Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year: New Choices. (Choose Patience)

Paving the Road with Patience: Living in the Light

A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.
Proverbs 14:29

I could barely see beyond my rain-splattered windshield. Thankfully, I managed, with the wipers on high speed, to locate my exit. Letting out a sigh of relief, I prepared for the final leg of my journey home following a long day at work a stressful day to put it mildly.
            Just as I merged onto the off ramp, another vehicle sped by, cut in front of me, and headed up the ramp, only to slam on his brakes and skid to a stop before redirecting his car back onto the freeway. To make matters worse, he performed a certain, unacceptable hand “gesture” as he raced away into the stormy night.
            Shocked, and more than a little dismayed, I analyzed my choices:
1. I could tear off and follow him in a radical display of road rage.
2. I could yell not-so-nice things about him the rest of the way home.
3. I could choose to pray and behave in a patient and kind manner regardless of the fact that no one was watching.
Honestly, I started with number two before remembering that I did indeed have an audience of One. This particular “audience” was the One that mattered most. My Savior had a front row seat to my actions. He could hear my words. He knew my heart.
I realized right then that ranting and raving in my car, at a driver already a mile down the road, was just plain foolish. I could follow my Lord’s example or act as ridiculous as the stranger I was angry with had. Thankfully, I stopped my fuming and instead prayed for God to protect this person as he drove away so recklessly, and, in the end, I made it home in one piece with a sense of peace that comes from exercising patience. Patience is possible. Remember, no matter what the circumstance — practice patience and experience peace. We’re foolish not to!
Prayer: Dear Lord, Your Word instructs me to avoid folly, instead making wise decisions in my daily life. One wise choice that will help me avoid foolishness is practicing patience. It may not be easy, but with Your help, it is possible.
Action Step: Take a moment to remember the last time you lost your patience and the choice resulted in foolish actions or words on your part. What could you have done differently? Commit to choosing wisely when future opportunities arise. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Not Again!

(An Article I penned in 2004 just seemed appropriate to share today when so many people I know and work with struggle with the "not again" syndrome. Myself included. Thankfully, we have hope)

“Oops, I did it again…” the teen-theme song blared from my neighbor’s boom box as the fourteen-something, belly-baring-girl shimmied around her mom’s car, soap dripping from the sponge turned microphone in her hand.  I didn’t know car washing could be such an event!  But the lyrics of this seemingly mindless melody caught my attention. 
Sadly, in my before-Christ and even my after-Christ life, I had danced to the beat of that same theme song.  I’d find myself saying, “How could I be so stupid?  Why, God, why did I do this again?”  Well, the answer, although simple, is not always easily understood, and breaking free from the I-messed-up-again-cycle can seem like a daunting task without the right steps to follow. 
I learned the why was fairly obvious – because I am human, and I have fallen short of the glory of God.  When Adam and Eve sunk their pearly whites into that luscious fruit, we, the people of today, were deeply affected.  In fact, throughout history, the mantra “I did it again” has been repeated more than a few times, by more than a few people.  Every time I eat that second serving of dinner (or third) that I promised myself, and God, I would avoid, I repeat that age-old mantra.  When I used to be involved with drugs and destructive relationships, I’d continually beat myself with the “not again, not again, not again…” club, which I had grown very accustomed to swinging.  Stopping seemed like some elusive ideal, achievable only by those super spiritual individuals who lived in isolation, far away from the wear and tear of daily life in a mixed up, torn up world.  However, as I have gotten to know my Savior and His Word on a deeper level, I have discovered we truly can start singing a new song—a song of hope, redemption, and love.
Thankfully, we serve a God of second, third, and even three hundred chances.  In fact, most of our biblical ancestors messed up really bad (I mean bad) and they were still able to find forgiveness and a new hope in their Lord when they were truly repentant and sought His Way.  I’m certainly not implying their personal consequences vanished, or all godly correction was avoided, but they did find forgiveness and grace to continue on and influence us for the better, today. 
Paul’s famous words explain that our internal battles are not only expected, but with God they can be corrected, and even conquered.  Romans 7: 14-15 (NIV) states -- We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.  Now granted, we can gain a sense of comfort in these words just by the knowledge that the great Apostle Paul struggled, too.  However, left with these words alone, we’d still be stuck in our “not again” syndrome. 
Thankfully, Paul doesn’t stop there.  In Romans Chapter 8 (NIV) he reminds us, Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
The good news – there is a solution.  In our relationship with Jesus, we can find freedom from this vicious cycle of sin.  Utilizing the “Three R’s” we will discover no matter what our mess might be we serve a God who is in the transformation business.  He doesn’t just leave us stuck in the muck of our mistakes.  Our incredible God can and does take those ugly, messy, mishaps and somehow finds a way to turn these experiences into calling cards that highlight His goodness and glory.
First, we must Recognize our mistakes.  If we don’t remove our rose-colored glasses and take an honest appraisal of our mess, or possibly multiple messes, we will remain rolling in the mud of our sinfulness.   God doesn’t cleanse us when we stand cockily, with our hands on our hips, shouting heavenward about how we don’t need His help…thank you very much.  Recognizing and accepting that we have made a big, smelly mess is the first step out of the darkness of denial.   
Have you ever noticed when someone makes a mistake, often times he or she starts blaming anyone and everyone but him or herself?  The old “he said, she said” fault finding madness begins.  As a former vocational counselor, who worked in a drug and alcohol treatment setting, I witnessed this phenomenon on a daily, actually hourly basis.   The story goes like this:  The client enters my office and shares they relapsed and used drugs, again.  Then, instead of saying, “Hey, I made a mistake.”  The list of whose fault it was is rolled out in front of me for examination. 
The dog died.
My shoelace broke.
I was angry.
I was sad.
They hurt me.
I hurt them.
They made me.
I couldn’t help myself.
Yes, life happens and life hurts.  However, just like Eve had a choice in the garden, we have a choice today.  Life is so much easier, and freedom is attainable when we simply start off by recognizing we have made a mistake and created a mess.  When we do this we open the door to the clean-up-step.  The Second “R” stands for Repent and Release.
Once we recognize that we have fallen short of God’s best, and fully understand the choice was ours, we can confess and turn from our mistaken ways.  I have a friend who described mercy to a group of school age children with the following story.  She explained one way to understand God’s grace and mercy was to picture Him working away in a humungous kitchen.  Every morning, He welcomes His children, us, around a magnificent table.  Here, He dishes out a fresh batch of mercy that He whipped up for the new day.  After all, God’s mercies are fresh every morning. 
When we repent, and release our sins into His capable hands, we can expect to be fed a fresh batch of grace and mercy prepared specifically for us.  We no longer have to wallow in our mess.  Just as the Prodigal Son rose from the filth of the pig pen to return to his father, we must recognize we are in the mud, climb out, and release our sin and heartache to our loving Father. 
Finally, like the robe was draped around the returning prodigal, our Heavenly Father wraps His love around us.   The third “R,” God’s renewing power, revives and revitalizes.  This is the step, where God steps in, takes over, and does His incredible work in our lives.  Scripture compares our Lord as to a Potter is to his clay, a Vinedresser to his vineyard, a Silversmith to his precious metals, a Father to his child, even as a mother hen is to her chicks.  In other words, He is now at work restoring and renewing his creation – us.  Although, this restoration and renewal process may be painful at times, we can expect the end result to be beyond our wildest expectations.  Just as a designer carefully draws his plans to restore an old, dilapidated house, and as the builder makes changes on the outer structure, and the remodeling specialist enters and works on the inside of the home, our God is at work on, around, and in us.  This particular Designer, Builder, and Restorer has our best interest in mind, always.  
Instead of saying – oops, I did it again -- when we sin, we can quickly recognize our mistake, repent and release it to God, and expect Him to renew us once more.  No mess is too dirty.  No sin is too ugly.  Nothing is too difficult for our Lord.   He takes on the toughest projects and is able to complete them all using His perfect design plans.  No matter how messy our lives may be, or how many times God has started to clean up our “insides,” no matter how many times we have cried out… “Not again!”  God still loves us with an everlasting, unceasing, and eternal love.   The best way to avoid messy mistakes in the first place is to stay close to our First Love -- Jesus Christ.  When we begin to understand the depth of His love, life will never be the same again.