Don’t Judge the Prodigal – You Don’t Know Where He has Been

barrelContinued from here.

As God revealed this version of the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard to me, I thought about the parallels in this story to the Prodigal Son. I heard a great sermon on that parable in which the pastor said, “Don’t judge the prodigal because you don’t know where he’s been.” The workers who had been in the fields all day assumed that the time that James was not in the field was spent doing something more pleasant, such as playing video games or sleeping in. However, James would have done anything to have been in that field working all day. Those workers had no idea what James’ day had actually been like. They were correct that James didn’t deserve the denarius, and James fully agreed. The difference is that the unmerited favor of God’s grace elicited thanksgiving from James – who suffered more – but grumbling from the other workers – who suffered less.

Whenever I hear someone say he wants to be treated as he deserves, I respond that I am immensely grateful that God DOES NOT treat me like I deserve. I relate much more to James than I do to the other workers because I know how hard my life journey has been. I know how much I suffered as I tried to make my own way while others labored under the protection of their heavenly Father. No one is more aware than I am of how far I fall short and how undeserving I am of the grace that God has given me … and I am so immensely grateful for that grace that I could never earn or attain on my own.

PRAISE GOD for His “unfairness.” THANK GOD that “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). PRAISE GOD that He is generous … that He sees the pain we suffer outside his vineyard … and that He loves us enough to keep coming back and looking for us, inviting us to join Him in his vineyard of grace.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a barrel. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Loving God More Than You Hate the Wrongdoer

i_love_you_moreContinued from here.

I have lived both the options of judgment and intercession. For decades, I lived in judgment against my childhood abusers and suffered in bondage to my bitterness. From 2013 through 2014, I prayed daily for my childhood abusers and gradually experienced healing and release from that bondage. I refuse ever to go back. I know the heavy price I have paid to live in unforgiveness, and I will never choose that path again. The cost is too high.

That’s not to say I don’t get tempted. I still do. For example, as a mother of a 17-year-old high school student, I was tempted just as much as everyone else in the country to think hateful thoughts about Nikolas Cruz. However, it all boils down to one question for me: Do I love God more than I hate the other person? If I do, I will obey God and pray for that person. And that is what I am doing – I am praying for Nikolas Cruz every morning, not because he deserves it but because I love God more than I am sickened by what he did. I refuse to sit in judgment on Nikolas Cruz, even though it is socially acceptable to do so, because I choose, instead, to intercede in prayer for him out of love for and obedience to God.

I am also mindful that I will be judged in the same way I judge others. And God does not judge based on the actions: he judges by the heart, which is a much higher standard. I know the evil thoughts I had toward my child abusers. I stand before the Father guilty of murder based on His standards. Thus, I am wise to heed His warning about not judging a school shooter when I, myself, am a mass murderer by God’s standards. As I judge Cruz, I will be judged. I choose God’s way.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace carrying a large heart that says, “I love you more.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Judgment or Intercession

praying_for_you

Continued from here.

One reason it’s so difficult to obey God about forgiving others, despite God forgiving us so freely, is because we let our feelings and emotions drive our behavior. Obeying God is a choice, and it does not feel natural to choose to behave contrary to our emotions. Your emotions will follow your thoughts. When you choose to obey God and align your thoughts with Him, your feelings will eventually follow, which is why our hearts become tender toward those we pray for.

When someone wrongs us, we have two choices: judgment or intercession. We cannot simply ignore the wounds that the actions of others inflict upon us or those we love. Being wounded causes an emotional reaction, and we get to choose how to behave amidst the sea of emotions. Our flesh will always drive us toward passing judgment on the other person, which God tells us not to do. Rather, God tells us to intercede for that person in prayer, which is what both Jesus and Stephen modeled for us. This isn’t easy, but it really is that simple.

Joyce Meyer helped me with this. In one of her sermons, she pointed out that if you know you are going to forgive someone in obedience to God, it makes sense to go ahead and do it right away. For example, I have decided in advance that I am going to love and forgive my husband no matter what he does. So, any energy I put forth toward being annoyed with something he does is only going to make the process harder for me. Since I know I am going to forgive him, why wait? I can choose in that moment, even while he is doing something that I don’t like, to extend him grace and mercy and not to judge him. Again, it’s simple – it’s just not easy.

Whenever someone wrongs me or others, I have a choice: judgment or intercession. If I am tempted to think something negative 100 times a day, I can turn that into 100 prayers in a day for that person. This is what Jesus and Stephen modeled, and this is how I will react to others harming me if I want to be a disciple of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace kneeling by her bed in prayer under the words, “I’ll pray for you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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.]

 

Recovery Testimony: Be Encouraged!

good_newsContinued from here.

I hope that the three recovery testimonies I shared have inspired you and that you are now thinking about your own recovery testimonies. We all have them – nobody is lucky enough to get through life without experiencing some sort of upheaval that rocks your world. And if you truly don’t have one yet, know that one is coming. When it hits, I hope you will remember what you read about my recovery testimonies and believe while in the storm that God will cause the sun to shine again.

Your recovery testimony might not be as dramatic as mine. If that is the case, count your blessings! The three I shared are dramatic, but I had to live through that drama, which wasn’t fun. Only the power of God could turn these tragedies into victories!

I encourage you not to compare your recovery testimony to mine or anyone else’s but, instead, praise God that you have one! Your recovery testimony has the power to inspire other people, so you need to share it. If people believe that you never suffered, then they will assume that’s the real reason for your joy. When you show people your joy and then your scars, they realize that there must be a God to be able to make such sweet lemonade out of life’s lemons.

Think about the type of person that the World would expect me to be. Just the child abuse alone would cause someone to expect me to be a bitter person who is unable to trust (which is exactly who I was for a long time). I could have been a prostitute or drug addict. Heck, I could have committed suicide a long time ago. And yet, here I am, shouting from the rooftops that my God is faithful! He is good! He is bigger! He is in control! It’s one thing to hear those words from someone who has never suffered. It’s a completely different thing to hear those words from someone covered with scars as I am.

I used to be ashamed of my scars, but now I’m proud of them because each one proclaims the glory and power of God. When I show people my scars, as I did in my three recovery testimonies, I am showing evidence that I was wounded as well as proof that God heals. Why would I want to hide them? When people ask how I know there is a God, I need only show them my scars. I have no other explanation for how I became the person I am today.

[Graphic: Cartoon of a newspaper with the headline of “Good News” and a photo of Grace giving a “thumbs up.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Recovery Testimony: Child Abuse

crazyContinued from here.

God’s faithfulness in bringing me my son grew my faith. I was active in church and Bible study. Then, my life blew up again because it was time for God to heal my pain from the childhood abuse. This testimony is far too complex for a 400-word blog entry, so I’ll just hit the highlights.

When my son was a toddler, I started having flashbacks of the childhood abuse. Up until this point, I had no conscious memory of the child abuse, and yet my life screamed my truths. I found a checklist online listing 37 common symptoms of people who have been severely abused in childhood. Someone with over 25 of those symptoms is likely to have experienced ongoing and severe childhood abuse. I had 34 of them. Reading this checklist was like looking in a mirror. For most of my life, I thought I was “crazy” with multiple unrelated issues. I did not realize that I was actually “normal” – a “normal” child abuse survivor.

The pain was so intense that I wanted to die. I even considered suicide but could not figure out a way to do it that would not traumatize my young son. While I held onto my faith during this season of life, I was mostly along for the ride as wave after wave of past pain pounded me. My eating disorder got worse, and I started self-injuring to help me manage the pain.

A church friend asked our pastor for a therapist recommendation, which is how I found my wonderful therapy, who is both a Christian and a qualified psychologist with experience in working with people who were severely abused in childhood. God used him to guide me along the path to healing.

The person I am today is so different from the person who entered therapy in 2003 that I can barely see a resemblance. I have completely forgiven all of my childhood abusers. The pain is gone and has been replaced by joy. I no longer self-injure or binge eat … or experience flashbacks, nightmares, or suicidal urges. I now love and accept myself exactly as I am. All of the self-loathing is gone. I truly am a new creation in Christ, to the praise and glory of God!

Over the years, I have encouraged countless child abuse survivors along their own path to healing. I wrote a blog (under another pen name) for six years in which I shared that hope and healing are available, no matter how severe your childhood abuse was. Several people have confided in me about having been abused as children – I was the first person they told. God has made much lemonade out of the lemons of my childhood abuse.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking wild-eyed under the words, “Cray Cray.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]