Category: The Christian Life

Feeling Worthless? God helps.

On an October Sunday this past Fall, a strong negative feeling of discouragement started to overwhelm me. I felt that whatever kind of ministry I did for the Lord was worth nothing and I was a useless Christian. For a while these feelings were like a whirlpool from which there was no escape.

Too often, when I have such annoying or uncomfortable feelings, I want to quickly escape from them; trying to push them aside or shut them down as quickly as possible to escape any pain. But when I do that, I don’t thoroughly understand what’s going on in my heart and I miss the opportunity to really grow.

On this fall Sunday afternoon, one means of escape would have been to watch a good football game. But with a miserable Jets game on one channel and a horrible Giants game on the other, there was no escape. I was forced to deal with what I was experiencing.  What did it mean? What exactly was making me feel so worthless? What was God trying to show me, and how could he help me?

This is where the Lord drew me to Romans 12:3 and it came alive :For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

But you may ask, how does feeling low and discouraged mean you are thinking too highly of yourself? Here’s why: it’s thinking that what’s going on in my life all depends on me and not on God.

If I know what my true strengths and true weaknesses are before God, then I can better resist whenever there is an onslaught of negativity, a lie that contradicts God.  When negativity arises, I like how God invites us to spew out our frustrations to him:

 I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
(Psalm 142:2,6)

I start taking my reactions to the Lord in prayer. But it’s not just me and God.

Because many who are reading this are brothers and sisters are going through the same thing. I am not the only one who wrestles with the gap between where I am and everything that God wants me to be.  In the above Psalm David continues in verse 7: Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. I love this — for I know that God will respond! By admitting our shortcomings and not hiding from them, God begins to turn around even our bad reactions to build more of Christ in us.

Do rules make me good?

Unlimited unconditional overflowing grace makes it less likely that we would sin; and using rules and regulations to control our behavior makes it more likely that we would sin.  How can this be?

When I was younger and I knew everything, grace was alien to me. After all, someone as wonderful as I was certainly did not deserve punishment!  But thankfully, God didn’t let me remain in this mistaken belief.  He shocked me by showing me  that yes, I did deserve punishment — but also that he provided me a way out of what I deserved :  to my great relief, I had my eyes opened to see that Christ took on the punishment that I deserve. I learned a good acronym for grace — G.R.A.C.E —- God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

But even so, I did not really understand grace very well.  So instead of a heartfelt and deepening trust in and thankfulness for what Christ did, I fell into an unfortunate error: I had to follow the rules to stay in Christ’s good graces. If I did enough, then I could stay on God’s good side. But if I didn’t do enough, God might be ticked.

Sickeningly, that put human rules and regulations measures in control, not the Lord.

And when I see human rules, I want to break them. Indeed, in the book of Romans, Paul says that the law shows me what a rebel I am.

Did you ever not care whether you did something or not, then someone told you not to do it and then you wanted to do it? If you saw the trail sign above, wouldn’t you at least be tempted to enter and see what’s happening on the trail? I know I would. That is how the law works! And then once I snuck down the trail, I would feel that I had to do enough good to try to pay back what I owed by disobeying the rules.

Now, Jesus did say “Obey my commands.” But guidelines and commands can’t be viewed as being mandatory rules to get God to approve of me. No, God showed his approval of me outside of anything I ever did by permanently sealing me in Christ. So following wise guidelines and commands may help me to keep reflecting God’s loving glory — but they do not earn anything!

Knowing I can’t earn approval from God, I am free to live a grace-driven life instead of a rules-driven life.  Freed by grace, secure in God’s approval, I can finally start to do some genuinely loving deeds.

From Weeping to Joy

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
 Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.
(Psalm 126:5-6)

This Psalm promises that sadness will turn to joy. When we have a sad season in our lives, God often walks us through it and moves us on to a cheerier time. But what happens when we don’t see an end to what saddens us?  

Then, we can look through the Psalms like a telescope, zooming to the future: we have a blessed hope that will be filled beyond our own lifetime here on this earth. Then our joy will be full and permanent.  

This “telescope effect” is an antidote to a teaching that’s popular nowadays that says you are guaranteed a joyful and healthy life now if only you have faith. According to this bogus teaching, if you lack a joyful and prosperous life now, that means you don’t have enough faith. And that lack of faith is your fault.

Today’s passage helps me deal with the end of my being a serious competitive runner. Because of developing atrial fibrillation, I no longer have mighty power in my legs. I am now more of a jogger than a racer. My cardiologist says it will never be healed in my lifetime. He is probably correct…. and no, the persistence of the problem is not my fault for not having enough faith!

Do I miss competing and winning medals? Yes. But I really am not nearly as upset about it as I would have thought I would be if you had told me this two years ago.   Why? Because God keeps providing. One example: He gave me a new volunteer assignment serving the Board of our church…what a useful way to redeem some of the time I would have spent on my crazed competitive running.

I can’t rack up medals anymore, but I’m glad that God keeps providing grace. The joy that gives is an amazing preview of what eternity will be like when we’ll have joy beyond measure.

You even put up with that?

You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139:3-4)

My first reaction to this passage is to say uh-oh, you know all my ways? (Sometimes I am not too proud of them!)

But on closer thought I’m glad God has this knowledge. Because God is a loving Father who wants to use that knowledge for my own good. If God were not driven by love, then I would be fearful of being smitten because I have had (and still have) some ways that are not admirable.

But the Lord who drew me to Christ is a loving Lord who wants to forgive me when I screw up and to change me. It’s this Lord who knows everything about me throughout the day. And that’s something for me to welcome instead of dreading.

This friendly familiarity that God has with me helps me be honest with him. Since there are no secrets between me and the Lord, when I am groaning, I can express that to him. So, rather than stewing inside and letting my dissatisfaction slowly eat away at me, I can bring my discontent out into the open. Look at what it says in Psalm 142:2.

I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble

This is something great about the Psalms: How often the Psalmist pours out heart and soul —sometimes in praise and sometimes in complaint.  We love to express joy but what about a day where we lack joy? We can be brutally honest when something has us annoyed or even boiling with anger. We do this not to justify ourselves but rather as part of a plea for God to act.

We can look at how the Psalmist’s complaint gets handled:

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)

And rather than dwelling in the bondage of complaint the Psalmist asks with confidence:

 Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.  (Psalm 142:7)

Now, God may or may not fix the situation we are complaining about. I love it when he does set it right! But, at the very least God gives us a positive attitude adjustment in the middle of whatever we were whining about.

He Preserves Us

The book of Philippians begins with “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus.” I think of us being God’s people when our men’s Battleground group gathers on Saturdays. Philippians continues in 1:6 by saying being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, and reassures us by saying that it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2: 13)

Last week our Battleground lesson was about control and many of us expressed how that idol shows up in our lives. I mentioned how I react when we receive a bogus bill and my wife says these five words: “Why are you so angry?”

Indeed, I need to confess what happened when we got a bogus bill early this year from our cable company. I ended up yelling at the representative on the phone. When I calmed down, I apologized for yelling at him, and he said, “No problem, that is what I get paid for.” Well I don’t think the yelling honored God but perhaps the apology did.

Scripture says that perseverance is especially important in our Christian life. But I have often failed in my perseverance. Does that mean I am doomed? That I might not carry on? Does it all depend on me? The Lord says no!

I am thankful that he gives us another word that starts with “P” that is even better than perseverance. It’s preservation. It’s Jesus who sustains me and preserves me.

Yes, God preserves us to allow us to take the next step after falling flat on our faces. And along that line, let me tell you how God has a sense of humor and timing.

After talking about my reaction to bogus bills at that Battleground meeting last week I got home and the postman rang our bell delivering a certified letter that said we were being fined by our homeowner’s association. It was punishment for something we did not do !

For a change, I wasn’t fuming and stewing over the unfairness of it all. My wife said I wasn’t handling this perfectly but I was handling it much better than I did with the cable company. Anyway this time I sent a polite but firm email to our association property manager protesting the fine and explaining why we did not owe it.

I said, “It’s in your hands, Lord.”

And early this past Monday an email came from the property manager apologizing for the misunderstanding and saying we did not owe the fine. Yes, God engineers circumstances to grow us and test us in our commitment and gives the grace to achieve it.

We really do spur each other on, broken vessels who nonetheless are growing in grace. I conclude with some words from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song In Christ Alone which remind us how it does not depend on us:

Till He returns or calls me home-
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

My Will Be Done?

 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

The great Hebrew warriors were itching to fight their Philistine enemies.  They didn’t want to wait!

That’s why I was so struck by the word perhaps in reading this passage. Instead of rushing in, these bold warriors were being tentative!  Why?  They needed to find out whether God would be with them in their attack. Hence, they waited for further direction from the Lord.

And they got a “Yes” from God and went on to a big victory.

Today, few of us are planning military battles, and we are probably not facing anyone as violent as the Philistines.  So what, then, does God working on our behalf mean now? How can we ever be sure that God will act?

For starters, Scripture does say that there is one way in which we know the Lord will always act on our behalf: We know that God wants each of us to grow to be more like Christ and to show more of God’s glory.

But can we get the precise details and guidance on exactly how God will achieve that in our life? Not always!

Last year, I was excitedly waiting for my new age group in competitive running. I was sure I could show God’s glory by running strong and winning prizes as the youngest runner in my new group. But God had other plans — just months before my milestone birthday, I developed a heart rhythm issue that takes away much of my speed and power in running. And this probably won’t ever change.  Yet I know that God is with me in it. Indeed, I have seen him more closely in some ways that I would have if I were able to persist as a running fanatic!

Yes, it’s great to know by faith that God loves to act on my behalf, even though the way he does it can be quite different from how I told him I wanted it done!

Patient ? I Don’t Have the Time To Be Patient!

Your-Impatience-Is-Keeping-You-From-Getting-What-You-Want-header-image cropped

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9)

We believe that Jesus is coming again. That’s been the hope of the Church since Bible times. But when we take our eyes off the hope, then it’s easy for crummy attitudes to slither in. Today’s opening passage warns that when we are indifferent to Jesus’ coming our grumbling increases.

That’s why Scripture often reminds us that the Kingdom is not far away — indeed, Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

It’s been 2000 years since today’s opening verses were written and Jesus is still standing at the door.  Does that seem like an overly long time to be waiting? Well, we need to think of God’s time scale: What is 2000 years compared to eternity?

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Note that we have two passages today that use the word “patient,” but in two separate ways. The first passage is how we need to be patient and the second is how the Lord himself is patient.

God is patient because he wants to give us time to repent of crummy attitudes. And since God is so patient with us, he asks that we echo his patience by being patient with each other. But if we impatiently whine and complain about each other, we test God’s patience with us.

As we learn to be as patient with each other as God is with us, then our worry about the warning of judgment fades.  Instead, our love for each other increases as our grumbling about each other decreases. We flourish as a church and look forward to Christ’s return with hope and not fear.