Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. – the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church Philippians 1:27-28
God’s Word is powerful and freeing. We are emboldened and sustained by it – for life, for love, for forgiveness, for endurance.
Reading this passage recently, a charge from these words sizzled through me like electricity. Goosebumps and all.
Another translation of Paul’s writing introduced the above Scripture passage with the phrase “Just one thing”. We are living in confusing and shaky times, but God is unchanged. His truth is as riveting and reliable as when first written for us.
For months now, we have been kept apart by the social distancing of COVID-19. A year ago, we were brought together by the terrible loss of George Floyd. Brought together and at the same time torn apart. Protests and a pandemic. Racial unrest and a radical disease.
This time last year, a group of friends and I went through a Bible study together which turned out to be incredibly timely. We couldn’t be together so we met over a video call, working through Jennie Allen‘s Get Out of Your Head. In this book, Allen talks through our struggle with the kinds of thoughts that spiral downward taking us with them. The text she takes her readers through is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He was in prison and yet wrote this short life-transforming letter to encourage the church experiencing its own hardship.
In confusing and chaotic times, our thoughts can be our worst enemy. We juggle the “what if’s” until they become more than we can manage. We question what’s right, what’s true, what’s our place in all of it…what’s God’s place. We become suspicious of others’ motives, and even sometimes our own. We grow weary of sorting it all out. We can withdraw…making six feet apart way too easy.
“As theologian and emeritus professor D. A. Carson has observed, People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” – Jennie Allen
So how do we avoid that drift Dr. Carson talked about above?
In community.Standing firm, side by side, not afraid – in God’s strength and His salvation – Philippians 1:27-28.
However, even if community is shaky, God never is. We remind ourselves and each other that He is our refuge and we never have to be shaken...no matter the situation.
I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.
How long will you threaten a man? Will all of you attack as if he were a leaning wall or a tottering fence? They only plan to bring him down from his high position. They take pleasure in lying; they bless with their mouths, but they curse inwardly. Selah
Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken. My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge.Selah
Common people are only a vapor; important people, an illusion. Together on a scale, they weigh less than a vapor. Place no trust in oppression or false hope in robbery. If wealth increases, don’t set your heart on it.
God has spoken once; I have heard this twice: Strength belongs to God, and faithful love belongs to You, Lord. For You repay each according to his works. – Psalm 62
The past. We are never rid of it, nor would we wish to be. Our roots are there. The foundation of our lives. Our first and formative relationships are there. Both life and death, pain and promise.
Memories are born in the past. Experiences and emotions attached to them that feel exquisitely personal…yet are shared. Others close to us may have our exact same experiences, but have very different feelings and memories attached to them.
Family is complicated and always has been (remember Cain and Abel?). Throughout the history of humankind, family was meant to be a nurturing and stabilizing influence in our lives. It doesn’t always work out that way, but wisdom is to lean in whenever possible and learn both from the brokenness and the beauty available to us.
So how do we deal with the past? Do we ruminate on the wrongs of our past? Do they loom larger than the good? Do we see ourselves in the right in each point of conflict? Or the victim? Is our memory of family colored in ways that make us pull away?
There is a way forward, and I believe it is revisiting the past with the aim of healing…not just for ourselves but for the family as a whole.
[I love alliteration – words with the same beginning letters used in phrases or headings. So it was a personal thrill for me that this came together with alliteration.]
5 R’s of Handling and Healing Our Past
1) Remember – We trust our memories, don’t we? Well, until age shakes that up a bit. Still, our memories can be altered by the power of our emotions and by further experiences that call the past to mind. Then our emotions, deepened by memory, can “resolve” to see things more our way, whatever is happening in the moment. Memories can be reinforced, and not always in helpful ways. We need to take into account that we, family members or friends, can remember something very differently, based on what was going on emotionally for each person at the time. That’s why we must handle memories gently with each other. Love the person her/himself more than what they might remember. Determine not to be put off by memories where we don’t come off in a positive light. Remembering is done best in community. It’s richer and more reliable that way. Of course, this requires tons of trust, transparency, and humility. It may not feel safe in some situations to remember in community. It’s also never helpful to insist our memories are the only ones that are true. Right? Again, it is experience plus emotion. Love covers. Love helps heal when we remember, with care for the other.
2) Reminisce – As we remember, we reminisce. This calls to mind the sweet memories of the past. Even as painful memories rush in, what happy times come to mind? How might these memories weave together? Was it all bad? All good? Reminiscing taps into the positives, and even opens the mind to what the memories of the other might be in the same experience. Are we projecting motive or intent into our experience? As we reminisce, might we look at how an experience was different for the other. Reminiscing done in community is, again, eye-opening. It can be threatening if our side of the memory is on the line, but when we enlarge on what was going on in our past, we gain deeper understanding. A softening of our attitudes can come.
3) Reflect – When we reflect on a particular situation or relationship in the past, we treat it with as much grace as we can muster. We take the past and turn it over and examine it from different angles, considering what we can learn from it. How is it affecting our present – both life experience and relationships? What can we do to glean something positive from a painful past? What is to be gained by holding onto the past? If we choose healing, what is then possible for us and the others involved? What kind of faith would be required? What kind of work? Are we willing?
4) Repent and Reconcile when possible(instead of forever Regret ) – Here’s the big leap! Owning our part and doing something about it. This is huge!
Let’s say, our past includes painful memories from our early childhood. What can a child own from situations out of their control? We can own our attitudes today as adults. For instance, it took me a long time to tender my memories of a neglectful biological father. I only have a few memories of him, none great. One memory stands out. Mom had left him, and we were living in a tiny house, supported by her income alone. One night we were awakened by shouting. I don’t remember a lot, but my estranged father, Mom, and an uncle of ours were in some sort of argument. We four children were huddled together on a bottom bunk. I remember blood and our father’s hand wrapped in a handkerchief. Was there a knife? I don’t remember. We were terrified. After that…he was pretty much absent from our lives. I don’t remember asking Mom what all happened. It just took me a long time to feel anything for that dad. Yet, I know he had to have known pain, isolation, and maybe even some regret at the dregs of his relationship with Mom and us. As an adult, I have chosen some compassion for him. Not much but some.
Why did I share that story? It is how as children, when we have trauma (or what we perceive as trauma when maybe it had little to do with us), we process it differently than we might as adults. Revisiting, with humble hearts, can make a difference in how we think about the past as adults.
When our past pushes into our present, and conflicts are revisited, we are tempted to try the offending party in the court of our emotions (re-try them, actually). We resurrect the past and all its emotions, and bring all that trauma to bear on whatever the present misunderstanding is. We are then not able to just deal with the present. All that past comes down on us, that past that may have been once forgiven, and unloads. Making it virtually impossible to deal with whatever is happening at the moment.
This is where we repent. We refuse to nurse old wounds. We deal with the current conflict as it is, without all the past. The current conflict is enough. We deal with it as adults. We repent of our part. I can tell you, if we don’t, there is collateral damage to those who love us. “Friendly fire” is not friendly, and these struggles, heightened by our past, become the past of those around us. Our children. Our grandchildren.
Repentance may take more the form of forgiveness. We refuse to remember (one place where we refuse to remember) the offense of another. We choose to forgive in the most expansive way we can.
I know we sometimes say we forgive that one who offends us, who offended in the past, and continues to do so. We forgive but commit and feel justified to have nothing to do with them ever again. I get that. I get the pain behind such a decision. It’s heart-breaking. Just to reflect: Who does that punish? As wide a circle as our relationship together makes. We are all punished…that is most probably not meant to be the intent.
Repent and reconcile whenever possible. There will be cheering by everyone who loves us both. I know; I’ve experienced it from both sides. The repenting side and the relieved and thankful other side.
[This is often excruciating and not always satisfying. Even if the outcomes are not what we hope. We benefit from trying…as do the generations that follow. Who knows? The situation – and relationship – can still change in that possible future.]
5) Rejoice – Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel the rise and fall of your breath? Be grateful. Rejoice in the present. We didn’t die from our past. We still have a chance to put things right. Maybe imperfectly…but it’s possible.
A wonderful scene of this possibility is found in the 1970 film “Scrooge”. “I’ll Begin Again”.
The past doesn’t have to be forever. You have a present. There may be a future…one not framed by the hurting past but built on a healed past. We have that possibility…in our present. We can do our part… it’s the only thing we have in our control. Is it complicated? Of course, but it will always be worth the effort.
*Special thanks to my writer friend, Angela at Living Well Journal, who talked and prayed through this with me…on a neighborhood walk, in the cool of a Spring morning.
A note I found just this week flipping through an old Bible. Mom would leave love notes around whenever she came to visit, and we did the same after her pattern…and taught our children to do the same.
1) Beyond the Guitar – Beauty to the Ears & Mind – We think of beauty more in what we experience visually, but there is a powerful connection between music and the mind. Beautiful music soothes the soul and lifts our hearts. Moves us. Often it is because of nostalgia attached to the music, but even without that emotional connection, music can bring our minds to a better place.
Nathan Mills, of Beyond the Guitar, has that way about his craft. Moving our hearts with the beauty of his arrangements and performance. I don’t know any of the pieces in his medley of 4 Underrated (but Beautiful) Video Game Themes, but something happens when I listen. Shoulders drop; breathing slows; wonder sets in. Beauty has its way with our ears and our minds.
2) Mental Health Awareness – May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme message for 2021 is “You Are Not Alone”. Our need for connection is bigger than ever, having gone through so much COVID isolation. Whether mental health issues are our own personal struggle or we are family, friends, caregivers of those who struggle, helps abound. We just must be aware and utilize them.
Suicide and death by drug overdose have increased during COVID. They are shocking for us and real losses, either for us or for friends. We can’t keep isolating ourselves from each other. Finding ways to help is imperative.
3) Antidote for Self-Deceit – Self-deceit (or self-deception) is “a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception”.
I’ve allowed myself to be deceived (either with the help of outside influences or from sheer will and desire, wanting something to be so, or not be so). It’s not pretty. One of my strongest memories was sitting in a circle of friends who essentially did an loving intervention with me. I was in a self-destructive (but non-abusive) relationship, and they had the courage to point me to the changes in my life and thinking. I will never forget it. The life I have now is much impacted by their willingness to go to that place with me. Forever grateful.
Regarding deceit, it is way too easy to get into our own heads and assess life with a self-tuned receiver. I wrote about this before (the practice of noticing). A somewhat dated video (with a still fresh message) speaks to this so well.
During the particular season of self-deception (described above), I got to the place that lying in my bed at night, when I would usually pray, it got impossible to pray. That was terrifying. It’s like all the desires and my rationalizations for them had crowded out any space for God. Especially for a holy God. Like I said, terrifying. No matter how loving God is, I couldn’t justify praying when my own desires trumped His for me.
As the video illuminates, as we get out of our own heads, and start seeing other people around us, we find the antidote. Caring more for others than ourselves, we can actually clear our heads some. Self-deception causes us to “circle the wagons” and keep others at a distance. As we determine to get close to people again, especially to genuinely listen and serve, our own deceit can be more readily understood/recognized. Of course, our neglected relationship with God will take its own time and action on our part. He is ready, when we are.
4) Showing Up…or Not – Showing up is a good thing. For all of us. Keeping commitments. Being present. Choosing to lean in. Listening.
So much is said about listening and its positive impact. To listen requires proximity.
On the East Coast, this week, we had a gas shortage (or a perceived gas shortage…not sure which is more accurate). Everyone was making decisions about filling their tanks and sorting out needful car trips vs. those that can be jettisoned for another time.
I was a part of a couple of meetings where some folks didn’t show up. Without a phone call, text, or email message. Was it the gas shortage? Or did it display something else? Honestly, I also wondered how often I’ve done this same thing myself.
We are in a culture right now when a RSVP yes can turn to no without a word. I’m showing my age…but does this matter?
Below you’ll find quotes from three different authors on this and what it can mean. The showing up…or not. After you read their observations, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the Comments.
“Standing someone up is a personal attack. You are saying that you have no respect at all for this person’s time, energy or feelings. This person set aside time from his or her day to hang out with YOU.
And maybe he or she didn’t feel like showing up. But no, this person had enough respect for you to feel as though he or she couldn’t bail on you. Then how did you repay the favor? You didn’t show up. With no warning.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that if this person cared about you enough to make and honor plans with you, odds are that he or she would probably be WORRIED about you when you don’t send a message. Because falling off the face of the Earth is a little alarming….You get the picture here.” – Candice Jalili
“There are commitments you are not going to keep no matter how hard you try, but even if you fail to keep them, you can still honor them. How do you do this?
“The difference between “keeping” and “honoring” is key: keeping a promise is about the letter of the promise, while honoring a promise is about the spirit. It is even possible to keep a promise while not honoring it. People will forgive an honored but un-kept promise, but it takes a real saint to let go of an un-honored promise—kept or not.
So what are the practical aspects of honoring a commitment? They are:
It’s uncomfortable to take responsibility (for a failed commitment), but discomfort is a lot easier to shoulder than disrespect or disappointment. Even if you failed to honor a commitment up until now, it is not too late: disrespect and disappointment can be rolled back or even erased in the face of genuine honor.” – Kenneth Vogt
[The two writers above have very different tones to their pieces. Both worthy of note. I especially appreciated Vogt’s distinction of honoring a commitment (whether you’re able to keep it or not). Honoring the person by communicating your inability to keep the commitment…as well as the honoring that goes on by making the effort to keep the commitment whether easy or not. We don’t really know what goes on for another who does the work of keeping a commitment or the one who just can’t. What we do know is what it is like for us to keep or not keep a commitment; to honor or dishonor a person in the commitment. So much more understanding and care come out of the smallest communications. Something to think about.]
Below Rachel Macy Stafford posted an image and (in the link) a Facebook story about sitting in a line for gas this week, and an elderly man, just ahead of her, deliberately nodding her way (as he chose not to completely fill his tank, doing what he could to “leave” some for her). No RSVP’ed commitment. No relationship. But a deeply kind gesture to her that she was seen. We all need that…that being seen.
It’s…“a deliberate decision to look out for the person behind (you)…It’s not about us. Even though it’s hard not to think only of our own needs, there is someone behind us…and someone behind that person…with their own set of struggles. If you can…will you look out for them? A wave will do, just so they know they are seen…it’s the kind of gesture that takes people farther than a full tank of gas.” – Rachel Macy Stafford
5) Unmasking – Get ready for another new culture shock thanks to the Coronavirus: unmasking!!! I am so excited myself.Photo Credit: Pexels, Gustavo Fring
Based on this week’s CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or physically distance anymore (except in rare defined situations). This, of course, is still only a recommendation and each state must give direction at a local level. Our governor just announced that we will align with the CDC recommendations.
Now, no one is going to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is to be wise in dealing with the viral world. Those not vaccinated will probably forego masks as well. The freedom feels intoxicating, honestly, but possibly fearful to some, even some who are fully vaccinated.
I hope we can leave fear behind us. COVID is still rampant in some parts of the world and that is tragic. As we in the US and other countries get past our own experiences with this virus, hopefully we can be a help to those still battling the disease.
The culture shock part is real. I will have my mask with me, and see what the signs say on the doors of each business, store, school, or community space.
2) Easter Reading – Every year, sometime early in Lent, I pull out the books below to read in anticipation of Easter. Rich and inspiring.
This year, I added Timothy Keller‘s new book Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. Wow! It is taking time to read because every page is full of meaning…requiring savoring and reflecting. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City (since 1989). Since 2017 he oversees the work of Redeemer City to City – teaching, mentoring, and writing. The book Hope in Times of Fear was written during the year of COVID-19 (2020) which is also the year he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Hopefully God will give him, and us, many more brilliant and beautiful books. For now, this is my new favorite. Thanks, Dr. Keller.
Just here you will find one of the stunning passages in this book:
“The claims of Jesus Christ, if they are truly heard for what they are, never evoke moderate response. Jesus claimed to be the Lord God of the universe, who had come to earth to give himself for us so that we could live for him. That is a call for total allegiance. You will have to either run away screaming in anger and fear or run toward him with joy and love and fall down at his feet and say, ‘I am yours.’ Nothing in the middle makes any sense. Unless you are running away from him or running toward him, you actually don’t really know who he is. Peter has done both. Because of the instruction that he has received from the risen Jesus, Peter now knows enough about the gospel of grace to realize he has nothing to fear from Jesus’s divine presence. But there is a great deal of unfinished business between Peter and His Savior.” – Tim Keller, p. 98, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter
3) Forgiveness – I don’t have a lot to say right here. To me, it’s so clear. We are wise if we forgive. We are wise if we ask forgiveness.
This past week, I listened to this old Eagles song“Heart of the Matter”. It’s a sad song…about regret. The focus was the need to forgive…before it’s too late.
It reminded me of a blog I wrote some time ago (I’ve written many about forgiveness or the lack of it). Singer songwriter Matthew West wrote a really beautiful song titled Forgiveness, out of a story of terrible loss and extravagant forgiveness.
I just want to leave the lyrics right here:
It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel When the pain they caused is just too real It takes everything you have just to say the word…
It flies in the face of all your pride It moves away the mad inside It’s always anger’s own worst enemy Even when the jury and the judge Say you gotta right to hold a grudge It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’
Forgiveness, Forgiveness Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Show me how to love the unlovable Show me how to reach the unreachable Help me now to do the impossible
Help me now to do the impossible Forgiveness
It’ll clear the bitterness away It can even set a prisoner free There is no end to what it’s power can do So, let it go and be amazed By what you see through eyes of grace The prisoner that it really frees is you
Forgiveness, Forgiveness Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Show me how to love the unlovable Show me how to reach the unreachable Help me now to do the impossible Forgiveness
I want to finally set it free So show me how to see what Your mercy sees Help me now to give what You gave to me Forgiveness, Forgiveness.*
4) On Death and Dying – Having been a cancer nurse, I am familiar with this topic more than most maybe. However, it is never an easy one, given we don’t want to lose people we love nor do we want to leave people we love.
It is important for us to talk about death and preparations for dying, even if it is uncomfortable. It is a loving thing to do. My husband’s sweet dad, John, prior to having surgery some years ago, executed an advance life directive spelling out his wishes for end-of-life. He did great through that surgery and lived many healthy years afterward. Julia, his wonderful wife, didn’t think about it again. Then after years of poor health with Parkinson’s, he had a massive stroke. We were so grateful that the medical staff were able to retrieve a forgotten document that made decisions regarding his care so much easier for us. John had made decisions in his love for his family… years before. Because of this, we got to bring him home, with hospice support, and be with him, caring for him, until he died a week later.
With COVID, and now even with vaccines, we have had to take a clear-eyed look at death. When my neighbor, who is a bit older but as healthy as me, told me she and her husband had met with the funeral home to do their planning, I was a bit stunned. Yet, it is important and such a loving thing to do for a family.
Julia, my precious mom-in-law, and I, on a visit last year, had challenged each other to complete our own advanced care (or end-of-life) directive. We haven’t done it yet. Either one of us. So I pulled it up again…and hope to finish it this weekend.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of President Biden’s medical advisors on COVID, has been very public in his desire not to live past 75. Of course, he is only 63, this year. 75 may not seem as young to him as it might in a few more years. He talks about the diminishing returns of getting older, and that it its own loss, for the person and for those who would care.
I don’t care for Dr. Emanuel’s take on this, but I do very much agree with the following:
Think seriously about your beliefs in God and what happens in the after-life.
Get right with God and reconcile with those you are at odds with…especially family members. For them, if not for yourself.
Decide what your wishes are about end-of-life. Write it down. Tell your children or medical representative.
Make whatever arrangements you can while you still have your health.
Be sure your will is clear and understandable to those for whom it will matter most.
Then live your life in all its beauty. When dying begins, it can have its own meaning and purpose. I think of Kara Tippetts and so many others who died as they had lived.
What else should be added to these points? Please comment below.
5) Music in the Family – Wow! Don’t know how I missed the Kanneh-Mason siblings until recently. They have been playing, both together and as soloists, since at least 2017. Ranging in age from 11 to 24, these seven are incredibly talented and hard working in their craft – playing either cello, violin, or piano. When the COVID pandemic hit, they were all home together, in Great Britain, and made even more music together. The video below of them playing Redemption Song is how I first heard them. Wow!
We are a musical family as well. Not world-class maybe (yet…who knows?!). However, we do know what it is like to hear music all the time and to always have an audience or somebody who plays alongside. The Kanneh-Mason siblings have really benefited from growing up together with supportive parents. Read this great piece to find out Everything You Need to Know About the Kanneh-Mason Family.
An old Eagles song came on today and just ripped out my heart. It’s “Heart of the Matter” and it’s about heartache, brokenness, and forgiveness.
We expect attacks from those we know don’t care for us or, in fact, want us gone. They want our jobs or see us as threats, or they can’t stomach our beliefs or ideologies. These confrontations are a part of life and work and we take them in stride; hurtful as they may be, they are expected.
It’s the surprise attacks that catch us off-guard, especially when we come under-fire by those who should have our backs. “Friendly fire” is a phrase coined from military situations when something goes very wrong in battle, and a fellow soldier is wounded or killed by a comrade in arms. Too often, we have experienced the sting of friendly fire.
We may endure long periods of hardship at the hands of difficult bosses or through relentless attacks by acquaintances or colleagues who think very differently than we do. What happens, though, when those who believe as we do (in this case, fellow Christ-followers) fire on us…sometimes over and over again? Here is where the breath is knocked out of us and we straighten up again, bewildered, disoriented, and deeply hurt.
This isn’t supposed to happen. As Christians, we know to love one another, even our enemies, to forgive without exception, and to bear with one another and be deferent toward each other. This is not the stuff of doormats or deer “in the headlights”. This is living life in community (whether, work, family, or church) as Jesus calls us to live. I think that’s why we’re caught off-balance when someone who identifies with Christ fires away at us…and especially if there’s no repentance of that “friendly fire”.
How are we to respond in those situations? In fact, how are we to live with our eyes wide open, knowing friendly fire happens, and understanding that we might be the perpetrator the same as anyone else.
Michael Milton wrote an excellent piece on this entitled Hit By Friendly Fire: What To Do When Christians Hurt You. If you are right now dressing the wounds of such an attack, his counsel may be hard to bear. The truth is, though, that the wounds you have right now will never really heal until you do what is necessary for a full recovery. In fact, as we follow Jesus’ example of enduring such attacks, then we can recover much quicker and refuse to retaliate ourselves. We also restrain from launching such barbs ourselves in the heat of some battle.
Milton offers 3 steps in responding when someone hurts you – and this someone can be a family member, friend, colleague or one in authority over you (a Christian boss or pastor).
Step 1 – Take up Your Cross – Followers of Christ are not kept from pain; it is part of our lives as much as it was part of the life of Christ Himself. Even looking back to Old Testament accounts, we see betrayal, deceit, and hurt of every kind. The story of Joseph (Genesis 50:15-21) sold by his brothers into slavery, and then falsely accused and placed in prison for years is a great example. Joseph would finally end up in a position of influence where he was able to save his whole family from famine. He told his terrified and repentant brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:15-21).
Milton points out the lesson of taking up our cross in the face of friendly fire: “Every sorrow, every act of treachery, every act of betrayal [becomes] a point of identification with Christ.” He calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Even when we are hurt or offended or betrayed. “You and I are called to take up our cross in every way, including our relationships. It is true that you may be hurt, but you are a disciple of One who was betrayed, who was hurt, and you are no better than Jesus.” (Milton) As we wrestle with this truth, we actually move from being victims to victors in Christ.
Step 2 – Take Off Your Crown – When we are injured by another, we want that person to pay for it. We want to be in control of determining the punishment that person deserves. The truth is we are not sovereign, not in control; only God is. The crown of sovereign rule belongs to Him, and we really wouldn’t want it any other way. In the Genesis account, Joseph “escaped being a victim and became a victor by naming God, not as the author of evil, but the One who caused it to work together for good…The crucial step in coming to terms with any pain that has come against us, including getting hurt by someone close to us, is to say, ‘God, You are in control. What do You want me to learn?’” (Milton)
Step 3 – Go to Your Gethsemane – The Apostle Paul trusted God through his many hardships and imprisonments to use that suffering, sometimes at the hands of people who knew him well, to make him more like Jesus.
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ..that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” – Paul (Philippians 3:8, 10)
Milton urged: “Gethsemane is the place where, like Jesus, like Paul, like Joseph, you come face-to-face with your crucifixion and with the fact that God is in control. If there is to be resurrection – a new life to emerge from the pain, the betrayal, the hurtful words – there must be a crucifixion, and if there is to be a crucifixion – by the Father for the good of many – there must be a Gethsemane moment when you say, ‘Not my will but yours.’There must be a moment when you say, even when the shadow of pain is falling over you, ‘They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’”
God loves us so much. He knows very intimately the pain of the cross. He knows the weight of sovereignty. He knows the deep surrender of a Gethsemane moment. He calls us to a life gloriously beyond being victims, or “walking wounded”. Milton closes his piece with this proclamation of truth: “He will transform you who have been hurt, wounded, abandoned, sinned against, betrayed, from a victim to a victor by trusting in the One who was hurt, wounded, abandoned, sinned against, betrayed, but who pronounced forgiveness from the cross. In Him there can be no more victims – only victors.”
We are to pray for one another – those who have come under friendly fire, for months or a moment – and those who have fired on another – to trust God to bring us through victoriously…for His glory and our good…for the good of all of us. When we forgive, as He has forgiven us, He is glorified.
2) Asking Forgiveness vs. a Poor Apology – These days, when a person says “I’m sorry”, we often get the reply, “It’s not your fault”. Or, “it’s all good”. That, of course, is only when it really isn’t your fault…and it probably isn’t really all good. Sometimes I say, “I’m sorry” just as a condolence of sorts. “I’m sorry you weren’t able to have that night away.” “I’m sorry you’re sad.” “I’m sorry you didn’t get the job.” I didn’t cause the pain but feel sorry because you have pain.
Because the sentiment “I’m sorry” has become altered in its meaning, a real apology requires different vocabulary. Asking forgiveness is not the same as an apology. If I was harsh with you, I might say, “I was wrong to be harsh. Would you please forgive me?” A true apology asks a response. If the offended person can forgive then healing between the two can hopefully begin.
Just saying “I’m sorry” may very well be something the other person can agree with: “Yep, you are sorry for saying/doing that!” A sorry individual! Anyway, I don’t mean to make this about semantics, but word choice and resulting dialogue matters.
Author Frank Sonnenberg has written a short wisdom piece on apologies. He offers 11 common mistakes people make when they apologize.
His counsel is something to consider as we teach little children how to put things right in their tustles with others. “Say you’re sorry”, mommy coaches the child…she/he is probably not sorry but often has to oblige the parent to kickstart play again. How could this coaching be done differently? Any thoughts on apology?
He might be considered conservative or even right-wing to the casual observer. What I appreciate about him is his clarity – how clear his thinking is and how articulate he is when talking about the issues of today. He wants to unite people rather than divide them. He is pragmatic, honest, and calls out behavior that can be harmful.
“Don’t let politics take away your humanity. Don’t let the fact that you agree or disagree with someone on various issues, don’t let that stop you from having sympathy for them, compassion…In general, people need to stop trying to dunk on people, insult people, dunking on people when they are…sick, going through dark times. It’s just despicable behavior. This is not me virtue-signaling. This is just me trying to encourage you to be a decent human being. Humanity over politics always!” – Zuby
4) Pornography Examined – Pornography is playing with fire. In fact, it will not only burn you but it will burn down your house and everyone in it. I remember (showing my age with this one) the first time I found pornographic magazines hidden in my childhood home. Not saying whose they were, but page after page of women in provocative poses burned images in my mind – my little girl mind that was never meant to have them. “Be careful little eyes what you see” was a song I learned as a child and taught our children as well (in English and then in Arabic, when we lived in North Africa). Pornography feeds the mind with what will not satisfy and will never be enough.
Spoken word artist Preston Perry and author, teacher Jackie Hill Perry attack the issue of pornography openly and honestly for us. They are Christian and deal with pornography as the sin it is, not as casual observers but as two people who have both struggled with it. Whether you are Christian or not, what they have to say can help.
Their Thirty Minutes With the Perrys podcast on pornography is linked here. Also carve out time to watch their more in-depth examination of pornography – what it does to us, what the battle is, and how we can deal with its destruction and move, with God’s help, toward healing. It is fire…and too prevalent not to take seriously.
Then we lived for many years in places where the church was less the building and more the people. “Here’s the church”. Hands opened straightaway and the intertwined fingers fanned upward. I loved that change-up because it describes more the truth of what the church was/is meant to be in the world.
This week I “was introduced to” Reverend Junius B. Dotson. He is the general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries. He is responsible for a program and movement of intentional discipleship. #SeeAllthePeople
2) The Mercy of Forgiveness – Talking to my sweet mom-in-law this morning, and she was commenting on how “life is too short for unforgiveness”. Immediately the thought came to mind “and eternal life is way too long for unforgiveness”. We may have a lot to forgive, and we may think we have forgiven (willing & hoping to never see that person again in our lives)…the thing is, I’m pretty sure we know in our hearts if we have truly forgiven or not. Unforgiveness is living in the past, ruminating over the offenses and the person who did them, negative thoughts that permeate our mind. Can’t get clear of them …without forgiveness. Photo Credit: Twitter, C. S. Lewis
Peace in the present…that’s what forgiveness gives. It also frees us from the self-imposed imprisonment of unforgiveness…which imprisons us, our families/friends/coworkers – depending who all our unforgiveness includes. Forgiveness – it’s what we’re counting on from God. How can we think our reasons for unforgiveness are higher than His in forgiving us? Peace. P.S. I get how hard unforgiveness can be. So thankful my mom (in Heaven now for almost 20 years) practiced and taught us to keep short accounts with others. Short accounts, knowing we can hurt others, too…and we do.
“Every home (like every other micro-society) has a distinct culture. In other words, every home reflects a pattern of unspoken assumptions which convey the approved way to perceive, think, and feel.
One of the most important things parents can do is to create a culture of forgiveness in the home.
It begins with a gracious tongue. Parents should be quick (and sincere) to speak grace into every corner of family life. The language of graces and manners – “Please,” “thank you,” “pardon me,” and “I’m sorry” — should flavor the family conversation.
Additionally, parents should not tolerate disrespect, shrillness, selfishness or cynicism.
We didn’t dishonor our children; they couldn’t either. House rules.
[Included in our house rules as well]
Forgiveness should never be extended purely as a model or teaching tool. However, parents should be quick to apologize to each other and to the children. And, of course, children should be taught how to extend and receive forgiveness.
3) Virtual Christmas Parties – Most all of our Christmas festivities this year have been cancelled thanks to COVID. Well, except for small family gatherings. We did decide to convert one annual friend party into a virtual “get-together”. A White Elephant gift exchange has always been part of our party tradition. How do we do that, physically distanced?
We gathered on a zoom call and chatted while we all ate our respective suppers in our respective dining or living rooms.
[A surprise element to this party was also a gender reveal. So fun!]
We had some extra gifts in case folks forgot or just didn’t come prepared…we had it covered.
Each party friend took turns choosing a gift. With Zoom, we just showed off the gift we had made or bought and kept it in view as turns were taken and gifts were secured or stolen by another.
In the days after the party, we work out a driveway visit with those who chose our White Elephant gifts. What a plus that we get to see our friends face-to-face, albeit physically distanced. Sweet times.
How about you? How have you altered your festivities? Please comment below. We all need ideas for this year, especially.
4) Festive Foods – So many holidays have festive foods attached to them. When friends of ours dropped by this past week, for a backyard visit, they brought a copy of their Christmas menu. They live in a 55+ community and will have these foods offered in their dining room. It was sumptuous with something yummy for everyone.
As we count down to Christmas, all sorts of goodies are gifted or created in our own kitchens.
What are some of your festive foods? Again, please share in Comments. The stew below isn’t attached to Christmas memories. It is a meatball tajine with memories of Morocco in every bite. Yum!
5) Forever Friends – I wanted to close with a salute to those forever friends in our lives. Because of COVID and all the restrictions, like many of you, I have not visited with friends as often or in the more usual ways. It’s been nine months now…nine months. Our friends, especially those who live out of town, have kept in touch by phone, social media messaging, and video calls. Even cards as birthdays and holidays have passed without our seeing so much of each other… or not at all. What a blessing that we have forever friends who will hang in there with us through this and whatever comes after.
On one of my rare outings to a favorite thrift store recently, I found this little Pooh ornament. The sentiment is true. So thankful for you.
We live in a culture of disruption right now – where grace does not seem to abound and only what divides, destroys, and deceives seems celebrated (at least in our city streets and in our media). Through the noise, we must continue to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
We must remind ourselves of what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, admirable and excellent (Philippians 4:8). We say NO in answer to God’s question of “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23).
The Prophet Isaiah warned (and gave comfort) that God does and will intervene. He will make right; He will save. May we be with Him in this…praying, standing for righteousness, leaning into those who are hurting, serving the suffering, and forgiving those who would do evil (God will judge; we are to pray and to love in word and deed).
Indeed, the Lord’s arm is not too weak to save,
and his ear is not too deaf to hear. 2 But your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not listen. 3 For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers, with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongues mutter injustice. 4 No one makes claims justly; no one pleads honestly. They trust in empty and worthless words; they conceive trouble and give birth to iniquity.
6 …Their works are sinful works, and violent acts are in their hands. 7 Their feet run after evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are sinful thoughts; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths.
8 They have not known the path of peace, and there is no justice in their ways. They have made their roads crooked; no one who walks on them will know peace. 9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We hope for light, but there is darkness; for brightness, but we live in the night.
11 …We hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. 12 For our transgressions have multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us…
14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far off. For truth has stumbled in the public square, and honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is missing, and whoever turns from evil is plundered. The Lord saw that there was no justice, and he was offended.
16 He saw that there was no man— he was amazed that there was no one interceding; so his own arm brought salvation, and his own righteousness supported him.
17 He put on righteousness as body armor, and a helmet of salvation on his head; … 18 So he will repay according to their deeds: fury to his enemies, retribution to his foes, and he will repay the coasts and islands. 19 They will fear the name of the Lord in the west and his glory in the east; for he will come like a rushing stream driven by the wind of the Lord. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of your children’s children, from now on and forever,” says the Lord. – Isaiah 59
For believers and non-believers alike, we can still the madness surrounding us…and consider Jesus.
Who is he? What is there in him that must be, at least, examined?
So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us. Read what John, in his last days on earth, wrote about Jesus:
“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.
When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:1-9
The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it. We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.
Jesus, the sinless Savior, was/is worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our sin debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.
Singer/songwriterAndrew Peterson wrote the song Is He Worthy? for a congregation to participate responsively with the worship leaders. The reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to…but appreciate.
“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’
Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Jesus…You are worthy.
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room
Processing thoughts on the difficult subject of offending and being offended, a song drifts into my hearing. Dave is riding his bike (on a trainer) to a playlist that matches his ride (slow/fast/slow). This particular song pounding into my head is rock band The Eagles‘ Get Over It. [Dave will also pull that song up on the occasion he recognizes he’s having a pity party.]
I’ve had some great friends in my life who have spoken reason to me in times when something said or done to me (or to someone I cared about) offended. “Get over it!” It was actually a helpful “slap” into reality for me. Reminds me of that old commercial, “Thanks! I needed that.”
The motivation for this piece is walking alongside people I love who have been deeply offended and don’t see a way to get past it. Offenses are hard, especially if they seem intentional.
We still have a choice. We can choose not to be offended…whether it felt the seeming offense was directed toward us or we are tempted to take up offensefor another.
Author Desirée M. Mondesir writes a “slap to the face” piece on our culture’s move to looking for and taking up offense. It’s especially fascinating to me because she refers to a student revolt at Yale University. Having taught there years ago, I can see this gradual evolution from reason to riot. It’s a stunning change in society and we are none immune to it.
Mondesir refers to this cultural shift as being a sign of end times.
“And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.Thenmany false prophets will rise up anddeceive many.And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will growcold.But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” – Jesus – Matthew 24:10-13
Sure sounds like today’s culture, in the US anyway.
Writer and counselor John Bevere has written a fascinating book on offense entitled The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. The title put me off at first but in reading it, the whole issue of offense was highlighted as something that turns us inward and keeps us from healthy relationships with one another and with God. When you think about it, Eve, in the first pages of the Torah/Old Testament [Genesis 3:2-7], was the first of humankind to act in offense. In her conversation with the Serpent tempter, she reacted to the Serpent’s suggestion, questioning the instruction of God. To me, it demonstrates her taking offense that she would be drawn into Satan’s ruse. Even acting in rebellion, presuming God didn’t mean good toward her. She decided for herself to eat from the tree (the one tree God had forbidden), and the consequences of her choosing continue to today.
What could Eve have done differently? She could have trusted God’s heart toward her. If she fell into doubt (through Satan’s cunning argument), she could have sought out the Creator first before she acted on a lie.
When Eve acted in this way, and took the bait, we can see how we, too, can be drawn in – becoming disoriented by someone’s words or deeds, and forgetting what is really the truth of the matter. Our emotions fly away with us, and we bind ourselves in the chains of offense.
As for personal situations, people who offend do not always mean to offend. [I don’t say this lightly. Of course, there are those who do. I also am not talking about abuse here. That is a whole other topic, but the principles still apply.] No one knows truly what’s inside us that gives us struggle, not even ourselves. Like the Mcgill quote states, it’s only in our response that we discover the which that is still unresolved. Reacting in self-defense or in counter-attack mode brings more hurt. “Hurt people hurt people.” With practice, I can determine not to carry hurt away from a conversation or interaction.
In situations between two people, we can choose not to be offended, but how do we deal with the offense?
The offender communicates disrespect. A social violation occurs. Two people are involved and the resolution of that interaction requires input from both of them. When the one offended determines to engage in good faith, trying to seek understanding and rebuild trust, s/he may actually discover the intent of the offending person. A misunderstanding or an action following a perceived threat on the part of the offender may be the issue rather than an intent to hurt.
On the side of the one offended, this is not a social situation. It is deeply personal. Only the one offended knows the extent of the offending words/actions. For this reason, the offended person can refuse to think ill of the offender…and not take offense. Then take steps toward reconciliation or, if that’s not possible, make a personal decision not to be hurt by that person. This is not easy…especially at first in training one’s responses.
“The answer is a little paradoxical: We should strive not to offend or disrespect others. At the same time, we should also strive to not feel offended, or disrespected, for long. In other words, we should strive to be kind socially, and to feel free psychologically.”
Forgiveness opens the door wide to reconciliation. Forgiveness can defuse the hurt. Boundaries may come into play, but if the boundaries are built out of fear, dread, anger, or hatred, we are still not free from offense.
Twitter has actually been a help to me. I follow (and therefore learn from) people of influence, excellent thinkers, and soldiers in the battle for good. At times, our values are not in lock-step. At times, especially in today’s culture wars, even these voices point to other voices way more stern or biting than their own.
I fell into this myself this weekend, and for that I’m sorry.
Someone I follow re-tweeted another who had really strong emotions about something that happened this weekend. It related to the death of President Trump’s brother and how some were treating his death in a hurtful, political way.
How far our culture has fallen!
I hit the “like” button because I agreed with the wrongness of such actions. The writer closed his tweet with something like, “Jesus, help them.”
When Dave saw the “liked” tweet, he gently reproved me based on the content of the whole tweet. I had totally read “over” the f-word planted angrily in the body of message.
That four-letter word that turns a movie rating from PG to R. That four-letter word we would never use in polite company. That four-letter word that intends anger, hatred, contempt.
Have I grown insensitive to that word? Seeing it written in graffiti all over our city. On posters in riots. Chanted loudly on video in news reports.
Have I grown cold to it?
NO!!! Yet, it is possible in that moment I had become blind and for that I ask forgiveness. To any who might have seen my “liked” tweet from another. To any more near who might experience blindness in me.
Years and years ago, I used to listen to Steve Brown on the radio. Doing chores at home or on the many errands peopled by small ones. He encouraged me. He said something one time that has stuck with me. Not verbatim, but something like this: “If you’re moving away from God, He will grease the tracks. Same, if you’re moving toward Him.” Both those experiences have been mine over time.
May our worldly culture never have to be used of God to open our eyes to depravity…especially creeping into our own hearts.
Help us to always have eyes to see.
Truth matters. Foulness mixed in may not taint what is true, but it distracts from what is true. It can change the truth-bearers and truth-hearers. I never want to be a partner in that.
Forgive me. I will be more watchful in the future.