Cheer for ones who screw it up because you’re not perfect either

I actually sat down and watched a basketball game on television on purpose last night. In the last three years, this has happened on more than one occasion, mostly because my college, Wichita State University, has a pretty awesome basketball team.

Both teams did a fantastic job, and while I was definitely rooting for the Shockers, I was impressed by the Jayhawks too. The game was great, but something happened that really broke my heart.

It was in the final minute of the game. WSU was going to win. It was unavoidable by that point, but the Jayhawks were still trying to get a basket. And someone on the court (I don’t know who) got in a last-second three-pointer. It was a beautiful shot!

And nobody cheered.

Maybe a few did. But the vast majority of the KU fan base that was in the crowd didn’t cheer at all. Or if they did, I didn’t hear it.

Seriously? One of guys on their team scored a three-pointer at the last second and nobody cheered? Sure, it didn’t win the game. Sure it wasn’t going to help them win the game. But it was still a really impressive shot. Don’t they deserve recognition and encouragement for that?

Maybe it didn’t bother anyone else. But it bothered me. Because I see the same thing happen in our own lives over and over again.

NCAA2015_vanvleet_greeneToday’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

It’s easy to give up on people, isn’t it? It’s so easy to just write people off, because the less you get your hopes up, the less you risk being hurt. And while there is wisdom in distancing yourself from truly foolish people who never learn, God never calls us to give up on anyone.

Just because you think you have it all together doesn’t give you the right to point out the failures in someone else’s life. But for the grace of God, you might be in the same place.

Following Jesus is a process. Yes, when you make the choice to follow Him, your sins are forgiven fully and immediately. That happens all at once. But learning to live for Him? Learning to turn away from your old life and cling to the new one? That takes time. And, unfortunately, it takes falling down frequently.

Maybe you know someone who has screwed up their life. Maybe you know a Christian who has screwed up their life. That doesn’t make them not a Christian anymore. Even the Prodigal Son got screwed up in Luke 15 because He had his eyes on something His Father hadn’t intended for him, but that didn’t mean he was no longer a son. He started in the Father’s family, and when he came to his senses, the Father was waiting for him.

Christians are going to screw up. We’re going to fall flat on our faces because we’re human and we’re not perfect. When that happens, it’s our responsibility to repent. We need to change our thinking and recognize that what we’ve done is wrong and not what God wants for us. That’s part of being a Christian. But the last thing a Christian who’s stumbled needs is another Christian refusing to support them because they’ve messed up.

No, don’t deny the sin. Call it what it is. And don’t make excuses for their choices. They had a choice, and they made it. But if they’ve turned away from it, if they’ve changed their mind about that behavior, don’t keep rubbing it in their face. God has forgiven them. Why can’t you?

Instead, encourage them. Remind them how much God loves them. Remind them what it means to cling to God’s grace. Tell them what God has done in your own life, and love them unconditionally–the same way Jesus loves you. And when they make a choice that will bring glory and praise to God, cheer them on.

No, one good choice can’t make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done in the past. But the same is true for you, Christ-follower. Maybe they lost the battle, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. Just like you shouldn’t give up on them.

Do you know someone who’s struggling? Do you know a Christian who has completely screwed up his or her life? Are they doing all they can to follow God? Cheer them on.

They might have lost a battle, but the war isn’t theirs to win anyway. And it’s not yours either.

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Fredmont Street light show, Las Vegas, NV

Don’t let sparkle and flash distract you

I got to see something last night that I never expected. I’m in Las Vegas for a trade show for work, some coworkers wanted to go down to the old strip, Fredmont Street. I’d heard about it, of course, but I wasn’t sure what was down there worth seeing.

It’s impressive. I’ll say that much for it. The whole length of the street is covered with a giant curved LED screen that plays light shows at the top of every hour. We made it to the main intersection just as all the lights on the street shut off, and the show overhead began.

Talk about spectacle. It was amazing!

And then, when it was over, we went in search of deep fried Twinkies, which I thought were only something you could get at state fairs. But this is Las Vegas, and apparently you can get whatever you want if you know where to look.

But as all the lights came back on and we started wandering around looking for deep fried Twinkies, the glamor wore off pretty fast, and all that remained was dirty streets and desperate people. Sure, overhead was a neat marvel of technology, and, yeah, the deep fried Twinkie was great, but those superficial pleasures shouldn’t be enough to cover up the fact that there’s a woman in her mid-twenties wearing practically nothing, dancing on a bar to get people to come buy drinks.

Fredmont Street light show, Las Vegas, NV

Fredmont Street light show, Las Vegas, NV

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:15.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

Walking down Fredmont Street last night was a great experience for me, but it makes me wonder how many people are distracted by the lights and the flash and completely miss the point of what it is. Fredmont Street may be historic, and it may have some old school charm, but the point of it all hasn’t changed. It’s still all about gambling and all about sex.

I’ve been told people bring their children there. Someone told me it’s family friendly before 8:00 p.m., but I don’t buy that.

When did we start living as though it’s all right to shut off our brains? When did we start letting the lights and the flash and the spectacle drown out the fact that women are being objectified, evil is being glorified, and nobody seems to care? It’s just Las Vegas. That’s what happens here. Like that excuses it.

Maybe it explains it. But it doesn’t excuse it.

Did I enjoy the lights? Sure! Did I like my deep fried Twinkie? Of course! (More than I should probably admit.) But my experience on Fredmont Street only reminded me how blind people can be if they choose it.

Christ-followers aren’t called to live blindly. We aren’t supposed to live like fools, with our eyes shut to evil. No, we are supposed to be wise. That doesn’t always mean we can do anything about it. Most of the time, we won’t be able to change anything.

Did the half-naked women and men on the street last night bother me? Yes. Did the entirely inappropriate marketing of sex and cruelty upset me? Yes. Could I do anything about it? No. And making a fuss wouldn’t have solved anything either.

But what I can do is not make excuses for it. What I can do is call it what it is: sin. What I can do is not be blinded by the lights and the sound and the flash and the sparkle, and I can see the desperate people on the other side, the ones who need Jesus as desperately as I do.

So don’t turn your brain off just because our culture has. Don’t make excuses for evil just because everybody else says it’s okay. If you’re a Christ-follower, you are called to live wisely. Don’t trade wisdom for foolishness just because it’s easy to ignore evil.

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.

Dead sunflower after a blizzard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sin is broken

I realized something pretty cool over the weekend. You know how you know things but you sometimes forget what those things mean to your life? I’ve been in church all my life, and–maybe it sounds strange–but sometimes I forget how to apply Scripture to real-life situations. If you haven’t grown up in church, you may not know what I’m talking about. But the Bible is so extraordinary it becomes ordinary, something you take for granted. A Bible verse, though you know it’s full of truth and God’s amazing grace, becomes just a Bible verse and not a method you should use to live your life.

One of the songs we sang this weekend at church is an older one, “Stronger” by Hillsong. And I’ve sung this song so many, many times over the years, and it’s one of my favorites, but a lyric stood out to me in a way it never had before: “Sin is broken.”

What does that mean to you? Sin is broken. The good churchy answer that I’ve honestly applied to that statement is that sin, which is our natural inclination to do what God hates, no longer has any power in our lives because of what Christ did on the cross. And that’s not wrong, by any means. That’s what it means. But that’s not all that it means.

Dead sunflower after a blizzard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower after a blizzard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 15:55-57.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible says it over and over again that the result of sin is death. Not necessarily physical death, although that is possible, but spiritual death, death being defined as separation from God.

When sin has the authority in our lives, when we’re living under the authority of the Law, there’s nothing we can do to escape our death sentence. There’s nothing we can do to make peace with God because we can’t be perfect, and the Law requires perfection from the moment we understand that we are sinners to the day we die. And no one is good enough to accomplish that.

But what Jesus did, sacrificing Himself for us, paid that price and forged a new covenant with us, so that we don’t have to live under the Law anymore. Believing in Him covers us with grace.

Sin has no power over us. Sin is broken.

And I’d never really thought about it that way. Sin has always been that ethereal, not-quite-solid concept of the actions that we sometimes choose to do that make God sad. But when you go deeper, sin is the reason we die.

But thanks to Christ, sin is broken.  Death is defeated.

We don’t have to be afraid of death, and we don’t have to be afraid of life. We don’t have to be afraid of anything. We can choose not to. Just like we don’t have to sin. We know better. We know that God wants something better for us and that He will reward those faithful enough to endure through temptation.

So how is your fear of sin or death controlling you today? What role does it play in your decision making? In how you treat people? In how you see God? In how you see yourself? Don’t be ashamed to admit it. Everyone struggles with this.

Just remember that because of what Christ did for us sin is like a pebble in your shoe. It’s annoying. It’s something we have to deal with. But it’s not something that should direct the course of our entire life. Take your shoe off and dump it out. You don’t have to live with it. It has no power over you, and Christ has given us the strength to overcome both sin and death.

Sin can’t control us. Death can’t defeat us. Keep that in mind this Monday morning and go for the win. The war’s already won.

Happy sunflower on Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How to deal with a heart problem

I don’t like being wrong. And I don’t like being corrected. Is there anyone out there who feels the same way? I get stiff and irritated when someone tells me that I’m wrong. It’s 100% pride, and I recognize it. It’s been a constant battle my whole life to be humble when it comes to facing my own flaws. But it’s one thing to point out your own flaws. It’s something else for someone else to see them and mention them.

I think it’s ten times harder to face your own flaws when someone points them out to you. That’s probably my pride speaking. So consider today’s verses from the Psalms, where the writer isn’t just willing to face his flaws … he’s inviting God to point them out!

Happy sunflower on Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Happy sunflower on Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 139:23-24.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

I’m not sure if I can pray this honestly. I need to be able to do it, but it’s a tall order. Like I said above: I don’t like being wrong. And the only thing I dislike worse than being wrong is being wrong and everyone knowing about it.

Pride is so dangerous. We think we know so much, and even those of us who are humble about our lives, pride still likes to sneak in when we aren’t paying attention. Of course, we know what we’re doing. Of course, we know where we’re going and what our majors will be in college and what our jobs will be once we graduate.

Sometimes I think we believers take things for granted. I think we get this idea that our lives are going to be easier because we are Christ-followers, that doors will just open, that opportunities will lay down at our feet waiting for us to scoop them up. Now, I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. It does. It’s happened to me too many times not to notice. But that hasn’t been the constant. I’ve had to work very hard. I had to struggle through school. I had to work through college. And when I was done with college, I didn’t have a job waiting for me, and I had to do odd jobs that had nothing to do with my degree.

And all that time, I never stopped serving God. I never stopped tithing. I never stopped serving in some kind of ministry. And I’ll be honest, there were times I wondered what on earth any of it was for. Because if I was going to work myself to death for God, why wasn’t He answering me when I asked Him a specific question? Why wasn’t He responding to me when I needed Him to?

It’s times like those I would turn to this verse. I know I don’t do a good enough job asking God to search my heart. Honestly, I’m afraid. I know some of the things that lurk in there, and I’m afraid to let Him see them. Which is silly if you think about it. He’s already seen them. He already knows what’s in there. The point of us asking Him to look is to come to terms with His absolute holiness, realizing our own smallness and our own insignificance in the face of His perfection. When we are open with the darkness of our lives before God, it makes us understand just how unworthy of His love we are. And it’s even more amazing that He would give His only Son for us.

So that’s what I need this morning. Instead of hiding my heart away, instead of trying to conceal my doubts and my fear and my insecurities and all the dark things in my heart that I don’t want anyone to see, I need to ask God to look at them. I need to ask Him to search my heart and reveal those parts of my life that displease Him, those parts that have no place in my life. Because when He brings those things to light, He also shows us the way to leave them behind.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know the way to leave my insecurity on the curb. I’d love to know the way to kick my anxiety out the door. But I have to admit it’s there to begin with, and then I have to be willing to let God take it away.

Open your heart to God today. Let Him see what’s inside. He loves you, and He won’t change His mind. On the contrary, He’ll change yours.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

You can always come back

Do you know a Christ-follower who has been hardened against God? Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to be a Christian and to have given up. Maybe it’s not. I can tell you that I haven’t been there, but I know people who have confessed Christ as their Savior who also decided at some point that following Him wasn’t worth it anymore. Does that make them not Christians anymore? No. If someone has trusted in Christ, they’re His; they can’t get away from Him, no matter how hard they try.

I know Christians who don’t want to be Christians anymore, or who at least don’t claim Christ anymore. But just because they have turned away from Him entirely doesn’t mean He’ll do the same. From what I’ve seen, He comes after those who have trusted in Him who decide to twist off on their own. And it takes a really hard heart to ignore God when He’s dead set on getting your attention.

Sin is so tricky. It doesn’t feel like sin at first. In the church, we always hear about “sin this” and “sin that” and you’d think sin would have a huge black sign on it that identifies it as something evil, something dangerous, something you need to stay away from. But the truth is that sin is easy. Most of the time, it’s easier than not sinning. And it’s fun, it satisfying (at least briefly), and it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Or it makes you feel like you’ve gotten away with something. And, let’s just be honest, getting away with something you know is wrong has it’s own kind of allure.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s like a malfunctioning GPS. You take one wrong turn and think that you can find your way back to your original path afterward, but it keeps leading you in the wrong direction. And before you know it, you’re so lost you don’t even know where the original path was. But then the other side of sin sneaks up and bites you. It tells you that you’re so far gone, so far off the path that even if you tried to get back to where you started, no one would let you. No one would give you a chance. No one would love you. And God must hate you, right?

Sin doesn’t just mislead us. It deceives us. After it’s directed us to follow our own path, it convinces us that it’s no use going back.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Today’s verses are Hebrews 3:12-14.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Here’s the deal, my friends. Everybody sins. Each one of us is going to screw up somehow, probably in the next hour. I know I can guarantee I will because I’m going to be around people today. I’ve discovered that I can reduce my likelihood of sin by about 50% if I don’t have to talk to people.

We have all turned against God. We’re all broken. We want to do things our own way, and we have to rely on God’s help so that we don’t. We have to rely on each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to help us stay on the path. And for those who’ve wandered off the path, we need to be the beacons that help them find it again.

“Today” isn’t going to last forever. Sin is tricky and sneaky and everywhere, and if you’re using your own reasoning to get through life, you’re going to fall prey to it. Just accept it. It’s going to happen. If you use your own reasoning, you are going to sin. But if you live your life by the Bible, you won’t. And if you help each other using the Bible, you’ll save yourself and your friends a lot of heartache.

So if you’re a Christ-follower, know what the Bible says. Otherwise how are you going to know how to help another believer? Are you going to use your own reasoning? That won’t work. We’re here to help each other, support each other, point each other in the right direction, but if you’re just as lost as the person you’re trying to help, what good are you going to do? You’ll just have company while you’re wandering around.

And if you happen to be someone who used to follow Christ, remember that God never gives up on you. He never will. He’s still there, waiting for you to tell sin to shove it. And whether you believe it or not, there are probably still believers in your life or around it who haven’t given up on you either. So when you make the choice to come back, don’t hesitate. Come back. Some might not believe you, but I guarantee that the people who really love Christ will rejoice to see you coming, because it’s likely they’re in the road watching for you.

Jaguar parked at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Grace great enough to handle an unknowing rule-breaker

 

Yesterday was my first Monday physically back in the office since the UK trip. It was a very pleasant day. I got a lot done. And just as I was getting ready to leave and I was packing up my stuff, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. I remembered I had left it sitting on the table at home. That morning, I’d driven to work without my driver’s license, and I was getting ready to drive home without it. So you can bet I was extra careful to observe all the traffic laws on the way home last night.

That’s just one example. I’m sure I’ve broken many other laws without really realizing it. I can’t name them because I don’t know them, obviously. But I know it happens. Like yesterday morning. I drove in to work without a license. That’s a big no-no, but I didn’t realize I didn’t have it until later in the day. And of course that can lead to all sorts of discussion about the differences between sins of omission and sins of commission and other sorts of churchy topics, but the bottom line is the fact that I broke the rules yesterday (once unknowingly on the way in and once on purpose on the way home).

Rule breakers are supposed to be punished. Law breakers are supposed to face justice. Granted, I was very thankful I didn’t get stopped, but if I had, I would have accepted a ticket or any fee they levied against me. After all, I broke the law by driving without a license. But as I was driving illegally yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that if this is true in our world that we can see, how much more true is it in the world that we can’t see?

Jaguar parked at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Jaguar parked at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verses are Romans 3:21-24.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

If you can’t keep the law, you aren’t worthy. That is the basic concept behind the law that God established with His people after He rescued them from Egypt. Maybe that sounds harsh, but there was a purpose for it.

When Christians talk about the Law, we usually think about the Ten Commandments. And, yes, those are a part of the law, and they are challenging. But God’s Law is bigger than the Ten Commandments. It’s like the whole book of Leviticus. I don’t even know how many rules there are, but there are too many to keep track of. But that didn’t keep people from trying because they lost sight of the purpose of the law. God wanted them to understand that no one can keep His law all the time.

That’s where grace comes in. That’s where faith comes in. By faith, we trust Christ, and God gives us grace, undeserved kindness and favor. That whole “being made right with God” part? That’s grace. And the awesome thing about God’s grace is that it’s big enough to cover all our sins, even the ones we don’t know we committed.

It’s not that the law doesn’t matter. Don’t misunderstand. The law is a part of Scripture, and every piece of Scripture is necessary, no matter how insignificant we think it might be. The law is essential. The law tells us who God is and what He expects, but if you’re a Christ-follower, you won’t be judged by the law. If you’re a Christ-follower, the law doesn’t apply to you. Grace does. Grace is a part of God’s New Covenant, the better Covenant through Christ, as Hebrews puts it.

I’m so thankful for grace. Maybe you’re a better Christian than I am, but I can’t go any length of time without doing something I shouldn’t, thinking something I shouldn’t, or failing to do something or think something I should. I’m not going to give up trying to live that kind of life, though, because God promises that keeping His rules will bring blessings into our lives. But I’m not depending on the rules to save me. Only Christ can do that. I’m not good enough, and the law isn’t big enough. But Christ is.