Flashback Friday: Forgiveness

(Originally Posted June 16th, 2011)

 

I can hold a grudge like a champion. If harbouring malice were an Olympic event, I’d win the gold medal, easily. If I feel you’ve wronged me, I can live my entire life without ever acknowledging your existence. I can cut you off in a second, and not even lose any sleep over it.

It isn’t something that makes me proud. There’s no place of honour for being malicious and bitter. You don’t win any prizes for finding faults in people. There’s no medal awarded for having animosity towards someone. All I’ve ever gained from resentment is anxiety, wasted time, and heartache. So I choose forgiveness.

It wasn’t easy for me, being a champion grudge-holder, and all, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

A few years ago I made a request to God, “Help me to forgive as you do.” What I didn’t know at the time was that when you ask God for anything, rather than giving you exactly what you want, He places you in situations which test your capacity to do what you’ve requested.

Shortly after I made that prayer, I happened to overhear an acquaintance talking about me behind my back. My first instinct was to walk right up to her and tell her exactly what I thought. Fortunately, I chose better–at the time I was too angry to speak rationally. So for the sake of peace, I let it go.

A few days later, I heard her talking about me again. This time, not only did she mention me by name, but she went through a laundry list of everything she felt was wrong with me. She said I was two-faced (I’m not), and I wore too much make-up, my perfume stinks, I’m not that smart, I think I’m better than everyone else and I’m “unpleasant to be around.”

In her eyes, I was a rotten human being, and the world would be a much better place without me in it.

Or something like that.

My anger turned to rage. When she was around me, she was so full of compliments it was a little cloying, but behind my back she was totally opposite. What a phony. The entire situation disgusted me. She disgusted me. After much thought (and prayer) I decided I would confront her.

I can be brusque on a good day, but when I’m angry I’m vicious. I didn’t know how she would take me, so I tried my best to be jovial and said, “So I heard you have a few things to say to me?” She was full of questions; what did I mean? What things? Who were you talking to? Then she said, “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I don’t have anything to tell you.”

Since that approach didn’t work, I tried something different, “If you have any problems with me or what I’m doing, you can tell me to my face.”

What she said next shocked me;

“I would never say anything about you behind your back.”

Then she proceeded to tell me what a wonderful person I was and how glad she is to have someone like me in her life. All I could think was, Liar. Liar. Pants on Fire.

A few days after she insisted she had no issues with me, I heard her tell someone that I was lazy and disorganized.

(She obviously had issues, but none of them had to do with me.)

Still, I spent a lot of time being angry with her. In my mind, I was justified because she talked about me and then lied about it to my face. Of course, she deserved my blatant disregard! She needed to be punished and treating her like she was the dirt beneath my shoes was my way of punishing her.

However, every time I picked up my bible to read, I always seemed to find scriptures about love and forgiveness. The one that spoke to me the most was Matthew 5:44-45;

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In God’s eyes, we’re equals, and by showing forgiveness–especially when the person did nothing to earn it–I would be clearly defining my role as a follower of Christ.

I had been going about this the wrong way. I thought that by cutting off contact with her, I was preventing her from continuing to lie to me. In reality, I was nurturing my grudge against her. Even when she said something kind to me, I rejected it because I just couldn’t trust her anymore.

Then I thought about God and how much mercy he has shown me. There are many times when I’ve lied to him, made promises I didn’t keep, betrayed trust, and defamed His name by how I treated others. In spite of this, Gid forgave me and showed me mercy instead of wrath. Every single time.

In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes,

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

When God forgives, it’s unconditional. It means that the slate has been wiped clean. There’s a new record. God doesn’t hold your past against you.

In order to let this go once and for all, I had to forgive her genuinely–whether she was still talking about me or not.

I had to accept the fact that I am not the gossip police, and I will never be able to stop people from talking about me. It was her decision to make picking me apart her full time hobby, and it is one with which she will have to live. Even if what she said was 100% true, it didn’t change anything. I’m still me. I’m still living my life, and I’m still enjoying it.

I had to choose between my relationship with God, and holding on to the resentment. When I examined the situation closely, I realized that holding onto my resentment of her was like giving her squatters rights in my mind. 

I had to evict her.

God has already done more for me than I will ever deserve, and His approval is infinitely more important than hers. Besides, how could I feel anything other than pity for a person who: a) didn’t even have the good sense to whisper while talking about people in public, and b) was too much of a coward to own up to it when confronted.

I can honestly say I forgive her for what she did. I pray she has a wonderful life, and that people who are positive, loving, and supportive will surround her, and give her the encouragement she needs. Most of all, I pray that if she’s still holding a grudge against me, that she’ll let it go. For her sake.

Harbouring resentment clouds your judgment, it blocks blessings, delays promotions, impedes personal growth, distorts your sense of reality, and makes you bitter and insecure. It also creates an atmosphere that attracts unfavourable outcomes in ALL areas of your life. In other words, instead of destroying the target of your wrath, clinging to feelings of resentment will destroy you.

You will never be able to realize your full potential until you make a conscious choice to eliminate bitterness from your life.

There are few things more humiliating than finding out the person you’ve directed so much negative energy combating isn’t even paying attention to you. While you’re wasting time plotting and scheming, trying to find ways to discredit them and ruin their reputation, they’re leading happy and fulfilling lives. They aren’t thinking about you at all. You’ve spent all this time hating them, and you’re not even an afterthought. It stands to reason that trying to reduce someone else by your words and your actions only serves to emphasise your deficiencies. That is the opposite of what you want.

By choosing forgiveness, I choose a life filled with love, peace and contentment. I can sleep with a clear conscience because The chains of bitterness do not bind me. I’m confident because I’m becoming the person God created me to be. Because I’m confident, I don’t need to talk about anyone else to feel good about myself. The fact that I have a loving family, and a loving God is an excellent reason to be joyful.

As for my loose-lipped acquaintance? She probably still thinks I’m two-faced, and conceited, and stinky. And she might even be telling people about me at this very moment, but that’s okay. She’s allowed to think and say whatever she wants. I hope she’s prepared for the consequences.

1 Peter 3:10-12

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

I’m not waiting for peace to find me; I am actively pursuing it. (With a club) I may have to bite my tongue at times, or perhaps take a vow of silence for the day, but I will not allow my words to be my undoing.

I’ll end with a quote from C.S. Lewis because I can’t say it any better:

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

I forgive because I know what it’s like to be forgiven. 

Peace,

Erin

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Put Your High Horse Back In The Stable

Intolerant. Hypocritical. Phony. Judgmental. Cliquey. Mean. Exclusive. Unloving.

 

Those are just some of the words I’ve heard non-Christians use to describe us. The word “love” is mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible, but when people think of us the word ‘love’ isn’t even on the list. In theory, the church is comprised of people who are spirit-led and kingdom minded. Many of us are. The rest of the world doesn’t see that in action as much as it sees our nastiness. Instead of us extending the right hand of fellowship to outsiders, we give them the backhand of condemnation. There’s not a welcome mat on the church doorstep, but there is an invisible ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. (When we’ve been disturbed, we’re not shy about saying so.)

We say we want ‘whosoever will’ to enter our fellowship as a brother or sister in Christ. However, when they show up, we venerate the ones we like, and ignore the ones we don’t. Should we fire our image consultant for misrepresenting us? Or should we scrap whatever agenda we have and follow Christ by loving one another as he loves us? This issue is one that is close to my heart because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a condemning Christian backhand, and it hurts like hell. (In both the figurative and the literal sense.) When I hear people use the eight words at the top of the page to describe us, I can’t even disagree with them because I’ve experienced it firsthand. I expect to be an outcast from the world because Jesus warned that I would be hated for his sake. I did not expect hostility from the body of which I am a member. But, I’ve had to get used to it nevertheless.

The pastor of the church I serve once said that Christians are one of the few groups who purposely shoot their own troops in the midst of a battle. (He’s a military man by trade, but if you think the combat analogy is out of place, you’re in the wrong faith.) Some of the old saints used to say, “The devil is busy” whenever strife and offenses found their way into the church. (And that was all the time.) I’m of the opinion that the devil doesn’t need to be working as long as he has a gang of Christians who are open to his suggestions. We unknowingly do his work for him whenever we devalue one of our brothers and sisters in Christ–or anyone else for that matter. The poor reflection the secular world has of Christianity points directly toward us because we’re its ambassadors. We’ve lulled ourselves into a false sense of security by thinking that we’re doing a good job of following the greatest commandment to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind.

We may succeed at loving God, but our success rate with loving our neighbours is mediocre at best. We’re hurting because we do not know how badly we’ve missed the mark. The love, mercy, and acceptance that the world needs are the kind that only the Spirit of God can give. I think we’ve got it, church, but we are so reluctant to share it that it’s obvious to everyone. On the other hand, we can heap judgment on with a shovel. If you need criticism, we can do that too–especially that of the destructive, soul-crushing variety. If you want to be gossiped about, we’ll either disguise it as a prayer request and call it a day, or not disguise it at all. If you want love, you’d best take comfort in the fact that God loves you because we may not be able to give you what you need. Or we hate your sin, but we love you. Or we love you, but only if you’re just like us.

In the book, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy writes, “Someone dear to me can be loved with human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love.” If I make any claim to being led by the Spirit of God, his leading must be evident in how I treat other people. If I want to love as Jesus loves, I must be sincere. In my nearly 14 years as a retail worker, I learned that it is impossible to encourage, empower, lead, or mentor anyone if I believe I’m superior to them. In order to be effective and authentic in my walk with God, I had to shelf my invisible pedestal; put my high horse back in the stable, and get back down to earth where the real people are because that’s where God needed me to be. God is no respecter of persons, but, unfortunately, we are.

A few months ago, on another social media site, a story went around about a pastor who dressed up as a homeless person to see how his new church congregants would respond. He asked for change, but no one gave it to him. Most people refused to make eye contact, and when he sat down in the back of the pews, all he got were scornful, dirty looks. When he was introduced as the new head pastor, people clapped with joy and enthusiasm…until he stood up. Wild clapping turned to stunned silence. His sermon text was Matthew 25:35-40, and many of his congregants cried or bowed their heads in shame because of their actions.

Matthew 25:35-40 is a popular sermon text because it teaches us that by serving the practical and spiritual needs of others, we’re serving God. The irony is that we’re not as good at putting this into practice as we are at teaching it. I can’t claim to be a Christian then refuse to abide by one of the most basic laws. I cannot love everybody of my own power. I can barely love myself of my own strength. My prejudice limits my capacity to love, and my personal preferences determine who gets more or less of the love I give, but if I love with the love of God, my ability to love is limitless because He is limitless.

I am nowhere near where I need to be in this regard, but it is becoming glaringly obvious that God has given me His heart towards outcasts. I find that I cut them a lot more slack than those of us who are in the body because we should know how behave, but we (and I am including myself) frequently choose wrong. Whereas they choose wrong because they’ve never been taught to choose right. One thing that my non-Christian friends made clear to me is how well they can see through all the disingenuous displays of love. They know it’s a put on even as we deceive ourselves into believing our hollow pleasantries and fake smiles are reaching them. I don’t believe it’s possible for us to be perfect, but it is possible for us to love one another as Christ loved us. We just need to stop getting in his way with our own petty egos and agendas.

A well-organized essay this is not. I’m not sure if I’ve made my point clearly or if my emotions have gotten in the way of me articulating how important this is properly. We [in the body] have singled out political power, prestige, and our ability to influence the culture as our greatest sources of strength. The real source is the love of God. It is the one thing we have that the rest of the world does not. Instead of using the love of God to build, we’re tearing each other down and dragging the rest of the world into the battle. Rather than honouring the gifts we see in others, we dismiss the people whom we find the most threatening to our own success, and devalue the ones who aren’t essential to us.

I am hopeful because, through it all, God will still be in control. He can reverse any of the damage we’ve caused by our unwillingness to put our needs and wants aside to serve the whole. He’s the only one who can heal the hearts of those we’ve broken in our quest for preeminence and recognition. Occasionally we need to be reminded that serving God means that we must also serve others. We do not get a choice in whom we serve, and ranking people based on status is still a sin in God’s eyes.

I’ve rambled on for long enough, so I’m going to end it with the word of God:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

“I give you a new commandment–to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

PEACE,

Erin

I’m a Bad Christian

The preceding title is either a flagrant attempt at compliment-fishing, or 100% fact. (Example: “You think you’re a bad Christian. You’re not. You’re amazing!” No, God is amazing. Any amazement I have is by association. I’m okay with that.)

In one of my classes, I have 4 months to study, break down, and present one biblical chapter–1 John 1. In the first couple of weeks, two things came immediately to mind. One is that I am not nearly as great, pious, and all-knowing as I think I am. The second is that it is not necessarily a bad thing.

I do not advocate reveling in one’s weaknesses, or passively accepting the qualities and behaviours that should change. I think that, in order to change anything a person must admit that it’s a problem. It’s hard to acknowledge weaknesses–particularly when they come with pay-offs like attention, sympathy, and comfort, but in a weird way, vulnerabilities can be a person’s greatest source of strength.

For example, I have an image I project to the outside world. For some, it’s one of kindness, encouragement, and sardonic wit. For others, it’s reserved indifference. Both images are me, but one is an image I show people I do not know well, (or people I do know well, but do not like). It is that selective kindness that makes me a bad Christian.

However, the fact that I know that this is a problem means that I can work toward changing that behaviour. What else makes me a bad Christian? Well, there are times when I don’t feel like reading the Bible. I know it’s an integral part of my life as a believer. I know it’s a way for me to get closer to God, and I know it’s irresponsible for me to neglect it. In spite of this, I do it anyway.

I always regret it at the time, but some days, reading and studying just feels like another thing I have to do, and it’s a chore. I’m not ashamed to admit this either. People can learn from another person’s struggles, but the person first has to confess to having them. (I know I’m not the only one who’s done this.)

As a youth, growing up in the church, I always saw through the pastors and church folks who spoke to congregations as though they were on a pedestal, and everyone that sinned differently from them was a godless heathen. I did not relate to them, and unbeknownst to them, they did not relate to me either. Few things they said connected with me because they elevated themselves so far above me.

Even if the church was, in fact, full of godless heathens, to have someone focus on one’s status without any offer of a way out is destructive. Messages from God always offer correction with hope. If there’s no hope, what’s the point of the message?

I am not a good Christian, and that is what makes me a good follower of Christ. Good Christians always do and say the right thing. Their image is always on point. Good Christians can quote the scripture with ease. They pray with eloquence. They are not vulnerable because everything about them is a carefully constructed façade. I’m of the opinion if a person cannot be him or herself around God, how can they be authentic to everyone else?

In order to make any progress in my life, I first had to acknowledge that I did not know it all. As a know-it-all who wore my knowledge like a cloak, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. If I did not admit I was wrong, I would probably still be at my job, wondering why I was so miserable all the time. (Hint: It’s because I was too afraid to leave.)

Instead, I admitted, first to God, then to everyone else that I did not have all the answers. When I did that, the answers to questions I asked decades ago, came to me with clarity. I had liberty to make mistakes because I was no longer the smartest person in the room. Most importantly, vulnerability reunited me with the best version of myself; the one that isn’t trying to save face; appear greater than she is, or jockey for a position at the top. My best self is sincere and caring, with a lot of love and respect for every person with whom she shares this life. Including the ones she does not like.

My best self is the one that resembles Jesus the most. I didn’t know whom that was until I was able to admit that I was a bad Christian. It’s easy for me to excel when the comparative standard is low, but if the standard is the highest one can achieve, I don’t even rate. The book and chapter I’m studying highlights this point. It is a letter of caution against self-righteousness, and self-preservation, and a call to authenticity and a deeper relationship with Christ and others. I will be chasing that high standard for as long as I’m alive, and the fact that I will fall short often does not make me want to chase it any less.

Authenticity draws people because, for better or worse, they know exactly whom they are dealing with. To quote POTUS #26, Theodore Roosevelt, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Authenticity gives power to love. When a person knows he, or she has the unconditional love of someone else, it changes them for the better.

Good Christians care about how they look to other Good Christians. So-called ‘Bad Christians’ only care how they appear to God, which is why they can interact with the people rejected by everyone else without fear of losing their good image.

This is not to disparage people who live an outwardly pure life. (The term “Good Christian” can be turned back into something positive.) It is honourable to pray eloquently; study the bible often, spend time with other Christians, abstain from destructive behaviours, and follow all the rules to the best of one’s ability. However, with the world–and God watching, the outward behaviour of a person has to reflect what is in his or her heart. If there is any inconsistency, not only will a person be judged by the world, they will also face judgment by God. In other words, if a person is a fraud with warm actions and a cold heart, it will come to light.

Sometimes a person’s greatest triumphs occur when he or she is at his weakest point. When a person can no longer rely on their self-preservation, intellect, personality, and resources to get them through, they have to be more adaptable and willing to work with others. We all need companionship, and if some of the members are holding themselves above everyone else because of their behaviour, it will jeopardize the unity of the whole.

I am a Christian, not because I am strong, but because I acknowledge my weakness. I don’t hold myself above anyone else because I know that I am what I am because of the grace of God. I didn’t do a thing to earn my redemption, so I am not expecting anyone else to either. I can’t judge anyone because I do not know what is in his or her heart.

I’m only writing this to remind myself of the truth if/when I get a swelled head.

Peace,

Erin

Talking About God: Grumble, Grumble, Grumble

All week, I’ve been reading the story of Moses, and the exodus of the Israelites. To make a long story long, Moses was chosen by God, to lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. He had to overcome his insecurities, his past (as a murderer, no less!), and he had to find his identity as a follower of God. Along the way, he had to deal with whiners, opposition, and last but not least, his own siblings, Miriam and Aaron.

Miriam and Aaron were grumblers.

Grumblers can be distinguished by their reactions. If someone that the grumbler either does not like or feels superior to, is successful, the grumbler hates it. If that person fails, the grumbler is happy. Grumblers don’t want credit for the sake of it; they just want to be better than someone else. In its essence, grumbling is an indicator of both pride and insecurity. It is an unearned sense of entitlement.

Any victories a grumbler gains with that approach are temporary because their condition cannot be satisfied with external success. In order to fix the grumbling, a person has to take a deep, unbiased inventory of the person they are, what they want, and how they want to get it.

If a person’s success is dependent upon the failure of another person, it is not true success. It does nothing to elevate their position because their hard work and talent had nothing to do with what they have achieved. Even if, the person does well, there will always be a nagging feeling that they did not do anything to deserve it. (Other than lie to, manipulate, and sabotage their competition.)

Miriam and Aaron were equally as gifted as Moses. Miriam was a prophetess, and Aaron was a priest. In spite of the prestige associated with their titles, the priest and the prophetess were caught whining. “Why does Moses get to be the leader? We hear from God as well, so we should be leaders with him”. Blah. Blah. Blah. Pity party city.

(I’m paraphrasing, but that’s pretty much what was said)

Immediately, they were both taken to task. Not by Moses, but by God. God reminded them that He chose Moses, so Moses was the leader. (When God chooses a man or woman for leadership, it is irreversible. Even if that man or woman is a custodian, he or she will be the leader of the custodians.) For her trouble, Miriam was struck with leprosy, and had to leave the camp temporarily. (Possibly because she was the most vocal, as, grumbling always precedes a curse. Aaron was unharmed.)

There’s nothing wrong with holding the people in administrative roles accountable for the actions they exhibit while in leadership. Actually, there’s nothing wrong with holding anyone responsible for their actions. In the Bible, King Saul was admonished by the prophet Samuel for his disobedience to God. King David was told of his sin by Nathan. Barak was chastised by Deborah for being apprehensive. Jesus referred to the highfalutin Pharisees as, “a nest of vipers”. A person is not always the best judge when it comes to his or her own shortcomings, so those shortcomings occasionally have to be pointed out by someone else.

That said, grumbling is still wrong.

Grumblers are best identified by their statements:

“If I were him/her, I would do [fill in the blank].”

“I deserve [fill in the blank] more than that person because of [fill in the blank].”

“I’d be a much better leader than him or her!”

“I don’t see how he/she became an expert all of the sudden. I’m smarter than them.”

Grumblers are all about elevating themselves–even at the expense of other people. They have many criticisms yet offer few solutions. Miriam and Aaron were not called to be leaders because of their attitudes.

Miriam had an agenda of self-promotion. It wasn’t enough for her to be associated with the power. She wanted it for herself. Aaron, on the other hand, was too intimidated by the people to lead effectively. (I mean, any priest who would allow people to bully him into making them a gold statue to worship, is obviously more concerned with getting approval from the crowd than he is with fulfilling the will of God)

Moses, on the other hand, was singularly focused on the assignment that God gave him, which is why he was successful. (Even with all of the grumblers he had to deal with)

Regardless of the level of intelligence, experience, or opportunities, grumblers do not make great leaders because they exalt themselves above their subordinates. True leadership is marked by service rather than domination.

Any dude with a title can tell people what to do, but it takes a person of character to be a leader.

Peace,

Erie

Talking About God Tuesday: Words of Wisdom That Everyone Can Use

Christians have the reputation of behaving in ways that are both sanctimonious and intolerant. It is as though salvation acts as a memory-eraser; once the Christian has achieved redemption  by God, he or she uses that acceptance to make others feel excluded through criticism. They spread gossip by referring to it as a prayer request, and by rejecting a person as soon as he or she does something offensive. Yes, Christians should behave differently. Christians have always been expected to behave differently. On the other hand, non-Christians should not be held to the same standards. Why condemn a person for behaving in the way that is natural to them?

Once a person thinks he, or she has arrived, that person holds to the belief that no one can tell them anything new, yet he or she can instruct others with impunity. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”  (1Cor. 5:12) Unless it has a direct impact, what someone else does with his or her life is the business of that person.

In that spirit, here are a few wise quotes that are biblically/Christianity based, but also make sense for those who do not ascribe to this faith.

“Walk in your God-given authority, or someone will take it and use it against you.” John Bevere

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Matthew 7:1-2

 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

 “The way to happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Scatter sunshine, forget self, think of others. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.” Norman Vincent Peale

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” C.S. Lewis

“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone.” Billy Graham

“You can be pitiful, or you can be powerful, but you can’t be both” Joyce Meyer

“When you are in the final days of your life, what will you want?
Will you hug that college degree in the walnut frame? Will you ask to be carried to  the garage so you can sit in your car? Will you find comfort in rereading your financial statement? Of course not. What will matter then will be people. If relationships will matter most then, shouldn’t they matter most now? Max Lucado

“Real freedom is freedom from the opinions of others. Above all, freedom from your opinions about yourself. ” Brennan Manning

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the case of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17

A man or woman does not have to be a Christian to be a kind person, and declaring oneself a Christian does not preclude a person from engaging in bad behaviour. With open minds and open hearts, every person, regardless of beliefs, can coexist and try to treat his or her neighbours with respect. “Love your neighbor as yourself”, was a commandment, not a guideline.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone followed it.

Peace,

Erie

 

Talking About God Tuesday: A Thorn In The Flesh

When I study the letters of the apostle Paul, I learn a lot about how to cope with suffering. Paul, a former religious-nut whose redemption story proves that no one is a lost cause to Jesus, has suffered more than most.

Apart from the multiple arrests and imprisonments; beatings; starvation; persecution, and rejection, the apostle Paul, had a thorn in his flesh. Reports of what the “thorn” was, vary; some people think it was a lesion. Others believe it was a disease like epilepsy, or that the thorn was a demon that followed Paul around to torment him.

Whatever it was, Paul did not like it. At all.

He asked the Lord three times to remove the thorn. Rather than removing it, the Lord said, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Since people have not changed much, I do not believe Paul was looking for that answer. After suffering so much, Paul probably just wanted it to be over.

God’s response was to let Paul know that what mere men count as a weakness, is what will be his greatest source of strength. The thorn reminded Paul that he was human, fallible, and not as “in charge” as he thought. The thorn brought Paul to the end of himself. His agenda, ego, and self-interest had to be cast aside because they interfered with God’s agenda. Arrogance is offensive to God (and other people) because it sets itself above everything and everyone else. It is a display of strength and confidence that is devoid of both.

Paul recognized this, which is why he replied: “So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

When a person has surrendered all traces of self-consciousness and insecurity, he or she    has the choice to live with freedom. The thorns of life may cause us pain and discomfort. They may embarrass us, and open us up to ridicule and rejection. They also cause us to focus on what is important. For Paul, his most important role was as a follower of Christ.

The thorn showed those he would be preaching to that Paul was just like them. People best exemplify the attributes of Christ (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) when they are vulnerable.

In spite of the circumstances, a person who has attained freedom in his/ her mind is unconstrained. Paul was available to preach the gospel of Jesus in a hostile territory because his strength was not the only source from which he had to draw. In my life, I was never so strong as I was in the times when I admitted my weakness. Like Paul, I have a thorn in my flesh. (A big one!) However, I chose to live my life, in spite of the thorn. It may look like a weakness to those on the outside, but by allowing my imperfection to show, I am affirming God’s strength.

I’m okay with that.

Peace,

Erie

 

Talking About God Tuesday:Love

I don’t have  a lot to say today, (I know, shocking) so I’m just going to share another favourite bible passage because it is the one that I need to remind myself of the most.

 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Blessings,

Erie

Off The Cuff Thursday: Destroy The Image, Break The Enemy

This week, I have been thinking a lot about self-preservation versus vulnerability.

It is human nature to protect everything that makes us feel comfortable, secure, and powerful. The bad thing about self-preservation is that it does not care how it holds on to comfort and security. In the interest of protecting ones’ own interests, self-preservation ignores the interests of others. It does not care what it has to destroy in the process. If self-preservation takes the lead, it will always set itself above the rest. Self-preservation is a display of strength that is devoid of any actual power.

I discovered that the real power is in vulnerability. Vulnerability is a threat to self-preservation because it is proof that a person does not have to appear strong in order to be tough. Vulnerability enables a person to take the biggest risks. There cannot be love where there is no vulnerability. There is no acceptance where there is no vulnerability. There can be no compassion where there is no vulnerability. There can be no success without vulnerability. There can be no genuine kindness where there is no vulnerability.

Self-preservation robs a person of his or her true self because it is reliant on a carefully constructed image. Vulnerability restores because it is reliant on the qualities that the person already has. Self-preservation is sometimes a false friend because it prevents a person from discerning whether threats are real or imaginary. It is continually fighting for survival, in spite of the fact that it is not in danger of destruction.

Vulnerability represents the deconstruction of the graven image that is self-preservation. It is treating people with respect, whether they deserve it or not. It is showing up and doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. It is working to do your best in all that you do, so at the end of the day, you can say you have done everything in your power to succeed. It is making a mistake and admitting it without making excuses.

Self-preservation is the image. Vulnerability is the real thing.

One of my favourite movies is Enter the Dragon. My favourite scene (and inspiration and namesake for this post) is when Lee fights Han in the museum of mirrors. At first, this disorients Lee. The mirrors make it difficult to see where Han is, so it looks as though Han has the upper hand. (Or claw. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean.) Lee remembers the voice of his sensei, Shaolin Abbot: “Remember:the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy.” Lee then breaks all of the mirrors and uses Han’s own spear to defeat him.

Humans are born with a survival instinct because we need one. However, sometimes our need to protect our own interests ends up harming instead of helping. It takes wisdom–that I am currently, not in possession of, but hope to acquire–to know when to protect and when to pull all the walls down and be accessible.

Self-preservation prevents us from ingesting poisonous foods and from running into situations that might potentially endanger us. Self preservation also prevents us from seeking things that may benefit us because we are too concerned with the risks involved. It causes us to work against the people we are supposed to be helping, and push the people who are supposed to help us away. It causes us to hide our faults because we don’t want anyone else to know that we’re not perfect. It causes us to blame others for mistakes that we have made.

“Self preservation isn’t worth it if you can’t live with the self you’re preserving.” David Levithan, Everyday

I write this because I am in the middle of destroying some long-held illusions about myself. In the past couple of years, I have discovered that the qualities I previously thought to be weaknesses; kindness, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance, and tolerance, are actually strengths. They don’t look like strengths, but I have decided that I’d rather appear weak and have a lot of strength, than appear strong and have little.

In the bible, the apostle Paul wrote that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. (It all comes back to the Bible with me, folks. Get used to it.)  In my life, would not have gained the strength I needed without first admitting that I was not strong. When I made the admission, I had to go through situations specifically set up to strengthen me. It was a strict regimen–only the training was for my mental and emotional fitness rather than physical. (Though, my physical strength, is nothing to scoff at either)

I am who I am, not because I can intimidate people with my loud voice, (nope!) my size, (definitely not), or how I speak (I’m silent around 50% if the time). I’m not any smarter than anyone else. I’m not wiser, or bigger or badder. I am who I am because I know my weaknesses. I allow myself the grace to make mistakes without feeling shame about them. I know what I’m good at. I know what motivates me, and I know how I cope with stress. (By Working out, and then naps.) I can endure tough times and not allow them to defeat me. Most importantly, I have faith in someone and something greater than me. If I choose self-preservation, it means that I don’t trust God.

In the interest if self-preservation, I won’t eat anything that doesn’t look or smell right, and I won’t rush toward danger (unless, of course, someone needs my help). If a person has already betrayed me three times, I’d be hesitant to trust them so they can betray me once more, (Hey there, Delilah) But, me being dishonest so I can conform to the image others have of me has been over for a long time.

I am at my best when I am vulnerable because that is when my actions most closely resemble those of Jesus. Even if my vulnerability costs me, I don’t want to change.

Destroying the image breaks the enemy.

Peace,

Erie

Talking About God Tuesday: My Favourite Psalm

This passage has special significance for me because it is one of the first ones I learned to recite from memory. The psalmist likens his relationship with God to that of a shepherd and his sheep. No matter what happened in his life, he knew that God would be there to take care of him.

Rather than hearing me blather on and add my own thoughts, I’ll give you the passage so you can take from it what you will.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

(NIV)

And here it is in song form.

Peace,

Erie

 

 

Sharing Saturday: I’m A Deborah?

It all started with a Facebook app. One of my friends sent me a request for a “Which Mighty Woman of the Bible Are You?” quiz. Normally, I hate app requests (I block anyone who sends them to me), but for some reason I decided to do this one. After answering all the questions, (and skipping the requisite “Invite all your friends…” spam), my results were posted.

I got Deborah.

Truthfully, I was unimpressed.

I was thinking, ‘I’m beautiful and brave, so I’m Esther!’. Wrong.

‘Diligent and loyal, Ruth’. Nope.

‘Pure and faithful like Mary’. Negative.

Instead, I got Deborah. Some random “Mighty Woman” that I knew nothing about.

I was disappointed until I read Deborah’s story (Starting in Judges 4). I soon found out that there is nothing “random” about Deborah. Not only was she a female ruler in a patriarchal society, she was a judge, and a prophet. She was strong, confident, and wise— but also really tough and decisive. Plus, she was fully dependent on the LORD to make provision for her and the people of Israel. While Miriam was the first mentioned female prophet, Deborah was a prophet, and a judge. She is also one of a handful of people who has a song written for her directly after her story. (The Song of Deborah is Judges 5)

I was ashamed by my ignorance. It might be just a silly Facebook test, but if I’m a “Deborah”, that is an honor worth praising God for. It’s funny how a quiz helped me realize the importance of studying my Bible more. Sure I have a few verses memorized, but there’s still so much I haven’t learned. I pray that I never get to the point where I think, “I’ve arrived! And I have learned everything I need to know!” because honestly, that would be the beginning of a long spiritual and intellectual death.

It takes all kinds of parts to help a body function well. Every bone, organ, and cell in your body has its designated role and all must work together. How fitting that we as Christians are called the body of Christ. We all have different roles, but every single one of us is important to God. Don’t ever feel intimidated by your age, or your stature. If you have been called by God, you’re already accepted. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Deborah. Or a Mary. Or a David. Or a Job (bless his heart). Know that you can be used, by God to show the world His love and grace.

And it all started with an app.

Peace,

Erie