Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

Four Ways We Inadvertently Undo What God is Doing

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain ~ 2nd Corinthians 6:1 NIV

 I have been accused of overthinking things a time or two in my life. I don’t know if it’s the writer in me, sin, the byproduct of a really weird childhood or perhaps I was just born freakishly introspective. Whatever the case may be, I do tend to process events in life by becoming ridiculously (and annoyingly) reflective.

I actually annoy myself with this nonsense sometimes.

This past week I’ve spent more time than is probably healthy thinking about how easy it is for people to undo God’s work (Romans 14:20). This particular bout of navel gazing was not a result of any great failure on my part or on the part of anyone I know. Rather, it was the result of a really decent person coming along and unwittingly and innocently undoing a whole lot of work God has done in a situation I have been dealing with for some time.

Sigh.

All this led me to thinking about the different ways we can undo what God has done in our lives or in the lives of others. There are probably a million ways we can undo the work of God but in the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable (and readable) length I will stick to four.

The first is:

We undo God’s work when we refuse to believe the gospel story-

The gospel story is simple. We are all sinners who sin instinctively. We need Jesus to forgive us, save us from our sinful nature and give us a new nature (2ndCorinthians 5:17, Ephesians 2:1-3, Ephesians 2:8-9). Once we are forgiven we are given a new nature and our lives are in Jesus.  Because we are in Jesus we have the power to overcome our sinful tendencies and vilest proclivities (Romans 8:10, 1stCorinthians 1:2, Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:27). Most of us do not struggle at all with the first half of the story. Most Christians (at least the ones who are the real deal) understand they are sinners and cannot save themselves. It’s the second half of the story that we oftentimes fail to truly grasp. Many of us do not really believe that Jesus living in us is enough to overcome our struggles with fear, laziness, lust, lying, gossip, anger, unbelief or whatever weird, sinful thing is holding us back from being all that God made us to be. As a result, many of us live lives of spiritual desperation and shame because we are not victorious over our sin nature. We actually undo a lot of the work God did in us at our conversion when we believe the lie that Jesus is not enough. The key to getting free is to understand and acknowledge daily that Christ in us really is enough for us to get free of the sin that tends to entangle us (Philippians 4:13, 2ndCorinthians 12:9). As we do this we must be vigilant about recognizing sin for what it is and calling it sin (rather than a bad habit, genetic trait, or a weird personality quirk). Freedom comes when we get into the habit of repenting of sin immediately and we commit to living lives of obedience to God’s word (Hebrews 12:1).  

We undo God’s work when we stubbornly hang onto wrong attitudes-

The world system (that we are all a part of) teaches us from the day we are born that smart people are selfish with their time, energy, and treasure and that only fools, nincompoops and halfwits give up their “rights” for any reason. On the other hand, the Bible teaches that the more generous we are the more we will have (Luke 6:38) and that sacrificing for the good of others is the key to living a life of joy (1stCorinthians 8:9). Basically, the Bible teaches the opposite of what the world (and our sinful natures) teach us about just about every issue under the sun. We undo God’s work in us when we revert back to selfish thinking and sinful attitudes.

We undo God’s work when we insist on dealing with people and situations our own way-

Very few Christians actually pray before they act or open their pie-holes (trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this one). Instead we tend to wait until after we have acted, or said something outlandishly stupid before we ask God to step in and fix the mess we created by jumping in and dealing with situations with our own limited wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:5). God wants us to pray, seek the wisdom of wise counselors and think things through completely before we act (Proverbs 11:14). When we don’t, we sometimes unwittingly undo the things God is attempting to do in our own life or someone else’s life (Proverbs 16:25).    

We undo God’s work when we don’t learn the Bible-

God does a massive work in us at the point of our conversion.  He also gives us all the tools we need to live a successful and fruitful Christian life (2ndPeter 1:3). The most important tool we are given (besides the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) is the Bible. It contains everything we need to know and tells us what God wants us to do. When we don’t learn the stories, principles and doctrines of the Bible we cannot possibly know or understand what we have to do to live lives that are pleasing to God. Willfully refusing to become a student of God’s word effectively undoes the work God did in us when we became Christians. 

 

 

 

 

 

Lazy Activism and Other Things That Inflame Racial Tension

God does not see you as a Jew or as a Greek. He does not see you as a servant or as a person free to work. He does not see you as a man or as a woman. You are all one in Christ~ Galatians 3:28 NLT

 I am not nor have I ever been black. My lack of personal experience coupled with an unbridled ambition to speak out of wisdom rather than ignorance, has made me enormously reluctant say anything at all concerning the sorry state of race relations in America.

 That said…

 I decided this week to go ahead and run the risk of looking and sounding like a chump because I believe attitudes towards race are more of a spiritual problem than a social or political issue. The ever-devolving state of race relations in this country says nothing good about the spiritual condition of our hearts (Luke 6:45).  

 Race ought to be a non-issue for Christians. The Bible is clear: in Jesus there is no color, race, sex, socio-economic class or any other of the distinctions humans are so fond of making (James 2:1-9, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). That sort of thinking is earthly, corrupt and foolish. It leads to nothing but suffering, discord and a sinful sort of smugness that REALLY annoys the Almighty (Isaiah 2:11, James 3:15).

 As bad as things have gotten, I do not believe it is too late to correct course, but it’s going take a commitment from all us. Positive change will come about when we all examine our hearts on this issue and make a commitment to:

 Avoid lazy activism-

 Wearing a stupid tee shirt, demanding social change on Twitter, posting rabble-rousing twaddle on Facebook or refusing to stand during the National Anthem does nothing at all to improve the problems we have with race in America. Nor does it draw attention to the problem in a way that is at all constructive or healing. It only serves to spread ignorance and further divide people. If this sort of silliness is all the activism you can mange it would be far more helpful to do nothing at all.

 Stop supposing we all have the same experiences-

 There was a black guy who lived in our neighborhood in Tucson. I ran into him from time-to-time while we were walking our dogs; he was a well-dressed, pleasant guy in his late sixties who was really into his dog. I just sort of assumed that his experience living in our neighborhood was exactly like my experience living in our neighborhood. I was forced to reexamine my beliefs when my son befriended some local police officers. They divulged that they received at least two calls a week from residents in our area concerning “a strange black man roaming the streets”. No one in that neighborhood ever called the police on anyone in our family while we were walking our dog.

 Don’t joke about things that aren’t funny-

 I am not nor have I ever been one to embrace politically correct dogma, especially when it comes to words. However, I do believe there is wisdom in choosing our words wisely and that there is simply no place for bigoted words or racist jokes from anyone in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:29) nor should Christians laugh at such things. Ever.

 Don’t assume it’s always about race-

 I did not grow-up black (obviously). However, I did grow-up poor. As a result I lived in some seriously crummy neighborhoods as a kid. And I can tell you that police treat people differently depending on their zip code. If a police officer had seen teenage-me walking my stupidly-expensive purebred dog in my old neighborhood he would have asked me— in a not so friendly manner— where exactly I got the dog. Police profiled my friends and me all the time, but it wasn’t about race, it was about socio-economic status. When I’m sitting in my car at an intersection and I see a man in the crosswalk I lock my door. It is not a racist thing; it’s a sexist thing. I don’t care what color the guy is— if he’s a he and older than 12 or younger than 80—I lock the door. Sometimes when a person behaves in a way that appears to be racist, it is racist. Other times it’s not. It would help tremendously if we would all at least attempt to assume the best in one another.  

 I am wholeheartedly convinced that Christians are called to be change-agents in whatever corner of the world God has placed them. Becoming a change-agent in this particular situation begins with attempting to see things from the other person’s point of view. But it can’t end with empathy; authentic change begins with doing what we would want done for us if we found ourselves in the other guy’s shoes.

Finding Authentic Freedom

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly~ Psalm 84:11

 Reader be warned:

 Our family drove to the Oregon coast this past weekend to connect with my four siblings for the first time since our Mother died eight-years-ago. The reunion was a blessing in every sense. However, it was also chaotic (in a good, loud, big-family kind of way) and a marathon of frenzied activity from start to finish.

 We left the beach emotionally gratified and seriously sleep deprived.

 The emotional hullabaloo and lack of sleep combined with too much time to think on the drive home left me feeling a little navel-gaze-y. Evidently, one possible side effect of too much reflection is an overly reflective blog post. That little disclaimer out of the way, I do believe that I may have hit on some spiritual truth in the midst of at least some of my musings.

 For that reason I pray you’ll give it a read.

 As we passed through the really ugly part of Eastern Oregon it occurred to me that Christians seldom talk about the fall of mankind anymore. We should because our world and everything in it was dramatically distorted in the blink of an eye and not just spiritually. The fall altered how we relate to God, one another and even the natural world. Relationships that were once carefree and easy to navigate suddenly became complex and even adversarial.

 One of the results of living in a fallen world is that even the best stuff in life often has a distinctly sad edge to it.

 Reunions are happy but the separations that instigated the reunions never are. Parenthood is one of the most joyful events a person experience in this life; it is also one of the most difficult and befuddling. Roses have thorns; every profit has a loss built into it. Human innovation typically has at least one unintended and profoundly unpleasant consequence- and cake makes us fat.  

 This reality plays out in the spiritual realm as well.

 Spiritual growth and the blessings that go with it can only be achieved through an oftentimes-painful surrendering of our very selves. Forgiving others brings freedom but at the cost of forfeiting the basic right most of us feel we should have: the right to seek revenge on the jerks that hurt us. The fall even affected our feelings about right and wrong and our perception of reality. Wrong typically feels right and is usually the path of least resistance. Right is always the harder road to traverse.

 Even the grace of God has a sad side to it. Grace, that thing we rejoice in, venerate and write songs about is only necessary because of sin, sin ruined literally everything and sin breaks the heart of God.

 Gloomy, I know.

Grace is necessary because human beings blew it and were powerless to stop blowing it for even a single minute. God is relentlessly generous, so when it became appallingly obvious that there was no way any of us could be good on our own God stepped in. He sent His son to die for us and gave us the grace we needed.

 This realization was almost too much to bear. I was done in.

 Mostly because I have come to believe that our generation has a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of grace and our lack of understanding is keeping us from becoming the people God has ordained us to be. We tend to view grace as nothing more than a massive bucket of forgiveness we can dip into anytime we have a sin that needs forgiving. We treat forgiveness like a magic concoction we apply to sin to make it acceptable, rather than an essential concession to our sinfulness.

 Thankfully, grace is much more than just a big bucket of forgiveness.

 Grace is power that frees us from the oppression of sin. The grace of God does more than simply forgive our transgressions. The grace of God gives us the power to overcome the sin nature that plagues us all (Titus 2:10-12). When we make the choice to live a holy life (Colossians 3:5-14, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, 2nd Peter 1:3-11) God dispenses the grace we need when we need it. That grace empowers us embrace the behaviors we need to embrace and let go of the behaviors we need to let go of so that we can be like Jesus.

What Happens When we Take Offense

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11 NIV

It’s official.

Sometime in the recent past America morphed into a population of whiners, wimps and politically correct crybabies.

 College students at Harvard University have reported feeling “ threatened” by the possibility of the presence of students whose views on abortion might differ from their own. Students were not actually exposed to opposing ideas on the topic. Nonetheless, the mere notion they might be exposed to a view they didn’t agree with was simply more than the little snow flakes could endure.

 These attitudes are not limited to the young. Full-grown adult and committed atheist, Patrick Greene is suing the senior Pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mr. Greene asserts that a 230-foot cross being erected on church property is “offensive” and “tacky as he__ __”, and should therefore be removed. Greene is also suing two city officials for attending the crosses groundbreaking ceremony as private citizens.

It seems that everyone these days is “demanding an apology” from someone for something. At this writing various Muslim groups are demanding apologies from the makers of Lego, Chick-fil-A restaurants, Clint Eastwood and a bunch of cities in Texas. Bernie Sanders is demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton is demanding one from Bernie Sanders. Everybody thinks Trump should apologize for something he said or did. 

Sadly, Christian people are not immune from the madness engulfing the greater culture. Wounded Christians were out in droves this past week. They were diligently monitoring and scolding others for what they believed to be “insensitive” and “callous” April Fools day jokes.

 It’s not just silly hoaxes that God’s people find offensive these days. It is not unusual for Christians to leave or cease supporting their local church financially because they’ve determined that the Pastor’s preaching is not “sensitive” enough. Lifelong alliances and friendships are frequently tossed aside because one person hurt another’s feelings and they refuse to forgive or even discuss the subject with the other party. Discussions of doctrinal particulars are frequently forbidden at Bible studies because the subject of doctrine is considered too divisive.

Many  Pastors and Bible study leaders have simply given up teaching and preaching about “harsh” subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, adultery and divorce out of fear of offending or driving away church members. The doctrinal illiteracy that has infiltrated churches as a result of this silliness has caused many Bible studies to become little more than pools of collective ignorance.

Some Churches have scrapped doctrinal declarations of faith altogether. Embracing “Who We Are” statements in their place. These statements avoid making any pronouncements that might be considered unequivocal or offensive. One denomination dropped all references to the Bible in their Who We Are Statement and instead quote Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

 Many Christians admit to isolating themselves from other believers, because they have been hurt or felt offended by the words, actions or the “sensed” motives of others. Some have stopped attending weekly services altogether because they felt ignored or were offended by a Pastor or staff member. 

 This is simply not what Jesus envisioned for His people when He prayed that we would be one (John 17:11).

I fear we have lost our way and become a lot like the young adults we all love to mock on college campuses: a bunch of oversensitive, easily wounded, crybabies.

 This nonsense has eternal consequences. Church is no longer a place people go to find truth or get answers to life’s toughest questions. As a result unbelievers are often left to figure out life and eternity on their own. Typically,with less than spectacular results. It is noble to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others but not at the expense of tackling heaven and hell issues.

 We can stop the madness by making a habit of stepping back and praying for wisdom when we feel offended or hurt by others. We must understand that contrary to popular belief, our perceptions are not always reality.  We need the Holy Spirit, not our emotions to show us what is true in these situations. Even when our perceptions are correct and people have behaved in a way that is insensitive or callous, forgiveness, not offendedness is the God-honoring, life-giving answer.

 

 

 

 

The Worst Kind of Abuse

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded~ Matthew 18:26-28

 There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the whole issue of abuse was murky and poorly understood. Abuse was far from uncommon but rarely discussed. As a result, the majority of abuse victims lived lives of secret desperation and intense shame. Few attempted to share the pain and torment they experienced at the hands of others. Victims courageous enough to share their experiences were routinely shamed and sometimes even blamed for the abuse they suffered.

 Mercifully, human civilization has evolved in recent years. Sadly, abuse is still all too common. However, due to extensive public awareness campaigns the causes of abuse are better understood and the signs more frequently recognized. Behaviors and speech once accepted as “normal” are now recognized as abusive and no longer tolerated by the non-Neanderthal majority. Victims are generally treated with compassion and understanding, and help is available for those who struggle with abusive behaviors.

 That said, there is still one arena where abuse frequently occurs and is seldom recognized for what it is, it’s the abuse of grace.

 Grace is a term so rich in meaning that it is difficult to define. Grace is most typically understood to be undeserved favor or approval. However, there is much more to the mystery of grace than simply favor or acceptance. Grace is closely related to love and can also be defined as kindness, mercy and the willingness to overlook the iniquities or mistakes of others. 2nd Corinthians 12:9 gives readers an intriguing example of grace; there grace is defined as super-natural empowerment to handle particularly challenging situations.

 Personally I prefer to think of grace as a do-over or an undeserved second chance. We could all use a little bit of grace at one time or another.

 Grace is a characteristic most often associated with God and for good reason. God at His very core is a giver of grace. But grace is also something humans can and often do bestow on one another. Anytime an offense is overlooked, a second chance is offered or a transgression forgiven, grace is at the core of that act of kindness or mercy.

 Abuse of grace occurs when one takes the grace given without acknowledging or respecting the cost of the transaction. Forgiveness can be freely given but that does not mean it’s actually free. There is always a heavy price to be paid for any act of forgiveness.

 God, paid the ultimate price when He sacrificed Jesus, allowing humanity to freely receive His forgiveness. People also pay a price when they choose to forgive. When a person forgives, they relinquish the right to seek revenge for the wrongs done to them by the other person. If this sounds easy, it’s likely because you have never actually forgiven anyone or you have never been terribly wronged.

 Grace is also abused when one blithely takes the forgiveness offered without changing their behavior (the Bible calls this change of behavior repenting). God and many people (even non-Christian people) are willing to forgive outrageous offenses if they know the offender is truly sorry. When a forgiven person immediately returns to past behavior without a trace of sorrow or shame, the forgiver (whether it be God or a person) has to assume that the offender was never really sorry for their sin.

 Sadly, the abuse of grace is destroying the church Jesus was sacrificed to build. It’s wrecking havoc on relationships, breaking the heart and testing the patience of God and doing irreparable damage to the witness of Christians everywhere.

 Its time for followers of Christ to recognize that grace is a precious gift and no gift should ever be treated with contempt. We should also remember that the patience of God has historically had limits. It’s never wise to test the heart of God by abusing His kindness.

 

 

 

Responding to Hurt

I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst~ Job 32:17-19 NIV

 My father-in-law died seventeen years ago without warning from a massive stroke. He was a good man, relatively  young and reasonably healthy. Needless to say his death was a huge shock. At the funeral an acquaintance “comforted” my husband by telling him he could “relate to his grief” because his dog had died the week before.

 I know a man in his sixties who still remembers with tears in his eyes the sting of having his first-grade teacher tell him he was struggling to learn to read because he was “dumb.”

 A friend of mine suffered through the heartache of several miscarriages before giving birth to two healthy children. After each miscarriage at least one person told her that she should be grateful she miscarried because “there was probably something wrong with it anyway”.

 If had a dollar for every time some nitwit encouraged me in an overly calm tone to “just relax” when freaking out was clearly the reasonable option, I would be writing from a lawn chair on a sunny beach right now.  

 Words.

 Anyone who has lived longer than a decade in this world has undoubtedly been the casualty of stupid, hurtful or just plain thoughtless words. The most painful kind of hurtful words are words that attack things about ourselves that we cannot change, such as our looks or intellectual abilities. Insensitive words wound by getting inside our heads and altering how we see ourselves and view the world.

 God has plenty to say on the subject of words. The writer of Proverbs reminds readers that, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” 1st Corinthians thirteen teaches that a significant aspect of loving others well is avoiding the use of rude or boastful words. In Matthew 12:36 Jesus warns of looming judgment for those who habitually speak without carefully considering the impact their words might have on others.    

 Decent people agree that words should never be impulsively spoken or unnecessarily rude. No one should speak without carefully considering how they would feel if someone said the same thing to them if they found themselves in the same situation.

 All that being said, how we respond to the stupid stuff people say to us, is from a spiritual perspective, every bit as important as being careful about what we say to others. Responding with grace to hurtful words begins with the sometimes-difficult admission that we too have hurt others with our words just as we have been hurt by the thoughtless words of other people. I once informed a boy who declared his affection for me in a love note that I would never return his feelings because he “smelled weird” (proof-positive that sometimes mean things are also true). I still squirm when I think about some of the hasty and doubtless hurtful “guidance” I doled out to others when I was beyond old enough to know better.

 There is an inclination in our day and age for people, even Christian people, to take hurtful words to heart and nurture their hurt by ruminating on hurtful words rather than choosing to forgive and move on. Nurturing hurt makes us angry people and inevitably leads to using perceived wounds as a justification to:

  1. Shut the offender out of our lives completely.
  2. Gossip about their lack of empathy to any who will listen.
  3. Freak out, say whatever is on OUR minds and then demand an apology that the offender probably won’t mean even if they do say it.

 All of the above reactions are wrong because each response feeds our sin nature, shuts down communication and effectively ends the relationship. Offense and unresolved hurt over careless words are the devil’s preferred playground. Offense keeps us self-focused, bitter and unable to see ourselves or others clearly.

 Letting go of hurt feelings is not easy. We have to discipline our minds not think on the stupid stuff people say to us and choose (sometimes repeatedly) to let go of hurt, rather than hang on to it. We also must be willing to pray for people who say foolish, mean or hurtful things, because it is only by the grace of God that we are not the ones doing the hurting this time.

 

The Hardest Question

For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help~ Psalm 22:24

 From time to time I get a message or phone call asking me to share my opinion about a particular issue. Because the issue in question is inevitably thorny, contentious, and well above my pay grade, I generally dread these requests.

Such was the case this week.

 A sweet, mature Christian friend who is deep into the grieving process asked me to consider sharing my views on one of the most controversial issues of our time. She had some very well thought out, heart wrenching questions. The emotion behind them broke my heart.

Following is a summary:

 Why does God allow people to feel pain at death?

Why is it okay to blunt the pain of death with medication but not to use the same medication to hurry up the process of death?

If death is inevitable, why is it wrong to end life and reduce the length of time a person suffers?

Death and pain in childbirth are both a result of the Fall. Why is it okay to eliminate the pain of childbirth and not end a life that is destined to death a little early?

 Death and suffering are deeply emotional issues. No decent human enjoys seeing another human suffer. Suffering becomes even more personal when the person suffering is someone we love. All of this is made thornier by the fact that most of us are isolated from the only two events in this life that are common to all people: birth and death.

 Few of us have witnessed a child being born. Fewer have seen a person die. Most of us obtain our “education” on these subjects from television programs. Anyone who has actually witnessed a birth or death knows that the TV version of these events bears little similarity to the real-life version. The deaths we see on TV are typically swift and painless; the person quietly draws their last breath, closes their eyes peacefully, and goes serenely into the great beyond. This is NOT how death happens. Death is normally a long, messy, painful process that is excruciating to witness. Our reflex is to shorten or avoid any process we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with.

 End-of-life issues are further complicated by the gift of medical knowledge. Our society has been blessed with medical expertise that makes it possible to save people from what would have been inevitable deaths just a few years ago. As wonderful as technology is, it creates some unintended consequences. Doctors possess the knowledge to prolong life but sometimes lack wisdom as to how and when that knowledge should be applied. Prolonging life often means prolonging and even intensifying suffering.

 I am not stupid or arrogant enough to pretend I know everything there is to know about this issue. I do not. That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that it’s not wrong or sinful to use medication to ease the suffering of a dying person. Proverbs 31:6 is clear on the issue of pain relief at death.

 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!

 The use of alcohol is a contentious issue amongst Christians but one fact is clear from this verse: a legitimate use of alcohol is for pain relief at the end of life. If it is acceptable to give alcohol to a dying person then I cannot see any reason why it would be wrong to use morphine for the same purpose. As for the whole childbirth issue, I honestly don’t know whether or not pain relief during childbirth is a sin.

 I certainly hope not.

 Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “assisted suicide is a sin.” However, most Christians believe that assisted suicide falls pretty neatly under the category of “Thou shalt not kill.” This particular commandment is an imperative statement clearly lacking the wiggle room needed to make a well-defined and compelling biblical argument for assisted suicide.

  I had my first experience with death and suffering at nineteen when my beloved Grandmother died of lung cancer. I was not there when she died, but I did spend a lot of time with her in the weeks prior to her death. Those visits were some of the toughest things I have done. As an unsaved teenager, her suffering and the dignity she maintained as she suffered impacted me in ways that are difficult to express. Her death caused me to evaluate my own mortality in a way I had never considered before.

It caused me to seek God.

 Death sucks. There is nothing good or redeeming about it. Death is the most visible reminder of the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3). It makes a sad sort of sense that the single greatest consequence of mankind’s sin and disobedience would be painful and would linger until the earth is fully liberated from the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4). But God, in His infinite wisdom, sometimes brings good things out of death and the suffering of others, when we are willing to submit to the process.