God sees you when you’re struggling

I climbed a Scottish mountain yesterday. It was pretty exciting. Our little crew of international travelers walked up this really steep path to get to this ancient rock, which marked the place where the Clan MacLaren used to rally in older times.

It was a difficult climb. It was raining. And not just raining. Pelting. So loud and hard you can actually hear it on our videos that we’ve taken. A ridiculous amount of rain, especially for a bunch of Kansans.

The mud was thick and threatened to swallow us up. The rocks were few and far between, and the loam wasn’t very good at providing good places to grip.

But we made it to the top, and it was worth the trek. The view was beautiful, and we could say that we accomplished something incredible.

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

Today’s verses are Revelation 2:2-3.

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

It’s easy to give up when times get tough. It’s easy to walk away from a challenge, especially when you don’t feel up for it or when you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t capable. And when you think God isn’t paying attention, it’s even easier to walk away from a time of struggle.

But here’s news for you, friends. God is watching. All the time.

He sees when you struggle. He sees when you falter. He sees when you need help, and He cares. He’s not ignoring you. He’s watching you every step of the way.

Maybe that doesn’t comfort you, but it comforts me that God cares enough to watch what I’m doing. And He cared enough to intervene when it gets to be too much for me, which is always.

What are you struggling through this morning? What impossible task are you facing? Don’t give up. It will get harder before it gets better, you can almost count on that, but just because the situation is tough right now doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you.

So hold on. Keep climbing. Because the view from the top is worth the trouble it took to get there.

Take time to recognize God’s abundant blessings

I ate way too much last night. Americans have this idea that British food is strange, right? Well, it’s not. There may be some strange things here, but hey, we have deep fried Twinkies.

Last night, we had a ladies evening at a restaurant here in Carlisle called The Dutch Uncle. The way the deal had been set up was really fantastic. You came in and sat down with your group, and they just kept bringing food out family style until you couldn’t eat anymore. Pizzas and nachos and platters of meats and cheeses. Pasta with mussels and clams. Olives and fried chicken thighs. And just when we would finish one plate of food, they’d bring another one out.

For two hours. One plate after another. And I couldn’t help but compare the experience to God’s blessings.

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Today’s verse is John 1:16.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

Sometimes God’s blessings are hard to recognize. Sometimes they’re obvious. But whether we actually recognize them or not, they’re abundant. They range from the generic but beautiful sunrises and sunsets to specific answers to specific requests.

We don’t deserve any of them, but God gives them away freely, expecting nothing of us in return. We can’t earn His blessings, but we can be in a position to experience them. That’s the only part that’s up to us. And even when we don’t make the wisest choices, God is still blessing us in small ways, which we choose not to notice most of the time.

Just like those plates of food that kept coming to our table at the Dutch Uncle, God’s blessings just keep coming. Over and over again. But unlike a meal, you never get tired of God’s blessings.

What was really interesting to me last night was that while I was chewing on a delightfully fried chicken thigh, I was having conversations with six British women who’d come to join us. Six wonderful women who are friends with my best friend, who has been living over here for nearly a year now.

I had prayed specifically that God would provide a group of friends in Carlisle for her to fit into, and last night I got to see exactly how God had answered that prayer. And I was so thankful.

What’s a blessing that God has given you today? How about a second blessing? Or a third? He hands them out all over the place, so sometimes they’re easy to miss. But take a moment and recognize them, because He doesn’t have to bless us. He just does. Because He’s that awesome.

Different pieces of the same puzzle

I got to do something cool yesterday. I got to meet the people my best friend works with at OMNIvision, the video and media ministry of Operation Mobilsation. I’d met a few of them when I was here in 2013, but I got to meet most of them yesterday. Such amazing people!

It reminded me again of how awesome it is that God provides opportunities for His children to use their gifts and talents to help other people. We’re not all made the same. You know that, right?

(Photo from Omnivision Facebook Stream)

(Photo from Omnivision Facebook Stream)

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 4:10-11.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

God has given each one of us unique gifts and talents, but it’s up to us to choose how we’ll use them. We can use them for ourselves or to further our own agenda, or we can use our gifts to do what God would have us accomplish for Him. Maybe that means serving in your local church. Maybe that means packing up everything you own and moving to England because you can write, like my best friend did.

We’re all different, and we’re supposed to be that way. So don’t sit back and be jealous of someone who has a different gift or talent than you do. No, instead look for a way to use your gift or talent to make a difference. We’re all just different pieces of the same puzzle that God is putting together around the world.

Your talent doesn’t have to be awe-inspiring. It doesn’t have to stop people in their tracks. It’s actually better if it’s not, because then the awe-inspiring moments can be attributed to God working through you.

So what are you good at? It doesn’t have to be impressive. But if you let God use your talents for His glory, you might be able to change the world. He’ll certainly change you.

Simple thoughts about a complicated subject

It’s nearly 10:00 Wednesday night in the city of Carlisle in northern England, where I’m writing tomorrow’s devotional. It’s weird because it’s only 4:00 in the afternoon back home in Kansas, but I’m going to try to sleep after being up since 4:00 a.m. Tuesday (I didn’t sleep much on the plane).

But I just felt led to post something that’s pretty awesome that God reminded me of as I was walking down the ramp of the Carlisle train station this afternoon: I’ve been gifted with tremendous friends.

Me and Katie

Me and Katie

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
    but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Friends are priceless. And if you have good friends–real friends–hold on to them. Because the real ones will last forever. And no matter how many miles might separate you, you’ll be able to pick up again like you never left off.

I have friends around the world, and I’m so blessed to be able to say that they are as close to me as a family.

I haven’t been in the same room with my best friend since last October. She lives here in England. We Skype, of course. We text. But after so long an absence, you’d expect that there would be hesitation in getting used to each other’s company again. There wasn’t. It was like we hadn’t even been separated.

If you’ve got a friendship like that in your life, don’t sell it short. Don’t discount it. And, whatever you do, don’t let it go. Friendships like that are worth fighting for.

Just a simple thought for this morning … or evening … or whenever it is.

You don’t have to be the best for God to accept you

While I was sitting eating Pei Wei honey-seared chicken and rice in the international concourse of the Atlanta airport, I noticed a young man with a strange t-shirt on. I’m sure it stood for something like a school or a club that he was in, but the slogan associated with his club is what caught my attention:

“God only takes the best.”

The first time I read it, I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s trying to say, especially since I suspect it has to do with a sports club. So I admit I’m reading into it quite a bit. But one sure-fire way to understand a statement is to reverse it and see if it’s still true.

If God only takes the best, than that means He turns away those who aren’t the best. That means He rejects the unworthy. Is that true? Not according to the Bible, it isn’t.

beatup_carToday’s verses are Romans 5:6-11.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

The Bible says over and over and over again that you don’t have to be good. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be righteous. God loves you even though you can’t be any of those things. And you can’t be.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but nobody is perfect. Nobody is good. Nobody is righteous. We can’t even be good enough for the world’s standards most of the time, let alone God’s. Yet somehow we still have this idea (and people still make t-shirts apparently) stating that you have to reach some level of perfection before God will accept you.

We didn’t have to be perfect in order for God to save us. No, Romans tells us that while we were imperfect, Christ came to save us. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies with God, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to give us the chance to be God’s friends.

That’s a gift, pure and simple, and you can’t do anything to earn a gift.

God’s grace is a gift. It’s free for us. And anyone who tries to add to that gift isn’t telling the truth. Anyone who says God’s grace is something you have to earn isn’t telling you what the Bible actually says.

You don’t have to get your life in order before you come to Him. You don’t have to clean up your act. Just come to Him now. You’re all He wants. Yes, God deserves the best, but you don’t have to be the best for Him to take you. God wants you just the way you are.