What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

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Years ago, a friend helped me through a tough time in my life. There are many things that she said, and I value much of the advice she gave during our talks.

But there was one phrase she came back to repeatedly – and it always seemed to make me stop and say ‘hmm’:

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Used properly, this ranks among the greatest questions of all time (in my humble opinion).

Here’s the deal – the things that we dread thrive in the darkness. When ideas are half-formed and fears are nebulous, they seem very overwhelming.

But when we start to take a closer look and actually think through them, we realize that they are not nearly so disastrous.

It’s the nature of the unknown. Unknowns often seem larger than they are.

Have you ever noticed that when you travel somewhere new, the trip there seems to take much longer than the return trip? Or if you go back again to the same place it doesn’t take nearly as long as you remembered it taking the first time?

That’s the nature of the unknown.

So, the key to conquering fear, dread, and anxiety is to tackle and expose the unknown element(s). When you start to feel these emotions forming, step back and consciously think through whatever is causing the angst.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen.”

And then slowly, calmly and purposefully – with lots of deep breathing, if necessary – answer the question.

If circumstances permit, take the time to sit down and write out all the things that could happen.  Map out the possible paths and consequences. Think through all the alternatives. Literally find the worst possible scenario.

Then think about the probabilities of each path coming to reality. Realistic probabilities. If it helps, use a numbering or a high-medium-low scale to grade the likeliness of each one happening.

When you go through this exercise, the monsters that panicked you will usually prove to be toothless and ineffective in the light of clear thought.

I’m not saying that there will never be scary possibilities. There may be things that are terrifying! But I can almost guarantee they won’t be as terrifying as they were before you put them into words.

They may be hard, but they are things you are perfectly capable of handling – especially when you have a God who said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).

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The Perils of Time Travel, Part II

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I wrote last time a couple of reasons why I think God doesn’t allow us to go back and change our past. In a nutshell, our susceptibility to repeating mistakes or our flawed way of fixing things – or both – have potential to get in the way.

But it goes beyond that.

God has a desire and a specific intention for each of our lives. That intention does not include our brokenness or bad choices – we can look at every bad choice and be assured that God would have preferred we chose differently. He doesn’t cause us to make bad decisions, and He is not the author of our bad circumstances or our hurts.

However, He has woven each and every one of those things into His plan for our lives. He is completely sovereign. Nothing surprises Him and nothing ever comes up that He doesn’t know what to do with. And so He takes everything and uses it to build us into the persons we are.

This is a hard concept to get our heads around, but remember our inability to understand something doesn’t make it any less true. Look at Isaiah 55:8-9 – God is essentially saying “I know what I’m doing, even when you don’t get it.”

Scripture is full of stories where people’s poor choices were part of God’s plan. Look at Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Talk about a winding, broken, dysfunctional road.

From Joseph’s hubris in proclaiming to his family his dream in which they bowed before him, to his brothers’ resentful plan to do away with him, to Potiphar’s wife’s lust and false accusation, to the broken promise of the chief butler who was supposed to put in a good word for him.

How many things do you think Joseph would have liked to go back and change? To keep his mouth shut about his dream? To not go looking for his brothers on that fateful day when they sold him into slavery? To avoid being in the wrong place so the Egyptian woman couldn’t make her accusation stick? To keep his interpretation of the butler’s dream to himself?  Yet every one of these things were cobblestones in the road that led to Joseph attaining a position from which he could save his family from starvation, and the future nation of Israel from extinction.

And so, if we went back and fixed our mistakes, how could He use them to build us and others up? How could He use them to further His kingdom or accomplish His plan?

See, and you thought the whole concept of time travel was mind-boggling!

Admittedly, this is difficult on a whole new level for those of us guilty of breaking others’ boundaries.  It feels almost immoral to say that things I did to hurt someone else are being used for my or others’ growth. And it seems callous and insensitive toward the persons I hurt to say their pain is part of the greater good.

Knowing there are some reading this that fall on both sides of hurtful situations, please know that this is not to dismiss or minimize anyone’s hurt, or to justify anyone’s offenses. It’s merely a humble attempt to analyze the inner-workings of the grace and sovereignty of a loving God. I pray that is understood.

So the next time you want to lament your inability to change the past, turn your thoughts instead to the people, circumstances, and opportunities in the present that your pothole-covered path has led you to.

And thank God for it.

Commitment

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“Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” – Psalm 31:5 (NKJV)

Have I completely committed my spirit to Him? Am I really ‘all in’ in this Christian relationship?

Romans 12:1 tells me to submit myself as a living sacrifice to Him, which is a powerful illustration of this commitment. A sacrifice didn’t just get up and walk back to the livestock pen – it was totally, irrevocably, entirely committed.

So, as a living sacrifice, am I totally, irrevocably, and entirely committed? Or am I committed during certain time-boxed segments of my life and handling things on my own the rest of the time? Or daily committed, but only with certain parts of my life?

Do I trust Him with my security, my protection, my abilities, my well-being?

Do I trust Him to help me do my job? To fulfill expectations and plan the work? To make the right connections and develop the right partnerships?

Do I trust Him to help me relate to my family and friends? To treat them as the valuable persons that they are in my life? To make sure they know they are appreciated and treasured?

Do I trust Him to enable me in the ministry that He called me to? To understand His truths, and find the words to convey them to others? To keep me confident and focused in the face of apparent disinterest or flaming arrows of criticism?

Do I trust Him with my reputation? To protect from misinterpretation or misapplication of my words? To shield me from lies, rumors, and mishandling of the truth?

Do I trust Him to keep me pure? To help me make good decisions, even when the temptations seem larger than life and the battle seems most dire?

Do I trust Him to help me properly interact with others, with discernment and caution where necessary, with compassion and encouragement always? To give place to others in a way that is not self-demeaning? To show a full measure of His love and grace, while not compromising His truth?

Do I trust Him with my family? To reconcile and heal where needed? To shield them from hurtful attitudes and harmful words, directed at them sometimes merely for choosing to love and support me?

Do I trust Him enough to say that even if it leads to hardship, embarrassment, loss, pain, broken relationships, or death, I’m in?

I wish I could say that the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘Yes!’ but of course it’s not. I still want to worry over and try to manage many of these areas myself, rather than trust Him to handle it all.

When the psalmist says “You have redeemed me” I agree without a doubt.

When he refers to God as the “Lord God of truth” I respond with a heartfelt ‘Amen’.

But tying that back to the first half of the verse and wholly committing my spirit into the hands of the Lord God of truth who has redeemed me…that’s where the connection gets fuzzy.

In my head, I can tie it together. In my heart, it’s a little more challenging.

What about you? How are you doing with all this? What do you need to let go and commit to Him?

Whatever it is, He can handle it. But don’t take my word for it…take His:

“The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” – Psalm 18:30 (NKJV)

Named!

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Your name is who you are. It’s that unique combination of words that encompasses your identity.

A couple months ago, I had a birthday. My wife and our Sunday night small group surprised me with a cake. Inscribed on the cake were the words – wait for it, you’ll never see this one coming – “Happy Birthday Doug!”

(We won’t go into the other décor on the cake such as the number 50 or the little rocking chair that was perched atop it – they’re a real humorous bunch, that group).

About three days later, while getting a cup of coffee, I decided to have a sliver of cake. As I opened the box and looked at the remnants inside, I noticed all that remained was the piece that my name had been written on. My name was wholly intact, but everything else was gone.

In that moment, God whispered, “I’ve kept your name intact. Not the name you’ve striven for. Not the name you tried to build for yourself. Not the name you thought you had established. But the name I gave you.”

And I knew it was true. Through the trials and the turmoil, bad decisions and their consequences, hurt I caused, hurt others caused, gossip, rumors, temptations, struggles, failures, exposed ugliness…through it all God had kept my name intact.

But the important thing is which name He preserved.

You see, God isn’t interested in the name we build for ourselves. He’s interested in the name He has given us.

The Doug who was striving to be significant through credentials and performance was not actually the Doug that God had blessed since the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

The Doug who caved in to temptation, hurt people, and sank into the mire of guilt and shame over those failures was not the Doug He had known before He formed me in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15).

Even the Doug that tried to serve and encourage and counsel as a pastor was not the Doug that He declared to have plans for (Jeremiah 29:11).

Those Dougs may have at times been living out some aspects of the Doug God created, but it wasn’t him.

That was someone trying to build the labels that he thought necessary to make him valuable.  But the truth is God had already declared him valuable!

Stop for a moment and think about where you are today. Are you striving to check boxes so that you can be the person you think God wants? Are you working your tail off so that you can somehow attain acceptance with God and make a name for yourself?

If so, stop! God gave you a name before you ever entered this world. You don’t have to make a name for yourself, because the name that is important is already firmly a part of you. Each of us is already “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Live out of your true name.

Or, are you carrying around labels resulting from past failures? Are you allowing your inner voice, or accusations of others, to define who you are? Are you resigned to thinking that you have to live the life of an addict or loser or convict because of your past?

If so, enough! Those failures were certainly not part of God’s plan for you. But that doesn’t mean they change who you really are in God’s eyes. Don’t get caught up in thinking that failure inevitably leads to continued failure. Live out of your true name.

No matter what you have done. No matter what others have done to you. No matter how wildly successful or miserably unsuccessful you think you’ve been, your true God-given name has not been enhanced or tainted one iota. He has preserved it just as He intended, and will continue to do so.

Put all those false self-imposed or others-imposed names behind you and live out your true name. Live redeemed!

Our Inner Testimony

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We talk a lot about it as believers.

As we should.

We are Christ’s ambassadors, and the image we project as we represent our King is important. We cannot represent a compassionate God with outward shows of irresponsibility, corruption, hypocrisy, intolerance, and other subpar behavior.

But there is another aspect to our testimony that is more subtle, and extremely enslaving and limiting.  I call it our “inner testimony”.  It’s those weaknesses and struggles that remain in our private lives and never see the light of day.

At some level, we all have something that we wrestle with privately.  Maybe yours is big or maybe it’s trivial. Maybe no one knows about it, not even those closest to you. If that’s true I’d venture to guess it’s not because you’re leading a double life, but because you’re ashamed and embarrassed for anyone to know (that’s the case more often than not).

So we dig in and we fight alone.

As valiant as we might be, there are days when we come limping off the battlefield dragging our sword behind us and nursing a gaping wound.

In time, those occasional losses start to wear on us, and we become more and more prone to giving up the fight.  Sure, we still go through the motions.  We beat our chests and rattle our swords and let out the most intimidating cries we can. But deep down, we’ve resigned to the fact that this is what we are and we can’t win.  In other words, we start to believe the labels and the lies. Then comes compromise and bad habits and deeper and deeper levels of shame and thoughts of “Well, I surely can’t talk to anyone about this now”.

So you just go with it and try to ‘make up’ for it in other areas of your life. You sacrifice that fight and hope you can win everywhere else. If only you can be the very best Christian (with just this one weakness that no one has to know about…) it will all come out in the wash, as they say.

Here’s the truth:

If you indulge that secret weakness – pornography, sexual misconduct, sneaking hits of your drug of choice, ducking into the casino or strip club with that little bit of money no one knows you have in an area where no one you know will see you… you could very well get by. You could conceivably get by your entire life.

In theory, your outward testimony could remain intact.  After all, when you indulge you’re either by yourself or you’re completely surrounded by unfamiliar faces. ‘You’re not hurting anyone else,’ you reason (though actually, you are). And you can’t show a bad Christian testimony to people who don’t even know you’re Christian. So maybe – maybe – you get away with it.

Now, I could launch into a sermon on Numbers 32:23 (“and be sure you’re sin will find you out”). But the truth is, some people do manage to go to their grave with that secret sin tucked away safely (not because they “got one over,” mind you, but because in His divine wisdom God chose not to expose it).

But even if your outer testimony is never impacted, your inner one will be.

Because these things reinforce our chains.  They undermine our confidence, create cracks in our foundation, and on subconscious levels make us insecure and unable to fully engage. You can be effective, and to many it may look like you’re doing great things. Others may see something a little off, but something they can’t quite put their finger on.

Either way you won’t be living up to your potential. You won’t be able to live out the freedom God has for you and impact others the way He intends.  Because when your inner testimony is tainted, your whole is out of balance.

So if you’re in that place right now, where you’ve allowed yourself to be resigned to compromising your battle plans – convinced you have to give ‘this’ ground so you can hold ‘that’ – snap out of it. Find an accountability partner, resolve to win the battle on every front, and watch how your outward life can be transformed by a solid inner testimony!

Storytime

Brick Textures 040Having just completed a book filled with many personal testimonies, I was reminded of what God has been emphasizing to me for some time:

Each of our stories is valuable.

This was not a ‘Christian’ book. It was intended for a more universal or agnostic audience. Yet the stories repeatedly attested to the way God delivers people from the deepest, darkest places – even when they don’t specifically recognize it’s Him doing the delivering.  

If people who do not acknowledge the one true God can reveal His faithfulness, how much more the believer who knows exactly Who is behind every good thing in our lives (James 1:17)?

Granted, our stories can be ugly and painful.

Sometimes we are left wondering if things can ever be fixed, but in those cases God gives us the grace to press on.

Sometimes what we thought was unfixable is redeemed and becomes more beautiful than it was even before we screwed it up.

Sometimes it’s never fixed, but we later realize the ‘fix’ wasn’t what was needed after all.

Whatever the case with your particular story, it is worth sharing. It may be the encouragement someone out there desperately needs. So be faithful.

Too often we let the enemy convince us that our story isn’t useful. That it won’t do any good. It’s too ugly, too embarrassing, too mundane, or too common to be beneficial. His arguments against telling our stories seem limitless.

But there’s a reason Jesus said he was the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Whatever discouragement he is whispering to you, it’s simply not true.

He’s probably whispered a few more lies to you even as you are reading this:

God can use you without your story.”

If you don’t tell your story, no worries – somebody else will come along.”

Maybe your story is worth telling, but you’re not a good storyteller. Good story or not, it will sound dumb.”

People could use your story against you.”

Why are you reading this guy’s blog anyway? All this ‘feel-good’ talk is just setting you up for disappointment.

Lies! Don’t believe them.

Stay faithful. Be willing to speak. Let God take it from there.

Our trials and struggles bring two universal benefits to this life: our own personal growth and the encouragement of others. If you’re not willing to share your story, you completely nullify that second benefit.

One caveat: be careful of “suicide by transparency.” As I’ve cautioned previously, there are places for your full story and places for discernment. Different settings call for varying degrees of transparency.

Eighty years ago, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous got it right when they urged alcoholics to share their story with other alcoholics who may be helped but use discretion in public forums for their own well-being and that of their loved ones. This was wise advice then, and has stood the test of time as part of the most successful recovery program ever established. 

Sometimes face-to-face story-telling needs to be tempered with caution and restraint. 

Sometimes a full disclosure of your story needs to be done with a level of anonymity.

And sometimes, in the rare occasions when you know you’re face to face with someone who can relate and will benefit, the storytelling needs to be bloody, raw, and painfully transparent.

If you trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you will know which situation is appropriate in the moment.

But don’t let Satan steal your voice. Never let him convince you that your story isn’t worth telling. Share what God is doing in your life. Take the risk, and make a difference.

 

 

 

Perspective

 

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;  and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)

Jesus and a group of Jewish believers had a pretty deep conversation here concerning freedom.  The dialog culminated in one of the foundational verses of this ministry: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

But sometimes we can focus in on one aspect of the truth so keenly that other vital elements get lost.  It’s good to re-center ourselves on the big picture once in a while.

Recent blog entries here have been about openness from both sides – the need to approach someone and be open, and the need to be approachable in order to facilitate openness and healing.  

It’s important to remember, though, that just talking about it isn’t the entire solution.  If we’re not leaning on Jesus and living obedient lives, all the talk in the world isn’t doing any good.  Openness without action doesn’t free anyone – on one extreme it essentially turns us into habitually sinning conversationalists (which amounts to empty religion), on the other it promotes wallowing and self-pity (keeping us in chains).   

Jesus said “whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.”  So even if freedom is recognized, we can still find ourselves enslaved to sin when we don’t reside in Christ.

Compare also Galatians 5:1 (“It was for freedom that Christ set us free”) and 5:13 (“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh”).

You see, freedom is core to the gospel message, but it is not spoken of without the counter-balance of obedience.

If we’re not doing something about it, we’re not taking it seriously.  

Now here I will differ from some who say that if you are still struggling and stumbling with a certain sin you haven’t truly repented of it.  I think that inaccurate at best, destructive and disheartening at worst.

True, Paul did write to the Romans “our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (6:6-7).  

But just a few paragraphs later Paul wrote “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” (7:19-20).

So, if Paul was teaching in Romans 6 that truly repentant people are completely over the sin they repented of, then he obviously wasn’t truly repentant himself based on his admissions in Romans 7.  

The distinction here is not the scorecard, but where your heart-focus is.  Maybe you still slip once in a while. Maybe the same old weakness creeps in and pulls you into sin that you turned away from.  But it’s the overall battle that’s our true indicator.  

Don’t dwell on a moment of failure, and fear that you’ve lost when you’ve had a thousand moments of victory.  But  also don’t dwell on a momentary confession and repentance and take pride that you’ve won when you’re not fighting the day-to-day fight.

Perspective is key – a perspective that sees things from eternity’s view.  In Christ we are freed from the chains of sin and death.  But in Christ, we also are motivated to live a life of obedience and victory.  

That’s what eternal life is all about.  And eternity starts today!