Go Long

“I am not going to introduce Jesus to my children. Instead, I am going to wait and let them decide for themselves as an adult whether they want to follow Christ.”

Sounds like a fair-minded, reasonable proposition, until you carefully examine it.

As a mom, I often struggled with forcing my children to do things they did not want to do. When my kids were younger, with minimal weeping and gnashing of teeth, I was usually successful in getting them to abide by reasonable, socially acceptable behavioral expectations consistent with a Biblical worldview. This included such things as brushing their teeth, taking baths, observing a decent bed time, doing chores, playing fair, being kind and respectful toward others, and attending school, sports practices and church consistently.

I required my kids to do all these things (and many more) not because I wanted to control them for control sake, but because I deemed these behaviors to be in their best interest and necessary for them to have a good life here on earth and eternal life in heaven. I cared more about their long term best interests than their temporary comfort and happiness. It didn’t make me very popular, but I wanted my kids to possess good character and integrity, to love and be loved, to be healthy and strong, and to trust and obey God. In short, I wanted them to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ so that they could experience the blessings of obedience, including peace and not just happiness, but fullness of joy.

However, as our kids entered their teens, it began to dawn on them and us that they did not have to obey mom and dad if they did not want to. The control we thought we had over their conduct was illusory. We could not force them to do anything they did not want to do, but could only encourage them to do the right thing by offering rewards for good choices and negative consequences for bad. Consistently enforcing family rules and consequences is the hard work of parenting and it is rarely fun.

If by their teen years our kids did not care more about having a good life than we cared about them having a good life, we – and they – were in trouble. It is disappointing, frustrating, heartbreaking and depressing when our kids choose less than God’s highest and best for themselves. Even though there were consequences for disobedience – being grounded and losing privileges like cell phones, computer time and driving, coupled with an angry lecture – kids are kids. Sometimes they would either fail to consider those consequences, or after a brief risk-benefit analysis, occasionally would decide to do things their way instead of our way. (I can hear God saying to me, “Now, do you get it?”)

We hoped their way would mirror our way which we hoped followed God’s way. But just as we did not always obey the Lord in all we said and did, neither did our kids. However, if there came a point in time when their behavior was more disruptive or defiant than it was peaceful and compliant, it was time for them to move out and make their way in the world where they could do what was right in their own eyes. We would no longer impose consequences for undesirable behavior – the real world would now do that through financial hardship, lost jobs, and failed relationships…just as it had for us.

Our goal as parents was to prepare our kids to survive and thrive in life – on earth and in heaven.  We knew that Jesus was the key to a good and righteous life that God would bless. We understood that their internal compasses needed to be set to true north – the absolute, unchanging and infallible truth of the Bible – so that their conduct and choices would be governed by a perfect, eternal standard, and not by their parents or others, or even by their own best judgment. However, we didn’t always know how best to do that, and we often bumbled along in our humanity and made a mess of things.

Yet we were convinced of this: to not offer our kids Jesus would have been to give them less than the best, to gamble with their salvation and possibly deny them the hope of eternal life. We loved our kids. Why would we ever deprive them of Christ during their learning and growing years, when their beliefs and values were being firmly rooted and established? They needed the teachings of Jesus to give them wisdom and discernment and the Holy Spirit to strengthen and comfort them even in childhood and certainly to navigate their teen years with all those challenges.

For these reasons, we required our kids to regularly attend church, even when they did not want to go. We knew it was in their best interest because it was in Sunday School, during the worship service, in the fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters, and serving others that they would experience the love of God and begin to know his Son, Jesus Christ. We figured there would be plenty of years ahead of them when they could decide whether worshiping God was a priority for them. But as for me and my house, we would serve the Lord.

The Word of God is our playbook for life. We don’t always execute those plays perfectly and sometimes don’t follow them at all, but we know there is no higher standard than Jesus to govern our thoughts, actions and plans. The most important thing a parent can do is teach their kids the Playbook. We have experienced the blessings that come with following the example of Christ and doing things by the Book, and we have suffered the consequences when we substituted our wisdom for God’s and stubbornly insisted on doing things our way. We want our kids to be men and women of the Word, to be better than we have been in following Christ, to see the unseen and to go long.

Jesus told us to make disciples, to baptize them and to teach them to obey him. Our first mission field is our children. My husband and I did a lot wrong as parents, but we sure tried to do this right: to share the love and teachings of Jesus with our kids in the hope that they would decide for themselves to accept him as their Lord and Savior and follow him the rest of their days. We don’t always feel like doing what is best or what we need to do, and our children are no different. As parents, it is our job to train them to be self-disciplined, to help them choose to do the next right thing and enjoy the peace that accompanies it. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11.

While we cannot and should not force our children to believe his claims and accept Jesus as Lord, we can and should introduce them to Jesus at an early age and help them get to know him, so that they can be guided by wisdom and one day make an informed decision whether to believe and follow Christ. We pray daily for our kids and their families and ask God to relentlessly and continually pursue their hearts that they may tune into His voice more, and the world’s less. To the extent there is good in our kids – and there is plenty of it – it is all because of Jesus, the great gap-filler, who took our inadequate parenting efforts and has continued to make something beautiful of all of our children, in his time.

Don’t wait to introduce your kids, grandkids, and other children to the One who gave it all so that they might live. Now is the time. Today is the day. Plant Christ in the next generation while the soil of their heart is still soft and ready to receive the truth. When times of famine and hardship come in childhood and beyond, He will sustain them and they will thrive.

 

Enough is enough

How much is enough? We spend most of our limited time on this planet working not just to meet our needs, but to acquire and enjoy more and better stuff. John D. Rockefeller said, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”

How and on whom are we spending our time and our money? Do we use those resources primarily to build his kingdom in heaven or our kingdom on earth? Is cash our king, or is Christ?

When was the last time we gave generously to the poor and needy, or to further the kingdom of God? When we receive a bonus or unexpected funds, do we ask, “Who needs this money more than me?” or do we instead wonder, “What can I buy or where can I go with this?”

As followers of Christ, we would do well to consider whether we are managing the resources God has given us in a manner that would please Him. But don’t take my word for it. Let God, the source of all wisdom, have the final word on our attitude toward and behavior regarding money:

  1. “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” 1 Timothy 6:17.
  1. “Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” Proverbs 11:28.
  1. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:7-10.
  1. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Psalm 127:2.
  1. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21.
  1. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17.
  1. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24.
  1. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:25-33.

 

 

Waiting

Recently I had to wait five days for the results of a biopsy that would tell me whether I had cancer. For most of those days I was able to stay busy, keeping myself distracted from dwelling on the possibilities. But the last day before I received the pathology report was the longest day of my life and I allowed my mind to have its way with me.

A nagging fear settled into the pit of my stomach and quickly grew out of control. What if I did have cancer? What would I do? How would I respond? Ever the planner, I tried some reactions on for size, just in case.

“That sucks.” Ridiculous understatement.

“Oh, God, no!” Too desperate and terrified.

“Can I get a second opinion?” Disbelief, denial, confusion, shock.

Like millions who have waited for this news before me, I cried out to God, asking him for the obvious. Then I prayed the prayer that never fails: “Lord, please take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” Finally, I turned to the Psalms, my bridge over troubled waters.

“Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:1-3 (KJV).

The Hebrew for “look up” used here means to look about, as one would from a watch tower. The New International Version translates it as “wait expectantly.” According to one commentator, “it refers to a tower which has a wide prospect. The idea here is properly that he would watch, narrowly and carefully (as one does who is stationed on a tower), for some…answer to his prayer.” – Barnes’ Notes on the Bible.

Another commentator indicates the Hebrew phrase for “look up” used by the psalmist “is expressive of hope, expectation, faith, and confidence, that an answer would be returned; and therefore the psalmist determines to look upwards to heaven, whither he directed his prayer, and from whence the answer must come; and to look out from his watch tower, where he was waiting for it, and to continue patiently expecting it till he had it.” – Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible.

Like the psalmist, I waited expectantly, if not patiently. I could not know how God would answer my prayer, but I knew that he had heard and would answer. Perhaps not with the pass I desperately desired, but I trusted the only Trustworthy One to walk with me, come what may, and to accomplish his purposes in and through me, even as I pleaded for relief.

After five days of waiting, I was thankful and relieved to hear that I don’t have cancer. Sadly, millions of others have had, and do, and will have cancer. Why did God take this cup from me and not them? I don’t know. Nobody but God knows. We live in a sinful, broken, disease-ridden world and bad things happen to good people and vice versa all the time. Life is not fair.

For me, the only path to peace in the midst of life’s chaos, trial and tragedy is trust. When I do not trust God, I am adrift, putting my hope in things that are temporary, fickle and fragile like bank accounts, good health, friends, family, and my own strength and abilities. When I put my trust in the Lord, he anchors me to that which is unseen, solid, and eternal – himself.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7.

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13.

Lord – please help us to lay our requests before you and to look up. Make us eager and expectant for your answer and give us peace as we wait and trust in you.

 

 

Lost in Lawlessness, Not Love

“There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”—Proverbs 14:12.

“Religion is Losing Influence in U.S,” according to the Easter Sunday headline on the Opinion page of The Dalles Chronicle. While that may be news to some, it is no revelation to Christians. Religion’s importance in America has been declining since the 1960s, accelerating its downward descent exponentially in the last dozen years. Churches once crowded with people of all ages have dwindled in size as the faithful have become fewer and grayer. Many in the younger generations now rarely darken our church doors, and the friendly, familiar echo of children laughing and little feet running up church steps and down corridors has grown muted before soon becoming a memory.

At the same time that religion is losing influence in the United States, not surprisingly, lawlessness, or sin, is increasing.

The value of human life is near rock bottom, as evidenced not only by human atrocities around the world executed by foreign governments on their own people and ISIS supporters, but in our own nation. Crime has become increasingly random and shocking. Law enforcement officers, Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, black men and white men have all been killed at random simply because they were members of a certain group that somebody hated. For many, rape and murder have even become a form of entertainment, as evidenced by the callous and arbitrary murder of an elderly man on Easter Sunday, recorded live, posted by his killer on Facebook, viewed with utter disregard for the value of this man’s life by over 22,000 people and shared by another 1,000 plus more on their own social media.

Drugs are ravaging our families and communities, with heroin related deaths surpassing gun homicides in 2015 for the first time ever according to the CDC. Long term substance abuse is linked to mental illness, with both conditions on the rise and wreaking havoc on our citizens. Our response to drug abuse has been to make it easier than ever to use and abuse drugs by handing out fresh needles, antidotes for overdoses before they are needed, and legalizing entry level drugs like recreational, aka “just for fun”, marijuana, making it as easy to purchase as a gallon of milk at the grocery store. And we wonder why our children become addicts.

Is it merely a coincidence that when faith in God is declining, lawlessness is on the rise? What is it within a man or woman that restrains him from evil and causes him to do good and to love others as himself? Is it mankind’s inherent goodness?

I think not. As for me, I am not a good person. I am selfish and want what I want, when I want it, and I want to do what I want to do, not what you want. What restrains me from living out my selfishness is my faith. If I dare to call myself a Christian – a disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ – then I must study who he is and become like him. Jesus is good. If there is anything good in me, it is solely because of him and his righteousness living in me.

Reverence for and love of God restrains sin, not the goodness of man. “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’” —Exodus 20:20.

Without a belief in and reverence for God, “good” men and women will eventually become lawless as their love grows cold. That is what our nation is seeing right now. “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” Isaiah 5:20-21. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” — Matthew 24:12.

Brother and sister, don’t go with the flow. Keep pushing back the dark with the love of Jesus. Stand firm and be counted with Christ. Go back to church. Open your Bibles, read and study the Word of God. Scripture is playing out in real time, folks. We would be wise to know the Word so we can recognize it at work in our world, to follow the example of Christ and be saved, and bring others to a saving knowledge of him through our love, not our lawlessness.

 

The Consent of the Governed – What the United Airlines Incident Says About Us (Part 2 of 2)

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” — James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 51 (1788).

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed the recent news story about United Airlines dragging a passenger off one of its planes. I acknowledged United’s poor handling of the situation and suggested alternative ways in which they might have managed it better, including bumping before boarding. But the real story here is not United’s mistakes. The true takeaway stems from the defiant passenger’s unreasonable behavior following the airline’s repeated requests that he comply with their policies and exit the airplane, and the public’s response to that conduct.

Public transportation by plane or other common carrier, like society itself, works because people agree to abide by a common code of conduct or social contract. We consent to being governed by certain rules and laws to maintain social order and protect our rights. Generally, we obey the law even when a police officer is not around to enforce it, because we understand that most laws are good for us and others. Because we want the benefits of an orderly society, we willingly forfeit our right to unlimited freedom and agree to obey those in authority subject to the rule of law. Some of those rules are written, while others are implicitly understood.

In the case of commercial air travel aboard a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, hundreds of people are crowded into a confined passenger cabin space. There is limited ability to move far or freely amidst the tightly arranged seats and narrow aisles. When passengers fly, they entrust their lives to the solid engineering and structural integrity of the plane, the quality of training, experience and good judgment of the pilot and flight crew, and the reasonable conduct of other passengers. A failure in any one of these components can be hazardous or fatal.

No man is an island to himself on a commercial airplane, nor is it a democracy. Structure, discipline, and compliance with authority are imperative at 35,000 feet. Because passengers want the privilege of traveling long distances quickly and safely, when they board an aircraft they understand and agree that they are expected to behave a certain way. Passengers must stay seated for most of the flight, comply with directions from the flight crew, and abide by certain behavioral guidelines. These rules are designed to keep the hundreds of mildly anxious people crammed into the plane as safe and comfortable as possible while hurling through the air at 500 miles per hour, six miles above the earth. If a passenger is rude, loud, or annoying it may be a long and unpleasant flight. But if a passenger refuses to obey instructions given by the pilot or flight attendants, and decides to do things his way, not their way, he poses a risk to himself and others.

A cramped 747 will become a significantly more dangerous place if passengers refuse to comply with the flying code of conduct, including obeying lawful requests by airline personnel, and instead become disruptive without considering reason or the welfare of other passengers.

While security officers should not have dragged this passenger off the United Airlines plane, in this day of terrorism and other threats tied to commercial airline travel, United’s enforcement action is understandable, if ill-advised. Still, this man should not have acted in the selfish, child-like manner that he did, causing hundreds of people unnecessary inconvenience, delay and trauma. If he had simply complied with United’s request that he leave the aircraft, which he was legally obligated to do, he could have prevented this unfortunate showdown and his own injuries.

While it is troubling that this passenger did not feel compelled to obey a reasonable request to obey those in authority over the aircraft, even more disturbing is that the public has not criticized his conduct in refusing to do so.

It is impossible for a nation to maintain the rule of law if its citizens do not respect the law. There are times when the law, a law enforcement officer or person in authority is corrupt and, in the interest of justice, appropriate resistance or civil disobedience is necessary and desirable to raise awareness, pierce the public conscience, and bring change. However, those instances are by far the rare exception and not the rule.  Getting bumped from a flight is disappointing, frustrating and inconvenient, but it hardly rises to the level of injustice or corruption justifying civil disobedience.

Society functions because people consent to be governed by reasonable rules that bring order from chaos and protect us from the unrestrained selfishness of ourselves and others. If every request by a law enforcement officer is met with an argument, ignored, or defied, outright rebellion and lawlessness will follow. When civil disobedience is no longer about achieving justice, but only about asserting one individual’s right to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without regard for the rights of others, a civilized society subject to the rule of law must stand up and call it what it is: wrong.

If an airline official cannot get passengers on a plane to willingly comply with their reasonable requests, travel will grow increasingly dangerous, regulated and limited.

If we, as a nation, continue down this path of refusing to respect and submit to those in authority for any and no reason, simply because we can get away with it or because we don’t want to do what we’ve been asked to do, then lawlessness and chaos will come. Parents, teachers, airline officials, law enforcement officers and eventually even our military will have no control over their constituents. The terrible law of the land will be every man for himself.

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” ―Judges 21:25

The Consent of the Governed – What the United Airlines Incident Says About Us (Part 1 of 2)

Dominating the national news this past week was the story about a United Airlines passenger who was dragged off a plane on Palm Sunday night in Chicago, Illinois. The flight had been overbooked and four United Airlines flight crew members needed to bump four paying passengers from the flight so that the crew could travel to Louisville, Kentucky, in time for a flight they were scheduled to work the following day from that city.

Then unknown to most airline passengers, including those on this flight, was that when they purchased a plane ticket each one entered into a contract with the airline. That contract provides passengers with the right to travel on the plane to their intended destination, provided that the airline does not need the passenger to vacate their seat for any one of a variety of reasons, including transporting flight crew members to another location.

When passengers must be bumped, the airline first asks for volunteers willing to give up their seat in exchange for a later flight and additional compensation in the form of cash or a voucher.  Preferably, this is done prior to boarding. If, after requesting volunteers, additional seats are still needed, the airline may begin to involuntarily bump passengers. Whoever is bumped is then booked on a later flight and given additional compensation for their inconvenience.

Unfortunately, in the recent United Airlines debacle, the airline did not disclose its need to bump passengers until after they had already boarded the plane. Adding to the dilemma, the airline did not have a reasonable plan for what to do in the event an involuntarily bumped passenger refused to exit the aircraft. United Airlines had a sticky situation on its hands.

To say that United did not handle the problem well would be a ridiculous understatement, as the media aptly showcased via smart phone video taken by other passengers on the same flight. When the only way you can accomplish your objective is by forcing someone else to physically do something, you’re in trouble. So, with the benefit of hindsight, what else could United have done?

Many have suggested the airline staff should have just kept upping the ante until someone accepted their offer and voluntarily left the plane. I understand there was no policy or procedure in place allowing staff to offer any amount in excess of the current maximum compensation. Even if there had been such authority, do we really want to give passengers the right to hold flights hostage in these circumstances until the airline pays them a high enough price to redeem their seat? In the future, United can and should increase the amount of its bumping compensation and the number or type of vouchers that are offered so that these are effective incentives for passengers to voluntarily be bumped. Passengers unwilling to miss their flight for $800.00 or one voucher good only for a future flight in the continental United States, may reconsider when they are offered $1,500, two vouchers, or an unrestricted voucher for a flight good anywhere United flies.

Other people proposed that the flight crew just rent a car and drive from Chicago to Louisville. Maybe – but that would have meant a five to six-hour drive at night the evening before their next flight. Instead of being rested and alert to work that flight, the crew may have been tired, potentially placing their next passengers at risk.

Better options for United to have considered under the circumstances were:

  1. Refuse to depart until all the necessary seats had been surrendered. Briefly explain to the passengers the airline’s right to bump passengers under these conditions. Advise passengers that one of the people selected to be bumped had repeatedly refused to leave the aircraft. Explain to the passengers that the plane would not be taking off until either that passenger had exited the plane or another volunteer stepped forward and relinquished their seat.
  1. Notify passengers that if either the bumped passenger or another volunteer did not leave the plane within the next few minutes, everyone on board would be required to disembark the airplane until the situation had been resolved. If any passengers refused to leave the aircraft, advise them that security will be called and they will be escorted off the plane, under restraints if necessary. Once all passengers are off the plane, refuse to allow the bumped passengers to re-board. Airline security should be near the boarding gate prepared to restrain anyone who became disruptive, hostile or violent.

The most important headline from this incident, however, is not United’s outrageous conduct in dragging a passenger from their plane after he repeatedly refused to comply with the terms of his contract with the airline and leave the plane as directed.

The real story in this series of events comes from the reluctant passenger’s defiant and unreasonable response to being notified that he had been bumped, and the public’s unwillingness to find fault with that response. Part 2 of this article will address that dangerous state of affairs.

Be Real

“Humility is not having a need to be more than you are.” – Henry Cloud

I first experienced this valuable lesson on humility early in life. We kindergartners were learning our letters and sounds. Some of my classmates were having difficulty with phonics, but not me. My papers regularly earned smiley faces, high praise and those coveted gold foil stars. It’s a miracle that I didn’t need rotator cuff surgery by the end of my inaugural school year as fast and frequently as my hand flew up whenever the teacher asked a question.

After you’ve been told over and over again how bright you are, you start to believe it. One day before I had learned to read, I decided to look for the biggest book in our classroom and check it out to take home. Four inches thick and weighing about five pounds, it was no easy task for my five-year-old arms to wrap around the hard-backed blue behemoth with the large lettering on its spine. The only thing bigger than that book was my head as I proudly hauled it onto the bus after school.

Strolling down the aisle in search of a seat, I made eye contact with Joey. He was in the fifth grade and more importantly, he knew how to read. Joey asked me what I was doing with that book. With a haughty look, I replied smugly and loud enough for the other kids to hear, “I’m going to read it.” Joey smirked and snickered deliriously, “You’re going to read the DICTIONARY??!”

It is a great gift to be reminded that you are just like everyone else on this planet – a human being. When we can surrender our need to be more than we really are, we are well on the path to living an honest and open life.

Life blooms when we recognize that we can be good, but we are not good all the time. Sometimes we are hypocrites, acting contrary to what we say we believe. We will disappoint each other. We will make mistakes and we will fail. It’s not the number of mistakes we make that counts, but the number of times we continue to make the same mistake. Failure becomes a friend when we learn from it and do the next right thing.

Our failures also help us to empathize and identify with other normal human beings like us when they fail. We develop the capacity to offer kindness, compassion, understanding and assistance to others when they stumble, because that is what we desperately want for ourselves when we fall. We become merciful grace-givers. Our relationships deepen and become richer as we begin to allow our loved ones the freedom to be real and to be known, as we, too, are honest and fully known by them.

When we begin to see our failures as part of the growth process, we find the courage and strength to learn from our mistakes, to get back up and keep moving forward instead of remaining stuck or quitting. My mistakes and failures do not mean that I am an idiot. They just mean that I still have much to learn. And the more I know, the more I know I don’t know.

Almost five decades after the laughter and teasing on the school bus has died down, I still haven’t read the dictionary. However, I am grateful for that first of many lessons on the importance of being real.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”

-Proverbs 11:2.

 

Grace is Not Fair

The best way to ruin a relationship is to play fair. How do I know this? Because that is how I lived most of my life and in the process, wreaked havoc on many of my relationships.

As a type A person who has almost always tried to be a good girl and get along with others, playing fair came easy for me. It was as natural as breathing. I will be nice to you if you are nice to me. I wanted justice and grace for myself – justice when I deserved something good and grace when I deserved something bad. But for you, I only wanted and doled out justice – both when you deserved something good and when you deserved something bad.

Grace is the opposite of justice.

Justice is playing fair. It’s about getting what you earned and what you deserve. Justice means pulling your own weight and doing your share. Justice evens the score, doing to others what they’ve done to you. Tit for tat. You love me, I love you. You hurt me, and I am entitled to hurt you back. Justice reflects the law of sowing and reaping. Justice is good, understandable and right.

Grace is unfair. It’s about getting more than you earned and better than you deserve. Grace is illogical. It repays evil with blessing. You are cruel, I am kind. You hurt me, I bless you. Grace is unusual, unnatural and must be learned from experience. It’s giving back better than you got, doing unto others what you want them to do to you. It’s sowing weeds and reaping an unexpected crop of goodness. Grace is amazing.

Justice is good, but grace is greater. Grace is love that has grown up.

Most of the love I have offered others has been conditional. I love those who love me and am friendly to those who are friendly to me. The formula works perfectly…until it doesn’t.

As soon as someone messes up, the relationship is on the rocks.

Sometimes, the messes are small. A neighbor does something inconsiderate. A friend gossips about a shared confidence or breaks a commitment. Your spouse speaks to you harshly. Other times the messes are big. Your business partner steals from the company or your spouse has an affair.

Playing fair with these people means giving them what they deserve. To the neighbor who habitually annoys you, you give a piece of your mind, a slice of self-righteousness or a hefty helping of judgment. Your gossiping friend justifiably gets your cold shoulder. You throw back a curt, sarcastic or fiery comment at the man or woman you have sworn to love and to cherish till death do you part. After all, it’s what they deserve. The punishment fits the crime.

But just because you can – and society says you are entitled to – doesn’t mean you should. The trouble with a strictly justice based system of living is that it escalates problems or at best, only restores the parties to the status quo in a relationship. Grace elevates the offender and takes the relationship to a higher place of love and maturity.

But you cannot give what you have never seen or known. To be a grace-giver, you must first have been a grace-receiver. To get grace, you must understand that you need it. For (mostly) good girls like me, it is a terrible truth and a stumbling block in our relationships and to salvation that we often fail to recognize that all our righteous acts are as filthy rags before the Lord. We are just as dirty on the inside, where it matters most, as others may be on the outside. Only when we finally understand this can we begin to receive and grasp grace and in turn, extend it.

I am an infant grace-giver. My prayer is that as I grow in the truth and knowledge of my Rabbi Jesus, that I will also grow to be like him – the most generous grace-giver of all.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:32-36.

Give back better than you are given.

Walking Wounded

 

Every person you encounter today is packing pain. The smiling waitress taking your order. The person standing silently behind you in line. The helpful gas station attendant filling your tank. The grumpy clerk at the store. The tired medical provider charting your symptoms. Your cool or cranky co-worker. Your child. Your spouse. You.

Sometimes our suffering is self-inflicted, while other times life deals us undeserved, damaging blows. Whether pain is evident in the eyes, voices or bodies of those around us, or carefully concealed and temporarily contained within the deepest recesses of their souls, each person walks through life wounded in body, mind or spirit.

We have the incredible power to offer each human being God brings our way today either healing or harm. By our words, an understanding look in our eyes, a tender touch, a smile, a kind and unexpected gesture, and even through our silence as we open our ears for just a moment and listen to their heart, we can ease the suffering of another. Or we can increase their pain and sorrow with a critical word, a look of condemnation, an inconsiderate act or even by closing ourselves off and looking the other way.

Look around you. Ask God to give you his eyes to see the needs of those who pass your way and the courage to reach out. You may not, cannot, and perhaps, should not stop their pain, but you can lessen its sting simply by caring. While He alone will one day make all broken believers whole, today, you can be His hands and feet to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

#speaklife #webringthekingdomcome #everyoneneedscompassion

Valentine’s Day

“I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth.”

Janis Ian – At Seventeen

I believed this lie which posed for truth long before age seventeen. As a teenager, I desperately craved the approval of my peers. Like most girls, I needed to belong like I needed air to breathe. I hungered for acceptance and would do whatever necessary to get it.

While not exactly an ugly duckling by teenage standards, neither would my classmates have described me as a beauty queen. I had certain body parts and features that I just hated. I had packed around an extra ten pounds since puberty.

I was poor and being raised in Mormon territory by a two pack a day cigarette-smokin’, part-time Jehovah Witness, single, hardworking, mentally ill mom on welfare. I managed to carefully guard this shameful secret until the summer of 1982.

I was sixteen then, when life as I had always known it was blown to smithereens. Out of the ashes something beautiful began to grow. God picked me up, poured his love over me, took hold of my hand and never let go.

The truth, my friend, is that real love is not only for the physically attractive, but for everyone.

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

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11.

In response to God’s great love for us, as followers of Christ, we are called to love our neighbors and our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. Matthew 22:36-39; 5:44.

This Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that no matter what you look like, who you are, where you have been or what you have done, you are loved. Life is worth living. You are not alone. You can enjoy the sweet fellowship of Jesus Christ if you will accept him as your Lord and Savior.

Love is yours for the taking and the giving. You have the incredible opportunity to bless someone else who may be lonely or hurting right now through a simple act of kindness. Look up from your circumstances and seek out someone who needs a friend with whom to share a cup of coffee or a meal. Deliver a card or a flower or the gift of your company to a neighbor, a widow or widower, a stranger or friend. God will not only make you a blessing, but you will be blessed.

Don’t wait for the valentines to come to you. This Valentine’s Day, be a valentine. Love.