Tag Archives: Christianity

Can we admit we’re not “close to perfect?”

Maskerade-0

I would love to present myself as a close-to-perfect person with a close-to-perfect family. I know I can’t present myself, or my family, as completely perfect, because there was only one perfect person who ever lived. However, I can try to make you think that we’re close to perfect. Think about our Facebook pages and our blogs. We can make our lives look ideal, despite struggling through great difficulties (or just through the day-to-day challenges).

I’m not going to chronicle all of the adversity in my life, but I want to be clear when I say that I’m far from perfect and so is my family. I realize that you probably already know that, especially if you know us personally. Even if you don’t know us, you know we’re not close to perfect, because you and your family aren’t either.

Why, though, is it so difficult for us to admit this? Why do we put on masks for each other, pretending that everything is fabulous and that our families have it all together, even when we’re really struggling? (Isn’t this hypocrisy?)

We argue with our spouses and children in the car on the way to church, then step out with our Sunday smiles and tell everyone we’re fine. If our kids won’t behave or we have marital strife, we keep it all to ourselves, giving the impression that things are great in our homes. Why?

For many of us, it’s because we don’t want to be judged, and we suspect we would be. Maybe we have been in the past. Perhaps we’ve known of others who were open and who suffered for it. Our fear and our pride keep us from intimacy with other believers. I’ve heard it said that the Church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. Unfortunately, I’ve seen evidence that this is sometimes a true statement.

But …

What if we really viewed the church as a place for sinners and those redeemed by grace to gather and to authentically worship our great Savior?

What if we accepted everyone exactly as they are, acknowledging that we all need to grow to become more Christlike?

What if we didn’t judge by appearances, but took the time to examine the heart?

What if we didn’t judge by circumstances, but understood that there always are factors we don’t know about?

What if we openly accepted people who struggle, and helped them grow or recover?

What if we supported people who are victims of other people’s sin?

What if I could really tell you my struggles and my family’s struggles?

If so, then …

Couldn’t we help each other out?

Wouldn’t it be refreshing not to have to pretend?

Might our worship be more authentic?

Couldn’t we comfort each other?

Might others benefit from hearing of our own life experiences?

Might we benefit from hearing of their life experiences?

Couldn’t we hold each other accountable in a loving manner?

Wouldn’t we feel freer, lighter, more joyful?

And, most of all …

Wouldn’t we look a lot more like Jesus?

How should we respond to the consequences of other people’s choices?

Ripple effect on water.
Ripple effect on water. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes life is just hard. Much of the difficulty comes from the fact that we can’t control other people. As hard as we may try or as sincere as we may be, we simply aren’t capable of making anyone do anything. Sometimes it may even seem that we can’t make ourselves do what we know we must do. Old patterns are extremely difficult to change.

There are times when we’re at fault for the difficulties in our lives. Other times, though, we’ve done nothing to deserve suffering.

People’s actions often have a ripple effect. Picture yourself tapping your finger on water. What happens? You make a ripple—a series of circles that generates from the spot where you touched the water. The circles continue until they reach the water’s edge or until they’re intercepted by other objects or patterns. The same is true in our lives. The ripples we begin often have far-reaching effects as they intercept other people’s ripples and obstacles. They continue on for so much longer than just that tiny finger tap that started it all.

Just as our ripples affect others, theirs affect us. Oftentimes the ripples bring good things. Sometimes, however, they bring pain. Heartbreak. Even life change.

So what do we do when this happens? When the ripples bring a tide of tears and torment? It depends. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do but cling to our great God, our Abba (Daddy). Other times, we can add personal action to our faith.

In times of distress, I recall the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
 and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world 
as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right 
if I surrender to His Will;
 That I may be reasonably happy in this life 
and supremely happy with Him 
Forever in the next.
 Amen.

Reinhold Niebuhr

There’s so much wisdom in this beloved prayer. First of all, I’ve wasted countless hours and energy trying to change things over which I have no control. I’m getting better at letting go of these things. But the next couple of lines are the main challenge for me–“the courage to change the things I can.” Now that, coupled with “the wisdom to know the difference,” can be difficult. It can be easy to fall into a victim mentality, thinking I just have to endure my circumstances. Or I can find myself thinking of good solutions, but not carrying them out. Or debating with myself over a solution and neglecting to take action.

As an adult child of an alcoholic, I’m more prone to bear these kinds of burdens. But I know I’m not alone. Many people struggle with how to deal with the consequences of other people’s actions.

So, as I find myself being affected by the ripples of another person’s choices, I have some decisions of my own to make. I need to sort out “the things I cannot change,” and “the things I can.” Then I need to have serenity and courage to deal with the things in each category. That requires that God grant me “the wisdom to know the difference.”

This path isn’t easy. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t comfortable. But it is freeing. And it brings peace.

How well do you know the Story of a lifetime?

crown of thornsShe listened with rapt attention as I shared the story–a story so familiar to me that I could recite it in my sleep, a story I generally take for granted, a story I’ve told countless times to far less enthralled audiences. She actively listened–inserting heartfelt “ooh,”s “really”s, and “no way”s throughout.

This was the story of my Savior’s sacrifice. A story I know so well that I have lost the wonder of it. Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t lost the joy or the appreciation of knowing that Jesus died for me to pay my debt and to purchase my eternity. But the wonder–I certainly don’t have the sense of wonder that little girl had.

At church events in America, it’s not often that you get to tell someone the Story for the very first time. Most people have heard it before, perhaps so many times that they could tell it flawlessly themselves without much wonder at all. But if this child , who was about nine years old, had heard the Good News before, she hadn’t gotten the message that it was commonplace, boring, or “old news.” To her it was fresh, and it was important. Even though all the other kids were sitting quietly and nodding their heads or being still, it didn’t occur to her to do anything but voice her questions and concerns. She couldn’t believe that people would treat Jesus like that or that He was willing to pay such a price.

It was refreshing to witness the response of someone who was hearing the Savior’s Story for the very first time. Shouldn’t we all have that kind of a response even if it’s the thousandth time? Because it’s a story full of wonder.

Closed Doors May Reveal God’s Will

Sometimes I think I’m on the right track, but God’s will is different. Other times, I simply don’t know God’s will but press on with what seems logical. To my shame, I also have had times when I didn’t even seriously consider God’s will in my decision making process.

Recently I have been trying to make some decisions that will seriously impact my life and the lives of my children. I have been much more tenderhearted toward God than I have been in years. But I still couldn’t discern His will. He knew that I wanted His will, whatever it was, and that I wanted it more than my own desires. And so He is graciously revealing His will, a little at a time, by closing one door after another. I am looking forward to walking through the doors He has chosen for me.

Ultimately, though, I have learned God’s will—His overall will for me and for every person who has ever walked the face of the earth. His will is for me (and you) to know Him. He cares much less about our circumstances than He does about our relationships. Our relationship with Him is to be the primary focus of our lives, and our relationships with others are a natural outflow of our relationship with Him. When we focus on Him, we will naturally know and do His will.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33 NLT)

Jehovah-Jireh: The Lord Provides, if we give Him the chance

The Israelites Gather Manna in the Wilderness ...
The Israelites Gather Manna in the Wilderness (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God provides all of the time. Sometimes we try to provide for ourselves. I think that when we do that, we miss out on God’s blessings. We work so hard in our own strength to do something that God would happily do for us. How silly is that? Why would we insist on doing work that has already been done, or that we know someone else is planning to do for us?

There are two main reasons I can think of that we might do this: pride and lack of trust. Pride says, “I can’t stand the thought of God doing something I may be able to do on my own if I work hard enough. That would make me look weak, lazy, etc. (fill in the blank) Pride also says, “I have to earn God’s favor and I have to pay Him back for the gift of salvation. I can’t ask Him for anything else.” Lack of trust says, “If I don’t do it, it might not happen.” We may believe God is able to provide, but we may wonder whether He actually will. Or we may believe that our problem isn’t big enough for God to care about. Maybe we take care of all the “small stuff” and only approach Him with things we can’t possibly take care of on our own.

Just because we can provide something on our own doesn’t mean God wants us to do it in our own strength. We can do a lot of things on our own, but we also may neglect relationships with God and people in the process. We may burn ourselves out. We may take responsibility for something someone else is supposed to be doing. We may rob someone else of the opportunity to serve. We may miss out on what God really wants us to do.

Could the Israelites have provided for themselves in the desert? Maybe they couldn’t have produced much food, but they certainly could have allowed hunger to drive them to the promised land in their own time, rather than in God’s. Or, they could have decided that they would rely on God’s provision of manna for a short time, but figured that God didn’t want them relying on Him for too long. They could have pressed on to Canaan too quickly because of their lack of trust and their pride. That would have ended in disaster! Surely their enemies would have defeated them, or they would have met with other challenges for which they were unprepared. Trusting God’s provision and His timing, though it was probably difficult to do, was the best course of action.

Trusting God to provide is always our best course of action too. God is the same today as He was in Moses’s day. No matter how bleak our circumstances look, God is Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides.

Heavenly Father, I don’t always know how you’re going to provide. Right now I’m in a season of having to trust You because I know You’ve called me to make a change that looks kind of crazy in the world’s eyes. But I trust You will provide, and I will give you the glory for it.

Walking by Faith for Baptism and Beyond

ImageToday our church had a special baptism service. Baptisms occur every weekend, but there was a special emphasis this weekend. I especially loved one of Pastor Kyle Idleman’s points: He said that there are many great questions about baptism, but the one he doesn’t like people to ask is, “Do I have to be baptized?” Baptism is a privilege–a response to receiving the very great gift of salvation which was purchased with Jesus’ blood.

When I was baptized 20 years ago, I did so in response to God’s amazing grace. I came to a realization that I could never do enough good deeds to win God’s favor or to spend eternity with Him. I understood that I would never have peace without accepting the free gift of salvation He was offering me. I remember being very nervous about getting baptized, but then feeling so much peace as I came up out of the water. I knew that I was a new creation in Christ and that something was totally, radically different. Other people could tell too. So many things changed about me on the inside and on the outside.

Since then, many years have passed and many changes have taken place in my life. I have become more comfortable in my faith. That may sound like a good thing. We consider comfort to be positive, right? But in this case, it’s not. Christians should never become comfortable in their faith. Believers should always be reaching out of their comfort zone and allowing the Lord to stretch them. They should be characterized by doing things that they can’t possibly do without God’s help. When we live in our comfortable Christian circles and don’t share our lives with unbelievers, and when we only do what we know we can do in our own strength, God gets very little glory.

I was convicted today during the baptism service that I need to be more dependent on Jesus. That I need to “be still and know that He is God.” (Psalm 46:10) That I need to listen for His direction instead of being so self-reliant. That I need to trust Him completely. If I can trust Him with my eternity, I certainly can trust Him with the details of this life. 

Jesus, forgive my complacency, my fears, my doubt, my self-reliance. Make me into the person you want me to be. I want to do whatever you want me to do. I want to know You.