The story of Hansel and Gretel spooked me as a child.
Imagine being abandoned deep in a forest by your parents, being captured by a cannibalistic witch, having to escape her clutches by killing her, then having to find your way out of the dense woods.
But young Hansel was clever. He overheard his parents’ scheme and came prepared. Hiding a piece of bread in his pocket, he dropped crumbs in the forest so he could lead his sister home.
This world is like that deep, dark forest. It’s scary. It’s disorienting. We can feel abandoned. There are enemies. And without a path, a light, or clues, we easily lose our way.
Like everyone else, I’m in this forest and slowly working my way home, following the trail of breadcrumbs left by others who went before me. And I want to leave my own trail of breadcrumbs – for my kids especially, but for others as well.
This blog is a tiny part of that. As I write, I want to lead people “home.” A place of comfort in a harsh world. A bed of rest from the exhaustion of life. A harbor of hope from a storm-tossed sea. The light of joy in the darkness of sorrow. Those can only be found in Jesus.
Being an air guitarist naturally had its benefits.
Flawless playing. Adoration. Immediate success.
But all that came with a price.
I could master any song as quickly as I desired – strumming patterns, chord progressions, and lead parts flowing seamlessly together.
Yet, when I actually picked up my instrument my fingers couldn’t live up to my brain’s expectations.
I had created an unrealistic, inauthentic view of who I was and what I could actually do – a view I bought into fully.
I desperately wanted to be as good as my imagination allowed. But the fear I wrote about in part 1 stymied any true progress.
I could have practiced to compensate for my deficiencies. Instead, I fortified my imaginary ability – steadily building up the false image.
This tendency extends into the rest of my life.
I gain just enough (fill in the blank) to become confident, then hold that intellect, skill, opinion, whatever in increasingly high regard in my mind, creating a false image of who I am, what I can do.
The Bible calls this haughtiness or high-mindedness, and it’s deadly. Not just to me but, more importantly, to those around me.
When I finally come up against someone who is smarter, more skilled, better trained, I have to tear them down (at least in my mind) in order to maintain my mentally-created high status. I have to do damage to another person.
If I maintain my false image, I will never really grow. My guitar playing is a perfect example. I became content to live inside my mind and never really develop as a guitarist.
My guitar playing has definitely exceeded that of my early years, but I often wonder “What if?” What if I hadn’t been so afraid?
I also have to ask: What other areas in my life are underdeveloped because I’m afraid to grow.
I wept at the arrival of each of our three children. Not tears of pain or heartache but of abundant joy. My heart felt no hint of trouble as I held them in my arms.
That must have been true for Mary and Joseph, as well. Even if they were surrounded by rumors of scandal and slept in a stable, the arrival of this precious gift from God would certainly have pushed all that aside.
On the night of his birth, a heavenly host filled the sky above the shepherds and praised God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” But that peace came at a cost.
A few weeks later (40 days), however, their joy would be tempered with uncertainty. When the new parents presented their son at the temple, they met Simeon – a man who would rejoice with them and speak a prophetic word about the boy.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32, ESV)
While his parents marveled at his prophecy, Simeon offered unexpected words, foreboding words.
“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.'” (Luke 2:34-35, ESV)
In her Magnificat in Luke 1, Mary sang of God’s great mercy and the promise of salvation for His people. Now, for the next 30+ years of her son’s life, Mary would have Simeon’s words tickling the back of her mind, wondering how that promise of salvation would play out and in what way her soul would be pierced. How many times did Jesus calm his mother’s fears?
As the hour of his death approached, Jesus soothed his disciples fears. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:1, ESV)
They were troubled that night because he talked of betrayal (John 13:21-30).
They were troubled that night because he spoke of leaving (John 13:31-35).
They were troubled that night because he spoke of denial (John 13:36-38).
In the midst of it all, Jesus was troubled, too (John 13:21). He knew what awaited him, and it didn’t slow him down. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27-28a)
Jesus came looking for trouble. Rather than be delivered from it, he wrapped himself in it like a garment. Peace for us meant trouble for him.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
There is no peace in the world like the peace that Jesus gives. Nothing else can soothe your spirit and calm your fears.
Are you troubled? Are you fearful? Do you experience unease, unrest?
In the summer of 1992, I finally got my “shot” in one of the last baseball games I ever played.
Our team held a marginal lead entering the final inning. As the “home” team our opponents got the final at-bat. But our pitcher was tired and unable to finish the game. Though rarely called upon to pitch, I received the nod to head to the mound. Honestly, it was a desperation move by the head coach, my dad. Our ace pitcher couldn’t make the game, and my dad’s options were limited.
I stepped to the mound in the bottom of the final inning as calmly as I could. But inside my stomach turned to knots. The weight of the entire game rested firmly on my shoulders.
I’m proud to say that I pitched a hitless inning for my team. Unfortunately, the other team didn’t need any hits. I don’t remember if we recorded a single out. But I do know that I walked the bases loaded and then walked in the winning run.
In a sport like baseball, those clutch moments require someone to step in and save the day. A hero who will accomplish a miraculous feat, usually because plan A didn’t pan out or the team got outplayed by the opposition.
Too often, we can place God’s plan for saving his people in the same category as sports. Adam failed in the garden, humanity couldn’t hack it from that point on, and so now it’s time to bring in the relief pitcher – Jesus.
At Christmas, though, we don’t celebrate the arrival of God’s plan B. Jesus didn’t trot out of Heaven’s bullpen to do what Adam, the starting pitcher, couldn’t do.
The baby born in the manger was always God’s plan A.
Even though my parents lavished me with great gifts, there were no surprises, nothing to anticipate – no joy.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, I prowled my house and scoured the closets like an afternoon burglar in search of my gifts until I found every single one.
I would visit them every now and then to behold their majesty. But when Christmas morning arrived, my excitement and their glory had faded. All that remained was stuff in boxes wrapped in paper. I faked my reactions the best I could, pretending like it was the first time I had seen my presents. But I had robbed myself of joy, and I had robbed my parents of true gratitude.
I walked away from the Christmas tree disappointed that morning. Not in my presents because I received everything I desired. But in my experience because I got everything I deserved. My 14-year-old heart lusted after things and their promises of joy. I got one and missed the other. But that’s always the case when we long for the wrong things.
Christmas is supposed to be about the joy of anticipation and delayed gratification. During Advent I think we’re meant to experience a small taste of what people long ago and for long ages experienced – the yearning, the anticipation, the hope of a coming Savior.
Presents, decorations, carols, lights, parties, good food, and family gatherings – all those things direct our attention to the one Person we anticipate and celebrate at Christmas – our one, true hope of joy.
I still think about Christmas 1990. That’s the year I tried to find joy in a closet. But it wasn’t there.
Don’t say what you really think. Your voice/story is irrelevant.
No one sees you. No one cares.
In fact, God doesn’t care.
You’ll be easily forgotten.
You’ll never be asked to lead again.
Those aren’t just idle phrases. Those are some of the words that play on a loop in my mind, and, if I’m not careful, I can begin to believe they are absolutely, unchangeably true.
Other people might see a snapshot of my life – what I choose to reveal in conversations, in relationships, or on social media. But I struggle with insecurities and fears. And these words represent how they play out in my mind.
But they’re all lies.
Do I fail? Absolutely. Do I say things I wish I could take back? All the time. Are others more skilled or talented than me? Without a doubt.
Those shortcomings (or perceived shortcomings) don’t define me, though. As a follower of Christ, I have been remade into something new. And in that remaking, he rewrote the narrative of my life. That’s the truth and power of the gospel.
The challenge is believing what has been true of me from the moment he changed me.
I am seen. I have worth. I will never be forgotten. All because of Christ’s sufficient, saving grace.
During a recent training I attended, the speaker asked us to reflect on these questions.
What tapes do you play [in your mind] that are contrary to the gospel?
What new tapes could you play instead?
As you look at Jesus, what is it He is saying to you that he really wants you to get?
What about you? What lies do you believe that are no longer true because of Christ? How do you need to rethink your narrative?
Our two year old daughter whispered that to me during our family’s “morning meeting” – a time when we gather to talk about the day ahead and then pray. It took me a second to realize what she meant.
As I prayed, I kept my eyes open. She was innocently reminding me to close my eyes as we prayed.
My heart needed that gentle correction.
Not because God doesn’t hear me when I pray with my eyes open, but because there are things around me constantly vying for my attention.
I’m easily distracted by responsibilities, by cares, by struggles, by unmet expectations, by fulfilled desires, by dreams, by technology, by entertainment. At times, I can become obsessed with those distractions. And sometimes in my obsession I can become fearful or controlling or both.
My little girl had no idea how much my mind can be consumed with those things when she whispered those words to me. But God does. He knows that I would drown in the circumstances of life if left alone.
So, he gives me gentle reminders, too.
In Psalm 46, the writer calls his hearers to remember that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear….”
The earth will give way. Waters will roar and foam. Mountains will tremble. Nations will rage. Kingdoms will totter.
My plans may fail. My heart may be broken. My job may not satisfy. My finances may dry up. My friends may abandon me. My dreams may be shattered.
Still, I will not fear. I will behold the works of the Lord. I will run to him in trouble and seek safety in his refuge.
That’s a common phrase. I’ve used it more than once, myself. Even as I say it over and over in my head, it carries a certain tone, a specific intent. Maybe it’s a tone assigned by me, but I know what I usually intend when I say it.
Rarely, if ever, do I speak those words objectively. There’s a hint of and an attempt at self-justification in them. It’s as if uttering that phrase instantly excuses the words immediately preceding it and shields me from any potential consequences.
Fueled by some cultural shifts, honesty, couched in terms like authenticity, vulnerability, or openness has become a buzz word in Christian circles, with good reason. After all, Scripture exhorts us to “[speak] the truth” (Eph 4:15, 25).
But rather than being a means to an end, honesty has become an end in and of itself. We believe that if we can reach a state of perfect authenticity, vulnerability, and openness, then our faith will be perceived as genuine, healthy…biblical.
Our lives should be marked by honesty, but honesty alone isn’t my goal. As a follower of Christ, honesty has a greater purpose. It is one of the means by which we grow in holiness. But it’s only a means. The goal is holiness.
Consider again Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15-16, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Speaking the truth is meant to be a correction to false teaching so that the body of Christ can grow properly, not malformed. It’s in this properly functioning body that Christ is glorified before a watching world. Later in the chapter, Paul uses truth-speaking as evidence of a transformed life. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). Liars are transformed into truth tellers.
For proper growth to happen, speaking the truth must take two forms. First, I have to continually make an honest assessment of my own heart. For example, I might ask: Where is sin gaining a foothold? In what ways am I pridefully trying to live out gifts I haven’t been given (see 4:11-14)?
Second, I have to be willing to “[speak] the truth in love” (emphasis added) to other members of the body of Christ. We all have blind spots and we need others to help us see what we can’t or won’t see on our own. But the goal isn’t shaming a brother or sister in Christ. The goal is the mutual growth needed for the body to thrive.
Honesty for the sake of honesty is a self-interested, self-justifying act that creates a separation in relationships. Honesty in the biblical sense always moves us toward Christlikeness and one another.
There are times when I’m serving out of pure joy and with good intentions. Hopefully, I can look back one day and say that was the trend of my life. However, I know my motives aren’t always pure. I don’t always serve with gladness.
Sometimes I want to be noticed and acknowledged. I want to hear, “Thanks,” or, “Good job.” I know that’s a common and natural desire, which isn’t always wrong to have. But it can become a limiting factor in my willingness to be a helper. What happens when I’m not acknowledged, thanked, or appreciated. Do I quit helping? Do I just sit idly by as things are left undone? Surely I’m called to something better, greater.
At other times I “serve” because I want a reason to be resentful. Internally, I can say, “Look at all I’ve done.” Or, “How could anyone else miss this?” Or, “Why am I the only one doing _______?” You get the idea. It gives me a reason to grumble in my heart, hold a grudge against another person, or justify a certain perception I have of that person.
Both of these attitudes are incredibly dangerous. They create footholds that damage my relationships instead of building them up. The desire to be acknowledged often grows out of insecurity in who I am and gives others the power to define my identity. Resentment is a breeding ground for anger and an unforgiving heart as I wage war in my mind with others. Though they may seem worlds apart, these two are actually opposite sides of the same coin – pride – because they’re really all about serving me, not others.
To gauge my motivations, I have to regularly ask myself some heart-probing questions.
Why am I really doing __________?
What am I hoping to gain from it?
How will I respond if I don’t get the reaction I may think I deserve?
The way I answer those questions reveals how I relate to the world around me. Am I self-focused or others-focused?