The Perfecter

Apparently, I am becoming a monthly blogger. I’d apologize, but I don’t have time to. (And, also, I’m not sorry. Sad, but not sorry. Another post for another day…)

Our pastor preached on Hebrews 12:1-2 Sunday – that familiar passage about throwing off sin and running the race of faith and looking at Jesus. Although I’ve read it 2,964 times, that last phrase read differently to me Sunday morning.

FIX YOUR EYES ON

Usually, when I read this verse, I focus on the fact that Jesus is the author of faith – of my faith. I feel all humbled and grateful as I nod and think, “Yup, Jesus wrote my faith. He gave it to me. Wow.”

I am not hard-pressed to remember that I would not be a believer if God Himself hadn’t reached inside my heart and thawed it out toward Him. In a very real sense, I did not choose to become a Christian. He chose me first by writing faith into my soul, inserting a very foreign object into my heart, something I could not have done even if I had wanted to…

But last Sunday, for some reason, my spiritual eyes didn’t zero in on the word “author”. Rather, they continued across the page to the word “perfecter” and paused. Jesus is not only the author of faith; He is the perfecter of faith. Of all faith. Of my faith.

Perfecter is not a word we commonly go around using. We don’t typically (or ever) call people perfecters of anything and for good reason. Perfecters make things perfect – without fault and/or complete. People aren’t capable of perfecting anything because we are fallen. We make mistakes. We spill sin onto everything. We are anti-perfecters, if you will.

But Jesus. He is the Perfecter. Specifcially, He is the Perfecter of faith. All faith. Faith in general, everyone’s individual faith, and faith in specific situations. Jesus makes faith perfect – without fault and/or complete.

These thoughts rolled around in my head and my heart as I sat there Sunday. Namely, because my faith in certain things lately has been sorely lacking. Faith in myself, faith in my health, faith in my future, faith in God to resolve all those things… none of it has been perfect. Far from it. And when my faith is lacking, I just get even more critical of myself, ripping myself for lacking faith, squashing any faith that I will ever have sufficient faith again, much less perfect faith…

But this verse – Hebrews 12:2 – tells me perfecting my faith is not up to me.

I know I’m not the only one who needs to realize this.

YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR CREATING YOUR FAITH IN THE FIRST PLACE NOR MAKING SURE YOU HAVE PERFECT FAITH IN ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME.

Those are Jesus’ responsibilities, but Satan would have us believe they are ours.

Yes, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility in being willing to cooperate with the Lord (but how much we cannot know because of that free will/God’s sovereignty conundrum). But God, by His grace, enables us to cooperate with Him – to allow Him to grow faith in our hearts – so we can’t even really take credit for that.

If you’re feeling like your faith is far from perfect, throw off the lie that you have to make your faith better somehow. You can’t! But the good news is you aren’t expected to. Jesus gave you what faith you do have; Jesus increases your faith as He sees fit; Jesus is in the process of perfecting your faith, and He will make it complete.

So just take a breath, and thank Him for the unseen work He is doing in your soul and for His graciously taking on the task of perfecting your faith so you don’t have to.

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Us Versus Them

In any kind of conflict, we humans instinctively feel defensive. Whether it’s a tiff with a spouse, a disagreement with a friend, or an argument with a boss, we immediately adopt an “us versus them” mentality. It’s just how we’re wired.

Which would be fine if that were how God is wired too. But it’s not.

In that passage we all hate, Jesus said we’re to forgive other believers who hurt us 70 times 7 times, by which He was implying as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:21-22). Why? Because Jesus has forgiven us a million times over – there is nothing He hasn’t forgiven us for – and He wants us to offer the same grace to others (Colossians 3:13).

And He doesn’t want us to just forgive them and part ways. He wants us to forgive them and continue in relationship with them (so far as it depends on us – Romans 12:18). (The obvious exception – when abuse is involved.) I know this because that’s what He does with us. And the longer we spend on this earth, the more like Him we should become (Romans 8:29).

He also tells us Christians to love one another as He has loved us… which begs the question – how has He loved us (John 13:34)? Unconditionally. He literally died for us, and He calls us to figuratively give up our lives for one another. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul pens a whopper of a passage. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Completely humble?

Every effort?

But what if I’m tired of trying? What if the other party doesn’t care? Worse, what if the other party continues to hurt me or show no regard for my feelings?

How long do I have to bear with them? Surely there is a statute of limitations… As much as my humanity would love to say there is, I don’t see one in scripture… Jesus’ “bearing with me” and all my crap doesn’t have a time limit. And neither should our bearing with one another.

But wouldn’t it be more “peaceful” for two people in seemingly irresolvable conflict to part ways? Let’s call that what it really is – to divide. Shouldn’t two believers who can’t work things out split up in order to “keep the peace”? After all, “keeping the peace” is biblical… (Romans 12:18)

As much I as I wish it did, that just doesn’t seem congruent with “keeping the unity”… Logically, how can that which is divided also be unified, simultaneously? By definition, it can’t.

Might I propose that between two believers, there ought not be such a thing as “irreconcilable differences”? By the power of the Spirit, at least one of the parties ought to be able to extend grace, humility, love, and mercy… as many times as it takes… and since we can only be responsible for our own actions in any given conflict, our choosing to be the party that makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit is all that’s in our control. We can choose to obey scripture, despite our feelings, and despite the other person’s choices.

But if the other person doesn’t seem to care at all about “keeping the unity”, that can make for a pretty crummy situation.

So what then? Are we to just remain in a bunch of miserable relationships – us versus the ridiculous them?

I don’t think so.

After his tall order of how we ought to behave, Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all and through all,” Ephesians 4:4-6.

You see, there is no “us” or “them”. At least there shouldn’t be. Not in the body of believers. We are one.

The people we disagree with – we’re one with them.

The people who hurt our feelings – we’re one with them too.

The believers who outright hurt us time and time again – one.

We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. The Church depends on it. The Gospel depends on it. We have to forsake the “us versus them” mentality that we reflexively assume when someone crosses us.

We believers are one, whether we feel like it or not. We should be rooting for one another to succeed, spurring each other on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Lord, by Your power, may everything we do and say contribute to the unity of Your Body, the Church. We are one. May we act like it.

 

 

Hope in the Struggle

I was all set to write an article about how there’s no such thing as a “good Christian.” It was going to be all about how oxymoronic that phrase is – none of us are good, that’s why we need Christ in the first place.

Except I didn’t actually write the article. I just thought about it a whole lot. I never made the time to sit down and hammer it out. So you know what happened? Someone else beat me to the punch.

A friend who knew nothing of my latest blog idea shared an article called The Myth of the ‘Good Christian Girl’ on Facebook. And aside from the fact that my article wouldn’t have been gender specific, this article said a lot of what I was thinking, and it said it much better than I imagine I would’ve said it.

Good writing, for me, always has to have a fresh phrase that sticks with me days later for it to be worthy of the adjective “good”.

This piece had this little nugget in it: the “real you/me/us” is a “struggling saved sinner.”

I love the phrase because each word depicts a part of me in a unique way.

I struggle. I struggle to discern right from wrong. I struggle to get this rock of a heart to choose right on a consistent basis. I struggle to flee temptation and pursue righteousness. I struggle to make sense of pain and evil. I struggle to understand what I struggle with.

But just because I struggle doesn’t mean the offer of salvation and relationship with God is revoked.

I am saved. I have asked the Lord for grace through Jesus, and He gives me more than I can stand. I am saved from eternal damnation, but I am saved for so much more than “just” Heaven. I am saved for living, breathing relationship with the God of creation. I am saved for interaction with God this side of Heaven. I am saved for the pleasure of the One who says to me, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life,” (Isaiah 43:4). (For us AD folks, substitute Jesus for “men” and “people”.)

Just because I am saved, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is so. Why?

Because of that last word – sinner. I am a sinner. It’s what I do. I was born sinning, and I’ll die sinning. There’s not an hour that goes by where I don’t choose selfishness over service (Matthew 20:26-28), or laziness over the good I ought to do (James 4:17), or think curse words instead of blessings (James 3:10).

Just because I am saved doesn’t mean I don’t sin. But just because I sin doesn’t mean I am not savedThe author of Hebrews tells us, “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them,” (Hebrews 7:25). Completely!

I am a constantly struggling, completely saved, carnal sinner.

And I hope you are too.

Because the only other option is a constantly struggling, completely lost, carnal sinner.

I was that once.

Do you want to know the difference, besides all that Heaven/Hell business?

Hope.

Being saved allows me to have hope for the now as well as the future (Romans 15:13, Titus 3:4-7).

Being lost left me devoid of any reason to believe this life mattered at all or that it could get any better, and there was no “next life” to bank on (Ephesians 2:12).

I hope it’s clear I’m not promising roses and sunshine to you if you choose Christ today. The world will still be broken and so will you, making for some pretty rough days. But with Jesus, there is hope in the struggle.

 

How to Deal with Pain Well

It’s not often I read the same book twice in a year’s time, but it happened this year. Partly because it is an excellent book. And partly because I am quick to forget what I “learn”. (Have we really learned something if we forget it?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you can probably guess the book is Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. I may not know you, but I know you need to read this book. Which says more about the book and human nature than it does about my arrogance.

The summation of the book is this: Life goes so much better when we remember we are not entitled to ANYTHING; all is grace, all is gift.

I forgot this for a few days around Christmas. And in crept a spirit of sadness, emptiness – a sense of just how broken this world is and how it won’t be fixed until Christ returns. I dwelt on that too long, developing a discontent rooted in the idea that I deserve perfection now.

I went down this rabbit trail: I feel pain because I lack something. The lack is bad because it causes pain. Fix the lack, fix the pain. There is no fixing the lack permanently in this broken world. Hopelessness.

Do you see the entitlement in this thinking?

I’m not entitled to not feel pain this side of Heaven.

Nowhere in the Bible is this mentioned. In fact, the opposite is harped on quite a bit. There will be pain, there will be trials, there will be suffering. A pain-free existence is incongruent with how the world works.  It’s a logical impossibility. Therefore, feeling entitled to such bliss is absurd.

That’s a kick to the gut.

We cannot have a continuously pain-free life, no matter what we do, what god we worship, or how well we serve Him.

It’s almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole thing… religion… God… life.

And that’s what Satan would have us do. He would have us zoom in on our present lives and dwell on the hopelessness of now.

But God zooms us back out so we can consider the eternal value of our present perseverance.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

There is an eternal reward for those who continue to serve and obey the Lord in the middle of the hopeless feelings of our painful lives. Salvation – eternity in a pain-free Heaven – awaits those who believe and press on.

We are not entitled to anything, least of all a pain-free now. Count all as grace – as gift – and it will help you press on through the pain and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. 

 

 

How to Best Respond to Correction

We started time-out with our girls, ages 3 and 5, when they were 18 months old. At that age, they weren’t interested in my explanation as to why they were being disciplined. Their eyes roamed the room behind me, looking for the next toy they would play with, my words never entering their brains. They learned to wait until I was done speaking, say “Yes, ma’am,” and be on their way, having no idea what just happened.

They were focused on something else. A lot of times they were focused on getting back into whatever they had been in when they made the choice that had gotten them sent to toddler-jail in the first place.

It was as if they were thinking, “As soon as this lady is done talking, I am bolting for that doll I threw at my sister’s head. Doll. Doll. Doll. I wonder what will happen if I throw it again? I wonder if sister will squeal again. That was cool. Doll. Doll. Doll.”

And, sure enough, as soon as my monologue ended and I said, “Ok?”, that kid was out of the gate on a specific mission to possess as quickly as possible that toy she’d been eyeing.

By the time they were 2 years old, I had successfully trained the children to LOOK AT ME while I was speaking to them. (Kids… you have to teach them EVERYTHING.) I thought this eye contact would help them process what I was saying, tuck those little truths in their hearts, and blossom into joyfully obedient darlings.

But my oldest, who is a people-pleaser and rule-follower by nature, soon showed me otherwise. She mastered the eye-contact thing very quickly. And she also mastered the eyes-glaze-over-while-I-tune-you-out just as fast.

When I would correct her post-time-out, she’d look at me like we were having a staring contest. Intense. No blinking. Eyes as wide as possible. But it never took long for me to realize she was totally absent from our teachable moment, probably thinking about the toy she wanted instead of looking at it.

And, as soon as my monologue ended and I said, “Ok?”, that kid was out of the gate on a specific mission to  possess as quickly as possible that toy she’d been thinking about.

Needless to say, the “lessons” I wanted my kids to be learning from time-out weren’t sticking. We’d repeat time-out for the same offenses day after day after day. They weren’t being trained by the discipline.

Ah. Yes. The Bible told me this would happen.

Hebrews 12:11 reads, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Hmm. So it seems the author of Hebrews is telling us sometimes we endure discipline and aren’t trained by it. Like my kids.

What a waste! As someone who has been disciplined by the Lord A LOT lately, let me tell you, it angers me to no end to think that we sometimes endure the pain and difficulty of being disciplined and learn NOTHING.

“Oh, no,” I vow to myself, “I will NOT be going through the wringer for nothing!” I resolve to be trained by the discipline so I don’t have to be disciplined again later for the same expletive thing!

As my 3 year old says, “That is unasseptible.”

While discipline that gets through our thick heads produces righteousness and peace in our lives, we can infer that discipline which fails to penetrate hardened hearts produces the opposite – unrighteousness still exists because we haven’t changed our ways, and chaos abounds on account of our poor choices and the very pain of the discipline.

Chaos.

Yes, that aptly describes life with toddlers and preschoolers who are not being trained by parental discipline.

I don’t want chaos in my home. But, much more so, I don’t want chaos in my heart.

I don’t want to be focused on getting back to the sin that caused the Lord to discipline me in the first place while He tries in vain to change my heart. I want to be focused, instead, on what He is trying to teach me by instructing me to steer clear of the sin.

He never disciplines us for no reason. And He never disciplines us for no good reason. He is methodical, purposeful, and always has our best interest at heart. We can trust Him to improve us via the discipline. But we have to choose to trust Him.

If you are being disciplined by the Lord, resolve with me to be trained by it, for goodness’ sake. Don’t WASTE the pain! Learn from it, and bear the fruit of righteousness and peace.