Privilege in Making the Same Painful Mistakes?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
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There’s also the expression about beating your head against a wall – trying over and over again, bloodying yourself with meager results.

Most humans know what it feels like to be your own worst enemy. To wish that you could quit making the same mistakes over and over, and over, and over and over…

It hurts, it’s embarrassing. I speak from experience – most notably with my eating disorder. I went over and over again to counselors and heard the same things. I swore over and over that I’d eat “tomorrow” and then failed. I was inpatient three different times and then fell flat on my face within a couple years of discharge.

Failure is painful.

In a more modern day example, I have tried over and over for years to say yes to every invitation, every need; to never alienate anyone. I have tried to please so many people that, as the saying goes, I please no one. Then, I’m hurt, I’ve angered others and I’m embarrassed and lonely. And I do it again.

And it hurts.

Not only do I make the same mistakes, but I have often noticed that God has to repeat himself to me. He is practically hammering me over the head or writing words in the sky before I finally pay attention and respond, “Oh, you mean ME?”

I was comforted in my foibles recently during a character study on the life of the apostle Peter. Not excused, certainly, but comforted that Jesus still wanted to hang out with Peter. Comforted that on the other side of painful, embarrassing mistakes, Jesus still valued Peter’s friendship and found him useful for the advancement of his kingdom. Jesus loved Peter even though he had to tell him and teach him the same things multiple times. In fact, after being loved through so many screw ups, I wager that a privilege of his pain was that Peter understood and trusted Jesus’ love more than ever before.

1. Jesus trumped Peter as a fisherman more than once. The first is mentioned in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first called his disciples. Peter and his companions had fished all night without a single catch. Suddenly, this stranger showed up, stepped into Peter’s boat and started preaching to the crowd on the shore. Finally, he turned to Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Reluctantly, Peter did and to his surprise hauled in such a large number of fish that the nets began to break.

This scenario repeated itself almost perfectly at the end of Jesus’ time on earth. In John 21, Jesus stood on the shore, looking out toward his weary, fish-less disciples. When they recognized him, he told them again to put down their nets one more time. Again, their Lord filled their nets to the point of breaking.

2. Peter was emphatically in love with Jesus and just a little impulsive. Matthew 14:22-23 is the story of Jesus walking on the water, approaching the boat where his weary disciples were battling against a rising storm. When Peter recognized Jesus, he tossed all caution to the wind, stepped out on the water and began walking toward Jesus. (There was that little matter of fear that had him drowning a few seconds later, but Jesus scooped him up just in time.)

The second time was again in John 21, one of the final times that the disciples saw bodily Jesus. Bold, audacious Peter saw Jesus standing on the sand and abandoned his fellow fishermen. This time he didn’t even consider walking and he had no time to entertain fear. He swam madly for shore, to Jesus (and a hot breakfast).

3. The third occasion I’m considering here, wasn’t beside the sea, but next to the flames of a warm, cooking fire. Jesus was bound and surrounded by a crowd of condemning, self-righteous Jewish leaders. At a distance, Peter warmed himself by a fire as he watched the terrible proceedings. Fear got the best of Peter again. Three times that night, in the flickering shadows, he swore that he had never met Jesus, let alone been a follower.

Jesus redeemed that night, once again beside a cook fire. He was serving his disciples a breakfast of roasted fish and toast. As they rested, full and in good company, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Emphatic, boisterous, indomitable Peter took the invitation to declare three times that he loved the Lord.

Making the same mistakes twice hurts. Often it hurts us physically, and it always hurts our pride. But since there’s no way to completely evade the pain of mistakes and the consequences of sins – isn’t it worth looking for the eventual beauty? Isn’t it wonderful to look at the redeeming love of Jesus over each failure? Would we ever know how good God is, if we didn’t make, repeat, live through and grow from painful mistakes?

Jesus – Unwrapped

I am absolutely terrible at gift-wrapping, but I do enjoy it – for the first 50 packages.

The corners on my square packages always look wrinkled, the tissue protruding from the top of my bag-wrapped gifts always has a perfectly peek-able gap. Usually, I cut the paper just a little too small and end up having to cull the scraps for a strip just long enough to cover my naked box. The scrap that fits rarely matches.

However, whenever Patrick and I are lucky enough to go home for Christmas, I am inevitably conned into wrapping all the last minute gifts from everyone to everyone that everyone thought would wrap themselves and then everyone realized on Christmas Eve that their presents were still uncloaked. “Abby, do you mind wrapping my gifts for… Dad, Mom, Jennifer, Pete, Kelsey, Patrick, Rachelle….? I ran out of time!” So I break out the Christmas carols, lock myself in a hidden room and snip, clip, curl and tape away.

Why do we wrap our gifts for family and friends? I was pondering this for some reason as I finished my quiet time with Jesus this morning. I was reading Matthew, a few chapters after the Christmas story. “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes…”. Ummm… why?

Why did God wrap Jesus in humanity? Why did he send him disguised in the form of a tiny, Jewish nobody?

The most obvious answer is: because He wanted to. God had foretold the coming of Christ for centuries and it was His good pleasure to do it in an nondescript way in the fullness of His own timing. God does what God does. Period.

But I think there’s a more intriguing answer.  We wrap our Christmas gifts for friends and family because we love the thrill of anticipation. Patrick loves to make me guess what he’s picked out for me. He loves to watch my eyes light up at the sight of green bows and glittery paper and the little sticker with my name on it. He loves to watch me unwrap my special gift. He loves to see the realization of his personal creative investment as the reality of his generosity washes over me.

I think God is like that. He loves to watch us discover the true treasure that Jesus is and the amazing truth that He wants to walk with us, to relate to us, to love us. When the disciples first began to follow Jesus, he was just a good man. Many men of Biblical times followed a particular rabbi and ascribed to his teaching. It was over the days, weeks, months, years that they discovered, unwrapped who Jesus is.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Matt. 16:16

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. The said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” Luke 24:31,32

If God had simply appeared in history, with all His splendor and glory, we would only have known His power, might and righteousness. If Jesus had appeared as the worthy King that He is, all creation would have instantly bowed the knee. But we would never have known the full character of God, we would never have experienced the breadth of all that He is. By coming in the form of a man, a tangible human being, God allowed us to experience His love, His touch, His mercy, His affection. As evidenced in the garden of Eden, before the fall, God enjoyed walking with man in the garden. God created man in His own image for His own glory and for relationship with Him.

Jesus came to explain to us the Father – to show us all that God is for us. By coming wrapped in flesh, hidden from our expectations and sensibilities, we are able to unwrap and discover Jesus, going ever farther and farther into the deepest aspects of our loving God. He loves to watch our eyes light up as we progressively seek Him and He reveals Himself to us.

Let Me Be the Weakest Link

A common Christian misconception is that we will spend most of our lives battling our weaknesses. We bemoan our weak faith and idolize the super saints. We wish we had a bigger testimony. We wonder what we are doing wrong that God doesn’t remove our limitations, heal our illnesses or enable us to be more generous.

If only I could get a better job! Then I could send my kids to good Christian schools and support the missionaries at church. If I had gone to college I  could get a real job, then I could be so much more effective for God. Instead, every spare minute and penny goes right back into just staying afloat.

I wonder what I did wrong to deserve this cancer? I spend half my life in and out of the hospital. When I am home, I’m too weak to be effective. God, I’m so sorry, please, please make me more useful to you.

Ever had thoughts like these? Last week, I stumbled across a verse that surprised me. I think I read it wrong to begin with. Mentally, I replaced a “you” with an “I”.

“And call upon me in the day of trouble, I shall rescue you, and you will honor me.” Ps. 50:15 God tells the author that he will call upon God, God will rescue him and the author will glorify God. That’s where I found my weakness lie: God is pleased with my strength as a Christian. 

The truth, according to Psalm 50:15, is that God is honored when He rescues me. God is shown to be the great, awesome, super natural, astonishing, against-all-odds, Savior that He is. When I am beyond all hope and God activates His favor on my behalf, then His character, His greatness is on full display. But God shows more than His power in my weakness. He shows his everlasting love. When God rescues a weak, hopeless, failing, impotent mortal He shows His absolute power and His absolute goodness.

Here’s the secret: the more aware you are of God’s grace, the more humble, prayerful, thankful, patient, gracious, content and joyful you will be. And you are more aware of God’s grace when you are weak. – John Bloom

So be careful as you analyze your life. Continue asking God to search you and know you, to try you and know your thoughts. Then be willing and ready to hear Him. Confess your sins because He is faithful and just to forgive. (Ps. 139:1-2, John 1:9) But don’t confuse your weaknesses with sin. They are different.

Remember the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight? The disciples wanted to know who had sinned so that this man had been born blind. Jesus told them that the man’s blindness was not a result of sin – it may have been a limitation, a weakness but it was not from sin. And in the man’s healing Jesus was identified as the Christ.