The Grace of Pain

When and if you stop to consider your arguments and rationale for why you should get things that you want, those reasons are often based in our perceived value, contribution, entitlements, etc. For those of us of faith, we’ll then put those expectations on God and often find a Scripture or two to “support” our justification. Sometimes we’ll even mistaken the challenges we face as an “attack” when, in fact, God Himself has both orchestrated and allowed our discomfort and He has done so for our benefit and His glory. Consider the following passage:

“You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:8-11)

The Father addresses the rebellion of Israel, which is typically no different than the rebellion of you and I. He explains that instead of appropriate wrath for the depravity of rebellion against a Holy God, He chooses to refine. Instead of a swift and just judgment to the demise of the prodigal, He allows for affliction to grow up the immaturity and grow out the obstinance. I’m thankful for that because without it, I would have been destroyed long ago.

He chooses to look past our depravity which is offensive to His nature and, by His grace, work it out of us. Here’s the bigger point; He does it for His glory and fame. We aren’t really that big of a deal, despite our participation trophies. He is and always will be the point. He knows our selfishness and shallowness would prefer it were about us, yet He allows the affliction of difficultly to refine us and work out those iniquities.

Justice would demand our punishment for punishment’s sake. We would be destroyed but we are pressed to work it out of us, instead. It’s gracious to give us the time to grow and it’s gracious to allow us the process of refinement to redeem what otherwise is simply unacceptable.

In this world, you will have trouble. It’s not always an attack, but no matter if it is or not, the Lord is likely willing in every challenge to work out some expectation of justice or entitlement from within you. He’s willing to redeem your pain for His glory through the resulting maturity that comes with trust, if you’ll submit to Him through the circumstances and allow His glory to be the point over your comfort, preferences or expectations.

Power and Glory

It seems like everything should be able to fit into a series. A nice, packaged summary of all truth related to a topic and a transition to the next thing seems reasonable. After all, one thing gets boring after a while, doesn’t it? Isn’t it best to move on just to sustain interest?

I haven’t found that to be the case. I haven’t been able to get beyond grace. I got turned upside down during a deep, personal dive into the ramifications of grace about four years ago and I’ve never recovered. I don’t want to, either.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:14, 16-17)

Jesus came to offer us a change. A change of identity and positioning. We were welcomed as adopted children into the Father’s love by the Son. We were invited into His grace if we want to step away from the striving of the law. He would change who we are, how we see things and what increasingly would come out of us. All we have to do is agree.

The time of Jesus’ ministry on earth to the time of His return, which is increasingly imminent, is the time of grace. We are welcomed in and given His right standing (righteousness) with the Father simply by our “yes” to his invitation. It’s been going on for two thousand years and we will know when it’s time to turn the page: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

Until then we enter by His grace, finding a loving Father and a willing Comforter ready to receive us as family. From our place as family and His place within us, the stuff that will come out of us will be inviting of others into His family, as well.

The stuff coming out of us when we are communing with Him is the same thing that invited us in; it will be His grace. His grace through us invites others to commune, too. That’s a message that never ends, until it does, and we’ll know when that is by “power and glory.”

Choose Forgiveness or Swallow the Bitter Poison

There are two choices; forgive or grow bitter. There is no such word as “unforgiveness,” there is only forgiveness given or bitterness fostered. Remember anybody along the way that someone else said, “they are just a bitter old man?” Likely, if true, it’s because they chose not to forgive somewhere along the way.

Catch that? “Chose” not to forgive. Nothing about their feelings. Forgiveness isn’t an emotion; it’s a choice. It doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt; in fact, hurt is almost always present if/when forgiveness is called for. Forgiveness comes as a choice in the face of hurt. Or bitterness.

Bitterness is validated by justice. When considering what someone did which was hurtful or offensive, it is typically not difficult to formulate a solid strategy and monologue supporting their conviction. We all become trial attorneys. Based on our supporting evidence, we find you guilty and in fact, it’s often true. So the self-argued and self-decided guilty verdict results in a sentence of nothing for the other person and bitterness for us. Poison.

They offered Jesus the poison, the bitter gall, on the Cross. He could have taken it and it would have eased His pain but He didn’t swallow it. He wasn’t on the cross to get even; He was on the Cross to give grace. He wasn’t there to perpetuate justice; He was there to satisfy it. He chose instead, “Forgive them, Father . . . ”

Making the case and holding onto the offense is satisfying for a moment. It satisfies our soul’s desire for justice at the cost of our spirit’s need for grace. It fosters toxins that give us the illusion of vindication but actually starts the erosion of our character from the agitating effects of bitterness.

It’s not an emotion; you can’t wait until it feels better because it’s needed in triage at the diagnosis or hurt. In fact, that same choice to forgive may have to be made over and over through lingering hurt from a single offense. It may have to be multiplied 7 times 70 or so.

The best part is that you don’t really have to manufacture it; there is a Source that will give it to you. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” gives us the “how to.” Remember and appropriate the grace that you have received and continue to need. Then, give it away to others.

Want to Change the World?

At our core, we want to live beyond ourselves; leaving a mark that lasts. The applications of that want can be expressed through various forums, including family, finances, beliefs and community. How to accomplish the greatest of possibilities requires the simplest of choices.

It starts with a heart that is able to be wrong. We must be comfortable with our flaws or the strength of our abilities will paralyze multiplication through agreement. In other words, if everyone else is so impressed or intimidated with our perfection, there will be no call for them to agree and multiply. The net result would be a very finite impact. True emotional security produces the humility that accepts it’s own limitations.

That humility is fueled by grace. It is acceptance of invitations into destiny despite us. That invitation is from a Source that has plenty of perfection to give to make up for all of our flaws. When we can accept acceptance, we can see others beyond their flaws in the same manner we get past ours. We aren’t perfect and neither are they, so we can agree and minimize the drag that imperfections might cause individually. Agreement produces multiplication and multiplication produces exponential impact.

From acceptance that originates in eternity, we don’t have to work from a heart that strives to be recognized or rewarded but from a satisfied soul that desires outcomes more than it needs affirmation. We get to; we don’t have to. We are invited, not compelled. From that freedom, the passion to run is inspiring and sustainable in a way that others can join in and go further and beyond what we are capable of.

Agreement is imperative to impact as multiplication is necessary for expansion. Lasting agreement requires invitation without relying on manipulation, subjective absolutes or division. Freedom fosters invitation as it is secure in its identity and conviction, allowing others to determine their place and extent of involvement. Even if it means rejection.

You can change the world but for you and for me, that starts and ends with the heart. From the heart, good intentions either get multiplied by agreement which is fostered by grace or they are limited in their own insecurities. The challenge is that the need for grace is ongoing as our insecurities take a lifetime to resolve. This requires a perpetual posture of submission for the greatest possibilities of impact. The good news is that the grace which fuels greatness is available in Jesus.

You Know Humility Isn’t Weakness, Right?

I got that little jewel handed to me thing morning. Through what has seemed like a battle that has lingered for decades, I’ve realized lately that I’ve been more focused on me than I would care to admit. I have admitted it, however, and the Lord is peeling it back for me to afford increase in the decrease.

Upon sharing with my wife, Julie, another perspective that Holy Spirit stirred related to pride generally and my pride specifically, she lovingly looked at me and offered, “you know humility isn’t weakness, right?” Seriously, it was so sweet and caring and clearly for my best interests that it was incredibly easy to receive.

First knee-jerk reaction was internally something like, “well of course I do.” Within a split second or two, however, I realized that I have put humility and weakness hand in hand. Weakness isn’t an appealing characteristic for me and I don’t suspect it is for most of us. Men may be particularly adverse to the idea of allowing for weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

By the way; I looked it up . . . “weakness” in that passage means weakness. It means a lack of capacity either in physical terms or in the character of our soul. But that same passage promises perfection and power by way of Christ without the limitations of my body or soul.

Here is what I learned in the past about pride; it isn’t reflective of a strength, but of an insecurity. Pride is self-promotion and the only time that is necessary is when we don’t feel promoted otherwise. So humility is actually a strength as it reflects the realization that, in Christ, we are perfected and empowered. Julie is right; humility isn’t weakness; it is actually strength. The security of knowing your limitations invites the grace of Jesus.

Today I choose to be strong and admit that I am weak. I choose to rest more in His grace than I do in my ability. I welcome His power where my efforts are otherwise limited. You’re invited.

I’ve Been Angry (and I’m Probably Not the Only One)

I realized recently that I have been angry for quite some time. Not typically explosive, but at least simmering. A constant management of emotion that was dissatisfied, disgusted, disillusioned or other descriptors for pissed off. The realization was a gift as I am now able to own it so that I can exchange it.

My dad died about 14 months ago and there has been ongoing hurt. Hurt defiantly fuels anger. Missing my dad and hurting over his death has been a contributing factor to my slow boil.

There are other hurts and disappointments on a day-to-day basis. Julie and I love each other but we aren’t perfect. Marriage can bring various ups and downs. We have kids that can cause us worry (fear) and hurt as we attempt to raise them perfectly without the capacity for perfection.

I’ve seen, after many years in for-profit endeavors, that non-profit or faith-based efforts bring a different level of emotion than secular attempts at making a living. Not too many people had opinions about my performance or decisions as an attorney or business owner; quite a few have something to say about my choices in the faith-based leadership attempts. Opinions can sting and sometimes outright hurt. It’s likely that fueled some of the anger.

The effort to “do the right thing” got away from me a bit. I started trying to fix everything all the time. In the middle of it all, I didn’t want to hurt anyone so I started to provide soft landings for people; worrying about their emotions to the detriment of mine. Carrying too much. Fear and frustration can fuel anger and my efforts to be able to answer, fix, manage and maintain everything caught up with me.

Here is the challenge: how do I (or any of us) operate in our gifts, skills and abilities in and for the Kingdom of God while maintaining a posture of dependence? I want to be capable, reliable and other descriptors of qualities that are positive attributes of God’s design. At the same time, I want to stay completely reliant on Him and His grace to allow for His outcomes without forcing the issue(s) in my own efforts.

I don’t know how to do that. I know how to work hard and I know how to give up. Working without striving requires His grace and I’m asking. I’m asking for the peace that comes in His multiplication to replace the anger that comes in my intensity. I don’t know what’s next but I know that He is faithful and He is good. I also know that I haven’t been angry since I realized I was.