The Mulligan

In golf, there’s a shot called the Mulligan. It happens when you hit a terrible shot, and want a do-over. It’s a free re-tee. A concession from the rest of the people playing with you that that shot didn’t happen.

image credit: photo-dictionary.com

image credit: photo-dictionary.com

And they’re glorious. Before the last shot, you were embarrassed. Frustrated. Angry. Confused. Lost in the woods. Ready to quit.

Now? There’s great potential. You have the whole fairway in front of you. The green is wide open. You’re still on your first shot. Still on the tee box, at least as far as the group, and more importantly, your scorecard, is concerned.

Mulligans put you back at *zero.* They erase the mistake.

Mulligans in life

Don’t you wish you could take a mulligan in life?

There’s something you did that you regret. Someone you hurt. Somewhere you went. Someone you trusted.

You dropped your savings on something. You were hurt by someone.

Maybe your mistakes were made public, your life on display as a spectacle for others. Maybe someone else’s stupid decisions affected you. And you’d like your mulligan to cancel out her choices, too.

And you want a mulligan. You’d like to wipe the slate clean.

You’d like to move on as if that never happened. As if he never did ______. She never said ______. You never did ______.

That’s exactly the kind of shot that God gives us. Check this out:

‘He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.’ – David, Psalm 103:12

Do you know how far the east is from the west? Infinite. Because the east and the west never touch. Ever. East is never west, and west is never east. “As far as the east is from the west” means that God has completely removed your sin from you. It can’t be further from you. It’s even better than a mulligan, because it’s like God says, “Go ahead. Take a free shot. But…oh wait, I’ll tee it up for you. And I’ll hit it for you. And I’ll forget you ever even had a bad shot.”

David goes on to say of God:

‘The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.’ – Psalm 103:13

A father doesn’t hate his child that needs a re-do. He has compassion for them. “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.” (Psalm 103:9) We may hold on to our hurt, our despair, and our frustrations. We may cling to our past failures. But God offers “steadfast love” to us. He redeems us from the pit.” (Psalm 103:4) In fact, the moment we turn to God we find Him running to us! (Luke 15:20) He’s not standing ready to condemn us all over again. He’s removed our sins from us.

You need a re-do today. A God-sized mulligan. Go ahead. Re-tee that ball.

We serve a God of second chances.

 

Don’t waste your fail

737_600

image credit: vmvt.it

When I was in college, working on my undergraduate degree, I had a class in swine production.

I know, I know…sounds just like what you’d expect a guy who would end up as a pastor would study, right?

My path to full-time vocational ministry was not the one of least resistance.

A few times that semester, we got to visit a pig farm, and see the whole production. We’d help with the newborn pigs, watch a feeding time, see how research was conducted (on the research farm on campus), and meet with various workers. It was fascinating.

And made your clothes smell horrible.

There was no faking that you’d been to the pig farm. You had to change clothes and shower before your next class…every time.

One thing that stuck with me from that class was the way that nothing was wasted on the farm. Not even the pigs’ poop.

The poop was piled in a barn, and over the course of a year, the poop would compost, leaving a rich fertilizer that the farmers would use to fertilize the fields that other animals would graze. It was an incredible additive and boost to those fields, giving yields that greatly surpassed the non-fertilized fields. In other words, the poop made the crops grow faster.

Pig poop, though foul-smelling to us humans, contains nutrients that help crops grow really well. After it was harvested and composted (by which time it didn’t stink anymore), it was simply spread across the field in the spring, just before a rain, its nutrients used by the budding crops.

The poop from your past

You’ve got poop in your life. Things you’ve done that you’re not proud of. Things that have been done to you that you wish hadn’t happened. Dreams that you lost, relationships that crumbled. Jobs lost. Marriages destroyed. Addictions that you’re ashamed of. You’ve messed up in a way that you’d hope and pray nobody would ever mess up. You’ve done things…or not done thing…that you never want to repeat.

We typically do one of two things with that pain and suffering:

  1. Ignore it and act like it never happened.
  2. Wallow in it.

Neither is healthy.

Option 1 leaves us judgmental of others who have real pain, ignorant of our own Pharisaical stench. We’re left with a shallow understanding of our sin and pain…and thus a shallow understanding of God’s goodness and grace. Acting like “poop” never happened wastes our pain.

Option 2 leaves us in a crying, heaping, depressed, self-depracating mess. All of the time. We get stuck in what “could’ve been,” what “should’ve been,” and “who I wish I was,” constantly making ourselves pay for our past mistakes over and over again. OR making others pay for our past mistakes by disengaging from those who love us, and who would love to help. Wallowing in our “poop” wastes our pain.

I’ve got a 3rd option, and I take my cue from the pig poop.

Allow your failures to help someone else.

The way God brought you through the junk can help someone else who, right now, can’t see the light. They’re stuck. They’re in the middle of an addiction or the throes of suffering.

Live a life full of grace because you’ve been graced so much by the King. Live a life of love because you were loved first. Live a life of forgiveness because of the heaping amounts of forgiveness you’ve been given that you can never repay. Live a life of generosity because you’ve been given so much.

Your valleys can become great pastures that others can graze from as they see you living life to the full. (John 10:10)

No need to ignore the past. It’s purpose isn’t to hold you back. No need to wallow in it, either.

Let someone else graze from it.

If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:6-7

 

Lance Armstrong and the spiral of deceit

oly_g_armstrong11_576

image credit: ESPN

 

Lance Armstrong will announce to the world tonight that he used performance enhancing drugs as part of his run to dominate the cycling world. You may or may not think that cheating at cycling is a big deal. I get it. National exposure for cheating at a niche sport is pretty weird, right? Probably not enough to get national exposure and receive the kind of press that it’s received.Until you consider that Lance is a hero outside of the racing world. See, Lance contracted testicular cancer at age 25. Left untreated, it spread throughout his body, and he had a massive, very public, battle with cancer. Knowing not whether he would live or die, he launched the LiveStrong Foundation, and began advocating and fighting for the life of people stricken with cancer. LiveStrong has done tremendous work in the area of cancer research.

But Lance has learned what many of us have learned. As he covered up his cheating by lying about his steroid use, he had to lie even more. Sin compounded sin compounded sin. The more people he deceived, the more people he had to deceive as he spiraled downward.

Sin loves to hide itself behind layers of more sin.

Lance lied publicly and privately. As people questioned his actions, he went after them, publicly and privately. In the public courts and the courts of public opinion, Lance trampled on people as they called his integrity into question. Threatening phone calls, law suits, and nasty emails were sent to try to “disprove” Lance’s guilt.

The Reaction To Confrontation

Which is no shock to us, right? When you’re called out for something you’ve done, you tend to not react so positively, right?

Sin has a way of masking itself. With masks on top of masks. The deeper you go, the deeper you have to go. The more people you deceive, the more you have to continue to deceive.

In Scripture, King David knew this, too. (see 2 Samuel 11) He saw a beautiful girl, and he wanted her. So he summoned Bathsheba to his quarters, and slept with her. He sent her home, only to soon find out she was pregnant. So to cover up his sin, he decided to pull her husband, Uriah, home from the war. He got Uriah drunk, and urged him to go home and sleep with his wife, hoping to cover up his sin by leading everyone to believe Uriah had gotten Bathsheba pregnant. Sin covering sin.

Uriah didn’t take the bait.

So David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the war so he would be killed. David had Uriah killed to cover his sin.

Adultery, murder, lying and deceit.

You know what broke the cycle? Nathan, the prophet, confronted David on his sin.

David was absolutely broken. He confessed his sin and received forgiveness. He was completely open with God about his rebellion and need for grace. He admitted he’d messed up in a big way. And you know what the crazy thing was? God heard David, answered him, and restored to him joy!

Finding Hope

Maybe you’re on that spiral right now. You’ve messed up, and very few people know. You’ve got your public persona…and your private persona. And you don’t like that. I know you don’t. It’s not making you happy, and you’re scared to death of the consequences that your exposure could bring.

To stop the spiral, you’ve got to take off the mask. Live life freely in transparency, confession, and ample portions of grace. Quit pretending, quit hiding, and quit living life in fear. Quit acting like everything’s ok, because it’s not. God longs to restore joy to you, and free you from the chains that you’ve shackled yourself with.

Sin loves to hide itself behind layers of more sin. And that cycle won’t stop by itself. In fact, If you want to break that cycle, take a cue from David. Then bask in grace, and be quick to give it away.

If you want to have true joy and true freedom, it’s time to be honest.

Was David’s life easier once he confessed? Nope. In fact, he still had a long, hard road ahead. But it was a brighter, more hopful, more full road than the dark path he was sprinting down.

The road to healing isn’t easy. But your moment of exposure and fleeting shame will lead to a lifetime of restoration and love from our Savior.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

and they will return to you.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,

that my mouth may praise you. – Psalm 51:12-15

 

 

 

When “I don’t feel like it” gets in the way

So my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to save a few bucks on some furniture for the office in our home by buying it unfinished. Sounds like a good plan, right? I mean, it can’t be that much trouble to stain and paint a desk and chair. That’s what I thought.

To make the story shorter, I’m not good at painting or staining.

image by Sam Hughes

We bought the things a few months ago and I’ve just gotten around to finishing them. I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it, it took up a lot of room in our garage, it made a mess of the floor (well, I should probably go ahead and claim that as my fault), and it caused a fair amount of stress because of how long it took for me to finally finish.

Spiritual difficulties

But isn’t this sometimes how the Christian life goes? It’s not easy, it takes up a lot of “space” in our life (as if it’s ours in the first place!), it’s messy, stressful, and not fun. Often, God calls us to do things that we don’t want to do. Don’t believe me? Check Matthew 18:21-22

Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven! I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.'”

Imagine if someone sinned against you in the same way seven times in one day. That’s pretty rough, right? Peter’s no slouch. He’s saying he’ll forgive a person seven times in the same day for the same sin. But Jesus completely blows him out of the water by saying that you are to forgive a person, not just seven times, but seventy times seven!   Jesus calls us to forgive…and forgive…and forgive…and forgive…etc. The reason we are to forgive is rooted in God’s forgiveness of us, first of all.  We offer grace and forgiveness to others because we realize that we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.  Secondly, we offer forgiveness because judgment is coming.  After the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-34), Jesus says that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive our brothers from our heart.

This verse causes me to lose sleep at night.

We’re not called to forgive others because we feel like it. If we were to wait until we felt like forgiving people, most of us would never get around to it.  We’re called to forgiveness whether we feel like it or not because God has forgiven us, and our debt to Him was beyond anything that any person could ever “owe” us.

I forgive others, not always because I just want to, but because I trust God knows what He’s doing (it’s usually a good idea to trust a God who created the earth and rose from the dead, neither of which I can do).

Ultimately, I’m glad that I bought the unpainted furniture.  I saved some money, I am proud that I finished it, and it looks good in our office.  It also pointed me to my relationship with God.

What’s He calling you to do today that you don’t want to do?


 

 

The sound of hope

What does hope sound like?

I love what Jason Roy, of Building 429 (and of Grace Community Church…Jason’s one of the worship leaders at my church) has to say.

‘”I forgive you.  Daddy, I love you!” Isn’t that the sound of hope?’

‘We have this huge God who loves us, who says over and over to us, in the moment of our sin, where we need Him most desperately, He says, ‘I love you!  You’re forgiven!’  That’s the sound of hope to me.”

We all need hope.  We’re sinners living in a broken world.

Thankfully, God’s grace and forgiveness is free.

but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more – Romans 5:20

* While you’re at it, pick up Jason’s new album on iTunes HERE.

 

The Old is Gone, 11s on the 1s

Graphic by Matt Gruber

In a concerted effort to use fewer words and drive home a more powerful point, I’m writing 11-word posts.  You can see other posts in this series HERE.

They don’t attempt to answer every question you may have.  They aren’t going to change your life.  But, hopefully they’ll make you think.  And since they’re so short, you don’t have an excuse not to read them.

The Old is Gone

God’s love is much bigger than your past failures. Believe it.


 

Why you can’t see God right now

You can’t see God right now because you don’t want to.

I read 95% non-fiction.  The fiction I read is stuff like The Pilgrim’s Progress.

I know…I’m a nerd.  But I’m a learner (StrengthsFinder confirmed that), and am always looking for some new concept to engage.  Fiction doesn’t necessarily offer something new to learn…it offers a fun experience.  A story that is engaging, funny, or exciting.  And though there are definitely messages and truths to be found in fiction writings, be honest…that’s not why you read them.  You read them because you enjoy getting lost in a good story.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Which is why, throughout the month of December, I decided to put down my nonfiction and pick up a good story.  I’m reading (almost done) through the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.  Rick is a good storyteller, and I’ve enjoyed reading through the books.

The Mist

In the books, monsters and half-bloods (half-human, half-god) live, work, and fight right among mortals.  There’s a Mist that’s present on Earth (hang with me…I’m going somewhere…it’s fiction, okay?) that causes mortals to see supernatural people and events in a way that is not supernatural…which explains why we never “see” any of these events.  The main character (Percy Jackson) wields his sword and fights with a god in the city of Los Angeles…and the newspapers report that damage has been done by an earthquake.  When he fights 3 demons in a city bus, mortals see something completely different, explaining away what they saw as a natural occurrence.  In another instance, mortals saw a homeless boy that was big and goofy…through the Mist, he was really a Cyclops.

A little silly, yes.  A little childish, maybe.  But there are implications here for us.

We choose the Mist

Because we do the same thing every day.  God is at work all around us.  He’s causing the sun to rise and the rain to fall. (Matthew 5:45)  He’s changing hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26).  He’s turning the hearts of fathers to the hearts of their children. (Malachi 4:6) He’s holding the universe together.  (Colossians 1:17)  He’s healing relationships.  Overcoming fears. (2 Timothy 1:7)  Breaking the bonds of addiction.  Restoring marriages.  Drawing those who are far from Him closer.  Answering our cries for help.

And yet we choose to still ask, “Where’s God?!?”

The reason you can’t see God right now is not because He’s absent. Or abandoned you.  He doesn’t work like that.

The reason you can’t see God right now is because you’ve chosen not to. Even when you’re far from Him.  And your story has taken you off the best path.  And you’ve got more junk in your life than you’d like to admit.

God’s not far away (Acts 17:27).  You’ve just got to look through the Mist.

Have you seen God working lately?

Have you ever chosen to not see what He’s doing?

 

Hindering the work of God

Would you ever ban somebody from being a part of your small group?

That question has been going through my mind after I read an article about some  American pastors who went to Uganda to speak against homosexuality.  They preached in support of a bill that

…creates a new category of crime called “Aggravated Homosexuality,” which calls for death by hanging for gays or lesbians who have sex with anyone under 18 and for so-called “serial offenders.”

The bill also calls for seven years in prison for “attempt to commit homosexuality,” five years for landlords who knowingly house gays, three years for anyone, including parents, who fail to hand gay children over to the police within 24 hours and the extradition of gay Ugandans living abroad.   ABC News article

So these American pastors are encouraging people to hunt down homosexuals because homosexuality is wrong and destroys the family.  They have also met with the Ugandan government and preached their message to them.

Is this the way the church should treat lost and broken people?

NO!

Even if you agree that homosexuality is a sin, and destroys the family, inciting a manhunt is not what God would have us do.

Here are a couple of tips on dealing with the lost and broken when they’re in our small group.  Though the sin of homosexuality may make you uncomfortable to talk about, I encourage you, for the sake of those who need your grace and love, to consider the following:

1. Remember that Christ didn’t die for you because you were good. He died for you while you were still his enemy.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8

2. Remember that sanctification doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a process. And processes take a lot of time to finish.  In fact, the process of sanctification won’t be complete in this lifetime.

3. Remember that God hates your sin. He hates it so much that He would deny you a relationship with Him, if it weren’t for Christ.

4. Listen. People appreciate when you ask them to share their story.  But they feel loved and valued when you actually listen and engage them while they’re sharing.

5. Speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth is good.  But truth without love is abrasive.  And hurtful.  And unhelpful.  It doesn’t have the other’s best interest at heart.  It’s self-serving and self-focused.  It’s un-Godlike.

6. Be open and honest about your own struggles. This helps you to fight against pride, and makes others feel more comfortable in being honest about their struggles.

7. Invite an open dialog. Instead of condemning the lost and broken, ask if they’d be open to thinking through what the Bible has to say.  And don’t let the conversation drift into a discussion that slams one sin, and minimizes another.  It’s easy to condemn the sins that we don’t struggle with.  It makes us feel better about the sins we constantly have to battle. Don’t fall into that trap.

8. Be quick to forgive. Those quick to forgive understand the true nature of their sin against God.  Those not quick to forgive don’t truly understand the nature of their own sin, and the loving mercy of God.

9. Offer prayer and further pastoral care and counseling to those open to it.

Notice that I didn’t say, “Ask them to leave.”  OR, “Point out every passage in the Bible that condemns their sin.”  OR, “Petition the government to hang them.” (see article above that does just that)

Those who are broken and lost don’t need our heaping condemnation.  They need our pursuing, relentless love. Jesus, to an adulterous woman, said these words:

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”John 8:9-11

A sin is a sin, no matter how small.

Do you treat some sins as worse (in God’s eyes) than others?

 

Tiger Shanks it in the Woods

I recently wrote a sports editorial piece for a local paper here in middle Tennessee, the I-24 Exchange.  For your convenience, I thought I’d re-post it here on my blog, though you can also find it HERE.  Keep in mind…this was written last Thursday, before the news of Tiger’s indefinite leave from the game of golf.

Tiger Shanks it in the Woods

Tiger Woods

Unless you live in a hole, you’ve heard the news about “the greatest golfer of all time.”  Tiger Woods was taken to the hospital for an accident he had in his SUV just outside of his Ocoee, FL, home, at 2:25 AM on Friday, December 2nd (momma always said that nothing good happens after midnight).

It was suspected that Tiger was driving under the influence that night.  Rumors of marital troubles between he and his wife, Elin, only led to confirmation of years of infidelity on Tiger’s part. Elin, at this point seems to be sticking around…for the kids.  His sponsors are sticking with him (though who knows for how long).

Tiger’s life is spinning out of control.  To say that more accurately, Tiger’s life has already spun out of control.  He’s reaping the fruit of years of poor decisions.

Why are we as a society drawn to stories where people’s lives seem to be spiraling into an absolute dumpster fire?  Maybe it helps us to feel better about our own life. Maybe we see ourselves somewhere in the story.  Maybe it’s because we have a morbid fascination with the failure of others. Maybe we’re just thankful it’s not us.

Tiger messed up.  But so have I.  And so have you.  None of us have lived a life immune from bad decisions and moral failures.  Tiger, on his website, says, “I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.”  You may, or may not, have cheated on your spouse, but you’re not perfect either.  I’d venture to guess that, at least one point in your life, you’ve been in need of someone’s forgiveness.  You were guilty, and there was no denying it.

There’s hardly a greater feeling in life than being forgiven.  To be granted a fresh start.  To have your slate wiped clean.   It’s as if a heavy, unbearable burden has been lifted off of you.

Is Tiger’s career over?  Is he going to be counted as “the greatest golfer of all time?”  Or has this exposure marred his fame and fortune forever?  Only time can tell.

But instead of our eyes and hearts that are quick to judge, and quick to thirst for more and more dirt, maybe we would be better off extending grace and forgiveness.  Tiger doesn’t deserve that.  But by very definition grace is not deserved.  It is not earned.  It’s granted by the one who has been wronged.

I vote to give him a second chance.  And I’m thankful that others have done the same for me.