Challenge 33: Remember Your People

Let Freedom Ring

Many of us have heard the saying “blood is thicker than water,” meaning that family matters more than others, but some of us have had the opposite experience. We may have family members who never paid back money we loaned them, speak to us harshly or seem to make it their purpose to irk us. We don’t want to spend holidays, like Memorial Day, with them. Instead we seek to avoid them especially on days like this. We don’t feel that blood is thicker than water; they don’t particularly matter to us. But God challenges us to not forget them.

In Isaiah 58:7 God warns us not to hide from our own flesh. This means we are not supposed to avoid our relatives. Of course there are some who may be truly dangerous so I’m not talking about putting ourselves in harm’s way. But to the best of our ability we should seek to connect with our relatives in the best way that we can.

So today, this day that we honor those who died for us and our freedom in this country, I want us to take up the challenge to remember our relatives that we’d rather not be bothered with. We have to die to ourselves for them and seek to make amends in the ways we can. We don’t know if our dying to our desires will help someone to be free from shadiness, harsh talk or an urge to irk others. Our death just may bring the life–the freedom from corruption–that they need.

Take a Risk Challenge–Pray to ask God how He might have you to reach out to that relative that you have purposely avoided and then reach out to him or her. Dying to yourself to reach out to the relative that you don’t want to truly is a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Arriving to Ann Arbor safely
A great egg breakfast
Completing the compilation of the 39 Days of Christmas devotionals
Seeing this overweight squirrel that Nichole named Juicy scratching like a dog and waddling
A squirrel laying across a branch on his underside
Great conversation with Nichole
The plant garden at the getaway
Writing on the deck
Walking downtown to eat at Shalimar, the first Indian restaurant I ate at more than 20 years ago
No obligations

Challenge 32: Point them to God

Some years ago the time came for a woman I was discipling (or spiritually mentoring) to begin to actively disciple her own group of women. She was biblically mature and emotionally mature when it came to how she handled issues in her own life, but she wanted to know, “How do you help people and not get caught up in their emotions?” She wanted to know how you could continue to direct someone who was not following your direction, not holler at that person for making wrong decisions and not let other people’s issues consume you. These were and are good questions for human beings with the God-given ability to have and express emotions. These were and are good questions for all of us who are called to—at some level—help lead someone else to a better place. And because she couldn’t reconcile these questions, she had decided she just wasn’t going to disciple anyone. Not discipling anyone should not be an option, considering discipling is THE call for the Christian (Matthew 28:18-20). I told her this and that we must remember that properly guiding someone—loving them biblically—is an act that must remain mainly outside of us. We cannot look at our investment mostly as a personal one but a spiritual one. We cannot look at our time spent as wasted when it was time that we have been commanded to take.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”—Luke 6:32-36 (NLT)

Give, by doing good, even lending money, but expect NOTHING in return. When we disciple for our sake we expect something in return for our sake; when we disciple for God’s sake, we expect something in return for God’s sake. We expect that they will embrace a biblical way of life for every aspect of their lives and eventually give the love through discipleship to others to the glory of God. But sometimes when you love the way God tells you to love and seek to get others to look to Him, not you, for their issues, they may get mad at you for not being there for them or blame you when things don’t go right for them. They may decide to give up on you and maybe even on God. When this happens, we cannot take it personally. When you, with the greatest compassion that you have, point them to God as their healer, you must be okay that you have loved them appropriately. If they want more from you than God, you don’t have anything else left to give. After long suffering, you then can release them, knowing that you gave them the only thing you had to give. When they reject biblical wisdom and guidance, we must pray God’s mercy on them because they learned to do right and didn’t do right so they are in sin (James 4:17). We should always be looking at and pointing others to God. This is the proper way to lead people with love.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week, instead of steering clear from someone you think will drain you spiritually or emotionally, talk to them and lovingly remind them of God’s word and the power they have through Him to change their circumstances. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9—NIV).

My One Thousand Gifts List

Not being as hurt as before when hearing Joshua say to his teacher, “My mama doesn’t do anything,” his way of saying I don’t work outside of the home
Work done on my parenting column outside of my primetime working hours
Waking up (God jolting me up) to write at 4:15 a.m.
A date with my husband to see episode 1 of the incredible jazz film Icons Among Us and hearing the Sean Dobbins Quartet and a panel discussion about the film and jazz in general
Boys dressed by 10 a.m.
A play date with the Kimbrough boys
Good conversation with Tiffany
Quality time with Flynn and him with the boys because his Elder Board meeting was cancelled
Flynn packing snacks and cleaning the cooler for my trip
Arising surprisingly early and anxious to attend my writing retreat in spite of only having 3 ½ hours of sleep

Challenge 31: Untangle a Mess

I thought one of his brothers had uncharacteristically socked him in the jaw or he had run into something sharp that caused a deep gash in his flesh. Instead of bringing me a tattle-tale or a tall bloody scar, Justus brought me this:
This is a medallion tangled up in a necklace with a cross pendant, “the cross of Jesus,” Justus likes to say. He didn’t mention the cross this time; he just screamed and handed me this knotted mess, wanting me to take care of it. I assured him that with some time I would be able to untangle the mess, that he didn’t have to cry and that he would be able to enjoy each piece once I separated them.

I was working on the medallion and pendant for several minutes as Justus kept coming back to me to see if I had finished. “I’m still working, trying to see how you got these tangled up so I’ll know what I need to do to get them apart.” Almost giving up several times and pointing him to something else to occupy his time, I decided to continue to follow the paths of the loops. Once I saw how one loop had formed, I was able to do the opposite to untangle that part and continued the pattern until all the loops were untangled and the medallion and pendant were separated. When I followed the pattern, I was able to untangle the mess.

As I considered Justus’ cries about the tangled mess he caused and how the complicated entanglement made me want to stop helping him, I thought about how we treat people who come to us with their tangled messes. We scold them because we can’t “see how you got (this) so tangled up.” We consider giving up on them and referring them elsewhere. We get tired of being bothered with such a mess that they kept trying to handle on their own to the point where it seems like the cross of Jesus can’t even be effective for them. The depths of people’s messes keep us from taking the time to love them like we are told to love them.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.—Galatians 6:1

We are quick, like I was with Justus, to point the finger to the making of the mess, fussing about the mess instead of focusing mainly on the mess and how to avoid another one. But we are commanded to restore, which means to be brought back to the right way through correction. Fussing serves to shame another; correcting serves to restore another. When we follow the pattern of Scripture, we are able to untangle all the loops of a messy situation. When we do so, we are in the position to help restore those who need restoration. We are in the restoration business so this week let’s seek to handle our business.

Take a Risk Challenge: Let us seek to restore someone who is in a tangled mess, no matter how challenging the mess is. Doing so is truly a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

Hearing Nichole on the radio discussing her vision for her new job
Mama watching the boys so I could attend Joshua’s honors ceremony
Attending Joshua’s honors ceremony where he got awards for scholarship and reciting his times tables up to 9 in three minutes or less
Watching Nate squeal with excitement to be able to fill the watering can and water the flowers
Finding earthly and spiritual treasure with Nate in the backyard
Smelling fried chicken
Anger shown toward my husband revealing an area where I need to grow
Breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked by 2 p.m.
Justus sitting well and not crying while I was on the chiropractic table
Nate asking me to look for bugs and worms with him

Challenge 30: Love Unconditionally

angry couple

Couple after couple sits, stupefied, unsure why they kept bumping into the same issues, having the same arguments, causing the same pains. They know they love each other. That’s why they got married, they say, but their actions look like those of vicious enemies out in the streets: Self seeking, list of wrongs keeping, slander slinging and the like are among the arsenal of these married couples seeking counseling and it’s simply because they don’t have unconditional love.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7

So one of my favorite assignments for couples who come to my husband and me for counseling and I see love violation after love violation is to have them fully embrace 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. I don’t care that they had the passage read at their wedding or the verses appeared on their wedding or reception program. I challenge them to go beyond cliché to study the passage and study themselves in light of the passage. I want them to see what they should be doing and how what they are doing is opposed to what they should be doing. I want them to take one aspect of love and intentionally practice it until it gets into their core. I want them to consistently check their actions against the actions of this scripture and make adjustments where necessary. I want them to love like the passage; I want them, I want us all, to love unconditionally.

Unconditional love (agape in the original biblical language)—is affection, goodwill, benevolence that is commanded of Christians to show toward others. This also includes giving people what they need and not what they want or what we think they deserve.

This definition can be hard to digest, but with the Holy Spirit and a proper attitude, we can fulfill it. My husband has a personal philosophy about exhibiting unconditional love that he shares with counselees. I believe his philosophy encapsulates most of the aspects of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and will help us walk in unconditional love: When your mate does something that offends you, don’t presume that your mate meant the worst for you. I know this sounds crazy if your husband’s calling you out of your name or some other egregious act directed right at you. But understand this: When you presume they meant the worst, you are likely to act YOUR worst. You will repay evil with evil and allow evil to conquer you; you won’t conquer evil by doing good, by loving unconditionally (Romans 12:17 and 21; 1 Corinthians 13:7).

This admonition is not just for married couples but for all of us in relation to others. Remember, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Of course Jesus understood that the ones who crucified Him knew they were crucifying Him, but He knew that they didn’t understand the depths of their actions. So often those who crucify us don’t know the depths of their actions. They simply respond out of emotions and don’t stop to think about all the ramifications of their actions. Like Jesus, we must believe they don’t know what they are doing and forgive them by loving them in spite of their actions.

Take a Risk Challenge: Intentionally practice one or two aspects of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 that are hard for you. Love like Jesus; love unconditionally, which is truly a radical act of love.

My One Thousand Gifts List

My sister apologizing unsolicited for not keeping up with my writing ministry and thanking me for showing her grace
Being conscious of when I have failed to breathe
Flynn leaving the Elder Board meeting that ran over so he could keep his promise to have family devotion before taking Joshua to tennis class
Family devotion and everyone participating, even Nathaniel giving a thanks for Jesus, singing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ loudly and being quiet during prayer time
Kids waking early and excited to go to church
Seeing Stephanie B.
Being able to hear the sermon and take notes without interruption
My sister, mom and nephew visiting
My nephew falling asleep on my chest
Flynn taking Joshua and Nathaniel to Joshua’s tennis lessons