Sunrise behind a tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

God doesn’t need your help to pull off His plan.

I’m a control freak. I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice before. It’s difficult for me to relax until I know every aspect of what’s happening around me. I don’t really like to be in control at all, but I still put myself in positions where I have to be. And I think life would really be a lot easier if I stopped trying to control everything and just let God work.

Sunrise behind a tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Sunrise behind a tree – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Psalm 138:7-8.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I can worry myself into a pit if I’m not careful. I can stress myself out over nothing if I don’t keep my guard up. God has proven Himself to me over and over and over again, but I still keep trying to add my own meager strength to His plan. And He doesn’t need my help.

I love how this set of verses says that it’s God who will work out His plans for me. God works them out. Not me. And I’m glad for that because I can hardly figure my plans out for the day, let alone my whole life. And I find it doubly interesting how the Amplified Version puts the same verse (Psalm 138:8):

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, endure forever—forsake not the works of Your own hands.

That strikes a chord with me this morning. God isn’t just working out the plans for my life; He’s perfecting them. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind: that God has plans for me to give me a hope and a future. Good plans. And that He’s working all the details out so that everything can be perfect. It may not be perfect now, but God has seen my future and it’s good.

I’ve been on vacation for the past week. It was really nice to get away, even though it was super hot and I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitos. I can’t express how nice it was to wake up and not have to face the slough of difficult phone calls and challenging emails, the discouragement of late projects and the constant pressure to perform. Don’t misunderstand. I’m thankful for my job. But it’s very stressful. And even as it was, I still had to field a few emails from work while I was on vacation, so I know what I’m walking back into this morning and it’s not going to be pretty.

But I know that God has a plan. And I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be right now. And even though things may not be perfect and they may not be the way I want them to be, I trust that God is working things out. So because I trust Him, I keep going.

The Message is a paraphrase, so I don’t use it for deep Bible study, but so many times I think it really captures the essence of what the Greek is saying in a way that English can’t. And I love how it puts this same set of verses:

   When I walk into the thick of trouble,
      keep me alive in the angry turmoil.
   With one hand
      strike my foes,
   With your other hand
      save me.
   Finish what you started in me, God.
      Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.

If we’re doing God’s will for us today, living according to the Bible, taking each day a step at a time, doing what we know is right, following the Spirit’s leading, God’s got our back. And nothing is going to happen to us that He hasn’t already figured out. We don’t need to control it. We don’t need to understand it. We just need to go with it.

God will finish what He started. He’s perfected His plans for our life. We just need to turn over control and let Him do what He wants to do. He’ll do it anyway, but if we fight Him for power in our lives, it will just make trouble for us. Turn over control; He knows where He’s going.

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Chair on the beach - Galveston, TX

Today is a gift

A friend of mine once told me that life is like a war and every day is a battle that we win or lose. Every day is a new opportunity to either do something for God or to focus on ourselves, and it’s up to us to choose.

Chair on the beach - Galveston, TX

Chair on the beach – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Psalm 118:24.This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

It’s easy for me to get into a rut thinking that life just happens. I’m a creature of habit, so for me to keep up with all the craziness of my life, I have to develop habits in repeatable patterns. Otherwise I forget things. But as a result of making habits into a life, I get to thinking that every day just happens. And that’s not the case.

Every day is a gift.

It’s one more chance to do something awesome for God. It’s one more chance for God to do something amazing through us. And no matter what happened yesterday and no matter what you have planned for tomorrow, today is the day God wants you to live right now.

We can choose to make today a new day, or we can choose to make today just like any other day. Not that living a day like any other day is bad, but if we can remember that every day is a gift, maybe it will change our perspective a little. Because we can worship God with our habits, just like we can worship Him in spontaneity.

So be thankful for the day you have today.

For me? I have 12 solid hours of driving to look forward to as I say goodbye to the beach again, but I can either look at it like 12 solid hours of driving … or as 12 solid hours I get to spend with my brother, who I never get to see often enough anymore.

We only have 24 hours in a day, but you’d be surprised what you can finish in that time. Just remember that you didn’t have to wake up this morning. So if you did, there must be something God wants you to do.

Beach sunrise - Galveston, TX

Psalm 18

 

Beach sunrise - Galveston, TX

Beach sunrise – Galveston, TX

I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies.

The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path. But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth quaked and trembled. The foundations of the mountains shook; they quaked because of his anger. Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Glowing coals blazed forth from him. He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet. Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew, soaring on the wings of the wind. He shrouded himself in darkness, veiling his approach with dark rain clouds. Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him and rained down hail and burning coals. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded amid the hail and burning coals. He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies; his lightning flashed, and they were greatly confused. Then at your command, O Lord, at the blast of your breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.

He reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me. They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress, but the Lord supported me. He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me. The Lord rewarded me for doing right; he restored me because of my innocence. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not turned from my God to follow evil. I have followed all his regulations; I have never abandoned his decrees. I am blameless before God; I have kept myself from sin. The Lord rewarded me for doing right. He has seen my innocence.

To the faithful you show yourself faithful; to those with integrity you show integrity. To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the wicked you show yourself hostile. You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud. You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.

God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock? God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.

I chased my enemies and caught them; I did not stop until they were conquered. I struck them down so they could not get up; they fell beneath my feet. You have armed me with strength for the battle; you have subdued my enemies under my feet. You placed my foot on their necks. I have destroyed all who hated me. They called for help, but no one came to their rescue. They even cried to the Lord, but he refused to answer. I ground them as fine as dust in the wind. I swept them into the gutter like dirt. You gave me victory over my accusers. You appointed me ruler over nations; people I don’t even know now serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they submit; foreign nations cringe before me. They all lose their courage and come trembling from their strongholds.

The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock! May the God of my salvation be exalted! He is the God who pays back those who harm me; he subdues the nations under me and rescues me from my enemies. You hold me safe beyond the reach of my enemies; you save me from violent opponents. For this, O Lord, I will praise you among the nations; I will sing praises to your name. You give great victories to your king; you show unfailing love to your anointed, to David and all his descendants forever.

Steven's Studio beachhouse - Galveston, TX

Building on stilts

Let me introduce you to my temporary home for a few days: a beach house called Steven’s Studio. It’s one of three (www.3beachhouses.com) built by parents to support their children in college, and they’re all really cute, roomy enough for four people, close to the beach, and relatively inexpensive.

But let me tell you one of the interesting things about Steven’s Studio: it rocks. It’s fairly unsteady. When you’re up on the top floor, you can tell when someone is coming up the stairs outside. You can tell when people get out of bed downstairs. The whole house just moves. And I’m not sure if it was built to be that way or if beach houses with multiple stories always sway. I just know it’s a tad disconcerting.

Steven's Studio beachhouse - Galveston, TX

Steven’s Studio beach house – Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Matthew 7:24-27.“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

This is a story Jesus told, and it’s one of the more famous ones so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard it before.

It’s a commonly held fact that if you don’t build a house on a solid foundation, your house isn’t going to be able to withstand the storms that blow through. That’s a fact we know in Kansas very well. But I have a sinking suspicion people on Galveston Island know it too. When Hurricane Ike blasted through Galveston in 2009, it did ridiculous amounts of damage to the coastal areas. And beach houses, though built to be sturdy, weren’t able to stand up to the winds.

Granted, beach houses aren’t really built to withstand immense winds. They’re houses on stilts after all. But how many times do we build our lives like a beach house?

When it comes to building a life, we really have two choices on where to break ground. We can either choose to live our lives based on Scripture and scriptural principles … or we can choose not to. It’s the difference between the rock and the sand. One is solid; one is shifting. One will allow a building to withstand a strong storm; the other won’t.

Yes, sand has its place and its uses, but it’s not good as a foundation because it doesn’t have any consistency. Foundations need to be solid, unmoving, unyielding as a rule.

The Bible tells us what is right and what is wrong. It tells us how to please God, how to live, how to treat others, how to look at ourselves. It offers an answer to every question, a hope for every despair, a promise for every day. In a world of shifting values and inconsistent people, the Bible is a rock.

It’s good to look into the future sometimes because storms are a part of life, and it’s good to be ready for them. So if you build a life knowing that storms are coming, you’ll build on a solid foundation.

But if you build your life on culture or on our world’s perspective of right and wrong or on socially acceptable values, when the difficult moments of life come at you, you won’t have anywhere to turn. Because all of those things, although they may have some virtue on their own, change with the tides. And you’ll end up like our beach house–swaying with the wind, shifting with the motion of its occupants, unsteady even on still days. And that’s no way to live

Sunrise on the beach - Galveston, TX

Friendships really can last a lifetime.

Friendship is one of the necessities of life. I am a fairly independent, solitary person. Even my career of choice is somewhat solitary because when you get right down to it, writing is something you have to do alone. Even if you interview someone and get information from them, it’s still up to you to write it down and usually you’ll do that by yourself.

But as important as friendship is, wouldn’t you think that all friendships would last forever? That’s not the case, though. Some friendships last through high school. Some last through college. Others may only last the week of a church camp.

But then … you have the friendships that last a lifetime. There are a couple of examples of those kinds of friendship in Scripture, but the one that always comes to mind when I think of real friendship is David and Jonathan.

Sunrise on the beach - Galveston, TX

Sunrise on the beach – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 20:42.

At last Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn loyalty to each other in the Lord’s name. The Lord is the witness of a bond between us and our children forever.” Then David left, and Jonathan returned to the town.

If you want to do a study on friendship, David and Jonathan are the best example you can find in the Bible. One of the best passages you can look at is 1 Samuel 20:1-42. David, God’s chosen to be the next king of Israel. Jonathan, the crown prince of Israel, the son of the king. By all rights, they should have been enemies, but instead they were friends.

God brought them alongside each other to help each other and encourage each other at the darkest moments of their lives. So what made their friendship so special?

What is it that sets some friendships apart? Why do some friendships last longer than others?

This is just my opinion, but I think spontaneous friendships that only last a week or two and the friendships that last forever are separated by a single factor: the focus of the friendship. If you make friends with someone and you are only interested in what they can do for you, that’s a friendship that won’t last very long. But if you have a friendship where you intend to serve your friend, to encourage them, to help them, to support them even at personal cost to yourself, that’s a friendship that will last a lifetime.

If you look at your friendship as a divine appointment that God has arranged and treat your friend as though he or she is someone who God has put in your life, think about how that will change your relationship.

Of course, no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But when your friend screws up, when your friend makes a mistake, when your friend hurts your feelings, when they disappoint you, how do you react? Do you hold it over their head? Do you feel satisfied and point out their flaws? Do you compare your own failings to theirs?

That’s not friendship. That’s selfish.

There were many things that Jonathan could have held over David’s head. There were many things David could have held against Jonathan. But they didn’t. They loved each other, and they wanted to help each other.

And that’s the way our friendships need to be.

Granted, there are some situations where a friendship needs to end. But I really feel that more often than not friendships that could have lasted a lifetime come to an end prematurely because people get their perspectives turned around. (And I’m not talking about dating or relationships of that nature; that’s similar but more complicated.)

So if you’re friends with someone and you’re wondering why they aren’t interested in giving you the attention you think you deserve, the first thing you need to do is to ask yourself how much of a friend you’ve been to them.

And if you have a friend who serves you, who sacrifices for you, who loves you unconditionally and accepts you the way you are (but always encourages you to improve yourself) … you are fortunate. No, you’re more than fortunate; you’re blessed. And you need to make sure you never take that friend for granted.

Fountain in the Rose Garden - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Be careful where you set your heart.

What does it mean to set your heart on things of heaven? I’ve heard that all my life. Store up treasures in heaven. Seek first the kingdom of God. All wonderful things but all vague if you try to put them into practice.

Fountain in the Rose Garden - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Fountain in the Rose Garden – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Luke 12:34.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

How can you set your heart on the things of heaven when we really don’t know what heaven is like? I meant he Bible gives us clues not specific ones. So how does that help us set our hearts on heaven?

I’m a practical person. Granted, I enjoy creativity and artistry to a certain extent, but I really prefer to have some kind of practicality behind it. So vague, churchy phrases do little else than to irritate me.

It’s easy to set your heart on things of the world because they’re visible, tangible, usually immediate, and they make us feel better. But the things of the world are temporary. Wealth spends; health declines; possessions wear out. No matter how much you obtain in this life, you can’t take it with you. So it makes sense to store up “treasures” in heaven, which means to live your life for the intangibles that last forever.

Yes, I’m sure some treasures in heaven may consist of mansions and heavenly wealth and eternal life, yada yada yada. But to me, treasures in heaven are people I love. And that’s a great goal. But how do you set your heart on filling up heaven with treasures while you’re still on earth?

Well, I guess you live the dream God gave you.

God has given everyone a dream. Maybe some of us have hidden it, stuffed it way down deep into the corner of our hearts that rarely sees light because it’s too absurd to pursue in broad daylight. I can’t speak for anyone else. But for me? Writing has always been my dream. From the moment I understood that writing was something I could do for a living, it became my desire. But not writing specifically – publication: that magical word that changes a writer from an amateur to an expert (whether they actually know anything or not).

From the time I was very small, I wanted to be a published author. And I remember the first time I sent off a manuscript to a publisher. I cringe now thinking about what I mailed, and I pity whoever was unfortunate enough to open it. And I remember waiting and waiting and waiting for a response … and receiving none. But not to be deterred, I tried again. And again. And again. And the first time I received a response letter, I was so excited! Until I read it. A rejection notice. I’d heard of them. And this was the first of many to follow.

I could probably paper my walls with all the rejection notices I’ve received now. I remember hitting the bottom when I was halfway through college, thinking that it wasn’t worth it and that maybe I had misunderstood the dream God had given me because obviously nobody wanted anything I was writing.

But then I read a book somewhere that told me to define what success meant to me. And success for me was this: that someone would come to know Christ directly because of something I wrote. And by that definition I was successful through the first set of dramas I wrote for my church, a drama series called “To Be Continued.” And I have been writing ever since.

I had set my heart on being a published author. Granted, I wanted to become a published author so that the stories God has given me can reach as many people as possible. But I had my heart set on the wrong part of that goal. My heart needed to be set on reaching people for Christ. My heart needed to be set on the end and not the means. My interpretation of the dream God had given me was too small.

If I can step back and try to see the big picture of the dream God has given me for my life, that’s what I need to set my heart on fulfilling. If I try to set my heart on my interpretation of the smaller events that will lead to the big picture, it’s like focusing all my efforts on a single puzzle piece and neglecting the entire puzzle.

That’s why we crash and burn when we don’t get the answers we want. That’s why we get depressed and discouraged when our plans don’t work out. We have our hearts set on the means we think we need to accomplish our dream rather than the dream itself. If we can set our hearts on the big picture God has for our lives, it’s a lot easier to let go of the little things that don’t work out like we expect. It’s a lot easier to trust that whatever path He leads us down is the right one, whether it feels like it or not.

I’m almost 30 and have been writing for 20 years without being published. So what? I have my heart set on God using my writing to help people, and He’s done that. And He’ll keep doing it. It just may not look like what I think it should look like. But that’s up to Him.

The best way to tell the difference between your dream and God’s is that God’s dream for your life will always be impossible for you alone. So be careful where you set your heart. And before you get too attached to the plans you’ve made, ask yourself if you’re depending on your dream or God’s.

Mulberries - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember what God has done

We are forgetful people, and we live in a forgetful culture. I don’t think we forget on purpose. There are many times I truly believe we just get so busy and our brains get so full that forgetfulness just comes naturally. But it sure isn’t purposeful. I forget things all the time, but mainly that’s because I’m running around like a crazy person.

Example: I forgot to post yesterday. Did I do it on purpose? Not at all. My flight got into Wichita about 12:30 in the morning Wednesday, I slept for a few hours, and I work up and went to work. Posting a devo completely slipped my mind until later in the afternoon.

Mulberries - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberries – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 12:24.

But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you.

God has provided so many things for me. Sometimes it’s tempting to believe that we have gotten all that we have through our own intellect or our own skills, but that’s just pride talking. Any good thing in my life has come from God, and I have a lot of good things.

But I take everything for granted, I think. My friends. My family. My job. My house. Because on the bad days, I feel like I have nothing, and I feel like God isn’t working at all, and I start to wonder if He really keeps His promises.

I don’t know why He puts up with me.

He’s so much more patient than I am. If I had been half as good to someone else as He has been to me and they treated me like I treat Him, I would have given up years ago. But not God. His love baffles me.

Today’s verse actually comes out of a similar situation. The people of Israel, who God had chosen and blessed and taken care of and rescued and all that jazz over and over and over again for generations, had decided that they wanted a king other nations could see instead of an All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Always-There God they couldn’t. Samuel, their High Priest who served as God’s mouthpiece, told them they were making a mistake, but they were insistent.

So God gave them what they wanted. A king who looked good but didn’t have much going on inside, but that’s a different story. What is interesting to me is how God reacted in the first place.

If you have a chance, read 1 Samuel 12. Samuel stands up in front of the people of Israel and reminds them of everything God has done for them. And he warns them that if they forget God and how He cared for them that they would have to endure some suffering until they remember who God is.

Throughout Scripture, God has always demonstrated His love and faithfulness for the people of Israel. The Old Testament is brimming with stories of how God rescued them from danger and how they turned around and forgot him a short time later. And as a child, I used to think that they were the stupidest people on the planet. But am I much different?

God has opened doors for me that I could never have opened on my own. He has provided a comfortable place for me to live that I could never have provided for myself. He has given me a wonderful family, incredible friends, etc. etc. etc. So many good things. And after He has saved me and rescued me and given me more blessings than I can handle, I turn around and forget and start worrying about tomorrow. 

I’m just as bad as the children of Israel. And God is just as faithful to me as He was to them.

Forgetting is dangerous. Because if we forget where our blessings come from, we’ll start thinking we did it ourselves. And then when trouble comes again, we’ll rely on ourselves. And there’s no power there.

Samuel warned the people of Israel not to forget God. And maybe that generation listened, but the generation afterward didn’t get the memo. And even the king himself wasn’t paying much attention. And God was forced to remind them.

It works the same way in our lives. So don’t forget. Or God will have to remind us who He is.