Unbreak that New Year’s Resolution

runnerIt’s 22 days into 2018 and broken resolutions litter the ground like tree branches after a windstorm.

I’m here to cheer for you to take them back up.

for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. (Proverbs 24:16 NLT)

Not that you’re wicked if you don’t stay on the treadmill or something. And not that we have permission to sin or good reason to dump a healthy resolution.

But I have to say, as a professional faller myself, it’s mighty comforting to read this verse.

New Year’s resolutions are funny in that we often see them, sometimes without realizing it, as all-or-nothing. We think we have to clean up completely, hit perfection after January 1, to deliver on the resolution.

The commentaries on Prov. 24:16 say that the fall referenced here could be from either sin or from hardship and affliction, and they imply that only the righteous man has the ability to bounce back – that God keeps his hand around the righteous and pulls them back to their feet.

But many years ago, during a momentary retreat in my battle for righteousness in a certain area, a friend of mine gave me some advice: “When you slip up, don’t reset your streak to 0. That’s the biggest downer ever. Just get back up and start fighting again.”

I think he had a point. Cognitively speaking, it’s massively depressing and discouraging, on top of failure, to flip your internal calendar back over to “0 days since the last mistake” once you fall. Adding insult to injury. You look back at how hard you had to fight for that streak, and you can’t imagine repeating it. It’s an added burden.

In addition to the practical downside, there could also be a spiritual downside: faulty expectations.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

This is only one of many New Testament verses that make provision for the fact that Christians will still sin. It’s expected. It’s not good, but it’s expected. Our sanctification will be life-long.

But what a comfort to find God offering strength to retake our feet: the righteous rise again.

John Piper offered this:

We balk at claiming to be among the righteous because it implies to us perfection, never sinning, and we know that is not true of ourselves. But to be a righteous man in Old Testament language does not mean to be perfect. God required that the saints be righteous in order to be saved (Psalm 1:6); he never made perfection a prerequisite of salvation. The whole sacrificial system was designed to impart forgiveness to sinners so God could save them.

The easiest way to see that being righteous did not mean being perfect in the psalms and to see what it did mean is to look at Psalm 32 . Note especially: 1) David sins and is forgiven; 2) he says there is a group called “godly” (v. 6); 3) the wicked are contrasted with those who trust in the Lord (v. 10); 4) these trusting, forgiven ones are called the righteous and the upright in heart (v. 11). So whenever you read about the righteous, think: those who trust in the Lord for their joy and repent of their sins in earnestness.

Now, there’s a galactic difference between accepting this reality and letting it make us complacent. I’ve known my sinful heart to twist this grace: “You’ll never be perfect, so go ahead and sin.” Paul hammers that sophistry in Romans 6. He’s still pressing on towards the goal. The holier your goal, the better your results will be. Compromise your goal and you compromise your results. Our goal should still be perfection.

But when we fall short and ache in our souls, God’s Word reorient our expectations – and encourages us to retake our feet. We repent and we end the retreat. We rise again.

Don’t toss your resolutions (spiritual or common) out the window because you failed today. Take them back up. God doesn’t care whether the first day of your permanent victory over (insert struggle here) is January 1 or not. He just wants to see you victorious, made so through his strength.

Give the Day After to God

deadtreeAhhh, here it is…the day after.

Adulthood consists mostly of three things, I think: paying bills, keeping your mouth shut, and grappling with the day after.

With Christmas behind us, there is now a comedown. Family is gone, the tree and wrapping paper have mutated from colorful expectation to trash recycling fodder, and now we have to confront just how much the entire affair has strained our waistlines and credit cards.

If you’re don’t struggle with this “day after”, I’m certainly happy for you. Certainly, there’s some relief in escaping the pressure of busyness and getting to unwrap that “peace and quiet” present we wanted most of all. But for others of us, there is, I think, an odd letdown. A crash back to earth. If it hasn’t come already, it might still, once the last of the family has hopped in the van and left, or once New Year’s is past.

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Christmas is Bigger Than Your Opinion Of It

catIt was on a December 27th (long enough ago that I got the news over a corded phone) that my family was ending.

At least the blow waited until after the 25th, but is there really ever a “good time” for such things?

The result was a double whammy for Christmas. Not only was the month now historically connected with tragedy in my mind, but every family gathering since has screamed its ongoing incompleteness. The count in the room is always short.

Others have similar stories (and I’ve heard a lot worse). Christmas has a way of reminding you of what you’ve lost, or never had to begin with. A brief week of sanity before going back to the grind, fear, and disappointment.

So I’m the last person to tell anyone to “just get over it and celebrate”. The Bible defends our grace-given ability to approach God with our pain. Psalms is full of it. Jeremiah vents to God even though he knows exactly why God is inflicting his nation. Even Jesus does not try to hide his sweat and blood from his Father.

So please don’t hear me saying that God doesn’t care about our disappointment. It matters to him.

BUT.

But.

It eventually occurred to me that instead of taking my disappointment to God, I might instead be letting it usurp his throne.

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It’s About the Destination, Not the Journey

journeyIt’s one of those little fluffy kerfluffles of human philosophy, one that at least has the honesty to face the reality of we’re not home yet and try to make peace with it.

“Maybe it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

I say bogus.

I say the Christian life is about the destination.

(WARNING: Scripture ahead. I know some of you experience an instinct to kinda “check out” and skip Scripture because it’s too dense, too preposition-heavy, too hard to understand, it’s something you just plain don’t like, etc. DON’T. If you’ve honored me by clicking on this post, I urge you to fight that instinct. Read through the Scriptures. There are treasures waiting.)

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Never Assume

When I read that Robin Williams had died of suicide, a thought went through my mind that is probably shared by many.

“I had no idea”.

Perhaps at some point I’d fleetingly read that Williams was in rehab from substance abuse, but I had no idea that his addictions were an attempt to fight off depression.

I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest people-reader, and 99% of what I saw of Williams was a performance of some kind. But I have trouble connecting the manic, happy-at-all-the-wrong-times boom of “Aladdin”‘s Genie to a depressed soul. The man’s calling was to cheer people up. He was so gifted at it. He had so much admiration from people. It was hard to guess what was under the surface the whole time, that the great well of humor and compassion from which he enriched others belied a different internal reality. I so wish I’d known him; I wish I’d had a chance to build him up.

It’s a reminder to me that we must never assume.

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The Unmoved Rock

Once upon a time, there was a man sleeping in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Saviour appeared.

The Lord told the man He had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

This the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture placing thoughts into the man’s mind such as: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.” Thus giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure.

These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man even more. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.” And that he planned to do until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.

“Lord,” he said, “I have laboured long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock a half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My child, when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.”

“And now you come to me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewed and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition, you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. This you have done.”

“I, my child, will now move the rock.”

– author unknown

Just Around the Next Switchback

hikers“I don’t think I’m gonna make it,” I panted.

Below us sprawled the Flathead Valley in its pristine summer beauty, seemingly close enough to touch, the houses and trees like playthings from our vantage at 7,000 feet.

But I barely noticed the view. My friend and I were sitting, gasping for breath, on Columbia Mountain on Friday with 30-pound packs – an elevation gain of 4,500 feet in 6 miles – and I was more exhausted than ever in my life. Seriously. This beat even my black belt test.

I don’t know whether it was the altitude, being out of shape, or both, but my arms were going numb, my legs shaking, and a deep pain starting in my chest. The scorching sun beat down (seriously, moon, you couldn’t eclipse three days sooner?); sweat beaded and dripped off our necks. Everything was dust (the trees having long ago gotten smaller due to altitude).

It had become switchback, switchback, five minute rest, repeat. The summit was in view, but stubbornly refused to grow closer. Was the mountain growing as we hiked?

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