Home again, home again

Hey, everyone! Just a short note to let you know that the Colonel and I made it back to Wichita safe and sound. The trip home was pretty much uneventful as well (even though Colonel will tell you that I tried to get us lost in the Houston airport . . . but we all know that he just makes that stuff up).

It was a great trip, and I have hundreds of pictures and many many pages of journal stuff to upload.

Thanks for your prayers. I will fill you all in on the trip as soon as possible!

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On the road to Guatemala

The Colonel and I leave for Guatemala at 6:30 a.m. We’ll be back in a week. Please pray for us while we’re gone that God will do something spectacular.

I probably won’t be able to update the blog on any consistent basis so I recommend checking in with Jim and Shelley’s site to see what kind of international incidents the Colonel and I cause . . .

http://www.jimandshelley.blogspot.com

I promise a journal when I get back!

 

God never gives up on us

Today’s verse is Matthew 16:15-16.

15Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.”

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single Christian that didn’t identify with Peter one way or another. He was all impulse and instinct, shooting his mouth off and putting his foot in it too. Peter has a reputation in Scripture for screwing up, honestly. If he wasn’t scolding children, he was chopping off people’s ears.

But Peter got one thing right where not all of the other disciples did. Peter knew Who Jesus was. Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the One who had been sent to save Israel. Peter understood that Jesus was the Son of God.

I think that’s something that a lot of Christians need to get straight in their heads today. We have no problem telling people that we’re Christians. And most of the time we don’t even mind telling people that we believe the Bible. But do we mention Jesus much in our everyday conversation? And I don’t mean at church. I mean in the workplace or on the street or in restaurants and movie theatres.

The plain and simple truth is that Jesus makes people uncomfortable. He is not (and never will be) a neutral presence. You can’t just ignore Him, although some people try really hard. Even secular scholars admit that Jesus existed, but then that presents a problem. I’ve heard it said before that Jesus was one of three things: a liar, a lunatic or He is Lord.

If He were a liar, tricking His way into the hearts and minds of people in the first century, He would be the greatest con man in history. But lying seems unlikely because there were so many witnesses to the miracles that He did. Similarly, He could have been a lunatic, but His statements aren’t the ravings of a mad man.

So if He isn’t a liar and He isn’t a lunatic, He has to be Lord. It’s the only option left. And that bothers people because it means Jesus is in control. And it means that God really loved us enough to strap on human flesh and come to live in the dirt with us, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with that kind of love. I don’t know how to react to it, and it scares me that anyone could love me that much.

People are rebellious. We want to live the way we want to live. We don’t want to admit that God knows what He’s doing because that means we don’t. And for Jesus to come into the picture and tell us that we have no control over our lives  makes people upset. We want control over our lives because we think we can handle it, because we’re proud, silly people.

Peter had it right. Jesus is the Messiah. He was in the first century. He is today, in the twenty-first century. And we don’t need to be afraid of standing up and declaring the fact when we believe it.

The funny thing is, I think Peter really did believe it. But when he was pressed, he denied it. He ran away. He abandoned Jesus, even though deep in his heart he believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

But when it was over, and after Jesus had come back to life, He tracked Peter down and made sure Peter understood that He still loved him and that there was still a lot of work He needed Peter to do. And from that moment on, Peter became a powerhouse, and he never looked back.

And that tells me that even when we aren’t bold or when we aren’t as vocal about our faith as we probably should be, Jesus still loves us. And He still has plenty of purpose for our lives. And if we can really understand that there is nothing we can to make God love us less (or more), the courage we gain is unflappable. God is on our side so what on earth can stop us? Not a thing.

The only thing that can come between you and God’s plan for your life is you. God won’t force Himself on anyone. Granted, God is still powerful enough to use you even if you’ve given up on Him, but if we turn on backs on Him because of doubt or distrust or hurt or fear, we won’t reach the full potential He has for our lives.

But if we hold on to Him, even in the dark days, and trust Him especially when nothing makes sense, He’ll see us through the hard times. And if we go back to Him after we’ve betrayed Him, He won’t turn us away. He loves us. Jesus understands what it’s like to be human; He spent 33 years living among us and experienced everything we experience. He knows.

So if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, don’t be afraid to proclaim it. Live it with every breath. And if you’ve been afraid in the past, stop and go back to Him. He’s waiting for you and He wants to let you know that He still has plans for you if you’re willing to step up. Trust me, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.

 

What to do when your air conditioner gives up the ghost

Life is about making choices. We choose what to eat for breakfast. We choose what clothes we wear. We choose–to a certain extent–what kind of job we work. We choose what music to listen to, what kind of car to drive, what kind of house to live in. Life is about making choices and dealing with the consequences of those choices, whether they be positive or negative.

For example, I had a choice of where to sleep in my house last night. I got home around Midnight, and generally when I get home that late, I sleep on the first level because the house air conditioner cools the place down very well. The second level of my 100-year-old farmhouse has window a/c units that work well but you have to give them a headstart.

It was 90 degrees in the house when I got home at Midnight. So I turned on my air conditioning, took a shower, and then went to bed. I woke up at 2 a.m. covered in sweat and realized . . . the house air conditioner wasn’t working. It was 90 degrees on the first floor. It was 90 degrees in my basement. And it was 94 degrees in my bedroom on the second floor. I’m not sure why the house air conditioner isn’t working, but it would figure that it would break just before I leave the country on Saturday. =) It’s probably all these weeks of 100+ temperatures. It finally just gave up the ghost.

I tried sleeping in the basement, but it was just as hot and I didn’t have a fan going. So I chose to go up to the second floor, turn on my room a/c unit and just wait for it to cool down. I actually got a pretty good night’s sleep (it is currently 83 in my bedroom, where I am parked in front of the a/c unit composing this blog this morning).

I could have chosen to remain on the first floor. I acclimate fairly quickly and I probably could have gotten to sleep, but I would have been a terrible sweaty mess for work today. So I chose to be incredibly uncomfortable for about half an hour in my room while it was cooling down and managed to get a good night’s sleep without drenching myself in sweat.

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I thought about this too. I had a choice even after I had made my choice. I could have laid in my hot bed in my hot room listening to the a/c unit chugging away doing its darnedest to cool this place down and could have been upset. I could have felt sorry for myself and I could have focused on how unfair it is to lose my air conditioner in the middle of the summer and on how inconvenient it was for me to have to wander around my house like someone who doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep. But I decided that feeling that way was a waste of time. I was in my room (even though it was hot), in my comfortable bed (even though it was hot), and I had an air conditioner. And it was working. Even if it were a tad inconvenient, I had an option that involved sleeping in an air conditioned room. So I chose to be thankful instead.

The verse today is also about making a choice.

Psalm 119:30

30 I have chosen to be faithful;
I have determined to live by your regulations.

Faith is a choice. Trusting Christ to save you from your sins is a one-time decision, but trusting that God knows what He’s doing with your life even when none of it makes sense is a choice I have to make almost every hour of every day.

We can either choose to trust that God is good and that He knows what He’s doing and that He always keeps His promises. Or we can choose to believe that He isn’t and He doesn’t and try to do our own thing. There’s no inbetween choice. Those are the only options. And the consequences from that choice determine what kind of a life you’re going to lead.

If you do your own thing and try to figure life out on your own, you’ll never have peace and life will never make sense. Because life is too big for us to understand. The big picture of our existence is too broad and too detailed and too complex for us to grasp. Our lives are all tiny pieces of a giant mosaic that fit together beautifully, but we are too small to see the whole picture.

But God can see everything. He can see how my life fits into the grand scheme of His plan. And instead of me flailing and floundering trying to understand life on my terms, I choose to just trust Him.

And by choosing to remain faithful to Him, by choosing to live by the Bible, by choosing to live like Christ, I will have a life that God can bless. Abundantly.

And I can speak from experience because it’s true. God has given me everything I need and just about everything I’ve ever wanted. I’ve never lacked for anything, even during the years when I didn’t know how I was going to afford food. Even during the time when I could barely make it paycheck to paycheck, God was faithful me. And now at this point in my life, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Although, a functioning air conditioner for the whole house would be phenomenal . . . . but until we get it fixed, maybe I can start a sauna . . . . It’s all good. Because I have chosen to trust God even in circumstances that seem unfair.

And besides, I’m leaving for Guatemala on Saturday so I’ll just consider this training. I have already gotten used to 106 and 110 degree temperatures outside. Now I can get used to the same temperatures inside.

Make the choice to trust God. Choose to live a life He can bless. Choose to believe He knows what He’s doing. And that way, even though life may not be happy, you can still be peachy.

Living in Truth by admitting we have done wrong

Today’s verse is 1 John 1:7.

 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

What does it mean to live in the light “as God is in the light”? A long time ago I listened to a message by our youth pastor at the time, John Ulrich, who spoke about what “light” is. Light is such a powerful metaphor. It can be used for so many different concepts, but generally when the Bible refers to light, it’s using the term as a symbol for Truth.

Light reveals things. Light shows things that want to stay hidden. Light opens the eyes of blind people so that they can see what is real and what isn’t. Truth does the same thing, so I think it’s an apt comparison.

So with that understanding, the verse is saying that we need to live in Truth as God is in Truth. Well . . . God is Truth. There’s no separation there. So does that mean we need to live in God?

Instead of me fumbling around trying to understand this single verse, I’m going to put the whole section up, starting with 1 John 1:5.

5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

Amazing how adding a few extra verses in there clears it up, isn’t it? It’s always best to let the Bible interpret itself.

God is light (God is Truth). There’s nothing bad in Him. But there are people in the world who call themselves Christians who are living in spiritual darkness. They don’t read the Bible. They don’t understand what it means to follow Christ. They either believe in a religion or they follow a man’s teaching. They have no interest in pursuing God’s truth because they are perfectly satisfied with what the world has pawned off as truth.

These verses say that those people who say they are Christians but continue to live a life that isn’t guided by Truth–by God and by the Bible–are lying. That’s kind of heavy.

But aren’t we saved by faith? Doesn’t the Bible say elsewhere that our works have nothing to do with our salvation?

That’s true. But in James, the Bible tells us that our works demonstrate the presence of our faith. It’s not our actions that save us (our by that same token our inaction that condemns us); our actions are an outward representation of an invisible change that has taken place inside our hearts.

So if someone claims to be a Christian but doesn’t follow Christ and has no interest in studying the Bible and feels no desire to learn more about God . . . . think about it.

But the main verse for today isn’t about identifying “real” Christians. Honestly, that’s not even our job. We aren’t supposed to go around deciding whether someone is saved or not. That’s not our business. That’s not our job. And we can’t do it anyway because we can’t see peoples’ hearts. The only person I am responsible for is myself . . .  Maybe if I can ever get myself under control I can move on to helping other people control themselves, but the chances of me ever achieving that one are fair to partly cloudy.

What 1 John 1:7 says to me this morning is that if I live my life by God’s Truth — that if I act and live and breathe and move based according to the principles in the Bible — I will have true, unbroken fellowship with other Christians who are living the same way. And what’s more, a life lived according to God’s Truth will keep me from sinning.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross saved me from sin, but by living a life based in God’s Truth, I will have the strength and the weapons I need to keep myself from doing the things that hurt me and my walk with Christ.

And I guess all this leads up to the question of how do we live a life of Truth? Like I said, you need to apply biblical principles in your life. The biggest of which comes in this same chapter, starting in verse 8.

 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Everybody sins. And by refusing to acknowledge that I sin, I’m lying to myself and I’m calling God a liar.

I am a sinner. That’s the truth.

God is just. That’s the truth.

God justifies the ungodly through Jesus Christ, and all we have to do is ask. That is truth.

The best way to live in Truth is to tell God what I have done wrong and trust Him to forgive me. That is Truth. And I need to keep doing that on a daily basis because I do wrong every day, every moment of every day, and by continually confessing my sins to God it keeps my perspective true. It makes me remember that I am not responsible for my salvation. It’s through Christ alone.

So much bread and not enough butter

Life overwhelms me sometimes. It shouldn’t, but I let it anyway. I know better but some days I just can’t prevent it. There are so many things to accomplish. I have so much to do and not enough time in the day, and even if I had more hours in a day I couldn’t finish things to my satisfaction. There are too many duties, too many responsibilities, too many events, too many projects to keep track of, and things always slip through the cracks until the day after I needed to remember them.

On days when I let all that stuff get to me, I feel tired. Worn out. Stretched thin. “Like butter scraped over too much bread,” as Bilbo Baggins said in describing himself in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. I don’t feel like I can continue. And then I start feeling afraid that I’m going to fail. And if I had to nail down the greatest fear in my life it would be letting people down.

And then the Lord sends along a random Bible verse like Isaiah 41:10.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
      Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
   I will strengthen you and help you.
      I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Amazing how 33 English words can change your perspective on life almost immediately, isn’t it?

Don’t fear. We shouldn’t be afraid of anything. Not of the future. Not of the past. Not even of today. We shouldn’t fear people or situations or circumstances. Why? Because God has already seen them. He knew the troubles that were coming our way, and He’s already prepared us to meet them. Maybe we don’t know that He’s prepared us, but He has. So there’s no reason to fear because not only do we have everything we need to survive, He is constantly by our side. There’s no chance we can fail if we keep holding on to Him.

Don’t be discouraged. That’s a tough one sometimes. Feeling discouraged is easy for me. People discourage me. Work discourages me. My lack of progress discourages me. I tell myself that if I was actually a good writer I would be published novelist by now. But we’re not supposed to be discouraged. We’re not supposed to feel broken down and worn out because God is our God. We don’t serve a religion or a religious leader. We don’t serve a distant god somewhere out in the cosmos who created us and left us to fend for ourselves. We don’t serve ourselves. We serve God, and He always knows what’s best. And He always does what’s best for His children. And if we keep holding on to Him, trusting Him, not relying on our own understanding of why things happen or why things don’t happen, He will make the road we’re walking on straight so we’ll have no doubt which way to go.

This verse says He strengthens us. That He helps us. That He holds us up with His victorious right hand. . . . It would be enough that God holds us up with His right hand (not to put down any lefties out there, of course, because lefties rock . . . I should blog sometime about Ehud, the left-handed judge . . .  he was a rock star) but it’s not just His right hand. It’s His victorious right hand.

Think about that. I mean, really think about that. God gives us His strength. He helps us. He supports us as we walk through life a day at a time.

If that isn’t reason enough to feel encouraged this morning, I don’t know what is. We’re supposed to press on through the day no matter what obstacles might arise in our path, recognizing that God’s strength is sufficient for us and that when it feels like it isn’t, that’s just our own brokenness telling us lies. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like listening to lies.

So today I am bound and determined to pay attention only to what I know is true: There’s nothing to fear. There’s no reason to be discouraged. God has given me His strength and is helping me get through this day. And when my old destructive self decides to butt in and tell me differently, I’m not going to listen.

And I guess, from a certain point of view, any amount of butter on a slice of bread improves the taste. And scraping it thin is probably healthier for you anyway. =)

Being grateful for spankings

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:7.

7 As I learn your righteous regulations,
      I will thank you by living as I should!

Isn’t it funny how mixed up our thinking is? I read this today and at first I really didn’t understand it. It seemed to me that this verse was saying that as we learn God’s rules, we should live the way He tell us in gratitude for sharing His rules. What?

I think part of my confusion (other than the fact that I stayed up way too late last night and my coffee isn’t having any effect this morning) stems from the fact that I still have trouble wrapping my head around God’s rules as gifts.

God doesn’t just make stuff up. He created the rules and laws He did to protect us but also to help us live healthy, successful lives, both physically and spiritually. And when we obey His rules, He is able to bless us. So the more we obey His rules, the more He can bless us. I say that’s motivation for learning every rule He has, wouldn’t you?

This is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

7I will praise and give thanks to You with uprightness of heart when I learn [by sanctified experiences] Your righteous judgments [Your decisions against and punishments for particular lines of thought and conduct].

So, in effect, what this verse is saying that as we live and break God’s rules, God will punish us . . . and when He does, we need to be grateful for His discipline.

Wow.

That’s a tough one. Because I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time being grateful when I am being punished for something I did wrong. Do I understand that punishment is necessary? Most of the time. But am I grateful for it? Pretty much, no.

But then I got to thinking about growing up. My parents ran a pretty strict household . . . at least, that’s probably what a lot of other parents would think. Really all my mom and dad did was to expect my brother and I to obey the rules. They explained them. And they enforced them. And most of the time, both my brother and I understood the consequences of breaking them . . . and sometimes we did it anyway . . . . Well, maybe I shouldn’t say we. I should probably say I. I was the stubborn, strong-willed, independent child.

And whenever I broke the rules, I was punished. Yes, we spanked in our household. No, I wasn’t scarred for life. Because spankings in our home weren’t spur of the moment things. It wasn’t a simple strike. It wasn’t a moment where Mom hit us in the grocery store and then moved on. Spankings in our home were a production. They took time. A lot of time. First I had to spend some time thinking about what I had done (which most of that, I admit, I spent wallowing in rebellious muttering). Then, Mom came in and explained why she had to spank me, because she loved me too much to let me misbehave. Then came the spanking, which didn’t actually hurt. I think it was the shame that I had disappointed them that caused more pain than that silly little paddle that had my name written on it.

As a child, I understood why my parents disciplined me to a limited extent. I knew the Bible told them that they had to discipline their children, and I knew my parents lived by the Bible. So I got that. And I understood that they loved me. I never doubted that. But I didn’t grasp the concept of the danger a misbehaving child faces if they continue undisciplined until I got older.

Now, I don’t have children so maybe I shouldn’t express my thoughts about this. However, I am child. And I have been a child of my parents, and I am still a child of God. And even though I don’t have children of my own, I know what the Scripture says about raising them because I have lived it.

Sparing discipline of your children for whatever reason is so dangerous. Kids growing up in the world today face choices that will utterly destroy them. And you shouldn’t expect your kids to know the right thing to do automatically. If anything, they will automatically know the wrong thing to do. And God gave them to you to teach them His rules. And if you don’t teach them His rules, they will break them. If your kids don’t take you seriously, how will they ever learn to take God seriously?

And that’s when I started realizing why we should be thankful when God disciplines us. He’s not some overbearing principal in the sky, who’s waiting around a corner to slap our hands with a ruler when we speak out of turn.

He knows the consequences of our actions. He can see where every road will take us. He can see what will happen to us if we disobey. And He is trying with everything He has to keep us off that path because when we ignore Him, it’s like running into a burning house and just waiting for it to collapse on top of us.

So I understand now why David wrote that in gratitude for God’s discipline in his life — discipline that hurts but always occurs to protect us from ourselves — he chose to live the way he should. And I’m praying that I can do that. Because I understand why God corrects me, why He discplines me. He loves me. And just like my parents, He loves me too much to let me do wrong and get away with it. And when I can wrap my head around that concept and learn to love His rules more than my stubborn, strong-willed, damaging indpendence, He will bless me more than I can take in.