Forgiveness

Trying another one of the prompts from bibleconnectionnews.com today as part of my challenge. This one promises to be difficult because it involves something that’s hard for me and, more than likely, hard for the rest of us too.

First, here’s the prompt. “Forgiveness. Is it easy or hard? That likely depends on whether you are the one doing the forgiving or receiving it. Why do you think forgiving someone can be so difficult? Who do you need to forgive? When have you received the incredible gift of forgiveness?”

I think forgiveness is hard, but I believe what it really depends on is what side of the forgiveness table you are on. Last week, I wrote about justice and grace, https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/justice-and-grace/, and how we like it when some of the definitions of grace are extended our way, but not when we need to extend them to others. I believe the same thing applies with forgiveness. It’s easy to be the gracious one when extending forgiveness (most of the time). It puts us in a “higher” position than the one doing the asking and gives us a level of “control” over the process. We can say yes. We can say no. But, we have “control”, sometimes more “control” than what God wants us to have.

The hard thing, for me, is having to ask for forgiveness. It means admitting I’ve done something wrong. It means I have to let loose of some of the “control” I supposedly have over my life. It means letting someone in past the shields I have put up and letting them see the bad person I have been. It means being true and authentic when I have no reason to be true and authentic or when I don’t want to be. It’s easier to just avoid the situation and pretend like nothing’s wrong.

But, God doesn’t want us to do that. He wants us to exhibit the same grace and forgiveness that Jesus did. He wants us to ask for it and to extend it. He wants us to be our true and authentic selves as we live in community together. He wants us to live like we actually have Him in our hearts and let go of our “control.

There is also a misconception of what happens after forgiveness. Some people believe you have to let someone back in your life after you forgive them and since that might  not be a good idea, it brings up another reason to hesitate on the forgiveness front. No, God doesn’t want us to put ourselves in situations that are dangerous to us whether it be physical or something else. Forgiveness is more for us than for the other person in these situations. Actually, I believe it’s more for us in any situation. It’s bringing the peace of Jesus back into your life and releasing the hold Satan has on your heart and mind. It takes away anger and resentment and brings back the love that Jesus wants us to have for others.

We all have people we need to forgive, me included. I need to tell them I am sorry for avoiding the conflict between us and forgive them for things that have happened in the past. This is the part that’s really hard for me especially since I have never handled conflict well. I was taught from an early age to bury bad feelings and told I was too sensitive when I had them. This has carried into adulthood, and I have had a hard time giving myself permission to have bad feelings. Conflict has always been something to be avoided at all costs.

I would like to say I’ve gotten better at this in recent years, but I can only say I’ve worked on it. It has taken every ounce of courage I’ve had to address instances of conflict in my life, and for the most part, it hasn’t gone well. I would venture to say that other people also have problems with addressing conflict and asking for forgiveness. 🙂

But, I’ll keep trying, and the reason I’ll keep trying is my answer to the final question of this prompt. “When have you received the incredible gift of forgiveness?” I received it when Jesus, my Lord and Savior died on the cross for me. I didn’t deserve it and never will deserve it, but Jesus’ death and resurrection provided a way for me to be with God eternally. As it says in John 3:16-17, “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Because God gave me this gift of forgiveness, I need to turn around and give it to others like He has asked me to. May we all be willing to forgive!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

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How Jesus Really Sees Us

I’m taking a break from the prompts today to explore this topic because, sometimes, I don’t think we, as believers, truly understand this. I know I don’t.

What do you do when you get up in the morning? Do you take a shower? Wash your hair? Ladies, do you put on make-up? Guys, do you shave? Do you make sure your clothes and hair look the best they can look before you walk out the door? If you do that, you are presenting your best face to the world. Who am I kidding? We all do that. We want the people in our world to see us in the best possible light.

It’s not in how we physically appear either. When we are around other people, we want the best parts of our character to be present so they will love us. We want to do good deeds, have good attitudes, and be seen praising God even if we don’t want to. In other words, we put our best front forward.

As all of us know though, our best front doesn’t stay good all of the time. We get mad. We’re sad about something. We’re difficult to get along with. We’re unreasonable. We’re demanding. It’s all a part of sin nature. And that doesn’t even count the deepest things we hide at the bottom of our souls. Things that don’t come out at all, ever, even on the pain of death. That’s what sin nature is.

Jesus knows everything though. What, you didn’t think He knew? 🙂 Yes, He knows everything, and He still loves you. He died on a cross for you.

Sometimes, though, I need words and imagery to come from another place. And, in this instance, how Jesus really sees me comes from the words of a song. One of my favorite songs, as a matter of fact. If you’ve ever been married or you have participated in a wedding, you’ll understand this. Everyone looks their best on their wedding day. It’s a moment of significance that, hopefully, will last for a lifetime. But, our sin nature still exists underneath all the finery. Jesus knows all the things we’ve done wrong and will do wrong. We should look like dirt to Him, but we don’t. That’s why I love the song “Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns. Even though the words fit a bride more than they do a groom, I believe all of us can take something away from this song. Jesus loves each and every one of us, and we appear perfect to Him though we are not because our sins are covered by the cross. I’m going to quote the verses of this song so you can see what I mean. May we all understand how Jesus really sees us today!

“Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns

There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds it’s breath
Waiting now to see the bride groom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
With this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that he sees
And she wears white, head to toe
But only he could make it so

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says you’re beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

She has danced in golden castles
And she has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before him
And she wears his righteousness
And she will be who he adores
And this is what he made her for

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

When the hand that bears the only scars
And heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as he takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day”

I am so glad my Lord and Savior sees me with the cover of the cross. May God bless you all today!

Justice and Grace

It’s Day 2 of my month of practicing in public, and I decided to tackle one of the more challenging prompts from bibleconnectionnews.com. Yes, I have finally gotten the name of the website where I got these prompts from correct. 🙂

First, here is the prompt. “Just as the Israelites did in Ezekiel’s day, people today sometimes say God isn’t or life isn’t fair. They ask how God could send people to hell – especially those who try to do good. The truth is that everyone has sinned, and all deserve punishment. It is only through God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrificial death that people can ask for forgiveness and be saved. How do you define justice? How do you define grace?”

Those are tough questions. Before I try to define them, let’s see how the dictionary defines them. First, justice. “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” Another definition would be “rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason.”

Now, grace. “favor or goodwill.” “mercy; clemency; pardon.” And my favorite, “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.”

There were more definitions of each, but I picked the ones that were most relevant to what I wanted to talk about. When I saw the word equitableness in the definition of justice, I thought of what justice is supposed to be–equal. No matter what crime has been committed, there should be an equal punishment for the crime. It shouldn’t matter who you are, how much money you have, or whether you know someone of influence. The punishment should be equal for everyone. But, we all know it isn’t. We’ve heard stories of people who’ve stayed in prison for years for a particular crime and stories of other people who have walked out of court on probation for the same crime. Some of you might have even been affected by unequal justice yourselves. I don’t know if there is a way to solve this problem, but we should keep trying.

I think part of the solution might lie in grace. There are words in the definitions of grace that we are all familiar with–favor, goodwill, mercy, clemency. Words that we like when they’re extended our way, but words that we have a hard time extending to others. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be consequences for a crime because God does call for consequences. I’m just saying we should be more willing to extend grace and more willing to call for equal justice where the situation merits it.

We could go on and on about solving the problems of justice and grace here, but my point is to define them. Justice and grace are imperfect in this world and will always be imperfect (though we can do our best to make it better). This is because our world is and will continue to be imperfect until Jesus comes.

So, my definitions of justice and grace come through God. All of us are sinners and deserve God’s justice. He should have destroyed us long ago because of our sins. But, He didn’t. As it says in the prompt, “it is only through God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrificial death that people can ask for forgiveness and be saved.” Those are my definitions of justice and grace. God’s justice that I deserve covered by God’s grace that I don’t deserve. Thank you, God!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

New Beginnings

Saw a challenge earlier and realized I could use it as a writing warm-up time. So, for the next thirty days, I will be completing Jeff Goins’ challenge to “practice in public” on this blog. It will be interesting to see what topics I can come up with.

For the past week, I’ve been using journaling prompts from bibleconnection.com as my topics. Today is the third prompt. I learned a great deal from the first two prompts, and I don’t expect anything less from the third one.

First, the prompt. “Beginnings can be exciting! What new chapter in your life are you about to begin? What have you recently started that you are excited about? What are you hopes for the future? Tell God about it—he wants to be involved in your life.”

The topic is new beginnings. Coincidence? I don’t think so. God has been leading me on a journey to trust Him and what He has given me as gifts. My gifts aren’t necessarily what other people think they are and not necessarily meant to be shared in the church.

So, what about that first question? What new chapter am I about to begin? The chapter of being an empty nester. My younger son is graduating from high school this spring. Though he will be staying at home for college, my role with him will change. Homeschooling will be done, and he will be venturing out to prepare for what he wants to do in life. He’s ready just like his brother was two and a half years ago when he graduated from high school. By the time this school year ends, I will have homeschooled them for 12 years. I was 40 when I began and will be 52 when I finish. That’s a lot of life. I am excited about the possibilities, but a little nervous too. I have poured myself into my kids for the last 12 years. I’ve lived in 6 different places and come back to my faith. I’ve lost family members and experienced illness and financial difficulties.

But, I know the next years will be just as amazing. I will have more time to write and maybe get something off the ground with my writing. I will have time to get in better shape. And I will have more time to either volunteer or get a job. My role with my kids will change, but it will be a good change I am looking forward to–relating with them as adults. I am most looking forward to growing in my faith in God. With God by my side, anything is possible, and I know the things I’ve mentioned will be more possible.

Answering the second question has more profound implications. I am most excited about my recent writing and where it is bringing me in my faith. The things I consider to be weaknesses are the things God wants me to focus on. Why weaknesses, I ask? Shouldn’t I be focusing on my strengths? That seems to be more logical. But, if I am transparent about my weaknesses, God has more of a chance to be seen in my life. This is shown in the first part of 2 Corinthians 12:9. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” Paul is speaking here, and I’m glad we have the second part of what he said. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” We don’t generally boast about weaknesses in the church. In fact, we are reticent to bring up any part of ourselves which may be considered badly. That’s not what God wants though. God wants us to be as authentic within our community as He does when we are talking to Him alone.

So now, I have some knowledge of the steps God wants me to take. He wants me to be authentic and transparent. He wants me to show my weaknesses without being self-conscious. And He wants me to be confident in His love. For it is only in His love that my hopes for the future can be realized. They are all intertwined in order to show God’s glory. And that is the best hope of all!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

My Mess

Time to write a post about another one of the journaling prompts. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this prompt or even if I wanted to write about it until just now so my thoughts are going to be all over the place. This is my only warning. 🙂

First, the prompt. “God is like a potter, and we are like the clay. He molds us as he wills. What process does clay have to go through before it can be turned into a masterpiece? In what areas of your life do you feel God is especially hard at work right now?”

When I was younger, I had experience with many art mediums such as crayons, markers, chalk, and clay. I never was intrigued enough or thought I was good enough to do anything with art. I preferred to paint pictures with my words. But, I remember how cool the clay felt in my hands and how neat it was to be able to shape it into anything I wanted. The best part was when I got the finished piece back from the kiln, and I had something pretty to take home.

I wonder if that’s how God feels when He is forming us. It says in Scripture that we are the work of God’s hand specifically in Isaiah 64:8. “Yet you, Lord are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand.” I used to think these verses were referring to when He was forming us in our mothers’ wombs. But, what if it means the ways He has formed us over our lives? The experiences–both good and bad. The people He has brought into our lives. Does Jesus get excited when we finally get something He is trying to teach us, and He is able to form another piece of our clay? Does God cry when we experience deep joy in Him despite our sorrow? Is there delight in the way He has formed us? Does He tells the angels ‘Look at that one. He’s going to be perfect when I bring him home.’?

None of us know, and we won’t know until we get to heaven. But, I can’t help but think that He speaks sweet words of love over us every time He forms the clay differently. Because sometimes it hurts to go in a different direction. I understand this now because I remember what I used to do with the clay. I would pull it and stretch it to make it like the shape I wanted. I didn’t think of my pulling and stretching the clay as hurting it because the clay wasn’t a person. It was just something I used in art class.

We are people though, and sometimes life and our mess hurts. It makes us think we can’t be used by God. That’s not true although I am still learning that for myself. The imagery of the kiln helps me to process this. God is preparing me to be perfect (covered by Jesus and in His eyes) when He brings me home. And boy, that will be a wonderful day, when I’m with my Lord and Savior.

I’ve spoken of how clay is prepared and how I think God delights in the preparation of how He wants to bring us home. What I haven’t spoken of is the second part of the prompt. In what areas of my life do I think God is especially hard at work?

I think God is doing His best to help me realize I’m loved by other people. (besides my family) Because, you see, I fall short in that area. I don’t think I deserve to be loved because of my mess. I know God loves me. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for me. But, I have a hard time thinking anyone else does.

We come together on Sundays and Wednesdays, and we hide our true selves from each other. We isolate ourselves which makes it much easier for Satan to work. At least, I do anyway. Why don’t we have the courage to say “I love you.” to the people around us? Is it because of the connotations of the word? Is it because of the mess we have deep down inside that we don’t want to admit to anyone? Is it because of the energy we use trying to maintain our shields?

I’ve had a lot of mess in my life during the last couple of weeks. Mess I didn’t think deemed me worthy of being able to talk to anyone else. I begged God to give me courage, but Satan had my mouth locked up tight. I was finally able to reach past the mess, hurt, and pain to talk to someone the other night, and I’m so glad I did. Through that conversation and others, I have realized we are going to love each other imperfectly until Jesus comes. We are going to let each other down, and we’re going to get mad and tired and grumpy and whatever other bad emotions you can think of. But, use the words please. Use the words “I love you.” in conversations with your families and friends. Let them know that despite their mess you love them and want what’s best for them. Who knows? You might give someone the courage to walk back to Jesus.

God’s blessings on you all today!

God’s Gifts

The other day I was sent an email from bibleconnectionnews.com with seven journaling prompts. When I looked at it, I decided the prompts would be good blog topics so I’m making my first attempt at one.

First, here’s the prompt. “God has chosen and gifted you with a wonderful set of skills, knowledge, and abilities unique to you–and he wants you to use those gifts to bring him praise. What talents and skills do you possess? What knowledge would you like to grow in? How are you planning to use this to honor God?”

I think God gives us gifts to use at the different stages of our lives. When I was in my 20’s, I could think of nothing better to do for God than work with kids. My bachelors and masters degrees were in psychology and teaching, and teaching kids seemed to be a natural fit. I would work with them on Sunday mornings, Sunday and Wednesday nights, and during Vacation Bible School. The energy and drive I had for God would sustain me, and I formed many precious relationships during those years.

This time went through the birth and preschool ages of my sons. Then, we left the church for several years. But, God had a plan for me though I wasn’t sharing my gifts within a church’s walls. I was teaching my own kids, and we were growing as a family. I was pouring myself and my gifts into my sons. I also began anew something I had started as a child–my writing. I would pour out my thoughts in notebooks, journals, and on the computer screen. The words I put together blossomed forth in my mind and took me through the good times as well as the bad. When times were bad, I would escape into my stories where I felt happy and fulfilled. God used this time to develop my talent so He could use it for His glory, and I am grateful.

When we came back to the church, I was in my 40’s. I could tell my energy had slowed down, and it took me awhile to find my feet at church. I had to learn to trust again and find out where I fit. I’ve done different things. I’ve worked in Vacation Bible School. I’ve greeted and cooked meals. I’ve formed relationships. I’ve even tried writing. That one didn’t work too well. 😦

In fact, this year has been a year of things that haven’t worked too well. From greeting to working with kids, I’ve been told that things I’ve done at church haven’t been done the way people have wanted them done, or I’ve had experiences at church that I never want to repeat again. (Ask me about the day when I watched  fifteen children from the ages of 5 to 12 by myself for three hours.)  It’s hard to come home crying from doing something in the church for God that used to give me such joy. I didn’t think things had changed that much in the way of teaching kids, but apparently they have so I knew at that point that my gift of teaching kids was gone. Gone like the energy and drive of my 20’s.

So, I’ve had to figure out that maybe I don’t have gifts to share in the church like my husband does. Yes, the ones he gets phone calls and emails about all of the time. I looked back at this blog I started a couple of years ago and thought that maybe my gifts aren’t meant to be shared inside the church. I write in this blog for God’s glory, and there is not a person who can tell me I can’t because I’m a woman or for any other reason. I can talk about my relationship with God and tell truths about what He’s doing in my life. I can also talk about what I’m learning through my studies and my prayer time. In short, share my writing for His glory.

In answer to the last two questions, I want to grow in my knowledge of writing. I want to write consistently with God-honoring words. I want to share my writing with others so they can know God’s love. And I want to do my best to honor God in this next phase of my life as I did when I was younger. Share the gifts He has given me for this time and jump into the unknown trusting God will stay right beside me.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

A Different Kind of Brokenness

I would hope by this time that all of us who are professing believers would know that we are broken; covered by God’s grace and what Jesus did for us on the cross. There is not one of us who hasn’t fallen short. In fact, the only being that has lived a perfect life on this earth is Jesus Christ who lived, died on the cross, and was resurrected so He could save us from judgment for our sins. I know this and am thankful to God every single day for the grace He has exhibited towards me.

But, for anyone who has read this blog or anything I have written, for that matter, you know I have a penchant to wonder. My wonderings are what brought me to today’s post.

We all know what is broken inside of us. We know our weaknesses, and the sins we are most likely to commit. We know the best ways to push Jesus out and to pretend that what we are about to do is okay with Him. We know the best ways to hide from Him. All of this is how I know I’m broken.

I wonder though. I wonder why people think it’s okay to be consistently late to work. I wonder why people speed on the highway. I wonder why people throw trash out of their cars. I wonder why people cheat on their taxes. I wonder why people try to take advantage of other people. I wonder why people seem to be so oblivious sometimes. It can make me crazy if I let it.

Now, I’m not trying to set myself up to judge other people. Far from it. I know judging other people is wrong, and God says not to do it so I won’t. But, I still wonder why people do things that are so obviously wrong to me. Why do people take drugs? Why do people steal? Why do people take advantage of others? Why do people hurt other people?

The very simple answer to this would be because of sin or someone’s sin nature. But, I want to go beyond that as suggested by today’s title. I know I’m broken, but there are other kinds of brokenness so foreign to me that I have a hard time seeing into them. Let me explain. During the times my husband has been out of work over the last couple of years, we didn’t have a lot of money coming in. In fact, it was by God’s grace that we survived each time of unemployment. During that time though, the idea of stealing money never entered our minds. Why not, you ask? Well, because stealing is wrong. We didn’t want to do something that was wrong although we could have used the money.

There are others though who wouldn’t have blinked an eye. They would have stolen money because they needed it, and they wouldn’t have cared who it hurt. Those thoughts are foreign to me. I have a hard time understanding them. But, I wanted to understand, and God gave me the words. These people have a different kind of brokenness–from their life experiences and life choices. If these are experiences and choices I have never faced, why would I understand them? The answer is a no-brainer. I wouldn’t.

God still calls us to love them though as it says in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

And before we get caught up in what neighbor means, Leviticus 19:34 says it plainly. “The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

So, we are called to love everyone despite how foreign their brokenness is to you and to me. We are called to love strippers like my friend in Oregon does. We are called to love the person who gives us difficulties at work. We are called to love the person who might try to take advantage of us. We are called to love the person whose mindset and brokenness might be completely different from ours. We are called to love period! I saw a quote in my email earlier that shows what this love could do if the church truly expressed it. It is not a specifically Christian quote, but I think it demonstrates how Jesus wants His church to love. From Barbara DeAngelis: “Love is a force more formidable than any other. It is invisible–it cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment, and offer you more joy than any material possession could.” May we love like Jesus would have us love!

God’s blessings on you all today!