Thanks for the Gift! What do I Owe You?

Do you remember being excited about an upcoming birthday? Perhaps you still are? My son was. He knew all about the presents. He was pointing things out every time we went to the store. “I want that”. “I need one of those”. “Can I have this for my birthday?”

At the age of 5, celebrations can be all about the presents… some of us older folks can still get wrapped up in the gifts aspect of things. But as the day approached and he rattled off where he wanted the party, who he wanted there, and how the day should go down, he managed to make some bad choices.

Not bad party ideas or bad birthday wishes… bad life choices. He made some mistakes. He messed up. It was frustrating because some of the decisions he made were contradictory to lessons we had laid out dozens of times before.

It never once crossed our minds to not give him the presents as a form of punishment. They were already purchased. No matter what choices he made yesterday it was still his birthday on that new day. We might find an effective form of discipline for when he does act out… but we give him the gifts we want for him to have.

God wants us to have the gift of salvation. Why do we struggle so much with the gift of Jesus? We tend to think that our actions can change His mind… The very mind that was made up when the apple was bitten in to.

We say some pretty crazy things. “I don’t deserve that gift!” Really? What did we do to earn our birthday presents? What accomplishment did we perform? Nothing. Our birth was through no desire or effort of our own, it was a decision made a certain number of years back by other people. And they reward us from their love.

Why do we try and change the meaning of grace? It’s little different. We do nothing to earn it. God provides it out of love. If it was something that required deserving, none of us would have it. Grace was a decision made by God long before our time and He gives it to us because He loves us. If we do something that He does not like, He doesn’t go back in time and pry the nails off the cross.

God has already given us His Son. The sacrifice has already been paid. The pain has already been endured. He isn’t going to return the gift because of our sins… the gift was given because of our sins. We needed it. We couldn’t get to God without it. And the part that seems difficult for us to understand is that God couldn’t get to us without it. We are His desire.

God sent His Son because He wanted to be with us but couldn’t. So He gave this amazing gift to free us from our sin and we think that very same sin exempts us from the gift.

I think we struggle so much with this because we can’t read about grace without binding works back into the equation. We get nervous if we hear about grace and we don’t hear about how we can fall from grace. Some of us believe that too much forgiveness implies ‘once saved, always saved’. So we swing the boat around as fast as possible to include that we can choose to leave God and reject His promises.

So rather than running the race, we are left spinning in circles. God gives grace, but I keep messing up. We think He’s on His way back to Walmart to return the cross because it doesn’t fit us anymore.

We have to leave that door open because we just can’t comprehend how grace truly works. Completely and utterly without us… that is how it works. It is a Godly gift. One that we are meant only to accept, not to earn.

Our circular logic leaves an option ‘B’ on the table. I could either accept grace and I had better be good afterwards… or I could fall from grace and spend eternity in the very bad place.

To me, this sounds like an out. This his how people operate that don’t want to go all in. If I accept this grace and let God transform my mind and I become His servant… what would change? Everything. Absolutely everything would be drastically different in every step of life.

It sounds like cold feet. Grace can’t be THAT good. I could still blow it. I could definitely mess that up, so I better behave. I should be careful. Instead of celebrating, I should spend time in self pity. Instead of praising, I should judge myself a bit. Doesn’t that sound crazy? It’s not like we think it through just like I’m spelling it out, but we reach the same end result, don’t we? I can’t live free in the grace of God because I hate myself too much!

This sounds like a prenuptial agreement to me. One of those documents you sign with your fiancé because you either don’t trust them or you know you aren’t trustworthy. It’s a legal declaration that you believe that something bad could happen. It says, I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but should either one of us change our minds, here are the rules for how that will play out.

Isn’t that romantic? They will write poems about our love, but if I see someone I like better, I want the toaster. I trust you with all of my heart… sign this.

And we take this same approach with God when we don’t immerse ourselves in the free gift of grace that He has given us, clearly based on His love for us and not on our works for Him. We create an out. Every time we utter that phrase that we aren’t good enough, we push back on the gift. Gifts aren’t purchased by the receiver!

If we had an obligation to the gift, it wouldn’t be a gift. It would be called a purchase. In this case, grace was purchased, but it was paid for by someone else. Jesus paid the price. But the grace was given freely to us. Grace is not a loan, its not an IOU, its not bought in installments, and its not a balloon payment. It’s free. It’s a gift. Given to us. And we are meant to do one single thing. Accept it.

If you are struggling with thoughts about all the effort that goes into accepting grace, I fear you are missing out on this precious gift. We do not change our behavior to receive grace… once we have received grace, and we truly accept it as an un-earnable and Holy gift… we are wholly transformed by the love of God and the relationship we build with Him.

When I gave the presents to my little boy, who had acted poorly, do you think he handed them back and said I didn’t deserve these? I honestly believe the thought never once entered his mind. He tore open the paper and danced in the ribbons. He played with each and every toy until they broke and since he is a 5 year old boy, they all broke.

And I believe this is meant to be our response. Swim in the wrapping paper that is grace. Tear open the gift and embrace it. Snuggle in bed with it at night. Carry it to breakfast. Sneak it into your backpack and take it to school. Give it a seat at the table. Love it as the gift that it is. Our behavior is not wrapped up into grace. That happened so long ago and is freely given as a pre-purchased gift. If you insist on finding a place in this thought about your behavior, that has much more to do with your relationship with God.

If you find that you and Jesus look nothing alike, start by embracing grace. Nuzzle up to the feet of His throne and make peace that you are His child and He both loves you and longs for you. He gave a mighty gift that came at great cost to Him and His Son. He did that for you. Before you even knew who you were. He didn’t pay that price just to withhold the gift.


Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

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I’m Picking Your New Years Resolution

January of last year I decided it was time to get in shape. Some time in February I determined that round was a shape and considered it a successful mission.

There is nothing magical or even supernatural about a new year. Being a Christian, we can experience new beginnings at the drop of a prayer. But a new year isn’t any less God ordained either. So if our human minds help us understand that we aren’t stuck to the patterns of our past… take advantage of it!

One of my favorite songs is Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here. One of the lines reads:

” To be overcome by Your presence, Lord “

The word, overcome, is a powerful word that deserves some attention. In what context do we use this word? To overcome addiction means to root out a significant part of our lives never to return. To overcome a foe implies conquering that enemy. When we overcome obstacles, we rise up over them and improve our lives in spite of opposition.

Every version of ‘overcome’ I can find has a negative spin on it. The end result might be great, but that greatness comes from success powered only through adversity. If we are overcomers, we were once strugglers, failures, and forgotten.

So how are we overcome by the presence of God? I would claim its all of the above. To be overcome is to throw off critical aspects of who we are that don’t line up with who God made us to be. It’s to be vanquished by unbeatable foes only to walk out unscathed. It’s to be brought to our knees before a Savior who wants to see our very best.

To be overcome is to be wrecked. It’s to be turned upside down and inside out. It’s to say I don’t want this life, I want eternal life. I don’t want what I like, I choose what God desires. I know that I don’t overcome, but God does.

To be overcome by the presence of the Lord is to be destroyed and made new. Think of a dam bursting. The water can be contained no longer. The power has built up and the blockade simply can’t stand against the weight. It may trickle out for a time but eventually man-made materials will give way and water will pour forth in epic fury.

We have a barrier that often keeps God at a distance and limits His desire to work in our lives. To be overcome is to let the water in. Let it explode into us. To be drown in the Spirit. To be drenched in love, soaked in grace and waterlogged in new life.

To be overcome means we may dig in and fight back, but we cannot succeed. We will topple and give way. My new years resolution for you is simple. Choose to accept the overcoming love and cleansing wreckage that God’s grace provides. Be renewed in the presence of a mighty, living God.

God’s new years resolution? It’s you! He wants you. He sacrificed for you. His desire is you. His love is for you. Will you keep playing the game called “Christian” or will you let Him build in you the creation He originally intended? Will you bend knee, ugly cry, and let the holy wrecking begin?

I Regret This

The notion that God can do more is something we need to work well within the fabric of our daily lives.  One of the most tragic offenses I believe we make to the Creator is that we simply don’t expect enough.  We limit Him. 

It’s often seen as a lack of faith and while it may not stifle His abilities, it certainly cripples the effect of His gifts in our lives.

We pray that God heals cancer when we could be asking God to heal the entire body, cleanse the soul, give supernatural gifts, and spread His name to generations through this event. 

Peter had faith… at least for a moment.  When He saw Jesus walking on the water, he cried it out.  I want in on that!  Let me do that with you…. and he did. 

And I think that is a good explanation for our troubled times.  We are content to not get in the water with Him.  We let Jesus do the water walking and we will stay and guard the boat. 

Peter was on to something.  The problem with the boat is that Jesus isn’t in it.  He is walking on the water.  He is turning over tables in the temple.  He is boldly sharing His Father.  He is headed for the cross.  All of those sound scary don’t they?  Is that why Peter sank?

When he saw the waves and took his eyes off Jesus was it because he realized what his request really meant?  He exclaimed, ‘I want to follow you’, but he didn’t really want to go where Jesus was headed. 

I think ‘more’ scares us.  We don’t want it.  We want our current lives, but just better.  Jesus calls us to reject what we have and take on something new.  And that is a difficult thought to consider. 

We struggle with the math of ‘more’.  We think in terms of our current understanding.  “I can’t change the past” is something we often bemoan.  At best it means We are going to quit stressing over something we can’t control, but often its an exhausted exclamation of regret. 

Just like our weak prayers, we throw it off to the side and maybe ask for forgiveness.  We completely drown out the whispers of God beckoning us to ask for more.  No, God won’t change the past, but he can do better than that.  He can do more than that.  He can empower us to explode towards a better future. 

He can take that static past and use it for good.  He can mold us through it, He can touch lives with it, He can bless in spite of it.  When we properly understand our relationship with God, we can understand why the Bible would say ‘do not dwell on the past’. 

Jesus was frustrated at the comment that Lazarus would not have died had Jesus been there.  They simply didn’t expect more.  They were living in the past.  The moments that they couldn’t control were the culprit.  It was about what Jesus could have done or where He should have been… not what He could do right now. 

Our God creates.  Our God heals.  He calms, teaches, loves, protects, and blows the doors off tombs.  We can agree with scripture that He has defeated death… but we just can’t believe that our tomorrow can be better.  We are certain that our mistakes and trials are life defining. 

Sigh!  Can you hear the desperate exhalation from God?  Why won’t you ask for more?  He won’t change that thing you did, or even the stuff that has happened to you… but He can lift you above the waves.  He can do so much better, so much more, than our simple desires to undo the unwanted events of our lives. 

When the disciples of Jesus sat in prison, they didn’t asked to be removed from jail… they brought Jesus into captivity with them.  When Jesus hung from the cross, He didn’t say, ‘get me off of this thing’, He chose more.  An end to His pain wasn’t enough.  He could do better than that.  So, instead, He prayed ‘Father forgive them’. 

Nails through His veins and He thought of us instead.  Can we begin to comprehend that we are the ‘more’ to Him?  He wants us.  Praise God Jesus didn’t look to the past while He was on the cross.  The lies, the greed, the disobedience.  I believe He looked ahead.  ‘This is for them’, He must have thought.

Do we honestly believe that the God who turned His tortured Son into eternal joy for those who killed Him… Do we think He can’t use our pain for something better tomorrow?  Why regret yesterday when God can do ANYTHING today?


Free God from the Bible

I wrote a short ‘review’ on a children’s Bible that I found to be a little harsh for the target audience.  It was obviously my opinion, but I wanted other parents to know that this book jumped right into the gruesome bits of our history and for a “First Bible” I thought that was on the questionable side.

Are ALL of the old testament stories important?  Yes*  You see that asterisk?  That is important.  My son is going to start off his journey with Christ… and this might be difficult for some to understand… with Jesus.  He is going to develop a personal relationship with God.

Will he learn about wandering Israelites, drowned sinners, and beheaded disciples?  Of course.  But those are far behind the most important messages of his eternity.  First, he is learning who God is.  What God does.  How to pray.  How God works.  Etc.  My whole point in the review and in my parenting opinion is that we get the cart behind the horse.

If I were to teach you about baseball, do I start with how they stitch cowhide around cork to assemble the ball?  That may interest you, that may even help you in some way, but not until you have a rudimentary love for the game.

And that is where I feel this needs sharing.  Do we have a fundamental love for our creator?  Or do we start with the genealogy and try to work our way backwards?  I think point one is that we need to make certain that we aren’t logically following human translated rules and histories.

I hope we can all see how there is a strong difference between, “I’m not supposed to do that, so I will regrettably refrain, though I would really like to do that”.  And, “God made me a new person that seeks Him and His will isn’t leading me anywhere near that”.  The first person follows a book while the second has a relationship with their Maker.

It’s very important that we aren’t following a set of rules, but that we actually follow the living God.  What good is it to know how old Methuselah was if we have fear in our lives?  How is it helpful to quote Proverbs if we are alone and hopeless?  So just like my child, I want to encourage all of us to start with what is most important.  Engage in a living relationship with your Father in heaven and solidify that reciprocating love before you dare venture into anything else.

This leads to point 2 (and hopefully you understand I believe that continuous study of the Bible is extremely important, it just doesn’t mean much without the Spirit that wrote it in your life.  Read.  Read daily.  But read in a context of that real and personal relationship with God).

One individual read my short caution of the book and responded that I was in fact wrong.  In a public forum they questioned my faith, called out my parenting, and said I was doing exactly what the Bible warned against.

Is this the “good news”?  Is this what the world needs to see when they see “Christianity”?  Are people allowed to disagree?  Absolutely!  Could they have disagreed with their opinion publicly?  Of course!  But when we judge each other… publicly… as strangers, we not only violate many of the tenants God set forth in the very Bible we were discussing, but we proclaim to the world, “This is what Jesus died for!”  This is what matters!  This is what is important for you to know!

Oddly, much of the world isn’t interested in debating and condemning each other over arguably insignificant details.

He could have disagreed.  But he chose to judge.  And this is what so many of us do when our opinions hit the open air of the internet.  ‘It’s not that you have a different opinion than me, its that you are going to Hell.’  That was rarely the message of Jesus (the only one fit to sit in the judgement seat).  The good news is about salvation.  The great news is about forgiveness and eternal communion with God.

Freedom from debt and punishment.  Undeserved grace.  Love.  This is the gospel.  Is this the message we share?  Is this what your Facebook feed is full of?  Is this what Twitter and Pinterest and Slack and even you weirdos still using Myspace 😉 … is this the message you share?

It’s so terribly easy to see why the world rejects Jesus.  They are rejecting us.  And we are to be Jesus to this world.  But who we call Jesus and who Jesus actually is gets too far apart to be recognizable at times.  This isn’t my personal gripe about someone who disagreed with me on the internet.  This is my plea for us to put first what matters most.  God and God alone.

Some of us have God trapped in the Bible.  He is locked in the stories of old and used only as a weapon against each other.  ‘My God said this…’  ‘Jesus would never condone that…’  I’m not suggesting we don’t read the Bible.  I’m not even insinuating we wait on reading.  I’m offering that we should free Him from the shackles we place on the book and get some separation between the pages that list our history and the actual God who lives and works in this world today.

Right now we have a God who loves us and works to reach us.  He paid dearly for us.  If we develop that relationship as intended the next part gets much easier… to show the real Christ and His good news to the world.

 


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

When God says, ‘No’… or, Chase vs. Pokemon

Our son gets an allowance.  He typically wants the first thing he sees in the toy section… or maybe even the end-cap before the toy section.  Like many of us, hes a “stuff” centered kid.  He’s an amazing, good-hearted boy, but he likes toys.

When he saw the Chase stuffed animal, he fell apart (in a happy, good way).  He has allowance money so we confirmed that he wanted it and he happily exclaimed, “YES!”.

As we continued shopping, he hugged the animal, told it he loved him, and was pretty much as happy as he could be.

But when we reached the checkout isle, he spotted a Pokemon key-chain.  First you need to understand that he has never seen Pokemon.  Not the show, not the movie, not even the commercials.  His only reference to Pokemon is that his friends at school (most of whom are older) like it.

Any parent knows, this now means he likes it too.  Even though he has never watched an episode, touched a toy, or has any reference to it whatsoever.  But that doesn’t matter in the eyes of peer pressure… even at just over 5 years old.  “I want that!“, he shouted exuberantly.

I clarified he was talking about the key chain and then parenting kicked in.  (albeit newbish, frustrated parenting).  I thought, ‘this will be quick’ and asked the question.  “Well, which would you rather have, the animal you have been hugging for the past 30 minutes or this keychain?”  Before I could even finish, he blurted the answer… “POKEMON KEYCHAIN!!!!!”.

I screamed as loud as my internal brain could scream to itself without letting any actual words out, … “YOU DON’T HAVE ANY KEYS!!!”

This could have gone down a few different ways.  It’s his allowance and we generally try and let him decide how its spent.  He tithes a little, but we also let him make some mistakes as well to try and get those lessons in him about how he spends his money.

In this case, I just couldn’t do it.  Something he loved and adored versus something he didn’t even understand on multiple levels.  He has no keys, there is no way to really ‘play’ with a keychain, and he doesn’t know the first thing about Pokemon.

So I had to be the bad guy.  (for about 3 minutes).  The simple fact is, I know better than he does.  I’m not smart or better or special.  I just have more experience than he does.  And I know that keychain would have been buried in a toybox never to be seen again after about 10 minutes of looking at it.  And the next time we went to the store he would have wanted the Chase stuffed animal with no allowance available to buy it.

So I said no.  I said he couldn’t use his own money to buy something.  I think the picture above shows how he handled the event.  Sad at first, but he has fed his stuffed animal, let him do his home work, watched movies, slept with it, and pretty much hasn’t done anything without Chase by his side.

I knew something he didn’t.  I knew how much more happiness would come from a “no, I’m not gonna let you do that”.  He experienced 3 minutes of sadness while we stared at that dangling, shiny key chain during checkout.  But once the car was packed in the parking lot, he had already forgotten about it.  Days later, he loves every life moment with Chase glued to his hip.

It’s easy to put myself in dad-mode and bask in how happy my son is with some swift, logical parenting… but like in most parables, I’m not the parent in this story.  I’m the boy who wants things that aren’t good for me, wastes stuff, covets, and gets sad when things don’t go my way.  MY way.  God… He is the one who knows whats best.  He is the one who lovingly withholds, carefully plans, and masterfully executes things I may never understand.

God’s “no” is so much more loving than any man’s “yes”.  Not only loving, but good for us.  We often have the freedom to make our own mistakes, and we can usually learn a good lesson when we do.  But praise God for the “no” answer.  That wonderful experience where He steps in and decides that against our better judgement, He isn’t going to let us mess that up.

Thank you, God… for all those times you save me from myself.  And please forgive my response, which often isn’t eternally focused.

Do You Really Only Have One Shot?

I have always been amazed at how photographers can capture such amazing, seemingly magical moments by pressing a button at the precise moment that a breathtaking event occurs.

My recent exploration of cameras has pulled back the curtain as to how this actually happens.  First, there is a portion of time that is less than a second.  What I mean by this is you don’t just have one second to take a picture.  You can take pictures in fractions of a second.  One of the cameras I want to buy can take over 20 pictures in a single second.

Humans typically blink in a tenth of a second.  So you can quickly see how over 20 pictures during that second can get around one of many problems that can occur if you were to only snap a shot one time.  Cameras also come with a buffer.  This can hold those 20+ photos that are coming in every second for multiple seconds.  The camera is taking in pictures faster than it can permanently write them to storage so it needs a place to hold them while you are still capturing.

Once the buffer is full, or once you are done taking the pictures, it will then write the pictures captured to the camera storage for you to sort through later.  This can amount to hundreds of photos all captured in a matter of seconds.  And this explains how its done.  They just hold down the button and let the moment unfold before them.  A bird in flight, a baseball swing, a shooting star, that perfect smile…

I used to think that photographers had to stop, pull out their camera, turn it on, point, focus, and then press the button one time and hope that they were lucky enough to catch something good.  And if they missed.  If they were too early or too late… it was gone forever.

I tried photography years ago and found it frustrating because my images were always blurry and I felt like I missed every opportunity.  I feel like many of us live our lives like this.  We think we only get one shot.  And if we muster up enough of whatever we need to take it and it doesn’t go so well, we are through.

We only give our marriages one shot.  We give our friends one chance.  This situation gets only one round from me.  And if it gets painful, or hard, or frustrating… I’m out!  Maybe we give it two chances or three, but the end result is the same.  We know how to quit.  We are experts at giving up.  Wasting time on fruitless things is not something we like to do.

Whats worse is we give up on ourselves just as easily.  We get tired of making the same mistake over and over and over and we can’t comprehend how anyone could accept such failure.  Peter said that he does the things he should not do and he does not do the things he should.  I appreciate him sharing that.  It gives me hope.  I get the sense he is constantly at odds with himself.

God is the God of second chances.  But also third chances, forth chances, hundredth chances, and beyond.  Much, much beyond.  We cannot out-sin God’s grace.  It doesn’t mean we should try to, it just means we have hope if we desire a fresh start with our Father in heaven.

I want to encourage us to not only give others a chance, but to give ourselves a chance… lots of them.  God’s buffer never fills up.  If we can understand how He extends grace to others, remember that works for us too.  Bluntly put, we aren’t the exceptions we often think we are.  He loves us and forgives us when we seek that.  All of us.

 


Are you plugged in?

I lost internet for two days over the weekend.  Many will read that sentence and feel my pain.  I can feel the shared sympathy.  Thank you!  There was a time when the internet could have gone out and I would have never known.  That time is long since past.  Now, it does not matter what I am doing, it involves the internet.

I have over 20 internet enabled devices in my home, and quite honestly, that is without trying.  I’ve passed on many options to include the internet that most likely won’t be options soon.  Did you know they make refrigerators that connect to the internet?  They have for years.  Soon it will be standard on all models.  I don’t own an internet watch, a web based doorbell, or WiFi light bulbs… but all of these have existed for quite some time.  My 20 devices online at the moment will likely become 40 in a very short amount of time… without even trying to buy internet enabled devices.

The true testament to how deeply I rely on the interwebs can be seen when the internet connection is dropped.  Because nearly everything we do relies on some form of connectivity, my plans are deviated when the outage occurs.  In other words, every single time the internet goes down, I have to find something else to do.  I have my own top 10 list of things I attempt to do to pass the time while the internet is out:

  1.   Organize my email (check from my backlog, reply, file things in folders, etc).
  2.   Play online games
  3.   Online banking
  4.   Get caught up on Facebook.
  5.   Watch videos on YouTube.
  6.   Talk to someone (using Skype or VOIP technology)
  7.   Just watch a movie (Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc)
  8.   Do some shopping (Amazon, Newegg, Slickdeals)
  9.   Engage any of my hobbies (writing, photography, etc all requiring online tools)
  10.   Misc (Check news, sports stats, fantasy teams, taxes, browsing, etc… all online).

I have to go through a routine of shock and confusion before it sinks in that everything I do routes back to the internet in some way.  Even with the knowledge that my connection has been severed, my gut reaction based on habit and muscle memory is to try to do things that I forgot relied on that link.

This is very similar to how our relationship with God should be.  All things lead to Him.  He is a part of everything.  Everything that we do should honor Him and point to Him in some way.  Should He ever be apart from us… we would be hopeless.  Lost.  Worthless.

Jesus was disconnected from God when He took our place on the cross.  We call that ‘Hell’.

It’s getting more difficult to find things to do when the data stops pouring into my home.  Can we think of things that we can accomplish without God?  Can we imagine a world without God?  My hope is that we are so committed to the life God blessed us with that we serve Him in every act, word, and thought… so much so, that even without thinking, our muscle memory and great habits take over and we continue to nurture others as we build on the relationship ourselves.

 

 


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Where Are My Gifts!?!!?

Gifts, in the eyes of man, are lacking in me.

I cannot sing. I cannot draw. I cannot play an instrument. I am not athletically advanced. I am not intelligenter.

According to how we grade each other in physical gifts, I am not very blessed.

In my dialogue with God I lean towards more meaningful gifts. Gifts of the Spirit. What has God given me? This is what really matters.

Well, I can’t speak in tongues. I don’t prophesy. I haven’t healed anyone. I have yet to turn water into Pepsi.

Perhaps you can relate to my struggle?

What is God’s plan for me? What am I supposed to be doing for Him? How do I work within my strengths, when I don’t know what they are, and often challenge weather I have any to begin with?

There is an often undesired answer. Read and pray. I’m going to stick with it for a reason. It’s what has worked for me. After a session of “why me” prayer and honest questioning of God, I finished my usual quiet time with a chapter in a book I was working through.

I read the most common sense statement that we all know. “Life is a gift. Every breath is a gift”. That was it. Nothing magical. Nothing really profound. But everything I needed to hear.

God proceeded to work through my heart how much forgiveness I needed. Which all by itself is a sad commentary.  I, the sinner, want to know where my gifts are!

I am a sinner. Jesus is a gift. Forgiveness is a gift… and how much of that I receive! Grace, salvation, heaven… all gifts. Not just gifts… the most important of all presents. Things I don’t deserve and yet am eternally nothing without.

I receive the most amazing gifts every day. I wake up. I breathe. I commune with The God. I am forgiven and I bask in epic and eternal promises from the creator of the world.

I asked where my gifts are and He showed me. I have more than most. I am overwhelmingly blessed. I hope you can see how you are too… and if you aren’t, how you can be.

 


I’m Special, You’re Not

One of the verses we often use to ‘comfort’ each other is the famous line from 1 Corinthians 10 that says ‘he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability’.  Further if tempted… ‘he will also provide the way of escape’. 

I put the word comfort in quotes because it’s rarely accomplished.  When the devil is beating you down, does this ancient quotation make you feel any better?

I call this verse a Just-Them verse.  It never really helps to hear it but we can’t stop saying it to them.  It’s almost like it makes us feel better… like we are really in there helping someone in need.  But what I think happens most often is our judgemental side starts to show.

Here is the condensed version:  “I’m tempted to steal while times are tough”.  “If you steal, its a sin because God gave you the ability to resist AND a way out!”.  Please understand that even if you don’t mean it that way, there is a high probability it still gets received that way.

The problem with temptation is that it appeals to each of us differently.  In the shortest terms, the devil is epic good at tuning his whispers directly to our situations and personalities.  So we develop this sense of understanding towards our own needs…. but we don’t forget that scripture for Just-Them.  They have a way out.  They have a God given ability to resist.

But for me… They don’t understand what I’m going through.  My pain is different.  My struggle is real.  My situation is worse.  I had no way out.  I had no option.  We may even claim abandonment in our struggles.  These verses of ‘comfort’ are just for them.  They could do better, but I have no choice.

We can fall into this trap for at least two different reasons.  The first is something we need to work on as a society.  This is the result of handing out trophies and certifications and helping everyone to feel special.  While we all are, especially in God’s eyes, we aren’t encouraging unique self appreciation in healthy ways.

If we only teach that everyone is special we set up future generations for this type of self pity and outward judgement.  A healthy, God’s-eye-view, mixed with reality will go a long way.  Which brings me to the second thing we can do.

We can stop skipping the verse that comes right before the ones I pointed out above.  Verse 13.  “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”  That hurt, that massive pain, that thing that no one could possibly understand or even begin to imagine… yeah, we are all going through it.  The names may change, the details may skew over time, but temptation… all of it, is common.  

Not only should that help us put ourselves in the correct perspective between God and us and the rest of us and us… but it shows how diligent the devil really is.  He works so hard at ruining and condemning your life, that every single soul in the world has experienced the same level of torment.

What if instead of judging each other, we were there for each other, helping each other overcome the many schemes that are dealt out to ALL of us?  We may have resisted one sin someone else didn’t, but we neglected to find the way out on others that they did.  We can’t pick and choose which passages are for which people.  If the judgement is just for them, so is the reward.  I’m beginning to think of ‘them’ as a bad word.

Only God can use it accurately.  He is the only one without sin.  When we use it, we use it selectively to divide.  Them that failed.  Them that look different.  Them who speak different.  Them who score lower.  From our point of view, it should be about us.  The Bible is for us.  Jesus came to save us.  This passage of hope is about and for us.  We are God’s creation.  And, in two things, we are certainly equal.  God’s love for us and Satan’s desire to drag us kicking and screaming to hell.

That is another ‘us’.  The enemy wants us.  All of us.  Equally.  His attempts to drive us away from the love of God is common.  It is something we have all experienced.  And it is something that we can all help each other with based on first hand experience.

 


Photo by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

Splish Splash Peter’s Taking a Bath

In John 13: 1-17 we find the account of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  When He got to Peter, Peter protested.  No!  “You shall never wash my feet”.  I used to read this with an appreciation for Peter.  Good for him!  Know your place.  Of course I missed the same point Peter did.  The short conversation fascinates me.  Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”  To which Peter responds, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

I love that response.  Don’t we all desire this level of yearning for the Savior?  The very thought of not being with Jesus caused Peter to not only turn a 180, but to double down as well.  It’s not comfortable having someone you admire and respect serving you, but Peter would allow it if it meant more of that relationship.

I’ve always aspired to be more like Peter.  To love Jesus the way he did, to be bold like he was… and then I realized… I’m just like Peter.  If that sounds pompous, you may not know the whole story.

Consider another context.  What if your boss walked in and said, “I want you to take my office”.  Well this would just be weird.  The boss would still be there.  You would still be working for him.  As nice as it may sound you just don’t like the thought of the social structure and hierarchy breaking down that way… what would your co-workers think?  So you politely decline.  You respect this boss and want to honor him.  He deserves the nicest and biggest office.  He follows up with, “if you don’t take my office, you can’t work here anymore”.

You depend on that salary, you love your job, and you have great relationships with all of your coworkers.  Losing this job is about the last thing you could ever want.  So with great jubilation you accept the bosses office and offer to take his car and salary too if that will help smooth things over.

I used to see this as a great relenting by Peter.  He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, but He would offer up his whole body if that meant getting to stay near the Savior.  But I fear his response may have been more like the analogy I put above.  When threatened to lose everything, wouldn’t we back pedal?

Think about what Peter was in position to lose if he didn’t allow Jesus to wash his feet.  They were still a little confused about who Jesus was.  Jesus was still potential king and ruler to them.  Even in this passage He told Peter he didn’t understand what was going on now.  The crowds loved Jesus, to the point that those against Him were scared.  He performed miracles, he had a mission, there was great hope and promise.  It’s not exactly a sacrifice to say, well in lieu of losing all of that, I’ll take your offer… and then some more as well.

Why is this worth writing about?  Because the same Peter that said, “You shall never wash my feet” also said, “I will not deny you!”.

But he relented there as well.  I can say that I am just like Peter because my mouth often works faster than my heart does.  My words are one step ahead.  I can promise and proclaim and take stands… with my words.  But when the time comes to back them up, the rooster crows.

I’ve grown less impressed with Peter as I see the same failures in my own faith.  I promise God I will listen and obey… and then the rooster crows again.  I am certain I will never sin that way again… and the crowd starts to ask if I wasn’t with that man.

Strong words.  Strong, heart felt, inspired words mean very little no matter how amazing they may sound.  We can accept Jesus serving us, we can promise to stand with him in death, we can even offer to walk out on the water to join with Him… but if we can’t even acknowledge Him when it matters most, we are nothing but an ill-tuned instrument blowing noise in the wind.

I’m embarrassingly like Peter.  I love Jesus.  I speak boldly.  But when it’s time to pick up my cross and follow in his footsteps, my actions can’t seem to match my words.  My faith is not sustained.

It’s important to remember that Peter was never intended to be our role model.  If we try to be like Peter, we may well be exactly that… and I wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s a hard and fruitless life.  Peter’s failures are meant to inspire, not his empty promises.  Where he fell short is meant to be our spring board into faith.  It was intended for us to follow Jesus.  Our example is much higher than where we often set our sights.

Maybe Peter wasn’t being selfish when he asked Jesus to wash his head and hands too.  But that doesn’t change that only seconds after proclaiming that Jesus would never wash him, water was splashing around his ankles.  The enemy loves it when we make promises because they are so easy to wreck.  God loves it when we act from the heart because that is where He tends to operate.

 


Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash