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Transformed Lives

Last month I was in Rockford, Illinois where my entire family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a privilege to see everyone again. We are spread out over the United States from Washington State, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It is a rare treat when we are all together. While there, I stayed at my nephew’s home. He and his wife recently purchased the home and are slowly remodeling it.

One morning I sat in the guest room with a cup of coffee and looked around the room. There were a few quirks that needed addressing, but I love his house. It is a mid-century modern design. I can already see in my mind how amazing it is going to be someday. I don’t see it as it was. I don’t see it as it is. I see it as it will be. I see it complete. And I love it!

I took a sip of coffee, and it occurred to me that God sees me like I see this house. God looks at me, and he doesn’t see me as I was. He doesn’t see me as I am. He sees me as I will one day be. And he loves me!

I love my relationship with God. Through my relationship with him, the Holy Spirit has transformed many areas of my life. I look back with gratitude at all he has done. At the same time, I am aware of areas in my life that still need transformation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows me the dark corners of my heart where sin still lurks. Hidden sins like pride, lust, or seeking glory for myself slink away from the light. They try to hide, but the Holy Spirit shines his light upon them. At that moment, my tendency is to focus on all that still needs to be transformed. It can feel overwhelming. The solution is to understand how God sees me.  

None of us have arrived. In the end, we are men and women trying to follow Jesus. Some days we follow well, some days we do not. On the days when we have blown it, we tend to get discouraged. This is why it is important to understand how God sees us.

Remember, God doesn’t see us as we were. God doesn’t see us as we are. He sees us as we will be. This is because God sees us through the cross. He sees the sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. His death paid for all the sins we’ve done in the past. His death paid for all the sins we may commit today, and his death paid for all the sin we may do in the future. His blood covers them all. That is why God does not see us as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. He sees us completely sinless, perfect, and holy, like Jesus. This is amazing!

Sometimes I look back with regret on sins of my past. At other times I may look at my life now and see so many areas that still need improvement. Whenever I do this, I may become discouraged. Instead, I need to look forward to the day when God completes his work in my life. Like my nephew’s home, I need to imagine how amazing it will be when God completes the work in my life.

Romans 8:28-29, ESV, says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

In God’s plan, all things work together for good. This does not mean all things are good. Sin is not good. But God still uses it for good in our lives. This is because his idea of good is when we are more conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. When we recognize our sin, it should bring us to repentance. In that repentance we are humbled. When we are humble, we look a little more like Jesus. When we look a little more like Jesus, it is good! And on it goes….

In Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he wrote, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

Here we see the ongoing nature of this transformation. How we wish the transformation in our lives could be completed now. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. God continues to transform our lives into the image of Jesus as long as we live on this earth. Thankfully, you and I are in an ongoing process whereby God the Father transforms our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we progressively look more like his son, Jesus. The process continues until we finally die or the Lord returns to take us home. Then the transformation is complete.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). This is great news! This is worth celebrating! God begins the work of transformation the moment we accept his forgiveness of sin through the cross. This same God continues the work within us until finally, we are complete in him. What a day that will be!

My friend, this is my encouragement for you this month. God knows all our faults yet loves us anyway. He looks at our lives and sees the man or woman we will become. He sees us not as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. And he says, “I love you!”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

The Wilderness of Testing

This is a difficult season in my life and ministry. For the past few months, my schedule has exhausted me. In July I dealt with the accident with my sailboat and the subsequent repairs. The marina where the boat was stored was two hours and forty-five minutes from home, complicating matters. I worked full-time in construction, remodeling homes, to raise the funds for the rudder repair. I spent my evenings preparing my home for the tourist rental market as I made the move to living aboard the sailboat. I tried to maintain the ministry. I worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, for almost five months. In the middle of all this, I rode out Hurricane Irma at home, and dealt with issues related to the storm for days before and after the storm. The ministry feels like it is on autopilot. Physically, spiritually, and emotionally, I am spent.

I struggled to maintain my relationship with God. I spent time in the Word, but it felt dry and uninspired. I talked with God about it, but even those conversations felt empty.

During this time, I also experienced lustful thoughts far beyond normal temptations. I’m used to the usual thoughts we all have as guys, but this was different. I mentioned to several friends how shocking these thoughts were. In my whole life, I don’t think I’ve ever before entertained such thoughts. The temptation was so strong that for a moment I even considered walking away from the ministry to fulfill it. The next moment I had clarity and shuddered to think I would even consider such things. It frightened me that I could even think that way.

In all, the past months felt different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my relationship with God. Something was going on, but I was not sure what it was. I plodded on in my relationship with God, still spending time in the Word, still finding time to talk with him, but struggling throughout.

Last week, in the midst of all this, I heard the still small voice of God. “Tim,” he said, “you need to be very careful. This is not just a ‘Valley of Wait’ that you are in. I have led you to a Wilderness of Testing.” It was a quiet word to my spirit, but it felt as if it were shouted to me. This changed everything. For a moment, I saw the context of what has transpired over the past months. Oddly, I was greatly encouraged.

I looked in Scripture at others whom God led into the Wilderness of Testing. Jesus is the most obvious example. I started there. Matthew’s account resonated with me. This is what it says:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

 

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

 

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

 

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

I find this passage intriguing. The first thing I noticed is how Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the Wilderness of Testing. This is important. It was not accidental that he was in this place. He followed the leading of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. It was purposeful. This gives a sense of purpose to all I experienced over the past six months. There is a reason, even if I do not yet know what it is. It is not merely a season of waiting.

The next thought that stood out to me was how the enemy came at the moment when Jesus was physically spent. Jesus had fasted for forty days prior to this trial. Surely he was physically exhausted. In this place of need the enemy approached. He began by questioning Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you are the son of God….” This is often the core question Satan asks of you and me. He tries to question our identity. “Are you actually a follower of Christ?” he asks. “Are you actually a son of God? If you are, then why do you feel the way you do?”

But the enemy also struck where he suspected Jesus had the greatest need. “Go ahead. Turn these stones into bread. You’re hungry. You deserve it.” This may explain the lustful thoughts I experienced. It is the one area of my life I struggle with the most. On a regular day I want to experience the fulfillment of the normal physical desires God created within me. But when I am tired and “hungry,” the temptation is more difficult to resist. It is likely the enemy will strike in the area where our felt needs are greatest.

Gratefully, Jesus responded with clarity as an example for us to follow. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV).

It is significant that he refuted the enemy with Scripture. Jesus quoted from a passage in Deuteronomy 8. Let’s take a moment to look at the passage. Moses addresses the nation of Israel as they look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of God to give them the land. Here is the full context:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, ESV)

Moses’ words give greater understanding to the purposes of the Wilderness of Testing. It is a place of humbling. It reveals what is in our hearts, and expands our understanding of our relationship with God.

This season certainly humbled me. There can be a subtle pride in saying I am full-time in ministry. It sounds successful. To work full-time outside of the ministry humbled me. I was confident God orchestrated the work for me as a way of providing for the repair of the boat, but it was humbling at the same time. This time also revealed what is in my heart. As a result, I have grown deeply in my understanding of my relationship with God. I mentioned in a previous blog the powerful truth that it is better to love God than to try to understand him. For me, this is a deepening of my faith in God and in his faithfulness and love to me.

It is also significant to realize the Israelites were looking forward to the Promised Land. They had not yet taken possession of it. The path to the Promised Land for the Israelites led through the wilderness. Often, in our lives, the path to a promise leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Perhaps you can relate. I continue to believe my best days of ministry are still to come. There is no logical reason to believe this. My ministry schedule is lighter than at any other time in thirty years of ministry. But I believe I have yet to see all God intends to do through my life and ministry. I look forward to the Promised Land. I focus on what is to come, not on what has passed.

There is much more to discuss. We have only tapped the first section of the wilderness experience of Jesus. I will expand on this in future blogs. For now, allow me to pause here and reiterate the lessons God is teaching me to this point.

  1. You are where you are by God’s design. As we follow Jesus, sometimes this means he will lead us by the Holy Spirit into a Wilderness of Testing. It is difficult, but it is by design. Take comfort in knowing you are where you are for a purpose, even if you do not yet know what that purpose is.
  2. The enemy will likely strike when you are exhausted emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Be extremely careful in those dangerous moments when you are spent.
  3. Guard your identity. You are a child of the most-high God. Never forget this. Commit to spending time in your relationship with God even when you don’t feel like it. Your relationship with God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is not based on your emotions. How you feel has nothing to do with your identity. When you are spent, crawl onto God’s lap and let him hold you close.
  4. Embrace humility. The Wilderness of Testing is designed to humble you. Identify areas where pride has crept in. Confess it to God. Welcome humility.
  5. Look forward as you endure today. The path to a promise often leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Let hope reign as you wait for relief.

I am greatly encouraged as I continue to walk through this season. Recently there is a freshness to my relationship with God as I contemplate what it means to navigate a Wilderness of Testing. I have raised my guard. I am on high alert. I am also filled with hope. At this time, I have no construction projects on my schedule. I am slowly able to focus on ministry again. The sailboat is now repaired and safely in its new home here in Southwest Florida. I moved out of my home and onto the sailboat. The house is now in the rental market. And Hurricane season ended November 30! Hope reigns.

I wonder where you are in your relationship with God. Do you love him? Apart from my relationship with God, I do not know how I would have navigated these days. Are you in a Wilderness of Testing? Are you spent from the trials that have come into your life? God longs to meet you in the midst of your situation to remind you that you are his child. Let him pull you up unto his lap. His love for you is greater than any sin you have done. He offers forgiveness when we confess our failures to him. He rushes into our brokenness with healing and comfort. Find hope in him alone.

For me, it is a Wilderness of Testing. I look forward to sharing more from the Wilderness in the days to come.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

That Sinking Feeling

A few weeks ago I shared my experience when I grounded my sailboat while navigating Lake Okeechobee. It is currently in long-term storage at a marina while I wait for God to provide the resources needed to repair the rudder. It excites me to see God at work in my life and relationship with him through this experience. I shared on social media the work God has done in my life in my understanding of stewardship versus ownership. It is truly a place of rest when I keep my focus where it should stay.

If you read only those blogs, you might think I always respond the way I should. Nothing is further from the truth. In the following days I found myself struggling to keep my focus on God and not on my circumstances. Most of the time I kept my focus on him. But there were quiet moments when I was alone, far from the spotlight of ministry, and I wrestled with my lack of faith.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” This deeply ministers to me in the moments when I feel all too human. God created me from dust, and to dust someday I will return. In the moments between, I am dusty. I am of this world. I am human. My heart does not always respond the way my head knows it should. It is okay. God knows how he made me. He remembers I am dust.

Throughout Scripture we meet many interesting characters who carried the dust of the world on their journey. Peter is one of my favorites. He is bold, outspoken, quick to action, and undeniably human.

Following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowds, and when all had departed, he found a place where he could pray in solitude. In the coolness of the evening he was alone. By this time the disciples were far from shore. A storm had risen, and they labored against the wind and the waves.

After many hours, the disciples had only managed to traverse two-thirds of the way across the lake. Darkness consumed the vessel. The tempest beat upon them. They were weary. Their arms ached from rowing. In the waning darkness, the disciples saw the figure of a man walking on the sea. Terror gripped their hearts. “It is a ghost!” they cried.

But it was Jesus! He came to them in the midst of their trial, walking on the water. “Take heart,” he shouted above the wind, “it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Here is where my brash friend Peter makes me smile. He blurted out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Be careful what you ask!  For Jesus says to him, “Come.” And, in one of the most understated moments in Scripture, it says, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:28, ESV).

Now we could stop our story right here, and Peter’s actions would impress all of us. Just as you might think more highly of me than you ought after reading the blog of my response to the grounding of the vessel. But let us continue our tale, for this is where it gets interesting.

Peter leapt from the vessel and strutted across the water. He was almost to Jesus. For a second, a flash of lighting illuminated the boiling sea. He glanced to his left and saw the frothy waves kicked up by the fierce wind. In a terrifying moment, he realized he was in the middle of the lake, and the boat was far behind. Fear pierced his heart. He was no longer walking on water. His feet sank beneath the surface, and he felt the cold water engulfing his legs. In a panic he cried, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus reached for him, lifting him above the waves, and with compassion said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter and Jesus walked back to the boat and joined the other disciples. The wind and waves ceased their roiling. The trial was ended. (Read Matthew 14:22-33 for the full account of this story.)

I relate to Peter. I want to step out of the boat in the midst of the storm to walk closer to Jesus. I want to focus on him so deeply that logic dissolves, and I find the water firm beneath my feet as I step toward him. But I also know what it means to take my eyes off of Jesus and to focus instead on the wind and the waves. I know that sinking feeling. I know the sensation of cold water engulfing my feet. I know the moments of fear in the midst of trying to trust him fully. I know how the hands of Jesus feel when he reaches down to lift me up. I know his voice when he says to me, “Tim, oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Yet his voice is not condemning. In my mind, I see his eyes looking down at my dusty clothes. Then he looks back to my eyes, smiles and with a wink says, “Yep, you’re dusty. You’re still human. And I’m still God.”

My friend, we are all human. We are dusty. We do not always respond the way we know we should. Sometimes the wind and waves overwhelm us. In those moments, even though we fail to trust him fully, God understands. He still rescues. He still leads us to a place of rest. He still loves.

When Peter and Jesus return to the other disciples in the boat, the seas stopped churning. The wind died down. Rest settled upon the weary. And everyone in the boat, including Peter, worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Their focus returned to Jesus. They worshiped. They understood a little more who he was. Our trials illuminate our need of Jesus. In the process we find he truly is the Son of God.

Our God is a God of grace. May we use each trial to trust him more fully. May God increase our faith. May we grow in our relationship with him. May the moments of doubt and confusion decrease, and our moments of trust increase.

Sometimes we walk on water. Sometimes we sink beneath it. May each moment draw us closer to him.

I enjoy reading your thoughts. Please write your comments below.

The Two Gifts On Everyone’s List

When my family gathers together for the holidays, we are a theological kaleidoscope. Even though all of my family members are professing Christians, we are extremely theologically diverse. Among my siblings and their spouses, you will find an ordained pastor in a Bible Church who is also working on his ordination in the Evangelical Free Church. You’ll find a leader in an Independent, King-James-Version-Only Baptist church, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church who works for a Catholic Charity, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who is in leadership in a non-denominational church. Yes, my friends, theology is one topic that is not served up at our holiday get-togethers!

Yet as diverse as we are, we really only desire two gifts from each other at our Christmas and holiday get-togethers. Grace and mercy. When these two gifts are freely given and received, we enjoy our relationship with one another. When we forget to give and receive these gifts, it can become very stressful. Yes, even in my family.

I mention this because I know that during this Christmas season many of you may struggle with holiday get-togethers. Perhaps your family is even more diverse than mine and may have the added challenge of members who do not claim to follow Christ. Hurtful words may be spoken. Destructive behaviors resurface. Old wounds are ripped opened. The Norman Rockwell version of Christmas dinner gets replaced with the one from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” It is not pretty. This is why grace and mercy are such treasured gifts.

John Piper, in his book “Future Grace,” says, “Common definitions of God’s grace and mercy go like this: grace is the goodness of God shown to people who don’t deserve it; mercy is the goodness of God shown to people who are in a miserable plight.”

Grace and mercy are intertwined. Both carry the idea of showing kindness when it is not deserved. In general, God gives us grace because we are sinners. God gives us mercy because of our miserable condition. But they are both given together. Because we are sinners, we are in a miserable condition. We need both grace and mercy from God, and he lavishly gives them to us.

But does God’s grace and mercy stop with you? Or does it flow out of you into the lives of those around you? We should never hoard grace and mercy. They are gifts that we should freely give as well. I should give grace and mercy out of the overflow of the grace and mercy God gives to me. Despite my sin and my miserable condition, God generously gives grace and mercy to me. When I am conscious of this, then I am able to show kindness to others who also are sinners and in a miserable condition. When I meet someone who seems to show little grace and mercy to others, I doubt if they understand the grace and mercy God has shown to them.

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, wrote about the role of grace and mercy in his life. This is what he wrote:

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV).

Notice how Paul is aware of his humanity. Read carefully how he describes the life he used to live. It is pretty rough. But then notice how he is aware of the grace and mercy that has been given to him. He continues:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).

Why was he given this grace and mercy? So that he could be an example for you and me. It is also the reason that you are given grace and mercy by God – so that your life is an example to those around you. Giving the gifts of grace and mercy is also part of fulfilling the command to love your neighbor as yourself. How quick I am to give grace to myself when I have blown it. As a result, I need to quickly give grace to others when they blow it as well.

Does my family always do this well? Of course not! I can hear peals of laughter from my family as they read this. We are as normal as any family. But while we are incredibly diverse in some areas of theology, we have a common need of God’s grace and mercy in our lives. That is what binds us together. When we blow it, we turn our focus back to God in our need of his grace and mercy, and then give to others out of the overflow of what we have received from God. And so should you.

This year when you gather with family and friends to exchange gifts, remember that everyone is looking for the two gifts that matter the most. Grace and mercy. They are the perfect gifts for you to give and for anyone to receive. Will you receive them from God today? And will you give them to others as well?

This article was originally published in the December 2016 Newsletter.

When God uses my sin for good

Do you ever rehearse some past sin in your life, replaying in your mind what you said or did, wishing you could go back and make a better decision than the one that led you into sin? I have. My goodness, I have blown it so many times. But did you know that God can use even your past failures for good? It’s true. A few days ago I was reading one of Paul’s letters to his friend Timothy, and a statement he made in this regard really stood out to me.

The Apostle Paul is one of my favorite biblical characters. I appreciate the way he acknowledges his past while focusing on his future. Again and again he writes about the wonder of understanding the grace he has been given for his past sin. Remember, he was the one who had persecuted the early believers. He was responsible for imprisoning many followers of Christ. Many died as a result of his actions. To carry the thought of that sin surely must have been a heavy burden to him. Yet he had been forgiven and set apart by God to carry the message of forgiveness to others who also needed forgiveness for sin.

This is the beauty of the gospel. God’s grace gives us forgiveness for our sin. Then, when we are aware of the forgiveness that we have received, we want others to know that they can be forgiven as well. Those who have been set free from the bondage of sin want others to be free as well.

One of the ways our enemy tries to silence us is by reminding us of sin we have committed in the past. Our focus is on the shame we feel from the sin we have committed. But when our focus shifts to the wonder of God’s grace and mercy, then we view our sin in a whole new light. The focus shifts from what I have done to what God has done. It is God’s grace and kindness to me that overwhelms me. His faithfulness humbles me when I consider my unfaithfulness to him. Always I am in the debtor’s corner.

But here is the amazing part. God redeems our sin and uses it for good. How can this be? How can God take the sin I have chosen in my past and use it for good? He does this in a couple of ways.

First, he uses my sin to help conform me into the image of Jesus Christ.

Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV). God’s idea of all things working for good is not for my comfort, but for my conformity. When I am in a relationship with him, learning to love him more and more, he will use everything in my life to help conform me to the image of Jesus Christ. That means even the sin I have done in my past can be used to help me look a little more like the person of Jesus Christ.

For me, it is the awareness of the sin I have done that keeps me humble before God. God has given me great grace in forgiving me of my sin. God gives me this grace, not because I deserve it, but because it is his character to do so. It is part of who he is. Therefore, when I am aware of the grace I have been given, even though I do not deserve it, then I can give grace to others who also don’t deserve it. When I do that, I become a little more like Christ. I am being conformed to his image. In this way, God uses my past sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ. What a powerful thought.

But not only does God use my sin to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ, he also uses my past to encourage others in the body that may be caught in sin today. Through my example and the evidence of God’s grace in my life, others will come to understand that they can be forgiven as well.

Paul wrote about this idea in his letter to his dear friend and fellow servant, Timothy. This is the phrase that really stood out to me as I was reading the other day. “The saying is trustworthy,” he wrote, “and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV).

Please don’t gloss over those words! This is important stuff! Paul says that even though he was the worst of sinners, he received mercy so that his life could be an example of the patience of God in drawing all men unto himself for salvation. What hope! What encouragement for those of us who have also blown it, who know the grace of God and forgiveness for sin. Your past failure does not have to be for naught. God wants you to know that your life is a testimony of the grace of God. Again, the enemy wants you to focus on your shame; God wants the focus to be on himself and his grace. The focus is on God’s ability to forgive, not my ability to sin. When we understand this, then even our past failures can be used for good. Imagine that!

Friend, perhaps today the enemy is haunting you with some sin that you committed in the past. You know you have been forgiven, but the reminder of that sin has kept you in the bondage of shame. Today, God is speaking to you. He wants you to know that he can even use your past sin for his glory. You are a testimony of the grace of God! How wonderful to know that God can use my failures to show how great he is.

Paul wrote, “for those who love God, all things work together for good.” Yes, my friend, God can even use your past sin to work together for good. God can use it to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ, and he can use it to encourage others who have sinned as well. Today, keep your focus on the one who forgives, not on your past. Like Paul, you also have been forgiven and set apart by God to be an example of God’s grace and to carry that message of forgiveness to others who also need forgiveness for sin.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 Newsletter.

Sitting at the Feet of the Master

This article was originally published in the June 2013 Newsletter.

I was six years old when my parents brought home a tiny puppy for our family. It was a Norwegian Elkhound – German Shepherd mix. I loved that dog. He was a dog for the entire family but I viewed him as my own. For the next 14 years he was my companion and closest friend, my confidant when times were difficult, and my playmate when times were good. We kept him in the back yard of our house, next to the small barn, on a chain that gave him plenty of length to run. He was quick and smart and could kill birds even while on the chain. His name was Shawn.

I would take him for walks down our shady tree-lined street. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that he would take me for a walk, constantly pulling on the leash, dragging me down the sidewalk as he bounded along, nose to the ground, sniffing and occasionally stopping to do his business. This pause would give me just a moment to catch my breath before he was hauling me along again. He loved to run.

It was rare that I would allow him to be off the chain without being on the leash. I simply had not trained him well enough. But whether he was on the chain or the leash, I would often kneel beside him and he would sit at my feet, his eyes watching my every movement. I loved to wrap my arms around him and occasionally he would lean in to lick my face. He loved to be near his master. I missed him dearly when I left for college and I will never forget when I returned home the following summer how he bounded at the sound of my voice as I shouted his name across the yard.

Occasionally he would get off his chain without being on the leash. He would trot to the end of the grass where the chain normally confined him, testing the limits. Then, realizing he was free, he would bolt. He would run to exhaustion. There was no way to catch up with him. I would shout his name as I ran after him but I could never catch up. I could only hope he would eventually find his way home. Thankfully, he always did. The longest he was gone was for a couple of days. He came back looking haggard but quickly settled in back at my feet. No matter how far he ran, I always welcomed him home.

I thought about these memories of Shawn recently when I found myself in a similar position.

I use a software program called Covenant Eyes to give me accountability for what I look at online. The program is excellent. It does not stop me from surfing the web or looking up anything on the internet. But every month it sends an email to my accountability buddy listing all the sites I have visited and flagging anything that is even remotely impure to the top of the list. It keeps me accountable for what I look at online. I want to live a pure life before God. This software helps me to do that. I highly recommend the program. It’s like having a friend looking over your shoulder the entire time you are online. I’ve used it for years to great success and am an accountability buddy for many friends.

The other day, for some reason, my laptop started acting strangely. My internet connection seemed to be on and off. Some pages would load, others would not. Some programs just locked up. It was a mess. I tried rebooting the router. I tried restoring the operating system to a previous restore point. I tried everything I could think of. As a last resort, I knew I needed to try uninstalling the Covenant Eyes software to see if that was causing the issues. So for the first time in a very long time, I got the uninstall code from the Covenant Eyes website, which then notified my accountability buddy that I initiated the code. Then I uninstalled the software and ran a test to see if the software was causing the problem. The computer worked like new. There was clearly a glitch with the software.

I tried installing a fresh copy of the software but the original problems came back with force. So I uninstalled the package a second time and sat for a moment trying to figure out what to do.

In that moment, in that tiny moment, I realized the chain had just slipped off my collar. Without the software, I could go anywhere I wanted and no one would know the difference. I took the first tentative steps toward the end of the security I had lived in for the past 10 years. I began to think, “I could go to such-and-such site. It is not that bad but it would probably flag on a report. Since I don’t have the software installed, why not just go to that site and see what’s out there?”

I took a few steps in the worst possible direction feeling the rush of freedom flooding over me. Adrenaline began to surge through my veins, I wanted to RUN! Everything within me shouted, “RUN!” I hesitated, considering the options, and stopped dead in my tracks.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back to the man I used to be. I couldn’t run away like I used to. But I am ashamed that I even took the first few steps. And the fact that I deeply wanted to run was like a kick in the gut to me. I felt like a failure and I could hear my enemy mocking me, taunting me, laughing at my miserable state.

Thankfully, in the moment when I wanted to run wild, I heard my Master’s voice booming out my name. I stopped and turned and looked him directly in the eyes. I saw the love he has for me, the time we spend together, the richness of relationship I enjoy with him, and I knew I did not want to run away from him. I’ve changed through the years. I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with God. And I’m just not willing to give all of that up for the sake of a run around the neighborhood. It is just not worth it!

I ran back to my Master and sat back down at his feet, looking up into his kind face. He reached down, wrapped his thick arms around me and held me close to him, so close I could feel his heart beating next to mine. It was love, just pure love. It was where I was meant to be, just sitting at my Master’s feet, relishing the relationship I have with God.

Friend, where are you at in your personal relationship with God? Do you love him with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your strength? God longs for that kind of relationship with you. Do you have that kind of love relationship with him? I hope you do, because at some point, that relationship may be the one thing that keeps you from straying from the path God intended for you. This is another reason why love matters.

It will be the moment you feel tempted to say negative things about someone or even about yourself, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment pride begins to creep in from some experience of success, and the voice in your heart says, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” It will be the moment you are tempted to give up hope, wondering why God hasn’t healed, and the voice in your heart will say “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.” The richness of relationship with God will be the determining factor. The reminder of how good it feels to sit at his feet and look longingly into his face will keep you from going where you do not need to go. For some of you, it will be the moment, like me, when you are tempted down a path of impurity, and God will say to you, “Stop, turn around, don’t go there.”

But what if, like me, there have been times when you actually ran wild and ran hard? Yes, I said, “like me.” There have been times in my past when I chose to run wild. But my friend, no matter how far you may run, God will always welcome you back. God will never condemn you for turning back to him, for returning to his feet. Yes, there are consequences, many times very difficult consequences, for our sin. But when we turn and run back to him, he is quick to forgive.

Consider these verses:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, ESV).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, ESV).

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, ESV).

God understands my tendency to want to run away from him, but he also gives me a desire to run back to him instead. I’m grateful that he doesn’t sneer at me when I am tempted to run away, but instead lovingly speaks my name, calling me back to himself. And I love the way he embraces me when the enemy tries to make me feel like a failure. This, my friend, is why love matters. This is why you need a real relationship with him, for just these kinds of moments.

My dog Shawn died on my twentieth birthday. I went to my room, buried my face in a pillow, and cried like a child. I still miss that dog. But many years ago that mixed-breed dog taught me lessons that help me understand my relationship with God today.

It is better to sit at the feet of your Master than to run where you don’t belong.

When God Chooses Not to Heal

This article was originally published in the May 2013 Newsletter.

In the big scheme of things, it is a relatively small thing. It is not terminal. And while important to address, in the end there are many things of greater consequence. It is high blood pressure, and about a quarter of the population struggles with it. But right now that statistic is of little comfort to me. I am frustrated that my blood pressure is high even though I have been exercising and eating well for the past 30 days. In fact, at times the pressure has gone up in spite of my diet and daily bike rides. I’ve even prayed that God would heal me in this area, believing that he could heal me if he chooses to. He answered that prayer by revealing underlying stress that I didn’t even know I had. And, as he has shown an area that needed to be addressed, I have surrendered it to him. I feel at peace and restful, confident in his control. I am content in his love and kindness. But I still have high blood pressure. At this time, he has chosen not to heal. I also know that sometimes God heals through the use of medicine and medical care, but it is a path I would rather not go down. I would rather God would just choose to heal me.

What do we do when God chooses not to heal? What do we do when the scan shows the cancer has spread? What do we do when the wayward child refuses to come home? What do we do when the search for a job goes unnoticed or the divorce becomes final? What do we do when the answer to our prayer is “no” or “not yet”?

Thankfully we have an example in Scripture of someone who prayed earnestly for God to heal and yet never received the healing he had hoped for. His name is Paul. He is one of the key figures in church history. He planted churches across the Mediterranean region, and his letters to those churches make up the bulk of the New Testament Scriptures we have today. But in spite of all of that, he still received a “no” when he prayed for physical healing in his own life. He had some issue in his life for which he prayed multiple times for healing. But instead of healing him, God said to him, “My grace is enough, it is sufficient for you. I know you want to be healed. But I want you to find that I am more than enough for you, even when I choose not to heal.”

When God chooses not to heal, I can either focus on what I lack, or I can focus on what I have. And what I have is the presence of God living within me, filling me, overwhelming me with kindness, love, and faithfulness. When I focus on that, it is certainly enough. In fact, it is more than enough. I am humbled by his kindness. I am awed by his faithfulness. I barely have words to describe the love he has poured into my life. It is these things I chose to focus on, to rest upon when other parts of my life do not make sense.

This morning I rose early, long before the sun crested the hills, and found myself contemplating the kindness of God. He has blessed my life so abundantly. I shake my head in wonder when I consider all that he has done for me. I don’t deserve such kindness and yet he pours it into my life over and over again. It is this kindness that I chose to focus on, even as I sit here with my blood pressure much higher than it should be. It is not that I am unaware of the issues affecting my life. I just chose to embrace the love and kindness of God instead of worrying about the things I cannot change.

Consider these verses:

“ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).

“Be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV).

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5, ESV).

Once again, how we deal with the challenges of life comes down to where we are in our relationship with God. Is he enough? Is his love and grace sufficient? Can you say with Paul, that even if he chooses not to heal, his grace is enough? Is he really enough?

So often we want Jesus and a nice house, or Jesus and a nice car, or Jesus and a healthy body, or Jesus and a stable family. But God wants me to learn to be content with just Jesus. If all of those things were stripped away – the house, the car, health, and home – would I be content with just Jesus? I pray that I would.

Friend, do you know the ache of unanswered prayer? Have you cried out to God only to sense that he is saying “not yet” or “not now”? Where are you in relationship with him? Can you trust him even when you cannot feel him near? Is your relationship with Jesus enough, even when he chooses not to heal?

As you are reading these words, you may be dealing with issues in life far more severe than just high blood pressure. I genuinely hurt for you. I am not trying to be trite or to minimize the pain and agony you may be feeling at this moment. I am not suggesting that you are supposed to disregard the reality of your circumstances. I am, however, asking that you bring Christ into the midst of your circumstance. He longs to cover you like a tent spread out over you. He covers us with his grace to comfort and protect. And in that moment, in spite of our trials, we find that he is, in fact, enough.

Even when he chooses not to heal.