How Do We Extend Grace and Mercy While being Persecuted?

struggle_is_realContinued from here.

Please do not ever assume that anything I write about on this blog comes easily to me – it doesn’t. To quote a wise pastor, before I step on your toes with my message, God has first clobbered me with it. I lived for decades with a huge harvest of the fruit of bitterness, and I was miserable. No matter how many times I prayed for God to heal my emotional wounds from years of childhood abuse, I remained in bondage to my pain. I grew to realize that while the child abusers were responsible for the initial wounds, **I** was responsible for the wounds continuing to harm me decades after the abuse stopped. My refusal to forgive my abusers kept pouring salt into my wounds, preventing them from healing. Unless and until I chose to forgive them, I would spend the rest of my life in heavy emotional bondage.

Jesus never allowed his anger to take root and grow bitterness. Don’t assume this was easy for him. We only need to read the account of the Garden of Gethsemane to see that is not the case. What did Jesus do all night? He prayed. Prayer is the key to extending grace and mercy when someone is harming us.

Don’t think that spending the night in prayer was easy for Jesus. He was in so much anguish that he actually sweated blood. While I have never sweated blood, I have experienced other physical reactions as my flesh and spirit collided, such as when I began the process of forgiving my childhood abusers. Unlike Jesus, who knew to pray for his enemies as they harmed him, I started my own prayer journey in a sea of bitterness, and I need much longer than one night to pray my way out of it.

When your sinful nature tells you to begin obeying God “later,” don’t listen. The time to obey God is always right now. While immediate obedience might cost you one night of sweating blood, it can spare you decades of pain and bondage.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hand in a fist and saying, “The struggle is real.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

When is it Time to Extend Mercy and Grace?

whenContinued from here.

When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin and you repent, how quickly do you want to experience forgiveness? I am guessing that, like me, your answer is IMMEDIATELY! Once God makes me aware of a way I have wronged Him or someone else, I feel “off” and immediately throw myself before God in repentance. One of God’s greatest blessings is immediate forgiveness and restoration, no matter how far I have strayed from God’s ways. Jesus already paid the price for my wrongdoing, so justice has been served as he, who was innocent, suffered and died to enable me to “approach God with freedom and confidence” (Eph. 3:12), despite having just wronged someone.

As soon as I repent of my wickedness and return to God, the Father sees me, is filled with compassion for me, and throws his arms around me in reconciliation. How blessed I am not to have to wait a week, a month, or a year for God to work through His emotions before he will extend me grace. May I never take for granted the heavy price Jesus paid for me to experience this level of grace.

And yet, in our flesh, we don’t want to extend the same grace to those who wrong us. We want to wait until we have had time to process our feelings … or until the other person proves that s/he has changed … or until the wounds that have been inflicted upon us have healed. In the meantime, we plant seeds of anger into fertile soil of righteous indignation that produce the fruit of bitterness, even though God tells us to “get rid of all bitterness” (Eph. 4:31). The way to avoid growing the fruit of bitterness is choosing forgiveness and extending grace as soon as the wound is inflicted. It’s not easy, but it really is that simple.

How do we choose forgiveness and extend grace as the wounds are being inflicted? In the same way that Jesus and Stephen did: by praying for our enemies.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a pocket watch and asking, “When?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Doing Justly while Loving Mercy for Others

forgive_youA reader told me that I should not have used Nikolas Cruz as the example in my last blog series on not judging others because it is too soon – the emotional fallout of what he did is still too raw. I responded that is exactly why I chose him. After all, Jesus interceded for those who crucified him as he was dying on the cross, laboring for each breath. Likewise, Stephen interceded for those who stoned him to death as he was being stoned. Considering both modeled interceding in prayer for the wrongdoer as they were experiencing the pain of the wrongdoer’s actions, I firmly believe it is never too soon to apply God’s instructions in our lives. This blog series will focus on the timing of forgiveness, interceding for wrongdoers in prayer, and judging others.

G.K. Chesteron said…

For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.”

I heard this said in a slightly different way, which stuck with me:

The innocent cry out for justice while the guilty cry out for mercy.”

When we are the wrongdoers, we seek mercy, and songs like the Sidewalk Prophets’ Come to the Table resonate deeply within us as we experience grace. We know we don’t deserve the grace that has been extended to us and deeply appreciate being spared the penalty for our wrongdoing. However, when we are innocent, we cry out for justice. We want to see the wrongdoer punished. We look at our wounds and scream for vengeance. This is our sinful nature’s worldview: mercy for me, but justice for you.

God’s worldview is the opposite: it is actually justice for me and mercy for you:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8

I am to behave in a way that is just toward others while, at the same time, extend mercy to you when you harm me. This is the polar opposite of our sinful nature, which makes this very difficult to do. In fact, we are only able to live this way by depending upon God, loving Him more than we hate the wrongs that are inflicted upon us and those around us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with angel’s wings saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How to Extend Grace

praying_for_youContinued from here.

So, now that I know that I need to stop judging other people, how do I do it? The first step is to repent. I need to recognize that judging other people is sinful and ask God’s forgiveness.

Step two is to ask God to change my heart because I know myself – without God’s intervention, I’m going to keep sinning in this area. In my flesh, I am unable to live righteously. All that has changed within me has come from God. I ask Him to intervene and then take that first step of obedience, trusting that He will equip me to do what I cannot otherwise do myself.

The third step is to replace the sinful behavior with righteous behavior. The best way I have found to do this is to pray for the person every time I am tempted to judge him or her. So, whenever I have a negative thought about another person, I immediately ask forgiveness and then pray for that person. If I have 20 negative thoughts in a day, that turns into 20 prayers for that person instead. I have learned through experience that praying for someone softens my heart toward him or her, even if it is someone I have actively hated for decades.

When I find myself struggling with having to repent of judging someone repeatedly, I remind myself that I am equally as guilty. I think about the times that I have had similar feelings in my heart, regardless of whether they turned into external actions, and thank God for forgiving me for those evil thoughts. I remind myself that I am in no position to judge anyone else.

I also ask God to let me see the person through His eyes. Every person I am tempted to judge is someone who God loves, so I ask for God to reveal to me the parts that are lovable. I have found that I can behave lovingly, regardless of my own personal feelings, by inviting God’s love for that person into my heart to flow through me and out to the other person.

The Bible says I will be judged in the same way that I judge others, so I want to “judge others” through the lens of grace. God is the judge, not me. My role is to love and extend the same grace that God has extended to me.

[Graphic: Cartoon of kneeling by her bed in prayer under the words, “Praying for You.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extending Grace

welcomeContinued from here.

Now, let’s return to the table of grace. You are seated at the table with Jesus, who has forgiven all of your sins and set you free from who you used to be. Jesus has nailed all of your wrongdoings to the cross, taken your place in judgment, and invited you into a restored relationship with God at his table of mercy. And then Nikolas Cruz walks up, asking if the seat next to you is available for him. What is your response?

My flesh wants to scream no, but my spirit says yes – not because I want to extend grace, but because God loves him. Jesus died for him! Who I am to deny grace to someone God loves?

I don’t want to be like the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18, who was shown mercy when he was unable to repay 10,000 bags of goal but then refused to extend that same grace to the person who owed him 100 silver coins. Instead, I want to be like the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume who recognized the depth of her own sin and fully appreciated the enormity of the grace she had received. May I never again take for granted the heavy price Jesus paid to free me from my debt!

The best way for me to show God my appreciation is to love the people he loves, which includes the unlovable, just as I was once unlovable. I need to stop judging people through the plank in my eye and, instead, allow God to remove the plank so I can see clearly. Once the plank is gone, my focus shifts from the sawdust in someone else’s eye to the wounds caused by the sawdust that God wants to heal. I stop seeing the sawdust and, instead, see the person who Jesus loved enough to die for. I stop seeing the actions and start seeing the person.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace peeking over a sign that says, “You’re welcome.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Room at the Table

tableContinued from here.

I know this topic is a tough one, but I hope you’ll stick with me and be blessed.

In my last blog entry, I asked whether Nikolas Cruz, accused of killing 17 people in a school shooting, is welcome at Jesus’ table of grace and concluded that he is. My flesh rebels against this thought because it wants to be the judge. However, as I discussed in my blog entry, in Jesus’ eyes, I am equally guilty of murder, despite never having physically murdered anyone, because I have hated my child abusers in my heart. My flesh points out that 17 people are dead because of Nikolas Cruz while all of my abusers continued to live their lives, so my judgment is that he is guilty while I am not. However, God is the judge, not me, and He finds me equally guilty. Thus, all of the negativity that I and the rest of the country want to pour onto Nikolas Cruz appropriately belong on my shoulders as well.

I’m not exploring this topic to make myself feel badly. Just the opposite – I want to celebrate the height, depth, width, and breadth of God’s grace! Even shooting up a school and killing 17 people is not beyond the reach of the grace of God! Pause and let that soak in. Even something as heinous as slaughtering 17 people, most of whom where students, is not beyond the grace of God. God’s grace is bigger!

No matter what you have done, how many people you have hurt, or how badly you have destroyed your life, God’s grace is bigger! There’s a seat at Jesus’ table for you, even after all you have done. There’s nothing you can ever do – truly NOTHING – that is bigger than the power of God to forgive, heal, and restore you. Even the most despicable actions cannot overshadow the grace of God. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid for it all – even that!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in front of a table, looking unsure. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Come to the Table

 

Continued from here.

I love the Sidewalk Prophets’ new song, Come to the Table. As an abused child, I always felt like there wasn’t a place at the table for me, so this metaphor is particularly powerful for me. Being invited to come to the table with Jesus resonates deeply within me.

However, I wonder how I would feel if I was already seated at the table, and Jesus invited Nikolas Cruz to sit next to me. Considering he is perhaps the most despised man in the United States right now after killing 17 people in a high school, is he welcome at the same table with Jesus? The Bible says yes:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

I don’t see a footnote in my Bible excluding school shooters from the “whoevers,” which means even they have a seat at Jesus’ table of mercy. That’s a tough pill to swallow, isn’t it?

My flesh wants to scream, “But he’s guilty!!” And he is. Even his own attorneys concede this. However, aren’t I equally as guilty? My flesh says, “Of course not! I have never killed anyone!” But the Bible disagrees:

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. ~ 1 John 3:15

Evil actions flow out of evil hearts, and God sees my heart. He knows every murderous thought I ever had toward my child abusers even though I never acted upon them outwardly. According to Jesus, I am a murderer even though nobody else would believe this about me because my evil heart did not become visible through evil action. While the World judges that Nikolas Cruz is guilty while I am not, we both stand equally guilty before God. That’s a sobering thought.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Embedded video of Sidewalk Prophets’ Come to the Table. Courtesy YouTube.]

Judge Not Lest You Be Judged

judgeOne of my personal challenges is not judging other people because in my flesh, I am an extremely judgmental person. I lived most of my life believing that the world should exist in a particular way, and then I judged people by the degree to which they aligned with my vision for the world. Ironically, I was miserable because I was so broken, so I was the last person in a position to make objective judgments about the ways that other people should live their lives. It’s not like I had the answers!

At the same time, I was extremely sensitive to other people’s opinions about me and despised being judged by them. They only saw one part of the situation. They didn’t know what was going on beneath the surface that led me to do the things that I did, so who were they to make judgments about me? And yet it never once crossed my mind when I judged other people, I was only seeing part of the situation and that they, like me, had things going on beneath the surface that I was unable to see.

Today, I marvel at my own hypocrisy, but at the time, I truly could not see it. I was the embodiment of what Jesus warned against in Matt. 7:1-5 about seeking to remove a speck of sawdust from someone else’s eye while I could not see the plank in my own eye. How self-deceptive I was not to see a telephone pole sticking out of my own eye while I judged others for the sawdust in theirs!

This reminds me of how Jacob saw clearly how Laban deceived him into marrying the wrong sister but did not make the connection to his deception of his own father. Perhaps the fact that his mother was involved in the deception helped him deceive himself. When people we love and respect encourage our deception, it can be easier to lie to ourselves about our behavior.

Let’s explore why Jesus told us “do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1).

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting in a judge’s chair above the word, “Judging.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritual Maturity Series Wrap Up

doneContinued from here.

I have a feeling that this blog series might have stepped on some toes. To quote a pastor I respect, before God steps on your toes through what I write on this blog, He clobbers me with it first. Everything I have shared in this series is what God has taught me over the years, and I certainly don’t do it perfectly. I fall, and then I get up, and then I fall again. I tell God that I am not capable to living as He commands me to live, so I am fully dependent upon Him to empower me to do so. Otherwise, I will keep falling. And then I get up and try again.

To quote Beth Moore, I learned all I have written on a “field trip,” which is much harder than reading about someone else’s experiences and making changes without God messing with my circumstances. I have had to learn much of what God has taught me the “hard way.” This blog is my gift to you so you can learn through reading what I learned through experience.

Far too many Christians want just enough of God to avoid going to hell when they die. Eternal life with God is not the only reason Christ died for us – He came to restore us into relationship with God, and that starts now, not after we die. There’s not much attractive to those who are separated from God when we don’t transform into Christ’s image. Perpetually immature Christians don’t seem much different from the World around them other than going to a church service on Sundays.

If the Church would grow up into Christlikeness, many more people would be attracted to God. The Body of Christ needs to stop behaving like self-centered children and, instead, grow up into a “mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15). I’m not claiming that becoming a disciple of Christ is easy, but it is simple. It happens by saying, “Yes, Lord,” and doing what God says to do in the Bible, regardless of how we feel about it and regardless of what anyone else thinks. Relatively few people choose to live as true disciples of Christ, but those who do are blessed beyond measure as they become a blessing to others.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace clapping her hands and saying, “Done and Done.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Disciple Others

need_an_adultContinued from here.

The most spiritually mature people disciple others. It’s no longer enough for them to grow in their own relationship with God – they deeply desire to help others grow as well. Spiritually mature people are not satisfied with a “selfish faith,” keeping the wonders and riches of an intimate relationship with God to themselves. They want others to experience this as well!

Because spiritually mature people have grown from being self-absorbed spiritual children to adulthood, they are able to recognize someone else’s level of spiritual maturity and guide them gently toward the next step in deepening their relationship with God. Speaking the truth in love, they guide less mature Christians to grow up and mature in Christ. This is what it means to fulfill the Great Commission, which were Jesus’ last instructions before ascending into heaven:

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” ~ Matt. 28:18-20

While some people believe the Great Commission is only about converting people to Christianity, it runs so much deeper than that. Jesus didn’t say to get people to accept him as Savior so they can avoid going to hell when they die. Instead, he said to “make disciples” and to teach them to obey God. That’s the Great Commission to all of us, and it’s our responsibility as we mature spiritually to care about the spiritual maturity of others. How will they learn to grow up in Christ without others teaching them how to do so?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “I need an adult.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]