Choosing to glorify God clears up the gray areas

I run a publishing company with two very good friends. It’s a little side business we decided to try last year, and it’s growing. It actually might be getting close to becoming a “real” business soon, and while that’s exciting, it also means a lot more challenges. Some I expected and others I didn’t.

The publishing company has a blog that the three of us update weekly, and we wanted to do TV and movie reviews. No big deal, right? Well, a legal situation in the middle of this year prompted us to start looking into the legality of using images we don’t own. Like stills from movies or television shows. It’s a big, confusing mess of legalese, and really all it amounts to is that the whole thing is sort of gray.

So what does that mean? It means you have to make the best, wisest decision you can with the information you have. Sure, you can wing it. You can guess. But that’s a surefire way of making the wrong choice. You need to think, to look at your goals, study the law, and make your decision.

Ever realized that following Jesus is sort of the same in some ways?

OT37RD9KJNToday’s verses are 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The Bible is very clear on the important aspects of following God. Who God is. Who Jesus is. The work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace through faith. Eternal security. And many others. But there are other areas that aren’t as black and white. There are other areas some people call gray. And navigating the gray areas is often the biggest source of conflict between believers.

The law is very clear about some things, and it’s a bit fuzzy on others. Best example? Modesty. Should women only wear skirts? I’m not sure if this is as big a deal today as it was 15+ years ago. When I was in high school, it was the only discussion (or it felt like it was). Jeans and slacks and trousers are considered by some to be immodest when worn by women. But the other side of that coin? What about women who live in states like Kansas where the wind never quits blowing? Have you ever tried to wear a skirt and work outside in Kansas wind? Modest isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

But there’s no verse in the Bible that says women shouldn’t wear pants. The Bible just instructs us to be modest. And modesty (to a certain extent) is a matter of preference. And that’s where an understanding of the spirit of the law needs to go into effect. What is the point? What is the truth? Why is modesty important, and what should we do achieve it?

That’s when you need to start studying. You need to start digging and asking questions. You need to look for the answers because they aren’t always obvious. And you might not ever find an obvious answer, and it’s at that point when you need to take what you know about the Bible and about who God is and what He expects and make the best choice you can.

Don’t cheap out on this, folks. That’s a quick way to get yourself in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know what to do, study. Read the Bible. Search for the answer. Get council from someone at your church who you trust. Listen. And pray. Talk to God and ask Him what you’re supposed to do. And then–choose.

It all comes down to glorifying God in everything you do. That’s how you can clear out the gray areas. That’s how you can figure out what you’re supposed to do when the answers aren’t presenting themselves easily. First and foremost, do everything for God’s glory. That means obeying His Word in letter and spirit–in letter for the instructions that are obvious and in spirit for the expectations He has for our lives.

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Accepting that you fail isn’t accepting failure

Fear. We all experience it. Our circumstances are just different. Maybe you’re starting a new job. Maybe you’re facing a life-changing decision. Maybe you’ve got a project on your plate that you don’t know how to do. And it’s scary.

I wouldn’t say that I run away from things that scare me, but I do have an extraordinary talent for living in denial. And I’m a very creative person, so I can come up with all sorts of believable excuses to get out of doing the thing I’m afraid to do.

I fear failure. I fear letting people down. I fear letting God down. I fear that one day I’ll find that my best isn’t good enough, and that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never accomplish what I’m supposed to accomplish. And that fear gets so strong in my heart sometimes that I convince myself it’s better to not even try, because why get my hopes up, why get anyone else’s hopes up, when I’m only going to fail.

706BA1163FToday’s verses are Romans 8:15-18.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

You will fail. Period. Just start wrapping your head around it right now. You are going to fail. Every day you’ll fail. But there’s a difference between accepting that you will fail and accepting failure.

Accepting failure is giving up. It’s giving in to the fear that’s lurking in your heart. It’s believing a lie about who you are and who God is. A Christ-follower is never ever called to accept failure, and we have no excuse for accepting failure. Why? Because we’re not God’s slaves. We’re His children, and we have access to every bit of His power.

But accepting that you will fail is different. We have all been there. I was that kid on the barn swing too afraid to jump out of the hayloft because I knew I’d fall and make an idiot out of myself. I was the kid with the answer in that college classroom too afraid to raise my hand and speak up because there was a possibility my answer was wrong. I’m that writer who’s afraid to say what I really think because I’m scared how people will react.

The difference between accepting failure and accepting that you’ll fail is whether or not you pick yourself up again after you faceplant. If you’ve accepted your failure, you’ll stay down. What’s the point of getting up anyway? You’ll just fall down again. That’s what you tell yourself. So you stay down. But if you can accept that you will fail in your life, you’ll be able to get up again. It won’t be easy. And it’ll still be scary. And you may have to go through some really, really hard times. But you’ll try again. And who knows? With God’s help, maybe you’ll succeed.

Don’t be afraid to call out to Him for help. Don’t be afraid to call a friend for help either.

Don’t fear failure. It happens to everyone. It’s what you do with it that matters. Just because you fail doesn’t mean you can’t try again. Don’t focus your energy and emotion so entirely on the outcome of what you’re trying to accomplish. Focus instead on why you’re doing it, but that reason is what you’ll fall back on when you’re looking for the strength to stand up again.

 

Stop seeing your weakness as a failure

The yard at Safe Haven Farm is a mess this morning. It’s so bad we can’t even use the normal back porch door. Instead, we have to come and go through the front door (this is the country; nobody uses the front door). What’s happening? We’re having a new patio installed!

We’re so excited to finally be losing the narrow old porch steps. They were always a tripping hazard, and in the winter time it was even more dangerous. When the new patio is done, we’ll have nice wide steps, a nice wide porch, and a nice patio and curving sidewalk to the driveway. It’ll be beautiful! … But it’s not beautiful right now.

That’s an important lesson about life I need to learn over and over again. When you’re trying to achieve a goal, it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, and usually you have to get your hands dirt. And sometimes cleaning up a mess means you have to make a bigger mess first.

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Following Jesus sounds backwards. Ask an average person off the street if their goal is to be weak, and they’ll probably look at you funny, especially in America. Especially in the Midwest. Around these parts, weakness isn’t something to be celebrated. It’s something to get over.

A storm blows your house down? That stinks. You just build it again. You lose your crop of wheat or corn? Tough potato chips. You get through it and plant against next season. It’s not common to rejoice when things go wrong. It’s not normal to celebrate when you aren’t strong enough to accomplish something on your own.

I struggle with this concept because I don’t like asking for help. Actually, I hate it. I run from store employees before they can ask if I need help finding something. I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I don’t like admitting that I’m incapable of anything. I never have.

So when I run into a problem, I want to fix it immediately. I want to snap my fingers and make it go away, like I think I’m Mary Poppins. But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does following Jesus.

Frankly, when you choose to follow Jesus, you don’t get any stronger. Actually, you learn that it’s okay to be weak, because that’s how you have access to His strength. And His strength is perfect. But when you want to fix things, when you want things your way, on your timetable, it’s hard to back off and let Jesus take over.

Following Jesus is messy business because the world is broken. It’s messier still because I’m messy, and Jesus is still working on me. I’m so thankful Jesus loves messy people, because my life is untangling a strand of Christmas lights. There’s no “easy” solution. You can’t just shake all the knots out. You have to pick the knots apart one at a time, and most of the time it looks like you’re making a worse mess than you had before. But once everything is laid out for Jesus to see, He’ll show you what needs to stay in your life and what needs to go. Then, you can start putting the pieces back together. And you’ll be better for it.

You can’t do it by yourself. You aren’t strong enough. And you know what? It’s okay to not be strong enough. In fact, that’s something to celebrate.

So let’s stop seeing our weakness as failure. Let’s stop seeing our messes as nightmares. And let’s accept them for what they really–growing pains. With Jesus’ help, we’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it on the other side.

Ministry team assembled from the US and Guatemala to reach the Kekchi, Peten, Guatemala

How paintballing taught me why teams matter

I don’t remember how old I was when I went paintballing for the first time. I think I was in high school. If you’ve never been paintballing, you should go. Just for the experience. It’s one of those ridiculous things people do–running around shooting each other with air-powered paint pellets. I thought it would be like a water gun fight, but it isn’t. Oh, no, it’s so much better.

But it hurts. Not going to lie.

I think we were supposed to be on teams, but I’ve never been really good at competing in a group. I’m not coordinated at all, and I usually have to move at my own pace, which is significantly slower than other people. So I don’t like being on a team with others because I slow them down, and that makes me feel guilty. It always has. So I prefer to be on my own.

But in paintballing…. well, let’s just say it’s better to have a team mate. Because when you end up charging at someone, your partner can take them out … just not before they shoot you three times point blank in the chest …. I won’t mention names (*cough-cough-Jimmy-Dinsmore-cough-cough*).

It’s better not to charge into battle without someone who’s got your back. You’ve seen in all those movies where the hero tells his sidekick to cover him? It’s like that. Somebody to help you out in the heat of battle so you can accomplish more than you could alone.

And maybe the paintballing metaphor is a little much, but it still gets the point across in my brain. If I’d had backup that day, sure I still would have gotten shot (three times point blank in the chest, Jimmy Dinsmore) but I would have had somebody behind me to pick up where I left off.

Today’s verses are Numbers 11:16-17.

Ministry team assembled from the US and Guatemala to reach the Kekchi, Peten, Guatemala

Ministry team assembled from the US and Guatemala to reach the Kekchi, Peten, Guatemala

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.”

Moses is regarded as one of the greatest leaders in the history of the world, even by secular scholars. But even he wasn’t above his fair share of whining. Just being honest. And Numbers 11 is one of those chapters where Moses has had it with Children of Israel, and because they won’t quit whining, Moses takes it up with God.

And God, instead of smiting Moses for complaining, gives him this advice. God tells him to gather a certain number of people who are recognized and respected, and God would appoint them as rulers over the Children of Israel along with Moses, so Moses wouldn’t have to do it all by himself.

Aren’t you glad God understands our need for teams, even if we don’t? Honestly, I think Moses probably could have elected those 70 elders without God’s permission. He didn’t need God to tell him that it was allowed. He just wasn’t used to working as part of a team, I’m sure. Or maybe he wasn’t used to delegating. Or maybe he had my problem and didn’t want to slow others down because he couldn’t move as fast as they wanted.

In any case, Moses couldn’t manage the entirety of the Israelite nation by himself, and that’s why God told him to get a team together. And that principle is still good to remember today. Or do you think you can handle your life by yourself?

God has put some amazing people in our lives, and they’d probably be thrilled to death if you asked them for help. Don’t believe Satan’s lies that you have to do everything alone. That’s not true, and that’s not what God intended for you.

So what great challenge are you facing right now? How about next week? Or next month? Maybe even next year, if you’re planned out that far in advance. What do you have to do that is too much for you?

Yes, God is on your side. He’ll never leave your or forsake you. He’ll give you supernatural strength to be able to do things beyond your own capacity. But He’s also put people in your path to be on your team, people who love you, people who want to help you, people will skills that you don’t have. Don’t forget about them. Don’t cut them out. Don’t deny them the blessing of being able to be a part of what God is doing in your life.

Being tough is fine. Being stupid about it? That’s something else entirely.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Dallas, TX

Questions you don’t need God’s help on?

Everybody has questions for God. Sometimes they’re silly. Sometimes they’re serious. But every now and then, you end up in a situation where you need an answer. You have to make a decision, and you can only put it off for so long. You have to choose.

I’m there now. And in one way of looking at it, making this choice isn’t a big deal. But if you consider all of the ramifications, it could have a huge impact.

The long and the short of it is that I’ve received the first concepts for the cover of my book, Nameless. And I was desperately hoping that one of them would stand out as the absolute winner … but they’re both fantastic. And now I have to pick one.

I have to pick the book cover that will represent my novel in a way that will make people want to pick it up and read it. It’s not an earth shattering decision, but it’s important because it could very well determine whether the book sells or flops.

So I’m exercising a right that I have as a follower of Christ. I’m asking for God’s opinion.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Dallas, TX

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer’s Market, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is James 1:5.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

So many times I think we are afraid to ask God because bringing our daily concerns to Him seems trivial.  I mean, He’s God. He shouldn’t care about the simple, easy, picky things I’m facing in my life. He shouldn’t care about a book cover design.

But that’s a lie. He does.

God wants to be a part of our lives in every way, from the big decisions to the small ones. And we should never forget that the small decisions may seem small but they can have huge consequences, so it’s essential to ask for wisdom before you make any decision.

God invites us to ask Him for help. He wants us to. That’s part of being in a relationship of any kind. You ask questions. You ask for opinions. You ask for help. We have friends because we were never meant to go through life alone, and God wants to be an intimate part of our lives.

Now, should you ask God what color socks to put on this morning? Well, that’s up to you. It’s highly unlikely that your socks could change the course of your life, but you never know.

I’m asking God for wisdom to choose the right book cover. Not necessarily the one I like the best, but the one that is the best option for the book itself. And that’s difficult for me because I don’t care about book covers. I never look at covers when I’m deciding what book to read. I look at the titles, and I read the back cover. That’s how I choose books. So if there is anyone completely unequal to the task of choosing a book cover, it’s me.

I’m not afraid to ask for God’s help on this. I need Him. It’s the things I already know how to do that I struggle with asking about. After all, if I already know how to do it, why would I ask for God’s wisdom? And that’s pride talking. I think I know what I’m doing. I still need God’s help to actually do the right thing.

What decision are you facing today? Is it something you already have experience with or is it something you don’t know how to handle? Either way, ask for God’s wisdom. He’s invited us to ask, so we are nuts if we don’t take Him up on it. It’s like being friends with the most brilliant mathematician in the world and still struggling through your math homework alone.

Don’t let Satan’s lies convince you that your problem isn’t worth God’s time. That’s not your decision to make. You’ve been invited to ask; so ask. And don’t believe for a second that you have life handled on your own, because you don’t. Nobody does.

Just ask. Be sure about what you need to know. Trust that God will give you an answer. And then be willing to act on it, whether you think it’s the right answer or not.

Nobody said it would be easy, but so many times doing the right thing never is.

Guatemalan mountains, Peten, Guatemala

Where do you go for help?

When you need help where do you look? Do you read an instruction manual? Do you Google the problem? I’m guilty of that, honestly. When I have a problem I don’t know how to solve, my first instinct is to find a way to solve it on my own. I rarely ask for advice. That may be a pride issue.

And there’s nothing wrong with trying to find the answer on your own. There’s nothing wrong with looking for help on the internet or even in consulting friends you trust. But what happens when you encounter a problem that none of them can help you solve? Where do you go then?

Guatemalan mountains, Peten, Guatemala

Guatemalan mountains, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 121:1-2.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

One of the cultural things I learned in Guatemala is that when you’re telling a Kekchi person about God you don’t have to convince them that God exists. That’s what we deal with in the States. If you’re trying to share your faith with someone who doesn’t believe, generally the biggest barrier you’ll encounter is that Americans don’t always believe that God is real. That’s not the case in Guatemala. The Kekchi believe God exists; they just don’t believe He’s any different than the gods they already serve. And the god that is most important to them is the god of the earth because the earth is close to them. So mountains are sacred.

It’s ironic because God is even closer to us than the Earth is. But as foreign and strange as that may sound to an American, we do the same thing. When we have trouble, do we look to God? Not always. We look to TV talk shows or 12-step books. We rely on what Dr. Phil says. We search for what the leading evangelists in the nation have to say on the subject. Or we research what the great minds of theology believed.

How often do we just sit down and ask God for help? This is something I’m trying to teach myself to do, that before I race around trying to solve my problem for myself, I take it to Him. God has all the answers we need, and we have access to everything we need through Him. So why do we try to fix things on our own?

Like I said earlier, for me it goes back to pride. I don’t like to rely on anyone else. I don’t like to trust my issues to anyone else. I don’t like being dependent on anyone else. But I’m not self-sufficient, as much as my pride tells me I am.

So how about it? Where do you look for help? Who are you looking to for help today? Are you trying to figure out life’s issues on your own? You can try, but you’re going to hit a dead end, especially if you’re relying on your own knowledge. God gave us the Bible for a reason. No matter what problem we’re facing, it has the answers we’re looking for. We just have to dig in and look for them. God will help us find what we need. And I’m pretty sure your favorite TV talk show host won’t make the same offer.

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

God gives His people strength

Tired yet? It’s only Tuesday, and my feet are already dragging.  Judgement House, the outreach drama my church puts on every October, is an amazing ministry. There is no other ministry I love being a part of more; however, I can tell you there’s no other ministry that exhausts me more.

We finished on Sunday, and now I’m trying to remember how to live a normal life again, without spending every waking moment ensuring that tour groups have a guide to lead them every ten minutes.

Like so many other people who volunteer for Judgement House, I work a full-time job. And it’s not just a job; it’s a very stressful job. I love it, and I’m thankful for it. But it’s fast paced, high tension, and 100 percent necessary to be able to think on my toes. All of the above are difficult when I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally worn out.

So where do I get the strength to make it through the week? How can I get the strength I need to do not only what is necessary but also what God expects of me? How do I accomplish that, and how do I stop worrying about it?

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 29:11.

The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace.

I love the Bible. Seriously, any question you have, it has an answer. Like this. Where do you get strength? Ask God.

God strengthens His people.

Think about that. If you follow Christ, you are one of God’s people. And God will give his people strength when they need it.

I will admit: I almost didn’t use this verse today. Why? Well, it’s obvious. Isn’t it? Of course, we get our strength from God. Of course, God gives us peace. Where else would we get it from? Granted, we can look for it elsewhere, but we won’t find it. And if you’ve been following Christ for any amount of time, you’ll know that nothing else satisfies like He does.

Honestly, this verse didn’t grab me until I read the whole Psalm. Yes, God gives his people strength. But what does that mean? How can we wrap our minds around the kind of strength that God is offering to us? That’s what the rest of the Psalm is about. This is a wonderful verse, but it’s impossible to grasp the immensity of this promise until you read the rest of it.

Psalm 29

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace.

Do you see? Do you get it? God’s voice alone can split the sky, tear massive trees apart, and cause mighty mountains to tremble. Literally. That’s just His voice.  Imagine what the rest of Him can do. And He offers that strength to us.

So if you’re tired today, whether you volunteered at NewSpring’s Judgement House or not, know that it’s all right to be tired. We’re all human. We all run out of steam. But we don’t have to stay exhausted. God is standing by waiting for us to ask for His help.

God has offered His strength to us. And I, for one, intend to take Him up on it. Because coffee, though wonderful, can only accomplish so much. To get through a day when I’m tired to my soul, I need strength that doesn’t come from me. And thanks to Jesus, all I have to do to get it is ask for it.