We’re all like broken cell phones

The first cell phone I ever used was a flip phone the size of a brick. Mom carried it her purse. A few years later, we got a new phone. Much smaller. It didn’t flip open, but it was still the size of a brick. And we only used it for emergencies.

When I returned home to Kansas from my freshman year of college in 2002, I got my first phone that was just for me. At least, I think I did. That was a while ago.

With as much as my family drove, cell phones were a necessity for us as early as when I was 15. But for my entire life, I had always been tacked on to my parents’ cell phone plan. I didn’t get my own cell phone plan until a few years ago.

Seriously. Like 2014.

I switched carriers, started an account with a new provider, and got the free phone they offered with their new contracts.

Then, I left my job. I started working for myself. And that free phone crapped out. So I had a choice. I could go with another two-year contract, or I could try something I’d been wanting to do for a while—buy an unlocked phone.

Google Nexus 5X

Google Nexus 5X

Long story short: That’s what I did. I bought a Nexus 5x at the beginning of 2015, and it’s been one of the better investments I made in the last few years.

But I learned something. Those old free phones you’d get with two-year contracts never broke while they were under contract. Nothing ever went wrong with them in that two-year span. And by the time the two years were up, you’d get the chance to upgrade.

I had to buy my own phone, unlocked and not on sale, before I shattered the screen.

And, no, it wasn’t under warranty. No, I didn’t purchase the extra protection option. So I was pretty much out of luck when I dropped it on the wooden floor and watched the screen splinter like a broken windshield.

Fortunately though, it still worked. I could still do everything on it that I’d been doing before (email, social media, marketing, phone calls, texting, etc.). It was just harder to read because of the spider web cracks shooting across the surface.

The phone could still do its job.

But then—I was waiting on a very important phone call from a client. It was an interview I’d set up earlier, and I needed to talk to this person. If I could get the job finished, I’d get enough of a paycheck to fix the phone! So I needed it!

But here’s the problem. See, somehow my phone number has gotten onto somebody’s telemarketer list. I don’t know how. Maybe it’s the election too. But I get phone calls ALL the FREAKIN’ DAY LONG. From every state. And I don’t know any of the numbers. And every time I answered, it was a survey or an electronic call. So I just got into the habit of screening my calls. If I don’t know the number, I let it go to voicemail, and if they don’t leave a voicemail, I don’t worry about it.

So, my client called. And his number showed up on my screen. But the broken screen made the numbers look wonky, and I misread them.

Fortunately, I double checked at a different angle. I realized it was him calling, and I answered. I got my interview done, got my project submitted, got paid, and got my phone fixed. Yay!

But that got me thinking: Isn’t that just how sin works in our lives?

ezekiel36-26-1It shatters our perspectives on what’s right and what’s wrong. Our life still works. We still function. But our vision is askew. And when we face a choice of whether to turn right or turn left, we see the choice through the shattered screen of our broken perspectives. We misunderstand. We don’t comprehend. We think what’s good is bad, and we think what’s bad is good.

I might have missed that uber-important phone call if I hadn’t mistrusted my phone.

In life, we might miss opportunities God has given us if we refuse to understand that our hearts are selfish. We might take a wrong step and lose our way if we don’t mistrust the world. If we try to follow Jesus but keep looking at life through the filter of our flawed perception, we’ll never be able to grab hold of the life God wants for us, and we’ll leave the pile of blessings He wants to give us on the table.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. Ezekiel 36:26-27

We’re all broken phones, folks. We function just fine, but we don’t see life truthfully. None of us sees the world as it is through our own eyes. None of us can see our sin for what it is without Jesus’ example.

So do what I did. I took my phone to a professional and had it repaired.

That’s what Jesus offers. Not only will He give us new life, new hope, new mercy every morning, and a new purpose, He’ll also give us a new perspective. And that’s something nobody should try surviving life without.

Biblical stress relief is a thing

Stress is normal, right? It’s how we’re supposed to live. It’s how we demonstrate that we’re effective workers.

I mean, if I’m not stressed out about something, does that make me a sub-standard employee? Does that make me lazy or disinterested? Everybody knows that the best employees are always rushing, always exhausted, always stressed about something, right?

I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re physically capable of carrying that kind of stress for an extended period of time. So how do we change it? How do we fix it?

I’m not an expert, but I have lived with a lot of stress in my life. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I know that following Jesus isn’t easy (John 16), but Jesus also says that His burden is light and those who seek rest should come to Him (Matthew 11:30). So where’s the middle ground?

That’s how I found Exodus 14.

Yes, Exodus. The Old Testament, Moses and the Burning Bush, ten plagues of Egypt–Exodus. Just about everybody knows the basic story.

The Basics

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

God tells this shepherd dude, Moses, to go to Pharaoh (King of Egypt) and demand the release of the Hebrews, the slave nation Egypt was working to death. (Cue Charlton Heston: “Let my people go!”) Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t budge. (Cue Yul Brenner: “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) God smites Egypt with fleas and frogs and boils. Oh my! Pharaoh relents, and the Hebrews go free. But that’s not the end of the story.

God tells Moses to lead the Hebrews (a.k.a. Israelites) to the Red Sea. Basically, God directs them into a dead end. The Israelites don’t know that. But God makes sure that Pharaoh knows. And God sets it up so that the Israelites, His beloved people, are like sitting ducks. Even more than that, He “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the King of Egypt will come after the Israelites.

Pharaoh does. He and his whole army chase them down, and God parts the Red Sea so that His people can safely cross. Then, God collapses the Red Sea on the Egyptian army as they’re in pursuit. Not a single one survived.

It’s sobering to remember just who God is and what He’s capable of, isn’t it?

So where’s the stress relief?

Look. God got them into this situation. He told Moses where to set up camp. He knew it was a dead end. He knew they were vulnerable. And then He went and ensured that Pharaoh and his entire army would come after them. Why?

“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (Exodus 14:17-18)

God put His people in this situation so that all of Egypt could know who He is. God let the Israelites face terror and annihilation so that the world could know His great name and know that if they turned to Him, they could be saved.

But what matters about this whole story is the fact that God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.

[su_pullquote]God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.[/su_pullquote]

Are you following Jesus today? Are you living for God, doing your best to keep His Word, to trust Him? I am. But that doesn’t make life easier. In spite of doing everything God asks of me, I usually get more trouble. But instead of handing my troubles to God, I clutch them tighter. I try to fix them myself. But I didn’t run into this trouble because I was doing my own thing. I ran into trouble because I was following Jesus.

That means it’s not my trouble to fix. It’s His.

I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to solve problems I can’t solve. But that’s where my stress mostly comes from. Instead, I need to trust that God will provide a solution My when it’s time.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, though. You can’t look at every situation in your life this way. The first thing you have to do is check your heart. Are you actually following God? There’s a chance your own actions have led to this difficulty you’re facing.

But if your heart is clean before Him, if you’re honestly following Him with everything you have and trouble still finds you (it will), remember this.

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

Isn’t it possible that the things that are stressing you out right now—the ones you can’t control—have actually come from God? Maybe God wants to show how awesome He is through your life. Maybe God wants everyone to know His name through you.

exodus14-14Hold on to that with both hands. Recognize that He’s the one who calls the shots. Let Him work. Get out of His way. Stop trying to control things yourself and trust Him like you say you do.

My God moves mountains and parts oceans. He can do the impossible because that’s who He is. And when I consider all the trouble in my life, I need an impossible God to help me. And if that means He has to let me sweat a bit in order to help everyone else recognize who He is, bring it on.

My life is in His hands. So why should I be afraid of anything? He got me into this. He can get me out of it.

Life as a headless chicken

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]M[/su_dropcap]y solid old farmhouse is more than 100 years old. That may not mean much to folks in the northeastern United States or my dear friends in England, but in Kansas, it’s a big deal. It’s the perfect sanctuary for writing. I turn on my music and hammer out words by the tens of thousands and feel good about myself. The trouble comes when somebody needs me.

My office is on the second floor at the south of the house. The only stairwell is on the north. There are several solid wood doors between us, and if it’s summer time, I also have a window air conditioner running. There’s so much noise, I can’t hear when anybody shouts up at me. I can’t even hear my cell phone ring. So if anyone wants to get my attention, they have to walk up the stairs, throw my office door open, and throw things at my head.

It’s a chore to get my attention sometimes. But that’s true even when I’m sitting in a quiet environment.

One of my favorite television shows, Longmire (based on the brilliant book series by Craig Johnson), has an episode called “An Unquiet Mind” where we get a peek inside the main character’s tumultuous thoughts. His mind is never quiet. He’s always thinking about something, and that’s how I feel most times.

Do you ever feel like that? Like your brain is so noisy that you can’t get a word in edgewise?

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Here in America, we’re expected to live busy, crowded, noisy lives. That’s what it means to be American, isn’t it?[/su_pullquote]

My mind is never silent. It’s not chaotic. Not usually. But it sure is loud in there most of the time. I’m thinking about what I have to do today, what I have to do tomorrow, what I have to do next week, next month, next quarter. I’m worrying about friends and family. I’m fretting about the dwindling decimals in my bank account. I’m thinking about bills that need paying, chores that need doing, meetings that need scheduling, manuscripts that need editing, blog posts that need writing, etc.

We weren’t meant to live like that. That’s not how God designed us to function, in spite of what those around us might say. Here in America, we’re expected to live busy, crowded, noisy lives. That’s what it means to be American, isn’t it?

But is that how we were meant to live?

We’re not supposed to be lazy. We’re not supposed to sit back on our blessed assurance and live a life only reacting to trauma and disaster. But we’re certainly not supposed to live life like headless chickens either.

So how do you prevent being dragged into the chaos of life and still manage to get things done? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

peachy-divider

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] underestimate the value of silence. Silence isn’t something I’ve ever truly appreciated until recently. Silence always meant that something was wrong or someone was waiting on me. And I hate it when people are waiting on me. But it’s difficult to find an instance in the Bible where silence is considered negative.

Sure, there’s all sorts of Psalms begging God not to be silent, but most of the time, silence is a good thing. Proverbs says over and over again that even fools are called wise when they shut up (Proverbs 17:28). Fast forward to the New Testament and James encourages people to make listening the priority rather than speaking (James 1:19).

Silence is hard to find, both externally and internally. But it’s something we should strive for, because—like it or not—Someone is trying to get our attention.

God talks to us every day. He makes Himself known every moment. The whole world has no excuse for ignoring God. But for those of us who know the Bible, we who’ve been raised in it from cradle to pew, how can we possible explain ourselves? Burying our lives in chaos? Drowning ourselves in anxiety and noise?

God’s calling us. He’s shouting at us, waving His arms in desperation, trying to catch our eyes.

Pay attention! Listen to what I’m saying! I’m here, and I’ve always been here, and I’m not leaving you. Not ever. I’ve done everything to prove Myself to you. Why aren’t you listening?

[su_pullquote]God’s calling us. He’s shouting at us, waving His arms in desperation, trying to catch our eyes.[/su_pullquote]

We don’t have to succumb to the tidal waves of stress and exhaustion the world (and even the church) sends in our direction. We don’t have to fear what’s coming tomorrow or in November or in ten years. God’s in control. He knows what He’s doing. He never makes mistakes. He always keeps His promises. And all we have to do is trust Him.

Yes, easier said than done, but nothing worth having was ever easy to achieve.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3:20

rev3-20Is your life so noisy you can’t hear Him? Is your life so busy you can’t see Him? Then something should change. Maybe it’s the way you live. Maybe it’s the way you think. But something’s got to give, because you weren’t made for this.

Don’t let yourself get so mired in noise and the craziness of life that you can’t hear Jesus calling you. It’s easy to get there. Believe me. But you don’t have to stay there. Climb out if you can. Ask for help if you can’t. Just get out. Open your ears. Open your heart. Listen.

Jesus is knocking. Can you hear him?

When the road gets dark

Toward the beginning of September, I went for a walk on the narrow gravel road that runs by Safe Haven Farm. Since spring of this year, I’ve been walking about two miles almost every weekday. It’s a great way to clear the cobwebs out of my head, and I love to see the wheat growing.

As the summer progressed, though, the days got to be sweltering. So if I couldn’t walk in the morning, I waited until evening. That strategy works great in summertime because even at 9 p.m., there’s still enough light to see by. But all that changes in September. That’s when the days grow noticeably shorter. But I didn’t really think about that.

I left the house at 7:30 p.m. As I started down the road, I realized the sun had already set. But I didn’t think much of it. There was still plenty of light left. But in half an hour, as I was coming back toward the house, I realized just how dark it had gotten.

[su_pullquote]It’s easy to get scared in the dark. Fear and uncertainty can creep up on you without warning. [/su_pullquote]

We live in the middle of a wheat field. Like 640 acres of it. There are no streetlights. There are no neighborhood lights, because there isn’t a neighborhood. My house is the only inhabited house in a square mile.

And as I walked toward the yard light, the only visible light in the dusty evening, I started to hear skittering feet around me. Mosquitoes attacked in force, and I passed through thick curtains of gnats that stuck to my sweaty neck and crawled on the lenses of my glasses.

It’s easy to get scared in the dark. Fear and uncertainty can creep up on you without warning. The what-if scenarios can start whirling in your mind if you let them. In the middle of the prairie, in the dark on the central plains, you’re alone. And even if you have your phone, even if your phone has signal, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dial for help in time to prevent an animal attack.

But what are you going to do? Stop?

I could have stopped. I could have called for help. I could have refused to take another step until someone came to get me. But I’m not sure that would have solved the problem.

I was out in the dark on a country road, trying to get home. Stopping would have made me an easier target for whatever might have been out there. Waiting around would have only provided the mosquitoes an easier meal. So the only viable option was to keep walking.

And I mean, come on, that road hasn’t changed in the 20+ years I’ve lived on it. I’ve walked that road from the time I was 12 years old. My house has been in the same place for over 100 years, and it hasn’t moved. So it wasn’t like I could get lost. If I just kept walking straight, I’d get there eventually.

If something was going to attack me, I couldn’t stop it. So worrying about it wouldn’t do me any good. The best chance I had was just to get home. Realizing that, I calmed down. I could enjoy the cool air of the post-sunset evening. I could smell the dusty sweetness of the milo fields. I could smile at the crunch of gravel beneath my walking shoes.

And in 15 minutes, I reached the driveway at Safe Haven Farm. And everything was fine, although my legs were covered in mosquito bites, and it did take me a little while to get the gnats combed out of my hair.

What changed?

My situation didn’t. I was still stuck on the dirt road in the dark being eaten alive by bloodsuckers. What changed was how I chose to see my situation. I did what I could do, and I left the rest up to the Lord.

race-post-1We’re all stumbling around in the dark. Just admit it. None of us know where we’re going or where we’ll end up. We can make goals. We can have dreams. We can predict what the next ten years will be like, but nobody really knows.

Cancer strikes. Drunk drivers and drug overdoses steal our loved ones. The economy tanks, and the job we thought we couldn’t lose slips through our fingers. Nothing is certain. Or is it?

In the dark, in those moments when you can’t see where you’re going and unseen enemies are gnawing at your heels, you have to focus on what you know is true: God hasn’t changed, and the road is the same.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14

God is who He’s always been (Hebrews 13:8). You still get to Him the same way—through Jesus and Jesus alone (John 14:6). The road is straight. The path is clear. You know the way. It may be dark and scary, but the only viable option you have is to keep walking. Stopping won’t help. Going back won’t help. Just keep moving forward. You’ll get there eventually.

Do what you can. Let God take care of the rest. Run toward the future with open arms, and don’t be afraid.

The victor’s timetable and my personal agenda

olympic-games-1608127_1280I’m not a big sports fan. Never have been. Something about being naturally clumsy and the least competitive person on the planet. But, oddly enough, I do enjoy watching the Olympics. This year was quite a year for Team USA, and not just for our swimming (that Katie Ledecky, man) and gymnastics teams.

We’ve got over 100 medals, around 40 of which are gold. That’s outrageous. Granted, the U.S. had more than 500 athletes competing this year. That makes a difference. But that doesn’t change how cool it is to get to hear the national anthem so many times in so many different sports.

Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles

Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and Simone Biles

What I find most interesting is that after I watch the U.S. win at the Olympics, I often feel like a champion. But the athletes are champions. They worked hard. They sacrificed. They risked everything they had invested to put their skills to the test against the top athletes in the world, and they came out on top. They deserve the medals they wear. So how does that translate into me feeling like a winner?

Every Team USA athlete who competed in the Olympics this year was a representative of his or her country. He or she went to the Olympics to represent me (broadly speaking). So when he or she wins, America wins. I win. We send the best of our best (and this year, I feel like I can actually say our best truly are the best and not just in their physical skill but in their character as well), and when they win, we get to claim the victory with them, even though they’re the ones who did the work.

Faith works the same way

That’s basically what God did. There was a battle that needed to be won, and all our futures hung in the balance. So He sent His best—His only Son—to fight for us, to take our place and our punishments. And Jesus won. So because He won, we all won (Romans 8:37). Or, at least, we all have the opportunity to win. There is the matter of choosing a side, of course.

It’s done. It’s over. The war is finished, and the victory is God’s, and by extension ours, if you are a follower of Christ. But that doesn’t mean we won’t still face daily battles.

All those Olympic athletes had to come back to the real world after Rio. They had to leave behind the battle fields they were used to and forge into an unknown future, possibly in areas and fields they know little about. Even the G.O.A.T. has to pay bills.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Even though it feels like we’re the ones fighting, victory is always God’s.[/su_pullquote]

Every day is still a battle. But does that mean we’re on our own? Never. (Deuteronomy 31:8) God says over and over again that He’ll never leave us. He’ll never make us face our battles alone. But there’s something we’ve got to remember, folks. Even though it feels like we’re the ones fighting, victory is always God’s.

He gives us the strength to face the challenges of the day. He gives us the energy to keep fighting when we feel like we want to quit. He helps us stand up when we fall down, and He gives us a reason to keep pushing long after our personal motivation has run dry. He’s the only one big enough to turn the tide of a battle in His favor.

So because victory is His, that means we have to wait for Him to achieve it.

Victory doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t win an Olympic medal on a whim or by accident. Competing in the Olympics takes years of practice and hard work, strategy and intense concentration, and fierce, intentional choices. Do you think winning a battle is different? It takes time. It takes effort. It takes dedication, passion, and, yes, sometimes even failure. Or maybe it just feels like failure, because often failure is just another opportunity to rise to the challenge.

Because of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, Tianna Bartoletta, Amanda Elmore, Virginia Thrasher, Helen Maroulis, Connor Fields, Brady Ellison, David Boudia, Daryl Homer, and so many others who won a medal (or medals) at Rio, I can say I am a citizen of a winning country. I belong to a nation that allows people to chase their dreams, to work hard to make their dreams a reality. And even though I’ve never swam a competitive lap in my life, never ran any distance, never shot with any accuracy, and only mastered the belly flop as a form of diving, I get to enjoy victory because all those people and others achieved it for me.

micah7-7Because of Jesus, I’m a citizen of Heaven. I’m a child of God, with free access to His throne, invited to approach Him whenever I need Him. I don’t have to worry about tomorrow. I don’t have to fear what I don’t understand. Jesus won my battles for me.

But Michael Phelps didn’t swim faster because I asked Him to. Virginia Thrasher didn’t hit those targets with her air rifle because I told her it was time. All of those athletes competed at their own speed, their own rates, and according to their own plans. So why do I think Jesus is going to be any different?

Victory isn’t mine. It’s His. And that means I have to wait for His timing instead of pushing my own agenda.

[su_pullquote]Victory isn’t mine. It’s His. And that means I have to wait for His timing instead of pushing my own agenda.[/su_pullquote]

I don’t like waiting. Once I know the direction I’m pointed, I want to forge ahead without looking back. And while that may be an admirable trait at times, when victory isn’t up to me, that sort of impatience can spell disaster.

We all have a choice when it comes to obtaining victory, even if we’re not the ones fighting for it. You can try to fight for yourself, sure. But that will be like a regular human being trying to race Michael Phelps in a pool. You can try to win, but you aren’t going to. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but that’s just not going to happen.

So if you can’t fight for yourself, you have to fall back on the other option. You have to let someone else fight for you. And that means you have to wait for them to make a move. Waiting isn’t fun, but if the person you’re cheering for has your best interests in mind, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Micah 7:7