The Flawed Forgiveness Question

rlw-uc03gwc-glenn-carstens-peters

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”  

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

~ Matthew 18.21-22, NKJV

Can’t you just see the apostles doing the math? (Obviously they didn’t have this conversation, but humor me…)

“Seventy times seven? Um…Sheesh, I always hated numbers.”

“Hey Matthew, you’re good with numbers, what’s 70 x 7?”

“Easy. 490.”

“Are you sure?”

Continue reading

Depression: The Big Conundrum

This is part 3 of the series “Invisible Illnesses.” To read the previous post, click here.

bdldv9yychu-aaron-mello
The heavy beat of drums and the wail of electric guitars blared through small white earbuds. Her cold, trembling fingers pressed them deeper into her ears, attempting to drown the screaming and thumping echoing down the hallway. Another uncontrollable tantrum. A tantrum over… what, exactly? She couldn’t put her finger on the triggering moment.

Continue reading

Invisible but deadly

qpe5988qvom-quin-stevensonHe cradled his head in his rough, battle-scarred hands, breathing heavily. The accelerated pace of his heart drummed so loudly he could hear nothing else. Sweat beaded on his forehead as blood pounded in his temples. He inhaled deeply, attempting to calm himself. He was thankful to have found this temporary refuge, even if it was a grimy old bathroom. The grinding of the pneumatic impact wrench securing nuts on wheels sounded eerily similar to the battle zone. Before he could acknowledge the trigger, he’d felt his body go into a tailspin. With herculean effort, he stood very slowly, making a deliberate B-line for this small sanctuary.

This was all so humiliating.

Stupid, stupid STUPID! Why did he have to be weak like this?!?

None of the guys from the hundred and first had this problem! They were still smoking and joking about the war like it was some video game. Only the weak ones contracted this illness.

His hair brushed back and forth over his hands as he shook his head, acknowledging the lie as it snaked its way through his thoughts. Hadn’t he just been to Jameson’s funeral? Continue reading

What the World Needs Now

img_2161

Some songs make me cringe.

It’s not necessarily the lyrics—although cringe-worthy lyrics abound. Often it’s the style of singing or instrumentation. Sometimes it’s an associated memory. For instance, whenever I hear Andy Williams’ voice belt out, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” I can’t help but groan inwardly. I associate it with disgruntled black friday shoppers and unhappy ugly-Christmas-sweater people. I don’t know why…. it’s probably related to some lame commercial. Then there’s Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now.” The words aren’t bad, it’s just the way it was sung or the melody or… something. Think “nails on chalk.”

And yet… Continue reading

The Trouble with Comparing Pain.

photo-1464142961861-048e281a3608

The heart knows it’s own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy

Proverbs 14.10, ESV

 

Over a month ago, I read some comments on a Facebook post discussing the damaging effects of vaccines. As is common with all vaccine-related discussions, the comments were awash with both sides of the debate. There is always someone bashing “anti-vaxxers” as being anti-science/stupid/ignorant/hateful/child-abusers/fill-in-the-blank-with-an-insult. One comment read, “I would rather live with a child that has autism than to have my child die of whooping cough.”

Continue reading

What are we holding on to? (Day 16 of the #encourage Marathon)

image

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast.

You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

~ James 5.10-11, ESV

Welcome to mile-marker 16 of our #encourage marathon! (If you missed the previous post, you can read it here.)

Someone out there is barely holding on. It might even be you.

Walking on a boat in the middle of the ocean takes some getting used to. The constant rise and fall of the waves, however gentle, rocks the boat to and fro. In a storm, however, that rocking turns unpredictably turbulent. People and objects become projectiles. Walking demands deliberate effort. Sometimes, the best you can do is hold on tightly to something solid until the storm passes. Passengers with nothing to cling to are violently thrown overboard and lost at sea.

When the storms of life assault us, what are we holding on to? Is it something solid?

The following dialogue is from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Sam’s discussion of stories reminds me of those really strong people who came before us in the Bible:

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.

SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something. 

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for!

What are we holding on to?

We have been preceded by thousands of faithful men and women, and their stories are worth reading. The prophets the scriptures didn’t live in comfortable palaces with a retinue of slaves; they were not well-liked; few people actually listened to them. Their hardships did not prevent them from proclaiming the message of the Lord. They were steadfast. Those are the stories worth reading—Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Hosea,  John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and countless more—the ones that never gave up.

Today’s passage from James also lists Job as an example of steadfastness. There are not many who can claim to have lost everything of value in a single moment. Job was so devoted to God that God took pride in Him (“Have you considered my servant, Job? There’s nobody like him…”). The devil certainly had. He sought to attack Job in order to wound the Lord. Satan wanted God to lose this prized servant.

Consider what happened to Job for a moment:

  • The Sabeans killed his servants and stole his oxen and donkeys
  • Fire fell from the sky and burned up his sheep and servants
  • The Chaldeans stole the camels and killed more of his servants
  • All his children were killed at the same time when their house collapsed under a “great wind.”
  • He was assaulted with painful sores from head to foot.
  • His wife told him to curse God and die.
  • His three friends asserted that some hidden sin brought about his calamity.

What a brutal, painful and lonely place to be! Not only had he lost all of his stuff, the people who were supposed to support him had turned on him!

It isn’t a great shock to see Job question God as the story progresses. The Lord could have struck down Job for impertinence. Yet, the Lord is compassionate and merciful. He knew more about the situation than Job did. He knew the words that Job had uttered from the outset—“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” God knew what was in his heart.

How often do you say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” when calamity strikes?

After being rebuked by Elihu and then by God, Job repents of his errors and the Lord restores his health and his fortunes beyond what he had possessed before.

There is nothing saying that God will give us health or wealth in this life. It could be that, like the prophets, we will meet a dark and painful end here. The great truth is that we will be rewarded far beyond that in the life to come. If our end is not yet to be, God will often send what my friend Ida calls “a season of refreshing” to revive us for the long journey yet to come.

I do not know what storm is assaulting you this day. You may be in your season of refreshing or you may be losing your grip under the relentless pounding of the waves. You have every opportunity to let go and turn back, but remember the stories; the true stories. The ones that matter. The faithful ones could have given up too, but they didn’t. They were holding on to something.

Hold fast to your faith. Hold fast to truth. Hold fast to the Lord.


Please continue to join me on FacebookTwitter and here at Elihu’s Corner for this marathon. Share the image or verse reference on your Twitter feed or Facebook page with the hash tag (#encourage). Take time today to copy down this verse for yourself. Send an email or text to someone you know who would benefit from this encouragement.

If you missed the original post listing all 26 passages, click here to download the PDF list.

 

The need for Compassion (Comparison Cure #4)

This is the fifth post in the series on Comparison Cures. To read the previous post, click here.

Jenny steeled herself and walked purposefully through the familiar front door. The cozy little house was already buzzing with the chatter of women. Jenny plastered a smile on her face, determined not to be the dark cloud on her friend’s special day.

After exchanging pleasantries with the hostess and a few other ladies, she found her dear friend, Julia, standing near a pile of blue presents and bright balloons. Her protruding belly announced to the world that a new life would soon be making its debut. Jenny wrapped her arms around her friend in a warm embrace.

“How are you feeling?” Jenny asked.

“I’m ok. My back is killing me, but that’s to be expected,” replied Julia. “Are you doing ok?”

Julia knew this wasn’t the best time to ask, but she knew the significance and sacrifice behind Jenny’s presence today. Jenny’s stomach tightened with anxiety as she carefully arranged her features to conceal the sudden twinge in her heart.

“I’m good. Looking forward to seeing you open your gifts! How do you plan to fit all this in your apartment?” said Jenny.

“Who knows? It’s unbelievable how much stuff you need for a little baby. This kid’ll probably have more outfits and blankets than I do.”

Jenny seated herself between two ladies and watched as, one by one, blue onesies, tiny shoes, brightly-colored toys, baby hats and handmade blankets were each removed from their wrappings. With each gift, the cynical old lady on her left muttered about spoiling babies with “unnecessary trinkets” and Telling Jenny that if she ever became a parent she shouldn’t waste money on such trifles. Jenny’s stomach was so knotted and her heart so tight she could hardly breathe. It was hard enough setting aside her own heartache and empty womb to make this a good day for her friend without listening to the bitter voice next to her.

She waited until she could get up without being noticed and went to the bathroom to take some deep breaths. It had been three months since she’d seen that mass of unexpected blood in the toilet; three months since the ultrasound tech had showed her that big empty space in her womb where her baby should have been; three months since she lay sobbing in that cold hospital room with an even colder, indifferent Doctor telling her that miscarriages happen all the time—and to get over it.

She kept on breathing deeply, resolved to hide her emotions. She opened the door and went back to the baby shower. She stood near the edge of the group, served slices of cake and made small talk with a few more ladies. As soon as it was polite to do so, she left the party. Once out of sight of the house she broke into a run until she reached the safe haven of her car. Once the door shut, she released a loud wail and wept heavily. She had done it. She hadn’t ruined her friend’s shower. But why, oh why, did she end up next to that bitter old woman!

“Why, God?” she gasped between sobs, “Why when I’m trying so hard to be happy for my friend and not bitter? I’m trying, Lord. I’m trying. Why did this have to happen today?!”

A month later, Julia lay in a hospital bed, her pale face lined with exhaustion from the arduous labor and emergency C-section. Her little baby boy was in the NICU because something was wrong with his heart. Jenny gently squeezed Julia’s shoulder.

“Everyone’s seen the baby but me,” Julia croaked, “I’m so worried about him.”

Jenny’s heart ached for her friend. “The doctor said he thinks everything will be ok. Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“No,” Julia exhaled, “I just want to hold him.”

A few minutes later, Julia’s husband entered the room, a small bundle wriggling in his arms. He gently laid the little baby boy in Julia’s expectant arms as tears trickled down her face. Why was this happening? Why did her baby have to be threatened with a heart condition? Her eyes took in the face of her newborn boy as she thought about the people in the room. For a brief moment she wondered if Jenny was secretly gloating over her misfortune. Her eyes flicked to Jenny’s face momentarily, but there was nothing but genuine concern reflected there.

Her body relaxed automatically. No. Jenny had set her own feelings aside to celebrate with her, and now she was here, supporting her during this agonizing moment.  No matter what happened next, she was so thankful for Christian sisters like Jenny.

Jenny watched Julia reflectively as her hand absently moved to her abdomen. She wondered if she would face similar complications… if this baby growing within her made it to delivery. That was the thing with babies—miscarriage, stillbirth and deformity were an ever present possibility, but so was the potential for death and disease after the baby was born. She was so thankful she hadn’t missed the opportunity to rejoice with her friend, because today she could support her without any hint of gloating over her distress. God was training her, and for once, she hadn’t failed Him. Compassion in good times and bad is so much more fulfilling than envy and jealousy.


In my original post, I talked about our tendency to compare ourselves with others and wonder why other people seem to have it so much easier than we do. In the above story, Jenny and Julia were both grappling with their own sorrows, but instead of bitterness and resentment, there was genuine love and compassion. There are two things to consider here: first, someone may be bearing a private heartache unknown to you or anyone else; second, their suffering may be imminent and they’ll need your non-gloating sympathy.

Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” How often do we see only the good things that people have and brush aside the weight of their suffering? How can we be compassionate if we choose to overlook their pain?

Consider the following passage from Romans:

Let love be genuine.

Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

~ Romans‬ ‭12:9-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

You may notice that the word “compassion” isn’t mentioned here, but these are actions that enable us to show compassion.  I put parts of the passage in bold to emphasize a few things.

Genuineness is an essential part of compassion.

“Let love be genuine.”

Your compassion will be somewhat ineffective if your love is fake or self-serving. The love we show is to  be the “brotherly” type. As Christians, we ought to pull together just like a blood family does when one of it’s relations falls on hard times.

Constant prayer.

In the middle of Paul’s list is this encouragement to “be constant in prayer.” Why do you think that is there? Because this stuff is downright hard! We need God’s help to go against our own selfish inclinations. In the story above, Jenny set aside her fresh grief to rejoice with her friend and it took a great deal of effort. The important thing was that she took her pain to the Lord in prayer.

We also need to pray for others  as though we were coming to God with our own needs. This is much easier to do if we make regular prayer time and write down our requests so we don’t forget.

Bless those who persecute you.

Sticks and stones don’t need to touch your bones for someone to hurt you. Indifference, rudeness, thoughtlessness and disdain are perfectly lethal weapons. Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who hurt us the most. As children of God, we are supposed to forgive those who hurt us—even when they don’t apologize. Much of our resentment and “why-me-itis” stems from this inability to forgive. We think that people don’t deserve their good fortune, typically because we hate something they’ve done to us or someone else.

How can you show compassion for a brother during hard times if you are gloating over their suffering because you failed to forgive them? You can’t!

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

We are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Most of the time, we find it easier to weep with those who weep. Our pity for their plight stimulates a teeny bit of thankfulness that we are not them. We don’t mind going to the rejoicing party as long as there’s good food and the ability to mask our irritation at their blessings. My friends, that is not the attitude of Christ.

So often we find ourselves avoiding times of rejoicing with others because the ache in our own hearts is too great. We need to work on giving our grief to the Lord and celebrating those good times with others without resenting their temporary good fortune. Life is full of good seasons and bad. Very few people live their entire life on cloud 9. What’s good today will be a distant memory tomorrow.

The story I wrote above is a true story, but the names were changed. Jenny’s willingness to go to that baby shower and celebrate the good times with Julia made her presence more comforting for that same friend during her time of distress. Rejoicing for others in the midst of grief can be done, but only when we die to self and lean on the Lord.

If you find yourself bitterly envious of those who have it better than you, it’s time to work on compassion. Whether you feel they don’t deserve their good fortune or they got what was coming to them, you need to give those feeling to God and act on what you know is right.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

~ Ephesians‬ ‭4:31-32‬ ‭NIV‬‬

 

Stuck, alone and helpless. [The Effective Prayer 9.29.15]

woman-453014_1280

Breathe deep the gathering gloom
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colors from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white;
but we decide which is right,
And which is an illusion?

~ Graeme Edge, Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed

Night, peaceful night.

Peaceful, at least, for some of us…

What do you feel when you find yourself in a still and silent place? Do you feel panic, anxiety, peace or joy?

I crave stillness. Life is so hectic. I yearn for those quiet moments when I don’t have to do or be anything. It is a human foible to constantly crave that which eludes us.

Here’s a little perspective:

Imagine for a moment being on end-of-life care or severely immobilized. You’re stuck in a wheelchair or confined to a hospital bed. You have no driver’s license. You don’t have the physical capability to get anywhere on your own.

You feel like a caged bird.

A world that used to brim with possibility is suddenly beyond reach. You can’t strike out on a new adventure unless someone is willing to take you along. You feel Stuck. Alone. Helpless.

Welcome to the life of the shut-in.

In the twilight of life, it is common to struggle to find purpose for those remaining days. People who are confined due to age or illness long for a kind word or a friendly visit. They feel forgotten, isolated. Some grow bitter in their loneliness. Others have physical ailments that cause embarrassment or discomfort. Sometimes, they aren’t elderly. Relatively young men and women struck with cancer or like illness may find themselves in a hospital bed, drawing closer to death far sooner than they’d expected.

Do we just cast them aside and pretend they don’t exist? Are they less deserving of our compassion than the vibrant, healthy and young? On the contrary, they are in desperate need of compassion and encouragement before they meet the Maker.

An example of compassion and purpose

Even though my mother worked full-time, she tried to find ways to visit the elderly ladies from church who were in the hospital or shut-in. During my junior year of high school, we gave a plate of cookies to an elderly couple at church that we didn’t know very well.

We all became fast friends.

A short time later, the man passed on leaving behind his wife. Their children lived elsewhere. She was all alone. Without her husband, she was unable to drive. Nearly every Friday afternoon, my mother would take Mary while she made deliveries for work so that they could visit with each other and pick up some groceries. It was an edifying experience for all of us. I observed that one could grow old and still have joy. One could be shut-in and still find purpose. Helping others could be helpful to you. Mary was a talented lady and she would knit and crochet blankets, sweaters and stuffed animals for new moms and needy folks. She made several of our baby blankets and I still have them today. Mary was a beautiful example of growing old with grace.

It all started with a plate of cookies and ended with a beautiful friendship.

Praying for the shut-ins.

This week’s prayer requires you to reach out a little. If you are an introvert like me, this may be a  difficult task. People are unpredictable and it can be a bit daunting. Remember, God does not call us to do only that which is easy or comfortable; He calls us to be compassionate regardless of circumstances.

If you have a similar personality to mine, I recommend starting out slowly. Begin by sending a card in the mail. Next, find someone who has experience ministering to the elderly and ask to accompany them when the visit people.

Here is a list of specific requests for the shut-ins:

  • Pray that they will seek the Lord until the end. I have observed the effects of debilitating disease and injuries. It either fosters a closer with God or triggers bitterness toward God. Pray that their eyes will be open to the Lord and that they won’t reject Him in their pain, loneliness and fear.
  • Ask the Lord to send them friendship. (This could be you!)
  • Pray that they will be comforted by the Lord’s presence.
  • Pray for those caring for them—both family and health professionals. Pray for those who are making decisions for this individual; pray that decisions will not be motivated by convenience, frustration, exhaustion or selfish desire, but rather what is best for the one cared for.
  • For those Christians suffering from dementia, pray that the Lord will remind them that He has not forsaken them. I have shared a story in the past about a lady I knew who suffered from Alzheimers. Even in that fog of confusion, she always spoke to me of God’s faithfulness. You can read that post here. It is a prayer that offer up for myself at times. I hope I am lucid until I die, but if I should get Alzheimer’s or dementia, I pray that I am like the examples I have seen of people who remember the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord even when all else is forgotten.

FREE PDF list of what to pray for shut-ins. Includes bible verses and a few lines to add notes/names. Download by clicking here.

Pray with purpose.

Pray effectively.

Reach out and encourage!

Please leave feedback in the comments section re: the PDF download. I am still trying to format this effectively to be a tool for your use and mine. Thank you in advance for your help.