Tag: faith

Hurtful words, Forgiveness Spent

Words matter. When we’re little, with the big ol’ world out there waiting for us to conquer it, we think the bullies are on the playground, that the hurtful words only exist on the television (and come with some meaningful lesson around the 30-minute mark). We grow up hearing “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” and we actually believe it. But isn’t it more likely you’ll hear hurtful words than have someone beat you with sticks and stones? How much more likely are we to see emotional and psychological abuse as normalized parts of our existence? A sad truth is this: far too many people use love as an excuse to spew hateful words.

How about some examples?

  1. “I love you. Now, why don’t you come around anymore? You know how your father gets when he’s drinking. He really didn’t mean to squeeze your wrist. Aren’t you being too sensitive about it?”
  2. “Don’t you know what you’re doing to me? You know how your father is. You can’t change him and besides, you just have to get over it. Like the rest of us do.”
  3. “Why do you hate me? I am sorry that you were offended by that?”

The list could go on. We’re all guilty of saying the wrong thing from time to time. Nobody sees eye to eye at all times. Miscommunication happens. Misunderstandings happen. We’ve all heard the cliches- put your foot in your mouth, your mouth wrote a check your butt can’t cash, etc. The human being is prone to speak foolishly.

Let’s look at some verses.

Ephesians 4:29 (CSB) says, ” Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Proverbs 10:32 (CSB) says, “The lips of the righteous know what is appropriate, but the mouth of the wicked, only what is perverse.”
Ecclesiastes 10:14 (CSB) says, “yet the fool multiplies words. No one knows what will happen, and who can tell anyone what will happen after him?”

During my youth, I tended towards letting my mouth get away from me before I took the time to think about what I said. I hurt loved ones. I scathed folks I disliked. Over time, I’ve learned silence can be (and often is) the proper recourse for others’ hurtfulness. I’ve also realized that bullies find the word “no” very offensive and will often spin the narrative in such a way, you are the villain for saying no. But doesn’t our Father in Heaven tell us no when it’s better for us? Doesn’t He command us to use uplifting language and to seek what is holy and just? Now that I’m older, I recognize that “no” can be a hurtful word, but it is not a hateful one.

And therein lies the difference. Because we are imperfect in our sin, we take denial of what we want as hurtful. As any parent will tell you, a child shouldn’t always get what they want, when they want it, in the way they think they want it. Sometimes, it’s just not safe for them. Sometimes, there’s a reason to wait or they’ve got to earn it in some fashion. To the child, this is hurtful. It’s mean. It’s unfair. It is NOT hateful. Now, as adults, we sometimes need to say no for our own well-being. Rape culture is not okay; once someone says no, what they might have previously allowed is no longer allowable. This does not just refer to sex; rather, it refers to any moment when someone’s decision to say no (about anything) is attacked and they are demeaned, belittled, and vilified. Remember the three examples earlier? Those can occur after someone has drawn the line and said no.

In Ephesians 4:31 (CSB) we’re told to “Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice.”
Matthew 5:7 (CSB) tells us “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Forgiving hurtfulness is hard enough. Forgiving hatefulness is harder still. God calls us to forgive, as we are forgiven. Hate belongs to the devil. Love to God. Forgiveness spent… it’s like currency. The more hatefulness you endure, the more forgiveness you need. The more forgiveness you give, the more peace you enjoy. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun. But here’s a little nugget for you. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to go right back to subjecting yourself to hatefulness. No, God doesn’t call us to be foolish, so if doing so will guarantee you will sin, turn the other cheek and walk on out of there.

I’m going to end with this prayer. Join me if you will.

Lord, our God, I cry out against hateful words. I cry out against the foolishness of wasted speech. Grant me the wisdom to be silent. Grant me the strength to show grace when I really don’t want to. You sent your son to endure the hateful and hurtful. And Lord I am grateful that he chose the cross and forgiveness. I pray that when life gets too hard and people just seem so mean-spirited, you make me wise and not the fool. In your wonderful name, I pray. Amen.

The Weary

 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 CSB).

Life is hard. Minutes transform into hours that steadily succumb to days. And so on. How many of us wake up, stare at whatever we use for an alarm clock, and beg time to stand still for a little longer? We wear out. We break down. And yes, we just want to give up. It isn’t only physical weariness; sometimes, we’ve got emotional and spiritual tiredness as well. There’s arthritis and weakening limbs that come with age and physical exertion. There are headaches and backaches. How about the nights we lay awake in bed after a really trying day at work or fight with a partner or friend? What about when we’re doing God’s work and every day feels like a struggle, but we see bad people seemingly thrive, seemingly blessed by God’s love?

I’ve said before that God absolutely gives us more than we can bear. He heaps more on our shoulders than we can carry alone or even with the people who matter most in our lives. “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 CSB). We’re building spiritual strength, the ability to carry more, but God’s shoulders are where our burdens must rest. It’s our faith in Him, our belief that we go through Jesus Christ first, that helps us endure.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (CSB), we’re told, “But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good” but doesn’t that just… feel really hard sometimes? The world is designed to make good work feel harder, especially when you’re doing Christ’s work. How much easier is it to join in with your coworkers badmouthing that one person who, quite honestly, fits with what’s being said, than it is to just remain quiet or discourage the cruel words? How much easier is it to turn the corner in the grocery store to pretend you didn’t see the guy twist his girlfriend’s arm to get her to comply or the mother slap her child because he’s throwing a tantrum? This world encourages our weariness so we don’t get involved.

Think on Psalms 69:3 (CSB): I am weary from my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. We don’t always see the Father, even when he’s standing right in front of us. We want quick fixes, without understanding that he often leads us, the long way, towards clearer understanding. Tiredness grows. Faith falters. And yet, we should still keep searching for God, to give him our worship and lay our burdens at his feet. I won’t tell you things will be easier. But, they’re a whole lot easier with God than apart from him.

Sometimes, we ask ourselves this: who cares? What’s the point in believing in God when life is just… hard? Honestly, I’ve asked myself the same question. I stumble and feel bitterness- i.e. resentment- the same as anyone. There are times when it’s just so hard to lift my eyes to heaven or arm in praise. There are times when offering blessings and forgiveness are titanic feats. Writers often hear that we are our worst critics (it’s true, we are), but let me posit this: we humans are our greatest foe and most constant stumbling block. It’s easy to say the devil made me do it, but I’d hazard a guess that ol splitfoot is a bit more passive when it comes to pushing us away from God.

The Father cares. We’re not putting the burdens at His feet. We’re not putting the trust in his arms. We’re trying to be our own superheroes. And man, it’s impossible to keep going down that particular road. He cares alright, but it isn’t always how we wanted to be cared for. He does, alright, but it isn’t always the way we’ve asked for. We’re weary- I’m weary- because life needs to be on our terms and we’re going to keep fighting until it gets that way. Let me tell you, brothers and sisters. That’s a fight we won’t win. The point is Jesus. The point is having the strength to keep the faith when weariness takes hold and we just don’t want to do it anymore. The point is believing.

Don’t let the weariness prevent you from living your God-given life. Give it over to Him and keep going forward. Trust me, you’re not as alone as you feel.

To hope

Hope. It doesn’t always come easy. In fact, far too often it feels like an insult. Hope for the best, when the worst is likely. Hope for peace in the midst of storms (personal, financial, emotional, etc.). Hope for the unlikely. Wouldn’t you just like to give up sometimes? Not surrender to God, mind you, but just lay down, close your eyes, and not wake up? Or, have someone else take on the burden just so you can have a moment’s respite.

It’s hard, but we should remember what God tells us during these times.

In Matthew 11:28 (ESV), we are told, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV), “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

How about Psalm 42:11 (ESV)? “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

We are expected, as Christ-followers, to have hope. Life is too much and, often, we are subjected to more than we can bear. We’re never supposed to be strong enough. That’s why we put our hope in the Lord. And our faith in Him. We do some of the walking- God expects us to put in the work too- but there is a point when we lay it all on his shoulders, when we put our hope in the creator. We are promised hardship when we side with Christ. When did anyone ever promise us an easy life?

But remember this. “… they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV). Hope requires two things: faith and trust. We have to believe the Lord will see us through and we have to trust in his word. We have to have faith that Jesus is the way to salvation and we have to trust that this is truth. Otherwise, hope falters and doubt overtakes us.

Still, we’re human. We’re going to struggle. We’re going to backpedal too often. But the beauty of grace is that it’s always welcoming to the hopeful. Remember, He’s got this.

The Other Cheek

When I share my artwork, I scrawl the word Grimm somewhere towards the bottom. Partly a nod to the Brothers Grimm and partly due to a fascination with horror art/fiction, it proved a fitting moniker. Yesterday, my wife pointed out something else. In many ways, I’ve become the name. Solitary, quiet, almost melancholic. I am not afraid of death or the inevitability of my own. It’s a name that indicates- at least to me- someone capable of taking hit after hit, of delving deeper into darkness, and just… not surrendering.

It’s the name of a hard man. One who, frankly, can hold a grudge and be unforgiving at times.

In Matthew 5:39, Jesus tells us “But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” How many of us find it easy to pass judgment? To react harshly to those who hurt us? In verses 43 through 45 of that same chapter, Jesus goes on to say “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

It’s easy to love those who are good to us. I love my wife so immensely. She encourages me, uplifts me, shares life with me, and tries to keep me connected to the world around me. She shares my love of stories and pushes me to keep using my God-given gifts. When I look at her or even just think about her, I’m filled with warmth, love, and all those wonderful, good things. I truly believe God shines on this house and blesses us every day.

However, like many others, there are people in my life who aren’t easy to tolerate, let alone like or love. Blood or time does not deny cruelty. It does not always hinder it. Often, we learn the ones who hurt us most are ones with time on their side; they’ve put in the work, so they believe they are entitled to say anything, to make everything acceptable. Jesus says turn the other cheek. Show them love. Show them mercy. Do not reciprocate with your hate. Luke 6: 26-28 states, “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets. But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Let me posit something. Take Romans 16:17-18. “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create divisions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them, because such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words.” Far too often, we equate forgiveness and turning the other cheek with submission. Submit to God, not man. It’s your duty as a Christ-follower to offer forgiveness. That is what is right in God’s eyes. Those who have hate in their hearts are not of God.

Turn the other cheek, but not to keep score. Turn the other cheek, but not because you deserve abuse. Turn the other cheek, but not because you wish to play the martyr. No. Turn the other cheek because you trust in your Father, who wields the righteous flame of judgment. Turn the other cheek because you will not be beaten. Turn the other cheek because you have faith in Jesus Christ.

Life isn’t kind. We’re told throughout scripture that when we seek God and when we identify as a follower of Jesus Christ, the world- and those who side with it- will strike out against us. We choose how we respond. We can be like Grimm, harsh and sometimes unforgiving, or we can be like Jesus commanded us: loving and full of forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we have to accept these forces into our lives. Some people are just too toxic for our well-being. But, we should never allow their hate, their anger, their meanness infect our hearts and souls.

Because when we stop turning the other cheek, the devil wins.

Renewal

Honesty. That’s always an excellent place to start. Hard one, too. Recently, I contemplated closing Torchlight down for good. I’d spent most of 2021 angry at God, tired, and just plain downtrodden. While there were many reasons for celebration, certain interactions in my personal and professional life were taking a toll on me. Like many of you, I tried to understand why hardship continued its assault. I’m a good person and try, always, to do the right thing. So why then, did God seem constantly intent on punishing me? I couldn’t see the proverbial end of the tunnel. Nor, frankly, did I feel comfortable devoting time and energy to Torchlight.

On our main page, there is an important verse I’d forgotten. John 12:46 – “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” I was abiding in darkness. Not the darkness of faithlessness, perhaps. No, more the darkness of hurt, of untrusting, of keeping my burdens upon my own shoulders instead of laying them at the feet of my God. I walked through the shadowlands of doubt, where I permitted others a say in who I am, when God has already done that. I allowed other people’s sinfulness to cloud my own walk with God.

And so I reached a point where I was going to delete Torchlight and remove it from existence. I’d even logged into the site and started the process when a feeling struck me. This was WRONG. I wasn’t supposed to do this. So, I closed the tab on my internet browser and left it alone for a little bit. Funny thing though, I started to feel God again. I realized I didn’t want to let my anger keep me from His love anymore. But, I’m stubborn. I wasn’t going to work on this ministry again, just because I didn’t feel right about shutting it down.

Two things happened. Well, maybe more than two, but they stood out most. First. We let my father’s mother come to Christmas. There’s trauma in my relationship with her to where I can’t welcome her into my life again, but I realized I no longer wanted to carry the hate I’d held for her. So, I wrote a letter forgiving her and, I think, this helped open the door a little more. The other was a conversation with my longtime best friend/brother, Emmanuel. Things had become strained with us, to the point that during his first trip home in three years, I nearly ended our friendship. With the assistance of my wife, hard conversation, and prayer, we saw healing and I can say our friendship has seen renewal.

And, I think… we’ve decided to stop trying to emulate Jonah. My friend has his own spiritual journey, which I’ll let him share in his time. As for myself, well, I’m going to answer the call I’ve been avoiding. Let’s see what happens next.

I, Disciple

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 20: 18-20 NKJV)

We’ve gotten off track. We’ve blinded ourselves to God’s truth and to the commandments he’s placed on our lives. We’re too busy getting by to realize God is trying to settle the bill on our soul. We’re too self-involved, trying to build our kingdom, so we’ve forgotten we weren’t called to rich and fame. No, we were called into the discipleship.

I wrote this piece a few years back. Curiously, I felt God putting this back in my heart. Not as it’d been, but more, better, bigger. I’ve been struggling with faith lately. As many know, 2020 has been a hard year. We have a major pandemic afflicting the world. We Americans had an election. There have been mass killings. There has been so much evil. And many of us have just given up. But, if you believe in God, if you want to follow the teachings laid out in scripture, I’m here to tell you God knew this year was going to be like this. He knew and still called us to serve.

If you were ever told following Jesus was easy, someone lied to you. It isn’t easy and it isn’t supposed to be. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be the GREAT commission. Faith requires fire to temper it and hardship to test it. So, how do our lives really serve God? Sure, we go through our hardship, but the end goal is not a closeness with Him; it’s the paycheck at the end of two weeks and a few days breathing room. That’s not putting Christ before ourselves. Christ wants our discipleship, not adherence to our daily idols.

But, what is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of Christ. Jesus laid out the requirements to be a disciple in Luke 14:25-35. You have to love Him more than anyone else. I love my wife more than anyone on this earth. Except for God and his glorious son. Next, you have to deny yourself and take up the cross. Our comforts, ambitions, and perceived necessities pale in comparison to doing His work. You have to forsake all you have. That’s not a call to live in squalor. It’s more that our material possessions have become our idols and the gods we sacrifice to. Finally, you have to count the cost; do you truly have what is needed to follow Him? Are you in a place where you’re willing to let the frivolous go and set out on a truly great adventure?

Discipleship is not easy. To truly follow Jesus, we must understand that our priorities need realignment. We spend our free time playing video games, existing on social media, socializing with friends, and just going through the grind. It’s a daily struggle. It’s easy to get bogged down and forgetful. It doesn’t always seem like things are preventing our pursuit of God. We go to church, maybe even join a community group or Bible study. We talk about Jesus and His love from time to time. But our passion and devotion fixates on the lives we are living. It’s on accumulating things that will make our existence on this planet just a bit more bearable. So what do we do? How do we really follow Jesus and throw away the things that shouldn’t matter?

I think it comes down to realizing that nothing outside Jesus Christ can save our souls. Sure, having money, friends, and things to do improve the quality of life. Being able to pay our bills ensures comfort we’d not have on the streets. But, having faith in God’s Son ensures our souls enter into the holy doorway so we may join Him in the kingdom.

I am not saying we should not take care of our responsibilities.  Bills won’t stop coming- boy, we wish they would! But, we have to decide where the glory goes and who we’re really seeking. Are we seeking God’s glory or our own well-being? Now, I’m burdened by the sheer apathy we see in Christians. We want His blessings, but we’ve formed gods out of the day to day things. We have lost true discipleship and many have traded true discipleship for getting by. Are we any better than Judas, selling Him out for our 30 pieces? Christianity is not about our convenience! It is not. If we waited for our time, if we waited until we felt ready, then our new gods and idols will have won. And, if we keep waiting, we’re not talking to others about Jesus. Or, to use a phrase I’ve heard recently; we’re not sharing our Jesus story.

Faith isn’t just a battle. It’s a street fight. We are going to get bloody and wounded. The world is going to be at our throats. Its god will scrabble for your soul. Who will win? Jesus? Or, these things you sacrifice to every day? When we’re living a life based on our own needs, God tends to tumble- no, we shove Him- to the wayside. Don’t have time to talk about Jesus today, have to pay the power bill! I understand. I really do. I’m sure God does too.

However.

Name one time when He tolerates putting anything above Himself. Remember Luke 16:13? You cannot serve two masters. Now, I don’t want to sound preachy and patronizing. I’m not telling you that life is fair and you can do better. I’ve worked sixteen-hour days to put food on the table only to realize it just isn’t enough. I have woken up angry because I didn’t know what to do about bills due several days before a horribly insufficient paycheck. It isn’t fair. It’s easy to put these things first, to hope something better comes along. When you’re weary and miserable, do you really want to read your Bible and give thanks? Do you really want to tell others about how loving our God is? Not always.

To make disciples, we must first be a disciple. We must talk to our Father. We must talk to our spiritual leaders. We must pray. We must read our Bibles. We must strip away the excess. We must submit to His authority. And we must not let our sin get in the way of bringing others to Him. Friends, we live in a world that’s hellbent on crushing us, on distracting us with pleasure and pain, so there are no real warriors for God.

To be a disciple, we must first love God. To love God, we must first know Him. To know Him, we must read His word and pray. Also, we must risk looking foolish for His glory. I think it’s a perfect time to turn this around and give our lives back to Him. That way, it’s not just God’s Great Commission. It’s ours too.