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Entries in guilt (2)

Monday
Apr082013

failureocity

You are a complete and utter failure. Me too, actually.

Ain't it great? Wow! What freedom! What a wonderful gift! Can you believe that we ... err ... some of you have that "look" on your  face. OK, let me back up a bit.

A while back I was thinking about my life. Mostly I was thinking, "Wow. I really haven't accomplished anything worthwhile, have I? And I'm overweight. And I'm in debt. And I tend to make some bad choices. I'm pretty sure God's unhappy with me."

Best. Thought process. EVER.

Because it was around that time I started to realize I have to actually change something if I want to live the life I want to live, and that God intended me to live.

Haven't accomplished anything worthwhile? Did I plan to do anything worthwhile?

Overweight? Was I adjusting my diet, and was I exercising more often?

In debt? Was I improving my financial education and making to changes to how I think about and manage money?

Bad choices? Was I learning from them, and consciously deciding not to repeat them?

God's unhappy with me? Can I blame Him? What have I done to please Him? What have I done to glorify Him? What have I done to be obedient to Him?

Thank God I finally woke up. I spent the first 40 years of my life vacillating about right and wrong, about wealth and poverty, about health and sickness, about all the aspects of my life I was unhappy with, and whether or not I was unhappy enough to CHANGE THEM. 

I wasn't. Or rather, I was, but I wasn't willing to change them. I hadn't made the decision to make changes in my life. I hadn't asked God to change me, because I was afraid of the pain that would come with change. But above all, I was afraid of failing.

Thing is, I actually made a thinking error right from the start. See, I made this assumption that God was unhappy with me based on the fact that I was unhappy with me. And sure, maybe God would have preferred I make better choices. Maybe He was displeased with the choices I was making. But "unhappy" is a long way from "not loving," which is how I was thinking of it. I was thinking, "I haven't done anything to earn God's love."

Brrrrt. WRONG! Back to zero. Re-read the rules. You are playing the wrong game. No wonder you're losing!

God may well be unhappy about your life and your choices. But that isn't the same as not loving you. He loves you, no matter what, because He made you to be loved. He sent Christ as a sacrifice, the embodiment of God and man, to die in our place for the evil and sin in our lives, and to be reborn to prove God's power over evil and sin and death. He did that so that He could just love us, straight up, without us having to do a thing to "earn it." 

We do not have to earn God's love. We have it. We do not have to earn God's forgiveness. We have it. We have only to accept Christ as the guiding force in our lives, the strength in our hearts, the rule for how we think and behave and decide. All of that, it's what Christ came here to make available to us.

And we fail.

Oh yeah, we fail. Big time. We lust. We envy. We lie. We steal. We cheat. We experience wrath and anger. We are gluttonous. If you don't fall somewhere in that list, I bet we can dig for a bit and find something that applies to you. Because we fail. It's what we do.

And God knows that. And He's OK with it. He loves you "even though."

That phrase has special meaning for me and my wife, Kara. When we were planning our wedding, our minister sat with us to counsel us about marriage and the decision we were making. And when he wrote our vows, he included something in them that he had brought up during those sessions. "God loves you even though." Even though you sin. Even though you become angry. Even though you doubt or disbelieve. Even though you fail. God loves you even though.

Look, we're all falling on our faces, all the time. It's going to happen. You should try your best to avoid it, try to make changes, try to be a better steward of the gifts God has given you. But you're going to fail sometimes. It's part of the package. 

God loves you, even though.

And God is your only way to improve. It starts by asking him to change you.

I recommend reading Lord Change Me, by James MacDonald. I first encountered this book when I started attending Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, and it was a great start for changing my life to the glory of God. It offers very practical advice and a structure for asking God to change your life, and for turning away from the sin that has dominated you in the past. 

Short version: Ask God to change you. Repent (turn away) from the sin in your life by proclaiming, "I'm dead to that. And Christ is alive in me." And act on what you know to be good while avoiding what you know to be sin. 

You're going to fail. God knows I do, every day. And when you fail, your first impulse will be to feel an overwhelming guilt and shame. Go ahead. Feel it. Then pray a sincere apology to God, and start again with "Lord, change me." Make the request every time you fall, and make your best effort to die to sin and live in Christ. The effort is worth a lot.

Failing does not make you a failure. In the end, every failure is just a chance to learn and grow and become stronger and better than before. When you pick up and keep going, the failures in your wake become the steps you climb to reach new heights. God is waiting for you at the top, but he's also walking along beside you, to help you get to where you're going. Trust that. Trust that even in failure, God has your back. 

You are amazing. God made you, so you know it's true. 

Thursday
Jan262012

"Be obedient for once"

“Be obedient for once.”

That was the phrase that popped into my head when I was just on the verge, just on the very edge, of doing something I knew I wasn’t supposed to do. In this case it was griping and complaining about someone I have often griped and complained about before. Previously, this phrase has popped into my brain for other chronic sins. It can be a real showstopper.

For the past few weeks I have been in full “learning what God wants from me” mode. I have prayed. I have read. I have prayed about what I read. And in all of that praying and reading (and some sharing with fellow Christians, including my patient and loving wife), I have started to notice that I’m becoming more aware of the problem. Me. I’m the problem. Big surprise.

I’ve already written about my trouble listening. It has been a recurring issue in my life, and I’m getting the message now that God doesn’t really approve of that. In fact, I’m pretty much getting the message that God wants me to actively change that little fault about myself. And to help nudge me along, He has started putting all kinds of stuff in my path. It seems that once you start listening for God, He actually has a whole lot to say, and you’re not going to be comfortable hearing all of it.

So every day, practically every minute of every day, I have an almost constant awareness of how I am thinking and acting. Whenever I do something that displeases God, He reminds me with a sudden burst of insight, which typically leads to me feeling guilty (or maybe convicted would be a better term?), and wanting to making amends.

That’s what has been happening every time I open my mouth to gripe about people or things that irritate me or annoy me or cause me to feel otherwise nonplussed. I start complaining, and I get into it just like I always have, tearing the non-present person a new one, and then … YAAARRRRGGGHHH! Guilt trip. Of my own creation, of course. I’m kind of thinking God doesn’t bother with sending you a guilt trip directly because He knows that if He just gently, quietly, firmly reminds you there will be a self-induced guilt trip on its way in now time. I can punish myself just fine, apparently.

Today, I’ve been on that trip several times. Throughout the day I have grumbled and mumbled, and started saying things to my fellow employees or to my friends or to my wife that I know, for a fact, I should not be saying. Before, when I would launch into these tirades, I hardly noticed. Yeah, eventually I would feel all tight in the chest and the back of the neck and across my brow. I might even feel a tinge guilty about being such a loudmouthed jerk. But for the most part the whole thing was automatic, and I hardly even noticed I was doing it.

This has changed.

Now, when I start complaining about people, places, things or circumstances, I almost immediately realize it. I’m aware of it, in a way that I’ve never been aware before. It hits like a sudden high wave in light surf. It sways me in my step.

And as I pay more attention to it, and as I obey God by putting a stop it when I realize this is what I’m doing, and I make some sort of amends in my effort to repent from it … well, wouldn’t you know, the “alert” just starts coming faster and faster. I’m thinking that eventually it’s going to pop up at the mere thought of complaining and griping.

That’s already starting to happen.

Today I had the opportunity to really dish about someone. I could have torn them to pieces in a series of text messages that I know, for a fact, would have been received with glee and laughter and maybe even applause. I could have used griping and complaining as a tool for bonding with a friend. We could have sneered and laughed together, just like old times.

“Be obedient for once.”

What? Wait … no! I mean … yeah, of course. Yeah. I’ll be obedient. For once.

And so I didn’t do it. I didn’t gripe. I didn’t complain. I didn’t dish.

That’s tough. In fact, it’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I’m so used to being able to just spew whatever vile thoughts are in my head. Years of training. Years of practice. But now, as I remember Proverbs 3:6 (In all your ways submit to [the Lord], and He will direct your path), I’m slowly starting to overcome that training. I’m slowly, achingly, painfully starting to realize that God actually means it when He says, “Be obedient.” Who knew?

Well, OK. Everyone but me.

The last time this happened, when the voice said, “Be obedient for once,” and I was, things changed. A sin I have indulged in nearly my whole life suddenly had less force. It hasn’t gone away entirely. It has crept back in once or twice. But it went from a daily sin to a “once or twice” sin overnight. I’d call that progress. I’m working on 100%.

I have a theory about this little voice. I think it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s like a support beam for my conscience. It is bolstering me, keeping me upright. Or offering me a chance to stand upright on my own.

It’s funny, because just by “being obedient for once” I have seen progress in my character. Such a small request. “Just this once, be obedient.” Not forever. Not every second. Just right now. And doing that, it has made all the difference.

So I’m sure I’ll still fail from time to time. I’ll fall back on old habits and old sins. But that voice … I will hear it again, I know. And when I do, I’ll obey. Just this once. What could it hurt?