Begin Again

So here we are a week into 2017. How are those resolutions treating you? Or better yet, how are you treatingĀ them? I know all the statistics surrounding the people who keep their resolutions is staggering at best. It reminds us of failure and best laid plans.

Shoot, even I indulged in cheesecake yesterday and thought “well, here you are ya failure.” But then I remembered it’s my choice. I chose to grab that deliciousness (and it was delicious) with the same choice I made to get in good health this year. One doesn’t nullify the other but it can overshadow it if I let it.

I can allow the weight of one poor decision to counteract the good intentions and focus I had the other six days of the week. Or I can say that this was a choice today, that has no effect on what I accomplished the other six days this week and will have zero bearing on the next six days following.

new-years-resolutions-calendar

Recently I was listening to a friend speak about beginning again…something we all often like to do in January each year. We have come off the indulgences (and some over indulgences) of the holiday season that lasted well over six weeks. We have said “come January” more often than we would care to admit. In my friend’s sermon I couldn’t help but think about how we reserve January 1 as a do over day. We hit reset, wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

But what about April 18? Or July 24? Or October 1?

I think we put far too much emphasis on the date on the calendar than we do the intentions and purpose of our hearts and minds. We lump in so much, put alot of pressure on a new year, on January 1 to bring about some radical shift in our lives that when it’s a week later and we’ve not seen much we grow discouraged. Or when we slip up because we’ve lived for the last eight weeks, eight months, eight years, a lifetime a different way that we chalk it up to us being failures.

What if instead of letting one slip up damage the whole focus of your determination, preparation and focus, you allow it to give you another reset? What if instead of focusing on the location of where you find yourself on January 8th, you focus on the people you get to interact with, what you can learn from them, how you can bring brightness to their day?

Maybe you do need to begin again today. It’s a new day, full of new mercies. It’s full and waiting for you. Maybe it’s about not letting the date on the calendar or one poor choice dictate how your life is structured and lived out. You get the choice. You get the decision. You get to tell failure that it had it’s time, you have learned and you are utilizing that to move in the direction you feel led. That it’s not about where you are in location, job, relationship, hardship or joy but it’s about choosing to begin again with yourself.


You can listen to my friend’s sermon here. (And you should)

Devotional Link

Hi y’all…I am over on Journey On Today (a daily devotional series published by Brentwood Baptist Church) sharing about the Transfiguration on the Mount from Peter’s point of view. 

I think we are more Peter than we admit…

You can check that out here. (If you are reading this after November 30th you can still read the devotional by selecting the drop down date for today)

That Year in Birmingham

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Birmingham for an event. At one time, just after college, I called Birmingham home for a year. I have been back once, for a little over 24 hours, in those 13 years since I packed up a that Uhaul trailer with my dad and grandfather and booked it back to Tennessee.

In planning my trip back down, I couldn’t help but recall the first time I went to B’ham as a freshly-educated college grad knowing I had a job in baseball. One week in I was crumpled on the floor of my kitchen telling my sister it was a mistake to be there. That I had somehow made a terrible decision, living five hours from anyone I knew, and I wasn’t possibly going to be able to make it in this city that didn’t offer me much.

Part of me cringes at that memory because of the emotion of it all, remembering how bleak my outlook was and how incredibly alone I felt in that city. The other part of me rejoices though, because I am 13 years wiser from it. God drew me there, whether I wanted to recognize it or not, for a purpose and a reason. He led me there, to get me right here. He did some significant work in me over that year that I can only see in hindsight, and allowed me to work out who I was in some difficult moments.

Throughout my time in B’ham I made some poor decisions, I will own that entirely. My way, my will and my attitude won out on several occasions but I am also able to see how I needed to work out that in an environment where it was me dealing with Him without distraction or other voices bringing solace. Being there allowed me to see where He was not leading me and I was taking my own path and my own way. It brought me back to Him in a way which if I had remained in Knoxville I would not have seen nor chosen.

In so much hurt and grief we cannot possibly see how it’s for our good while we are in it. We cannot see how being alone in place, a place we don’t like and the circumstances aren’t how we would craft them could bring anything remotely resembling His good for us out of it all.

But it does.

It did for me. I am pretty sure it will for you too, if we let go of our expectation of the situation, our will and our way and accept the work God is doing without knowing what it is. The end result isn’t the point, it is what you are going through that’s refining you and making you who God intends you to be in His image, as His reflection and not your own.

The whole process, in the circumstance, in the location, in the job, in the relationship…all of that is the point. Sometimes it takes a whole lot of distance of years or miles to see it. To see how one of the worst and hardest times of your life was also one of the best parts of your relationship in Christ, with God through the Holy Spirit.

But we have to allow it. We have to accept it. We have to be willing to go through it, even in the ugly, even in the lonely, even in the longevity of it all. It’s never about us. It’s about the work He’s doing, we just have to receive it.

What if, the doubting, fearful, stressed out, frantic, chaotic, frustrated, complaining, gossiping, self-focused you is all the Jesus someone else sees?

That thought brushed across my mind last night as I drove home from a powerful, freeing evening at IF:Gathering, IF:local. I am heading back there in just a few minutes, with this thought still haunting me because it’s true.

But what if…

What if, the confident, loving, kind, patient, beautiful, encouraging, trusting you is the Jesus someone sees today?

Today would have been my mamaw’s 100th birthday. My mom reminded me of this last night as we chatted. To be honest I had gotten the year mixed up and thought she would have been 97. But I never forget that her birthday is February 2nd.

You see my mamaw meant an awful lot to me, as she was a godly woman who I got to spend summers with on occasion learning how to hand-sew quilts and make spaghetti from scratch, just for lunch. When she would get to giggling, it was something magical because to be honest, we never could get her to smile for a photograph. It was like she somehow knew a secret none of the rest of us did and she was holding it in for dear life.

I shared with some coworkers recently about how she had the phone book and would read the obituaries in the paper every morning and remove people from it. I asked her once why she was doing that, or if she knew them, and she told me very informatively that “Well no I don’t know them, but in case I needed to contact them now I know I can’t.” Part of me strongly believes I get my sweet tooth from her, and my knack for now holding my purse on my lap. We spent Saturdays with her alot, going to A&W for corn dogs, shopping in Wal-Mart and picking blackberries from the bushes in the garden. She used to put them on our fingers and tell us to enjoy with a smile.

Later in life, she started to forget us. Her mind becoming muddled with a different reality and confusion. It hurt my heart to see her get agitated because she didn’t know us, couldn’t remember my grandfather who she was married to for so long, not knowing her only daughter, my mother.

Memories are a tricky thing-they bring us such delight and also such pain. For a while after she passed away I could only remember the conversations of convincing her I was her granddaughter, of seeing her curled up in the nursing home bed not wanting to talk. I carried those around with alot of hurt, until I realized that’s not what I was supposed to see her as, the truth had gotten muddled with the picture before me. An illness tried to diluteĀ  my memories down to something else, to replace the images I knew with something that wasn’t. Much like it did to her in the latter years of her life.

So instead I choose the memories of my mamaw with her pink lipstick, color-coordinated pants suits and “ear bobs” because that is who she was to me, to us all. She was the kind-hearted woman who made hundreds of hand pies for church homecomings and would laugh when we told her she shouldn’t be “taste-testing” them all since she had diabetes.

We often don’t get to choose the story that is told about us, but memories provide a way for us to seek the good and true in a reality that is sometimes harsher and colder than we could ever imagine.

Remember there are worse places than Nineveh. He that goes out of the path that God marks for him may yet come to be at the bottom of the sea with Jonah, with the weeds wrapped about his head.“-Charles Spurgeon

Maybe your Nineveh doesn’t look like Jonah’s. Or maybe it’s looking worse than you can fathom his to be. Jonah didn’t know at the time he would end up in the belly of a whale, so God could get his attention on what He was asking him to be obedient in.

Do we ever get the whole picture?

Nope.

What we do get is the call to obedience, to be on the path of God’s design. We get the choice of the step. Where that leads is up to us….

I don’t know about you but Nineveh is looking better than the belly of a man-eating whale from this perspective.

Seeking Deliverance

Do you ever feel wronged? Like injustices are levied against you, repetitively to where you just can’t seem to win? During my Junior year of college I felt that way with a particular class. I just couldn’t win with the professor, no matter how many office hours I went to, no matter how many extra credit assignments I worked, I just couldn’t seem to grasp his method of teaching finance. I poured over the book, would dig into notes and still wind up feeling muddled and confused by the exams and projects. It came to a point of just hoping to get through it without falling below a C so I wouldn’t have to retake it my final semester at UT.

That semester saw me pull a C in that class, and the only time I have ever been proud to get C. (For the record I only received two other Cs-my Freshmen year, and that was because I was finding my new found freedom in not attending College Calculus and English) I was desiring after deliverance from the class after only three weeks in the semester.

I was thinking on that situation, as well as some others over the span of my life, where I was merely seeking to be delivered from the circumstances I found myself in. Circumstances I felt were injustices levied against me, and ones I would not have chosen had I had a say so in them. I couldn’t help but think of Joseph. While his situations differ quite drastically from those I found myself in, I find his example to be one which is best followed when responding to life.

You see Joseph didn’t ask for his brothers to sell him off to a band of travelers which caused his enslavement (yes, Joseph got a bit mouthy about his dreams of being above the family, but let’s just chalk that up to being the sassy-pants youngest child). Joseph didn’t ask to be placed within Potiphar’s house, nor did he beg to be seduced by his wife and then falsely accused of advances when he held strong to his integrity and character.

But we see over and over in just a few chapters in Genesis that God was with Joseph. He was with him and Joseph prospered. (Don’t confuse this with prosperity gospel, please…) Joseph didn’t rely upon God because of what God could give to him, but rather because Joseph knew God was with him in the midst of it all. He trusted that the Lord was with him and his character remained unchanging when he faced enslavement, imprisonment and success within Pharaoh’s employment.

There is a real difference in praying for deliverance from a situation and praying to seek God in all things. It’s an attitude shift and a perspective change. One that Joseph illustrated repeatedly throughout a life filled with injustice and enslavement. When we seek deliverance we place our good above that which God knows is good. We believe we know better than the Sovereign God.

Do some circumstances just plain stink? Absolutely.

Do I want to be delivered out of them? You bet.

But sometimes that just isn’t possible because that’s not what needs to be done. When I set my sights on deliverance, instead of God I hear my voice instead of His alot more. I hear my justifications of rightness and not of His promises. When I seek Him, I don’t see the slights or hurts as often, because I am no longer self-focused. I am driven by the will of Him who seeks to bring about every situation for good if I but allow His work to be done in and through me.

Even in the darkness of the prisons we find ourselves in, the Lord is with us and shows his kindness to us if we but seek Him instead of our own plan of deliverance.