Do Good, Be Light, Extend Hope

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

James 2:14-17 MSG

James doesn’t mess around.

He says what a lot of people are thinking but are too timid to speak aloud.

I like that.

We could use a good dose of his brand of preaching in the church today.  Let’s stop pretending that following Jesus is just about getting our theology right.  Let’s stop acting like going to church, serving on committees or teaching Sunday School is the best indicator of where my heart is relative to my Savior.

Let’s face facts:  if my life does not look different than the lives of those who do not know Jesus, then either I don’t know Him or I’m not paying attention to what He’s telling me to do.

I have been blessed on this grief journey by a few dedicated friends who go out of their way to do good, be light and extend hope to my heart when I’m barely holding on.  They have chosen, often sacrificially, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my life.

And they make a difference!

Sometimes it’s a card in the mail, sometimes a text or message and sometimes a visit-but they DO something.  They might not understand why God is putting me on their heart, but they obey the prompting.

So if the Spirit is nudging you to reach out to someone, don’t ignore Him or put it off. Sure, praying is important.  We are commanded to do that.

But we are also commanded to be physically present and to extend practical help to hurting hearts.  We are supposed to BE the hands and feet of Jesus.

Who knows, I might be the answer to my own prayer that God send encouragement to someone else.

I can choose to do good.

do-all-the-good

I can choose to shine light.

let-light-shine

I can choose to share hope.

hope-and-heart

And my small gesture be the very thread that holds a broken heart together.  

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:17 NIV

 

 

Can’t Hide the Ugly

Yesterday I was impatient and ugly with someone I love.

When you are hurting, physically or emotionally or physically AND emotionally, you just don’t have the energy to hide the ugly.

But the pain didn’t create the ugly-it just revealed it.

And I am sorry to say that even burying a child did not cleanse me of some ugliness I wish I didn’t have in my heart.

I keep asking God to fill me with His love, mercy and grace.  And I am more full of those things than before.

But there is still plenty of (if not hate then) less-than-love, judgement and impatience. Trials don’t automatically lead to refinement or stronger faith.

Tribulation can drive someone away from God as easily as it can drive them to their knees.

If I’m not careful-if I’m not very careful-I can use my pain as an excuse for all kinds of bad behavior.

So I’m here to confess:  I am so, so sorry.

I’m sorry that when my glass gets tipped, anger and bitterness spills out. I’m sorry that I’m not more faithful to extend grace when I hope grace will be extended to me.  I’m sorry that speaking truth so that I prove my point and wound a heart is sometimes more satisfying than speaking truth in love.

I wish every  deed I did  and every word I spoke was full of life and never full of death.

I hate death.  I. HATE. death.

It has taken enough from me. And I want no part of it.

Father, I want to be a beacon of light and life.  Lord, make me so.  Fill me to overflowing with YOUR love, YOUR life, YOUR grace, YOUR mercy.  Left to myself I have no hope.  But by Your Spirit, it can be so.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.

James 1:2-5 PHILLIPS

 

Wrestling With God

Jacob (the deceiver) becomes Israel (one who wrestles with God) after a face-to-face encounter with the Living God on his way back to meet the brother he tricked.  While his story is certainly a tribute to the triumph of grace, it isn’t pretty.

I think that we give too little attention to the middle of Bible heroes’ stories–we gloss over the struggles and temptations, the grief and pain and rush to the final chapter where “all’s well that ends well”.

But life isn’t lived like that.

It is experienced moment by moment, day by day and with no notion of what tomorrow may bring. Sometimes we find ourselves wrestling with God and begging Him to bless us.

Grieving my child’s death has forced me to really think about what I believe and in Whom I believe.  It has made me reconsider the power and purpose of prayer–is it to force God’s hand or to mold my heart?

I wonder what exactly Jesus meant when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you.”  There are fewer verses than you might suppose on what heaven looks like and what we may be doing when we get there (all popular “I’ve been to heaven and I’m back to tell the story” books aside).

I’m not the only one who wrestles.

I tell my story and speak my heart because I want to make space where those who are struggling, those who are grieving and those who are wrestling can speak the truth:

LIFE IS HARD.

God is not diminished by my desire to understand and make sense of my world–He doesn’t owe me an explanation–but He gives me the freedom to ask the questions.

Wrestling is not unbelief.  Wrestling is the hard work of true faith.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4 MSG

 

In the midst of pain, I will choose to persevere and trust that one day my life will be a testimony to the triumph of grace