Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Get uncomfortable

Are you comfortable? Just in general. If you are, that’s good. One point some Christians really like to focus on is how we need to live sacrificially for Christ, and I don’t dispute that. But what I’ve found to  be true is that even if you sacrifice for Christ, that doesn’t necessarily equal discomfort.

I guess comfort means different things to different people. God gave us this beautiful Earth as our temporary home. It’s here for us to take care of and to enjoy. The trouble comes when we start to value our comfort more than His commands.

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:7-9.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

I grew up with comfortable faith, and that’s not necessarily bad. We all should be comfortable with what we believe. But I do think it is possible to get too comfortable.

Religious ideas and concepts–the rituals and traditions that identify us as one denomination or another–are comforting, especially if we’ve grown up with them. Whether it’s the Eucharist, practicing confession, reciting liturgy, or skipping the third verse of a hymn, our traditions in the church sometimes give us a false sense of security–that because we choose to live in such-and-such a way or because we choose to hold to such-and-such tradition, we don’t need to ask the hard questions about faith and relationship with God.

It’s difficult to ask hard questions when you’re too comfortable.

I’m not saying that any of our religious traditions are bad or even wrong. Most of the time there is a symbol behind them that means something or should mean something (except skipping the third verse of the hymn, that one I’ve never been able to figure out). But when we rely on those traditions to define our faith, when those religious rituals become more important to us than growing and building our relationship with Christ, something’s wrong.

Or did you think once you meet Christ, that’s all there is to it?

How many relationships have you had where you just meet someone and you never get to know them better? Can you even call that a relationship? Sure, if you want to meet Christ and never speak to Him again, I guess that’s okay. But is that what you really want? If that’s the case, why meet Him at all?

I love this passage today because it always makes me stop and think about how much emphasis I put on living  “a good Christian life.” Yes, obedience is important and expected. Yes, God has given us certain standards we are to live by in order to keep us under His umbrella of blessing. But you know what?

There’s nothing l can do, no lifestyle I can live, no language I can speak, no accomplishment I can achieve that will make me worthy of the awesome gift God has given me through His grace.  That’s what grace is, people.

It’s overwhelming, completely and entirely unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. We can never deserve it. And I love what Paul says in this passage. Yes, living a “good Christian life” is important, but those things we think make us such good Christians are meaningless.

Read this same passage again in the Message:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

Talking like this makes me uncomfortable. Talking about these sorts of things–throwing away the symbols and traditions and rituals–is uncomfortable because I’m a creature of habit. I don’t particularly like change. I like security and certainty and repeatability.

Again, all those things aren’t bad. But compared to knowing Christ, they’re garbage. Actually, they’re worse than garbage. If my research is correct, what Paul calls them is a word that is offensive in nearly any culture (the word usage is something I’m probably going to post on later this week).

The point is, what do you value more? Your comfort? Your security? The certainty and the repeatability of “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Or are you willing to get uncomfortable? Are you willing to get your hands dirty? Are you willing to step away from the lists of rules and the stained-glass rituals that make you think you can do something to earn righteousness? Are you willing to offend people with the truth? Are you willing to change your mind about what following Christ actually looks like and sounds like?

If you are, hold on for the ride. Because much like sacrificing for Christ doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, being willing to get uncomfortable isn’t uncomfortable. It’s the most exciting choice you’ll ever make.

Rose outside Manna House, Bromley, England

Scared to death of death

I was born with a pre-cancerous birthmark on my lower back. My doctors all told me growing up that I didn’t need to worry about it until I got older because removing it as a child would leave a really bad scar that would grow as I did, so it was better to wait until I stopped growing to remove it. So I didn’t have it removed until I was 18.

The birthmark was about the size of a lime, and while the surgery to remove it was outpatient surgery with local anesthetic, I still ended up with 18 stitches and two weeks of recovery lying flat on my face. It’s amazing how much you use your lower back muscles without realizing it.

But I will never forget that morning, going into the dermatologist’s office. It was the biggest, scariest procedure I had ever undergone (still is, in fact). I was nervous and a little stressed, mainly just because it was something I’d never done before. Mom and I were the only people in the waiting room, and then the doors opened and in walked two people I knew, my church’s care pastor W.M. Hoover and his wonderful wife Edith.

My first thought was that they were there for someone else. I knew that Pastor Hoover (affectionately called Pastor Grandpa, as he’s my Pastor’s dad) made the rounds at hospitals praying for the sick, so I just assumed there was someone having major surgery that morning. But to my surprise, Pastor and Mrs. Edith were there for me.

That blew me away. They prayed for me. They told me they loved me. And I went in for my little surgery feeling much calmer and very touched that they would come all the way over just to pray for me for a silly little surgery. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, and I’m not sure I can communicate what that meant to me.

Pastor Grandpa got to go home to meet his best friend Jesus face to face yesterday morning. He’d been ill for a long time, so on one hand it’s a blessing to know that he’s back to his old self again, that’s he’s better now than he ever was here. But on the other hand, it’s very sad because he’s already being missed enormously.

Death is one of those topics that people talk about a lot in the church, but I’m not sure we ever really clear anything up about it. There’s just so little that we understand. Yes, people have had near death experiences. I’m not going to contest the validity of their claims because I’m sure they experienced something and whatever it was changed them. But I can say with certainty that anyone who has died for real has not come back to explain what it’s like–other than Jesus, of course. So there’s a lot about death that is troublesome because we just don’t know.

But in those times when we don’t know something, it’s best to cling to what we do know for sure.

Rose outside Manna House, Bromley, England

Rose outside Manna House, Bromley, England

Today’s verses are Hebrews 2:14-15.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

Have you ever met anyone who is a slave to fear of dying? The Message version of this verse calls it being scared to death of death. I’ve met people like that. They do everything they can to escape death. They do everything possible to live one more day because the fear of death is too much for them to face.

Part of me understands that because death is unknown. It’s uncertain. It’s something I’ve never experienced before, and new experiences tend to make me twitchy. But the Bible is full of examples and statements about what death really is. And for someone who knows Christ, for someone who follows Him and lives life with Him, death isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s something to look forward to.

Death in its basest definition is separation. The Bible defines it as separation from God, and as a Christ-follower, that will never happen to you. As a Christ-follower, death isn’t something to fear but to welcome. We can welcome death because of what Christ did for us. That’s what this passage is saying.

Christ-followers don’t have to be afraid of death because Christ defeated death. Fear of death is bondage. Fear of death is a vicious master that strips away the usefulness of our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of death. We’ve been set free from it, both death and the fear of death.

It’s okay to be sad when someone you love dies. Don’t tell yourself anything different and don’t let any sanctimonious “Christian” tell you otherwise either. There is a time to mourn. There is a time to be sad. But Christ-followers don’t die. They just wake up in the presence of God. And if that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

Life is precious, yes. And we shouldn’t waste it or take it for granted. But at the same time, don’t fear death. If you know Christ, death is just the next step in our eternity, where everything we had to struggle and fight to believe becomes as easy as breathing.

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The difference between a paradox and a contradiction

I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I’m not really smart enough to be a nerd, though, but I’m satisfied with my geek status. I love science fiction. Don’t ask me why; I’m just wired that way. I grew up with Star Trek. I adore Stargate (in spite of the fact that I have been openly mocked for enjoying the movie by those less geeky than myself), and I’ve spent far too much time staying up watching both SG-1 and Atlantis. I love the concepts and the scenarios science fiction allows a writer to explore without offending people.

I love paradoxes. I love being able to examine concepts or ideas or situations that don’t exist but do. Probably the most famous science fiction concept is the grandfather paradox, which pretty much confuses everyone. But it’s a concept that can’t exist even though it could exist. Each possible conclusion seems to negate itself while at the same time making it possible for it to occur in the first place. A paradox. Something that is but isn’t. A statement that seems self-contradictory but actually expresses truth.

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:4.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Does that make sense to you? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense to me. This verse is pretty much saying that people who are sad should be happy because they’ll be comforted. Well, to me, needing comfort because I’m sad means I’m sad. Needing comfort because I’ve lost someone or some thing indicates that I’m exactly opposite of happy.

This statement is a contradiction.

Or is it?

Many people believe that the Bible is full of contradictions, possibly because of verses like this, verses that state the impossible as though it is something that is possible. This verse is an example.

To me, I see this verse as a paradox, not a contradiction. Stating that people who are mourning should be happy seems contradictory, but this verse isn’t about being contradictory. It’s talking about how we should handle loss.

If the world were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. If we were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. But the world is broken, and so are we. So what does that mean for this verse and for the countless others like it that speak contradictory truth?

Contradiction is about opposition. If you’re being contradictory, your own goal is to argue. Contradictions state the opposite, whether it is true or not.

Paradox is about truth. And we can’t full wrap our minds around it because we can’t fully understand truth. People are limited. Truth isn’t.

And when something seems contradictory, the first aspect you need to examine is whether or not it’s grounded in truth. I can tell you the sky is green and the grass is blue all day long, but all the evidence says I’m lying (although some folks I know will insist that the sky has no color). I can tell you that you don’t need a degree to get a good job even if all the experts say that’s false. I can tell you any number of statistics or data sets that contradict anything you can think of, but if it’s something I just made up, it has no basis or foundation in truth.

That is a contradiction.

But a paradox?

God blesses people who are sad because they will be comforted.

What truth is that based in? Well, the rest of Scripture to start with. The Bible is full of other promises that God has made to bless and protect people who are experiencing a time of grief. But if you aren’t one who trusts the Bible, look at the experiences of people who follow Christ. While they may not want to relive their time of grief and mourning, they wouldn’t trade it for the world because in those times God became more real to them than ever before.

I guess my point this morning is that when we run into verses in scripture or when we encounter moments in our lives that don’t make sense, we shouldn’t just check out. When bad things happen, we shouldn’t give up on God, and we shouldn’t give up on following the path He’s laid out in front of us. Because He’s doing something. We may not be able to see it, and I know we can’t understand it, but He never stops moving. And all His plans are good.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it untrue.

 

Where do you go to find comfort?

When your life turns upside down, where do you find comfort? Many people I know head straight for the chocolate. Some dive into a book. Others watch television or movies. Some turn to alcohol or drugs. The responses are as varied as the individuals.

When our lives go wrong, most of the time we try to escape it, usually because trying to fix it is beyond us. And focusing on everything that’s wrong is depressing.

But while the chocolate is good and the book or the movie may distract us for a while, when they’re done, the problem will still be there. And maybe alcohol can help you forget for a little while, but when you wake up in the morning, nothing will have changed . . . and you’ll have a hangover.

When life starts circling the drain and nothing seems to be going right, there’s really only one thing we can do. There’s really only one person we can turn to. And that’s God.

Today’s passage is Psalm 94:18-19.

18 I cried out, “I am slipping!”
      but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me.
 19 When doubts filled my mind,
      your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.

Any comfort we try to find on earth is going to be temporary. And even if it’s some solution we’ve concocted, usually it won’t work. Or it will only work for a little while until the situation gets worse.

Ultimately, it’s God who has to solve the problem. Granted, any solution He provides will be temporary too because Earth isn’t going to be around forever, just like we won’t be down here forever either. But His solutions not only solve the problems we’re facing today but also the ones we’ll face in the future.

Now that’s not saying His solutions always make sense. On the contrary, most of the time His solutions are more confusing than the problem! But do you want a God you can understand? I don’t. If I can understand God and know what He’s going to do and know how He thinks all the time, is He much higher than I am? No. God has to be bigger than me so that He is big enough to solve not only my problems but also the problems of everyone on Earth.

And He already solved our greatest problem and that was sin. We are no longer bound to sin. Those who follow Christ have a choice whether to sin or not. We don’t have to be controlled by our desires and our selfishness.

But what about sickness? What about hunger? What about financial instability? What about the economy? What about all the little pesky daily troubles we encounter?

God says He’s got it covered. And if you trust Him, you can take comfort in that. Because God isn’t going to tell you something if it isn’t true. You just have to get to the point where you believe Him.

And while most of what God does doesn’t make sense, there’s one thing you can always count on. And that is God’s unfailing love. No matter what you do or where you go or where you’ve been or where you’re headed, God loves you. He always has. He always will. And there’s nothing you can do to make Him stop . . . because there’s nothing you did to earn it in the first place.

God loves you. And if you are a Christ follower, God is working everything out for your good and for His glory. When you slip and fall, He’ll be there to catch you. And when you are full of doubts and uncertainties, just look back at all the times He’s helped you, all the instances where He has been present in your life. If He’s ordered your steps this far, He isn’t going to stop now.

Share the love

Many times I wonder why God allows trouble to come into my life. Most of the time, that answer is impossible to know. It could be just the fact that this world is broken and bad, troubling things happen constantly. It could be that there’s something in my life that God doesn’t want and He’s allowing circumstances to reveal that truth to me. In either case, though, no matter where the trouble came from or why, there’s something I can learn from it.

I think the best example I can think of is my job situation for the last ten years. My first job was at my town library, and I loved it. And that carried on into college, where I worked at the Campus Library at Pensacola Christian College and (apparently) did well enough to merit a promotion to the Circulation Desk when I was halfway through my freshmen year (everyone else working at the desk was either a junior or a senior). After I came home and began attending Wichita State, I worked at the WSU Libraries, first as an assistant in the Dean’s Office and second (after I graduated) as a staff person at the Circulation Desk.

I enjoyed my work very much (and I simply adored the people I worked with), but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to write. And there were so many times I felt like I was helplessly spinning my wheels, doing nothing but going around in circles and never actually accomplishing anything. It was depressing and frustrating. And I was upset with myself because it felt like all my life I had worked to be able to get jobs that paid the bills but sapped all my energy from my writing.

Please don’t misunderstand me, though. I loved where I worked, and I loved the people where I worked even more, no matter if it were Haven, PCC or WSU. (There was an in-between time where I worked as a customer service rep for a tax accountant software company and calmed angry attorneys down via telephone while they cussed me out. That job I hated. But I met a really awesome lady there who I’m still friends with to this day!)

Then, God opened the door (wide open) for me to leave the world of libraries and move on to the job I have now. And, even though I struggle with learning how to deal with the amount of stress I have now, I love my job.

But I can tell you without any hesitation that if I had tried for this job when I was fresh out of college, I wouldn’t have gotten it. I didn’t have the people skills. I didn’t have the office skills. And, honestly, I didn’t have the writing skills. Even though my job(s) working at libraries didn’t utilize my writing skills, I worked on them on my own in the background. For five years, I worked jobs that had little to do with my degree, and then I got a job that uses all of it . . . but I couldn’t have gotten the job if I hadn’t had all the experience I’d gained at my other jobs.

Now . . . . that’s a very long story to use as an example of what I learned through that whole situation, but it’s a true story. At the moments where I felt discouraged and frustrated, I should have remembered that God uses every circumstance in our life to teach us something, to get us ready for what’s coming, to prepare us for the road that’s ahead. Through all that, I learned that God has used every occurence in my life for the last ten years to prepare me for the job I have right now. And I can only assume that the stress that I’m encountering in my job right now is training for whatever is next for me in God’s plan for my life.

I thought of all this when I read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 this morning.

 3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

God knows what He’s doing. He never makes mistakes. He always keeps His promises. So we can trust Him. And when He tells us something is for our own good, we can believe that it really is, even if it feels like it’s not fair.

That’s comfort.

Comfort is knowing that even if a circumstance or situation looks impossible God is able to work everything out perfectly. Comfort is not worrying at all, whether it’s about things we can control or things we can’t. It means letting go of what troubles us and letting God put the pieces back together.

When everything looks like it’s falling apart, take comfort from God because He already knows how to fix what’s broken.

And then, when you realize that God really does know what’s going on, use what you learned. Don’t just sit on truth like it’s something nobody needs to hear. Whatever God taught you through the experiences He allowed to take place in your life is something that everyone needs to know. That’s the other thing that I’ve learned. God teaches us lessons through life that apply to everyone we know.

I can’t tell you how many times the story of my “God-job” has encouraged other people. It makes God’s hand in my life very clear, and that’s something that everyone needs to know. And I can’t tell you how many times I have been encouraged about how God took care of someone I love, and even if their circumstances are completely different than mine, God still provided for them the same way He’s provided for me.

We live in a troubled world. Our world is broken, shattered to pieces by our own hands. Our relationships are wrecked. Our governments are hanging by a thread. Unemployment is higher than the sky. And people are sad, discouraged, and lonely.

Hey, Christians! Take comfort from God. He wants to comfort us. He doesn’t want us to worry. He doesn’t want us to be afraid. He’s got us covered. He’s going to work everything out, and when He’s done, His solution will exceed our expectations. So take comfort from that . . . . and share the love. Let the rest of the world know how God comforted you in your time of need. And maybe when the world sees that you really do need God and that He’s never let you down, they’ll understand that they need Him too.

Comfort

What do you do when your world turns upside down?

I’ve always considered myself to be a person who can roll with the punches pretty well. I inherited much of my dad’s personality, the easy going, level headed kind of personality that makes it easier to accept difficulties and move past them. I’m thankful for that. But even then, change can still be hard for me.

I’ve also always considered myself to be the sort of person who doesn’t need a lot of comfort to be content. I’m perfectly fine with not having a lot of modern conveniences. I try to live a life that doesn’t keep me too comfortable in any sense of the word, although I’ll readily admit that my level of comfort has increased dramatically in the last four months since I know for sure that I have enough money to buy groceries. And that’s something I hope I never cease being thankful for.

But there’s been something that’s been on my mind for many months now. It’s something that concerns me. And I think getting this new job has a lot to do with it.

I also know that I’m the sort of person who feels God’s presence in my life the most clearly when I’m struggling through difficult times. It’s in the bountiful times that I struggle to keep close to Him. And I’m afraid that I’m getting too comfortable now.

Maybe it’s just me but there are times when I can almost tangibly perceive that events in my life are balanced on the edge of a cliff; maybe it’s just me worrying or maybe it’s just that I have an overactive imagination. But when things in my life go so well for so long I start wondering when the floor is going to disappear from under my feet.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m so very thankful when life is good. I wake up in the morning (it’s actually daylight when I leave my house now; talk about a blessing) and I drink my coffee on the way into work and I praise and thank God over and over for what He’s done for me. I go to church every week and I thank God over and over again for the amazing place that NewSpring is. I hang out with my friends and my family and I thank God over and over again for the awesome people God’s put in my life.

But beneath my thankfulness, I always try to be ready to give it all up. Does that make sense? Is it even possible to be thankful but willing to leave everything behind? Or is that the essence of learning to live and be content no matter what state or stage of life I’m in?

I said before that change is still hard for me.

In high school, it seemed like life changed daily. I never knew what was going to be different from one day to the next. (Bro. Poore, I think that’s your doing. =D) And I learned how to step outside my comfort zone. I learned that being comfortable isn’t really something that I should strive for. Be thankful for—yes—but not to make it a goal to achieve. And I don’t think I have. I don’t really want to be comfortable.

Being comfortable means you’re perfectly happy to stop trying. Being comfortable means that you’re perfectly content to stay on a plateau and never strive for something bigger. Being comfortable, to me, means that I could produce a manuscript and be happy that it’s not the best it could be. Who wants to live like that? Who wants to accept the implications of living a life that doesn’t strive for excellence? That’s the kind of life I want to present to God—a life that never stopped trying to be the best it could be for His glory—not a life that stopped short of what it could have accomplished through His power.

It’s one of those things that I believe but I don’t know what it looks like. And I’m not sure how to live it. Do I pick up everything I have and leave? Do I give everything away and chase after dreams? Or do I do what I always do—stay put? I always end up staying put while everyone else around me moves on. But is that wrong? I don’t think so. But I don’t really know.

I really don’t know where any of this came from. I just know that things are getting ready to change. I know a huge part of my life is getting ready to turn upside down, especially when my last bunch of kids leaves for college. I mean, there are a couple of teens still in ClayHouse who I worked with—but this batch that graduated this year are made up of the ones I worked the closest with—and when they leave for college, that’s it. Major turning point for me.

Is it possible to have empty nest syndrome when you have no children?

I don’t know if this is stemming from “my kids” all going to college or from friends getting married or from other friends getting ready to leave town, I just feel like life is going to change. I feel like I’ve gotten too comfortable in spite of my best efforts to avoid it. And I feel like God is going to have to shake me up. I’m excited about that, honestly. I mean, part of me is scared to death. But the rest of me is excited. Because God always knows what He’s doing and no matter what happens, He’ll always bring about a change and a result that’s better than anything I could have designed.

Change is hard for me. And I don’t know when I started getting comfortable, but, God help me to get uncomfortable—or to at least be ready to be uncomfortable. Give me strength to accept whatever change you bring my way, especially the giant change approaching in mid-August (Brookie, dear, I’m going to miss you so much). Help me to remember that change is good, that change is inevitable—a part of growing up—and that there are no surprises for God . . . and that He’s the only One who never changes at all.