Category Archives: Christian life

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!

Advertisements

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!

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!

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!

 

Being a Caregiver

I debated about this title when I started this post, and I might change it before finishing, but right now, the title will stay. What image comes to mind when you read the words? For most of us, these words entail someone who is taking care of someone who is no longer able to work. Someone who has one of a myriad of diseases which renders them incapable of living a life we would consider “normal”. Diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia…the list goes on, but I think you get the point.

But, there’s another definition of caregiver. I’ve spoken of this before. It’s taking care of someone who has a chronic condition, but is still able to work. There are days when things are okay, and life is rocking along like it does for the people who have no concerns in this area. And then there are days when things are not okay. Days when a family member is not able to do something because he has given all he has to give. Days when he has to save his energy for what is absolutely necessary and nothing else. And those are the days that hurt–when I appear in public by myself and pretend like everything is okay when it’s not, or when I break down, and people are uncomfortable because I have broken down. I can’t win either way so sometimes, I don’t want to try. I stay at home licking my wounds until I get the courage to try again.

I know it’s confusing to people because of the days that are okay. Days when the family member can give. Days when the family member accepts requests that maybe are unwise, but he feels okay at that moment so he wants to do it. He wants to give instead of having to receive so I bite my tongue, and we walk along until the next crisis.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m okay. The concerns, the worries always lurk beneath the surface. I can’t prevent it. I don’t think anyone could. I must do a pretty good job of pretending though. The other night someone said I do a good job of being a caregiver. The look of disbelief must have shown on my face because she said it was a compliment. I mumbled my way through an answer thinking if she only knew…because there are many days I don’t manage well. Days I have to marshal my own energy reserves to meet the obligations of the next day. Days when I’m just tired and discouraged because something else has gone wrong.

When that happens, I do my best to go back to the well. The well of my Lord and Savior’s living water. The water that never gives out. His water gives me the courage to keep going, the courage to keep giving even when I don’t want to, and the courage to find joy in the little moments. He even gives me the courage to pretend nothing is wrong with me so I can give encouragement to someone else. God is good for that. Jesus, too. There are days when I hang onto God with all my might as I walk through the storms of life.

Depending on God doesn’t mean I don’t need encouragement from someone with a voice and arms. The church, in case you’re wondering. We were created to be the hands and feet of Jesus and the voices and arms too. There are people who have the gift of encouragement, and there are people who well, you can tell they’d rather be somewhere else when you’re talking with them. We all fail in this area, including me. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though because even if we do encourage imperfectly, it is the start of what Jesus wants us to do as believers while we are still in this world. He doesn’t want us to type a Facebook status in support of something. He wants us to Be His hands; Be His feet; Be His voice; and Be His arms. In other words, Be Jesus to a hurting world!

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

Inspirational Quotes and What They Mean to Me

Facebook memories can be a funny thing. They can also be one of the things to inspire a blog post as they have this morning. I was looking over my memories earlier and saw that on this date, four years ago, I published a post about writing quotes, https://writewhatyouknowdotorg.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/writing-quote-thursday/. I looked over the post and smiled. It was a fond memory of where I was as a writer four years ago and how far I’ve come since then.

Learning never stops though, and between this Facebook memory and the challenge issued by the writing blog, Positive Writer, http://positivewriter.com/7-inspirational-quotes-that-could-change-your-life/, I thought I would do another quote post today and talk about different quotes and what they mean to me.

I’ve been working on myself this year and how my faith in God brings me closer to the person He wants me to be. It’s a struggle. All of us come to Him with baggage. Heck, all of us have baggage, period. One of my struggles is believing in myself so the quotes I have chosen today reflect this struggle and how far I’ve come. They were all encouraging to me in different ways. Here is the first one.

“We are all unique, and have our own special place in the puzzle of the universe.” – Rod Williams

This reminded me of Psalm 139 which has become my Scripture reading of choice when my confidence lags and my insecurity reigns.

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” – Booker T. Washington

When I think about this quote along with what I’ve had to overcome with my faith, I don’t feel as insignificant to God as I felt on Sunday when my church was doing a ground breaking ceremony. People tell me that I mean a lot to my church, but sometimes I just don’t see it. I know I mean everything to God though, and that is what counts the most.

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human experiment.” – E. E. Cummings

I feel like this is what I’ve done with my blogs over the past four years. I’ve published words I wouldn’t ever say out loud, except maybe in my pastor’s office. 🙂 I’m not successful like the world defines success, but I know God has a purpose in the words I share, and that is the success that means the most.

“Always be yourself, and have faith in yourself.” – Bruce Lee

This is so plain it shouldn’t have to be spelled out, but I’ve had to work on it anyway. I’m the person God made me to be, and He doesn’t want me to change though I have tried.

“You are braver than you believe, smarter than you seem, and stronger than you think.” – Winnie the Pooh

This is my favorite of these quotes. It teaches me to reach beyond my thoughts and feelings about myself and live the way God wants me to. God gave us thoughts and feelings, yes, and we are to express them honestly. But, He also wants us to have our value rooted in Him and no one else.

And finally, the last quote.

“We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.” – Tobias Wolff

For awhile, I forgot how to persist. I’ve been so busy trying to make myself into the person I thought God wanted me to be that I lost track of who I actually was. No more though. My words are who I am and writing them down is my best way of honoring my God-given gifts and being true to myself and the person God is growing me to be.

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

The Distance Between Hope and Redemption

Cross posted from my Write What You Know blog

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. So long, in fact, that I thought people had forgotten about it. But people are still finding this blog and following it which has been pretty amazing in and of itself. This has brought me to a decision. I’m going to start cross-posting the posts I write for my Thriving in Grace blog, https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/following-jesus/, in this space to attempt to revive this blog. And come up with some original material for you all to enjoy too.

I’ve never made a secret in this blog of being a Christian, and that is where today’s topic comes from. Hope and redemption–two words that are used often in Christian circles. I never considered though that there might be a distance between them until the other day.

First, to gain some clarity, let’s define each of these words. Hope is to cherish a desire with anticipation or to have trust and reliance while redemption is the act or process or an instance of redeeming. Those of you who are Christians might have also heard of redemption being spoken of as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.

So, hope is a desire and redemption is action. Both are spoken of in Scripture. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope  for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Romans 3:24 says, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption  that came by Christ Jesus.” (the action Jesus took by dying on the cross for us)

Both of these are necessary for the Christian faith. If there is hope without redemption, no change is ever made, and we won’t experience God’s love in this world. If there is redemption without hope, we are just doing good deeds without knowing the why behind them. Therefore, it is possible for a distance to develop between these words like I spoke of earlier.

I’ve experienced this distance myself in recent weeks, and I wasn’t sure why. A distance between me and my Lord and Savior. Human beings do a good job of hiding their inner selves from the people around them. We can even hide the deepest part of our souls from ourselves. Of course, they’re not hidden from God, but he can’t start to help us or start the healing process until we are willing to let them bubble up to the surface. That takes us being willing to ask ourselves the hard questions or having trusted people in our lives who are willing to ask us the hard questions. I had one of those moments last week, and once he asked the question, and I answered, I felt the layers of distance between hope and redemption dissolving through the tears. It was not something I had considered, but it was something which was totally correct. It was rejection and insecurity from my past I had not dealt with.

Oh, I thought I had, and maybe to a certain extent, I had. But, I was under a mistaken impression which God corrected in those moments in that office and in the moments for the rest of that day. What was that impression, you ask? I thought I could deal with and then put rejection and insecurity in the back of my heart, and it would stay there, never to come out again. It took me awhile, but with God’s help and my friend’s help, I finally figured out life doesn’t work that way.

That was what brought me back to the distance between hope and redemption. I can’t work on my issues until I’m willing to take action and bring closure to the distance. God wants me to take my fear of rejection and my insecurity to him each and every day when I wake up. This will not be something I will ever “get over”. I will leave these fears at His feet and pick up the truth of who He is and who I am in His Kingdom as I live this crazy messed-up life of mine. The distance between hope and redemption disappears as I know without a doubt I am God’s daughter, and nothing will ever change that!

 

God’s blessings on you all today!