Category Archives: attitude

Turn wounds into mere finger pricks

In our hurt and anger after someone wounds us, showing forgiveness is the last thing we want to do. Give them love before they deserve it? No! Chose to let go of any payback? No!love and forgive even when wounded Our natural reaction is anger and retaliation, even if the one hurting us is a close friend or family member.

Yet most of us admire those who follow Jesus in loving and forgiving and doing good to those who hurt and offend us (Matt. 5:43-45, Luke 6:27-28). We are drawn toward these persons as we see lives filled with a sense of peace rather than bitterness and hatred. Further, we see their inner calm and love making them more productive as they work at nudging the wrongdoer to turn from their behavior.

For those of you who want to be able to forgive, I have a tip: do it as the Bible prescribes: forgive out of the knowledge that God in Christ has forgiven you (Eph. 4:32-5:2, Col. 3:13). Sometimes we can’t forgive others until we are forgiven. Or love until we are first loved (1 John 4:19).

Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy (p. 323-324) has an analogy that helps us see this. What’s it like when someone steals a hundred dollars from us when we only have two hundred dollars to our name? In contrast, what’s it like if someone picks our pocket of a hundred dollars and we have a billion in the bank?! The same crime feels like a knife in the heart in one situation and like a prick in the finger in the other.

Now imagine two Christians, both feeling offended by unfair criticism. As we watch them, it is clear that one is able to sort through what is said and admit to what is true and patiently explain what may be unfair; the critical remarks are little more than a prick in the finger. In contrast, that same criticism leads the other person to sink into depression or to respond with anger and blame-shifting. The words of disapproval feel to them like a knife in the heart.

Why? Willard suggests that the one person may know how rich they are in God’s love through Christ, whereas the other may not have yet had that truth sink deep within them.

When we begin to see and feel how much we are loved in Christ in spite of our flaws and how fully he can fill us, we develop the same inner resilience and healthy confidence that a child enjoys when growing up in a family that gives unconditional love. When we are forgiven by God—and when the truth about the riches of love and grace that is ours in Christ Jesus begins to permeate us deeply—then unfair criticism or some other hurt begins to feel less like a knife to the heart.

One caution: don’t wait to forgive an offense until it feels easy to do so (i.e., until it feels like we’re only forgiving a mere irritation or finger prick). Yes, our ability to forgive depends on our experience of being forgiven. But the opposite is also true: our experience of feeling God’s love and forgiveness depends on us showing whatever love and forgiveness we can. Until we forgive another, we will have a hard time believing that God is forgiving us. Why? It’s because we instinctively assume others do what we would do if we were in their position. Consequently we do not fully believe that God forgives us until we forgive another. Somehow us choosing to forgive someone else sends God’s forgiveness deep into our heart. In fact, Jesus implies that us-forgiving-others happens before God-forgiving-us: “If you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15). When we don’t forgive others, it reveals that we probably haven’t really believed God’s forgiveness of us (Matthew 18:21-35).

Impact of everyday thankfulness to God

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes. 5:18)

Ellen Vaughn recounts a story that shows what obeying this verse can look like, along with its astonishing impact. She calls it “the meditative habit of constantly whispering thanks to [God]—no matter the situation” in her book Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy through Everyday Thankfulness.

Vaughn had a friend who

was going through the wringer with her teenage daughter. Their once-close relationship had devolved into a briar patch of prickly feelings, stinging barbs, and angry outbursts. My friend felt she could not utter a sentence without stepping into a minefield. Her patience was waning, her frustration growing. The conflicts with her daughter were affecting other relationships, like with her husband.

The friend wanted to hold onto God’s presence in these challenges. mother-daughter communication She wanted her mind and soul to not just be filled with what her daughter was doing but also to be aware of what God was doing in the situation. She knew that God is sovereign and good, that she can trust God. So every time she saw or thought of her daughter or got into a difficult conversation, she chose to express the truth that she can trust God to work for good “in all circumstances” by speaking words of thankfulness to this God (even though she didn’t feel thankful):

Thank you that you are with me! Thank you for giving me this girl! Thank you that she is even able to speak! Thank you that her mind works so quickly! Thank you that the story is not yet over! Thank you for your patience with me!

Several things happened within the friend.

First, this exercise stimulated a creative challenge within her as she sought to discern all the things she could thank God for. Second, it distanced her from the emotion of the moment, so she didn’t respond to her daughter out of frustration or anger. She found she was thinking more about God than her daughter. Third, that distance allowed her to actually see humor in various situations. Humor is good. And fourth, the more she thanked God for her daughter, the more she was able to perceive her as his daughter. She found that developing the habit of giving thanks gave her more resilience and elasticity, rather than always being ready to snap. And oddly enough, she couldn’t wait for her daughter to get home from school every day, so she could lavish love on her.

A sense of gratitude to God will always begin to birth within us a generosity of spirit. My prayer is that a theme of Gratitude and Generosity will pervade all our days!

Monument to a good tragedy

Did you know there is a monument dedicated to a pest?! It stands in the center of Enterprise, Alabama, 13 feet high.

A hundred years ago the South’s economy depended almost entirely upon one crop: cotton. But the boll weevil, a beetle that feeds on cotton buds and flowers, made its way—at the rate of 100 miles a year—up from Mexico. It reached southern Alabama in 1915, destroying much of that year’s cotton crop and plunging the region’s economy into depression. The next years farmers lost their entire crop of cotton to the beetle.

But not everyone was losing all their crop. In 1916 one farmer decided to plant peanuts. This was the time when George Washington Carver was researching and popularizing new uses for the peanut, so the crop sold well, and the farmer paid off all his debts. Soon all followed him. What’s more, planting a different crop was good for soil which had been depleted by years of cotton crops.

Very quickly the people were able to recognize that the boll weevil plague was one of the best things to ever happen to their agricultural-based economy. They might never have considered peanuts, and eventually crop rotation, if they had not been forced to do so by the pest. monument in Enterprise, AL A local businessman named Bon Fleming came up with the idea of a monument in the heart of the town’s business district, and helped to finance the cost. It was dedicated in December 1919. The oddity of a shrine to a pest has brought tourists out of their way to see it.

Two lessons for us:

● When disaster strikes in our lives, we can react in complaining and despair, or we can respond in trust and hope, waiting to see how God might use our troubles for our good. Somehow as we look back over our life, we see a pattern of growth as we go through hard times.

● When we begin to glimpse some of the goodness that has come our way through a trial or tragedy, let’s pause and give thanks. Maybe even find a creative way to memorialize the tragedy and the corresponding goodness. A way that will draw others to give thanks too. Maybe even for generations.

Yelling at one who gives $100 bills

Suppose I walk up to a neighbor and give them a $100 bill. They of course wonder what it’s for! I just say that I want to give it to them. Further, suppose I do this for thirty days, but then on the thirty-first day I walk by their house and give my $100 bill $100 billto the next neighbor. What if the first neighbor shakes their fist at me?!

We at Trissels have set 2016 as a Year of Gratitude & Generosity, celebrating the many ways God’s grace and generosity comes to us and encouraging a response of gratitude and generosity in each other. But how many days are our hearts not filled with gratitude but with complaint and anger because we are like that neighbor in our story? We take it for granted that a good thing God gave us on previous days will again be given to us today. And when it apparently goes to someone else instead, we are disappointed and shake our fist at God. Shouldn’t we instead continue grateful for what we have been given?

Or imagine our little story ending this way: on the thirty-first day I point out to my neighbor that they are getting quite focused on that $100 bill. “How about if we today focus on our relationship. Come to my house in a bit, and let’s talk together.” What if the neighbor is visibly upset? Even though I was going to explain about the hot financial stock that enables me to have all those $100 bills! How many times have we spurned a good which God is offering because we were expecting some other good?

C.S. Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm:

Tell me if you think [this] a vain subtlety. I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings. I know it sounds fantastic; but think it over. It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good that God offers us because, at the moment, we expected some other good.

The same dynamic affects our relationships with one another. We are often miserable around someone because they aren’t doing something we want them to do. If we gave up that expectation, we would enjoy them—because they do have a lot of good points.

We’re not in charge of our world. We can’t make God or our neighbor give us $100 bills. So why not hold loosely our presumptions as to what they will do for us? Maybe that would let us find new eyes to see and appreciate the good things they are giving. We won’t think so much about the glass being half-empty but take delight in however full it is!

Obeying God helps me be an optimist

Many versions of the following story have been told:

     There were two boys who were brothers. One was a confirmed pessimist and the other a blooming optimist through and through. The parents of the boys were trying every way they could to temper the natures of the boys, but with little success.
     One year when Christmas time came around, the parents were very careful to purchase for the pessimistic one something that he had expressed a wish for—a gold watch. But in the stocking of the optimistic youngster, who sorely wanted a pony, they only put some horsehair.
     Christmas morning came. The pessimist, who was the first downstairs, took the watch out of his stocking and said, “Looks like a gold watch—it’s probably brass—it probably won’t keep time very well.” Shortly afterwards the boy-optimist came bounding down; he took one look into his stocking, grabbed his coat, and headed for the back door. His parents called out, “Where are you going?” He shouted back, “With all this horsehair, there’s got to be a pony around somewhere!”

The beginning of a new year is a natural time to take a look at our attitudes toward life. Particularly attitudes that our faith can help us adjust.

For me, nothing shapes my level of optimism or inner buoyancy as much as my level of trust and obedience in God:

  • When something tells me that life is going to get more difficult or be less rewarding, my faith relationship with God affects how I receive that message. If my goal is to love and please God and to hear “well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of my life, then even in the face of any life disappointment, I still have occasion for hope and optimism. Why? Because obeying God is something I can always do! Further, walking with God is an adventure! And thanks to God’s grace, I’m not fraught with the anxiety that I must obey perfectly.
  • When someone whose opinion matters to me makes a comment or an action that implies that they don’t value me, again my relationship with God affects my reaction. I’m listening for God’s “well done,” not for what that person may or may not think.

How this preacher got a bit more mellow

One of the handy things about being a preacher for 36 years is that often my current sermon text is one I’ve preached on before. Sometimes I can harvest ideas from the old sermon. Sometimes I’m appalled at how I said things, and marvel at the grace the congregation showed a young preacher! The most fun is when I find personal anecdotes that flood me with memories.

Last Sunday I preached on Hebrews 10:23-39. Back in the mid 1980’s, when April was two years old and Rachel a few months old, I had preached on verses 36-37 about persevering in doing God’s will because in just a little while Jesus is coming and will not delay. That sermon manuscript had an anecdote that is especially vivid now that our family has two grandchildren under four months! It’s something that had happened the day before.

On Friday afternoon April developed a fever. She cried off and on all night and all yesterday. (I’ll spare you the details. Imagine the worst possible scenario, and you got it!) In the middle of all that, at one point, I was holding Rachel. I went outside with her, kicking the screen door open. I had to get away from it all. I was saying, “Lord, I’m supposed to be calm, filled with love?!”

One of the things God said to me (since that week I had been mulling over this Scripture which talked about Christ coming again ‘in just a very little while’) was, “If you knew I was coming in an hour, how that would that affect your attitude? How important would your comfort be? Or would you focus on doing as much as you could to please me?”

This preacher is of course older, wiser, more mellow, more mature now. A bit! Some of what helps keep such meltdowns away nowadays is that delightful status called grandparenthood where Karen & I get to send our grandsons home to their parents at night! But some of it, hopefully, is an ability to step outside of my present emotions and to look to my values, to the person I want to be: not one who is selfish and angry and destructive but one who loves and nurtures those around me because Jesus is Lord and I am choosing to live like Jesus and please him. One day I will stand before Christ the King and give account of my life. I want to be aware of that eternal dimension and make daily choices in light of it. Bit by bit I’m letting that future transform my present.

An indomitable mood in our suffering

Our culture can give us the idea that we are entitled to a life without hardship and struggle. Persons around us assume, for instance, that we humans have the right to end our life if all seems hopelessly overwhelming, that we must free singles to find a sexual partner if celibacy seems a burden too hard to bear.

But often periods of agony and loss and depression are what deepen our life and faith so greatly. Indeed, walking a hard road can be refining and rewarding as well as hard, building deeper character and compassion and reliance on God and the church.

There is an Author Unknown poem that captures the indomitable mood that this faith gives us. Read it aloud and you’ll not only see it in the words, but hear it and feel it in the sound of the words!

When God wants to drill someone, and thrill someone and skill someone,
When God wants to mold someone to play the noblest part,
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a one
That all the world should be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways:
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects;
How He hammers them and hurts them,
And with mighty blows converts them into shapes and forms of clay
Which only God can understand,
While our tortured heart is crying and we lift beseeching hands;
Yet God bends but never breaks when our good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with mighty power infuses one,
With every act induces one to try His splendor out,
God knows what He’s about.

Especially as Thanksgiving season approaches next week, let’s be giving thanks to God “in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:18) and “for everything” (Eph. 5:20). As we live our lives in faith and obedience, even loss and pain will eventually make us better, not bitter!