Open Doors

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18, NIV)

These verses can be so hard to live out! When we are wronged, our fleshly response is to retaliate in some way. If not with our actions, then with our words, thoughts, or attitudes. We do not like to think of those responses as evil, but if our motive is not love, God says they are. When we give in to evil desires, we miss out on far more life. I made that mistake this week; I got caught up in defending a perceived wrong by pointing out the offender’s sin in front of others. But instead of feeling better afterwards, I felt worse! That made me realize I had chosen evil over far more life.

Fortunately God tells us how to find far more life in situations where we have been wronged or offended: do what we know is right. We know it is right to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We know it is right to treat others as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). We know it is right to forgive (Colossians 3:13). In my situation this week, when I finally decided to do what was right, I first chose to forgive the person who offended me, which changed my heart toward them. Rather than trying to convince them of their wrong, I chose to accept that we had different perspectives and values. This changed my anger to sadness. Then I was able to admit my wrong thoughts and actions, first to myself, then to them. I could feel my heart getting lighter with each step of this process, each choice to pursue far more life.

God takes it a step further: the verse continues, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” I appreciate His clear instruction that we are only responsible for our part, and sometimes peace is not possible. I think of it like adjoining hotel rooms; both doors must be open for you to pass freely back and forth. If only one person opens their door, you remain separated. We can open our door to peace by doing what is right, blessing the offender with our words and actions, praying for them, and showing them love. Whether or not they choose to open their door and live in peace with us, we can have a clear conscience about our actions and thoughts. It is sad and uncomfortable to be separated from others, but our open door serves as an ongoing invitation for them to join us in pursuing peace whenever they are ready. God says that is enough. In my situation, I have accepted that the other person and I are not on the same page in life, so the door to many deep conversations is closed right now. I plan to pray all I wish I could say to them in love and trust God with it. I will speak carefully in future conversations unless they directly ask for my input. That is the best way for me to show them love and experience far more life. For now, that is the level of peace we can share.

Why is it important to God that we live in peace with others, especially others who are following Christ?

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

Peace brings unity, which is important to God. Merriam-Webster defines unity as oneness or a condition of harmony. God is perfectly united with Jesus and the Holy Spirit; they are one, they live in harmony. And He says this to us, who are created in His image and filled with His Spirit:

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1, NIV)

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you, my friends, to agree in what you say, so that there will be no divisions among you. Be completely united, with only one thought and one purpose.  (I Corinthians 1:10, GNT)

God wants His children to live in harmony with one another because that is the only way His purpose can be accomplished. If our purpose is to love God and bring Him glory, can we do that if we are divided and arguing? No. In fact, God makes it clear that our love — which grows as we grow in unity — reveals our purpose to everyone:

If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:35, GNT)

This verse always amazes me. It is not our Bible knowledge that shows we are disciples of Jesus. Or the number of Bible studies or church meetings we attend. It is not the good works we do or the causes we support. What communicates our devotion to Jesus is the love we show others, especially other followers of Jesus. Sometimes that love is most evident when we return evil or sin with a blessing. When we do what is right rather than retaliating. When we pursue peace with someone who has offended or sinned against us. When we share our lives and pursue a common purpose. When we choose far more life!

Sisters,
Do you tend to repay evil with evil or with a blessing?
When have you found far more life by choosing to do what is right?
Do you have a relationship that is not at peace? Is your door open and inviting the other person to peace?
How are you living in unity with other followers of Jesus?
Pray and look for opportunities to show love — and choose far more life — today!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso


Far More Generations

Think about the women in your life. How does the youngest girl you have a relationship with impact you? What kind of relationship do you have with the oldest woman in your life? Think of the women in between, both consistent contributors to your life and the most influential. I hope your life contains a richness of women who offer a wide range of life experiences, a variety of personalities, and diverse interests and gifts.

We are often most comfortable with people who are like us. Sadly, the message we increasingly hear in our culture is we can only be understood by people like us. We may believe those are the only people whose input we can trust. We may feel they the only people we should turn to for perspective. We are told they alone have the right to speak into our lives. We may draw lines between “us” and “them” that rob us of different experiences and perspectives.

Relationships that cross generational lines offer far more life. Older women offer wisdom and experience. Women in the middle generations offer insights on balancing challenges as they strive to support aging parents and maturing children. Young women offer enthusiasm, optimism, and connection to our culture. Each generation faces unique challenges and possesses unique gifts.

Despite our differences, women of all ages have commonalities. We all have hopes and dreams. We all experience love and loss. We all face challenges. We all sin. We all are made in God’s image. We all want to experience far more life. Sisters in Christ share a faith, a future, and fellowship that is not impacted by the number of candles on their birthday cake. God has given us a common role in each other’s lives:

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

Women of any age can help others become more Christ-like. We can sharpen and be sharpened by others, which leads to far more life. Although age differences can feel awkward, Christ provides a connection point. We can always pray for each other, share encouragement, and study God’s Word together.

We may feel awkward with other generations because what we give each other is not the same. A sense of inequality in what we have to offer and what we receive can be a barrier. For an example, an older and younger woman cannot trade babysitting. Or one may need help with meals or cleaning while the other has no practical needs at that time. We can become uncomfortable receiving from another generation because we are not sure what we “owe” them in return. But if we shift our perspective, we realize that removing debt is not the goal.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another. (Romans 13:8a, NIV)

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

If we trust the other woman is giving lovingly and cheerfully of her resources, there is no debt or inequality!  It is okay to ask once, “How can I repay you?” or “Are you sure this is okay?” Humbly accept the answer, trusting her to speak truthfully. We build connection by lovingly and gratefully giving and receiving different things from each other. This connection helps us experience far more life.

As a college student, I formed a friendship with a woman who I later found out was just a couple years younger than my mother. Our age difference was not a factor. I learned a lot from observing her life and asking questions about a variety of situations that I, as a young adult, had yet to experience firsthand. She appreciated my support and encouragement as she traversed a hard season of life. Our relationship was centered on a mutual desire to love and serve God, not on the specific situations we faced.

There are many formal opportunities for us to build relationships with women from other generations: at work, at church, at the gym, in community groups, through shared hobbies, and more. But being in the same place at the same time may not be enough to form a connection. Take initiative to get to know women from other generations. It can be as simple as asking them for advice or offering to pray for them. It can be a few minutes face-to-face when you are already together or a special time you arrange in advance. You can use social media or go “old school” and call!  Do not assume someone else is too busy for you, instead, if you want to get to know them, initiate. You may enrich your life in ways you never imagined! 

In addition to the blessing in your own life, pursuing intergenerational relationships at a time when others are turning away from people who differ from them gives you a chance to be a picture of God in action.

Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other. (John 13:35, GW)

Enjoy the richness of all your relationships this week as you live far more life!

Sisters,
How have older and younger women helped you grow in far more life?
What hesitation or reluctance do you have about pursuing relationships with women from another generation?
What do you have to give? What do you need? How can giving and receiving enrich your life rather than just adding more to your to do list?
Pray for your plans to initiate sharing far more life with a woman from another generation this week.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

Far More Community

I recently conversed with a woman who considers herself a follower of Jesus but not a Christian. She has met many “Christians” whose lives do not reflect Jesus. As a result, she views Christianity as a man-made system rather than a relationship with God. Sadly, she is not alone in this experience. At least in the US, the term “Christian” has multiple meanings, many of which are not God-glorifying.

The foundation of Christianity is an individual relationship with God. But God does not intend for His children to live in isolation from each other. He wants us to be interconnected as we pursue the common goals of becoming more like Him and sharing His message with others. This Bible passage describes the community of Christians immediately after Christ walked the earth.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. (Acts 2:44-47a, NIV)

This depicts far more life. They sacrificed their own comfort to meet each other’s physical needs. They gathered to learn from God’s Word and celebrate Jesus’ work in their lives. They enjoyed meals together and shared God’s blessings. This led to a positive reputation in their city as people observed their lifestyle. They shared life and reflected Jesus in their interactions.

The Bible is full of examples of shared lives. Eve was created after God proclaimed it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). During the flood, God only names Noah as being righteous, yet he saved his whole family (Genesis 6). The Israelites traveled as a group (Exodus 12:37) and lived in communities based on their family line (Numbers 1:52). Forty-seven New Testament verses instruct Jesus’ followers how to relate to one another, with the majority specifying how to be united and love each other. As the following verses illustrate, we are stronger together.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)

We help each other grow. This is not always an easy process. As iron is sharpened, sparks are produced, but the result is a more useful tool. Our interactions with people may lead to sparks of conflict, but they ultimately create an opportunity for us to become more refined and Christ-like. As we navigate these moments, we challenge each other to grow and become all God created us to be.

In hard times we survive by being together. I have stood by two families as they faced crisis situations recently. The first was already connected to a community and immediately turned to them for physical and emotional support, knowing the requests would be a natural extension of existing relationships. They felt peace knowing the needs would be met and were comfortable asking because they had walked with others through hard times. The second family’s crisis led them to realize they were not connected and didn’t know where to turn for support. They felt alone and overwhelmed with all that faced them. When a community stepped up to care for them, it was uncomfortable at first. But as they experienced provision of their basic needs and emotional support, they were grateful. The experience has led them to look at life through a different lens and will probably result in them becoming more connected to a community.

Christ-followers are not the only people to live in community. People can band together around any number of shared goals or preferences. But Christian community has a uniqueness: our connection will continue for eternity! God does something special when His children share their lives on earth:

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35, NASB)

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4, NASB)

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, NASB)

When we live a disconnected life, we miss opportunities to love and be loved. We miss opportunities to experience and reveal God’s power at work, to overcome human differences, and display a unity that is possible only through Christ. We miss opportunities to show God’s love in action as we supernaturally love others through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Far more life is a connected life. It is giving and receiving love in both the big moments and the everyday moments of life. It celebrates and mourns together. It works and plays together. It dreams and plans together. It works through differences together. The result is that we become greater than the sum of our parts; shared life is richer and more impactful than isolated life. We experience God in new ways and show a more complete picture of Him to everyone we encounter. We live far more life.

Sisters,
Are you living an isolated life or a connected life?
What hesitations do you have about connecting with other Christ-followers?
How have you been sharpened by others?
How have you experienced God’s love or provision through others?
You may have been hurt by others. Talk to God about those situations and ask Him to help you find a safe community to join.
Find far more life taking the next step in connecting with others this week.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jennifer Marsh