Grace for your heroes

Who is your hero? Don’t think about it too long. Who’s the first person that comes to mind? A teacher? A mentor? A parent or grandparent? We all have heroes. Some are older than us. Some are even younger than us. Others are our same age. And even though we know they are “only human” we still elevate them because to us, they’re larger than life. It’s not that we put them on a pedestal (though some of us do), it’s just that we have such high expectations for them.

So what happens when your hero falls? What happens when your hero makes a judgment call that hurts someone else? What happens when your hero sins?

Does it shake your world? Does it rock your faith? Or do you deny it and stand with them regardless of the truth? You know what I’m talking about. You exclaim that the stories can’t be true. You insist that your hero can’t have done anything wrong. How could they? They’re heroes. They know better. They know people are looking up to them, following them. They wouldn’t have made such a horrible choice. They couldn’t have.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone fails. Even your heroes.

8ZB9C03AIJToday’s verses are Romans 3:10-20.

As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.
Snake venom drips from their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
They rush to commit murder.
Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.
They have no fear of God at all.”
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

The truth about following Christ is that everyone needs grace, from the worst of us to the best of us. No one is perfect. We know that, but knowing it and living it are two separate things.

It’s really, really easy to fixate on the “good” Christians, the ones who know the Bible, the ones who talk to God, the ones who have the answers. They’re the people we go to when we have questions. They’re the ones we ask when we’re afraid or uncertain or when our faith is faltering. And in our minds we think there’s absolutely no way that they would ever turn against God. They would never disobey. They would never do anything God says is wrong.

No one is righteous means that no one always does the right thing. Does that mean you shouldn’t trust anyone? Does that mean you shouldn’t build relationships with people? No, that’s not what it means at all.

It means that even your heroes need grace. They need the same grace from you that Christ offered to them.

Not excuses. Grace has nothing to do with making excuses. Grace doesn’t live in denial either. Grace recognizes that you’ve screwed up royally yet doesn’t hold it against you.

It’s good to have heroes. It’s good to have people in your life to run to when you’re scared or feeling vulnerable. Just remember that people are people. Don’t put your trust in people. Don’t build your foundation on any person other than Jesus Christ. Because He is the righteous one, and He doesn’t change.

Life doesn’t wait if you take a wrong step

I’ve been walking two miles a day since April or so, with a few breaks in between for vacations and things of that nature. Kansas weather is a little fickle for walking outside, so to keep to a consistent schedule, I use the treadmill downstairs. It’s a pretty nice set up. I get down there, fire up the treadmill, switch on my audiobook, and walk.

Well, yesterday morning, I reminded myself that clumsiness runs in my family. I took a wrong step. My left foot stepped down on the guard, while my right foot was still on the belt. So, yes, my left foot stayed in one place, my right foot ran out behind me, and I tried my darnedest to do the splits.

I didn’t fall. If we’d gotten it on camera, I’m sure it might have even looked graceful. Because somehow I regained my equilibrium and jumped back on the belt, trying to regain my footing. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t get my feet under me, so I just let the belt carry me off the treadmill. And by that time I’d made such a horrendous racket, my poor parents were upstairs thinking I’d passed out or something.

It was a good reminder for me to pay attention to where I put my feet, even when I’m walking on a treadmill.

EE8A129965Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!

Like a treadmill doesn’t stop if you put your foot down in the wrong place, life doesn’t stop when you fall down either. It feels like it should. When you take a tumble and hit the dirt, you feel like your life should stop. When you get hurt or when someone you love dies or when you run into trouble that shocks you or scares you, it feels like the world stops spinning. But it doesn’t.

Life moves forward. It goes on. And it will go on without you. It’s a harsh reality to accept, but it’s the truth.

I remember my first year at college. I went to a school a thousand miles away from home. When I came home for Christmas after my first semester, I was shocked at how everything had changed. My church had changed. My friends had changed. My family had changed. Life went on without me being there.

Change isn’t bad. We need to remember that and embrace it. Change is normal. So don’t let it catch you off guard. But some changes will hit you harder than others. Some things in life will knock your legs right out from under you.

That unbeatable diagnosis. That painful relationship. That bad decision. Something will throw you for a loop, and before you know it, you’ll be doing splits on a treadmill, one foot locked in place and the other one carried away by life’s current. And you’ll probably end up on your face. It’s at that point you have a choice.

You can stay down, or you can get up again. When you run to win, you get up when you fall down. When you’re chasing a prize, you pick yourself up after you stumble. When you have a purpose for doing what you’re doing, you don’t give up. That’s what this verse is about. It’s about living life for a reason.

You will fall. Nobody’s perfect. You may even fall more than once, but just remember why you’re running. Remember who you’re running for. As Christ-followers, we’re not after an earthly prize. We’re in this race to finish strong in the name of Jesus.

So get up. Dust yourself off. Get back on that treadmill. Run to win.

Don’t forget who the story is really about

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get lost in it. I’m not sure how other people do it, but when I write, I’m really just watching a story unfold and committing the events and dialog to paper. Sometimes I don’t even know how it’s going to end. There are stories I’ve written where all my attention has been focused on what a character looks like or what a character says or what happens next in the story, and those are all important things to know. But it’s in those moments when I get so caught up in the details that I forget the point.

Some people will say that character is the most important part of a story. Others believe it’s plot–the chain of events that unfolds in a book. But I disagree with both of those. They’re important, yes, but not the most important. The most important part of a story is the message. Every story has a message, a lesson to learn, a point to communicate. And if you get so tied up in the characters and the voices and the settings and all the million little picky details, you run the risk of letting the message slip through your fingers.

Today’s verses are Matthew 17:1-8.

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ inner circle–Peter, James, and John. The original three amigos. Can you even begin to imagine what they saw that night? In the blink of an eye, the veil covering Jesus’ earthly form pulled back, allowing them to see a piece of who He is. And if that weren’t enough, two legends from Jewish history decided to stop by for a visit.

Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah! My gosh, you don’t even have to know the Bible very well to know who Moses is. And Elijah may not be as familiar to you as Moses, but he’s the guy who called down fire on Mt. Caramel. These guys are heavy hitters. And their bodies had long since returned to dust.

So you can’t exactly blame Peter. I would have been excited too. Moses and Elijah! But Peter missed the point. Just like we do so often.

We take Jesus for granted because He’s always around. His name is everywhere, and we get used to Him, sort of like Peter did. Yeah, Jesus is a big deal, but He was always with them. Seeing two Old Testament prophets wandering around like they hadn’t been “dead” for a thousand years? Now that was something to write home about.

But God set Peter straight. The story isn’t about Moses. And it’s not about Elijah. The story is about Jesus, and it always has been. From before time began and long after time runs out, the story will forever and always be about Jesus. He’s the message. He’s the point.

Have you started to take Jesus for granted in your life? Are you more excited about something God is doing rather than the fact God is the one doing it? Take a step back. Take a moment to think about what actually matters.

It’s great to celebrate the details. It’s wonderful to focus on specific aspects of a job or a relationship or, like in my case, a novel. But don’t let those details get so big that they overshadow what really matters. Don’t forget who the story is really about.

Seeing life from God’s point of view

When you run into tough times in your life, what do your friends have to say about it? We’ve all been there. A bad day at work. A fight at home. A difficult exam at school. On those bad days, you tell your friends what’s going on. And friends rarely have no opinion. If you have a neutral friend who doesn’t really invest emotionally in you or your life, you might want to rethink that friendship.

But while it’s good to have friends who support you and who are on your side, you need to make sure you’ve got people in your life who will tell you the things you may not want to hear.

daisy-toward-skyToday’s verse is Matthew 16:23.

Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

The first time I read this verse, I was shocked. I thought, oh my gosh, how could Jesus be so harsh? I mean, Jesus had just declared that he would die a brutal death, and Peter just wanted to protect Him. Peter didn’t want Jesus to have to face the horrible true purpose of His birth–that He had come to save us.

That’s just being a good friend, right? You want to intervene. You want to get between your friend and the painful situation that they’re going to have to face. But that’s when we need to truly consider how Jesus reacted.

No, Jesus wasn’t saying that Peter was possessed or anything like that. But Peter’s exclamation that Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross came from an ungodly perspective. From God’s point of view, Jesus’ purpose was to die on the cross. God had sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for us. If we were going to be saved, if God was going to keep His promise, Jesus had to die.

How does that understanding line up with our own lives?

God has a purpose and a plan for all of us, and it’s a good plan. It’s the best plan. But the problem is, the world is a mess, and you can’t live in it without getting messy, even if you’re following God’s plan for your life. Sometimes you’re just going to have to go through some crap. Maybe it’s sickness. Maybe it’s a failed relationship. Maybe it’s emotional hurt or physical pain or mental stress. It’s never God’s desire for us to suffer, but sometimes suffering is the only way to learn the lessons we need to learn.

Jesus had to be crucified, the worst, most humiliating form of public execution mankind has ever developed. If God’s only Son had to experience that, what business do we have getting upset over our own “light and momentary trials”?

You can avoid difficult situations. You can put off conflict resolution. You can evade consequences. But only for so long. And if you have friends in your life who are urging you to run away, don’t listen to them. They’re not helping you, and their point of view isn’t coming from God. And if their point of view doesn’t come from God, it can only come from one other place.

I’m thankful for my friends who see life from God’s point of view. A real friend cares more about what God says than how you feel. It’s harsh, but it’s true. God knows best. His rules are for my benefit. His plan will eventually lead to the desire of my heart, if I stick to it. And a friend who wants what’s best for me will tell me what I need to hear, no matter how much it might bruise my ego or my pride.

I’m like a little child who doesn’t know the way

I have to be creative when I work. It’s in my job description. Part of being a writer (some people would call it being an artist) is making stuff up. You have to be really good at creating imaginary scenarios with imaginary people, which is all just in your head but real enough that others would believe it’s true if you told them.

The downside at being really good at making stuff up is that sometimes people think you really know what you’re doing. And to a certain extent, it’s true. You use experiences you’ve learned from other people and other situations, and you apply it to your current circumstance. It’s not rocket science. But what happens when you run into a situation that you can’t fabricate an answer for? What happens when you barrel headlong into something you don’t know how to get out of? What happens when you’re so buried in life’s troubles that you can’t even pretend you know what to do anymore?

It can be nice to be the person in the room with the answers, sure. But there’s a certain amount of freedom in being able to admit that you haven’t got a clue.

C52A64EA10_1505x1004Today’s verses are 1 Kings 3:7-9.

Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?

Solomon, the son of David, is one of the best-known kings of Israel. Israel experienced an unprecedented time of wealth and prosperity during Solomon’s reign. But that didn’t happen because Solomon was a great businessman. No, early on in his kingship, Solomon and God had a chat, and God gave Solomon the choice between material possessions and wisdom. And this was Solomon’s response.

We lose something from the original language. There’s always something lost in translation. That phrase, “I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around” is what I want to key into this morning.

This was Solomon. The King of Israel. The Son of David. He was rich and powerful and successful, yet in speaking to God, Solomon had no problem admitting he didn’t know jack. That’s what that means, you understand. Solomon was calling himself a baby. In some translations, it says Solomon compared himself to an infant that didn’t even know how to enter a room.

Compared to God, Solomon knew he knew nothing. And by demonstrating this kind of humility, God blessed him immeasurably.

When life get tough and surrounds me with trouble, my first response is to shake it off. I don’t want people worrying about me or fussing over me. I usually just want to be left alone so that I can puzzle through the situation on my own. I’ve heard enough stories, I know enough Scripture, and I’ve had enough wise council in my life to get me through just about anything–or so I thought.

God likes to keep me humble. So He’ll let things come at me that I have no idea how to handle. And I flail around ridiculously for a while until I finally break down and ask for help, like I should have done first. But I don’t like admitting I have no answers. I don’t like being the person who stares blankly at a hurting friend’s face and has nothing helpful to say. I may not like it, but it’s the truth. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t always know what to say.

You’d think that by now, after all these years following the Lord, I wouldn’t need Him as much. You’d think I could stand on my own by now. But that’s not the case. I need Him more now than I did as a child, because I’ve come to understand just how big the world is and just how little I really know about any of it.

Are you feeling lost today, trapped in a situation you can’t find answers for? Are you flailing around trying to fix an impossible circumstance, doing the best you can with what you have and utterly failing? Have you hurt someone else? Have you screwed up big time? Join the club.

Just know you aren’t supposed to have all the answers. That’s God’s job. Your job is to ask God for help, to listen to His answers, and put them into practice.

You don’t have to know everything. Isn’t that a relief? Isn’t that a weight off your shoulders? You simply can’t have the answers to all of life’s problems. It’s too big for you. But it’s not too big for God, and if you believe in Jesus, you have free access to God’s ear, to God’s wisdom, and to God’s strength.