Not My Bitterness To Hold

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So many times in life, I looked at someone worshipping and it made me a bit angry. They have hurt me, how are they acting like this- swaying in the tune and being ok? How are they ok with how they are treating others? It seems so fake to me.

Before I know it, the song is over and I have spent the whole song… of worship, at church… concerning myself with whether or not THEY were authentic in their worship.

Maybe I’m alone in this specific act, but I think we all can say that we have taken time out of our day to decide whether someone was bad, guilty, fake, or at fault in some way.

I think that it is a fine and good thing to identify bad treatment and to distance ourselves. I’m not talking about that… I’m talking about the times when we view a PERSON (not treatment) and think it is our responsibility to decide who they are and what they deserve.

Really, I think it’s that we sometimes hold the burden of bitterness.

Even if we have forgiven people for their treatment of us, we can still see them in life, and because of the way they hurt people or forget God, we think: do they really deserve this good? Are they deserving? 

These thoughts come from a justice-minded place. Being justice-minded is normally a beautiful thing where we can stand up for people against injustices of the world. But in this case of deciding that a person deserves bad, being justice minded is actually taking on God’s role. God never gave us the burden or responsibility of deciding if a person should receive bad or good based on their deeds.

This burden of bitterness is holding us back from pure love.

Because Jesus takes on all of our burdens, I believe he wants to free us from this bitterness. I believe He wants to be the one to worry about whether or not other people are held accountable for their actions.

WE have been making our lives a whole lot more miserable by taking on a job that isn’t ours. Simply, what we are put in charge of is praying for people. Besides that, when we have thoughts of bitterness like, ‘they don’t deserve that award because they didn’t even do anything!’ we can tell ourselves, “This burden of bitterness is not mine to carry.”

Because it IS a burden. It is not helping you. Yes- you may feel like you have a better idea of who you can trust… but you knew that before the bitterness. This bitterness is just a way for them to feel punishment. As tempting as it is to be the one who gives punishment, that is not our job.

Free yourselves from this burden. When you have bitterness, tell God, “actually the burden of deciding stuff like this is yours, not mine.” God has so many things he wants to bless you with, and your mind is being taken up with things that are hurting you. And when we are with those people that we have been hurt by, allow yourself to take space if you need it, yet not hold bitterness. Those two things are different, and your mind is powerful enough to just remind you to take space, without simultaneously convincing you that they are awful.

Thank you God that you took this burden. That our minds can be free from the burden of deciding what someone is deserving of. We trust you with that and we ask that you teach us to pray for those people. We love you, God.

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Cling

Cling to your child. Cling to your momma and daddy. Cling to your big brother or sister. Cling to your husband or wife. Cling with all your love. Give it everything you’ve got. But what do I say to an Orphan? Cling to who? Cling to what? What do I say to a single person with no best friends or close-knit family? Cling to yourself? Cling to your work?

The list goes on. We are surrounded by people who have no one to cling to (or at least that’s what they think). Seeing Valentine’s Day is upon us I refuse to write just for Eros lovers. Everyone reading this has at one time or another had the strongest desire to just have someone to love whether it be a close mom-daughter relationship, a rock solid brother in Christ or a “come over anytime” mission minded grandparent. We long to love in a way that I believe is best described by the word cling.

For clarity throughout this article let me tell you what definition of this word I’m using. Unlike the word “clingy” which makes people think of unhealthy obsessive type relationships, I am choosing the word “cling” in the way it was meant to be hard working, attentive, and unconditional when it was used in describing a lifelong commitment: marriage. But what I know from my own life experience as well as from talking to others is that the desire to cling is rooted in the needs of childhood stages up through adolescents; it is a powerful and Godly desire that lives in all of us and it lives in many circumstances, not just marriage.

We are all not so different. I need Agape love and so do you. Phileo (brotherly) and Storge (parental) love, too. But when instead we hold ourselves back from opening up in depth and set limits because of fear of regrets, we set ourselves up to never get to a place where we show on the outside who we are on the inside. Where we can pour into each other. It is here we lose “hand in hand”, we lose “my house is your house”, we lose food for our souls from many dinners we never invited anyone to sit at.

From my experiences of having lived in Zimbabwe I have experienced a way of life right here in 2017 that I imagine would make most of us think of the 1950s (minus the electricity). THIS is a world where people cling with all their hearts. For example, here is an everyday conversation between two village neighbors passing each other on the dirt road:

Bennet: Hello my friend, how are you?

Belo: I’m OK brother but I just came from Shumi’s place and she has no food today. I was only able to give her half my bread loaf because me and my mom have not yet eaten either.

Bennet: OK, I don’t have any food but let me walk to my relatives place some miles away to ask them for some mangos from their tree. They also have very little food but I know they will let me pick a few mangos!

Belo: OK! that’s great! I will talk to a few others as well. She will not remain with nothing by the end of the day.

Do you see this network of care? It is a type of Godly clinging. All those involved may have little to nothing but they will never go a day without checking on each other and splitting a loaf of bread between families is an ordeal full of smiles as they have formed a habit of caring for each other and instinctively cling.

Now of course things are not going to go that way in an American society where people can survive physically without each other for the most part. However what I am witnessing is that despite our 1st world, 21st century, independent abilities to take care of ourselves we are not in actual fact caring for much of anyone let alone ourselves.

Falling asleep talking about all of life’s challenges and victories with a friend, or singing spiritual songs until you are yawning together, are things that remind us all of our childhood. Or maybe if you were lucky, you had a best friend like that in college. My point is: our need to care for each other and our need to be deeply open with each other grows as we do, but we cut it off and tell ourselves, “No! we are now grown ups!” Orphans have to try to deny their need to cling at a stage when they could want nothing more than then a proud dad, a protective adoring big brother or a close knowledge of God. But we are all humans. I have seen this for myself. From orphans in Africa to Americans “no longer dependent” we all run for cover trying to protect ourselves all alone where no one can break our trust, attack us in any way, steal from us, or disapprove of us. It’s there where I see so many sitting alone whether surrounded by belongings or in an orphanage room having nothing to surround them. Everyone seems to be seated there yet still having a deeper seated longing in their hearts to cling.

I know it’s scary. I know it’s easy to feel broken to the point that the thought of not “protecting yourself” might sound just plain stupid or crazy. Trust me, I know. I have sat in that place many many times wrestling with myself about whether or not I could survive my trust, love, and openness being hit with yet another sledge hammer. But something I have discovered over the years is that having to take my heart to the “hospital” over and over again us better then shutting it down all together. I have also learned that taking my heart to the hospital is not isolation (although it certainly calls for high doses of God time). No, the hospital is the place of clinging. Clinging to God. Caring for others (more blessed to give than receive) and being open with people who can counsel with their life experiences and knowledge of the scripture.

Every time I turn to the Bible, I learn all my heart’s weakness and strengths. One day when I had to take a good hard look at my broken pieces, I saw something I had never seen before. My heart was starting to cling even stronger when it was broken. Like a vision I saw my heart as a mirror shattered, and as all the pieces lay together, only then was it was able to stay together and shine in MANY DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS rather than just one.

So this Valentine’s Day I am putting out a call for all of us to check on each other, be there for each other, be brave enough to be with each other in complete openness of heart, letting everything you do be done in love. I challenge you to leave behind the lonely protection you once called your hearts recovery room and I pray you go out to the hospital of Cling. It is there you will be blessed and be a blessing. When we cling to one another as Christians through this life on earth our hearts become so strong it becomes something to stop and stare at for others. We go from being the patient to being the understudy of The Great Physician.

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Author’s Note: Happy Valentine’s Day dear brothers and sisters. Now go out and dare to cling, and please pray for me as I go cling to these orphans and teach them to trust and love one another.

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The Iron Side of Love

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Acquiring a socially acceptable degree of calm has been a lifelong project for me.

During my teenage years I recall a general underlying theme of being simply too prickly to be around, too outspoken, or simply too opinionated.

Don’t get me wrong! I had learned a good deal of wit and gimmicks that often worked when I wanted people to like me, and I could keep them there for a while.

The trouble came when I discovered that a person had viewpoints that differed from mine.

I was just so incredibly right, and they were so unbelievably wrong! Why couldn’t they see that? And with thanks to an innate and deep-rooted obligation to fix the world, I couldn’t help but point out the colossal gap between that person’s erroneous opinion, and my gospel truth.

Sometimes I would be in the back seat of a taxi in Cusco, and the driver would mention that he was Catholic—that was, if I didn’t see a rosary and/or other religious articles hanging from the rearview mirror.

I would take a deep breath, let the silence grow cumbersome, and then say, “So uh…how does being a Catholic make you different from everybody else in the world?”

And from there the argument began.

Slowly it dawned on me that being right could be very unpopular.

As a direct result, I solemnly donned the melancholy cloak of the persecuted prophet.

Surely I was justified? After all, I had facts, reason, and the Bible behind me.

Over time, though, you can get the idea of how burdensome this burden became. Every time a person distanced themselves from me, the beauty of being a rejected witness of the truth dwindled further.

I got tired of it.

I can imagine that I’m not the only one who knows this feeling, or a feeling similar to it. I imagine this is one form of capitulation that I share with countless others who find that the reward of being “right” is outweighed by the isolation resulting from unpopularity.

I began to hold back. I refrained from speaking my mind. I would never truly accept the things that I saw as offending the God of the Bible, but I became increasingly tolerant of them; because no one enjoys conviction during a time of enjoyment!

I was tired of being the one guy who pointed out everything wrong; or, as with strangers, it felt like such unrewarding labor to take a stand with an establishment that had grown associated with solemnity, prejudice, hypocrisy, and general boredom.

 

At present, ask anyone who’s been with me who doesn’t know better, and they’ll tell you that I’m extroverted and good around people. Christians and non-Christians alike can at least feel comfortable around me, if not better. I can’t remember the last time I had a full-on heated discussion with someone—which, in days of yore, was a frequent occurrence.

The journey from the awkward, abrasive introvert to who I am now is one that I’m infinitely grateful for. It’s part of my testimony now; because, in a brief branching from the main theme of the article, my attempts to fix the world came from a platform of insecurity and fear.

So… what can be said for fire?

I’ve spent so much time and effort into blunting the edge off my personality… is there a chance that it was all spent in the wrong direction?

 

This is a thought that has troubled me from time to time.

But here is where I need to make a distinction, both for my sake and for any reader who can relate.

Once upon a time, when I spent time worrying about earning acceptance from God.

Having grown up with missionary parents, I knew the facts well. I knew you didn’t earn God’s love or salvation by works. I knew that neither of those two are dependent on the amount of work you put into the ministry.

Wouldn’t it be nice if head knowledge did the trick?

Maybe, but head knowledge simply isn’t enough. I was working to attain a right place with God, and years of effort and desperation brought me nothing at all. I could preach all day on the identity that we already have in God, and go to bed that night aching and hollow.

The hollow drove me to grasp out for acceptance.

 

Skip a few years forward, to the present day.

I wish I could infect others with the gospel like the flu virus on a really bad day.

I wish that five minutes with me was all it took to radically change people’s lives for God. I wish, I wish, I wish.

I pray all the time for boldness, and for the ability to speak perfect truths at the perfect time. I’m still convicted when I read the Bible. I long to light people up with the best kind of fire.

There has occurred a fundamental change, though, in the drive that pushes me forward.

Whereas once upon a time, long ago and far away, I reached out to the world from a platform of fear, my new platform is love.

We don’t acquire our identity by the amount of reaching out we do. We reach out to others because of our identity.

Jesus was, in my opinion, the bravest man to ever grace our planet. Mostly people associate Jesus with unrelenting love, which is spot on, but also running parallel with his courage.

Jesus had every chance to escape pain. He had every chance to keep his mouth shut, let the world be, and float along. Leave alone the huge globs of guts it must have required to face the cross, and think about the things He said! He preached without looking back.

He preached love, and kindness, and mercy, but he also preached repentance, and holiness, and he rebuked. The things Jesus said sometimes made people turn away from him.

Jesus never apologized, and He never stopped. Why? Because a at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, there was a little incident down by a river in Israel.

God told the world who Jesus was. He said “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

See, that affirmation didn’t slip from Jesus. It was what kicked off His ministry, and it was the platform He taught from.

See, Jesus wasn’t all smiles and kindness. There was a rough side to Him. There was an unpopular, challenging, cutting edge to the Son of God, an edge that is just as necessary for healing as lancing a wound, or removing a splinter.

The world needs the iron side of love.

But before you give the world what it needs, I want to encourage you to go find your river.

Jesus could only give the world true love because He was the son of God.

You will only be able to give the world what it needs when you know who you are to the most important Person.

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Boundaries: The Queen’s Guard and Secret Service

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The Tension of Boundaries:

Boundaries are tricky. In thinking about boundaries, I’ve swayed between “No one can abuse me at all’ and “I’ll turn the other cheek when someone hurts me, like God says.” I think the reason Christian’s don’t quite know HOW to act on our boundaries is because we aren’t sure what boundaries to set.

There are so many different opinions.

One view: I heard one evangelist talk about how a man raped her daughter and she welcomed him anyway into her home. While that would usually be an extreme violation of boundaries deserving of an extreme consequence, the man was shown grace, which led to him seeing God.

Another view: Boundaries NEED consequences. When kids break rules, they need a timeout or the rule is meaningless. Same with boundaries. If someone breaks my boundary, I give a consequence, otherwise the boundary is empty. Sometimes I can’t give others a consequence (like if my boss disrespects me), but my consequence for THEIR actions could be for ME to confront them, or tell them less information about my life.

I believe both these things are truth, but I’ve had such trouble learning how these two truths combine. We want to be Christ-like, and Christ was loving and serving, yet somehow not a doormat. He accepted persecution, but didn’t self-loath and believe He was deserving of it.

What I see in today’s society are two groups- one that is so stubborn on not getting put down that they forget to love others, and one that focuses so much on not offending others that they fail to confront when offended. I think both of these extremes are a bit cowardly, and yet I fall into both at one time or another.

I started asking God how to have a perfect balance, and I felt Him showing me that to focus on one way alone may not be what people need. For example, if I told a battered woman about loving through persecution, she may see abuse as her cross to bear (which is NOT what I mean). Meanwhile if I focus on having consequences for boundaries, I may be encouraging someone to continue in their ways of protection without servanthood, never wanting to forgive people who hurt them. It’s a huge tension of Christianity.

The One Thing I Know:

What I did feel him leading me to is this distinct sense of identity that will help each of us in achieving the balance between the two tensions.

This identity is crucial. I felt Him telling me I am a queen. And that the boundary around my self-worth is a boundary that shouldn’t shift based on situation.

I feel God encouraging us all to know we are kind, brave kings and queens. When people belittle us, ask too much of us, or insult us, we must MUST know we are royalty. I have taken this as far as literally picturing myself as a queen. Would a queen accept this behavior? No! She would know she is worth more than this! But would a (kind and brave) queen lash out in return? No! She would know her identity so soundly that any offense would be bounced off of her self-worth.

This knowing of our worth acts as the greatest boundary we can carry. It guards our heart, not by becoming callous or unaccepting of others words, but instead, by knowing that we are royalty. When someone crosses their rights into our lives, we know it isn’t our fault, but rather something he/she must be struggling with.

If a crazy lunatic comes up to the queen of England and spits on her, do you think she spits back? And this lack of revenge- is this because she thinks she is worthy of that spit? No! She knows she is so above the spit that the hate, while obviously upsetting, doesn’t affect her heart. In fact, she is most likely appalled at the audacity of someone to spit on her.

In the same way, we can have humble spirits, all while knowing our royal worth. We do not have to surrender our servanthood when we take up our crowns. I believe this knowing of our worth acts as the Queen’s guard/ or secret service.

While people may say cruel things or try to lash out, we have a bubble of worth around our hearts.

I believe this bubble can only be sustained when we have Jesus. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we are royal when people adore us, but when people spit at your feet, we need the base of Jesus… the unchanging base…to encourage us in our royalty.

For we see this in Jesus. He was the King of the Jews. He knew this even when people posted it sarcastically above his blood-stained cross. He KNEW his worth as royalty. Therefore, he could serve wholeheartedly. He could be persecuted without accepting that it was because HE must not be loved, worthy, or wonderful. Instead, He knew He was irreplaceable.

My friend, YOU are also irreplaceable. You are a coheir with Christ. And while some may push you, you must know that you are not deserving of it. You may suffer at times, but you also should address the persecutors with such a strong sense of identity. Boundaries aren’t the opposite of getting spit on, but they are the opposite of resting in the resolution of ‘I must be worthy of it.’ You can instead think, ‘This is not the behavior meant for me- I’m a king/queen. To know the royalty we are meant for- even when we feel like the peasants rather. What is meant for us is honor, respect, and love. This knowing- this secret service/queens guard- will help us in knowing how to navigate in the boundaries tension we have.

I urge us all to be brave. The balance of boundaries looks different for different people, but bravery is at the core of boundaries no matter how they look. For some of us, realizing our royalty will encourage us to confront the people who have walked over us, or to give space between us and them. For others, it will encourage us to love people and grant pardons when it feels unfair. I know it is hard to tell, but I think with realizing our royalty, we have a strong boundary around our self-worth and we can better know how to act in kindness and bravery.

Walk tall and proud, my most royal of friends. You have been called to greatness in Christ. You have the Queen’s Guard and the Secret Service around your heart and even the greatest of insults can not affect your worth.

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Abandoning The Walls

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Close your eyes and picture a medieval castle: either a real one, or one from your favorite fantasy movie or video game. It stands strong and imposing, glinting in the sun, and it’s under attack. A vast army besieges the castle and the odds don’t look too good. However, the castle’s surrounded by thick walls a hundred feet high and soldiers line the top, ready to repel the invaders. Those walls are the castle’s savior; as long as they’re manned and defended, no one can conquer. But the defenders are outnumbered and soon the defense fails. “Abandon the walls!” comes the cry, and the soldiers flee. They may hold out for awhile in some part of the castle, but with the walls down, the fortress belongs to the incoming army.

Most of the walls we build in our lives are wise ones. Good boundaries keep us safe, keep us within the law, keep us from sinful behavior or toxic relationships.  But some boundaries are fortresses, constructed as off-limits zones to keep God out. And while I’m no expert on medieval battle tactics, I’m very good at staging quiet hold-outs in my own life.

“You can have all of me, Lord, except this one part.” – “Do with me whatever you want, God! Just….not that.” -“Jesus, You’re Lord of my life, but not of how I use my free time.”

As believers, we’re willing to die for our faith, to sacrifice in big ways for Jesus. But so often what we put boundaries around are the small things. I want to serve my Lord in missions, but I struggle just getting out of my cozy bed early enough in the morning to spend time with Him. I pray to abandon everything for His purposes, but my actions when it comes to my internet usage, my daily habits, my finances, the media I consume all speak differently.

So why do we do this? There seem to be three reasons why we put up boundaries against God:

  1. We think we’re too limited for what He’s asking.

Everyone’s been there; God asks us to do something and our hearts sink, because we just can’t. We’re too weak, too busy, too poor, too scared, too burdened already. And yet Philippians 4:19 says: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” If God meets our personal needs, doesn’t it follow that He also meets needs that come from asking us to do the “impossible”? Whether it’s needing more ways to save so we can give our money, extra discipline to control the flesh, emotional energy to invest in one more person, etc. He’s sufficient.

  1. We’re sinful and selfish.

We just can’t stand to not have the power, can we? The irony of us, the creation, asking our Creator with the tongues and breath He gave us to “stop taking everything away and let me be the boss!” would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Consider this, though: if you’re a Christian, you’ve already made the greatest surrender of control you’re ever going to make. You’ve admitted that you can’t save yourself, that you have no ability on your own to be in relationship with God. So your entire spiritual life is already built on a pattern of relinquishing your life to Him.

  1. We’re terrified.

It’s hard enough to sacrifice the little things, but what about the things we cherish? What if God tells us to give up the dream of being married? Of being healthy? Of having children? There’s this insidious, buried fear in a lot of our hearts that God isn’t as good as He says He is. That His plans are somehow a loss for us. So we try to surrender, but inside there’s a whisper: How much are You going to ask for, and how much is it going to hurt?

The truth is, Jesus takes our lives only so He can give them back in ways we can’t even imagine. Psalm 16:11 says “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever”. Not just joy, but fullness of joy. A delight so rich, so potent, so overwhelming that our most amazing moments of earthly happiness can’t even compare.

Or as C.S. Lewis puts it, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If only we could grasp that when we fearfully say “no” to God, we’re saying “no” to what we would choose in a heartbeat if we could just see it.

And perhaps the ultimate answer to our limits, our selfish sin, our fears, is the Cross. The ultimate answer is the ultimate surrender.  Jesus gives up His glory and perfection without question. He comes down, walks our soil, willingly surrenders to experiencing illness , pain, hunger, burden, and the moral filth of every soul that ever lived. He hangs suffocating and bleeding out on the cross, gasping for one more breath through cracked lips, and “no” is not in His vocabulary. Boundaries? Behold the Son of Man, smashing right through them.

When it comes to abandoning everything for us, God’s answer is and has always been yes.

In the end, He asks nothing of us that He has not already given, a thousand times over. And we pay Him back with death and rejection and pride and desperation to hold onto everything but Him. But still He waits, and He asks. Hide your life in Me, and you will find it.

Frederick Buechner writes, “We have killed our father, and we will kill him again, and our world will kill him. And yet he is there. It is he who listens at the door. … This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

How can we not respond to love like that by letting it conquer our fortresses, too?

So let’s abandon the barricades we build in our lives, no matter how small, because they don’t really keep us safe. They don’t really let us hang onto what we clutch so tightly. All they do is barricade us from the abundance that our loving Father /wants/ to give us.

We only begin to know God fully when we let go of our walls and start using every moment of every day to say “yes” to Him. It’s a “yes” to the sea instead of the mud puddle, a “yes” to all things further up and further in, a “yes” to the life we’re looking for.

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Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
(john donne, holy sonnet 14)
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