Orange lillies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God is God indeed

I can’t believe today is the last day of September 2013. How did it get here so fast? Yesterday it was August, and the day before that it was April. This year is sailing by faster than I even thought possible. Tomorrow is October, and the month is already scheduled full, practically every day. That means November will be here in the blink of an eye, and December always comes faster than I anticipate too.

I shouldn’t really think about it, because the more I think about it, the more stressed out I get. So much is happening all at once, and I really have no control over any of it.

Orange lillies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Orange lillies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 7:9.

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

I needed to read this today because with my life spinning around me chaotically I needed to remember who my God is. It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? I mean, you’d think we’d remember who He is, but we don’t. Why else do we worry? Why else do we try to take over things that we can’t control? Why else do we ignore His warnings and His words? It’s not that we’re malicious in our disobedience; it’s just that we forget who He is. And it’s time for me to remember.

The God I talked to this morning is the same God who created the universe. It’s easy to say that, but it’s not easy to understand it. I can believe it, but I can’t wrap my mind around that. It’s too big for me. So maybe I should say the God I talked to this morning is the same God who walked with Abraham and guided him to his destiny as the father of a nation. He’s the same God who appeared to Moses as a bush that burned but was never consumed. He’s the same God who changed Gideon from a coward hiding in the shadows to a mighty man of courage. He’s the same God who spoke to Elijah and Elisha and Samuel.

It’s different when you think about Him that way. It’s one thing to recognize Him as creator; it’s something else to understand that He hasn’t changed at all from the person He was. He loved Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and all of Israel through all of history in spite of their failures and flaws. He didn’t make allowances for them, but He loved them anyway. And He’s the same today.

If you read higher in this paragraph in Deuteronomy 7, you’ll find that it’s Moses delivering his departing words to the nation of Israel, and he reminds them that God didn’t choose Israel because they were a strong, victorious nation. He chose them because they were nothing. God likes making something amazing out of something insignificant. That’s the way He works. That’s the way He has always worked, demonstrating that He is the only one who can take nothing and make something from it.

That’s who God is. That’s the God I talked to this morning, and I shouldn’t take that for granted. I shouldn’t forget, because if He was faithful then, He’ll be faithful now. He kept His promises then, so He’ll keep His promises now. He never gave up on people who deserved it in the past, and He won’t give up on me today, tomorrow, or later on in my life. That’s not who He is.

So as fast as life flies and as busy as I get and as anxious as I become, God is the same through all of it. I can’t control events in my life, but God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t stand back with his arms crossed, ignoring me as I walk this path He set me on. No, He’s paying attention. He’s watching, and He’s waiting for the opportunity to help. That’s how He worked in the past, so there’s a good chance that’s how He operates now.

Are you busy? Are you stressed? It’s the time of year for it, and it’s only going to get worse. But you’re not on your own. And you don’t have to tackle life and life’s challenges by yourself. If God set you on this road, He won’t step back and let you fall on your face. Trust Him. If you fall, He’ll catch you. You may not be able to control your life, but as long as you hang with God, you’ll be able to face it with your head held high.

You can’t control your life, but He can. He’s been doing it for generations and generations, and the people who trusted Him in the past were never disappointed.

Downtown Chicago at night, Chicago, IL

The GPS made me do it

Last year, I ended up in Miami for a work trip. I was down there interviewing some plumbing contractors for a story I was writing for my company magazine, and while we were down there it was decided that we needed to rent a vehicle. We ended up with a manly Nissan Versa and my coworker, our videographer, our guide, and I spent a couple of days trying to get ourselves killed in Miami traffic. Fortunately for us, the manly Nissan Versa came with a GPS. But unfortunately, it only spoke Spanish.

One night after we’d had dinner out with some of our Latin American sales team members, we were trying to get back to our hotel, and the GPS (it had decided to speak English for us) got confused. And I mean really confused. The poor thing kept directing us back to the Miami airport, and once we were at the airport, it kept telling us to turn right, turn right, turn right! … But turning right would be turning into the arrival terminal! Not a good place to turn right.  The GPS was obviously glitching out, but the driver had enough common sense not to listen.

I heard a story on the radio yesterday that tourists in Alaska are running into a similar problem. Their GPS systems are giving them directions that send them onto the runway of an Alaskan airport that is clearly marked with signs and fences, and the people are doing what the GPS says in spite of the fact that it’s obviously wrong.

Can you imagine what would have happened if my coworker took the GPS’s word for it and turned our Nissan Versa into the airport terminal? I think we would have gotten in a lot of trouble. People might have gotten hurt. I’m sure we would have gone to jail. And our only reason would be that the GPS told us to do it.

Sometimes I think I’m like a broken GPS system, not because I get easily lost but because I get easily confused and then I stubbornly insist that I’m right even when the truth of my ignorance is staring me right in the face.

Downtown Chicago at night, Chicago, IL

Downtown Chicago at night, Chicago, IL

Today’s verse is Isaiah 48:17-18.

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is good for you
    and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Oh, that you had listened to my commands!
    Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river
    and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.

None of us can trust our own senses or our own understanding of circumstances and situations because we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. We don’t know what the big picture is supposed to look like. So how on Earth can we know which direction we’re supposed to go when we aren’t even sure where we’re going? That’s why we have the Bible. That’s why God is leading us in the direction He wants us to go, and He expects us to trust Him.

If we trust Him, He brings us peace. If we trust Him to take care of the details, He’ll handle the real problems before we reach them. Everything else we encounter on the road is just an opportunity to get stronger, to grow our faith, and to learn something we didn’t know the day before.

But it’s our choice to trust Him. We don’t have to take His word for it. We can go off and do our own thing, blindly groping in the dark, facing the insecurities and uncertainties we thought we understood. But it won’t be very long before we realize we don’t know as much as we thought we did. We’ll learn soon enough that we’re trying to navigate with a GPS system that isn’t functioning properly, and either we’ll end up more lost than we started out or we’ll crash and burn. Following our own path always ends up one of those two ways.

But God never gets confused. He never gets turned around. He always knows exactly where He’s going and exactly where we need to be, and He’s not about keeping secrets. No, He tells us everything we need to know. And the stuff He doesn’t tell us? Well, we don’t need to know it.

So if you’re tired of getting bad directions, if you’re tired of driving your proverbial Nissan Versa into the proverbial Miami airport, consider a word of friendly advice: ditch the broken GPS. Get directions from somebody who knows where they’re going. You’ll be less frustrated, and you might even learn to enjoy the ride along the way.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

You can always come back

Do you know a Christ-follower who has been hardened against God? Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to be a Christian and to have given up. Maybe it’s not. I can tell you that I haven’t been there, but I know people who have confessed Christ as their Savior who also decided at some point that following Him wasn’t worth it anymore. Does that make them not Christians anymore? No. If someone has trusted in Christ, they’re His; they can’t get away from Him, no matter how hard they try.

I know Christians who don’t want to be Christians anymore, or who at least don’t claim Christ anymore. But just because they have turned away from Him entirely doesn’t mean He’ll do the same. From what I’ve seen, He comes after those who have trusted in Him who decide to twist off on their own. And it takes a really hard heart to ignore God when He’s dead set on getting your attention.

Sin is so tricky. It doesn’t feel like sin at first. In the church, we always hear about “sin this” and “sin that” and you’d think sin would have a huge black sign on it that identifies it as something evil, something dangerous, something you need to stay away from. But the truth is that sin is easy. Most of the time, it’s easier than not sinning. And it’s fun, it satisfying (at least briefly), and it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Or it makes you feel like you’ve gotten away with something. And, let’s just be honest, getting away with something you know is wrong has it’s own kind of allure.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s like a malfunctioning GPS. You take one wrong turn and think that you can find your way back to your original path afterward, but it keeps leading you in the wrong direction. And before you know it, you’re so lost you don’t even know where the original path was. But then the other side of sin sneaks up and bites you. It tells you that you’re so far gone, so far off the path that even if you tried to get back to where you started, no one would let you. No one would give you a chance. No one would love you. And God must hate you, right?

Sin doesn’t just mislead us. It deceives us. After it’s directed us to follow our own path, it convinces us that it’s no use going back.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Today’s verses are Hebrews 3:12-14.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Here’s the deal, my friends. Everybody sins. Each one of us is going to screw up somehow, probably in the next hour. I know I can guarantee I will because I’m going to be around people today. I’ve discovered that I can reduce my likelihood of sin by about 50% if I don’t have to talk to people.

We have all turned against God. We’re all broken. We want to do things our own way, and we have to rely on God’s help so that we don’t. We have to rely on each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to help us stay on the path. And for those who’ve wandered off the path, we need to be the beacons that help them find it again.

“Today” isn’t going to last forever. Sin is tricky and sneaky and everywhere, and if you’re using your own reasoning to get through life, you’re going to fall prey to it. Just accept it. It’s going to happen. If you use your own reasoning, you are going to sin. But if you live your life by the Bible, you won’t. And if you help each other using the Bible, you’ll save yourself and your friends a lot of heartache.

So if you’re a Christ-follower, know what the Bible says. Otherwise how are you going to know how to help another believer? Are you going to use your own reasoning? That won’t work. We’re here to help each other, support each other, point each other in the right direction, but if you’re just as lost as the person you’re trying to help, what good are you going to do? You’ll just have company while you’re wandering around.

And if you happen to be someone who used to follow Christ, remember that God never gives up on you. He never will. He’s still there, waiting for you to tell sin to shove it. And whether you believe it or not, there are probably still believers in your life or around it who haven’t given up on you either. So when you make the choice to come back, don’t hesitate. Come back. Some might not believe you, but I guarantee that the people who really love Christ will rejoice to see you coming, because it’s likely they’re in the road watching for you.

Second-place pumpkin at the 2013 Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

What would become of us if we didn’t believe?

As crazy and difficult as life can be, I find there’s always something to look forward to. Maybe that’s because I’m an eternal optimist. Maybe that’s because I’m pretty good at living in denial. Or maybe it’s because there really is a lot to be excited about in our lives. There’s a good chance that none of us are exactly where we want to be right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look at aspects of your life, expecting something good to happen.

This is a horrible, shallow example, but I’m going to use it anyway: pumpkin-flavored everything. It’s something I expect around this time of year, and it’s something I look forward to as well. It’s a tradition to go to Starbucks on my birthday and get a Pumpkin Spice Latte and a Pumpkin Muffin or Pumpkin Scone. I’ve already gone because I just couldn’t wait any longer, and I plan to go again when October 15 rolls around. Fall is my favorite time of year, and I love all the spices and smells that come along with it. It’s something I expect.

And, let’s face it, life is a lot more fun to tackle if you have something you expect and look forward to.

Second-place pumpkin at the 2013 Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Second-place pumpkin at the 2013 Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 27:13-14.

Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Going back to my horrible Starbucks example, I probably should have waited until my birthday to go get my traditional coffee and pastry, but I’d been waiting for ages. And, fortunately for me, jumping the gun and buying a latte and scone early won’t diminish the yumminess of it when I go for my birthday. Now, my blood sugar will probably not thank me, but, hey–it’s autumn!

But that’s not the case for other things in life that we are expecting. Part of living life with expectation is waiting. I mean, you can’t expect something without having to wait for it. It doesn’t happen. Because if you expect it, that means it hasn’t happened yet. I love verse 14 especially because it pretty much says this without saying it. This is how it’s phrased in the Amplified Version:

Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord.

Isn’t that great? Wait and hope for and expect the Lord. And we don’t just get it once; we see it twice. So it’s something we need to remember. But what I really want to draw attention to is verse 13. Check it out in the Amplified Version:

[What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!

That little parenthetical statement doesn’t show up in the New Living Translation. Or it’s translated as “Yet I am confident.” And I don’t know enough Hebrew/Aramaic to weigh in on that (I know none, actually). But that little statement changes the way I read this verse. What would have become of me if I hadn’t believed?

Think you can make it through life without expectation? Think you can tackle the trouble that’s coming without looking forward to something? I don’t see that happening. I know it won’t happen for me because I need to know that what I’m doing has a purpose and that where I’m heading is better than right now.

God didn’t design us to forge ahead through life without hope, without being able to look forward to something. Everybody needs hope. Everybody needs something good to expect. None of us are strong enough to make it otherwise, and if you’ve convinced yourself that you can get through life without expecting God to show up, I really encourage you to read the Bible and see all the promises that God has made us. It’s not like He’s dangling a carrot in front of a horse when He tells us what’s coming; it’s not incentivizing a Christ-like life. It’s to give us hope. It’s to help us realize (and remember) that we have something coming that’s better than what we have now.

What would have become of me if I hadn’t believed? I would have given up long ago. But I believe. And I expect. And I wait and hope, and because of who God is, I am confident that I’ll see Him work before He calls me home.

Ask yourself the same question and think carefully about your response. It might change your perspective on a lot of things. Granted, I’d rather not have to wait, but God makes it worth it.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS


What does it mean to have confidence? If you check the dictionary, which is a good place to start if you’re looking for the definition of a word, confidence is full trust. It’s the complete belief that an object will perform or that a person will keep their word. Confidence usually comes from repeated experience where the person or object in question proves over and over again that he/she/it can be trusted.

Confidence is difficult to earn in today’s culture. Trustworthiness isn’t something you find everyday. If you want someone to trust you, you have to work hard to prove it, especially in our culture of skeptics and realists. Not that skepticism or realism is necessarily wrong, but they do get in the way if you are trustworthy and people refuse to trust you because they’ve had bad experiences with other people.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:35-36.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

I love the book of Hebrews. Someday I’m going to do a study just on it. I don’t claim to understand everything that’s in it, but the pieces I do grasp always leave me speechless at God’s great love and willingness to bring us into His family.

In this section, the writer is encouraging the readers to persevere, not to give up, and to remember that God is worthy of their trust. That phrase used in verse 35 (παρρησιαν), confident trust, is better translated fearless confidence. Think about that. Fearless confidence.

Wouldn’t you like to have confidence without fear? I sure would. There are so many things in life right now that could go wrong, so many things that have gone wrong, that being able to move forward in confidence with no fear would be miraculous. I’m not a fearful person generally, but I have anxieties and worries like anyone else. I have an active imagination and a brain that never stops racing, so I can come up with worst case scenarios with the best of people.

Fearless confidence isn’t something that only super Christians can claim. It’s something each of us has access to. Fearless confidence stems from trusting God completely, and I honestly think we all start out fearless. And then the “realities” of life set in and we give in to the normal anxieties we face on a daily basis.

If you read the verses before this, the writer is talking about how the early church used to be, when believers trusted God so deeply that no matter what happened to them, they didn’t fret or fear, whether it was persecution or theft of their belongings. But the longer we live and the longer we wait for Christ’s return, the more we have to go through, the more trouble we have to face, the more difficulties we feel like we have to overcome. And after a while it wears us down, and even though our confidence isn’t shaken necessarily, the little fears start creeping in.

But that’s not the way we’re called to live. We are called to live fearless.

Have you ever had a moment when you and God were on the same page? I don’t know how to describe it, but you know it. His presence is practically tangible, His voice is almost audible, and in that moment there’s no doubt in your mind that He can do anything, even though He’s acting through you. I wish I could say those moments were common in my life, but they’re not. But I have experienced them.

In those moments where God is so real to me that I would swear we were walking side by side, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not afraid of what I’ve done in the past or what people will do to me in the future, because in those moments all that matters is Him. When all that matters is Him, you don’t have room for fear.

But fear is tricky. It’s stealthy and deceitful. Fear makes us think that we can accomplish something. Fear makes us feel like we have power over our lives, even though all we’re doing is turning our hair gray and making more work for ourselves. And when it comes down to choosing between fear and confidence, many of us choose fear because it gives us something to do. But fear isn’t worth it. It’s hollow and empty and useless.

And deep inside, we know that there’s no comparison between fear and God, but we choose fear anyway because it’s something we can control–or at least that’s what we think.

That’s what the writer’s talking about here. Don’t throw away your confidence in God because you run into trouble. Don’t choose fear over confidence because you can’t control what’s coming. God has a history of keeping His word, and He’s made us a doozy of a promise. But if we don’t hold on to that trust in Him, we won’t see it.

The world will tell you that fearless confidence is foolish, that trusting anyone on that level is just asking for disappointment. But since when were Christ-followers supposed to take the world’s advice?

God knows what’s He’s doing, and we can’t control our lives anyway. Better to trust Him, to live fearless, and keep moving forward.