I’m currently teaching my way through the book of Mark in the New Testament at my church. I want to pass along something about God’s love that many people seem to miss.
When Jesus was baptized, his Father revealed a big part of his heart by what he said. If I had to imagine what God might say to Jesus in that moment, it would be something like, “I have called you to save the world. It will require all that you have, but I send you forth!” That’s a very functional message and it shows a bit of who I am: task oriented.
But to the contrary, Jesus’ Father wasn’t task oriented at all. He was very relational and affirming, saying:
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Can God’s Love Allow Suffering?
What’s striking to me is what follows:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:12,13
God immediately put Jesus in a place of suffering, isolation, and temptation. The mention of the wild animals just added to the scary and unpredictable nature of being in the wilderness.
It’s hard for many people to grasp that God allows suffering. In their mind, suffering negates the possibility of God’s love for them. They are convinced that if God loves them he will never allow them to suffer. When bad things happen they are quick to question and doubt God’s love, if not his very existence. Their faith rises and falls on their circumstances. They feel close to God when things are good. They feel far from God when things are bad.
What we have to remember is that we live in a broken world. Someday God will set all things right. He will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. There will be no more death or sickness. All suffering will cease. Until then, his only promise is to be WITH US in our suffering, not rescue us from all suffering.
God’s Love Does Not Guarantee We Will Not Suffer
When Jesus walked the earth his healings and miracles were not guarantees that all believers would experience these things on earth. They were only a promise of the hope Jesus offered his believers who followed him to the end of time. His miracles were a snapshot of heaven to come.
It’s in these hard times that we see the reality of God the most. God wants to prove his faithfulness to us and have us prove to ourselves that, with his help, we can face anything.
Notice how the text above ends by saying that angels attended Jesus. That means they served him or supported him during his temptations so he could overcome the temptations.
It’s in these hard times that we see the reality of God the most. God wants to prove his faithfulness to us and have us prove to ourselves that, with his help, we can face anything.
If you are going through a hard time, trust that Jesus is with you to comfort you, guide you, and sustain you through it. He has even sent his angels to support you.
Free Kindle Book. There’s no better time to release a new book about Starting Over than on Easter. Jesus came, died, and was resurrected so we could all start our lives over. And there’s no better way to introduce a new book than by giving it away for free!
Starting on Easter, through Tuesday, my new book, Starting Over…finding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself, will be a free Kindle book at Amazon.com. If you attend one of our services at Cedarbrook Church, it will be given away in paperback.
From the Back Cover of Starting Over
You are perfect in God’s Eyes. Impossible? Not if you understand what Jesus did for you. Many people talk about God’s forgiveness, but few understand how radical it really is. Instead, they climb onto the hamster-wheel of performance, working to please God, while unresolved guilt eats away at them. Sound familiar?
Loved this book. It’s a fast read and made me take a more biblical look into God’s forgiveness instead of being left to dwell on my own guilt and shame.
To counteract this common mistake, F. Remy Diederich has written, Starting Over...finding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself. The book lays out how God made you perfect in his eyes, as well as how being forgiven impacts your life.
With twenty brief meditations, the author hopes to convince you of God’s unquestionable and unfathomable forgiveness. His goal is to help you move past your regret and start living the new life that God has for you.
If guilt and regret have pushed you away from God, Starting Over might be the next book for you to read.
Can You Help Promote Starting Over?
I write books so people will read them. I know, crazy idea. But, the truth is: most books on Amazon.com aren’t read. They just sit there like orphans. If you want your book to get read, you have to ask for help. So, that’s what I’m doing! I’m hoping you will do me a favor, well, actually a few:
Go to Amazon.com and search in “Books” for “Forgiven.” Currently my book is listed on page 5. Click on my book and “buy” it for free. Searching this way will help the book move toward the first page of ranking.
Read the book this week (it will take you just over an hour) and post a review on Amazon.com. That helps A LOT. People decide whether to buy books based on reviews. The more reviews I get the higher the book ranks on their search engine.
Post the link to the book on your Facebook page and let people know that it’s free.
That’s it. Those three things will make a big difference. If you believe in the message of Starting Over (God’s radical and unconditional forgiveness) it’s an easy way to spread the message.
So far the reviews are super positive. For example, one person wrote:
Loved this book. It’s a fast read and made me take a more biblical look into God’s forgiveness instead of being left to dwell on my own guilt and shame. You can read it as a daily devotional, but I couldn’t put it down and read through the whole thing in one sitting.
Enjoy the free kindle book. I hope to read your review of it soon!
I’m preparing to launch my new book: Starting Over...how to find God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself. The launch date is set for April 10, the Monday of Easter week. I thought that was an appropriate time to launch a book about God’s forgiveness and starting a new life.
Leading up to the launch I’m going to post selections from the new book. It’s a short devotional with twenty meditations about God’s radical, unconditional forgiveness.
If you would like to get a free copy of the book now, in exchange for posting a review on the Amazon.com sale page, I’ll gladly send you one. Request your free copy here.
Day One: Throwing it all away
TIME magazine reported the reemergence of Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York. He was known as a man who fought corruption with a vengeance only to be exposed as a regular user of a high dollar prostitution ring. To make matters worse, he covered his addiction by sending money to shell corporations that funneled the money back to the prostitution ring. TIME called it,
…hypocrisy on a scale that was hard to fathom…as if Eliot Ness had been busted for peddling gin from his apartment. 
When the news hit the paper, his career was over. Currently he is trying to find his way back into politics, but the writer of the story wasn’t so sure it could happen. She said,
To learn that Spitzer was the world’s biggest hypocrite, that he’d thrown it all away to frequent prostitutes, was devastating, a lapse that could never be forgiven.
When she mentioned this to Spitzer, he responded,
“’How do you think I feel?’ he said, his eyes welling up. ‘I know exactly how you feel. At one point I stood for something that was important and useful. I was in a place in time where I had a purpose, where it mattered. And then I destroyed it.’”
Thankfully his wife seemed to forgive him but not without some residue in their relationship. The article said,
His wife…appears to have forgiven him. “I don’t know if you can ever mend something like this, in the sense of repair the canvas so that you never see the tear in the fabric,” he said. “I’m incredibly lucky to be with a woman who is willing to deal with that tear in the fabric and keep moving forward.”
Spitzer said there would always be a scar in the fabric of his marriage. TIME said the public would never be able to forgive him. And Spitzer himself said he destroyed his purpose in life.
As I read this, it made me wonder if Spitzer will be defined by his indiscretion for the rest of his life. Will his name be synonymous with hypocrisy and prostitution forever? Will he ever be able to move beyond his mistakes or the shame?
Maybe you have also made mistakes, or suffered failures, that haunt you and rob you of the life that God planned for you. Can you imagine hitting the “reset” button on your life? How would that change things for you?
God has good things in store for you. He wants to help you start over. That’s what I want to explore over the next few pages. Let’s work at getting your life back.
Thanks for reading this excerpt from chapter one of Starting Over. Remember to request your free copy if you are willing to post a review of the book on the day it launches, April 10th. Thanks!
 Elliot Ness was the leader of the famed “Untouchable” crime squad that fought bootleggers during Prohibition.
Eliot Spitzer’s Impossible Mission, by Sheelah Kolhatkar, March 15, 2010, TIME
I recently wrote about the impact of power in one’s life after reading the book, The Power Paradox. I’m back to reflect on what the book said about what it means to be powerless.
The author says that powerless people are stressed, anxious, and full of shame. Those three things weigh on them every day and put them at a huge disadvantage to the average person. It even makes them more likely to be sick, which only adds to their powerlessness.
To be less powerful is to face greater threats of every kind, especially from people with more power. The powerless, attuned to threats of all kinds, are more likely to experience chronic stress. Dacher Keltner, The Power Paradox:
Hannah: A Picture of Powerlessness
I recently did a study in the book of 1 Samuel, in the Bible. It begins with the story of Hannah. Hannah is the picture of powerlessness, exemplified by her inability to have children. In our culture, many women choose to not have children. But for Hannah, the inability to have children was a badge of shame. She had nothing to offer her community. It evoked pity from her husband and contempt from her husband’s other wife.
The Bible says of Hannah that:
She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”1 Samuel 1:10,11
Hannah was basically saying, God, I’d like some power in my life. I’d like some sense of significance. If you give me a son, I’ll give him back to you to serve as a priest for the rest of his life.
She was offering to give her son up for adoption and let the local priest raise him. Can you imagine praying that? Can you imagine giving up the son you longed to bear?
Maybe we should look past the desperate act to understand the desperate person.
Who prays that kind of prayer? Desperate people pray like that. Hannah was so desperate to have a sense of worth and power…to have a sense of purpose and value…to break free from the oppressive people in her life, that she was willing to give up her son.
Reacting to the Powerless
The unfortunate thing in a case like this is how powerful people react. Powerful people often lack empathy because they can’t understand what it’s like to be powerless and have no control in their life.
I’m sure Hannah’s friends and family said, That’s crazy. What are you doing? Don’t pray that. Your life isn’t so bad. Get over it. Count your blessings. In fact, Hannah’s husband asked the ridiculous question: Aren’t I better than ten sons? …as if she should be happy in life just because he was there to take care of her (along with his other wife.)
Desperate People Do Desperate Things
Powerless people often do desperate things that we don’t understand, and we need to be careful how we respond. For example, maybe a woman quits a job because she is being sexually harassed. She’s desperate. She had to do something, so she just quit. But she didn’t want to tell people the real reason, so people criticize her for ruining her career.
Or maybe a man grows up surrounded by discrimination. He saw his dad passed over for promotions. He saw his mom treated like a servant. He was personally pulled over by the police numerous times without cause.
Over the years his frustration grows. He wants to do something about the injustice. He wants to say something. He’s desperate, and so when he becomes a professional athlete he seizes the moment to make a statement by not standing during the national anthem.
Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know. What IS the right thing to do when you are desperate? People do desperate things that don’t always make sense because they FEEL like they are out of options.
I know there are plenty of people who object to disrespecting the flag and our national anthem. You might be one of them. That’s fine and maybe even good…but is that really the point? Maybe we should look past the desperate act to understand the desperate person.
Empathy for the Powerless
It’s so easy for powerful people to rush to judgment. They can only see an action through their own eyes and if it doesn’t make sense to them, then it’s wrong for everyone else. It’s easy from their position to sit back and say, “I can’t believe they did that. That offends me. I’d never do that.”
Well, that’s because they aren’t powerless. They don’t have their background. They don’t have their level of desperation. Desperate people aren’t always fully rational. They don’t always do what’s right or helpful. It helps to know their story…not to justify their actions but to understand what motivates them.
Maybe instead of criticizing the powerless for their behavior we could try to hear their side of the story. Try to understand them. Try to appreciate their pain and what makes them so desperate. Try to understand what it’s like to feel powerless.
Much conflict comes when the powerful judge the powerless. The powerful come off as self-righteous and the powerless often respond in frustration, not knowing how to break through the insensitivity of the powerful.
The Power Paradox was a good caution to me about this inherent tension. Being a white, Masters educated, male, pastor, with a decent income and intact family puts me in a natural position of power in our culture. I can do many things that others can’t. That’s not something to be proud of. It’s a privilege and a responsibility to use my power well and for the benefit of others. If I lack empathy for the powerless I can easily push them away and lose out on what God might want us to do together.
The Power Paradox wasn’t a perfect book, but the research struck me in a way that made an impact, and for that I’m grateful.
Here’s your reward for reading to the end: My newest book, Return From Exile, is FREE today only on Kindle. Download it here.
Too often we let our failures define us. We let our bad experiences tell us who we are. But Isaiah reminds us that God is the one who should define our true identity:
Too often we let our failures define us. We let our bad experiences tell us who we are.
The nations will see your righteousness. Kings will be blinded by your glory. And the LORD will give you a new name. The LORD will hold you in his hands for all to see — a splendid crown in the hands of God. Never again will you be called the Forsaken or Desolate. Your new name will be My Delight and My Bride, for the LORD delights in you and will claim you as his own. Isaiah 62:2-4
Isaiah said that when they looked in the mirror, the name stamped on their forehead was: “Forsaken” or “Desolate.” Maybe you’ve seen those same names written on your forehead. But God says:
No, that’s not how I want you to see yourself. I’m giving you a new nickname: My Delight, My Bride. I’m going to restore your glory and so you need to look in the mirror and see what I see.
Start living out of this reality and see if things don’t change for you.
I made a quick post on my Facebook page the other day about the spiritual message of law and grace in the recent musical, Les Miserables. Someone wrote back thanking me for the spiritual insight. They said they would have missed it had I not mentioned it.
I’d hate for anyone to miss what I see is the bigger message of Les Miserables so let me offer a few thoughts here. I’d love to hear your insights as well.
Forgiveness in Les Miserables
The obvious message in Les Miserables is the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness melted the heart of a hardened man. It transformed his life, not only freeing him from his inner prison but he sought to forgive others: even Javert, the man who wanted to throw him back in prison.
A friend of mine wrote the other day saying that forgiveness is one of the biggest evidences of the reality of God for him. It has no evolutionary reason behind it. As in Les Miserables, common wisdom tells you to eliminate your enemy. But forgiveness sees the dignity of God’s creation and seeks to offer renewal, hope, and goodness even if it costs you your life.
The Futility of Law in Les Miserables
The subtler spiritual message in Les Miserables is the hopelessness of the Law to bring satisfaction and fulfillment. Javert represents the Law. He is driven to arrest Jean Val Jean no matter what the cost. He believes the Law is true and just and therefore must be fulfilled. It’s a holy calling from God. He has no concept of grace or forgiveness.
If you are familiar with the story that Jesus told of the Prodigal Son, Javert is like the older brother. He doesn’t celebrate when his prodigal brother returns home. He stands in judgment and refuses to enter the party that his father throws for the prodigal.
Those who seek only the Law (right living) will, like Javert or the older brother, end their lives in despair. But the grace of forgiveness offers a legacy of hope and life, generation after generation.
The New Testament letter to the Galatian church told them: “Jesus set you free from the curse of the Law” (Galatians 3:13). In other words, the Law will only condemn us. But Jesus offers us another way to be approved by God…forgiveness. If you are a Bible reader, a full reading of Galatians chapter three might be worth your time to better understand the spiritual implications of Javert’s role as it relates to the Law.
These are just a couple of spiritual insights to consider as you watch Les Miserables. I’d love to hear back your thoughts as well.
Did you know that there is a guilt that leads away from God?
In Henri Nouwen‘s daily devotional called “Show Me the Way” he speaks about two kinds of guilt; one that leads you to God and one that sends you away. He says…
There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but rather to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says: “I am too sinful to deserve God’s mercy.” It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride.
…The question is: “Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God’s mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?”
The Peter/Judas contrast is striking to me. Peter went on to lead the church. For some reason he was able to tap into the true essence of God’s mercy and forgiveness and it was life changing. But Judas let his sin and guilt crush him.
How do you handle your guilt? Does it lead you to God or away from him? My prayer for you is that you, like Peter, might find God’s life changing mercy and forgiveness for your past and rise to fulfill your God-given purpose.