Friday, July 29, 2011

What Forgiveness Requires

Forgiveness is an investment in your relationship with God and in your relationship with others. As with all investments, there’s cost involved. In any investment you make, your concern is that the return will be greater than the cost. So it’s important to consider the requirements of forgiveness for you and your relationships.

Forgiveness requires humility
. It’s only when we really do believe that life is bigger than us, that there’s something more important than our wants, needs, and feelings, and that we’ve been given life and breath for the purposes, plans, and praise of Another, that we’ll be willing to forgive. When we stand in the center of our own universe with nothing more important to us than ourselves, we find nothing more offensive than a sin against us. Or when pride allows us to think of ourselves as righteous - surely more righteous than the person we live with - then it’s hard for us to forgive. Forgiveness is much easier for the person who lives consciously of the reality of how much he also needs to be forgiven. Nobody gives grace better than someone who’s convinced he needs it as well.

Forgiveness also requires compassion
. Compassion is being moved by the plight of another, coupled with action to help him or her. Think with me for a moment, does compassion ever grip you when someone sins against you? Are you touched by the other person's struggle with sin? Do you feel for him or her when they face the disappointing reality of their failure once again? Are you sad for that friend or relative in those moments when he’s easily entrapped? Do you stand alongside the other person in their worst moments; doing anything you can to relieve the burden of their struggle with sin? You forgive her because you love the other person and because you love them, you care about them and the struggle that they’re going through with sin. You know what it’s like to commit to what’s right and end up doing what’s wrong (see Romans 7). You forgive him because, by God’s grace, you look at him through tender, rather than judgmental, eyes.

Forgiveness requires trust
. Forgiveness is not so much an act of faith in the other person as it is an act of faith in God. You do believe that God is with you. You do believe that his Word is true. You do believe that what he calls you to is right and good. You do believe that he’ll give you what you need to do what he’s called you to do. You do believe that your identity is secure, even if the other person rejects you and doesn’t seek your forgiveness. You do believe that there’s blessing on the other side of the hard work of forgiveness. You do believe that when you fail and take up the offense once again, that God will forgive you and give you the power to change. Because you trust God, you’re willing to forgive.

Forgiveness requires self-control
. If you’re going to forgive someone for committing a sin against you, you must say no to yourself, exercising the self-control that only God is able to give you. To forgive, you have to say no to bitterness, which permits you to carry a wrong and not give it room to expand in your heart and shape your responses. You have to say no to the desire to lash out with angry words and actions of vengeance. You have to say no to the impulse to share your anger with a relative or friend. Giving way to these things is never a prelude to forgiveness.

Forgiveness requires sacrifice
. Earlier I said that we fail to approach the other person when he or she has wronged us because we love ourselves more than we love our spouse. Perhaps that seemed harsh to you, so let me explain. Seldom is self-sacrificing love a self-conscious faith in the other person as it is an act of faith in God. It’s when you really do believe that he's ready and willing to give you everything that you need, that the sacrifices of love are no longer scary to you. Rather, those sacrifices becoming opportunities to not only enter into a deeper communion with another human being, but with God as well.

There’s one thing that forgiveness requires that’s more important than anything we’ve looked at so far. It may be the most important thing of all.

Forgiveness requires remembering. Why is it that we’re so skilled at remembering the others weakness, failure, and sin and so adept at forgetting our own? Why are we so good at seeing all the ways that another needs to be forgiven but forget how great our need for forgiveness is? When we’re filled with the grief of our own sin and with gratitude for the amazing forgiveness we’ve been given, then we’ll find joy in giving to others what we’ve received. Perhaps a lifestyle of unforgiveness is rooted in the sin of forgetfulness. We forget that there’s not a day in our lives that we don’t need to be forgiven. We forget that we‘ll never graduate from our need for grace. We forget that we’ve been loved with a love we could never earn, achieve, or deserve. We forget that God never mocks our weakness, never finds joy in throwing our failures in our face, never threatens to turn his back on us, and never makes us buy our way back into his favor.

When you remember, when you carry with you a deep appreciation for the grace that you’ve been given, you’ll have a heart that’s ready to forgive. That doesn’t mean that the process will be comfortable or easy, but it will mean that you can approach your needy friend or relative remembering that you’re just as much in need of what you’re about to give to him or her.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Archeologists and Unafraid

It happens to all of us sooner or later. The older you get the more you move from being an astronaut to an archaeologist. When you’re young, you’re excitedly launching to worlds unknown. You’ve all of the major decisions of life before you, and you can spend your time assessing your potential and considering opportunities. It’s a time of exploration and discovery. It’s a time to go where you’ve never been before and to do what you’ve never done. It’s a time to begin to use your training and to gain experience.

But as you get older you begin to look back at least as much as you look forward. As you look back, you tend to dig through the mound of the civilization that was your past life, looking for pottery shards of thoughts, desires, choices, actions, words, decisions, relationships, and situations. And as you do this, you can’t help but assess how you’ve done with what you’ve been given.

Now let’s think about this for a moment as personal archeology can be very painful. Who would be so arrogant and bold as to look back on their life and say, “In every possible way I was as good as I could have been?" Wouldn’t we all hold some of those pottery shards in our hands and experience at least a bit of regret? Wouldn’t we all wish that we could take back words we’ve said, decisions we’ve made, or actions we’ve taken? Wouldn't we all wonder what we were doing, what were we thinking or who in the world did we think we were?

Here’s what all of this means: if you and I are at all willing to humbly and honestly look at our lives, we’ll be forced to conclude that we’re flawed human beings. And yet we don’t have to beat ourselves up. We don’t have to work to minimize or deny our failures. We don’t have to be defensive when our weaknesses are revealed. We don’t have to rewrite our own histories to make ourselves look better than we actually were. We don’t have to be paralyzed by remorse and regret. We don’t have to distract ourselves with busyness or drug ourselves with substances. Isn’t it wonderful that we can stare our deepest, darkest failures in the face and be unafraid? Isn’t it comforting that we can honestly face our most regretful moments and not be devastated? Isn’t it amazing that we can confess that we really are sinners and be neither fearful nor depressed?

Isn’t it wonderful that we can do all of these things because, we’ve learned that our hope in life is not in the purity of our character or the perfection of our performance. We can face that we’re sinners, and rest because we know that God really does exist and that he’s a God of:

Steadfast Love
Abundant Mercy

Because he is, there’s hope—hope of forgiveness and new beginnings.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The "Benefits" of Unforgiveness

Why don’t people just forgive? That’s a very good question. If forgiveness is easier and more beneficial, why isn’t it more popular? The sad reality is that there’s short-term, relationally destructive power in refusing to forgive. Holding onto the other's wrongs gives us the upper hand in our relationships. We keep a record of wrongs because we’re not motivated by what honors God and is best for others, but by what’s expedient for ourselves. Here are some of the dark “benefits” of unforgiveness.

1) Debt is power. There’s power in having something to hold over another’s head. There’s power in using a person’s weakness and failure against him or her. In moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against us as our relational trump card.

2) Debt is identity. Holding onto another's sin, weakness, and failure makes us feel superior to them. It allows us to believe that we’re more righteous and mature than they are. We fall into the pattern of getting our sense of self, not by the comfort and call of the Gospel, but by comparing ourselves to another. This pattern plays into the self-righteousness that’s the struggle of every sinner.

3) Debt is entitlement. Because of all the other person's wrongs against us, he or she owes us. Carrying these wrongs makes us feel deserving and therefore comfortable with being self-focused and demanding. “After all I’ve had to endure in relationship with you, don’t I
deserve ... ?”

4) Debt is weaponry. The sins and failures that another's done against us, that we still carry around with us, are like a loaded gun; it’s very tempting to pull them out and use them when we’re angry. When someone's hurt us in some way, it’s very tempting to hurt them back by throwing it in their face just how evil and immature they are.

5) Debt puts us in God’s position. It’s the one place that we must never be; but it’s also a position that we’ve all put ourselves in. We’re not the judge of others. We’re not the one who should dispense consequences for other's sin. It’s not our job to make sure they feel the appropriate amount of guilt for what they’ve done. But it’s very tempting to ascend to God’s throne and to make ourselves judge.

This is nasty stuff. It’s a relational lifestyle driven by ugly selfishness. It’s motivated by what we want, what we think we need, and by what we feel. It’s nothing to do with a desire to please God with the way we live with one another, and it surely has nothing to do with what it means to love others in the midst of their struggle to live God’s way in this broken world. It’s also is scarily blind. We’re so focused on the failures of others that we’re blind to ourselves. We forget how often we fail, how much sin mars everything we do, and how desperately we need the grace that we’re given daily, but unwilling to offer to others. This way of living turns the people in our lives into our adversaries and turns the locations where we live into a war zone.

Yet we’ve all been seduced by the power of unforgiveness. We’ve all used the sin of another against him or her. We’ve all acted as judges. We’ve all thought we’re more righteous than the people around us. We’ve all used the power of guilt to get what we want when we want it and in so doing have not only done serious damage to the fine china of our relationships, but have demonstrated how much we need forgiveness.

It seems almost too obvious to say, but forgiveness is a much better way. The grace of our salvation is the ultimate argument for this truth. Forgiveness is the only way to live in an intimate, long-term relationship with another sinner. Forgiveness is the only way to negotiate through the weakness and failure that will daily mark your relationships. It’s the only way to deal with hurt and disappointment. Forgiveness is the only way to have hope and confidence restored. It’s the only way to protect your love and reinforce the unity that you've built. Forgiveness is the only way to not be kidnapped by the past. It’s the only way to give your relationships the blessing of fresh starts and new beginnings. Grace, forgiving grace, really is a much, much better way. So isn't it wonderful to know that you’ve not only been called to forgive, but you’ve also been graced with everything you need to answer this call.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Ultimate Lens on Life

When he invited me to have dinner with him and his wife, I knew it wasn’t going to be a social occasion. The man on the phone seemed frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed. As I looked across the table at him after a long dinner of tough conversation about a marriage gone bad, he had the look of a beaten man. I asked him to tell me what he was thinking and he said, “People are so complicated, it seems impossible for relationships to work. I can’t figure out why I do the things I do, let alone understand my wife. It’s hard for me to sit here and find any reason for hope.”
He was right. People are complicated and not always easy to understand. Relationships are difficult and sometimes seem like a minefield of potential explosions. There are moments when life, this side of eternity, seems hopeless. Perhaps there are many more exhausted and overwhelmed people around us than we think. I didn’t seek to comfort my friend by telling him his view of life was inaccurate, but by helping him understand that it was incomplete. I drove home that night deeply thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you’re thinking, “The cross? Paul, I thought the cross was about forgiveness and eternal life. What, on that evening, made you thankful for the cross?” The answer is that I was hit once again how the cross of Jesus is the ultimate, most accurate lens on human life. There is nothing that understands, defines and explains the human struggle like the cross. Let me explain.

The Cross Tells Us What’s Wrong with Us

The cross tells us that our biggest, deepest and most abiding problem is to be found inside us, not outside us. Yes, the people in our lives have had a significant impact on us, the experiences of our lives have helped shape the way we see our world, and the locations of our lives have been formative as well. People, locations and the situations of life all influence what we think and what we do; but they're not determinative. No, the most powerful life-complicating problem for us all is to be found deep inside each one of us. It’s the reason for the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s the thing that the cross was ordained to defeat. It’s the thing that distorts our thoughts, desires, emotions, choices, words and actions. It’s the universal human dilemma, the inescapable pathology. It’s the one disease from which we all suffer. It’s the problem that none of us has the wisdom or power to solve. What is it? Sin. It’s the condition of the heart that’s the fundamental reason for a vast array of personal and interpersonal brokenness. The cross requires us to admit that we too have been infected with the virus and are people in desperate need of help. We’ve not just been afflicted with a fallen world and flawed people. No, we’ve all been infected with sin.

The Cross Tells How What’s Wrong Will Get Fixed

You simply can’t decry the value of knowledge, personal insight, accurate perspective, self-awareness and careful analysis. They’re all very helpful; they just happen not to be curative. If what’s broken inside us could have been cured by a body of knowledge or a system of insights, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come and the cross wouldn’t have been necessary. A cross-shaped view of peoples’ problems requires us to say something radical. For lasting change to take place in us we need more than a system; we need a Redeemer. Only the grace of a Redeemer, who on the cross defeated our deepest problem, is able to rescue us from us and give us the power to live in brand new ways. If sin is the universal human pathology, then the person and work of the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, is our only hope of lasting healing. The cross not only provides for us the only truly accurate diagnosis, but also the only reliable cure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Depressed Pastor: The Setup

I was there the week it happened. His wife asked to see me. Tearfully she told me that he'd walked into the church building that week and announced to his staff that he was "done." He said he couldn't face preaching another sermon; that all that he really wanted to do was to run away from his own life. Sam was forty-five and the pastor of a vibrant and growing church. I am convinced that there are important changes needed in pastoral culture, and that the number of pastors who find themselves in that range from discouraged to depressed gives clear evidence.

Let me suggest four potential setups of this discouragement/depression cycle.

1. Unrealistic Expectations. I taught a class at Westminster Seminary on pastoral care and I was alarmed year after year of how unrealistic the expectations of my future-pastor students were. Year after year my students seemed to forget the two things that consistently make pastoral ministry hard. What are they? The harsh reality of life in a dramatically broken world and what remaining sin does to the hearts of all of us. These two things make pastoral ministry a day by day spiritual war. But there’s another area of unrealistic expectations. It’s the congregation's unrealistic expectation of the pastor. Churches forget that they've called a person who's a man in the midst of his own sanctification. This tends to drive the pastor into hiding, afraid to confess whats true of him and everyone to whom he ministers. There's a direct connection between unrealistic expectations and deepening cycles of disappointment.

2. Family Tensions. There's often a significant gulf between the public persona of the ministry family and the realities of the day by day struggles in their home. We almost assume that the pastor will feel regularly torn between ministry and family and will often be forced to make "the lesser of two evils" choices. Yet this tension isn't a major theme in the Pastoral Epistles. Could it be that we're asking too much of our pastors? Could it be that, as pastors, we're seeking to get things out of ministry that we shouldn’t get and therefore make choices that potentially harm our families? This tension between family and ministry robs pastoral ministry of its joy and it’s seemingly insurmountability is a sure set up for depression.

3. Fear of Man. The very public nature of pastoral ministry makes it fertile soil for this temptation. I know what it's like to be all too aware of the critical person's responses to me as I’m preaching on a Sunday morning. I also know the temptation of thinking of what would win that person as I'm preparing the sermon! Fear of man is actually asking people to give you what only God can deliver. It’s rooted in a Gospel amnesia that causes me to seek again and again for what I’ve already been given in Christ. This tends to cause me to watch for and care too much about the reactions of others, and because I do this, to feel that I get way more criticism than I deserve. Each new duty begins to be viewed as another forum for the criticism of others and with this, the emotional life of the pastor begins to spiral downward.

4. Kingdom Confusion. It’s very tempting for the pastor to do his work in pursuit of glories other than the glory of God, and for purposes other than the purposes of God's kingdom. Personal acclaim and reputation, power and control, comfort and appreciation and ministry success are the subtle little kingdom idols that greet every pastor. Yet in pastoral ministry, the kingdom of self is a costume kingdom. It does a great job of masquerading as the kingdom of God because the way you seek to build the kingdom of self in ministry is by doing ministry!

The reality is that the God who the pastor serves has no allegiance whatsoever to the pastor's little kingdom of self. In fact I’m persuaded that much of the ministry opposition that we attribute to the enemy is actually God getting in the way of the little kingdom intentions of the pastor. It’s God, in grace, rescuing the pastor from himself. So as the pastor wants recognition, his Lord wants Gospel transformation. As God is calling the pastor to spiritual war, what the pastor wants is to be liked. As the pastor is wanting just a little bit of control, God is demonstrating that he’s in control. It's discouraging and exhausting to be serving God, yet not be on God's agenda page. This kingdom confusion robs the pastor of the deep sense of privilege that should motivate the service of every pastor. My pastor friend said it well to his wife, "I just want to go somewhere where life is easy!"

Depression in the pastor may be set up by the culture that surrounds him, but it’s a disease of the heart, and for that we have the presence, promises, and provisions of the Savior. Pastor, he’s in you and with you and for you. No one cares more about the use of your gifts than the Giver. No one cares more about your suffering than the One who suffered for you. And no one shoulders the burden of the church like the One who is the Head of the church and who gave himself up for it. In your despondency, don't run from him, run to him. Jesus really does offer you the hope and healing that you can find no where else.

Monday, July 18, 2011

You're Fooling Yourself

There’s loads of knowledge to be found, but wisdom is a rare commodity. Why? Because wisdom is one of sin’s first casualties. It's hard to admit, but true none the less, that sin reduces all of us to fools. And the fact is that no one is more victimized by your foolishness than you are. You see the empirical evidence of the foolishness of sin on almost every page of Scripture. For example, you see foolishness in full operation in the tragic story of David and Bathsheba. This is why David says, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (v. 6 NIV).

You read the story of David’s sin, and you say to yourself, “What was he thinking? Did he really believe that he’d get away with that? Did he completely forget who he was? Did he think that God was going to stand idly by and let this happen?” But David is not some extreme case of foolishness gone wild; you see evidence of the same foolishness in each of our lives daily. People could say of us again and again, “What was he thinking? What was she thinking?”

What does foolishness look like? Here are four of its most significant aspects.

1) The Foolishness of Self-centeredness

We were created to live for something, someone bigger than ourselves. We were designed to live with, for, and through the Lord. God is meant to be the motivation and hope of everything we do. His pleasure, his honor, and his will are the things for which we are meant to live. But the foolishness of sin really does cause us to reduce our lives to the size and shape of our lives. Often our living has no greater purpose than self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Does this sound harsh? Well, ask yourself, “Why do I ever get impatient with others?” “Why do I ever say things I shouldn’t say?” “Why do I get discouraged with my circumstances?” “Why do I give way to anger or give in to self-pity?” The answer is that, like me, you want your own way, and when things don’t go your way or people are in your way, you lash out in anger or you turn inward in discouragement.

2) The Foolishness of Self-deception

We’re all very good at making ourselves feel good about what God says is bad. We’re all very skilled at recasting what we’ve done so what was wrong doesn’t look so wrong to us. I’ll tell myself that I didn’t really lash out in anger; no, I was speaking as one of God’s prophets. I’ll tell myself that that second look wasn’t lust; I am simply a man who enjoys beauty. I’ll tell myself that I’m not craving power; I’m just exercising God-given leadership gifts. Foolishness is able to do something dangerous. It’s able to look at wrong and see right. Had David been able to see himself with accuracy and if he’d been able to see his sin for what it really was, it’s hard to imagine that he would have continued to travel down that pathway.

3) The Foolishness of Self-sufficiency.

We all like to think of ourselves as more independently capable than we actually are. We weren’t created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet the foolishness of sin tells us that we’ve all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources that God has given us. The lie of the garden was that Adam and Eve could be like God, independent and self-sufficient. We still tend to buy into that lie.

4) The Foolishness of Self-righteousness

Why don’t we celebrate grace more? Why aren’t we more amazed by the wonderful gifts that are ours as the children of God? Why don’t we live with a deep sense of need, coupled with a deep sense of gratitude for how each need has been met by God’s grace? Well, the answer is clear. You’ll never celebrate grace as much as you should when you think you’re more righteous than you actually are. Grace is the plea of sinners. Mercy is the hope of the wicked. Acceptance is the prayer of those who know that they could never do anything to earn it. But the foolishness of sin makes me righteous in my own eyes. When I tell my stories, I become more the hero than I ever was. I look wiser in my narratives than I could have been. In my view of my history, my choices were better than what they actually were. Often it isn’t my sin that keeps me from coming to God. Sadly, I don’t come to him because I don’t think I need the grace that can be found only in him.

Here is what all of us must face; sin really does reduce us all to fools, but happily the story doesn’t end there. The One who is the ultimate source of everything that’s good, true, trustworthy, right, and wise is also a God of amazing grace. You don’t get freed from your foolishness by education or experience. You don’t get wisdom by research and analysis. You get wisdom by means of a relationship with the One who is Wisdom. The radical claim of the Bible is that wisdom isn’t first a book, or a system, or a set of commands or principles. No, wisdom is a person, and his name is Jesus Christ. When you and I are graced into acceptance with him, we’re drawn into a personal relationship with Wisdom, and Wisdom begins a lifelong process of freeing us from the stronghold that the foolishness of sin has on us. We aren’t yet completely free, but there will be a day when our every thought, desire, choice, action, and word will be fundamentally wise!

It makes such sense then, that a repentant man (David) would reflect on his need of wisdom. Sin, in reducing us to fools, causes us to do foolish things, even though we think we’re wise. And for this we need more than information, education, and experience. We need exactly what we find in Christ—grace. Wisdom is the product of grace; there is simply nowhere else it can be found.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Grace of Confession

I often wonder how many people are stuck in their relationships in a cycle of repeating the same things over and over again. They repeat the same misunderstandings. They rehearse and re-rehearse the same arguments. They repeat the same wrongs. Again and again things aren't resolved. Night after night they end the day with nothing reconciled; they awake with memories of another bad moment with a friend, spouse, neighbor, co-worker or family member and they march toward the next time when the cycle will be repeated. It all becomes predictable and discouraging. They hate the cycle. They wish things were what they once were. Their minds swing between nostalgia and disappointment. They want things to be different, but they don’t seem to know how to break free, and they don’t seem willing to do the one thing that makes change possible—confess.
They tell themselves they'll do better. They promise they’ll deal with their issues. They promise they’ll seek God's help. They decide to invest more time and energy in the relationship. They promise they‘ll talk more. But its not long before all the promises fade away. It’s not long before they’re in the same place again. All their commitments to change have been subverted by the one thing they seem unwilling to do: take the focus off the other and put it on themselves. Here's the point: no change takes place in a relationship that doesn't begin with confession. The problem for many of us is that we look at confession as a burden, when it’s actually a grace.


1) Its a grace to know right from wrong. Change is all about measuring yourself against a standard, being dissatisfied with where you are because you see that you’ve fallen short of the standard, and seeking the grace to close the gap from where you are to where you need to be. James likened the Word of God to a mirror (James 1:22–25) into which we can look and see ourselves as we actually are. It’s impossible to overstate how important this is. Accurate diagnosis always precedes effective cure. You only know that the board is too short because you can place it against a measuring instrument. You only know that the temperature in your house is too hot because you have a measuring instrument in your house (called a thermostat). The Bible is God’s ultimate measuring instrument. Its meant to function in each of our lives as a spiritual tape measure. We can place ourselves and our relationships next to it and see if we measure up to God’s standard. God’s Word is one of his sweetest gifts of grace, and open eyes to see it clearly, and an open heart to receive it willingly, are sure signs of God’s grace as well.

2) It’s a grace to understand the concept of indwelling sin. One of the most tempting fallacies for us—and for every human being in this fallen world, is to believe that our greatest problems exist outside us rather than inside us. Despite this, the Bible calls us to humbly confess that the greatest, deepest, most abiding problem each of us faces is inside, not outside of us. The Bible names that problem — sin. Because sin is self-focused and self-serving, it is antisocial and destructive to our relationships. Here’s where this goes: it requires each of us to say that our greatest relational problems exist inside us, not outside us.
You know that you’ve been gifted with grace when you’re able to say, “My greatest relationship problems are inside me not outside me”

3) It is a grace to have a properly functioning conscience. Many relationships travel a one-way road in the wrong direction. It’s the direction of a hardened heart. Let me explain. In the early days of a relationship we’re very concerned with winning the other person, so we work to be loving, kind, serving, respectful, giving, forgiving, and patient. But before long we begin to let down our guard. We quit being so solicitous. Selfishness begins to replace service. In small ways at first, we allow ourselves to do and say things that we’d never have thought of doing and saying in the beginning. We become progressively less giving, less patient, and less forgiving. We begin to look out for ourselves more than we do for the other. At first, when we do these rude and selfish things our conscience bothers us, but it won’t be long before our heart gets hard and our conscience doesn’t bother us anymore. Its a perverse ability that all sinners have — to become progressively more comfortable with things that should shock, grieve, and embarrass us.

It’s a sign of God’s grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we’ve become. That sensitivity is the doorway to real and lasting change.

4) Its only grace that protects us from self-righteousness. This is the other side of the coin. Its important to understand the dynamic that operates so subtly, yet so destructively, in our relationships. Because we all suffer from some degree of personal spiritual blindness — that is, we don’t see ourselves with accuracy—and because we tend to see the weaknesses and failures of the other person with greater accuracy, we begin to think of ourselves as more righteous than the other person. When we do this, and in some way we all do, it makes it hard for us to think we're part of the problem; and it makes it difficult to embrace the loving criticism and correction from the other person. This means that its not only blindness that prevents us from change, but assessments of personal righteousness as well. If we’re convinced that we’re righteous, we desire neither change nor the help that can make it happen.

When both people in a relationship think they’re righteous and the other person isn’t, each becomes more dissatisfied, impatient, and bitter, while the condition of the relationship worsens. But there’s hope! Grace decimates self-righteousness. Grace opens our eyes and softens our hearts. Grace deepens our sense of need. Grace faces us with our poverty and weakness. Grace causes us to run after help and welcomes us with open arms when we come. In any relationship, when we quit arguing about who’s the more righteous and begin to be grieved over our respective sins, we can know for sure that grace has visited us and will work change in our relationship.

You see, confession shouldn’t be this scary thing we do our best to avoid; and sin, weakness, and failure shouldn’t be the constant elephant in the room that we all know is there but can’t talk about. Confession should be seen as a wonderful gift that every relationship needs. It should be liberating. It should be freeing. It shouldn’t be seen as a moment of personal loss but as an opportunity for personal and relational gain. Our confession should be propelled by deep appreciation and gratitude toward God, who has made it possible for us not to be afraid any longer of being exposed. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we don‘t have to hide or excuse our wrongs. We’re freed from posing as if we’re perfect, when in our heart of hearts we know we’re not. We can stare problems in the face with hope and courage, because Christ has made real, lasting, personal, and relational change possible.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Shortest Distance Between Points

Growing up, it was the source of endless entertainment. My dad was the guru of shortcuts. He lived on an endless quest for the shortest route to all of the places to which he regularly drove. He was never satisfied with his latest discovery. He was always after a better, time-saving route than the last one. My mom used to kid my dad that most of his shortcuts were in fact “longcuts.” I remember one thing my dad would say in his search for the shortest distance to wherever, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”

Have you ever wondered what David means in Psalm 27:11 when he says "Teach me your way, O Lord, lead me on a level (straight) path because of my enemies"?

The life to which God has called us is the ultimate straight line. This line starts with dead rebels and ends with people alive and reformed into the likeness of God’s Son. The problem is that we all tend to have a "shortcut" mentality which leads us into "shortcut" problems. Our living is seldom a straight line. The paths that we think will be easier and better are often not better at all. They seldom end up being better routes to the life which God has designed for us to live. What seem to us to be be better paths are actually self-oriented "longcuts" that actually take us away from where God wants us to be. Somehow, someway we all take daily detours of thought and desire that move us off the straight path that God has placed us on by his grace. In magnificently patient, transforming love, he has redeemed us from the jungle of our rebellion, lust, autonomy, foolishness, and self-focus and placed us on the narrow pathway of his; the grace of his Son. The problem is that we all tend to get tricked into taking detours that get us off God’s path and into trouble.

Our problem is twofold. First, we get diverted because we are impatient. The trip to where God is taking us isn't an event; it’s a process. And the process isn’t easy. God’s road takes us through the heat of the sun, through storms and cold, through the dark of night, through loneliness and confusion. All of these things are under God's control and are meant to change us as we journey. But we get tired and impatient and begin to convince ourselves that there’s a better way. But that isn’t all.

We also get diverted because we're disloyal. Our hearts aren’t yet fully committed to God’s glory and his kingdom. So we don't keep our eyes focused on the kingdom to come that’s in front of us. No, we're looking all around, still attracted to the shadow glories of creation, because we still carry around in us allegiance to the small-agenda purposes of the kingdom of self. In our impatience and disloyalty we see pathways that appear easier, more comfortable, or that appear to offer us things that we haven't found on God's pathway; but these side-routes only ever lead to danger, destruction and ultimately death.

There’s no time when this temptation is more powerful than when we’re facing difficulty. This is exactly what the verse we are considering recognizes. When you’re being hammered by the enemy, it’s very tempting to debate within yourself whether God’s way is the best way. It starts with bad attitudes. Perhaps you begin to doubt God, doubt his goodness, and question his love. Perhaps you give way to anger, impatience, and irritation. Or maybe you begin to allow yourself to envy. You wonder why the guy next to you has such an easy route to walk, when yours is so hard.

These bad attitudes lead to bad habits. You quit praying because you reason that it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. You stop reading your Bible because those promises don’t seem to be coming true in your life. You quit attending your small group because you can’t stand to hear the stories of God’s love that others share, when your life is so hard. You even begin to give yourself reasons for missing the Sunday worship service; reasons you once wouldn’t have given yourself. Before too long there’s a coldness and distance in your relationship with God that would have shocked you in the early days of your journey. Your difficulty has deceived you into thinking that you’ve reason for wandering off God’s straight path, and your attitudes and habits have placed you on the dangerous side-paths of the kingdom of self.

So David's prayer is an important request for all of us. We all step off God's path in some way and we all need restoring grace. Have you got off God’s straight path? Have you given your self reason to take side-paths? How about praying, once again today, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path”? Thankfully, our Savior Guide doesn't leave us to our wandering. He relentlessly seeks us and places us back on His straight path and for that every son and daughter, still on the journey, should be deeply thankful.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Danger of Self-Defense

Maybe it's happen to you? A friend tells you he wants to talk to you, and when you get together, you realize that what he really wanted to do was confront you. You’re not really excited about being told bad things about yourself, but this is your friend, so you’re willing to listen. As he begins to lay out his concerns, you begin to feel pain inside. You can’t believe what you’re being told about yourself.

Silently and inwardly you quickly give yourself to well-developed self-defense tactics; marshaling arguments that you’re a better person than the one being described. You want to believe that what you’re hearing is a distortion, lacking in accuracy and love, but you know you can’t. You’re devastated because deep down you know it’s true. Deep down you know that God has brought this person your way. Deep down you know what you’re being required to consider is an accurate description of yourself. Such a description is found in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What a devastating description! It’s hard to swallow, isn’t it? You want to think that this biblical description is of the people who are more sinful sinners than you and I are. But this verse isn’t describing a super-sinner class. No, it’s a mirror into which every human being is meant to look and see himself. It’s capturing in a few powerful words what theologians call “total depravity.” Now, total depravity doesn’t mean that as sinners we are as bad as we could possibly be. What it actually means is that sin reaches to every aspect of our personhood. Its damage of us is total. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, motivationally, socially, we’ve been damaged by sin. Its ravages are inescapable and comprehensive. No one has dodged its scourge, and no one has been only partially affected. We’re all sinners. It reaches to every aspect of what makes us us. Sadly, when each of us looks into the mirror of Genesis 6:5, we see an accurate description of ourselves.

Now, you have to ask yourself: Why is Genesis 6:5 so hard to accept? Why do we spontaneously rise to our own defense? Why are you and I devastated when our weakness, sin, and failure are pointed out? Why do we find confrontation and rebuke painful even when they’re done in love? Why do we want to believe that we’re in the good class of sinners? Why do we want to believe that we’re deprived, but not depraved? Or that we are depraved, but not totally? Why do we find comfort in pointing to people who appear to be worse sinners than we are? Why do we make up self-atoning revisions of our own history? Why do we erect self-justifying arguments for what we’ve said or done? Why do we turn the tables when someone points out a wrong, making sure that they know that we know that we’re not the only sinner in the room? Why do we line up all the good things we’ve done as a counter-balance for the wrong that’s being highlighted? And why do we do all these things again and again?

Why do we find our sin so hard to accept?

There’s only one answer to all of these questions. There’s only one conclusion that fits. We all find this so hard to accept because we studiously hold onto the possibility that we’re more righteous than the Bible describes as being. When we look into the mirror of self-appraisal, the person we tend to see is a person who’s more righteous than any of us actually is!

We were at the end of a wonderful service at Tenth Presbyterian Church that had been punctuated by a powerful sermon from the Ten Commandments. I immediately turned to my wife at the end of the service and said, “I am so glad our children were here to hear that sermon!” She didn’t even have to say anything to me. She simply gave me that look. You know, the one that says, “I can’t believe you’re actually saying what you’re saying.” Immediately I felt embarrassed and grieved. It’d happened to me so subtly and quickly. I’d placed myself outside of the circle of the sermon’s diagnosis. I’d accepted the fact that whatever Exodus and Phil Ryken were describing didn’t include me. And I was glad that the people in my family who really needed the diagnosis had been in attendance.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1–2). If the Bible’s description is accurate, then God’s grace is our only hope. Thank God that he’s given us big grace! Each one of us needs grace that’s not only big enough to forgive our sin, but also powerful enough to free us from the self-atoning prison of our own righteousness. We’re not only held captive by our sin, but also by the delusion of our righteousness. Resting in God’s grace isn’t just about confessing your sin; it’s about forsaking your righteousness as well. So God, in grace, will hurt your feelings. He’ll expose your delusions of righteousness for what they are. You see, your Savior knows that it’s only when you abandon your righteousness that you’ll run after the righteousness that can only be found in him.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Spiritual Muscle Development

So, what happens inside you when you're asked to wait? Is waiting, for you a time of strengthening or weakening? Have you ever stopped to consider why God asks you to wait? Let me point you to one of his purposes.

When God asks you to wait, what happens to your spiritual muscles? While you wait, do your spiritual muscles grow bigger and stronger or do they grow flaccid and atrophied? Waiting for the Lord isn’t about God forgetting you, forsaking you, or being unfaithful to his promises. It’s actually God giving you time to consider his glory and to grow stronger in faith. Remember, waiting isn’t just about what you are hoping for at the end of the wait, but also about what you'll become as you wait.

Waiting always presents me with a spiritual choice-point. Will I allow myself to question God’s goodness and progressively grow weaker in faith, or will I embrace the opportunity of faith that God is giving me and build my spiritual muscles? (See Psalm 27:4).

It’s so easy to question your belief system when you’re not sure what God is doing. It’s so easy to give way to doubt when you’re being called to wait. It’s so easy to forsake good habits and to take up habits of unfaith that weaken the muscles of the heart. Let me suggest some habits of unfaith that cause waiting to be a time of increasing weakness rather than of building strength. These are bad habits that all of us are tempted to give way to.

Giving way to doubt
. There’s a fine line between the struggle to wait and giving way to doubt. When you’re called to wait, you’re being called to do something that wasn’t part of your plan and is therefore something that you struggle to see as good. Because you’re naturally convinced that what you want is right and good, it doesn’t seem loving that you’re being asked to wait. You can see how tempting it is then to begin to consider questioning God’s wisdom, goodness, and love. It's tempting, in the frustration of waiting, to actually begin to believe that you’re smarter than God.

Giving way to anger
. It’s very easy to look around and begin to think that the bad guys are being blessed and the good guys are getting hammered (see Psalm 73). There will be times when it simply doesn’t seem right that you’ve had to wait for something that seems so obviously good to you. It will feel that you’re being wronged, and when it does, it seems right to be angry. Because of this, it’s important to understand that the anger you feel in these moments is more than anger with the people or circumstances that are the visible cause for your waiting. Your anger is actually anger with the One who is in control of those people and those circumstances. You’re actually giving way to thinking that you've been wronged by him.

Giving way to discouragement. This is where I begin to let my heart run away with the “If only_____,” the “What if_____,” and the “What will happen if_____.” I begin to give my mind over to thinking about what will happen if my request isn’t answered soon, or what in the world will happen if it’s not answered at all. This kind of meditation makes me feel that my life is out of control. And I’m able to think my life is out of control because I’ve forgotten God's wise and gracious control over every part of my existence. Rather than my heart being filled with joy, my heart gets flooded with worry and dread. Free mental time is spent considering my dark future, with all the resulting discouragement that will always follow.

Giving way to envy. When I am waiting, it’s very tempting to look over the fence and wish for the life of someone who doesn’t appear to have been called to wait. It’s very easy to take on an “I wish I were that guy” way of living. You can’t give way to envy without questioning God’s wisdom and his love. Here’s the logic: if God really loves you as much as he loves that other guy, you’d have what the other guy has. Envy is about feeling forgotten and forsaken, coupled with a craving to have what your neighbor enjoys.

Giving way to inactivity. The result of giving way to all of these things is inactivity. If God isn’t as good and wise as I once thought he was, if he withholds good things from his children, and if he plays favorites, then why would I continue to pursue him? Maybe all those habits of faith aren’t helping me after all; maybe I’ve been kidding myself.

Sadly, this is the course that many people take as they wait. Rather than growing in faith, their motivation for spiritual exercise is destroyed by doubt, anger, discouragement, and envy, and the muscles of faith that were once robust and strong are now atrophied and weak.

The reality of waiting is that it’s an expression of God’s goodness, not empirical evidence against it. He’s wise and loving. His timing is always right, and his focus isn’t so much on what you’ll experience and enjoy, but on what you’ll become. He’s committed to using every tool at his disposal to rescue you from yourself and to shape you into the likeness of his Son. The fact is that waiting is one of his primary shaping tools.

So, how do you build your spiritual muscles during the wait? Well, you must commit yourself to resisting those habits of unfaith, and with discipline pursue a rigorous routine of spiritual exercise.

What is the equipment in God’s gym of faith? Here’s the things that he’s designed for you to build the muscles of your heart and strengthen your resolve: the regular study of his Word; consistent godly fellowship; looking for God’s glory in creation every day; putting yourself under excellent preaching and teaching of Scripture; investing your quiet mental time in meditating on the goodness of God (e.g., as you are going off to sleep); reading excellent Christian books; and spending ample time in prayer. All of these things will result in spiritual strength and vitality.

Is God asking you to wait? So what’s happening to your muscles?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Psalm 27:13)

“Someday, maybe, someday.” We’ve all said it, but it’s not really a statement of hope. It’s more often a fatalistic resignation to the death of some kind of dream.

“Someday I’ll get a decent job.”

“Someday we’ll be able to afford the kind of house our family really needs.”

“Someday I’ll get myself in shape.”

“Someday I’ll finally find a good church.”

“Someday I’ll find that special person to love.”

“Someday we’ll get our finances in order.”

“Someday I’ll go back to school.”

“Someday I’ll quit saying ‘someday’.”

“Someday” is a way of communicating what we wish would happen, but deep down inside we don’t really think it will. We say it because it makes us momentarily feel better about the things in the here and now that we have trouble accepting.

The reason our somedays are more fatalistic than hopeful is that in our sane moments we all know that we don’t have the power and control over our world that we’d need to have in order to guarantee the realization of our dreams. We also know that we’re harvesting the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are. So our somedays are more medicinal and therapeutic than hopeful predictions of what surely will come. They’re mental pills to get dissatisfied hearts through disappointing days.

The someday of Psalm 27 is very different. It’s a statement of confidence that is both deeply encouraging and powerfully motivating. When David says that someday he’ll see “the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living,” he isn’t caressing some future dream in order to help himself accept present disappointment. In fact, this statement isn’t a wish or a dream at all. It’s not really a hope for some future outcome. No, what David makes here is a statement of identity. David is remembering who he is, and in remembering who he is. He’s remembering what he has now and in the future.

Who is David? He is a child of the God of Israel. He is one of God’s chosen, the object of God’s love, the recipient of God’s promises. The God who is his Father is a God of immeasurable power, unfathomable wisdom, inconceivable sovereignty, untainted truth, and abounding grace. David’s God isn’t only the ultimate definition of what is good; he also has the power and control to produce every good thing that he’s promised to his children.

He’s in absolute control of every location, circumstance, individual, natural force, institution, and relationship. As Nebuchadnezzar said, after being humbled by this God, “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35).

Trust in God isn’t a thin hope in some not very sure outcome. Hope in God is rather a present investment in a future guarantee. What God says will be done. What God has promised will come to pass. His word is reliable because in his grace he wants to bless us, and in his power he has the ability to do anything he’s promised to do. When you live with his promises in view, you live with confidence, courage, and unshakable hope.

You then become free of anxiety and worry. You become free of vain attempts to manipulate people and situations in order to get what you want. You place yourself in the hands of a sovereign God of grace who knows exactly what you need, when you need it, how you need it, and where you will need it. And because your Father is good, he’ll never turn a deaf ear to your cries, and he’ll never abandon you in your hour of need. No, you won’t always understand what he’s doing, and you will be tempted to think that he’s got his timing wrong, but the more you entrust your life to him, the more you’ll experience his faithful grace again and again.

Who holds your someday? Are you still attempting to change things that are beyond your power and out of your control? Have you simply given up and in your disappointment are you resigned to play mental dream games to keep yourself going? Look up! Your Father controls it all, and he looks on you with grace and favor. It’s never ever risky to place your past, present, and future in his hands. His someday isn’t a someday at all; no, it’s a will be.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Parenting: It's Never an Interruption

Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don't really know what's going to happen next. You don't really know when you'll have enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, holdout for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see their heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love.

What you do know is that Scripture gives you the wisdom that you need and your always-present Messiah gives you the grace that you need to be ready to respond to the moments of opportunity he will give you. Along with this, you and I must remember that our Lord loves our children more than we ever could and his commitment to their growth and change is more faithful and persevering than ours could ever be. Because of this, in his grace and love, he will manufacture moments that expose the needy hearts of our children to us. He will faithfully employ the little moments of everyday life to expose to us and our children their need of rescuing and forgiving grace. And he will not do this only at the moments which you feel are appropriate and when you feel most prepared.

Let me give you an example. We had planned a day at a local theme park with our children. I was anticipating a day of familial amusement park bliss. You know, I was hoping that on this day my children would be self-parenting and if God could throw in a fully sanctified wife that would be cool! Well, we get down to the park and are getting out of the van and one of my children said, "Dad, may we have something to drink before we go into the park?" It didn't seem like a dangerous request. I opened the cooler, which was full of soft drinks, and all of my children sighted in on the one can of soda that they all knew was the best. Immediately, global nuclear war broke out. They were pushing and shoving, grabbing and pulling, throwing ice at one another, saying unkind things and hitting one another's hands out of the way. I couldn't believe it, we’re not in the park yet and my day was already ruined!

So, I jumped in and said, "Do you want to fight? We don't have to pay all this money for you to fight. I'll take you home, put a cooler in the backyard with one can of soda in it and you can fight for ever!" Soon my children aren't fighting anymore because they're watching the crowd gather as I lose it in the parking lot of the theme park.

Let's analyze what's going on in this moment and what's happening inside of me. What's going on is that a God of grace is taking a mundane moment of daily family life and using it to do something wonderful for my children and for me. He's making the condition of their hearts visible in order to produce concern in me that would hopefully result in awareness and a desire to change in them. But I'm not at all encouraged in this moment with what God is doing. You see, I'm not angry in the parking lot because my children are sinners. No, I'm angry that God has exposed their sin, and because he has, I have to forsake my agenda for the day and parent them! It all seemed a huge imposition; a hassle that I just didn't want to deal with.

But the reality is that if your eyes ever see, or your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, rebellion or failure of your children, it’s never an imposition. It’s never an interruption. It’s never a hassle. It’s always grace. God loves your children; he’s put them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace he will reveal their need to you again and again so that you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith and change. And because in these moments he asks you to forsake your agenda for his, this opportunity of grace is not just for your children, it's for you as well.

But my problem is that there are moments when I tend to love my little kingdom of one more than I love his. So I'm impatient, discouraged or irritated, not because my children have broken the laws of God's kingdom, but the laws of mine. In my kingdom there shall be no parenting on family vacation days, or when I am reading the paper on my iPad, or after ten o'clock at night, or during a good meal, or... And when I'm angry about interruptions to my kingdom plan there are four things I tend to do.

1. I tend to turn a God-given moment of ministry into a moment of anger.

2. I do this because I’ve personalized what isn’t personal. (Before we left for the amusement park that day, my children didn't plot to drive me crazy in the parking lot).

3. Because I’ve personalized what isn’t personal, I am adversarial in my response. (It's not me acting for my children, but acting against them because they are in the way of what I want).

4. So I end up settling for situational solutions that don't really get to the heart of the matter. (I bark and order, I instill guilt, I threaten a punishment and walk away, and my children are utterly unchanged by the encounter).

There’s a better way. It begins with praying that God would give you new eyes; eyes that are more focused on his eternal work of grace than on your momentary plans for you. This better way also includes seeking God for a flexible and willing heart; ready to abandon your agenda for God's greater plan. And it lives with the confidence that God is in you, with you, and for you, and will give you what you need so that you can face, with courage and grace, the parenting moment that you didn't know was coming.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Parenting: The Joyful Impossibility

It was eleven o'clock on a Sunday night and I was pulling out of the grocery store parking lot exhausted and overwhelmed. After we’d put our four children to bed later than we’d planned, Luella discovered that we had nothing in the house to pack for lunches the next day. With an attitude that couldn't be described as joyful, I got in the car and did the late night food run. As I waited for the light to change so I could leave the parking lot and drive home, it all hit me. It seemed as if I’d been given an impossible job to do; I’d been chosen to be the dad of four children.

It’s humbling and a bit embarrassing to admit, but I sat in my car and dreamed of what it would be like to be single. No, I didn't want to actually leave Luella and our children, but parenting seemed overwhelming at that point. I felt that I’d nothing left to face the next day of a thousand sibling battles, a thousand authority encounters, a thousand reminders, a thousand warnings, a thousand corrections, a thousand discipline moments, a thousand explanations, a thousand times of talking about the presence and grace of Jesus, a thousand times of helping one of the children to look in the mirror of God's Word and see themselves with accuracy, a thousands "please forgive me's" and a thousand " I love you's." It seemed impossible to be faithful to the task and have the time and energy to do anything else.

Now I'm about to write something here that will seem counter-intuitive and quasi-irrational to some of you, but here it is. That moment in the car that Sunday evening was not a dark, horrible moment at all. No, it was a precious moment of faithful grace. Rather than my burden getting heavier that evening, in a way that was personally significant and life shaping, my burden lifted. Do I mean that suddenly parenting got simpler and easier? By no means! But something fundamental changed that evening for which I am eternally grateful.

There are two things that I got that evening that changed the experience of parenting for me.

1. I faced the fact that I had no ability whatsoever to change my children. In ways that I’d been completely unaware of, I’d loaded the burden of change unto my shoulders. I’d fallen into believing that by the force of my logic, the threat of my discipline, the look on my face or the tone of my voice, that I could change the hearts of my children, and in changing their hearts, change their behavior. Daily I would get up in the morning and try to be the self-appointed messiah of my children. And the more I tried to do what I have no power to do, the more it angered and disappointed me and frustrated and discouraged them. It was a big mess. I was a pastor, yet I failed to see that in my parenting I denied the very Gospel that I tried to faithfully preach Sunday after Sunday. In my home, as I tried to produce change and growth in my children, I acted as if there were no plan of redemption, no Jesus the Christ, no cross of sacrifice, no empty tomb, no living and active Holy Spirit. That evening God opened my eyes to the fact that I was asking the law to do what only grace could accomplish and that would never work.

I began to understand that if all my children needed were a set of rules and a parent to function as a judge, jury and jailer; Jesus would have never have had to come. It hit me that the fundamental changes that needed to take place in the hearts of my children, at the deepest level of thought and desire, which would then lead to lasting change in their behavior, would only ever happen by means of the powerful, forgiving and transforming grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I began to realize that as a parent I’d not been called to be the producer of change, but to be a willing tool in the powerful hands of a God who alone has the power and willingness to undo us and rebuild us again. But there was a second thing I got that evening.

2. I faced the fact that in order to be a tool of grace, I desperately needed grace myself. In a moment of confessing and forsaking my delusions of autonomy and self-sufficiency, where I faced my weakness of character, wisdom and strength, I admitted to God and myself that I didn't have inside me what it takes to do the task I was called to do. I didn’t have the endless patience, the faithful perseverance, the constant love and the ever-ready grace that were needed to be the instrument in the lives of my children that God had appointed me to be. And in that admission, I realized that I was much more like my children than unlike them. Like them, I am naturally independent and self-sufficient. Like them, I don't always love authority and esteem wisdom. Like them, I often want to write my own rules and pursue my own plan. Like them, I want life to be predictable, comfortable and easy. Like them, I would again and again insert myself in the center of my world and make life all about me.

It hit me, that if I were ever to be the tool of transforming grace in the lives of my children, I needed to be rescued daily, not from them, but from me! That's why Jesus came, so that I would have every resource that I need to be what he has chosen me to be and do what he has called me to do. In his life, death and resurrection I’d already been given all that I needed to be his tool of rescuing, forgiving and transforming grace.

That night I began to find joy in the impossibility of it all. The task is way bigger than our ability as parents, but we’re not our children's messiah, and we’re not left to the resources of our own character, wisdom and strength. Our children have a Messiah. He is with them and working in and through us. The wise Heavenly Father is working on everybody in the scene and he won’t call us or them to a task without enabling us to do it.