November 1, 2014 § 2 Comments
Over the past several months a few of us have been studying the book of Genesis together. Within these magnificent opening pages of the unfolding story of God and His people is a narrative of events in which many decisions turned out quite differently from the presumed outcome at the time – like when Lot, rather than defer to Abraham (then Abram) opted to live in Sodom, leaving his uncle with second choice. That didn’t turn out so well for Lot.
Throughout my life I have made more decisions than I could ever have imagined possible – some good and others not-so-good (yes, horrible!). The crazy thing is that many of those bad decisions initially appeared to be the right ones, and some of the good ones began questionably.
We just don’t know, do we?
You have to love the new LeBron James video (Nike) about his decision go back to Cleveland (below).
Regret is a powerful emotion. It is also deceptive. It has a way of twisting the past into something it never was, and of shaping the present into less than it can be. At the end of the day, all of us bear the scars of our unfinished and imperfect pasts. Regret adds shame to the mix.
What is even more insidious is that it is born of the notion that we are somehow in control. I know this is true because every time regret works its way into my inner space, it comes with the diluted idea that I actually possess the power to shape my own history and write myself into a perfect story!
Can you hear how twisted this is?
Hey, this isn’t to say that our decisions don’t matter – they do. And we have every reason to learn from our past. We can’t grow at what we do, and how we relate without honest and sometimes brutal evaluation. Part of this involves the humble acceptance of owning and bearing our responsibility. But anything we do outside of the loving embrace of God will always warp itself into a cruel tyrant that owns us from within.
Here is the thing: In the gospel the storyline is never the savvy of unfinished Christ-followers. It is always the character of the Father who weaves all that we are, our bad and good decisions, our deep regrets, even the seasons we would just as soon edit out of our stories, into something far lovelier and better than we could ever have conceived on our own.
At the end of the day, regret is the enemy of grace, because it is a subtle and not-so-hidden refusal to believe that God can turn the wreckage of our pasts into something beautiful. Or that He wants to…
This may be why I love Peter the disciple. It is in hiding and shame over his deep failure and betrayal that the resurrected Jesus meets him at the height of his regret, and reaffirms to him that his life is far from over, and that he is His.
How sweet is that… such good news.
July 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
“…I would advise you against defensiveness on principle. It precludes the best eventualities along with the worst. At the most basic level, it expresses a lack of faith… And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer.”
Marlilynne Robinson, Gilead
There is an ice-cream shop at the beach we visit each year that smells heavenly as one walks by. It emits a delicious aroma that undoubtedly draws many in. However, this year on one occasion, I turned the corner the shop is on, only to be hit with the foulest of smells. On the ground, puddling along the building was the nasty water that obviously drains from the shop – the county fair puddle kind of smell that one can barely endure in between nausea-inducing rides.
Reflecting on that odorous moment, I am reminded that we can be like that little shop. We have a beautiful side that we want everyone to notice and embrace. But we also have another side.
Dare I say, a stinky side…
All kinds of experiences, flaws and encounters contribute, and unfortunately our tendency is to not only hide this side, but to live, act and relate as though it doesn’t even exist.
Which is ludicrous.
I have found that the relationships that we hold most dear are those in which we have entrusted some glimpse into our ugliness. In fact, the reality of our flaws and blemishes is the only point of commonality we share.
Other than Jesus.
In other words, our stinky side, and the One who has delivered us from its lasting effects, are what unite us. They are what inform our spirits that we are not alone.
That we don’t have to hide.
That we are safe.
You would think this to be a no-brainer, yet the instinct to self-defend is powerful, and every chink in my armor serve as temptations to protect, pretend and hide, when all along the gospel screams that they are God’s invitations for me to enjoy the dance of intimacy with a world that shares my brokenness.
And hiding only diminishes me.
So back to the Ocean. It is not merely the surface and horizon, but the depths, and perilous realities, the mysteries and dangers, that make it magnificent. The depths shape its lovely colors. The creatures fill it with beautiful diversity. Its mysteries draw us into the wonder of God.
It can’t be what it is, without all that it is.
And neither can we.
But the Father already knows this. And by His grace, in Jesus He has embraced that most ugly, stinky part of us, in forming us into something lovely, flaws and all, until He comes and makes everything new.
Friends, this is our good news…
November 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
“How I wish you could have known me in my strength.” Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Last week, as we prepared to distribute the Lord’s Supper in our first worship service, one of our Elders, a lovely and faithful brother, dropped the trays he was to carry (Amazingly this doesn’t happen weekly by any who distribute the elements, ministers included. The trays are practically designed as ecclesiastical booby traps!).
Actually, they didn’t merely drop – they dropped, bounced and exploded out of his hands and onto my shirt, coat and pants, which meant that with no time to change in between services, I would preach our second with noticeably unfashionable grape blotches.
It’s a peculiar thing to walk around with such stains. At first I self-consciously offered explanations to any whose eyes wandered to the obvious (which was everyone). Few resisted opportunistic playful jabs.
The fact is, we carry our stains, and while most outside of us never detect them (and wouldn’t care if they did), without some intervening grace, we feel compelled to hide. Our own self-consciousness leaves us presuming that we could ever appear clean to the observing world.
This took me to our friend in the hospital that I wrote about a few weeks ago. He was in an accident in which ten of his twelve ribs were broken on the right side, some crushed and beyond surgical repair. Amazingly, doctors inform us that they will self-repair, that his ribs will find their way back to one another. Only they won’t exactly take the shape they had before the wreck. There will be bumps and funky angles involved – but they will heal – completely. And they will work.
With God it is never that we figure out how to escape our stains – or bumps – but that we finally rest in the love of a Father who likes us that way, believing that His repair is what He intended all along. In fact, our true escape is in no longer feeling the need to hide. As with Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh,’ Jacob’s limp and Christ’s scars, the unique contours of our broken lives become the identifying marks of God’s love and triumphs of His grace.
What better news could there be?