I didn’t do college right. I commuted six days a week to the University of North Texas from Forney, and we all know how I–635 can get. It was easily a 2–4 hour round trip, depending on traffic, which was always horrific. To make matters worse, I had purchased the cheapest parking pass you could get, so all of the designated parking lots were at least a half-mile walk to class. To make matters even worse, I drove a standard 2001 Ford Ranger that was on its very last leg.
It was Monday, and I was running late to my morning class, so I was going a tad faster than the school speed limit. Fast enough to receive a ticket, anyways. I had to appear in court in Denton on a day that I didn’t need to be in Denton, and any day that I didn’t need to be in Denton was a good day. This was not a good day.
It was Tuesday, and I had arrived at school early to scout out the parking lot, just hoping and praying that someone would leave soon so that I could make it to class on time. Finally, after about 20 minutes of monotonous circling, someone was backing out. I pulled in behind them, put my blinker on, and patiently waited. A few seconds later, a black Jeep pulled around the corner, saw the car that I’d been waiting on backing out, stepped on his gas — you could hear the tires screech — and stole the spot. My face filled with hot anger. My heart hammered in my chest. I could not believe the complete lack of humanity that person displayed in that moment. The audacity. The sheer disregard for rules and civility. I had my blinker on! Plus, I had been circling long enough to get to know all the other cars that were in my same predicament, and this guy had not been searching for a parking spot as long as we had. My blood was boiling. I said and did some not-nice things in that moment, including but not limited to parking behind them in my spot for a solid two minutes, wailing on my horn and not letting up. They didn’t get out of the car until I sped off in fury. Probably a good thing, too.
It was Wednesday, and I received a ticket for parking in the wrong area. Did I realize this at the time? Probably. I tried to appeal it anyways, to no avail. They argued that there were clearly signs everywhere. Whatever.
It was Thursday, and I had one class. We were in the middle of a final project, so I had to carry my huge art bag that held all of my equipment, including a 4’ x 2’ board. The whole thing weighed 50 lbs. Keep in mind that I was 5’2” and about 120 lbs., with zero upper body strength. There was a Jack in the Box just across the street from my building, so I thought, “I’ll only be about an hour. Surely, they won’t mind. They’ll see all the stuff I’m carrying and have pity on me.” I was wrong. Oh, and I forgot to mention my phone had died. So I sulked in to Jack in the Box after class, only to be informed that they had my truck towed since I was not a customer. I borrowed some guy’s phone and called the towing company, begging them to understand my situation. They also had no pity. I looked up the directions, wrote them down on a piece of paper since my GPS had died, and held back the tears. Remember, as a commuter, I did not have anyone I could call for a ride. So I lugged my 50 lb. bag the two miles to the towing place in 100+ degree weather. By the time I got there, I was drenched in sweat, in desperate need of water, too angry to talk or cry, and thoroughly embarrassed. I paid the steep fine and got my truck back. I remember the guy trying to make light of the situation, clearly feeling sorry for me, but obligated to do his job. I didn’t care. I didn’t make eye contact.
Finally, Friday. What could go wrong? How could this week get worse? Then my car broke down. I had not cried up until this point, but this was the last straw. Why does it seem to be one thing after another? I was a college student, working two jobs, going to school full time. I had no friends, no money, and no time for all of this to be happening. I had my truck towed to a couple of different auto places, both of which told me it was going to be about $1,000 to fix the issue. I remember sitting in the single bathroom in the auto shop, just crying and asking God for help. Any kind of help would do. Just a little help was all I asked. I asked him what he was trying to teach me through all of this, because enough was enough. I had learned the lesson, whatever it was. Just make it stop!
Thankfully, I had loving parents who had the car taken back to Forney while they let me borrow their car for the rest of the day. I remember walking to class, physically and mentally exhausted, ready for the week to be over, still lugging around that stupid art bag underneath that hot August sun. I wasn’t necessarily angry with God for allowing these things to happen, nor did I not trust him. I was simply tired and needed him. I remember asking him to affirm his love for me in that moment, because I needed a reminder that he works all things together for good. Then the wind blew.
It was a simple gesture, but a gesture I so desperately needed. I can’t explain the very real presence of God I felt in that moment, and I don’t have the words to describe it. But I know he was in the wind. He was carrying me through the week, he was cooling me off in the hot sun, he was letting me know that he was still there.
I am writing this to remind you that, even though your circumstances may feel alarmingly out of control, like you’ve done everything you can, and things just keep getting worse, even when it doesn’t seem like that’s possible, and it feels like God is distant, he’s in the wind. He’s in the small things. He’s in the smiles of your children, in the steam of your morning coffee, in the warmth of the sun, in the light that fills your home, in the still moments, and in the quiet moments. When was the last time you were still? When was the last time you were quiet? It is hard to hear God when we don’t want to. We just need to be still and know that he is God. (Psalm 46:10). All he asks of us is to, “…humble yourselves…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:7). But the passage doesn’t stop there!
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
— 1 Peter 5:8–10
Hebrews 4:15 says that we do not have a God who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. You are not alone, and you will never be alone if your faith and trust are in the promises of a Father who loves you without conditions and who died for you so that you might live for him. Walk with him in holiness, relying on him as your ever-present help (Psalm 46:1) in time of need.
As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
— 1 Peter 1:15–16
Be holy. Ok, right. Holy. I, who have fallen short of holiness in a hundred ways over the past week alone. Be holy in all your conduct. Just not gonna happen. It’s not that I don’t want to. (Although there are definitely moments when my “want to” is seriously lacking.) It’s that, as I get older, I am becoming more and more aware just how short I fall. Holiness is not just about what I don’t do. It’s not just about being good. Holiness is also about being different. It’s about taking risks to protect the vulnerable. It’s about having eyes to see what’s going on with people that God puts in my path today. It’s about being intentional with my time, my money, my thoughts. Oh, I fall woefully short of holiness.
Yet, as I grow increasingly aware of my own shortcomings, I am also getting more and more sensitive to the presence and power of grace. I can see it everywhere now. When I am able to say the loving thing, even though defensiveness is rising up, that’s grace. When compassion outweighs condemnation in my own head, that’s grace. When I find the courage to speak up for what I believe, even though everything in me is shouting, “Shut up, stupid! They’ll never listen to you!” that’s grace. Every time I am able to be more than what I can be on my own, it’s grace. I see it in other Christians, too. I see them growing, struggling against the powers of darkness that want to consume them. I see them fighting against the lies of the enemy that want to take them out and make them or their ministries small. And it’s grace that’s empowering them. It’s beautiful. It’s not perfect, but it’s absolutely breath-taking to witness the battle.
In the Old Testament, God fought for his people. Seas crashed down on Egyptian armies. City walls crashed down at the sound of trumpets. The sun stood still. A giant army was defeated by a small band of men with torches and empty jars. A giant soldier was defeated with a sling and a stone. And it was grace that empowered it all. In the New Testament, God still fought for his people. The sick were healed. The dead were raised to life. A persecutor was transformed into a proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ. That good news spread like wildfire across continents, to Jews and Gentiles alike. Shackles fell off, and prison doors were opened. And it was grace that empowered it all. Today, God still fights for his people. Every day, people who were blind to the truth of Jesus begin to see for the first time. Every day, people who were dead in their transgressions are raised to new life as they trust him as their Lord and Savior. Every day, Christians find the strength to admit secrets that have haunted them for decades. Every day, they stand in the gap and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. And it is grace that empowers it all.
Today, will you recognize the presence and power of grace when you encounter it? Today, will you set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ? It has the power to transform you into a different person. A person who is becoming more and more like Jesus, who is becoming more and more holy, as He is holy. By His grace, because of His sacrifice, for His glory, you and I are becoming holy.
Ignorance is a funny thing. If you have it, you usually don’t know you have it. That’s the ignorance of ignorance. But maybe you’ve come face to face with your own ignorance before. A moment where everyone else knew a piece of information but you didn’t, so you showed up to that cancelled meeting or wore shorts to that (apparently) very formal event. I’ve had my share of these kinds of moments, and I can tell you they are not very fun. So when Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 1:14, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” It’s a sobering reminder for all believers; there was a time we all lived in ignorance. All of us.
Earlier this week, my wife and I were sitting outside at a coffee shop, sipping lattes and enjoying the weather, when I noticed a group of people congregating on the street corner not far from our table. I’m a people watcher, so I was naturally curious about what they were up to. There were 10 individuals from various walks of life all huddled near a lamppost. They were each within a foot of one another, yet none of them were speaking or acknowledging the others. Instead, they were glued to their phones. A little strange, but I shrugged it off and went back to my tea. Then, the next time I glanced up, there were 20 people. Then 30. Then 50. Within 30 minutes, a mob of more thsan 100 people was crammed onto that one cross section of sidewalk, all of them just standing there with their noses pressed to their phones. It was quite a sight! Finally, I overheard one of their conversations and, one quick Google search later, I realized what was going on. It turns out I was witnessing a Pokemon Go community-wide event. Everyone there had gathered to this specific location to collect some very rare digital creatures for their Pokemon Go app, which apparently is still a thing. So, as the crowd suddenly scattered in all directions, feverishly tapping their touch screens, I knew exactly what was going on. You could say my ignorance had lifted. All of a sudden, their bizarre behavior made sense. Well, relatively speaking. And while watching this event unfold was pretty entertaining, watching other people watching it unfold was even more entertaining! It was obvious most of the onlookers had no clue what was going on. Why were all these strangers standing in the same spot? Why were they all peering at their phones and pacing in circles? It was like some weird alien phenomenon to them.
The Christian faith can be like that. Back when we were still living in ignorance, it might’ve seemed incredibly bizarre—hundreds of people congregating together on their day off, singing songs and listening to scripture. However, the particular ignorance Peter is describing is an ignorance of hope—of the grace through Christ. Ultimately it’s an ignorance of the Gospel. Look at 1 Peter again, this time starting with verse 13:
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
— 1 Peter 1:13–14
So, when that veil of ignorance has lifted, not only do we see things differently, it prompts us to live differently. That’s what Peter was desperately trying to get through to the church. You’re not ignorant anymore, so stop acting like it! Sadly, too often we slip back into old patterns, where we actually choose to live as though we are still ignorant — ignorant of the life-changing hope of the Gospel.
Ephesians 4 confronts that very line of thinking:
That… is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
— Ephesians 4:20–24
The bottom line is that, if we are to truly live different lives, we must never forget what we know to be true — what we have learned from coming face to face with the love of Christ. Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss comes from embracing the beauty of the Gospel, the hope we have in Christ, and the life-altering truth that we have been called to be different.
On February 21, 2008, Sir Richard Billing Dearlove, former head of the UK Secret Intelligence Service, testified in court during Princess Diana’s inquest that they do grant a licence to kill. This came as a surprise to some who thought a license to kill was merely a literary device used in spy fiction.
For the unaware, a license to kill is the official sanction by a government agency that allows an employee to initiate the use of lethal force in the delivery of their objectives. In other words, these men and women have the freedom to perform actions that would earn a normal person life in prison or capital punishment. In a way, these people are above the law.
Today, some Christians live as if they have a license to sin. They live as if they are above God’s moral law.
It’s easy to love God’s grace. Grace is, by definition, unmerited favor. It’s a gift given to us freely, without us having to do anything on our part. We are given this gift not because of anything we did, but because of what God did for us, in our place. Thus, we don’t earn our way to heaven. We merely have to reach out and accept the gift (Ephesians 2:8–9).
This gift, however, is unique. It’s not a gift of something physical, like cars or jewelry, which has a use that is limited and finite. Rather, this gift is spiritual and, if used rightly, should utterly transform you from the inside out.
But we have to use the gift correctly in order to receive the results of the gift. If we assume that the gift is something to take, but merely to use as we see fit, then we will miss the purpose of the gift entirely. We weren’t given grace so that we could continue to revel in our sins. Christians do not have a license to sin. This is why Paul answers his own question in Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?… We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
— Romans 6:1–2,4
You see, if you have accepted God’s free gift, you are called to “walk in newness of life.” Will you still struggle with sin? Of course! Paul himself had this exact struggle (Romans 7:15–20). But you will look at the sin in your life differently. You will love it less and less as you grow in Christ. You will, slowly but surely, allow Christ to have victory over the sin in your life.
Peter gives us some insight as to what we are supposed to do with this gift. He says that because we “were ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ”, we can now sit back and enjoy a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Because of the gift we have received, Paul actually offers the following instruction:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
— 1 Peter 1: 13–20
In other words, we are to do everything we can to actively pursue holiness, striving to look like Christ more and more each day. This may sound difficult, and you would be right. That’s the paradox of being a Christian: Becoming a Christian is simple. Being one is the hardest thing you will ever do.
Accepting God’s gift means all you have to do is reach out and take it. It’s up to you, however, to use the gift the way God intended us to — not as a license to sin, but as a instrument of transformation.
The months after high school graduation are usually followed by change, by excitement, by joy, by all the things. My life after graduation, however, was different. Four months after I graduated (and just six days before my birthday), I was participating in a basketball tournament, a fundraiser for my friends’ basketball team. If you’ve ever met me, or read any of my previous devos, you know that I am no superb athlete. In the semifinal game, I was grabbing a rebound after a missed shot, and another player fell into my knee. My knee went in every direction it shouldn’t have, and the pain began.
After some doctor visits and MRIs, I found out that I had torn quite a few muscles in my knee, needing surgery. Surgery happened, recovery started, and after seven months, I was back to normal day-to-day activity. The pain was still there, but it was manageable. I didn’t think much of the entire process. I never thought of what God would do through that experience.
A little time passed, and Blake Clickner (my then-boss) asked me to go see a student who had just had knee surgery. What are the odds that this just fell into my lap? I was able to make the student laugh, we talked about sports and kept his mind off the fact that he was restricted to a bed for the coming weeks. I was able to connect to this student because of our shared pain.
More time passed, and a student that I was very close with, a student that I led on a weekly basis, had found out that, because of a recent injury, he would need surgery. I was able to spend a lot of time with this student, hanging out at his house, bringing him food, and just trying my best to keep his mind away from the pain.
I hated the pain I was in, and constantly asked, “Why me God?” But I never thought that my pain would be used for such a meaningful purpose. Looking back, I didn’t enjoy the pain, but it allowed me to be used in ways I would’ve never imagined. It was my pain, but God’s purpose.
This has proven true so many times in my life, and probably in your life, as well. In the midst of the misery, we are very quick to give in and see our pain as simply that, but we rarely think about the long term. God will use our trials, our pain, our struggles, for his glory. He may use it in ways that we couldn’t imagine or picture, but we hold tight to the fact that our pain will be used.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
— 1 Peter 4: 12–16