Premeditated Forgiveness

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭NLT‬

Forgive as God has forgiven you. This concept is definitely easier said than done, am I right? It’s especially difficult when we dwell on the wrongs or when the offender is unrepentant and continues to wrong us. We may even find ourselves asking the age old question, “How do I forgive someone who isn’t even sorry?” The answer, as I discovered today, is this: We forgive the same way Jesus forgave Judas, Simon Peter and us-we choose forgiveness before the offense even happens. Say what now?

Forgiveness and not judging others has been a repeated lesson for me in my daily devotionals over the last few weeks. Both are something I greatly struggle with. Especially with those who make zero effort to change their ways or blame all the conflict on me. I also have to admit that I am a dweller. Too often, I get stuck on the offenses done to the point that I only expect negativity from my offenders. Instead of tunnel vision that only sees the good, I can only see the bad in these people. That’s NOT a very christian perspective is it? It’s one I do confess and seek God’s help in forgiving but honestly-I’ve allowed hatred to grow in my heart. The scripture in Ezekiel 36:26 hits the nail on the head about having a stubborn stony heart. I do ask God to remove and give me a heart of flesh yet my spirit keeps holding on to this hatred. The only willingness I have to forgive is the confession that I am not willing and need supernatural help to pluck out this root of hatred so my heart can soften to God’s command regarding forgiveness.

Stone is an incredibly hard substance. It takes a brute force to crack it and a repeated brute force to break through it. I need Jesus to use a jackhammer on my stubbornness in order to surrender to His will. When it comes to stubbornness, there’s “strong-willed” and then there’s me. I’m as feisty as Jacob was when he wrestled God and achieved a broken hip. 😂Thankfully, God skips the construction worker method and uses a softer approach like an invitation from a friend to do a You Version reading plan specifically on the topic of forgiveness. Today’s reading definitely chipped through the stone.

If you’re familiar with Jesus’ ministry, you know He hand picked twelve men to be His disciples. These men were taught and led by Jesus. They ate with Him and camped with Him. Everywhere He went, these men went with Him. They served with Him and they were served by Him. They prayed with Him daily. These men shared a spiritual and emotional intimacy with Jesus. Yet they failed Him and two that we know of, even betrayed Him. The kicker to all of this-Jesus KNEW how they would misunderstand and doubt Him, He knew how they would betray Him before He ever picked them. Yet-He. still. chose. them. to be His disciples. He used His betrayers to be His messengers for His ministry. If that’s not a “Say WHAT?” moment for y’all I don’t know what would be. Ha! Ha!

In all seriousness, this is where forgiveness resonates with me. If someone hurts me badly enough I cut them out of my life as a form of protection and boundary setting. I feel empowered to say “I deserve better and because you have mistreated me you no longer get to share in my life.” I wish them no ill will but simply do not care to have a relationship with them anymore. This practice has included family members, friends, acquaintances, and ex-boyfriends. There are some I have reconciled with but others I doubt reconciliation will ever be a possibility . Why? For one-because I don’t have the desire to reconcile. For two-I haven’t fully forgiven them. For three-I don’t think it’s beneficial for me or for them to reconcile.

Although Jesus reconciled with Peter, He told Judas to go do what he was planning to do and I haven’t found a scripture that shows He reconciled with Judas. That’s the balance of understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. God calls us to forgive everyone of everything. Although reconciliation is scripturally recommended, I do not believe it’s a command for every person and every situation. Let me give you some examples:

If a family member commits incest, God calls to forgive but it would be dangerous to reconcile with a predator. The same holds true for a spouse or former spouse who’s abusive or a person who holds a leadership role and uses that power to create a hostile environment. Judas’ betrayal was the catalyst for Jesus’ murder. That’s not a person to reconcile with! To reconcile, there has to be an opportunity to regain trust. You cannot trust an abusive, controlling or predatory person.

If a friend betrays you (like Peter denying he knew Jesus) or a family member hurts your feelings, if a fellow believer especially offends you, God calls us to forgive and to reconcile. The enemy brings division. God brings unity. Reconciliation is a must to keep God’s army united and to avoid giving the enemy a foothold in our lives. Jesus’ reconciliation with Peter is a prime example for us to follow (read John 21.) Reconciliation doesn’t mean we overlook the offense-it means we acknowledge the offense and we and the offender (or if we are the offender) talk it out in an effort to ensure the offense doesn’t happen again. Will the offense happen again? Possibly. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t tell us to forgive 70 times 7.

Reading John chapter 13 today showed me two things about forgiveness: One-I need to choose to forgive every offense even before it’s done to me. Why? Because Jesus died for me before I ever committed any offense. Two-I need to choose to walk alongside my enemies, even work and serve with them because Jesus served in ministry with men He knew would betray Him. This is all possible when I (and you) do the one thing Jesus did-keep our focus on God the Father, to know Whose authority we have and to Whom we belong. “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.” John‬ ‭13:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

You and I are children of God. No harmful act or hateful word can ever change that. If Jesus, the greatest man to ever walk this earth, was hated and betrayed by His so-called friends-it’s naive to think that we would not experience the same. When Jesus was beaten, spat upon and mocked, not one time did He say, “Do you know who I am? How dare you treat me this way!” In fact what He did say was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Who am I to act so high and mighty when people offend me? This is a very humbling question and to be honest-I’m eating crow as I write this post (metaphorically speaking!) 🙂

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Turn the Other Cheek

“But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:39‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I once got into a debate with someone regarding the above scripture. I was dealing with a cruel individual and a Christian Friend of mine, in an effort to help me, quoted this scripture. I was encouraged to not defend myself against my enemy but allow the cruelty to happen.

I have a firm belief that we are to love our enemies but that does not mean we are to be doormats. So I refuted this advice. This friend of mine and I are both strong minded individuals. He thought he was right and I thought I was right. Thus, our debate ended up in an argument that led to ending our friendship. There were other circumstances in the mix also that led to cutting off communication but nonetheless this argument was definitely a key factor.

Recently I downloaded an app that is full of sermons and other great biblical tools. I opened it for the first time today and the first sermon that popped up was “Dealing with Mean and Demanding People.” It’s a three part sermon series by Pastor Mike Fabaraz. I spent the morning listening to the first two parts. The common denominator in both messages is this: turning the other cheek is meant specifically to those who persecute us for being a follower of Christ. It is not meant for those who bully us, assault us, steal from us, demean us, etc. for the purpose of fueling their own toxic thinking and solely to hurt us. We are allowed to defend ourselves. God does not call us to be doormats.

The picture for this post is of the app to encourage readers to download the app and check out these sermons specifically. If you listen to them, share your thoughts in the comment section. This post is NOT to say that I’m right and my friend was wrong. This post to raise an awareness to many, including myself, who struggle with the correct interpretation of this verse as well as who are seeking instruction with how to deal with the toxic people in your life.

One last thought-learn from my experience. Never let a debate about scripture come between you and someone you care about. The enemy comes to seek and destroy and he will use every angle possible to do that-even debates over scriptural context in God’s word. If you feel your pride swelling up, take a step back, pause and pray. Ask God to help you both share the same understanding (like in Philippians 2:2) of the scripture in order to keep solidarity in your friendship or relationship. Think about this; if the devil’s raising up his own army, what better tactic for him to attempt to be victorious then if he can get God’s army to turn against one another, right? May the Lord and my friend forgive me for allowing my pride and my need to be right to sever what was an intense and spiritually intimate friendship. May the Lord bless those who read today’s post and especially to those who are able to experience the sermons mentioned first hand.

Moving Slow but Working Hard

“Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.”

Hebrews 6:15NLT

My freshman year of college I lived on the 4th floor of Robinson Hall.  This dormitory had no elevators, only stairs-many, many flights of stairs.  There’s a “freshman 15” saying referencing the amount of weight you gain your first year of college.  The amount of times I went up and down those stairs on a daily basis I am confident I lost fifteen pounds and then some.  Along with the stair climbing you had to walk across campus multiple times a day for classes, meals, etc.  For a girl who at one point lived across the street from her high school, this world of walking a country mile and climbing stairs that equated to scaling the Empire State Building on a daily basis was a tad much.  It was even worse when I was running late.  Speed walking doesn’t get you to class much faster than normal walking and even at eighteen years old, my knees were not built for running, especially carrying several textbooks on my back.  Have to admit, twenty plus years later, I think my freshman year of college was a mini boot camp for this diva.

After I graduated college, I moved back home.  I had big dreams to change the world and ended up with a minimum wage job at a retail store.  My college relationship ended and I found myself partying multiple times a night.  I found a job that was a remote fit to my degree but it wasn’t stable and it wasn’t satisfying.  I came to a realization that I was going in circles.  Going in circles gets you nowhere. Going in circles, simply makes you dizzy.  I took out a map and I picked a city to move to.  About six months later, I was settling in to a city seven hours away from home only knowing two people in the entire area.  I secured a job in the downtown area and gained many lifelong friendships from working there.  I also walked a lot.  You see, in most cities, there are parking structures that cost money to park.  People who worked downtown typically would spend $40-80 plus in monthly parking fees.  Paying for parking was a foreign thing for this small town girl.  So I found free parking, on the outskirts of a rougher part of the city, and I would walk about six blocks to my office in high heels.  At lunch time I would walk a round trip of about another six blocks to grab a meal and eat it at the office.  On the weekends my friends and I again would walk from bar to bar to go dancing.  You basically drove to the downtown area, just to walk to where you needed to go.

It’s been seventeen years since I’ve moved back to my home state.  Where I live, walking to work or to get my kids to school or even to the grocery story is only a possibility if you’re in the shape of marathon runner.  In fact, the only extensive walking I do now is 1-3 times a week on my lunch break as a form of exercise.  Other than that, I am driving every place we need to go.  Now, walking isn’t a form of transportation, it’s simply a form of exercise.

I have been battling with car repairs and unreliable vehicles for the past decade.  Since moving into the home I’ve raised my children in the past 10 years, I have owned four vehicles.  Each one has needed multiple repairs and each one has left me stranded a time or two.  Some repairs have been routine needs like new brakes or tires.  Others have been incredibly expensive and/or major safety issues.  Each one causes a great stress in figuring out where to get it fixed, how to pay for it and how to get to work and other places I need to go while the vehicle is being repaired.  At some point, the repairs get to be more than the vehicle is worth and then I pray extensively for the Lord to provide a better, more reliable and more affordable vehicle.  Each time, God answers.

Two years ago, God provided me with the nicest vehicle I’ve owned in several years.  This vehicle seemed to fit all my needs and even handles very well on bad wintry roads.  It’s needed a few repairs here and there but it’s all been routine maintenance until last year.  At the beginning of the year, I noticed a loud banging sound when I would drive over bumps. I kept checking the area where the sound was coming from and couldn’t see what would be causing it.  One day I got to my office, checked it again and discovered my entire wheel well was broken.  If you know anything about vehicles, the wheel well holds the rear shock into place.  If the well is broken, the shock bangs up and into the trunk area of your vehicle.  Not only is this a safety issue but it’s an expensive repair.

A family member did a free weld repair on it first.  This lasted several months and I was incredibly grateful.  However, in December of last year, the weld broke and replacing the wheel well was unavoidable.  It was Christmas time and very cold outside.  It was also the time of year where it’s dark until about 8am and dark again around 6pm.  My commute to/from work is 70 miles (112 kilometers) and given the time of year, walking to work daily wasn’t a realistic option.  Neither was driving my vehicle in the condition it was in. Given that fact that is was also Christmas time, financially speaking, this kind of car repair would break the bank as they say.  I prayed a lot.  I cried a bit and I reached out to others for prayer and help.  God answered in a mighty way. My vehicle was repaired, I was provided a loaner vehicle while mine was in the shop, my children had an overwhelmingly abundant Christmas and I suddenly found myself in a position to bless a family in need with an abundant Christmas also.  All this happened in a three-week period.  All this happened because God used friends and family and other avenues to provide for my children and me.

About a month ago, my car broke down on the freeway.  It actually just shut down as I was traveling.  Fortunately, it was a slow motion occurrence where I was able to safely pull to the side of the road before losing my brakes and power steering.  I couldn’t get it started for a bit.  It was raining and vehicles were passing me at speeds high enough to shake my vehicle as they went by.  I prayed and asked God for help.  Tried to start the vehicle again with no success.  This happened a few times and I found myself quickly losing my patience.  At one point the high maintenance diva side of me came out and I actually asked God this, “Do you expect me to walk down the freeway, in the rain, in my high heels? Is that what you’re expecting me to do right now?”  He answered by starting my vehicle and getting me to a safe park N ride area.  I was able to call my mechanic who arranged for a tow truck and delivered me a loaner car to get me home that night.  My car was repaired the very next day.  I thanked God for His continued provision and embarrassingly humbled myself when I thought about those who walk in the rain without shoes because they have no other means of transportation and cannot even afford a pair of shoes.  Who was I that I thought I was too important to walk in the rain in heels?

The past two weeks I have battled yet again with another needed repair.  This time, it’s a second broken wheel well.  This one is worse than the first.  The Lord provided the financial means to repair this one rather quickly, however, the body shop doesn’t have an opening to fix it for three weeks.  I drove the vehicle (after consulting with professionals who said it was ok) for the first week.  However, the noises grew increasingly louder and the damage worsened.  I tried to get the repair done sooner with no luck.  I reached out to a few friends for a possible loaner vehicle, with no luck either.  I prayed asking God to show me what to do for transportation over the next two weeks until I could get my car into the shop.  I didn’t ask nicely, mind you.  I had a world class toddler style meltdown over the whole thing.  In fact, I remember two things I prayed out of anger in that moment-1.)  I told God I didn’t want to learn whatever lesson He was trying to teach me and 2.) I was deeply disappointed in His method right then.  I even tried venting to two people I trusted and was told I was venting to the wrong people.  It was a whirlwind moment of deep discouragement.  My frustration grew as I could feel God going silent-just letting me have my rant.   In December God overwhelmed me with help.  This time, it felt like I had been left alone to figure it out.

But then He answered.  He answered by sending a family member to look at the vehicle once again and advising me on how long I could drive it.  He answered by providing transportation for my kids to get to/from school and by giving a dear friend a willing heart to drive me to/from work.  He answered by the generosity of another friend who loaned me a vehicle for this entire weekend.  Although I don’t have a solid plan for this upcoming week regarding transportation, I know He will answer because He promised to take care of my children and me and God is faithful in keeping His promises.

Now, if you’re still reading this, you might be asking, what do car repairs and where I lived in college have in common.  My answer would be this: turtles.  You see my freshman year of college, 4th floor Robinson Hall had t-shirts designed for each resident.  The shirts had a couple turtles on the front and the back read, “4th Floor, Robinson Hall, Moving Slow but Working Hard.”  I was reminded of this motto this week when I watched a turtle attempting to cross a busily traveled country road.   I actually found myself asking God to please help that turtle make it safely across.  Then I thought about how slowly turtles move.  There is no rush or urgency in a turtle.  They simply were not built to move quickly.

Turtles crossing the road is very common where I live.  Many times, humans intervene by picking up the turtles and moving them out of the road in an effort to save them from getting smooshed by vehicles.  But other times, the turtle has to get across the road by the grace of God only because there is no human intervention.  That was the case of this particular turtle.  Nobody was stopping to help it.  I saw a few cars drive around it and hoped anyone encountering it would do the same.  Aside from darting cars, from the outside looking in, that turtle was on its own to make it safely to where he or she was journeying to.

In life, and especially when dealing with a broken down vehicle, I feel like a turtle.  I can see where I need to go, I can develop a plan on how to get there, I usually choose the shortest route possible and then race off to the finish line.  That’s when I encounter delays or other roadblocks that slow my pace down or bring me to a sudden stop.  Delays and roadblocks trigger my impatience.  There are things in my life,-plans, goals, etc.-that I want to happen in hare speed, not turtle speed (if you’re not familiar with the Tortoise and the Hare story this analogy may not makes sense so google “The Tortoise and the Hare” for a better understanding.)  I especially get impatient when I know how to get something done but delay puts me in a position where I cannot get it down on my timeline and I have to depend on others for help during the waiting process.  I am a very impatient waiter (unlike Abraham who waited “patiently” and received the Lord’s promise.”   God knows this.  He also knows I learn best when He answers with “daily manna” instead of delivering everything I ask for all at once.  Because this year is the year He is developing my character to reflect how He designed me to be, He is slowing my life down to turtle speed, putting me in positions to be dependent upon others and in position to be totally dependent upon Him.

I’m gonna be real right now and admit that this form of character building, I. Do, Not. Like.  But God tells us in James 1:2-4 to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let the steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (ESV).”  The NLT version uses the word “endurance” instead of steadfastness.  This word “endurance” is also found in Romans 5:3. “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.” Verse 4 ties it all together with this; “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (NLT,)”  Instead of acting like a toddler, God gently reminds me that I should be rejoicing through these trials because He merely developing more of my character through them.

If you’re going through a trial, even something as trivial as lack of transportation, remember this-God uses all circumstances to refine us, especially the ones He knows will really put us through the test.  Our fiery furnace doesn’t have to be something major.  It could be taking the same “test” over and over again until we learn to not let that circumstance rattle us.  Maybe your test is a different financial struggle, dealing with a toxic person, having the same argument with your spouse with no resolution in sight, struggling with a rebellious child or something more intense like battling with a life threatening illness or job loss.  Whatever the circumstance, you may be feeling like you’re going in circles, this journey seems endless, God is silent and your trying to walk through heavy traffic (get through this situation) at a turtle’s speed.  There will be times you will feel like God uses others to pick you up and carry you to where you need to be quickly.  Other times in this journey you will feel like everyone is bypassing you and you’re at the mercy of your own strength to get across that road.  Just remember this, whether a human moves that turtle or the turtle makes it across because travelers choose to swerve and avoid it, God’s divine intervention is what truly gets that turtle safely across the road.  No matter how God delivers your miracle, know this-it’s coming from God, in His time and in His way.  Don’t give others more credit than they deserve and don’t be a hare trying to rush through life on your own.  It’s in the turtle speed that we notice more around us and are even gifted moments of pausing (like when you’re waiting for someone to pick you up.)  You’d be amazed at how beautiful life truly is when you’re not rushing and you’re not rattled.  You just keep going, moving slowly but working hard.  You do what you can, and then trust God to do the rest.

One last note-as each vehicle passed that turtle, it never once stopped or hid in its shell.  It kept its eyes toward the direction it was heading and it kept moving forward. That is the epitome of unshakable faith.  When we’re faced with delays, roadblocks or feel like we’re metaphorically trying to cross a road through heavy traffic, there’s a confident trust we can exude by keeping our eyes focused on where God is leading.  We must continue to move forward believing He will get us to the other side completely unharmed.  God used that turtle to teach me this:  I can look at the problem and worry about how to solve it-or I can look to Jesus and trust Him to bring the solution even if it means hours, days, weeks or years of roadblocks and delays.  God used Abraham’s journey as a testimony that He is never late but always on time in delivering His promises, even delivering car repairs.