Look Before You Heap! – Five Lessons in Dealing with Difficult People

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Photo courtesy of ethicsalarm.com

Photo courtesy of ethicsalarm.com

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12: 20b-21 (NIV)

God often provides us with, ahem, “character development opportunities” disguised as difficult people.  We can avoid some difficult people, but others we cannot because they are work colleagues, bosses, or perhaps even reside under the same roof.   God afforded me one of these opportunities over the past year, having to interact with a difficult person that I could not otherwise avoid.  I have had to learn, and in some cases, relearn the following lessons that I want to share with you:

  1. Pray for the good of the difficult person.  This is certainly easier said than done.  We are tempted to pray for the demise of those we deem as our enemies.  We’d prefer to look to some of the prayers of David in the imprecatory Psalms where he prays for the destruction of his enemies as our model prayers.  Instead let’s look to the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the early church concerning treatment of their enemies found the verses at the beginning of the post.   Paul says by treating an enemy, i.e. difficult person, well, we’re actually “heaping coals of fire on his head.” The New Living Translation interprets the colloquialism this way, “they [your enemies] will be ashamed of what they have done to you.”  The Apostle does not write it, but certainly implies that if we treat our enemies harshly, we will end up feeling worse in the process.  I can tell you from personal experience that thinking ill of the difficult people in your life does not make you feel better, but ironically worse.
  2. Do not vilify the difficult person.  It is easy to see the difficult person as the devil incarnate, an all grown up version of Rosemary’s baby.  We may seek out others who share our views about the difficult person to validate our own feelings.  Seeing the difficult person as a caricature devoid of any redeeming qualities makes it easier for us to hate them.  Truth be told, there are very few sociopaths among us.  The difficult person in your life is not likely the next Hitler, Stalin or Kim Jong-il.
  3. Do not read ill intent into the difficult person’s action.  It is easy to construct a narrative reading ill intent into the difficult person’s actions.  This narrative may be based on our previous interactions with the difficult person, coupled with our distorted views based on past hurts we’ve experienced.  The leadership consulting practice, Gap International has coined a phrase for our collection of thoughts about others – files.  Think of a cabinet stuffed with manila folders, filled with papers.  These files frame all of our interactions with the difficult person.  If we hope to find some common ground with the difficult people in our lives, we must purge the files we have about them.
  4. Pray to see the difficult person in your life as God sees them.  You might see a difficult person in your life as your own personal nemesis, but God sees him or her as a hurt, wounded individual in need of salvation, grace and healing.  You may be familiar with the phrase, hurt people, hurt people.”  The difficult person in your life may be acting out of their own pain and hurt, and you just happen to be in way.  If you see the difficult person in your life as a hurting individual, you will more likely show compassion to him or her. 
  5. Set appropriate boundaries with the difficult person.  Seeking the difficult person’s good does not mean you have suffer harm as a result.  You should seek your good and the difficult person’s good simultaneously.  If you suffered harm from the difficult person in the past, it will mean that you must courageously set boundaries to guard yourself against future harm.  If you struggle in this area, I would recommend as a first step you read the excellent book, Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

We all want the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but the fruit must be cultivated.  It does not just magically appear.  In nature, fruit trees must be planted and tended carefully, sometimes for years before fruit appears.  The deep furrows your soul may be suffering now will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness later, if you allow them to do so. (Hebrews 12:11).

I’ve listed five lessons I’ve learned in dealing with difficult people, but I’d love to hear yours.  Please leave your comments.

What is Your God Narrative?

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low-flow-shower-head-TP-md

If God is for us, who can be against us? – Romans 8:31b (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast from Michael Hyatt, which I highly recommend, entitled “Change Your Story, Change Your Life.” To introduce the podcast, Hyatt said this, “Inside your head and mine, there is a narrator. He or she is constantly telling us stories. These stories shape how we perceive reality. In fact, if we don’t intervene, these stories can shape our destiny for the worse. Or, if we are intentional and take control of the narrative, these stories can shape our destiny for good.”

This podcast got me thinking that our narrator also extends to our views about God.  As A.W. Tozer famously wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Our God narrative in large measure determines whether we live a defeated life or whether we have victory in Christ.

Our view of God is shaped by a number of influences.  Our families of origin and our upbringing greatly shape our view of God.  Parents are generally the first authority figures a child encounters, and are essentially a surrogate for God in the early life of a child.  This is especially true of the father.  The God of the Bible communicates in the masculine voice.  He is presented as God the Father.  Dysfunction in the father / child relationship will likely negatively impact how that child sees God.   If a father mistreats a child through abuse or neglect; that child will likely struggle to see God in a positive light.

Our experiences influence our God narrative. If we experience loss or trauma, we may wonder why God did not protect us from those outcomes and struggle with trusting him.

What we have been taught by others about God shape our views of him.  If, for example, you are exposed to legalistic teaching about God, you may come to view God as a punitive taskmaster waiting to catch you doing something wrong.

Lastly, our God narrative is influenced by the enemy of our souls, Satan.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us that, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Satan tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, he tempted Jesus, and he certainly tempts us today.

Our God narrative might be shaped by various influences, but ultimately it needs to be shaped by God himself if we are to experience his abundance.  Our carefully constructed God narrative needs to be held up to the true template of scripture to understand what God says about himself.  We must be wary to not allow our influences to clog and distort this true view of God.  I recently completed some overdue household maintenance that helped to drive home this point for me.

Last weekend I changed the chlorine filter on the showerhead in our sons’ bathroom.  The filter should be changed every six months, but only God’s knows the last time it was changed!  The flow from the showerhead had slowed to just something north of a trickle, so I could put off the task no longer.  The filter housing had become so stuck to the point that I had to use extra-large pliers to apply the necessary torque to take the housing apart.  Upon examining the old filter, it was heavy, filled with sediment and covered in lime scale.  The new filter by contrast was light and clean.   Upcoming replacing the filter, the water from the showerhead once again flowed freely.

What’s the point?  Even with the old filter the water at the source never really stopped flowing.  However the flow was blocked by the dirty filter.  Our influences can over time negatively impact our God narratives and thwart the flow of his blessings like a dirty filter.  You might need the help of a trusted friend, pastor or counselor to replace your filter, but you owe it yourself.   Doing so will allow you to fully partake in the free flow shower of God’s blessings.

An Adventurous Walk

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Paul Salopek planned route on his seven year trek across the world

Reporter Paul Salopek planned route on his seven year trek across the world (Courtesy of National Geographic)

 All along my pilgrim journey, I want Jesus to walk with me – Lyrics to Negro Spiritual

I recently heard a story listening to News Headlines on Stitcher about reporter Paul Salopek’s ambitious plan to walk around the world in seven years.  Interestingly, he’s calling his endeavor, “Out of Eden” in which he will retrace the steps of what many scientists believe to have been the migration path of early man.  Salopek will begin his journey in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia and plans to conclude his trek in Tierra del Fuego, off the southernmost tip of South America.  He will be carrying little more than a backpack with a lightweight Apple laptop, a satellite phone and camping gear.  He will at various times be traveling with translators.  Salopek is married, but his wife not accompanying him on his trek.  She will be visiting him from time to time. The reporter’s journey will take him through areas that are current Middle East hot spots.  Who knows what currently peaceful areas might prove to be volatile by the time Salopek arrives there?  Although he estimates his walk will take seven years, he’s only planning a year in advance, due to future uncertainty.  Salopek mused whether or not to even pack his house keys.

Upon hearing of Salopek’s ambitious plans I was immediately fascinated, but not ready to follow in his footsteps.  He’s really venturing out of faith, I thought, uncertain as to who or what he might encounter on his journey  The next thought that entered my mind was that how did I know my journey through life over the next seven would be any less than adventurous than Salopek”s?  My life at present seems  routine by comparison, but who knows when the routine might be interrupted?  My life has been interrupted in the past by good and bad fortune alike.  It’s unlikely I’ll transverse as much of the earth as the reporter does, but that’s not to say my life (or yours) won’t be as adventuresome.  Lack of extensive travel does not necessarily mean a life devoid of adventure.  Except for a trip to Egypt as a child, scripture does not record Jesus ever leaving Palestine, an area smaller in size than the state of New Jersey, yet even non-Christians acknowledge his significant impact on the world.

Who knows what experiences you or I will encounter in our own little pieces of the world?  Truth is, I don’t and neither do you.  We make plans, and it’s good to plan, but our plans don’t come with a guarantee attached (James 4:13-15).  As the saying goes, “man plans and God laughs.”

During our lives we experience joys that rival scenic vistas, beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks and lush tropical rain forests.  We encounter sorrows that seem like inhospitable deserts and barren tundras.  Yet no matter where our walk in life takes us, if we are followers of Christ, we never walk alone.

David reminds us, “I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence!  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me” (Psalm 139:7-10)(NIV).

That includes Ethiopia, Tierra del Fuego and all points in between.

The Invisible Fence

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So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground – Matthew 25:25a (NIV)

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Do you know what an invisible fence is?  If you live in a suburban or rural area in United States, you likely do.   An invisible “fence” consists of a wire buried around the perimeter of a yard.  The wire transmits a mild static electric shock to a receiver located in a dog collar.  Any time a dog wearing a receiver-equipped collar approaches the fence, the dog receives an uncomfortable, but nonlethal,  shock.  After a short time, with the assistance of a trainer, the dog learns where the boundaries of the fence are located and stays confined therein.

Over the last several days, I’ve been reflecting on 2012.  By some measures, it was a pretty pedestrian year, a cocktail of successes, failures, victories, defeats, breakthroughs and setbacks.  My career went a little sideways, but it was that movement that really caused me to embrace my true passion (see my previous blog entry, Are You Making Tent or Pursuing Your Calling?).  After a previously aborted attempt, I got serious about blogging consistently, writing 26 posts.  I got to travel more for pleasure than I have in recent memory, including a family vacation with my brother and in his family to the St. John in the US Virgin Islands.  (That is certainly not our “typical” family vacation.)

I looked back at the things I failed to accomplish last year for clues as to their root causes.  Was I constrained by other people, finances or health?  No.  In the vast majority of cases the answer was one four letter word beginning with an “f”- “fear.”  I had erected my own invisible fence of fear.   I allowed feelings of anxiety and in some cases dread to keep my within a confined space.  I allowed fear to “train” me like a dog wearing a receiver-embedded collar.  There are several similarities to fear and the invisible fence:

  1. While both are extremely uncomfortable, but neither is truly life threatening.
  2. Both are confining
  3. Beyond both lay freedom.

In 2013 I am committed to push against the limits of my invisible fence.  I am committed to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for me” (Heb. 12:1).   Will I always be successful? No, but that’s where the perseverance part come in. If I set out to do this in my own strength, I will fail miserably, but I serve a God who has promised to displace my fear with his power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

The scripture snippet in the introduction of this post is from a parable that Jesus tells of three servants entrusted with talents (Matt 25:14-30).  Two of the three servants invested their talents wisely and earned a return for their master.  The third servant, motivated by fear, hid his talent, earning nothing.  I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that yields a return.

I leave you with this quote that I came across credited to Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Want self-encouragement and motivation? Send an email to your future self.

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Perhaps we haven't quite mastered time travel like Doc and Marty, but we can send emails into the future (courtesy of sean022.blogspot.com)

Perhaps we haven’t quite mastered time travel like Doc and Marty, but we can send emails into the future (courtesy of sean022.blogspot.com)

And David was greatly distressed ; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved , every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 (KJV)

Rikki don’t lose that number; You don’t wanna call nobody else.  Send it off in a letter to yourself. – Lyrics to “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number” by Steely Dan

As you start the New Year, you’ve likely had the chance to take some time off from work, spend time with family, relax, and generally mentally detox.  You may have set formal goals for the New Year, but if not, at the very least you have dreams and aspirations you’d like to see come to pass.   In many ways, this may be the most clear thinking and enthusiastic that you’ll be all year, rivaled only by the week leading up to your vacation.  But what happens?  It’s called life, what John Lennon described as “what happens while you are busy making other plans.”  The daily grind of living occurs and the plans we had to have more consistent devotions, get in shape, become more organized all become casualties to life.  By February we look at our lack of progress, become discouraged and give up.

But what if your January 1st self, your lucid, optimistic and faith-filled self, could reach out to your February 1st self?  Now you can.  In reading Jon Acuff’s book, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job, he referenced using a website called futureme.org to send an email to himself that would be delivered at a date of his choosing in the future. Acuff used the email to remind his future self to avoid a situation his current self was dealing with. I became fascinated with the idea of sending my future self emails and decided to check out futureme.org (the service is free, but the site does accept donations.)  The applications for such emails are only limited by one’s imagination.  I could, as Acuff had done, send a warning to my future self.  I could also send an email to my future self from a time when a great spiritual victory or answer to a deep seated prayer was still fresh.  This email of present victories might equip me for future battles.  But as I penned these words on January 1st, I thought it would be good remind and encourage myself about the goals I set for 2013 and that “God had not given me a spirit of fear, but of love, power and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).  So I used futureme.org to send an email to myself to be delivered on February 1st.  I have no way of knowing what I’ll be facing on February 1st, but whatever it is; encouragement can never be in short supply.

A town without Christmas, but not without Christ

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The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us – Matthew 1:23 (NIV)

On Thursday of this week I was preparing a post for this weekend, but it wasn’t this one.  The events of Friday changed everything.   I’m writing the post I didn’t plan to write or wish I didn’t have to write, but felt compelled to write. Unless you’ve been on a complete media fast, you have no doubt by now heard about the horrific tragedy that occurred in Newtown Connecticut on Friday where a 20 year old gunman killed his own mother before traveling to a nearby elementary school to open fire on children and school administrators before taking his own life.  In the end, 26 people lay dead including 20 children.  President Barach Obama is his emotional address to the nation in the aftermath of the shooting aptly tapped into the nation’s sentiments when he said, “we’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.”

As a parent, especially the parent of an elementary school student, it is very easy for me to place myself in the shoes of those shocked and grieving parents.  Those parents who had been making preparations for Christmas, but now find themselves making plans for funerals.  I find myself haunted by the thought of Christmas gifts already purchased that will go unopened.  The phrase, “one more week more week” keeps playing in my head.  These children would have been on holiday break in a week, likely safe from the reaches of a troubled and evil gunman.  A ghastly pale now lingers over the town of Newtown Connecticut.   Instead of the Grinch, it was Adam Lanza who stole Christmas.

I leave it for others to attempt to answer the “why” questions.   Why did the gunman take his actions? Why did God allow this happen?  Any attempts at answering these questions will bring little consolation and solace to the suffering.  Scripture tells us there is “a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and now is that time to weep with those impacted by this tragedy.  While Newtown may have been robbed of Christmas, they have not been robbed of Christ.  We can be assured that just as Christ was in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew boys, He is the furnace of affliction with the Newtown residents.  Just as he wept at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, he is weeping now with the family members and friends of the shooting victims.   It is during the Advent season, but especially during times like these that we are reminded that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, “God with us.”

I ask that you would agree with me in pray for the following groups:

  • The parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family of those who were killed.
  • The children who were in the school at the time of the shooting who must deal with their own trauma as they grieve the loss of friends and classmates.
  • The first responders who had to witness the grizzly crime scene.  No amount of training would prepare someone to witness such carnage.
  • The schoolteachers and administrators who must carry and “be strong” for their students but whose hearts are breaking inside.
  • Ryan Lanza, the brother of the shooter and son of the first victim.  He is not likely garner public sympathy and will have to deal with the guilt that his brother caused so much heartache for so many people.

Having trouble finding the words to pray?  Might I suggest the words penned by one of my favorite bloggers Debbie Kay on her blog “Hope For The Broken-Hearted.”

The Necessity of the Darkness

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Do not remove reblooming in process

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. – Isaiah 50:10

I have a coworker who is one of the sweetest people I know.  To protect her anonymity and that of my employer, I will only her refer to by her first initial, “J,” ala the character from the Men In Black movie series. Every time I see J she greets me with a warm sincere smile, the kind of smile that experts, yes apparently there are such a thing as smile experts, referred to as a Duchenne smile.  A Duchenne smile engages the muscles around both the mouth and the eyes, causing the eyes to squint just a bit.

Knowing some of J’s story, her smile is not the product of a life of idyllic circumstances.  “Lady luck” has not always smiled favorably upon her.  Her smile has its origin in knowing the Heavenly Father and His love for her.  J reflects God’s love to everyone and apparently every plant she encounters. She has made it her personal mission in life to nurture and care for a poinsettia in our office.  My employer placed poinsettias in our office last December to give the place a holiday feel.  Most poinsettias I’ve ever seen meet the same fate as their yuletide kin, live Christmas trees, finding themselves on curbs or in dumpsters by early January.  However there was one particular poinsettia in our office that received a reprieve from the compost pile courtesy of J.   Over the course of months, J lovely cared for the poinsettia, watering it as needed, and pinching the dead or weak leaves.  She gave the poinsettia personhood, naming it Priscilla and speaking tenderly to it.  Under J’s care, Priscilla flourished growing to about three times in size from when she first found a home in our office.

Several weeks ago, J did something that on the surface appeared very strange.  She covered up Priscilla with a dark trash bag.  J explained her actions. In order to for the poinsettia to produce the brilliant red leaves we mistake for flowers, it must be exposed to 12 straight hours of darkness for five days in a row.  In nature these conditions exist the week just before Christmas, accounting for the   poinsettia’s popularity during that time of year.  To simulate the required dark periods, J cloaked Priscilla in the darkness afforded by the trash bag.  To ensure the cleaning staff did not mistake the hooded Priscilla for garbage and throw her out, J placed a sign on the bag that read, ‘do not remove, reblooming in process.”

Place yourself in the “roots” of Priscilla.  Your benefactor, J, has rescued you from a fate of death and has lovingly cared for and nurtured you.  You have grown under J’s care to the point that others have taken notice.  Now suddenly and without warning, J has seemingly withdrawn her hand of care.  Kind and tender words and the times of communion and sweet fellowship have been replaced with extended periods of silence and darkness.  J has even placed a sign on you explaining her actions, but the writing on the sign is facing outwardly away from you.  You cannot read it. For all Priscilla knows, the sign reads, “kick me” because that’s what you feels is happening to you. None of the sudden changes make sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to J.  As bizarre as it might seem to you, J is actually expressing her love to you by exposing you to periods of prolonged darkness.   The darkness is necessary to allow you to bloom in all your glory.

As Christians we our own benefactor named “J” – Jesus.  He lovely and tenderly cares for us, but there are times he leaves us in periods of unexplainable darkness.   As incomprehensible as it might seems while we in darkness, we must hold fast to the truth that God has not abandoned us, He still loves us dearly and His ordained darkness will ultimately result in our good and His glory.  Let’s remember the words of Edith Edman, “never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.”

What Cars Do You See?

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I see. . . .Subarus!

And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.”  Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha – 2:Kings 6:17 (NIV)

My wife and I recently purchased a new, at least new to us anyway, vehicle.   Our vehicle of choice was a 2011 Subaru Outback.   The moment upon driving the vehicle off of the lot, Subarus in large numbers appeared from out of nowhere to greet us on the highway.  I felt like I was in the middle of just about every mummy movie ever filmed.  You know the movie where the naïve archeologist stumbles upon the previously undistributed tomb of some ancient pharaoh, removes an amulet that awakens the mummified monarch along with his angry hoard?  The simple act of me placing the Outback into drive apparently sent out some sort of homing signal that arrested Subarus everywhere from their peaceful slumber and drew them to me.  I could resonate with Haley Joel Osment’s character in the movie, The Sixth Sense but instead of seeing dead people I was seeing Subarus!

Career coach, Dan Miller, discussed on a recent podcast this phenomenon of suddenly seeing previously unseen vehicles after you purchase the same model.  He indicated the action of purchasing a car activates the brain’s reticular activator.  The reticular activator’s job is to stay on alert and it does this by making you notice some things and ignoring others.  After purchasing a vehicle, you suddenly “notice” other vehicles of a same make, model and color.

If you are a Christian, at the moment of the new birth, your “spiritual” activator is turned on.   You have the ability to “see” things that were previously blind to you.  Scripture describes in various places the unconverted person as being in darkness or belonging to the kingdom darkness while the believer is encouraged to walk in the light.  Jesus said speaking of himself in John 12:46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  However the spiritual activator is more like a dimmer switch than a simple on and off switch.  Your actions and thoughts control the intensity of the dimmer and impact the amount of lumens the light source emits.

Embracing fear and not faith is one of the biggest ways to dim the lights.  Elisha’s servant embraced fear when he went and found the Aramean army surrounding the city where he and his master where staying.  Upon making this discovery he said exasperatingly to Elsiha, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” (2 Kings 6:15 – NIV).  The servant could only see his troubles but failed to see his deliverance.  Elisha seeing with the eyes of faith responded, “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:17 – NIV).  Elisha prayed for his servant’s spiritual activator to be engaged and his servant saw the hills filled with horses and chariots of fire (2: Kings 6:17).

When we are tempted to become overwhelmed by fear, doubt and worry, we need to use our eyes of faith to see the unseen – the invisible hand of providence working on our behalf.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31B).  God is the creator and still undisputed ruler of the universe who loved you and I so much that he gave his only Son so that we could live with him eternally.  God is limitless in his in power and in his love for his people.

So I end with the same question I began with, “what car to do you see?”  Do you see the hoopties of fear, doubt, disappointment or bitterness?  Engage your spiritual activator and see the chariots of fire.

The Ingredients of Beauty

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A beautiful sky in the aftermath of a storm.

. . . .To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of the spirit of  despair. . . . (Isaiah 61:3 – NIV)

 

Have you ever considered what goes into making a person, place or work of art beautiful?  While we might consider the finished product beautiful, I doubt we would consider all of the individual ingredients comprising the product beautiful.  Women the world wide apply cosmetics, but how many women know that some cosmetics contain urea (extracted from urine), whale vomit and human foreskins?  (I consider myself to be a bit creative, but never in a million years could I have fabricated this list of ingredients on my own!)  Ladies, think about that the next time you’re offered a free sample at the cosmetic counter in your favorite department store!  All things that ultimately become beautiful do not start out that way.

I live in Pittsburgh, an area not known for its picturesque sunsets.  However I recently snapped the photo that accompanies this post at a recent outdoor concert there.  Even the performing act, the jazz group Spyro Gyra, took notice.  Jay Beckenstein, the group’s leader, had just finished remarking how extensively the group had traveled during their 37 year tenure.  During that time they no doubt has seen a number of breathtaking and awe inspiring sights.  Yet the sunset arrested Beckenstein in his tracks and caused him to remark on the beauty of the sunset.   He even encouraged concertgoers to turn 180 degrees away from the stage to view the gorgeous sky.

What contributed to the conditions that allowed for this painted sunset? – The ingredient lay in the series of powerful rainstorms that passed through the area just several hours previously.  Jay Beckenstein chalked up this bit of atmospheric alchemy to nature.  I attributed it the God who created the sky, calling forth cosmos out of chaos.  Just as the Lord can transform black skies into beautiful sunsets, he can give us beauty for our ashes.

Study the lives of any of God’s fair saints and you will find something grotesque that contributed to their comeliness.  The Apostle John was visited by an angel and was inspired to write the book of Revelation while exiled on the isle of Patmos.  Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Latin into German while confined at the Wartburg Castle.  It was John Bunyan’s imprisonment that produced the classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress.  Joni Eareckson Tada suffered a diving accident as a teenager leaving her a quadriplegic.  She transformed this tragedy into triumph and launched a ministry called Joni and Friends, inspiring millions and providing wheelchairs to the disabled in the third world.

God did not reserve this type of harsh treatment exclusively for his followers, but saved its greatest application for his own son, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53:5 states, “But he [Jesus Christ] was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!” (NLT).   The grisly death that Christ died on the cross granted us access to the Father.  The rough-hewn Roman cross upon which Jesus was crucified has morphed into a symbol of life and has become synonymous with the Christian life.

Jesus invites you to give him the ugly and marred parts of your life and he will perform a divine extreme makeover. This metamorphosis will not likely be instantaneous, but trust your life into the hands of the Master.  Allow the Lord to take the broken shards of the glass or your life and mold them into a kaleidoscope through which others will see the beauty of His grace in you.