So My Niece Turned Four

I still can’t believe that my niece Lizzie is now a 4-year old. It feels like yesterday when I was holding her for the first time as a one-day old. It really and truly does.

It also seems surreal and weird that my nephews are now 8 and 10.

On days like these, I wish I still had my two uncles on my dad’s side. I’d love to get some of their advice on how to be a better uncle. I’d like to know how they felt when I was a 4-year old having birthday parties.

I miss them whenever I hear really good music I think they would like. I also wish I could have appreciated them as much when they were living.

I also think that right now God is pleased with me. Because of Jesus and what He’s done, I am enough and I have enough. I don’t have to perform to earn God’s favor. I don’t have to constantly strive for perfection in hopes that God will grant me His love.

I have it.

That’s the best feeling in the world. Knowing that I am already forgiven and loved and chosen and blessed makes me want to forgive and love and choose and bless better. It makes me want to live better.

So this day continues to be a gift. So is every day that I wake up to. So is every single moment where I’m breathing in and out, basking in the grace of God that forever holds me together and keeps me sane.

I really enjoyed being a part of Lizzie’s 4th birthday party. My sister is a fantastic mother and wife, and my brother-in-law is a great father and husband. Their kids aren’t perfect, but they have the two best role models I know to emulate.

Oh, and God is still God. That’s the best part.

 

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.

 

You Are Not: A Reminder

I’m about to repeat myself. Again.

I find I keep returning to the same themes in my writing over and over, probably because I keep needing to hear them over and over. Here’s one more reminder for the road.

You are not your worst fears about yourself– that you’re essentially unemployable and that you will never find out what you’re good at and be able to make a living with it.

You are not your spotty employment background or your so-so credit score or your monumental mistakes in the past.

You are not your history of relationship failures (or your history of failure of relationships).

You are not your failed marriages or your broken relationships with your parents (or children).

You are not who you were and you are not yet who you will be.

You are the Beloved of your Abba Father, the apple of His eye.

You are Forgiven, with a blank slate as clean as if there were never any bad marks on it.

You are a child of the One True King, despite your questionable family history and your own long list of personal quirks.

You are exactly where God wants you to be and He knows where you are and where He’s taking you. And trust me, you will get there one day.

 

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

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“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” (Henri Nouwen)

I’ve posted and blogged and mentioned multiple times before how the hardest person to forgive is often yourself. You know yourself too well and you know your own weaknesses because a certain adversary reminds you of them every single day.

I know I’ve blown it with a friend and the friendship won’t ever be the same again. We used to hang out and be good friends but now she won’t even sit on the same side of the room as me and we feel like really good acquaintances.

There are one or two (including that one at Starbucks) who have taken to actively disliking me and nothing I say or do will change that. For me, I have to remember that I can’t be friends with everyone and that it’s not my job to make every single person like me. It’s my job to be the best me possible.

But forgiveness isn’t optional. Not with others and especially not with ourselves. How dare I choose not to forgive myself when God (who incidentally knows me better than I do) has freely forgiven me? And why would I want to live under a cloud of condemnation when I don’t have to?

No one does relationships well. We mistrust each other. We read too much into silences and jests. We say the wrong things and fail to say the right things. Most of us have gotten used to the taste of shoe leather from sticking our feet in our mouths so often.

But real friendship between two believers is the Jesus in me communing with the Jesus in you. It’s practicing forgiveness and grace and blessing, giving these abundantly because we know our desperate need for all of the above.

You are not your past. Or your mistakes. You are not the names you’ve been called or that you’ve called yourself.

You are:

Redeemed

Forgiven

Blessed

Child of God

Beautiful

Beloved

To Die For

The One Your Abba Is Still Very Fond Of

May we speak not hurt but life, not wounds but blessings into each other. May we always look to see the best in ourselves and in others and call out the beautiful and glorious in each other. May we learn to love others and ourselves the way God has always loved us.

Back to Loving Being Me

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It really is okay to love yourself. After all, the Bible does say to love your neighbor as yourself and you can’t very well do that if you’re not too fond of you. I think there’s a kind of false modesty that gets passed around where we have the “aw shucks” mentality and downplay any compliments that come our way. I can tell you for certain that kind of thinking doesn’t come from God or the Bible.

God made you. He created you exactly how He wanted you to be and no matter how many scars and breaks and bruises and messes you may have accumulated along the way, He still loves the work of His own hands– you. No matter how you may have been rejected or friend-zoned by girls or guys, God is enraptured and enamored and captivated by you. He is completely and totally crazy in love with you.

I’m loving being me. I can say that I’m not like anybody else out there. That doesn’t make me odd. That might make me eccentric. What that does make me for absolute certain is unique. There is no one in the whole wide world quite like me, and I like that.

I love that I can be socially awkward at times. I love that I can be overly enthusiastic in my friendliness and sometimes be perceived as coming across a little creepy.  That’s okay. Aside from maybe needing to visit Decaf-land from time to time, I’m fine if not every single person likes what I have to offer. Many people were turned off by Jesus.

I love that when God sees me, He sees Jesus. He sees beauty and perfection and wisdom and strength beyond measure. He sees my very best self, the one only hinted at in my best moments of selfless devotion. He sees the finished product of who I will become.

As of this moment, I refuse to take on myself any names other than the ones He has given me. Not from family or friends. Not from co-workers. Not even from me. I don’t have to be defined by words spoken in frustration or anger or resignation. I am no longer the mistakes I’ve made or the chances I’ve missed or the good intentions coming up short.

I am Forgiven. I am Set Free. I am Redeemed. I am A New Creation. I am Blameless.

Of all the names God has given me, my favorite is this: I am His Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

My hope and prayer for you tonight is to let go of all the names you or anyone else has called you out of hate or anger and embrace the name given in love by your Creator and Redeemer and Savior. Listen to Him calling you His Beloved Child. Hear Him singing His delight over you and smiling over you. Let your life be defined by God’s pleasure over you instead of people’s disappointment in you.

I truly hope and pray that you will come to the point where you can truly and honestly say that you love being you.

Saints and Sinners

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“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”

How true is that? All believers have something in their past that they’d rather forget, whether it was 15 years ago, 15 days ago, or 15 seconds ago. Every saint wishes at one time for a time machine to be able to travel back to that crucial moment and choose differently.

I have done and said some incredibly stupid things. I know you have. Unless you’ve lived in a bubble all your life or have perfected the art of self-deception, you have moments in the past that you regret. It’s easier to receive forgiveness from others and even from God sometimes than to forgive yourself and truly move on.

But forgiveness means just that. You are forgiven because of Jesus. Not because of your stellar track record or your perfectly good intentions, but because of Jesus taking your place and the punishment you deserved for all your failings and shortcomings.

All it takes is confession and repentance.

Every sinner has a future. No matter how badly you’ve screwed things up and how massive the wreckage your life has become, there is still forgiveness. There is still a clean slate and a fresh start. Not just up to three times before you strike out. God’s mercies are new every single morning. With every sunrise there is a do-over, a new beginning, a fresh start.

If you confess your screw-ups, God is faithful and just to forgive you. It doesn’t matter if you feel forgiven. You are. It doesn’t matter if you still feel guilty. That feeling isn’t from God and you don’t have to own it. After all, faith is believing when common sense and feelings tell you not to.

I’m more thankful than ever today for an unending supply of grace and forgiveness that belongs to me in Jesus. I didn’t earn it, I didn’t deserve it, but it’s mine. The same goes for you, too.

 

Blessed are the merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7)

In the Bible, grace and mercy are many times used together. I’ve heard it put this way that grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Mercy is withholding the right to revenge and giving grace instead. One of God’s characteristics is that He is merciful. If anyone had the right to exact judgment on what we’ve done wrong and how we’ve screwed up and when we’ve outright rebelled against Him, it’s God. But He in HIs grace gives us what we don’t deserve– forgiveness– and in His mercy withholds from us what we do deserve– everlasting punishment in hell.

To be merciful is to be like God. To forgive, even when forgiveness is not sought, is to be like God. Mercy is loving the unloveable. It’s easy to love someone who loves you back, but God calls us to love those who are so caught up in and trapped by fear and addictions that they are unable to love us back.

I like the Message version. It says, “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”

If you show mercy, you get mercy. I also like to think that one of the characteristics of those who have experienced God’s grace and mercy is that they live out that grace and mercy toward others. You forgive much because you have been forgiven much. You don’t worry about the $100 worth of wrong someone did to you when God just forgave the $1 million worth of wrong you did against Him.

Brennan Manning says it best: “Our encounter with Mercy profoundly affects our interaction with others . . . . We look beyond appearances, beneath surfaces, to recognize others as companions in woundedness. Human flesh is heir to the assaults, within and without, of negative, judgmental thoughts, but we will not consent to them because God is merciful to us. We will not allow these attacks to lead us into the sins of self-preoccupation and self-defense. Swimming in the merciful love of Christ, we are free to laugh at the tendency to assume spiritual superiority– in ourselves. We are free to extend to others the mercy we have received.”

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.