When You’re Hard on Yourself

feetHere is an encouraging thought: God might be showing us more grace than we are accepting.

I used to think that most humans’ only mistake was denying the sins they committed, or their need for forgiveness.

Then I grew up, learned to be hard on myself, and realized that we also fail to fully accept the grace God is offering.

When I mess up, it’s a hard battle to not let it wreck my day. Many of us, whether parents or single, pastors or congregants, inhabitants of any job, could say the same. Our competitive world rewards perfection. We’re competing for scraps of success, love, and security. We intuitively sense that any flaw will get us lapped, so we drive ourselves. Hard.

It spills over into our relationship with God. We never think we’re good enough to enter his presence. (And by ourselves, we’re not.)

But…

And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with the hair of her head, kissing them and anointing them with the fragrant oil.

When the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him — she’s a sinner! ” (Luke 7:37-39)

Even before we go any further into this rich passage, we get a stunning lesson in God’s grace from the simple fact that Jesus does not drive this woman away.

It’s established that she’s a sinner. The obvious Jewish expectation is that Jesus would repel her for her past. He does not.

The feet of Jesus are exactly where we belong after we have sinned.

I briefly had a Muslim housemate in college. During a conversation, he admitted that he had no way of knowing whether his fastidious adherence to the Five Pillars of Islam was getting him anywhere with God. Every time he sinned, or even forgot an observance, he feared eternal destruction. Zero assurance.

We can strut about how awful that existence sounds, but are we any different? Do we “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:16)? Typically, no. I think we hold off until we’ve “shaped up” (itself an unreliable assessment) before we feel God is near.

But the Cross and the Empty Tomb were given so that we could approach him. Relying on our own effort would preempt his credit. Jesus’ sojourn in the Pharisees’ house is meant to foreshadow this new and living way.

If you’re “in” with Christ, yet being hard on yourself today, remember the torture and effort God went through so that you needn’t. His grace is greater.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

Don’t Let Satan Win Twice

desertI love the entire Scripture, but I’ve always been especially partial to the book of Hebrews. It’s partially because I long for a close, approachable relationship with the Father, and it’s (in part) the book of Hebrews that taught me to seek that, taught me that God himself seeks it.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain of His body, and since we have a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold resolutely to the hope we confess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Let us draw near.

And if you know God wants something, it’s a good bet that Satan opposes it.

This Scripture makes a connection between our nearness to God, the assurance of faith, and the state of our conscience. That means that what we do after we sin is probably a crucial matter. We need to know how to handle the aftereffects of our sin. Because we will sin.

Too often, our instinct is to hide, as Adam and Eve did. We imagine God saying, “Get out of my sight. I don’t want to see you right now.” It’s certainly good to bear some humility towards God, and too often we let it drive us from God. We have this ingrained belief that we should hide from a God greater and holier than us,

That’s letting the devil win twice.

He tempts us to sin, then seeks to use that sin as a wedge between us and God any way he can. A diabolical one-two punch, the second half of which we don’t often even register.

Contrast it with David’s approach to repentance:

God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)

David seeks more of God in this time, not less. This is the guy who just will not shut up throughout Psalms about the greatness of God’s presence. Instead of slinking away from God’s presence and trying again on Thursday, he actively repents and seeks God’s intervention in his heart.

Don’t sin. But when you do, turn to God in that very moment. Repent and ask him to change your heart. Draw near.

Near. To the God whose mountain could not even be touched, whose very face made Isaiah fear for his life, who routs armies before him and changes the heart of kings.

That God wants me near.

I think I will accept his offer.

 

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.

“Locker Room Talk” Isn’t Okay, Young Men of God – It Is Your Enemy

wastelandIn light of the heart-rending revelations of sexual assault sweeping our nation this fall, it seemed an ideal time to trot this old post back out.

I’m no better.

I have, in the past, engaged in sexual sin. That I’ve never actually touched a woman or behaved like the celebrities currently under society’s microscope? That’s irrelevant. 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. Praise be to him. And only him.

It is from this freedom that I write to you, young men of God, for you on my heart, and I want you warned.

I’m no stranger to locker room talk. I spent four years in the Air Force, where I spent time in dormitories, hangars, and launch trucks with rough, hard-living men.

Some things don’t necessarily stick. F-bombs roll off my back now; I barely notice.

But their degrading talk of women – the graphic descriptions of pornographic material, the exploits they carried out in college, their contempt for their wives – has been harder to forget. I remain a virgin, but my ears aren’t. I learned way more about the birds and the bees in that truck than I should have. Then it was three years teaching at a rural high school, where the kids had been raised rough and their tongues rougher. Even they knew more about sex than I (and they weren’t afraid to share, even if it cost them a detention). I’m sincerely glad that the blood of Christ and the passing of time are cleansing those memories.

Now, as a youth leader, I’ve been charged with helping to train young men of God, and part of that is instilling respect for your sisters in Christ.

Does respect sound boring?

It’s not. It is a campaign. 

You must be set against the world from an early age, for the world does not play nice. It all may start subtly, a quiet normalization of the sexually charged talk about women. The camaraderie of men in a “safe environment” can grab at you like a riptide, pulling on you before you realize it, especially in a new setting – a new sports team, a new college, a new job where you need to make inroads. Loneliness only intensifies the pull.

It’s harmless, you might hear, because of course those guys would “never” actually do anything to the women they know. Why make a big deal of talk, they may ask? Especially if it takes place outside the hearing of any women (insert joke about tree falling in the woods here)?

The Word shatters the apathy with its answer.

If Jesus tells us that even anger towards your brother is no less destructive than murder (Matthew 5:21-22)…

If Jesus tells us that even looking at a woman lustfully is the same in his eyes as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28)……

If Jesus tells us that what comes from within is what defiles a man (Matthew 15:18-20)…

…then our words have no place in God’s universe.

 

There is a vast operation underway in the spiritual realm. A coordinated effort by our Enemy to destroy the very image of God in the world.

“Now his heart for revenge is to assault beauty.  He destroys it in the natural world wherever he can. Strip mines, oil spills, fires, Chernobyl. He wreaks destruction on the glory of God in the earth like a psychopath committed to destroying great works of art.

But most of all, he hates Eve. Because she is captivating, uniquely glorious, and he cannot be. She is the incarnation of the Beauty of God. More than anything else in all creation, she embodies the glory of God. She allures the world of God. He hates it with a jealousy we can only imagine. (John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

Shall we dirty and sully this reflection of God, young Christian men? Would we tarnish it, treat it as an object for our fulfillment, callously ignore the heart and soul of these precious sisters?

We shall not.

… Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:2)

Timothy was a young man, tender-hearted, possibly feeling out of his depth as pastor of the Ephesus church. Paul assigned him a dizzying standard: absolute purity. It was a standard that would cost him:

…they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:4-5)

Purity would cost him. But Paul knew immorality would cost him more. So he charged him, without apology, with a high but holy calling.

Was this standard unfair? No. It was an honor. We cannot be party to the activities of the enemy. The beauty of woman is under assault, and so is our righteousness as men. The days are short. Life and death are on the tongue.

My refusal to leap into the dissipation in that launch truck wrought a cost upon me. I was mocked, dismissed with a chuckle and a shake of the head. We all know virgins have a stigma in the world.

But I fought. As the jokes rolled on, I fought the corners of my mouth as they tried to raise themselves into an accommodating tweak. Every day. Sometimes I faltered, to the grief of God. But I kept fighting.

I do not say this to brag – merely to offer hope that victory is possible. God can master us, if we let him.

Locker room talk is Satanic. There’s just no other word for it. Look around you at the hearts of women, at the state of marriage in this world. It all looks like Mordor. Desolation everywhere. Did you think locker room talk plays no part in this? Whether it ever permutes into actual sexual assault or not, this talk is unjust, destructive, and sickening in God’s eyes.

I have known young men who brought courage, character, and conviction into their locker rooms. They became leaders there. Sure, they paid a price at first. But they also shone. Do the same. Quietly, grudgingly, but undoubtedly, the world will see you shine, and it will draw them towards Christ.

Let us instead be defenders of our sisters. Let us pay the price in their defense. You want to play the knight? Be prepared to bleed.

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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Temptation Isn’t the Only Problem

drawbridgeBoom. Temptation lands.

Satan is enticing you to splurge through your new budget, or dial up that website you know should stay buried, or sabotage your efforts to show kindness at work by letting your temper fly towards a coworker, or whatever else has been convicting you lately. The temptation presses hard against your heart, like a gust of wind.

It isn’t actually the real problem.

There’s usually a “decision” phase in every temptation in which we’re still deciding whether to commit a sin. Sometimes it’s short or even near-instantaneous, a “cruise missile” moment (like the flare of a temper), but even then we have a split second to decide.

Do you notice an internal dialogue in those phases?

“You want to do this.”

“I don’t. But I kinda do, too.”

“Yes, you do.”

“But I shouldn’t.”

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The “Foolish” Cross

I used to scratch my head wondering why the world would call the gospel of Christ “foolish”.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

I could see the world hating God for requiring something of them morally (even though his yoke is easy and his burden is light).

I could see the world hating God for people undergoing eternal punishmentcross (even though he offers a way out, paid with his Son’s blood).

I could see the world hating God for allowing or seemingly ignoring, in the Bible, things that don’t match up with my 21st century Western worldview (like war or slavery).

I could see all that. I wouldn’t agree with it – he is beyond our accounting – but then again, I hardly expect the world to understand (yet) things that are only revealed by the Spirit they reject. From their limited standpoint, their hatred of God makes sense. I pray for their eyes to be opened.

But why would they think of God, or anything from God, as foolish, as 1 Corinthians 1:18 says? Judgmental, callous, unfair in their eyes, maybe, but foolish?

Then I started thinking, “Well, what does the world want from God?”

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