Tag Archives: redemption

Jesus Won’t Make Your Life Perfect

Do you think you have the perfect life?

Even though we are all masterpieces created by God, we’re broken.  I don’t think anyone can claim that they have the perfect life or that they’ve lived perfectly.  I think the majority of us would find that we have more in common with Aron Ralston than Jesus.

On retreat down in Reu, Guatemala, after I gave my message on being broken, several students came up to me and asked to talk.  So we walked around under a grove a palm trees in the sweltering heat and talked.  They, like me, had made mistakes in their past.  They, like me, had felt stuck because of what they’d done and wished they could erase their mistakes.

Jesus doesn’t erase our mistakes.  He won’t make your life perfect.  And we shouldn’t want him too.

As my students told me what had gone wrong in their lives, I felt God nudging me to tell them about Aron Ralston.  Now, if that name sounds familiar to you it’s because you just read my blog from my 27th birthday about being stuck in Guatemala and how God used that to get me to where he wanted me.  Or you saw the movie 127 Hours.  But then maybe, you read Aron Ralston’s book, 127 Hours: Between A Rock And A Hard Place.

Aron, an avid outdoorsman, found himself trapped by a freak climbing accident.  He’d survived being trapped in an avalanche and stalked by a bear, but when a large boulder dislodged itself and pinned Aron’s arm to the side of Blue John Canyon in Utah, Aron’s life had to change.  After nearly six days of being trapped, Aron cut his arm off to free himself.

If anyone has reason to wish he could go back and have a past mistake taken away, it’s Aron.  He describes in the book how he had the opportunity to take another route through the canyon, which would have kept him in contact with people, but he chose to remain alone. His choice led to the loss of his arm.  That is why I believe more of us relate to Aron than Jesus.

The Bible says that we all have messed up and fallen short of what it takes to make it into heaven.  We’ve all gotten our arms stuck between a rock and the canyon wall, with no real hope of living life the way it was before we were trapped.  I could tell, as I looked into my student’s eyes, that they felt this desire.

But then I shared with them the rest of Aron’s story.

After he’d cut his arm free and recovered in the hospital he wrote, “For all that has happened and the opportunities still developing in my life, I feel blessed.  I was part of a miracle that has touched a great number of people in the world and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not even to have my hand back.  My accident in the rescue from Blue John Canyon were the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life, knowing that, were I to travel back in time, I would still say, ‘see you later’ to Megan and Kristi and take off into the lower slot by myself,” (Ralston, pg 342).  Because Aron cut his arm off so that he could live, he inspired other people to fight to live.

Aron understands that God uses our pasts to help others.  He gave Aron a greater story, one not just about hiking and extreme sports, but about what it means to live and be connected to God’s greater story.

This is Redemption.  Aron is still missing his arm, it hasn’t grown back and he still has the painful memory of the time inside the canyon.

Our mistakes may seem simple when we place them next to Aron’s.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter to God.  I was truly saddened as my students told me what had happened in their lives over the last year.  But, if we let God, He will redeem or pasts, He wont make our lives perfect, but He will take what happened and use it to connect us to His greater purpose.

Redemption uses our imperfections.

Now, if you have been following my blog, you know that I have been talking about King David.  After committing adultery and then murdering to try to cover up his mistake, he realized he needed to ask God to renew him and purify his heart.  Because David opened his heart back up to God and asked Him to redeem his life, David’s story doesn’t end with his mistake.  David’s story becomes part of God’s greater story, the story of Jesus.

If you look at Jesus’s family tree, its roots lead back to David and his mistake.  God doesn’t sweep away our past, but he does use it, if we let him, to make something beautiful.

Jesus didn’t come to bring us peace or to make our lives perfect.  He came and died on the cross to pay for our mistakes.  And then he rose from the dead to mess up our lives.  The truth of the matter, that Jesus is alive, forces us to live differently.  It connects us to his story, and when we are part of his story our lives start to change.  We start to have a greater purpose.

As I sat there talking with my students, my hope was that they would start to let Jesus redeem their mistakes.  That they would realize the power for the resurrection, its ability to give them a new story.  A story with imperfections, with pain, and with hard times, but one that is far more adventurous than anything they could’ve tried to live before.

As we finished retreat and I said goodbye to some of my favorite people in the entire world, I hoped that God would connect them to a their true adventure.  Like in Hugo, where at the end of the movie, each character finds their purpose because they have let their past be redeemed and have been connected to something greater than themselves.  I know once we all start living in the reality of the resurrection our lives will truly become an adventure.

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Are You Broken?

God made me into a masterpiece.  And yet, like the broken volcanic rock I’m standing on in this picture, I’m a broken masterpiece.

I’m a broken masterpiece who’s enamored with a kids movie.  When Hugo came out before Christmas I was blown away by its beauty, but as I’ve watched it again and again, I’ve seen the true elements of God’s grace and redemption weave their way through the story.

In the movie, Hugo Cabret, the main character, loves fixing things.  As the story progresses he realizes that everyone around him is broken. Just as Hugo realized that the people around him were inventions who needed fixed, I realized that fact is true to life.  We are all creations who have been broken.

I’ve been writing a lot about my recent mission trip to Guatemala.  During the first part of March 2012 I led a small team down to Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala to help out with a vacation Bible school program and a high school and middle school retreat.

Now, if you have been following my blog you know that the week was quite an adventure.  You also know that you are God’s masterpiece.  You know that God created you for a reason.

But what happens when you mess up.  When you feel broken. Does God just toss us away?  Can we mess up so bad that even God wont take us back?

During the retreat, once we’d made it down to hotter than hell Reu, Guatemala, I asked my students if they knew what the word redemption meant.  We were packed into a small dining hall for games, worship, and a message.  Going along with the theme of creation I asked three boys to create something with Hot Tamales.  First they had to chew them up and then build something artistic.

The game failed.  I’m pretty sure all of the students were bored during the game, which wasn’t how I pictured it.  I’m glad it was just a game.  But then, somehow the games failure fit into my talk.  How often do our lives not go as planned.  If we are inventions we sure tend to break down a lot, and sometimes it’s our own fault.

In my last blog I talked about how God chose a little shepherd to be king of Israel.  David was the smallest in his family, but he had something God desired.  An open heart.  But let me tell you the rest of David’s story.  If he was a man after God’s own heart, he was also horribly broken.  Once David becomes king he stops following God’s plan for him.

If I think I’ve messed up, well at least I haven’t skipped out on God’s job for me so that I could commit adultery.  David did that.  But wait, there’s more.  David finds out he knocked up the woman he slept with, and wait, she’s married.  So, after he tries to pin the baby on her husband, which fails miserably, (as is what happens most of the time when we try to hide our mistakes) David has the man killed.  So, David has gone from a man after God’s own heart, to an adulterer, to a murderer.  I am sure when he woke up the morning before all this happened, he didn’t write on his to do list, sleep with a married woman and then kill her husband.

No.  We never plan on making mistakes.  As I shared this story of David with my students, I wanted them to realize that even great biblical figures mess up. If someone in the Bible screws up royally, then what does that mean for us normal folk?

And so I opened my Bible and shared with them how David responded to  God.  Yes, at first David hid from God, tried to cover up all his wrong doing, but then he does something us normal folk should do.  He admits his wrongs and asks God to redeem him.  In Psalm 51 verse 1-12 David writes:

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

David was a broken invention.  God set him on a path to be king of Israel and David messes things up.  We are God’s masterpieces, but if you are like me you have messed up.  The first step to redemption is admitting to God how you messed up.

I have found that when I am open with my faults God tends to redeem them. Redemption doesn’t mean erasing all that we did wrong, but fixing what is broken.  Like David said, create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  He didn’t say take this all away as if it never happened, he asked for God to fix him.

That is exactly what God did on Easter through Jesus.  He sent Jesus to fix us.  But that can only happen if we admit that we’re broken and need someone to repair us.  If we do, our story will be as meaningful as Hugo’s, probably even more so.  Because when we are living out God’s plan for us our stories turn into grand adventures.

As I finished giving my message I prayed that each of the students would keep their heart open to God and know that, no matter what they’d done or will do, they could never separate themselves from God.

I hope you know that too.  I urge you to join me, and my dad, Eugene Scott, in Living Spiritually.  We have set this year and hopefully our lives to keeping our eyes and our hearts open to God.  It has been an adventure so far and it would be amazing if you joined us.

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Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

By Brendan Scott

If time heals all wounds, do you think all the wounds have been healed?  This, the morning after, a decade later.

Many of the students I taught at the Inter-American School in Xela have never known a world with the Twin Towers.  One student, Sebastian, a squirrely little boy who would rather make his classmates laugh than kick in the winning run in kickball, was born in Canada on the day of the 9-11 attacks.  His life will always be strangely connected to the attacks.  He came into the world as so many were taken away.

Last year, as he celebrated his birthday at IAS, I asked his mom what it was like for her on that day.  She told me the doctors didn’t let her know what was going on and that for her the day had been a true blessing.  Sebastian, is a true blessing.  His laugh and the myriad of nicknames he dumped on me always made teaching him PE enjoyable.  Life has gone on.  But I know many of us cannot forget what happened.

10 years later and many of us are still wondering how we move forward from here.

September 11th, 2001 started like any Tuesday for me.  I was a month in to my new school at Battle Mountain High School, my new life in Vail, Colorado.  I was lonely but I didn’t want to make friends, because I figured I would just move off in a year for college.  I had built up a hard shell of isolationism.  The move from Tulsa to Vail hurt me deeply.  The loss I felt when I left the friends I had known almost my whole life redefined who I was.  I was no longer the leader at my church.  I felt like a nobody.  I felt weak.  The move took away my confidence and sadly I didn’t want to find it again.  I felt I was just okay floating along until college.

As the day unfolded on the televisions, which were tuned in to the news in all of my classes, our identity as a nation changed.  We were once independent and indestructible. As the towers crumbled, I knew we’d never be the same.  I knew I needed people, sadly a knowledge I didn’t act on right away.  And as the months passed I believe the entire nation realized it needed one another as well.  The hard shell of our nation was cracked, if only just a little, that day.  As we mourned the loss of so many people, we came together.  We were hurt.  And we changed.

September 12th, 2001 was the day we all picked ourselves up and began to move forward.  We started to change, but what change has really occurred?

Maybe you were one of the first responders.  Maybe September 12, 2001 was your second day digging through the rubble of the collapsed buildings.  Maybe you were one of the first to enlist in our nations armed forces.  Maybe you were one of the first to be deployed overseas to Afghanistan.  Maybe you were one of the first to march into Bagdad and liberate an oppressed people.  Maybe you were one of the pastors who comforted those who lost loved ones.  Maybe you were, like me, just a student who stared at the television and watched the world change.  I watched and watched and watched.  I was drawn in by the stories of loss, horror, and hope.  By nightfall on the 12th, 82 people had been confirmed dead and 11 people had been rescued.  I believe we’d realized that sometimes you can’t make it on your own.

U2’s lead singer, Bono, wrote the song Sometimes You can’t Make It On Your Own while dealing with the loss of his father, but as it seems to happen the words speak to a deeper truth.

Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough

You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go in alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

We fight all the time
You and I… that’s alright
We’re the same soul
I don’t need… I don’t need to hear you say
That if we weren’t so alike
You’d like me a whole lot more

Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

I know that we don’t talk
I’m sick of it all
Can, you, hear, me, when, I, sing
You’re the reason I sing
You’re the reason why the opera is in me

Hey now, still gotta let ya know
A house doesn’t make a home
Don’t leave me here alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror
And it’s you that makes it hard to let go
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
Sometimes you can’t make it
Best you can do is to fake it
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

If time really does heal all wounds, I think 10 years later we would all be fine.  But people still hurt.  People still see today, ten years after the first day after, as if September 11th, 2001 was yesterday.  10 years later I hope we all know that we are not alone.  And together, unified, is the only way to move forward.

But is being united truly enough?

Over the last ten years I moved forward.  I broke out of my shell, graduated from both high school and college, and then moved to Guatemala.  For me Guatemala has been and will be the most definitive time in my life.  As I lived outside of my home country, away from every comfort I’d grown up with, I realized how much I needed God in my life.  And I found out that God has something for me.

I believe God has something for the United States as well.  On September 12th, 2001 he began the healing.  While we were all in mourning, while we were all being led away from whatever was normal just 48 hours before, God was busy working.  Over the past ten years, while we came together as a nation, we have all been in a form of exile.  Being an American has been something different, our indestructible identity is gone.  We are still proud, as we should be, but the pain of being attacked still lingers, maybe in a way no one thought it would.  I believe the biggest change we have undergone as Americans is not knowing how to be who we are, Americans.

Do we love?  Do we realize we need each other?  Or do we stand apart?  Do we mourn alone-wrapped up in our own fear?  Do we stay in exile, confused about who we are and what God has for us?  Or do we come back to our foundations?  It is a new decade.  It is time for us to realize that God has a plan for us all.  As he said to the exiled Israelites through the profit Jeremiah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whenever seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.”

Are we going to be a nation that finally turns its eyes to God?

We have fought to defend ourselves.  We have strengthened our defenses.  Can we lay our weapons down when it matters?  Can we love when love is what is needed most?  On September 11th we were all hurt badly.  It has been ten years and one day.  Let this be the first day we love first instead of hardening our hearts toward everything that might hurt us.  How long must we sing this song of hurt and pain?  Not another ten years.  Not another day.

We must wait on God and seek him out with our whole hearts the way King David did when he wrote Psalm 40 because he will bless us with something new.

I waited patently for the Lord;

He inclined and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

He set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand,

He put a new song in my mouth,

A hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

Brendan regularly blogs at guatspot.worrdress.com

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Surprised by Joy: The Joyous Defeat

by Michael Gallup

There are few things harder than to preach the funeral of a convicted murder who committed suicide. Not just that he was a criminal but that he was a father of an eight-year-old boy I befriended. This young boy with his father in prison latched on to me at camp and I began to find myself filling some of the hole left by an absent dad. I saw the boy come to follow Jesus. He was so full of life despite his difficult circumstances.

But then I received a phone call I will never forget. It was his mom telling me the horrible news and asking me to preach the funeral of a man I never met. There have been few times in my life when I have cried harder than that evening. Not so much over the loss of the man’s life, although tragic, but for the intense suffering my young friend was now in the midst of. I began to become angry and angry at the only one who could handle such rage, God. Hadn’t the boy had enough? Why does he have to suffer so much? Why does one so young have to face such harsh realities? Why, God, why?

While I will never pretend to know the full answer of those questions, God has shown me a part of the why. For joy. It seems ludicrous to insist that joy could possibly come out of such pain, but I am coming to believe that it may be ludicrous to think that joy could come out of anything but pain. One of the most perplexing pieces of scripture is James1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” We are to somehow find joy in our suffering? Because it leads to perseverance? Yes, God says.

As I have asked God hard questions, He has kindly revealed to me some answers. Last week I described how He showed me what joy wasn’t: happiness. And I am beginning to see why. Happiness is the product of pleasure. When something happens to us that is pleasant we become happy. But now I am seeing that joy is the product of pain. And rightfully so, the process from pain to joy is much longer and arduous than the one from pleasure to happiness.

One of the biblical authors compares the life of a Christ-follower with that of an athlete, suffering the agony of preparing to run the race. This metaphor still rings true when we watch the Super Bowl winners crying tears of joy at the victory they achieved. And that joy is not birthed in the winning but in the months and years of hard work that led them to this moment, that made it even possible. In that passage in James, the reason to consider it joy to suffer is because our suffering is not the end of us and our stories but a catalyst for change. Our suffering refines us, pushing us forward in the race of redemption in the story of our ultimate victory.

This picture is most clearly seen in the death and thus victory of Jesus Christ. It was only through his defeat that the world could know victory. The biblical book Hebrews says that he was able to endure the sufferings of his murder because of the joy set before him. He knew his death, which at the moment it occurred seemed like the biggest train-wreck in history, was not the end of his story. He knew what only he could know, that his pain was giving birth to the joy of the world. That his defeat brought true victory.

Ultimately, it is a defeat we must each embrace because it is the only path to victory, the only path to joy. Our very lives are found in the death of ourselves.

But what about my young friend? That funeral was not the end of his story. Just as Jesus’ and our funerals are not the end of our stories. God began to redeem that situation that was never his will in the first place and in that redemption I saw that boy’s life changed. He learned to let go, if only a little, of his father and to find acceptance in a new father who was there, not in jail but with him, in a man who also knew defeat but also knew life in Jesus.

Our suffering is not the end of our stories but in some ways the beginning.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part three of a four part series.

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Lifting the Cup: To Life

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays, we’re looking at a cup of wine as a metaphor for life, based on author Henri Nouwen’s look at Jesus’ question, Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?


Last week, I posted a link to a Wall Street Journal story featuring the Amish approach to, and recent divergence from, community.  I like this story because, between the lines, the writer shows the blessedness of interdependence and the affliction of extreme independence.  In his book, Can You Drink the Cup?, deceased author and priest Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

  • The enormous individualism of our society, in which so much emphasis is on “doing it yourself,” prevents us from living our lives for each other.  But each time we dare to step beyond our fear, to be vulnerable and lift our cup, our own and other people’s lives will blossom in unexpected ways (p 75).

In chapter 6, “To Life,” Nouwen tells the story of Bill who came to Daybreak (a community for people with physical and mental disabilities) without a past, because he had chosen to forget his first 16 years that had been full of abuse and devoid of consistent love and safety.  After 25 years at Daybreak, Bill had a different story.  A three-ring binder (each resident had one) full of photographs, stories, drawings, newspaper clippings recounted Bill’s activities, hobbies, friendships, and accomplishments, along with his losses, suffering, and pain.  Bill and his friends and Daybreak staff had compiled his Life Story Book.

Nouwen recounts the celebration in which the group presented to Bill his book:

  • Then we blessed the book and Bill, who held it.  I prayed that this book might help Bill let many people know what a beautiful man he is and what a good life he was living.  I also prayed that Bill would remember all the moments of his life–his joys as well as his sorrows–with a grateful heart (p 73).

Bill wept on Nouwen’s shoulder while the others in the circle looked on “with deep understanding of what was happening.  Bill’s life had had been lifted up for all to see, and he had been able to say it was a life to be grateful for.”

In Jesus Christ, we see a life lifted up–first, suffering on the cross; then, redeemed through the resurrection.  When compiled into a story, the pain and the glory, the suffering and the joy, reveal God’s redemption and salvation.

Christian community helps us see redemption in Christ and in each other.  The people at Daybreak and the people in an Amish community, when they celebrate the births and deaths, joys and sorrows, they show us how to celebrate each other’s story that is full of life and part of Christ’s story of redemption.

The Bible says there was nothing on the outside that drew people to Jesus.  The Bible tells us that, as a boy, King David looked like someone to overlook.  We can’t judge a story by it’s cover anymore than we can judge a person by his or her public persona.  A cursory glance at the outside never reveals the inside.
Often the outside of our life is not the interesting part.  The inside story is the interesting part, the part where God’s grace turns our story into something better and other than any human effort can compile.

The motto at the Neighborhood Church is Live a Better Story.  By that we don’t mean, “Let’s muster up the determination, will-power, and heroism required to make our dreams come true and/or fix what’s wrong in our lives and our world.”  Rather, we mean, “Let’s let God redeem our life and the lives of those around us by allowing him to transform our lives into something better and other than we could ever do on our own.”

I’m grateful to have compiled something akin to Bill’s Life Story Book, and to have helped several people from our church do the same over a weekend retreat.  Eugene and I turned his doctoral dissertation on story into a presentation, “Living Your Story: Discovering God’s Purpose in Your Story.”  In the development process, I discovered God’s purpose in my story.  And it changed my life.

My story is about my voice: having my voice silenced (by others and by self), having God always speak for me, and now letting God use my voice, and helping others do the same.  As I looked at my story, looked into the cup God gave me, I saw God’s presence throughout the joyful and sorrowful parts of using my voice.  Now, through God’s redemption, part of my story is helping others tell their story, use their voice, and lift up their life as a gift for others.

I pray you would receive God’s redemption into your story, allowing him to transform it into a cup of life lifted among a life-sharing community.

“To Life.”

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.

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