Sunday, November 25, 2012

What If...

Due to the twists & turns I have seen in my life this year, the questions of "what if" have plagued me over the last few months - and especially in recent weeks. Questions such as, What if I would have done this differently? What if I would have said this instead of that? What if I would have been more disciplined in this area? What if... and the list goes on. I continue to catch myself consumed with thoughts of a hypothetical nature; wondering if tweaking a few things here & there in my past would find me in a completely different place in life today. If I could just revisit those days & moments of regret and do them all over again, what would my life look like now?

And not only the regrets & moments specifically connected to my current situation, but I've also had these "what if" thoughts about some of the biggest failures & sins in my life in general. It seems to be a pattern in my life that whenever I feel like I'm gaining ground in my walk with Christ & experience a true closeness with God, the sins & epic failures of my past start to pop up in my mind & make me feel like the last thing I deserve to do is talk to a holy I tend to stop praying for a period of time and stop reading His Word - and this pattern is all fueled by shame, regret, and disgust with myself. Sometimes for recent sins I've committed, but most of the time this is brought on by the regrets of my past. If only I could go back & just re-live these moments & "do better," there's no doubt I would be in a better place today & everything in my life would be great...right?

Well...maybe - because there are consequences for our different sins & actions. But then again...maybe not. Maybe if I was able to go back & say or do something differently, or if I went back & made wiser choices in my biggest moments of failure, I would be in a completely different situation in my life. Or, maybe if I did all those things differently, my life would still look exactly the same. Who can really know for sure? But one thing is for sure: I can't do a single thing about anything I've already done. Nothing. I can't change or take back a single word I've ever said, I can't change or take back a single action I've ever done. No matter how much I consume my thoughts with "what if," the truth is I can't do anything about it. I honestly believe this is one of Satan's most successful strongholds in the lives of believers - looking back. Regret. Memories of failure. If there's one thing that can either bring our walk with Christ to a screeching halt, or prevent us from serving, sharing our faith,'s our past.

And this is why I titled my blog Don't Look Back...because this is obviously something I've deeply struggled with, and I need to daily remind myself that my focus can't be in the past - but it has to be forward. And the words of Paul in Philippians 3 are so perfect for the "what if" questions that plague all of us. The whole chapter is great of course, but specifically verses 13-14. Paul reveals that his singular, daily goal involves "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead." The fact that the apostle Paul is the one who writes this carries extreme significance to me. What was his singular, daily goal when he wasn't known as Paul, but as the Jewish dude named Saul? To track down & murder Christians. He was the most well-known (and successful, at that) persecutor of Christ's church (when Jesus appeared to Saul, He actually accuses Saul of persecuting Christ Himself). If there was someone who undoubtedly struggled with the "what if" questions, it had to be Paul. But he also realized that there was nothing he could do about them. Instead of dwelling on past regrets or failures, he chose to "strain forward to what lies ahead."

I know what you're's impossible to literally forget the past. God kinda gave us this thing called a memory. Warren Wiersbe sheds some light on this idea: "forgetting those things which are behind does not suggest an impossible feat of mental and psychological gymnastics by which we try to erase the sins and mistakes of the past. It simply means that we break the power of the past by living for the future. We cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning of the past. There were things in Paul's past that could have been weights to hold him back, but they became inspirations to speed him ahead. The events did not change, but his understanding of them changed." I know for a fact that this is not an easy thing to do. For those of you who have actually read this far, YOU know that this is not an easy thing to do. But that's why Paul describes this as "straining" forward, and in verses 12 & 14 as "pressing on." It's a daily. struggle. But just as with any other struggle, we never have to do it alone, and God offers grace & mercy to help in time of need (I just need to remember to seek that help more often). I truly believe that if I (or all of us) could remember this one truth, our past wouldn't come back to "haunt" us near as much...and here it is: just as it is impossible for us to do any one or amount of good works to earn favor with God or to affect our standing with Him; the same is true that it is impossible for us to fail so big or so much that it will affect our standing with Him. Once I place my faith & trust in Christ for the forgiveness of my sins, God forever sees the righteousness of Christ when He looks at me. Wow.

I heard a song on the radio today that I've heard probably over 100 times, but because of all of these "what if" thoughts that have been chasing me down lately, the song took on such a deeper meaning to me. It's the song "You Are More" by Tenth Avenue North. If you have never heard the song, you can listen to it here. But I want to type out the chorus because it fits so well:

You are more than the choices that you've made
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes
You are more than the problems that you create
You've been remade.

The "what if" questions don't matter. I can't change yesterday. But Jesus Christ died & rose again so that He could transform my today and tomorrow. Don't look back. Strain forward. Press on.

Monday, November 19, 2012

"In This You Rejoice"

I recently finished reading through Psalms, and so I decided to start making my way through the book of 1 Peter. Not exactly sure why, or what led me to this particular book...but after I finished reading the first 9 verses, it was pretty clear that it was not a "coincidence" that I ended up there.

The first 5 verses are nothing short of amazing. Some of the greatest theological truths & reasons for hope are so tightly packed within this short passage of Scripture! Peter talks about our new birth through the great mercy of God, and the hope we have because of the resurrection of Christ; he talks about the "imperishable, unfading inheritance" we have waiting for us in eternity...and then he caps it all off (or so I initially thought) at the beginning of verse 6 with "in this you rejoice." So naturally, I paused to think about the incredible truths I had just read & was reminded of. What an incredible God - His mercy gave me a chance at new life, a hope for life after death, and an eternal inheritance that is waiting for me! How awesome is that? Of course I can follow the first part of verse 6 & rejoice in that - that's easy! So, being all charged up, I picked up where I left off, finished verse 6 & read through verse 7...and there it was. The "T" word. Trials. what is Peter trying to say here? Am I supposed to "rejoice" in the incredible grace & mercy of God that is laid out in the first 5 verses...or am I supposed to "rejoice" in trials because they test the genuineness of my faith? Well, after putting this together with James 1:2-4 I'm pretty sure now that the answer isn't one or the other, but simply "Yes." And to be honest, I definitely wasn't nearly as charged up about this passage anymore. I'm not going to lie...the last thing I want to do right now (and over the last 6 months) is "rejoice" in my trial. I just don't want to. This sounds really weird, but one of the first things I think about when I read the word "rejoice" is that little kids' Sunday school song we used to sing as a round back in the day. "Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice" - repeated over & over, with high-pitched little kid voices, while smiling from ear to ear. No thanks. When it comes to my "trial" right now, I honestly want no part of that. For some reason, I'd rather sit & just...pout, really. I find myself choosing to remind myself of how much I have been hurt; how my life looks so much differently now than it did just 6 months ago; how there are things that I had that were involuntarily ripped away from me & that it was "not fair." To be brutally honest, the more I thought about these verses, I literally became angry. Who has time to rejoice when there is so much pain to try & swim through?

But as I kept reading through these verses multiple times - and even now as I'm writing my thoughts out - I can see that I had completely missed the point of what Peter and James were trying to convey to their original audience. Neither one of them are telling me that I need to rejoice in the trial itself. I'm not being told I need to force myself to be happy that I'm currently going through the hardest situation & circumstance that I've ever faced in my life. We aren't expected to jump for joy when we get an unexpected diagnosis, or when we get a call in the middle of the night about the loss of a loved one...we aren't supposed to throw a party when we find ourselves in the middle of a financial crisis, etc. In fact, Peter even recognizes that trials are hard when he says that "you have been grieved by various trials." He uses the analogy of gold being tested by fire - would it ever be pleasant to stand in a fire? As I was reading a commentary on this passage, I found this statement by Dr. Warren Wiersbe: "To deny that our trials are painful is to make them even worse. Christians must accept the fact that there are difficult experiences in life and not put on a brave front just to appear 'more spiritual'."  Even Jesus responded to grief & disappointment by visibly weeping.

So if the point is not to rejoice in the trial itself, what am I supposed to rejoice in? Well, it's the end result...that I can't see yet. See, what Peter is saying in verse 7 is that if I cling to God's grace through my trial & remain faithful to Him as He carries me through, I will bring "praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Wow. Think about that. I will bring praise & glory to my Savior when He returns if I just simply rely on Him to get me through the crappiest times of life. It's all about reflecting the praise back to Him - He wants to be there & help His children through the most difficult points in life...and if we let Him, that immediately reflects the honor & glory right back to Him, where it belongs. When I think again about the analogy Peter uses of gold in a fire - a goldsmith would never waste any of his precious gold by throwing it in a fire if he wasn't 100% sure that the finished product would be exponentially better off. And so it has to be the same with us - God would never allow me to walk through a fire in life if it didn't somehow make me better & bring Him glory. Wiersbe says this: "It has been said that the Eastern goldsmith kept the metal in the furnace until he could see his face reflected in it. So our Lord keeps us in the furnace of suffering until we reflect the glory and beauty of Jesus Christ."

Is that hard to remember & think about in the midst of the flames? Yep. It's a daily struggle. But I'm reminded of the lyrics in a song from Tenth Avenue North that says, "If You promised pain, it can't be meaningless." this week of Thanksgiving...I will try very hard to remember that it's "In this you rejoice" - in the incredible blessings that God has poured out on me through His Son Jesus Christ, but ALSO that somehow through this fiery trial, He is preparing me for something greater.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is it "Un-Christian" to Question God?

Before this year, I could look back and say that I never really had to face any sort of tragedy or extreme trial in my life. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with godly parents, I have 2 sisters that I have always gotten along great with, and my entire school experience all the way through college was void of any major problems or setbacks. I've never had to face an unexpected death in our family, I've never had to navigate through unemployment or a foreclosure. Before this year, I could basically look back over my life and say that my faith had never truly been tested on a major level. Life had always been ... good.

About 6 months ago, however, that pattern came to a crashing halt as I was blindsided with news I never thought I'd hear. Devastating, life-changing news. The specifics of the situation don't matter, but it will suffice to say that I've never felt as much like my heart was literally being ripped from my chest as I did in that moment, and in the days, weeks, and months to come. All of a sudden, the path of my easy-going, seemingly picture-perfect life had veered down into the lowest, darkest valley I had ever entered. For the first time in my life, my faith was truly being tested.

I wanted nothing more than to hand in my test & settle for an "incomplete" grade. I couldn't believe what was taking place in my life, and I quickly began to blame the person I concluded was primarily at fault: God. "How could You let this happen? ... If You are sovereign, how can this possibly be part of Your 'plan' for my life ... Why aren't You solving this problem? Don't You know how many people are praying about this? Can't You see how difficult this is for me? Do You even care?!?" Those are just a few of the accusations and questions I lobbed at Him. Unfortunately, I can tell you that it got to the point where I just stopped praying altogether. I decided that if this was part of God's 'plan' was for my life, I wanted nothing to do with Him or His plan. I wanted Him out of my life forever. (Since this is already a super long post, I will just say that He didn't let me walk away from Him, praise God! He used very dear people in my life to keep me from jumping off of a "spiritual cliff," and for that I am very thankful & do not wish to think about where I would be today if that wasn't the case). However, even once I was back in His Word and seeking His guidance, I still found myself questioning God on occasion. So many "why's" and "how's" and "when's." 

Every time I caught myself in this mode, I immediately felt very guilty. I felt like such a failure of a Christian to allow myself to get to the point of questioning God. I just recently finished reading through the book of Psalms, and time after time the different authors talk about how God is our refuge, He is our Rock, with Him I should never be afraid - you know, all of that Psalm stuff...which was always incredibly applicable & encouraging...but there is one Psalm that stuck out to me the most when I first read it. It was a huge encouragement & it has given me one of the biggest "light-bulb-moments" I've ever had. 

Psalm 13. David wrote this Psalm. 4 of the 6 verses are spent questioning God. That's 66% of an entire "chapter" in the Bible. I know what you might be thinking - "Well, David wrote that while Saul was constantly trying to kill him, so that's different." But you know what hit me after reading this Psalm a few times? The Holy Spirit of God inspired David to write down that he was questioning God. (This wasn't the only time either). Why would God direct David to permanently record himself questioning Him, and multiple times at that? Are you ready for this? Because He knew that we would do the same thing when we faced trials. And it's ok. 

So are we a failure of a Christian when we question God? Is it "Un-Christian" to do so? I say no ... because even though we are born-again believers, we are still human. I think we might be somewhat numb to the "sin-nature" expression, so I will try to put this a different way. Did you know that it is in our very nature to hate God? To resist Him with all of our being? To consider Him our enemy? The first 3 chapters of Romans use the same language! This is the kind of struggle & internal war we have going on as believers! (Romans 7) But here's the key to my whole "light-bulb" moment:

First, I want to be clear & clarify that I'm not "excusing" any sin just because we have a sin nature (I also don't believe David's questioning of God in Psalm 13 was sinful). I'm also not saying that every time something unfortunate happens in my life I should question my all-knowing, all-powerful, sovereign Creator. But what I am saying is this:  I honestly believe that sometimes we have to get to the point in life where we are so distraught - so tired of the struggle, so fed up with all the "noise" of life - that we start questioning God. Why? Because that might be the only time we will actually be at the point where we literally have nowhere else to look but Him - where we are willing to let God show us Himself like we've never let Him before. Sometimes it takes a disastrous storm to wreak havoc in our life for us to finally just be still & know that He is God. 

One thing is for sure: every time we question God, He will respond. Sometimes He might give us a much-needed kick in the pants like He gave Job. But other times He will respond with a peace that surpasses all understanding; a reassurance that He does know what He's doing. That He does hear my cries, He does understand my hurt & my pain, He does have a plan through the wreckage - and it's ultimately for my good & HIS glory. The latter is what David heard at the end of Psalm 13, and it is the same reassuring answer I have been able to cling to as well: 

"But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Blog? ... Really??

"A Blog? ... Really?" - This is what I kept saying to myself every time the idea popped back up in my head. I've thought about starting one of these for a while now, but ultimately kept deciding against it. I usually would end up at arguments such as, "You're too are terrible at keeping things short & sweet." Or, "What do you really have to say that anyone would ever want to read about?" (That was usually the main argument, really). Well...I don't really have a legitimate counter to either of those, but I guess I finally came up with a few reasons to start "blogging" that outweighed the prior arguments.

1.  My Current Situation: 6 months ago, I started working from home. While the advantages of working from home significantly outweigh the disadvantages, it also means I have zero physical human interaction during my work day. On top of that, I have recently been through some very difficult life circumstances that have left me with endless hours of "alone time." Put this all together, and that means that on any given day I have very little to no human interaction. I feel like creating a blog will give me at least a sense that I'm "interacting" with people. (Don't doesn't make much sense to me either, but just go with it).

2.  Time to Think:  Based on my previously described situation, I have a lot of time to think. A lot of time. A lot of thinking. Sometimes it's profitable, sometimes it's dangerous, and sometimes it just turns into a giant pity party for myself. I feel like instead of continuously holding everything in every day, I should try & articulate some of my thoughts in this type of forum. This goes back to the "Will anyone even read this" question I keep asking myself. The answer: most likely not. But I have come to the conclusion that this will probably end up being more "therapeutic" for my sake, and if someone else somehow benefits from reading my thoughts one day, then that's pretty cool too.

3.  Transparency:  I really think this has almost become a bad word for Christ-followers. Church has sadly become a place where we show up and try for 1 day a week to convince everyone around us that we are "Super-Christians" and that we have it all together. I have reached a breaking point in my life where I just can't do that any longer. And if we were all honest with each other, and followed Galatians 6:2 (Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ), we would share our personal struggles with each other & experience true fellowship in the body of Christ as we encourage one another & hold each other up in prayer. This is what I really want this "blog" to being transparent in my walk with Christ. I want to be honest, and I don't know - maybe encourage others to know that it's ok to struggle. It's ok to fail, to question God at times (that's not a typo)'s ok to not "have it all together." But that's why we have this infinite safety net called grace that we can fall into & that's why we have an incredible Savior who picks us back up & reminds us- not to "try harder," but to look harder at Him.

So go ahead & start reading my posts ... or don't :)