thoughts on how we belong to each other.  Even though one kind friend tried to let me off the hook, I'm convinced that we have a responsibility to each other, if we truly belong to each other.  I tend to get overwhelmed by the big picture, by how things should be, and how hopelessly far away our reality is from what it should be.  So when I read a beautiful statement like this, that we are all parts of one body, and we all belong to each other, my mind immediately jumps to what this would look like in a perfect world, and how very far away we are from that, and that we can never fix it until we get to heaven.  And that may be true, but it's also true that I'm not responsible for fixing the whole body.  I'm responsible to do my part, whatever that may be.  

And when I let go of the anxiety of needing to make that beautiful picture a reality today, and moved on to the next verses, I found the answers to my questions staring me right in the face.  Imagine that.  :)  My responsibility to those that belong to me is to love them.  My friend Larry commented: “…we need to love those who God sets along our path today, and not worry about those who are not on our path.”

If I keep reading in Romans 12 after the part that freaked me out, there are paragraphs of advice on how to live lovingly towards those who belong to us.  Use our gifts for the benefit of others.  Love sincerely.  Put others before ourselves.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Don't be proud. Live in harmony with one another.  And some special words on how to act towards those who may (or may not) belong to me, but who may not like me: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not take revenge. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So, the bottom line is, as it always is, love.  Not just with words, but with actions.  And I don't need to worry about whether they're being loving towards me.  My responsibility is to love, no matter what, no matter who, no matter when, no matter where, no matter why -- well, you get the picture.

In the end, it always comes back to love -- "the continuing debt to love one another".  A debt that can never be paid.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Called to Belong

"Called to Belong" -- that's the title of the book I'm writing.  Well, so far the title is all I have.  But isn't it great?  It's from Romans.  "And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ."  I'll be the first to admit it -- belonging is one of my issues.  I think it's an issue for many folks as well.  The search for home, the search for significance, the search for belonging.  It's always there.  And so I was tickled to read that I'm actually called by God to belong to His Son.  Very cool.  I belong.  Even better -- belonging is a calling.

But recently I read about another kind of belonging.  Actually, I've read it for the past three mornings, hoping that something about it might change, but so far, no luck.  " in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."  

I love knowing that I belong to Jesus.  But wait -- I belong to all the members of the body of Christ?  All of them??  And they belong to me?  All of them??  I have some mixed feelings about that part.  Yes, I know that we're all a part of the same body.  But really -- we belong to each other?  

I can think of a lot of people that I'm happy to belong to -- some that have already given me that sense of belonging, who are the friends and family of my heart, and others that I don't know but I'm happy to have an association with, and some that I'm okay with belonging to.  But I can think of more than a few people who claim to be members of the body of Christ that I'm not so thrilled to think about belonging to.  And more -- I'm not thrilled to have the general public think that I belong to them! For example -- a well-known church who is famous for their hate and their ridiculous viewpoints and activities.  I belong to them?  They belong to me?  Bleah.  Or what about the loud-mouthed evangelist-type people who loudly proclaim things about God's judgment on the world, and make me cringe and wonder if we know the same God?   Really -- do we belong to each other?  I'm not so crazy about that.  And what about those who have wounded me deeply along the way, whether intentionally or not, that I'm still working on forgiving?  And what about those people who just plain don't like me, who would be happy if they never had to bump into me again ever, and who wonder if they can ask God to give them a place far away from me in heaven? They've made it clear that I don't belong, but ironically, the fact is that I do belong.  It would be funny, except for the fact that they also belong to me...

And so I keep reading that verse, hoping that it will mean something different, but so far it still says the same thing.  We all belong to each other.  And so -- what?  Do I have a responsibility to all of these people that belong to me?  Do I pray for them?  Take care of them?  Watch out for them?  Disown them? Put them in  a timeout???  What does it mean?  I'm still thinking that one through.  Because in my mind, belonging does involve responsibility of some sort.

It was easier to think of the body of Christ as just a body, with some parts that are more acceptable in public than others.  Some parts get a little makeup put on them and go out in the world and the body looks fine.  Other parts get hidden away because you don't really want them to be seen.  :)  And some parts are sick or broken, and maybe you put a cast on them, or perform a little surgery.  Or get a haircut.  Or shave your legs.  Or spray a little perfume to disguise the smelly sweaty armpits.  (Oh, I get it.  Maybe I'm a Foot, and the people who don't like me are Noses!!)

But if we really do belong to each other, it sounds to me like we have more of a responsibility than just hiding the parts we're embarrassed by, or hiding from the parts that don't like us, and hoping that the nose and the feet don't have to spend too much time together.  

I'm still working on this one.  What kind of responsibility do I really have to those who belong to me?  Any ideas?  If I have any more inspiration, you know I'll be sure to share!  ;)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Relationship Summary

The other day I ran across an old bank statement.  Along with the regular statement, there was a “Relationship Summary.”    They sent it out monthly – a summary of the “relationship” between the bank and the client.  There was a section called “Activity Detail,” one called “Settlement Analysis,” and my favorite, “Trend Analysis.”

And it made me think – what if we received Relationship Summaries from our friends?  What if we could send out a monthly report card on the relationships?  We could see at a glance the monthly activity with this particular friend.  How much time did we spend together – in person, on the phone, chatting on Skype or Facebook?   The Settlement Analysis might be a little scary – is there anything that needs to be settled between the two of you?  Any hurts hanging around?  Any thoughtless words spoken that need to be forgiven?   And a Trend Analysis – is this a healthy, growing friendship?  Are our lives better because of this friendship?  Are we encouraging growth, or dragging each other down in the mud?  Is it time to move on, or is there still hope for this friendship?

How cool would that be?  A monthly opportunity to take a moment and evaluate – how could I be a better friend?  Some summaries would be a joy to receive and read, and others would be pretty painful.  It could be a growing experience, I’m sure.  On the other hand – imagine sitting down and filling out Relationship Summaries for your friends.  You’d probably need to keep track.  You’d need a list of happy times, fun times, and you’d also need to keep track of times you were wronged.  Then you’d sit down at the end of the month with your calculator and see – well, this month was kind of a close call.  We had lots of laughs, but she was thoughtless 10 times, said snotty things (intentionally?) 3 times, and although 5 times we did what she wanted to do, we only did what I wanted to do once…   I’m not sure I like the Trend of this Relationship.  I think I’ll put her on Relationship Probation.  If she doesn’t shape up soon, I’ll take my business elsewhere.

As ridiculous as that sounds, and as much as I would never sit down and write out a monthly summary like that, I fear that I’m guilty of doing it in my heart.  I don’t mail out the summary, but I do keep a file in the filing cabinet of my soul.  And that’s a dangerous filing system, if I can check back and read the wrongs that a friend has done for the last ten years, or more, because maybe there’s no statute of limitations on hurts and pain.

So instead of composing a template for a Relationship Summary to share with you all, I think instead I’ll recommend using the “Love Covers a Multitude of Sins” delete button.  

And I’m not saying to pretend that things don’t hurt you.  Go ahead and take stock of your relationships, but do it daily.  Acknowledge the wrongs, and the pain. But then, instead of filing it away for use later, forgive.  It’s what you would want your friends to do for you.  And amazingly, it’s what God does for us.  He says that He won’t remember our sins.   And then He asks us to forgive others, because He’s forgiven us.  So much for my new business plan for developing Relationship Summaries.  I guess I’ll have to look elsewhere to make my fortune.

So let’s shred those lists of wrongs we’ve been keeping.  Love really is a better option than hanging on to the hurt or anger.  Try it – just click on the icon for the file of Wrongs of the Past, and hit the delete button!!! 

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  1 Peter 4:8

Sunday, May 22, 2011

unwrapping love

Wow, it’s been a long time since my last blog.  When I read it now, it seems like it was a challenge to the enemy of my soul to throw roadblocks on my path to joy, to challenge whether I was really willing to turn away from the “expected joy” and fully plunge into the waves.   Not even a week after I wrote that, I remember saying bitterly to a dear friend, “But what if ‘the good received’ isn’t good at all?”  And after listening to me and holding my cyber-hand, she loaned me an amazing book – One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, who asked the same question.

I’ve never before read a book that seemed to be so directly written to me and my own questions of dealing with loss and pain.  In her book Ann shares her own story of woundedness and loss and pain, and her journey towards joy.  Her life began to change when she accepted a challenge, a dare, to make a list of a thousand things she loves, to name one thousand gifts, one thousand blessings.   And she accepted the challenge on a whim, without realizing that she was taking the first step towards the healing of her wounds.  And somehow, as she began to focus on blessings, to intentionally look for the good, she found herself caught up in gratitude, opening up her hands to accept “the good received.”  Her life was changed by learning to say “Thank you,” and when she hit the milestone of 1000, she kept going, and never wants to stop.  Looking back at the beginning of her list, she says, “This is the beginning and I smile.  I can’t believe how I smile.  I mean, they are just the common things and maybe I don’t even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like.  Gifts He bestows.  This writing it down – it is sort of like … unwrapping love.”

Her journey towards joy calls to my heart, and so I’ve accepted the challenge too.  I’ve started my own journal of One Thousand Gifts.   I’m not very far, but already I’m amazed at how intentionally looking for the good can change my perspective.  Already it’s starting to feel like “unwrapping love.”

And by the way, you, my cyber-friends, are on the list.  Thanks for the love.