Meanness in the World

When I was in 1st grade a 3rd grade boy ran around the corner of the school building and punched me in the stomach as hard as he could. That was my introduction to meanness in the world. I had no idea who the boy was, had never seen him before and couldn’t have picked him out of a line-up if there had been one. I knew he was in 3rd grade because the girl I was with told me so. At that age I tended to believe what people told me. I walked, doubled over, to the school building and spent the rest of recess inside. I never told my parents and probably not my teacher. I can’t remember.

When I was in 3rd grade a fellow classmate grabbed me by my wrists. He spun me around as fast as he could and let me go. I went flying across the playground, my pride wounded more than my body. He also called me “fatty” on a regular basis. I’m not sure why. I was the smallest and skinniest kid in my class.

In 6th grade I put a change of clothes in my gym locker. It was a pair of bright green jeans and an orange sweatshirt I had gotten for my birthday. At the end of class they were gone. Someone had stolen them. A few days later a tough girl in my class was wearing them. When I mentioned to her that she was wearing my clothes she denied it and looked like she was going to punch me. I let it go. I avoided her as much as I could.

In 9th grade we spent a few weeks going to the bowling alley for gym class. There was a girl who regularly asked me for bowling money. She promised to pay me back. She never did. She was intimidating and popular. I kept my mouth shut and tried not to sit near her.

In 11th grade I had a history teacher who made fun of me in class. He knew I was a Christian and took it upon himself to mock me for that every chance he got. I quit studying and ended up with a D in his class for the year. He made sure to tell me he didn’t think I was college material. I should have told someone, instead I kept my head down and mouth shut. I proved him wrong by going to college two years later and getting As and Bs.

In 12th grade I had a gym teacher who gave me an “Unsatisfactory” grade on my report card. I was horrified. When one of my friends found me crying she insisted on going with me to see the teacher. She marched boldly into her office and demanded to know why I had been given a failing grade.  Her answer? “Karen laughs too much in class.” I didn’t know how to respond. I did laugh in class because I enjoyed it. I wasn’t being disrespectful. I thought I was being cheerful. My friend argued with her for a few minutes, but the teacher’s mind was made up. We both left feeling the world was unjust.

In college I had a speech teacher who gave me an A on every speech I gave in his class. Our last speech was to be a persuasive speech. He spent two class periods emphasizing it needed to be something we were passionate about. After thinking long and hard I settled on persuading my classmates of the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. I spent hours preparing. Writing and rewriting. I was sticking to the historical facts. My turn came to speak. When I finished my teacher stood up quickly and laid into me in front of the whole class.

“I had no business speaking on such a controversial subject”, he said. “It was not appropriate.”

I had evidently hit a nerve. Seems he only allowed persuasive speech that agreed with his point of view. He gave me a C. I kept my head down and my mouth shut.

It would be unfair of me to think that all third grade boys are bullies. It would be unfortunate of me to believe that every junior high girl is a thief. It would be unreasonable of me to assume anyone who teaches history, gym or speech is out to get me.

The truth is there are bullies in the world and sometimes that bully is me. Each of us must do better. If we love God we will love those made in His image.

Even those who punch us in the stomach.

For Further Study:

II Chronicles 7:14 and if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray,, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Psalm 86:5  For Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive. And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon Thee.

I John 4:19-21 We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:21-35; Galatians 3:28

 

 

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

“Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.”  John 14:1

Those are familiar words to all of us. Jesus was talking to his disciples. In a few short hours he would be arrested.

The current situation was alarming. Most of them had no idea how alarming it was.  They must have sensed Jesus was on edge, but even though he had tried to tell them of the trouble that was coming they couldn’t comprehend it.

He tried shifting their gaze from earthly trouble to heavenly peace. (John 14:2-3) It is a good place to rest our eyes. These days of sickness, unrest and trouble have been taking it’s toll on our children, our families, our countries, and our world. I can’t remember another time like this in my life. There have been wars, and local trouble, but this trouble is world wide.

What kind of power could make this such a world wide event? I can think of only one. Satan, himself. He is determined to destroy men and turn them against each other and more importantly against God.

We are reminded in Ephesians 6:12

“for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” 

My granddaughter, Arianna asked me the other day why God didn’t come and make the new heaven and the new earth now. (II Peter 3:13) Why was He waiting?

I paused, because I long for that too.  My answer was simple.

God is very patient. He is waiting for those that might yet decide to come to Him.

II Peter 3:8-9 “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 

Are you one of those He is waiting for? Have you turned to Him in repentance and accepted His forgiveness?

We each have a great need. Our sin has separated us from a holy God. Because He loves us He has made a way for us to come back to Him. Jesus took our punishment on the cross. Paid for our sin. He rose three days later and conquered death.  He asks us to repent and believe.

Repentance involves a change of direction.  Turning away from selfish and worldly pursuits and a turning to God.

There is trouble now.

I don’t know if it will be temporary or if this is the beginning of the end.

Wouldn’t now be a good time to make things right with God?

Ezekiel 18:32 puts it simply. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord, so repent and live.”

 

 For further study:

I Peter 5:8

“Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:28b

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” II Corinthians 6:2

Repentance and Forgiveness

America is hurting.

We all have family and friends in many of the cities that are in crisis.

I was talking to my brother-in-law who lives in the Minneapolis area. He wisely said that our country needs two things.

Repentance and Forgiveness

We all have a part to play in both.

We have sinned against each other, but more importantly, against a Holy God. We exclude Him from our lives and then are angry with Him when there is trouble.

Some of our politicians tell us God has no place. Seems to me we are reaping the result of that choice.

When men choose to turn their backs on God, He tends to leave them to their own devices. We are seeing that played out in our cities across the nation. It breaks my heart.

We would rather point fingers than deal with our own guilt.

We want to pin our neighbor to the wall, but are unwilling to admit to our own sick heart.

We want others to forgive us, but we are unwilling to forgive them. We don’t bother asking God for forgiveness, because we think He is irrelevant.

He is expected to act on our behalf, but we refuse to turn our face to Him in humility and repentance. Like a two year old demanding his way. (I have two grandsons that are two…I know of what I speak.)

Jeremiah 5:3b sums it up well.  “…But they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”

Acts 3:19 pleads with us.  “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” 

The other half of the problem is forgiveness. If we have truly repented and turned our face to God then we need to forgive. This is not an easy task.

In Matthew 18:21-22 Peter asks Jesus… “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

I think Peter was proud of how often he had forgiven the unnamed offender. Jesus response puts him in his place.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'”

That would be 420 times! Unheard of!!

That doesn’t mean we are free to take revenge when the number reaches 421. (Yes, I am guilty of counting up in my head the number of offenses.) The spirit here is to forgive like God forgives. There are warnings about not offering the same forgiveness we have been given.

“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 11:25

To forgive is impossible. We don’t have the ability to forgive without God, but as we repent and turn our hearts to Him, the impossible becomes possible.

And so I pray that our country would repent and forgive. For it is the only way we will find healing.

For further study: Matthew 18:23-35; Psalm 32:5; Romans 10:9-11

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Things

I seem to accumulate broken things. Things I have purchased for next to nothing because they were broken. There is the ceramic tile of poppies that I bought while on vacation. I loved it from across the room and was delighted to find a price tag of $5.00 on it. It had two hairline cracks running through it, but they don’t show and I’m the only one who knows, (until now).

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There is the ancient rocker I picked up for $2 at an auction. The seat was shredded and it was missing one of the slats from the curved back, but I thought I could make it presentable again. I think the missing slat looks like it was part of the design and I have recovered the seat. It is one of my favorite chairs.

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There is another rocker with a missing seat that waits patiently in the basement for me to make it functional again. I mended the broken cross piece and gave it a fresh coat of paint.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know about my grandmother’s chair that I rescued from certain destruction. You can read about it here.

There are the wooden chairs with missing seats that I painted and have used year after year to put summer flowers in.IMG_0864_edited-1

 

My father’s violin had some cracks that needed repairing. When I took it to John Hawkins, a man skilled in such things, I also bought a violin for my son that John had saved from being thrown in the trash. A junior high boy had stepped on it in his haste to get somewhere quickly. It was basically in splinters, but he was determined to bring it back from the dead. My son played it until he outgrew it. Now it is waiting for his daughter to use once her fingers are big enough.

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We live in a society that throws things away. We want new and perfect. Fewer and fewer people repair things anymore.

Unfortunately our insisting on perfection spreads to not just things, but circumstances and people.

We want the perfect job, perfect church, perfect house, perfect parents, perfect husband, perfect children, and perfect friends. It they aren’t perfect we look for a different one. What we fail to see in our search for perfection is the beauty that lies in the broken things. They are still useful, they have lived through hard circumstances, and the scars they have acquired make them more beautiful, not less.

Living through imperfect circumstances makes us better people. Living with difficult people makes us kinder. Living with things that need attention and care make us more thankful for what we have. Going to a church with other sinners reminds us of our own lack and makes us grateful that they don’t ask us to leave, since we are far from perfect, ourselves.

God uses these imperfect things in our lives to help knock off the things in our own lives that need sanding down. (Sandblasting might be a better term.) Thankfully he doesn’t just give us a coat of paint or some glue, He works on us from the inside out. He works on our very heart.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

Did you catch that? “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We are all a work in progress. We don’t always like the “construction” that is going on, but it has a good purpose in our lives.

Remember that the next time you want to give up on someone who is difficult to be around. Give them the grace we have been given. Learn from them. Love them like our Father loves us. Treat them like the treasure they are.

“And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” I John 4:32-5:1

 

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. We all want it, but have a hard time giving it to others.

I’ve been working several months on a book on forgiveness. It simply refuses to be written. I’ve started again and again. So today I decided to include you in the struggle. I’m going to put bits and pieces up here until I finish the job. Knowing you are looking over my shoulder might give me the kick in the pants I need to persevere.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

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We need to start at the beginning.

It nearly broke His heart. This man and woman God had created decided to believe Satan instead of God. They did the one thing God commanded them not to do, ate of the fruit of the only tree off limits.  Satan made Eve doubt God’s goodness. Made her think God was selfish. That He was keeping something good away from them. Satan deceived her into thinking he had her bests interests at heart. It was all a lie.

Eve gave some of the fruit to her husband and the rest is history. He chose her over God. The thought of losing her was too overwhelming. And then they hid. What else could they do? The shame and guilt were destroying them.

God sought them out. Gave them a chance to explain. Their explanation consisted of blaming each other, Satan, even God. Yes, Adam said…”this woman whom you gave to be with me…” (Genesis 3:12) Do you hear the not so subtle tone in his voice?

And so the perfect world was ruined. They were expelled from the garden, never to return. But God didn’t leave them without hope. He promised a Savior who would one day bring redemption, forgiveness. Things would be restored.

Satan thought he had won…but God’s plans are always bigger. Forgiveness would be a  reoccurring theme from now on. Satan, who was beyond forgiveness, would continue to cause all the trouble he could. The F word (forgiveness) would make him scream with anger. It must not happen. The redemption must not be complete. And so the battle continued.

Genesis 2:7 – 3:24

 

 

You’re Going the Wrong Way!

This week I found myself going the wrong way on a one-way street. I realized my mistake almost immediately, but was committed to the path I was on. There was no way to turn around. I waited at the red light hoping it would turn quickly to green and I could navigate in the right direction before too many people noticed what I had done. Needless to say I got angry gestures, yelling and honked horns from three different cars who thought I must be the stupidest person alive. As I tried to remain calm and not make eye contact, I wanted to tell them…

“I know I am going the wrong way! It was a mistake! I’m trying to readjust my path!”

Even if I could have talked to them I don’t think it would have mattered. I had inconvenienced them and their plans. I was in their way. I was doing what they would NEVER do. I was going the wrong way on a one-way street.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. How often have I been critical of someone who has gotten on the wrong path? Do I draw attention to their error by blasting my spiritual horn at them? Do I take into account their circumstances before I give them a self-righteous talking to? Do I give them anything but the grace they might need? Just like I needed grace to get out of the one-way street. Often people who have gotten off track need the grace of those around them to readjust their path.

How much better to not draw attention to their sin, but rather pray privately for them. Looking for an opportunity to come along side. Not looking for an opportunity to spread gossip, but looking for an opportunity to tell them you understand, and that we all need grace from time to time, if not daily.

So the horn blowing and yelling I got this week was not in vain. Hopefully it made me a more gracious forgiver of those around me. Realizing that I need as much grace as they do. That time and again God has shown me more grace than I deserve.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you,” Ephesians 4:31-32

For further study: Look up the words – bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.  Look up the words – kind, tender-hearted, forgiving. Which group of words most describes who I am? 

(This article was originally posted at Biblical Counseling for Women.)

The God Who Forgives

Here it is the start of another year. There is hope for a fresh start, a new beginning. To do better at life than I did last year. But there are old doubts. Can I really begin again?  Can God possibly love and forgive me after what I’ve done?

The simple truth is…”If God doesn’t speak to me in my darkest sin, He doesn’t speak to me at all.” Either he is a God who loves even the most vile sinner and longs for them to turn to him or he doesn’t care for any sinner and will condemn us all to hell.

His love is way beyond anything we can imagine and so we imagine his love is like ours. “Fragile, weak and conditional.”

We love those who are kind to us. God loves those who hate him.

We love those who are worthy of our love. None of us are worthy of God’s love.

We love those who we have the energy to love. God loves with a passion that takes our breath away. It is an unending wellspring of love for the people he has created for one purpose only…to love and serve Him.

And yet we put limits on the limitless God.  We say, “I have gone too far. He can’t possibly forgive this offense. I have sinned too often. He will not forgive me yet again.”

But we forget that he is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 righteous persons to seek and save the lost one. (Luke 15:4-7)

We forget that he loved people like David who were guilty of sexual immorality, betrayal and murder.

We forget he loved the extremely wicked city of Ninevah enough to send a reluctant prophet to preach them the gospel. Jonah tried to get out of the assignment, but God insisted, and the entire city from least to greatest had the nerve to repent. (Jonah 3:1-10)

Such a heart of forgiveness this God has. So at the beginning of this year I bring my past failures to him. I seek His power in changing who I am. I determine to set my eyes on my only hope. The grace and forgiveness of a God who loves me in spite of who I am.