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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

Each year, as August ends and September begins my mind returns to a major transition in my life, now one decade old.

As mentioned previously, it was the summer of 2009 and my life was undergoing internal turmoil. From outward appearances most people would have assumed that I had “my act together.” Little did I or anyone around me realize how little the appearance on the outside was true of what the man on the inside really thought and felt.

Quite without my awareness of it I was living a very isolated life where I could be “god” of my own little world and keep others at a “safe” distance.

The influences that God brought to bear on my life during the summer of 2009 are too numerous to recount but in reflection I realize that there were some major areas of repentance He was working within me. Repentance, if you don’t know, is from the Greek word “metanoia.”  At its root, it means “a change of mind.” It actually refers to a change of mind that results in a change of life. When true and heartfelt repentance takes place we often see dramatic and permanent transformation.  

In my case, there was plenty of drama. I was not at all happy or satisfied with where I was at in life or where I was headed. There were also major issues that I had covered up going back more than a few years which I knew deep down needed to be confessed and cleaned up.

As a result, on the 1st of September 2019 I took one of the most difficult steps of my entire life and phoned a friend. There were probably people around me I needed to speak to first, but I had to start somewhere. The depth of my despair was soon touched by the healing power of compassion in the voice at the other end of the line.

Up to then I was never known as being a very “vulnerable” person. Little did I realize at the time that the leap of faith that I took on that day would radically alter my life forever.

I often refer to myself as “a recovering perfectionist.” A perfectionist, I’ve learned, longs for a perfect world where he or she can “get everything right” so that they can avoid criticism or judgement from others. If I were to confess my sin and brokenness it could radically alter my public image. Would that shatter my life forever? How could I handle it if others knew me in my brokenness and imperfection?

The first conversation led to many significant others. As time moved on there was a new “posture” emerging in my life. This “posture” included not only repentance, but humility and most of all vulnerability. Vulnerability means “open to attack” and I certainly felt open to forces that I could in no way predict or control. The entire experience can easily be described as personally devastating but deeply healing. I would also learn that vulnerability is a steady and constant companion of humility – it’s never “one-and-done.”

I admit there were plenty of messes for me to clean up. I also found that God was in the mess of life and He’s a Master of clean-up and restoration in the lives of all who humbly seek Him. During the past decade there have been many lessons recorded in my journal and at least one book is probably within me. I also have deep and lasting gratitude to the heroes of my life who got me through my darkest hours by giving me time, space and most of all acceptance and compassion.

God designed us to live a life that is “connected” – with Him and others. By living in isolation we can easily become proud and distant from God and those around us who need us to be the “real” people God created us to be.

It’s only through open vulnerability and humble recognition of our need in some type of public way before we can know we are loved and accepted, even in our mess.

One decade later, I’m forever thankful to God who worked in my heart to disturb me into a dramatic change of direction in life. And I’m forever grateful to my family and a myriad of friends who stayed the course with me, loved and accepted me, warts and all. You know who your friends are when they never condone your rebellion but always affirm that your sins never define your identity.

“Coming clean” takes courage, vulnerability and humility but I’m now convinced that lasting change comes by no other route. May you in God’s grace find that path that leads to wholeness, healing and health.

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“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (NIV)

September 1st 2019 is not far away. It will be a special milestone in my life.

A decade ago I wasn’t living a very fruitful life even though everyone around me would have assumed otherwise. I had a wonderful wife and family. Most of my six children were thriving and well-adjusted in life. I had a job that was stable and I was by most standards doing well in it. I was part of a local church that was growing and enjoyable to be a part of, both as an attender and as a member of the leadership team. I could elaborate further, but you get the picture.

What no one knew was that for a number of years previous I wasn’t “dealing” with some personal issues that I had swept behind a very thick curtain. Leading up to 2009 I didn’t even think that anything from the past could come back to haunt me. But in reality I was a powder keg only a lit match away from exploding.

Now I know that God doing at least two things with me the summer of 2009. The first was that He was exposing me to some quality teaching through some mentors new to me. He was gently directing me to a better pathway. The second was that He was beginning to expose my sin, error and wrong thinking in some very dramatic ways. Some were my own mis-steps that were very harmful.

Leading up to my transformation, my response to life was much like being a lost driver in a strange town at night in a pouring rainstorm. I was driving frantically never knowing where I was going, where I had come from and where I was supposed to be turning next. Needless to say, I was in serious need of help and direction.

Without knowing it at the time, I was desperate to make life work on my own. If I could figure this life out without others I could perhaps be a hero-crusader – loved and admired for my independence and ingenuity. Little did I know how isolated I had becomeperhaps the biggest danger any of us face.

After a series of drastic personal failures, known only to myself, by the end of August 2009 I finally reached out to a trusted friend and made that life-changing phone (actually Skype) call. Even though I had confessed to God, I finally confessed to another real, living human being.

One of my greatest fears was how people would react if they really knew the darkness of which I was capable. I had to risk and trust that God had at least one gracious person out there who could handle my truth.  

It may seem strange to say, but I had always been a man who loved the truth. The truth of God as revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. However, what I was about to learn was the equal reality of grace.  I would now say that these two powerful principles cannot be found until they experienced at the deeper levels of our souls. Do you recall the story in the Bible of the woman caught in adultery (John 8)? What was the deep emotional experience of that woman? How was her life transformed by the experience of Grace and Truth in Jesus Christ?

That critical call on September 1, 2009 was to a trusted friend who not only loved the truth but was a man full of grace. Without that living reality of Grace and Truth I now could not imagine what life would have been like the past decade. As a result, God showed me that His grace and truth was also embodied in the lives of many others around me. Not everyone – but many of His servants were already prepared to demonstrate the grace and truth I so desperately needed.

God had to bring me to a place of deep brokenness in order to end my years of isolation and self-sufficiency. Previously, I would have said that I trusted God and most people in my life would have believed me. In the coming days and weeks I would actually see what it was like to finally “trust” Him and others He put around me.

The early days of September 2009 were some of the darkest days of my life. I went to bed at night  thinking of how I could end the deep pain I was experiencing.  At the same time that I was suffering my family was too. No way would I choose the easy way out and leave them to suffer more pain and agony that I knew would be their fate without me.

The first two years of the decade were the worst. Any major change of direction in life takes pain, effort and intensity. The cost was well worth the results that have come on multiple levels.

The lessons I learned in my recovery and restoration period were profound. But perhaps the greatest lesson was that we daily need to bathe in the truth of God and in the abundant and generous grace that He offers us. We also desperately need people of grace and truth in our lives who are following the lead of Jesus Christ – the One who is and will forever be “full of grace and truth.”

One of my deepest desires is that I will continue to be and become a man of “grace and truth” – living by the principle that touched me so deeply. How can I withhold from others what was so generously lavished upon me?

I’m rejoicing today that I’m no longer a loner (at least most of the time), isolated in my own little world, trying to make life work by myself. I still have a long way to go in being fully whole and mature, but I have a much clearer path forward than ever before.

Whatever you are facing right now, whatever situation you are in, please know that the path of “Grace and Truth” is the only path to wholeness, spiritual and emotional health. I hope you will also come to realize that Jesus Christ is the complete embodiment of grace and truth.

I know, because not only have I met Him but I know He has many of His choice servants speaking words of Grace and Truth into my life on a daily basis.

I plan to never leave the path of Grace and Truth – and you shouldn’t either.   

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“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

I need not remind you of the volume of distractions these days that beg for our time and attention – 24/7 news reports, e-mails, texts, social media, Slack, WhatsApp, the list goes on, and on and on! I heard recently that some 3 Billion hours per month world wide are spent on people playing video games alone!

For a number of years now I have kept a personal journal dealing with issues that relate to what’s going on in my life at deeper levels. I’m far more self-aware than I used to be and exploring what’s going on “below the water line” so to speak. The parts of me that others cannot see.

Several years ago many “D” words were showing up in my journal vocabulary – “Depression, Despair, Discouragement, Disappointment.” To say that I was dissatisfied with this situation would be an understatement. And yes, that also begins with the letter “D”!

In my daily devotions I seriously began to look attentively “inside” and question why these persistent emotional battles were being fought. I was convicted because if one was to look at my life from the outside they would see very little, if anything, that would account for these feelings. It just wasn’t reasonable or rational.

To some degree I discovered that many of the emotional maladies I suffered were due personal choices as to where I invested my time and attention. For years I was a worrier and brooder – thinking deeply about things that disturbed and saddened me. The internal focus of my life was not invested well in the things of eternal value that I knew in my head were much more important and essential.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul in writing to the Colossian church in the first century describes some incredible truths. He says that a person who has trusted Jesus Christ in this life (which would describe me and thousands of others world-wide) has a new identity that is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
This profound truth, he explains, now means that even though we live in the physical realm, we can focus the center of our lives on the eternal reality that we are given a new identity that will endure forever. Paul says, set your hearts and minds on this new reality.

I have found that this is a matter of moment-by-moment and day-by-day choices of where we focus our attention. In reviewing my journal in recent days I see that words of gratitude, grace and thankfulness have replaced the nasty “D” words that once so dominated my thinking.

Obviously this is a long-term process, but it’s also a daily choice.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to counsel a man who had dealt with several addictive patterns in his life. He had successfully dealt with a serious gambling problem but wanted to go deeper and deal with other issues as they surfaced. He had learned in the recovery process that an addict is “chasing good feelings.” I had to admit in my own life that I was guilty of doing the same thing even thought I had never been into gambling or substance abuse.

I now see that God wants to give us great feelings. But the difference is that the great feelings are based on great realities – those of an eternal realm that will endure long beyond this beautiful but broken world we now inhabit.

I’m now convinced that good feelings are not an end in themselves but are a result of where we focus the center of our lives.

God’s desires for us include feelings of love and acceptance, of beauty, grace and mercy. These all flow from who we are and what we have in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He wants us to turn off the noise and give moment-by-moment attention to the new identity we have in Jesus that is not based on material possessions or on our status in society (or even the “Christian” community), and certainly not based on our personal performance.

If you will engage in this process with me you’ll also discover, as I have, that in this new pattern you will have much more time and energy to give to those around you who need your love, acceptance and availability.

By shifting our awareness of where our attention is focused we can become people who are growing strong in giving our energy to others who are of eternal value as well.

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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

 I face the temptation on a regular basis to think that I’m not personally responsible for the plight of people around me who are less fortunate than I. I’m grateful that I have experiences from time to time to rouse me out of my complacency and selfishness.

For some years now I adapt my weekly schedule to do some volunteer work at one of my local charity shops. I find the few hours a week I spend at the shop refreshing to my soul. It gets me out of my dusty routine and into the daily lives of many people that I might not otherwise meet during a given week.

Just this week while working at the shop’s “till” as we call it in Ireland, I was quite surprised to see a very destitute looking man enter the shop and begin to play with a child’s musical toy. I had only priced the toy at the value of three Euro some minutes before.

If I could only have had two free hours with this individual I would have gladly re-clothed his badly soiled garments, treated him to an hour bath and burned the filthy rags he was wearing. You could smell an individual like this coming from blocks away. He was that bad off!

After a few minutes of rummaging around the shop, he approached me at the till and asked if he could purchase the musical toy for a small girl who was with her mother in the shop. He inserted his filthy fingers into a long-worn pocket and found three Euro to complete the purchase. I left the receipt for the sale on the till as I guessed he wouldn’t be interested in it!

I admit that I have a strong tendency toward feeling entitled to more that I already have. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. It’s also very popular today to think that we should have the best of everything at reasonable prices and we should demand our rights if we don’t get what we want. Often I feel that I’m on the giving end far more than the receiving end, which is in fact, totally false.

The words of Jesus Christ, quoted above, come at the end of one of His many parables. In the parable, Jesus speaks of a faithful and wise manager who is entrusted with his Master’s possessions. The key is how the manager behaves, knowing he will one day be held to account for that which he has been entrusted. How the manager views the Master is the key to the parable. If the manager feels that there will not be a day of reckoning in the future, he can even go so far as to beat the Master’s servants and begin to believe that he will not be held to account for his actions.

There’s also an added precaution – the manager must face the reality of the trust he’s been given.  Those entrusted with more – more will be required of them.

Upon reflection, I find that even the most impoverished among us still have something to share with others. One person who is a most unlikely candidate for admiration, is still made in the image of God and can display generosity and kindness.

The reality is that I have been endowed with far more than I can ever imagine with grace, goods and gifts of many kinds. By one act of kindness, I’m reminded that I have been entrusted by my Master with infinite riches. The more I can manage to give the more I seem to gain. Perhaps He’s arranged it to work that way.

 

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“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” – Hebrews 2:10-11 (NIV)

As we get into the Christmas season, the days seem to go by rapidly with thoughts of shopping, cards, and preparations for our annual celebration and the end of another calendar year. We don’t often take time to reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and our personal stake in it all.

At Christmas we who are followers of Jesus are often aghast at how the world around us prepares for the season with a mad frenzy. However, we ourselves become so caught up in the process that we forget our own sins, failures and shortcomings that were actually the reason God chose to send His Son to redeem us. This is denial at the highest level.

We are all subject to denial. For years of my life I tried to avoid or admit to personal failure not realizing that by doing so I was standing in the way of my own transformation. I’m sure during that time I never missed a Christmas Celebration.

The news this year has been full of heartbreaking stories of the victims of war, refugee movements and other major calamities. We don’t have to look very far to see the depths to which humanity has fallen.

If we ever needed personal and societal redemption it certainly is now! However, I’m not sure that true transformation of heart and character can be genuine without failure and personal setbacks. It’s very much an enigma to me.

Even though Jesus Christ did not experience failure as a result of personal sin, as fully human He did identify with all of us in His sufferings. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that He was “made perfect” through His sufferings. And in doing so He invites us into His family! He accepts the broken, the wounded and suffering and dares to call us family – brother, and sisters.

There was something that would have been incomplete about the life and ministry of Jesus without suffering and setback. I think the same is true for us. There’s something incomplete about our own transformation without suffering and failure. I’d rather this wasn’t the case but now I see there is no other way.

Jesus Christ came into this dark, broken world to bring transformation to our lives. We don’t often realize it was because of our personal failure and brokenness that He came. We’d like to think that we are “pretty good and decent” people who try to do our best and don’t have to ask God for very much. It’s that very attitude that blocks our personal transformation.

Now for me, Christmas is a time to reflect on my own neediness and failure for which I have no answer other than the Incarnate Son of God and His work in my own life and soul. Without His redeeming work I’m stranded without transformation and my sin and failure have no redemptive value whatsoever.

Christmas should be a reminder to us all the God sent His Son into a broken world to transform it. It won’t happen through political movements or self-improvement programs. God’s plan is more personal and profound that we ever realize.

Whatever failure, setback or suffering has been part of this year for us we must remember that Jesus joins us in our deepest struggles and doesn’t shrink back from accepting us as brothers and sisters. When we surrender to Him even failure can be transforming if we allow its lessons to transform our hearts. That seems to be what God’s family is all about and I’m so grateful to be accepted into it – all because of Him.

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Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  – Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but for many years I had the fear that people would really find out that I was much more of a mess than I appeared.

I’ll never forget the day that I had to sit down before my family and close friends and admit to a string of failures that had spanned a number of years. Sparing the gory details, just believe me when I say I was a train wreck. Without realizing it, I was missing out on major sources of wholeness in my life – for many reasons. Among them was the fact that I was trying to be “the hero” as I call it, moving through life like a knight in shining armor while neglecting key relationships with those around me.

As I interact with people on a personal level more and more I see that people, especially men, are much more alike than we are different, at least when it comes to opening up about our fears, failures and imperfections. I realize that I’m speaking in generalities but I do see some consistent trends.

We men, in general, don’t like to admit that we have needs.

We men, in general, work hard to cover up fears, failure and imperfections so that others will think the best of us.

We men, in general, think that vulnerability is a sign of weakness and if we go there will make us even more of a failure than we think we already are.

Several years ago, through a God-ordained and defining experience of personal failure and brokenness I discovered just the opposite.

When I started to shed the cloak of “perfection” and began to more openly confess and admit my sin, failure and imperfection I actually discovered that people can be forgiving. They can be loving and accepting too.

It’s fascinating to me that true confession is actually getting the bad stuff out in the open so everyone, including myself, can say, “Yes, that’s horrible! But I love and forgive you. I know the bad stuff is not the real you!”

One of my first experiences of confession outside of my closest family members came when I asked to see a couple with whom my wife and I had come to know very well. I was almost certain when I walked into their home that it might be the last time I would ever enter their door. After they heard what I had to say that might, in my thinking, be the last time they would ever talk to me. Confession was on my heart and rejection was my expectation.

To my amazement, after hearing my broken, heartfelt confession my friends embraced me in a way I had never experienced before. Their response was just the opposite of what I was expecting.

I stumbled reluctantly into the reality that humility and vulnerability hold the key to the door of forgiveness and restoration.

Really, we don’t relate well to people who are fake – trying to make others believe they are something other than who they are.

As I’ve lived with this new lease on life for some years now I see that I grew up with a perspective that some counselors call “splitting.” It’s the idea that internally we “split” ourselves, others and the world into “all good” or “all bad.” This perspective will not endure reality over time. The very best of us have badness and imperfection all mixed together and it’s reflected in our world as well.

Since we all have failings and imperfections, why not admit to them? I have found that to be healthy and whole I have to live this way.

The verse quoted above from the Apostle Paul is an instruction to people of faith in Jesus to be kind, compassionate and forgiving. It’s not a suggestion! It’s a command based on what Jesus has already done for all mankind. The perfect man gave His life for completely imperfect people. How can we follow Him without confessing our sin to others, asking for their forgiveness and forgiving them?

In order to pull this off we need to have communities of people who express faith in Jesus and follow Him to be modeling this – daily! That’s a challenge to me, but it’s a challenge to you as well. We need environments of grace and relationships of trust in order to make this work, but that’s another subject!

What are you hiding today and from whom? What do you fear that someone close to you might find out about you? What are you not disclosing to a friend or family member?

What I didn’t know was that what I was hiding with the greatest passion could actually lead to greater wholeness and happiness in my life if I only would admit to failure as a starting point.

When I started taking more steps toward vulnerability in my own life, carefully exposing my failures to trusted friends and family and dropping my “appearance” of arrogance and perfection, I found people to be much more forgiving and accepting than I realized.

Humility and vulnerability truly hold the key to the door labelled “forgiveness.”

I’m certainly never going get everything right and I’ll never be perfect in this life. But I can say that greater wholeness of life came home to my heart when my imaginary “knight in shining armor” got down off of his horse and started seeking grace and forgiveness. It’s freely available to the humble of heart.

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“’So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’  But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’” Exodus 3:10-11 (NIV)

One of my earliest childhood memories, of which there are many, is that of constructing a home-made bomb that I nearly threw at a neighbor’s house.

I must have been around five or six years old at the time. One day our neighbors across the street had unexpected company and as a result I wasn’t being invited in to play with their children that day. It really messed up my plans! I got so mad that I thought I would construct my own bomb and throw it at their house!

The idea actually came from a television show that we had watched as a family some days prior to this. I can’t recall the name of the show but the lead character was being stalked by the bad guys on an island. To defend himself he found some gunpowder and rags and stuffed them in a hollow gourd he found in an old shed. Covering a strip of the cloth in gunpowder as a fuse the bomb was complete!

I followed my television counterpart by finding a small glass jar with a lid. I stuffed strips of cloth and soaked them in lighter fluid my father had for his cigarette lighter. The bomb came complete with a fuse which I was ready to light when my parents caught me looking for matches. Fortunately disaster was averted and my punishment was swift! Discipline was administered soundly in those days although I do recall my parents being more merciful than just!

Looking back on the experience, on the positive side it took real creativity, initiative, planning, and bravery to pull that off that stunt.  But you could also call my actions childish, selfish, stupid, cruel, and yes – evil!

That was my first and last experience of constructing bombs, although I grew quite fond of fireworks! Fortunately my life has not been defined by that mistake. However, since that time I have made other major blunders, mistakes and even evil practices that could so easily define me. I’m sure the same could be said about you.

In the passage quoted above God appears to Moses as He speaks from a bush that continues burning. It’s one of the most critical passages in all of Scripture where God commissions the His new leader of the nation Israel. Moses will go on to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt through the wilderness right to the brink of the Promised Land, a journey which will last for forty years. There are many things that define the life of Moses and his faithful leadership of His people under God’s direction. He’s known as one of Israel’s greatest leaders.

It’s not often that we reflect on the fact that Moses is also a murderer who some years earlier had killed an Egyptian slave, hid him in the sand and then fled to Midian. We tend to focus more on Moses’ identity as a chosen leader rather than a murderer but somehow in God’s economy there is room for both.

A significant lesson here that continues throughout Scripture is that God is continually redeeming people, especially in their sins and failures, and using them for His own powerful purposes.

Upon hearing God’s voice Moses first response was, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Neither God nor Moses make any mention whatsoever about the murder incident that is recorded just a few verses earlier, although it may have occurred around forty years previously. I wonder if Moses, after all those years still felt unworthy of such a role as God had for him.

Whatever we think of our sins, failures and shortcomings, either our own or others, it’s important that we don’t allow them to define or control us. I think God showed Moses and every generation since then that failure need not be final but even in our failure God can bring us on to a better place if we allow Him to do His work in and through us.

The lesson for us is to believe in ourselves and others despite their failures. And more importantly to believe in our Lord and Maker who in His Son Jesus is bringing redemption and restoration to all who turn to Him in faith.

If the Bible’s record is accurate – and I believe it is – it’s good to know that if there’s a second chance for murderers there must be many more chances for all of us. Yes, even for childhood explosive experts!


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