Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

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“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” (Henri Nouwen)

I’ve posted and blogged and mentioned multiple times before how the hardest person to forgive is often yourself. You know yourself too well and you know your own weaknesses because a certain adversary reminds you of them every single day.

I know I’ve blown it with a friend and the friendship won’t ever be the same again. We used to hang out and be good friends but now she won’t even sit on the same side of the room as me and we feel like really good acquaintances.

There are one or two (including that one at Starbucks) who have taken to actively disliking me and nothing I say or do will change that. For me, I have to remember that I can’t be friends with everyone and that it’s not my job to make every single person like me. It’s my job to be the best me possible.

But forgiveness isn’t optional. Not with others and especially not with ourselves. How dare I choose not to forgive myself when God (who incidentally knows me better than I do) has freely forgiven me? And why would I want to live under a cloud of condemnation when I don’t have to?

No one does relationships well. We mistrust each other. We read too much into silences and jests. We say the wrong things and fail to say the right things. Most of us have gotten used to the taste of shoe leather from sticking our feet in our mouths so often.

But real friendship between two believers is the Jesus in me communing with the Jesus in you. It’s practicing forgiveness and grace and blessing, giving these abundantly because we know our desperate need for all of the above.

You are not your past. Or your mistakes. You are not the names you’ve been called or that you’ve called yourself.

You are:

Redeemed

Forgiven

Blessed

Child of God

Beautiful

Beloved

To Die For

The One Your Abba Is Still Very Fond Of

May we speak not hurt but life, not wounds but blessings into each other. May we always look to see the best in ourselves and in others and call out the beautiful and glorious in each other. May we learn to love others and ourselves the way God has always loved us.

How to Not Marry a Jerk

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This is again going outside of my comfort zone. As in different time zone kind of outside. But I have some things that I need to say after something I witnessed at work.

A girl who is otherwise nice went out of her way to apologize to a guy who had gone out of his way to be a jerk to her because she did something he didn’t like. She barely speaks to me, who goes out of my way to be nice and friendly to her.

My own advice on how not to marry a jerk is as follows:

1) Don’t date jerks.

I know it sounds past obvious, but so many girls will marry the handsome guy who treats them like garbage thinking that her love will change him over time. Since this is a Baptist blog, I will say bull-oney.

Guys are who they are. They generally don’t change all that much. Who you see now is what you’ll see ten years down the road. If you’re thinking of marrying (or even dating to marry) someone, ask, “Can I live with this person exactly like he is now for the rest of my life?” and “Would I be proud to have a son exactly like him?”

I know there will be someone who knows someone who married a frog and ended up with a prince. For every one of those, there are a hundred more stuck in bad marriages or living out the pain and shame of a broken marriage.

Even in Beauty and the Beast, the Beast learns to love and become a gentleman BEFORE the beauty falls in love with him and marries him.

Check how he (the man not the beast) treats his parents and his siblings. Watch how he treats servers at restaurants and cashiers at the store. Especially watch how he acts when he’s angry.

Learn to distinguish between confidence and cockiness. Confidence doesn’t always have to prove itself or show itself like a peacock preening its feathers. Also, know the difference between a man who is willing to fight for you and a guy who just likes to fight. The first will cherish you; the second will belittle you and cut you down and make you feel worthless. He might even abuse you verbally and/or physically.

2) It’s better to be alone than with the wrong person.

Don’t date someone who doesn’t share your faith. Period. You will end up either feeling alone in your marriage or your faith will suffer. And I don’t just mean date a guy who says he’s a Christian. Go for the man of God who strives to be like Christ and who lives out his faith on a daily basis.

Date a man who loves Jesus more than he loves you, not the other way around. If he loves Jesus most, he will love you unconditionally and with the love of Christ. If he loves you most, he will make you into an idol in his life and place expectations on you that only Jesus can meet.

Don’t date just to date. The danger with that is that if you date a guy you don’t intend to marry, you could end up falling for him and disregarding all those red flags and warning signs.

On a side note, don’t go for a guy who is 30-something and still lives with mom and dad. If he mooches off of them, he will mooch off of you. If a guy like that says he loves you, respond with three words in return– “get a job!” I stole that one from Mike Glenn.

Date who you want to marry. I personally believe the best marriages start out as friendships before they become romances. And if you keep ending up with guys who treat you badly and use you, maybe you need to step back and look at you. Look at what vibes you’re sending out, where you’re going to meet people (a bar is generally where you find a real gentleman), and how guys perceive you (as a godly woman or as a flirt who likes to date around). If you hop from relationship to relationship, that will turn off a true gentleman.

Looks and attraction matter, but they’re not everything. Character matters. Kindness matters. Over time, you will see that true beauty can’t be seen with the eyes but felt with the heart. And beauty is who a person is on the inside that shows up in their actions and behavior more that what you wear or look like on the outside.

Men, you have to be just as diligent. But that will have to wait for another blog on another night. Sadly, gender equality means that both men and women can now be jerks.

These are my thoughts on the matter. I don’t claim to be infallible or know even close to everything about love or dating or romance.

Even the Lone Ranger Had Tonto, Right?

I hate watching nature shows that come on Discovery or the Animal Planet. There. It’s out there. I admit it for the whole blogging world to know.

The part I hate is when a cheetah or a lion separates a gazelle from the herd and. . . well, I can’t bring myself to describe it.

You feel bad for the gazelle, starting off the day with such high hopes and ending up on someone else’s dinner menu. Not the best way to go.

But I think about how so many believers do the very same thing. We allow ourselves to get cut off from fellow Christians, to get isolated with no one to keep us accountable or hold us in check. We have no one to offer empathy and encouragement. Then we fall.

The trick of the enemy is to get us alone. He knows that whenever two or more are gathered together he has no chance, but when he gets one of them alone, his odds go up dramatically.

You know the drill, right? Either you get cocky and think you don’t need anyone else or you get embarrassed at how low you’ve sunk and can’t bear to let anyone see you like this. Or maybe you think no one really cares so why bother?

I’ve believed all of these lies at least once at some point and I bet you have, too, because sometimes the lies just feel easier to accept. The truth is hard when it goes against what we feel to be true.

You and I both need someone in our corner to encourage and stir us on. We also need that one person who has permission to ask the hard questions and steer us back when we’ve drifted off course.

No man is an island, as the saying goes. There is no such thing as Lone Ranger Christianity (at least not any that I’ve found in the Bible). And didn’t even the Lone Ranger at least have Tonto (not to mention his trusty horse)?

Baggage Part III: Trials Turned to Gold

I’ll admit that I am addicted to comfort too much of the time. I don’t want to step outside my comfort zone too often.

But I keep thinking about the believers in Thessalonica. They only had Paul and Silas for a few short weeks. They were new converts, yet they still managed to turn their world upside down.

The big takeaway for me was how they endured persecution and ridcule, but how that endurance and trial turned into perserverance. That perserverance turned into character, which led to a hope that nothing and no one and nothing could quench.

What you’re going through will end, but your story won’t. Who better to talk to someone struggling with alcoholism than a recovering alcoholic? Who better to help someone cope with the loss of a child than someone who has walked the same road and cried the same tears? Who better to help someone deal with doubt and discouragement than you after you’ve been through a dark night of the soul when you felt hopeless and alone, but finally saw daylight at the end of your trial?

I love the quote from a movie I saw that said that only those who have lost can truly lead. Only those who have been hurt can help bring healing. Only those who know how they have messed up their lives and what Jesus save them from can truly love well and lead well.

It’s all about loving well. It’s not how religious you can talk or how well you keep the rules. It’s not about how convincingly you can point a finger at people and expose their faults. It’s about how you can be a vessel of God’s love and love people right where they are for who they are.

I’m not really good at loving well, but I’m getting better. Those rare moments when I did love well were moments when I forgot about me and let Jesus take over.

My prayer is that you learn to embrace your story, even the painful parts, and help others to find the good in their stories, too.

Above all, may we all learn to love well.

The Little Things

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A lot of us (me included) have this idea that life should be epic and full of dramatic, Gladiator-style moments where risks are involved and manly muscles are flexed. Life usually isn’t like that. Besides, I am decidedly lacking in the manly muscle department.

Like a friend of mine said, life is like taking 10,000 steps every single day. Every step you take leads you closer or further away from your desired destination. For believers, that means every step leads you closer or further away from Christ.

Obedience is the same way. Most of the time, we’re not called to make the ultimate sacrifice and jump in front of a fast-moving train to save a group of Girl Scouts. Mostly, obedience is doing the next small thing you know to do. It’s a thousand tiny deaths to comfort, pride, convenience, and self.

We become like Jesus when we take the tiny steps and do the little acts He calls us to each day. I love the statement that there is no microwave holiness, but that sanctification is a lifelong process that we never really finish here.

Life is in the details. It’s the small stuff we look past waiting for the grand moments. It’s what we miss in the present because we are too occupied with the past or obsessed with the future.

That’s where Jesus is strongest. Jesus is strong in that moment when you’re wondering how you can get through the next 5 minutes. Jesus is strongest when you don’t see how you can get it all together.

Rarely does God speak in the dramatic James Earl Jones-type voice (not the Darth Vader voice, the other one). It’s ususally a still, small voice that you’ll miss unless you can be still and quiet and present in the moment.

Thank you, God, for the little moments. That’s where life happens and that’s where You’re making me more like Jesus.

My Obligatory Charlie Sheen Blog

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Honestly, this is not another blog about how crazy Charlie Sheen is these days or how he needs help or any of that. If I were in his shoes, I might be acting twice as crazy. Plus, I’d probably be walking funny ’cause His feet are probably at least 2 sizes bigger than mine.

Actually, this is about a dream I had that starred Charlie Sheen. In my dream, I was about to cut the front yard when ol’ Charlie pulled up and asked if he could do it, because he’d never used a lawnmower before. His dream words, not mine. And that was it. I don’t know if it’s weird that I dreamed this or that I still remember the dream. And yes, I totally pulled a bait-and-switch blog on you.

Dreams always seem normal when you’re dreaming them. You never notice anything bizarre when you’re in the dream. You could be flying naked and be thinking in the dream, “Hey, I always fly on Tuesdays. And where did my clothes go? I’m pretty sure I was dressed when I left the house this morning.” Only when you wake up do you realize that what you dreamed about wasn’t normal. And I mean both the flying and the being naked part.

I think we do that in life, especially as believers. We tend live the same way, thinking that the way we think and act is normal, but only when God’s Spriit moves in and wakes us up, do we realize how abnormal we’ve been. So many live under the belief that it’s normal to feel defeated and discouraged and numb to your faith. It’s normal to not feel anything in worship. It’s normal to think that God must be upset with you and that your fellow believers don’t really want you around.

Only when God opens your eyes do you see that victory is the norm. You see that God sees Jesus when He sees you and He is very pleased with you. And those fellow believers you thought were ready to throw you under the bus? They may need to hear your struggle so they can encourage you or at the least empathize with what you’re going through. And once you start making worship about declaring the great worth of God because He deserves it, whether you feel it or not, the feelings eventually come back. I promise. But at that point, it doesn’t matter whether you’re super-hyped or barely able to sing the words. It’s still worship because it’s centered on a God who is able.

So yeah. I pretty much fooled you into thinking you were going to read a scathing blog about another Hollywood star gone wrong. All I have for Charlie Sheen is prayer and support. But for the grace of God, that could have been me or you. Or much worse. You and I need God’s grace just as much as any of the Charlie Sheens of the world. We needed just as much of the blood of Christ. And God is able to save all the Charlie Sheens. . . and us. . . to the uttermost!

Amen and amen.

Something Beautiful

First of all, I love Needtobreathe and I totally stole this blog title from one of their songs (which I love, by the way). Just so you know. Not that it has anything to do with the rest of the blog.

One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately is a group of believer who are fully coming alive to who they are in Christ, who are learning that they have all the authority and power of Christ in them, and they can do what everyone else says is impossible, because for God who lives in them, all things are possible. They have a God who lives in them who relishes making impossilbilities into possibilities. It’s His speciality.

I love seeing my brothers and sisters in Christ waking up to their sonship and daughtership (if that’s a word) in Christ, watching as the chains of past failures and hurts fall away, as strongholds and addictions are broken, and as the love of Christ cleanses and heals and restores and makes them whole. I love seeing fear turn into joy, mourning into dancing, ashes into beauty, despair into confidence, and defeat into victory.

The absolute most beautiful thing to me right now is believers who share life together, who break bread together, who bear each others burdens and laugh and cry together. That kind of love is what turned the 1st century world upside down, and is what will turn this 21st century world on its head if we ever can come together in Christ as one.

Now is the time to come together in unity and love with crazy radical love. Now is the time to be all in for Christ and to embrace His vision of who you are and accept what He has already said about you. Revival comes to hearts that are not just a little hungry and thirsty and needy, but to starving, parched, desparate people who will wrestle with God and not let go until true revival fire falls.

Let those things be our desire and our prayer. Don’t wish for something beautiful to make the world fall in love with Jesus; let your transformation be that something beautiful that will draw them to the God who can change anyone and to Whom no one is ever past hope or a lost cause.

Amen and amen! Come, Holy Spirit. We need you now!

Bedtime thoughts

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

That’s it. Love God and love others.

But for you to love God, you have to know the reality that God already loves you. For you to love others as yourself, you have to love yourself. Ultimately, you can’t do it. Well, I will only speak for myself here and say that I can’t love God or anybody else, even me, on my own strength. I need Jesus in me, pouring out His agape love, or else I am empty and cold and love-less.

Sometimes, God calls you to love yourself as you love your neighbor. Sometimes, it’s easier to love someone else than to love that person you hang around with every minute of every day. That person who looks back at you in the mirror with accusing eyes that speak of all the impure thoughts, mixed motives, and selfish ambition.

That’s when you and I have to believe what God says about who we are over what we see and think and feel. As a friend of mine told me once, “What you think and feel will lie to you.” But God never will.

God is true. God is love. And God loves you.

And you have all the power of Christ that overcame the grave in you. You have His perfect righteousness that covers your own wretched self-righteous rags of filth.

So be free to love. Love God, love others and love you.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

My two cents on spiritual warfare

A group of guys and I have been watching a DVD series on spiritual warfare by Chip Ingram called The Invisible War (and yes, that was a shameless plug). It got me thinking about the mindset of so many American believers (including me) regarding the whole topic of spiritual warfare. Plainly put, either most of us don’t believe there is an war going on with an enemy that is constantly seeking our destruction. If we believe, we sure don’t live like it much of the time. Again, me included.

The war is real. The enemy is real. In this world, we are not tourists on vacation, or passengers on some kind of luxury cruise, but soldiers engaged in battle. Our ignorance of the battle and our enemy can only do us harm. We need to wake up to realize that we are under attack. But here’s the best part.

The battle is already won. Chip Ingram said, “As believers in Christ, we don’t fight FOR victory. We fight FROM victory.” That’s the good news (which is why it’s called the gospel!). But there is still a battle.

We fight back by putting on the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. We should pray these on every morning and pray these for each other on a daily basis. We should pray with eyes wide open to the spiritual realm, asking God to give us eyes to see the battle around us like the Elijah prayed for his servant when they were surrounded by the Syrian army. We should pray for discernment and wisdom. Most of all, we should pray at all times to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled, taking every thought captive and submitting them to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

We must fight together. If you are fighting the enemy on your own, apart from other believers, you may succeed for a season, but you will ultimately grow weary and faint. You will stumble and fall. You need other believers praying God’s protection over you, encouraging you and keeping you honest.

We fight ultimately with one weapon– LOVE. Not as a feeling, but as a decisive act of the will. We fight by showing that Calvary’s love is stronger than hate and that love overcomes anything. Chip Ingram said, “Love is giving to another person what they need the most when they deserve it least.” Love is doing whatever you can, even to your own detriment, for the good of the beloved. It means dying to yourself and your rights and own ideas about how the world should work.

So live with eyes wide open, hands raised, side by side with your brothers and sisters in Christ. And remember that the battle is already won and that we have overcome!

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Blessed are the peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9)

Blessed are those who make peace, not those who wait for peace to fall into their laps. We have to work for peace sometimes. As crazy and contradictory as it may seem, we even have to fight for peace sometimes. We have to be willing to pray against the powers of darkness. We have to be willing to practice tough love when the easy thing to do would be to ignore the situation until it goes away. Sometimes peace making can be a bloody and brutal event. Just ask Jesus, who in order to make peace with God for us endured the cross and all the horror and shame there.

There are three types of peace: peace with God, peace with others and peace with yourself. I think that this verse is not so much about finding peace with God as it is establishing or reestablishing peace with others and with yourself.

The Message says, “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Jesus prayed for unity of believers above all things for His people. If there is unforgiveness or conflict, it grieves the Holy Spirit. It also is a bad witness to an unbelieving world. If we can’t love each other who we see every day, how can we claim to love a God whom we have not seen? How can anything we say be true if there’s no love to back it up?

Father, forgive me for the times when I was not brave enough to fight for peace and instead settled for truce or a cold war of lost opportunities and relationships. Help me to see that You want your children to love each other and forgive each other and bless each other. Send your Spirit to bring revival into your people so we can be the ones through whom You radically change the world.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.