When God isn’t what we want, He’s always what we need

When I was a freshman in college, I attended a very strict, very conservative Christian college in Florida. The best place to shop for groceries in that area was the Wal-mart down the street from the campus, and it never failed. Every time I walked into that store, someone in the aisle would mistake me for an employee.

I wore a blue lanyard that had my school ID on it, so maybe that was why they always mistook me for a Wal-mart employee. It was funny, though, because I spent enough time in the store that I could answer most of their questions anyway.

But has that ever happened to you? You see someone and assume you know why they’re here? And then you find out you were wrong?

triumphal_entryToday’s verse is John 12:12-13.

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode on a donkey as He entered the city of Jerusalem, and just about everybody in the city came down to welcome Him. They were so happy to see Him. They waved palm branches and cried out to be saved.

Not even they realized that a few days later, they’d be the ones crying out for His death. The same people who called Him the King of Israel would be the ones mocking Him as He died on the cross.

I always used to wonder how people could change so drastically in less than a week’s time. How could they welcome Him so joyously only to betray Him so viciously?

Well, for one, people are just mean. That’s a fact of life. But, two, they’d misunderstood why Jesus was here in the first place. They made assumptions. And it’s sad because Jesus was plain with everyone why He’d come and all the prophets who had foretold His coming were plain about why He was coming.

But the reasons Jesus came weren’t the reasons people wanted Him.

The people wanted a king who would rule over them politically. They wanted a king who would drive Rome out of Israel. They thought Jesus had come to do that, but He hadn’t. What Jesus had come to do was so much more important.

But how often do we find ourselves in that same position today? We come before God and ask Him to do things for us, to answer our prayers the way we want because it’s what we want.

Culture, and even other Christians to some extent, tells us that God will give us everything we want, and we just have to have faith. So we grow up in a culture that says God is the great wish granter. Like a genie where we rub the lamp or click our heels three times and we get our heart’s desire.

And then one day we find out that’s not who God is. And what do we do? We give up on Him. We turn our backs on Him because He’s not who we want Him to be.

Sound familiar?

What I’ve learned in life, though, is that maybe God’s not what I want Him to be, but He’s always what I need Him to be.

He isn’t a wish granter or a genie. He won’t give me everything I want just because I want it. He doesn’t play favorites, and there’s no place I can go to get away from Him.

But He’s strong enough to carry me when I can’t take another step. He’s big enough to work out the problems of my life when I’m lost in chaos. He’s great enough to take the broken pieces of my heart and make something beautiful of it. And He’s gracious enough to love me even though I’ve never done anything worthy of love.

That’s what I need.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming you know what God is about. Don’t think He’s only around to give you what you want, like a great big vending machine in the sky.

Jesus came 2,000 years ago to provide what we needed, and He’s the same today as He was then. And we need Him more now than ever.

So if God doesn’t give you what you want, don’t give up on Him. Just because you didn’t get your way doesn’t mean He isn’t there. It probably just means you didn’t know what you wanted in the first place. Trust the One who knows what you need and who is strong enough, big enough, great enough, and kind enough to give it to you free of charge.

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Justice and wanting to hurt someone are never the same

It’s so easy to hurt someone when they hurt you. Have you noticed that? If someone makes you angry, automatically you want to make them feel anger. If someone hurts your feelings, your automatic response is to hurt them in return.

That’s human nature. And what’s more that’s how the world tells us we’re supposed to live. In the words of the inimitable Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Joss Whedon’s Firefly: “If someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill ’em right back!”

That’s how we’re wired. And, honestly, it just makes sense. You have to stand up for yourself. You can’t let people think they can push you around. Can you?

accuseToday’s verse is 1 Peter 3:9.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing.

When another person takes something from you or hurts you in some way, what are you supposed to do? Culturally speaking, this varies from country to country, mostly depending on what sort of laws are in place to protect private citizens. The United States is very blessed to have the law enforcement officers who genuinely want to protect others and who work every day to uphold the law. America may not be what she used to be, but we’re still the most fortunate country in the world. Our laws are still designed to protect people for the most part.

But what about in a Third World country where there is no law? What about in a country with a vicious regime dedicated to genocide or religious persecution? What about a country whose laws exist to benefit the rulers rather than the common people?

I do believe there is a line to be drawn. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with standing up for yourself or your beliefs. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with protecting what is rightfully yours. Where that line needs to be drawn is motivation.

It’s not wrong to want justice when you’re wronged. It’s not wrong to protect your family or the people you love when they are being threatened. But before you go to respond to someone who has hurt you, stop and think for a minute and take a good long look at your heart.

Do you want to hurt them back because you’re hurting? Most likely, that’s what’s motivating you. When we are hurt, we want to hurt others. That’s our nature. But if you’re a Christ-follower, you have a second nature to draw on–your redeemed nature through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s one thing to want justice. It’s something else to want to hurt someone just because they hurt you or someone you love. Justice is fair and even, a requirement for law and order. Wanting to hurt someone because they hurt you is more like revenge. And the two are never the same.

Besides, ultimately, justice isn’t even our responsibility. It’s God’s. God has promised justice to His children. It’s all over the Bible, but somehow we still forget.

If someone has hurt you, it’s a horrible thing. Maybe it’s physical. Maybe it’s mental or emotional. Maybe you were publicly embarrassed. Maybe you wrote a blog post that sent the internet into a vicious uproar. Maybe people said all sorts of mean, hateful things to you. What’s the best thing to do in response?

The Bible says bless them. That means to say good things about them. Maybe you can’t think of anything good to say about them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t focus on what you learned from the experience.

Yes, they were wrong. Yes, you were a victim. But God’s still in control. He still knows what He’s doing. And if you belong to Him, He won’t let any wrong go unpunished. You just need to let it go and let Him work it out.

What hurt are you holding on to today? It’s not worth your life. It’s not worth your happiness. And it’s definitely not worth distracting you from your relationship with God.

Choose to see the hurts in your life as something you can learn from. Don’t snap back. Don’t take the same low road as your accusers. That won’t accomplish anything.

Instead, choose to see cruelty and general meanness of the world as an opportunity to grow. It will make you stronger, and God has promised to bless you in return.

God belongs in every area of our lives

Pants are important. Nearly everyone wears them. But what would happen if one day you encountered someone at your office who wasn’t wearing any. No slacks or jeans or shorts. Not a skirt even. Nothing.

And when you ask why they’re running around with no pants on, they tell you that they just don’t think wearing pants at work is a good idea. Now, pants at home are good. Pants at church are fine. But pants at work? Not so much.

You’d probably think they were nuts, right? I would.

That’s a silly illustration, but if you think about it, it’s not much sillier than how we behave when we compartmentalize our lives as Christ-followers.

compartmentalizeToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy is a book of repetition. God says a lot of the same things over and over again, and it’s a good thing to. I mean we get tired of reading them over and over again, but the more you hear them, the less likely you are to forget them.

I didn’t used to understand this passage. What did it mean to wear God’s commands on your hands and on your foreheads? I mean, I understand the Jewish tradition, but what does it mean for a Christ-follower?

I mean, if you want to write God’s commands on your hands and on your foreheads, that’s fine. It won’t hurt anything. But practically speaking, how do you apply this passage to your life?

It’s actually really simple. Not easy. But it’s simple.

It means to be fully committed to God in every single thing you do every day. When you go to work, you should be focused on what God has for you. When you are at home, you should be doing what God has told you to do. When you go to church, to the voting booth, to school, on vacation, to the grocery store–whatever you do, wherever you go, if you are a Christ-follower, you should be doing what God has told you to do. You should be keeping His commandments.

Compartmentalizing life is an essential skill in many ways. You have to be able to leave work at work. You have to be able to segment your life in ways that allow you to organize it.

But God should never be compartmentalized. Don’t ever try to put God in a box. He doesn’t fit.

If you try to follow God in part of your life and then live the rest of your life however you want it, you aren’t going to have peace. Having a relationship with God was never intended to be part-time. You shouldn’t just keep God housed in your church or just in your home. God should be an integral part of every decision you make, from the big decisions about where to live and what to do with your life to the small decisions about what classes to take or whether or not to go see a movie on Friday night.

Just like there’s no question too big for Him, there’s no question too small either. Don’t cut God out of a part of your life because you think He doesn’t care. That’s not the case. Don’t ignore Him in a part of your life because you’d rather do it your own way. Believe me, it won’t work out.

It’s a strange habit to get into, asking God about what decision to make or comparing the choices you’re making to what the Bible says, but it works. We just have to take God at His word.

So bring down the walls that are keeping God out of the corners of your life. Open the shutters on the dark spots and let God’s light shine through you completely. It won’t be comfortable. He’ll definitely illuminate some things that need to change, but He’ll also give you the strength to do what you need to do.

The difference between being Christian and being Christ-like

Imagine, one day you meet someone who says he or she is a writer. That’s awesome, right? So you ask them what they write, and they respond: “Well, I’m not really writing anything now. But I will soon.” Are they really a writer?

Let’s try another job description. One that’s not artsy. How about an engineer? If someone tells you they are an engineer, generally you ask what they build or what they design. But what if the engineer you’re talking to has never built anything or designed anything?

There’s a big discrepancy in both of those situations. You can claim to be a writer all day long and never act like a writer. You can know everything you need to know to be an engineer but never act like an engineer. So why do we think it’s different with our faith?

roads-divergingToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

My Bible study group recently finished a section on the Book of Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ instructions to the Children of Israel before they are about to go into the Land of Canaan.

God is really straightforward with them, and He repeats Himself a lot. Basically what He says is that if they obey Him, they’ll be blessed, and if they disobey Him, they’ll be cursed. Pretty simple, right? If you’ve read the book, you know how that story goes.

And, yes, God is speaking directly to the Children of Israel in this particular verse, but what He’s saying relates to our lives today as well.

We all face choices every day. We can choose to take God at His Word and obey Him, regardless of whether it’s fun or not. Or we can choose to live life on our own terms. Those are the only choices we have. You choose life or death, blessings or curses. Just like the Children of Israel did.

And just like the Children of Israel, if you want to be obedient to God, you need to love Him and commit yourself to Him. That means doing what He says is right. That means living your life in a way that would please Him. That means making choices that honor God. That means living a Christ-like life.

But how many of us know it’s true that you can call yourself a Christian all day long but not be Christ-like?

Just like a writer who doesn’t write or an engineer who doesn’t design, a Christian isn’t automatically Christ-like. That’s a choice you have to make every hour of every day.

I know a particularly troublesome Christian who is sometimes the least Christ-like person you’ll ever meet. I saw her in the mirror this morning. 😉

I’m stubborn. I want my own way. I think I know best. And I don’t want to do it God’s way because He’ll take me down a road that won’t be fun, and I just want to have fun. And believe me, I’ve lived through the consequences of those choices, and I can tell you from experience that it’s better to listen to God. But I’m a work in progress. Every Christian is.

You’re a Christian the moment you trust Christ for your salvation, but becoming Christ-like is a process.

If you want to call yourself a Christian, fine. Carry a Bible. Memorize Scripture. Go to church. Do the Christian thing. But what difference will a title make in your life if you don’t do what a Christian is supposed to do? A Christian is supposed to be Christ-like, and that doesn’t happen just because you install a Bible app on your smartphone.

Learning to follow God is more than just going to church or memorizing Bible verses or going to a Bible study. You follow God in the little things. Following God happens in the small moments–or at least, they may be small moments to you. They’re the moments when you refuse to participate in office gossip. They’re the moments when you decide to bite your tongue instead of saying something rude. They’re the moments when you do something kind instead of something mean. They’re the moments when you choose to love someone you don’t think deserves it.

In those moments, you choose to do those things for no other reason than God told you to. Those are the moments when you are Christ-like, and that’s far more important than being a Christian any day.

Are you bold enough to follow God when no one else will?

Something incredibly revealing happened at the WSU vs. KU game last Sunday, and it had very little to do with sports. I don’t talk about politics very often, mostly because my opinions and beliefs usually vary from everyone I know.

The last thing I want to do is offend anyone. The last thing I want to do is start up a huge ugly conversation about topics nobody has researched enough to truly understand. But what happened at the game stunned me, and what happened afterward made me really sad.

Governor Brownback was sitting in the stands, watching the game. And the moment the camera focused on him, the whole stadium started booing. It was obvious. It wasn’t just one or two people. The noise was so loud, the announcers had shout to hear over it.

I’m not going to sit here and say that Governor Brownback is perfect. I’m not even going to sit here and tell you I agree with all of his decisions. But what I will tell you is that he is the current Governor of Kansas, and that didn’t happen by accident. And you’d think that a Christian would know that.

Obviously, the stadium wasn’t full of Christians, but after it happened? Christians and non-Christians alike were all over social media rejoicing. “Wasn’t it great how we all booed the governor?” and “That was the best part of the night!”

Is that how Christians are supposed to act?

Maybe you don’t like him. Maybe you don’t like his politics. Maybe you don’t like the choices he’s made, but you know what? If you’re a Christ-follower, you have been commanded to respect our elected officials, whether you like them or not, whether you voted for them or not.

More than just respect, though. And more than simply not disrespecting them too. Christ-followers are supposed to pray for our leaders.

brownbackToday’s verse is 1 Timothy 2:1-4.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

This isn’t the only verse in the Bible about respecting our elected officials. There are lots more where that came from.

You did realize you’re supposed to be praying for our leaders, right? Not just the leaders in your church. Not just your boss. But the governor and the senator and the representatives and the president. Americans don’t have kings really (although some people might disagree), but we do have governmental leaders. And that’s what this verse is about–praying for those people.

When was the last time you prayed for Governor Brownback? Maybe you’re bold enough to stand up in a stadium and boo him and act disrespectful because it’s the popular thing to do. But are you bold enough to stand up and exclaim that you don’t agree with him but that you will pray for him because he is the one God allowed to win the election?

It’s easy to go along with the crowd, but are you a Christian or not? If you’re a Christian, why don’t you do what God has told you to do?

It’s not easy. It’s hard. You have to give up things you want. You have to let go of dreams sometimes. And, yes, you have to submit to elected officials you don’t like. But would you rather bear up and trust that God has control of everything? Or do you find it better to be childish and throw a temper tantrum when you don’t get your way?

It’s time to grow up, Christians. Dark days are coming. Darker days than any of us have ever seen before, and we need to get our eyes on what matters.

God has told us what He expects of us, and I’m pretty sure “behaving like spoiled brats” didn’t make His list.

The best way to show you love someone is to pray for them

Have you got someone in your life who you want to love but just can’t? Either because they are difficult to love in general or because they won’t let you love them at all?

I think everybody does. We all have those people in our lives. Maybe they’re friends. Maybe they’re family. Maybe they’re even what you could call your enemies. Whatever role they fall into in your life, you’re trying to do what God tells you to do and love them. But loving someone is hard enough when they love you back. How do you manage loving someone who doesn’t want it–or worse, how do you love someone who just doesn’t like you right now?

apart_bridgeToday’s verse is 1 Timothy 2:1.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.

Prayer is the go-to answer for most questions in our life, especially the questions we don’t know how to handle. It’s easy to say that you’ll pray for someone. It’s easy to say that you’ll take it to the Lord in prayer. But it’s easier said than done.

Have you tried to pray for an hour before? Have you tried to pray for someone for more than five minutes? Not so easy. Five minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, but sit yourself down in a quiet room and try talking out loud for five minutes. You might run out of things to say.

The point is that prayer isn’t easy. We talk about it like it is, but that’s probably because most of us haven’t really tried it seriously. It’s a habit you have to get into.

Praying for someone is the best thing you can do to demonstrate how much you love them. Think about it. You’re approaching the God of the Universe and asking Him to help this other person in your life. That’s better than giving them money. Granted, they may not see it that way… at first.

The thing about prayer is that it’s rarely immediate. You don’t always see results right away. Often, you have to pray for something for years before you see God’s hand at work, although that doesn’t mean God waits for years to start working. It just takes us years to notice.

Prayer takes persistence, because quite frankly it feels like you’re not doing anything at all. It’s hard for me because I’m a doer. I’m a fixer. I want to get up and work. I want to go show somebody I love them instead of just telling them from a distance. But in the situations where you have people in your life who don’t want anything to do with you, you can’t exactly rush up to them, hug them, and start talking about life with them. I mean, you can try, but it probably won’t be well received, especially if it’s someone who doesn’t like you right now.

If you’re trying to reach out to someone who has cut you off, jumping back into his or her life and boldly exclaiming your love for them won’t come off genuinely.

It doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything to love someone by praying for them, but it’s truly the best thing you can do. And, frankly, you can’t do anything anyway. That’s the point.

Want to make a difference? Pray for the people in your life that you love. Pray for the people who love you and the ones who don’t. It’s the best gift you can give them. It’s the best way to show them how much you care. Maybe they don’t understand what it means. Maybe they don’t understand what prayer actually is. And that’s okay. Keep praying for them, and someday they will.

Cheer for ones who screw it up because you’re not perfect either

I actually sat down and watched a basketball game on television on purpose last night. In the last three years, this has happened on more than one occasion, mostly because my college, Wichita State University, has a pretty awesome basketball team.

Both teams did a fantastic job, and while I was definitely rooting for the Shockers, I was impressed by the Jayhawks too. The game was great, but something happened that really broke my heart.

It was in the final minute of the game. WSU was going to win. It was unavoidable by that point, but the Jayhawks were still trying to get a basket. And someone on the court (I don’t know who) got in a last-second three-pointer. It was a beautiful shot!

And nobody cheered.

Maybe a few did. But the vast majority of the KU fan base that was in the crowd didn’t cheer at all. Or if they did, I didn’t hear it.

Seriously? One of guys on their team scored a three-pointer at the last second and nobody cheered? Sure, it didn’t win the game. Sure it wasn’t going to help them win the game. But it was still a really impressive shot. Don’t they deserve recognition and encouragement for that?

Maybe it didn’t bother anyone else. But it bothered me. Because I see the same thing happen in our own lives over and over again.

NCAA2015_vanvleet_greeneToday’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

It’s easy to give up on people, isn’t it? It’s so easy to just write people off, because the less you get your hopes up, the less you risk being hurt. And while there is wisdom in distancing yourself from truly foolish people who never learn, God never calls us to give up on anyone.

Just because you think you have it all together doesn’t give you the right to point out the failures in someone else’s life. But for the grace of God, you might be in the same place.

Following Jesus is a process. Yes, when you make the choice to follow Him, your sins are forgiven fully and immediately. That happens all at once. But learning to live for Him? Learning to turn away from your old life and cling to the new one? That takes time. And, unfortunately, it takes falling down frequently.

Maybe you know someone who has screwed up their life. Maybe you know a Christian who has screwed up their life. That doesn’t make them not a Christian anymore. Even the Prodigal Son got screwed up in Luke 15 because He had his eyes on something His Father hadn’t intended for him, but that didn’t mean he was no longer a son. He started in the Father’s family, and when he came to his senses, the Father was waiting for him.

Christians are going to screw up. We’re going to fall flat on our faces because we’re human and we’re not perfect. When that happens, it’s our responsibility to repent. We need to change our thinking and recognize that what we’ve done is wrong and not what God wants for us. That’s part of being a Christian. But the last thing a Christian who’s stumbled needs is another Christian refusing to support them because they’ve messed up.

No, don’t deny the sin. Call it what it is. And don’t make excuses for their choices. They had a choice, and they made it. But if they’ve turned away from it, if they’ve changed their mind about that behavior, don’t keep rubbing it in their face. God has forgiven them. Why can’t you?

Instead, encourage them. Remind them how much God loves them. Remind them what it means to cling to God’s grace. Tell them what God has done in your own life, and love them unconditionally–the same way Jesus loves you. And when they make a choice that will bring glory and praise to God, cheer them on.

No, one good choice can’t make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done in the past. But the same is true for you, Christ-follower. Maybe they lost the battle, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. Just like you shouldn’t give up on them.

Do you know someone who’s struggling? Do you know a Christian who has completely screwed up his or her life? Are they doing all they can to follow God? Cheer them on.

They might have lost a battle, but the war isn’t theirs to win anyway. And it’s not yours either.