Sculptor’s Masterpiece

“In 1497, a young Michelangelo was commissioned by French Cardinal Jean de Bilheres Lagraulas to create ‘the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could better’, for the cardinal’s future tomb in Old St. Peter’s Basilica. Few will argue that Michelangelo not only rose to the Cardinal’s challenge with the ‘Pieta’ but also managed to surpass it.  Michelangelo sculpted the Pieta from a single block of Carrara marble, which he claimed was the most perfect block of marble he had ever worked with. He also claimed that he could ‘see’ the sculpture within the marble itself and that it was his job to merely remove the excess in order to free the image inside.” (

What a fitting picture of how the Heavenly Father shapes us.  One of the distinct characteristics of living under God’s Hand is that He’s always developing His children, constantly chipping-away at our rough edges as He tirelessly redeems & molds our characters into an image that only He can see.  He doesn’t merely save us and then leave us as we are; He’s freeing us one layer at a time, in a way that uncovers all the features that make us unique and dearly-loved.  If I’m being totally honest, sometimes I wish God would just leave me alone!  Just when I think I’m “finished” dealing with some area, it becomes obvious that more work is needed as He continues to uncover hidden places in my character.  He can seem like a master sculptor who never stops tinkering.  Yet the journey of trusting Him is meant to be exhilarating and life-giving, not exhausting and discouraging.  It all depends upon what I believe.  Whenever I’m not experiencing the life He intends, it means I’m believing something that’s not true; holding on to a chunk that doesn’t belong.

For a variety of reasons, I grew up with the idea that God was unhappy with me and needed to fix me so that I could be worthy of His love.  In my early teen years I interpreted His call to righteousness and holiness in light of this, and resented His unwarranted intrusions into my life.  I was believing the popular kids, the rock stars, and anyone else who disputed God’s right to control their lives.  I didn’t believe that God had my best interest in mind, so I created an alternative reality where I was the center.  I chose self-justification and self-fulfillment, pursuing all kinds of things that never kept me happy.  This was the way of the world, and it still is.

I could always feel the Father pursuing me in spite of my rebellions, resisting Him for fear of what I would lose. Eventually I had the life-changing epiphany that He wasn’t the mean-spirited disciplinarian I thought He was.  I realized that He wasn’t bent on punishing me or making me pay for every bad thing I ever did.  Instead, I was blown-away that the Nail-Scarred Hands of Jesus offered freedom rather than misery.  For the first time, I realized that He paid my debt for me on the cross so that I could inherit His approval without having to work for it.  I understood that His acceptance was free, regardless of my performance; and that my worth to Him was inestimable without me having to prove anything.  Six weeks before my 17th birthday, it was like scales fell from my eyes so I could finally see….or like when the Grinch’s heart grew 3-sizes in Whoville.  I accepted His paternal embrace and embarked on a new path that I’m still (imperfectly) walking today.  

The trajectory of my life-course changed that day because I believed, REALLY BELIEVED.  When you really believe something to be true, your actions follow suit.  When you don’t, they don’t.  The truth is that God loves us just as we are, but His love is so great that He cannot leave us as we are.

I’m basically still that young man learning to believe that God can be trusted and that His way is best.  Though it’s been almost 38-years and the circumstances are all different, there are several areas in me that still need a lot of work.  His redemption of us is once for all, but His sanctification of us never ceases.  Though we may become weary and discouraged at times, He steadfastly cuts beautiful designs in all of His adopted sons and daughters.  He uses all of our successes and failures, and every circumstance we experience, toward the higher purpose of regenerating us into who He imagined each one of us to be when He created us.  

What do you think God had in mind when He made you?

What do you think He sees as He continues to shape you?

Are you working with Him?  …or against Him? 

Are you at a confusing crossroads right now?  Are you discouraged by a steep hill-climb or muddy valley you see coming?  Are you afraid of what’s around the next bend?  Are you following the wrong map, or traveling without a guide?  Just about everyone I know is struggling at some level right now.

There are a lot of struggles and questions we’re dealing with during these trying days of 2020.  As we walk through them, let us remember that the Master is walking alongside us through all of our circumstances with love in His eyes and chisel in Hand, shaping us into the destinies that only He can see in advance.

“We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  (Ephesians 2:10)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  (James 5:13-16)

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.”  (Ephesians 1:4-7)

“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.  What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”  (Romans 8:29-31)


Permission & Prescription

If you’re anything like me, the past 6-months has been a struggle.  The pandemic, racial justice issues, political turmoil, wildfires & smoke, have all earned monikers like “unprecedented” and “generational events” in their own right.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like “I can’t wait ‘til 2020’s over.”  I’ll be honest, it’s been very overwhelming for me.  The emotional tolls of this season of hardship have kicked my butt.

As a pastor who has studied & taught God’s Word for almost 3 decades, I know the right answers.  I can quote them to others and recite them to myself as I lay in bed at night, but in my heart of hearts it’s often been a daily tug-of-war to hold onto them.  Can you relate?

I want to tell you that it’s ok.  If you find yourself repeatedly losing it and grasping for ways to cope, you’re not crazy or faithless….or alone.

We all need permission to feel what we feel. Remember that your feelings are not you, they’re something that happen to you. There’s no need to pretend; no shame in admitting that you’re not flourishing in the midst of all the chaos.  I feel like I need to say that because it seems like so many people are telling us how to feel these days.  “Don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious, stay positive” and a bunch of other platitudes that don’t address the heart.    

I don’t think any of us heal and grow through trauma by stiffening our lips and denying the existence of our true feelings in times of difficulty.  In fact, I believe that opening-up to let some of that stuff out is part of the cure….depending upon the relief valve chosen.  

I used to believe that it was necessary for a leader or parent or coach (or any “successful” person) to put-on a kind of self-confident swagger in order to deal with trials or to inspire others.  As I’ve grown older & wiser from life’s crucible, I’ve come to believe that the best of us are the ones who discard pretentious masks and live with heart-on-sleeve.  Transcendence requires authenticity; and authenticity, vulnerability.

I suppose that all of us who are parents or who lead people in some capacity feel these kinds of feelings like everyone else; but in order to feel powerful, and to protect those under our care, it’s tempting to minimize our own warning alarms and check engine lights….believing the lie that if we try to project a superhuman and confident persona, we’ll fool everyone into believing we’ve got it together and we’re worth following.

I’ve had some dark days, and some bright days, with lots of in-between this year.  Over time, I’m learning to dis-allow my emotions from ruling my outlook or actions or words. For me, this doesn’t come by faking but by sharing.  Most recently, this was catapulted by opening-up to some people about how much I’ve been struggling….not easy for a man to do.  My running buddy, my wife, my dad, my co-worker, a few trusted ones.  They know my dirt, and something amazing happened in the process of opening the door and shoveling it out….I not only found that they had their own hidden piles, but that it all seemed to lose its terror in the sharing.  I felt lighter.  I felt like I wasn’t alone or backed into a corner.  I don’t know how people get through life’s trials without trusted friends like that.  

I also don’t understand how people do it without knowing God.  I guess they just pour their anxieties & fears & angers into some other alternative coping form…like work, sports, alcohol, sex, movies, whatever it takes to numb pain and stop the noise for awhile; until the next day.  But like Chris Stapleton kroons, “the bottom of a bottle’s always dry.”  I want something real, something that lasts and doesn’t make me hate myself in the morning. The Way Of Jesus has kept me coming back in my times of desolation and fear for the past 37-years, and I’m drinking-in the Living Water by the mouthful right now.  He’s not a quick-fix, and He doesn’t make all my struggles magically melt away; but He carries me, whispers instructions in my ear, and empowers me to see beyond what’s in front of me. He holds everything we need to experience purpose and hope no matter what life throws at us.  Sometimes I lose sight of this, but His love and care for me never changes. That’s why I love Him.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past 6-months, it’s that I need intimacy with my Heavenly Father and my loved ones more than I ever thought I did because I’m not nearly as big a deal as I thought I was.  Learning the truth that I’m not invincible and self-reliant has been both terrible and wonderful…it’s good for my ego. I’m adding a new layer of depth in my understanding of humility and dependence.  Sometimes it feels painful in the process, but it brings about a desperation for connection that is actually quite a good thing.

The desire to puff oneself up… To appear bigger and stronger and more capable than we are… this is not from the Lord, and it’s not admirable.  Pride only deceives us and those around us into trusting in the wrong source.  Scripture never tells us to look within ourselves for the answers, but to cling to God and others for the support we need in life.  So do that…invest some time reading your Bible and listening to worship music in the woods by yourself, pour your true heart out to God in prayer, seek out a trusted family member or friend who you can be totally honest with, start a journal or a poem about how you’re feeling. When we experience the taste of despair, we almost always need other hands to help us out.

Many of today’s people would sneer at this and say it makes me sound weak and needy of a crutch to walk through life with. To that I would consent and say YES, I do need a crutch…actually I need lots of them, we all do. At least I admit what is incumbent to all of us.

I do not trust people who deny their own struggles and distance themselves from their own weaknesses.  This is PRIDE….the original sin that assigns divinity to humanity.  Instead, I respect those who recognize, accept, and live transparently within their own limitations….. and who throw themselves into the mercy of God and the fellowship of others to keep going.  That’s who I want to become, how about you?

“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7)

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”  (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)