In Spite of You

 


Micah 6:8 has been looping in my head lately, to the point of tattoo obsession: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). This verse wouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Israelites. It was a reminder that all their focus on offering sacrifices was moot if they weren’t following God on a moment-by-moment basis. For us, it’s a lovely reminder that following Christ isn’t a weekly Sunday church thing or a daily morning Quiet Time thing, but rather an all-the-time, in-everything thing. Our select sacrifices of our time and money to God aren’t what he requires of us. He wants us to be just, and merciful, and humble.

This is about the same thing you’ve heard a million times before, right?

Here’s the problem with it: You’re not doing it. You’re not fighting for justice. You’re not showing mercy in love. And you’re not humbly walking out your faith. I’ve noticed it and everyone around you has noticed it. Those Facebook stories you post, those emails you forward, those tirades you go on, those snide comments you make under your breath, those offensive jokes you tell everyone in the room, those sneers on your face–they’re all character witnesses of hatred testifying against you as a follower of Christ.

But here’s what really sucks about all this: I do it too. Like almost all lessons God teaches me, when he opens my eyes to the faults of those around me, it’s usually to point out those same faults in myself.

God taught me all about showing grace, and I was getting pretty darn good at it. Until, that is, I ran into someone who refused to show grace to others. Not just one person–I know entire communities built on showing grace only to those people they believe deserve it. I hit a wall. I was filled with furious, semi-righteous anger. I wanted to shake them and lecture them about how grace, by definition, isn’t deserved, and that we, as believers, are commanded to show grace and what they’re doing isn’t showing grace but merely picking and choosing who to help based on who fits into their pretty little microcosm of the world. (Because I use run-ons when I angrily shake people and lecture them.)

And God said, as usual, “Well, then lecture yourself too.”

If grace is, by definition, not deserved, who could deserve grace less than people who refuse to show it?

If spite of–and perhaps because of–your refusal to show grace or mercy or love, I must show you grace and mercy and love all the more.

I’m being completely honest here when I say I am still trying to work through this and figure out how to do these things. Because it’s hard. But how can I expect something of you that I’m unwilling to do myself?

In spite of you, I must act justly–toward you.

In spite of you, I must love mercy–and show it to you.

In spite of you, I must walk humbly–before you.

This is not about me and my personal offense at the things you do. This isn’t actually about you, either.

Micah 6:8 is a reactive verse, but it’s not reactive from me to you: it’s reactive from me to God. I do not focus on acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly because you do or don’t deserve these things from me. I focus on these things because I love the Lord my God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my strength, and this is how I live that out.

God, remind me that this isn’t about me or anyone else. Remind me that all of this is about you, and how worthy you are to receive our lives as daily sacrifices for you. Let your Holy Spirit fill me with mercy that it will overflow on those around me. Please be quick to stop me when I act out of selfishness, injustice, or hatred. Thank you for your infinite patience with us. 

What can we do to show grace to those who refuse to show it? How can we love mercy on a moment-by-moment basis?

Why I Choose to Gossip

 

Spoiler alert to the title of this post: The reason I gossip is pride. Pride and a paralyzing need for affirmation. It’s easy to see, hard to admit, and impossible to correct with the grace of God. And even with God’s prodding and poking and threshing and teaching, I give in to the allure of pride-induced gossip over and over again.

You probably know the feeling. You’re in the middle of a conversation and suddenly a person’s name is mentioned. Maybe you brought it up, maybe someone else did. But it’s like the gunshot at the beginning of a sprint because you’ve got dirt on this person. This person did something horrendous to you. Even though everyone with whom you’ve ever had a conversation in the last three years knows what this person did to you, it’s worth mentioning again. Because you’re the good guy here. And people are sympathetic when they know what you’ve been through. They admire your perseverance and forgiveness.

It sounds a lot like this:

“Oh, that doesn’t surprise me after the way he treated me. Did I tell you about that? About how one time…” 

Maybe the person didn’t do anything directly to you, but his actions have been just appalling lately. And by “appalling” I mean “juicy.”

“Oh, you mean Name? Yeah, he totally cheats on his wife. He drinks a lot too.” And then the feigned pity over the loved ones who are presumably ignorant of Name’s dealings. “I feel so sorry for her. After all she does for him, to have him running around on her like that? She deserves better.”

And maybe she does deserve better, but in that moment the amount you actually give a damn about her is 5%. The other 95% is the implication you would never cheat on your spouse and you don’t drink anymore and your husband should be happy to have a wonderful, faithful, perfect spouse like you. It would save everyone a lot of time if you’d just say, “Look how bad that person is! Look how great I am!”

Then there’s the person you really love, bless his heart, but he’s just not living up to your standards. Which is good, because it gives you something to talk about.

“So, have you talked to Name lately? You know what he’s doing nowadays? I mean, I love him, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that he’s going down the wrong path. We really need to focus on praying for God to reveal himself to Name, because he isn’t listening to anyone else.”

That’s a classic Church Person trick, turning gossip into a prayer request.

But the really crafty and creative and audacious can pull off the “pretend I’m the one that needs prayer when we all know it’s the other guy” conversation (which, by the way, is my typical go-to).

“I need you to pray for me, because I’m really struggling with Name. He did this one thing yesterday and then again today, and I can’t seem to deal with that anger. I’m really praying about whether or not to say something to him. I know lost people will act lost, but it’s so hard to show grace to him, you know? I just need prayer.”

It sounds funny, right? But it’s not. And every time I enter into one of these conversations wanting people to affirm that I’m right and justified and entitled and oh, so mistreated, or that I’m admirable and respectful and dog-gone-it, just a nice girl, I end up feeling affirmed by people but not so affirmed by God.

Every time I go searching for something to scratch my itch for pride, I end up feeling ashamed instead.

My mouth, big as it may be, is not the issue. My heart is the issue. “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit or condemn you” (Matthew 12:34-37).

What I say will either acquit or condemn me. That doesn’t mean I won’t get into heaven if my gossip meter is higher than my praise meter, but it does mean gossip reveals what’s truly in my heart. I can vow not to choose gossip, but as long as I care more about myself and my image than God and his image, I’ll choose gossip, time and time again.

I do not know how to end this post, mainly because gossip is still a constant struggle for me. I do know that my heart has to change before my mouth can change. I do know that God has convicted me of this specific sin in my life and only he can make it right.

God, I know I need a heart adjustment. When I’m tempted to gossip, please pull my eyes to you. Remind me that I’m a sinner, no better than those I choose to gossip about. Remind me that my worth is solely in you, not in others’ opinions of me.

How has God convicted you of gossip and pride in your lives lately?

about the many multi-faceted faces of humility

If you’d read my blog for much time at all, you probably know that Pride and Selfishness are things I hang out with often. I’d probably call them my besties. For the record, I hate the word “besties” and never use it. But I also hate Pride and Selfishness and would prefer never to use them either. Maybe they’ll take a hint.

So it should come as no surprise to you that, although I wrote about humility not long ago, God has continued to teach me about humility, as if there’s more to humility than I would have thought. If you haven’t read the other blog, I’ll spoil it here with the punchline: humility is God-esteem. It’s focus on God’s will and God’s worth and God’s perspective in spite of everything else. It’s seeking first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness and letting Jesus take care of the rest because, well, he already has. I have a pretty good grasp on the concept of humility, but don’t always live it out. Turns out, Rebecca’s perspective is pretty convincing at times.

Bad segue. Sometimes obedience to God offends other people. It’s pretty much a standard rule, and it’s not just for me. The Bible is filled with stories about people getting offended by God and his word. But when it happens to me, my besties suddenly appear next to me and encourage me to act in retaliation or defense. That happened very recently, someone was offended and twisted my words and passed judgement on me. I was ticked. No, I was pissed. Furious. I came home ranting and cussing to my husband about it. I vowed to wait until after my quiet time the next morning to act on it one way or the other.

Scene: morning quiet time. It’s one of those times I try to manipulate God, saying, Okay, if I listen to x amount of praise songs while lying on my face and trying to “be still” and not think about anything but you and then spend x amount of extra time in prayer, you’ll show me what to do. After x amount of praise songs and time in extra prayer, God was still silent. I decided for myself how to handle the situation in confronting the person–but of course it would be a loving, godly confrontation.

I started working on my book, and the topic at hand was humility. Oh, I’ve got this one down by now, I was thinking, I’m so humble because I put God in front of everything else, at least some of the time, and when I don’t, I repent, and that just makes me even more humble. The Holy Spirit brought two verses to mind: Numbers 12:3 and Isaiah 53:7. (By the way, the Holy Spirit didn’t give me the references for those; I had to look them up once he reminded me of the verses. It would be awesome if he would give me the references sometimes. I’m just saying, it might be faster.)

Numbers 12:3 says, “(Now Moses was very humble–more humble than any other person on earth.)” Numbers, if you remember, was written by Moses. I personally like to think someone added this verse in the book after the fact and that’s why it’s in parentheses, but that’s probably more a translation issue. Regardless, here was the context: Moses’ brother and sister had criticized Moses’ actions and challenged Moses’ authority, claiming God had spoken through them as well, and why was Moses so special? It’s the equivalent of us saying something like, Who died and made you king? Moses was silent. He didn’t respond to Aaron and Miriam. He didn’t defend his actions or his use by God. Instead, God spoke as his defense and scolded the other two, even giving Miriam temporary leprosy.

And here’s the verse in Isaiah, looping through my head the entire time I’m reading the rest of this: “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” Jesus was silent before his accusers, like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I don’t fancy myself a lamb being led to the slaughter, but I do have accusers. A growing number of them, in fact, from surprising sources. And here God was speaking so loudly that I needed to be so silent. If Jesus didn’t give a defense for his actions, why do I feel like I have to?

This is about the many multi-faceted faces of humility, slightly redundant and yet fantastically so. Humility is still God-esteem, but it includes a whole bunch of sanctification I’m still learning. Part of that is: if my obedience to God requires a defense, God will be my defense. It’s only my responsibility to obey God, not defend myself.

We do see instances in the early church where believers spoke in their defense, but if memory serves me correctly, it’s when they were outright asked for a defense and the defense was always used to preach the Gospel. (If that’s incorrect, you can be sure someday soon God will teach me a new lesson on humility and I’ll be back to recant that last statement.) Even Jesus, prior to the crucifixion, defended himself at some points, like when accused of casting out demons while working for Satan. But with those too, he was continuing to teach and preach the Gospel. As for me, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut unless God tells me to open it again in my defense. Or at least I’ll try to, as long as I don’t give in to my besties’ peer pressure.

Ironically, the human in me felt guilty even writing this blog, saying, You can’t talk about this, because then you’re still defending yourself and your lack of defense. But the God in me said, I taught you a lesson, and you need to share it with others, to encourage others. So there you go. There’s my self-defense masquerading as a lack of self-defense encouraging all of you to lack self-defense as well. Good luck.

about God’s inhale

I was reading in Job this morning, and you probably know how the story goes. Job was righteous and God allowed Satan to persecute Job to test the motives of his faith. So Job was alone, sick and miserable and mourning, and wanted to know why God had allowed this to happen to him. He had several well-meaning but horribly misguided friends who came to him and offered religious “advice.” Job’s final friend, Elihu, attacked Job for his arrogance. He said, “If God were to take back his spirit and withdraw his breath, all life would cease, and humanity would turn again to dust” (Job 34:14-15).

Okay, maybe I’ve watched too many Hollywood movies, but I got an incredible image in my mind of a crowded street. In an instant, everyone’s breath was suddenly released and they crumbled into piles of dust and ash on the ground before being blown away by the wind in the aftermath of God’s inhale. (I think there was a similar scene in the movie Surrogates, so maybe that’s where I’m getting the mental image, but) it was such a powerful thought it took my breath away.

What a powerful God we serve, one who not only spoke the world into existence but sustains it with his breath. One who, at any moment, could withdraw his breath from us and bring everything to an end but because of his great mercy, allows us to continue serving him on earth, bringing others to him. We’re so worried sometimes about the little things that seem big or the big things that seem enormous, we forget the smallest thing of all–our breath is not our own. Every inhale and exhale is a gift God has given us to use for his glory.

Thank you, Lord, for sustaining us with your breath, for guiding us with your light, and for your unfailing mercy. Forgive me for times I lack humility and make myself the center this world instead of you.

about apologies

This is a story about blame.

When I was a student at Texas Tech, I had an inappropriate relationship with my professor. We’ll call him Jeff. It never got physical, no more than a handshake here and there. But we carried on an emotional relationship via email, Facebook, instant messaging, etc. that went on for many months. It was inappropriate on many levels: the level of conversation would only be appropriate with one’s spouse; he was my professor and, although he was clearly impartial when it came to grades, my guess is that sort of thing is forbidden; he was involved in a serious relationship with a live-in girlfriend; I was involved in a not-serious relationship with another guy at the time. I knew all these things, but I wasn’t walking with Jesus, I was attracted to Jeff in many ways, and I made the same bad decisions probably every other early twenty-something makes.

Zach Braff’s The Last Kiss came out about that time, a jarring movie about cheating. I hated it, maybe just because I related too much to the feeling of being the other woman. I was overwhelmed with guilt, and when the new semester rolled around and Jeff wanted to get together, I refused. I became interested in a coworker and the conversations with Jeff dwindled down to occasional ugly, passive-aggressive emails to one another. Over, but I felt guilty for years afterward like I had some horrible secret I couldn’t tell anyone but my closest friends. I found out later Jeff’s live-in girlfriend was also a professor in the same department with an office a few doors down from his, where I’d gone to visit him. The guilt compiled along with disgust for him. And the human part of me reasoned I didn’t really do anything wrong, so that was it. Done and forgotten.

Early last year, through a serious of bizarre coincidences, I found out that while Jeff was talking to me, he was wrapping up a nearly identical, although slightly more scandalous, relationship with another former student. I won’t share all the details because they’re moot and I don’t want to get all Gossip Girl here. (I really don’t know what that means, but someone referenced the show the other night and I thought if I referenced it, I’d look hip.) But needless to say, my mind hit paranoia-level and I began wondering how many other students he’d had similar relationships with. I was completely and totally disgusted in him. And then, as abruptly as the coincidences had shown up, I quickly let them go. I didn’t want to have anything to do with Jeff, even in my memory.

Fast forward about six months. In my quiet time one morning, God suddenly brought Jeff to mind and gently—but forcefully—reminded me, “You haven’t dealt with this.” So my first response was, “You’re right, I need to be praying for him. And I need to let the Dean know what kind of professor they have there.” I knew God was reminding me in that time for several reasons—one of which being that as non-physical as the relationship was, it still carried a certain level of scandal that could discredit me intellectually as well as spiritually. I prayed about it at length, talked with my husband, and then sought godly counsel with my former pastor. His first question to me was simple: Was I asking how to apologize?

Wait, okay, apologizing was not something I was planning, nor was it something I felt I had to do. But as my pastor pointed out, I did have an ungodly role in the situation and, for that, I owed Jeff an apology. Crap.

It’s easy to make excuses. There are several of them listed above, if you caught them. But what it all boiled down to was I expected Jeff to take responsibility for his actions all along and I never, throughout it all, wanted to accept the responsibility for mine.

I contacted him to apologize and also contacted the Dean, both to let him know about the professor and as a way of saying, “If this calls my degree into question, so be it.” Jeff wrote back right away and apologized for his part as well. I never heard back from the Dean’s office. But at this point, I did what God asked of me, even though it really sucked.

Now another story. This one’s a little more vague, for personal reasons.

Last year a girl at the church where I worked began sharing with me about a decision she was making that she felt was “the right thing” in God’s eyes. Unfortunately, it was a decision strongly forbidden in Scripture. When I shared Scripture, she felt judged and left the church. That’s the short story version.

Through my conversations with her, God gently pointed out yet another not-fun lesson. I was bold in sharing Scripture with mere acquaintances, but was I bold enough to share with people who meant the world to me, even if it brought a risk of alienation? Several years ago, someone dear to me made the same decision as this other girl. This too was before I was walking with Christ and I strongly encouraged my friend that the decision was “the right thing” in God’s eyes. God’s point to me now was I had to tell my friend the truth with the same boldness I had for this other girl. But every time we were around each other, we had no time for that discussion. When I approached the topic, we were interrupted. I felt God was telling me to wait for the right time, so I stayed silent and didn’t force it.

Many months went by and, perhaps as a result of the Jeff incident, I understood I must apologize to my friend as well. I owed her an apology for supporting her and encouraging her to make an unscriptural decision. I can only assume God wanted me to wait to talk to her before I went charging ahead full of accusations without taking responsibility for what I’d done as well.

So that’s it, those are the stories. I don’t believe I have to try to think of every sin I’ve ever committed in my life and track people down and apologize, but I know if God brings to mind something in my past and convicts me of it, I have to address it. It’s part of being obedient—not just moving forward with Christ, but acknowledging with repentance times when I wasn’t moving forward with him. Times when I encouraged others by my words and behaviors to move backward from him.

I’d like to think I’m done, and I’ve apologized and repented for everything else, but I seriously doubt that’s the case. Sometimes I think God’s just being sadistic or sarcastic and wants to put me in awkward situations because it’s funny. But in truth, I know he’s teaching me, refining me. So next time I’m quick to look at someone and see everything sinful they’re doing, I might just stop and evaluate my own role. And before I go on advising someone how to get out of a bad situation, I may just have to ask for forgiveness for helping them get into it in the first place.