Tag Archives: forgiveness

Fasting gives me a headache…

Standard

mus-fapc2020_500

In case you haven’t heard there’s a lot of talk about fasting this month.  It’s Ramadan, but Muslims aren’t the only ones who fast.

 

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I would fast with her and pray for some friends, pray for her work, and pray about the “stuff” of life.

 

“Sure!” I said on the outside.  “ugh… “ I said on this inside.  And so, like the angels and demons I’d seen on peoples’ shoulders in the cartoons of my youth – my internal war began – again.

 

Fasting gives me a headache.  A serious, throbbing, cannot-ignore-it sort of headache.  I feel grumpy and distracted and completely out of sorts.  I can’t believe how much I think about eating when I’m fasting!  It’s astounding to me that I can spend so much time thinking about what I could be eating – when my goal is to forget about eating!

 

Have you tried it?  Have you struggled?  Have you quit in the middle and said, “This is STUPID!!”?  I have.  I hate to have to admit it, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has had to come face to face with how weak and distractable and cowardly I really am.

 

But that is precisely the point.  It is because each and every one of us is weak and selfish and filled up to the brim with lies that we believe about our own abilities that we need to fast.  Contrary to what many believe:

 

We do not fast to make ourselves clean before God.

We do not fast because it somehow convinces God to accept us.

We do not fast to pay for the wrong things we’ve done.

We do not fast to atone for the wrong thoughts we’ve had.

We do not fast to in any way clean up our act, straighten ourselves out, or try in some way to “get things right with the Man Upstairs” (as some of my childhood friends explained their fasting during Lent).

 

Fasting will show you how woefully short you fall of being in any way clean before the Lord.

Fasting will show you how prone you are to pleasing yourself rather than God.

Fasting will reveal to you how many more wrong things you do than you ever wanted to admit.

Fasting will kick up the settled dust of wrong thinking, and show you just how prone you are to thinking about ridiculous things that don’t matter – at the very least – if it doesn’t also reveal to you how prejudiced, sneaky, snarky, and just downright mean you can be.

 

By now you might be saying, “Um, and why is this a good thing?”  It’s good because we need to know these things about ourselves.  We need to know our sinfulness more and more completely, because doing so reveals to us the beauty of the cross and the glory of our Savior in ways that we can’t comprehend without it.

 

How else can the sacrifice of a perfect lamb become truly precious to us if we don’t understand that Christ died for us while we were swimming around in a sewage-filled ocean of our own making?  How else will we treasure the gifts of redemption and adoption if we never realize how far we have alienated ourselves from God and chosen instead to dirty ourselves by continuing to wallow around in and fill up our ocean with more and more insanity?  We lie to ourselves about ourselves far too easily.  We need disciplines like fasting to shake us awake to reality and remind us why we needed a Savior in the first place.  As it turns out, quietly sitting next to Jesus for any length of time will make you want to slither away from Him rather than present your “cleaned up” life to him, because we all know what it’s like to try to clean ourselves up from that kind of mess with a hanky that we’ve had in our pockets the whole time – it’s impossible.  

 

And that is why we fast.

 

When we get to the place where we realize the very best we might possibly hope for is to sneak away unnoticed by the brilliant Son of God, it is then that we can see clearly that He is coming after us – pursuing us with gentleness and love and forgiveness that we know we don’t deserve.  And yet, he brings us to stand there in His presence and accept His thorough cleansing from top to bottom, inside and out.  

 

Do you know that He loves you this way?  Do you want to know?  Come and fast with me.

 

There’s no formula – you will likely need to experience some failures and successes on your own in this because that is part of the discipline.  But we all need someone to disciple us.  It will become painfully clear to you – within about the first 20 minutes or so – that this is going to be harder than you thought.  But here are some practical things that have helped me keep my focus through the struggle to fast.

 

Hunger Pangs:  Saying “no” to food shows us how much we need to say yes to hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5).  Hunger is a powerful drive that God has given us.  He has intended it for our survival, but He has also intended it to teach us to hunger and thirst for Him.  When I’m fasting and I want to eat something, I pray, “Lord, help me to hunger and thirst after you even more than food.  Help me to know you in such a way that you fill me up and I am satisfied, no matter my circumstance, no matter if my belly is full or empty.  Lord show me what you want me to learn about you through this fast and help me to see you clearly.”  In practical terms though, I have to steer clear of the kitchen and keep my fast elsewhere.

 

Distractions:  It’s usually about half-way through that prayer that I find myself thinking about other things!  It’s as if my heart says, “Fine, if you’re not going to give in on the food front how about we talk about the laundry that needs to get done, or the dishes, or …that stinkin’ kid didn’t take the trash out… again!”  Maybe for you it will be your boss, or the incompetent drivers on the road, or your classmate’s weird outfit, or your coworker’s bad breath, or… you get the idea.  I can be distracted by anything when it comes time to pray.  I have to have a plan.  I have found that writing out my prayers is enormously helpful, and writing out what I want to pray about first, so that my “prayers” don’t become a rambling stream of consciousness instead, is almost critical.  (go ahead, laugh, but you know it’s true…)

 

Sometimes sitting and praying close to electronics is too distracting.  I use prayers written on index cards that I can take into another room or into the car or on a walk or anywhere that I won’t be tempted to “just check real quick.”

 

Boredom:  Yeah, I know – we shouldn’t get bored when we’re trying to talk to God.  But since I’ve already been brutally honest, I figure I might as well go all the way.  Sometimes I feel as if I’ve run out of things to talk with God about.  I get bored with the whole idea of focusing on Him and I just want to do something mindless and easy.  This, too, can lead me to pray, “Lord – teach me to want you!”  And if that doesn’t spark some other requests, then simply spending some time doing ordinary tasks and then thanking and praising Him for them is unbelievably helpful.  “Lord, thank you for this laundry to do for it means you have blessed me with clothing to keep me warm and covered.  Thank you for the family members who wear these things and forgive me for grumbling about serving them.  Thank you for ordering the world in such a way that families are your design that we can learn to trust and grow and know you.  I praise you Lord for you have formed me and each of these whom I love so dearly in wonderful ways.  I praise you Lord for you have created beauty and goodness and truth that surrounds us everywhere.  Help me, Lord, to point others to you so that they, too, can worship you in Spirit and in Truth.”  Sometimes it’s helpful to simply keep your hands busy while your mind is refocusing on why you’re fasting.

 

Sleepiness: Yes, it’s tempting to just go and take a nap rather than try to keep alert and focused – especially when everything is warring against that.  Sometimes I have to absolutely command myself not to give in, but because I am doing most of my work at home, my bed or that comfy chair can be really tempting. If you’re working somewhere else, you might not have this trouble during your work hours, but when you get home you will.  When it happens, you’ll need a plan:  take a walk, put on some worship music, clean the bathroom if you have to, and commit to talking with your Heavenly Father while you’re doing them.  

 

Headache:  Yes, I really do get whopper headaches when I fast.  Sometimes I push through them, and ask God to use them to draw me closer to Him.  If they’re helping me do that, I deal with the headache.  But sometimes, I take some pain reliever.  It’s not about the headache – it’s about my heart’s cry.  Sometimes the headaches helps me to cry out to God, sometimes it really is a distraction.  Talk to God about that, too, and ask him for wisdom to discern which it is.

 

The key to all of this is that we see how much we need Jesus.  Fasting confronts us with our utter incapability of doing all that God requires of us – and realizing that we are hopelessly trapped in that condition is the first step on the journey of sweet, satisfying communion with God for eternity.

 

Come and fast with me as I hunger and thirst after the righteousness that only Jesus can supply.  Come fast with me as I seek to put to death all the loves in my life that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Come fast with me as I ask for wisdom to know what those things are and look for ways to be thankful and joyful right where God has me now.  Come fast with me as I ache to be reminded of the One who loves me enough to rescue me from my own willful wickedness.  And come fast with me to rejoice in a salvation that is complete and glorious and free – for we have been loved with an everlasting love and fasting helps us know it.

Let me know how you have learned how to fast – or what you’re struggling with.  Let’s encourage one another as we walk this journey of faith together.

 

(image credit: https://www.magnoliabox.com/search?q=sad&type=product)

Advertisements

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…

Standard

So stop trying.

I know – that goes against all the things you think you’ve been taught.

Be good.

Be nice.

Be generous.

Be compassionate.

Be better.

And the implied message at the end of all those directives is, “so you make (or keep) God happy with you.”

The trouble is – it’s all wrong.  It’s a big fat lie that we actually seem to like telling ourselves and one another.

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I’ve ever received was this:  “You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is…”

If you are a believer – a follower of Jesus who knows for certain that you’ve been forgiven – lifted out of a filthy ocean of disgusting sin that you not only dug for yourself but filled bucket by bucket and were hopelessly flailing about in with no hope of getting yourself out of much less cleaned up from – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are a disciple of the Son of God – a sinner who has repented and hates not only the sinful storehouse you built but also the fact that you are prone to building it again – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

If you are aching to know God better and love Him more because he put the desire into your heart of stone-turned-to-flesh – then God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be.

Did you catch that?  God is already as happy with you as he can possibly be!

The real question each of us must face when considering our mortality is not, “Am I at peace with God?”  Rather, it is this:  “Is God at peace with me?”

And if you’ve seen your hopeless condition and run to Jesus for rescue, because you know that his life and his death and his resurrection have satisfied all the demands God has made on us that we couldn’t satisfy – and that it has been offered to you freely – then God is at peace with you.  He is happy with you and cannot be made happier.

His delight has been made free to you – though it was enormously costly to Him – and He is happy to offer it to you.

And the glorious irony is that God is happy with us precisely because of the offer.  For when he sees you and me – sinners rescued from the miry pits of our own making, saved from destruction and an endless eternity of heartache and despair – he sees his beloved Jesus.  Period.

The exchange was so utterly complete that when Jesus became sin for us, he filled us up with himself – and that is all God sees.  Perfect, complete, clean, pure.

God is already as happy with you as He can be, because when he sees you, if you belong to him, he sees his Son in you perfectly reflected and shining in beautiful glory.

You can’t make God any happier with you than He already is, because when He sees you, He sees His Son.

But there was more to the advice.

“You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.”

I can hear you now (because, truthfully, I’ve said the same things).

What?!?  What about following the 10 Commandments?  What about all the Old Testament Commandments – or the New Testament ones??  What about all the places in the Bible that tell us to do this or not do that?  What about all the RULES?!?

Being good is good, and it can reflect that you’ve had your heart changed – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Being kind is good, and it can be an indication of Who you belong to – but it will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

Giving generously, being compassionate, showing mercy – all good, and definitely character traits of someone who loves well, but… you got it.  They will not make God any happier with you than He already is.

In fact, if that is your motive, you are believing a false Gospel.  You are, in effect, saying, “Thanks Jesus for the death on the cross and all, but I’ve got it from here.  Really.  I’m good.”

For some ridiculous reason we would rather bear the terrible burden of trying to satisfy God ourselves than trust in the freedom that Christ has provided.  How does that make sense?  And yet, I talk with more people than not who claim to know and follow Jesus who are running around trying to make God happy! 

STOP!

Think about it.  If you’re still having to work hard to earn God’s favor – what exactly did you get freed from?  If you really believe that Jesus saved you, why aren’t you living like you’re saved from the crushing burden of trying to do all that God requires?

I’m asking you the same questions I had to ask myself once.  I realized I wasn’t living like I really believed what I said I believed.  I was running around working hard to make God happy.  But you know what – I knew in my heart nothing I did could ever be good enough.  There was always something I could have – should have – done better.  There was always work left undone.  I got lazy or sloppy in my pursuit of perfection and that really messes with this whole happy God thing!  Unbelievably, I had even convinced myself that I could keep starting over with a clean slate – but that’s not true!

If Jesus’ work wasn’t enough, what hope did I have of making God happy?  If Jesus’ death and resurrection was just a starting point, what could I possibly conjure up that was better than what He had already done?

And that, my friends, is precisely the point.  I can’t.  You can’t.  No one can.  We really were hopelessly lost in our own foolish, stupid, selfish, lazy, mean-spirited, ugly, swiftly-filling, ocean-sized pit of sin.  But the rescue has already been completed, and it is spectacularly sufficient and good.  Trying to add anything to it to somehow gain God’s approval would be like doing your laundry in that cess-pool you created and offering it back to God with the hopes that He will somehow like it better than the radiant robes of righteousness that Jesus has already provided.  Just stop.

You cannot make God any happier with you than He already is.  And indeed, you must not try.  For when He sees you He sees His beloved Son, and His work is beautifully sufficient and good.  Jesus has freed you – now go and live in the joy of knowing you are free indeed!

Further thoughts on Luke10:2 – “harvest”

Standard

Yesterday I started a series of posts on what I am learning through meditating on one passage daily over an extended period of time.

Here is the next post in the series:

“Harvest”

So, then, what is this harvest we are to be about working in?  Why is it so important to be singularly focused on?  What makes it the harvest and not just any old one?

It is, in fact, a harvest of people – kingdom citizens – that God is calling to dwell with Him in peace for eternity.  The kingdom of heaven has come to you.

It’s the end game – the goal – the reason for plowing, planting, watering, tending.  The harvest is the bounty, the reward for one’s labors.  And this bounty is the promised reward for Jesus’ labors – His perfect obedience and submission to a far greater plan than anyone had any notion was going on.

Luke 6:37-40 spells this out.  Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

A harvest of people – of men, women, boys, and girls who are otherwise dying without ever hearing the Good News that Jesus came to save and rescue them from everlasting death, torment, destruction, wailing and gnashing of teeth, deepest regrets, sorrow, fear, terror… eternal punishment.

I think we easily forget that this is the only other option.

It’s not nothingness that we are watching our family, friends, loved ones slip into.  If they never turn to Jesus in sorrow over their sin it isn’t peaceful slumber.  It isn’t light or goodness or freedom.  We have all been made with souls that will never die.  Our every wicked thought or deed separates from the blazing goodness and holiness of a righteous God  – so we either turn away from them and seek forgiveness and spend eternity in Heaven with God, or we remain guilty and spend eternity in Hell separated from Him.  There is no palatable third option.

And it’s not quick and over with.  It’s eternal – thousands upon tens of thousands of unending years of unimaginable torment.  It’s Hell without the silly pointy-tailed, red-suited demons jumping about to entertain us.  It’s Hell that is devoid of anything good whatsoever.  It’s palpable darkness that never yields, for there is no light.  It’s aloneness that we cannot fathom, for there is no fellowship.  It is separation from everything and everyone that gives us any amount of comfort, for comfort of every sort is absent.  It’s burning flames that burn but do not consume.  It is not a frat party filled with debauchery – that would be tolerable and even preferable to some.  It is devoid of even that kind of companionship.  There will be no room for that kind of oppression, for everyone there will be overcome with what is yet an unknowable weight of their own guilt and shame.  No, it is an un-ending agony, a nightmare of suffering and pain that never ends.  Anguish is its only quality, and the Lord has invited us to participate in his saving souls from it.

But it is also easy to forget what he is saving us to.

Equally as eternal, and oppositely glorious, is an eternity with God.  As stark and dramatic as hell will be, heaven will be even more gloriously good because it is filled with God’s presence.  Everything about heaven is good because it is saturated in the goodness of God.  Every vista will be glorious because he is glory.  Every task will be fulfilling because he is all-satisfying.  Every relationship will be deep and rich because he is rich in goodness and mercy.  Nothing will need to be hidden or done in the secret, dark places – because he is light and love.  There will be complete friendship and fellowship because God Himself is our friend.  There will be no need or want because He is our provider.  Everything is His to give and He does so generously. None of us will need to jockey for position or rank because we will all be perfectly readied – able to stand guiltless and righteous before a Holy God without blemish or fault because of Jesus’ labors for His harvest.   Friends, this is what God is harvesting to.

Let us not forget what he is asking us to do – participate in his joy-filled work of harvesting.  And let us be ever-mindful of what he harvests from.

The Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin…

Standard

“The wisest of women builds her house, but a fool tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

I watched a movie once called Collateral Damage.  It told the story of the horrifyingly negative effects on a couple’s life of “intervention” into another country’s affairs.  I don’t remember a lot about the story – something to do with oil companies in South America I think –  but I do remember the callous response of those individuals responsible for the mess that had been made.  “Oh well,” they shrugged.  “One has to expect a little collateral damage.”

What?!

This wasn’t even a war zone.  One might possibly come to some kind of terms in the context of war, but this? This was so… ludicrous!

And so is the nature of the collateral damage that we create with our own hands and mouths.  As we look ahead to Mother’s Day in a few weeks, and then Father’s Day beyond that, do your families a favor and think with me on these things.

Yes – I know.  This isn’t one of those cute and happy kinds of Mother’s Day thoughts… But if we can get this right, it is worth far more than the cards or candies or even expensive items that will be exchanged on those days and the lingering effects will last for many years to come.

Recently my husband and I were challenged to come up with a list of at least fifty consequences that happen when we sin.  The parameters were to think of things that happen in our personal, marital, and family lives – but for this post, I’m focusing on the things that happen to our children when we sin against them or in front of them.

To be honest, it was difficult to start this list.  I kind of felt like it was a big dragon that I was trying to capture by the tail.  Where do I start?  How do I get a concept like this down on paper?

So, as I often do when I have a puzzle to solve or problem that seems too big, I brought it to the table and presented it to my kids so they could help me organize this list a little better.  They’re clever people and all adults now (or very close to it) so I figured it was a good discussion to have around the table.

They, too, had some trouble grappling with the largeness of the category at first, but after a little discussion our collective thoughts came up with a few ideas.  We started grouping sins into categories, which was certainly an organized approach, but didn’t turn out to be very helpful in actually answering the question, “What are the consequences when we sin?”  It was all good food for thought, and they were actively engaged in the process, but we still hadn’t come up with a good list of consequences when they had to start leaving for various reasons.

I was alone again with my thoughts.

I tried again, trying to think through the many things swirling around my head.  Then I started to remember some specific times that I had had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Painfully I remembered too many times I had hurt them with my words or accusations or tone.  Ouch.

The list started to flow more easily when I thought of how they felt, and how hard it was after some of those times to rebuild what I had carelessly wrecked.  I realized that I wasn’t talking about consequences like paying a fine when I’m late with a library book.  I was looking square in the face of damage.  I was the one who sinned, but they had suffered because of it.

The list (below) is still growing as I realize more fully how damaging my sin is to them.  Whether I have sinned directly against them, or have sinned in their presence, I do damage.  I create casualties out of my own flesh and blood!

How many adults do you know who are still heavily burdened because of how their parents treated them?  How many adults do you know who find it exceedingly difficult to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” because it was rarely (if ever) said to them?  (Maybe you count yourself among them!)  What restoration could there be if we think about the lasting, hurtful effects we have on our children’s whole lives and change how we interact with them?  What love could we bestow on our grandchildren if we teach our children to quickly seek forgiveness?

This year, as we think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, how about if we give the gift of humble repentance to our children?  I can tell you that the fruit is well worth it.  I couldn’t have had this discussion with my kids if I hadn’t first shown them that they could trust me with the brutal truth.  They have long felt the freedom to come to me and lovingly, call me out on my sin.  I usually don’t want to hear what they have to say – not because I don’t want them to tell me, but because I hate that it is true.  But I am so very grateful that they do come.  What a blessing to see them have the courageous love it takes to rebuke a brother – or, in my case, a mother – because they want the relationship restored and whole again.

Their loving rebukes have helped to change me.  It hasn’t always been easy to change some bad habits.  But habits can be changed and rooting out bad habits is worth all the struggle and failure and repentance and trying again and again that it takes.  It’s hard work.  It can be frustrating and wearisome, but the sweetness in the relationships is so very, very worth it!

Part of discipling our kids is modeling being discipled in front of them.  When we show them that we are willing to be humble and go to them when we have wronged them, then our exhortation that they humble themselves before God holds a lot of weight.  If we never do it, they see straight through us as the hypocrites that we are.

Remembering frequently that we are shepherding souls that will live for eternity helps me to keep things like this in the right perspective.   Unfortunately, we don’t take our sin seriously enough in general, and therefore, we don’t consider all that happens when we sin.  Writing a list of the collateral damage of my sin has been very sobering.  But hopefully it will bear much fruit for a long time to come.

You can read my list – but writing your own, and referring to it regularly, will reap the most benefits for you.  Adding to it as you realize the power of your influence in your home will reap rewards for you  – just as it has for me.  Every parent messes up.  Every parent messes up regularly!  The key to preventing it from becoming irrevocable destruction is to quickly go to even the youngest of children and own it.  Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and say, “I’m so sorry for doing this to you (be specific).  I’ve sinned against you and it was wrong!  I shouldn’t have done it and I wish I had controlled myself so I didn’t hurt you.  I’m really and truly sorry! Can you please forgive me?”

It’s pretty tough for a child to resist the sincerity of a parent as honest as that.

This year, as mothers and fathers, give the gifts to your children.  Give them the gift of adulthood with as little “parental baggage” as possible.  If you have grievances to address – go to them and seek their forgiveness, not expecting anything from them.  Some things are long-standing and messy.  It may take them a long time to trust that you are sincere in your humility.  But do it anyway.  Your gift will be a blessing for generations to come.

 

Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin

What happens when we sin against or in front of our children…

  • We are poor role models for how to be godly men or women
  • We teach them to disregard what God says about humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness because we disregard it
  • We teach them to disregard what we say about the same thing
  • Our home is not a warm, loving place, but a battle ground
  • Our children are afraid, rather than secure
  • They feel alone, rather than protected
  • They feel rejected, rather than loved
  • They are confused because we’ve violated the standards we’ve set before them
  • They are sad
  • They are broken
  • They feel despair
  • We cut down those we love the most rather than build them up
  • We hurt them now and for years to come
  • We communicate that we don’t trust them
  • We communicate that they can’t trust us
  • We communicate clearly that we don’t love them the way Jesus loves us
  • We sow seeds of doubt in their hearts that God is not who he says he is
  • We communicate that we think we are worth more than they are
  • Our selfishness communicates that we value our own desires more than we value them
  • Our indignation communicates that we haven’t given them permission to call us out on our sin
  • We build walls between ourselves rather than relationships
  • We preach a false Gospel to our children – one that worships self rather than God
  • We create an environment of fear and anxiety rather than love and safety
  • We use our position and authority as tools to get what we want rather than as ways to lovingly serve
  • When we put our needs above their needs it teaches them to do the same
  • We teach them to rebel against us rather than submit to loving parents
  • We create dependence on our approval rather than on the approval of God
  • We teach them to doubt that God has their best interests at heart because we don’t
  • We create cripples rather than soldiers fit for spiritual battle
  • We fail to teach them how to humbly and sincerely repent and seek forgiveness
  • Our selfishness begets selfishness – both in ourselves and in our children
  • We teach them that they have to protect themselves because we haven’t
  • We teach them that they have to build walls up to avoid future hurt
  • When we don’t listen well to them, we communicate that we don’t value what they think or feel
  • We create disillusionment in relationships
  • We teach them to doubt everything we’ve ever said about love and forgiveness because we haven’t lived what we’ve preached.

*This is just the beginning of the list… there is more, so much more to be added.  But you can do that with your own children.  Mine are happily helping me add to this one.  Not so they can point out my faults, but because they know they are loved and want to love their own children well.  None of us wants this to be our legacy.  Getting rid of sin together is a joy!

I’m sorry…

Standard

I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.

If he’s a jerk…

Standard

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.

Who is miserable?

Standard

I did something yesterday that I cannot recall having ever done in my life before…

I went to a movie theater for a second time to see the same movie.

I know – that’s probably a threshold many of you have crossed over long ago – but I’m not prone to watching movies over and over again like some folks are, so once is usually enough for me.  But I couldn’t resist.

Les Miserables has always been one of my favorite books – but it’s been 20 years since I read it last (I don’t tend to read books over and over again either!).

I’ll leave the cinema critique to the critics, but am compelled to talk about the story. 

WOW!

Oppressive poverty and political commentary aside, this story is about law and grace.  It’s the story of redemption about as loud and clear as the world could hear it except through the pages of scripture itself.  (You can read the story line in a thousand places, so I’ll be very brief – but if you don’t know it, do take the time to research it – or go see the movie and experience it for yourself!)

The wretched Jean Valjean is a bitter and beaten man – a convict who has served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and then trying to escape – but something (or rather someone) happens that changes everything.  He is utterly undone by the mercy and compassion of someone who knows his sin but chooses to forgive the wrong and suffer the loss himself.  (The loss is represented by silver candlesticks in the story – if you pay attention you see them throughout the movie.)

Jean Valjean is stripped of all of the rationalizations he has allowed himself to excuse his own wicked heart.  His soul is naked before righteousness and he knows it full well.  It changes him completely – dramatically – undeniably.  His life becomes marked – no longer by bitterness and guile toward his fellow man – but by grace, compassion, forgiveness.

Through this character, we not only see the grace extended to a criminal, we also see what that grace can do to a man.  Jean Valjean is manifestly transformed.

But we also meet the law – literally – in the character of Javert, the prison guard who exacted relentless fulfillment of any and every punishment prescribed.  In Javert’s mind there is black and white – law keeping and law breaking.  There are no extenuating circumstances allowed, no justifications – you are either innocent or guilty.  That’s it.

Javert is relentless in his hunt to root out sin and indiscretion.  He is driven to pursue righteousness no matter what.

He shows mercy on no one.  He is confident and calm, knowing that he is right.

As you can imagine the story takes lots of twists and turns, and I won’t ruin the plot for you by giving away any secrets.

But in the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean is clearly the miserable one.  The man is as broken as a man can be.  He is almost an animal.  But God meets him in his wretched state and he is completely changed.  The change is so magnificent that Jean not only sees his own life differently but he sees mankind differently.  He cannot help but to forgive and show mercy because his heart overflows with it.

And, through the twists and turns of the details of his life, when the law wants to rear its relentless head to convict him again, Jean Valjean is sometimes tempted to respond in his old way – but he cannot respond to the law in the same manner he did before he understood grace.

Grace changes everything.

By the story’s end, we realize that the Javert, not Valjean, is the miserable one.  Javert meets grace, too, but responds very differently.   Valjean finds peace – Javert finds none.

It is the story that Christ has written for us.  The law drove Valjean – pursued him! – until he came to a place where he could no longer deny that he lives “a whirlpool of sin”.  We each must come to the place where we recognize that in ourselves (it’s just as true for you and me as it is for Jean Valjean) we are incapable of satisfying the demands of the relentless, unyielding, uncompromising law.

But Jesus made the sacrifice and suffered the loss by giving his life for ours.  And to him – the loss was like the silver candlesticks in the story – nothing when compared to the value he places on gathering his people to himself.  We cannot offer him something in return – we must not try.  We need to accept the sacrifice on our behalf and know that that’s the price that was required to free us.  We need to cherish the sacrifice and love him more because of it.

The change in a man’s life is not just for the “hereafter” though it certainly makes all the difference for eternity.  It is for the here and now.

Poverty and injustice continue – circumstances are not what the story is about.  It is about the place where justice and mercy meet.  The most wonderful or most terrible place in all of time and history – depending on how you respond.