The Mistakes of 2019

Failure.  It’s instinctive to handle it poorly.  Because of that, it’s impossible to see 2020 as a clean slate if I’m not at peace with my yesterdays.

What are the wrong ways to handle failure?  There are at least two.

1. Underestimate it.

When I do, I fail to see it as God sees it.  I minimize the size of it.  I re-shape it to reduce it to something trivial when, in fact, it probably wasn’t.  I might believe it to be such a small offense that I don’t need to confess it and ask for God’s forgiveness. At best, I ask for it casually like it’s no big deal.

When God’s Spirit convicts me, I am defensive.  I remind Him that everyone has weaknesses.  Perhaps I did it in secret and it was a sin of the heart.  I reason that no one got hurt but I fail to see that the one who was offended was the only One who matters.  I sinned against God. Fragile egos defend themselves.  I fear I can’t survive the knowledge of my own depravity. Underestimating failures causes me to live with a calloused heart. I am not experienced by others as someone humble and gracious.

2.  Overestimate it.

I fail to understand grace and believe my failure to be unforgiveable. I must first wallow in guilt, prove myself to be better than that, and convince God that I am sorry enough. My sin looms large and God’s mercy appears to be small.

My only experience with failures and forgiveness comes through the film of earthly relationships. Unfortunately, some people refuse to forgive. They are prone to forever remind me of my failures. I wear them like scarlet letters. I fear that God will do what my human counterparts have done. I make sure to punish myself with condemning messages before God has a chance to. Though I say I believe that He has put my sins behind his back, never to take them out again to accuse me, my heart tells on me as I fixate on my guilt.

Overestimating my failures feels like a holy response. It is anything but. It is a denial of God’s mercy. It is a denial of the purpose of the cross. It’s choosing to live in unbelief regarding everything Jesus promised when He died for my sins as if He was the One who committed them.

God’s mercies are new every morning.  This confession is one of the pillars of our faith.  This truth can be embraced before we sin.  It can be embraced again while we grieve our sin.  And finally, it is passionately embraced as we lift our gaze from the dust to look to God for new tomorrows.

The righteous may fall seven times but still get up. Proverbs 24:16

Predicting How God’s Miracle Will Look

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.  Genesis 22:8

Abraham set out for Mt. Moriah with faith.  His faith, however, did not include the appearance of a real lamb on top of the mountain.  He believed God would intervene after slaying Isaac and raise him from the dead.  Hebrews 11:19 reveals this side note. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.’  Abraham’s faith was in the right person but he could not predict exactly how God would show His faithfulness.

When faced with a hopeless situation, I give it to my Father.  I ask for Him to make a way.  Then, to my shame, I set out to outline what His intervention will look like.  When God fails to act in the ways I believe He should, my faith begins to falter.  When will I learn that a miracle can never be figured out ahead of time!  God’s answers are always outside my skillset of ingenuity.  When He moves, it leaves every child of His open-mouthed in absolute astonishment.  How many times have I said, “I can’t believe He did that!” 

The best foundation for faith is utter hopelessness; the kind where no intervention can be second-guessed.  That way, all my hope is in God.  He has total freedom to move mountains and I’m just along for the thrill ride.  My eyes are peeled on the horizon, not knowing how, or when, God will appear.  Just because He moved a certain way in someone else’s life doesn’t mean He’ll do the same thing for me. In fact, probably not!  My miracle will be shaped according to my story, to address my specific kind of unbelief.  Though others may see a miracle, it may not thrill them like it does me.  Because it was customized for my heart only, it will be a Damascus Road experience.

For all who wait today on God, wait well!  Don’t faint because it appears God is taking too long or moving in a direction that makes no sense to you.  Wait.  Endure.  Your ‘lamb’ may be just around the corner.

For every time I’ve accused You and fainted instead of waiting well, I apologize.  Time has vindicated You and I am humbled.  Amen

Journal Question:Is there any place in your life where you are saying, “God, if you love me, You’ll do this!”  Can you let God be God and give Him freedom?  Talk to Him about it.

He Won’t Share These!

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. Revelation 19:1

God is jealous for His own glory and won’t share it with anyone. It’s not because He’s stingy, nor is He a narcissist, but it’s because we were created to worship, not to be worshiped. We corrupt His plan, just like Adam and Eve did, when we maneuver to become the center of our world.

Three things belong exclusively to God – according to this verse from Revelation. Salvation, glory, and power. And sadly, these are the very three things I often steal for myself.

  • SALVATION: My lack of self-worth and significance make me desire the attention I’d get if I saved the day. I desire to be someone’s best friend, or their best advisor, or the one who ultimately intervenes to make a huge difference. A ‘savior’ is how I want them to think of me but I only provide a temporary life raft on their ocean of need. Only God makes the permanent rescue. I should be carrying them to the Savior, not trying to be one.
  • POWER: Satan would love for me to believe that my enemy is helplessness. It’s terrifying, wouldn’t you agree? It takes a lot to abdicate control. Until it happens, I exert personal power and ingenuity to solve my problems. Pride is insulted when I realize that I can do absolutely nothing to save myself. God has all the power and He offers it against the backdrop of my admissions of need.
  • GLORY: If I’m set on saving others and wielding personal power to solve life’s problems, I put myself at the center of my life. Glory is mine and Satan makes sure I enjoy the ride.  But I will eventually live long enough to encounter  situations I can’t control, people I can’t change, money I can’t acquire, poor health I can’t cure. I am rendered childlike. It is then than I am free to see God’s glory and my small-ness.

If I could encourage you to do one thing today, it would be to yield control of your life.  Jesus is the Savior and is willing to save. He is all powerful and is willing to exert it in my impossible situations.  Jesus is glorious and is kind enough to often let me see glimpses of it.  Need and my helplessness are really my friends.

To You, Lord, belong all glory, power, and salvation. Come today to all my ragged places. Amen

The Little Reconciler

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:18 

What a package of explosive potential lay in the manger.  He was the little Lamb and the little Shepherd, each one offering life altering implications for those who needed a Lamb to be slain for their sin and for those who needed a shepherd to show them the way home. Baby Jesus would do far more than that though.

He was also the little Reconciler who had the power to bring together two enemies and make them, not only compatible but, intimate.  Reconciliation rarely has such stunning outcomes.  It is one thing to bring together two parties who are at odds over an issue.  It is quite another thing to cause two people, far apart in every way, to eagerly join hands and become one in their mind and heart.

Oh, how deep was this fracture in the Garden of Eden.  God had made man perfectly.  It was man who wanted more, who bought the serpent’s lie, and then opened their mind to evil.  It was a world mankind was not created to understand nor be compatible with.  Evil corrupted him and he began to choose everything that God wouldn’t choose and to think all the things God wouldn’t think. Alienation ensued and the two were separated by a great gulf.  Holiness could not reconcile with sinfulness without a miracle.  God’s answer?  Send a Reconciler who would also be the Lamb to forgive their sin and restore them to what they once were ~ holy before God.  Jesus would be the game changer.   Perfected natures would not want to sin and would indeed hate sin.  Man’s mind would be washed completely of defilement.  He would think and feel like the indwelling Spirit who inhabited him.

The baby didn’t automatically reconcile enemies at His birth.  God’s timetable moves slowly.  It took thousands of years for God to send this Lamb.  It would take thirty-three years more for the Lamb to die for the sins that separated creation from His Father.  But how necessary the three decades were.  The only way for people to trust the Lamb and forsake their sin would be to know Him.  They would watch Him live and hear Him speak. They would experience Him through direct interaction.  His Light would woo the sinner and warm up their icy relationship.  Light would draw some to His Father and repel others.  Not all would hate their sin and mourn the estrangement.

Ah, but for the ones who did, for them it would be different.  The great gulf that separated them from their Creator would break their heart.  They would own their sin that caused the breach and trust the Lamb to bring them to the foot of His cross.  His blood would wash them clean and present them faultless to His Father. Complete compatibility.  Impeccable restoration. Perfect reconciliation.  

If there is tension in our relationship, it can be fixed now by the One who still reconciles.  Thank you, Jesus. Amen

Learning Impairments

Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.  Psalm 119:73

Just as there are developmental impairments in children, learning impairments exist in God’s children as well.  Each of our stories render us incapable of learning certain kingdom truths.  Some of us can’t trust because our trust has been fractured.  Others of us can’t receive love because we withdrew our arms early in life.  Some can’t believe that God forgives because their relationships have been fraught with grudge holding.

When one of our children is stuck in their spiritual life, who better to understand the barrier than a parent.  We know the child well; what he believes, what successes and failures have shaped his life.  We are able to pray intuitively because we know how he’s wired.

So it is with God.  He made us.  He knows our stories and not only knows how we reacted to what happened to us, he understands how we interpreted the events that led us to react like we did.  He is intimately acquainted with our learning impairments.  He knows the network of lies at the root of the disability.

There are places each of us are stuck today; experiences God wants to have with us but we aren’t open to it.  Our arms are crossed.  Distrust and fear lock us up.  God has the key and is willing to unlock our heart.  His strategy to reach us is customized according to our individual design.  Oh, what a magnificent Savior.  He goes to great lengths to save us from ourselves.  Our defenses crumble under His persistent, yet gentle, wooing.

Where am I still scared of You, Lord?  Show me.  Amen

The Little Shepherd and Overseer

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.  Isaiah 40:11

When an ancient king from the east made a trek through a desert landscape, the way was prepared beforehand by his people.  The road was inspected, repaired if needed, and all that would harm or obstruct his journey was removed.

Jesus came to prepare the way for His flock to walk the path to His kingdom.  The little Shepherd who napped in the manger would be the One who would make crooked paths straight.  He would remove each and every barrier of sin and condemnation.  He would defeat the foe who would lure people onto the wrong pathway.

Not only was He the little Shepherd but a little Overseer of our souls.

For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  I Peter 2:25 

He would be the caretaker of the inside world of those He loves.  He would expose sin, the sin that destroys us.  He would inspire repentance, the deep apology and heart change that restores life.  He would point to each crooked place in the human heart in order to make the paths straight without painful detours.  He would cheer on those who limped. He would pick up the lame until they could walk again.  He would help the feeble, working within each nuance of their emotional and spiritual limitations.  This little Shepherd would shepherd perfectly.  No one would be overlooked and not one under His care would have reason to live in shame and dwell in hiding.  

Every one of us has a deep desire to be known by one who loves us.  Because we were made for this, our soul strains to be under the care of one who sees it all and offers to shape an environment where we can thrive.  The perfect Shepherd, the One who daily provides soul care (if I let Him), tends His flock.  He’s a Shepherd, not a brute.  He is the singer who energizes, not the taskmaster who bellows orders.  We are in such good hands.

Jesus, my worship of you, my Shepherd, begins in the manger.  Your shepherd’s crook is ever in my view. Amen