Monday, April 29, 2013

Bitter Old Women and Grumpy Old Men

The topic of Bitter Old Women and Grumpy Old Men is often met with a full round of chuckles and head shaking. We love to watch them in the movies and equally love telling the stories of their presence in our own lives, but hate to be around them. Deep inside every person lies the fear of becoming that sour older person that no-one wants to be around and sadly the ones who embody this title have no idea what they have become. We can chuckle at Fried Green Tomatoes and love the mess out of each character, but when the woman spewing nasty words and negative comments is sitting near your new friend at church, it's a whole new issue! And sadly the church is full of them. You would think that in a building where the "Gospel of Grace" is taught from week to week that it would permeate the entire congregation, but alas...we are all human.

I once heard a Christian speaker say that women don't become bitter overnight. As I observe the people around me growing older, I can see that yes, that is so very true. We set out in life with a list of expectations for both God and man and when these expectations are not met properly, we give way to the potion set to turn our hearts angry and mean. The best description of this potion is one given by a Pastor who said "Bitterness is poison that you swallow while waiting for someone else to die". How often do you sit to talk to an older man or woman and they can talk only of the past as though life stopped 15 years ago. Not long into the conversation they will begin stating how awful this current generation is and how much better "the good old days were." Underneath this typical conversation is a life event that didn't meet their expectation and they are stuck in that era eternally. Life keeps moving, but their anger keeps them rooted in a moment.
 Bitterness is by far satan's favorite drink to offer our justice oriented souls. We long for the people around us to pay for how they treat us and gladly take the flask of bitterness offered thinking it will ease our burning souls. The problem is that bitterness is rooted in pride and God has stated very clearly that He opposes the proud. I can think of a lot of things God might feel towards me and cringe a bit, but it downright terrifies me to think of the Almighty God opposing my every move! We can be certain every thing God does for us is rooted in love so even His opposition is meant to bring us to confession and a healed relationship with Him. What I want us to focus on is what steps we can take to make sure we aren't thirsty for the bitter drink.

1) Empty our minds of expectations before the day begins
This truly can only be done through prayer. When we ask God to help us welcome the day whatever it may hold, we are loosening our need for control and allowing Him to use the day for His purpose. What a gift!

2) Forgive and Forget...then Remember
No matter how horrific the slight, word, or action taken against you, forgiveness is something we must follow through with. When we choose to stand our ground and hold something against someone, we are swallowing every bit of bitter poison Satan possesses and we are guaranteed an ugly heart. Forgetting is something that takes prayer and purposeful attempts to not think of the fault against you. Lastly, it is crucial that we remember how very much Christ has forgiven us anytime we long to hold onto an offense against us.

3) Purposefully forgive the person who wronged you long after the issue is over.
Bitterness is alot like gaining weight. It doesn't show up until we think we're out of the woods and safe to keep doing what we've been doing. A doughnut a day never attaches to one's thighs in the first two weeks. It's only after we've established a well loved habit and claimed our high metabolism for our success that the pounds multiply on the scale sending us running to the gym. In the same way, praying against bitterness has to be a daily thing. We don't even know the many ways we take a sip of the poison here and there and often don't realize how we've let it's root into our hearts until we spew ugliness at someone. I don't know about you, but I want God to dig that root out well before that occurs!

And last but not least
4) Pray for the person who hurt you.
This is HARD...this is painful...but this is the heart and soul of grace. In praying for the people who hurt us, we get the opportunity to do the very work of our Savior while He was on the cross. We say we want to "be like Jesus" and this is where we do it. As He hung on the cross in agonizing pain, He uttered a prayer of forgiveness on us all..."Father forgive them for they know not what they do". Grace...painful...self sacrificing...beautiful grace. It is the only antidote for the bitter, grumpy, path ahead of us. Friend's lets choose the way of grace now and work hard to be gentle and grace filled followers of Jesus as we get older

Monday, April 22, 2013

Grace in Preparation

I wonder if it's a coincidence that God always reveals Himself to me on the hard days...ones where Eden was up all night from those darn teeth coming in. The ones where I choke back tears as I pour my cup of coffee and pray for the grace to be patient. Well today was exactly that day and God revealed Himself to me while the girls and I were out for a walk. We donned winter jackets from the back of the closet, gathered sandwich bags, and ventured out into the chilly "spring" day to chase grace and look for God's beauty. As the girls filled their bags with rocks and small pine cones covered in a dusting of pollen, I prayed. Prayed for the eyes to see God here as the wind whipped our hair and my warm bed beckoned my tired body. My thoughts turned to the dirty breakfast dishes waiting for me at home and the two baskets of laundry that waited for my hand's attention. I marveled at how much of life we spend preparing for something. Pastors spend hours preparing sermons, students days and long nights preparing for exams, pregnant mothers preparing for the babe soon to arrive, anxious boyfriends preparing to ask their love to be their brides...and the list goes on to include preparing for each day by getting clothes and towels clean, food ready to be consumed, and homes presentable to welcome our families. We spend FAR more time preparing than we spend enjoying the fruit of our labor.
Thankfully, God showed up in this downward spiral of my thoughts and brought to mind something I learned from Ann Voscamp on her blog recently. She highlighted a few things she had learned from Gideon in the book of Judges. The one that stood out to my brain today was the way the angel of the Lord responded to the meal Gideon had prepared for him.

"Then the angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth." Judges 6:20

Not sure about you Saints, but I have watched as my children have "poured out the broth" I have just labored hours over onto the rug beneath the table and my response has been anything but lovely. Back in Gideon's time, preparing a meal was even more labor intensive than it is now with conveniences such as the oven, microwave, and stove. He had poured much into the meal and probably never expected that the response to it would basically be, "Thanks, now pour it out." Talk about disappointment!

But in reality, isn't that what we're all supposed to do with the offering we've prepared? The meal that takes an hour to cook and minutes to consume is not wasted simply by it's quick consumption. The exam that took 2 all nighters to prepare for only to come back with a blazing red "C" circled on it isn't wasted simply by the grade received. You see God, is in the preparation...God is a God of moments and motives and cares far more about the process of preparation than the result we work so hard for. And here is the whole breakdown of the discouragement and failure we heap onto ourselves. We humans are so focused on results that we miss the offering of the process and the beauty of the offering being poured out.

Judges 6:21 gives us the picture of how God received the meal poured out
"The angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meal and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened bread."

God took Gideon's hard labored offering and consumed it with magnificence and splendor. He showed up in glory and fire and gave us all the picture of how He responds to a gift poured out. Friend, he sees it all and the more effort put into our preparation, the more glory He receives.

So what ever your week holds from the laundry to the paper waiting to be written or the phone call you've put off for weeks, chase the grace waiting in each moment and let your heart be encouraged when you release the work of your hands into the fire of God