When You Face Roadblocks

Like David, I feel God’s call on my life. I know he has created me for a purpose and has given me dreams to pursue in the way of both life and business. But several things have come up this week that look like roadblocks and game changers for my plans. Now, the long way, the hard way, the way that looks like it goes the opposite direction from where initially thought, causes me to panic and question.

Forgetting God’s faithfulness in my past that has brought me exactly to this point, my immediate reaction is to run and hide. Conflict is hard. Crucial conversations are agonizingly difficult. Identifying poor mechanics and calling lack of strength to light is excruciatingly embarrassing. Even just stepping back to reevaluate and reroute feels like failure. When I forget how he uses everything for good, I doubt how this new circumstance can turn out in anything other than adversity.

Forgetting God’s provision for the present, I start grasping in panic for everything I can do to change and control what happens next, just like David eating the representation of God’s faithfulness to his people as a common, daily meal. I run through a mental inventory of everything around me that can help. In that, I find myself reacting out of fear instead of trust in God. God’s provision and presence are here with me right now. I partake of it daily. Everything around me is a testament to his faithfulness – even when I’m desperately looking for a place to hide.

Forgetting God’s control of the future, I beg for the instant fix – or at least the relatively soon fix. I want to put in that good day’s work, or maybe even a hard week of intentionality. And then I want the results. I don’t want to work and wait for six months or six years. I don’t want the answer to my latest question or prayer to be “keep praying and keep working”. I want immediate answers and immediate resolutions. I want God to change and grow me, but I want it to be one and done and moving on.

What it all comes down to is the fundamental sin of not esteeming God as God. God’s no or even silence translates in my head to he can’t (not omnipotent) or he won’t (not perfect and good). In both these reactions, I place my own intellect, ability to reason, and foresight above his omniscience. And that is a truly terrifying place to find myself. My track record of perfection is nonexistent while God’s stretches into eternity.

What is the solution then? What is the next little step? It’s the deliberate, daily progression of submission and growth and the building of routine and discipline.

It’s the long lean into God’s constant faithfulness and provision.

I must spill my circumstances out of my tightly clutched and anxious arms and inquire of the Lord. Looking back, I see how He has unerringly corrects my character and my path compassionately and slowly through each circumstance as I submit to Him.

This week is just another reminder that I’ve never been in control – even with my best-laid plans. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

His Word is living and active and in inquiring of Him it speaks just to where I find myself. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (1 Cor 4:16-18) And as simply as that, I feel the peace that transcends all understanding flood over me. In Christ, I live and move and have my being. In Christ, I am secure. As I submit, he guides my way.

What Holds My Gaze

Hold fast. Fix my eyes. Stay the course.

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” (Prov. 4:25-27)

How often do I consciously pause and take stock of my next move, the next box on my to do list? Or weigh each little decision with eternity? How often do I deliberately ponder my course through the rapids of daily life?

It’s all too easy to slide into the mind-numbing distractions so readily available at my fingertips. Scroll, click. Ah, a brief reprieve from my own struggle. I can bury emotions as fast as I can scroll past them. But soon, I find myself immersed in comparison – green with envy – reminded of all I lack. I veer towards jealously, entitlement, and greed. And the longer I scroll and the more I watch the less my own life measures up to social media and advertising standards, no matter how deep the things God is doing in me.

Sometimes the matters that entangle my focus are just day to day worries. The endless to-do list. The overwhelming responsibilities of adulting. The simple, yet, somehow unattainable dream of having groceries on hand and in the fridge when I need them. These keep me in a washing machine spin cycle of busyness, anxiety, and not quite measuring up.

Other times, the thoughts that capture my attention so wholly and completely comprise of all my doubts and insecurities. Things that shout viciously of my past mistakes. Things that whisper insidiously that God is holding out on me. They start me on a rabbit trail of shame and bitterness.

See how the outward world shapes us year by year, generation by generation? What I constantly observe becomes my obsession and fixation. See what we value based on what’s popular? I soak it up. I turn towards.

Why? Because what I constantly behold becomes my goal.

What holds my gaze directs my heart.

What goes in comes back out. The place my mind occupies, my life trajectory follows.

Waiting for motivation with good intentions is a dangerous game. There are simply too many duties and pleasures clamoring for my attention. While I wait, all goals of devotion, discipline, and health fade to white noise and guilty reminders of where I failed to even start. Intentions differ from intentionality. I must choose the things of God. Purposely. Deliberately.

I’m reminded of the exhilarating, hypnotic rhythm of open water swimming. When racing, any drift to the left or to the right costs precious seconds. There are no lines under water to show the course. Lifting my head out of the water every few strokes to sight the buoy becomes essential. I must train until it becomes as natural as the rhythm of breathing. Any pause to find my bearings causes me sink slightly, loosing momentum, creating more drag and resistance.

Similarly, I need constant sighting of God’s Word – his ever-present markers – in my life. I need to stop focusing on the murky depths and lift my eyes to look to Him. I need to shut out the panic that tries to rise when I remember I’m surrounded by deep water and focus on the goal – the joy of what lies beyond the finish line.

I need the rhythm of Word in, breathe out, eyes up, steady forward.

I’ve also noticed that the relationships in my life flourish when I stop and pay attention to details and step intentionally in the direction of others’ needs and communication styles instead of the decay that ensues with complacency. It costs me something – time, effort, vulnerability to start – but to pay attention is worth the price of intimacy. How much more this plays out with God!

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1) “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things…” Be thou my vision, Lord. “…and give me life in your ways.” (Ps. 119:37) Draw me ever deeper. Intentionally. Deliberately.

 

Based on Destinations Message Series at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. Listen here: http://www.mitchellwesleyan.com/?page=media

Lean Not

This is exactly one of those weeks where I want God to teach me the deeper lesson and I genuinely want to learn it, but I have little desire to endure the harsh reality and stretching that ensues. Search my heart and know my anxious ways. Turns out I have quite a lot of them. Trust in the Lord, with all my heart. Seems impossible. Lean not on my own understanding. Trusting in my own reasoning is the only thing that feels normal. I use the excuse of my genetic make-up, personality type, and natural tendencies.

I know that God can. My problem is trusting Him when he doesn’t. I see only my own tiny tile in the mosaic of our existence. I’m just a chip, a fragment, a speck of reflective material. I start thinking about all the things that I need to do to make my will happen instead of submitting to His. At least every other prayer of mine used to be show me Your way. Despite my good intentions, I wanted to know each step of His will before I had made up my mind to follow it. I would trust in Him, but only if it lined up with what I deemed best.

I find myself asking this week what my trust in God means right now. Do I trust that He is sovereign? Do I trust that he is present? More importantly, do I trust that He is good? Do I trust Him with my daily decisions instead of just the big ones? Do I trust that He isn’t too busy to care? What does that trust mean the day after my prayer goes unanswered in a big way? What does it mean when it comes to more than reciting words?

Trust is an action. So many times, I lazily file it away with my intentions, right next to acknowledgement. And when I do act on my trust in God, I still tend to direct my own paths and pretend I can drag God along with me, as needed, like a cane or a crutch to lean on when I’m tired or in need.

I find it interesting that Proverbs 3:5-6 tells me to trust in God with all my heart and to lean not on my own understanding; a concept so important it needs to be stated twice. Lean away from myself and into God. Stop seeking my own solutions and filter the day in front of me through the Word.

Lean in. An action resulting from both expectation and necessity. We lean into the wind to keep our balance, trusting that it will not relent. We lean back into a chair with a release of tension, certain of its embrace. We lean into a kiss, sure that we will be met with vulnerability and desire on the other side. We lean on the shoulders of others, knowing they will support the weight that our injured limbs no longer can.

Leaning ends in submission. And submission is the first action. He promises the rest will follow. Verse after verse throughout his Word, He promises this. He makes my path straight. He makes the way clear. How much heartache could have I saved myself if I had not stubbornly continued at some right angle onto my own paths and suffered for it? Lord, help me to take refuge in You and your Word, under the shadow of your Spirit. Help me to lean it each moment of each day.

Today matters. Right now matters. Today sets my options and my trajectory for tomorrow. “Destiny is not a mystery. For better or worse, your destiny is the result of your daily decisions and defining decisions.” (Mark Batterson: The Circle Maker).

Direction, not intention determines my destination. And my submission precedes my direction.

Saturday in Between

It’s Saturday. The day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s the day in between death and life. My Savior was hammered onto a wooden beam and died yesterday. Light of the world, snuffed out like a candle. Violence, rage meets innocence, obedience.

Why is Easter so muted as a celebration? Why doesn’t anyone say it’s their favorite holiday? Why are we more keen to worship a Baby at his birth than that same Man at his death? Is it because it’s so gory, so shocking? So gruesome that we shrink away? Because it pricks our consciences and tells us it’s our fault? His suffering means that we are to blame?

It’s easier to celebrate when the rest of the world joins in with presents and traditions and decorations and constant promptings of the “spirit” of the season. It’s harder to join when recalling beatings, a mistrial, and an execution. It’s easier to celebrate a Messiah far away in history, requiring nothing of us but hope, than a conscious examination of our own short comings and failures that remind us that we need a Savior to save us from ourselves.

              Why? His birth brings us hope. But His death! Ah, His death grants us life!

Is it because his life on earth ends in such hurried, violent tumult and our unfulfilled expectations? We want a savior that changes our circumstances for the better – not one who models humble sacrifice for others. We want political activism – not silence as a defense and a deeper look at our own mess.

But on this day, in between, this gap between our shattered plans and God’s unerring story of restoration, I pause. I’m not any better at this Christianity thing than anyone else. I just want to focus on Someone today and not myself. I want to force myself to look at the pain and chaos that my selfish choices cause. And then I want to look to the perfect One who was never less than God but never more than man who died to set me free.

Everything else out there tells me that if I try hard enough or sacrifice long enough I’ll reach peace and enlightenment and tame the beast that is self. But Easter tells me that though I can never measure up to the impossible standard, Someone did and gives His merit to me freely. Free, a word so misused today. But I take hold of this gift, knowing I can never repay. It’s out of this gift that I want to live – not striving towards it. Out of love and joy and thankfulness and rest in the fact that my God has made a way for me to be forgiven – not constantly working to measure up.

That is worth living for in this now and not yet between His death and resurrection and in this long stretch of Saturdays between His resurrection and our final restoration with God.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And then what?

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

And then what?

That is my burning question this holiday season, erupting into flames against the backdrop of my life. How does that the hopeful expectation of Christmas fizzle and sputter so quickly at the approach of New Year’s? How does quiet faith of something, no, Someone, better and new entering time to fix our brokenness become a recitation of what went wrong this last year and all of the things necessary to make 2017 live up to unrealistic expectations?

Maybe this year will be different. Maybe this year I’ll figure it all out: a self-empowerment mantra that only leaves me more disillusioned at the end of the next year when I fail once again to control the uncontrollable. I’ve read of people focusing on a word for the new year as a call to action. But I need more than a word. I need a thousand, ten thousand.

I need the Word, a continual immersion in truth, to keep me grounded and stable.

The Christmas season still feels a bit like a mandatory census with its need to finish up normal life while still fitting in all sorts of extras, but still make it home – wherever that may be – in time for Christmas. And home is not quite the same as we left it for many of us: loss of dearest ones, a move, a disaster, or simply age and time. Yet, we still make that pilgrimage towards where we came from – even if it’s in our own minds.

For me, this year has been a different sort of homecoming and a rough one at that. I spent the last two months selling or packing all of my possessions, driving them halfway across the country, closing out my current career, and saying the hardest of goodbyes to the best of friends. On December 23rd, my sister and I started the drive from Orlando to South Dakota, hoping to make it in time for Christmas Eve celebration with the rest of the family.

I imagine the very pregnant and travel weary Mary had some of the same emotions. Please. Just get us there. Let the travel stop. I want to sleep in one place for more than a night. I want to have a home again. And like Mary, I arrived in the midst of chaos and other people’s homecomings and a house bursting at the seams. The journey completed, the displacement and change had just begun.

While I can’t commiserate fully with the wholly overwhelming experience of a newborn, every life change is fraught with disproportionate feelings. Our worst fears seem magnified and shouted on endless repeat in the back of our minds. What if I fail? I cannot control this. This isn’t enough. This is too much.

I grow weary of my ceremonies and rituals to make it all better, to make me better. In Isaiah, God grows tired of Israel’s vain offerings, as well. He tells them, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

I can’t on my own. I’m reminded of a child in one of my favorite books who finds himself as a dragon, lonely and in pain, because of his own selfishness and sin. He longs to be human again, to be made right as we all do, but can only remove so many layers of the dragon scales on his own before finally submitting to the claw of Aslan to finish the job.

Submit. Maybe that’s my word for the year, for my life. It’s something I struggle with every single day. How do I submit to the moment, to the process, to the journey, to the unknown and uncontrollable? Even Isaiah hints that a process is necessary and failures are certain by stating that we must learn to do good. And what is learning but the forging of new pathways by repeated trial and error? We must seek justice but cannot guarantee that we will find it in our lifetimes.

All of these things take time, something I suddenly have much more of at my disposal. But I’m not quite sure what I am supposed to be doing with it. My normal responses of action and busyness are stilled in the face of recreating a life in a place I left behind fifteen years ago.

So, I sit and work to submit. I lean into such words as “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (Isaiah 1:18-19) He, who is faithful, has done it, is doing it, will do it. He has washed me clean and has made a way – how much more will he lead me in it.

Faith and hope in the quiet of winter. May I learn to linger in these long twilights under cold skies. This new year I make no resolutions, only rest. For, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5)

And that is enough.

How to Talk to God

How to talk to God. Catchy title. Engaging. Relevant. But how do you sum this up in a blog post? Or even a four-week message series? The impossibility of such an answer leaves me somewhere between frozen and grateful.

If talking to God looked the same for everyone, every time then I would most certainly treat it as another box to check on my to-do list and it would, in no way, change my circumstances nor my heart. If it were a generic, one-size-fits-all prescription I would flounder and drown in boredom, routine, and disappointment. The fact that Bible spends so much more time simply admonishing us to pray rather than giving us step-by-steps on what that looks like, frees me from societal interpretations unrealistic, unattainable expectations for prayer. But at the same time, such freedom in mode can lead me to less action and counterfeit commitment.

But in his sovereignty, God left us with a framework and a starting point for prayer. “…Hallowed by thy name.” (Matt 6:9) Ultimately, and above all, God’s glory should get our highest priority. And even in glorifying him, we need his help. He alone powers our prayers. Answers to prayer do not hinge on our faith, nor our obedience, nor even our fervency and desperation. They rest only with God. Praying does not make me Christian.

I pray to communicate with God while acknowledging that He is the only means by which it all transpires.

If there is one thing that I feel like I’m good at in the whole Christianity thing, it’s arguing with God. My problems with God often come right where faith and logic fail to meet. And I’m at a particular juncture in my life where I need to make immensely consequential decisions – at least it feels that way in my limited, finite view of things. In fact, I feel my next move is something that I have been arguing with God about for years.

I pride myself on my reasoning abilities. I lay my “but God’s” out before him in order. Emotions only serve to impassion my fact-based arguments before him. All the reasons why I can’t or the things I think he should do to/in my circumstances stand in formation, ready for battle.

But faith comes after the arguing and ultimately deciding to trust God’s way, regardless that trusting God seems to make the least amount of logical sense.

I’ve felt him leading in an ever tightening circle to this new adventure in my life for a long, long time. Most days I spend more like Jonah with my fingers in my ears shouting, Lalalala, I can’t hear you! than I do like David, praying for a humble and contrite heart and for God’s glory to shine in my circumstances. But God is merciful and patient and still works through my repeated failures and slow learning and half-hearted prayer.

So many times I have cried out to God to show me what’s next, but now I have also begun to ask him to help me learn contentment in my current situation. My heart burns and my soul pants. Nothing else can satisfy, but God. I’ve tried so many other ways. But like David, I am learning to pray hear me, answer me, save me, transform me. Meet my needs in the here and now, but transform my heart so that it is undivided.

Every time I have wrestled and travailed with God, I have come away changed. Even when I have been stripped bare and raw and broken by these arguments, I have found peace in the authenticity that struggle brings.

Pleading and stating my case uncovers my vulnerabilities and my motives.

God is big enough to handle my doubt and strong enough to love me through my lashing out.

My railings show the depth of his unending and unchanging mercy. And he brings about the circumstances that he deems best but simultaneously brings me to a place where I can meet them like a reed bending in the wind, full of life, still reaching ever upwards.

But more than just calling out in my desperation, the Word lead us to appeal to God from his attributes. I stop and ponder what he has done in the past because remembrance of his steadfastness fuels my anxious prayers. Answer, because of your faithfulness. Hear me, because of your goodness. Save me, because of your grace.

And so I continue to pray, because it doesn’t end when God finally leads me to one decision. Each day doubt starts fresh so I must run and bow again to Him whose ways are higher than mine and who has his glory and my good in mind. That means not giving up and not giving in – even when the hard part stretches on endlessly ahead of me.

Constant prayer is a posturing, a complete reliance on something other than myself, a reaching out in supplication to the Creator of all things, and an absolute and utter necessity. Rejoice. Lean in. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all things. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thes 5:24)

The Solid Rock

To be entirely honest, I wanted to give up on blogging this week just because I feel busy and I haven’t been consistent with anything this whole summer. However, I can’t get this week’s message out of my mind. I felt the need to sit down and do the hard work I want to avoid: hear and do. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24)

Sometimes “doing” is preaching the gospel to myself. Sometimes it is sitting down and reading a passage in the Word again and again and again until it sinks into my bones and flows through my veins with its cooling peace. Sometimes it’s gritting my teeth and looking for the positive in the stressful situation and consciously focusing on doing it all unto God – not just writing that phrase onto a cliché meme or hash tagging it on social media.

The storm falls on me this week in sheets of disappointment and crashes in with waves of unexpected and extra tasks. Then it circles around with physical exhaustion and subtle suggestions that I’m alone and overwhelmed and nothing will change.

It’s always the lie that we are alone, isn’t it? That no one else could possibly know what we face or carry? We feel ourselves on the outside looking in at the carefully mortared house walls that others construct for social media and surface conversation. We apologize to unexpected visitors at the state of our lived in home – as if no one else dirties dishes and towels and kitchen floors.

And how many false prophets preaching good things also scream for my attention? How easily I get carried away by their assurances of salvation by works! Relationships, body image, career success, social status, extracurricular memberships, hopes and dreams, a healthy lifestyle, future goals all demand my focus. If it’s good I must say yes and fit it in. But what fruit grows out of my investment in them? What are my motives? Of what does my foundation consist? How thick and unshakable does it reach down to keep me from blowing away on the fickle winds of today’s priorities?

I tend to get so caught up in building and busy with good things of life that I don’t make time for the hard work of abiding. I rush ahead in worry and haste. I start comparing myself with those around me and grab and slop together and ache for where I think the next phase in life should lead me. I take others’ goals and standards of measure and try to achieve them as my own.

I’m ever tempted to build my stuff higher and reach out wider to do more to keep up with some impossible and shifting standard. It’s easier for me to grab another stone and check off another box than it is for me to sit here and let the lesson of grace harden and cure.

But what do I sacrifice in depth and lasting fruit just to place a hundred stones above the surface for others to see? “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matt 7:20) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Gal 5:22-23) My focus must be Christ instead of growth or even others. The foundation must be first and all-consuming.

The foundation is the Gospel.

The Gospel is grace.

Grace is Christ meeting the impossible standard of perfection in my place. The foundation is living there. In grace. Sinking down into words of life and arms of forgiveness. Focusing on Christ. Only then rising to reach out with hands empowered by the Spirit.

The hard work of doing starts in the heart, mind, and soul. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace with be with you.” (Phil 4:4-9)

How to be a neighbor in a world filled with hate and ap...

After ruminating on the parable of the Good Samaritan this week, I realized that I often find myself like the lawyer who precipitates it – standing up, interrupting God, and asking fundamentally flawed questions. “Yeah, but what do I have to do to inherit eternal life and punch my ticket to heaven?” as if I can do anything to inherit. Inheritance yields itself as a gift – not a recompense to earn.

Jesus, in his typical, motive piercing style, turns the question back on the expert who challenged him, but then accepts the pat, canned answer he receives in return. Yes. Right. Love God with everything in you and love your neighbor well. Do this and you will live. Even rehearsed and rote, this Sunday School statement cannot be wrung and distilled of its intrinsic and fundamental truth.

But this doesn’t satisfy the challenger, similar to how it often doesn’t placate me. I, too, skirt and dance around the heart issues, seeking out endless loopholes to justify not only my strivings, but my also avoidances. Who is my neighbor? How far do I really have to go with this? How much of my life can remain untouched and deemed acceptable because of the good I’ve already done in this world? Where is the line that allows me to stop the painful work of introspection and sacrifice and self-denial? When have I done enough?

In response, Jesus paints a picture of what love and sacrifice really look like. Envision a man from any despised minority group (whether race, religion, social class, etc.) stopping to care for an injured man of the segregated hating group after others have already gone on by. The Samaritan risked his own life by staunching the grave wounds of the other man and then also carrying him into a hostile town and paying in advance for his care. Can you feel the cold, steely stares dripping with suspicion as he makes his way through town?

In using such a metaphor, Jesus goes beyond the touted rules and regulations. He pushes their understanding of obedience from following the law, to following a God of grace and mercy and compassion. He transcends race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, age and every other polarizing difference that we focus on instead of on our shared state of humanity and sin.

No matter what scenario I present, Jesus alone is the Good Samaritan.

He saves me from my sin that hungers to destroy me and leaves me beaten and bloody along the path of life. He brings me from death to life. He rescues me and pays my debts. Final judgement must not find me holding my good deeds, but must find me in Christ. I can’t ever outwork my sin. His blood and sacrifice on my behalf are the only things that credit me with righteousness. Christ alone saves.

The question that remains then isn’t how to define my neighbor, but how to discern my heart motives and intentions and how to see everyone around me as God has also created them in his image. And this, welling up from the grace that God has bestowed on me. His ultimate surrender, sacrifice, and example leave me no option to stop at simply doing no harm. Everyone is my neighbor, no matter how inconvenient or counter cultural. Nor can I stop at social justice. What is mercy, but Christ taking our place? The man who proved to be the neighbor was the one who showed mercy. “…You go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

 

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Check out the message at http://discovergrace.com/messages/

A Long Way Off

Oh, the prodigal son. This one always hits so close to home. I have spent years as each of the sons. For most of my life, I identified with the older brother; angry and indignant at the undeserved affection and unwarranted reception that the prodigal receives upon coming home. I toiled diligently and abstained from many pleasures in order to stay “righteous” and do the good works. And for a time, I centered my heart on God.

But in my earnestness and eventual self-righteousness, I sought God’s approval on my deeds and my lifestyle. I felt like his blessings were rewards for my behavior – not grace upon grace. I fell into the ugly trap of deserving. I deserved what I had. My hard work deserved recompense. I labored to swing the scales of justice in my favor. How could those who had done nothing receive the same merit as I did?

But resentment reveals itself just as bitter and virulent as envy and hate and unrepentance. It kept me from seeing the magnitude of my own sin and the overwhelming grace of the cross that covers it.

Unfortunately, I also spent several years as the prodigal son. I got to the point where I was tired of waiting for the good things I thought I deserved. I wanted that feast in my honor. I wanted what I thought was good and best along my own timeframe. So, I demanded my inheritance and literally, took off across the country in pursuit of my desires. I squandered five years of my life in reckless living. And squandered is the perfect word for it. I have nothing to show for those years. Nothing, but sour memories; no investments of my time that reached beyond myself. I spent five years completely self-absorbed in a mirrored bubble of myself.

Somehow, I thought my selfish choices wouldn’t affect anyone else. I imagined that I would just kind of disappear from my family – I even wrote such foolishness in my journal at the beginning of that time. I couldn’t imagine the gaping wounds I inflicted on my sisters, mother, father, nieces, nephews, and old friends. I didn’t expect them to see and feel them trying to heal from my arrogant, abrupt departure and stubborn unrepentance.

I experienced my own famine for a long, desperate time before God opened my eyes again. I had starved myself of love and real human connection. My heart waned dry and empty. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing and I hurt without really even understanding why or where. My daily circumstances left me feeling listless and hopeless. I looked outside myself and knew that my situation was not ultimate, nor ideal. Nothing about it brought me peace or hope – only a wishing for something better and more fulfilling than the nothingness that consumed me.

But even then, I could not change my circumstances. I could not will them away or strive myself out of it. I fell and kept falling and falling until I landed back into God’s arms. While still a long way off, I heard him calling out to me and joyfully summoning me back. When I couldn’t make it through a church service without breaking down into tears I felt him pulling me and starting the celebration at my return – even though it was all his doing.

And as the prodigal returning home, I began to realize what I never could in my stilted stubbornness as the elder brother: all that is His, he has already given freely to us.

All that is His, was mine, is mine.

It culminated on the cross and has never stopped. Every blessing, every sunrise, every feast, every celebration, every joy – they were not mine because I had earned them. They belonged to the Father and he has always longed for me to share with him in them.

He eagerly entreats us to accept his lavish gifts and what more can I ever dream of than life eternal with Him? What is true of the prodigal son rings true for us in Christ: “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32) From death to life. From lost to found.

I began to see that we are all prodigals coming home.

 

Based on the parable of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-33 from Grace Church’s The Parables series. Check it out here: http://discovergrace.com/messages/

When Hope Is All You Have

The Apostle’s Creed pounds home God’s divine nature and his plan for the redemption of man point by point, and then culminates in this ethereal, sweeping gaze to the future. I think the authors intended it that way to remind us never to be so caught up in the past or here and now that we forget what lies ahead.

The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. I can look forward to these things only after grounding myself in the Gospel and reminding myself of truth upon truth; after examining where I put my hope and scrutinizing my construct of God and his church. Who I am in Christ ignites my hope for the future.

How many years did I long for a “story” of conversion, wishing for my salvation to become real and true and deep? I tell you what gives you a story: living. Live long enough and everyone has a beautiful tragedy to tell.

And now it feels like I share a little piece of my story every single week by processing and writing through each message. But that’s really the essence of this gospel-centered life: take each blow and every triumph and paint them over again with God’s grace, through Christ. Forget what lies behind and lean in towards what waits ahead.

Not the kind of forgetting that never calls it to mind again. I fervently wish that for some memories and choices I have made. But instead, this remembering counts it all under the blood of Christ so that dark shadows of shame and worry can no longer dominate my thoughts or haunt my dreams with angst and regret.

And not the kind of striving forward that I often labor for in pursuit. That relying on my own competence and willpower to make myself better and worthy leaves me so disillusioned and broken down. The impossibility overwhelms me. But this true striving is one of radiant hope and ever-present peace and joy.

As Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own… I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12,14) The upward call; citizenship in heaven.

How easily I fall prey to the cares of this moment and the next! How much effort and worry I spend on things that bloom and loom today but wither or blow over in an instant!

But hope gives proper perspective.

Right now, my car is broken. Looks like my lawn irrigation leak is back. Job stress is through the roof, and one of my best friends is struggling with an anxiety I know all too well. But I can’t fixate on my lack of control. I continue to move forward, looking upward. God help me. Is this what faith feels like? I wouldn’t really call it resignation or acquiescence, but a shifting of focus; resetting, resolving. I need to lay down the things I can’t carry anyway.

Hope. Rejoice. Why? The Lord is at hand. Pray. Give thanks. The most important work has already been done; the redemption of our souls. I can rest secure in this regardless of the buffeting storms. I can’t let unfulfilled expectations and daily disappointments blossom into bitterness in my heart.

He is still good even when I don’t understand. The peace of God transcends my understanding. That doesn’t make it any less real. I pray because Jesus prayed. And I ask his will to be done, not my own. Sometimes it feels like the worst thing in the world because I can’t see how it can ever be good or make sense to my limited viewpoint. Those awful, hard times break my heart, but they are good because he is good. He is the only thing I can hope in; not jobs, not answered prayers, not people. Just his sovereignty and goodness.

Hope – that translucent, resilient thing – springs from roots in Christ alone, pointing to a future of resurrection and life eternal with the creator, sustainer, and lover of our souls.