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.

Why We Might Not Want to Live Without Suffering

The other day, I learned the physiological mechanics of a mosquito bite.

Yee-haw.

Some of you might have seen the same animated video that I did as it makes the rounds on Facebook. I learned that it’s really all about the mosquito’s saliva (ick) – it acts as both an anesthetic and anticoagulant, allowing the female to get the blood she needs (what a wonderful provider God is!….I think…).

Then the video concluded with an interesting point: the actual swelling and itching of a mosquito bite isn’t directly caused by the saliva. It’s caused by the body’s immune  response to the bite. The saliva is an allergen, which triggers antibodies to attack the foreign intrusion, and that causes the swelling and itching we’re all familiar with as we writhe around upon the grassy ground, scratching like gangbusters.

I was reminded of other bodily responses. A lot of symptoms we experience to various problems aren’t actually caused by the problem: they’re the result of our body fighting the virus or the infection or whatever.

We would not want to live without physical pain.

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Single and Feeling Like God Doesn’t Care?

thinkingOne of WordPress’ analytics tools, labeled “Search Terms”, shows us the search words by which others are finding our posts (though it doesn’t specify which post).

Most of the time, for (I think) privacy reasons, Google hides the actual search words and just says “Unknown Search Terms”, but occasionally the actual words show. I’ve seen “losing friends” (which presumably led someone to this post), “being godly and sexy” (I’m guessing this), a surprising number containing the phrase “last minute” (which probably all led to this), and some hilarious non sequiturs that aren’t at all appropriate to share.

On Monday, this one popped up: “single and feel like god doesn’t care”

My heart broke.

Illl never know who, out of 7.5 billion people, was led to my site by that search. I can only hit my knees and pray that God helps them.

Because I know what that feeling is like.

Sometimes we must sweep aside the gilded smile on our faces and face what our hearts are really believing. And one of the deep trusts often festering in our hearts is this: when we undergo hard things, it can feel like God doesn’t care. Or at least doesn’t care enough to fix it.

That applies to singleness. No matter how many married people tell you that marriage won’t fix everything (and it won’t) or sweep aside your feelings with a big hearty “You shouldn’t be lonely, you have JESUS!!!”*, loneliness is real. There are those who’d give anything to have someone to share a dinner with, someone to help with the calendar or budget, someone to just touch them on the shoulder, or even just to get to use the word “we” instead of “I”. Only the lonely understand. And that only makes them lonelier.

It’s another level of suck entirely to bear the clenching idea that God doesn’t care. That he’s too concerned with The Plan** to notice how our hearts react to it.

To feel cut off and dismissed by the greatest hope we have? Awful.

I have wonderful news.

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The Sin of Deflection

deflectionAnother year, another incorrect prediction of the world’s end.

I often wondered how these predictors interpret their constant misses, until I went on the internet and saw for myself.

They deflect.

Instead of acknowledging their error and apologizing to those they mislead, a lot of these people simply hide behind the sins (or perceived sins) of others. They accuse you of unbelief. They speak of the “mockers” and “scoffers” outside the kingdom who will get their “just reward” when Christ returns. As if any of this somehow ameliorates their own false prophecies. Deflecting.

A coworker responds to correction by pointing out how awful X and Y are at their jobs, and thus how unfair the criticism is. Deflecting.

Teachers spreading poor doctrine complain of being attacked. Deflecting.

Political candidates play down their own flaws and talk about those of their opponent. Deflecting.

And I?

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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’d have cured world hunger by now.

The memes clutter our feeds.

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

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

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

“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 someone moved. I’ve lost them because they got “too busy to call”. I’ve lost them because they married. I’ve lost them because they got married and wanted to stay friends but were female, and it was no longer appropriate. I’ve lost them because they forsook God and all the awkwardness that causes in the coffeeshop (I should have fought harder for those). I’ve lost friends simply because one of us changed, or revealed their darker side, and the other decided they didn’t like what they saw.

I’m no special case. Life winnows things away, and friends are no exception. It’s left me with a small but committed 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. I want to hurl myself into a lake with joy when I think of those people.

And sure, some people are best left in the past.

But…

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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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