Forgiveness on Repeat

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness” (Reinhold Niebuhr).

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it” (Mark Twain).

“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again” (Dag Hammerskjold).

I’m still a big fan of forgiveness, because I still need it very much every single day.

I’m no worse than anyone else, but I also have a front-row seat to my own bad choices, bad motives, and poor decisions. I know that God has a lot to forgive in me, and I’m forever grateful that He still does.

My question for me is this: what has anyone ever done to me that tops what I’ve done to God? If God can forgive me for a billion dollar-sized debt of failures and regrets, how can I not forgive what amounts to a few measly dollars (in comparison) of those who’ve wronged me?

I forgive because I fail. I know there will be too many times when I will need that forgiveness not just from God but also from others. So I forgive.

Holding back forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person. It does hurt you. It holds you back. It keeps you from growing and moving forward. The best illustration is that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die from it. Ultimately, that kind of bitterness is fatal to only one person– you.

So forgive, not because the other person deserves it– or even asks for it– because you need it for peace of mind and resolution. So you can finally move on and embrace the next place God has for you.

The end.

This Extraordinary Message

“It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: ‘The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives'” (Romans 1:16, The Message).

Yes. Just yes.

The just shall live by faith. That’s how the old-school version of this verse goes.

But I really like “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”

Who is really living?

Is it the ones with the most money, the most awards, the most prestige?

Is it the ones you read about in Forbes or Time or GQ?

Or maybe is it the ones you never hear about on the mainstream media outlets?

Maybe it’s the ones who are living simply out of a pure joy that comes from being forgiven.

Maybe it’s the ones who have quit trying to be beautiful and are instead choosing to boast in a brokenness through which the light of Christ shines most brightly.

Maybe it’s the ones who don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t compromise, don’t ever stop trusting that in the end everything will be fine.

Maybe those are the ones really living.

Lord, help me to really live and really love and really experience all that You have for me in this life.

Keep my eyes open to all that You are doing in and around me.

Keep my faith childlike so that I never cease to be amazed at what you can do in someone who says the most hesitant yes to You.

Keep my gaze straight ahead on the cross and what lies beyond instead of temporal pleasures that turn sour in the mouth and that rust in the hand.

Keep me holding onto You and let me know that You’ll always be holding on to me.

Amen.

 

What Is Your Second Mile?

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41, NIV)

The gist of the passage is that back in ye olden Bible times, a Roman soldier could conscript anyone to carry his gear for up to one mile. Many Jewish people would put a marker exactly one mile from their houses so they would know precisely how much they were required to do.

Remember Simon of Cyrene? The Roman soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross, probably based on this idea.

But pay attention to Jesus’ own words.

If anyone asks you to go one mile, go two. In other words, do above and beyond what is expected of you.

So the question that I heard today is the one I now pose to you: what is your second mile?

How can you serve where you’re planted in a way that goes beyond the minimum requirement?

It’s not necessarily about doing more, but about how you do what you’re doing. It’s all about your attitude.

Where you are, what you are doing, is your ministry, whether it’s in a church building or a seminary or a classroom or in a grocery store or in your own home.

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it when he said this: “Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work” (Colossians 3:22-25, The Message).

That goes for any sphere of life for wherever you live,work, play, and serve.

Do it all as if you were doing it directly for Jesus Himself.

See everyone you meet as possibly Jesus in disguise and treat them like you would treat Him if you knew He was standing right in front of you.

Going Home

winding road

“Going home is a lifelong journey. There are always parts of ourselves that wander off in dissipation or get stuck in resentment. Before we know it we are lost in lustful fantasies or angry ruminations. Our night dreams and daydreams often remind us of our lostness.

Spiritual disciplines such as praying, fasting and caring are ways to help us return home. As we walk home we often realise how long the way is. But let us not be discouraged. Jesus walks with us and speaks to us on the road. When we listen carefully we discover that we are already home while on the way” (Henri Nouwen).

That’s what really matters in the end.

I’m headed toward my real home and Jesus is the one who’ll help me get there.

This journey is where Jesus walks with us and speaks to us. In fact, Jesus Himself said that knowing Him is the journey. He said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

He didn’t say that He knew the way.

He didn’t even say that He was an expert in the knowledge about the way.

He said He is THE way.

There is no other way because no other god ever took on human flesh and became one of us. No other god willingly laid down his life for us in order that we might escape the punishment we deserved.

Sometimes, the way seems long and hard. Many of us sometimes feel like we will never get to the place we want to be or become the persons we feel we should have been all along.

Rest easy, my friends.

Jesus promised that even though the road was narrow and few find it, He would be there.

Jesus promised that His yoke would be easy and His burden light.

Jesus promised that He would finish that great work He started in you.

He promised to never leave or forsake you.

When Jesus is with you, you truly are already home while you’re on the road home.

 

More About Blessed

If you turn on TBN, you might hear some old preacher talking about how God wants to bless you. By that, he probably means that God wants to shower you with riches and mansions and luxury cars and yachts and so forth.

But when I read my Bible, I get a different version of what it means for God to bless someone. What Jesus calls blessed in the Beatitudes is far better than what any health-and-wealth preacher might call it.

Not that God doesn’t grant wealth as a blessing, but I think the idea of blessing is so much more than that. After all, doesn’t the Bible say not to store your treasures on earth where thieves break in and steal and rust corrodes? Will you be able to take any of your wealth with you? Of course not.

The older I get, the more I see that the best blessing God gives is God. More than any gift God gives, God giving Himself to anyone is the best gift of all. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving, because you will never in any lifetime get to the bottom of Who God is or how much He loves you.

To be blessed is to know God and to know Jesus, who is God with a human face. All of us take that privilege for granted all the time, but have you ever stopped to think that the Creator and King of Everything has sought you out for a relationship? That should boggle our minds.

At the end of the day, I’m blessed. I know that God will supply all my needs through Jesus because ultimately my greatest need is Jesus. And He will take care of all my other needs, too.

You can have everything your heart desires and not have God and you will be miserable. You can have nothing but God and you will find that He is enough.

That’s another reminder to myself.

 

 

 

It’s Summer Solstice Again

“It must have been the summer solstice
When I first gave my heart to You
The first day of a brand new season
In a fevered passion for Your simple truth
It was the longest I’d ever felt for anything
And it gave my soul a song to sing . . . .

And with the spring comes the thaw
Melting my heart reviving all
It comes full circle and then
It’s summer solstice again

So can You throw Your arms around me and walk me home
I’ve wandered off way too far for way too long
And standing broken in this wilderness of shame
I have found my only strength is in your name
Oh, Father please can You undo what I’ve done
And get me back to square one

Back to the summer solstice

Take me back

I wanna go back” (Wayne Kirkpatrick, recorded by Susan Ashton).

Yes, it is summer solstice again. It’s officially the longest day of the year in terms of having the most daylight.

This one was hot. As in even standing in the shade, I was still sweating like the pig that knows he’s about to be bacon.

It felt like I was standing in front of an oven, only there was no aroma of anything baking, except maybe me.

Summer always makes me nostalgic for days I can never get back. It makes me miss people I will never see again in this lifetime.

I’m thinking about all those Johnson family reunions we used to have where all the cousins would make the drive down to Christiana, Tennessee and bring buckets of fried chicken (along with a multitude of casseroles and other foods) and tell stories of yesteryear. I miss those.

It’s easy to want to look back when you can’t really see what’s ahead, to long for the past when the future seems uncertain and scary.

That’s where a lot of us are right now. We’re holding on to what we know, what we can feel with our hands and see with our eyes and make sense of with our minds. We cling to the tangible, even if it’s what’s holding us back from becoming what God destined us to become.

Maybe faith is letting go of  those things and reaching out into the unknown with only the assurance that God will be there.

I love what G. K. Chesterton said: “Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

So here’s to hope, which is possibly the best thing going right now.

Hope is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

What’s It Worth?

“Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?'” (Mark 8:34-37).

God is not your co-pilot. If He is, it’s time to switch seats.

But enough of cliches. This is the gospel. It’s not about prosperity and happiness. It’s about following Jesus, no matter what, even if it hurts.

Sometimes where Jesus leads is pleasant, but not always.

Sometimes, it feels good to follow Jesus, but sometimes it feels like swimming against the current.

Sometimes, you’ll really feel like saying yes to whatever Jesus asks of you, but sometimes you will have to say yes when your feelings are saying no.

It’s about letting Jesus lead, wherever He takes you and through whatever He brings you.

As much as I love my comfort and convenience, that’s not the road that Jesus took.

His road was marked with suffering and pain.

His road was definitely the road less traveled, the narrow road that few find that leads to life eternal.

His road was the road that led to you and me in our worst moments, where He invited us to follow and find out what a different and better life could look like.

What good would it do me to get everything I’ve ever wanted and dreamed about, everything on my Amazon wish list, everything on my bucket list, and lose my soul in the process?

If I have everything else and no Jesus, I have nothing. If I have nothing else but Jesus, I have everything.

The end.

 

Four Gardens

I heard something new today, so I can’t take credit for any of what follows. It all involves four gardens.

The first garden was the Garden of Eden where it all went horribly wrong for all of us. Adam and Eve both ate of that dratted fruit. It doesn’t matter what kind of fruit it was or who ate first. The simple fact that out of every tree in that garden (and there must have been plenty), they chose the one tree God asked them not to eat from.

We’ve been like that ever since. Ever see a “Don’t step on the grass” sign? What’s the first impulse you have when you see that? I rest my case.

The second garden was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus chose the cross. I know it was His destiny from the beginning and He knew all along that Calvary was His destination, but here is where the temptation to bail was strongest and here is where Jesus prevailed against such a temptation.

The third garden was the Garden of the Tomb. When Mary first saw Jesus, she thought He was the gardener. So it follows there was a garden. Here is where everything wrong was made right. Here is where Jesus’ victory was confirmed and forever validated.

The final garden is in Revelation 22. There you find a very familiar tree, the tree of life, planted by a river and located in the City of God. Here instead of a forbidding commandment is an invitation to come and partake.

Oh, and there’s the whole fruit of the Spirit thing, too.

I love how God doesn’t miss any details. Everything that was lost in the first garden gets found in the last one. Nothing that is good and pure and true is ever truly lost, but God finds a way to redeem it back.

Going Public

“God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness” Titus‬ ‭2‬:‭11-14‬ MSG).

I think that pretty much covers it.

Just Ask

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” (Luke 11:13 MSG).

I wonder how many times I’ve used prayer as a last resort.

How many times have I obsessively worried about something and tried to figure out ways of handling it myself and it never even dawned on me to pray about it?

You’d think for as long as I’ve been a believer that I’d be quicker to prayer than I am.

I’m guessing you feel the same way.

I think it points to a lack of faith. It says that I really don’t believe that God can handle my problem. Oh sure, He can deal with everyone else’s issues but for some reason in my own mind, my circumstances are different.

I look at it this way. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, He can handle pretty much anything I’m ever going to throw at Him. He’s not going to be shocked or surprised at the needs I lay before Him.

I keep up with Ann Voskamp, a fantastic writer who also happens to put some of the best posts out there on social media. She usually ends them with the hashtag #preachingthegospeltomyself. For those who are unskilled in reading hashtag-ese, that means “preaching the gospel to myself.”

A lot of what I write is me reminding myself of what I already know. Scratch that. Nearly all of what I write is me preaching to myself and stirring memories of times before when God was faithful.

All it takes is the tiniest yielding, the most hesitant agreements, and God can show up and do what He does best– amaze.