Tag Archives: forgiveness

Life Is a Glorious Mess

13 Dec

For two or three weeks before my parents came out for Thanksgiving, I had gotten into a routine. Life was good. Predictable. Tidy. Organized.

But having out of town guests was just the thing that upset my routine and now 3 weeks later, I’m still not back on track. Too many nights of staying up late trying to get things done. Too many mornings of caring more about sleep than getting back on track. Too many days of trying to catch up on things that I bailed on in the name of relaxation (hello, house cleaning!).

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I woke up yesterday morning wanting at least 4 more hours in bed. Instead, I got up to make coffee – an hour after my alarm went off the first time. The kitchen counters overflowed with dirty dishes; the table drowned in Christmas presents, mail, and other things used over the weekend but not put away. The cupboards were conspicuously bare from my lack of grocery shopping. The fridge held potatoes from our garden and spinach from the store, wilting and rotting before I could use them. The dogs wagged their tails in hope of a walk. A temperature of 63 degrees revealed that the furnace wasn’t working again.

I was frustrated. Mad. Why is life so hard?

I do better when life is organized. When things are in their place. When I’m on top of what I need to be on top of.

I could have been there this morning – except I chose to relax and watch Christmas movies last night instead of doing chores.

And I’ve realized that my affinity for order and perfection has a price tag – it costs me Life. Joy. Peace. Patience.

When I admire people in movies (like J. Lo in The Wedding Planner) who have every piece of their life in place with predictable schedules and unvaried routines, I fail to realize that they’re paying for that perfection – with human relationships. I mean, how often do those same perfect people have an intimate marriage, loving kids, and open their homes to others?

To truly embrace the presence of others in my life, I have to let go of perfection. Because a life filled with relationships is messy. As Emily Walker wrote in her post The Messy Table:

My table is not perfect, but it has done the job it was meant to do very well. Life has been lived at it. Lessons have been learned at it. Memories have been made for decades, right there at that table. It tells the story of lives being lived, not life missed out on in the name of perfection.

That. Exactly.

When I think about what kind of mother I want to be someday, do I want my kids to remember how well-kept our house was, elaborate our dinners were, and how we were always running around doing stuff?  Or do I want them to remember how I played with them in our backyard, dropped whatever I was doing to listen or laugh, and didn’t get mad when they trampled little dirty footprints all over the carpet? Obviously, I want to be the latter.

And here’s what I’m learning: I don’t become the peaceful, patient, loving woman I want to be by being perfect and on top of things. Rather, I grow to be that woman as I learn to let things go. If I expect the house to always be orderly, I get frustrated when something is out of place. If I map out my schedule for the day and a wrench gets thrown in, I’m mad.

People who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit aren’t isolated from problems and frustrations. They have just learned to embrace the messiness of life. Be content in chaos. See each moment for what it’s really worth – not a time for getting things done, but a time to connect with and serve others, and to be filled with the joy of knowing Christ. Instead of running around checking off my own to-do list, I need to walk through each day with God, trusting that His grace is sufficient – He will provide the energy and wisdom to work when I need to, and to rest when I need to.

A comforting idea I’ve had in my head for several weeks now is that God is more realistic about my abilities than I am. Like QuatroMama writes in this post, I tend to set up my own (perfectionist) standards and then beat myself up when I fall short.

But God is realistic. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” He doesn’t ask me to be Mega Woman. He understands that I only have so many minutes in a day and if I spend time doing this thing, I don’t have time for that thing. If I’m exhausted and want to veg instead of clean, He doesn’t accuse me of laziness and not being productive, like I do to myself. Unlike me, He is full of grace, understanding, and patience.

This is where the Gospel makes all the difference. The Gospel allows us to admit that we fall short of what we wish we were, but reassures us that we’re loved anyway. And God’s love for us isn’t despite how we’ve disappointed Him, or failed to live up to His standard. Because when He sees us in Christ, He sees perfect beings. We are completely and utterly righteous in His eyes. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us.”

He doesn’t mutter “I love you” through gritted teeth while trying to not be mad over all the things we’ve done wrong. God’s love abounds for us. He lavishly pours out grace upon grace into our lives with delight.

In the words of John Piper, remind yourself, “I am holy and I am loved.” Even when life is messy.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you remind yourself of God’s unfailing love?

The Savior’s Gift

20 Jan

My reading goal for the beginning of 2011 is to finish all of the books I started simultaneously in 2010. Moreover, I am trying to finish all of these books before starting any new ones (a task which is proving very difficult and less and less appealing the more books I encounter that look really good!). The books in progress are:

  • Soul Craving by Joel Warne (finished reading this on vacation)
  • No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton
  • No Little People by Francis Schaeffer
  • Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick
  • Kiss Me Again by Barbara Wilson
  • The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews (just finished this 2 days ago)

I have mentioned how much I enjoyed Soul Craving before but since I just finished The Traveler’s Gift, I wanted to share what I got out of it. While I love reading and am constantly tempted to read books so fast that I don’t retain hardly anything of what I read, I am trying to be intentional about taking a little time after finishing each book to go back through and write down/think about the points that stood out most to me. So that’s where these thoughts came from.

This book is not a Christian book, though it pretends that it is. It mentions God several times and even quotes a few Bible verses but the Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success effectively leave God out completely, while borrowing Biblical principles. How convenient. And how tragic. The way I see it, philosophies about life like these (including Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam) lay out all these great principles but don’t address the 2 biggest issues facing mankind: 1) sin and 2) the power to change.

These issues are actually very much related. Because of the pervasiveness of sin, we need Someone outside of ourselves to redeem us from our sins, as well as empower us to change.  (The links I added explain what I mean by these terms more thoroughly.) In light of those beliefs, I took the liberty of adapting the Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success to have a Biblical foundation. I believe that I still captured the essence of each Decision. I have included the author’s wording of each Decision in brackets.

1. [The buck stops here.]

Act with integrity. Trust that God can and will use you and your past for His glory. Be bold in your decisions, led by the Spirit, even if they’re socially unpopular. “Let steadfastness have its effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).

2. [I will seek wisdom.]

Use discernment and be intentional about how you live. Bad company corrupts good character. Seek wisdom but “be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Prov. 3:7). “Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

3. [I am a person of action.]

Beginning today, I have a new future because I am a new creation. I inspire others when I live for God’s glory by being true to who He has created me to be. I will make the best use of my days because they are gifts from God. Because my future in Christ is secure, I can move forward into each day with joy and energy. I have the Spirit of Christ in me to guide and instruct my decisions. I can be confident in my future because I know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

4. [I have a decided heart.]

I have staked my heart and life on Christ and the Gospel. I am passionate about God. I will awaken every morning with an excitement about the new day God has given me and the opportunity for growth and change. My thoughts and actions will work in a forward motion a la the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12-14 — never sliding into the dark forest of doubt or the muddy quicksand of self-pity, by the grace of God. I will lay my head on my pillow at night happily exhausted, knowing that I gave my all in service to my Lord and accomplished the work He gave me to do. God has given me a unique dream and vision and I glorify Him by pursuing that dream with vigor, persistence, and faith.

5. [Today I will choose to be happy.]

Today I will choose to be happy because of what Christ has done for me on the cross. I will choose to be thankful for all things; to focus on things that are encouraging, uplifting, and Christ-centered; and to love others. Enthusiasm is faith in action because it trusts God for the success of its actions. I will smile at others and seek to be a blessing to them. I will be slow to anger and quick to listen.

6. [I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit.]

I will forgive others as Christ has forgiven me. I will forgive those who don’t deserve it, don’t ask for it, and don’t even want it. I will cultivate a forgiving spirit by spending time getting to know my Savior more and more. I will die to myself and my selfish desires. I will kill bitterness, conquer resentment, and eradicate revenge through the power of the Spirit. I will forgive myself for failing to be what I want to be, finding hope and redemption in my Savior, Jesus Christ. I will trust in Him to conform me to His image.

7. [I will persist without exception.]

I will press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I will not grow weary in doing good, for I believe that I will reap abundantly in due season. I must not allow myself to get discouraged or be derailed by trials and struggles. I must keep “looking to Jesus” and “run with endurance the race that is set before” me (Hebrews 12). I will endure; I will remain steadfast under trial because of the joy set before me: heaven and perfect unity with God. As a child of God, I must rise above the status quo and dare to do improbable, even impossible, things because “this I know, that God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).

 

As I read and re-read these statements, they become my prayer to God. I know that in myself, I do not have the power to effect this change in my life. But He does. He has a plan for me, He knows where He is leading me, and it is through an intimate relationship with Him that I discover myself, my purpose, and my potential. I hope these words encourage you as well.

Changing “I can’t” to “I can”

19 Nov

The title to this blog post might sound like some self-help mumbo jumbo but let me assure you it’s not. I rejoice that this is a real spiritual truth. The statement might be the same in either case but the basis behind the idea is completely different. With self-help, you chant this mantra to yourself, trying to change the way you approach life without any solid reason to expect life to be any different. Nothing guarantees things will change once you start to “look on the bright side of things.” (Optimism only gets you so far.)

But with God, this is a profound life-changing realization.

Let me explain:

This past Wednesday, I had my job interview at our church (I’m applying to work in the office). I learned that they are going to announce the open positions at the church meeting this Sunday to see if anyone else is interested and are hoping to make a decision in time for the new person to start at the beginning of the year. Which means I am going to have to keep working my current job for potentially the next month and a half.

My first reaction upon learning this was no different than my reaction when I first heard that YCS was willing to keep me on until the end of December: “I can’t handle another 2 months of this job! I need out NOW!”

In the past few weeks, I have noticed that I think this kind of thing a lot. When presented with a task that I’d rather not do, whether it be cleaning the house or making dinner, I think, “I just can’t do that right now. I don’t have the energy for it. I’m so tired.” When confronted with my own sin, and feeling like a failure yet again, I think, “I can’t be a good Christian. I can’t be loving and selfless. I’m never going to be the kind of person I want to be.”

This defeatist mentality is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I feel like a failure, the more I fail – because I don’t believe that I have the power to change. I am just a victim of myself. And if God doesn’t magically change me, I’m doomed to being this way the rest of my life.

But that was not the way the Apostle Paul approached things. He had the same frustration with his flesh – “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). Paul was frustrated at his inability to do what he wanted to do, but he recognized that there was a separation between his true self and his flesh. His true self delighted in the law of God but his flesh was waging war against his spirit and making him captive to the law of sin.

I have been trapped there. The sins and failures of my flesh have been making me a captive, robbing me of my understanding of God and the gospel. I have fallen prey to the lie that it is not just my flesh committing those sins – it’s me. I am the bad person, the failure, the hopeless sinner. There is nothing good in me, period. These lies pull me down into a dark pit, the light of God’s glory and love growing continually dimmer and smaller. “Who will rescue me, liberate me, free me from this body of death?”

The glorious answer is, Christ! Christ rescues me, liberates me, frees me from myself. From my sins, my failures, and my mistakes. Moreover, He not only forgives me and wipes my slate clean, He also gives me a new spirit and a new heart, enabling me to conquer my sin and live a victorious life. Now, in Christ, I can say that I am not a constant failure. I don’t have to question my every motive and intention – because I am redeemed, I have good desires. I love God. I delight in the law of God. I am a godly woman. I am a loving person. I am selfless and sacrificing. I, the chosen and beloved, am being conformed to the image of Christ.

I learned recently that because these things are all God’s will for me, I can pray for them with authority – meaning, I can ask in prayer and believe that I have received them (James 1:5). God will not withhold His love, His patience, His wisdom from me. “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

It has helped me immensely to see the power available to me through the Spirit because of Christ’s resurrection. His death provided salvation – His resurrection now provides the power for sanctification. Instead of being riddled with thoughts about how “I can’t” be the person I want to be, I now live in the power that I CAN change, I CAN be the person God has called me to be, I CAN live for His glory and make Him proud. I have the same power living in me that raised Christ from the dead!!

While I still believe that God doesn’t want us to feel good about ourselves apart from Christ (because we would be deceiving ourselves into thinking we don’t need a Savior), I do believe that as redeemed children of God, we are called to feel positive, hopeful and encouraged about who we are in Christ. After all, it doesn’t seem right that we should constantly loathe and despise the temple of the Holy Spirit. If God loves us as He sees us in Christ, we should love ourselves in Christ.

Christ Himself uses victory as motivation for perseverance: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Just like Christ’s triumph over evil should give us hope despite evil in the world, our new natures in Christ should give us hope despite our sinful flesh. Because we are guaranteed progress in the Christian life if we so desire it, because we have the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit aiding our efforts, we should be all the more motivated to strive after godliness and holiness.

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Validation

18 Aug

Tonight, at my women’s meeting, one of my friends shared about how much it affects her when she remembers how she lived before she really started living out her faith. I’ve heard most of her testimony and the first thought that runs through my head is “That ain’t nothing.” It’s a big deal to her and she knows where the Lord has brought her, so it shames me that I so quickly discredit her experience because mine is supposedly better, because it’s more dramatic.

Which got me to thinking – what is it about human nature that has that tendency? When someone has a cute purse or new car, it’s not enough to just admire it and say “Wow, that’s really something!” Instead, we want one just like it. When someone gets a haircut that makes them look really stunning, the first instinct is to feel insecure about our own hair and how we look drab and boring.

While it would be easy to blame this phenomenon on society’s tendency to define beauty (thin) or success (money) one way, I actually think it’s the reverse – society tends to do that because people do that. We are narrow-minded because our pride does not allow for multiple things to be equally as good. Whatever I have is good, whatever they have is not as good. By invalidating whatever you offer, I in turn validate myself. If I were to validate anything of yours, I would be invalidating mine – so the sinful logic goes.

But with God, all things are good because He created them all and everything He created is good. Look around – God loves variety. He decided to weiner dogs short little legs instead of longer ones that matched their bodies. Why? Because He could. Are they any less of a dog than a Golden Retriever? Ask any Daschund owner and they’ll tell you no.

The same goes with conversion testimonies. Is my friend’s testimony any less compelling and amazing because she didn’t do drugs and sleep around before dedicating her life to Christ? No. She’s still a sinner saved completely by grace – an amazing thing.

Is my testimony any less compelling and amazing because hers is too? No. Mine is different and perhaps more dramatic according to the world’s standards but God sees the same jaw-dropping transformation in my life as He does in my friend’s.

Good things can co-exist. Two or more things can be equally as good as one another at the same time. This may sound trite or obvious but think about it. Think about how many people in this world live believing this is true. Think about how many Christians in this world live like this is true. Think about whether or not you live like this is true. If you really lived like it were true, jealousy, pride and selfishness would be eradicated from your life. You would feel no need to validate what you have or are because you recognize that, in Christ, everything you have and are is already validated and is equally as good as what anyone else has and is.

Especially as a Christian, what we have is Christ Himself! It doesn’t GET any better than that!

But alas, we will never be rid of this sin until heaven because this is exactly the character flaw that Satan tempted Eve with in the Garden of Eden – suggesting that God had something better than she did – knowledge. With that sin was born discontentment – the idea that what I have isn’t good enough – and pride – defending what I have because I must be good enough.

That’s just one of the reasons why the gospel is amazing. It shows humans that we don’t have to prove how valuable we are…

Because Christ already did.

We all, like dogs, have gone astray.

27 Sep

A few blog posts ago, I blogged about a book I was reading called The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life. Since I stayed home from church today with an unknown illness (H1N1?!?!?), I was flipping through the channels and stumbled upon a sermon by Charles Stanley, the author of that book. I had planned on listening to a sermon anyway, so I watched it.

His sermon was on Isaiah 40 and God being a God of comfort. He reminded his listeners that God knows everything tiny little thing about us–He knows so much about everything that He even knows how much the dust on the earth weighs! So we don’t have to be ashamed when approaching Him or polish ourselves up because He already knows the full truth.

And it got me thinking about the verse in Psalm 103, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Our dog, Katy, is a well-behaved dog for the most part. But there are still things that she does “wrong,” like chewing on a blanket or eating poop (ew!) from the backyard, though she knows that she shouldn’t (because of our repeated reprimands).

Though I am disgusted by her behavior in those moments, I still love Katy because what she is doing is typical dog behavior. She can’t help it. She’s a dog and she’ll act like a dog.

Similarly, when we sin against God as Christians, He is disgusted by our behavior but He still loves us. “He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” He knows that we are sinful human beings and can’t help ourselves. That’s why He sent Jesus to die–to be our Redeemer, our Savior!

But He doesn’t just stop there. When Katy eats poop or chews on something she shouldn’t be chewing, I don’t just walk away and say “Oh well, she’s just a dog.” I try to get the poop out of her mouth (always unsuccessfully) and pull away what she’s chewing on. Just because she’s a dog doesn’t mean I don’t try to teach her better behavior.

In a similar way, God doesn’t just abandon us to our selfish and sinful inclinations. Instead, He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us, changing us from the inside out. He accepts that we are sinful human beings but doesn’t settle for that. He sees our potential in Christ and His greatest goal for us on earth is for us to be holy, like He is holy.

It helps me to remember that God is an understanding God. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Christ not only understands intimately what we are going through, He was also successful in beating these temptations! He shows us the way to victory–and that is through Himself.

Divine Courage

17 Nov

When I got home from work today, I made dinner and then watched 2 episodes of The Simpsons, all the while dreading what I had told myself and God I would do today: go talk to my neighbor Patty about what she believed.

I toyed with the idea of just putting it off until tomorrow or not doing it at all. As I was watching commercials of people who were happy and enjoying their life, I felt bitterness in my heart toward God. “Why can’t I just be content in my own little, comfortable bubble? Why do I feel the need to go out there and take risks? Why can’t I just be concerned with myself?”

I had almost decided to not do it but the feeling of laziness and my desire to not spend the whole night on the couch doing absolutely nothing but watch TV made me get up. In an almost robotic motion, I brushed my teeth, grabbed the jelly jar to return to Patty, and walked next door.

God answered my prayers.

I talked to Patty about random things for a little while: her teeth, fish tanks, jelly canning. Then I asked her what I had planned to ask her: “Travis and I were wondering if you and Fern [her mom] would want to come to church with us this Sunday?”

Patty replied that they weren’t really churchgoing people, that church made her uncomfortable, that she had her own beliefs. I asked, “Would you be willing to talk about what you believe?” And she was. I was over at her house for about an hour talking to her about God and Jesus and praying and religion. I was pumped that I had actually done it; but I was also sad when I heard Patty say what she believed. Most of her beliefs she formed herself, through picking and choosing from other religions. Most of it isn’t biblical. But she’s open to talking more about her beliefs! And I have these little pamphlet thingys I got from Campus Outreach that explain things like “Is truth relative?” “Is the Bible reliable?” “Is God fair?” etc. that I think I will utilize the next time I go over to talk to her.

But I’m just pumped that I shared my faith (and explained the gospel at least twice)!! I actually did it! And I know that it was God who enabled me to go over there. I stumbled when trying to explain a few things and was starkly reminded of my lack of memorized Bible verses. But I did it. I was faithful to God’s leading. I am amazed at myself and even more, I am amazed at God. That He would be willing to work with such a coward as me is humbling.

That is the one thing that Patty felt the strongest against: that I shouldn’t feel like I don’t deserve to go to heaven, because (in her words) I do deserve it. She was surprised that Travis felt the same way. I tried to explain to her that knowing I am a sinner saved only by grace and not by anything I have or will do is the thought that gives me hope. I tried to explain that it was a good thing, that it humbled me and made me appreciate what Christ did on the cross all that much more. But she didn’t understand it. It’s one of those things that is music to the believer’s ears but a stumbling block to those who don’t believe.

Just a few reminders to close:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” 1 Peter 2:24

“But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Hebrews 9:26

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3: 23-24

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together in Christ…” Ephesians 2:4-5

I wouldn’t want it any other way. Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ!

Grace for pregnant teens

13 Aug

While staying on the up and up regarding youth culture for my job, I have noticed that about 85% of articles lately are about teen pregnancy–many specifically about Jamie Lynn Spears. Christians are arguing that the media and movie stars are making teen pregnancy look cool and glamorous. Statistics like those from Gloucester High (where 17 girls got pregnant last year instead of the normal 3-4) make the rates of teen pregnancy alarming–making some feel like our country is going to hell in a handbasket.

But I just read this blog post called “Redemptive Grace” written by Walt Mueller with the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU). He has such a wonderful Christ-like attitude to not condemn those girls who get pregnant as a teen but to speak truth to them in a loving, understanding way. When I think about my own mistakes (which are innumerable!) before and after becoming a Christian, I see that there is nothing that makes me any better than Jamie Lynn. I lost my virginity at the age of 17, when I was a junior in high school. I slept with 7 different guys before my junior year of college. It’s hard to admit that and even as I type, it seems worlds away. But I have Christ to thank for redeeming me from the world and its lies about true satisfaction. And I know that all of my sins, as hideous and big as they are, are all washed clean by Christ’s blood. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t admit to them.

These teens don’t need someone wagging their finger in their faces and condemning them as failures. They need someone who will tell them the gospel and reassure them that in Christ, there is grace and forgiveness. So they messed up; all is not lost. Jesus came to “make all things new” and to redeem sinners, even those of us who have made seemingly unforgiveable mistakes.

There was a time when I didn’t understand why God had let me go through all of the struggles and sins I did before coming to know Him. If I was predestined before the foundation of the world to be His (according to Ephesians 1), why wouldn’t He call me when I was a child, like other people I knew? But I now believe that God has His purposes. There is some reason for those trials, even if it is not evident to me right now–or ever on this earth.

I think about the students that come to our conferences and my heart breaks for the girls who I know are struggling with the very things being condemned in the media. No, those things should not be acceptable, but those girls need to know that they are dearly, intimately loved by their Heavenly Father–after all, isn’t that what all sexually active teenage girls are after anyway–love?

Let us reach out to these hurting teens–those who have become pregnant as well as those who haven’t–and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them. Grace is free. Jesus says “Come as you are.”