Remember who God is

I taught a workshop in Midland, TX, last September. It wasn’t anything super spectacular, although the feedback I got confirmed that my explanation of plot structure was enlightening. But I remember standing up in front of a room full of authors and asking myself how I’d gotten there.

Yes, I’ve been writing for a long time. Yes, I’ve been a successful writer for many years. But I’m still learning. I learn something new about writing and storytelling and editing every day, and I feel like the least qualified person to stand up and teach a room of writers about plot structure.

Have you ever felt that way?

Like you’re the last person who should be teaching others? But the way life ended up working out taught you things that other people wanted to learn. That’s kind of how I feel about my teaching. Except I fully believe that life doesn’t just work out. Nothing about life is random, and the moments that feel random don’t last long because there’s a bigger story unfolding in the background.

Nothing happens to God’s children by accident (Isaiah 46:9-10). Everything He allows into our lives and our experiences is something He has already seen coming. That doesn’t mean He is the cause of the negativity and the badness we experience, but it does mean that He’s already seen the end of it and knows how to turn it into something beautiful.

Remember who God isGod is big enough to take the darkest moments of our life and change them into something that brings light to others. Sure, it stinks while we’re going through some of those tough moments, but if we can hold on to the truth of Who God is and what He does, we’ll thrive even in seasons of drought or fire or darkness.

God redeems. He takes broken things and makes them beautiful. He takes empty vessels and fills them with treasure. He takes someone with a collection of seemingly random experiences and makes them a expert that others seek out for knowledge.

Throughout the entire length and breadth of the Bible, that’s the story God tells. That’s the role He plays in the story—the Redeemer (Isaiah 48:17). The one who buys back the broken.

But He doesn’t stop there.

He could only buy back broken things, and He would be the greatest Hero in the universe. But He takes it a step further. He not only redeems. He restores. He takes those years you think you wasted and turns them into something that can help other people. He takes the never-ending time you spent waiting on something and makes it into valuable experience you can use in a career or a relationship. He uses the hurt and the pain and the scars you thought had no purpose to bless others.

He buys back the broken, yes, but He makes the broken beautiful too. That’s who God is. (Isaiah 61:3)

So if you’re in a dark season right now, remember who God is. If you’re waiting, embrace it and enjoy the season where you’re totally relying on God. If you’re hurting, recognize that God isn’t the one hurting you, and that He can turn your mourning into joyous dancing. If you’re struggling with a load that’s too heavy for you to bear, remember that God’s shoulders are wide enough to carry all your troubles.

Psalm 113:7-9Remember who God is. He honors the poor, He carries the weak, and He provides for those in need without reluctance or discrimination (Psalm 113:7-9).

Dark seasons don’t last forever, and when it’s over God will make beauty from the ashes. That’s a promise, and He always keeps His promises.

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Even in the darkness, you never walk alone

Have you ever been in a situation that goes from bad to worse? I mean, before you even have a chance to wrap you brain around the first problem, another one pops up? It’s like trying to catch waves on the beach. Just when you think you’ve stopped one in its tracks, it slips away, only to knock you over with a bigger one.

Everybody knows that life is like that, but there’s this idea that following Jesus isn’t. And that’s a lie. If anything, following Jesus just makes life feel harder sometimes. Because you know what’s wrong with the world, but you can’t do anything to fix it. You even know what’s wrong with yourself, but you have the same problem. And regardless of how sad you feel or how alone you feel or how useless you feel, you’re not supposed to let on, right? You’re just supposed to keep that happy face plastered on so nobody will think your faith is weak.

Well, friends, just being honest here … that’s silly.

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.

This is Paul talking. The Paul. This man had an encounter with Jesus Himself. He’s responsible for penning most of the New Testament. And this is him talking about his great achievements, right? How he always faced difficulty with a stiff upper lip and a spring in his step?

If you got that out of the passage above, I suggest reading it again.

Paul was always honest about what He was feeling. He wasn’t the emotional type, like Peter, but he never hesitated to let people know what was on his heart. This man was a leader of the Early Church, and right here he’s admitting that he nearly gave up! He expected that he was going to die.

But….

I love that word but. It means that the story isn’t over. It means that there’s something better coming.

But … Paul said when he realized the situation was beyond his control, he learned to rely on God. Oh, if only I could learn that lesson too. In those moments when life is too much for me (they come frequently), if I could just remember to trust God, I think I would see my situation much differently.

It’s not easy, because you keep thinking there’s something you ought to be doing. And maybe there is, but most of the time what needs to happen is beyond your control anyway. You need to let go, and you need to trust that God will bring a solution when it’s time.

I love what Paul says. That God rescued them from mortal danger, and that He would do it again. That rescuing them was something God would continue to do. Not just something He did once or twice. Not just something He did in the past. He would always come to their rescue when they needed Him.

There’s no shame in admitting you feel lost and confused. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you’re lonely or angry or sad. We all feel that way. We all want to give up. We all experience that moment of balancing on the brink, where one wrong move might send us toppling over. But God’s pretty good at rescuing people. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s good at putting pieces back together again too.

The world is a dark place. It’s full of hurt and hurting people and broken dreams and sorrow, but you don’t have to walk it alone. God is strong enough to get us through it. He’ll come alongside us and walk with us and help us. No matter how dark the darkness gets, you don’t have to face it by yourself.

Don’t let shame drive you away from God

Do you ever wonder when God will lose His patience with you? I lose my patience with people very easily, especially when I’m driving. But while I know God sometimes shakes His head at me, He’s never given up on me.

And it’s shocking if you really believe what the Bible says, because the Bible says God won’t ever give up on us. He won’t deal harshly with us. He isn’t cruel to us. Even if we deserve cruelty, even if our foolish mistakes make us worthy of His wrath, He won’t stay angry with us.

57J9ZJN1HMToday’s verses are Psalm 103:8-14.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust.

I don’t understand God’s love, but I’m thankful for it. You’re going to make mistakes, that’s true. So prepare yourself mentally for it now. Because after you sin, you’re going to want to hide. Adam and Eve did. Everyone in history who has committed a sin has always tried to cover it up, which is funny in a way because who do we think God is? Do we really think we can hide from Him?

I’m only partially joking. Because I hide when I do wrong.

I don’t want to face what I’ve done. I would much rather crawl under my bed and live in denial, but that’s not what I’m called to do. So don’t let shame and fear drive you away from God. If you’ve done wrong, the shame and fear you’re feeling is only going to hurt you, and it’s only going to prolong your misery.

Give your shame to God. Give your fear to God. Let Him take it. Let go. It’s easy to want to hang on to it, but it’s too heavy for you. God is strong enough to carry it and take it away, so far away that you’ll never have to deal with it again, so far away that He won’t even remember it anymore.

It’s hard to believe that God would continue to love us even when we do wrong, but He does. God has no illusions about us. Like the verse says, He knows that we’re only dust. That means He knows we’re going to fail.

Granted, that doesn’t mean He expects us to fail. No, He has great plans and expectations for us, just like a parent has for his or her children. But do you stop loving your children when they don’t measure up? No. And how do you want your children to behave when they screw up? Who do you want them to turn to for help? Their friends? Their teachers? No, you want them to come to you.

Guess what? God feels the same way.

God’s love is bigger than our failures

Nothing stops us in our tracks like shame and guilt. Have you noticed that? You can be booking right along on your path of life, and you do something that causes you shame or makes you feel guilty, and it’s like everything stops.

Maybe it’s just me. But that’s how it works for me. I can feel anger and keep moving forward. I can feel sadness and keep working. I can feel lost and frustrated and totally overwhelmed, but I won’t stop. But nothing causes me to despair more than guilt or shame.

Maybe it’s something I did or said. Maybe it’s something I didn’t do or didn’t say. Whatever. When I’m trapped in despair, I don’t feel like I can get out. In his master work, Pilgrim’s Progress, Charles Bunyan described despair like a swamp, that sucks your feet down and holds you in place while your life wastes away.

But if you’re a Christ-follower, you should never get mired in a swamp. You should never be stopped in your tracks by guilt or shame. Know why? Because all your guilt and all your shame is gone–paid for by none other than the Creator of the Universe.

1435763_14612154Today’s verses are Micah 7:18-20.

Where is another God like you,
who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
because you delight in showing unfailing love.
Once again you will have compassion on us.
You will trample our sins under your feet
and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago.

Our enemy likes to remind us of all the times we’ve screwed up. Satan is called the “Accuser of the Brethren” for a reason, friends. That’s what he does. He stands in heaven and points his fingers at us, reminding God of all the ways we’ve failed and all the ways we are unfaithful.

Not one of us can plead innocent, because we’ve all left God’s way to do our own thing. But Jesus has paid for our sins with His own blood, so when God looks at us, He sees nothing but His Son’s perfection.

If you follow Jesus, if you’ve given your life to Him, and you are feeling shame and guilt, stop. Have you asked God forgiveness? Have you repented?

Don’t be afraid of the churchy word. Repentance is simply a change of thinking. It’s seeing your choices and your attitude the way God sees them. It’s seeing your life from His perspective and changing your mind about which is better–your way or God’s way. That’s all repentance is.

If you’ve asked God to forgive you, He has. He never turns people away when they come to Him. And if you recognize that what you did was wrong, God knows your heart. So if you are continuing to feel guilt and shame, you can have confidence that it isn’t coming from God.

If guilt and shame are weighing you down today, don’t let them. Don’t listen. That’s our enemy roaring in your ears, trying to mire you down in a swamp of despair. If God has forgiven you and you are actively allowing the Scripture to transform your life, guilt and shame have no hold on you. Jesus freed you from their grasp. So don’t give in to them.

God forgives. He throws our sin to the depths of the ocean, regardless of how unfaithful we’ve been, regardless of the sins we’ll commit in the future. He knows all that, but His love is bigger than our failures.

It’s impossible to be a better Christian

Christians seem to enjoy beating each other up. Frequently. We’re never good enough for each other, and the only way we seem to know how to help each other “be better Christians” is to point out what we think are shortcomings.

I think we mean well, but some of the people who’ve hurt me the most in my life have been Christians who wanted to help me.

A Christian once sat me down and told me that I needed to be less connected to my family, because it prevented me from maturing in my faith. Another time, a Christian told me I was disobeying God because I was leading a Bible study, and women aren’t supposed to do that. Another Christian told me I was a heretic because I’d combined the words of Christ from John and Matthew in a drama I’d written.

I’m certain all these people wanted to help me be a better Christian, but in every instance, they did more damage than good. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s healthy at times to challenge what you believe, but using guilt as a sledgehammer is never the right approach. Never ever.

guiltToday’s verse is Romans 5:1.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

God is the only one qualified to use guilt as motivation, and He chooses not to. If you are a Christ-follower, your guilt has been washed away. Through Jesus, you have been made right with God, and you have peace with Him. That means there’s nothing you need to do, nothing you need to add, nothing you need to accomplish to make your salvation complete.

It’s done. Finished. Complete.

And God didn’t need our help to do it either.

So when another Christian tells you that you need to do something in order to make God happy, take a second. I’m a performance-driven perfectionist, and I love God with all my heart. I’ll work myself to exhaustion twice over if I know it’s for God, and I’ll do it cheerfully and happily, even as my physical, emotional, and spiritual health collapses. If it’s for God, I’ll do it.

But is it for God? Does God really expect us to do that to ourselves? Or are you just doing it for the Christian who won’t leave you alone about it?

In each instance when Christians confronted me about my problems, they all told me I’d done something to hurt my relationship with God. I needed to stop calling my mom every morning. I needed to sit still and be led at church. I needed to quote scripture on stage instead of telling a story.

But was God the one who was upset about all that? Or was it the people who were confronting me? Did the Christian who wanted me to stop talking to my mom really think it made me immature, or did it make her realize that she had a terrible relationship with her mother? Was the Christian who wanted me to stop leading Bible study concerned for my spiritual wellbeing, or was he feeling guilty because he wasn’t stepping up? And was the Christian who challenged what I wrote really offended, or was he convicted?

I can’t answer any of those questions because they’re all heart problems, and only a few of them are mine. But one thing I have learned from all those examples is that if guilt doesn’t work for God, it won’t work for us.

God doesn’t draw people to Him though guilt. Yes, we all feel guilt, but even though we all have it, we don’t flock to people who make us feel guilty. Do we? No. We run to people we know love us in spite of our guilt, and that’s what God does. God doesn’t use guilt to pound us into submission. He offers free grace—unconditional love that says I’ll pay for your guilt.

The issue here isn’t about becoming a better Christian. Becoming a better Christian puts the responsibility on you. Learn more. Study more. Volunteer more. Do more. But nothing you do will make you a better Christian, because being a Christian isn’t about what you do. It’s about who you know.

That’s why Satan uses guilt so frequently, because guilt drives us away from God. If we see Him as a judge, fearsome and righteous towering over us with a hammer just waiting to smash us, we’ll be too terrified to approach Him. God has already paid the price for our guilt. He sent Jesus to take it away, so there is no guilt between God and those who have chosen to follow Christ. You are made right with Him. So you have peace with Him.

So many times I think Christians get busy on purpose so that they don’t have the time to truly get to know God. That’s where I was for years. It was much easier to work myself to exhaustion than it was to sit quietly in God’s presence and let Him see all of me.

Following Christ is about knowing God.

How do you know God? Well, how do you get to know anyone? You spend time with Him. One on one, where no one will overhear or interfere. Just you and Him.

Want to be a better Christian? You can’t.

But more one-on-one time with God never hurt anybody. And the more time you spend with Him, the more you’ll be like Him. And I don’t know about you, but being a better Christian loses its appeal at the thought of being more like Christ.

Finding the courage to face yourself

Have you ever had to face someone who screwed up? Maybe you had to ride in an elevator with them. Maybe you had to carpool with them. Whatever the situation, if you’ve ever had to talk to someone you know has failed miserably, what did that conversation sound like?

Maybe it was work. Maybe it’s their behavior in general. Whatever they’ve messed up in their life, it makes them very difficult to talk to, unless you’re just really good at pretending that nothing is wrong. Or if you’re oblivious.

It’s hard enough to try to have a conversation with someone you’re uncomfortable talking to, but imagine if that person you couldn’t face was yourself. So many times we talk about how difficult it is to face people we don’t like, but have you ever imagined what it would be like if the person you can’t live with is yourself?

How often do shame and regret get the better of people? How many times does failure convince us that we are worthless? Is it possible to have the strength to face ourselves when we know who we are and what we’re capable of?

379470_5874_brokenmirror3Today’s verses are Psalm 130:8-12.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.

It’s really easy to believe that God is a harsh, tyrannical dictator in the sky, pointing out our errors and holding them over our head. It’s easy to believe that He doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He doesn’t love us. It’s easier to believe all of that than to accept the truth: He loves us even though we’ve given Him every reason not to.

Haven’t you noticed how much easier it is to hate yourself than to accept the gift of forgiveness from someone you hurt? Maybe that’s just me, but I’d rather beat myself up for ten years or so than to willingly accept forgiveness I don’t deserve. But that’s not what God calls us to do. He doesn’t call us to roll around in our sorrow and grief when we’ve repented.

God has promised that when we turn our lives over to Jesus and ask for forgiveness, He takes our sin–all the things we’ve done wrong–and removed them. They’re as far away as the east is from the west, and He remembers them no more.

God isn’t up in heaven pointing out all the things you’ve done wrong. Sure, He knows about them, but if you believe in Jesus, God only sees Christ’s blood on you and not your sin. That doesn’t give you a free pass, of course. You still have to deal with consequences of your sins, but that’s a whole different issue.

If God doesn’t remember our failures anymore, why do we? Why do we get stuck on the past and what we’ve done wrong?

Revelation 12:10 calls Satan, “the accuser of our brothers and sisters.” Do you know what that means? Most of us know that we have an enemy in Satan, but I don’t think we stop to think about what that means. Satan hates us because we belong to God, and he’ll do anything to get us to give up on our relationship with Christ.

Have you sinned? Have you done wrong? Well, join the club. We all have things in our lives that we’re ashamed of. Have you asked forgiveness? If you’ve asked God to forgive you and you’ve chosen to see your actions the way God sees them, you’re forgiven. God promises that. He won’t remember them anymore.

But Satan does. And he will use our past faults and failures to beat us bloody. The easiest way to get someone to fall back into the sin they’ve turned away from is to remind them that they’ve already done it and to convince them that God doesn’t really forgive. Because we have to deserve forgiveness, don’t we?

If you’ve given your life to Christ, if you’ve turned your heart over to Jesus and asked forgiveness for your sin, you are washed clean in Christ’s blood. Period. So when that voice in the back of your brain rises up to condemn you for the things you’ve done, recognize that for what it is.

Our enemy. Trying to derail you. Trying to distract you. Trying to get you to fall.

You have a choice. Don’t listen.

No one deserves God’s grace. No one deserves God’s forgiveness. That’s the point. It’s a gift.

Don’t let Satan beat you up with his lies. Turn to God and remember His grace. He has forgiven you. He promised you He would, and He always keeps His promises. Remember that and you will find the courage to face yourself, no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from.