I Need Jesus… for Everything!

I used to be able to do math. I won the department math award at my university and taught computer science at the college level, but that was 35 years ago (if I did the math right). Lately, I’m unsure whether I’ve left a 20% tip. Watching my mother struggle with the same declining ability show’s me it’s not going to get better. For a lot of people this wouldn’t be a big concern, but for me it’s the equivalent of texting an invitation to the wrong person or forgetting to zip my jeans.

I am so stupid! I can’t do anything right. Now people will pity me. These are some of the thoughts my inner critic can be overheard exclaiming as I pull out my phone to double a number and divide by ten. What embarrasses you? Toilet paper on your shoe? Tripped down the steps? Left your child at the gym? Not a person has ever been born who didn’t make mistakes (OK, there was One). We are limited creatures and fallible. It’s unreasonable and unloving to demand perfection of others – or of ourselves. But most of us do it.

I am thankful for a snippet from Brennan Manning I read some years ago for teaching me another way. (If I could find it, I would quote it.) He wrote that grace teaches us a new purpose for all our mistakes, those unintentional foibles which the Accuser likes to exploit. He said every blunder is a sweet reminder that we need Jesus. There isn’t one single thing we can ever do perfectly, and perfection is the standard for salvation (Matt. 5:48). To be reminded of our humble, fallen nature is to be reminded that we are not only forgiven for our sins but also completed for our imperfections in the righteous life Jesus lived on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 10:14).

Now I try to accept my bloopers with a smile and let them preach a different message to my heart. Lipstick a mess? Left my purse at the grocery store? It just means I need Jesus. And, hallelujah, He’s there. I always have needed Him, even when I thought I could be perfect on my own. Now in my growing confusion, I see more clearly than I ever have: I need Jesus for everything. Even math.

Related Material:

God Embraces the Embarrassed at Desiring God
God’s Will and Your Big, Stupid Mistakes by Lon Hetrick

Making 2018 a Year of Gratitude

I am one of the 8%. No, that’s not some new-fangled financial classification; it’s the percentage of people who keep their New Year’s resolutions according to Forbes Media. I haven’t kept every one perfectly, but I do prayerfully make them each year, and it’s amazing how much I’ve learned along the way. My resolutions run the gamut from not texting while driving to reading the Bible in a year to never defending myself (now, that’s an eye-opener). This year I’m making 2018 a year of gratitude.

By now you’ve certainly heard about the physical and psychological benefits of gratitude. But here’s one benefit that Psychology Today won’t be listing in their top seven: gratitude is worship. It is one of the primary ways we are to be reminded of and to relate to our loving God who gives us every good gift. Want to be more connected to the Lord? Let your needs drive you to Him and let your blessings draw you to Him

My pastor talked about resolutions this morning; that’s how I learned I’m in the 8%. And one thing he stressed was that making or keeping a New Year’s resolution doesn’t earn you anything; not favor or affirmation or forgiveness or salvation from God. In fact, it can become a stumbling block if you are making it for any of those reasons. Everything we do should be motivated by love – for God and man, including our attempts at self-improvement. If I look a little more like Jesus at the end of this experiment, if my spirit becomes a bit more thankful, that is my loving obedience and a sacrifice of praise.

I know I should be grateful for every breath I take, but as with anything that is continual, gratitude can become invisible, banal, even boring. Therefore, I’m going to keep a gratitude journal. There are many ways to do this, and I will let you Google them for yourself, but I’m going to keep one online that I share with a friend. I am also going to write a line or two every single day. I know myself, and those things will help me keep up.

Here are a few tips for you to consider as you think about the topic of resolutions.

  • Make your resolution simple. It should be able to be stated in one sentence and you are more likely to keep it if it doesn’t require major changes to your routines.
  • Make a commitment to your resolution. Make sure it’s something you believe in and really want to make a part of your life going forward.
  • Track your progress. Have some way of noting your success. Mark it on a calendar, keep a log, put a chart on your refrigerator.
  • Invite others to share your resolution. See? I’m taking my own advice. God gave us community for accountability and encouragement. Take advantage of that.
  • View your failures as part of your success. If you don’t keep your resolution perfectly, don’t quit! In fact, you haven’t really owned a new habit until you can fail and get back on track again.

We always pray for you, that our God may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:11-12)

To that end, if you are one of the 60% of Americans who doesn’t already have a New Year’s resolution, I invite you to join me in making 2018 a year of gratitude.

Related Material:

Keeping a Gratitude Journal (Crosswalk)

Ann Voskamp Audio on Gratitude

A Prayer of Gratitude by Scotty Smith

Star of Wonder

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is. 9:2a)

We live in the twilight, in a land of uncertain shadows and pockets of night. As the partial light shifts, so do our perceptions. Our searching feet grope for the path ahead; our fumbling hands fail us; we struggle to recognize friend from foe. We need a light that will not go out.

In a world where fire was the only defense against darkness, our ancestors worshiped the stars. Those ghostly, inexplicable lights in the sky represented warmth, sight, travel, food, in short: life. To the ancients, the stars revealed signs and omens, activity in the heavenly realm which directed the earth below. Consider the tides, magnetic fields, asteroids and eclipses which show us they were not altogether wrong. And when an image was wanted to describe the brightness of an angel who fell from grace, he was likened to a star (Is. 14:12). But that so-called “son of the dawn” brought only more darkness as he tumbled to earth.

But at Christmas time we remember that God placed a brilliant star in the heavenly night to announce the coming of the Light of the world (John 8:12). That glorious star was a portent, as of a god or a god-man, the promise of a greater light to come. Very few recognized its significance and perhaps fewer still walked its rays to find the source of its secret: a baby in a manger who is called the bright, morning star (Rev. 22:16). In this case “morning star” means the sun, the brightest star in our sky, a symbol for God Himself (Ps. 84:11). He came to help us see the world as it is, to see one another in love and to illuminate His Father, the God of creation and redemption.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that even now we see only dimly. The light of God is shrouded by the clouds of our atmosphere. The broken pieces of the world refract its brilliance, creating the shadows we fear. But a day has been promised to us when the shadows shall all flee, when our confusion shall be at an end, when no fire or moon or physical sun will be needed because there will be no more darkness (Rev. 22:5). We hold in our hands the lamp of God’s word which shines its rays into the circle of our existence, but even that flame is a temporary measure.

When you watch the lights twinkle on your Christmas tree or your neighbor’s shrubbery, when you admire all the stars decorating the cards in your mailbox, when you notice that streak of glory riding high over every nativity scene this holiday season, remember that it is a flickering reminder of the true light which came into the world two thousand years ago and will come once again. Be comforted and encouraged until the day dawns and the morning star rises (2 Peter 1:19) in all its final, celestial glory.

Let us, with the humble shepherds and prescient wise men, come to Him this Christmas – and SEE.

If this time of year is difficult for you, see our help-for-the-holidays handout.