Bought Lessons

If you’ve read my devotionals for very long, you’ve heard me quote my Mom who used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” It is the most profound thing she ever told me and I have the scars to prove that she was right. I’ve done some very foolish things in my life that I will never, ever do again. Her mantra reminds me of Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

One lesson I bought is that when I ignore the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. The wise builder illustrated a person who built his life on obedience to Jesus’ words. No storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on – not just by reading the Bible – but by putting its teachings and principles into practice. Knowing and obeying the Bible can save us so much trouble and heartache in life.

But I’ve also learned a gentler lesson: God doesn’t give up on us just because we messed up. He won’t write you off, wash His hands of me or turn away from us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven, so we could have a second chance at life.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take this affliction, this difficulty, and the pain it has caused and place it before your loving Heavenly Father. Then put your hand in the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.

For the Foolish People (like me)

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The more I read the Bible the more I am amazed at God’s goodness to fulfill His plan even in the midst of our foolishness. Sarah schemed to give Abraham an heir to fulfill God’s promise. The mess she made of it all is still felt in the world today. Yet, God didn’t abandon His plan in retaliation. He still allowed the foolish Sarah to bear a son – the child of the promise. When Isaac married and his wife finally conceived, God told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older brother, but she still schemed to make sure Jacob – the younger son and her favorite – got his father’s blessing. Then he had to run to his uncle far away to protect himself from his brother’s wrath. While there he married two sisters and started a family with them and their maids (and people say the Bible is boring). Out of all this deception, manipulation, and foolishness, God still gave twelve sons to Jacob – sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel and eventually a nation that could not be counted, just as He promised Abraham.

That gives me hope because I have made some major messes in my life, done some foolish and, yes, sinful things.  I have heard God say, “turn to the right,” and I ran instead to the left because the grass looked greener there. It was just an illusion. I have made choices because I thought I knew better than God what would make me happy and only found sorrow and struggle. I have reaped the whirlwind of my stupidity many times. Yet God has never given up on me. He has never turned His back on me in disgust or frustration. He has never left me to rot in the pit of my choosing.  And He has never failed to turn it all around and still fulfill His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Beloved, I know He will be faithful to do the same for you. He is a good and gracious God – even when we mess it all up.

Dance Anyway

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David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer. When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart. But sometimes life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us. We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.

Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring Him great glory, yet you also have a past that has weighed you down with shame and regret. You think, “I can’t dance (or sing or write, or whatever that desire is), people know my past and they will not approve.” My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers.

King David tried to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle. But his first attempt was a humiliating failure. At his second attempt David celebrated, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and his wife chastised him saying, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20). Sound like some voices you’ve heard lately? David replied: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21). He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes – that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life? Everyone out there has made mistakes. If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again. And that is all the more reason why we should– to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Celebrate before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

The Ministry of Experience

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Ever done anything foolish in your life? Yeah, me too. What do we do with the failures of our past? We put them in God’s hands so that others can benefit from our hard-earned wisdom. I believe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). As survivors redeemed by Christ we reach back and help someone else who is fighting the same battle. Why is AA so powerful? Because it is built on experience and a shared struggle. It is one person who has found freedom from addiction walking alongside someone who is trying to break free.

I can minister to a child who is bullied by her peers, to a teenager suffering sexual abuse, to a woman abandoned by her husband, to a person who struggles with depression, to someone battling anxiety and fear, to a mom with a wayward child, to a couple who has lost everything, but most of all, I can reach out to someone suffering the consequences of their own foolish actions because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it. And because I have the grace of God to show how He ministered to me in the midst of it all.

It is the deepest belief of my heart that God will take what the enemy meant to harm me and turn it into a means of blessings for others. When I allow God to turn my misery into ministry, Satan loses.  Then I can say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This is how we redeem our foolish past—we take our experiences, our failures, and our sins to the table and say to another struggling soul, “I know where you are, I understand what you’re feeling and I will walk with you until you are free in Christ.” Beloved, don’t let the enemy bury you in shame. Let God use you and your scars to turn mistakes into ministry and heartbreak into hope.

My Life

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“In Him, we were also chosen . . . according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

I have often joked that “guilt is my spiritual gift.”  It’s something I’ve always done exceptionally well. Now I know and am deeply grateful that, because of Christ’s redemption, God no longer sees me as guilty.  But I agonize over my past choices and actions and the negative consequences they brought.  The list is long – and I won’t drag them out, but believe me when I say I’ve made some messes along the way.   I’ve always seen them as derailments that knocked me completely off course.  I imagine the path my life should have taken, and how I have altered that path so that God could not do what He intended in my life.  Or have I?

Is God only in control of my life when I make all the right choices? Is His plan so fragile that I can destroy it with an ill-conceived mistake? Can it survive the careless actions of others in my life? Can He work within the craziness that is my life?

As I sit here today I have a small measure of wisdom that I didn’t have in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  I am convinced to the marrow of my bones that God never lost control of my life, even when I turned in the wrong direction. He has never wrung His hands in heaven trying to figure out how to overcome my foolishness. I’ve seen Him take some of my biggest blunders and missteps and bring something good and positive and Joyful out of them. My life is not a haphazard crazy quilt of all my wrong choices, but a beautiful, if slightly eccentric design that God is still piecing together.  I love David’s musing: “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with Joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).  The path my life has taken has not always been easy nor straight and true, but God has never been caught off guard. I’m looking back at my life from farther down the road – now sixty years old – and I’m seeing that God’s good and gracious hand has been in it all along.

Life Lessons

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I hate to shake whatever fine image you have of me, but I’m not a model of wisdom. I tend to learn life lessons the hard way. My Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid a high price for many lessons. Still am. Mom’s words remind me of a couple of lessons from Psalm 119:67: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word.”

Lesson #1: When I disregard the Word of God I will wind up in trouble. The Bible is full of wisdom for life. It is written by our Creator, who knows best how life should work, and we are wise to read and study it and put its principles and teachings into action. Jesus told the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27. He said the wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built on the sand. He was talking about obedience to His Word. While a house and a life built on sand can be brought down by the wind and rain, no storm could destroy the house built on the rock, and no storm can destroy the person who builds their life on knowing and obeying the Word of God.

Lesson #2: It’s not over just because I messed up. Aren’t you glad that our merciful and gracious God gives multiple second chances? The mistakes we make, our failures, and our missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we stumble. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful, and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the muck of my own choices. Jesus died so you can be forgiven, so you could have a second chance at life. Do you really believe that He would give up on you so quickly?

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, touched something that left you in pain? Take heart, Beloved, God has not given up on you. Lay it all before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take that hard-won wisdom and start walking in the right direction.

Proofreading Your Life

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My late brother, who was a published author, recommended Grammarly to me and it has been invaluable for helping me in my writing both for school and for ministry. It alerts me to misspelled words, incorrect syntax, better word options, poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and – my most frequent error, too, many, commas. When I open it with my Word document, it sits on the right-hand side of my screen and constantly checks my work. When I make an error, it comes to life with colored lines and warnings about what I’ve done wrong. So far it has caught 13 mistakes in this devotional (*I’m updating this number as I’m writing). Yet for all its benefit and wise advice, it has one flaw – it won’t make the corrections for me. It finds my problems and makes suggestions but leaves the choice to make the changes up to me.

I think you know where I’m going with this. God has given us a powerful tool for our lives: His Word. The Bible can point to the problems in our lives and give us wise counsel for fixing the problem, but it is up to you and me to make the change. Two things can cause Grammarly not to do its job. I can neglect to turn it on and never see the issues in my document, or I can ignore it – which I do when I like the word I’ve chosen and don’t want to change it. Likewise, if we never bother to read God’s Word, we will never recognize what is wrong in our lives. Or, we just ignore what God said because – let’s be honest – we like the sinful choice we’ve made and we have no desire to change.

James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). He compared the person who hears, then disregards the Word to someone who looks at his reflection in a mirror and then forgets what he saw when he walks away. All through his letter, James emphasized the hearing and the doing of the Word. Reading the Bible is really useless if you and I aren’t going to obey it. (Note: Grammarly suggested I take out the “really,” but I am ignoring that suggestion because I want the emphasis.)

Beloved, the Bible is the living Word of the living God and it has great power to transform your life – if you will read it and heed it. It’s a good thing to be a good writer, but it’s eternally better to be an obedient doer of the Word of God.

Wise Up!

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I am a few weeks from my 60th birthday. I know, many of you reading this are well ahead of me, but this number has really caught my attention. What have I done with those 60 years? Did I do anything I set out to do with my life?  The truth is, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a very long time. I thought life would just unfold before me and the choices would make themselves. I never knew that my life had a purpose. I often wish someone would have told me that when I was younger.  It might have changed everything for me. What I studied in school, the people I hung out with, the choices I made.

I came across Moses’ Psalm and one verse, in particular, that is highlighted in my Bible. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). I’ve been told that I am wise (that’s a shock to me!). I wish I could say it was because I numbered my days and carefully evaluated my life with every decision. The truth is, any wisdom I’ve gained has come through blood, sweat, and tears (No not, the 60’s rock group). It has come with scars and pain.  I’ve often quoted my mom who said: “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.” I have paid dearly for any small measure of wisdom I have. But I’ve learned some valuable life lessons this way. I’ve learned there are some things that I don’t want to ever do again because the cost was way too high. If that’s wisdom then, I guess I am wise. Maybe you, like me, look back over years of mistakes and failures and self-destructive behavior. We did more wrong than we did right. If we wallow in our misery then we learned nothing from it.  But if those hard lessons brought about good changes and especially brought us to the cross of Christ, then we’ve invested well. Here’s where I hang my hope: God can take every mistake I’ve made, every failure, every sin and teach me more than I could learn in scholarly books and classrooms. And they become common ground to reach out to other mistake-prone souls. Will put your mistakes and scars in the hands of your good and loving Father? They tell a powerful story the world needs to hear. It’s time to wise up, Beloved.

Is God Disappointed in Me?

 

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“I don’t want to mess up and disappoint God,” my friend said. “I guess I should say I don’t want to disappoint Him again. I’ve done it so many times already.”

“You can’t disappoint God,” I replied. She looked at me with her head slightly tilted to one side.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Think about it – if you were to disappoint me that would mean you behaved in a way I didn’t expect. You can’t do anything God didn’t expect. He has perfect knowledge of your life and everything you are going to do. You can’t disappoint Him.”

One of the most comforting things God has revealed to me is that I can never take Him by surprise. I can’t catch Him off-guard. I can’t make Him wring His hands in heaven, lamenting a choice I’ve made that has derailed all His plans for my life. As I’ve seen on social media: “God has already factored my stupidity into my destiny.”

David said it a little nicer: “O Lord, you have searched me and You know me” (Psalm 139:1). He said God knows when you sit, when you lie down, and when you rise, He knows your every thought (Yikes!), and every word before you speak it. He knows where you are at all times (remember Jonah?). He is ‘familiar with all [your] ways” (v. 3b). He knows you because He created you. Before your mother ever suspected she was pregnant, God not only knew you existed, He knew everything about you (vs. 13-16). Your childhood skinned knees, your first day of school, your teenage rebellion, when you would fall in love, the address of the house you live in right now. He knew about the sins too – the alcohol, the drugs, the abortion, the affair, the divorce. And get this: He loved you.

I am the queen of mistakes. I have enough regrets to sink a battleship. I have confessed and repented and received God’s forgiveness. And I have peace that God has never worried about what I’m going to do next. Not only does He know, but He has already figured out how He can make work with it in His good plan for my life.

I’ll let David sum this up for us: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16). Take this to heart Beloved, God will never be disappointed in you.

Life Lessons in the School of Hard Knocks

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  Psalm 119:71

 I am somewhat hard-headed and tend to learn life lessons in the “School of Hard Knocks.”  I’ve found that the most effective teacher in life is consequence. Or as my Mom used to say “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons,” and I have paid dearly for some lessons.   I learned to choose more carefully who I hung around when I sat through a police interrogation on prom night.  I learned the value of money when I found myself deep in debt.  I learned to pay attention to my driving when I ran a red light and t-boned a car.   But the most important life lesson I learned wasn’t from my own failure – it came from the life of Peter.

In the Lord’s most vulnerable moments, Peter denied knowing Jesus.  As his Friend stood trial before the High Priest, his boldest disciple was arguing about his association with the one he had previously declared as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:13).  Peter repeatedly rebuffed accusations that he was one of Jesus’ followers.  And when, as his Friend prophesied, the rooster crowed, Peter realized what he has done and “he went outside and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).  He was brokenhearted over his betrayal.

Thankfully the police didn’t lock me up, I paid off my bills, and the DMV allowed me to drive again. And blessedly, Jesus gave Peter another chance.  After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the boys went back to fishing, and Jesus showed up on the beach with breakfast and forgiveness.  Three times Peter had denied Jesus.  Three times Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to profess love for his Lord and friend.  Jesus healed Peter’s broken heart with overflowing grace.  He reaffirmed His call on Peter’s life and this formerly unfaithful disciple preached the first evangelistic sermon, and three thousand souls were nourished and saved by the Gospel.

The lesson: God’s not done with me just because I messed up.

Peter’s life shows us that the mistakes we make, our failures and missteps are not the end. God doesn’t write us off, wash His hands of us or give up on us because we are hard-headed. If that were so, mankind would have never made it past Adam and Eve, much less to you and me. All through the Bible God tells us that He is patient, forgiving, compassionate, merciful and full of grace. He loves you, even when your knees are bloody because you fell. He loves me, even when I am covered in the stench of my own choices. Jesus died so you and I can be forgiven; So that we could have a second chance at life. Or a third or a seventeenth.

Have you made a mistake somewhere along the way? Have you run in the wrong direction, played with the wrong people, kept going when you should have stopped? Have you professed Jesus as your Lord then denied Him by your words and actions?  Take heart Beloved, God has not given up on you. Take your mistakes, your failures, your denials, and your sins and place them before your loving Heavenly Father. Then take the nail-scarred hand of Jesus and start walking, a little wiser, in the right direction.