How To Smile at Your Biggest Mistakes (And Why To Share Them)

Can I whisper a funny secret in your ear really quick?

This is it:

Sometimes when you’ve messed up, and don’t want to be honest and tell the truth, the best thing you can do for yourself (and the people around you) is be honest and tell the truth.

True story. This was my second year serving as the Director of the local Classical Conversations community. We wrapped up our school year with a fun and happy bang, and shortly afterwards, I had the pleasure of attending a day of training in preparation for serving as Director again next year.

At a mini “break-out session” I sat down with a few other directors and heard some words in the back of my head from a respected mentor a dozen years ago: “You can be honest, or more honest, or most honest.”

I went with most honest and shared that I felt like in a certain area of my role as a Director this past year I’d totally failed. Like not even a little. Big time. I felt like I could point to specific consequences of that failure. And — maybe I was being hard on myself — it was hard to be honest and just say “I messed up.”

I was a little bit afraid of judgement. At least discouragement. Maybe a sideways glance or two.

Instead, I was wrapped up in an embrace of acceptance and encouragement and given words that gave me such cheer, and have been rattling around in my brain ever since:

“I think you should celebrate your failure.”

This sweet new friend went on to encourage me to look at how much I’ve learned from it. How I’ve grown closer to God. And it struck me: this is truly the heart of the Gospel. We will mess up and fall short and err again and again. The grace of God is available. The forgiveness of God is paid for. The hope of God will help us get up and try to do better next time.

I realized that there is an incredible power in being willing to be honest about failure.

When you admit your failures you:

Encourage others to believe they can make mistakes and still “be okay.”

Demonstrate the power of hope and forgiveness.

Model the “I will get back up again” attitude that is so hard for those of us who only always ever want to get it all right the first time.

Give people the permission and encouragement to be brave and to try, even if they’re not going to get it all right.

I’ve wrestled often over the course of this month with those Good Words we’ve been talking about around here: Be of Good Cheer. I’ve realized I find it especially hard to be of good cheer when I look in the mirror and feel displeased with my fragile humanity. My failures and shortcomings. The times when I say I will and don’t or say I won’t and do.

But this is the goodness of God at its finest hour!

We fall so short…and are SO loved anyway! We mess up so big… but we are never too messed up for God to unravel our troubles and give us hope and purpose. We lack and stray and sin, but God is able to use these shortcomings for our good — where sin abounds, grace abounds more — and then He turns our hearts, helps us hear His voice, and empowers us to get up and try again.

If you are struggling with your own failures, friend, you can truly Be of Good Cheer. Our faithful God loves making beauty out of mess. And when you are willing to own, and even share, your failures, you give others permission to breathe a little easier. You show the world that God that doesn’t demand perfection — that instead He welcomes our imperfect and longing hearts. That we can try and fail and keep going.

There is so much learning, so much growth and so much beauty when we are willing to look our failures right between the eyes and own them.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;” [And sometimes it will be the result of your own doing, but that doesn’t make those next words any less true.] “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

He has already overcome… and He will help us do the same.

So be of good cheer.

xCC

 

P.S. Side Note! If you’re a parent looking for a way to connect with your kids, I truly cannot recommend the book The Read-Aloud Family highly enough. Why to read with your kids, what to read, how… there is such a wealth of great information inside this fantastic book by Sarah Mackenzie. If you’re interested in a full book review, let me know — I just wanted to share it because I read it cover to cover SO quickly and was just so grateful for the wisdom and advice inside!

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Just a heads up so we’re on the same page! My blog posts and emails sometimes contain Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make a purchase, I receive a teensy compensation at no cost to you. I’m grateful when you do that! Thanks for supporting With Love, From Here. 

How To Find Good Cheer Out the Back Door

They say there’s this scarlet thread running through Scripture, from start to finish: if you look closely, you see Christ everywhere. There are whispers of His coming in the garden in Genesis, holy foreshadowing in the Tabernacle and the Temple, unexpected prognostications, signs and omens around every corner, like thousands of tiny strands that come together into a scarlet cord, wrapped right around the Truth of Christ as He comes, lives, dies and lives again.

What I didn’t realize is that there are so many more threads, more threads in the tapestry, perhaps, and one of them, to me, is pink and yellow, and polka-dotted with sunshine. These are the threads that foreshadow the beautiful joy, the hope, the life abundant, purchased and available to those who find that scarlet thread, and the God-Man whose blood made it red.

It’s beautiful to think about. Easy to weave words together while pondering that gloriously beautiful picture being woven by our infinitely Wise Creator.

But then Monday happens. Or fill in the blank. This time it was a Friday.

You think lofty thoughts about good cheer and faith and contentment, and then you have to get out of bed. And stuff happens. And you think: remind me again how to be of good cheer?

For the past two weeks, I’ve been chewing on the words of Jesus. Words He spoke throughout His last message to His disciples. Specifically, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” {John 16:33}

Last week, the revelation was that good cheer is a choice. We have to resolve. To make choices when the “JoyStealer” comes to steal. And suddenly it became apparent that there’s this war going on and we’re going to have to choose to fight.

And the fight? Gosh it showed up like two hours after that JoyStealer email found its way to your inbox, friends! For real.

That bright and sunny Friday homeschool morning, it seemed like peace was impossible. Truly. It was just impossible. Four kids going in four different directions and none of them interested in showing a shred of compassion to another. Anarchy, I tell you! And all the cajoling and prodding and pleasing and trying just didn’t seem to be changing one. darn. thing.

So I did what any self-respecting Mama who is about to explode would do: I walked right out the back door.

Before you get worried, know that Hero Hubs was down the hall and no children were endangered as a result of this decision.

I walked outside in tears. Just frustrated, more than anything else, about my limited self. My limited grace. My limited patience. My limited humanity. Like life would be more convenient if I were a pre-programmed happy fairy robot. I stood in the shade of a dogwood tree and just cried it out for a moment or twelve. I ended up on my knees, staring at the grass with eyes blurred, watching tiny flowers twitch and jitter in the brisk April wind.

I faintly remembered those words from Isaiah: All flesh is grass… the grass withers, the flower fades…

And I just turned to Jesus. On the outside I didn’t go anywhere, but on the inside, there was a shift in focus.

I did my best to just be honest. Lord, what a mess I am. I’m sorry I keep falling short. I’m sorry I keep failing. I’m sorry I allow choices I have no control over to make my choices for me sometimes.

And I felt like there was this whisper there, or maybe this slow realization: I am not in control of anything but my own heart. I cannot change my children’s actions (although I certainly intend to continue to do my best to lead them and guide them). I cannot change the weather. I cannot even change the color of those pesky gray hairs showing up here and there. Without professional assistance. In all the universe, God only chose for us to have complete and unlimited dominion over one thing: our own hearts.

Suddenly I thought: Gosh, I really only have one thing to be in control of. Which kind of makes the task seem easier.

When the kids are wild or the sickness knocks on the door or the laundry is a mountain or the bedbugs bite — whatever the circumstance, it is an opportunity for me to exercise authority over my own soul, to choose what I am going to believe and how I am going to respond.

I walked back into the house reminded that I am the fading flower and the withering grass–but I can choose to cling to the God who is forever, and who can see me through anything.

When Monday hit and I had to decide if I was going to fight, and just being sick was getting me down, and the to-do list seemed heavy. I decided to fight back one simple way this week, and it has had significant results. This is the one thing I have to offer so far. Read to take notes on this?

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. 

I’m only scratching the surface of it, but here is what I know. There is this deeper place that you often hear of people finding when they’re trapped in concentration camps or confined in some tragic circumstance or another: there’s this place they can travel to without leaving their cell, where in their heart, they are shifting their posture. Perhaps they’re standing on Earth but in their hearts they’re kneeling. And while their physical eyes might be looking at a captor, the eyes of their souls are looking at Jesus.

More than once this week, I wanted to look at my circumstances and say “Really. Really?” Sometimes in a frustrated “Did that really just happen?” kind of way, and other times in a “Alright, life, what else do you wanna throw at me?”

But the moment I chose to turn the eyes of my soul toward Jesus, I felt the hope that reminded me that I can Be of Good Cheer, deep down in my soul, even when things aren’t looking how I wish they would on the surface.

I hunted down those words again, about the withering grass and fading flowers? And here are just a few of the things God met me with in Isaiah 40:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together…

The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows up on it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever…

He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength…

Those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

In His glorious goodness, crooked places are made straight and rough places are made smooth. Maybe not exactly the way we want. And probably not nearly as quickly as our impatient souls would like. But Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, friends: and He can give you the perspective of His glorious awe-inspiring eternal goodness. And once you see it from that perspective it seems so simple to say,

“Here’s my heart, Lord. This one thing I have control over? Take that, too. Lead this heart of mine and show me how to walk in your ways. Even though I don’t like what’s happening right now, oh, Lord, I look at you and know: it is well.”

Be of Good Cheer friends… keep turning your eyes to the One place where you can truly find it.
xCC

How to Choose Cheer :: Beware the Robogozo

Helen Keller once said, “Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” There is enough food for thought in those words–especially after considering the person who said them — to pack up and say Amen right now!

Amen.

But those words do still beg one question, don’t they?

“That sounds great and all but…um…How?”

And that’s the very question I’ve been trying to answer as I’ve maintained a greater awareness of my own attitude and outlook at life this past week. {If you have any feedback on your experience thus far, I sure do welcome it!}

My discovery has been that this week’s concerted effort at choosing to be of good cheer has almost felt like it backfired on me. Either I’ve been grumpy all along and am just now noticing it, or circumstances over the course of the week just brought so many of those tiny little frustrations to the forefront that I couldn’t help but furrow my brows.

The Monday morning after Easter Sunday, oh goodness. We are blessed to wake up in a comfortable home. We have food to eat. Clothes to wear. The kids have books and toys aplenty. And yet somehow within twenty minutes of those tiny feet hitting the floor, it seemed we were all at odds with one another. That wet blanket feeling lay like a misty fog of inescapable grump that had to be barreled through, holding one’s breath, to arrive at the breakfast table.

I observed how much my mood can change based on how long it has been since my last meal. And I was freshly reminded of how much hurry hurts as I attempted to scurry kids out the door on Tuesday. On more than one occasion I found myself in a state of great discomfort–as if a personal battle was taking place, as if I was at war with some unseen force which attempted to squelch my every attempt at moving from the layer of grump to the light of gentle speech, kind words and genuine smiling.

As the war continued this week, I pondered how long it had been going on. How long have I lived content with being defeated? How long have I been satisfied with occasional joy, intermittent spells of cheerfulness, and mostly a consistent sense of blahhhhhhhhhhhhh just keep going and do the next thing blahhhhh.

If you have not personally experienced this, I imagine by this point you might think me insane.

But isn’t this the very thing Paul warned the Ephesians?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” {Eph. 6:11-12}

We have this Jesus, who repeatedly told His disciples {Remember all those references last time? John 15:11, 16:24, 16:33, 17:13…} Jesus kept saying: take courage, be of good cheer, “be bolstered from within.” Have My joy fulfilled in you. Choose. Make a resolution. Resolve.

And the earliest followers of Jesus were marked by this otherworldly joy, weren’t they? Persecuted, their kindness abounded. Imprisoned, they lifted voices and hands in chains.

Here’s what I have discovered under close examination: as Christians we have every reason to be the absolute most joyful people on God’s good Earth. And. As Christians, we have an enemy who is a thief, who comes to steal and kill and destroy. 

We’re getting robbed and often? We don’t even see it coming. We don’t know it’s happening. We don’t even realize it has happened.

Nearly two decades ago, I spent a summer in ministry in Mexico. We built houses and painted churches and put on puppet shows for children. One was so amusing one of the lines my dearest friend and I laughed over  came to mind again just a few weeks ago. {Picture a grumpy version of Sesame Street’s Ernie, furrowed brows and a bellowing voice.}

“Yo soy el Robogozo, y ha venida para robar tu alegría!!”

Translation?

“I am the Joystealer, and I have come to steal your joy!”

The Joystealer wrought puppet havoc. But it turned out there was one puppet immune to the power of the Joystealer: the puppet con Cristo en su corazón, The puppet with Christ in her heart, who shared her life and light with those around her, and not only defended herself from the Joystealer… but went on to help others who’d had their joy stolen find new joy in Christ!

I know, it sounds like a ridiculous puppet story, right? But is there truth there? Have I taken nearly twenty years to realize the Robogozo is real and He knows where I live? More important: Could we be a people that resolve to take Christ’s words to heart, take the very heart of Christ to be our own–and allow that joy to form an invincible host against difficulties? Wouldn’t we be a force to be reckoned with! Who wouldn’t want to be a Christian?

The first step is the choice. The choice to resolve. The resolution to be of good cheer. To be bolstered from within. To see past the present to the gift, the hope, the promise eternal that is always ours regardless of circumstance. In Him we have everything we need for life and godliness.

El Robogozo truly does prowl about like a roaring lion, friends. So resolve. Choose. And I’m hoping next week, we’ll continue this conversation with some thoughts about fighting back.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” {John 16:33}

Be of good cheer!

xCC

P.S. Here’s a link in case you missed the first Be of Good Cheer post in this series! Please share with a friend that needs encouragement today, and know that I pray these words will bless your heart. I love hearing from you!

The Good Words, April :: From Grumpmonger to Good Cheer

Funny observation I have about a deviation of the English language from its present state in Great Britain to its present state in the United States: only one side of the pond seems to still use the suffix “monger” for anything of than “fear monger.” In the US, we have “fear mongering” — the act of spreading exaggerated rumors to create fear, however in Great Britain, there are fear mongers, and fishmongers and cheesemongers and I imagine lots of other mongers that I just didn’t have the time to observe from my time in Scotland.

For a good period of my life, I’d like to say I was a bit of a cheer monger. My perpetual mental state was incredibly optimistic and, maybe my parents did a good job of teaching me proper sleeping habits, I tended to wake up like a happy Disney princess on coronation day.

And then parenthood happened.

And while some of the folks who know me in the present might consider me to still be a mostly happy person, I am quite certain it is no longer a consistent state of being. I’m no longer a cheer monger, so much as a hopeful optimist who consistently feels like a let’s-just-survive-today realist.

A few years ago, I met an individual on a few separate occasions that I can only liken to a wet blanket. Our conversations were so heavy and dry and it seemed like there was no space in the world for the possibility of flowers, sunshine, rainbows, or even rainbow colored Skittles candy.

I had been introduced to a grump-monger. An individual consistently prepared to throw a wet blanket on other people’s hopes and dreams, while simultaneously feeling certain that things will work out better for every other person in the room than it will for him or herself. {You won’t find that one in Webster’s friends, but there’s always time for next year.}

In the church, my friends, it just shouldn’t be so.

I’ve recently read the words of Jesus to His disciples just before He made the long and arduous trip to the cross. And these words have stood out to me on every occasion:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” {John 16:33}

I’m fascinated by this one simple thought: Jesus was telling His disciples to take courage, to be of good cheer… the Greek word translated there is defined as “be bolstered from within.” And this isn’t a stand-alone instance.

In John 15:11, Jesus says “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” And further along in 16:24 “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

As He finishes His words to them by praying this one last prayer for them before His early ministry will come to an end, Jesus prays, “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” {John 17:13}

At the most sorrowful point in His life on Earth Jesus keeps speaking this same idea: Yes, the road ahead will be hard. Yes. You will have tribulation. But rejoice. Take heart. Be courageous. Be of good cheer.

Is there hope for a society riddled with trendy sarcasm? Is there hope for us to endure what life will throw our way and not just “grin and bear it” but embrace it, and find joy right here, right now?

For the month ahead, I’d very delightedly like to invite you to join me on a journey to ask the question: how do we find a place in ourselves where we can be of good cheer in the midst of the hard?

What if there’s another place: Moving even past the contentment we’re working on embracing into a place where we see what’s ahead and, no matter what, say “Yes” with a smile? A real one!

I’m excited to walk this out, in hopes of finding the road to joy and the soul-satisfying good cheer right here. I’d love to welcome you to join the journey. At the Collie house, we’ll be learning John 16:33 {NKJV}if you’d like to join us… and here’s a beautiful printable by my dear friend Margaret if you’d like a visual reminder to put a smile on your dial in the month to come! {large one | small one}
I welcome your thoughts, comments, smiles — and even wet blankets, friends. Happy Easter. He is risen. Be of good cheer!

xCC

The Good Words: How Good Friday Bought Paul’s Contentment {And Ours!}

On the Christian calendar, yesterday we celebrated the day we call good. Good Friday, the day we remember that an innocent God was pronounced guilty, taken to a cross at the hands of men, and was crucified. It is counter-intuitive to think of such evil and call it good — but when we remember what was accomplished on that day, the punishment that purchased our peace, the death that gave us true life, we know that God pre-ordained it for our good, and good, so good it is.

This month, if you’ve been following along, we’ve pondered the Apostle Paul’s outrageous claim, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” {Phil. 4: 11-13}

Paul basically says “No matter what… I’m okay.” Wow.

One chapter earlier, it seems Paul gives us a clear picture — not a subtle hint or a mysterious clue — but a very clearly spoken explanation for why this kind of contentment is possible. In chapter three of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about all the reasons he has to boast if the competition for holiness has anything to do with what he has done in service to God. After a long string of accolades which would have been very impressive to the Jews of his day, Paul writes with a surprising commentary:

“All the things that seemed super-awesome before, all my achievements…” {a modern equivalent might be “my multiple PhDs from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, my decades on the mission field serving the poorest of the poor in India, my world-renown last name that is proof of status and wealth”} … “all of it is trash. Refuse. Worthless.”

The NKJV translates Paul’s word choice “rubbish” — scholars seem to think a worse word might be appropriate — but why is everything he could boast in rubbish?

This is the explanation:

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…”

And this is the clue that unlocks the mystery. The plain truth made manifest on a Good Friday two thousand years ago:

Christ is where we can find our contentment. Our hope. Our joy. Our peace. Our everything. And if we truly understand what He accomplished — how His perfection paid for our foolish, selfish sin — then we know that we truly do know a God who has already supplied all that we need for life and godliness. Paid for by His death on the cross.

This is the hope that we have, the hope that is found when we recognize the glorious goodness of Jesus dying for us–the gift that is the one thing we need most and have no chance of finding any other way.

This was my thought at the start of all this pondering:

Paul looks to Christ to find contentment — so that whatever life brings his way, he is able to trust, to survive, and even thrive because Christ is his sustainer, and makes contentment possible in any circumstance.

And it seems that Good Friday cross is the place where the Truth became a crucified reality. His death purchased our life. And this is what it means for us:

Once we realize we have everything we truly need in Him, we can find contentment anywhere, anytime, in every circumstance. Abasing or in abundance… when Christ is our all, when we embrace the idea that He is able to work all things together for our good and His glory, our trust leads to greater contentment. 

Our Good Friday was marked by a guest missing from the table, a broken window at the back door and a trip to Urgent Care for stitches. Every day is an opportunity to suffer under the struggle of wishing things had happened differently. And every day is an opportunity to choose to say “Yes” to God instead, as Mother Teresa said, to “give whatever He takes and take whatever He gives with a smile.”

Next month (tomorrow!) we’ll dive into thinking about that “with a smile” idea, but in the meantime I hope you’ll take a deep breath, open your eyes to the circumstances around you and know that no matter what they are, contentment is yours for the choosing.

Because of Good Friday… and because of the Good Sunday around the bend.

xCC

P.S. If you want a sneak peek of April’s Good Words, you can click here to view and print a small version, or click here to view and print a large version!

How To Crush Contentment in Every Relationship

Has anybody else been focusing on contentment and finding themselves in a holy wrestling match just to feel like they are keeping their head above water? Anyone? Well, I can raise my hand with an emphatic yes in response to that question — and I have some stories to share that will hopefully encourage you to fight for the contentment that will make your life a better space. More on that next week, but in the meantime…

Did you read this blog post title and think I was talking about “crushing” contentment in the gnarly, surfer-dude hanging ten good kind of crushing, or were you leaning towards thinking contentment was getting squashed like a beach ball under a school bus?

Turns out it can go either way. Seriously, one word can help you find a fantastic sense of peace and contentment inside your relationships. And that same word can be the death of all things happy in those exact same relationships.

So what’s the one word?

Expectations.

Years ago, when the Hubs and I were in the midst of soaking up the wisdom of some of our pastors in premarital counseling, we discussed the power of expectations. I tried to put a mental bookmark on that word, to look for it and think about it, and from time to time it has come to the forefront of my mind again: the issue here is expectations.

But a recent explanation in a sermon by Andy Stanley brought my understanding of expectations in relationships to a new level of insight.

Stanley pointed out the very simple idea that we come into any relationship (especially marriage) with often unexpressed, but still very real, expectations of the other person. We might expect our husband to take out the trash. We might expect our wife to have a hot meal on the table at six pm sharp. That’s what your Dad did. This is what your Mom did. Simply put, things we’ve seen and experienced have created expectations.

In our nature as fallen human beings, there is always going to be a gap between our expectations and our actual lived experience. You were expecting him to naturally remember and always notice that the trash needed to be taken out without you having to ask. But in your experience, he never takes the trash out without you asking, and it makes you feel like a nag to ask. So instead you take out the trash yourself while feeling frustrated and disappointed that he didn’t notice and take it out for you.

In that gap between expectations and experience lies the area that you have control over. And here are your options:

Option A is to assume that your expectations are completely realistic, and assume the worst. He sees the trash and doesn’t want to do it. The jerk.

Option B is to choose to carefully manage your expectations and believe the best. He is very busy and things are weighing on him at work. He probably hasn’t thrown anything away and didn’t even notice the trash at all.

Are these words from 1 Corinthians 13 familiar to you? Perhaps if you’ve ever attended a wedding…

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

When we choose the most generous explanation possible for the difference between our expectations and our actual experience, we choose to give life to our own souls, and to the souls of the people we are in a relationships with. 

And that life-giving choice paves the way for a road contentment can travel on. When we are not suspecting, assuming and waiting for those we care about to fail us and mess up, we naturally behave differently toward them. And we feel differently about them, and about our relationships with them.

Whether you’re wondering why that friend didn’t invite you to that thing at that place, or you’re still wondering why that husband didn’t take out the trash again (Y’all this really is not a problem at the Collie house… it’s just such a great example! Hero Hubs is on it!) you will find life and joy and peace when you choose to “believe all things” — to believe the best possible explanation.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life. {Prov. 4:23}

What’s amazing about this principle is that it absolutely applies to our relationship with God. When you start guarding your heart and thinking about what you are choosing to believe, what thoughts you are allowing to become expectations, everything changes. What do you believe when things happen to you that are different from your expectations? Are you generous toward God in your heart?

When you pray and it doesn’t work out how you asked, or when you hoped and things happened differently, or when you were just trying to get through the morning and it felt like the world had gone mad because someone forgot to flush the toilet and someone else dropped a beloved toy into that non-flushed toilet and you got the toy out and put it in an empty yogurt tub of hot soapy water and the baby walked by and decided to pull that tub of water down for an early baptism while two other kids fought over who sat in your lap while you read a devotional to them on the couch? Not that I speak from personal experience about such things. What will you choose to believe?

Remember again what Paul wrote:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. {Phil 4:11-12}

Paul could be content whether abased or abounding because He believed in a God — as He wrote to the Romans — who could cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him.

If we believe that Truth — if it is our realest and truest expectation of God — our perception of every single circumstance, from car accidents to potty training incidents, from a careless word here to a cancer diagnosis there, all of it can become an opportunity for us to trust that we will see His goodness and be a part of extending His glory.

This Truth does not belittle the very hard things that we walk through in this world. Rather, it dignifies them — saying that they are not the hapless and careless change of a cosmic Big Bang or a god sitting on Olympus and toying with mankind. This Truth says God is very near, and we believe the very best about Him: He is real, and He is good. And in His all-powerful goodness, He can work all things out for our good and His glory.

For better or for worse, my friends, expectations will crush contentment. Guard them. Ponder them. Carefully choose what will you believe. And on a hope and a prayer, you will learn to crush contentment. In the hang-ten, gnarly kind of way, of course.

xCC

What Makes Contentment Possible in the Fire?

Picture this. You’re living life as a refugee, completely under the authority of a self-worshiping totalitarian dictator. He’s completely certain he deserves all the honor and worship all of his subjects can muster and…

you’re completely certain he doesn’t.

You and a few of your fellow captives in this totalitarian regime blatantly refuse to even put yourselves in a posture where it would appear that you will give any glory to this despot. He knows. And he’s not happy.

Does this story sound familiar?

Enter the guards, stage left, who will escort you to a ridiculously hot furnace and… you guessed it… toss you in to certain doom.

You’re with me now, right? The Hebrew dudes with the crazy names — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — were tossed into a fire for refusing to worship the Babylonian King.

And we all know the part we get really excited about — the part where the king looks in and sees four guys walking around in the furnace, instead of just three, and “one of them looks like the Son of God.” We read this, or we hear the story, and we take joy and comfort in the fact that we know, love and serve a God that comes to us in places of utter despair, the God that joins us in the furnace, the God that comes near no matter the trial.

And yes!! Yes! That is good, good news — absolutely worth celebrating!

But it is not the end of the story.  {Read the story here if you’d like to enjoy it more fully!}

Do you know what happens next? Nebuchadnezzar does this complete 180 and suddenly you hear these words coming out of the mouth of the guy that seemed like an insane totalitarian despot just moments ago:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”

One minute those guys are trusting, willing to die, perhaps praying God will save the day and they will not be thrown in the furnace. Moments later, they’ve endured the trial and an entire empire — one of the largest empires known to have ever existed on our planet — is about to hear the story of the One True God who can deliver His people from furnaces and deserves the worship of all of mankind.

Let’s step away from this amazing story for just a moment to ask a question. Why did God create us? Surely He is perfectly wise and good and holy and all-knowing and all-powerful and all-present — so what was the big idea when it came to creating some people in His own image?

Over the centuries theologians have pondered this question and basically come to just a couple of simple conclusions. With no intention of oversimplifying the gloriously complex and amazing possibilities of a Creator who infinitely exceeds our capabilities for understanding, the conclusions we’ve drawn are these two:

Man was created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (As the Westminster Catechism puts it.) Others might say we were created to enjoy His grace and extend His glory. (David Platt, Radical)

What if that is the case? And what does it mean for us to find our way through this world full of joys and storms and sunsets and fiery furnaces — clinging to a belief that we are not only here to enjoy the Grace, but also to extend the Glory?

One of my favorite verses a dear college roommate introduced me to was this one:

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” {2 Peter 3:9}

How does it feel when you’re clinging to God, hoping He will make something possible, or heal something or open some door or fulfill something that truly seems like a promise straight out of His Word and into your heart — and it just doesn’t happen?

Kind of like the Lord is slack, right? Like when Mary saw Jesus after her brother Lazarus died and she just lays it all out there honest and upset, “If you had been here, he would not have died.” She knows God’s power and she says — I counted on You to show up. I called for You to show up. You knew this was going to happen. Not awesome.

Do you remember what Jesus said when He heard Lazarus was sick — just a few verses before all this shook out? “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” {see John 11} The Scripture goes on to explain: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.”

He loved them — and so He stayed away two more days. And we look at that and it’s easy — without knowing the whole story to say, “Slack. That just seems kinda slack.”

But when the story unfolds? It is so incredibly glorious. How much more joy do you think Mary and Martha experienced in life with their brother every day for the rest of their lives after those four days without him? And how much joy would they have had in being part of the story of one of the most miraculous experiences to happen to all of mankind? Through this, they enjoyed the Grace and extended the Glory.

Crazy amazing stuff. In the modern version of this story, everyone is tweeting #LazarusRises and taking selfies at his house and by the tomb where he lay dead for four days. Mary starts a blog and has billions of followers as she testifies continuously about the glorious goodness of Jesus who showed up — in His perfect timing.

Now here’s where all this ties together with a nice little bow that could be hard to tie for some of us: Contentment can only happen when we trust that there is more to life than just enjoying God’s grace and goodness. There has to be the part where we are a part of extending His glory.

Because if we think God’s only job is to make us happy? We will not be happy.

But what if we believe that He is not slack concerning His promises? That He works and wills and moves in mysterious ways because He is not willing for anyone to die without Him, He is longing for everyone to find Him and join the joy of enjoying His grace and extending His glory?

That means your pain and mine, our fiery furnaces and uphill battles and incredible struggles — can have a purpose so far beyond our capacity for understanding that we will just have to put up our hands and say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him!”

“I have tasted His goodness and I know that even if I never taste it again this side of heaven, still — I am confident that He is good and unfathomably wise and deserving of glory.”

It’s that one word we talked about last week, that sums up all of contentment: Trust.

Dr. Seuss might say:
I can be content here, or there,
I can be content anywhere.
I can live on trust and prayer
God is on the throne up there.

I can be content in June,
up a tree or on the moon.
Mine is not a story of doom,
God is on the throne up there.

In the fire’s burning glare
Through the waters lacking air,
Threatened in a Lion’s layer,
God is on the throne up there.

I can be content, it’s true!
I can be and so can you!
Trust, it’s what we have to do:
God is on the throne up there.

This is the hope we have, friends, that we are part of a double-purposed story.

We can trust He will allow us to enjoy His grace. We can trust we will have the privilege of being part of extending the glory. Whether it’s the baby peeing on the bathroom floor or the Doctor’s Report that makes it seem like the world just starting crashing in around you — know that there is always more to the story than what you see.

It can still be good. And it can still be glorious.

xCC

 

More encouragement for the journey of enjoying the Grace and extending the Glory… {Recent Favorites}

Radical by David Platt

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Come Be My Light (the writings of Mother Teresa)

The Good Words :: This One Word Makes Contentment Possible

Passing by the local playground down by the River last week, I noticed an unusual sight. In our sleepy wee town, the playground might have a half dozen cars at any given time, and typically only has an overflow when people are putting their boats in at the ramp across the road, but on this particular afternoon cars were packed in every space, and additional cars were circling the parking lot, just waiting to snag a much-coveted spot to park.

What was all the raucous about? Well, for the better part of a couple of days last week, the winds were reminiscent of a place I lived years ago in South Africa. The locals say “The wind was born in Gordon’s Bay.” The days of “Gordon’s Bay winds” resulted in an unusual phenomenon in our neck of the woods. The water in the river blew out towards the sound, leaving a mucky riverbed bare for all to see. Long buried driftwood scattered the landscape, and even remnants of a ship sunk in the 1860s were said to have been identified.

And all those cars clamoring in the parking lot? They wanted a chance to look out across the mucky riverbed, and maybe snag a few photos to share on social media.

Looking out at that dry(ish) ground and wondering if the water had blown out far enough to cross to the other side, I immediately began pondering the parting of the Red Sea, when God had a steady wind blowing all night that created a path right through the midst of the sea to allow the Israelites to cross to the other side.

I was reading the story again last week — how the Israelites cried out to the Lord to deliver them and He heard their cries and called Moses to return to Egypt and deliver His people. While all this deliverance was taking place, it was easy to very quickly get frustrated with the Israelites, reading their story and thinking about how they handled the situations they encountered.

Moses speaks to Pharaoh and Pharaoh increases the burdens they need to shoulder, the “bricks with no straw” situation. The plagues begin and God begins to differentiate between His people and the Egyptians — the Egyptians’ livestock are diseased while the Israelites’ are spared. Darkness covers Egypt, except in the dwellings of the Israelites. The Egyptians lose their firstborn sons while the Israelites are spared.

Finally Pharaoh agrees to let God’s people go, and with heaps of parting gifts from their Egyptian neighbors, the Israelites set out on a long walk to freedom.

They arrive at the Red Sea and, looking back, realize Pharaoh has had a change of heart (again) and has decided to chase them down. What’s their response?

“So were there not enough graves in Egypt? Is that why you’ve taken us here — to die in the wilderness?”

Fear shouts louder than faith — and the people who have JUST seen miracles are scared to death.

This part might be familiar — they wait by the Red Sea all night, the wind blows the waters back, and (a little bit more impressive than our situation) they walk through the sea with walls of water on either side and a furious Egyptian army chasing after them.

God delivers them, the Egyptians are swept away when Red Sea Boulevard closes up, and there they are — delivered from slavery, free — a people able to steer their own destiny.

But before the Egyptian chariots have settled on the sea floor, the Israelites — who by the way have just sung all these delightful songs and danced and given thanks to the Lord for their deliverance — now begin to complain again, because they’ve been traveling for three days and they have no water to drink.

And you know — I kind of get it. Needing water is totally valid. But it doesn’t say anybody prayed for water. It doesn’t say anybody turned to the Lord and asked for it. It just says they arrived at some water that was bitter and complained against Moses:

“How’s anybody supposed to drink anything around here?”

Moses cries out to God, God shows him how to make the bitter waters sweet and … you’d think from this point they’d live happily ever after, right?

But fast forward some fifteen verses into the next chapter and…

“The whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron. […] ‘Oh that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of mean and when we ate bread to the full!'”

Again — food is a totally valid need — but it never says anyone prayed or cried out to the Lord. It just keeps using one verb to talk about the Israelites are doing: complained.

We could go on and on but I think you’re picking up on the pattern I’m putting down: fear gets the better of the Israelites, and instead of leaning into faith, they complain.

And goodness gracious, let’s be honest. Am I kinda sorta sometimes the same way? Have I seen His hand make molehills out of mountains — but do I still fall short and get scared and lose hope?

This is the difference between their attitude toward the God who delivered them and Paul’s. Remember those verses about contentment?

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
{Phil. 4:11-13}

The big difference between Paul’s faith and the Israelites who left Egypt can be summed up in one word. Are you ready for it?

Trust.

It is so easy to get scared. When it seems like provision isn’t coming. When it seems like the worst possible outcome is the one that is going to happen — or maybe even has already happened.

But what if we trust that God can use anything — anything — for our good and His glory?

Next week will mark the five year anniversary of me losing my Dad. At the time of his death, it absolutely seemed like the worst possible outcome — the thing that we were praying so fervently for didn’t happen. The miracle we begged God for never became a reality.

But somehow, in the days and weeks and months and years that followed, I have seen God’s hand in it. I experienced the presence of God in that time of grief like I never have before. I drew near to God and discovered more and more of His deep and rich and full-to-overflowing love for me. That week in the hospital and the very difficult experiences that followed it were perhaps the most difficult moments I’ve navigated in my life so far — but on the other side of that, I saw God’s glory. I saw His hand when over a hundred thousand dollars of medical bills were paid for. When my new baby girl helped me overcome the sorrow and see that life could still go on, and life could still be beautiful.

His hand is near in a million little ways — but only he who sees takes off his shoes.

And this is the question we will all have to answer, when the wind blows hard and the river is gone and the problems and difficulties of a challenging season of life seem laid bare: Can we trust God here in this place? Do we think He is big enough to handle this? Can He provide manna, even in this desert?

A heart that trusts is a heart that says “Yes, Lord, even this. Even this can work out for my good and Your glory. I will wait, I will find peace because I will find You. I trust You.

Contentment is worth fighting for, friends. Join me in trusting an unknown future to a God who knows, sees and cares enough to part the waters just for you.

xCC

 

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