Friday, January 30, 2015


She was a spoiled girl.

He father was richer than most of the men in town, and he doted over her.  He took her side when her mother scolded, and she learned how to manipulate him.  She had no true friends.  Convinced of her own superiority over everyone else, she was easily condescending to her peers.  When they would abandon her, her mother would say they were just "jealous".  Her father would throw a party in her honor, and fill the house with playmates for her.  They would sing her praises until they went home, and she would be there alone.

The loneliness was ever-present.  It's a sad thing to watch someone create the narrative of their own destruction, where you can see how every decision is making them more isolated, more ridiculed, and more alone.  But she never saw it, not once.  She saw the others as beneath her station, envious of her big house and her servants.

When she became of marriageable age, she did not lack for suitors.  Though quite unattractive on the inside, she was stunningly beautiful on the outside... and she was quite adept at leveraging her looks to control weak-minded men.  Because her family had wealth and influence, several men hoped to improve their own station by marrying her.

But her father and she decided that she needed to marry someone who could keep her up in the manner in which she'd become accustomed.  Her father settled on a wealthy blacksmith, almost three decades older than she.  They had nothing in common, and she was repulsed by him inwardly, but he was very, very wealthy.

And he adored her.  Delighted by his good fortune, he showered her daily with compliments and gifts.  But he bored her, and within a few months of their wedding, she began to cheat on him.

She was not discreet.  It became a scandal of sorts in their small community.  Everyone talked about it.  "Oh, that poor man."  Her associates, of which there were few, began to keep more distance from her.  His friends, of which there were many, told him to divorce her.  But he wouldn't.  Instead, he built her a bigger house.  They had two sons together.  He would brag on her to whoever would listen.

She still ran around on him.

One day, a preacher came to town.  The elders of the town seized the opportunity provided by this very influential man to do away with this woman.  They interrupted one of her liaisons, and dragged her half-dressed to the town square.  "In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  What do you say?"

There is a story about a woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus lets her off the hook.  When I have read the story, I always let her off the hook too... but I do it before Jesus gets a chance to do so.  I assume she probably was a good person who'd just made a bad decision.  When Jesus shows her grace, I reason, it's because he could see her potential.  She probably immediately turned her life around.

But the Bible doesn't say that.  We have no idea what made the woman act as she did, and we don't know if she ever repents.  We only know Jesus lets her off the hook.

I've thought a lot about this story the last couple of days.  There are people in this world who have made so many bad decisions that they have very little potential left.  I can be too quick to give up on Jesus breaking through.  He has grace for the broken.

"Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal" - David Crowder

Monday, January 12, 2015


— from Jeff Hudelson
My mom subscribes to People magazine.  Sometimes when we visit, I catch myself reading one.  It’s a little embarrassing.
They get on me about it.  ”Glad you could come down here to read”… that sort of thing.  I don’t know what it is that draws me in.  There are pictures of beautiful, rich, powerful people in it, of course.  That’s enough to hold your interest right there.  But I think there’s more to it.  I find myself fascinated that they still have all the same problems that the people who live around here.
They can’t maintain a relationship.  There are secret addictions.  This one won’t work with that one because of a long, hateful grudge.
How can you get to the top and still hurt so much inside?
When I first started in ministry, I wanted to be well known.  I don’t think I ever planned it or wrote it down as a life-goal… but that ambition was there.  I wanted people to be proud of me.  I was regularly attending church growth conferences.  I would listen to the speakers there and think, “I could do better.”
It’s all a little embarrassing to think through now, but I would come home from these conferences with sharper leadership skills, but still buried in sin.
My identity wasn’t securely in Christ, but in being a big deal.
The irony is that, even in odd moments when I was sort of a big deal, it still wasn’t satisfying.  There would always be someone else who was a bigger deal.  I suspect that even if I got to the very top, I would still have been broken… I probably would lash out at the people around me, angry at them for keeping me from being happier.
Remember People magazine?  Is that what’s happening there?
Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, discusses some of that. He talks about a mom, whose whole identity is in being a mom.  Well, what happens if the kids want to spend more time with friends than at home?  What happens if one of the kids comes home drunk when they’re 14?  What happens when they get married and move away?
The mom whose whole identity is in being a mom will feel like a failure, sooner or later.  Her kids, no matter how great or sensitive they are, cannot fill this brokenness inside of us.
If all the money, fame, power and beauty in People magazine can’t fill it, what can?
I have to come back to a couple of core realities:
1. I am broken.
2. I can only be made whole in Christ.
I try to camouflage my brokenness with material things, with relationships, or with success on the job.  I even try and mask that hard truth by ministry achievements… but to no avail.  Sooner or later, anything else will disappoint.  That disappointment will lead to anxiety and fear and anger.
I need to remind myself that I am broken.  I am out of order.  I need to give all of me - my sin and my successes - to Christ.  I will pursue him, and let him take care of the rest of it.  He won’t ever fail me.  And even when I fail, he forgives.
On this, Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul reminds me, I still have much to learn.

Humble & Confident

I have been reading Tim Keller’s, The Reason for God.  I recommend this book.  It has challenged my thinking about my faith, and it has pushed me to consider again why I believe in Jesus.
Keller believes that Jesus, unlike most other religious teachers, never taught a new way to God.  Rather, Jesus said He was the only way to God.
This is pretty significant, though I don’t know that I ever thought too hard about it.  See, if Jesus taught some new way, then I would be obligated to learn it, study it, apply it, and try very hard to do it.  But if Jesus is the only way, then I trust that He has already paved the road.  It is not really about me, or my performance, at all; the only “good work” that matters is the work Jesus did on the cross.
I know this, yet there is a temptation to forget it now and again.  I don’t do it on purpose, and I am always sort of fuzzy on when exactly I get off course, but I can start relying more and more on my goodness as proof that I am really saved.  Sometimes I live as if I don’t know that I am saved by grace.
How could I forget something like that?
It’s a subtle shift in focus.  When I am working hard, and succeeding…
… I am not falling to the same old sins, and,
… I am not “forgetting” to read and pray, and,
… I am not struggling to connect in my relationships, and,
… Walking with God seems natural and easy…
Then, I am extremely confident, but I am not very humble.  I can be way too proud of my (usually) momentary success.  I might look down on people who struggle in areas that I has recently struggled too.  There’s a temptation to be especially judgmental on those who are different than me.  I feel very good, but I don’t feel very Christlike.
Then, of course, there’s also moments when I work hard and fail…
… I am falling into the same old sins, and,
… I am “forgetting” to read and pray, and,
… I am struggling to connect in my relationships, and,
… Walking with God seems challenging and lonely…
Then, I am extremely humble, but I am not very confident.  I wonder if I am ever going to figure this Christianity thing out.  I feel like a fraud and a hypocrite.  I assume that I will never, ever become the kind of “overcomer” that the Bible talks about.  I am aware of my need for a Savior, but I can’t imagine He could ever really change me.
But, in Christ, I can be humble and confident.  I recognize that He saved me, not because of anything I ever did (or will do).  The Cross proves, once and for all, that God is for me.  He will pay any price to bring me home.  What confidence this inspires!  I can be very bold, because if God is for me then nothing can truly knock me down.
I also recognize that all of my righteous acts piled together will never bring me closer to Him.  The cross paid the whole fare.  I can’t let Him down for I was never holding Him up.
Jesus is the way, and I am glad I am letting Him lead!