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Gutsy Guilt

I yelled at my daughter the other day. Truth be told, it wasn’t the first time. Though I want to become a more peaceful mom, I often find my own sin getting in the way. Like me, you may have sinful habits and patterns that get in the way of enjoying the peace God promises. Some of these may plunge you into prolonged periods of guilt. How can you remain confident of God’s fatherly love, despite your own frequent failings? John Piper has an interesting take on this problem.

To the fallen saint who knows the darkness is self-inflicted and feels the futility of looking for hope from a frowning judge, the Bible gives a shocking example of gutsy guilt. It pictures God’s failed prophet beneath a righteous frown, bearing his chastisement with brokenhearted boldness:A sad girl looking up

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light.  Micah 7:8-9, ESV

This is courageous contrition. Gutsy guilt. The saint has fallen. The darkness of God’s indignation is on him. He does not blow it off, but waits. And he throws in the face of his accuser the confidence that his indignant judge will plead his cause and execute justice for (not against) him. This is the application of justification to the fallen saint. Brokenhearted, gutsy guilt.1

Join me in admitting that you’re not a perfect person—that you have sins and failings too. As you do that, make a promise to yourself and to God that the next time you stumble, you will not wallow in guilt. Let’s accept God’s discipline, realizing that he is acting as a good father should. Instead of giving in to the enemy’s lies, let’s throw them back in his face, trusting in God’s unfailing love.   More

(1)  John Piper, quoted in Josh Etter, “Learn the Secret of Gutsy Guilt,” Desiring God (blog), accessed May 13, 2011, http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/learn-the-secret-of-gutsy-guilt.

(Image courtesy of Morleys at freeimages.com)

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Fear Not!

A large spiderWhat are you afraid of? Your children getting kidnapped? A stock market crash? Public speaking? Spiders? Snakes? Bedbugs? The dentist? Heights? Failure? Flying? Rejection? Crowds? Darkness? Job loss? Illness? Affliction? Old age? Death? Whether our fears are triggered by creepy crawly creatures, being shut up in small spaces, or things that go bump in the night, all of us are afraid of something.

We know, of course, that some fears can be useful. For instance, if you are approaching a precipice, fear will cause you to stay clear of the edge, preventing a headlong fall. Fear of becoming incapacitated in old age may encourage you to adopt a healthy diet and a more active lifestyle. Fear of failing might motivate you to work harder.

Fear is not a problem unless it begins to control us. Being controlled by anything or anyone but God is a miserable, life-destroying experience. It keeps us locked up in our heads, unable to live the life we were meant to live or use the gifts we’ve been given.

Fortunately, we are not left to battle our fears alone. Pastor Rick Warren points out that there are 365 “Fear nots” in God’s Word—one for every day of the year. It seems obvious, he says, that “God is serious about you trusting Him.” The next time you feel assaulted by fear or anxiety, don’t try to battle it by yourself. Get out your Bible and find one of these verses. Remember that Paul calls God’s Word “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). Take hold of that sword today, and with God’s mighty power, stand strong against the fears that threaten your peace. More

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The Gospel is Peace

One person reaching to shake hands with another.Most of us live in a world populated by people who don’t think like us. Either they don’t believe in Jesus at all or they don’t believe in Jesus the way we do. How can we live at peace with others even when our values and aspirations are worlds apart?

I like what John Piper has to say about the importance of daily being “stunned by grace in our lives.” As he told the staff at his church one day, “If we aren’t amazed by grace towards us, we will be a finger-pointing church mainly.” According to Piper, the key is to be more amazed that you are saved than that others are lost.(1)

Though I don’t care for finger pointing in general, I think Piper’s focus offers a healthy antidote to the notion that to get along with others in our multicultural, multi-theological world, you have to throw out your brains and your beliefs in order to pretend that all religions are equally valid.

Because some in the church have been harsh and condemning in their treatment of people who don’t think like they do, it is tempting to conclude that disagreeing is always wrong. Better to keep peace by skirting the issues, pretending they don’t exist. But that would be foolish. Instead of buying into an ideal of political correctness, we need to learn how to contend for the faith in a way that persuades, not merely through the power of our words, but also through the power of the love we put into those words.

Our goal as Christians is not to win arguments but to spread the gospel so that others might join us on the side of marveling at the stunning grace of God.  More

(1) John Piper, “How Do You Remain Humble?,” The Christian Post, May 6, 2011, accessed May 13, 2011, http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-do-you-remain-humble-50129.

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Don’t Lose Your Mitzvah

Putting a coin in a tzedakah boxOkay, it’s time to learn a little Hebrew. Mitzvah is a Hebrew word that is translated “commandment.” But unlike the word commandment, which may sound onerous to many of us, mitzvah has a positive connotation. Rather than being a dreary burden, doing a mitzvah is more like an opportunity, a chance to bless God and participate in his work by blessing someone else.

Let’s take a look at another Hebrew word: tzedakah. It’s a specific type of mitzvah. The word tzedakah is sometimes translated “charity,” but this is somewhat misleading since tzedakah is considered an obligation—something that justice requires—rather than something people do out of the kindness of their hearts. As with many other ethical matters, Jewish rabbis have had countless discussions regarding the importance of tzedakah, identifying eight degrees of giving. The lowest degree is to give grudgingly. The next degree is to give less than you should but cheerfully. The eighth and highest degree is to give in a way that enables others to support themselves.

Many Jewish people have tzedakah boxes in their houses, where they can set money aside to be given to those in need. The rabbis say it’s not just giving that’s important but how you contribute. Give away your time and money with a smile and an attitude of respect, and you will have done a mitzvah. Give it with disdain, and you will have lost your mitzvah.

As Christians, we are called by God to participate in his work by giving to those in need. It’s a way of spreading his peace, extending it to others. Perhaps you can remind yourself of this opportunity by obtaining your own tzedakah box, depositing money every week that you intend to give to those in need.   More

(Image courtesy of pjlibrary.org.)

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Cumber

A stick figure man trying to pull a heavy loadEver try running when you’re overweight? No fun, is it? The same is true when you’re running the spiritual race Paul speaks of. Imagine trying to run the Boston Marathon in a fat suit while dragging everything you own along with you, and you will get a sense of what I’m talking about. The problem comes down to what the Quakers call “cumber”—the unnecessary accumulation of material goods that clutter our lives and distract us from the things of God.

I like the way Paul speaks about running straight to the goal and having “purpose in every step.” What a way to think about our lives! To be honest, I don’t often think that way. I’m guessing you don’t either. But I want to.

How can we get rid of things that encumber us, that keep us from focusing more of our time and energy on seeking first the Kingdom of God? We can begin by taking time to identify and deal with the things in our lives that make us feel spiritually flabby and overweight.

Even if you only have time for a tiny step today, take it. Do something small—clean out a drawer, give away some clothes; just begin the process. As you lighten your load, you may find it easier to run the spiritual race. Ask God today to help you aim straight at the goal, with purpose in every step.  More

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The “Speak Wall”

A student reading posts covering the "Speak Wall"“I’m lonelier than you might think.”

“My smile hides a lot about me.”

“I have attempted suicide.”

“All I want is to be loved.”

Students at Grand Rapids Christian High School have posted these and other messages on something called the “Speak Wall.” Unlike social networking sites such as Facebook, this is a literal wall—a place where they can tack up an anonymous note telling the truth about themselves without anyone knowing who they are. Students can also post notes of encouragement in response to another’s gutsy self-disclosure. The story of the eight-hundred-foot wall recently made front-page news in the Grand Rapids Press.(1)

But what is so newsworthy about teenage angst? Perhaps the story hit the press because it occurred at a school with the reputation of catering to students who already have it made. The Speak Wall gives voice to the widespread brokenness of even the most privileged among us.

I wonder what would happen were we to construct a Speak Wall in our churches and workplaces. Would we find similar brokenness? I suspect we would. We might even add our own plaintive notes to the wall.

However you are feeling right now, know that you are not the only one who struggles. Join me in crying out to God, letting prayer become your personal Speak Wall. Pray honestly and with hope for yourself and for others. And then do your best to forge connections with other believers so you can say what’s on your heart—and listen to what’s on theirs.   More

(1) Tom Rademacher, “Students Share All on ‘Speak Wall,’” Grand Rapids Press, May 6, 2011.

(See The Grand Rapids Press story and more images at http://photos.mlive.com/grandrapidspress/2011/05/the_speak_wall.html).

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Don’t Give Up!

A wheelbarrow full of gardening toolsLast spring a friend of mine was going through a tough time. So she asked some of her friends to pray, throwing in the request that perhaps we could also pray for a neighbor whose house and yard were an ever-present eyesore. One week later, when I asked how she was doing, she said that the gorgeous spring weather was lifting her mood. Then she added this comment:

I asked for prayers that our crazy neighbor would clean up her trashed house and yard. This, after almost thirty years of frustration. Well, the day after I asked for prayers, this very neighbor started to rake, trim, and plant new bushes in her yard. It was so unbelievable that my husband and I reasoned she was getting ready to sell. That’s when I remembered my prayer request. Wow!

Yesterday my friend’s nonbelieving husband remarked, “I don’t know what you did to Janine [not her real name], but now she’s outside painting her rusty railing!”

Chuckling, my friend told me her neighbor has been up at the crack of dawn every day working on her yard. “I laughed,” she said, “as I confessed to my husband that our group has been praying for Janine to clean up her act.”

Though my dear friend still struggles with various challenges, it seemed as though God was saying, “Hey, if I can work through your neighbor, I can do anything. Don’t give up.” I think she got the message.  More

(Image courtesy of tizwas01 at freeimages.com.)

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Just Let It Go!

An open palmA friend of mine enjoys being with elderly people. It’s a good thing, because she spends several hours a week working in a nursing home. One of her favorite people there is a woman by the name of Mabel. Recently Mabel was sitting across the table from someone who suffers from dementia. The poor woman was perseverating, going over and over incidents from the past that still bothered her. Though her conversation was garbled and hard to follow, she seemed tormented by her thoughts.

So Mabel went into action. Looking the woman straight in the eye, and with all the force of her personality, she offered the best advice she could give: “Just let it go! Let it go!” A little confused herself, Mabel didn’t realize the woman she was talking to no longer had the mental capacity to follow her sage advice.

But Mabel’s words still found their mark. In the days and weeks that followed, my friend kept remembering the scene. Whenever she faced circumstances she couldn’t control, she could almost hear Mabel exhorting her, “Just let it go! Let it go!”

What is it that you are having trouble letting go of? Is it a situation with your family? Is it a comment your friend made? Is it a frustrating coworker? Is it a nagging memory that has you in its grasp? Whatever it is, it’s time to hand it over to God.

Today, let’s praise God and thank him that we are still in our right minds. And let us also ask him to send us his Spirit so we can let go of the things we cannot control in order to take hold of the help he gives.  More

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Compared to Whom?

Happy childrenHave you ever heard someone remark in surprise at how happy the people they visited in a third-world country seemed despite their poverty?

I noted something similar when I saw the movie Babies, a delightful film capturing the first year in the life of four adorable babies on four different continents—Ponijao from Namibia, Mari from Japan, Bayar from Mongolia, and Hattie from the United States. While the babies have many things in common, like their penchant for sucking on toes, in many respects their lives are strikingly different. Ponijao, for instance, is literally “dirt poor,” wearing next to nothing and playing happily with rocks, empty cans, and refuse. Mari, on the other hand, enjoys the obvious advantages of being born into a prosperous and sophisticated Japanese family. Despite the fact that these children are at opposite ends of the material spectrum, both seemed reasonably happy.

Of course, temperament can have a significant impact on our sense of happiness. But perhaps there’s more to it than that. Robert Sapolsky points out that once you have the basics covered, such as food and shelter, being poor isn’t as bad for you as feeling poor. The trouble is, many people feel poor. “Thanks to urbanization, mobility, and the media,” he points out, “something absolutely unprecedented can now occur—we can now be made to feel poor, or poorly about ourselves, by people we don’t even know. You can feel impoverished . . . by Bill Gates on the evening news, even by a fictional character in a movie.”(1)

Though Ponijao and Mari are too young to be affected by this dynamic, it may be that Ponijao will grow up in his isolated village a happy man, unaware of his relative poverty, while Mari will unhappily realize some are better off than she is. When it comes to the Ponijaos and Maris of the world, most of us fit into the Mari category. Knowing that, let’s be on guard against comparing ourselves to movie stars and moguls, choosing instead to be content with what we have.  More

(1.) Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (New York: Henry Holt, 2004), 376–77.

(Image courtesy of sumi at freeimages.com)

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Safety

Paper chain peopleMany years ago a friend of mine lost her husband. He didn’t die from an illness or an accident. He wasn’t a casualty of war or self-inflicted violence. In fact, he didn’t die at all. Nor did she lose him to another woman or to drugs. Her husband just closed up inside, spending more and more time on the Internet, searching for God knows what, until he finally vanished from her life, demanding a divorce. My friend was bewildered and hurt, unable to rescue her marriage because she didn’t even know what was wrong. She suspected an addiction to pornography, but she couldn’t prove it. Her husband wouldn’t say. Not a word.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of the isolating effects of sin and the power of confession to break that isolation: “In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light.”(1)

But as soon as the sin is confessed, its grip is broken. As Bonhoeffer says of the repentant sinner, “He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God.”(2)

Psalm 139 speaks of God’s ability to see through our darkness. Confessing our sins to a trusted sister or brother in Christ can help us enter that place of safety, right in the middle of God’s people.   More

(1). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 112.
(2). Ibid., 113.

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