Category Archives: Loving our enemies

Christmas Letter to My Kids

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Christmas Letter To My Kids

This was a hard, but beautiful Christmas in our family.  Heartache causes us to reflect and to look for beauty that will come out of ashes.  My kids amaze me with their grace and their capacity to love through all of it.  I could not possibly be more thankful for each and every one of them.

The following is a letter I read to them Christmas morning.  I know many people have to look for good through the lens of suffering and this time of year intensifies that.  I hope this will encourage others as well.

Two Strange Passages for Christmas

To My Beloved Children:

I want to read you two passages from the Bible which, at first, might not seem appropriate for Christmas, but I think you’ll understand why I chose them by the time I’m done.

The first is from the book of Genesis – from the story of Joseph.  This is near the end of Joseph’s story – after his brothers had been so wicked and envious of him that they plotted to kill him, sold him into slavery instead, lied to their father and told him Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal, and Joseph had suffered years of slavery, loneliness, unjust imprisonment, and through a myriad of sovereignly appointed events, had risen to enormous power in Egypt.  These years had shaped Joseph and had put him into a position to organize the Egyptians to store up vast amounts of grain during years of plenty because he knew that years of famine were coming.  But Joseph’s family didn’t have such stores.  Their father sent all but one of his sons down to Egypt because they heard there was food there.  The story is a little long, so for brevity, I’ll tell you that it had been many years since Joseph had seen his brothers and when he did, he was both relieved and filled with apprehension.  He remembered all they had done to him.  When he saw them after all those years, he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him.  He decided to test his brothers to see if they had changed.  If you read the whole story, you’ll see that they had changed… some.  Joseph brought his entire family to safety in Egypt where they stayed and flourished, but when their father eventually died, the brothers revealed that they had not ever really reckoned with what they had done.  Here’s what they said:

“It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’  …  Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Genesis 50: 15-20

Nothing Wasted

The point of the story is this:  God used even the evil that Joseph’s brothers had committed for good.  He used it to accomplish his good purposes.  Through all the hard and painful events of Joseph’s life God made him into a humble, powerful leader.  He used it to save the lives of millions of people by giving Joseph the wisdom and strength he needed to rule well.  And he used the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers to save them too.

Nothing is wasted that God ordains.

The second passage I want to read to you is from Matthew 23.  Jesus was talking to a large crowd of people who had gathered to hear his teaching.  The crowd consisted of people who genuinely wanted to follow him, some people who weren’t sure what they thought, and there was also a group of men called Scribes and Pharisees – religious rulers who were supposed to lead the people in all God’s ways.

But there was a huge problem.  The religious leaders – the ones who had full access to the scriptures and knew all the things God had told his people, were using their positions to fleece the people.  The  truth was so mixed up with lies that it was impossible for the people to know what God really required.  And they had become harsh and cruel.

Jesus said:  you say one thing, but do another.  You’ve played games with peoples’ souls and they follow you to hell – becoming even worse than you!  You’ve made it appear to those you should have been caring for that you were being faithful, but really you were feeding your own greedy desires at their expense!  You’ve neglected and taken advantage of the ones you were supposed to protect and care for!  You do not examine your own hearts but cast judgement on others!

But after he brought all these charges against them he mournfully cried out, saying,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Matthew 23: 37

Freedom to Grieve

So – why did I choose these two passages?

First, these have been a huge comfort to me and I wanted to share that with you.  This is a hard time in our family and it would be silly to try to act as if it were not so.  But I am convinced that God is working – even through all these hard things, and yes, even through the wicked things that have been done against us – for good.

Second, I want you to know that it’s ok to grieve over the way things should have been.  I’ve often asked, “how does one grieve over something one has never had?”  But then I remembered Jesus’ lament.  The Scribes and Pharisees were terrible leaders.  Their indifference to the suffering they caused was wicked and cruel – they should have shepherded, but didn’t.  That caused Jesus to grieve deeply.  We can grieve, too.

But very shortly after Jesus lamented over this, he was taken away, beaten and tortured and hung on a cross to die for them – for us.  He wept over the way things were, and then laid down his life to change that.  He might have wept bitterly, but he did not become bitter.  He loved.  We can do that, too.

That’s why he came.  That’s why we have Christmas.

I love you guys.

Mom

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When Loving Seems Risky…

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image-of-broken-heart-e1438801033741“Risk is right,” or so says John Piper.  And David Platt.  And my pastor, and a bunch of other people I respect and admire.  I’ve heard risk loosely defined as, “an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”

 

Well, sometimes that word “possibility” is a little misleading…

 

We take risks all the time (unless we live in a hole somewhere).  We consider the “pros” and “cons” of a situation – and what that often really means is:  If I do this what could I gain compared to what it will cost me?  We are willing to take risks because there is a chance – often a good chance – that it will pay off and bring us great rewards.  We take a new job, we move to a different house, we go to grad school, we get married, we start businesses all because the possibility of reward is worth any loss that we might have to face.  We risk, because we’ve measured and concluded that there is a reward to be had – here, now.  A tangible, definable, measurable reward.

 

But there is one area of our lives that doesn’t – or really shouldn’t – work that way.

 

Love.

 

Let me try to explain first by way of example.

 

When you have a child, an odd (but wonderful) thing happens – to many of us for the first time.  We love another being more than we could have ever imagined being capable of loving without that creature being able to return that love – or anything – at all.

 

Mothers and fathers the world over know this from their experience.  If you’re not a parent you will just have to imagine, and trust that what I’m telling you is the truth.

 

That tiny lump of flesh and bones is precious in your sight despite the blood, the mess, the strange color, and the frantic, self-absorbed screaming coming out of it.  You don’t care about any of that.  You love that little baby with more than all your heart – your capacity to love swells immeasurably and no matter what, you find yourself full to the brim and overflowing with love for that wee creature.

 

They make you crazy.  They suck your energy dry.  They bleed your bank account faster than leeches draw blood.  They are relentlessly demanding, and selfish, and hungry, and needy…

 

Yet, you love them – simply because they are ours.

 

Now we may derive some joy out of caring for them, and we may build relationships that teach them to love us, too – but that is not why we love them.

 

And we know that if something were to happen to them – or if something already has – that would forever prevent them from being able to love us in return, we would still love them with all of our hearts – because our love for them was never based on what they could or couldn’t do for us.  It’s a one-way street from beginning to end, whether or not they ever love us in return.

 

Trust me, I’m thrilled beyond measure that every single one of my kids loves me.  My heart would be broken and full of a terrible sorrow if they didn’t…

 

But I would still love my children if they didn’t love me – and so would you.

 

We feel as if there isn’t a great risk in this kind of one-way love.  Pretty much everyone (unless there are unnatural problems involved) loves their kids.  We know that the normal course of events is that when we love someone, they love us back.  

 

But what do you do when it isn’t that way?  We’re not called to only love our children, are we?  What do you do when the risk of loving is terribly high because you know it will be painful and sorrowful and hard no matter what you do when you try to love a neighbor, relative – or even a spouse who doesn’t love you?  We want a good return on this love-investment.  We want riches and plenty – compound interest on our principle deposits of care and concern.  We’ll settle for equal contributions to these transactions but we’re all hoping for dividends instead.  Who keeps investing in something that never gives any kind of increase or accumulation in return?  It’s just foolish to keep throwing good love, after bad, isn’t it?

 

Actually…. No.  It isn’t.

 

Loving the unlovely – the selfish, the stubborn, the mean, the angry….  This is exactly what we are called to do.   It is exactly what Jesus did.  Loving those who insulted, ridiculed, slandered, maligned, persecuted, and even abused him  – this is what he did.  With compassion he looked at the ones who were crucifying Him and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”! 

 

I know, I know – there are caveats and disclaimers that always need to go in right about here. I don’t have time to go into the differences between lovingly standing against sin and sinfully letting it go (that’s another post someday).  But let’s not use the exceptions – the extreme cases of horrifying evil and abusive sin – as excuses to keep the rest of us from doing the hard work of loving the unlovely.

 

We all have people in our lives who are truly difficult to love – I do, too.  We have neighbors, relatives, and family members who are so caught up in their own lives that they seem incapable of empathy, much less selfless love.  All hopes of mutually loving relationships have probably vanished long, long ago.  But here’s the thing:  We have to learn to choose to love them anyway.  We have to learn to choose to love them even though there will be little – if anything – given in return.  We have to learn to be willing to risk being hurt – again – by them, because we love them because of who Jesus is and what He has done – not them.

 

“Why?” you ask?….  For the sake of the Gospel.  Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:10 both tell us the same thing… God demonstrated and proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners – selfish, mean, hard-hearted beasts – Christ died for us.  Did you catch that?  He laid down his life for us – you and me – when we were still nasty, biting, ill-tempered sinners.  He didn’t love us because we loved him back.  He loved us in spite of the fact that we didn’t.  As every good father does, he loves us simply because we are His.

 

What a beautiful portrayal of Christ-like love our journeys can be when others can marvel at the love we give when it looks like this, and know that it comes from a supernatural Source!

 What a loud, unmistakable testimony our lives become when we say from our hearts, “Lord – I can’t do this without you!  I cannot love this person – I don’t even want to – but I love YOU and I know that is what you want me to do.  Help me to be willing to risk the hurt, the pain – all the messiness of this risky, one-way love.   Help me, please to love the way that you have loved me,” and he does all that you ask.

The world notices, and when they do we can point them to Jesus when they ask – “HOW do you do it??” 

But even if they never do – even if they never notice or ask or admire or appreciate this risky, selfless, one-way love you give, God does.  And that is worth far more than we will ever lose in these costly love transactions.  Our returns will be a hundred-fold – and that is a promise from God Himself.  So you see, this kind of “risky” love isn’t really risky after all.  It’s a sure-fire investment given by the One who manages the Books.

Further thoughts on Luke 10:2… are few

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“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Luke 10:2

Are few

Let me ask you a question – and Indian idiom (or so I’ve heard) – that  I’ve asked my children many, many times…  How do you eat an elephant?

The answer (and they all know this, too) is, “One bite at a time.”

When they are facing a task that seems to be too big for them to ever be able to accomplish (like catching up 30 lessons of math or cleaning out the garage or earning enough money to pay for something big) I’ve tried to teach them to just get started and do the first bit.  After the first bit is started the next bit is a little easier, and soon, you’re trucking along with a song in your heart and the job is getting done.

Most of the time a little more encouragement is needed, the mountainous task in front of them looms large until it’s more than half way gone, and there is a whole lot of discipline that goes into continuing to the end than the above description might lead one to believe.  But in the end, one faithful foot in front of the other – one bite at a time as it were – really is the best way to go.  We see a big thing and we just need to get on with it.

But sometimes the task in front of us really is impossible.  There’s too much work for one person – or a few – to ever be able to get done.

What do you do when there is a job in front of you that is simply too big?

What do you do when the job is like digging a well in the desert with a spoon or building a road through the mountains with a toy dump truck – a job that just can’t be done without more?

When Jesus told his disciples that the laborers were few he was, perhaps, opening their eyes to the enormity of the task he was setting before them and the impossibility that they alone could do it.  It was as if he was saying, “Look –  I have a harvest that is more plentiful than the stars.  My harvest is more numerous than the grains of sand at the sea.  There aren’t enough of you.  You can’t do it…”

I don’t know – maybe I’m a little looney – or maybe my imagination just gets the better of me sometimes, but I think if I had been listening to this I might have been having mental whiplash setting in about now.

OK, let me get this straight, Jesus – I really am trying to understand what you’re saying here…  Harvest – really good.  Plentiful – check.  Labor – hard, but fulfilling, got it.  Task – impossible…  huh???  I don’t know, Jesus – this sort of sounds like you’re setting us up to fail, doesn’t it?  You’re sending us out there without enough workers to do an impossible task?  What is that supposed to accomplish?”

Settle down there, Sparky (that’s you, reader, and me) – let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Be perfect as I am perfect.  Impossible task.

Love your enemies.  Impossible task.

Forgive them seventy times seven.  Impossible task.

Turn to him the other cheek.  Impossible task.

If anyone would follow me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  Impossible task.

Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Impossible task.

Do not fear them that can kill the body…. OK – is it just me or does this sound impossible, too?

All of these things are impossible, except that nothing is impossible with God.

So let’s look at those commands again.

Be perfect – Christ makes it possible.

Love your enemies – Christ makes it possible.

Forgive those who wrong you – Christ makes it possible.

Turn the other cheek – Christ makes it possible.

You get the idea…  Go to work at a task which simply aren’t enough of you for…. Christ makes that possible, too.

The beauty in all of the “impossibles” in our lives is that God gets all the glory.  When Moses had to win a battle against the heavily armed, highly trained Egyptian army with a bunch of terrified, cowering slaves – everyone there knew it was impossible for God’s people to prevail – except that with God, it wasn’t.

When Gideon had to win a battle being ridiculously outnumbered 300 to… so many that they are described as, “like locusts… and grains of sand in their abundance”… everyone there knew God’s people prevailing there was impossible, too.  Except that with God, it wasn’t.

When Joshua was told to instruct the priests, and then the army to go march around a city blowing horns in order to prevail against it, OK, come on – that was just humiliating in its impossibility.  Except that with God, it was anything but.

So this is starting to get clearer, now, isn’t it?

Jesus is telling us – “Go.  I have a ridiculously impossible task for you to do.  Trust me on this one, it’s completely outside of your skill set – I mean really.  There aren’t enough of you and there’s no way you can do it, but I want you to go and do it anyway.  Because with me, all things are possible.”

So what are we waiting for?!

Going to hell is worse than going to jail…

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That probably seems obvious to most of the people reading this blog.  Most of my friends would readily agree to this being truth.

But do we believe it?

Do we live in a way that we make decisions based on that being true?

Sometimes I’m guilty of saying I believe something to be true, but not living and making decisions like I believe it to be true.

I’ll give you an example.

Years ago, when I was expecting baby #2, we had moved away from “home” to a place where I knew exactly two people – my husband and baby #1.

I was young and embarassingly immature.  I was exceedingly lonely.  And I was sick as a dog with said baby.  I don’t mean a little queasy in the mornings, but couldn’t eat or drink anything, losing weight, needing to be in the hospital multiple times sick as a dog.  It was a dark time for me.

Why did God take me away from all the people who loved me and would have helped me?  Why did we have to move to such a gloomy place (Cleveland, OH – no lie – check out their yearly cloud cover!)?  Why did I have to be so stinking sick when other people “glowed” with pregnancy?  In short, I was whining a lot and demanding of God, “Why do I have to suffer???”

Previous to this I know I would have given complete and confident verbal assent to the truth that all Christians will have to suffer at some time or another.  I know this because I had already done it.

I knew 1 Peter 2 – where Peter tells us, “For to this (suffering well) you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps.”

Intellectually I knew the implications of Matthew 16:24 where Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

And I could have quoted John 15:20 where Jesus said, “Remember what I told you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also…”  and John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble…”

But in both cases I would have focused on the ends of those verses – “If they have persecuted me they will persecute you also.  If they have obeyed my teaching they will obey yours also.”  And, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”

Glossing over the hard parts doesn’t make the hard parts, well, not hard.

As I lay in my bed, wasting away under the call to bring a new life into the world I did not celebrate this high calling – I railed against it.  I raised my ridiculously small fist at the Almighty God of the Universe and demanded to know, “WHY!?!”

That’s just one example of how I didn’t want to suffer any real pain or inconvenience – unfortunately, there have been many.

In all those times what I really needed was to understand the truths that these passages and others like them are really saying.

Here’s what I’ve learned that Jesus is really saying to me… and to all those he is calling to follow Him:

“Laurie – life is going to be hard if you are going to be my disciple.  You are going to experience all kinds of hardships simply because you belong to me.  They may be a little hard, or they may be exceedingly hard – to the point of pain or torture or death.  But don’t be afraid.  In fact, be bold!  For nothing will happen to you that isn’t from my hand and no one can take you from me or my care – I have overcome everything that stands between you and me.  Trust me in all things.  Following me will be worth infinitely more than you can imagine.”

I’ve continued to need to learn, in fuller and fuller measure, what this really means in the daily things of life.

Will I step in to difficult situations knowing full well that they will be painful, because God is calling me to them?  Will I stop and help that person?  Will I go into that neighborhood?  Will I go into that country?  Will I go back, again, to engage that difficult person?  Will I risk comfort and safety and reputation to tell others what Jesus wants them to know?

And perhaps harder still, will I take my children into those situations because they need to learn how to do those same things?  Will I support my children going into “dangerous” situations without me because they believe God is calling them there?

This is where the rubber meets the road.  These are the daily, ordinary kinds of things we all face but want to run away from.  This is where our decisions reflect what we really believe.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then my answers to those questions will need to based on that truth.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, I will value his direction for my life more than I will value my personal space, or comforts, or safety, or reputation.

If I really believe what Jesus says is true, then like the believers in North Africa, or China, or the MIddle East, I would be willing to go to jail or be beaten or even put to death in order to tell my friends and neighbors about Jesus… because them going to hell is worse than me going to jail.

If he’s a jerk…

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Recently, on the same day but at different times during that day, I had very similar conversations with two of my grown daughters…

The first conversation started because of a clear demonstration of road rage that we witnessed between two other drivers.  The second conversation started as a result of watching someone become irate and argumentative with someone almost instantaneously after being “offended”, when in fact, he was the real offender.  His reaction started by being indignant and ended up with him changing the whole course of the conflict to being about him being the victim, rather than the person doing the offending.

Both scenes were spectacular, really.  Kind of like a bad accident you drive by – you don’t want to stare at something so horrible, but you can’t help yourself.  It was easy, as spectators, to watch these different scenarios unfold and see what was really going on.

In both cases, the angry person was blaming anyone and everyone other than themselves for their troubles.  They were quick and insistent on pointing fingers and calling others (among other things) the jerk.

And as we watched these scenarios play out in front of us (and a whole lot of other people as well!) I couldn’t help but wonder … “If he’s the jerk, why should you be so upset?”

If he’s the jerk, and cut you off without giving any warning or signal, why should that upset you to the point of rage?

If he’s the jerk, and was inconsiderate enough to have purposely turned slowly enough to make you have to wait for another light, why should your response be to yell and curse and scream?

If he’s the jerk, and selfishly and thoughtlessly ruined your work, why is your reaction to yell and whine and complain?

He’s been the inconsiderate one.  He’s been the thoughtless one.  He’s been the one without manners.

If he’s the jerk, and truly offended you by his words or actions it says a lot about him.

It says he’s insensitive and rude, or maybe cowardly, or arrogant, or harsh, or mean-spirited, or even malicious and despicable – or a whole host of other things all at the same time…

But your response says a lot about you as well.

Did you catch that?  Your response says a lot about you as well.

When we rage because of someone else’s thoughtlessness or unkindness or rudeness or … whatever, we are declaring for all the world to hear that we believe ourselves to be entitled to better treatment than what we’ve just received.   We think that we are owed politeness and consideration and complimentary words.

I’m all for good manners and pleasant behavior between the members of mankind, really I am.  But I don’t think we can go so far as to feel entitled to it.  We train our children to consider others.  We train ourselves to hold our tongues.  We like to think we are able to live by the “Golden Rule”  – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

But can we demand it?  Are we entitled to it?

The following passages from Scripture come to mind very quickly when I’m tempted to think so:

“What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that you consider him?” Psalm 8:4

“How much less a mortal, who is but a maggot – a human being, who is but a worm”, Job 25:6

“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Job 14:1

“For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.”  Job 5:7

“Do not be surprised if the world hates you,” I John 3:13

I don’t know – it seems to me that we should pretty much expect trouble and be happy when it doesn’t come our way.

We have a saying in our house that applies:  “Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.”

There is never a time when someone else’s rudeness entitles me to be rude.  There is never a time when someone else’s thoughtlessness entitles me to be thoughtless.  There is never a time when someone else’s hurtfulness entitles me to turn around and be hurtful.  Never.

When people do those things, they are indeed sinful, but when I respond the same way it is never justified – it’s just adding another person to the sinful pile.

Paul Tripp uses a water bottle to demonstrate the same principle.  When he’s giving his talk he unscrews the lid of a water bottle and shakes the bottle enough so that water comes spilling out over the top and onto the floor.

He then asks, “Why did the water spill out of the water bottle?”

Invariably, people’s first response is to say, “Because you shook it and it spilled!”

But that is not the right answer.

It spilled water, because the bottle was filled with water.  It didn’t spill tea or soda or juice, but water.  The fact that it was shaken is largely irrelevant to the question.  What was in the bottle was what came out of the bottle.

It’s a small, but significant difference, isn’t it?

Amy Carmichael says the same thing a little differently.  She wrote, “A cup brimful of sweet water cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, however suddenly jolted.”

So, back to my question – if he’s the jerk, why are you reacting so badly?  If his bad behavior has jostled you, why is that spilling out?

It was easy for my daughters and me to look at these particular situations and see two people behaving badly.  But it is harder to look at myself and recognize when I’m doing the same.  But I must.  And so must you.

Circumstances never excuse bad behavior or attitudes.  Never.

God is far from silent on the matter.  He says:

“But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Luke 6:27-28

“Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”  I Peter 3:9

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

If your attitudes or behavior are not what they ought to be, it’s time to examine what is filling you up – because it will spill out.