Grace to the Hesitant

The book of Jude warns of many things but wraps up with one of my all-time favorite scripture verses reassuring me that Jesus is able to keep me through this fleeting, albeit sometimes challenging life and present me to God without sin. When all is said and done, Christ utterly and eternally triumphs, inviting me to do the same alongside Him. Now that is reason for rejoicing, indeed!

However, another couple of verses from this same author have been pricking my conscience lately. It is a call to show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. To be gracious toward those who hesitate in believing the reality of this God-story that, in many ways, does seem too good to be true. Even though it is.

Verses 22 and 23 encourage believers in Christ with the following directive:
And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (NLT)

The Message by Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way:
Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin.

There are many folks who “hesitate in the faith,” and I have joined them far more times than I care to admit. Each of us must journey the path to God for himself, and each of us has struggles uniquely his own. Some obstacles seem glaringly obvious, while others are much more cunning in their masquerade to pull us from the truth that is found in God’s  Word.

A plethora of lies tempt us to leave the path of salvation and walk in ways that dishonor our Savior, and many of us still struggle with sins, neglecting the power given us to overcome our former way of living. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know this new nature in Jesus is free for the taking, yet sometimes difficult to grasp. And even harder to hold onto.

What do we do when we encounter fellow-Christians whose spiritual fruit appears less than appealing? The world would tell us not to judge, that tolerance is the only thing demanded of us. Others would say to judge the person only by their seeming less-than-ripe or rotting spiritual fruit, never mind if their heart is wavering back and forth seeking firm footing on which to stand. But Jude points us to a better way as he encourages us to show mercy while exerting effort to stop the person from sinning any longer.

We are encouraged to be patient with folks who are faltering as they hesitantly test the waters of faith. I daresay we’ve all had our own shortcomings of belief ourselves, which is a good reminder to be gentle and kind in our dealings with others. We are not to ignore or overlook the sin that is obviously a part of their lives, but rather, we are to pursue those who are wandering, tenderly seeking them out instead of writing them off. Welcoming them with open arms and an open heart of acceptance and love, the same as we have received from Jesus.

Hate the evil acts of sin, yes. But always, always love the people who are trapped in them. They are making these unwise choices because they have been tricked, deceived by the enemy of their souls. We would never punish a blind man for stumbling over a rock he did not see, so in the same way, we are called to be gentle in our dealings with those who are still struggling to find light in the darkness. Indeed, may we be ones who introduce them to it.

I pray we follow Jude’s directives and live a life of love as recipients of such undeserved grace at the hand of our Lord. Let kindness rule our hearts as we partner with Christ to lead the way to salvation in His name. May our light shine to illuminate the darkness as we patiently allow the eyes of others to adjust to this gift of God-life for all.

May we tread carefully, navigating the path between the weak and the willful with caution and with great love.

After all, sin is the only thing God hates.

May we follow His lead.

© MereWhispers.wordpress.com

The Toxicity of Indifference

There’s a meme that’s been popping up on my facebook feed recently, and it is one that breaks my heart. Not only does it sadden me, but the fact that it is being affirmed by fellow-Christians is what I find to be most disturbing. Its content is as follows:

I’m at the point in life where I don’t care about losing friendships or relationships.
I don’t even speak to some of my family, and it doesn’t bother me one bit.
People come and go.
I’m not here to chase anyone or beg for friendship and loyalty.
If you feel me and we vibe, then that’s what’s up.
If not, then it is what it is.
See ya.

Seriously? Am I the only one who sees the selfishness and the totally un-Christlike attitude of this statement?

If you have reached the point where you can walk away from family members and friendships without being bothered by the fact, then I fear for you. I really do. Because to reach a point of such indifference can only make me wonder how deeply you have embraced hurt and are holding on to bitterness in your life.

Now before you begin your rant against me, please hear my heart. I realize some of you reading this post have had terrible things happen to you at the hands of those who should have shown you nothing but love. I’m not making excuses for behaviors of abuse or malicious harm inflicted upon you by people who preyed upon your youth or innocence. But the above statement does not directly address those issues. It is thrown out with what seems to me as a flippant attitude of “whatever.” A “If you’re not good for me, then why should I care about you?” air of selfishness and disdain.

If you allow people to so casually come and go in your life without a thought or care of repairing relationships, then what does that say about your own heart? Does it truly not bother you that family members won’t speak to you? Or that relationships are lost without fighting for them?

I know it can be hard to get along with siblings or parents or friends or really anyone who has walked up close with us for any length of time, but to hold on to those relationships should mean something to us. To pursue people with love and to opt to live peacefully with others should be a main goal of anyone who claims Christ as their Savior. Love is a central core to our make-up in the body of Christ. Indifference toward others should have no grounds on which to stand when we claim to follow Jesus.

Building and maintaining relationships is hard work, but it is also one of the most beautiful gifts we have been given this side of eternity. The gift of family and friendships and God-life breathing through each other, inhaling and exhaling grace and love and acceptance even through the pains of life is just that — a gift. Sometimes difficult to give, sometimes difficult to receive. But always a treasure.

Oh, I know it would be so much simpler if love came in forms that were easy to embrace — in the noble and pure and kind. But in reality, love shows up in the messiness of bruised knees and broken hearts and awkward caresses. Love stretches us to be kind to the loud-mouthed and offensive, to be grasped by dirty, little beggar hands reaching for help. Bankrupt souls clamoring to be noticed, desperate for attention.

Instead of protecting ourselves from the toxicity of relationships, what might happen if we determined to find love there instead? What if we were willing to look beyond the grime of beggar hands greedily grasping, and peer into the eyes of hurting souls? Would it change the way we see that difficult spouse or annoying sibling or unkind parent or caustic coworker if all were viewed as beggars for the love we carry within us?

Sometimes love cannot give back because its own pockets are empty. Sometimes poverty strikes out in anger. Or with indifference.  But I pray we don’t join the masses of beggars. I pray we seek to become prosperous in God’s character traits, instead. Living to become wealthy in love so we can give it generously, even to ones who may never return the favor. Even to the ones who will squander our love with no thought of us or our own needs.

In a world where unconditional love is in short supply, may we link arms with Jesus and scatter it liberally. May we accept the weaknesses of others and overlook offenses more readily each day. May we overcome the irritability which often accompanies love-giving, by looking to the relentlessness of God’s own love to fill the gap. In both ourselves and in others.

Instead of pursuing only those who flow with the same “vibe” as us (What does that even mean?!?), how about we pursue love with all mankind. Let us love through the awkward moments when neither party knows what to say or exactly how to respond. Let’s offer a cup of kindness to dirty hands extended, hoping to grasp a bit of respite. And let’s DO care, more than a bit, as we allow grace to rise within our own hearts and hold back the flow of provocation. Let’s invite peace to override the temptation of removing our presence from the presence of others.

It is a selfish person who walks away from relationships without a backward glance, but those who belong to Father stand alongside Him waiting on the dusty path for prodigal’s return, patiently hoping for love’s remembrance to stir the heart. Steadfastly looking for opportunities to pour grace upon thirsty soul soil, and not being surprised when it is quickly soaked up and needs replenishing again and again.

Let us join the ranks of Christ-followers who stand with staying power to see each relationship through to the end, who continue to scatter love and gather others as we ourselves have been gathered. May we draw near to family and friends with loyal love found in the shadow of Calvary’s cross. I pray we overcome indifference as we move to the rhythms of Savior’s heartbeat prompting each act of kindness, no matter how small. May love move from a novel idea to an expected deed as we bind the wounds of hurting hearts. Standing firm, yet giving sway to the needs pressing upon us.

Step by step, may we discover love through the ongoing process of knowing and being known. Choosing to place ourselves at Savior’s service, even when it means walking into the line of fire. Making ourselves vulnerable and willing to absorb some hurt. Targeted for love’s sake so others may know His name when they encounter us.

Let us remember that though love may be difficult in the moment, its purpose is far-reaching and timeless.

Difficult will not last forever, my friend, but love will.

So with that in mind. here’s to a different meme . . .

13230162_10209099524752636_301366347771920944_nTherefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

© merewhispers.wordpress.com

A Year to Gather

Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been a part of http://oneword365.com/ long before it was trendy. Basically, instead of making a long list of New Year’s resolutions (which most likely will be ditched somewhere around the fourth week in), participants are encouraged to choose just one word to guide them throughout the year. While this official tribe of online one-worders came into existence in 2009, God and I have had our own little wordfest going for much longer than that.

Unlike the people who choose a word to intentionally apply to their lives, I’ve more often fallen into the word God has chosen for me. Sometimes the word made sense right from the beginning, other times I was a little slower in putting it all together. But come it did, ready or not.

The themes throughout the years have encouraged and stretched me in a variety of ways. Some words have been positive, others not so much so. Like the year soul-weary continued to tug at my heartstrings — a desert year of bearing many burdens and stumbling blindly through prayers and heartache while learning to cling desperately to Jesus through it all. Then there was steadfast — a more positive word to be sure, one that grew me in both strength and tenacity There was even the baffling word travel as an overarching theme I felt was to be applied to both my husband and me. Surprisingly, that year found us skipping the country in trips to England and Haiti and Africa and Mexico. Whew! The words have continued to come and go with each passing year, being fulfilled in a variety of ways, but always reminding me of God’s faithfulness as He walked through each one of them alongside me.

This year the word is gather.

With Jesus’ reminder that he who does not gather scatters, I enter this year with a no-neutral mindset. I can no longer light a lamp only to stick it under a basket, dimming its glow. Instead, I’m being prodded to shine a little more brightly and to invite others to experience the glow alongside me (flickering though it may be).

This year I am gathering.

I want my home to become an anchor for friends and strangers, alike. A place to steady and return to the quietness within each soul who enters. I want this to be a safe place where realness can happen and love can stand strong. Lasting. A gathering ground for young and old. Where strangers become family, and family stays friends.

May this dwelling provide space to breathe deeply and freely. To laugh until stomachs hurt. To cry until tears are spent. To talk late into the night. To pitch a blanket on the floor and linger long, sharing stories of yesteryear and dreams for the future. May this be a place of acceptance, while still challenging us all to become better image-bearers of Jesus. Where trust and love run deep and wide enough to cover all wrongs. A place where we grow up and together. Facing the good and bad times with this precious tribe of family, related by bloodline or not.

While I want to fling the doors of my home wide, I realize gathering comes in a variety of ways and places, sometimes stretching across the miles to wrap people in my prayers when they are beyond the reach of my arms. This past week has been one of gathering in that way:

Gathering a brokenhearted friend close, listening to her pour out her tears and her pain across phone lines, praying all the while for God to give her strength in a situation that makes no sense.

Gathering a young man and his family whose lives have been altered by an in-school shooting, multiple bullets tearing into his body and the surrounding community with hurt and fears.

Gathering the young shooter and his family, asking for hearts to be turned to Jesus and for love to be extended in supernatural ways.

Gathering a friend’s aging parent, requesting healing while holding them all close in my heart.

Gathering to rejoice over new babies and answered prayers alongside my plea for others to be gifted with grace, to have their tears wiped away and their hurts vanquished by a loving Savior.

While I want to gather folks into my home, it’s not always possible to do so, but I can always, always gather them into my prayers. And in this way, I am gathering them into the presence of Jesus, as well. Taking them before the throne of grace and pleading alongside them in the spiritual realm.

A gathering of souls united by the Soul-keeper Himself.

This year, I’m determined to gather others and look for hope together. Standing in the gap to draw loved ones near. To hold close and for keeps those forever friends who live far from me. And to make new ones, too. Planting seeds and letting roots grow deep, no matter if they be transplanted to places abroad. This is a place to be held, whether near or far.

This is a place of gathering.

Where souls are anchored, yet simultaneously strengthened to set sail on open seas.

Where hearts are filled and heaviness is lifted.

And peace is large and grace is free for the asking.

Yes, let this be a year of gathering.

Together.

15241897_10211548192128768_7907168030091590567_nFind your tribe for 2017. Join in the one-word challenge @ http://oneword365.com/

© merewhispers.wordpress.com

Own Your Gifts

latestThank you, Sir. I think I can be brave enough. — Lucy
I’m sure you could. Battles are ugly affairs… These are tools, not toys. Bear them well and wisely. — Father Christmas
(quotes from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Much like the young children from the beloved C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, we’ve all been granted gifts to use in pursuing our callings. But the more I think on it, the more I’m convinced we all-too-often overlook the reason behind it all. It’s not so much a calling we yearn for; it’s a sense of purpose. And until we have it, we remain restless despite our callings.

According to Google definition:
A calling is a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.
A purpose is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

To have a calling without a purpose leaves me incomplete. I might have a bent toward a certain way of life or career, but without a reason for choosing that particular path, I’ll remain aimless in accomplishing anything of worth. I am a wife, daughter, friend, mother, writer, intercessor… these are all callings on my life. But my callings are not interchangeable with my purpose; they are merely vehicles to achieving that purpose which is larger than all of those identities combined.

Despite the seasons of my life, my purpose remains consistent: to love God and to love others as myself. But how that looks morphs and changes throughout the years and is dependent upon my roles being played out in the lives of others. To one, I am wife. To some, I am mother. To others, I am friend…

As I live to fulfill my purpose each day, I must ask myself a few pertinent questions:
How do I best show love to my husband?
What does it look like to honor God while encouraging my family?
How do I support my friends as I urge them to remember God’s faithfulness through the trials of this life?
How do I impact a lost and hurting world?

In short, how do I fling my arms about my Savior and humanity at the same time?

The answer?

Be brave enough to be here now.

Stop and linger long as you intentionally make time for relationships. With God and with His people.
Set goals for the future, yes, but live in the moments that are.

When we choose to linger with God, we cannot help but be saturated with His Spirit. And when we are filled with His Spirit, we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands prepared to move and to act and to serve in obedience, wherever we are. Right here in this moment of everyday life we are living.

The Spirit of God has dreams for you, friend, and they come with gifts to equip you to fulfill those dreams. It’s time to open the packages in your hands and trust you are the owner of them. To be brave enough to accept and to bear them well and wisely, for these gifts are not meant merely for you alone, but also for the people whom you encounter this side of eternity.

At the start of this New Year, I encourage you to own your gifts, beloved. Use them up. Drain them dry for His glory and for the benefit of all who need to be touched by the love of God you have to offer.

Your gifts might not look the same as the packages being opened all around you, and that’s okay. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy and Susan and Peter all received different gifts because their callings were all unique. What they were each meant to accomplish looked very different even as they worked toward the same goal. If they would have been caught up in comparing their gifts instead of using them, then the entire kingdom of Narnia would have suffered and remained in bondage to a perpetual winter that was never Christmas.

Likewise, people need what you have to give as much as you need what others have to offer. Someone needs your love today. Your prayers. Your encouragement. Your faith being expressed from your uniqueness. Believe it, then be brave enough to bear your purpose well and wisely when the time is at hand. Don’t allow the comparison trap to keep you clenching your gift tightly, fearful of how it might look when you finally allow it to slip from your fingers into the life of another.

Once we start sharing, we’ll see the power in the gift. We’ll see the impact it can make. We’ll feel the difference of transformation taking place before our eyes and within us. And we’ll yearn to pour the life He has given upon all who come near.

So move into your purpose, dear one. Reach out to your spouse first thing in the morning as you are filled with God’s grace to partner together under the influence of the Spirit’s leading. Come alongside those teenagers you loved enough to birth, and continue to stick with them to birth something real and beautiful as they grow. Stretch out your hands to your friends and clasp them in prayer over that next cup of coffee. Wherever you are, at any given moment… be present.

Be real.

Be you.

Make it your intention to live with the intent of fulfilling your purpose.

Because you have one, and it’s beautiful.

And it’s needed.

People are waiting for you.

I think you can be brave enough.

Lucy-pevensie-and-lucy-pevensie-cordial-gallery47cb19c205802f881fa63eae4db5a9af

 

The Myth Behind RAKs

How do we change the world? One random act of kindness at a time.

This statement, a favored quote from the movie Evan Almighty, has recently been floating across my facebook wall alongside Morgan Freeman’s portrait. While the sentiment behind this thought seems sweet, its rationale is utterly false.

No “random act” will ever change the hearts of men.

Don’t get me wrong, random acts of kindness (RAKs) are a good thing and we would do well to include them as an ordinary part of our lives, but let’s face it, the stranger who allows me to go ahead of him in a grocery store line, though he is kind, remains a stranger.

There’s nothing to lose by being generous in a moment, but when those moments string together to form a lasting bond of devotion, well, that’s when things can get truly costly for the giver. But that’s also when lives start to change.

No random act of kindness will change the world. Only an intentional act of love can reach deep into the soul and invite a transformation.

Now I’m not suggesting you cease all efforts to be spontaneous in blessing others with RAKs. Those gestures can go far in brightening someone’s day. Those little things really do mean a lot to a person, BUT dare I ask the question: Where is your own heart in the matter? Are you doing something small so you can avoid stepping into the life of another in a big way? Are you content to purchase a few Happy Meals for the family in the minivan behind you so you can pacify yourself that you’ve done your duty in making the world a better place? At least for one day.

It seems there’s a temptation to take these RAKs and convince ourselves that people are generally good and looking out for their fellowman simply because someone paid for our morning cup of coffee. A nice sentiment, perhaps, but seriously, they merely purchased a cup of joe. Let’s keep things in perspective.

While we’re keeping things in perspective, let’s be purposeful in our interactions with others. Let’s move beyond the boundaries of random and wade deep into the waters of intentional, even though it calls us to get in over our heads. After all, a drowning world needs more than a few life rings passively tossed into its wake. It needs people willing to dive into the waters and pull the floundering victims to safety.

It needs a Savior.

While I make no boast to being capable of saving the world, I know the One who can. So why am I so slow to share His love? Why do I hesitate to speak His words? Have His heart. Extend His hands through my own. Not just in a random act of kindness here and there, but with intent and frequency and consistency and unyielding love. A love that serves and gives when there is absolutely nothing to be gained by me, apart from the perk that comes with choosing God’s ways.

Jesus never called anyone to randomly follow Him, nor did He haphazardly toss His love about. He spoke, and acted, and lived each moment with purposeful intent. And He calls His disciples to do the same.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:12-13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law… If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  — Galatians 5:22-23, 25

When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to My Father.
  — John 15:8

So let’s heed the voice of our Savior and step it up. Let’s go beyond the RAKs and live a bit more determinedly. Stretch ourselves a little further. Love a whole lot larger than a free Happy Meal or giving up the closest parking space. Let’s give the gift that keeps on giving as we lift our hands to extend the love sent from heaven. A love willing to lay down its rights and sacrifice its own interests for the benefit of others.

The kind of love born in a manger and nailed to a cross.

The kind of love that really does change the world…

maxresdefault-1

Where Worship and Love Remain

With every twist and turn of  life, God continues to unsettle my theology by settling me more firmly within Himself.

Everything I once thought ministry was isn’t necessarily ministry at all.

The titles and organizations rise and fall, come and go. Religious institutions are built, then close their doors. Positions are created, then dissolved.

But worship and love remain.

To worship God is ministry.

To love people is an act of worship to Him — sometimes a sacrificial offering, but always a pleasing aroma ascending heavenward. Ministry happens all around. When we take the time to talk with our neighbor, or pick up our sister’s son from school, or take a meal to a friend whose life is especially hectic, or help an elderly woman find a product in the grocery store, or provide care for an aging parent, or lighten a coworker’s load by bearing more responsibility upon our own shoulders…

Opportunities for ministry abound, and most of that ministry takes place outside the walls of a church building by people who do not carry the title of pastor or elder or deacon.

Ministry happens when disciples worship the Master and love each other.

These two words, worship and love, are practically synonymous, or at least function as a dynamic duo within the hearts of believers. Responding to those nudges prompting you to pray for a particular situation without an agenda of your own. Spending time with that person who frustrates you more than refreshes you. Giving without expecting recompense, knowing you may be taken for granted… or even taken advantage of. Being truthful with yourself and loving beyond opportunities for personal gain. Giving worth to others simply because they are created in the image of God. These are all acts of worship and love.

I wish I could say I do these things perfectly, but I fail frequently. On so many levels. With so many people. Mostly, I prefer to be the one on the receiving end of grace, not the extender of it. Mostly, I feign worship when it calls me to walk in hard places. I hesitate to love as quickly or as freely as I should. I prefer to live within my comfort zone instead of stepping beyond what I think I can manage on my own. Because I want to stay safe.

But God continues to call me beyond. To worship in Spirit and in truth where my own rights are overtaken by a higher way.

Real worship is to love with abandon, arms stretched wide. Scary, isn’t it? To position yourself to be vulnerable, unguarded, seemingly defenseless. Open to be hurt, but also open to give and to receive a love that can only be returned when we are exposed. That’s what it takes to create an environment where ministry can happen.

Ministry creates a place where folks feel safe to be themselves. Where trust can be built and stories shared, sometimes page by painful page. Where people are heard. Seen and not overlooked. Accepted, complete with flaws and irritating habits.

Ministry happens…

When fresh wounds are cared for by those who bear scars of their own.

When we release the rights to our own story and share it in hopes of bringing encouragement or healing to others.

When we embrace the worst of humanity with the best of grace, purposing to move forward into the future without the chains of the past dragging along behind.

This is where we invite ministry in the most precious of ways.

Worshiping in love, and loving to worship.

Whoever we meet.

Wherever we are.

Drawing eyes to Jesus and calling hearts to bow in humble gratefulness.

Together, held by grace.

Together, living in love.

Together, worshiping day by day.

Together, where ministry happens.

images

Providing Presence

I just finished watching the attached video of my friend’s son Brady and his heart for a greater cause. I couldn’t help but think of how fitting today’s Five Minute Friday word of CLOSE was for what I had just viewed. I hope you will take the time to watch this powerfully moving video.

CLOSE: being near in time, space, or relationship.

Close calls us toward something or someone.

Close calls us to close the distance.

To draw near.

To be faithful to sharing the Hope that is found in Jesus.

It’s hard to see clearly from a distance.

It’s hard to experience the pain, the loss, the sense of hopelessness that prevails in another’s life unless we dare to bridge the chasm and come close to that person and their particular situation.

Close sees.

Close provides a presence

Close means that someone else is aware of our plight.

Close stoops down to visit us in the midst of our hopelessness and despair.

Close comes with compassion that moves us to action on another’s behalf.

Close reminds us that God is with us.

That eternity has moved in, drawn close to bridge the chasm of sin with the righteousness that only a holy God could provide.

Would provide.

Did provide.

Close steps in to nest among the finite pages of life, dusting hearts with traces of Father’s glory.

Daring us to give the gift of hope, to tempt others to believe that they are seen when they feel dishonored and devalued.

Close shows up and reminds us of love.

Close pulls us all together and reminds us that we are one.

Called to the Cause: http://youtu.be/jhQJRsJUoTQ

wide-open-doorsopen-door-sarah-suero-lftd0hpb

 

* This post was written in conjunction with Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday and the challenge to write for five minutes on a one-word prompt. Click here to join us: http://www.lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday