Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for the category “Such are the Vicissitudes of Life”

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE BLEEDING OF NEGATIVITY

She fell backwards and hit the back of her head on the trashcan. The look on her face and shriek of pain said it all. I ran over to her as quickly as I could. She said she was fine, but that she “bumped” her head. She was trying to get up, I was trying to make her lie still. As I gently cradled my hand around the back of her head to comfort her and keep her as still as possible, I could feel the damp, stickiness. When the nurse arrived, I took my hand out only to find it full of blood.

Head injuries are that way. Because your head has a higher number of blood vessels than other parts of your body, wounds or cuts to the head and face tend to bleed more. The smallest cut can look like the worst injury all because of the bleeding.

I’ve noticed something lately about bleeding. Not about the kind of bleeding that comes from head injuries, but the kind of bleeding that comes from negativity. When something negative happens to us—when we don’t get the raise or promotion we deserve, when someone lies to us, when we’re accused of something we didn’t do, when we’re treated unfairly or poorly, etc.—it bleeds. And sometimes the bleeding seems much worse than it really is.

Bleeding of NegativityHere’s what happens…

When the “wrong” is committed, we’re hurt, we’re ticked, we’re frustrated, discouraged, or disappointed. But as the day or week goes on, the things that we previously found joy and fulfillment in, begin to look and feel stained or infected. The positive things we have going for us are suddenly not-so-positive. The effect of the initial wrong bleeds over into other areas of our thoughts, actions, behaviors, and experiences.

And the smallest cut (to our feelings or ego) can look like the worst injury (that permeates other experience) all because of the bleeding.

But how do we stop it? How do we put an end to the bleeding of negative thoughts that start in one place, but end up all over the place? How do we deal with the bleeding of negativity?

3 options come to mind:

  • FRAME it – (No, I don’t mean put a frame around it and put the negativity up on the wall for all to see. Because that’s ugly, and nobody wants to get sucked into that mess.) Think about it this way…A frame is a rigid structure that surrounds or encloses something else. So, in this sense, rigidly put a border around the negative thought. Keep it contained to the one incident or experience. Enclose it so the bleeding stops within the context of that particular negative experience only. Contain and surround the negativity by putting up a mental “frame.”

OR…

  • FREE it – It does absolutely no good to cling to the negativity. Like, NO GOOD. Sometimes we like to get a little mileage out of the negative experience. But to what end? The attention or sympathy it gets us? Be careful, because that tends to backfire. Pretty soon you’re simply known as “Negative Nancy.” In reality, clinging to the negative incident, experience, or thought does more harm than good. Again, it bleeds over into so many other areas if we let it. So, my suggestion? Set it free. Let it go. Otherwise…we bleed.

OR…

  • FOCUS it – Or maybe I should say RE-focus. Push pause for a moment. Take a step back. Acknowledge the wrong, the hurt, the circumstance, the negative thought. But do so in the light of the big picture. Redirect your focus to the grand scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things, you’re blessed. Looking at the big picture, the wrong, the hurt, the frustration of the isolated incident—though it bleeds over into other areas—could have been far worse. Focus on what matters. Fix your mind on the good. Dwell on the positive, the constructive, the encouraging.

If we don’t stop the bleeding of negativity, the bleeding of negativity will stop us. It will steal our joy. It will rob us of our attention, motivation, and purpose. But don’t let it! Frame it, free it, or focus it. In doing so, we form a coagulant that allows us to step over the incident and stop the bleeding of negativity.

 

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THE BEAUTIFUL FEET OF BILLY GRAHAM

Most people don’t like feet. They don’t like other peoples’ feet, nor do they like their own. They’re smelly. They’re gross. They’re funky looking. They’re misshapen and calloused. Hairy toes, bunions, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, heel spurs, corns, warts, gout. See? The list goes on and on. Maybe God spent a little less time on feet than other parts of our body when He created us.

I’m not foot fan either. But one thing’s for sure…the late Reverend Billy Graham had beautiful feet. That’s right, I said beautiful. And I know this for a fact. How? Let me tell you…

The arena was packed. We were seated in the upper level. I had heard of Billy Graham as a kid growing up. My grandmother was a big fan, frequently sharing stories about him or his ministry that she heard or read. I reckon my parents were fans as well. And I suppose that’s why we went to hear him when he was in town about 40 years ago.

Since I grew up in a home where we went to church (a lot, because we were Baptists at the time), there was prayer, Bible studies, some type of ministry always being done. I knew who God was. I knew Jesus was God’s Son. I’d heard it all before.

But as I sat there in the arena that night (probably wishing I was anywhere else), the words of Billy Graham penetrated my heart. Somehow, someway, he connected all the dots I’d heard before. At the end of his preaching, he gave an invitation. It was an invitation to respond to the Good News he’d spent the last 30-45 minutes sharing. It was an invitation to have God be at the center of my life. It was an invitation to follow Jesus. It was an invitation to have a real, living, breathing relationship with the God who created me.

It was at that moment, I knew I wanted what he had. I knew I wanted to follow Jesus. I wasn’t exactly sure what that looked like going forward, but I knew I wanted to spend an eternity in the presence of the Creator of the universe.

As the choir sang the classic, timeless hymn Just As I Am, Billy invited everyone who wanted what I did to come down to the lower level and stand in front of him on the floor of the arena. As I felt the tug on my heart to do so, I also felt the awkward, and uncomfortable fact that if I did, people would stare. My parents would find out. All the other people in the arena would know that Beth Armstrong just admitted she was sinful. That Beth Armstrong just admitted she couldn’t live life on her own. That Beth Armstrong needed a Savior.

I couldn’t stand the thought. There would be endless questions and discussions to follow and I wanted no part of that. So, I stayed seated. When the masses of people finally arrived on the floor of the arena, Billy invited them all to pray simply, admitting their need, asking God to take over their lives. Though I didn’t join the crowd in proximity, I joined them in proclamation. I prayed that prayer. I said yes to Jesus. I responded to the Good News. And I began a spiritual journey that night while seated in the suddenly-near-empty upper level of the arena.

beautiful feetRomans 10:15 reads, “And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

Billy Graham preached.

Billy Graham was sent.

So you see…Billy Graham indeed had beautiful feet.

Though I have far less than perfect feet, I long for them to be even a smidgen as beautiful as Billy Graham’s.

WHERE IS GOD WHEN WE PRAY?

The room was full. Various people had gathered there that Sunday morning. Wealthy and not-so-wealthy. Infants in car seats and aged in wheelchairs. Giggly children and stern-faced, weather beaten old folks. Married, single, widowed. Some sang. Some whispered among each other. Others checked their phones, or just gazed with blank stares at whatever caught their eye…or mind.

One gentleman was holding his son. He always holds him. He’s a boy of about four years old. He clings to his dad until it’s time for him and the other kids to leave. While the congregation was standing, facing front, the boy—arms around his dad’s neck, legs dangling on each side—was facing the back. He was lost in his own little world. Or so it seemed. Sometimes his head was up, looking around. Sometimes it was gently leaning on his dad’s shoulder.

Then something interesting happened. The music stopped. The pastor spoke for a moment or two, then said, “Let’s pray.” Just about every head (of the still standing congregation) bowed on cue as if it were something rote or practiced.

But the little boy, still held by his father, with one arm wrapped around his dad’s neck, took his free hand, lifted it up above his head and pointed upward with his little index finger. He didn’t look up, he just pointed up. While the congregation, with heads angled downward listening to the prayer, this boy had his eyes open looking around and was pointing upward. He held his position for the entire prayer. When the pastor said, “Amen,” his little arm came down and wrapped it once again around his dad’s neck.

I didn’t bow my head during the prayer. I didn’t close my eyes. I watched. I was intrigued. I glanced around at the bowed heads. It was almost as if this boy was pointing us upward to our Heavenly Father. Yet we were missing it. Everybody in the room was seemingly downward focused. (Perhaps there was something interesting on the floor?)

I wonder…

Where is our mind when we pray?

kidup

Where is our heart when we pray?

Where is our gaze when we pray?

Where is God when we pray?

If we asked this little boy, I’m quite sure he’d point upward.

Sometimes a childlike perspective of God is all we need. After all, an upward glance every now and then sure beats whatever is on the floor.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE PRAY

I saw him the other day. His face was broken out with some mysterious rash. It didn’t look good at all. It was spreading, up around his eyes, making everything puffy and painful. When I asked him about it he said he was miserable. It was driving him crazy. He looked worried. His disposition wasn’t his normal, sweet, friendly one. The ointment and antibiotics weren’t working. I felt sorry for him. And that was it.

A week or so later I saw his brother. I asked for an update and he said his brother was admitted to the hospital. He had been there for about a week. “Yikes!” I thought. He said it was bad…real bad. Whatever infection this was had taken a toll and had gotten serious. I told his brother that I would pray. I got the look back that was sort of a generic “thank you.” The look that says, “you’re obligated to say that, and that sounds real nice…but whatever.”

That’s when I piped up. “No, when I say I’ll pray for something or someone, I’ll really do it. I take that seriously. I mean it and I’ll do it.”

A little taken aback, he said, “Well I appreciate that.”

So I prayed. And I prayed some more. I prayed for complete healing. For his body to be rid of this infection. For him to be restored fully—physically, spiritually, mentally.

I saw him yesterday. His face was clear and bright. His sweet disposition was back. The warmth and friendliness in his smile was back. As I walked over to speak with him, huge tears welled up in his eyes. He could barely speak. He choked out something like, “My brother told me what you said the other day. About how you said you’d pray for me and you meant it. You have no idea how much that meant to me. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am for you and what you did.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I choked out something like, “Too many people say it, but don’t do it. I meant it. And it was my privilege to pray for you.”

It was a unique, shared moment where God was alive. God was present. God was brought to the forefront of the conversation, the relationship. God stood out, I didn’t.

When We PrayFriends, this is what happens when we pray.

  • When we pray, we get to see God go to work.
  • When we pray, we get to be involved in something extraordinary.
  • When we pray, we tap into the Divine.
  • When we pray, we the created are speaking directly to Him the Creator.
  • When we pray, we are instruments of God’s choosing to accomplish His work.
  • When we pray, we see a little bit of the “up there” moving “down here.”
  • When we pray, we create a deeper connection with those we know and care about.
  • When we pray, we go on a journey, on an adventure unlike any other earthly adventure.
  • When we pray, it’s not about us, it’s all about our great big God.

Let this be a reminder: Say it. Mean it. Do it. Pray with your eyes wide open. Make the connection. It is indeed one of the greatest privileges we have on this earth. Amen?

A NEW YEAR’S CHALLENGE

I noticed something odd this Christmas season. I don’t love to shop, so I don’t go to very many stores. Plus, online buying has become quite popular with me. But when I did visit a few stores here and there, I noticed something. There were far less Salvation Army bell ringers this year than in years past. Years ago, it seemed like there were bell ringers nearly everywhere you’d go. Men and women from all walks of life would be out there ringing their bell right beside that red bucket. Some would ring vigorously. Some would ring with some rhythm and actually move and groove a little while they were ringing. Some would be very chatty and gracious as you entered or exited the store. And then some would stand there, ring quietly, and hardly acknowledge the passersby. But this year, they were few and far between. Truth be told, I kind of missed hearing the ringing.

But there’s another thing I noticed this year along with the fewer bell ringers. This is not a new thing, but it was perhaps the first time I actually paid attention. Even though there were far less of them, the sign that sits atop the red bucket caught my eye. The sign has the big red Salvation Army logo, which is quite recognizable. But right below the logo were the words “Doing the Most Good.” That struck me. About 10 years ago, they evidently adopted this new brand “Doing the Most Good.” (Yes…and I just now noticed the sign. If you didn’t know, I’m behind the times, and oblivious to most things.) The idea of the brand came from the co-founder Evangeline Booth who wrote a book that was published after World War I. In the forward, she said, “…there is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.”

Where some people have taken offense to the brand, or motto, or slogan (or whatever you want to call it) because it sounds arrogant, I actually like it. I like it because of the challenge it presents—the reminder to be intentional and have a purpose when we’re helping, serving, and doing for others. The question isn’t where can I do good? The question is where can I do the most good? What a great challenge for us all!

The image of the sign which reads, “Doing the Most Good” has been etched in my brain the last few weeks. I even see Salvation Army trucks about town now with the same words written on them.

What would happen if we approached 2018 with similar personal motivation? What would happen if we were reminded day in and day out not to just do good, but to do the most good? What would happen if we were to ask ourselves these practical questions:

  • Where can I serve this year to not only have impact, but have the greatest impact?
  • Who can I invest in this year to not only bring significance, but bring eternal significance?
  • What kinds of things can I do this year to not only bring change, but lasting change?
  • How can I give of myself (or time, money, effort) this year to not only bring worth and value, but bring the utmost worth and value?
  • How can I be involved this year to not only produce transformation, but produce long-term transformation?

Friends, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Let us rise to the challenge. Let us be intentional. Let us set forth in 2018 with purpose. Let us do what we were created to do. Let us consider ways, places, and people to serve by doing the most good.

BINGO…AND FORGIVENESS

“BINGO!”

That is the word I hear several times a week after I utter a seemingly endless strand of letters and numbers.

B9…O66…I20…B2…G55…N41…etc….etc…etc… “BINGO!”

bingo

Admittedly it’s probably the least favorite part of my job. But the residents thoroughly enjoy it. After calling BINGO for over four years now, it’s dawned on me why I don’t care for it much. It’s the least social aspect of my job. It’s rote and redundant. You can’t necessarily visit with folks because it needs to be fairly quiet and continuous. In my own quirky, silly way, however, I try to make it fun and entertaining. (I don’t do this for the residents. I do this for my own sanity.)

There’s occasionally some friendly banter back-and-forth between residents who are winning a lot and those who aren’t winning at all. There’s occasionally some friendly banter back-and-forth between residents who have empty cards and me who’s apparently not calling their numbers on purpose. They like to “threaten” me that we’ll no longer be friends if I don’t allow them to win. They even playfully threaten me with some sort of violence if I don’t start calling the “right numbers.”

After the first game the other day, one gal made such a “threat.” I played along and told her I’d work really hard to call her numbers on the next game so she could win. Well as it turned out, she did win. Then she said, “Beth, all is forgiven now!”

I replied back, “Wow…that was easy.”

Another one piped up and said, “Yes, that’s how forgiveness works.”

As we continued with the mundaneness of BINGO for the next hour, I reflected on forgiveness…and the beauty and simplicity therein.

The hardest part of forgiveness is the asking. It’s hard to admit we’ve done wrong. It’s hard to acknowledge we’ve hurt or angered someone, especially those we care a great deal about. Even so, though we may admit our wrongdoing, and ask someone for their forgiveness, they may have a hard time honoring our request. They may even deny our request for forgiveness, or make us somehow try to “earn it.” When we go through something like that, all is not necessarily forgiven, nor is it easy.

But I reflected on a grander scale. Not us being forgiven by others. But us being forgiven by God. When we admit to God we’ve screwed up or not exactly lived in a way that’s pleasing to Him, He promptly says, “All is forgiven now!”

No threats. No earning it. It’s a freely offered gift from a great big God who thinks the world of you despite your screw-ups. It’s called grace. It’s not complicated. Just beauty and simplicity therein.

When I reflect on that, I indeed reply, “Wow…that is easy!”

And my resident would respond, “Yes, that’s how forgiveness works!”

And everybody would join in and said, “BINGO!” (…or maybe AMEN!)

THE COMMONPLACE OF COMMUNION

Grab the bread and dunk it in the juice as quickly as possible. There’s a line, ya know? And as the Kansas City Royals say, “Keep the line moving!”

This is what Communion looks like and feels like at my church. We form lines and head to the front of the Sanctuary or Ministry Center. The organist or worship team plays some Communion-related song as we “worshipfully” approach the serving Elders or Deacons at the front. It seems to be a relatively slow and reflective pace—some deep in thought or even prayerful as they make their way to receive the elements.

Or is it?

As soon as we saintly souls get to server #1 who has the plate of bread and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the body of Christ broken for you,” we’ve already moved to server #2 who has the juice and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” As a matter of fact, before server #1 is even through speaking, some have already dunked the bread into the juice and moved on.

And poor server #2 who holds the juice! They’re just holding a mess right there.

Here’s my observation: It’s a race. It’s a fast food drive through. It’s some sort of “Divine Dash.”

Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused scoring points for the Royals with taking holy Communion as quickly as you can. As I said, “Keep the line moving!”

I am an Elder who occasionally serves Communion at our church. I’ve witnessed this Divine Dash for years. There are some who grab the bread before I even get the chance to say anything. Of course, there are (very) few who actually wait, take a piece of bread, listen, and move on to the juice server, then wait, listen, and dunk the bread into the juice.

And the dunking of the bread is another thing. Trust me I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen big hunks of bread accidentally dropped into the chalice of juice, then grabbed right back out with germy hands. I’ve seen hunks of bread left in the chalice as nice little floaters to greet the next person in line. I’ve seen dunks so big and sloppy I feel like we need one of those “Caution—Wet Floor” signs to place in front of the juice server.

What is happening here? Seriously, I’d like to know!

Do you know what the word “commune” means? According to the Oxford dictionary, to commune means to “share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone), especially on a spiritual level.” It means to “feel in close spiritual contact with.”

In the Divine Dash to grab and dunk, are we “communing” at all with God? Are we having any “close spiritual contact” with Jesus—the One we are doing this in remembrance of?

Come on, church! Is this any way to approach Communion? Is this any way to approach Holy Communion?

Where’s the reverence? Where’s the reflection? Where’s the repentance?

Am I coming down on my church? Yes! Am I shaking my holy finger in their face? No! Because I’ve been equally as guilty as the rest.

But maybe my church isn’t that different than yours. Maybe your church has its own “Divine Dash” or seemingly apathetic approach to something set aside as a holy sacrament.

I would contend that perhaps Communion has become commonplace.

A lady in her 90’s recently shared a story with me. She and her husband used to lead the youth group at her church some 70 years ago. On a youth mission trip—in which they planned to offer Communion—something happened to the bread and the juice. The bread was moldy and the juice was spoiled because it got left in the hot car for days. So, they scrambled for a solution. Instead of serving bread and juice for Holy Communion, they served potato chips and Pepsi. (Yes, you read that right!) I laughed out loud when she told me that. And then she said, when all were served, they threw out the rest of the potato chips and Pepsi because they were used as holy elements. They were set aside and designated as a holy remembrance of Jesus’ body broken for them, and His blood shed for them. And because of that, they could not (in good conscience), have used the chips and soda pop as common food. She shared with me that they all had to move past the simple in order to arrive at the sacred. They had to step over the droll in order to embrace the Divine. She said it was one of the most meaningful and memorable Communions they had ever partaken of.

Friends, no matter how you receive Communion, remember it’s not a common occasion. It’s a holy experience. Pause…slow down…reflect. If the elements are passed down your row of chairs or pew, hold the elements before you gobble them up and slam them back. If you go forward to be served the elements, let the server actually serve you. Let the words of their mouths soak in. Infuse the words of institution. Refuse the temptation to allow Communion to become commonplace. It’s not a Divine Dash. It’s a moment. A moment to commune with our Heavenly Father. A moment to share and connect with the God of the Universe. A moment to reflect on His lavish love by way of sacrificing His Son Jesus.

A moment created for you…not about you.

Slow down…reflect…repent…embrace the Divine…welcome the privilege to commune. Move past the simple, and arrive at the sacred.

 

THE STARE DOWN

The stare down between us started at 9:15 Wednesday morning.

I was outside visiting with a gentleman who had his scooter parked alongside the handrail of the wide sidewalk from the front door to the parking lot. It’s about 30 feet from the door to the edge of the sidewalk where our company van picks up folks to transport them to various places.

In the middle of our conversation, I looked up and there he was, hunched over, unable to stand erect, using a cane instead of his normal walker, struggling to take his steps toward the van. Scruffy beard (which I’ve complimented by the way), bald head, glasses half way down his nose. Worn and weathered stern looking face. Headed my direction.

I heard him say something to me in his gruff voice…something that I couldn’t quite make out. So I asked him if he needed any help…if there was anything I could do for him.

He immediately bit my head off. I didn’t understand all of his rant, but what I could decipher was a few expletives shot right at me, stating his adamant independence and his desire for me to leave him the hell alone.

That’s when it happened. The stare down between him and me. I didn’t say a word and neither did he as he made his way right toward me. He stared at me with his devil face and I stared right back with my bitch eyes. As he passed by me we were only a few feet away from each other, deadlocked on each other’s faces. Eye to eye. I didn’t crack and neither did he.

Stare DownHe turned to get in the van as we gave each other one last, long, look. Then I turned and walked inside. Not a word was vocalized after his outburst. Well…perhaps many words were spoken, just not verbally. This is the same gentleman (if I can even call him that) I blogged about on June 28th. He’s crusty and very rough around the edges.

At the moment of his blasting, I wasn’t at all taken aback. I’ve gotten used to it from him. I wasn’t necessarily left speechless, because again, I’ve been on the receiving end of his chastising before. But at the same time I didn’t know what to say back. I’d had it. It hit a nerve this time. So I stared him down and quite likely in my mind spewed words so sharp it would have cut the scruff right off his beard.

I fully believe everything I shared in my previous blog about dealing with difficult people. I believe we are supposed to bless those who curse us and love our enemies. I believe we shouldn’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult. With regard to “Mr. Crusty Man” I’ve literally put those words into practice.

But after I got home, something (or perhaps someONE—who’s far greater than me) reminded me of the passage in Scripture where Jesus tells His disciples “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).

Could it be that this is what God is calling me to do with him? I wrestle with the thought. On one hand, I feel that I should love unconditionally. That I should continue to offer grace and mercy to a guy who certainly doesn’t deserve it, because isn’t that a picture of what God does for us daily?

On the other hand, there are Jesus’ words to His disciples to “shake the dust off their feet” which is a symbolic indication that they had done all they could do and no longer carried the responsibility of it. They were free to walk away with a clear conscience.

Is this God’s way of telling me to move on? To “shake the dust off my feet” with regard to this guy who I’ve poured into, prayed for, tried to encourage, helped in every way I can, planted seeds, and made an effort to take our conversations Godward when I could?

I’m stuck in the middle of these two teachings of Jesus. Both right. Both true. Both I believe firmly in.

I haven’t seen him since the stare down occurred. When I encounter him next, will there be the sweet fragrance of Jesus in the air…or just a cloud of dust?

DISHING ON DIFFICULT PEOPLE

I was being kind and compassionate and was prepared to go out of my way to be helpful. Then he bit my head off. I immediately thought, “Thanks for nothin’ there, bud!” I always go the extra mile in the respect, caring, and kindhearted department with this guy. And what I get in return is short, impatient, disrespectful responses. He grunts, he groans, or he growls at me nearly every time. He’s crusty. He’s rough around the edges to say the least. He once told me that when he dies he’s “going straight to hell because he’s one mean son of a bitch.” (Yep, that’s a direct quote from him.) Ever since he made that declaration, he’s been on my heart. For whatever reason, this week when I reached out to help out with my normal positive, considerate approach, and when he bit my head off, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

Later, another gentleman (not sure he really deserves that title if I’m being honest) told me he didn’t like me one bit at all. (What I really wanted to say was, “Yeah, the feeling is mutual!”) He let me know I was terrible at my job and that I needed to get with the program. He then stated that he didn’t like being around me and told me to go away. Apparently not long after we met I ticked him off. He doesn’t look at me, speak to me, or acknowledge me in any way. I say hello to him every time I see him. I ask him how his day is going. And he pretends that I don’t exist. Until this week. When I got an earful. And again, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

head buttWhen I deal with difficult people, my motto (and self-talk reminder) of the last several years has been, “Just kill ‘em with kindness.” But after this week, my new motto just might leave off the words “with kindness.”

“Bless those who curse you,” He said. I’d like to think Jesus was plum crazy or maybe on something when He challenged His listeners in this way. But that wasn’t the case at all. He was always taking what was right-side-up and turning it upside down. Or perhaps better to the point, He was always taking what was upside down, and turning it right-side-up. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words by adding, “Bless and do not curse.” Then Peter adds his two cents by saying, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing…”

I think Jesus initiated these words because He knew that life was a grander story than just mere moments of insults and ingrates. He knew that He was part of a bigger story than the one written in the heat of the moment of disgust or displeasure with an individual. Not only was His story bigger, but so was that of the insulter, the attacker, the persecutor, the difficult person. And if He could weave kindness, compassion, grace, and mercy into their story, maybe it would awaken them to the bigger story they were a part of but just didn’t know it.

“Love your enemies,” He said. Why would I want to love them when they don’t return the sentiment? Loving them is an investment that doesn’t produce any kind of return, other than frustration on the part of the one giving the love. But this is what we’re challenged to do. To participate in God’s story–one in which He is speaking and acting. A story of unconditional love. And grace. And mercy.

“Love, do good, help, and lend to those difficult people in your life,” He said. Those difficult people in our lives aren’t problems to fix. They’re people. Made in the image of God. People to love. People to serve.

Jesus also added these words, “…expecting nothing in return.” That’s where it gets real. That’s where it gets raw. I want progress in return. I want a glimpse of something positive in return. I want my effort to mean something, to make an impact, to influence…and see evidence of it.

God says to all of us, “It’s not about the return. It’s about the story. I am writing your story just as I am writing theirs.”

So…we gear up, we armor up, we fill up and prepare ourselves to spill out love and blessings to those who curse us, our enemies, the ungrateful, the selfish, the hateful, and the mean-spirited. And we know after all the spillage, our bucket will indeed be empty. (Jesus probably experienced this on a regular basis.) But we go straight back to the Source to refuel. The Author of our story. The One who invites us to participate in it as best we can. By loving…doing good…and blessing.

 

WHY JESUS DIDN’T HALF-ASS

“A job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done right the first time.” It was something like this that my grandmother embedded into us when we spent the summers with her. We “earned our keep,” so to speak. We had a list of chores to do each day. We memorized Bible verses at meal times, we were expected to treat each other with kindness and respect, and she set the bar high. We had to make our beds each morning…perfectly. We had to do the dishes…completely and thoroughly. We had to clean out the toy closets and ball closets…spotlessly. We had to sweep the garage…immaculately. She wasn’t being mean, or harsh, or a taskmaster. She just expected us to pitch in. She wanted us to learn the value of hard work. She wanted us to learn to do a job right…the first time. It’s a waste of time to do a job half-assed, then do it repeatedly until it’s done right, done well, and with care and excellence.

This is what my grandmother taught me. I didn’t care much for those lessons at the time. Matter of fact, I kinda thought it was a crock. Since when do kids go to their grandmother’s house to work? It’s supposed to be all about fun. And, truthfully, we had a lot of fun with her…after the work was done. She loved to play games…after the chores were complete. Part of her mission, I think, was to teach us grandkids to do a job right the first time around. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I ran across a passage this week that made me think of this very thing. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and some of His spit on the man’s tongue. (Yes, this sounds disgusting!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened!” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he began to speak clearly. It was gross, crazy, strange, and miraculous all at the same time.

The people who witnessed this were absolutely blown away. And do you know what their response was? Here’s what they said about Jesus… “He has done everything well…” What they were indicating about Jesus was, “He does everything beautifully, commendably, and with excellence. Jesus does admirable things that are honorable, surpassing good and noble.”

He didn’t just do some things well. He did all things well. He didn’t choose to half-ass a few things now and then. He chose to do the job right (and with excellence) the first time. The Message Translation of Mark 7:37 records it this way, “He’s done it all and done it well.”

I wonder if Jesus grew up with a grandmother like mine?

Or maybe He just knew that it made perfect sense to do everything well. That doing things half-assed is a waste of time. Maybe He sensed that excellence and honor was the way God intended it to be. Maybe He figured out that if you’re gonna do a job, do it right the first time. Because in the end, this is the way, the effort, the attitude, and the character that pleases God…and my grandmother.

 

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