Imperfect?

” I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. . .
But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God. My times are in your hands.”
– Psalm 31:12 and 14-15a

I know a potter who used to throw his less-than-perfect pieces against a concrete post until only shards remained. Then he discovered there were people who liked the pots, vases, and mugs that had slight flaws. Now he has a special sale each year of his “ruined” pieces which then become cherished treasures to those who see beauty or usefulness in their imperfections.

Sometimes I imagine God walking through tables full of “ruined” vessels – people who are broken, flawed, or maybe just what others would call odd. I don’t think he wants to throw them all against the wall in frustration. I think he’s saying,

“I can use this one, and this, and this.” 

“Oh, my, this piece has a peculiar beauty.”

“This is a unique shape. I have the perfect place for it.”

“A little patch here, and this pot will be just right!”

Do you have a weak spot? Or a failure in your past? Don’t despair! When we go to God, confess our sins, he forgives, restores, renews, and then says, “This one is perfect for the plan I have for him!” Believe it! Then watch as he repairs you and leads you to new levels of relationship and service. He does have a plan for you – don’t worry about the cracks!

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

– Vance Havner

In the Desert?

“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.” – Oscar Wilde

Nobody signs up for suffering, but it happens to us all: sickness, tragedy, loss, and pain. The hardest of all is the struggle that just keeps hanging on and day after day we feel alone in a hot, dry desert.

If you are there, be encouraged! God uses desert time to make us strong, to help us learn dependence on him, and, often, to prepare us for something he wants us to do. Think about Moses who spent years there tending sheep before God called him to lead his people out of slavery. The Israelites spent four decades in the desert learning to trust God alone to meet their needs. Jesus was in the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. His wilderness time included direct confrontations with Satan. The desert can be a difficult and dangerous place!

Desert experiences tend to strip away the trappings of life so we can see what is truly essential. It is then that God can reach down, touch our souls, and feed us with food that will satisfy: Manna, refreshment for the spirit, just enough until we are healthy and strong and ready to be led out of the wilds into a more abundant life.

The desert truly is holy ground. If you are suffering today, be as open as you can to God and his Spirit within you. Over time, his healing touch will come.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –
Psalm 30:11-12

Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

A nap? Really?

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” – John 13:7

Sometimes we try too hard. We have a problem and think of all kinds of ways we might solve it. But our solutions can be frustrating and unfulfilling, and we often cry out to God asking why he won’t help us.

God has a better way, but sometimes waits for us to get to the end of our own resourcefulness before he acts. In fact, he started that pattern with the very first human.

Here’s how I see it: When God created Adam, he knew he would need a mate, but he waited – waited for Adam to become discontent, to not like being “one-of-a-kind”. Then God paraded the animals in front of Adam, asking Adam to name them, knowing Adam would evaluate each animal as a potential mate. Of course, Adam found none suitable for him and began to get discouraged. That didn’t surprise God! When, finally, Adam despaired of having a partner, God said, in essence, “I have a plan. You take a nap.”

Sometimes we’re not ready to yield to God until we’ve exhausted our own ideas, resources, and energy. When, at last, we quiet down, give up control, and allow God to work, the outcome will, most likely, be something we never could have imagined on our own. Just ask Adam!

So, what is it you have been looking for? A good friend? A new job? Financial security? A way to serve? When you’re ready to give up control, take a nap. Trust God. And wait for him to show you what his plan has been all along. Then do it his way!

“Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship.” – Brennan Manning

#trustingGod

Where’s your prodigal?

” . . . the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining”. – 1 John 2:8b

Has someone you love walked away? Rejected what you believe? Who you are? The way you live? It hurts, doesn’t it? And nothing you do seems to fix the problem.

Then sometimes God steps in. And when he does, we find out he had a plan all along. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, a 1st-century Christian. One day, Onesimus ran away. Runaway slaves in that time could be put to death. It was a serious crime to break free.

Onesimus headed for Rome, probably thinking he would never be found on the crowded streets. But, God made sure Onesimus met Paul, and Paul introduced him to Jesus. Everything changed for Onesimus at that moment, and Paul apparently told him he had to make things right with Philemon. He had to go back home.

Paul sent him on his way with a letter to Philemon explaining the change in Onesimus now that he was a Jesus follower. He asked Philemon to take Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as Christian brother. In fact, Paul says that maybe, just maybe, Onesimus’ escape was for an eternal purpose: “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever.” (v. 15)

God knows the bigger picture: He may have a plan for our prodigals that means we can have them back forever. So we stand still and strong, praying and trusting that, at just the right time, he’ll step in to help them find their way back to him and back to us. Keep the light on.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” – Anne Lamott

 

 

Mary’s “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary to angel Gabriel, Luke 1:38

The day started out like any other day in the village of Nazareth years ago. But, for young Mary, everything changed with a surprise visit from an angel who announced she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Would she do it? Yes. She would be part of God’s plan.

Saying “yes” to God is a good thing, right? If we’re doing his will, he’ll make it easy for us. He’ll show the path, open doors, bring the right people to help us, and generally smooth the way. Not always.

Just ask Mary: finding no suitable place to birth this miracle child, thinking at one time he may have lost his mind, hearing of his embarrassing confrontations with respected religious leaders, and then watching him die a criminal’s death.

When we say “yes” to God, we know the journey with him will have a glorious end, but we must expect hindrances, challenges, pain along the way. The plan of God includes suffering. Mary knows. Jesus knows. I imagine you know, too.

If you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing his will. Saying “yes” to God does mean when the suffering comes, he’s there with us. When we choose to follow him, we’re never alone. When we hurt, he hurts with us. When we’re anxious, he gives us peace. When we’re in pain, he comforts.

And, finally, at the end of the suffering, there is joy. Think resurrection. Think eternal kingdom. Joy, inexpressible joy, will come.

“True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness.” – John Ortberg

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen