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Failure

Failure and Succeeding at Things That Don’t Matter

What are you wonderfully failing at? I will ask this question again as surely you must be thinking you misread my opening line. What are you failing at? This is a question that I myself have wrestled with time and time again. However, after reading a quote by Bob Goff, author of the remarkably well-written book Love Does, I got a fresh perspective on this not so popular topic: failure. He concludes, “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I am more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” This quote hit like an arrow, straight to the heart. You see, I tend to get hung up on the first part of the quote: failing at something that matters to me. My guess is that I may not be the only one who lives with this burden and the ongoing pressure that comes from the need for approval and success. Yet, what about succeeding at the wrong things, isn’t that far more dangerous to the soul?

So I ask again, what are you failing at? Are you failing at a relationship with a loved one, a friendship, a job, a dream, finances, priorities, faith or another unmentionable roadblock that makes you pound your fists on the steering wheel as the GPS of life recalculates all your shortcomings? Personally, I have been there so many times, lost and devastated by the realization that I was failing, yet again, after so much effort was put forth. The truth is, man wasn’t made to be a punching bag and thus, failing should never knock you off your feet for long. Yet, how does any man have the determination to try, try, and then try yet again? The harsh reality is that some people do not recover from their failures, while others use their failures to propel them further ahead for the long-haul of life. Life requires the willpower to continue moving forward. God requires this too. After all, through failure and reliance on Him comes the character that only God Himself can bring beauty out of. I have come to see that while everyone loves success, a far greater man embraces failure. Likewise, Bob Goff takes it a step further when he reasons that it is better to fail and remain passionate, than to succeed in the wrong areas and not know that the triumph was pointless. It may be a blow to the ego to fail at something that matters, but to succeed and pat yourself on the back for the meaningless things in life is far worse. This, of course, reminds me of a story.

Paul, a Roman citizen and rather successful Jesus hater, radically changed the direction of his life when God intervened on the Road to Damascus. He went from succeeding in the wrong things to transforming millions of lives – a true way to measure success. Well, Paul was no stranger to listening to the voice of God, which in Acts 16:9-10 came to him through a vision:

“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

As the story moves along, we see that a woman named Lydia receives the Lord and opens her house to Paul and Silas. All is off to a successful start! Yet, the story is about to take an unexpected turn. As they are making their long trek, Paul’s second missionary journey from Jerusalem to Greece, they stopped along the way to minister to those the Holy Spirit led them to. One of these people happened to be a female slave who claimed to be a fortune teller. The Scripture tells us that this nameless woman was rather good at her profession and earned an abundance of money (talk about succeeding at the wrong things in life). Paul was bold in his faith and cast out the demons which possessed her. However, this angered the owners who were profiting off of this young slave girl. Next thing you know, Paul and Silas are being beaten for doing what God willed them to do and for following His guidance towards their end destination of Macedonia. Can you imagine being physically beaten for following God’s plan? This could have very easily felt like an absolute failure, but the reality was that God was about to turn what appeared to be a loss into a great victory. I am sure you have heard what happens next in the story. Paul and Silas are put into jail and they decided that instead of asking questions, complaining, or even becoming angry at God, that they would praise Him. Their lowest point, in what probably felt like a huge failure, became a moment of unfathomable success.  What if Paul and Silas had decided to just go through the city streets and tell nice looking people, “God bless you.” Sure, it may have felt like a success as people smiled, but would it have been what God would have called true success? Perhaps, playing it safe for temporary success is what Bob Goff would have considered pointless, more about a feel good moment than impactful Holy Spirit-led win.

The truth is, often times we look at life in the present moment and we forget that God sees the full story of what He is doing in our lives. This was the case with Paul and Silas.  Through their obedience, God displayed His glory and an entire family’s life was changed as Scripture indicates that the jailer and his whole family were saved. That was only made possible because Paul and Silas were willing to take what could have been considered a failed moment and instead allowed God make use of it. So, next time you look at your successes, measure them on how God sees them. Likewise, the next time you dismiss your failures, ask God if He could use them for more than a fleeting moment of sadness and instead, make a lasting Kingdom-building impact out of them.

Guilty

User Submission: Forgiving the Guilty

The following is a submission from a user like you. Emily shared her incredible story so that it might touch the hearts and lives of our readers. If you would like to share your own story, you can do so here

For as long as I can remember I have always found healing in writing. It’s how I process emotions and a whirlwind of overwhelming situations – situations that seems to weigh so heavy on one’s heart that it shakes their faith to the core.

Because I had many stories with situations like that to share, I began writing my book last September. I had been brainstorming for three years before I actually sat down to write it. More than anything, I wanted to be as honest and as open as I possibly could. It truly was a healing process for me as I reached back into the recesses of my mind to share very personal stories about my life – stories that would glorify my King, Jesus, and point others straight to Him and the miraculous transforming power of salvation, healing, and deliverance.

Although I openly discuss many things that the Lord helped me overcome, mostly sexual sin and rebellion, there is a particular occurrence that strengthened my faith more than anything I could have ever imagined. I find myself needing to talk about it today, knowing deep down in my soul that no matter how dark, tragic, or extremely sad it may be, Jesus has turned beauty from these ashes and will receive glory from it because what the devil meant for evil, the Lord has and will continue to turn around for good!

Last week, I found out that the man who murdered my father five and a half years ago was given a guilty sentence. He will serve up to 45 years in prison as a punishment for his actions.  And while most people are shouting: “That man should burn in hell!” I am preaching, “You MUST forgive!”  because I know the severity of holding onto the wrongs that others have done to us. My friends, it is simply not worth it.

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

Although I made a CHOICE to forgive the man who took my dad’s life right after it happened, I wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts after reading the articles describing the horrendous acts of murder that turned my world upside down in November of 2008. Seeing the photo of this man, as he was escorted by two police officers out of the courtroom, his stone cold eyes looking straight back at me, made my stomach churn. My heart was pierced and so many different emotions rose up in me.

Avoiding traumatic thoughts and emotions was the main reason I chose not to follow the murder case as the years went on. Immediately, I chose to forgive and move on with both my life with Christ and my now husband. I did not want to live in the trauma. It wasn’t that I didn’t love or miss my dad terribly.  It was because dwelling on all of this wicked and demonically influenced tragedy would never bring my dad back.  I knew that justice belonged ONLY in the hands of the Lord.  Most of all, I longed for that man to repent of what he did and find a life-changing relationship with my Jesus like I had found. I still pray for that to this day.

I can’t say that I have found the strength to pray a prayer like this from soley within myself. My strength does come from within though, but it is the power and might of the Holy Spirit who has given it to me. My life verse from the Bible will forever hold true, and I will never stop standing upon the promise of Philippians 4:13: “I can do ALL THINGS through CHRIST who strengthens me.” I’m so thankful for that promise.

Jesus will never abandon me. Although, my earthly father is gone, I have a Heavenly Father who loves me more than anyone could. I cling to Him when the storms of life try to overtake me, for He is my anchor of hope. I cling to and stand upon His Word that is full of promises – promises of His love, mercy, and grace, for He is my Rock and firm foundation. I cling to my Jesus and the voice of His Holy Spirit, for He is the One who gives me strength and courage to endure every trial I could ever face. No matter how dark life may get, know that when you trust in Jesus, and you hide your life in Him, you have a Light within you that shines so brightly it will overtake all of the darkness.

Passion

A Relationship of Passion

No one likes being ignored.  Personally, as I’m sure many of you have also experienced, I have been lied to, stolen from, cursed, demeaned, cheated, and even physically harassed – but I would willingly go through any of those abuses over being ignored or treated with deliberate indifference.  When someone ignores you with an intent to wound, that is the ultimate offense (at least receiving some kind of abuse means being confronted by your abuser).

In the long history of God’s relationship with humankind we are most guilty of the sin of indifference toward God.  He so loves us and is so eager to draw us into His eternal presence that He calls we who are His people, His church, His bride and He loves us as a perfect husband.  In Ephesians 5:25, one of the Bible’s most misused and abused passages, Paul describes the love of God through Jesus in just such terms:

“For husbands, this means love your wives just as Christ loved the church.  He gave us His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” (NLT)

That is the depth of God’s love for us, but we have not reciprocated that love.  Rather, we have looked the love of God in the face and turned away indifferently, ignoring the most magnificent potential relationship in the cosmos.

God calls out this indifference directly in Ezekiel 16:30-32,

“What a sick heart you have, says the Sovereign Lord, to do such things as these, acting like a shameless prostitute.  You build your pagan shrines on every street corner and your alters to idols in every square.  In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment.  Yes, you are an adulterous wife who takes in strangers instead of her own husband.”

These are the harsh words of God who is the scorned lover of all of humanity, ultimately and shamelessly ignored by creatures on whom He has poured his lavish and unashamed love.

And yet, God’s perfect love remains constant in the face of our indifference – God is always faithful where we are faithless.  Romans 8 tells us nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, so what ought to be our response to this love?  Contrary to first consideration, the opposite of indifference or to ignoring a pursuer, is not mere acknowledgement but passion.  Jesus calls us not merely to believe in Him, but to follow Him wherever He goes (Matthew 9:9).  A relationship with God through Jesus is not one of simple intellectual acknowledgement, but is intended to be one of infinite passion – to love the Lord Your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Anything less than our all, Jesus tells us is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37).

So if you find yourself constantly playing the prostitute with God, looking to other things for love while completely ignoring His, the only solution is a complete turning to God and running after Him with ultimate passion.  As James 4:8 reminds us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

Have you ever given deep though to what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 5:5,

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”

You see, being meek is simply not valued in the 21st century. It is not a character trait that parents try to instill in their children. Yet, Jesus holds up meekness as a character trait that is to be valued and one that God rewards. A large part of the reason for this negative reaction to meekness has to be rooted in a false understanding of what meekness really means. Meekness has the dubious distinction of sounding far too much like weakness. What we need to understand from the start is that meekness has nothing at all to do with weakness. Meekness is much more about humbly knowing your place as you stand before God. I love this quote from Matthew Henry,

“The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men”

If you can stand before God knowing that you are a sinner who has nothing in yourself to commend you to God, yet also knowing that you are deeply loved by God and made in His image, then you can stand humbly with dignity.

So much of the violence and strife between people rests in the desire for respect. How often have you heard of violence being justified because someone felt “disrespected”? When people are shamed, ridiculed, put down or otherwise written off, there is a natural reaction to fight. People who do not fight back, or assert their rights, are viewed as weak. Yet look at Jesus and look at his journey to the cross. He did not fight back even though He had ten thousand angels waiting for him to simply say the word. He did not assert His rights even though the trial he endured was as unjust and illegal as they come. He did not cry out in protest even though His very words carried the power to bring the entire charade to a crashing halt. In spite of His refusal to respond, Jesus was anything but weak. He was meek in the best sense of the word, but He was also in that moment the strongest person on the planet. He had the strength to give His life for the very people who were shouting insults and pounding the nails. That kind of strength and courage only comes to those who have a humility that places the needs of others above their own.

How did Jesus do that? He understood who He was and what His relationship was to the Father. He was confident in His position before God. He was not boastful about it. In fact, He humbly set aside all notion of leveraging that relationship for His own benefit. But because of His love for the Father, and for people, Jesus meekly went to the cross.

But did he inherit the earth? Oh that and much more. In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians we are told that He has received a name above all names and that at the name of Jesus every knee will bend and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Jesus has received the place of honor on the throne of the universe and all will worship Him and give glory to the Father forever.

If you recognize that you are poor in spirit (what I call being spiritually bankrupt) and that recognition leads you to mourn your sin, then you will be humbled as you stand before God. You will know that you have nothing to bring and must fully rely on the grace of God. That meekness will also give you the strength to put others before yourself. The reward of such meekness is that the world, and all that is in it, really is yours. It is your inheritance for eternity. Jesus said that no matter what we have given up to follow Him we will have fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and homes and blessings beyond measure.

Meekness is not weakness, it is a humble strength that comes from a knowledge of our sin and at the same time our acceptance by God our Father.

Spiritual Trash

Spiritual Trash

I have a confession to make….there is one household chore that I refuse to do. I try my best to contribute whenever I can, but this one thing falls on my husband… every time. What is this nasty chore that I wholeheartedly hate to do?  It’s a little thing called taking out the trash. Perhaps I am being a little dramatic, but the intoxicating smell of rotting old food makes my stomach turn.  I am thankful for the new Febreze trash bags, but honestly, they can only mask so much of the odor! Keep in mind, I live in the always sunny, forever warm, Florida – so the trash gets an extra boost during the summer months.  You are probably wondering by now though why I am ranting about something that everyone has to do….take out the trash. The reality is we would never dream about letting all of our physical trash remain in our house for weeks or months on end, but I would argue that we do this unknowingly when it comes to our insides. Sure, we put fast food and over processed carbohydrates in our systems, but I am speaking in a matter of the spiritual trash that we allow to rot and fester in our lives.  When was the last time you took out your spiritual trash? 

Back in the day I was a new, bright-eyed, ambitious youth leader and I had the great idea to test out this ‘theory’ with a bunch of good-hearted teenagers. I proudly announced, “Kids, this week we are going to take out the trash,” (as I carried in make believe trash bags stuffed with pillows). Let me tell you, I was in for quite the surprise. The challenge for all the kids was a week of taking out the trash in their spiritual lives. Every student was given a journal and they had to record everything that they digested that could possibly be poisoning their systems. The lists were long, to say the least, ranging from perverse music, to TV shows, to language that they heard daily and had become immune to at school. Some of the teens journals were pages upon pages for each day of that rather long week. However,  I wasn’t there to become their personal conviction – that can only come from the Holy Spirit.  Nor, was I there to point the finger, because I too decided to take out the trash in my own life and my list was just as long! It was a harsh wake-up call for us all.

So here’s where the challenge is passed on to you. First let me start by answering some questions that our flesh loves to ask in order to counter our spiritual need for purity:

Is this necessary?

This is vitally important as we honor God. Our bodies are His temple and we must realize that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth does speak. We are all filled with impurities that stop us from living correctly and we must attack these issues head on so that the enemy will not cause us to stumble. After all, who wants their life to smell like trash?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ Romans 12:2

Because of the fallen world we live in, is it possible to do this without becoming a hermit?

I am not going to lie, living life right is difficult and everyone has their own burdens to release at the foot of the cross. Most of the things we intake are not allowing us to be transformed but rather conformed. Yet, nothing is worse than living in denial. Nothing is worse than covering up layers upon layers of sins that rot away at our souls, without ever taking the time to clean up. It’s a clever trick that the enemy loves to play when you feel trapped by all of your sins (the trash in your life) without feeling God’s sovereign love and forgiveness that wants to cleanse you completely. There is freedom in taking out the trash.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Can I even do this exercise without feeling guilty and constantly falling short?

The reality is that even when we focus on this ‘exercise’ we will be reminded of just how tragic our shortcomings are. This sheds light on all of our fleshly cravings and all of our weak temptations towards sin. Paul was no stranger to this, especially when he spoke about doing the very things he shouldn’t do and not doing the things he knew he should do. In fact, it was a constant battle for him to choose God’s will over his desires and this is the Apostle Paul! So be encouraged, because Paul was constantly coming up short, just like we do, and he was in a constant state of preaching God’s good news.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

I encourage you to meditate on God’s word as you clean your life from its hazardous materials. Don’t be afraid to allow other strong Christians to keep you accountable, and remember to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. There is no shame in admitting that this will be challenging and there is no condemnation when you are striving to honor God. He will honor your efforts and give you the strength you need when your flesh is weak. So, perhaps we should all go do my most dreaded chore. Let’s all go take out the trash knowing that when we do this, we will begin to look a little less like our filthy former selves and a little more like the God we love and serve.

Psalm 23

Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd

There is a famous psalm written by David that, if written in today, would be Christian music’s number one hit – a multi-platinum recording. Its Psalm 23 and perhaps you have heard of its lyrics? There can be no question that this song beautifully expresses the goodness of trusting in a personal shepherd. I understand that a shepherd probably holds very little weight for those of you reading this in your busy city or quiet suburban hometown. So, let’s modernize this reference that David, and later Jesus, used. Instead of calling the main character a good shepherd, lets exchange it for the word ‘bodyguard.’ The idea of a constant protector is what David was communicating and David, a once shepherd-boy turned mighty king, understood the importance in taking care of helpless animals. David also knew that the Lord was faithful in providing and watching over him.

Can we echo this response when we find ourselves running or hiding in metaphorical caves? Can we echo this when we feel forgotten or lost? Hopefully, we aren’t only proclaiming the following words found in Psalm 23 when life is working in our favor. For the truth is, these words can produce the most power in our lives when we feel the very weakest. Let’s take a look at each well chosen lyric to further understand David’s words to God:

 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

There is truly so much wisdom to be gained from these verses, especially when we attempt to discover God in our lowest of moments, calling Him our forever Lord. Below, let’s look at just the first half of verse one, dissecting what David felt:

The Lord is my shepherd

THE

Notice that David begins by saying that the Lord is His shepherd. He is emphasizing the word “THE” because He is well aware that there is no one else but God who can protect him from life’s snares and pitfalls. Do we truly live this way? Do we camouflage this protection with other things that bring about a false sense of security? Truly, God is THE only thing that can bring about comfort and peace. Can we call him the one and only thing that we need?

LORD

Next, David chooses the title for God Almighty as “LORD,” which means master or owner. While David could have chosen many adjectives to describe the God he knew intimately, he chose to call him Master. I immediately think of a subject serving a King when I hear this title and I truly believe that this was the reverence and honor that David was broadcasting in this opening line. How can we make God our Lord? While we often call Him Savior and Lord, Savior implies that we can do nothing but admit He saved us undeservingly from our sins, but Lord requires action on our behalf. We must place Him in the highest position at all times, surrendering to Him as Lord like David did. How can we begin to make God our Lord each and every day?

IS

David didn’t stop there. David continues by clearly communicating that THE one and only LORD, master and owner of his soul, “IS.” This word “IS” implies a present tense. David is not saying he remembers God was his provider when he felt God’s direction more clearly. Instead, the Lord IS, which means currently. God is always present and personally with us just like a bodyguard protecting a celebrity from crazy fans. Sometimes we may feel like we need a constant hand to hold when life is pulling us in a thousand directions, while other times we may feel invisible, looking for His hand to grasp us tightly. David was vocal in the moments when he also felt forsaken by God, yet He never ceased to praise an ever present Lord… even when He couldn’t feel God’s presence. David believed God was always there. How can we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives regardless of our circumstances or emotions?

MY

The next word is “MY,” which is very personal. ‘My house,’ or ‘my children,’ implies it is yours to claim. The Lord was David’s personal claim. This cannot come without a solid relationship. Yes, relationships go through highs and lows, but knowing that a relationship is yours, much like a marriage, can bring a sense of forever commitment which brings about true joy. Do you call Jesus yours?

SHEPHERD

David uses a word we often lack connection with, which is the word “SHEPHERD.” A shepherd truly has a responsibility and obligation to care for animals who would otherwise roam without guidance. We are the sheep. We can easily be led astray and we need someone to direct us. David saw himself in this manner; wouldn’t you also admit this to be true in your own life?

I’d like to close by putting some thought into the nature of a sheep, so that the real attention can be placed solely on the importance of a shepherd.  I am assuming you haven’t spent much time with sheep recently, so I went to this website called Sheep101 (yes, there is such a thing) and this is what I learned,

“Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good decision. For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow. Even from birth, lambs are conditioned to follow the older members of the flock. This instinct is ‘hard-wired’ into sheep. It’s not something they think about.”

I can further identity with my sheep-like nature, can’t you? I can find myself listening to others instead of listening to what God has to say about me. I then end up following mere men instead of following God’s perfect plan. If you are any thing like me, you have once or twice blindly wandered somewhere you’d never thought you’d be because you forgot to seek true wisdom. If not for the grace of God, I could follow my flesh and others around me, right until the end of my time. I am much like a sheep. Thus, I am forever thankful for a loving shepherd who leads me in the right direction. I believe that David hand selected these wonderful words, “the Lord is my shepherd” to remind himself of God’s goodness. Will you also proclaim this promising song over your life today?