This Could Really Be the Last Day You Fail

Stop struggling with your sin and kill it!We all have something dogging us.

And we’ve had so many go-arounds with this particular enemy – some weakness, some vice, some habit seemingly iron-wrought or seemingly genetically hard-coded – that it’s turned the idea of victory into distant foolishness…even though you know that victory is God’s will, and that with his commands comes the power to obey.

Perhaps victory seems attainable during moments when we’re in the clear, when temptation is at bay. Or at church, or after the prayer of repentance, when you’re bowled over by God’s grace and power.

But once the bell rings again, and you’re standing in front of the refrigerator or the computer or that person at work who needs your patience rather than your anger, the optimism fades fast. A deeper layer of doubt is revealed in your heart. I can’t do it. If we succeed for a little while, it switches to, I can’t possibly keep this up forever. Or the urgency fades after a week and our treacherous minds convince us that one surrender won’t hurt and…it ends up being more than one surrender.

Don’t you sometimes just wake up and want to be free of all that? For good?

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The God of Winks and Lost Wallets

walletThe Neurotic Self-examination Department sent me a memo today: I haven’t been very personal on my blog lately.

So in the interest of shoring that up, I’m postponing my last Prodigal Son installment. I want to take time to get the theology right anyway.

Besides – I have a story in the meantime. If you want to know the delights of walking with God.

Last summer, I had an illuminating conversation in Subway with an old youth group friend I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. I linked to the story here, but basically, it was me and him ironically discovering we’d both envied the other’s gifts in high school and dismissed our own. It was the kind of talk that blows the lid off your assumptions about your story, leaves you madly reevaluating.

God’s message in it for me: “Stop envying, and stop resenting yourself.”

Like everyone, I’ve got attributes I wish I could change (not sin, just personality), and I’ve not administered those areas a lot of grace. I’ve not always appreciated myself for who God created me to be. I’ve resented myself.

I filed it under “huh…interesting…maybe God wants me to think about this” and moved on with my life.

Fast forward to last month.

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Take Christmas Back From Your Pain

15542081_10154850484279695_2005805105793914489_nThis weekend, I put up my first Christmas tree. It was a three-foot-tall noble fir Charlie Brown tree, and it got just a simple arrangement of bulbs, lights, and miniature star.

And yes, that’s totally a Darth Vader ornament. Impulse buy. Be jealous.

I’ve never put up a tree before. Part of the reason was living alone, who else was gonna see it, etc. But part of it was my typical attitude towards Christmas. It wasn’t a holiday I’ve particularly looked forward to. Not for a while.

It was on a December 27 that I received news of my parents’ divorce. I don’t blame anyone anymore (because forgiveness doesn’t let you); I don’t even blame God; I just kinda blame life. But the fact remains that I haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit much, either.

Some of you who have faced loss this time of year, or taken hits to that precious refuge of family, can relate. It can be frustrating to feel pressured into joyfulness by the radio stations. A friend of mine is bracing for her first Christmas without her father, a good man who passed on last February. That one carol comes on telling us From now on our troubles will be miiiiiles awaaaay and we’re all like…

orly

Because that’s TOTALLY what Jesus said in John 16:33, right? Well, not really.

So naturally, Christmas has not been my favorite time of year for a while.

But what does the rest of John 16:33 say?

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

We’ve got a game-changer here. That’s where God wanted to take me this Christmas.

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Sexist “Locker Room Talk” isn’t Okay, Young Men of God – No Matter How Many Women Condone It

wastelandI’m no better.

I have, in the past, engaged in sexual sin. That it was not as open, egregious, or law-pushing as Donald Trump’s recently revealed sin (which I will not repeat here) is irrelevant to God. A glance is evil in his sight. Stark reality, no? Yet that is the clear message of Jesus.

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

We cannot boast of “lesser sin”. We can only repent and strive.

Fortunately, God and I are winning. At this moment, lust is being held at bay in my life through his power, and I am enjoying the freedom and joy of knowing that I’m on his ordained track. Praise be to him. And only him.

It is from this freedom that I write to you, young men of God. For you must hear something.

As a youth leader, I have striven to help raise young men of God like you. Among the qualities I’m charged to engender is respect for your sisters in Christ. This means setting you against the world with blunt warnings from an early age, for the world does not play nice. You are on my heart, and I want you warned. You men of the kingdom need to know that the world will tempt you. Peer pressure, rationalization, even bullying when you don’t play along…the world will throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

And sadly, one of the defining traits of this world’s moral decay is so-called “locker room talk” – crass, sexually charged talk of women among male circles.

I am no stranger to locker room talk. I spent four years in the Air Force, where I spent time in dormitories, hangars, and launch trucks getting inundated with filthy speech of all sorts. Not even remotely could I claim to have virgin ears today. Some things don’t necessarily stick. F-bombs roll off my back now; I barely notice. But the degrading talk of women – the graphic descriptions of pornographic material, the exploits other men carried out in high school, their contempt for their wives – has been harder to forget. I remain a virgin, but I learned way more about the birds and the bees from those men than I should have. After that, it was three years teaching at a rural high school, where the kids had been raised rough and their tongues rougher. They knew more about sex than I did. And they weren’t afraid to share, even if it cost them a detention.

I’m sincerely glad that the blood of Christ and years’ worth of passing time have mostly cleansed those memories. I’ve worked hard for that. By God’s grace, I look forward to relearning it all from my future wife, in a pure and far more truthful way, on our wedding night.

But the stunning thing, and the trap that nobody warned me about?

Not all women despise this behavior.

Through it all, there were women who tolerated it, laughed, even joined in.

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Six Things I Told My Past Self

timeLast week, on a roadside after a delivery, I found a small, unmarked box containing a time machine.

Weirdly, it didn’t appear in any pictures or videos I tried to take with my phone. It wasn’t a huge device, either, closer to the size of a toaster. Unlike the ones in movies and TV shows, it seems you can actually only do so much with this kind of technology, no fitting in a whole person or any such. It would, however, accommodate a small letter. 

The instant I realized that, I knew what to write.

I had to drive down to Phoenix to take the exact GPS coordinates of my old Union Hills apartment, so the device would land when and where I wanted it. I set the sequencer to place it there in late 2004 (the dial wouldn’t go further into the past than 15 years), hoping that my younger self might find it and. at the very least. face the next few years better equipped. Then I pressed the big red button. Thank goodness for big red buttons.

The device vanished soundlessly. Nothing in my life appears to have changed. Either it didn’t work, or it did work and the result was a separate branching timeline with which we can’t interact. I guess I have no way of knowing.

But I can share what the letter contained. Maybe, if you’re further back on the trail God once assigned to me – well, I just thought it might be of help.

 

 

I know things are tough right now. Man, are they tough. Everything feels like a suffocating mattress of isolation and confusion. That “amazing plan for your life” you heard about isn’t materializing, and you’re struggling to readjust to adult life away from home. You feel hurt, helpless, and hopeless.

You are under attack.

That’s how you need to see your present circumstances. That’s the lens you need. Things are actually going okay for you, but the onslaught of lies and fired-up emotions is making it hard to see – and threatening to sabotage it all.

There are six things you really need to hear. I hope you will be willing. Part of you doesn’t want to hear anything except “things will change tomorrow”. But if you will listen, you could find a much better life for yourself in the next few years.

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Socks and Sovereignty

leafI’m thinking today of the young man who was verbally pummeled by his father his entire childhood and has emerged a porridge of an adult – or a rock-hard missile of abuse himself.

Or the young woman who experienced far more horrific abuse on the part of her father and now sees a dirty, irredeemable person in the mirror.

Or the Israelite infants who never even grew old enough for trials but were sacrificed alive in the superheated arms of bronze idols.

Or the elderly man I know who has received not only a terminal diagnosis, but a stack of medical bills that could drown his children in debt – followed by a flippant denial-of-benefits letter from an insurer who sees him as a claim number.

Would you look these people in the eye and say that their suffering is God’s will for them? That the soul-level damage, the sheer violation of God’s intention for this world, was initiated directly by God for his glory?

Thud.

Just your reaction to that question will reveal a…dilemma we face in learning God’s sovereignty. We have agendas. I do, and you do. It makes the debate prickly; we’ve staked out ground and feel compelled to defend it.

If life is a journey east on Interstate 90, I’ve only traveled as far as the state I actually live in – Montana. I’m a mere journeyman in Biblically understanding God’s sovereignty. This article isn’t a finished building but the raw materials; it’s less about finding an answer and more about honestly acknowledging our agendas.

For there are two different kinds of people approaching this problem. It affects how we debate the issue – and, crucially, how we speak of it to the sufferer.

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It’s Okay to Admit that Losing Friends Hurts

friendsLosing friends hurts.

Sometimes I think that if all the energy we pour into avoiding that fact were spent elsewhere, we would have cured world hunger by now.

The memes clutter our feeds.

“We never lose real friends, we only lose fake ones.”

“Be yourself and the right people will gravitate towards you.”

“Those who can’t handle your worst, don’t deserve your best.”

“If they didn’t stay, they were never meant to.”

And today I found myself wondering…Who are we trying to convince?

Over the years, I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost them because of moving. I’ve lost them because they got “too busy to call”. I’ve lost them because they got married and I didn’t. I’ve lost them because they got married and wanted to stay friends, but they were female and it was no longer appropriate. I’ve lost them because they’ve drifted away from God and all the awkwardness that causes in the coffeeshop (I should have fought harder for those). I’ve lost friends because we lacked common hobbies. I’ve lost them because I was really just part of their Bible study, or a hold-over, until they found someone more compatible. And I’ve lost friends simply because one of us changed, or finally revealed their darker side, and the other decided they didn’t like what they were seeing.

I’m not a special case. Life winnows things away, and friends are no exception. It’s left me with a small but pretty unassailable group of close friends I know I can count on, no matter how many the miles and misunderstandings. We’re in it for the long haul. (Hi, DJ!) I want to jump out a window with joy when I think of those people.

But the lost ones still hurt.

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