Accepting One Another

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me!

Earlier this year, I read Max Lucado’s book, How Happiness Happens, with a group of women at my new church. I bought the study guide that goes with the video study though we didn’t watch it. I found some thought provoking questions in the study guide: Whom would you consider your “opposite you”? How do you typically interact with this person?

Bear with one another in love

If you’ve ever struggled to deal with someone who is your opposite, you know how difficult it is to accept the differences. I consider my boss my opposite me. I’m an introvert; he’s an extrovert. I prefer to communicate by email; he prefers to talk on the phone. I’m responsive to emails; he ignores them. I get things done timely, even early; he procrastinates and does things at the last minute. I could go on and on about how his opposite of me ways get on my nerves.

I am outwardly patient with the opposite me but it has been a struggle. I accept that I can’t change him; I’ve tried. I have no choice but to bear with him. I resent him for not being a person I can depend on. And yet, I can also tell you that he is a friendly, lighthearted, and positive person. He shows his appreciation and is contrite when he lets me down.

It is easy for me to focus on character flaws and personality differences and to ignore strengths and positive attributes. Lucado devoted a chapter of How Happiness Happens to pet peeves. When we focus too much on pet peeves, we’re the ones who suffer. Our reaction to these annoyances robs us of our joy. It is not enough to bear with each other. We must do so in complete humility and love.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ephesians 4:2

Speak the truth in love

How do you deal with the person with which you fundamentally disagree?

It is often best to keep your mouth shut when you disagree. Choose your battles. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Having said that, there have been times I’ve wished that I had spoken up when someone in my church small group said something fundamentally inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus did not hesitate to call out religious people who “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). Jesus did not hesitate to say something to those who “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13). He was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). When we speak the truth in love, we help others to grow.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Ephesians 4:15

Accept one another, as Christ accepted you

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:5-7

What does it mean to accept one another as Christ accepted you? Christ accepts us just as we are, sinful and imperfect. Just as he saw the potential in sinners and in his own imperfect disciples, he sees the potential in every one of us. His love is not conditional.

What’s the difference between accepting someone and tolerating someone?

To me, the word tolerate has negative connotations. It means enduring or putting up with someone or something unpleasant or disliked. No one wants to endure someone or something unpleasant. It takes effort. Tolerating another person often comes with a grudging or resentful attitude.

In contrast, the word accept is positive. Acceptance is consenting to receive or to take something to oneself. To accept is to welcome. To accept another person is to treat them as if they matter.

Think about what it feels like to not be accepted. It feels like rejection. It feels like being excluded. It feels like you don’t matter to the person who won’t accept you unconditionally.

We often refuse to accept another person as they are, without judgment, because we think they should change – to be more like us. But none of us is perfect. God doesn’t ask us to fix other people. We are called to accept them as they are and to entrust them to the Redeemer, to the One who can change them.

What does it mean to have the same attitude of mind that Jesus had? Christ Jesus, even though he is one with God, humbled himself and served others.

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

Lord, thank you for accepting me and loving me just as I am, flawed and in need of redemption. I confess that I have not always accepted others as You accepted me. Humble me and help me to have the same attitude of mind toward others that You have. Help me to stop worrying about a speck of dust in another’s eye while ignoring a log in my own. Give me the wisdom to see the ways I let You down. Help me to see and appreciate the potential in others and to bear with them in love. Help me to be more like You. Amen.

A Prayer for Serenity

Several years ago, I bought pictures of seashells for a bathroom we remodeled in a seafoam color that reminds me of the ocean. One of the pictures has the word Serenity on it and the other has the word Peaceful. There is nothing more serene to my land-locked mind than a rare, blissful walk on the beach. Yet in my perfectionist mind, the noun Serenity and adjective Peaceful don’t go together. I wish the artist had used the words Serenity and Peace or Serene and Peaceful. Oh, how I pray for serenity, that blessed state of being at peace and untroubled when things aren’t the way I want them to be.

I know the first four lines of The Serenity Prayer by heart. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The first part of the prayer encourages people like me to change the things we can control and to accept the things we can’t. But there is much more to The Serenity Prayer than the lines I’ve memorized.

Living one day at a time; 

enjoying one moment at a time; 

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

God grant me the serenity to live one day at a time. Is this not a perfect prayer for times such as these? Our lives have been disrupted by a pandemic. Many of us are living under stay-at-home orders, perhaps working remotely, keeping a safe six feet distance from other people, and wearing masks in public. Millions of people have been infected already and the death toll rises daily. Millions of people have lost their jobs and face financial hardship.

I have to admit that I am a natural born worrier. Instead of living for today, I anticipate and worry about the challenges I will face tomorrow. And I pin my hopes on something in the future (my retirement). But there is no point in living my life for tomorrow. As Jesus said, each day has enough trouble of its own.

Even in difficult times, there are moments of joy – moments that should be treasured. These moments of joy are the spice of life. During the pandemic, I have been enjoying my quiet time in the morning with a cup of coffee before I head to the gym or my home office. I’ve even taken up watching and listening to the birds in my backyard.

The one thing I disagree with in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Prayer of Serenity is the idea that we should accept hardships as a pathway to peace. I believe that hardships and struggles and failure are a pathway to character. Salvation is the pathway to peace. I have been justified by faith. I have peace with God through my Lord Jesus Christ. I am not afraid of anything that can kill my body because it cannot kill my soul. If I lose my life, I can say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

Romans 5:1-4

The last part of The Serenity Prayer is: taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. This part of The Serenity prayer points to a path to spiritual growth. Jesus took the sinful world as it is. He loved sinners just as they are. But he did not accept the sinful world as it is; he came to change the world and to testify to the truth.

There is love in accepting the world as it is. There is serenity in knowing that in the end, God will make all things right.

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A Prayer of Serenity

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

taking, as Jesus did,

this sinful world as it is,

not as I would have it;

trusting that You will make all things right

if I surrender to Your will;

so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Reinhold Niebuhr

My refuge and strength

Last week, my pastor asked whether any of us had ever played the game jenga. He showed us photos of a couple of buildings that resemble a stack of jenga blocks; it is amazing that they haven’t toppled over. Like an unstable stack of blocks, sometimes it doesn’t take much to unbalance us. The stresses of life can wear you down and make you feel exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed. When life gets overwhelming, what do you do? Where do you go for help?

Pastor Brad said that faith and anxiety occupy the same space in our heads. He spoke about the coping mechanisms people use to deal with stress and anxiety. Many of us cope with stress in unhealthy ways – losing our temper, withdrawing from other people, or by eating or drinking or shopping to excess.

When you have faith, you can turn to God for help. A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1

The scripture for the sermon was Psalm 46, one of the most familiar psalms. It begins, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” When I get really stressed, I wake up in the night and worry about things. I call on God in the darkness. I call on God when I am afraid. I call on God when I am overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. I call on God when I need courage. He comforts me. He builds me up. He gives me hope. He gives me peace. God is my refuge and strength.

I especially like Psalm 46:10. When you start to feel anxious, be still. Stop trying so hard to solve your own problems. Know that God is God. He’s got this. Put your trust in Him.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

Psalm 46:10

Pastor Brad ended the sermon with Psalm 131:2.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Psalm 131:2

Like a weaned child, David was content. He was able to calm and quiet himself because he put his hope in the Lord.

When the stresses of life are overwhelming, what should you do? Wean yourself from the coping mechanisms of the world. They don’t work. Don’t be anxious about anything. Instead, call out to God. Let Him be your refuge and your strength.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

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Photo by Bart Jaillet on Unsplash

A real leap of faith

They say that God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes God speaks in mysterious ways as well. I wish he would speak to me directly and audibly but he speaks to me through scripture, sermons, and songs. I didn’t expect God to speak to me through an Amish romance novel, but he did.

Last year, a friend gave me a bag of books that belonged to her mother, including some Amish love stories. They’re not books I would choose myself, though this particular genre is targeted at Evangelical women over the age of 50. The books sat in my basement for months. When I gave up social media for Lent, I suddenly had more time to read.

One of the Amish books is A Road Unknown by Barbara Cameron. In the book, a twenty-year old named Elizabeth got on a bus and ran away from home. She was the oldest of nine kids and had grown weary of taking care of her younger siblings. With her job and home responsibilities, she didn’t have time for a social life and was afraid she would never date or get married. So she decided to go stay with a friend in Pennsylvania and search for a job.

On her road trip to Pennsylvania, Elizabeth worried about whether she had packed enough food. Then she saw birds pecking at some crumbs and she thought: His eye is on the sparrow. Later in the book, she bought a couple of sparrow figurines to remind herself of God’s love and protection.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29-31

After I read the book, I started thinking about my most recent leap of faith. A couple of years ago, I was so unhappy in my job that I quit even though I didn’t have another job lined up. I considered retiring early. But I found that health insurance is really expensive if you don’t have an employer to subsidize the premiums. I looked for non-profit jobs, hoping that I could find work that is more meaningful. I ended up jumping back into the rat race because it was easier to find a job in the for-profit market.

When I made that leap of faith, the visual that inspired me was a picture of a fish jumping out of a glass bowl, with the caption, “Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” My leap of faith transported me to a job that is better than the last one. But instead of really taking a risk, I leapt from one fish bowl to another. So it is no surprise that I find myself once again wanting to take a leap. I am constantly thinking about beginning the next stage of my life somewhere else, escaping the suburbs and moving closer to nature.

Several years ago, I did a Bible study based on John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. One night, the disciples were in the boat, tossed about by the wind. Jesus had gone off by himself to pray. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus walking out to them on the water and were afraid, thinking he was a ghost.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:27-31

I am a lot like Peter. I want to trust that God will not let me fall. I take a tentative step then quickly return to the safety of what I know.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21

Thankfully, God is patient with me, just as Jesus was patient with Peter. I am thankful that he knows what I need to hear and when I need to hear it. He has a plan for me and his plans will not be thwarted. His purpose will prevail.

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Photo by Photo by fred A on Unsplash

Deep and Wide

When I was a kid, we used to sing a song called “Deep and Wide.” Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing, deep and wide. We used our hands to illustrate the deep and wide part as children love to do. But as a child, even though I believed that Jesus loved me, I had no comprehension of how deep and vast that love is.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)

Before his life-changing conversion, Saul fought the spread of the gospel. He threatened to arrest and take the Lord’s disciples as prisoners. But on the road to Damascus, the Lord confronted him asking: “Saul, why do you persecute me?” After his encounter with Jesus, Saul became Paul, one of the greatest proponents of the gospel. It was his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles – to the very people he had once condemned.

The apostle Paul understood the “boundless riches of Christ.” With great enthusiasm, he wrote to the Ephesian believers about the great mystery that had been revealed to him (Ephesians 3:6): that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Because of Jesus, those who were once shut out of God’s promises were able to approach God with freedom and confidence.

As a child, I would not have understood the mystery that Paul was so excited to reveal. The word “gentile” was not in my vocabulary. There was no need for it; everyone in my small hometown was gentile. I was never excluded from the promises of God because of my heritage.

As a child, my knowledge of the love of Jesus was quite simple. He loved me because he loved all the children of the world. He loved me because he is good. He loved me because he is merciful. I was shy and self-conscious and felt like I didn’t fit in but God loved me just as I am. Even as a child, I knew that I could approach God with confidence because he knew me.

As an adult, I have seen the ugly side of humanity – the ways we fight with and hurt each other and treat others as less than ourselves. I see how we delight in building walls instead of bridges. I see how superficial we are in the ways we judge one another – on the basis of skin color or beauty or social status.

Now I see how radical the love of Jesus truly is. I see it in the way he told us to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. I see it in the way he chose the despised Samaritan as the exemplar good neighbor – not the priest or the holy Levite. I see it in the way he responded to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees when they brought the adulterous woman before him hoping to trick him:

Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

The love of Jesus is a love that is so wide and long and high and deep that it extends to everyone. There is nothing about us that he does not already know. He sees right through to the mess inside of us and loves us anyway.

As an adult, I am rooted and established in the love of Jesus and yet I don’t fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is. It’s hard to find the words to describe the love of Jesus. Amazing. Unchanging. Unfailing. Ridiculous. Scandalous. Just call it what it is. Call it Grace (Unspoken).

It’s the light that pierces through you
To the darkest hidden place
It knows your deepest secrets
But it never looks away
It’s the gentle hand that pulls you
From the judgment of the crowd
When you stand before them guilty
And you’ve got no way out

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it’s a miracle
It’s nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace