Dragonfly - Galveston, TX

Just because you can’t see Him doesn’t mean He’s not working

I’ve got troubles. How about you? I have stuff in my life that blows up on occasion, and it’s really hard to recover sometimes. I want God to fix it. I want Him to intervene and make everything right again as quickly as possible so nobody gets hurt, including me. But He doesn’t always work like that. Actually, He rarely works like that. And so I have to go through even more difficult situations, where people are angry or where people make foolish choices and I have to pick up the pieces and start all over again.

If you’ve never been there, you don’t know how discouraging that is. To have invested your life in something only to have something outside your control ruin it all. And you have to start over from scratch.

When I was young, my favorite hobby was writing (not much has changed). And I would sit and write as often as I could. I had this huge book series I was working on. Back then the power grid out here in the country was unreliable at best, and we had an old computer that had never heard of “Auto Save.” You already know where I’m going. I was typing along, just minding my own business, and the power went out. And I lost four whole single-spaced pages. And they weren’t even scenes with basic description or simple dialogue. They were scenes with complicated, plot elements.

I was devastated. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to anyone, but if you’re a writer, you can identify with the loss. I had to start those pages all over again. And this was before I worked with an outline, so I had to recreate what I had pulled out of thin air. And all I could think about when I got to the end of those four new pages (and saved them six times) was that it wasn’t as good as the first attempt.

I don’t do this very often, but I’m posting an entire chapter. The whole chapter is just wonderful, one of my favorites. And since I’m going to put the whole chapter up, I’m putting it up in The Message (emphasis is mine), but if you want to read it in New Living Translation, it’s also very good.

Dragonfly - Galveston, TX

Dragonfly – Galveston, TX

2 Corinthians 4

 Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

***

God has a plan. Even when nothing makes sense to us, it’s comforting to know that He’s got it all handled. The trouble with following Christ in this world is that we can’t always see the difference God is making to people. They’re either too ashamed to admit it or too afraid or too proud. But even if they don’t say anything, even if they act out, even if they lash out in anger, you can know that it’s probably because God used something we did or said to unsettle them.

God is working, but in the areas that He’s working, we can’t see. Because He’s changing people in a way that will last forever, and that’s something that is invisible, at least at first. So we have to trust that He’s doing something, even if we can’t see it. Especially if we can’t see it. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.

That’s difficult for me sometimes because it’s frustrating to watch something I gave so much of myself to torn down.  But nothing happens without a reason, and as long as we keep our perspective straight and keep doing what God has called us to do, He can use it to bring about our greatest hopes, to fulfill our dreams. But starting over again is exhausting, and there’s the fear that it will be torn down again. But let’s be honest: sometimes starting over again is the best thing that can happen, even if it’s for reasons we don’t understand.

As a child, I hated those four pages that I had to rewrite. But I tell you what, I learned the importance of saving my work. And a few years later … I ended up rewriting the whole scene anyway. And it turned out ten times better than it ever could have when I was younger.

Just saying.

Door at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Love is telling the truth when people don’t want to hear it

Christians aren’t perfect. We all do wrong. We all stumble and fall. Not one of us is immune. And that’s why God has given us community with other believers, so that we don’t have to face the consequences of our sin alone. Because let’s be honest here: sin has consequences. We’re not home yet, so when we choose to sin, we still have to face the results of that sin.

I blogged at the beginning of the year about how Christians need to treat each other, especially those who have fallen back into a sinful lifestyle. Galatians 6:1-10 tells us how we’re supposed to treat fallen Christians. And when I blogged on it, I really focused on the attitude Christians need to have. But I neglected to mention the attitude the Christian who chose to sin needs to have.

Galatians 6:1 says we are to help that person back on the path. That’s not a conditional statement. It doesn’t say we have to help them back on the path if we feel like or if we know them or if we feel responsible for them.

So what happens if they refuse? 

Door at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Door at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:25-26.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

Christians are to love. Period. That’s how we show we’re different. That’s how we demonstrate to the world what we believe. We love them. We love each other. We love.

But what is love? What does love look like? Is it constant forgiveness? Is it continually making allowances for another Christians’ behavior?

I don’t think so.

We’re not to judge. We are not supposed to point fingers at each other, especially in matters of the heart, because we are unable to judge someone’s heart. But the Bible specifically tells us what is right and what is wrong. God tells us how we’re supposed to live. God explains clearly what sin is. And when you know another Christian is engaging in that kind of sin, the kind of lifestyle God has already said is wrong, is it judging them to point it out?

No.

James 5:19-20 says: “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

We are all capable of sin. We all have a choice. Christians can choose whether to sin or not, and more and more, especially in the last few months, I am seeing Christians make terrible choices. Christians I have known for years and years are thumbing their noses at God and doing what they know is wrong, like they’re daring Him to do something to stop them.

Christians aren’t immune to the consequences of sin because we’re Christians. Rain falls on everybody. In Kansas, hail falls on everybody. So if you leave your car outside in a hailstorm, do you think it won’t be dented and pockmarked like a golf ball after the hailstorm is over just because you believe Christ saved you from your sins?

That’s idiotic.

And it’s the same with choosing to sin and thinking that God will protect you because you believe in Jesus.

He won’t.

If you’re faced with a Christian who is sinning and is refusing to change, how do you love them? Do you hug on them and give them presents and buy them things? Tell me. How is that love? All that will do is to encourage them to keep living the way they are living. That will push them deeper and deeper into Satan’s hold because you’re teaching them that they can live however they way, make whatever choices they want, do as much evil as they want, and they won’t have to face the consequences. And that’s not true. Because they will.

Love them by telling them the truth. Gently. Humbly. Kindly. But tell them the truth.

They sinned. They didn’t make a mistake. They didn’t make a poor choice. It wasn’t a weak moment. They knew what was right, and they chose to do wrong anyway. They sinned.

But God still loves them. You still love them. And if they will realize that what they did was wrong, God can redeem that sin. God can take that situation and make it right.

But if they refuse to change their heart, if they refuse to see that what they’ve done is wrong, there’s no help for them. And if they refuse to see the truth, God will have to make them see it. And if they really do believe in Christ, God won’t pull His punches.

If you are enabling a Christian who is sinning to keep on sinning, you are just as guilty as they are. If you are standing in between God and a Christian daughter or son that He is chastising, you are going to absorb the hit just as much as they will.

This isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. And if you love people as much as I do, you feel like a horrible person after you do it. But love isn’t easy. Whoever told you it was lied. It’s easy to sit back and let a Christian destroy themselves. It’s easy to watch another Christian make bad decisions and hope that it all turns out all right. It’s easy to do nothing. But that’s not love.

Lighthouse on Bolivar Island from Galveston Ferry - Galveston, TX

Even good soldiers get tired

Life can feel like a never-ending battle. Somedays, I think it is. I love the television show 24, and while I have never had a day as bad as Jack Bauer’s, I can identify with him because the storytelling is somewhat reminiscent of real life. You have good days; and you have bad days. You have days when you make progress, when forward momentum is possible; then you have days when you go backward, where it’s just a struggle to survive.

And I don’t know about you, but I get tired of fighting. I get tired of trying to stand up under the heavy weight of responsibility I have. And those days where no matter how hard I fight I can’t win, I can despair pretty easily, I’m sorry to say.

I was feeling so blue the other day, just tired and weary. On days like that I try to remember that God can do anything and nothing is too big for Him. But even as I was remembering how powerful God is as I was driving into work, I just couldn’t shake the worn-out feeling. I just wondered if I was doing what I was supposed to do, if I’m living the way I’m supposed to live, working where I’m supposed to work.

When I get tired and I feel like I can’t fight anymore, I start to despair and wonder if I’m going the wrong direction. And as I was driving, a song came over the radio that I’d heard many times. And when it released, it meant a lot to me, but that morning, it really struck me. The stong is “Strong Tower” by Kutless. And it comes from a verse in Scripture, and if you’ve ever heard the song, you know it’s powerful.

Lighthouse on Bolivar Island from Galveston Ferry - Galveston, TX

Lighthouse on Bolivar Island from Galveston Ferry – Galveston, TX

Proverbs 18:10.

The name of the Lord is a strong fortress;
    the godly run to him and are safe.

I don’t retreat. Like ever.

I rarely back down in situations where I feel like I need to be strong, and especially when it comes to Scripture. I don’t like conflict, and if I suspect someone wants to start a fight about it, I’ll generally back off. But when it comes to issues in life or at work or just in general living, I don’t falter.

I’ve always lived with a “good soldier” mentality for a Christian. 2 Timothy 2:3 says: “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” And I’ve tried to do that. Good soldiers don’t complain. Good soldiers don’t give up. Good soldiers never run away.

But even good soldiers get tired.

Independence is a good thing. Not relying on other people is a good thing. But it’s not the best thing. I’m an independent person; I think I’ve said that before. But I have a terrible habit of trying to do everything all by myself. I have this deep-seated fear that if I ask someone for help, they’ll think I’m weak or that I can’t take care of myself.

But that’s not the case. Life is a battle, and if you belong to Christ, you are one of God’s soldiers. And we are called to do warfare, not with people but with the spiritual forces that run rampant in our world. We have to fight it every day, and not just the influences of Satan in other people but also in our own lives. And we can’t do it alone.

We need each other. And we need God. And on those days when the battle is just too much, God is a strong tower we can run to for rest and safety and healing. And if He didn’t expect to need Him, He wouldn’t have it available to us.

And I’m sure this is elementary, but it’s the simple truths that mean the most. And as I was driving that one day, listening to this song, I guess I just realized that it’s okay to step back and admit that I’m tired and tell God that I need help. I don’t have to power through every circumstance and every challenge and fight to the bitter end when I have no strength left. That’s not the way we’re supposed to fight. We’re supposed to rely on God for His strength. We’re supposed to remember where our strength comes from to begin with.

So don’t hesitate to run to Him if you need a break. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s good to remember that we can’t do everything. Step back and stop trying to fight. Get off the front lines. And just have a conversation with Him. Get our your Bible and start reading. Or listen to music that praises Him. And I guarantee you’ll find something that will encourage you and that will remind you that God really does know what He’s doing.

Irises - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Balancing faith with hope

Are you surprised when God answers your prayers? Does it catch you off guard? It does me sometimes. I ask Him for something, but a part of me doesn’t really expect Him to answer. So when He does, I don’t know how to react.

I don’t have a problem believing that God can do everything He says He can. That’s a no brainer. If He made the universe, He can answer my prayers. But what I struggle with is finding the balance between knowing He can and expecting Him to.

Irises - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 120:1.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.

The Psalms are songs; did you know that? And Psalm 120 is a Song of Ascent, which is possibly a song that pilgrims sang on the way up the mountain to Jerusalem for festivals and such. So if you read the whole of Psalm 120, you’ll get a better idea of what the writer is talking about.

One of the things I love about the Psalms is that the writer never hesitates to tell God exactly what he’s thinking and precisely what he wants. The Psalms are genuine, full of real pain and real life and real troubles.

I’m not a scholar, and I don’t speak any biblical languages. So that’s why I always use multiple translations, and I discovered something unusual about Psalm 120:1. The main translations I go to (New Living Translation, Amplified Version and the Message) differ. They don’t usually. Usually their context is the same. But in this case, an entire sentence is missing.

The Message goes like this:

I’m in trouble. I cry to God, desperate for an answer:

Okay. Where is the part about God answering? It’s in New Living. It’s in Amplified. So I randomly checked a few of the other translations available on BibleGateway.com, and the majority of them include it. But some of them don’t.

I can only assume it’s a Hebrew language thing. I don’t speak Hebrew, so I’m not going to try to delve into the language for an explanation. And I know from other verses (and from my own life experiences) that God answers prayer. But this still got me thinking. Because we are supposed to ask God for everything, and we are supposed to do this while expecting Him to answer us.

Mark 11:24 is just one example of this.

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.

But what happens when God doesn’t answer? What happens when you beg and plead with everything you are for God to do something, and He doesn’t do it? What does that mean? How do you keep expecting Him to do something for you when what you really wanted is something He refuses to do?

If God doesn’t answer your prayer, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’re asking with pure motivation. James 4:2-3 tackles that concept:

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

If your motives are wrong for what you’re asking, God won’t give it to you. A dream that comes from God will always help people and bring Him glory. That’s how you can identify a desire in your heart that is from God, because it’s not about you and it’s not about bringing yourself fame and it’s not about ensuring that you always have an easy life. So if you ask God for something like that, yeah, He’ll answer.

And if you’re not living the way you’re supposed to be, He won’t answer either. Obviously none of us are perfect, but if our lives aren’t reflecting the principles of Scripture, if our hearts aren’t set on seeking God, why would He answer our prayers? If we aren’t ready to live the way He’s told us expressly to live, why would He answer our requests?

But if your heart is right and your life is clean (as much as possible), you’re supposed to ask God and He has promised to answer. So why doesn’t He?

I’ve struggled with this for so long because there are so many things I want, so many dreams I have that can only happen if God intervenes. And for the most part, He hasn’t seen fit to step in yet. And after years and years and years of asking Him for the same thing, how am I supposed to still hope that He’ll answer?

That’s where faith comes in.

How do you balance faith with hope? You can’t have one without the other. But if you focus too much on one, the other will weigh you down. If you have nothing but faith that God does what He wants to do without taking the time to listen to your petty requests, you won’t have any expectations from Him. You won’t ask Him for anything. And that’s not what He wants. But if you don’t temper your hope with faith, you’ll have no foundation for your expectations. And when God doesn’t respond the way you believe He will, all your hope will crumble.

So where’s the middle ground? Is there a middle ground?

Some time ago, I had a revelation about dreams and how they affect my life and God’s answers, but I still ask Him for things. And He still is holding off on one or two of them, and the only way I’ve found to keep hoping that some day He’ll answer is to believe (to remember) that He knows what He’s doing.

I trust Him. And if He hasn’t answered, that just means it isn’t time yet. Either I’m not ready or the rest of the pieces of the puzzle aren’t aligned yet. And He’s just waiting for the day when everything will come together. He’s the one in charge, after all, and He can see the end result. So it’s my job to be patient and keep hoping and keep believing that He’ll do everything He’s promised.

So if you’ve asked God for something and your heart and life match up to what Scripture says and God hasn’t answered yet, don’t give up. God does answer prayers. I can honestly tell you that I know now why God didn’t answer my prayer when I started praying it 10 years ago. I had so much growing to do, and I’m not done yet.

Keep asking, keep hoping. And when He does answer, it’ll be beyond anything you’ve dreamed. He’s working out the details. We just have to let Him.

Storm clouds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nothing is too hard for God.

What do you need God to do for you? It’s difficult to understand, honestly, but God has opened the door for us to speak to Him one-on-one. Maybe not face to face yet, but we can bring our requests and our needs to Him at any time of day. And nothing is too big for Him.

Storm clouds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 32:17.

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!

I blogged on this same verse a year ago today because apparently Biblegateway.com recycles their daily Bible verses. But I went ahead and decided to use this verse again because I am in pretty serious need of encouragement today.

Every now and then, I just wake up feeling gray. Does that happen to anyone else? There’s no real reason for it. There’s nothing really wrong. I just feel down. Maybe it’s burn-out from working too much. Maybe it’s exhaustion from not sleeping enough. Maybe it’s the onset of a cold. Not sure.

But on gray days, it’s important to remember the things that matter. On those days when I feel sad or discouraged or lonely or insecure, it’s important to focus on something that doesn’t change, on something that’s true no matter what. Because if I can anchor myself to something true, my emotions that are as fluid and changing as the sea won’t carry me away. I might get tossed around a little bit, but I won’t budge.

So this verse stood out to me today. It’s ironic because it’s the beginning of a prayer the prophet Jeremiah prayed, and it’s really not a happy prayer. Actually, Jeremiah isn’t really a happy book at all. There’s a reason he’s called the Weeping Prophet.

The prayer, as a whole (Jeremiah 32:17-25), really serves to recognize that God is sovereign and that He does what He wants. You see, Israel was on the brink of destruction. Jeremiah was actually a prisoner in the King’s palace because he wouldn’t shut up about a prophecy God had given him. God wanted Jeremiah to tell everyone that destruction was coming, that He was going to allow Babylon to destroy Jerusalem. As you can imagine, the King didn’t like that. So he locked Jeremiah up in hopes of getting him to shut up, but, like any true preacher, it didn’t work. And Jeremiah continued to preach even in prison.

And after he concluding a bit of business (you can read the whole story in Jeremiah 32), he prayed this prayer that starts with stating that God can do anything. He’s the only One who can do anything because He’s the only One with the right to do anything.

Even in our world, we grasp the concept of sovereignty. At least, we used to. We have the right to do what we want with our property, whether it be homes or land or our lives or our resources. If it belongs to us, we have the right to do what we want with it.

Well, God made everything. So He has the right to do what He wants with it. And we have no say, although for some reason God still listens to our requests and considers them. He still gives us the chance to ask Him for what we want, and if it fits into His grand scheme for everything, He’ll give it to us.

Do we really get that?

Seriously. Do we really understand how awesome that is? What privilege that is? I don’t. I don’t think I can really wrap my head around that. To have access to Someone Who can do anything, Someone Who made the heavens, Someone Who made the earth: if we really understood the power at our disposal, I think our lives would look different.

Nothing is too hard for God.

So if you are feeling like I am this morning, discouraged and weary, take it to God. He understands, and He cares. And He wants to hear from you. And He wants to help you. And no matter how big your problem might seem, it’s not too big for Him.