A life lesson learned while roughing it

I just got back from an epic week of camping in Colorado with my parents. We had a fantastic time, and it was so great to just relax. Even though we were completely isolated for the whole week, God still made Himself obvious. Actually, He was probably more obvious than normal because I wasn’t distracted by everything else in my life.

He reminded me of some pretty cool things as I was reading in front of the campfire or listening to the wind in the pines or marveling at the mountain peaks. So this week, I’ll be sharing some of the lessons I learned (and photos I took) when I was out roughing it.

Campfire at Happy Meadows (c) acw 2015

Campfire at Happy Meadows, west of Colorado Springs

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

My dad always gets the fires started whenever we go camping. In Colorado, you have to buy local wood to burn, but (in case you don’t know anything about starting a fire), you can’t just light the wood. You have to have something to get the first started. Some people use lighter fluid, but we tend to go more toward the old fashioned methods like paper and kindling.

What was interesting to me this time around is watching how rapidly paper and small strips of wood were consumed. It feels dumb to say it, because it’s obvious. Paper burns fast. And while it might provide a flash of momentary heat, when it’s 40 degrees outside, you need something with substance that’s going to burn for a long time.

The verse for today is talking more about items which are symbolic of deeds and achievements–those things that fire won’t consume. If you accomplish something for God, that accomplishment will last forever. In comparison, accomplishing something for yourself is like wood or hay or stubble. It burns up fast and leaves nothing useful behind.

Taking that into account, how does your list of accomplishments stack up? Have you done things in your life that will last for eternity? Or are you just accomplishing things that make life more comfortable for you (or even others) right now? There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable in this life exactly. I’m not saying that. But if you really think about it, what matters more?

As Christ-followers, this life isn’t our final destination. We have another life to live beyond this one, and we’ll live that life forever. So isn’t it more wise to be preparing for the life to come with more focus and determination than we give to our temporary lives here? What good is it if you live in a big fancy house on Earth for 80 years and when you get to heaven for all eternity, all you have is a tent with a few cans of Spam?

Do what God says. Put priority on His rules, on His plans, on His directions. Do that first. Then let the other things trickle in later. Maybe it means you’ll have to wear less fashionable clothes or drive an old car or live in a smaller house. Maybe not. But you’ll know for sure that if your life ever starts to burn down, the things that matter–the ones that will last forever–will come out untouched.

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Why should we have confidence in God?

When I first started writing, I wasn’t very confident. I could write anything, but I had no faith that it was any good. Then, one day, I got brave enough to share it with a friend, and thanks to her positive feedback and encouragement, I kept writing. And I kept sharing it with friends, who also responded positively. But even then, I wasn’t what I would call confident.

It took years of writing (and a whole heck of a lot of rejection notices) before I started seeing my writing as something worthwhile. But the confidence didn’t come until I got hired on as a copywriter, where the people I worked with acknowledged that I could write. That sounds weird, maybe, because of course I can write. But it’s one thing to write for fun; it’s something else for people to pay for what you write.

I had to write for pay for three years before I truly began to feel confident in what I could do, and after that? After I figured out the confidence thing, writing was no problem. I can pick up a piece of paper and knock out a story in an hour. I can write a novel in a month or less. Maybe they won’t be very good, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I know I can do it.

That’s where confidence comes from. You have confidence because you know for sure that your abilities (or the abilities of the one you’re relying on) are enough.

man-person-fog-mist_1516x1011Today’s verse are Psalm 27:11-14.

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
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.

So when was the last time you had confidence in the Lord? I mean, it’s easy to have confidence in your own abilities. You can control those. You can see the results almost immediately. But confidence in God? God doesn’t always work the way I want Him to. Actually, He rarely does. How can I have confidence in God if He doesn’t work according to my timetable?

That’s a tough question because it touches on deeper issues than just having confidence in God. A question like that means your own schedule matters more to you than God’s plan. Just being honest here.

What it comes down to is who God is. If confidence stems from someone’s abilities, how can we not have confidence in God? God is God. He’s the Creator, the Maker, the Redeemer, the Father, the Lover, the Master, the Lord. He can do anything and everything. He can be anywhere and everywhere, whenever, wherever, and however He chooses.

So the question isn’t how we can have confidence in God. The question is why should we.

God is good. Truly good. He’s the only one who actually is good. So everything He does is good. Don’t get the brokenness of the world or the brokenness in our own lives mixed up. People question God’s goodness because bad things happen, but bad things happen because the world is circling the drain as a result of our own choices. It’s not because God isn’t good. God is so good that He offers us a way out when we don’t deserve it.

God always keeps His promises. His plans are for our best. He never makes mistakes. That’s the kind of person you can be confident in, because He won’t ever do anything that isn’t for our best. That’s what you can have confidence in. That’s why you can trust Him.

No, you may not always like the roads He takes you on, but those are the times that make you stronger. Those are the moments that teach you who God is. And when the struggle is over, you’ll have more confidence than ever in how much He loves you, because you’ve seen it firsthand.

Don’t rush learning how to follow Jesus

I’m not a patient person. I’m like the least patient person you’ll ever meet. That’s why I marathon television shows. That’s why I rarely read books series until they’re complete. I don’t like waiting for stories to resolve. I want to know what happens right away.

Unfortunately that lack of patience seeps into other areas of my life. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do well in music lessons. My mom is a crazy accomplished classical musician, but she didn’t get there overnight. It took 45 years for her to get to that place. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and be perfect right away. I didn’t want to work at it. I didn’t want to make mistakes and have to learn from them. I wanted the benefit of the skill without the drudgery of the discipline required to achieve it.

Sound familiar to anyone? We all have our sticking points when it comes to patience and discipline. Ironically, I had to learn that I had a lot to learn, regardless of what career path I chose. I settled on writing because I thought I was a great writer when I was little.

Yeah. Wow. Looking back, I knew nothing. And all I’ve learned in 25 years of writing (yes, I wrote my first story in kindergarten) is that I still know nothing, and that I have a lot more to learn. I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning. But learning isn’t about filling your head with information. I mean, that’s part of it. The greater part of learning is patience. It’s hard work to learn. It’s trying and difficult, but the more you work at it, the stronger you get.

S059QDGBOG_1549x1037Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:32-36.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. 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.

Following Jesus takes discipline. Sorry to burst the bubbles of anyone who signed on expecting an easy ride. Think of following Jesus like two magnets with opposite poles being pressed together. On one side, you’re drawn to Him because you belong to Him, but on the other side you’re repelled because you still have a dark nature that wants your own way. You have to fight yourself every step of the way if you want to follow Jesus.

And then add in the trouble our enemy throws at us. We have an enemy who hates us because Jesus loves us, and our enemy will do everything in his power to distract us, stop us, hurt us, discourage us, and slow us down. But instead of seeing all those obstacles as barriers to following Jesus, try to see them as opportunities to grow.

Don’t rush following Jesus. Enjoy it. It takes time. It takes years. Learn to see the trouble as opportunities for God to show His power. Learn to see people as family members who just don’t know Jesus yet. But the more you seize opportunities to follow Jesus, the stronger you’ll become.

Jesus says to love your enemies. That’s not easy, but that’s part of following Him. You won’t want to do it, and Satan won’t want you to either. But Jesus says it, so we do it. Loving an enemy is an obstacle because they don’t want your love, but if you treat it as an opportunity, your faith will grow. Every time you extend love or kindness or forgiveness to someone who wants to hurt you (and you get nothing in return), it demonstrates to everyone around you and even to yourself that what Jesus says matters more to you than what is commonly or popularly accepted. And God blesses an attitude like that.

 

Living a victorious life in spite of a broken world

Ever have one of those days (or weeks or months or years) where it just feels like everyone and everything is out to get you? It’s not enough to have one problem. No, you have to have 12 all hit at the same time. Money problems and job problems and family problems and relationship problems and church problems and the list goes on and on and on. It’s different for every Christ-follower, but the story is the same.

In situations like that, it always makes me wonder if I’ve done something wrong. I never want to assume that I’m in the right, especially where my relationship with God is concerned. I always want to ask myself and judge my own heart to make sure I haven’t gone against the Lord in some way that He needs to correct. I never want to be so proud that I miss what He’s trying to teach me.

But what about when I haven’t done anything wrong? Sometimes life just stinks. The world is broken, and sometimes that brokenness affects my life, which has been redeemed but still exists as part of a fallen world. When that happens, what do we do?

gazing-rain-window_1555x1037Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:7-9.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you think about the state of our world, but we need to remember that this world isn’t our home. And even though we live here for now, that doesn’t mean we live here alone or that we’re helpless.

Every Christ-follower has power. We can face life with hope and strength and courage because God is walking this path with us, and if we rely on Him, He’ll give us what we need to get through the day.

So even in our darkest moments, when we’re surrounded by trouble, when we’re confused by circumstances, when people are out to get us, or even when we fall flat on our face, we can still live a victorious life. We don’t have to give in to the petty, grasping arguments and disagreements of the people around us. We don’t have to hurt each other. We have the power to choose love. We have the power to be like Jesus, and Jesus is undefeated.

If you’re down today, choose to get up again. And if you don’t have the strength to get up, ask for it. You’re not alone.

God is more than enough

Everybody has trouble. It’s just a part of life, but how we deal with the difficulties we’re facing says a lot about who we are. Do you hide when trouble comes your way? That’s understandable. Some trouble is just too much to face, and it’s so much easier to avoid dealing with it entirely than it is to confront it.

The problem is that you can’t hide forever. You can’t run forever. Some trouble keeps popping up. It just won’t die. And running from it or hiding from it only delays the inevitable. So what do you do when you can’t escape?

8J6SO4AGN0_1594x1196Today’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.

If you’re a Christ-follower, God’s got you. That doesn’t mean you can disobey Him and expect no consequences. He loves us too much to let us get away with behavior that will hurt us and those around us. But when you face trouble that’s more than you can bear, He’ll be there with us to help us overcome it.

There’s no trouble in the world that’s bigger than God is. God is bigger than anyone or anything else in the world. It’s an inconvenient truth when we want our own way, because that means we have to surrender our stubborn will to God’s. But when we’re in trouble? When life is too much for us to handle, it’s nice to know that God is more than enough.

God’s got a wonderful plan in mind for each of us, and He’s promised to work everything together for our good and His glory. He’s the only one big enough to make that promise and keep it. So whatever you’re going through today, don’t give up on God. You may feel like He’s abandoned you, but He hasn’t. Even if you feel a million miles away from Him, He’s holding you in His hand, and He won’t let go. So stop fighting Him and let Him have His way.

Beyond your roughest road is great joy

I can’t remember the name of the highway (it might have been I-10), but it was a road leading to Pensacola, Florida, where I went to college my freshmen year. My parents and I were going for a visit while I was still in high school, and we hit this particularly bumpy stretch of pavement. It went on for a long time, and it was really uncomfortable in the back seat. The car bumped and bounced all over the place. I had a notebook, of course, and was trying to write something, but I couldn’t because the ride was so rough.

Life is like that highway. You’ve got to get from Point A to Point B, and even though there’s a direct route, it’s not an easy road. There are potholes and obstacles. Sometimes you have to swerve. Sometimes you even may have to stop to fix a flat. But it’s the only way to get there.

What do you do in those situations? Do you turn around and go back? You can, but what’s the point of that? No, if it’s the only road you can take, it’s better to press on and just deal with the discomfort, because you know the road will smooth out on the other side. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

wood-road-dirty-forest_1532x1021Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:6-9.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

God has a plan for everyone. It’s up to us to go along with it, but the plan is there. What Christians forget sometimes is that the road isn’t easy, and God never promised it would be. He actually promised the opposite. But He does say that on the other side of the rough rode of following Christ is great joy.

That’s what we need to hold on to in the tough times. When the road gets difficult and the potholes keep coming and the rain won’t stop falling, just remember that God is with you, and He’s also on the other side of your struggle. He’ll help you get through it. He’ll send help when you need it. He’ll provide strength when yours runs out. Just keep believing that He’s right and that His promises are real.

The road might be a muddy mess, and you’ll be muddy by the time you cross it. But once you’re past it, you’ll look back on it with fondness. You will, believe it or not. Because in retrospect, even though it was a hard and challenging and difficult time in your life, you’ll see it as the moment when you knew God was with you.

God’s way and common sense aren’t always the same

I got all turned around yesterday, which isn’t exactly uncommon, but it’s a funny story. Wichita has three really excellent movie theaters, all owned by the same company. One is east, one is downtown, and one is west. I was meeting a friend at the theater to see Ant-Man (great show, by the way), and since I was going to be in town, I figured it was a good time to hit the store and pick up some prescriptions and some groceries for our upcoming camping trip. My preferred grocery store is on the west side of the city, and it just made sense, because there was a theater out west. I could stay on the same side of town to do my shopping. Great plan, right?

Well, what my overworked brain neglected to remember is that we had planned to see the movie at the east theater. So much for efficiency. After I got off at the wrong exit, I had to turn around and book it out to the east side as fast as I could. I made it just in time, but it was close.

From where I was sitting, it made sense that we should see the movie at the west theater because the rest of my errands were on the west side, but I planned my errands after we planned the movie. So it didn’t matter where my errands needed to happen, because the place I needed to be was at the east theater.

How many times in life do we end up in this situation? We tell God that we’ll follow His lead and do what He says is right, but one day we come up with our own list of needs and requirements that take us in a completely opposite direction. Maybe everything we’re doing is good and helpful, but that doesn’t mean we’re going the direction God wants.

27PNUR3Z83_1502x991Today’s verses are Psalm 18:30-32.

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.

Sometimes it feels like doing things God’s way doesn’t make sense. The way He tells us to live makes it easy for people to take advantage of us. Forgiving people who hurt us, loving our enemies, sacrificing for people who will only turn against us later on–following Jesus isn’t an easy road, and many days it’s not even a fun one.

On the tough days, it would be so much easier to follow common sense instead of Jesus. If someone hurts you, hurt them back. That way, they’ll know not to hurt you again. If someone steals from you, steal from them, so they’ll understand how you feel. Can you see how that way of thinking could escalate?

Common sense is great, but it’s based on a human code of morality that will change with time. Common sense that isn’t rooted in biblical truth is fickle. So sometimes following Jesus will go against human common sense. Common sense tells us that turning the other cheek in a personal argument will result in more beatings, but Jesus says it’s how we’re supposed to live.

It’s easy to rely on our common sense, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what Jesus says should take priority. Maybe it’s more convenient for you to beat up the people who’ve been bothering you, but that’s the exact opposite of how Jesus says to handle the situation. In that example, common sense will take you in the opposite direction of what Jesus says to do.

They can’t both be right. So it’s up to us to choose which way we’re going to follow. Our own common sense is as flawed and misdirected as we are, though, so how far do you really think you can trust it? Wouldn’t it be better to trust God’s way? God has a pretty awesome track record, after all. Maybe it’s not easy to follow Him, but it’s never boring. And the Bible says it’s perfect.

So if God’s way is perfect and it goes against our common sense, who has the better chance of being wrong?