Better than Mr. Clean

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

For several summers I have cleaned a 5 bedroom lake house that is rented by the week for families to vacation together.  Each Saturday I’m scheduled, the owners and myself have five hours to launder linens, change bedding, dust furniture, wash windows, clean bathrooms, maintain the lawncare and so much more.  Each Saturday we take a well vacationed home and turn it into a brand new adventure for the next arrival.  It’s amazing what we can do in the limited time when we roll up our sleeves and determine to make it shine for the new renters.

Yesterday was no exception.  As I headed upstairs preparing to clean four out of the five bedrooms,  I turned on Pandora.  Music always helps me work more diligently.  Perhaps I learned that from the Seven Dwarfs-they did love to “whistle while they worked” didn’t they? Francesca Battistelli’s “Beautiful Beautiful” was just starting.  The song opens with these lyrics:

“Don’t know how it is you looked at me

“and saw the person that I could be…”

After the first verse, she bellows these lyrics in the chorus:

“Like sunlight burning at midnight,

“making my life something so beautiful, beautiful…”

This is one of my favorite songs that depict a beautiful image of redemption.  As I listened I couldn’t help but compare the work I do as a cleaning lady (job number 3 that I work) to how Jesus cleans up our lives.  I spend my Saturdays cleaning up somebody else’s mess in preparation for someone else to come in and mess it up again.  Jesus gave up His very life to clean up our messes knowing we would mess up again.

As a cleaning lady, I’ve faced my share of dirt and stains that were difficult to remove.  Some in fact I couldn’t get out at all.  I’ve seen bedding and walls colored on, stoves covered in thick grease, etc.  In fact, the kitchen counter of the house I clean had a stain on it that seemed impossible to remove and had been there for a few years.  One day I bought a new organic cleaner and asked the owners if I could try it out on that stain.  With their approval, I sprayed the cleaner on the stain and let it sit for a few seconds.  Scrubbed a little and wiped it away.  It wasn’t removed but it had become a little lighter.  So, I sprayed again and let the cleaning solution sit longer.  Scrubbed and wiped again to find it was almost completely gone.  The third time was the charm and the stain was completely gone.

Like the organic cleaner’s ability to remove that impossible countertop stain, Jesus can remove every single sin stain our lives display.  Did you not save your virtue for marriage?  Jesus can wipe that sin away.  Were you unfaithful to your marriage?  Jesus can wipe that sin away.  Did you lie and cheat your way to success?  Jesus can wipe that sin away.  Did you catfish someone or many others?  Jesus can wipe that sin away.  Are you addicted to sex, drugs and/or alcohol?  Jesus can wipe those sins away too.  Do you struggle with anger, rage and unforgiveness?  Jesus can wipe that sin away.  Are you a womanizer or a man-hater? Jesus can wipe that sin away.  Have you attempted to fill voids with toxic relationships, loveless sex or other self destructive behaviors?  Are you addicted to pornography?  Jesus can wipe it all away.  No matter the mistakes you’ve made, the mistakes you continue to make or the mistakes you will make, Jesus’ death wiped every sin away.

You are not the stains of your mistakes. Our enemy uses our mistakes to keep us locked up in sin, despair and drudgery.  We beat ourselves up for repeating the past.  We continue to chase after dead end relationships, we argue with the toxic person in our lives and we harbor unforgiveness toward those who’ve hurt us.  We can even fall into the trap of not praying for our enemies.  We can’t enjoy the life Jesus wants for us because we can’t see past our stains.  We buy into the lies of our enemy and choose to remain stained.  We live rejected and therefore reject the love of others because we believe we are too damaged to ever be loved again.  We live like a garment so muddied it’s not even worth donating to Goodwill and ultimately ends up in the trash.

Just like cleaning that seasonal summer home takes time to clean so it goes with Jesus’ cleansing for us.  There’s no magic wand waved, there are no fingers snapped and poof we are magically cleaned.  It took three times of spraying cleaner on that countertop to completely remove the stain.  Jesus’ cleansing is a similar three-step process and it begins with confession.  1 John 1:9 states it perfectly: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  If we want to stop living like stained rejects and damaged goods, we have to be honest with Jesus and ourselves.  We have to admit our mistakes, confess how we’ve been living and confess the mindset we’ve been living in.  Very similar to an alcoholic beginning their road to sobriety by admitting they are addicted to alcohol.

The second step is forgiveness.  We have to seek His forgiveness, possibly seek others’ forgiveness, forgive ourselves and forgive those who have hurt us.  That too is not something that happens overnight or instantaneously.  Forgiveness is a lifetime practice of choosing to acknowledge the wound, let go of it and allow Jesus to heal it. Forgiveness is also about trusting Jesus to vindicate us rather than seeking out our own revenge.  I have always been one who is quick to defend myself.  One of the hardest verses I’ve had to learn to stand on is Exodus 14:14-trusting God to fight for me and choosing instead to just be still.  Forgiveness is like being on the battlefield with arrows pointed at you and choosing to stand still, unarmed, trusting that God is avenging you. No matter how badly you want to throw an arrow back, you instead, choose to lay it down.

The final step in Jesus’ cleansing process is healing.  If we want to be made clean, we have to let Jesus heal us.  That can be the most painful part of the process.  If you’re like me, you’ve let your mistakes define you to the point that it’s become your identity.  When you look in the mirror all you can see is brokenness looking back at you.  People continue to build you up but you just throw their building blocks back at them.  Being broken has become your comfort zone and being healed just feels like an open door to get hurt all over again.  But God did not make us to be a broken people.  We are His light to the world.  A broken light bulb cannot shine into others’ darkness.  It can only exude more darkness.  If you’re living in brokenness, you know too well how dark and lonely that kind of living truly is.  We attract what we are.  If we are living as damaged goods, we will attract the same mind set which only seeks us deeper into despair.  When we walk in His healing, instead of attracting more brokenness, we can become His tool in healing others.

To become His light, we have to open the wounds and allow Jesus to scrub away the stains.  Depending on how stubbornly we hold on to any specific stain will determine how uncomfortable and lengthy the process can be.  If you’ve made brokenness your comfort zone it’s going to feel like jumping off a high platform into an unknown abyss when you finally choose to let Jesus heal you.  But when you do, your light will shine again, you will be a lighthouse to someone else’s darkness and you will see Jesus as the Mr. Clean who washed you white as snow! Confess your sins, forgive yourself and others.  Close your eyes and metaphorically jump into His healing.  When you open your eyes and look into the mirror again, you will see the man or woman Jesus truly made you to be!

Nautical Naughtiness

“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.”

2 Peter 3:17

In my country, July 4th is a national holiday known as Independence Day.  It’s a day that is celebrated with parades, picnics, barbecues, beach days, boating and of course fireworks.  Everywhere you look American flags and  red, white and blue decorations adorn homes, streets, businesses and even people.  It’s a day the US celebrates becoming its own country, independent of another country’s governing.

In my family, we have a traditional Independence Day celebration.  It’s a small gathering of cousins and their children.  We attend a parade, enjoy a cook-out, relax at the beach and end the day reveling at the firework show.  There is an annual festival going on with many events and we tend to find ourselves exploring vendors and enjoying the whatever entertainment is performing in the park.  There are always a few stressful moments but overall it’s a very enjoyable day.

This year, after the cook-out, I took my daughter and three nieces to the beach.  The lake is very shallow and my younger nieces went out quite a distance before the water was even near their bellies.  Being a “nervous Nelly” when it comes to water safety, I would call out to my nieces and motion for them to come back in.  This of course was no fun to them because they would inevitably end up swimming in very shallow water.  After seeing one of my nieces express some frustration, I explained that I was only trying to keep them safe.  As far out as they had previously gone, if they ended up in danger, it would have taken me too long to get to them from the shore.  After a brief storm interrupted our beach time, we found a happy medium for distance in the water that we could all live with.

As evening approached and only a few short hours until fireworks time, the rest of my family arrived.  This crew included my nephews who are seven, five and three.  Because the temps were cooling off, the sun was setting and fireworks would start at dusk, my nephews were not permitted to go swimming.  In fact, when everyone else arrived, my nieces changed into dry clothes as all swimming had come to an end for the day.  That was, until my three-year-old nephew decided to walk right into the lake.

Keep in mind, this is a very shallow lake.  Thankfully that meant no drop offs anywhere around him that put him in immediate danger.  His mother, seeing what her son was doing, called out his name and told him to stop.  He did not listen.  She called again and he continued walking into the water.  Another adult family member headed to the water to get him.  My nephew turned around wearing a giant grin on his face and continued to walk backward farther into the water as my cousin slowly walked toward him.  My nephew’s mother continued to tell him to stop but alas, he did not listen.  Reading his face, it looked as though he thought his uncle was playing a game with him and he was determined to not get caught.

Just before he went under the water, my cousin grabbed a hold of my nephew and carried him to shore.  He was greeted by his momma who was wearing a very serious, concerned and unhappy look on her face.  As he looked as his momma, that big smile turned to a frown.  He lowered his head and in a soft, sweet toddler voice he said, “Sorry momma.”  As I am one who tends to find these moments funny when it’s not my own child disobeying, I jumped up and took a photo of the very moment he became apologetic.  All in all, his clothes were soaked but he was kept safe from going under water.

As this scenario played out, and especially as I watched my nephew’s facial expressions turn from joy, mischievousness and then to remorse and regret, I thought about God’s parenting and our own sinful natures.  If we are honest with ourselves, we can be certain to recall a time or many where we looked God in the eye, heeded His warnings, possibly flashed a cheeky grin and walked directly into a dangerous and sinful situation.  It doesn’t have to be something as drastic as three-year-old ignoring his mother’s warnings and walking into a lake where he could’ve drown.  It could be something as easy as overeating, overspending, having sex before marriage, telling a lie or a handful of lies, etc.  It could be something more destructive like being married, forming a friendship with a member of the opposite sex, heeding God’s warnings about getting too close and crossing lines into an emotional and/or physical affair.

There are times we face sinful choices and like the situation with my nephew, God steps in just before we’re about to go under water.  There are other times though, God chooses not to intercede but instead waits to piece us back together as you or I self destruct.  With that self-destruction comes collateral damage to ourselves and others that isn’t always fixed.  Relationships can be destroyed and God’s redeeming love doesn’t always restore them.  Some decisions we make can be life changers or life enders.  That’s why God calls out to us yelling, “STOP!” It’s our fault we get into deep water when we choose to ignore God’s warnings.

No matter what type of sin it is, ignoring God’s warning signs will always lead to negative consequences.  When walking through those consequences, that cheeky grin we once displayed turns upside down as we are burdened with remorse and regret.  Thankfully, God’s mercy and grace mean we do not have to live in an eternal state of regret.  Yes we will make mistakes.  Some may even forever change us.  But we don’t have to let our mistakes define or govern us.  We can have our own “independence day” celebrating the freedom God’s love and forgiveness brings-freedom from guilt and shame.

God’s redeeming love covers all of our mistakes.  He is our foghorn when we face temptation.  He is our lifeboat when find ourselves in deep waters.  He is our guiding light when were shipwrecked and lost.  He forgives us as soon as we say, “Sorry Abba” just as my nephew’s mother forgave him immediately when he sought forgiveness too.  If you’re in deep waters today, God can still save you.  All you have to do is cry out for help and trust Him.  If you’re struggling with a regretful past, swim away from the under toe of shame and know that you are forgiven.  If you’re facing a temptation today, listen to God yelling, “STOP!”, heed His warning and walk out of the deep water you’re about to enter.  Walking in obedience may feel like swimming in shallow water but there’s no chance of drowning when you’re right where God can save you.

No matter how enticing the enemy is making temptation look, it will not bring you the joy and satisfaction you’re longing for.  Obedience to God’s word is the only joy that will truly satisfy you. Walking in obedience may not always feel fun or joyful but living with a lifetime of regret from sinful choices is far less enjoyable that doing life God’s way.   I’m writing from experience on this one for sure!

 

Pride, Punishment and Futile Prayers

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.'”

James 4:6 NIV

It’s a good thing I am not God.  If it were up to me to judge the world we would all be spending eternity in the fiery south if you know what I mean.  I’ve been called “judgemental” a few times in my life and while I have taken offense to hearing this, I’m realizing that label is a correct one.  Thankfully, with the awareness and confession, it’s not a label that I will keep.

I have sinned against many people in my life.  Sometimes it’s been accidental.  Often times, out of spite, it’s been completely intentional.  Yet somehow, God has extended more grace than I ever deserve.  I’ve sinned against God more times than I can count, often times even praying belligerent prayers.  Yet God still takes care of me, provides for me and guides me, no matter what I mistake I make.  I, on the other hand, have completely cut certain people out of my life all while striving to live “Christ like.”  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Recently I had a disagreement with someone I considered to be one of my best friends.  Things said to me cut deep.  I spent the day alone crying and stewing over what was said.  It also emotionally threw me back to a time when I endure a lot of verbal abuse.  A time I don’t like remembering or going back to.  In this recent disagreement I set a boundary asking to not be spoken to in such a manner.  However, the next message I received was an ongoing response of cuss words and accusations.  Rather than continue to argue I chose not to respond at all. A mature choice, right? I also chose to block this person from communicating with me ever again.  I had resonated in my heart that I was done with this person and the friendship.

Since that time, my path has crossed this person’s path a handful of times.  Each time I have done an excellent job at completely ignoring their existence.  To be honest, I have actually been proud of this behavior.  Why?  Because in my past I was the doormat type who would allow people to be verbally aggressive to me and actually believe their angry words were my fault.  I spent too many years allowing others’ opinions to define my character.  The past four years I have flipped this unhealthy behavior but gone to the opposite extreme.  I’ve confused boundary setting with total disconnection.  This too, is an unhealthy way to handle conflict and definitely does not build or maintain relationships.

Last Sunday, at the new to me church I’ve recently joined, the minister gave a calling to pray for others to know Christ’s love and shepherding.  He asked us to think of one person we could commit to praying for daily.  Guess who’s name immediately popped into my head.  I knew it was from God but I mentally argued and literally asked God to send me a new name.  He of course, is far more stubborn than I could ever be and I resonated with the fact that He was still calling me to pray for this friend.  I reluctantly agreed.  However when Monday morning hit, my heart was almost too hardened to pray.  In fact, I expressed great impatience with God’s timing as I have prayed for this person for several years.  I did soften and pray. I stuck to my commitment and have prayed for this person every day, with a stubborn, stony heart. I also ignored this person again when our paths crossed just a few days ago.

Yesterday I felt a stirring in my spirit that I was not walking in love or acting Christ like. I finally broke down and confessed this to two friends asking for help in processing the right way to handle this situation.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

As painful as this disagreement and separation of friendship has been I have learned that I am full of pride.  My choice to block this person, to completely ignore them when I have run into them, even some of the prayers I have prayed for them have all been done from a heart filled with pride and pain.  You know how God handled me during my own sinful time this month?  With more grace and blessing than I could ever deserve. I’ve been a jerk and God has continued to lavish His love and provision over me and my family.  If the real Judge of the world chooses to love me in spite of my bratty behavior, why do I struggle with choosing to love others in spite of theirs?  If Jesus chooses to pursue me even when I am acting my worst, why do I just give up on someone when he or she shows me their worst behavior?

The truth is, in my own human strength there are people I do NOT want to love.  They are toxic, untruthful, vengeful, and abusive.  Who wants to love any of those qualities, right?  Surely God doesn’t love those qualities.  But God DOES love the person/people who display these behaviors. God also calls us to love everyone, in spite of their behaviors.

There’s another person I don’t always choose to love.  She’s impatient, undisciplined, unkind and at times, hateful at others.  She cusses and thinks really mean thoughts when she’s mad.  Her temper has embarrassed her more times than she can count.  She doesn’t always keep her word. She can hold a grudge for a decade or longer.  Her list of faults is endless really.  But God-He loves this woman more than she could ever comprehend.  Which means, I need to love her too.  That woman, is me.  I even judge myself.  I went from refusing to let others judge me to judging myself.  I can be really harsh on me too!

Pride and punishment do not come from God.  Yes, the Old Testament is full of stories of God wiping out entire nations with leprosy, plagues, famines and wars.  Yes, the New Testament tells us we will all face judgement day. However, the New Testament also reminds us of what Jesus did on the cross.  Scripture depicts exactly how Jesus handled toxic behaviors and personal attacks.  He took it and He prayed for his offenders.  He did not walk in pride nor did He seek out punishment for His accusers.  In fact, Luke 23:34 tells us that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, nearing death, He prayed for those who were screaming “CRUCIFY HIM”, for those who spat on Him and beat Him.  He prayed “Father for give them for they know not what they do” as people were casting lots for His clothing.  God calls us to do the same thing, to pray and forgive those who have offended us.

The advice my two friends I spoke with yesterday and today, gave me included this: Instead of blocking someone, pray and ask God to give you eyes to see them the way He sees them and a heart to love them the way Jesus loves you and me.  They both also talked about forgiving this friend and asking myself how would Jesus handle this situation. If you’re going through something similar, I want to encourage you to study what God’s word says about pride, recognize what is and isn’t Christ like and ask the Lord to remove your heart of stone, replacing it with a heart of flesh.  Most importantly, confess your own sins, be reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness extended to you and always choose to walk in love.  One last thing, just this morning I confessed to the Lord there are people in my life that I want to hate (the friend described in this post is not one of them) especially if hating meant they would change their toxic behavior.  God answered me with this: Hate is not what changes the world.  Love and intentionally choosing to love those who are hardest to love is what brings about the change I desire, within them and within me.

Don’t choose pride.  Never choose punishment. If you do, like I have, expect your prayers to be futile.  Instead, choose love and choose forgiveness.  Then watch how effective your prayers will be!

Two Heal Better Than One

“I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭1:24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How often do we exhaust our energy on those who matter least and push away those who matter most in our lives? Why is it when we’re most broken we isolate ourselves instead of allowing the love of Christ to glue us back together through the support and encouragement of our loved ones? Why do we believe we have to walk through our toughest moments all alone?

I’ll tell you why-Because we believe the enemy’s lies. We allow the lie of pride to make us stubborn and refuse to admit we need help. We allow the lie of shame to make us feel unworthy of help. We allow the lie of pain to shutdown our hearts vowing to never love again. If we refuse to love again, we can’t possibly receive love either. We allow our past mistakes to haunt our present and prevent the idea we could possibly have a victorious future. The truth is, pride, shame, unworthiness, hearts of stone and haunting pasts do not come from God. Do you know what does? Forgiveness, healing, redemption, restoration, unity and fellowship.

In Isaiah 61, he tells his readers in verse one; “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me…He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon starts off verse nine with “Two are better than one.” He continues in verses 10 through 12 with this passage: “If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” If those passages aren’t convincing enough, check out this passage from Genesis. After God created Adam he decided this; “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Adam had Eve. Abraham had Lot, Sarah and Isaac. Moses had Aaron. David had Jonathan. The two spies had Rahab. Ruth was gifted Boaz after God took the life of her first husband. Mary and Joseph had each other. Jesus had His disciples. Paul had Timothy and Titus. You and I have people too. But the people God has anointed to bind up our broken hearts can’t do so if we push them away. They especially are limited when you or I exhaust our energy on our enemies or busyness and make little time to connect with them.

If you have a stressful job with a toxic manager and you allow yourself to be consumed with frustration, how much energy is left at the end of the day for your family that’s waiting at home? If you have a toxic ex who knows exactly how to entice you into an argument, how open is your heart to even engaging in a conversation with another that fosters love and encouragement? If you’re walking in a state of rejection keeping a tally of all the times you’ve been dumped, how can you possibly recognize someone who genuinely shows an interest in investing in you? The answer to all of these questions is-you can’t.

We only have so much energy and our attention spans are only so long. If we are exhausting ourselves fighting with our enemies, fretting over things we cannot control or walking with rejection like it’s our best friend, then there’s no room for those who truly care about us, for those with sincere hearts, to step in and bind up our brokenness. God can fix us on His own. He doesn’t need any help. But if that’s what His plan was He wouldn’t have designed families, friendships or marriage. He wouldn’t stress the importance of togetherness or anoint others to heal. He certainly wouldn’t have said “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew‬ ‭18:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

I’m guilty of isolating myself because of fear, pride and shame. I’m guilty of exhausting my energy on useless arguments with toxic people and having minimal leftover for those I love most. I’m even guilty of walking in a spirit of rejection and closing myself off to love. I’m mostly guilty of crying out for His healing, begging Him to bind up my broken heart but pushing away the people He uses to do it. If you’re focusing your attention on the wrong people and pushing away the right ones-then my friend, you’re guilty to. Guilty people get a conviction but this one is a convicted spirit. There will be no condemnation.

We have a Heavenly Father who chooses forgiveness and is a God of multiple chances. It is never His desire for us to live wounded. In fact, Isaiah tells us in chapter 53 verse five “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing]; The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.” ‬‬It is His desire to cleanse from all our sin, break the chains of brokenness and restore us in His redeeming love.

Confession is the key. In order to be redeemed we’ve got to come clean with ourselves and Jesus about the lies we’ve believed. We must tap into His superhuman strength in order to walk away from toxic relationships. We’ve got to ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to be able to accept love. If we refuse the love of others, that love given becomes seed that lands on hard ground and is never planted. Healing and wholeness is an intentional choice that involves refuting the enemies lies, letting go of past mistakes, exposing old wounds and allowing others to come in administer a spiritual first aid that is bound in love, affirmation and redemption.

Think about this-When you or I sustain a physical wound that is beyond the capabilities of peroxide and a band-aid, we seek out medical treatment that may involve stitches or other more intensive care. The same is true for emotional and spiritual wounds. These wounds are way to hard to fix on our own. We have to seek out comfort and godly companionship so these wounds can be permanently closed and we can walk in wholeness again. God wants to use your spouse or future spouse, your family, and your best friends in Christ to bind up your broken heart. Stop fighting with those who seek to destroy you. Instead, turn your attention and spend your energy on those who seek to restore you. Allow them to pray with you and over you. Allow them to cry with you and hold you. Most of all, allow them to love you as Christ designed them to.

James 5:16 is the perfect ending for today’s post: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” Find the ones God is has sent to bind up your broken heart. Open your arms up to them, break down the walls you’ve been hiding behind, be transparent and let them pour out His love into you.

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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!) 🙂

Freedom Isn’t Free

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sins and restore their land.”                                                          2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

Today is my nation’s 242nd birthday.  People all over this country will be coming together to celebrate and pay tribute to the good ole’ U.S. of A.  Star-spangled clothing will be worn; red, white and blue decorations adorned.  People will host cookouts and barbeques.  Lakes will be flooded with boats, floats and beach goers.  Parades will march.  Attendees will applaud Veterans.  ‘God Bless the USA’ and other patriotic melodies will be performed.  When the sun goes down, fireworks will explode as the grand finale of the nation’s greatest display of American pride.  For most, today will be a day filled with fun, family, friends and many, many festivities.

A true Independence Day celebration reminds us of the sacrifices that were made for this country to have the freedoms we stand on today.  The Revolutionary War was the start to gaining our freedoms.  In googling statistics, according to World Book Encyclopedia, found at www.answers.com, 25,700 Americans were killed during this war.  Traditional US History classes teach that this war came about to separate us from the tyranny of Britain’s then monarchy. Our US constitution was written to give and protect freedoms to its citizens. Since we became a nation we have engaged in numerous wars and military conflicts to ensure this country and its residences are protected and that freedom will forever reign.

One entity that is honored on Independence Day is our US military.  We remember the fallen and we honor the living, those who have served and are serving.  In fact, most Americans, when encountering a member of the US Military, will thank him or her for their service to our country because we recognize that military personnel sacrifice a lot during their time of active duty.  They’re training alone teaches them how to be sacrificial and how to survive in the most dangerous and cruelest of situations.  They are moved periodically to different states and most serve overseas on at least one if not multiple deployments.  They sacrifice time with their families, their jobs, their health and even their lives to protect this nation and to especially protect this nation’s freedoms.  One thing we Americans value is our freedom.

God also values freedom.  Galatians 5:13a tells us “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters…”  We read David’s confident statement in Psalm 119:45 when he declares that he will walk in freedom for he had devoted himself to God’s commandments.  Again in 2 Corinthians 3:17, we are reminded that wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  As a Christian, we are called to walk in freedom.  But what does that mean and how do we do that?

First we need to look at what freedom looks like to God.  Freedom in Christ means freedom from guilt, shame, despair, bitterness, etc.  It most assuredly means, freedom from fear and from death.  If you’re an unbeliever reading this, you may question that last statement or possibly even mock it because people die every day.  The death mentioned above is not a physical death, its freedom from spiritual death.  This means after we experience physical death we are promised eternal life with Christ.  (1 John 5:11) Just like a US military member pays a price to protect our nation’s freedoms, as a Christian, our freedom was paid when Christ died at Calvary and then resurrected three days later.  Freedom is not free.

So if freedom isn’t free, then walking in freedom will also cost us.  If my country’s freedom and Christian freedom were both paid by the sacrificing of lives, it only makes sense that in order to walk in spiritual freedom, we are called to sacrifice our lives as well.  PLEASE NOTE!  This is metaphorically speaking.  This post is not leading to a call to drink some magic red poisoned Kool-Aid that would actually kill us.  The life sacrificing I’m referring to is the sacrificing of lifestyles, life habits and negative thoughts that do not honor Christ and inevitably separate us from the freedom He has promised us.

Anything that is dishonoring to Christ separates us from His freedom.  That can come in the form of deliberate sin such as a battle with lust, purposefully holding grudges, becoming best friends with pride, refusing to obey when God gives us a direct order.  That can also come in a subtler form like battling with an addiction or holding on to wounds that Christ wants to heal and release us from.  Whatever stronghold we allow in our lives becomes our way of life and keeps us captured in a spiritual roller coaster that simples goes round and round in circles but never seems to end.  No matter what human effort you make, if you’re not willing to sacrifice the stronghold or repent of the sin, you will not know or be able to walk in Christ’s freedom.  You will also grow weary and face conditions like depression, anxiety or physical health conditions that develop when we are wait down by burdens we are not meant to carry.

Can you relate to struggling with deliberate sin, battling with some sort of addiction or just feeling bogged down by all life has thrown at you?  Do you long to feel free from past wounds?  Do you want to guard your heart, as the Lord directs, without putting up walls that inevitably push others away?  Are you willing to make the sacrifices required to know Christ’s freedom?

If you want to know and walk in Christ’s freedom, you (and I) must be willing to place all that weighs us down, at the foot of the cross.  We have to humble ourselves before our King and confess the sins we commit, confess the hurts we hold on to and confess the addictions we wrestle with.  We have to seek Christ’s forgiveness, choose to forgive our offenders and also, choose to forgive ourselves.  This also means sacrificing ungodly habits such as gossiping, complaining, procrastinating, cussing, overeating or whatever else we may turn to in the place of Christ to “cope” with what burdens us.

This sacrifice is not a one-time event consisting of one prayer or even one fast.  This is a daily sacrifice that involves refocusing our thoughts, asking Christ to renew our minds, softening our hearts to obey His word and practicing the art of discipline to refrain from turning to back to dishonorable behaviors.  This sacrifice also entails understanding that making these kind of sacrifices, changing our coping skills, letting go of the past and forgiving those who have trespassed against us is a process.  It’s a process that doesn’t come naturally and takes much discipline to master.  It’s a process that has to be practiced every day and it’s a process that will include backsliding and failing.  But it’s also a process that through commitment, God’s strength, His grace and your perseverance, brings victory and true freedom.

Zach Williams is a Christian artist who performs a popular song called, “Chain Breaker.”  The lyrics to the first verse and chorus are this:

“If you’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles

If you’ve been hearing the same old voice tell the same old lies

If you’re trying to fill the same old holes inside

There’s a better life

There’s a better life

“If you’ve got pain,

He’s a pain taker

If you feel lost

He’s a way maker

If you need freedom or saving

He’s a prison-shaking Savior

If you’ve got chains

He’s a chain breaker..”

As I am personally walking through this process of letting go of my strongholds in order to gain Christ’s freedoms, I recorded myself performing this song praising God even before the chains I have bound myself to are broken.  Jesus is the chain breaker of all that holds us back from the life He promised us.  When you’re willing to sacrifice what He’s calling you to let go of, when you’re willing to endure the painstaking process of confession, forgiveness and healing, then you are ready to chase after Christian freedom and walk in it, freely.  Freedom isn’t free.  But our Jesus paid the debt when He gave His life on a tree.

Do Not Go Down the Rabbit Hole

“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

2 Timothy 2:23 NLT

I cannot count the number times I have failed obeying 2 Timothy 2:23. In fact, I once had a superior describe me as this; “She tends to argue but when she argues it’s because she’s usually right.”  Of course hearing such statement brings an increase in pride and an inflation in ego, at least for me it did.  It also made it justifiable for me to continue to argue.  After all, it’s pointless to argue if you’re wrong but if you know you’re right then you should argue, right? WRONG!!!

Arguing one’s point is ungodly and counterproductive.  Arguments rarely end in a positive manner with friendships or relationships still intact nor do they draw people closer together.  In fact, the book of Proverbs gives us two examples of how arguments and angry words do the complete opposite. In Chapter 18, verse 19, we read that “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.”  Proverbs Chapter 26 verse 4 warns “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.”  I personally have lost a handful of relationships after engaging in hurtful arguments.  One in particular ended over very different opposing political views.  Another took a long hiatus because of multiple mini arguments over subject matter that I don’t even recall the details of now.

In the category of politics, I have argued about abortion, women’s marches, equality, presidential candidates, racism, etc.  I have argued about religious beliefs both with believers and non-believers.  Unfortunately, I have argued about far too many less trivial things also.  If I listed all those this post would never end.  I have a fierce personality and my mouth tends to start running before my brain has time to keep me quiet.  I’m slowly learning to practice pausing and thinking before speaking.  But there are days I am making very slow progress if any at all.  HAHA!

Ironically, I recently found myself tiptoeing into two separate arguments on social media.  One was an anti-education post that completely goes against my beliefs and values in education.  The other one was actually an effort to help someone avoid arguing and turned into a debate about arguing.  I could feel my insides just getting fired up about both posts and especially regarding comments made to me by the posters.  I could mentally see my platform in front of me and a fully prepared speech on the tip of my tongue that would open with, “First of all…” I’ve been told I should be a good lawyer because I definitely can argue well.  Not that that’s something to brag about.  But, I also felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Don’t go down that rabbit hole” and I knew that meant something like, “this is not my circus and they are not my monkeys.  Do not exhaust your energy engaging in an argument with either of them.  Surprisingly, I actually listened this time (usually I’m too fired up to listen to God’s gentle promptings and fight the battles in my own flesh.) and opted to take a weekend hiatus from that social media site to reset my priorities.   I also deleted the comments I had already posted.

I spent a good part of my evening thinking about the concept of going down the rabbit hole.  This ideology is related to story of Alice in Wonderland.  Alice was enticed to go down that rabbit hole and entered a world full of all kinds of crazy abnormalities.  I started relating some of the characters Alice encountered to those we engage with on social media and how that all ties in with arguing.  Social Media is the universal source of arguing these days isn’t it?

Just like in Wonderland, in any social media argument you will encounter the Queen of Hearts whose view is inevitably “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”. Everything is black and white in their minds and they’re solutions are typically punitive.  Then there’s the Mad Hatter who’s certifiably crazy and makes comments that leaves most readers scratching their heads or feeling slightly disturbed.  Of course there’s the White Rabbit person who either has bad timing with their remarks, or is ever fretful in their commentaries.  And what media argument would be complete without the Cheshire Cat tapping into their multiple personalities and fueling the fire by secretly taking dual sides or talking about others behind their backs.  The Cheshire Cat characters are definitely the most toxic as they are the pot stirrers who keep the discord going all while looking like they are the best friend to all parties involved.

Admittedly I have played the role of the Queen, the Hatter and the white rabbit on far too many occasions.  Worse yet, I know I’ve been a Cheshire Cat a time or two also.  Not necessarily with malice intent or as an effort to destroy a relationship but I’ve kept the embers of anger, hurt and conflict burning by dwelling on the argument and discussing it with others who weren’t a part of it. I’ve ignored verses like Psalm 37:8 that tells us to stop being angry and turn from our rage and Ephesians 4:31 where we’re told to put away all malice, harsh words, brawling, etc.  Malice, harsh words, and brawling are all descriptors of arguing.

Fortunately for Alice, going down the rabbit hole didn’t bring total disaster.  After all, a Disney movie usually has a happy ending.  In the real world however, when we choose to go down the rabbit hole of arguing, the only ending we get is one that results in an ending of a relationship, perhaps even an ending of mutual respect you once shared.  Even if you feel you’ve “won” the argument, is it worth celebrating if it cost you the relationship?  That raises the very question of where we place our value.  Is it more valuable to be right or is it more valuable to have relationship?

Personally I believe that relationship holds far more value than being right.  I’ve learned this the hard way.  For example, I have a best friend whom I rarely agree with.  The only thing we probably truly have in common is a love for Jesus, family and our friendship.  Everything else we tend to be opposites on.  In the early stages of our friendship we had a few arguments.  Only one that I can recall ended up in no communication for two weeks.  For a friendship that talked daily, two weeks was a very long time.  During that time frame I reflected a lot on what was said and actually considered ending the friendship.  But I loved this person too much to never have them in my life again.  So I bent my pride and reached out to her.  It wasn’t easy.  Neither of us believed we were wrong.  But we both could agree that we shared words that hurt one another and we could apologize for that.  We also both chose to forgive and move past it because our friendship was far too valuable to throw away.

I wish I could say that was the case for other relationships in my life but sadly, there are some that the argument outweighed the relationship and that person is no longer a part of my life.  Those were times when the offender refused to apologize for attacking my character or wanted continue to argue.  I felt it necessary to emotionally protect myself by no longer having them in my life.  I still love them, but I simply choose to love them from a distance.  There are times you have to set boundaries in your life to protect your emotional well-being.  These situations aren’t about who’s right and who’s wrong.  They are simply about choosing what kinds of behaviors we will allow in our lives and being able to cut off anything that is toxic or will undermine the character God defines for us.

Please know I am not saying we shouldn’t have opinions or strong convictions.  The Bible is full of beliefs we as Christ followers are to cling to.  We should never compromise our belief systems.  But when talking to someone who opposes us, we should do what Jesus did.  He didn’t argue.  He had the spiritual wisdom to recognize a trap and he never went down the rabbit hole.  Time and again the Pharisees would ask Him questions to entice him into a debate.  Each time Jesus disappointed them.  There were times Jesus wouldn’t even answer them (think of the woman caught in adultery when Jesus ignored the Pharisees and drew in the sand.)  When He chose to answer them, He would use one liners like “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Or “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars’s.) Other times He spoke in parables to make His point.  Often times His own disciples didn’t understand what He was saying but Jesus didn’t debate them either.

There were also times he avoided his naysayers altogether.  But here’s a list of what He didn’t do:

  • Jesus never said, “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
  • He never became defensive nor did He defend Who He was. By this I mean He never engaged in a debate or argument about Him being the Son of Man.  He stated it time and again but He didn’t argue with anyone who disagreed.
  • Jesus also never defend His character. Jesus’ enemies were right in their own eyes and there were many who slandered Him for Who He presented Himself to be and the ministry He led.
  • He didn’t have a publicist write a formal speech to address His naysayers. He just kept on doing His thing and ignored the Queens of Hearts, Mad Hatters, White Rabbits and Cheshire Cats of His day.

Time and again the Bible tells us, we are to be just like Jesus.  Which means, instead of arguing, we can choose to ignore.  Instead of debating, we can choose to pray.  When someone entices us into an argument, we can choose to be like Jesus which may mean not responding to them at all.

Before you post something that you know will open up a rabbit hole into Argueland, pause and ask yourself is it worth the energy you’re going to waste defending your opinion?  Better yet, don’t post it.  Post a verse, a fun picture or a joke instead.  Social media platforms don’t change the world anyway.  They simply create a greater division that already exists because people are too focused on being right and less focused on being in relationship and fellowship with one another.

We are all entitled to our opinions and belief systems.  We are not entitled to share or impose them on someone else.  If Jesus didn’t force His beliefs on anyone during His ministry, why do we feel so entitled to do it now-especially on social media?  I can’t promise I won’t fall prey to another argument but for now, I am choosing to listen to the Holy Spirit and not go down the rabbit hole.  People change the world by praying and being Christ like not by arguing or posting controversial things on Social Media.