Real-Life Wisdom

What do we do with the failures of our past? Now that we have survived some of the trials and struggles of life, now that we have lived through the results of our own mistakes, now that we have found that sowing wild oats doesn’t bring much of a harvest—what do we do with all that hard-earned wisdom?  Paul offers the best advice: “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).  We reach back and help someone else who is struggling in the same manner.  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. The best counselors (either formal or informal) are the one who have “been there, done that, and have the T-shirt to prove it.” 

I have a lifetime of experience with the consequences of my own foolishness. But I also have a lifetime of experience with God’s faithfulness and mercy. The Lord has rescued me many, many times and now I am able to offer a hand up and a bit of wisdom and encouragement to someone else in the same kind of pit.  When God rescues us and we in turn lead others to Him for freedom, we have turned the devil’s handiwork against him.  We 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). 

Dear friends, 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 take you to the One who rescued me. I will walk the whole way with you until you are free.”  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.

A Brand New You

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“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

I don’t like reminders of my past – I tend to bristle at memories of my rebellion and selfishness, and sin.  That is why I love Paul’s words.  He wrote in his letters, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world” (Ephesians 2:1-2).  He gives a list of sinful and wicked behaviors in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and says, “That is what you were. (1 Corinthians 6:11)” In Ephesians 5:8 He says, “You were once darkness…”  Paul is coloring in the shadows of his readers’ past to highlight the contrast when he says “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  He is painting a before and after portrait.  “You were once…but now you are.”   He is saying, “You were dead in sin and rebellion and selfishness. But that is not who you are anymore.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, Satan has no authority over you. You are free from your past; you are free to choose not to give in to sin.  You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once bound to your sin, you are now bound up in God’s love.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” If only we could understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all our transgressions our old sinful desires have no authority over us any longer.  Yes, they still call to us, but we are no longer captive to do their bidding.

Beloved, look at yourself in the mirror.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  You are free to choose all the wonderful things God has planned for you.  You are no longer bound to a painful, sinful past. You are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

But I don’t want to be a cattle rustler

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Genealogy is a big deal these days. But then again, it’s always been so. In the very early years of the nation of Israel, land rights, property, and position were determined by genealogical records. Many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.  Like the lines of Issachar and Zebulun who, during the forty years of wilderness wandering were commanded by God to guard the tribe of Judah, the royal line from which the kings of Israel (and the King of Kings) would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. The Bible notes that almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons of Issachar and Zebulun were still at their post, protecting the king in his palace.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham and his many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit and more than a few nuts. My maternal great-great-grandfather was a cattle rustler and my great uncle spent more of his life in jail than out of it. There is a long sinful thread running through my paternal family. Does that mean that I am destined to follow their paths? Not if God has anything to say about it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  When He saved me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me.  My family heritage is godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness, and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was I tell him who I am: God’s daughter. Beloved, don’t accept the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

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.

The New You

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This morning I was reading in Romans 6 – the NIV titled this chapter as “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ.” It struck me: for a man who had grabbed hold of the holy life of Christ Jesus, Paul sure talked a lot about sin. And that is a good thing. In fact, it’s something we hardly hear about in the church anymore. But we’re sure doing a lot of sinning, aren’t we?  It seems that the less we say about it, the more we participate in it. Almost like our silence is approval. Hmm.

But not our friend Paul. His mantra in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome was: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (6:2). He pressed this point over and over. He said that our old body of sin was crucified with Christ, that we are no longer slaves to sin, that we have been freed from sin. He insisted that we must consider ourselves dead to sin, that sin must not reign in our bodies, that we must not obey sin nor offer the parts of our body to sin. I love this: “sin shall not be your master” (v.14). And this: “You have been set free from sin” (v. 18 and 22). Paul said that we used to live for and serve sin, but – oh hear this loud and clear – that’s not who we are anymore. Let me say it again: If you are in Christ you are not who you were – you are dead to sin but alive in Him.

I know – you have a past that is riddled with sin. So do I.  But like those before and after weight loss ads – that is who you and I used to be, but this is who we are now. Redeemed. Righteous. Pure. Holy. Beloved, I want to encourage you to leave your sinful desires in the grave with the old dead you. You have been made new in Christ. Believe it. Receive it. And walk in it. Holiness looks so good on you.  

Leave Your Past in Your Past

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could only go back and change my past…”  I’m sure we’ve all said the same.  “I would have gone to college.” “I would have chosen a different career.”  “I would have (or wouldn’t have) gotten married.”  It doesn’t always have to be choices as big as those.  “I wish I didn’t say that.” “I shouldn’t have eaten that.” “Why did I waste money on that?”   Who hasn’t lamented something in their past?  For some, the choices were huge and life-altering.  For others, the choices were not quite as monumental but we still wish we could do them over.  I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. I’m the poster child for foolishness and failure. I have spent so much time living with regrets, wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently.  I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.  But it doesn’t have to be.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about regret is to look ahead, not behind.God said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:18-19)  He specializes in fresh starts. But it’s even more than a do-over; this is the genesis of “a new thing.” He has and continues to do that for me.  He has taken so many dead ends and made“a way in the desert” of my life.  He has turned so many hard seasons into “streams in the wasteland.”  But if I sit in the ashes and lament my past, I will not see the new things God wants to do.

Yes, Beloved, you have a past. But you can be sure of one thing: God has a plan and a purpose for you – and your past doesn’t change that. In fact, it may just be the “fertilizer” for your future.

That’s Not Who I Am Anymore

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Some time ago I ran across some old photos of myself.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hairstyles and some really strange fashion sense.  I saw something else. Somewhere between 10 and 15, the girl in those photos took on a dark demeanor and I remembered my past – things that had been done to me, and things I did to myself..  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those dark eyes. God said, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul said, “You were once darkness…”  Then he gives the contrast: “but now…you are light in the Lord.”  Like painting a before and after portrait he said,  “You are not who you once were.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you are free from your past. You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once held captive to sin, you are now bound up in God’s love. You have the power to say no to sin.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” 

Beloved, I want so much for you to understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all your transgressions; you are a new creation in Christ, no longer bound to a painful, sinful past or those dark desires.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  Because you are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

But I Don’t Feel Forgiven

 

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Through many years of serving in women’s ministry, the most oft-repeated statement I hear is: “I just can’t forgive myself.” The weight of shame and the burden of past sins and failures seems to be the most popular accessory for Christian women today. What if I told you that you didn’t have to carry that over-stuffed bag around anymore? Sweet friend, if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Lord says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). If God doesn’t remember your sins, why do you need to?

That fashionable bag of shame you are carrying is empty of all your sins. Oh, there is still a heavy weight there, but it is not your sin – it is stones of false guilt put there by the enemy – the accuser who wants you to feel the weight of a sin that no longer exists. But you say, “I don’t feel forgiven.” Here is where you are going to put faith in action.

I want you to grab 2 pens – one of them with red ink, and go to an empty page in the back of your Bible. One by one, take out those stones from the bag – yes, your sexual promiscuity, the abortion, the affair, the failed marriage, the crime you committed, the stupid thing you can’t believe you did – and write it down. Now beside every entry write in red ink “1 John 1:9.” This verse declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess it, thank God for His forgiveness and claim it as a truth, not just a feeling. Then when the enemy tries to throw that rock back in your bag, point to your written confirmation of freedom and own what Jesus did for you.

Here’s the bottom line my friend: you don’t have to forgive yourself. God has already forgiven you through Jesus’ sacrifice. There is nothing left to forgive. Now pick up your empty bag, fill it with the joy of freedom in Christ and claim the new life you have been given.

At the Close of the Year

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“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Tomorrow is the first day of a new year.  Resolutions will be made (and broken within two weeks).  We’ll stock up on salads and blow the dust off the treadmill.  Maybe we’ll crack open Genesis 1 in our determination to read the Bible every day (until we get to Leviticus).  But all that is for tomorrow.

Today is the last day of the old year and while all our efforts for change will launch in the next 24 hours, there is significance to this day too.  I always like to sweep and mop my floors thoroughly on December 31st.  My mom used to say, “We don’t want to walk into the new year on last year’s dirt.”  I think that’s good advice for more than just my house.  That’s good advice for life.

As the year comes to a close, I think it’s good to sweep out the dirt of the past 365 days.  Did you make any mistakes this year?  Me too.  We should keep the wisdom we gained from those mistakes, but let’s sweep out the guilt and shame.  Did you sin at all?  You and I both know we did.  Let’s confess it, receive God’s grace and walk into the new year in freedom. Did someone hurt you this year?  Forgive them and leave it here in the old year. It’s a gift to them and to yourself.  Maybe things just didn’t turn out like you expected.  Let’s toss those unmet expectations and look toward the new year with hope in God.

Our family made a big move this year and a lot of old stuff didn’t come with us.  Today is a good day to unpack some stuff before you move into a fresh new year.  Like resentment and bad attitudes and anger and jealously – you really don’t want to bring those with you, do you?  Let’s put them in the box with old prejudices, bitterness, laziness (ouch, my toes), and selfishness and toss them all in the burn pile.

The new year awaits us with an open calendar and a fresh perspective and all our hopes for God’s good blessings.  But we don’t want to walk in the new year with all the sins and mistakes and hurts of the old year.  Oswald Chambers wisely advises, “Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.”  Tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, let’s leave the past in the past and start the new year with hope and peace and joy.  May the Lord bless you richly in the coming year.