Unfinished

I have been facing a new challenge these days. Over the last few months there have been hints of its presence but this past week it reared its ugly head. There was no more denying it. My reaction was typical: “Why me?” I went through the usual emotions – anger, grief, depression, desperation. And then it occurred to me that clearly I was not getting anywhere on my own. I headed to my room and bowed my head. I laid it all before the Lord and cried. I prayed that God would help me to accept what was happening. Almost immediately I was surrounded with an immense sense of peace and was assured that this was not happening TO me, as if I were being punished. Instead, it was simply happening. And God was going to use it to make my life better. He said that even though it seems bad, He is in it. He has a greater purpose. It was weird to go from crying about something to joy, but I did. God loves me enough to keep making my life better! He isn’t done with me yet! I am so grateful for His hand!

He encouraged me with His words:

Romans 8:28

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Phil 1:6
“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”
and sealed it with a song,
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Free to Love

Now that I have been filled with the Spirit, I am experiencing levels of freedom I have never known before. I am enjoying physical freedom in the wearing of scarves. For me, the scarf represents a final release from bondage that has lasted more than 25 years. But there are also other bonds that the Spirit is releasing me from – ones I didn’t realize I even had.

My first husband made it very clear that he didn’t love me – never loved me. And living in that reality day in and day out, I learned to build walls around my heart to survive. I told myself that I didn’t need love, I was fine without it. It didn’t matter. I was tough. I built the walls high and fortified them well. The problem is, as humans, we need love. Without it we may be alive, but we don’t live. We wither. Our hearts grow cold. What I didn’t realize was that in all my efforts to protect my heart, I built walls so thick that I made it difficult to express my own love. My emotions became stunted, my outlook – cynical, my humor – sarcastic and my first reactions to anything – defensive and angry. These walls ended up trapping me in a dungeon of my own making.

Since love is one of our basic human needs, is it any surprize that God is described as love? (1John 4:8). A relationship with Him is one of our basic human needs. Without it, we never fully live. We were designed to be loved by Him. That love becomes the rock that we cling to in the storms of life and the cornerstone that we build our lives on. Without it we are in a constant free fall. Ungrounded. Sinking into chaos. Being able to fully experience God’s love and express that love to others is part of the work of the Spirit. In order for that to happen in me, the walls need to come down. No matter how many gifts or fruit of the Spirit I may be given, without love, they are useless (1Cor 13:1).

The Word tells us that “who the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). I have already been freed from my self-made prison. The habits of cynicism, sarcasm, and anger are fading. But I find myself at a loss. While I am free to love, I am not sure I know how. How do I tell you that I care? How do I show you? I feel like a teenager at my first job – not knowing how to do anything. How awkward! The love I feel is genuine, but I am so inexperienced in the delivery of it. I have started though with the advise of James, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). As well, with the direction given to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (4:29). That in itself with be a challenge! But I draw strength from the Lord each time I sit at His feet and am flooded with peace and experience the depth of His love for me. I am no longer withered, but blossoming. I am free to love and be loved!

I have been getting inspiration for this part of my journey from TobyMAC and his song, Speak Life. Have a listen:

Forgiveness

I recently concluded a long battle to clear my name. I can finally say that it is over. However, in reflecting on the matter, I realized that while it may be done on paper, it will never be over for me until I forgive the one who put me through it.  Forgiveness is not automatic. It doesn’t come easily. There is lots of resistance to the thought of it. Don’t I have the right to be angry? Shouldn’t they pay? There is some twisted idea that if I withhold forgiveness it will hurt them. However, I have been down enough of these roads to have learned that unforgiveness is like debris in a wound. It will fester and never heal until it is removed. It will derail my walk with God; rob me of joy, peace and strength; and prevent me from progressing into success in any area of my life. Yeah – that will show them!! Often when we go through these types of trials we describe them as the “night” and we are praying for morning. But there will never be the dawn of a new day as long as I choose to maintain the darkness with the cloak of unforgiveness.

So what does it mean to forgive? Jesus taught us to forgive seventy-seven times (Matt 18:22). He taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt 6:12). He illustrated it in a parable about the man who was forgiven much debt (Matt 18:23-35). Clearly the subject was important to Him. What did it look like when Jesus forgave me? He suffered because of what I did and then He offered forgiveness, redemption and love, should I choose to accept it. And when I did, He didn’t let me in with a grunt and treat me like a second class citizen. He ran to me, took me in His arms and rejoiced! (Luke 15:20-24). I have been forgiven much – and He holds none of it against me.

As an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor 5:20), I am His representative. I may be the only “Christ” that this person will ever see. Doesn’t my heart long for them to receive Christ’s forgiveness and redemption? Shouldn’t it begin with the offering my own forgiveness? My attitude and posture also need to reflect my heart. The ability to interact with this person in a loving manner will be a powerful witness. Unless Christ had made the road to redemption welcoming and easy, none of us would have come. And unless I make the road to Christ through me welcoming and easy, they will not come either.

Forgiveness is a choice. I choose to be free – to shed the burden of unforgiveness and to welcome the joy (Ps 30:5) and new measure of God’s compassion (Lam 3:22-23) that comes with the morning. What will you choose?

Anger

I have been angry a lot lately. When I heard that someone was saying not nice things about me at work, I got angry. When I felt that my husband was not appreciating my efforts, I got angry. When I took the kids to the mall and had to drive through the parking lot – I got angry! God has been speaking to me a lot lately about my anger: Where does it come from? Why does it happen? What does it say about me and my example?

It seems to be a natural human reaction to defend ourselves when we feel attacked. It was an issue that we find addressed throughout the New Testament. In many scriptures we are told to not get angry: Ephesians 4: 29, 31-32: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you; Galatians 6:7-9: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh (from Gal 5: 20:… hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions…) will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit (5:22-23a:… love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…) will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

But there is more than that. We are told to love our enemies: Matt 5:44: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you; Romans 12:14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse; Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

But really? I mean, these people are maligning my character… shouldn’t I defend myself? Don’t I have to stand up for myself? If I don’t, who will? And there is the question… Who will? God says, He will: Ps 91:14-15: Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him; 2 Thess 3:3: But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one; Romans 12: 17-19: Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place for wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

Then it comes back to the ultimate question again… do I trust Him? I have trusted Him with my salvation, I have trusted Him with my health, my family, and my finances. But can I trust Him to protect me? Can I not let Him into this area of my life and allow Him to really be my refuge, my fortress and my strength? God is asking me to trust Him. He alone has the power to protect me and shape the course of events so that I not only survive, but can impact my enemies for Him. Many scriptures tell us that we were designed to do good works and to be a good example of a Christian (Col 1:10,Col 3:17,2 Tim 2:15,Matt 5:16, 2 Cor 9:6-8,Eph 2:10,Eph 4:1). 2 Timothy 1:7 tell us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”. God has given us a spirit of love that He means for us to use. We are all familiar with the “love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a) Those first few verses let me know that no matter how many devotionals I write, or food I donate to the food bank, or mission trips I go on, if love does not mark my life and permeate everything I do, then all of my efforts are worth nothing. If I do not communicate that God loves you when I am with you, what good are all the things I do or say when I am not with you? There is no other message that needs to reach those around me. Only that God so desperately loves them that He died for them. God sees all of them. If there was something to be hateful about, He would be the one to be justified in that. Not me. How are they any worse than I when I am not being loving to them? Verses 4-8a tell me what love looks like: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” I have not been loving. I don’t know if I have the strength to be. But thankfully, God gives me that (Phil 4: 13, Phil 4:19).

He reminded me of my favorite verses: Romans 8:38-39: For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He loves me. He’s got me. He will not leave me. I can trust Him. And I need to let these people see His love too. As I watched a girl coming into work this morning who doesn’t like me much, when normally I would have thought something not very nice when I saw her, today I thought, how different would she be if she knew that Jesus loved her? I am here for such a time as this.