High Expectations

Have you ever had a moment with your children when you realized that they had no clue how to do something that you had assumed they knew. Or maybe it was a co-worker and you saw them struggling to do something that you figured everyone knew how to do. Have you asked your child to hand you the pliers and they stare at you with a look that says “what you talking ’bout Willis?” Sometimes we just assume that someone knows something just because we do – but obviously that’s not always the case.

Recently I took my son to open a bank account. We sat down with the new account person and got everything set up. She explained that Ryan would need to make a deposit of at least $5.00 to finish the process so she escorted us over to the teller and informed her that he would be depositing a check to open his new account. Ryan had a paycheck that would serve as his first deposit. Although Ryan had another bank account, all the deposits made to it had been direct deposit. This was the first time he had actually made a deposit in person. As we all stood there waiting for him to complete the deposit slip, sign the check and hand it to the teller, he just looked at me and said “I don’t know what’s going on. What am I supposed to do?”

In that moment I realized that the teller, the account manager and myself had expected him to know how to do the deposit simply because it was a common thing that we had all done so many times. What I failed to consider was that making a deposit is not something automatic that everyone knows how to do without some instruction first. Ryan felt confused, unsure and embarassed. This was something completely new to him and he needed someone to guide him through the process and explain each step before he could be expected to do it on his own.

Ryan’s experience at the bank made me think about how I had felt as a new Christian. I remember how it felt being in a bible study and being asked to look up and read a particular scripture and everyone expected me to instinctively know exactly where to turn to in my bible. I remember feeling completely panicked as I looked for the verse for what seemed like forever. I remember hearing religious terms and phrases and having no idea what they meant and how afraid I was to ask because everyone else seemed to already know their meaning. I remember thinking that because I was born again I had to be perfect. If I made one mistake I felt so ashamed that I didn’t even want to be around anyone from church because I thought they were all perfect and never made mistakes. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I just knew I wanted my life to be different and I wanted to do things right in the eyes of God but I didn’t know how to do it or even where to begin.

Years later I am now by definition the “mature” Christian, although most days I still feel like I have so much to learn and so much further to go in my faith walk. But there are many things about the Christian faith that are now second nature to me. At least now I know exactly where to turn to in the bible when asked to read a scripture. But it has taken a very long time to get to that place and I didn’t get there on my own. There were other Christians along the way who understood that they could not expect me to know everything there is to know about how to be a follower of Christ just because I had been saved. Some things needed to be taught. And with grace, compassion and patience they discipled me in the foundations of our faith.

As believers it is our responsibility to teach new believers how to follow Christ beyond just Sunday mornings. We are to teach them foundational truths like lordship, repentance and forgiveness. We must guide them through spiritual disciplines like reading and studying their bible, serving their local church and spending time in worship. We must show patience and understanding as we help them learn to pray and we must be compassionate when they fail in their walk so they never feel condemnation. We must model for them how to be obedient to God’s commands. But as the church are we truly busy making disciples or are we just too busy and they are left to make it on their own? When new believers perceive that we think they should know how to do everything without being taught then they are made to feel inferior, ashamed and embarassed.

Many new believers simply stop attending church and disconnect from other believers because they don’t understand how to follow Christ and the first time they make a mistake or make a wrong choice they feel like they’ve failed and that they don’t fit in. They feel that way because they’ve never been taught grace, mercy and forgiveness. It’s not intentional on our part but we must remember how it was for us as new believers. What we do have to be intentional about is making disciples. If we consider ourselves Christ followers then we must follow in His ways and teach those who are new disciples. Jesus never expected that His disciples would just know what to do after they made the decision to follow Him. He knew they were like toddlers just learning to walk so He helped them by lifting them up when they fell and walking with them as he showed them what it meant to be His disciple. Jesus had high expectations for His followers but He never expected them to meet those expectations on their own. He walked alongside of them every step of the way. Is there a new believer you know who needs you to walk alongside of them? Ask God to help you fulfill His great commission: “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20). Let Him guide you as you help guide others in obedience.

It’s Complicated

There is a relationship status option on Facebook that says “It’s Complicated”. Whenever someone changes their relationship from “married”, “engaged” or “in a relationship” to the dreaded “it’s complicated” it tells me, in most cases, one thing – that a fight has occured and neither wants to be the first to apologize. There’s even a song from the 1980’s called “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”. Why is it that those two little words can sometimes be the most difficult to utter? Often our apologies come in the form of a written note or card because for some reason we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to look the person in the eye and say “I’m sorry.” Why is that?

There have been many sermons, studies and books all exalting the freeing power behind forgiveness. We are told that unforgiveness will hold us in bondage – that it’s like drinking poison but expecting the other person to die. It’s a ball and chain that we drag around and will never be free from until we forgive those who cause us pain. It’s like a deadly virus that consumes us from the inside. There is no doubt about it – unforgiveness is toxic and it is vital for us to forgive others so healing can begin to take place and the bitterness and resentment we harbor can be removed from our lives. Sometimes the person you need to forgive may never apologize or the situation may not be one in which an apology is an option. However, that is not an excuse to not forgive the person.

But today I want to focus on the other side of the situation. What about when you are the one who needs to seek forgiveness instead of being the one to give forgiveness? When the circumstance allows for it and you are the one who needs to be forgiven then it is up to you to initiate the process. Because in many situations, long before the forgiveness can take place, there is a need for an apology.

Did you know that the recent devastating fires in Colorado were most likely started by one small spark caused by a single lightening strike? One spark that caused 2 deaths, the destruction of 300 homes, and the evacuation of 35,000 residents and fueled the worst wildfires in the state’s history.

On Sunday, June 18, 1972 an obscure headline at the bottom of page 1 of The Washington Post would most likely have become irrelevant history had it not caught the eye of two young reporters who decided to dig deeper. Their curiosity and subsequent findings launched the investigation that would later be dubbed Watergate. One small story that ultimately changed American politics forever and resulted in the first resignation of a US President.

The social network Facebook was created in a dorm room on the campus of Harvard by four young college students who created a website to compare two people’s pictures side by side to determine “who’s hot and who’s not.” This seemingly useless game created for Harvard students has now become the world’s largest social network site with over 600 million users worldwide. One small, creative idea that led to the creation of a media giant that has influenced an entire generation.

And just like these examples, two small words, I’m sorry, can be the spark that ignites the process in which forgiveness and healing begins to take place. While it is true that there is power in forgiveness, I believe there is also power in apologizing. I am constantly dumbfounded by the number of people unwilling to take responsibility for their actions and to admit when they are wrong by apologizing. There are numerous reasons for this which I shared in a recent blog called “He Did It!……No, He Did It!” But my point is that when you are willing to humbly say the words “I’m sorry” you have the ability to set in motion a chain of events that can have the power to bring healing, restore relationships and bring closure to unresolved conflict.

Often I hear the question “who do you need to forgive in order to break free from the bondage of unforgiveness?” Today my question to you is “who in your life needs to receive an apology from you?” Don’t let two little words stand between you and a relationship that needs restoring. And don’t let your pride keep you from being the one to take the first step forward and say “I’m sorry”. Today is the day to uncomplicate things and let the healing begin. It’s just two little words – how complicated can it be?

Why Me?

I’m having a pity party today and you’re all invited to join me. I’ve been kinda sad the last couple of days and really feeling sorry for myself. I want so badly to do the right things but just can’t seem to avoid failing on a regular basis.

I think it all started the other night when I had eaten pretty good throughout the day but then when it came dinner time I enthusiastically said “let’s order pizza!”. I started thinking about all the times my mind thinks one way but then my flesh heads off in a completely different direction like “why do I say I want to eat healthier but just suggested we order pizza knowing full well that I will eat my fair share and feel guilty afterwards?”

Why do I head out the door to go to CrossFit then wimp out and go on an easy hike at a nearby park instead? Why do I say I want to read the bible more and spend more time with God but then sit down and watch a TV show that makes me feel dumber for having done so? Why do I spend way too much time checking social media sites or reading blogs when I should be spending time with my children who are growing up right before my eyes? Why do I vow to have more grace and patience with my grandmother who lives with us yet still get so frustrated when she asks me the same question for the fifth time? Why do I commit to being less selfish but find myself constantly thinking ‘what about me’? Why do I plan to cut down on spending but then give in so easily to temptation when I see a cute purse or a great pair of shoes?

I ended my negative rant with comparing myself to “better” Christians (big mistake) and thinking “Why me?!”

“Why can’t I get it together? Why do I have to keep struggling with the same stuff over and over? What’s wrong with me!?”

It was in that moment that the Holy Spirit whispered to me “you have the right question but the wrong perspective.”

I started to think about what that meant. I was hiking at the time at the park (after chickening out of CrossFit yet again) and was just emerging from the woods to the area where the path takes you around a lake. I looked up and saw a group of ducks all moving across the lake in a single file line. I stopped and just stared in wonder at the beauty and amazement of God’s creation. My thought in that moment was “why me?”.

Why God, when I’m in the midst of my pathetic whining, You allow me to see how You designed Your creation so perfectly and purposefully? Why do You allow me to feel how much You love me in the very moment that I’m complaining about how terrible I think I’ve got it? Why do You reveal Yourself to me at a time when I least deserve it?

Why do I have a husband who loves me and is committed to our marriage when others are dealing with infidelity, addiction and abuse? Why do I get to be the mother to two amazing young men while I have friends who have children in and out of rehab or worse, jail? Why I am blessed to be able to be a stay-at-home mom when I know many single moms who have to work more than one job to just get by? Why am I in such good health yet have friends who have to go for cancer treatments every week?

Why am I able to freely worship You and study Your word while just this week Christians were killed during their Sunday morning worship service in Kenya? Why do you allow me the privilege of ministering to young, military wives when I feel so unworthy? Why am I so blessed?

With tears streaming down my face, again I asked “Why God? Why me?” And again the Holy Spirit whispered to me saying “because there is nothing you can do to deserve my blessings. I bless you because I love you. And even though you mess up every day, I know you love Me with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And even when you make wrong choices, I know you want more than anything to be in the center of My will for your life.”

I don’t know why my life is so blessed when there are so many who are suffering, lonely and hopeless. There are so many things in this world that doesn’t make sense and isn’t fair. I will never understand much of what occurs this side of heaven.

What I do know is that we live in a sin-filled world where there are many horrible things that happen. I also know that while God is in control and He does allow these things to happen, He does not cause them to happen nor is it His desire for there to be so much suffering and pain.

I also know that it’s all temporary. The bad that happens in our world will come to an end some day. God will restore things to the way He planned for them to be from the beginning before sin entered into His creation. And I do know that what the enemy intended for harm, “God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20).

I know that even though I fail every day, God’s love for me is unfailing. I know that when I think I’ve got it bad, all I have to do is look around to see how very blessed I am and that there are others who need my prayers and encouragement. I know that when I’m in the middle of a pity party that God loves me too much to let me stay there for long.

I know if you are onboard the pity train right now God wants you to change your perspective so you can see how very much He loves you and He wants to bless you with an abundance of His peace, joy, healing and freedom. He wants you to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and to seek His will for you life, not your own. I know He wants to return to you what the enemy has tried to take. I know that like me, you have so much to be thankful for if you’ll just look around.

I know God longs to spend time with you and is always by your side even when you feel all alone. I know that God says to cast your cares upon Him because His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matt. 11:30). I know that while we will always have to fight our sinful nature and sometimes I feel like I’m losing the battle, the bible says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And I can live victorious in Christ because the battle was won when He overcame death on the cross.

I know it’s time to quit focusing on how bad you’ve got it and start focusing on the One whose love for you is immeasureable and unconditional. It’s time to claim victory over the sin you struggle with in the name of Jesus. And I know it’s time for the pity party to be over, don’t you agree?