Tagged ‘Regret‘

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.

Hope In Our Failures

On her right, the soil was still freshly turned, heaped upon the graves of her two sons. To her left, the dirt on the grave of her husband had settled long ago. Now Naomi sat alone between the graves, crushed by the weight of loss she carried.

Her mind drifted to her life in Bethlehem long before they made the fateful decision to move to Moab. The drought was severe. They had nothing left. Their options were scarce. In desperation they packed up the few belonging they owned and moved the family to Moab. Moab, the land of idol worshipers and pagans. Moabites, the enemies of Israel. Who could have imagined the grief she would bear as a result of this fateful decision?

After they settled in Moab, her husband died. She was now a single mother in a foreign land trying to raise two sons. The seed of bitterness was planted. She could have moved home, but decided to stay. It was a decision she would long regret. The final insult was when both of her sons married Moabite woman. It was shameful, but at least she was far from home and from the ones who would judge her severely if they knew.

A hot breeze stirred the dust on the graves as she sat and pondered her fate. Though far from the accusing stares of those in Bethlehem, she still felt punished by an angry God. Surely God had seen all they had done. Surely God had turned against her for allowing her sons to marry Moabite women. It was all her fault. The depth of her shame was exceeded only by the bitterness that bloomed within her.

Somewhere far in the heavens above, God had already forgiven her. He saw the bitterness that consumed her, and his heart hurt for her. If only she knew the plans that God had already put into place. If only she realized how he would use her, for what she did not understand was that as a result of her time in Moab, nearly a thousand years later Jesus Christ would be born.

(Adapted from Ruth 1:1-13, ESV.)

Whenever I read the book of Ruth, it is easy to get caught up in the romantic, Cinderella story of Ruth. But the book begins with the tragic story of Naomi. Naomi’s story matters because it gives us hope. It demonstrates that even when we have blown it, God can still use us.

To be fair, when they decided to leave Bethlehem, Naomi was likely not the decision maker. She was obediently following her husband Elimelech. But after Elimelech died, she could have returned to Bethlehem and her people. For some reason, she chose to stay. In staying, she set up the next unfortunate event. Her sons married foreign wives. God never intended this, and it was against Jewish law.

Was she wrong to allow her sons to marry foreign wives? Yes. Was God’s grace sufficient to use her in spite of this? Yes again. Let me explain.

Whenever I read the Bible I am always asking two questions: “What can I learn about God?” and “What can I learn about man?” Let’s begin with the second aspect first, what we learn about ourselves. Like Naomi, we tend to get bitter when we face unbearable loss. It is human. It is human to feel like God is being cruel. “Why did this happen? If God is in control, why would he allow this to happen to me? It must be because of sin I have done. It is all my fault.” Unfortunately, when we focus on our sin instead of God’s grace, we can become bitter. And bitterness is a terrible master.

This week I was talking with a friend whose life is falling apart. He feels he is spiraling out of control. He is concerned that he has sinned so much that God will no longer forgive him. Do you ever feel like that? It is human if you do.

Please understand that when we sin, we can expect to be punished. God does so because he loves us and wants us to be in a right relationship with him. Discipline is one of the ways we can know that we are truly in relationship with him. Like a father disciplines his son, so God disciplines us as his children. But because he is a father to us, he never stops loving us, even when we have blown it. This is where many of us struggle. God is quick to forgive when we repent. He wraps his arms around us when we are hurting. He knows the mess we have made, and loves us anyway.

Once we realize our sin and repent, God is quick to forgive. But what is next? When we experience great hardship and loss as a result of our actions, what do we do then? We chose to hope that God can still use us in spite of our failures.

The good news is that God is always in control. This is what we learn about God from this passage. God is at work even when life is hard. He is always at work even in your difficult times. God is at work even when you have blown it. Even in your failures, God can still use you. Naomi is proof of that. God was at work when the famine hit Bethlehem. God was at work when they moved to Moab. God was at work when Naomi’s husband died. God was at work when she decided not to return home to Bethlehem and family. God was at work when she allowed her sons to marry Moabite women. God was at work when they lived in Moab for ten years. God was at work when her sons died. God was always at work.

He is still at work today. The difficulty is that we rarely get to know the end from the beginning. We are here for a very short time on this earth. The full story of God’s grace is being played out across centuries of time. Like Naomi, how can we possibly understand our place in that? We can’t. But when we remember that God is fully in control we can have hope. We can choose to believe that God can use all our failures, yes even our sin, for good.

Because Naomi made bad choices, a Moabite woman named Ruth marries her son. After the son dies, Ruth stays with Naomi and together they return to Bethlehem. Ruth eventually marries a man named Boaz. Together they have a son. Eventually they become the great-great-grandparents of a man named David, the greatest King Israel has ever had. By doing so, they also took their place in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah.

All in spite of a bad choice. That gives hope for the rest of us as well.

This article was originally published in the September 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.