God’s great grace and the power of second chances

People hurt each other all the time. Sometimes it’s intentional. Most times it’s not, and it just happens because nobody is perfect. Communication breaks down. Misunderstandings happen. Maybe you do something you aren’t supposed to do, and you lie to cover it up. Then you have to lie more to keep it covered. And you can’t lie that long without there being consequences, whether you get caught in your lie or not.

In any case, you end up at odds with people. But you forgive them. Of course, you forgive them. Maybe it’s not the strong, independent thing to say, but I usually forgive people pretty quickly, especially if it’s only my feelings that have been hurt. If I’m the only one who has been wronged, it doesn’t bother me that much. But there’s forgiveness and then there’s restoration. And there’s a big, big difference between them.

Unless you’re God.

AD76394B17Today’s verses are Romans 8:1-3.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

I love how God approaches forgiveness. When you come to God with a true view of your sin and your dependency on Him, He doesn’t push you away. He doesn’t scorn you or make you feel guilty. He sees you from a far-off distance and runs to meet you. He wraps you up in His arms and welcomes you home.

There’s nothing in this passage that discusses how we have to prove ourselves to God so that He will restore us to a right relationship with Him. We don’t have to prove anything to God. We can’t. All we are capable of doing is turning our hearts, our wills, over to Him. And He knows full well that we might turn away from Him again (we probably will), but He doesn’t let that stop Him from showering us with blessings and making us feel loved and wanted.

God is a God of second chances. And third chances. A fiftieth chances. And two-hundredth chances. I know that’s been said to death, but it’s true. God doesn’t push anyone away. Not ever. Nobody who ever came to God seeking help has been turned away.

I need that. I need someone who will forgive me when I screw up, because I screw up a lot. Do I think it’s wise to instantly restore another human being to a place of ultimate trust after they’ve betrayed me? No. We can’t prove anything to God, but when it comes to our relationships with each other, trust needs to be earned again after it’s lost.

But still… how often are we too harsh on someone who has let us down? How often do we feel the need to punish those who have hurt the people we love? And is that really what God has for us to do? Are we supposed to make it harder for someone to earn our trust after they’ve failed us?

Jesus says in Matthew that people with vulnerable hearts are happy. Sure, that guy hurt you. Yeah, that gal might take advantage of your kind spirit and stomp all over your heart again. But isn’t God’s grace strong enough to withstand the failings of other people? I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. When someone you love stabs you in the back, it hurts. When someone you trust turns out to be different than you thought, it’s like your insides twist all up. But who are you trusting for your happiness?

God’s grace is enough.

It’s enough to free me from slavery to my own sin. It’s enough to help me forgive people who’ve hurt me. It’s enough to help me forgive people who will keep hurting me. And if God loves me enough to give me second chances over and over and over again, can’t I afford to do the same for someone else?

The size of your trouble doesn’t matter

A few days ago, the lightning woke me up. It was a storm of epic proportions bearing down on my house, driving rain, ferocious wind, and the storm system on the map was all sorts of red and yellow. But because of the crazy winds, the storm was moving fast. No warnings had been issued. No alarms were going off. As near as anyone could tell, it was just a thunderstorm. And moving as quickly as it was, it would blow itself out soon enough. So what did I do? I went back upstairs and went back to sleep.

You learn to read a weather map at a young age in Kansas. You figure out really quickly where your city is on the map too, so when you watch the riotous march of primary colors that represent a storm system on the television screen, you know just where your house is in relation to the storm. You know how bad it’s going to be. And you know if you have time to run out and take photos before the hail tries to give you a concussion (then you decide whether or not the concussion is worth it).

I’ve ridden out crazy storms in this old house of mine, alone and with family. I’ve experienced the scary storms, and I knew just by looking that the most recent storm wouldn’t be much trouble. And it’s that kind of perspective that we need arm ourselves with as we face the trouble in our lives every morning.

DC6TBI9X7JToday’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Life is full of trouble, but if you can keep it in perspective, it won’t feel so overwhelming. The thing about trouble, though, is that is tends to gang up on you. It’s not just one problem. It’s usually three or four or maybe more, all at once in varying levels of trauma or frustration. But when you run into trouble (or when it finds you), give yourself permission to stop for a moment and think.

I guarantee this isn’t the first trouble you’ve experienced in your life, and it won’t be the last either. But it may not be the worst.

Either way, the size of your trouble doesn’t really matter. If you get right down to it, your trouble is too much for you anyway. Like the storm, it’s not how big it is. It’s how fast it’s moving.

Time is a tough concept to understand sometimes, especially as a Christ-follower. We’re going to live forever. Forever. That’s longer than a long time. That’s forever! Do we get that? I don’t think I do. My soul may be wired for eternity, but my brain isn’t. My brain is still in the here and now, but who I am as a person will live long past the expiration date on this old asthmatic tent I’m living in right now.

So what’s a day or two of trouble? Heck, what’s a year or two? Maybe you’re not comfortable right now. Maybe you’re going through a storm. And believe me, I know that’s not fun. Storms are wet and windy. Sometimes you get hailed on. There are scary moments. And there are moments when you think it’s going to get better and then all of a sudden it just gets worse. But that’s the nature of a storm, and storms don’t last very long.

Life’s no different. And neither is following Jesus.

So what trouble are you facing today that’s got you down? What difficulty is in your path that you’re afraid you can’t overcome? Don’t you know who’s on your side? The God of the Universe. The Creator of All Things. Better known as Abba Father, who is reaching out to offer you His personal help.

Storms get worse often before they get better, but that just means they’re moving. So just be still and let them blow around you. God will give you the strength to stand your ground until it’s over, and then He’ll give you the wisdom you need to move forward.

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.

Spider webs in the sunlight at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Real is what you can’t see

You can’t see them very well, but the ground beneath the cedar trees in this photograph is layered with spider webs. I couldn’t get the light right to show how many there were, but you can see a few of them. But the only way to see them at all is with the sunlight. Without the sun setting behind them, I wouldn’t have noticed the light reflecting off the webs at all.

So if I didn’t see them, would that make them unreal? If I said that, you’d tell me I’m nuts. The spider webs in this photograph are real whether I can see them or not. So if that’s true with spider webs, why can’t people believe the same thing about following Christ?

Spider webs in the sunlight at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Spider webs in the sunlight at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I don’t know why the human mind has trouble accepting the truth of something it can’t see. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it unreal, but for some reasons our brains aren’t wired that way. We have to experience it to understand it. It’s the whole “see it to believe it” mentality, and it’s prevalent in our world today (for everything except evolution, but that’s a different topic altogether).

Since when did people’s experiences dictate truth? I’ve never been to Japan, but I know Japan exists. I know people who’ve visited. I’ve read stories about it. I’ve seen it on a map and in photographs. But since I’ve never experienced it for myself, I could take the position that Japan isn’t real. Now, you’d tell me I’m crazy, because everyone knows Japan is real. And that’s the truth, whether I believe it’s true or not.

The way the world tells us to think is so backwards from what the Bible says. Every day the world tells us to believe our eyes, but that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live. Actually, it’s the exact opposite.  The world would have us believe that real is physical, that it’s the things and people you can touch and see. But that’s a lie.

The things we see, the parts of life we can touch and feel, are temporary. Our bodies. Our possessions. None of it will last forever, and when you die, you can’t take any of it with you.  All of it will end.

Real is what you can’t see. The human soul. Love. The intangibles of following Christ are the things that you’ll never lose, even in eternity.

So how is that encouraging? Well, I can tell you that one thing I see a lot of is trouble. Financial trouble. Health trouble. Political trouble. And because all of those things are front and center in my vision, it’s easy to think that they’re real problems. But if real is what I can’t see, all of that is just a passing inconvenience. Why waste time focusing on any of it?

Real is what you can’t see. It’s people, not their bodies, their souls. It’s relationships. It’s families and friendships. Don’t focus on the temporary things that are just passing through; focus on the real, eternal parts of life.

You can’t see them normally. You have to look for them using the Bible as a filter. The Bible reveals life and living in a whole new light, sort of like the perfect angle of a sunset can reveal a patch of ground layered in invisible spider webs.

Just because you can see it doesn’t make it real. The trouble you’re going through right now is temporary, so don’t waste time thinking about it. Focus instead on what will last forever. Your relationship with Christ. Your friends and family. Love.  Your troubles won’t go away, but they will get easier to handle because your perspective will change.

Screenshot from King's Quest (copyright Sierra Games 1987)

It’s not about the carrot

When I was very young, I started playing a computer game with my dad and my brother called King’s Quest. Amazing game. It required thinking skills and reasoning skills and the ability to type fairly fast. You moved your character with the arrow keys and typed instructions. Anything you wanted your character to do, you had to type it. Move rock. Pick up dagger. Swim. Jump. Play fiddle.

And there was one part in the first King’s Quest where you had to convince a goat to butt a troll off a bridge so you could answer Rumpelstiltskin’s riddle and get the beans to grow a beanstalk. (Nope. Not making it up.) The thing about the goat was that it wouldn’t follow you just because. You had to give it a reason to leave its pen, and that reason was a carrot you pluck out of the king’s garden.

So what on earth does that have to do with anything?

Well, if your Christian experience is anything like mine, then you’ve probably encountered some disappointments along the way. Am I wrong? You’ve chosen a path and walked down it faithfully, fully expecting God to turn up and work miracles as you go, and He doesn’t. Or you sacrifice and give up your dreams to pursue a course you think God has laid out for you, and you encounter nothing but difficulty every day until you finally have to turn around and go back to where you started.

What is that? Why is that? Does that mean God is unreliable? Does that mean God just lures us along and is waiting for the opportunity to pounce on us or use us? Are we just the goats and God’s promises are the carrots?

Screenshot from King's Quest (copyright Sierra Games 1987)

Screenshot from King’s Quest (copyright Sierra Games 1987)

Today’s verse is Hebrews 10:23.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

It’s not wrong to ask questions. Let’s get that straight before we go any farther. God wants us to ask questions. He wants us to be wise about our choices, and you can’t really be wise until you are brave enough to question what everyone tells you is true. Wisdom begins by understanding who God is and learning that it’s His opinion and His Word that matters. No one else’s.

But my goodness, it gets frustrating sometimes. I’m just being honest here. Sometimes I wish God would just tell me what He wants me to do. Or if He won’t do that, I want some kind of confirmation that I’m doing the right thing–a confirmation that sticks around instead of popping up momentarily and then vanishing without a trace.

But that’s what happens when you rely on signs and symbols. That’s what happens when you go looking for carrots.

Now it’s not wrong to look for signs. It’s not wrong to look for incentives. There are many times throughout Scripture where God says that He’ll bless us if we do something. But there seems to be an idea among Christians that faith is generally incentivized. We’re supposed to take great leaps of faith because God will reward us financially or in some other quantifiable, measurable return. And I’m not saying that’s not true. But should we be doing God’s work for the sole purpose of a return on our investment? Should we obey God merely because we want to get something out of the deal? Or should we do what God tells us to do because He told us to do it?

Hey, Christian, did you know that if you give to God, He’ll give back to you? Hey, Christian, did you know that if you live by what the Bible says, God will bless you? Maybe it starts with incentive, but it doesn’t end there. Maybe God does offer us incentives, but following Christ isn’t about what we can get out of it. It’s not about the incentives. Just like the game. It’s not about the carrot; it’s about who’s offering the carrot. It’s about getting the goat to fulfill a greater purpose than just hanging around in a pen for the rest of its life.

The irony of the game is that after the goat beats the troll, it wanders off on its own. The goat gets to go roam free and find new adventures of its own. It doesn’t care about the carrot anymore. The carrot doesn’t matter anymore because it was never about the carrot anyway. The carrot was just an opportunity.

The incentives God offers us aren’t the point. God is the point, and God can be trusted. His promises aren’t flights of fancy or caprice that He forgets whenever it suits Him. No, when He makes a promise, we can trust that He will keep it.

So what incentive are you grasping at today? Are you sure you’re focusing on the right thing? Are you obeying God just so you can get something out of it? Not saying that’s bad or even wrong, but have you considered maybe forgetting the incentive and just doing it because God asked you to do it? Stop worrying about what you’re going to get out of it and just walk with God.

Get out of the pen, whether there’s a carrot involved or not. You won’t regret it.

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Don’t fear your troubles

When you’re going through a difficult time, do you find it comforting or annoying to talk to someone who has been through the same experience? Maybe it depends on the person and maybe it depends on how they talk about it, because in many instances I love gleaning wisdom and advice from someone who has walked a similar path. But in some instances it grates on my nerves to have someone telling me they know exactly how I feel.

Generally speaking, though, when I’m down or at a loss for words, I really appreciate having someone close who knows what I’m going through. And I hope that I’ve been the kind of friend who can offer advice and encouragement to others who are experiencing troubles similar to what I’ve weathered.

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

There are no accidents in our lives. Like I posted yesterday, God has a plan for everything, so that means no coincidences. The place we work, the people we meet, the circumstances we encounter–it’s all a part of something bigger, and there’s a reason for it.

The difficult part is remembering that fact in the thick of it.

Life has trouble. Life has lots of trouble, and each of us is going to hit bumps and potholes that jar us and trip us and send us tripping over our own feet. We’re going to get scrapes and bruises. We’re going to stub our toes and break our nails. We’re going to face sadness and discouragement and depression and fear.

But none of that will kill us. At least, it doesn’t have to. And if you choose not to let those circumstances be the end of your life and instead choose to see them as stepping stones, your life will be so much better. And then, something amazing happens.

One day, you’ll be talking to someone you thought you knew, and you’ll discover that they’re getting ready to go through the same things you did. Those same things in your life that taught you how good God is and how faithful and how awesome. Those same things that helped your faith grow so big and so strong that nothing can shake your trust in God.

You’re going to find people all around you who are going through the same things you did. Maybe not exactly the same, but the emotions will be the same. The fears will be the same. The results will be the same. And then you’ll have the opportunity–the responsibility–to reach out and tell your story. Because if God can be faithful to you, He can be faithful to anyone.

And I promise there is nothing in the world that can compare to sharing your story with someone else and watching their faith and relationship with God grow as a result. In that moment, you become so much more than just a child of God; you get to be a real, tangible part of what He’s doing in other people’s hearts.

So don’t scorn the trouble in your life. Don’t run away from it. And don’t get angry at God. He’s going to help you through it, and after He does, you’re going to know Him so much better than before. And then, you can help other people get to know Him too.

Because what else is the Christian life about if it’s not introducing people to Christ? And how better to do it than to tell the story of how you faced the impossible with God at your side and made it through?

 

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Making life make sense

I love the Bible. I love its stories. I love its characters. I love everything about it. But there’s so much more to Scripture than just stories about God and about people. I’ve always been amazed that when the Bible speaks about history or science, it’s never wrong. And, yes, the Bible does speak about science. It’s ironic how much science is actually in the Bible when so many people consider it to be unscientific. But that’s a post for another time.

The Bible is more than a book; it’s God’s Word. And everything in the Bible was written to help us. So I’m not sure where we got the idea that the Bible isn’t relevant to our culture. I’ve heard more than one person say it, known more than one person who think the Bible is outdated. And I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve only read the King James Version or if they’re just taking other people’s opinions for their own without looking into it themselves.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t make it through this life as a follower of Christ without trusting the Bible.

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 15:4.

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

The Bible is our road map, our instruction manual, and our life coach. It answers our questions, gives us insight to who God is, and reminds us what this life is actually all about. And if you want to know how to stay focused on living the right kind of life, knowing the Bible is essential.

The Bible is full of promises. On every page God makes a promise or refers back to a promise He already made that He will keep, and because the Bible reveals who God is, we can trust that God will keep those promises. True, He won’t do it when we expect it. Either He’ll wait “too long” or He’ll move “too fast” for us, but that’s just because God operates on His own timetable (which is superior to ours anyway).

I’m working on staying focused right now because my life is so crazy. With church, work, home, family, and personal things all piling up on top of each other, I feel like I’m treading water under Niagara Falls. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my head any further out of the water, and if I stop swimming, the force of everything is going to push me underneath the water until I drown.

When life gets that crazy (because I know I’m not the only one facing this sort of overwhelming flood of life right now), it’s easy to lose focus and just look out for yourself. It’s easier to just watch your own back. But God doesn’t allow all these things into our lives without reason, and He doesn’t expect us to face them alone either. He’s right there with us, and all we have to do is ask for His help. That’s what the Bible says. That’s what God has promised.

So, read the Bible. But don’t just read it randomly. Read the Bible with purpose. Read the Bible with expectation. Google verses on certain topics and then instead of just reading the one verse, read the whole chapter. Get books on topical Bible verses. I think a lot of times people just pick up a Bible and go to some random page and start reading and expect that God will provide the answers to their biggest questions. I suppose He could do it that way, but that’s not real seeking. That’s a lazy way of reading the Bible. Just opening to a page and reading and refusing to actually study? I’m not sure if God will honor that the way He would if you put some real effort into looking for your answers.

Get your Bible out today. Or go to a Bible site online. And when you start reading, tell God what you’re looking for. Whether you’re looking for an answer or just encouragement, I promise you’ll find it. God gave us Scripture to help us thrive in this life, to help us get to know Him, to give us the boost we need when life gets too heavy. The Bible is like a pair of glasses that are custom designed for your vision; it brings the world into focus.

Don’t try to make sense of life without it. Without Scripture, the world is fuzzy and blurry.