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.

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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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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To the Single Who Doesn’t Care About God’s Love

berries(Last singleness post for a while.)

There’s a part of me that has struggled to care about God’s love.

You probably know what I mean. We would rather things just go well than be forced to lean on him.

This week is a prime example for singles, especially. Valentine’s Day comes and we singles feel missed, not only by the season but by the church. My church has handled its singles with grace, but not every church does. Irritated by what it perceives as our self-pity, the church swings open its arms with a beatific smile and goes, “Jesus is your boyfriend! Singleness isn’t something to be endured; God’s love is all you need!”

You know they’re right somehow. You feel vaguely guilty. And you do care about God’s love. You do.

But…

“You don’t understand,” some part of you still says. “I’m tired of being alone. I’m sick of the 8,967th article telling me to be content while the church reserves its celebrations for weddings and births. I know you are able, Lord. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just gave me someone?”

Some part of us doesn’t care.

It’s okay to admit that. It’s not like God doesn’t know. Admitting it is the first step to fixing it.

As I’ve opined before, it’s okay to call singleness a legitimate hardship. Doing so diminishes neither singleness nor God. It just reminds us that even comfortable first-world Christians have their disappointments and that God is making us mature, and more fully his, through trial. The mature church should note this and keep striving for a balance of exhortation and empathy, so expertly struck by its Wonderful Counselor.

That said…

It takes little more than a glance at Facebook, or a day at work hearing people’s stories, to see that many Christian singles aren’t happy. Too many don’t know how to get there; too many leap from relationship to relationship, stuff their shelves with romance novels, or just settle into unfruitful funks.

I do not say this in judgment. I used to be full-on funky (not in the 60s way). Over the years, God has slowly gained sweeping victory over this territory of my heart, but it didn’t happen overnight. Every Christian, in some measure, is still somewhere on the trail to a prizing of God’s love above all.

For those still back near the trailhead, I would ask this: have you unknowingly agreed with the lie that God’s love is not enough?

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Is Persistent Prayer Wrong?

What is it with the vague, apprehensive feeling that persistent prayer is wrong?

A lot of people have this. For me, it was something along these lines: “God has perfect hearing, memory, and knowledge of our needs. Repeating a prayer reveals that you’re not thinking about God’s qualities.” There’s also the thought, pushing back like an invisible barrier, saying that we’re fortunate to be tolerated by God anyway and that we really shouldn’t be pushing our luck. The result is that importunate prayer often goes untried. “Just pray once and let it go.”hands

I do not deny that some prayers can be offered out of anxiety, ignorance, or selfishness. Those prayers are worthless before God, and should be countered with other prayers for sanctification and wisdom.

But would you have told Elijah to stop praying for rain upon Israel after his first prayer was met with silence?

Would you have told Moses to stop interceding for the Israelites’ lives after his first day of pleading was met with silence?

What about Jesus praying to God three times in Gethsemane for the cup of the cross to be taken from him?

Oh, and hoo boy: What do we do with the story of the Canaanite woman?

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Would You Change Anything?

What if God's timeline for you was the best possible one?

Well, October 21, 2015 is here, and the writers of Back to the Future, Part II have let me down.

Despite that movie’s predictions, many things haven’t arrived. No flying cars. No hoverboards. No bionic implants, drone dog-walkers, or Jaws 19, though Star Wars might hit that mark eventually.

You know what else hasn’t arrived?

My wedding day.

Hold the phone – yes, there are men who look forward to that. My brother was one of them. I say “was”, because it’s now past him. How the fat-cheeked rugrat I remember from my childhood grew into a hatchet-faced stud and wooed the perfect match for him, I’ll never know. But he did, and I was his best man Saturday. Good times had by all. (The bride fused the bachelor and bachelorette parties into one laser tag game. You married the right woman, bro.)

And as I sat there during the first dance, fumbling for words for the toast I was to give, a realization hit me: I wasn’t envious that my brother had “escaped” singleness and I had not. I wasn’t sad at all.

It’s probably because my wait has cornered me into another one:

God would have been a fool to give me a wife any sooner.

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