The Measure of a Day

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On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 – Luke 10:25-27, NIV –

I measure days all wrong sometimes.

I like to be productive, useful, and successful–all very good, God-honoring things to be. The trouble comes when I start to think that one particular kind of productivity outweighs the others.

Countable things, particularly.

I like to lay out those responsibilities on a piece of paper, turn them into a to-do list, and check my way through the day. It’s very satisfying to make those check marks. So satisfying, in fact, that I can forget that there are other ways of measuring the success of a life.

When I get to a day when nothing seems to get checked off the list, it is easy to feel like a failure. To a girl who is tempted to measure her worth by her productivity, a list without checkmarks is a sure sign of inadequacy.

When my performance-driven soul gets tied up in knots about all the “important stuff” that hasn’t been finished, I have to remember.

Sometimes I tell it to myself. Other times, someone takes my hand and reminds me why I’m on this earth. Sure, Jesus tells us to do our work well. But what is our main work? What am I here for, after all?

To make sure my to-do lists are perfectly marked off, every day? Primarily to dust the furniture, exercise, clock time at my job?

Or to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:29-31)?

Some of the things on my list are important. They are even necessary to loving God with all of myself (Colossians 3:23). But do I really believe that, at the end of the day, they are the most vital parts of my life?

I don’t think I really believe that.

It’s possible to get so caught up in my to-do lists that I forget that the people around me are way more important than my agenda.

When I get discouraged about how little I’ve accomplished some days, I need to take a step back for a better look. Have I taken the time to look someone in the eyes while they tell me something important to them? Have I given out hugs and kisses, told the “old, old story” once again?  With my life, have I painted a living picture of the grace that I’ve been given? Have I loved, with all my heart and soul, mind and strength?

If so, my day has been undoubtedly full and rich and complete.

“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t like doing it.”
— Marian Keyes —

There is something so compelling about a life centered around love of God and neighbor. Maybe it is the step out of “life” into “life abundant.”

I will probably always make to-do lists. God has given me jobs to do each day, and the little insistent voices of these lists help me remember my responsibilities.

But, when I get to the end of the day and inevitably find some piece of work that still needs to be done, I can set aside my notepad and pen and embrace the living to be found outside the neatly checked boxes.

I think I’ll call it “living outside the box.”

Or, better yet…

Loving outside the box.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
― Bessie Anderson Stanley

 

 

 

Little Things

 

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“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring ―

Tiny choices. Normal conversations. Daily routines. A few seconds spent here and there.

These little things are not occasional time-outs from the epic, world-shattering, defining moments of my life.

They are my life.

You see, life isn’t often reshaped by an earthquake. More often, the slow erosion of wind and time and age does the shaping.

Change creeps up on us. Growth comes so slowly sometimes that we wonder if we are growing at all. Our faces never look different from day to day, but we watch the mirror and they somehow morph from childhood to maturity to old age, transforming unnoticed in front of our eyes. We set the course of our lives and one day look around to see that this is not the place we thought we were headed, for better or for worse.

This is the power of a moment.

Today, I woke up with 16 hours to spend. 960 minutes. 57, 600 seconds. I won’t save the world today. I will spend most, if not all, of this day in what people call “ordinary life.” I will clock in at work, write a blog post, unload the dishwasher, paint with watercolors, read a book, take a walk.

I won’t reach perfection today. Instead, I will try to love in the moment, choosing to focus on the person in front of me instead of the project in front of me. I will pray to speak the right things and have the right attitudes. I will strive, fall, get up again, and dust off my scraped knees.

These moments that people call ordinary is where almost all of life really happens. These little things are the things that reshape my soul and reorient my life’s direction.

My glorious resolutions have to have feet–and their “feet” are today’s choices. How I choose to think, how I choose to spend my 960 minutes, how I complete the most basic tasks are the real me. My best and worst moments do not define me as much as all the in-between choices do.

My life is a process of being transformed and renewed.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

– Romans 12:2, NASB –

Jesus doesn’t generally call us to a life of non-stop action. He calls us to everyday faithfulness. I don’t have to hunt for a new adventure, a “more-important” adventure.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.”
 – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest –

And little things are not just about choices and change.

Little things are also about meaning and beauty and wonder.

Wouldn’t it be tragic if we could count all the beautiful moments of life on just our fingers?   A handful of exciting travels and life-changing events are just a tiny portion of the beauty of an entire life.

I don’t want to be able to number my treasures on one hand. I want to open my eyes and see the surprises and tiny gifts. I want to number every day’s gifts on a thousand fingers. I want to fall in love with the ordinary moments that God has granted to me. If He ordained for most of my life to spent in this way, how can I doubt the value of the small and ordinary?

“There is a daily-ness to my work, a small-moment perspective that whispers for me to connect with the work in my right-now hands, not because it’s going to become something Big and Important, but because Someone who is Big and Important is here, with me, in me, today.” 
 – Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday
This past week, I’ve noticed some of these precious little things:

The hilarious quips of my ten-year-old movie buddy.
How children understand deep things.
How faces light up when people are encouraged.
Watching a boy grow into a man.
Finding insights in a Bible verse that I’ve never noticed before.
How beautiful people are when they are doing what they’re good at.
The way the light twinkles in the morning.
Problems that are leading to something good.
Growth even when I can’t see.

There is too much goodness around me to ignore, whether today is an easy day or a hard day. Whether the sun comes out or the rain falls. Whether I can see God’s hand in my circumstances or not.

The little things matter.

They change me, teach me, and grow me into who I am becoming. They teach me about a patient God who cares about the details.
And in their everyday ordinariness, the details of my life are spectacular.
“But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more [in love], and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you….”
 – 1 Thessalonians 4:1ob-11, NASB –

 

The Courtroom

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Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –

Ruts

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I don’t have to wonder how I got where I am.

Because every single day, I wake up with the memories pressing down on me with a pressure that no one else seems to feel.

Each morning, I wake up to scramble in the rut I’ve made, and I hope I can keep myself from looking around and noticing how deep in I am. 

And I keep fighting and fighting to get out of the rut. I pray. I ask for God’s help. I read my Bible and cling to the truth. I am doing everything that I am supposed to do.

And yet, I wake up, and I am still in the rut.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep fighting if I am always going to be a mess.

Have you ever felt like that? That, no matter what you try, you are just floundering in the same mistakes that you made yesterday, and the day before…and the year before?

Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, that all your fighting has just been spinning your wheels? Maybe progress is not just slow, but nonexistent?

Let me tell you something.

You didn’t dig that rut today. 

As humans, we often respond wrongly to the events of our lives. These responses can become habits, and sinful or unwise habits can dig deep trenches in our souls. Ruts.

We all dig ruts for ourselves from time to time. Instead of training ourselves to right responses, we choose another way. We choose to solve our own problems. And that’s where ruts come from.

But if you belong to Jesus, you are a new creation.

As I wrote several weeks ago in “A New Day,” your status as a child of God means that your sins are erased as soon as you confess them. When you wake up each morning, the mercies are new, unused before, untapped, waiting for you.

But in spite of the available grace, you still wake up in yesterday’s ruts, because habits are engrained in your soul like canyons and climbing out of them is a spiritual marathon.

Some days, you can’t for the life of you see a thing that has changed. The top of the canyon of your choices seems as far away as ever.

And the guilt catches up. “I dug myself into this mess,” you remember. “Maybe nothing has changed at all. I’m still in a rut, after all this time.”

After the guilt comes the despair. If you’re following Jesus with all your heart,  you might wonder what you’re doing wrong. Or, if you’re honestly giving your whole self to Him, you might wonder where He is. Why is it so hard? Why is the climb so long?

These moments can be truly frightening. Your last source of hope–that Jesus can do something with the mess of you–seems to be failing you.

You want to believe. You want to live and climb out of the rut and be free of its walls. But sometimes, you just don’t know if that’s possible. Maybe you can’t. Maybe it’s not possible, not for you.

My friend, today’s problem isn’t the rut. The rut is there. It is part of the geology of your soul. You put it there, yes. But have you been forgiven? If you have confessed your sinful failures, that rut cannot keep you from pleasing your Savior today.

The rut is now a temptation, a deeply-trained tendency, a devilish sort of gravity pulling down on your soul.

But He doesn’t remove the rut in a day, nor does He ask for you to climb all the way out of the rut today. He only asks that you keep climbing. 

Habits are not, generally, erased by grace. But in grace, God does reorient our desires so we can make new paths–paths traveling “onward and upward and outward” instead of spiraling downward and inward.

If you look around you and doubt if you are making any headway, stop and think about the new work that our Father promises to complete in all His children:

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

I get it. Climbing is hard. Perspective is elusive. Faith is sometimes the only shred of hope that remains.

Hold on.

 

Today, you get to do something hard and hopeful.

Today, you get to keep climbing out of the rut. Every battle you win, every time you choose to make a new, holy habit, every doubt you toss away, every prayer you whisper, every truth that you cling to, gets you closer to the top. It’s a victory. Every time you run for help to the Only One who can save, you are climbing out. It’s a win, a triumph of grace. It’s sanctification.

Whether you can see it or not.

Even stillness and rest propel you closer to the top of the rut. As you put your faith in Christ and His power in you by the Holy Spirit, your striving ceases and your footsteps become surer. Your position as child of the King is not up for grabs, or dependent on your performance.

And really, your climb is not supposed to go according to your plan. Only God knows when you will reach the top. For some of us, it might be tomorrow. Some of us may have to struggle longer. Life is that way. Actually, none of us ever climb out of all our ruts until our lives are over. Running out of sinful habits to unlearn is called glorification, and it doesn’t happen this side of heaven.

But remember, what some people call ruts are what others call valleys…and climbing out just means that you are on your way to the peaks of the mountains.

Climbing, struggling, working, praying, straining to see the top…these things are signs of life. It may be slow, but your rut-climbing looks a lot like scaling the highest of mountains to me.

Don’t lose heart. You are not condemned. You are not failing.

In the power of God, you are reaching heights you’ve never seen before.

“The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!”

 – Habakkuk 3:19, AMPC –

 

 

 

 

The Road You’re On

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“Well, could it be that the many roads you took to get here
Were just for me to tell this story and for you to hear this song?
And your many hopes, and your many fears
Were meant to bring you here all along.”

 – Andrew Peterson, from “Many Roads” –


Let me tell you a story about a farm.

I grew up in the suburbs of America’s fourth-largest city. Major league baseball, giant rodeos, shopping malls, and miles-long lines of cars waiting in “rush hour” traffic are all stamped on my memory, normal facets of growing up in Houston, Texas.

I just wanted a horse like all the girls in the books had…and a farm to put the horse on.

But I got older and older….and older. My fanaticism about horses capped at around age thirteen and then started, gradually, to fade.

I gave up on the farm.

But when I was 18, my family moved to rural Arkansas and bought a 23-acre property nestled deep in the winding roads of the Ozarks.

And suddenly we had our farm.

Why Arkansas, of all places? Why when I was 18, and not when I was 8? Why here? Why now? Why me?

When I look back on our move, the winding roads of circumstance are even more intricate than the crazy twists and turns of the mountains.

I didn’t know what was going on then, but these days I look back in surprise at how God led my family through these crooked hills to the place where He’d use us best.

And that’s exactly what He’s doing. He led us home…and now He’s using us to lead others home too.

It’s my favorite place to be.

And, six years ago, I’d have never, ever guessed what was in store.


My favorite Old Testament character is Joseph. I know that the men and women in the Bible weren’t perfect, and their life histories aren’t meant to be moral patterns for Christian living, but something about this young dreamer-turned-slave-turned-prince touches my heart. I love his passion. I love his wisdom and trust in a God who led him down many strange roads. And I love, as the Message paraphrase records, what he said to the brothers who tried their best to destroy his life:

“Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people” (from Genesis 50:19-21, MSG).

Evil. Hate. Revenge. Anger. Jealousy. All of these conspire together against Joseph. And God turns the tables and rips the status quo apart, and life and good and joy spring out of the mess.

There are no dead ends for His children, only “many roads” that deliver us right to the doorstep of destiny.

Where are you in the journey?

Maybe you are at an intersection and can look back to see how God seamlessly fitted together all of the pieces to bring you to this moment.

Perhaps you are in the middle of a deserted road in the blackest part of the night, and you don’t think that it could ever intersect with anything good.

Perhaps you’ve been on the same road for miles and miles, and you’re just desperate to come to a crossroad so you can try something new.

Hold on.

I’ve been just dazzled by a tiny phase this past week–“the patience of hope.”

Wow.

The patience of hope.

I’m not very patient. Often, I’m ready for my hopes to materialize, right now. Immediately. Pronto. “Okay, Lord, now is good,” I pray. “Okay, this is perfect. Now’s Your chance…Lord? Don’t you think this is a good time for an intersection? Lord?”

The patience of hope.

When we believe that God is “up to something good in all our delays and detours,” as John Piper says, how can we rush the road?

Is it a scenic path? Enjoy it. Don’t be staring up ahead and miss what is, right now.

Is it long and deserted? Even there, something good waits. Seek the Lord first. Love Him with everything, and let it overflow. Love the people on your road. Love them hard. The long roads can be some of the most blessed.

Is it full of surprises and uncertainty? The Master Craftsman is in charge of making your road lead somewhere, and He’s promised that every turn will be just what you need (Romans 8:28.)

“But [The Lord’s] joy is in those who reverence him, those who expect him to be loving and kind.”

 – Psalm 147:11, TLB –

What are you expecting? Is your hope patient, because you expect Him to be loving and kind? Whatever you expect, He will be loving and kind. Your hope will not be disappointed.

You are on this one road, out of many roads, for a reason.

And it’s a good reason.


“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

 – Isaiah 41:10, NLT –

A New Day

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“Yesterday’s a closing door–you don’t live there anymore,

So say goodbye to where you’ve been, and tell your heart to beat again.”

– from “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey –


When I was 6 or 7, I got a new bicycle.

Mom and Dad did all the things parents are supposed to do to teach kids to ride bikes. In fact, I’d been riding all manner of wheeled toys and smaller bikes for years.

But soon after I got this brand new bike, I crashed.

I was a tall, lanky little girl, and for the fellow tall people out there, you know that it takes a long time for us to fall. There’s just so much body that has to pass through the air before the ordeal is done with. In fact, that’s probably why I’m afraid of heights. Just walking around is a safety hazard.

For some reason, that bike crash put a sudden halt to all biking. For months, I refused to get back on it. Whether this was before the days of my family’s bike rides or whether my mom was just merciful and didn’t push me too hard to get back on, I didn’t get back on that skinny seat behind those pink handlebars for a long, long time.

It was a year later that I finally got up the courage to try again after my fall.

I was just a little girl who fell a few feet off a wobbly bike. Big deal. It wasn’t much of a risk. It wasn’t so scary. I certainly had the ability to get back up again, even immediately.

Instead, a year passed and I didn’t ride that bike once.

 – – – – –

There are all sorts of things I could say about that lost year. I could highlight the wasted time, or camp for a while on my imagined danger. I could tell you how real and powerful that protective instinct was–so powerful that I can still feel the grasping panic of my bike-riding phobia.

But my childhood bicycling experience is not just a silly story of a child’s irrational fears. It is the story of another thing that we humans allow to define us: our Past.

For 12 months, my abilities and my choices were defined by that bike crash. It didn’t matter that I had successfully ridden bikes dozens of other times. I was too afraid that failure would happen again. I was frightened of being frightened, pained at the idea of another endless moment of falling.

The Past often paralyzes us.

Sometimes it doesn’t take the words of others to cripple us. Sometimes it just takes history.

The Past can define a person in many ways. Mistakes, failures, tragedies, habits, memories, grudges, sins, losses, even the status quo–all these relics of yesterday can profoundly shape and even control how someone lives today.

We all have stories.

I have a story. My story includes a bike wreck that led to a year of lost fun. My story includes emotional highs and lows that threaten to trip me up even this week. My story holds mistakes enough to paralyze me, and sorrows enough to scare me away from fully living.

My friends have stories. They have told me their stories of betrayal, abuse, terror, broken friendships, dysfunctional families, psychological horrors, and medical nightmares.

These things can be devastating! And they often are, because somewhere along the way, we start believing that our Past dictates our future. Even worse, we start to believe that we can never change.

And that is understandable, if you believe in closed systems and fixed pies.

The concept of a “fixed pie” is something I learned about in economics. Think about Thanksgiving dinner, when Grandma pulls out the pumpkin pie. “Fixed pie” means that there is only a certain amount of pie to go around. If Uncle Jerry takes half of the pie, all the other family members have to split up what is left. If Uncle Jerry eats the whole thing, there’s no more pie. End of story. People go away sad and hungry.

This is how people treat life. “I was this way yesterday, and I did the same things today. What makes tomorrow any different?” It’s a fixed pie. You’ve used up all the pie, and there’s no more pie to make tomorrow any different.

But I don’t believe in closed systems or fixed pies.

So let’s try another look at Thanksgiving.

Grandma brings out the pumpkin pie and there goes Uncle Jerry. Everyone is horrified that there is no more pie…and then Grandma brings out another pie…and another…and another.

She is adding pie to the “system.” It is not a closed system (meaning nothing can be added from outside). It is an open system. Grandma’s goodness (and her uncanny cooking skills) can save the day.

You see, I believe that today is a new day, and tomorrow is too. I believe that, as important as the Past is to your story, the Past doesn’t get a say in today.

But I only believe that for one reason.

You can’t add anything to “the system.” You can’t make more pumpkin pie. When a new sun rises, there’s nothing extra in you than there was yesterday.

But there is grace–the only grace that saves, from the only God who saves.

That grace says that, in Christ, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). “My Jesus makes all things new,” as songwriter Andrew Peterson says.

That grace says the same power that raised Jesus back to life is the power that dwells inside of you, by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).

Can you change today?

No. Not even a little.

But God can change you, from the inside out.

Whatever the Past is holding over your head has no power over you, if the Lifter of your head makes you new.

Do you know what being defined by the Past is?

In many cases, it is fear. It is fear of letting go of who you have been and trusting God to make you into who you will be. 

Fear always robs. Fear always drives others away. And, most often, overwhelming fear brings about the very thing that most terrifies you. “If you dig a pit, you will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27).

What is holding you back? What do you think you will never escape? What part of your past seems to control you?

I’ve got good news for you.

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him.”

 – Lamentations 3:21-24, TLB

This is not just like all the other days you’ve ever lived.

Today is the tomorrow that Anne Shirley talked about, fresh and new and free of mistakes.

Today is the new-mercies day.

Will you cling to the fears of the Past? Or will you let Jesus make all things new in you?

“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

 – Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT –

 

 

 

The Definition of You

morning-after

What you believe changes you.

Even in salvation, belief—albeit “not of ourselves” (Eph. 2:8)—transforms our thinking by the power of Christ.

What do you believe about yourself? What defines you?

Hidden patterns of thinking often hold more sway over us than we know. What internal dialogue do you carry on with yourself? In the quiet of your heart, what do you call yourself? Beloved of God? Or something less?

I have heard plenty of stories. People crippled from making decisions because of what others might say. Men and women believing themselves to be beyond hope and value. Children who think there is no future for them. Girls who believe no one could ever love them or find them beautiful. Christians who live like risky love is optional.

And here’s something you might not know: defining yourself by anything other than God’s truth is unbelief. And unbelief is sin. So what lies are crowding out the way God defines you? This week we will talk about the words that shape our lives.

Words of Others

Words are powerful, especially if you believe them.

As I get older and hear more stories of other people’s lives, I am beginning to realize that my wonderful family, although not perfect, does not represent the norm for family life…or even the norm for Christian family life.

Shocked, I’ve heard tales of the horrible things that professing Christians say to one another…and, even more heartbreaking, the awful things that brothers and sisters in Christ believe about themselves because of those ungodly words.

While upholding personal responsibility for choices, Jesus had strong words for those who cause “these little ones” to stumble. He said it was better for these calloused souls to have a millstone tied to their necks and be drowned. It is such a weighty, serious thing to influence another soul toward sin. Sisters! What a horrible thing to cripple and destroy someone else from living abundant life in Christ!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the power of reckless words (and, how much more, intentionally-harmful words!) But what if you’ve been on the receiving end of harmful words—and who hasn’t been? Are you doomed to be crippled all your life by them? What if you have heard so many lies about your worth and purpose that they all sound true now?

If you belong to Jesus, here’s something you need to hear: His words are the only ones that ultimately matter. (If you don’t belong to Jesus, hop back a post and read about how you can find hope.)

The only way to combat lies is with God’s truth. Can’t tell if you’re believing a lie? Write down what you believe about yourself, your past, and your future. Make a list. Take each statement and find out what God thinks about it. Here are some examples of lies you might be believing, and the truth that exposes them:

“I always mess up.”

 As humans, we all mess up, whether sinfully or by mistake. But what does the Bible say about this? For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9, HCSB). Is it true that you have no hope for improvement? Not at all! “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). What about when you sin or make a mistake? Does that make God stop loving you? “[Nothing] can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). Nothing, not even ourselves, or our frequent failures. What grace! Repeat the truth to yourself and trust it. It is a sword that can cut those lies into pieces.

“I don’t have a choice. This is just the way I am.”

 If you belong to Jesus, that thought is a total lie. Not only does that line of thinking avoid responsibility, but it also destroys hope. I have good news for you! “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things are long gone. Look! Everything is new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, paraphrase). “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, GNT). Where is this power coming from? How can you change? For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority(Colossians 2:9-10, HCSB). As children of God, His Spirit fills us with the exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead! If He can change a dead body into an ever-living one, we should never believe that we are incapable of change. He can transform you. Do you believe His words?

“No one can love me. I am not worth anything.”

 Our sins are repulsive to a beautifully-holy God. But humans are His special creation. Without Christ, it is true that we deserve all of God’s just punishment. But humans never lose their value. Unlike any other creation, we are made in God’s image, to be finite reflections of his infinite attributes. Furthermore, if you have embraced the hope of the gospel, your life was purchased at an inestimable cost—the death of the God of glory. You are valuable because of Who made you and Who loves you, not because of anything else. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV). “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

These are just a few of the lies that others can tell us, or that we can even tell ourselves. Are you letting your opinions or the opinions of others define you? Or is the Word of Christ dwelling in you richly (Colossians 3:16)? Release your grip on the things that cripple you and reach out in faith to the only words that really matter.

If you let Jesus define you, and nothing else…

Your joy will be full….

…and the truth will set you free.

 
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free.”
 – John 8:36, GW –