You can’t win a fight without fighting back

I finished the revised draft of a 109,000-word novel yesterday. This is the sequel to my debut novel, which released December 2014, and it’s part of a series I’ve been writing since 2001 or 2002. Somewhere in there. It isn’t the hardest book I’ll ever write, but it is the most difficult and challenging one I’ve written to date. I was sorely tempted to give up a few times over the last month.

Fortunately, I am blessed to be surrounded by many much-loved friends who were willing to encourage me and brave enough to tell me I needed to eat a sandwich or take a nap. (If you are a friend to a ridiculously stubborn and independent person, you understand what my poor friends deal with.)

I was tired. I was frustrated. I was irritated at myself (for my perceived slowness and my inability to hit my overly ambitious, self-imposed deadlines). I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I kept pushing forward because I’ve got a host of people who would probably track me down and strangle me if I didn’t deliver the sequel pronto. That was one motivating factor. 😉

But the biggest motivation to finish came from my deeply held belief that God keeps His promises.

black-and-white-sport-fight-boxerToday’s verse is Hebrews 10:36.

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.

God has never let me down. Not ever. He’s always been there when I needed Him. He’s always provided for me, sometimes even when I didn’t know what I needed or when I needed it. And years and years ago before I even understood what I was doing, God showed me that I could write. And God promises that if we use our gifts and talents for Him, He’ll bless us and He’ll bless the work we do in His name.

Somewhere along the line, during this crazy month of rewriting, I lost track of who the book belonged to. It’s not mine. I gave it to the Lord all those years ago when the idea first came to me. So no matter how difficult the journey gets between now and when the book releases, between when the book releases and Book 3 goes into production, and so on and so forth, God will make it worth it.

It’s hard to hold on to that sometimes because–let’s just be honest–life sucks. Crazy bad stuff happens. Loved ones die. Your insurance goes up. Your car breaks down. That unexpected expense that empties your bank account. Work is too stressful. You lose a relationship. The other half of your brain moves away. And it can’t all happen one piece at a time. No, it’s all got to happen at once, and you get so distracted by all the awful, discouraging things going on that you forget who’s really in control. Because nothing feels controlled. Everything feels out of control.

So what do you do when it feels like life is circling the drain? When nothing you do is good enough. When the straw broke the camel’s back years ago but nothing’s changed. What can you do?

You can give up, sure, but do you believe God or not? If God’s given you a job to do, you need to do it. It might stink right now, but if you throw in the towel, you have no idea what you’re leaving behind. God made you a promise, and He always keeps His promises. So instead of walking away, endure patiently.

Enduring isn’t fun. Being patient isn’t fun either. So patient endurance is a double whammy of anti-fun. But if you can do it (and God will give you the strength), you’ll be able to keep moving forward. And you will move forward, even if you feel like you’re standing still. And someday, farther down the road, you’ll be rewarded for it.

You don’t get rewards for giving up. You can’t win a fight without fighting back. And it’s not that our lives should be about rewards or what we get in return for serving God. That’s not the point. But we do need to remember that God doesn’t give us difficult tasks without promising to make them worth our effort.

What are you facing today? A frightening diagnosis? A new diet? A new job? Shoot, I’ve got lots of friends who just had new babies. Talk about a challenge. God has promised to be with you and to give you strength when you need it most. And He’s promised that the trials and struggles you go through are all part of a bigger plan.

Yes, life is hard. And following Jesus is harder still. But He promised that it would be worth it.

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The wise get wiser, even if it means re-learning

God teaches me random things on a regular basis. Sometimes they’re lessons I already knew and had just forgotten. Other times it’s a new application of a Bible concept that I’d never thought of before. But every day, God reveals something to me that I need to know. But sometimes I don’t like talking about it because–well–what I learn often seems like common sense or like something I shouldn’t have to be taught.

Some of the most powerful lessons God has taught me are things that can be difficult for a “mature” Christ-follower to admit struggling with. Like forgiveness. Humility. Honesty. Those are all things a long-time Christ-follower should have down. No review necessary to take a pop quiz, right?

Yeah. Not so much.

animals-birds-owl-faunaToday’s verse is Proverbs 9:9.

Instruct the wise,
    and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
    and they will learn even more.

We should never stop learning. The moment we think we know it all, we’ll be in trouble because God will have to remind us how little we actually know.

The hallmark of a truly wise person is that he or she continues to learn. They seek instruction and grow wiser than they were before. That’s not an accident. Wisdom is a lifestyle, and once you have wisdom, you constantly desire to have more of it. Not so you can brag about how wise you are, but so that you can know and identify the things that really matter in life.

I’ve been writing for years. It’s just a part of my life and a part of who I am. And sometimes I write something that God uses to touch another person. Most of the time, it’s one of these random blog posts, but most recently it was a scene out of a novel I wrote years ago. Somehow the context of this scene was relevant to a conversation about following God. It blows my mind how God could use a scene from a novel to make a difference in someone else’s life.

But see, I know that. I know God does that. He does it every day. And still I forget it. I type my fingers off in my office, hammering away at my keyboard at all hours of the day and night, and in the back of my brain, my silly old insecure sin nature tells me that it’s all a waste of time. That I gave up a profitable career to chase a dream that will end in disappointment. That nothing I write will ever help anyone meet Jesus.

It takes a story like the one I heard yesterday to remind me that God can use anyone and anything to bless and encourage someone else. He can even use something I’ve written that I never expected anyone else to read. Wisdom spoken by a friend that I needed to hear. It was a lesson I already knew, but I needed to learn it again.

I want to be that wise person who keeps getting wiser every day, and I don’t want to be afraid to talk about what I’ve learned, even if it’s something I should have already known. Who knows? Maybe being honest about how often I have to re-learn what God has taught me will encourage someone else.

Has God had to teach you something you already knew again? Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Embrace it. If you’re wise, you’ll just get wiser.

Keep trusting even if you have to keep letting go

When I give my worries and problems to God, I struggle with leaving them there. How about you? That’s one of those Christian metaphors we like to talk about–casting our cares on God, laying our burdens down, etc. Practically speaking, it means you do what you can according to God’s rules and then you let God work it out. You don’t spend time worrying or speculating about what could go wrong. You don’t invest emotional energy in fretting anxiously.

Has anyone mastered this concept? I haven’t.

Every time I entrust my fears and failures to the Lord, within moments I’m taking it back. And then I have to go through the whole process of letting go all over again. I get so angry at myself. I get so irritated. But I realized something the other day.

I don’t know anybody who’s mastered the art of trusting God completely. We all fail at this. We all try to carry our own burdens without His help. So instead of beating ourselves up about how often we take our troubles back from God, maybe we should focus on how many times we’re willing to let go of them.

pexels-photo (1)Today’s verses are Luke 11:9-10.

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

God wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray and talk to Him. He wants us to hand over our burdens because they’re all too heavy for us to carry on our own. But what if we have to ask Him over and over again? What if we have to turn over the same problems again and again?

I don’t like to pester people. I don’t like asking the same questions over and over again. I don’t like being asked the same questions over and over again (this is one of the reasons I would never make it as a journalist). But sometimes you have to. Sometimes you’re not asking the right question. Sometimes you’re asking the right question at the wrong time.

God will always answer. He is unfailingly patient with us, and He doesn’t get upset or unhappy if we pester Him.

Granted, if we know the answer is No, we shouldn’t keep asking. That might bother Him. But if you honestly don’t know what to do or to believe, ask Him. And don’t just ask Him once, ask Him over and over again until you get an answer. And I believe it’s the same with our troubles.

God remembers that we’re not perfect. He knows us inside and out. He knows our control-freak tendencies, and He isn’t angry at us when we try to take things back from Him. But He grieves when you try to keep it.

Don’t keep your troubles because you’re afraid to give them back again. Don’t beat yourself up or assume a negative perspective because you lose patience with God’s timetable. Everybody does. We’re all in the same boat.

It takes a lot of faith to trust your worries and your fears and your problems to God. It takes even more faith to keep giving them to Him, even after you take them back.

Just keeping turning your problems over to God. There’s not a time limit or a transaction limit, like at a bank. It’s better if you don’t take things back from God after you turn them over, but if you do, you can always give them back again.

God’s wisdom and the world’s autocorrect

You’re texting someone. Just a quick reply. Nothing complicated. But you’re in a hurry, so you don’t read over your text before you send it. And then you see it: a word that doesn’t belong. Autocorrect strikes again!

Isn’t it amazing how omitting one letter can make a huge difference in what you’re trying to say? Sometimes one letter is all it takes to turn a perfectly acceptable sentence into something profane or obscene or entirely nonsensical.

I do appreciate Autocorrect at times, but it causes me more headaches than it prevents. I know what I’m trying to say. I know what I’m trying to spell. And Autocorrect may just be trying to help, but it’s only causing a lot of confusion.

As I was cursing the Autocorrect feature on my phone this morning, I got to thinking about the Autocorrect function of my own brain. We all have it, you know. Whether it’s our consciences or our life experience or common sense or whatever you want to call it, there’s a voice in our heads that tells us what decisions we should make, how we should treat others, and what’s fair. Sometimes, that little voice is right. But in my experience it’s more like uninvited editing from Autocorrect that only results in confusion.

woman-smartphone-girl-technologyToday’s verses are 1 Corinthians 3:18-20.

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.” And again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless.

You can’t overestimate the value of common sense. It’s a priceless gift, and if you’ve got it, cherish it. I truly believe that some people just aren’t born with it. But even common sense has a limit. What we’ve experienced in life can only take us so far. The same is true of our consciences. The source we should rely on to help us sort through the problems in life is the Word of God.

The Bible contains God’s wisdom, and it’s not irrelevant or hard to understand. But it does require that you take God at His Word and that you accept His terms.

The world has its own wisdom, but it has nothing to do with God’s wisdom. The world places value on status and wealth, influence and rank, possessions and personal achievement. The world advocates doing what’s necessary to get to the top, regardless of how many people you have to climb over to get there. If you hurt others, it doesn’t matter. Showing mercy is a sign of weakness. Forgiving people only invites others to take advantage of you. And you can’t be successful and generous at the same time.

That’s the world’s wisdom. The world’s wisdom is good business. It’s common sense. Right?

That’s my Autocorrect. Because see, God’s wisdom is the opposite of all of that. God’s wisdom places value on humility, generosity, and faith. God’s wisdom elevates those who treat others better than they treat themselves. God’s wisdom commands us to forgive those who hurt us. God’s wisdom says that the harder you hold on to your life, the more of it will slip through your fingers.

When I’m trying to make decisions in my life, I want to follow God’s wisdom, but my Autocorrect feature keeps popping up. God says I’ll be blessed if I give to His work, but my Autocorrect pops up to remind me that I haven’t had a paycheck in a few weeks, so I’m not required to tithe. Which one is right? My human thinking isn’t wrong. The first tenth of my earnings belongs to the Lord, and I gladly bring it, but what if I haven’t been paid?

The thing about tithing (and that’s probably a whole different blog post) is that it’s always about faith, whether you make a regular paycheck or not. It’s giving back to God what He’s given to you as an act of faith and humility, showing God with your actions that you aren’t trusting in your finances.

Does the world think it makes sense to give money to God when you aren’t making any? Heck, no. The world would say you’re crazy. And foolish.

And that’s the point. If the world calls you a fool for doing something God says, you might be wiser than you think. The world won’t understand the things you do for Christ. You could be a great businessman but still be a fool where God is concerned. It’s up to you to decide what matters more–the world’s wisdom or God’s.

Don’t let the wisdom of the world sway you from doing what God says is right. God’s wisdom trumps the world’s wisdom every time, and even though people might call you a fool for doing things God’s way, remember that everything is topsy-turvey here. God’s wisdom will seem like foolishness to those who don’t know Him.

Stop trying to hit a ball that’s not in your court

Have you ever made somebody angry? Whether you intended to or not, you hurt someone. What do you do? How do you handle it?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you should take responsibility and ask forgiveness. Period. There’s no hemming and hawing. There’s no rationalization. There’s no trying to get out of it. At least, there shouldn’t be. Own what you did and ask forgiveness.

But what happens if the person you hurt won’t forgive you? What happens if they see your action as unforgivable? What if, despite your trying to make amends to the best of your ability, they still want to hurt you?

bird-sparrowToday’s verses are Matthew 10:26-31.

But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

We live in a difficult world. Hurting people hurt people. That’s just the way it works, and often times we get caught in the middle. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you will hurt the people around you. And the world has gotten so small that you can hurt someone you don’t even know.

The number one thing to remember is that you should never ever automatically assume you are in the right. You’re a flawed, broken human being, and you could be wrong. Granted, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes your actions are justified. Sometimes your choices were the right ones. But not always. And you should never assume that you are blameless, because it’s rarely the case.

When there is blame to be cast, accept it. Don’t shrug it off. Look it in the face and don’t flinch. And do what you can to mend fences (within reason). But once you’ve done your part, step back.

It’s important to understand that not everyone will forgive you. And, this is the part that kills me, not everyone will like you. Some people will just dislike you for no reason you can fix. And even if you do everything in your power to make them like you, they still might not.

Ultimately, following Christ isn’t about whether people like you or not. Following Christ is about living a life that honors Jesus. As much as possible, we’re to live peacefully with people around us, but that won’t be possible in every situation.

You can’t live your life in fear of what people may do to you. Maybe another person is holding something against you, but you can’t control them. You aren’t their Holy Spirit, and they have to make the choice to take their hurt to Jesus instead of piling it all on you. All you can do is humbly ask forgiveness, decide not to repeat your actions, and then get on with your life.

In the end, just remember that God isn’t blind. He knows more about your situation than you do, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. He cares about you. He cares about your problems. He cares about your losses. And if He notices when a sparrow falls, you can be sure your troubles won’t go unnoticed.

Have you done everything you can to make peace? Have you done all God asks to resolve the conflict? Then move forward. The ball isn’t in your court anymore, so stop trying to hit it. God sees the truth, and He’ll work out the details in a way that’s better and more beneficial for both sides. What we have to do is to learn to live without resentment.

Don’t be afraid of what people can do to your body or your finances or your possessions. Everything you have is a gift from God anyway. If it’s taken from you in a way you feel isn’t fair, just trust that the Lord will restore it. You might find out that you didn’t need it as much as you thought in the first place .

Grace for your heroes

Who is your hero? Don’t think about it too long. Who’s the first person that comes to mind? A teacher? A mentor? A parent or grandparent? We all have heroes. Some are older than us. Some are even younger than us. Others are our same age. And even though we know they are “only human” we still elevate them because to us, they’re larger than life. It’s not that we put them on a pedestal (though some of us do), it’s just that we have such high expectations for them.

So what happens when your hero falls? What happens when your hero makes a judgment call that hurts someone else? What happens when your hero sins?

Does it shake your world? Does it rock your faith? Or do you deny it and stand with them regardless of the truth? You know what I’m talking about. You exclaim that the stories can’t be true. You insist that your hero can’t have done anything wrong. How could they? They’re heroes. They know better. They know people are looking up to them, following them. They wouldn’t have made such a horrible choice. They couldn’t have.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone fails. Even your heroes.

8ZB9C03AIJToday’s verses are Romans 3:10-20.

As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.
Snake venom drips from their lips.
Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
They rush to commit murder.
Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.
They have no fear of God at all.”
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

The truth about following Christ is that everyone needs grace, from the worst of us to the best of us. No one is perfect. We know that, but knowing it and living it are two separate things.

It’s really, really easy to fixate on the “good” Christians, the ones who know the Bible, the ones who talk to God, the ones who have the answers. They’re the people we go to when we have questions. They’re the ones we ask when we’re afraid or uncertain or when our faith is faltering. And in our minds we think there’s absolutely no way that they would ever turn against God. They would never disobey. They would never do anything God says is wrong.

No one is righteous means that no one always does the right thing. Does that mean you shouldn’t trust anyone? Does that mean you shouldn’t build relationships with people? No, that’s not what it means at all.

It means that even your heroes need grace. They need the same grace from you that Christ offered to them.

Not excuses. Grace has nothing to do with making excuses. Grace doesn’t live in denial either. Grace recognizes that you’ve screwed up royally yet doesn’t hold it against you.

It’s good to have heroes. It’s good to have people in your life to run to when you’re scared or feeling vulnerable. Just remember that people are people. Don’t put your trust in people. Don’t build your foundation on any person other than Jesus Christ. Because He is the righteous one, and He doesn’t change.

Life doesn’t wait if you take a wrong step

I’ve been walking two miles a day since April or so, with a few breaks in between for vacations and things of that nature. Kansas weather is a little fickle for walking outside, so to keep to a consistent schedule, I use the treadmill downstairs. It’s a pretty nice set up. I get down there, fire up the treadmill, switch on my audiobook, and walk.

Well, yesterday morning, I reminded myself that clumsiness runs in my family. I took a wrong step. My left foot stepped down on the guard, while my right foot was still on the belt. So, yes, my left foot stayed in one place, my right foot ran out behind me, and I tried my darnedest to do the splits.

I didn’t fall. If we’d gotten it on camera, I’m sure it might have even looked graceful. Because somehow I regained my equilibrium and jumped back on the belt, trying to regain my footing. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t get my feet under me, so I just let the belt carry me off the treadmill. And by that time I’d made such a horrendous racket, my poor parents were upstairs thinking I’d passed out or something.

It was a good reminder for me to pay attention to where I put my feet, even when I’m walking on a treadmill.

EE8A129965Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!

Like a treadmill doesn’t stop if you put your foot down in the wrong place, life doesn’t stop when you fall down either. It feels like it should. When you take a tumble and hit the dirt, you feel like your life should stop. When you get hurt or when someone you love dies or when you run into trouble that shocks you or scares you, it feels like the world stops spinning. But it doesn’t.

Life moves forward. It goes on. And it will go on without you. It’s a harsh reality to accept, but it’s the truth.

I remember my first year at college. I went to a school a thousand miles away from home. When I came home for Christmas after my first semester, I was shocked at how everything had changed. My church had changed. My friends had changed. My family had changed. Life went on without me being there.

Change isn’t bad. We need to remember that and embrace it. Change is normal. So don’t let it catch you off guard. But some changes will hit you harder than others. Some things in life will knock your legs right out from under you.

That unbeatable diagnosis. That painful relationship. That bad decision. Something will throw you for a loop, and before you know it, you’ll be doing splits on a treadmill, one foot locked in place and the other one carried away by life’s current. And you’ll probably end up on your face. It’s at that point you have a choice.

You can stay down, or you can get up again. When you run to win, you get up when you fall down. When you’re chasing a prize, you pick yourself up after you stumble. When you have a purpose for doing what you’re doing, you don’t give up. That’s what this verse is about. It’s about living life for a reason.

You will fall. Nobody’s perfect. You may even fall more than once, but just remember why you’re running. Remember who you’re running for. As Christ-followers, we’re not after an earthly prize. We’re in this race to finish strong in the name of Jesus.

So get up. Dust yourself off. Get back on that treadmill. Run to win.