Radical Love, Radical Forgiveness

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. ” (Matthew 5:43-45)

enemies

I don’t know about you but loving my enemies can be a tall order sometimes. People can be hurtful. Even downright mean. It’s easy to want to defend ourselves or our loved ones, to right the wrong, or inflict the same kind of hurt we have suffered. After all, the world tells us to destroy our enemies. We must claw our way to the top. Curse those who oppose us. Fight for our own. Leave no survivors.

But the world’s way is not God’s way.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” (1 John 2:9)

Pursuing God, pursuing wisdom, pursuing love is never something we fall into accidentally. Loving those who hurt us takes a deliberate effort—it’s a choice to follow God, to yield to Him, no matter the cost to our pride or want-tos.

EmbracingObscurity_NEW_CVR.indd

Not long ago, I was reading from one of my favorite books Embracing Obscurity and was reintroduced to the amazing, courageous story of Rose Mapendo.

Rose-Mapendo-–-Power-of-Forgiveness

“A Tutsi Congolese, Rose was a victim of intense mistreatment during the genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the end of the twentieth century. After her husband was tortured and then executed, Rose was taken with nine of her ten children to a death camp where she spent almost a year and a half suffering in unimaginable conditions. Abuse. Starvation. Thirty-two women and children in a single prison cell—with no toilet. Rose wrestled with God. Why did He make her Tutsi? Why did He make her a woman? Why did He allow her to become pregnant right before this nightmare? She was gripped by hatred for the four men who guarded their cell. (Who would possibly blame her for despising them?) But during her time in the death camp, Rose came to peace with God’s sovereignty and chose to forgive the four men who guarded and mistreated her and the others.”

“The time came for Rose to deliver. On the filthy concrete floor of her prison cell, in the dark, having to cut the umbilical cords with a piece of wood, Rose gave birth to twins. And as if forgiveness wasn’t enough—this is unimaginable to the world—she named her babies after two of the prison guards. She wanted them to know she was not their enemy.” (Embracing Obscurity, author- anonymous. B&H Books. 2012. pg 132)

forgiveHer forgiveness and love made a deep impression on those running the death camp. Later, when the order came to kill all the people inside, the commander couldn’t bear to see Rose’s beautiful spirit snuffed out. He had Rose and her family transferred to another prison situated in Kinshasa. Later she was sent to a protection center in Cameroon. Rose and her children now live in Arizona where she is active in her church and helps other refugees heal from the emotional, psychological and spiritual effects of abuse. mark twain anger

Forgiveness is never in vain. Refusing to offer it is like strapping someone to your back and dragging them around. Who suffers more…the one tied or the one doing the dragging?

Forgiveness and love heal. They transform. They birth freedom. By all means, learn from the past but don’t stay chained to it. Forgiveness in the present rewrites the future. 

When we love Jesus the way we should, loving those difficult, mean people grows a little easier. Forgive and watch God transform hearts.

Usually that transformed heart includes our own.

” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

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Math, Tears and the Whys of Life

And the tears came.

Poor daughter of mine. Today’s math work was dividing decimals. Something she’s done a hundred times before. Certainly a task much easier than some of her more recent math assignments—solving long lines of x and y problems, multiplied by square roots and divided by more of the same. math

“What’s wrong, sweetie?”

“It just doesn’t make sense to me.” Sniffle.

“What doesn’t make sense to you? How to move the decimals?”

“No.”

“Then why doesn’t it make sense?”

“It just doesn’t.”

As she wiped away her warm tears, smearing them across her blotchy cheeks, I sighed and gave her ‘the look’. You know what I mean. The calm, albeit censuring, pointed look that told her she needed to chill.

“Telling me ‘it just doesn’t make sense’ doesn’t help me. I want to help you and I can’t do that unless you explain what specifically you don’t understand.”

She threw up her hands, her voice shrill and quavering with emotion. “I have no idea why I need to learn this!”

Ah. There it was.

It’s not surprising from a girl who declares math to be ‘mental abuse to humans’. math mental abuseStill, I scratched my head. Her math assignment today wasn’t even all that difficult. Why the angst?

Suddenly it hit me. The suffering she was enduring seemed far worse because she didn’t understand ‘why’ she must endure it.

Painful stuff seems much more painful when you don’t know the purpose behind the suffering.

It’s kind of like going to a consultation with your surgeon. He explains the procedure to its most microscopic detail. He explains the whys, whereofs and runs every possible scenario by you so you’ll be prepared. He explains how it will make you feel when you awake. What you can expect. He gets you mentally ready for the change.

Does knowing what’s going to happen change your ability to control what transpires while you’re snoozing on the clouds of anesthesia? anesthesiaNo, of course not. But having someone explain to you why and how things are going to happen relieves the nervousness. It gives you a sense of control—even if you’re knocked out in a drooling stupor.

Here’s what is interesting: it’s the same with God. You may not understand the hard time you’re walking through right now. It might seem confusing, or even cruel. But, provided it’s not the natural consequences from living outside His will, God tells you exactly why those tough times come.

Don’t believe me? Look up Romans 5:3-5.

“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

1 Peter 1:6,7

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

There can be no growth without a little suffering. Like a butterfly who can’t break free and fly without pushing through the pain of ripping open a stubborn cocoon, or muscles that must endure heavy weight in order to be molded into something bigger and stronger. No pain, no gain.

workout

Getting back to Bethany, she finally relaxed when I explained that she might never need to use x/y graphs, algebra 2 or even dividing decimals. Then again, she might. The point is to be prepared and ready. We can kick and bellow our way through math, our health, our circumstances or any other struggle we encounter but it’s not the path of wisdom. It’s like telling God, “I don’t need to learn this. This isn’t in my agenda and I know more about my future than you do.” Foolishness.

Leaning in to the uncomfortable, the challenging things, even the confusing things is yielding to God and His refining touch. Trust Him. He loves you and knows every detailed nuance of your future.

Even if it seems like ‘mental abuse to humans’ at the time.

“Dear Shane, I’m your biggest fan…”

fan mail

“Mom, we have a problem.”

I blinked, trying to focus on my daughter and her probing look. Only moments ago, I was studying, my mind full of the sounds of ancient Israel: the shrill cry of blasted horns, stomping feet, the thundering crash of an enormous wall splitting and crumbling apart, the bellowed cries of victory…

Jericho would have to wait for a moment.

I swiveled in my chair to face my daughter, noting the anxious lines around her eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

“Callie.”

“What happened to her?”

Bethany pursed her lips in irritation. “She’s crying.”

“Why?”

Taking a deep breath, my oldest daughter spilled the problem. “You know how I’m going to marry Shane Harper, right?”

(For those of you who aren’t aware, Shane Harper is my twelve year old’s crush. shane harper You know him, right? The young cutie who played the lead in “God’s Not Dead”? Yeah, Bethany is ga-ga over him. Talks about him constantly. Believes they are destined to be forever together. If it was up to her, they would already be picking out retirement plans and buying a mini van to haul around their three kids, two cats and dog to soccer practice. The girl’s got it bad.)

“Marry Shane Harper? Oh, of course.” I wondered if she even noticed my eye roll. eye roll 2

“You know how I was going to write him a fan letter?”

“Yeah…”

Bethany huffed. “I was telling Callie about it and, when I pulled out a sheet of paper and my glitter pens, she suddenly burst into tears.”

“Why?”

“She says I love Shane Harper more than her.”

Lovely. Pre-teen, girly drama. Over a boy. A boy who is about a decade-plus too old for both of them. A boy who has no idea either of them exist. Literally.

I sighed.  “Did you tell Callie you love her? That what she’s worried about isn’t even true?”

“I tried, but she just won’t believe me.”

Groaning, I leaned my head against the chair. “You know what the problem is? Callie sees your adoration for Mr. Wonderful and is feeling insecure. She needs to know you love her. She looks up to you.”

Huffing in exasperation, Bethany lifted her hands. “How am I supposed to do that? She won’t listen to me!”

I grinned. “What were you about to write Shane Harper?”

“A fan letter.”

“Yep. But you know what you have to do now? You’re going to write a fan letter to your sister.” writing letter

Bethany dashed away to get to work. She filled a letter full of admiration. Full of encouragement. Not flattery, but honest, kind words meant to heal.

“Dear Callie,

I’m your biggest fan. You’re so much fun to be with. You always make me laugh and I love being your sister. You’re sweet, funny and smart. I love you!…”

Although I didn’t see the fan letter’s delivery to a sniffling little sister with bruised feelings, Bethany said when Callie read it, her face lit up and her tears vanished, replaced with amazement. A little smile ghosted her face. All was well. All was understood and forgiven.

Do you have a relationship in your life that is strained? Someone who feels unappreciated? Are there hurt feelings or misunderstandings? What about that person you just can’t seem to get through to no matter how hard you try? Try writing them a fan letter.

No, I’m not talking flattery to puff up. I’m talking about love that heals. I’m talking about seeing past your own frustration to see the brokenness and need of the one who is hurting.

big fan

Insecure people cry. They need love and they need to feel loved. When people know they are loved, despite their flaws and mistakes, it changes things. It changes them.

Pen a fan letter. Make that hurting person feel like a rock star. Those hurts and tears and walls of rejection will crumble and disappear. Kind of like the walls of Jericho.

Now, back to my study time…

Have you ever penned a fan letter? Has someone ever written you an admiration letter? How did it make you feel? What are ways to show love to someone who has misunderstood you or is hurting?

Decision Making 101: Burning Bushes

decision making 101

What do you do when you have an important decision to make? Wring your hands? Make a list of pros and cons? Run all possible scenarios, both disaster and otherwise, through your head? Bite your nails? Play a rousing game of rock-paper-scissors? Call a friend for advice? Pray? Eat your weight in Fudge Ripple? Perhaps it’s all of the above. rock paper scissors

Decision-making would be so much easier if it were, well, easy. Clear and concise.

Speaking for myself, I don’t usually have trouble with the clearly contrasting choices—good versus evil, right versus wrong. But what about the good versus the good? The unclear versus the unclear? Yeah, things don’t always seem so clear cut…at least not from my puny human perspective.

We want direction. Clarity. Something that will stop us in our tracks and snag our attention so there is no doubt what we should do.

We all want our burning bush. Just like Moses.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro (Reuel) his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God. The [ Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing flame of fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was on fire, yet it was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn away [from the flock] and see this great sight—why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned away [from the flock] to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

                                                                                    ~Exodus 3:1-4 (AMP)

burning bush

God appeared in fire from within a bush, but notice something important: the burning bush didn’t drop from the sky and into Moses’ lap. The burning bush appeared at a distance, forcing Moses to decide whether to pursue it or go on with life as usual.

When we say we want a burning bush, what we’re really saying is that we want to hear God’s voice clearly, maybe even audibly so there will be no doubt as to what He wants us to do.

Here’s the thing: you’re not Moses. I’m not either. The burning bush was the unique way God chose to capture his attention. Moses had to decide to pay attention to the unusual sight and pursue it.

So how do we find our own burning bushes? How do we hear God speaking to us?

  1. Read His Word daily…even several times a day.

God’s Word is how He speaks to us. If you want to know His heart, His thoughts, His instructions, if you want to know Him, you have to soak in what He says. bible

  1. Pray.

Reading God’s Word is how He speaks to us, and praying is how we speak to Him. Prayer is aligning our will to His, praising Him for what He has done and asking Him to give us the peace, strength and wisdom we need to make those tough calls. You can’t know what your friend is thinking if you never talk to him or her. It’s the same with God. He wants a relationship with you.

  1. His Holy Spirit.

 “Now He who has made us and prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the [Holy] Spirit as a pledge [a guarantee, a down payment on the fulfillment of His promise]…” ~2 Corinthians 5:5

When you give your life to God, He fills you with His Spirit. He is God living inside You, guiding, directing, comforting, and revealing. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Too often, the Spirit speaks clearly to us but we push His still, small voice away, and instead strain to see a larger-than-life spectacle to give us our sign. More often than not, God uses His Spirit to direct us. Be careful not to become a “Wonder Junkie” and miss what God is trying to tell you.

  1. Wise counsel from others.

Getting perspective from wise, seasoned warriors of God is incredibly beneficial.

“Without consultation and wise advice, plans are frustrated,
But with many counselors they are established and succeed.” ~Proverbs 15:22

 adviceI must put in a disclaimer here: who you seek advice from determines what kind of advice you’ll receive. You would never take house cleaning advice from a hoarder, or advice on how to be joyful from a bitter, unhappy person. If you need wisdom to make important decisions, don’t ask someone who is constantly rebelling from God, or whose life is a constant train wreck of ill-advised moves.

There you go. You need a burning bush? You’ve just received four! There are more but reading His Word, prayer, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and wise counsel are fundamentals. Decision-Making 101.

God speaks today. He tries to get our attention in all kinds of ways. But are we listening…and searching?

What about you? What do you do when you have a tough decision to make? How do you sense God leading? I would love to hear.