In One Ear and Out the Mouth

shutterstock_396656035Gossip.  We’ve all been victims of it, and we’ve all been perpetrators of it.  We hate when we hear someone has been talking poorly about us and it might even anger us when what is said is untrue.  There’s a great lesson in the old game of “telephone” where one person whispers something to the person next to them, and then it is passed along through the line or circle of people and then spoken out loud at the end.  Rarely is it even close to what was originally said, which often brings great laughter.  Sometimes the morphing of the statement happens simply from people misunderstanding a word here or there, and sometimes it happens because someone deliberately changes a word or two just for the “fun of it.”  Either way, it is a great reminder that whenever we hear something second, third (or even further) hand, we need to be very careful in how we react to it.

There’s a reason the Bible has so many verses about the need for controlling our tongues.  The problem most of us have is that we often try to force bringing it under control through sheer will.  We say or think things like, “I am just NOT going to say anything!  I’m gonna stop it because I know it is not God-honoring and it’s just not good to do.”  I’m not saying it doesn’t work sometimes to do that because there are certainly times when we have to just power through and force ourselves to stay on the high road in a given situation.  That being said, it is not our nature to take the high road, and the only way we can conquer our natural tendencies is through God’s help.

shutterstock_65540413Lately it seems this subject has come up more and more, whether it is at work, church, family or other relationships. I think we go through seasons where it just flares in all areas, and we watch the destruction that it can cause when people “share information” with or about others. (In case you didn’t know, “sharing information” is just a nice way of saying “gossiping.”  LOL)  Anyway, It struck me this week how important it is for us to go back to that one first and foremost commandment that we love God above all else and the second that we love others as ourselves.  I have shared often about the characteristics and nature of love as it is described to us in the Bible, and one of the traits that came up for me recently is where it says it “believes all things.”  That means it believes the best in people regardless of what is said.  It means you choose to believe the best about those you love, and when gossip hits your ears about something they may or may not have actually said about you, then you choose to believe it was a misunderstanding.  If I love you and esteem you better than myself, I won’t fall prey to spreading gossip about you or taking gossip I hear about you to heart.

It can be hurtful when you hear things about yourself or others that may or may not be true.  As Christians, when this occurs, we sometimes say the best thing you can do is to follow what the Bible says about confronting someone who has offended you.  Although that is a great passage that we should adhere to for personal offenses, it’s interesting when it comes to gossip, we don’t get offended at the person who is telling us.  Instead, we get offended at some other person down the gossip chain.  We misplace our sense of offense, and then have this inherent drive to “set the record straight.”  As a result, we use the offended brother principle and say, “If someone offends me, then I need to go to him or her alone (not tell everyone else) to resolve the issue.  Although that is true, it is meant for direct offense, not a perceived offense based on multiple levels of hearsay.  The truth is, it shouldn’t matter to you what you heard about what someone else has said; what matters is what transpires between you and someone else directly.   We do not have a right to go to someone based on hearsay.  We also don’t have a right to be angry or offended based on hearsay.  When you really think about it, if we are going to be angry and offended when we hear gossip that upsets us, maybe it should be directed at the one who shared it with us. But then again, everything we do should come back to love as it is described in 1 Corinthians chpt 13.

shutterstock_226217977As I mentioned earlier, if I love you in the manner God has instructed me to love, and someone else tells me that you said something mean, nasty or untrue about me, I will choose to not believe it.  Until God reveals otherwise, I will believe that something has been misunderstood or misinterpreted along the way.  And if I don’t do that, then I’m not really exhibiting love at all.  I know there are some who will disagree with me when I say this, but we don’t have a right to be angry, set the record straight or even clear our names.  We don’t need to try and root out the source of the gossip so we can confront it.  We need to simply leave it up to God, and the truth is we don’t like that one bit!  It goes against our nature.  The way we stop tongues from wagging is to simply not be one of them.  And when something is said, we should respond with something like “I’m not comfortable hearing or discussing this unless that person is here to defend themselves.”  That holds true whether we want to agree with the gossip or not.  It’s easy to believe the bad about a person (or their intent/motives) when their personality rubs us the wrong way.  Even as Christians, we tend to always believe the worst in each other.  We may start out believing the best, but then something happens that we disagree with, we just stew about it. It’s just so much easier to believe the negative.  And, truth be told, a lot of times we actually take pleasure in it.  That should never be the case!  We need to remember that we need to guard and control our ears as much as we need to guard and control our tongues!

Telling tales (true or not) is one of the most destructive aspects of life.  And whether we are the one speaking or listening, we feign innocence.  We feign concern.  We do it and then use those things to cloak our gossip instead of calling it what it is.  It doesn’t make it any more innocent to say we are sharing it because, “Somebody ought to know.”  It doesn’t make it any more honorable to say we are just seeking someone from which to get information on something we did not happen to witness personally.  Well the truth is, God already knows what has occurred, been said and/or done.  The question is: Do you trust Him or not to take care of things?  I’m not asking what you SAY, but what you practice internally.  We all answer that question with a resounding “Yes,” but then don’t act accordingly.  When you boil it down to these types of questions, it can really hit you in the heart.  I know it certainly has for me.

shutterstock_128469905This life of faith – “kingdom living” – is a higher calling, and if we are not going to rise up to that level, then we need to stop calling ourselves Christians.  I’m not saying we will always be successful, because we will fail.  We will fail miserably because our emotions will get in the way.  We will fall prey to the enemy’s advances in our lives through our tongue and through our ears.  It is time for it to stop.  It is time to stand up and truly love in the way we are commanded.  Because when we don’t, we are out of fellowship with God.  It is not a feeling; it is a choice.  It isn’t important what someone else says about you or what you may have heard about someone else.  What is important is that when we engage in gossip or any other unloving behavior toward each other, God no longer hears our prayers because we now have unconfessed sin in our own lives (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2).  The only way we can break through the deafening barrier of our own sin is by confessing it to God and asking for His forgiveness, which he has promised to grant every single time (1 John 1:9).

Genuine love is not easy.  If it were easy, there’d be a lot more of it.  Love requires sacrifice.  Most often, more than any other type of sacrifice, it is our pride and our “justice gene” that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  It is the nature that compels us to prove our innocence, or sometimes to prove someone else’s guilt, that needs to be sacrificed on the altar.  Brothers and sisters, it is time that we come together.  It is time to lay aside our perceptions, anger, and the incessant need to be right or to hold onto things that the enemy uses to attempt to divide us.   We need to live and love as God commanded us to do – even when we may feel we have been wronged. Trust me, God can and will settle all accounts.

NowSo as for me, it is my renewed commitment to be constantly striving to love as God expects me to love and forgive as He expects me to forgive.   For me, it is a renewed commitment to believe the best in my brothers and sisters (and even non‑believers), whether at home, church, work or anywhere else.  We need to do it with our spouses, children, family, friends, coworkers , etc., and yes, even with our enemies.  There is no such thing as “partial obedience” when God instructs us to do something.  It is pretty simple: either we obey or we do not.  Let’s get back to weeding our own gardens instead of trying to weed each other’s.  Let’s take the log out of our own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from someone else’s.  And let’s quit finding creative ways to rationalize our behavior when it does not coincide with what we SAY we believe or KNOW is true.  I call you to join me.  I call us to action.  Because through love, we are truly unstoppable.

Blessings!

ps – some great reminders…

Ephesians 4:2929 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

James 1:26 – 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

James 3:9-10 (In regards to the tongue) –  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

Love Really Does Win

shutterstock_290942954Hate.  Anger.  Turmoil.  It seems we are surrounded by it constantly these days.  We could attribute it to recent tragedies or the political season, but I think it’s more than that.  We are a rich country.  I’m not saying everyone is rich, but even the poor in our country have access to more food, shelter and services than many other places.  Here’s the thing about prosperity:  It’s easier to have more time on our hands, and when we have more time, we have the choice to think about the blessings in our lives or all of the things that are not as we would like.  We have more time to think, and yet our thoughts don’t always rest on what the Bible tells us in the book of Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise – meditate on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8) Instead, it seems our thoughts go to those things that are more selfish and divisive.

In our country, we’ve endured a long period of time in which a very strong focus was placed on noticing and appreciating our differences.  As a result, we have gone to great lengths to point them out more and more.  Maybe it is race or heritage, lifestyle or political beliefs, or a host of other things, but we’ve focused on continually highlighting what is different about each other rather than pointing out what is the same.  Diversity (in all of its buzzword glory) has been celebrated and our sameness has been ignored.  The problem is that when we see ourselves as different, it becomes much easier to judge or fear, or to be angry and lash out.  So as a result of our nation’s prosperity – the prosperity our parents and grandparents worked so hard to secure for us – we have had more time to nitpick and tear each other apart.  We have celebrated our differences so much that now our differences are most often the only thing we see.  The beautiful thing about God is that He doesn’t see what we see when we look at each other.  He doesn’t see what is on the outside (and I am not referring only to our appearance); He sees our hearts.  Unfortunately, I think what He now sees disappoints Him more than we can probably imagine.  After all, He suffered and died for every single one of us regardless of our race, heritage, preferences or even our sins!  To Him, sin is sin even though WE like to pick and choose which ones He disapproves of the most.  Of course, it’s never the ones with which we personally struggle, but that’s a blog for another time.

shutterstock_300707297I am a white, conservative, heterosexual Christian.  I also have friends and loved ones who are of all colors, religions, backgrounds and creeds.  I love them all equally.  I may have more in common with some, which leads me to spend more time with some, but I do not love them more.  As a result of my perspective on love, I have some very deep and meaningful relationships with people that others may not understand.  Some would even say I should not have these relationships based on my own “classifications.”  What a load of crap!  I would not turn my back on those relationships simply because we have different opinions or perspectives.  Even the people I encounter and find extremely difficult to even tolerate (let alone love), I am still to love them.  Loving as God has commanded means that I will love others and see them as God sees them.  And in God’s eyes, they mean so much to Him that they are worth dying for!  Do I always succeed at that?  Sadly, I do not.  Like many of you, I struggle to not get caught up into the anger that comes as a result of one side or another (on any issue) becoming belligerent, uncaring and unloving – even if I might agree with their actual position.   Everyone likes to point the finger at others and say they are the “judgers,” but everyone shares that trait in common!  Everyone is a hypocrite at one point or another.  As a result, we end up living lives that are not abundant.  We stress and fight and get tied up in knots internally over the issues that face us, while at the same time God is looking at us saying, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)  God wants us to rest!  He wants us to rest because resting from our labor should be refreshing.  When we get quiet, our minds should turn to Him and to a true reflection of ourselves – not the image we try to portray to others.

The  truth is that if I am honest and understand exactly who I am, then it doesn’t really matter who you are.  Let me explain.  If I’m focused on my own relationship with God and what I need to adjust in that relationship – whether it is to ask for forgiveness or to be more committed or love more purely – then I will not be focused on what you are doing in your relationship with Him or others.  If I am going to try and love the way I am commanded to love, the only way I can succeed in doing so is if I am keenly aware that without Him I can do nothing – without Him, I am nothing.   That isn’t meant to be a self-depreciating flagellation; It is a reality that I did not and do not deserve His love, mercy and grace, yet He gives it freely and continually.  I should be keenly aware of that fact – without any rationalization of who I am, the impure and sinful thoughts that I have, the words that I say, or acts that I commit.  If I am honest with myself and recognize how imperfect, and even hypocritical, I am, then I won’t see you as less than me.  That’s what love is.

shutterstock_419615524After the recent Orlando tragedy, there are a lot of “love wins” quotes once again being circulated.  I realize that phrase has been used for one particular cause, but the reality is that truest love DOES win – the love of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 DOES win!  It wins because it will cause us to be honest with ourselves and take off our masks so that we can see ourselves for who we are.  It allows us to face the truth of Matt 7:3-5 that says, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 

So in light of recent tragedies, and tragedies that are certain to come over the course of time in an imperfect world, love wins.  In light of a political season that is filled with hate and anger from both sides of the aisle love wins.  In light of selfishness and meanness, love still wins.  Why?  Because loving as God love will allow us to not be first and be perfectly okay with it.  It will allow you to forgive, even if no one ever says, “I’m sorry.”  Love will allow you to treat others with compassion – even those with whom you disagree – and trust God to sort it all out.  It may not be the way we want, and it may not be in the timing we want, but my responsibility is to “do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly before my God.” (Micah 6:8)

After all, God didn’t say it was an option.  He didn’t say, “Love the way I do if you feel like it.”  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  (John 13:34).    And if you aren’t sure what that kind of love looks like, then I would encourage you to take the time to read 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

Blessings!

(For an in-depth post on the nature of pure love, click here: Love Is Not Grey)

When a Storm Rolls In

This is a bit of an unusual (and lengthy) blog post, but one I must share.  I write a lot about faith and the fact it is never easy because it goes against the grain of our human reasoning and emotions.  I’ve also said many times that although it is challenging to walk by faith, it is also liberating because it frees us from having to always know the “whys” of circumstances in our lives.  All of these characteristics of faith are true but when a storm rolls in, our faith can be shaken now and then by the raging winds.  It is also when a storm rolls in that we see amazing examples of faith displayed.  When WE exemplify true faith, we don’t always notice it because we are in the process of walking through something.  But when others exemplify it, that’s something different.  It is something glaring and, dare I say, glowing.  It not only encourages us; it strengthens us.

Some of you have been aware of the journey of my dear friend Sandy and her fight with cancer since 2012.  She is the epitome of what it means to be a fighter.  She’s endured continual treatments and also several surgeries where they’ve taken organs (and pieces of other organs) in an attempt to remove all the tumors.  They’ve gotten close a couple of times, but still it returns.  As of this writing, things are not looking good for her, and the doctors are running out of treatment options.  Is this a terrifying thing to consider?  In our humanity, the answer is “yes,” but in our faith, we embrace life and every moment we have – whether it is only for a short while or years to come.  God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t understand.  He knows the “storm,” and He is the Master of the wind.

So back to Sandy and her family.  Through all of this ordeal, no matter how dire or frightening the circumstances have been at different times, they’ve exemplified a faith that lives!  To read the many CaringBridge posts is to read something that sounds like the great heroes of faith that are mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.  She and her husband Scott do not write what they think they are supposed to say or feel about things; they write exactly what they believe about things.  It has been, and still is, amazing to me.  Walking this journey with them as friends, singing partners (we used to sing in a quartet) and brothers/sisters in Christ, has been a strength, comfort and encouragement to me and many others.  It has deepened my own faith and been a continual perspective changer as I, and others, go through our own lives.  What amazes me is that in Scott’s post last night, he apologized for continually asking others to help bear their burdens when he/they have been “oblivious” to everyone else’s respective struggles.  What?!  He mentioned that God tells us to “bear each other’s burdens,” and that he/they have fallen short in doing so.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  What Scott failed to realize last night is that through the sharing of their journey (good, bad or ugly), they have continually helped the rest of us through our own struggles.  They have born our burdens even without knowing the circumstances.  That is the beauty of walking by faith.  It allows others to see God at work in the lives of His children – IN SPITE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES!

Today is a stormy kind of day, and this is a stormy period for Sandy, Scott, their four girls, and the rest of us that love them.  They are in need of your prayers and positive thoughts today as Sandy is set to endure yet another risky procedure.  We pray for God’s will in this and everything else she is facing, though we hope His will coincides with our own “wants.”  I simply ask you to take a moment and pray with us, and to continue doing so whenever this family comes to mind.  God IS faithful!  He is faithful even we aren’t.  He has promised to “never leave us nor forsake us,” no matter how dark it may look when a storm rolls in.

Blessings!

P.S. Though it is lengthy, I am pasting Scott’s post from last night below, but if you want to read an amazing story of real faith, go follow Sandy’s journey on CaringBridge.

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/sandylbrooks

“By Scott Brooks – 12 hours ago

Well, it has been an interesting (and exhausting) few days. But first, let me update you on the last week and a half. Sandy was released from UCSF Parnassus Hospital (late) on Tuesday evening, 4/26. Shortly after we arrived home, the supplies for her home I.V. infusion of antibiotics arrived. We had been trained while still at the hospital, how to connect and disconnect the I.V. lines to the port she has had since 2012. A nurse comes to the house once a week to remove the needle and reinsert a new one, but we can handle the changing of the medications.

So for the last week and a half, twice a day on 12 hour intervals, Sandy has been going through the routine. It takes about 2 1/2 hours in the morning because there are two medications, and about 1 1/2 hours in the evening when there is only one. She is feeling generally “better,” but is still having an occasional low-grade fever. Her nausea has subsided, but we’re really not sure if that was a side effect of the oral chemotherapy she was on last month, or a product of the infection affecting her system. We finally have a name for the condition her doctors have been attacking for the last few weeks: Empyema with Thoracic Fistula. But it’s basically an abscess that is trying to make its way to the surface of her skin . . . which, unfortunately, it is now very close to doing. And that’s bad, it seems.

We had a follow-up appointment yesterday with the infectious disease doctor who saw Sandy while she was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. Of course, she asked about the progress of the condition. My assessment was that the coloring was less “angry” than when she was in the hospital, and less widespread, but that the actual protrusion of the swelling was, in fact, worse. When the doctor examined Sandy, she looked at me with this stunned expression and said, “Wow, I would agree with your assessment 100%.” Score one for the layman. She was obviously concerned by what she observed and took a photo on her camera, to share with the other doctors, particularly the surgical staff, who are on the team treating Sandy. She expressed the opinion that while the I.V. antibiotics are a good thing, and the right thing to do right now, they would never be a “cure” for Sandy’s infection. As a consequence, she wanted to consult with the others to determine a course for Sandy’s immediate treatment.

Our appointment was at 9:30. During the appointment, she said she would email Sandy’s Surgical Oncologist. We went downstairs to submit some lab work, and then walked about 3 blocks away to grab a bite at a little hole in the wall called the Wooly Pig Cafe. (Great Shanghai BBQ Pork Sandwich!) We had no more than ordered and sat down until my phone rang. I walked outside onto the sidewalk to take it so as not to disturb the other diners. It was the Surgical Oncologist’s office. They wanted to see Sandy today in her surgeon’s office at 1:00. I asked if we couldn’t just work it in yesterday since we were already in San Francisco, rather than having to make another trip, but the Office Coordinator said the surgeon was out of town at a conference, so it would not be possible until today. The time was 11:17 a.m.

I want you to take that in for a moment. In a process which probably took less than an hour, Sandy’s Infectious Disease doctor communicated with her surgeon (who is such a “big deal” at UCSF that he only holds clinic on Wednesday, and Sandy only saw him, personally, twice in the 10 days of her most recent hospitalization), who was out of town at a conference, who took the time out of what he was doing to look over her message, contacted his office, and fit Sandy in to his first-day-back schedule the next day, and his Office Coordinator then contacted us to set up the appointment. That’s impressive! It’s also sobering.

Meanwhile, back at the appointment with the Infectious Disease doctor . . . Sandy’s most recent blood work showed her, again, to be anemic. It was encouraging that her white counts were still good, but the reds just were not where they needed to be. She suggested that Sandy have a discussion with her local oncologist in Pleasanton, about the possibility of getting another transfusion. So while Sandy was downstairs doing the lab work I mentioned earlier, I was calling her oncologist to leave a message that we needed to have that discussion. 

I had no more than walked back into the Wooly Pig and sat down until my phone rang again. This time it was Sandy’s oncologist’s office in Pleasanton. Her scheduler met my “Hello?” with, “This is ________ from __________ __________ ____________ ________________. You guys need to get over to the hospital as quick as you can because they’ll need to get Sandy’s blood for a ‘type and cross,’ and her transfusion is set up for 2:00.” After I gathered my thoughts for a second, I realized what had happened. With no discussion at all, based on the earlier lab reports, Sandy’s oncologist had ordered the transfusion and her scheduler had set up everything with the hospital . . . in Pleasanton. We were in San Francisco. I told her the situation and that there was no way we could be there by then. She said that if we missed this window, they would not be able to fit Sandy in for days. I assured her that we would do the best we could, but that it would be at least 1:00 to 1:30 before we could get back to Pleasanton. She told me to just do the best we could and hope they could still get Sandy in when we got there.

We quickly finished our lunch and after an administrative snafu with the UCSF Campus Parking Police that cost us fully 45 minutes (and shall not be further discussed here), we were on our way back to Pleasanton. Traffic was not horrible, but not great, so we arrived at the hospital in Pleasanton a little before 2:00. When we arrived at the Outpatient Lab Admitting office, where we had gone the last time Sandy had a transfusion, they looked a little confused. But when we mentioned a few of the details, they sort of snapped to attention and shredded all the red tape. Sandy was in the Pre-Op ward in a bed by 2:07.

Then began the long and tedious process of waiting. Wait for the lab work to be done. Wait for the blood to come. And then the big wait: the transfusion itself. They gave Sandy two units just as the last time. The Pre-Op ward closed down at 7:30, so they had to move Sandy to the Post-Op ward to finish up. It was about 9:30 p.m. when we left there and we were home before 10:00. We had left our house at 7:00 yesterday morning. We had to be back to San Francisco today for a 1:00 appointment with the surgeon, but Chloe was coming in to Oakland International for a surprise (to Sandy) Mother’s day visit at 8:45 a.m., so we left the house again this morning at 7:30.

The speed and ease with which her appointment with the surgeon had been scheduled, led me to suspect the possibility that she could be admitted today after he examined her. I didn’t have much idea what might be his course of action, but the speed and ease with which those cogs turned, told me that Sandy had his attention. And when you’re talking about a surgeon, that never speaks well of the patient’s condition. Accordingly, we came prepared for a hospital stay. 

After the usual array of interrogatives from first, a medical student, then a collaborating doctor, and then finally her surgeon, we had a course of action a little after 2:00 this afternoon. We were to go downstairs where Sandy would be receiving a CT Scan, after which we would return to the 5th floor where Sandy would be admitted in anticipation of draining the abscess. If you think this sounds somewhat like a rerun of a few weeks ago, you’re not alone. There are, however, some very significant differences this time.

Sandy’s immune system has significantly recovered, allowing for the procedure without the great concern for catastrophe that surrounded the doctors’ deliberations a few weeks ago. The abscess itself has now progressed — largely because Sandy’s immune system has recovered — to the point that something now must be done in order to avoid a very nasty skin rupture and the complications which could go with that. There is still the risk of “seeding” the cancer elsewhere in her body, but the reality is that the present infection just takes a higher priority than that risk.

So now, to the procedure itself . . . Tomorrow morning, they will install a drain to relieve the pressure in the pocket of infection that has formed. This will be done by an Interventional Radiologist, so it will be under local anesthesia rather than general. It is a pretty minor procedure, really, so there is very little cause for concern as to the procedure itself. They will want to keep Sandy for at least 24 hours to observe her to be sure that all the potential complications are ruled out. Because of the location of the abscess, there are a variety of serious complications that could already exist and would be revealed by relieving the pressure in the abscess. These are not “likely,” but “possible.” It is possible that the abscess has eroded into her stomach, so that draining the abscess would open up a channel into her stomach — obviously, not a good thing. It is possible that the abscess could have perforated her diaphragm so that opening it up might result in a collapsed lung — also not a good thing. These are the sort of things that need to be discovered in a controlled environment, so they’ll keep her until they’re satisfied that none of the potential crises are likely to present themselves. But again, as of right now, that looks like sometime Sunday. We’ll certainly keep you informed of her progress.

For the moment, Sandy is as comfortable as she can be. She is not in any more pain than usual. She has better energy today than she did yesterday, presumably because of the transfusion last night. And her spirits are good. She is a fighter and is up for whatever her doctors feel is appropriate.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not tell you candidly that some of the best doctors in the country are still scratching their heads about what to do once the infection has resolved. Her surgeon does feel that the infection is a result of cancerous activity, so that will still remain after the infection is gone. In his words, “It’s in a challenging area,” involving a lot of internal organs as well as the chest wall itself. It’s complicated. And when a top-notch surgeon says it’s complicated, it’s a sobering thing.

I would be even more remiss if I did not remind you of what so many of us already know and believe. None of us are going to survive this life. Sandy knows that. I know that. And you all know that. It may be cancer, or infection, or a car wreck, or a volcanic eruption, or a massive coronary that takes our life, but one day we all will die unless Jesus returns for us first. For a child of God, this is a conflicting truth because we have an innate instinct to cling to life, but a confident hope that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. 

For the moment, it may appear that the cancer is winning and that Sandy and her physicians are losing. But we know the Great Physician, who is able if He so chooses to heal Sandy and restore her to full health. That same Physician has the power and ability to superintend the thoughts and actions of her earthly physicians to her best advantage, and we are convinced that He has positioned us where we are because it is where Sandy may receive exactly what she needs. In any case, Sandy has a future . . . an eternal future. And until her more immediate future becomes clear, we will strive to be as Job and adopt the attitude, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”

I have often asked you all to pray for us and I know that you have done so, as many of you have testified. But now I want you to know that I pray for you, that your faith might stand, and that the strength of the Lord might sustain you in the uncertainties of not only our circumstances, but in those of your own — of which we have been so selfishly oblivious. Please forgive us. We have so often unburdened ourselves at your expense, asking you to bear our load, but never taking yours upon us as the Bible instructs us to bear one another’s burdens. Jesus has used you to strengthen and encourage us. We pray that, in His wisdom, He has supplied your need as well, in spite of our failure to be for you what you have been for us. He is a great God, and a loving Father.
We will update you as soon as there is more to know. In the meantime, trust that we are in God’s hands, that He is good, and that He is intensely invested in the good of His children. There is . . .

More to come,

Scott”

Dance On The Raging Sea

What do you do when everything around you is raging?  It could be many things:  the job is going bad, there are issues in your relationships with friends or family, the church you attend is in a state of flux, your car breaks down and you’ve put on more pounds than you can take off.   Life is just NOT easy!  There are pitfalls and troubles at every turn and sometimes it can make you so worn that you don’t think you can even stand up.  I have news for you:  YOU CAN!  Not only can you stand, but you can do far more than that.  You can dance!

As I pondered my own current situation and the chaos I see all around me in every area, I was suddenly reminded (yet again) of the story of Peter walking on the water.  Most people of faith are very familiar with the story, but if you aren’t, you can read it in Matthew 14:22-31.  When this story is told or preached, it is basically presented with the focus on how Peter jumped out there with all kinds of faith, but then he took his eyes of Jesus and sank as a result.  I’ve heard all the sermons about “taking your eyes off of Christ” or “When you doubt, you sink.”  Yes, they are all well and good but there is something really important we miss when we don’t look deeper.

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It is no secret that Life can be really hard, and there are always going to be struggles we have to face.  We are hit continually with difficult situations or, as someone very dear to me has said, “I feel like I’m being pecked to death by chickens!”  I can relate!  Sometimes it isn’t big stuff that is dragging us down, but all the little nagging things we have to deal with daily.  One peck from a chicken might hurt, but it’s not going to kill you.  But a brood of chickens pecking you over and over is going to cause some serious damage!  When we get overwhelmed by the circumstances around us, it takes a huge toll on our health not just mentally but physically as well.  We end up with all kinds of physical problems, and our bodies respond with all kinds of aches, pains and other issues.  Recent studies have shown that almost 90 percent of all visits to primary doctors are due to stress-related problems.  Think about that!  We are killing ourselves with the stress in our lives.  I know what you are thinking: “I can’t control what is going on around me or the stress I’m under!”  Although you may not have control over the swirling circumstances, you do have control over how you let it affect you.  I’m not saying it is easy, and I personally struggle with it continually.  I’m simply saying most of our stress comes from how we choose to react to our circumstances and not the circumstances themselves.

So back to this story about Peter for a moment.  As I thought about this event again, I was struck with two very important things on which I’ve never heard anyone really focus.

  1. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to come out there.  Peter initiated things by calling out “Hey, if it’s you Jesus, then I want to come out there and walk with you on the water!”  So when Peter said he wanted to come, Jesus told him “OK, come on!”  Peter was a lot like us.  We get excited and want to jump out on the sea and walk with God.  After all, it would be a great experience that most never get to have.   So God says, “Come on” and we jump out of the ship onto the sea.
  2. Everyone talks about how Peter took his eyes off Jesus but that really isn’t what it says. The Bible actually says he saw the boisterous wind and became afraid.  It doesn’t say he took his eyes off of Jesus; It says he put his eyes on something else.  This may seem like semantics but it isn’t.  There is a huge difference between looking away from something and looking AT something.

shutterstock_242253397So why do these two facets of this story really matter?  What a great thing it is to be able to say to God, “Let me walk with You on the surface of this raging sea,” and instead of God telling us to stay in the ship where it is safer, He looks at us and says, “Hey – yeah, come on out here!”  And we step out to walk in places we should never be able to walk.  Peter basically said to Jesus, “I want to walk where You walk.  I want to be where You are.  I don’t care what it looks like or whether or not I’m supposed to be able to do it.  That’s where I want to be!”  I can attest to being in that spot before.  I’ve told God I want to walk where He walks and experience miraculous things, but just like Peter, it has been short-lived more often than I can count.  See, Peter wasn’t just looking around and noticing the scenery of the storm.  He could have seen all of it and chosen to be excited and say, “ This is awesome!  I should not be able to do this and be peaceful and joyful, but I am!  Jesus, thanks for letting me come out here with You.”  But he didn’t.  Instead he focused on the wind and waves and thought,  “What am I doing?!  This was stupid.  Oh my God, this is too dangerous.  It’s going to kill me; I’m going to die.”  And it was that perspective on his circumstances that sank him.   The only reason he didn’t die was he screamed, “Lord, save me!” and of course, Jesus reached out and grabbed him, just like He does with us every time we do the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I want a really close relationship with my God.  I want a relationship so close that when I see Him walking on the sea, I want to be out there too – no matter how it looks.  I want to dance on the waves while everyone else is huddled in the ship, scared to death.  That’s what I want!  I need to remember when everything is falling around me – whether storms are raging or I am being pecked to death by chickens – that it is perfectly okay for me to say, “I want to be where You are.  Let me come out there and walk out a miracle with You!”  And do you know what He will say every time?  “Come on out here!  I’ve got you and nothing can hurt you.  Come enjoy the scenery and dance on top of the waves.”

Things around me (or you) might be so frustrating, hurtful, angering or depressing that it would be easy to focus on them and let the stress drain everything from me.  I could get caught up in the circumstances that are ever present in one area or another and just keep sinking, or I can look at those same circumstances and be amazed and giddy that I am untouchable and safe regardless of what it looks like – because I am walking with my God.   As the line from the song says, “When you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”  When you think of what happened with Peter, that line takes on a whole new meaning.

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We aren’t told to put on blinders and try to deny  our circumstances.  Instead, we need to see the storm and get excited that we are walking on the waves.  So jump onto the water and then dance, skip and laugh – in spite of the storms.  Because it still beats staying in the ship.

Blessings!

Why I Have To Know Why

shutterstock_113875279There is no mistake that life throws problems at us over and over.  We are going to have trouble in this life.  It is simply a fact, and  if you are like me, then you spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out solutions to whatever problems arise.  We do not like to be troubled by finances, illness, relationship issues or anything else that results in us feeling bad or stressed.  Stress caused by life’s trouble is something most of us want resolution to as quickly as possible.  So what do we do?   Well, that’s where it gets a little more grey, especially for people of faith!

We are assured by Jesus, himself that trouble is going to come.  In John 16:33, Jesus ends His words to His disciples by saying, “These things I’ve spoken to you , that you might have peace.  In this world you will have trouble and trials, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  In Matthew 6:25-34, He tells us not to worry about things because He knows what we need and will take care of us completely.  Then why do we lose so much peace when trouble comes, and why do we spend so much effort trying to come up with a solution to our problems?

Most of us are intelligent people, and God has blessed us with the ability to reason things through and solve all kinds of problems.  Our intelligence is a gift directly from God, but so often we take that intelligence and then begin to think that we know better than He does.  That sounds stupid when you say it out loud, but consider this:  How often do you make decisions based on your own reasoning?  How many times have your taken a job because “it makes sense” after considering all the angles?  I mean, after all, it’s more money.  That’s a no-brainer, right?  How many times have you had issues in a relationship and you spend all kinds of time and energy walking through each scenario, trying to ensure you find a way to work things out?  Have you ever made a purchase because you think it’s the best fit for you (whether car, house, computer, or anything else you can think of)?  My point is that most of us go through life making decisions all the time based on what WE think, without any input from our Heavenly Father.  I do it more than I care to admit.  I look at a situation, consider all the facts, and then begin a process of finding a solution.  It’s only after I hit a brick wall that I turn to God and ask for His help or His input, instead of starting at that point.

shutterstock_264757496When I am faced with problems, no matter what area of life they are in, I become almost obsessed with gathering information and figuring out a solution.  People close to me have seen it first-hand.  I love puzzles, and I LOVE figuring out the answer to a problem.  And you know what?  I am good at it.  God blessed me with a great brain that can see trends and spot paths through a jumbled mess that will lead to an effective solution.   It has served me well in many ways, and most certainly in my professional life.   I don’t say that to stroke my ego, but rather as a statement of fact.  It’s been that way ever since I was a child.  The problem with that ability is that it becomes very easy to rely on that rather than to trust God to provide a solution to whatever I am facing.  I recently had a very profound revelation regarding this issue with which many of us struggle.  I was listening to a message and the speaker said, “God didn’t call me to understand; He called me to believe.”   That statement literally stopped me in my tracks because God doesn’t continually tell us to “understand.”  He continually tells us to believe and trust Him.  As I stood there considering this statement, I suddenly realized the reason I have to always know the whys or wear myself down analyzing and assessing every situation in my life.  It’s because I actually don’t believe God most of the time.  Every person of faith would always answer “yes” if asked, “Do you believe God?”  But do we really?  Do I believe God has a plan for each of us – or for me specifically?  Yes, I do.  Then why do I waste so much time stressed out over figuring out solutions to every problem that comes up?  Because no matter what I SAY, my actions show that I think God is not capable of providing a solution or taking care of me.   My mindset, like many of yours, is that God gave me a brain and He expects me to use it.  Yes, that’s true, but I am not to use it to the exclusion of trusting Him.   I am not supposed to come up with plan A-Z to make sure I have everything covered no matter what happens.  Quite frankly, that’s not my job.  My job is to ask God for clarity on where He is leading and then trust Him, even if I don’t understand how it is all going to work out.  That is what faith is – the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

shutterstock_317335277Look, I’m not advocating taking leave of your senses and just sitting down in the yard and saying, “I’m not going to do anything because God promised to take care of me.”  He expects us to work, but He also expects us to trust Him for the results and not ourselves.  We often hear the admonition that we need to “save for a rainy day.”  Have you ever asked someone for the definition of a “rainy day?”  Better yet, have you ever asked yourself that question?  The answers vary but here are the most common:

  • The day something goes wrong like my car breaks down.
  • The day I get sick and have to pay medical bills.
  • The day I lose my job.
  • The day I retire and want to be able to still live comfortably.

So we do what we can to put ourselves in a position where we feel safe from trouble that might arise.  We work long hours for employers who don’t care about us and sacrifice precious time with our family and friends in order to put ourselves in a better financial situation.  We do the same thing when it comes to building up a “savings account” emotionally with people, so that if something goes wrong in our relationship, we have something to fall back on – all the times we helped or were good (in our definition) to that person or group of people.  We try to save up all kinds of grace in every area of our lives so that we are prepared for any negative situations in the future.  We think, reason and plan so that one day we can relax.  But that leaves one huge, missing piece of the equation:  Believing God.

So what is the true definition of a rainy day?  If we are really honest, it is the day God doesn’t bless us anymore.  The truth is if God stops blessing me, there’s nothing I can do to store up enough (financially or otherwise)!  Ouch, that hurts!  Saving, being smart in your decisions – whether financial or otherwise – is a Godly trait.  He didn’t call us to be stupid or NOT think things through.  As a matter of fact, His word tells us often to “consider” things and to count the cost.  We don’t ever want to appear stupid, but faith and belief often appear stupid to those around us – even other people of faith – because God’s ways are not our ways.  He doesn’t do things like we would do, but the results are far better when we follow Him even when we don’t have all the information yet or understand the reasons why He is leading us in a certain direction.  We are to use the gifts He has given us, including our intelligence, but not as a replacement for trusting Him to do exactly what He has promised to do.   When we take it upon ourselves and believe our well-being in any situation is dependent on us figuring out the best solution, our plans will most often fail.  It is burden God did not call me to bear.  It is a job He did not call me to do.  I’ll say it again, “God did not call me to understand; He called me to BELIEVE!”  Belief means trusting.  It means taking God at His word and then acting accordingly.  See, we miss that last part.   We might reflect that outwardly, but in our hearts, we do not act accordingly.  I should speak for myself.  If I did, I would not find myself saddled with weights that seem too great to bear.  I wouldn’t be angry when others don’t “get what they deserve.”  I wouldn’t be exhausted from the mental energy spent on constantly trying to solve problems.  Instead I would have joy and peace, no matter the circumstances.  I would actually BELIEVE Matthew  chapter 6 and my yoke would actually be easy and my burden light!  (Matt 11:30).

BlessingI needed the revelation of that one sentence I heard this week.  I needed to be reminded that my unending struggle for gathering all the information and then leaning on MY own understanding for a solution needs to stop.  There is a better way – a perfect way.   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Prov 3:5-6).  The most profound word in those two verses is the word “all.”   I need to do it in ALL things, with ALL my heart because He has promised, without condition, to take care of me when I do.  I need to let go of the overwhelming need to have every contingency plan possible.  There is something truly liberating in the realization that the stress in my life does not come from the situations that arise, but in the way in which I react to them.  It is freeing and empowering to finally, after all these years, realize WHY I always have to know why.  It’s because somewhere in my mind, I think I can figure out a plan that will work better and makes more sense than the One who knows everything, sees everything and has the power to DO anything, except override my free will.  If I would just stop thinking for a while and ask God for clarity, I will have it.  The scary thing is the clarity and direction I receive may not make sense based on what I see in front of me.  My intellect will scream it is stupid and can’t work.  Instead, my intellect and reason should be screaming that God has promised and He cannot lie!  Verse after verse in the Bible reflects that truth, and my God-given ability to think would be better utilized to understand His word and exactly what He has promised, then act accordingly by simply trusting Him and following where He leads.

God sometimes leads exactly where our own reasoning would take us, but sometimes He leads completely contrary to it.  As a result, we are often left in a gray area where we are unsure if we are interpreting His leading correctly.  Is this really the way God is leading me to go, act, or respond, or am I clouding His direction with my own desires and intelligence?  Our reasoning will often interfere with the clarity God is providing and cloud our vision.  That is precisely why we are told that “we walk by faith and not by sight.”  God honors the motives of our hearts.  If I have talked with Him and reach a decision based truly on what I believe He is leading me to do, I will be blessed, even if I misunderstood.   He will simply pick me back up, dust me off, and point me in the right direction again…over and over.   Why?  Because He loves me and has promised to give me wisdom if I will just ask for it.

shutterstock_215689504James 1:5-7 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” (NIV)  The other side of that equation is that if we will simply ask in faith, and not doubt, God will provide the direction through every situation in our lives.  We can let Him do all the heavy lifting and sit back and relax.  We can do what He asks us to do and not worry about the rest because He will provide every solution we need.  It may not be the solution we wanted, but it will always be the one that is best.  Remember, He did not call us to understand; He called us to believe!

Blessings!

God Is Not In Control

shutterstock_79823446Yes, you read that right.  And as sacrilegious as it may sound, I will say it again, “God is NOT in control.”   My entire life I have been taught over and over that God is in control and that He is always working in our lives.  It is supposed to comfort us when we are hurting or scared, and strengthen us when we are weak and weary.  After all, He has made so many promises to us in His word, including Romans 8:28 that says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”  Although that is true, along with all the other promises about how He will never leave nor forsake us, there have been many times where it seems that just isn’t true.  Sometimes our thoughts, emotions or lives feel so out of control, even when we are trying to serve God faithfully, that we start to wonder if God is REALLY in control.

As a person of faith, with a strong commitment to trying to live out that faith in my daily life, I realized something very basic in the middle of a very troublesome night.  God is NOT in control of everything.  You would think that revelation would make me feel worse, but it actually started allowing me to see things much more clearly.   I believe fully that God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful) and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time).  If you are thinking, “Then, logically, everything is in His control,” you would only be partially correct.  The truth is He is in control of everything within His control. The Bible teaches us something very, very clearly:  Mankind has free will.  We have total freedom to choose.  In other words, the one thing God cannot control is me – unless I allow Him to do so.   God did not create us as puppets, but rather as intelligent creatures to which He gave an overriding ability to choose.  We can choose to believe Him or not.  We can choose to serve Him or not.  We can choose to obey His word or not.  Are there blessings and consequences that come as a result of our choices?  Most definitely.  Will God override our choices?  No.  He wants us to choose life.  He wants us to choose Him, but He will never force any of us to do anything.  For those of us who have accepted Him as Savior, He continually works in our life to bring us to a place (or keep us in a place) where He can freely bless us, but if we choose actions, behaviors or even attitudes that take us further away from Him, He will honor our choices.  Again that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences such as the loss of peace, direction, comfort, etc., but we are FREE to choose.  He actually died so that we could have the choice to accept or reject His free gift of eternal salvation, but He also died so that we had the free choice to love, trust and serve Him or not.

I laid in bed awake for hours tonight, struggling with some intense emotional upheaval around a variety of issues and people in my life.  My mind, which is prone to an intensity that some have never experienced, had spun into a chaos that made me physically ill.  Emotions were running rampant, and soon I could not make heads or tails out of whether those emotions were mine or if I am carrying the emotions of others around me because of the empathic sensitivities I’ve always seemed to have.  I tried to sort out each worry, fear, sadness and other troubling sensations based on things I have been (or am) dealing with, but the more I tried to sort, the more chaotic things became.  It’s like trying to trace an impossible spaghetti diagram, or untangle an impossible knot.  shutterstock_57395806The truth is I’ve always struggled with times like this, nights like this.  Stresses in my life seem to pile up, which then increase my already heightened sensitivities, which then cause me to start spinning out of control.   I have written creatively about these times in the past, poems, songs and musings, trying to describe the horrific sensation of such intensity and chaos.  Even when the stresses or emotions are positive, the result ends up the same.  There is chaos that is frightening and sadness that is overwhelming.  I replay every situation, interaction and conversation, looking for clues that will help me understand what I am sensing.  Did I say or do something that made someone angry or upset?  Did I miss something that I should have seen that could have changed a situation personally or professionally?  And the more I ask myself questions, I find there are less answers.  Perhaps it is worse in the dark of the night, but it can be overwhelming even in the brightest day.

I confess I have always been a worrier, which, coupled with my upbringing, has definitely made me prone to analyzing every aspect of troubling situations.  I do so in order to ensure I have multiple paths to reaching a resolution of those situations.  Last Sunday in church, we had a sermon that focused on the ability to wait on God.  At one point, we were presented with the difference between waiting and doing.   I have never been a great “waiter” and usually start immediately looking for ways to resolve the issues in my life when they arise.  As the preacher mentioned, that kind of behavior is most often rewarded in our society.  It makes us look competent, decisive and driven.  Waiting is looked at as being lazy and uncommitted, but God tells us over and over to wait on Him.  For me, the chaos in my mind at times is so difficult to manage that I will do almost anything to restore order as quickly as possible.  I scramble for solutions, but then one troubling situation reminds me of another and another until the cycle perpetuates itself.  It happened last week during a work day, and it happened again in the wee hours of the morning today.  And as I was frantically trying to unravel the tangled knot, I could hear in the distance of my mind, “God is not the author of confusion.”   I kept fighting with the knot, chasing one strand after another, then I heard again in the distance, “God is in control.”   Somewhere inside me, I carry the truth of His word and it echoes back in times like tonight.  But as I heard in my mind what I have heard all my life – that God is in control – I realized it was not truthful in the way I had always heard it.  It is then I actually whispered out loud, “God is in control when you allow Him to be.”  Suddenly things started to become clear.  If I choose to continually try to solve things or unravel the knots on my own, God will completely allow me to do so.  He will never force me to wait, and He will never force me to act.  I am totally free to choose chaos or comfort, rest or worry, freedom or bondage.

The beautiful thing about the statement that God is in control is that we can know we rest in the hands of the One who spoke the worlds into order.  We can rest in the hands of the One who created us and loved us so much that He died to save us.  We can rest in the hands of the One who is with us always, knows exactly what we need, and has the POWER to make it happen. shutterstock_305770604 What a great assurance to know that He is in control.  But all of these benefits, and everything He promises us in His word about having peace and contentment, are contingent on whether or not we ALLOW Him to be in control.  When we just keep saying, “God is in control,” without reminding each other that He is only in control of what we allow Him to be, we are doing a great disservice to each other and to those around us.  It is true that God is not the author of confusion, and if we (if I) will surrender my messy thoughts, emotions, and actions over to Him, then He will sort it out.  I can relax, knowing He IS in control and has promised to work everything out for my good.  We all long for a sense of order and control when things are overwhelming us.  Sometimes we strive for that sense of control above all else, even if it’s false, but I have good news.  You actually do have control.  You control whether or not you will choose to allow God to take over and work things out.

So as I sit here in the dark, exhausted by the battle of the night, or as you sit wherever you are, facing the battles in your own life or mind, take heart.  As a child of God, you have access to every blessing and promise He has ever made.  You can have peace, strength and comfort even in the most stressful or discouraging moments and situations.  You can rest knowing the God who created you and knows you better than you know yourself, cares more about you than anyone else, and has the power to accomplish or change anything at any time.  You can rest because He has got your back and is working things out.  You can have it all, if you are simply willing to give it all up.  God is completely and effectively in control of everything you are willing to surrender to His care.  Neither one of us can do this alone.  I need Him to sort things out and He needs me to let Him.

Blessings!

A Flawed Yardstick

shutterstock_321656606In life, all of us tend to measure ourselves by how we compare with the other people in our lives.  Do we have as much as they have?  Do we look as good as they look?  Are we as successful as they are?  We do a lot of comparing and although it can spur us to make positive changes in our lives, it more often makes us just feel worse about our circumstances.  The truth is if we never saw or knew what someone else has or did, we’d be much happier with what WE have.  Right now I wish I could remember that truth more strongly than I do.

My husband and I have a good life.  We have a great marriage, a great (though imperfect) family, amazing friends, a wonderful church, good jobs, two awesome dogs and a home to call our own.  However, like most middle class families, we sometimes (or often) struggle to make ends meet.  We’ve been blessed to, on certain occasions, be able to save a little extra to buy something frivolous that we want or maybe even go on a short vacation.  We don’t have the luxury of taking extended time off or going on glamorous or exotic trips.  We don’t drive glamorous vehicles, but our old vehicles are paid for and they still run decently.  In another year and a half, if we stay on track, we will be debt free with the exception of our home.  I don’t think we will ever be anything but upside down on that!  Welcome to middle class America where you make just enough to get by, but never enough to get ahead.  I know we are not the only ones in this boat!

It’s easy for all of us to sometimes look at the people around us and wonder why it seems that others are blessed with the things we want.  It’s easy to question why we work ourselves to the bone and try to be decent people when there never seems to be any payoff in comparison to what we see others getting.  We see people who are mean, manipulative or even dishonest, being rewarded at every turn while we feel as though we get kicked over and over, no matter how hard we try.  As people of faith, we can even question, like in the 73rd psalm, “Why do the evil prosper?”  It seems that doing the right things, being good to others even when we don’t agree with them, or living by the “golden rule,” will do nothing but wear you out.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all thought it at one point or another.  The interesting thing is that if we didn’t ever have to see or listen to what others are getting, we would be much more content with our own situation.

shutterstock_337724702It is an interesting thing to consider that when we actually look at someone who is less fortunate than we are, we suddenly feel better about our own situation.  For example, when you pass a homeless person shivering in the night, or drive through a run-down and even dangerous area of town, it puts things in perspective.  We find ourselves suddenly grateful that we have a roof over our heads, a warm bed in which to sleep, clothes to wear and food on the table.   But you see, normally we aren’t taking time to consider those who have less than us.  We only consider and look at people who have more.  When you pay attention only on those who have more or are getting the things you want (or have even prayed for) it can be tough to swallow.  And if you believe God is in control, it can be even worse because it can sometimes lead to you feeling like God is mad at you or somehow he doesn’t see or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  If that’s true, then what’s the problem?

First of all, we take a lot of verses and twist them to make it sound like God is some kind of cosmic cash-cow with which we just pull the lever and get what we want.  I’ve heard a lot of people (and preachers) who often quote the last phrase of James 4:3 and say, “You have not because you ask not,” and leave it at that.  Is that a truth?  Yes, but we must continue and read the next verse that says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your own lusts and pleasures.”  You see, this isn’t just “Ask God and you’ll get what you want.”  The reality is very simple if we go back to Psalm 37:4.  If you truly delight yourself in the Lord, it means you will come into agreement with His will.  You will seek Him first, and when that happens, the desires of your heart will change.  You won’t be concerned with keeping up with the neighbors, but instead will be concerned with living as Christ lived and being obedient to His principles.  Your desires will be aligned with God’s will.  You will want what He wants because you delight in Him above all else.  And when that happens, you will find the desires of your heart granted.  You will ask and receive because you are NOT asking with the wrong motives.  It isn’t rocket science, but no one wants to talk about this aspect of God’s word.

So back to this issue of feeling unfulfilled as a person of faith.  It really is all in your perspective.  It all comes back to God’s grace and mercy, and how we view it.  God’s grace and mercy are things that are freely given to us.  shutterstock_308297366Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is NOT getting what we DO deserve.  For example, even though I’m saved, I still sin.  I don’t deserve for God to forgive me time and time again for doing or thinking the same thing, and yet he has promised to forgive us EVERY time we ask and wipe the slate clean so He can bless us.  That is grace – I don’t deserve it but He blesses me anyway.  On the flip side, I deserve to have to feel miserable and condemned because of the things I think or do, yet God promises to not only forgive us but to forget it completely and then helps us move forward and live abundantly with all kinds of blessings.  More practically speaking, it could also look something like this:

  • Grace – Maybe you don’t always do the right thing financially, but God looks for the areas in which He can still bless you. You end up with nice things, in spite of how you behave at times.
  • Mercy – Maybe you are oblivious or selfish and often make other people feel worse about themselves or their situations (even if it is unknowingly). Instead of leaving you with no friends (which is what you deserve), He allows you to continue to have relationships, and He even continues to help you grow and change.

Grace and mercy really do go hand in hand many times.  If we look close enough, we can see both of them at work in our lives in the very same situations.

We all really love grace and mercy when it applies to us.  We love when God blesses us even when we don’t deserve it.  We love that He forgives us and then helps us through the repercussions of our bad decisions or behavior.  We love that He doesn’t take away everything we have just because we rub it in other people’s faces through our insensitivity to their circumstances, or maybe even if we simply don’t appreciate it.  And when we’ve done something stupid (like my husband and I have done financially on many occasions) and should experience great loss, we let out a huge sigh of relief when God provides a way to minimize the impact.  We love grace and mercy – until it happens to someone else.  shutterstock_74446510When we look at someone who gets something  we think they did NOT deserve, it makes us angry or jealous.  We just can’t figure out why God would do that.  After all, why wouldn’t God punish them instead of allowing good things in their lives?  I must confess I have a big “justice gene” in me, and it’s hard for me to watch people do wrong (or not do right) and just keep landing on their feet.  We’ve all watched people who have made terrible decisions in their lives and still keep coming out on top.  That’s a hard thing to witness when you spend your life truly trying to do the right things and somehow keep coming out on the bottom.  It can be a very difficult thing to handle.

In Matthew 20:1-16, we are told a parable of a landowner who went out at around 6:00 a.m.  and hired men to work in his vineyard.  He made a contract with them to work until 6:00 p.m. for a full day’s wage.  At 9:00 a.m., the owner went back and found some more men to come work for him.  He told them to come and work and he’d pay them “whatever was right.”  The owner did the same thing again at noon, 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.   Remember, no one but the first set of workers had a contract.  When quitting time came at 6:00 p.m., the owner started paying everyone, beginning with those who were hired last.  The owner paid them a full day’s wage.  Remember these guys only worked for one hour!  Then he did the same with each group of men, paying each of them a full day’s wage, regardless of when they started working.  You can just see the first group of men standing there as the process was going on, thinking surely they will be paid MORE since they worked all day long and these other “lazy” men got paid full wages.  When it came time to pay the 6:00 a.m. workers, the owner paid them exactly what they had contracted for – a full day’s wage.  Was that a fair amount?  Absolutely!  Did it make them angry?  Absolutely!  When they complained about it, the owner said, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a day’s wage?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  Ouch!  It’s interesting to note that if those 6:00 a.m. workers had not paid attention to what everyone else was paid, they would have been happy with their wages and for the fairness of the owner who kept His word.  They were richer at the end of the day than when they began, but that no longer mattered.

So often we are like the 6:00 a.m. workers, especially as Christians.  We know what God has promised us, so we go about serving Him as we believe He has asked us to do.  We attend church, tithe, sing, teach, and a host of other things, and we even do them with the right motives!  We study and we try to live the way He has instructed us to live.  We strive to be generous, love others and forgive even without being asked.  We stand up for what is right, and take the high road in our personal and professional lives.  And you know what?  WE ARE BLESSED!  If we are doing what we are called to do, then we will absolutely be blessed.  God has promised, and He does not lie.  So then everything should be great, right?  Wrong!  See, God doesn’t care how late in the day someone starts serving Him; He cares about HOW they serve Him.  Someone could spend a lifetime making bad decisions but asking God to forgive him/her, and guess what?  He WILL!  When He forgives, He forgets and wipes the slate clean.  That means He is free to bless that person when he/she makes good decisions or is obedient to His will.  But we cry out “That isn’t fair!” shutterstock_294695897 We sit back and start thinking about all the effort we’ve put in, maybe even the persecution we’ve endured in life for living right, and start feeling slighted that God doesn’t give us more!  Once we get into that cycle, we become ungrateful and resentful not only of what others have, but of the fact that God now seems so unfair.  Sometimes it shakes our faith to the point that we start considering becoming selfish and living however we want, because in our minds, obviously that’s what pays off.  We feel we have a right to complain about it, just like those 6:00 a.m. workers did, and God’s answer is the same as the owner of that vineyard:  “I am not being unfair to you, friend…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  The truth is, we are envious because He is generous, and the entire problem begins when we start looking around and comparing what we have to what others have.

God is a gracious and merciful Father.  All of us count on Him keeping His word.  We count on the way He forgives and restores us, even when we don’t deserve it.  We count on the fact that He blesses us any time we serve him with the right motives, instead of punishing us for when we don’t.   We each have our own walk, and I don’t know exactly what is going on in your life, just like you don’t know exactly what is going on in mine.  You don’t know where I’ve been or the state of my relationship with God, just as I don’t know yours.  So before we get too judgmental with others (or ourselves), or become too critical of God Himself (because that is the reality of what we are doing), we need to step back and remember who He is.  God IS love, and He is continually forgiving ALL of us when we ask and blessing us far beyond what we deserve.

We need to stop determining  our opinion of God’s mercy and grace based on how we all compare to each other.   If we look at what anyone else has as a measure of His generosity, we are in danger of using a terribly flawed yardstick  to judge both those who we think are better OR worse off than ourselves.  The truth is that if we have more than others, it isn’t a sign that we are better than them or that God likes us more.  And if we have less than others, it isn’t a sign that God likes us less!  Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t.  Consider the faithfulness of God in your life instead of being upset that He is faithful in someone else’s.

Grace and mercy – two beautiful aspects of God’s character that we twist and turn to fit the way WE think, but thankfully His ways are not our ways.  He is more loving, forgiving and generous than any one of us could ever be, and I am grateful.   If He has made specific promises, He will always keep His word (like the owner with the first group of workers).  But in those areas where His promises are what He will do, but not HOW He will do it, we must trust that He will always “do whatever is right.”  Very few people spend their entire lives in true service without sliding backwards every now and then.  Every time we sin, we lose time – work time, service time.  We are the equivalent of the “lazy” workers who didn’t put in a full day’s work.  That puts almost all of us in the category of the other workers.  When we lose time, we must trust God that He will reward us with “whatever is right.”  It is quality, not quantity for which He is searching.

shutterstock_130134731So today, I will look to Him and His faithfulness to me instead of looking at the possessions, successes or blessings of anyone else.  Will I stay in this place?  Unfortunately not, but through the beauty of God’s grace and mercy, I can return to it with a simple refocusing and the promise of His forgiveness whenever I ask…no matter how many times it takes.

Blessings!