Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What are you tempted to do when someone hurts you?

"And lead us not into temptation"

Today I am getting back to the last section of the Lord's Prayer. This prayer, that I have been saying since I was a child, is actually full of wisdom and it has been the focus of my soul tending blog for quite a while. Today I pick up on the section that comes right after the part about forgiving our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.
It truly is no accident that this phrase: "And lead us not into temptation" follows immediately after the the command to forgive others. When I am in a state of unforgiveness, I am holding tight to my anger and reviewing wrong doings quietly in my mind, and perhaps not so quietly with a sympathetic friend! Ironically this makes me more vulnerable to temptation. The toxic effect of unforgiveness festering there in my heart distorts my thinking and reduces my resolve. It’s a great distraction and an even better justification for my own bad behavior.

"Lead me not into temptation,"This phrase always troubled me as I prayed it in the Lord's prayer because it seemed to suggest that God might be leading me astray. In Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes Kenneth E. Bailey says, “Lead us not into temptation” is better translated, ‘Do not bring us to the time of trial.’ Also, ‘do not bring us’ can be understood to mean ‘Do not permit us to go.’ This language may be a reflection of the classic request of a trusting pilgrim to a respected guide.”

Recently a discussion with a friend about this phrase revealed the notion that I am simply just all too ready to run toward temptation, and God is certainly not taking the lead on that. Probably that much more so, when  I am carrying the burden of others wrong doings or my own on my shoulders. This is far beyond the original design capacity.

Temptation is tricky and can take a variety of forms. This endless morphing renders it that much more difficult to manage. Remember after all, who the source of temptation actually is—Satan. He is the master of taking things and making distorted and perverted copies.

In her book The Wall Around My Heart, Mary Demuth lists five ways we can be tempted.

1.       Temptation to give into fear.

When we find ourselves backed up against a wall and feeling panic rain down on us, we might be actually experiencing a form of temptation. The strategy is to give the fear to Jesus and ask Him to rule in our hearts and operate in faith to find a way forward.

2.       Temptation to believe the first story you hear.

When we get hurt we can become far too easily influenced and fall victim to believing the first story we hear. A friend talks about a person in a negative light and we just accept this as the truth—no filter, no discernment. Things are seldom so completely black and white, but pain can drive us to cling to believing the negative and constructing a plan of reaction based on some false assumptions.

3.       Temptation to defend ourselves.

Demuth admits that she has fallen into the trap of “I’ve lived to micromanage my reputation, forgetting to let the God be in control of that. I am finding strength to let go of what people think of me. To let negative opinions (whether they were accurate or not) roll away. We actually shortchange God’s ability to defend us when we give into the temptation to take up our cause (p. 191)."

4.       Temptation to give up.

This is the desire to give up, go home and never try again. Anything worth doing in the kingdom is hard work and may bring opposition. We must lean into God and beg Him for help and not give up when He has called us to complete His mission.

5.       Temptation to misplace our trust.

People can not ultimately satisfy us. When we give them that kind of power in lives—the power to define us or shut us down, we are giving them what God alone deserves and can handle.

 Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.
 When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God.  Psalm 146: 3-5 (NIV)

Friday, September 9, 2016

When I Find Myself in the Place without the Why

The Lord’s Prayer contains two startling lines about forgiveness:

 And forgive us our trespasses
As we also have forgiven those who trespass against us.

I think I have personally elevated seeking the why for some of my past hurts to an Olympic level sport. It has sometimes become a gold medal worthy effort that honestly only leads to exhaustion. I desperately feel the need to understand everything from:

  • Why did this person hurt me? 
  • What did I do to deserve this?  
  • How did I allow this to happen?  
  •  What am I supposed to do now?

The questions swirl around and keep me completely distracted from moving forward in the forgiveness process that God clearly directs me to move through.
I found myself deep in the midst of just such an ugly swirl in seventh grade when I came into possession of a very particular notebook also known as a “slam book.” Keep in mind, this was back in the day before social media when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, well not exactly, but it was the eighties and there were a great deal of hair products being tossed around. The slam book was one of the most effective manners of public humiliation known to any junior high student. These notebooks would be passed around and on each page was a different student’s name printed by the slam book author. Anyone who received the slam book could then write down her candid opinion of each person, and then pass the slam book onto another student. Imagine my horror when I found the page with my name on it, and evidently some previous writers had held very little back in expressing their criticism of me. The harsh comments really devastated me.

Forgiveness does not answer every question. Mary Demuth in her book The Wall Around Your Heart talks about suffering abuse as a child. After years of wrestling with so many questions she could not answer, she chose to “fast from the question why”. Demuth goes on to say that her renewed focus has become seeing God in the midst of relational pain, Demuth says it is that very pain that drove her to God. Certainly my seventh grade slam book humiliation pales in comparison with what Demuth experienced; however, I can still vividly recall the anguish and humiliation I felt. The why questions bombarded me and I got stuck there for a very long time. Unforgiveness can be so very isolating and paralyzing.

Honestly, many decades later with the slam book incident long over, I still struggle sometimes to move through the forgiveness process. In light of all God has lavished on me in the way of forgiveness, I must choose to not know all the answers for why. I believe this side of heaven, the why questions will always be there ready to catch us up in a whirlwind of torment. Today, I will choose to stand in the tension of these gnawing questions and accept that Jesus is enough when I find myself in the place without the why. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Forgiveness, Gifts and the Accidental Pilgrim

And forgive us our trespasses 

As we also have forgiven those who trespass against us.

The conjunction: “as” connects these two phrases in the Lord’s Prayer and indicates that these two actions: receiving forgiveness and giving it out, happen in a way that is forever connected. One leads to another. Forgiveness is after all radically counter-cultural. When we receive it from God, we are in turn empowered to hand it out in abundance. Mary Demuth says, “Instead of rage, we offer a bouquet of grace. Instead of bitterness, we walk in freedom. Instead of treating people the way they deserve (in our minds), we treat them better than we treat ourselves.”

In November of 1974 my family moved from a suburb just outside of London, England to Houston, Texas. It was at first a grand adventure featuring a ride from the airport in a limousine, a month’s stay at a hotel and multiple trips to the Galleria. What followed was enrollment in an elementary school that proved to be a period of great challenges for me. Evidently the arrival of my sister and I at Woodview Elementary turned out to be a great novelty for both students and staff. The teachers welcomed me with: 
1.endless questions about my homeland 
2. requests to repeat certain phrases any time they came up in conversation.

Meanwhile my fellow students were a bit underwhelmed with arrival of what they decided must be an elaborate illustration of a pilgrim coming to America. Perhaps in retrospect a November arrival was bit ill-timed. I was for about the first three years in country a completely fascinating object of intrigue for any adult I encountered. Strangely this did not win me friends or influence with my peers. This situation was further compounded by the fact that some well-meaning administrator decided that since Texan English was not my first language, a year spent in remedial classes would help me fill in any gaps in my vocabulary.

There I sat in Mrs. Nash’s Language Arts class bored because I already knew all the answers. Any time she asked the class something, my hand shot up and I readily shared my brilliance convinced that I could overcome this remedial label with enough demonstrations of my rapid assimilation. These frequent outbursts only earned me the ire of my fellow students. Nobody likes a know-it-all even if she has a British accent. It was at this point that my frustration led to “operation erase the accent” which featured me listening to tapes at home procured from the local library, and repeating phrases until I sounded just like everyone else.  Two years later my “Y’all” sounded completely natural along with “restroom,” “aluminum” and many other Texanisms. It was sweet relief to be able to blend in with the other kids after years of effort with my trusty tape recorder.

My family’s first few years in Texas were really difficult. I hated school, had no friends, felt completely isolated and really just wanted to go back to England. Looking back now, I can offer forgiveness to those who did not treat me well. I can see now that most of it was simply a common reaction to something they didn’t understand.  I don’t believe that anyone really intended me harm, and yet I was wounded none the less.

Forgiveness given does not come back to us void.  Mary Demuth recalls how forgiving childhood abuse by her father allowed her to regain positive memories that had long been buried. She actually came to understand the sheer depth of her healing as she gained access to so many positive memories of her childhood.  Standing on the other side of forgiveness gives me a view into the past and recollections of hours spent with my sister, who was two years older than me, sharing about our mutual frustrations and challenges with being “accidental pilgrims.” We played together a lot during that time and became very close. Years later at just twenty six, I lost my sister in a car accident. I am forever thankful for the closeness and the shared experience of that time we had together between elementary school and young adulthood. I have so many recollections of that time.

Forgiveness also gives us other gifts such as empathy, Demuth reminds us. Her abuse as a child at the hands of some older neighborhood boys has led to a courageous empathy that empowered her to share her story and help untold numbers of other victims. My experience as “the accidental pilgrim,” causes me to have a deep empathy for child immigrants. I cannot see them as the invaders that some fear them to be. I know that they actually had no choice in the matter of coming here or wherever they have found themselves. I remember the confusions I felt at eight when I discovered that I now lived thousands of miles from my homeland. My family was initially very uncertain of our long term plans and communication with our family in England consisted primarily of airmail letters as phone calls were very expensive. I can only imagine all that child immigrants around the world experience when they must flee their homelands due to famine and war.

The Wall Around Your Heart: How Jesus Heals When Others Hurt You by Mary Demuth

A great photo of my sister Fiona in 1975 sporting her best Texas "get up" outside our apartment in Houston.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Did God Post a No Trespassing Sign?

Did God Post a No Trespassing sign?

Forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…

Am I the only one who wonders why the word trespasses appears in the Lord’s Prayer? It is probably not a word that I use on a daily basis. This word indicates that someone has gone somewhere that they are not supposed to, hence the no trespassing sign.

Growing up in England I often spent hours with my family taking bracing country walks. Bracing refers to the kind of walks where you are very cold and have the wind blowing full force in your face. It is also how British children end up with those lovely rosy cheeks. Bundled up with a proper coat and walking shoes upon my feet, we would traverse the countryside of Surrey. When we visited my Grandmother we might find ourselves walking on the Sussex Downs or on long walks down to the beach. During a trip to my paternal grandparent’s home we might go for a stroll through the Cotswolds. So my propensity to wander about is something I come by quite honestly. Due to various historic property laws in England, there is such a thing as “access to open countryside.” Said countryside is defined as mountain, moor, heath, down and common land. This land must have been mapped and appear in yellow on the ordinal survey map, and is available for anyone to walk on. This gives the walkers of Britain a great deal of freedom to walk just about anywhere.
Fast forward a few years and my family is now living in the Lone Star State. Texan property owners see things very differently and every where you go you notice signs that say: No Trespassing. The laws about trespassing in Texas are firmly weighted on the side of the land owner. Basically, stay off all land that is owned by someone else. When in Texas limit I must limit my wandering to state parks, sidewalks, clearly marked trails and the occasional shopping mall. The laws of Texas clearly define my boundaries, and I must respect them in my wandering.

A quick search for the meaning of the word trespass reveals the meaning of this word in the legal sense.

Trespass is used in an area of criminal law or tort law broadly divided into three groups:
trespass to the person – to injure someone.
trespass to chattels (moveable property) – to damage someone’s possession.
trespass to land – to enter someone’s land wrongfully.

This parallels neatly with the idea of what actually happens when I sin. When I sin or trespass it affects me, others, possessions and land. I fail in that moment to control myself as I wander off the course God has given me to follow. My wanderings might be intentional turning away, unintentional missteps, or even ignorance. Any of this can do damage to others and cause damage to me. Recently a loved one asked for my help with something, and I simply chose to ignore the request.  I was busy and did not want to stop what I was doing. I was tired, and I saw the request in that moment as an unwanted interruption, so I pretended not to hear the request. Moments later, I realized my trespass: my desire to serve myself first. I did not have to simply drop everything and serve another, but I could have acknowledged the request and asked for a moment to complete what I was doing. To ignore the request, and pretend I did not hear it was selfish. In doing so I did not love well someone God had entrusted to my care.
Since God technically owns everything, and everything I receive is only temporarily entrusted to me, I trespass when I misuse what He has given me. I might misuse myself, my family and friends, or the creation, and sadly it all has consequences.
Trespassing places me outside of where I can best function. It puts me and others in danger. When I sin against someone else I harm that person, and quite simply step on someone’s heart and do damage that only God can repair.

“Forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

The tiny word “as” is tucked into the middle of this phrase, and it indicates that while I am asking for forgiveness for my own sins, I must also be prepared to forgive others. Those who have wounded me with their words or actions or inactions must receive from me what has been given to me by God. To remain in unbroken community with those around me requires me to give forgiveness as freely as it is poured out on me. I can only do that with God’s help.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson

I am so very prone to wander off and trespass, but God forgives my trespasses outside of His will and welcomes me back. He expects me to give that same forgiveness to those He has given me to love well.  Someday, I will wander no more and my heart will be permanently sealed for His “courts above.”

Friday, May 27, 2016


Smack dab in the middle of the very familiar and often used Lord’s Prayer is the request:
“Give us this day our daily bread…” What does that really mean?

 The Anglican Catechism is set up as a series of questions and their answers. Question #189 says, “Why do we pray for bread daily? God wishes us to trust him every day to supply my needs for that day.”
This honestly flies in the face of my own nature. My desire to plan ahead and gather in all I will need for days and weeks ahead. My overwhelming need to try to provide for myself, when I know that anything and everything I receive actually comes from God and has little to do with my striving.

Richard Foster says, “If we were not so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer, we would be astonished at the petition for daily bread. If it had come from the lips of any other that Jesus himself, we would consider it an intrusion of materialism upon the refined realm of prayer. But here it is smack in the middle of the greatest of prayers….” It seems like a crass demand in the midst of a spiritual moment. However, give us this day our daily bread is another way of asking Jesus for help every single day.

The “dailyness” of the request and the “dailyness” of the need to eat keep us on our knees. If you have ever been on a diet, and statistics would indicate that perhaps a few of you can relate to that notion, or you have fasted you have become painfully aware of what hunger does to you. What an awesome object lesson God gives us here by tying our daily need for food to our daily need to communicate with Him. While I would never consider not eating for days on end as a viable option, I can all too often forget my need for daily communication with God.

Our daily bread means more than just bread—which is good news for those of us with gluten sensitivity!
Question 188 in the Anglican Catechism says,
“What does ‘daily bread’ mean? Daily bread includes all that is needed for personal well-being, such as food and clothing, homes and families, work and health, friends and neighbors, and peace and godly government.”

Notice the use of the possessive pronoun our:  He’s giving it to us and it’s ours. There seems to be sharing indicated in the language choice. Are we in fact to “break bread together” in life and be satiated in community? That is the picture we see when we share communion.

 Finally, Shane Claiborne says [the Lord’s Prayer] “is also a warning to those of us who might pray for tomorrow’s bread or those of us who might pray for a steak.  We are not to pray for ‘my’ bread but to cry out with the poor for ‘our’ daily bread. We are not to pray for the poor but with them—and to realize that as long as anyone is hungry, all of us are hungry.”

Monday, April 25, 2016

Am I Too Heavenly Minded to Be Any Earthly Good? Probably not.

Today I am taking one last look at the third petition of the Lord's Prayer:“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I am going to focus on the second part of phrase: as it is in heaven

This is a “holy decree, a longing for things to be made right." When someone deeply wounds me and my feelings are hurt, I don’t immediately begin to seek God’s will or try to gain a heavenly perspective. I am infinitely more likely to phone a friend or just plain wallow in and rehearse what was said and done. When I finally reach the point of prayer, and lay it all at the feet of Jesus, I finally ask Him to give me a heavenly view. When put into a new context the offense suddenly seems so small compared with eternity. My anger rapidly deflates to a more manageable size.  When the process requires a great deal more prayer sometimes it helps to do one or more of the following things that Mary Demuth in her book The Wall Around Your Heart suggests:

1.         See the enemy in heaven
Imagine the person who hurt you as fully restored and worshipping the Father. Knowing that this person’s penchant for hurting other people will come to an end in light of eternity is radical.

2.         Remember God woos prodigals heavenward
Many of us, if not most, mourn the loss of a prodigal. Remembering it is God’s job, not ours, to bring the prodigal home.

3.         Find Heaven within You
“When we let the past strangle today’s joy, it’s time to stop and find heaven right now.” (Demuth p. 108) We can choose to give our pain to Jesus, to cry on His shoulder or we can choose to continue to carry it all alone. When we do give it up, the burden is lifted and sweet freedom is found.

4.         Live Today in Light of Jesus’ Homily
What if Jesus came back to earth today and to perform funerals? What would He say about our lives? What would he say specifically about my life? We could start a growth revolution if we take a moment to think about the homily Jesus would give at our funerals.

What would Jesus say about my friendships?
·         Have I loved my friends beyond platitudes?
·         Have I given good gifts?
·         Would my friends call me forgiving and grace filled?
·         Are my friends afraid of my negative opinions?
·         Am I confront-able?

What would Jesus say about my marriage?
·         Have I learned the joy of backing down?
·         Have I shared my heart?
·         Have I prayed with and for my spouse?

For a complete list of great questions that dig deep, see Mary Demuth’s complete list on pp. 112-114 in The Wall Around Your Heart.

Closing Prayer:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV) Amen. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

God's Will, Grief and Good Friday

“Your will be done on earth…”

This phrase comes from the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer and represents the struggle we have to do God’s will here on earth.  There is much opposition and perhaps one of the most difficult of all is when people leave.

“When people leave us, grief assaults us. And that’s okay. Sometimes people die. Sometimes circumstances remove them from us.” Mary Demuth

On Good Friday (3/25/16) in a local hospital my friend Joanne lost her battle with cancer. A high school teacher, mother, sister, friend and believer, Joanne lived her life looking to help others. Even when her suffering must have been quite extreme, her concern continued to be for others.

Grief does in fact assault us leaving us knees buckled down onto the cold floor grasping to regain our equilibrium.  Dizzying waves of why wash over and peace seems elusive.

 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36)

Jesus responded with questions and weeping to the news of his friend Lazarus’ death. Surely he knew even in that moment that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet Lazarus’ departure grieved him. Separation grieves God as it also grieves us.

It all goes back to the garden when Eve was given everything in the garden to enjoy with just one exception. The snake slithered in with some kind of amazing advertising campaign promoting the virtues of that one tree’s fruit. Keep in mind all the other fruits and veggies were fair game, but suddenly that became the most wanted fruit in the world. Eve with full knowledge of Gods’ prohibition ran to devour it and share it with Adam. The original sin led to separation, death and suffering.  

Fast forward thousands of years and Jesus is on the cross on the first Good Friday. Through his obedience he becomes the atonement for all of our sins. His willing sacrifice brings reconciliation for all believers. On the third day he arose and proved that he had once and for all conquered death.

As a follower of Christ I can hold onto the hope that I will see Joanne again one day. There will be a grand reunion. I can imagine that hope allowed Joanne great comfort as she departed this earth knowing that her family and friends would see her again someday. She knew that on the day she departed she would arrive in paradise and celebrate Easter with her savior.

Here is a wonderful picture of Joanne (dressed in black with her hands folded before her) intently listening to some ladies who were from an organization that helps victims of human trafficking. This is something that Joanne felt passionately about. She along with some others inspired people of our church to begin their own anti-trafficking group.