Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Lost Tempers, Lost Keys and Crumpled Creations: Sermon on the Mount Part 4

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Pushing the re-dial button on my cell phone for the tenth time, I listened to the familiar sound of the voicemail greeting, yet again. I paced the sidelines as my frustration mounted toward the person I was trying to reach. She’d left me a message only seconds earlier trying to find out the location of my son’s soccer game, but now she wasn’t answering my return calls. By the time we finally made contact, it was nearly half-time and my frustration had boiled over into full-blown anger.

It turns out that unbeknownst to her, the phone had been on silent mode the whole time. When she realized her mistake and confessed it, I had no grace to offer. Harsh words flew out of my mouth without restraint. Although my anger felt justified, I realized at once that unleashing it had been the wrong choice. Even the sincerest apology couldn’t erase the hurtful words I’d spewed.

As the game ended, I dug in my purse for my car keys and discovered they were nowhere to be found. Trying to re-trace my steps, my husband and I spent an hour combing the soccer fields, the parking lot and the trail I’d hiked during pre-game warm ups. As we looked, I silently berated myself in anger, wondering how I could have been so stupid and irresponsible.  Throughout our search, my mind was filled with hurtful words to describe myself. After over an hour of looking, we gave up and headed home using a set of spare keys.

Later that evening, my family stood at a church service, participating in the opening set of worship songs before leading the elementary kids off to class. As the music played and the lyrics appeared on screen, my throat suddenly constricted and shame washed over me. How could I sing about God’s grace and love when only a few hours earlier I’d chosen to withhold them? My eyes welled up as I thought about how I’d let my anger lead me into sin.  I began to see that the harshness of my thoughts and words had done a great deal of damage.

At the pastor’s cue, my family headed out of the church service corralling a pack of enthusiastic elementary kids to a classroom nearby. As we led them through a lesson, small groups, crafts and games, God continued to work in my heart, gently opening my eyes to the ways my anger earlier that day had affected Him too.

An hour later, class ended and as parents arrived to retrieve their kids, one little girl searched the room frantically looking for a picture she’d made during class.  She wanted to show her father, but it had gone missing. It was clear she wasn’t going to leave without it, so we scoured the room until we finally found it crumpled in a ball and sitting under a chair. I smoothed out the paper before handing it to her with a reassuring smile. At first she was distressed that her beautiful creation had been so mistreated, but as soon as it was in her hands, she beamed with pride and presented it to her father.  He was quick to point out the specific qualities that made the picture special and a smile lit up her sweet face.

To anyone else, it was a colorful mess of felt tip markings and fingerprints, but to her father and her, it was precious.

It wasn’t until a few hours later that the events of the day came into focus for me. My angry thoughts and words toward myself and another person were the equivalent of taking that little girl’s picture and crumpling it up in front of her. Of course, I would never do something so cruel and hurtful, yet that is what I did to God.  That’s why I’d had a hard time singing worship songs–my anger earlier in the day had shown a blatant disregard for His most valued creations: people. This realization gave me a deeper understanding of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV)

Our thoughts and our words matter to God. They affect how we view and treat others, as well as how we view and treat ourselves. The more we let anger simmer in our minds, the more it taints our perspectives. And in the process, we hurt the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His son for us.

Jesus’ half-brother, James, expands on this when he explains:

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10, NIV)

Being angry isn’t a sin, but it quickly leads to sin when not surrendered to God. Anger tears the fabric that weaves relationships together, and it injures the heart of the One who created each of us. We are precious in His eyes and He wants us to view one another in the same way.

The next time I’m tempted to lash out in anger at myself or someone else, I’ll think about how that little girl lovingly smoothed out her wrinkled picture and I’ll remember just how precious we are to God.  Can I encourage you to do the same?

Click on the link to hear the song that was too hard for me to sing after my day of anger: “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham. After listening, thank God that His grace is sufficient to cover over even our ugliest sins. (And while you’re praying, I’d be grateful if you asked for my keys to be found and returned too!)

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Godly Sorrow

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It was a brisk fall evening when the sport utility vehicle sped down our street, careened around an unexpected curve, lost control and mowed down our neighbors’ mailbox. Despite flattening the sturdy wooden post, it was going fast enough to plow through our front hedge and hit our parked SUV, spinning it backwards before slamming it into the corner of our house. The speeding car finally came to a stop on our front lawn. Despite the sturdiness of the vehicle, its front end was a crumpled mass of metal. The sixteen-year-old driver emerged from the mangled car without a scratch. He had been racing his buddies down our street and misjudged the turn in the dark.

As the teenage boys sat on the curb waiting for the driver’s parents and the police, they discussed the incident with great enthusiasm, seeming to revel in the excitement of having totaled not one, but two, eight passenger vehicles. Although this incident happened ten years ago, I’ll never forget the behavior of the driver and his friends. At the time of the accident, my own boys were only six and four. I can remember making them study the smashed cars carefully so that they’d remember it when they were old enough to drive (one of them now is).

A few minutes after the accident, the driver’s father arrived on the scene. We exchanged insurance information and he muttered, “I’m sorry this happened.” He never had his son look us in the eye and apologize. The boy didn’t return the next day to help clean up the mess in our yard or to replace our neighbor’s mailbox. I’m not sure if he learned any valuable lessons from that incident, but I know my boys did.

I was reminded of that accident this week as I studied the concept of repentance and godly sorrow. These aren’t very popular topics in today’s culture. It seems we’ve become a society averse to accepting responsibility for our mistakes, let alone labeling them as sin and seeking forgiveness. We shift blame whenever possible. Or even worse, we try to rationalize why the wrong things we’re doing are actually justified.  Many in our culture want to excuse or even condone sinful behavior altogether.

No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but for those who call themselves followers of Jesus, this needs to be something we do regularly. When we humble ourselves, admit our sins and seek God’s forgiveness, He offers it freely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV) Here’s the catch: we can’t be forgiven if we don’t acknowledge our sin.

King David provides a great example of one who tried to avoid responsibility for his sins.  You might remember when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, got her pregnant and then tried to avoid the the truth by ensuring her husband would be killed in battle (see 1 Samuel 11 & 12 for the story). When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he finally admitted his sin and sought forgiveness, prompting him to write Psalm 51.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

David finally accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted he was broken by his sin. He acknowledged that what he had done was wrong. He approached God with humility and sorrow over his grievous behavior. And God forgave him.

We see a similar theme of the “contrite heart” in the apostle Paul’s writing:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV)

Godly sorrow involves repenting–literally and figuratively turning away from our sins and going a different direction.   It is sorrow over the wickedness of our sins. It expresses grief, understanding the hurt we cause our heavenly Father when we engage in sin. Coming to God with a contrite heart enables us to experience the tremendous grace and forgiveness He offers us through the blood of Jesus.

Conversely, worldly sorrow is self-centered. It is focused on the painful consequences of sin, not on the offense it is to God.   It is sorry the situation happened, but accepts no blame and has no intention of changing. (Sounds like my opening story, doesn’t it?) Worldly sorrow is an apology with words, but with no heart behind it.

It’s easy to get swept up in the attitude of our culture—to want to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing or to explain it away. We receive this message subtly, but constantly.  If we follow Jesus, we must be on our guards lest we get lured into this way of thinking.

When was the last time you came before God with a contrite heart, deeply troubled by the hurt you’d caused Him through your sin? It’s never too late to get down on your knees and humbly ask for forgiveness. God has so much more to offer us than the world does. The first step to discovering that is our humble repentance.

Casting Crowns wrote a song based on David’s words in Psalm 103 that describe how God sees our sins once we confess them. Click on the link and be encouraged by “East to West.”

 


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Old vs. New

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There is a person in my life that causes me great angst at times. She’s critical of everything about me, always noticing my flaws and mistakes. When I don’t measure up to her standards, she’s ruthless in her criticism. No matter how many positive things I’m doing, she always notices what I’m not doing or what I could be doing more. She’s impatient, jealous and judgmental. She constantly compares me to others.

As much as I’d like to cut this person out of my life forever, I can’t seem to shake her completely. By now you’re probably wondering: who is this awful person?   Well, I call her “Old Me.” She’s the person I would be without God’s saving grace; she is my fleshly, worldly self.   Sadly, “Old Me” looks a lot like “New Me” on the outside, but her interior life is another story.

“Old Me” seems to show up when I haven’t been spending time with God consistently and renewing my mind in the truth of His Word. She deceives me into thinking I can perform for God to win His favor.   She focuses a lot on doing for God and not much on simply being with Him.

I was thinking about “Old Me” recently while reading Tim Chester’s book You Can Change. In it, he points out that many people change their behavior but are still not pleasing to God because their motives are impure.   When I think about the person I used to be (and that I can still be at times) I see that many of the things I did seemed good, but my reasons for doing them had more to do with proving myself or pleasing others than anything else. Chester explains: “We don’t do good works so we can be saved; we are saved so we can do good works. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith…not a result of works… For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).”

“New Me” experiences joy by doing good things God has prepared for me– it’s about responding to His love, not dutifully checking a box to feel good about myself or to gain approval from others.   In this frame of mind, my eyes are on God, not on myself. My desire is to please Him because I love Him, not because I’m trying to earn His favor.

One of the best passages that illustrates eliminating “Old Me” so that “New Me” can flourish comes from the gospel of John. In this passage, Jesus speaks to His disciples saying,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:5-9, NIV)

Remaining in God’s love impacts our perspectives and enables us to grow and thrive in our faith. The fruit He produces in us blesses and benefits others. (One of my pastors recently pointed out that a tree produces fruit for others to consume, not for its own benefit). For those abiding in God’s love, joy comes from growing deeper in our walks with Him and helping others to do the same. Conversely, when we don’t remain in His love, we’re not producing fruit–we’re trying to do things through our own effort to prove ourselves. For me, this is when “Old Me” tends to rear her head. In Jesus’ analogy of the vine, the withered branches represent “Old Me” and the only thing they’re good for is kindling.

This battle between “Old Me” and “New Me” happens more often than I’d like to admit. Maybe you can relate. We have a choice every day to abide with Christ, to remain in His love and to let Him renew our minds. The alternative is to do things our way.   It boils down to a standoff between living in our flesh and living by the Spirit. Let’s not be deceived by our “Old Me’s” anymore. God has already won the battle and we can embrace the truth that we are living under His grace. We are holy, righteous and redeemed, no matter what our old selves may try to tell us.

Mercy Me has an amazing song that speaks this truth. Click on the link to be encouraged by “Greater.”

Chester, Time; You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions; Crossway, 2010, p. 28


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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Thirty-nine years into their desert wanderings Moses and the Israelites were on the brink of entering the Promised Land. Just when it was finally within their grasp, Moses and his brother, Aaron, committed a sin so grievous that God barred them from leading the people into Canaan. They were doomed to die in the desert. It all started with a familiar problem: the Israelites were grumbling because they had no water. Once again, Moses and Aaron sought help from the Lord:

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’” (Numbers 20:6-12, NIV)

In this week’s study Priscilla Shirer asks: “How did Moses offend the Lord? Why do you think the Lord withheld entry into Canaan rather than assigning a lesser punishment?” (One in a Million p. 116)  For me, these weren’t easy questions to answer. If you’re feeling the same, continue reading to see what I learned from consulting different teachers and commentaries.   It may help you understand the reason for God’s severe punishment of Moses and Aaron in spite of their prominent positions.

Disobedience to God’s Clear Instructions

God gave a simple direction to Moses and Aaron. They were to speak to a specific rock while the community watched. God promised that water would pour from the rock as a result. However, Moses chose to respond to the people’s grumbling with exaggerated anger.   Instead of simply speaking to the rock, he struck it twice with his staff. Psalm 106:32-33 provides some commentary on this:

“By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” (NIV)

Pinpointing What Went Wrong

In his anger, Moses over reacted to the Israelites’ complaints about having no water. He let his emotions take control and spoke rashly to the people. “It was not God but Moses who was angry at the people. Therefore, the pronoun we was a form of blasphemy… If Moses had merely spoken to the rock, as the Lord had directed, the miracle would have pointed to the power of God. As it was, Moses took God’s place both in word and deed. Moses’ sin was a willful refusal to point away from himself to God’s power and thus sanctify the Lord in the eyes of the people. Moses and Aaron shared the chastisement for this sin.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 138)

Several things stand out to me in this explanation:

1) Moses let his emotions get the best of him–his anger led him to sin

2) Moses characterized God inaccurately to the people

3) Moses spoke for God when he was not instructed to do so (the commentary labels this as a form of blasphemy)

4) Moses demonstrated pride in his “willful refusal to point away from himself”

The truth is, we’re not much different from Moses:

-There are times when we let our emotions take control and lead us into sin.

-We all have moments of inaccurately portraying God to others. It’s called hypocrisy. (Have you ever encountered someone who wants nothing to do with God because they’ve previously had a negative experience with a hypocritical Christian?)

-There are times when we’re tempted to speak for God or to bend His Word to fit our agendas.

-All of us also struggle with pride. It’s human nature to place us in the center of the universe and to want everything to revolve around our personal wants and needs.

God’s Grace

One thing that is easy to overlook in this story is that despite Moses and Aaron’s sin, God still provided water from the rock to meet the people’s needs that day. In fact, the fingerprints of God’s grace are smeared all over the Israelites’ story. Jesus is present throughout their wanderings even though He’s never mentioned by name. Consider this: God’s daily provision of manna and water give tangible examples of what Jesus does for us spiritually as the Bread of Life (John 6) and the Living Water (John 4 & 7).

The apostle Paul links Jesus directly to the Israelites:

 “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, NIV)

One commentary explains the rock mentioned in Numbers “was the visible means of the supply of water which came ultimately from Christ. Since people of Israel obtained this water in the opening years of their wilderness wandering (Exodus 17:1-9) and in the closing years (Numbers 20:1-13), it is only natural to infer that he, Christ, the Supplier of the water, was with them all along the way.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1245) Sometimes we forget that as a member of the Trinity, Jesus was with God from the beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1,2,14,17 NIV)

Looking at the story of the rock from Numbers 20, God’s punishment to Moses may seem harsh. However, the stark reality is that we are all sinners in a fallen world who deserve to be barred from entrance into the Promised Land of heaven. In the same way God’s grace provided water in spite of Moses’ sin, His grace provided Jesus to pay for our sins when we didn’t deserve it. Because of this, we’re freed to receive God’s grace so that we can enjoy His abundance in our present lives and spend eternity with Him.

Moses first encountered God in the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai. He returned with the Israelites to worship there later. From the heights of Mount Nebo, he had sweeping views of the Promised Land that he would never enter. Because of this, it seemed fitting to include a song describing the spiritual moments that happen in our mountain top experiences. Click on the link to hear Crowder’s “This I Know.”

Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F.; Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Editors; Moody Press, 1962, 1990.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2010, 2014.


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A Fresh Start

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Our car gleamed in the early morning light as we pointed it north and drove up the freeway. Freshly washed and waxed, the sun’s first rays reflected off the sleek surface as we began our ten-hour trek. It’s become a ritual in our family to begin a driving trip with a clean car. We even have a saying for it: “Clean cars run better.” It seems best to start a long road trip keeping this practice in mind. It’s never failed us yet.

Crossing the border from California into Oregon, a light dusting of snow began to fall. By the time we reached Portland, the grime of the road and the wet weather had dulled the sheen of the once-clean car. It was bound to happen, so why did we bother? Maybe it’s because there is something that feels good about starting fresh.

It could be the reason these words resonate with me:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

Yes, the car got dirty after we washed it, but it was much easier to clean when we got home because the layers of dirt weren’t thick and hadn’t been there long. The same thing is true of our spiritual lives: every morning we get a new day to start again. God’s compassion for us is renewed and He shows His faithfulness. No matter how messy the day before was or how much we messed up, God lets us push the re-start button.

Maybe that’s why we celebrate a New Year. It’s why January First marks the day people resolve to start over and try again. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s never futile to begin anew. Each time, we learn and grow in new ways. Plus, it’s a chance to clear off the grime of past sins before they consume us. When we take time to do spiritual spring-cleaning, to examine our hearts and to receive God’s compassion afresh, we stay more closely aligned with His Spirit. The longer and further we stray, the harder it is to re-engage.

The beginning of a New Year is a great chance to regain lost ground and claim new territory in our walks with God. It’s the time to open a new devotional or to begin reading our Bibles daily. It’s a blank page, just waiting to be filled with new possibilities. If you’re a part of CPC’s Focused Living, you’ll be hearing much more about that as we begin our new study by Priscilla Shirer called One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land. If you’re a regular reader from beyond the group, I’ll be sure to keep it relevant for you.

I can’t wait to start fresh, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Click on the link to be inspired by Lincoln Brewster’s song: “Made New.”


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The Fallacy of the “Epic Fail”

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From the moment I heard the phrase “epic fail,” I chose not to make it part of my vocabulary.   It seemed like everywhere I turned, I would hear people jokingly say “epic fail” to describe anything from burnt toast to a catastrophic train accident. This type of phrase, known as a “meme” (rhymes with “team”), is a cultural symbol or social idea that transmits quickly from person to person and becomes part of the fabric of our language and culture.

The first time my husband and I heard our boys say it, we added it to the list of “banned words” for our household. We didn’t want our boys over-using such a negative and exaggerated phrase to label mistakes, whether they were theirs or someone else’s. If they viewed every mistake as an “epic fail,” we thought they’d be less likely to stretch themselves to try new things.   Failure and mistakes are valuable tools for learning and we didn’t want them emphasized in such a negative way. Over-inflated descriptions like that have a way of defining us, even when they’re said in a joking manner.

When I read Beth Moore’s comments about the word “failure” in Children of the Day, the choice we’d made to ban the term was reaffirmed. She says: “Satan loves to fuel our feelings of failure. Just when we finally muster the courage to act or take a stand for the gospel, he prompts us to believe we blew it. Our feelings of failure can start an ongoing cycle of inadequacy: If we feel like failures, we’ll act like failures and, if we let that condemnation go unchecked, we’ll make our next decision out of the same perceived defeat” (Children of the Day, p. 41).

The Apostle Paul rejected the idea of failure and encouraged the Thessalonians to do the same. Acts 17:1-9 describes his visit to Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy and the riot that started as a result of his teaching. Their visit to Thessalonica ended with the three men fleeing the city at nightfall, leaving the new believers behind to deal with the mess. Still, in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul says:

“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.   We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6a, NIV).

Paul did not view their efforts in Thessalonica as a failure because regardless of the outcome, he knew that he, Silas and Timothy pleased God by sharing the gospel with pure motives. They didn’t try to put a positive spin on a bad situation; they simply didn’t see it as a failure in any way.

How I wish I could say the same of myself. I’ve often let my perceived failures hinder me from moving forward with something that God is calling me to do. Once my feelings get hurt or my ego is injured, I’m tempted to sit on the sidelines and nurse my injuries instead of getting back into the game and trying again.

I’ve dealt with this repeatedly over the last few years as I’ve been growing and learning as a writer. It can be frightening to share a piece I’ve written and to ask for constructive feedback. Sometimes the observations people make sting. A few times I’ve even been brought to tears and have wanted to give up. However, I’ve begun to embrace those constructive comments and harsh words as opportunities to continue improving. I’m beginning to see my mistakes as tools to teach me. Since the ultimate goal of my writing is to encourage, inspire and challenge people in their faith, I want it to be the best it can be. This means learning from my mistakes and pressing on rather than letting them define me. My prayer is that, like Paul, my focus is not on pleasing my readers, but pleasing God.

When our efforts don’t look successful from a worldly perspective, it’s important to remember that: “Christ’s economy completely redefines failure…We can’t let Satan shut us in or he wins the battle. He’s trying to make wound-lickers out of warriors. When God opens the door again, let’s stand back up, brush ourselves off, and step through it” (Children of the Day, p. 42).

Paul reminds us of the power we can access through Jesus: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Don’t let Satan deceive you with the sting of a past “failure” or the fear of a future one. Instead, adopt Paul’s attitude and reject the idea of the “epic fail.” If your motivation is pure and your goal is to please God, you will be a success every time, regardless of what the world sees.

The band MercyMe has a fantastic song out right now about rejecting the label of “failure.” Click on the link and be inspired by the catchy tune of “Greater.”

(Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com)

(For more information about memes, you can visit: http://netforbeginners.about.com/od/weirdwebculture/f/What-Is-an-Internet-Meme.htm)


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Advance Part 3: Keeping Your Courage Tank Full

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“Failure is not an option.” Can you picture a macho guy in an action adventure movie saying this to his team before sending them out on an impossible mission? While it sounds great, failure is an unavoidable part of our lives. How we respond to failure is the place where we have control.

Beth Moore explored this idea at the Living Proof Live event I attended in Stockton in June. My last few posts have expanded on some of the themes from her acrostic: A-D-V-A-N-C-E.

So far, we’ve covered the first four letters:

A- A kingdom is coming

D- Dare to advance it

V- Vie fiercely in prayer

A- Add traction to your action

Today we’ll look at the next letter:

N- Never take a “no” from the devil

Beth explained that Satan uses our failures and defeats to diminish our effectiveness and to convince us we’ll never succeed. Whether it’s falling back into an old pattern of sin or seeing a ministry we’re involved with flounder, we tend to let failures have more power over us than they should. However, God can use our setbacks to His advantage. He can teach us humility and grace or show us areas that need to be surrendered to Him. Our failures fertilize the soil we need for growth.

When we fixate on our defeats, they cause us to wallow in fear and insecurity, preventing us from advancing in our spiritual journeys or taking ground for God’s kingdom.   Beth used the analogy of a tank of gas, describing the way failures can drain our “courage tank” if we don’t submit them to God.

The Apostle Paul describes it this way:  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20)

Evaluating how full our courage tanks are should be a regular practice when we’re serious about following Jesus. If we find the needle on our gauge pointing towards “empty” then it’s time to surrender our fears to God and let Him fill us with “sufficient courage.”

Beth asked “What would you be like if you were operating at full courage? What do you have to lose?”

For me, operating at “full courage” means that I’m finding my confidence in Christ and developing the potential God has given me. I’m relying on Him to work through me and to use my spiritual gifts for His glory. I’m not looking to other people to define me or make me feel worthwhile because God is enough for me. When I’m operating at “full courage” I experience joy because of God’s incredible love for me, not because circumstances are lining up according to my plans.

A few years ago I encountered a season of failure that caused my confidence to falter and my faith to stall.   Looking back, I see how Satan capitalized on my insecurity to diminish my effectiveness in advancing God’s kingdom.

Over the course of a year I developed friendships with two different women who were struggling personally and seeking me for wisdom and encouragement. As my relationship with each of them grew, natural opportunities to share the gospel arose. Both seemed interested and excited to learn more- whether it was attending church or meeting with me regularly. It was exhilarating to have them ask spiritual questions and to point them toward Jesus. And then, without warning, each of them cut off relationship with me within a few months of each other. No return phone calls or texts; no answers to my e-mails. If I happened to bump into them around town they were cool and distant.

I continued to pray for both of them, but I was confused and bitter—disillusioned that I’d put myself out there only to have the relationships end abruptly with no explanation.

For several years, I shied away from reaching out to others, assuming there was something I’d done wrong to turn them off. I could only see my perceived failure. Satan had cut me off at the knees and robbed me of my courage and confidence.

So, two years ago when a new friend began asking spiritual questions, I was wary and hesitant. Her persistence won me over and I began sharing more of my faith with her. Eventually she plugged into Bible study with me and later coaxed me into starting a Bible study with her to reach other women in our community. (I’ve written more about this story in the post “Being Open Handed is a State of Mind” in April 2013).

Because of my perceived failures in the past, I turned to God, asking for His guidance, wisdom and courage. Instead of relying on my own abilities and previous experiences, I sought Him with each plan and decision along the way.   He taught me to trust Him one step at a time and to rely on Him for my confidence instead of my own skill or the approval of others.

I’d grown to expect rejection and was not prepared to have so many of the women we invited say “yes” to joining us for a Bible study. My co-leader and I moved forward with our plans in obedience. We didn’t worry about failure because we trusted God would provide whatever outcome He thought best.

In the last year, ten of us have been meeting weekly to study the Bible. For most of the women, this is the first time they’ve ever studied Scripture in their lives. Watching them grapple with God’s word, apply it to their lives and see Him at work has been like watching flowers bloom in a garden. Seeing their growth has filled my courage tank and made me realize the joy that comes from being used by God. My “failures” from a few years ago made me rely on God so much more than I ever did in the past.

A few weeks ago our group members gathered with our husbands, kids and some additional friends to host an event for Stop Hunger Now. The women in the group were eager to respond to God’s love by doing a service project together. I was overcome with joy watching as our kids laughed together wearing hairnets and packing food for the needy. Around fifty people came to help. A year ago, most of these women hadn’t even read the Bible, yet now they were advancing God’s kingdom in their families as they reached out to the hungry across the globe.

I’m glad I didn’t take a “no” from the devil when I felt discouraged after being rejected by my two friends. Looking to God to redeem my failure paved the way for His kingdom to be advanced. God has an amazing way of using setbacks to further His Kingdom. Our job is to let Him do it.

If you’ve been in a season of failure, click on the link below and be encouraged by Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted.”

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.   (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

IMG_1187For more information on Stop Hunger Now, or to host a meal-packing event, go to: http://www.stophungernow.org