Sunday, April 19, 2015

Relationships, A Mess Worth Making: Burdens

One of my favorite passages is found in Isaiah.


When I turned the page to start this chapter, there is was: "A bruised reed He will not crush, a smoking flax He will not snuff out, in faithfulness He will bring  forth justice."



That is from Isaiah 42:3 and is the passage I read in that hotel room shortly after my pastor made his inappropriate advances towards me. That verse gave life to my struggling spirit when everything in the world seemed wrong to me.

 In the opening pages of this chapter (if you are following along in the book) there is a great quote from Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christianity" what he says is this; "What you believe is not what you SAY you believe; what you believe is what you DO."

As each of my children have grown and left home (and I include my nephews in that number) they have all had to make their faith their own. Consequently they each have entered a period of time where they questioned, "Is this MY faith, or is this the faith of my parents?" Some of them have struggled with anger over the events that transpired with my former pastor, or with things they perceived to be inconsistencies in the Word of God. Heck ~I~ struggled with anger for quite a while, but what I have learned this week; what has brought me to my knees in humility, is that those same children KNEW without a doubt that OUR faith was real. (I'd always hoped it was so, but it is so humbling to actually hear them tell you)  My nephew and I had an extended conversation about faith this past week and during it he told me he knew he was a Christian because WE as a family lived it, every day, 24/7 in our home, where no one else could see. That's all I want them to remember. EVER. That true faith is lived out in our homes, 24/7 where no one else can see, or as Donald Miller said, "It's not what you say you believe, it's what you DO."

The authors tell us that Theology can be powerful or cheap. What makes right thinking about God powerful is the LIFE that emerges daily from that theology.

The authors take us back to a crucial moment among the twelve disciples. You may remember that James and John were asking Jesus if they could sit by His side in heaven and when the others heard the questions being posed they became angry. Jesus used this perfect teachable moment to pound home something that was crucial to living in His kingdom.He told them whoever wants to be great must be a servant, whoever wants to be first should be a slave, because that's what He was doing. He came to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

*The path to greatness is downward.

*The path to greatness is humility.

*The path to greatness is service to others.

One of the statements the authors made that really struck my heart was an "IF" statement."IF our relationships are going to produce Christlike character in us and IF the Christian community is going to flourish, it is going to take LOTS of people who relish being demoted in the eyes of the world."

You truly have to get to a place where you DO NOT CARE what others think of you and you are not jockeying for a position of importance. A place where leading a bible study is JUST as important to you as scrubbing a toilet. When you are able to throw off your desire for position, power and recognition and quell your need for self-love and self glory THEN you will be transformed into true servants after the image of Jesus.

The key to becoming a servant though, is realizing JUST how much you ARE NOT.

See if any of this rings true for you. One of the authors shared a snippet from his own life, and while it is not the norm, (for me or for the author) there are times (especially when I don't feel well) that I slip into that "someone had better be serving me" mindset. Here's what he shared:

"When you are weighed down with difficulties what is the FIRST thing you want to do? You don't want to DO anything. You want others to DO things for YOU. You want to be SERVED not to SERVE....Don't they understand I have a job with many things to think about? Why do they insist that I help them with their homework immediately? Don't they see that I have more important things to be concerned with than their assignments? These are the thoughts that race through my mind. Soon I feel convicted about my impatience and I begin to rationalize it. I would be more patient if I didn't have to worry about paying the bills and getting my work done. I would be a kinder and gentler father if they would be less aggressive and more obedient, in other words, if my circumstances were different, I would be a better servant."

Ah....circumstances....how much better (or worse) would our lives be "if only" those pesky circumstances had not gotten in our way. I had to remind a friend today as they grumbled  about a broken appliances and sickness that God's will is for us to learn to be THANKFUL in the midst of all things, and like Paul we need to learn how to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. I'm not saying its easy...its not...the joy you receive from CHOOSING thankfulness over complaining far outweighs whatever circumstance you find yourself in. It takes you outside of your self and makes you more like Christ. After that conversation my husbands car broke down, and we were brought down to one vehicle.

I believe God will make a way people. I am STILL THANKFUL. ;)

On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus could have been thinking about Himself and how He was about to give His life for the world. Particularly these twelve men who knew Him so well, who walked with Him daily. One who would betray Him, one who would deny Him and the rest would abandon Him; yet He knelt and began to wash the dust from their feet. He could have said, "You know what? I'm about to die for you knuckle heads. How about you show ME a little respect." He didn't ask for pity, at the moment where He is MOST deserving of sympathy. He was selfless.He calls us to this same type of service, and when we obey Him in it, God's grace is at work in both our life and in the lives of the people  we are serving.

*SOMEONE'S WORTHINESS DOES NOT DETERMINE WHETHER YOU SERVE

Jesus knew, intimately, who each man in that room was, yet He washed the feet of each man with the same tender compassion. Just as we can use our circumstances to avoid serving others (too tired, too busy, me, me, me) we can look at  others and judge them deciding in our hearts that they are unworthy of our service, and that somehow they will not appreciate our efforts. That is not our call. Christ shows us that none of us are worthy, and yet  He died for us anyway (Romans 5:8)

I want to add that this: if you are in an abusive relationship, please get help. Do not put yourself or your children in harms way. Terrible things have been done in the name of our God. My former pastor hid in plain sight and twisted the Word to suit his needs and many were fooled. He was not physically abusive, but abuse has many, many "shades". There is a way to minister to an abusive person. You can speak the truth in love to them, You can seek help for the situation. You can seek accountability for the family. Most of all, do not own ANYTHING that is not your own. Accept only the responsibility for any sins YOU have committed, repent and move on, do not let the abuser play with your mind. Here is a good article. She focuses on physical abuse, but the entire article is applicable for any type of abusive situation you may find yourself in. If you need help, seek it. Lastly, I urge you to not allow the abusive person to lull you into a sense of peace with promises of "everything will be better"  and false promises to change that  cause you to abandon your desire to seek help. This is a pattern, They WILL NOT change unless they are confronted with their sin, the same as any other sinner. Theirs is more embedded, and hidden, but still needs to be confronted. Do not let them convince you that they (and you) can handle this within the confines of your family. Ask yourself this question before you agree to this 'home therapy': Has it EVER worked before?

*YOUR POSITION DOES NOT DETERMINE WHETHER YOU SERVE

Society tells us that we have to be 'King of the Hill' to be great. So we spend our lives trying to get to the top of that heap. When we meet Christ we suddenly realize that we were wrong and we need to make our way back down the hill to find fulfillment, purpose and meaning. If you are a parent your greatest responsibility is to teach this to your children. Our children knew that we were their authority and there were times we asked them to serve us in the normal give and take of the family dynamic but one thing that always happened at our house, that just seemed normal to me (sound off in the comments below if its not) I served my husband and children first at every meal. When I made the dinner plates, I would make my husbands plate, my children's plates and then mine. If I had not planned properly, then I got the smallest portion. Last bite of ice cream? Not for me. If you look in my freezer it is probably in there still, with freezer burn, because no one wanted to eat it, we were all saving it for someone else.

I am certainly not saying every day is a "skip-to-my-lou" joy-filled explosion over here. There are days we do not feel like serving, we do not feel thankful and we feel like REALLY? It's all a bit much isn't it? It's at these precise moments that the Spirit reminds you of your own sin and the grace that is available to you, and it is a DAILY need.

*THE NEED FOR DAILY GRACE

Do you remember when Jesus was about to wash Peter's feet and Peter was like, "Hold Up Lord! You are NOT about to wash my feet!" and do you remember what Jesus said to him? "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Well, then Peter gets crazy and says, "Well, then Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well." Jesus replies again with this nugget, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean..." They have been bathed by their relationship with Christ, but that cleansing MUST be accompanied by daily cleansing. They (and you and I) NEED the daily grace of sanctification. We simply can not live on past grace. We need present grace. The authors remind us that WE WILL struggle, there will be times we will wonder if following Christ is worth it (and it was wonderful for me to see someone admit it there in black and white) and at those moments is PRECISELY WHEN you need the work of the Spirit to remind you of your own sin and the grace that is available to you.

REPENTANCE and FAITH MUST be part of your daily lifestyle.

It simultaneously lays you low and lifts you up.

The authors challenge us with these questions:

*When was the last time you served someone?
*What was it that moved you in their direction?
*Was it remembering your own greatness and how much this person needed to be touched by your greatness?
*When was the last time you served someone well, even though you knew no one would ever see you doing it?

It is ok to answer these questions honestly, no one can hear your inner dialogue its just between you and God. You may not have those specific thoughts "I'm so awesome" but you may begin to feel prideful about the way you are helping people, it creeps up on you in subtle ways. That is why I am very careful when I do things to not make a spectacle of it. It is too easy to become puffed up. We are such frail creatures, and so prone to wanting His glory for our own, I always try to keep one hand from knowing what the other is doing.  Only His grace manifested in your life can keep you humble enough to silence the flesh that desires the crown of glory for its greedy head.

We are blessed when what we KNOW intersects with what we DO. How awesome is that? The authors reference the movie 'Chariots of Fire' and quote the protagonist Eric Liddell  who said, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." When Eric ran he was living out what God gifted him to be, a runner. When you and I serve one another, we are living out what God gifted us to be, servants. There is nothing more God-like than service to others.

See, here's what John said in I John 3:16-17:

"This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed His life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And YOU have made it disappear." (emphasis mine)

The love of Christ radically changes you, or it should. Even if you have been hurt, abused, victimized and traumatized you can not help but get back to a place where you WANT to help God's people. Even in all of the hurts, abuse, victimization and trauma He is there. He was there. He lived it too, much worse than anything you or I have ever had to endure. I remember once I was pouring my heart out in prayer and as I was crying out to the Lord I was listing all of the things that were done to me and every time I mentioned one the Lord immediately brought to mind an atrocity that was done to His Son. I was on the floor in a heap sobbing saying Yes, Lord at the end of it all. That does not mean it was easy for me to overcome, it means that He has equipped me with the GRACE to overcome.

Some of my favorite passages are the "One Another" passages. The authors suggest that we apply the following to specific relationships in our lives:

*a loved one
*a difficult person we normally avoid
*an enemy

With these specific people in mind they have asked us to consider the following passages:

*BE DEVOTED TO ONE ANOTHER

Romans 12:10 says we should be devoted to one another with brotherly love. Not only are we to treat them as a member of our personal family but the expanded bible takes that verse out just a little farther and says we should out do one another in showing honor to one another. Can you imagine what that would be like if everyone were trying to out do one another by showing honor to one another? How awesome would THAT world be?

*ACCEPT ONE ANOTHER

Romans 15:7 says we are to accept one another just as Christ accepted you. This is one of my biggest pet peeves among Christians. So many find reasons to separate themselves from the masses. They don't wear the right clothes, they don't listen to the right music, and my goodness! DO you know what kinds of SIN they participate in??? But Jesus broke down all those barriers when He walked this earth as He ate with what the religious of His day considered the vilest of the sinners. Don't be that guy (or gal) YOU are not the judge of that heart. Accept that person RIGHT where they are and let Christ's love flow through you. In due time God will work in that person's heart, but it starts with Christ's love, flowing from you to them, sometimes as simple as a smile and a HI, how are you today? to a person you would not normally speak to.

*BEAR ONE ANOTHER'S BURDENS

Galatians 6:2 says that we should bear one another's burdens. This means when we see our brother (or sister) struggling we RUN up alongside of them and help them by jamming our shoulder under the burden WITH them to help carry it. We are there with them in the struggle of carrying it and some of the weight of the burden falls on us. It requires sacrifice, it cramps our lifestyle, it may cost us financially. Recently my heart was broken when I learned that a friend of mine was placed under church discipline for failing to attend worship regularly. There are many reasons why a person can fall out of fellowship, I'm pretty sure disfellowshipping them will not restore them to the fold.

*BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER

Ephesians 4:2 tells us that we are to ALWAYS be humble, gentle and patient with one another, bearing with one another in love. HOW COMPLETELY CONVICTING. Bearing with one another means even when you are irritated you respond correctly. I work part time in a service industry and sometimes people are just NASTY. There are times I am tempted to respond. My co-workers often chide me that I disgust them with my cheery attitude all.the,time but it takes hard work. Just the other day I had a customer who despite my cheeriness scowled, and mocked my every word. In my head I thought nasty things right back, but my face showed no sign of this. I couldn't wait to get home to tell my husband, who corrected my attitude with these wise words. "Babe, you don't know what was going on in that lady's life. Even if you didn't say it out loud I bet what you were thinking came across somehow. You really need to work on that. It's not about YOU its about HER." He's right. I almost chant that to myself when I run into nasty people when I find myself tempted to be nasty back. Its not ME it's THEM. When I fail though, I remember that HIS grace is sufficient for my weakness.

*SERVING OTHERS IS PRACTICAL

At the beginning of this Blog I quoted from Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christianity" where he says; "What you believe is not what you SAY you believe; what you believe is what you DO." The authors have challenged us to put feet to our faith. To DO this we have to constantly examine ourselves to SEE if we are growing and maturing. Others may think you're just swell, but YOU know the truth. Are you really growing and maturing in grace? Do your actions (both those the world sees and those NO ONE sees) correspond with ALL of the words you speak? Are you known for all of the verses you can quote but not so much the service you provide to your fellow believers? HUMBLE service to others is the true mark of the Spirits work in each of us, and no excuse will do when you stand before the throne of Grace. May none of us be found lacking on that day, and may each of us continue to grow in grace and may it overflow from His heart to ours and into the hearts of those around us until the entire world is filled with His grace and mercy and love.



XOXO