To make the road obvious

I have no sense of direction on road trips or in buildings or anywhere. Even if the sun is visible and someone tells me which direction I’m going, I can’t tell you which way I’m heading without careful contemplation. So as you can imagine, Google Maps is my friend, and that has special meaning this morning.

As you’re reading this, I’m driving by myself to Estes Park. My best friend got married this past weekend, and now I’m heading out on a week-long sabbatical of sorts. I’ve been this way before, though, so there’s not much chance that I’ll get lost.

I’m stepping back from normal life for a little while, taking a road trip with Jesus, because it’s time for me to take a good, long look at life, the universe, and everything.

At some points in our lives, I think it’s a good idea to reevaluate the decisions we’ve made, to make sure that we’re still heading in the direction God wants. It’s the same reason you carry a compass when you go hiking.

God asks us to follow Him, but if we don’t stop sometimes to make sure we’re still on the right path, we run the risk of wandering off.

My life verse has always been Proverbs 3:5-6, and I’ve always found it to be true. I can make my own plans as much as I want, but ultimately God is the one in control of my life. How foolish would I be if I tried to do things my own way?

But I do. Often.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6That’s why I have my compass, Proverbs 3:5-6 — Trust God, even when life doesn’t make sense, and He’ll make your path obvious.

A few other versions of the Bible translate verse 6 to be: “he will make your paths straight.”

But I think I love the Amplified version the best:

In all your ways know and acknowledge and recognize Him, and He will make your paths straight and smooth [removing obstacles that block your way].

How awesome is that?

That’s the kind of awesome I need in my crazy, confused, stressful life, to know for sure that the direction I’m walking is the one God wants for me. That’s the sweet spot, where I want to live.

So that’s what this week is about. Refocusing. Getting centered on God’s Word again. Making sure that I’m following Jesus’ road the way I’m supposed to, not trusting my own interpretation of life, but instead trusting His.

That’s the hard part, because I like to make sense of life. I like to fit the scattered pieces of life into a neat portrait, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. But life can’t make sense without Jesus. It’s hard enough to make sense of it with Him, I wouldn’t even want to try without Him.

Life can't make sense without Jesus. - A.C. WilliamsSo in those moments where you need to check your directions, remember your compass. Remember that trusting your own understanding won’t help you conquer the trouble life throws at you. Instead, trust what God says. Do what God says. And keep your eyes peeled for the road God wants you on, because as long as you’re relying on His directions, the road you’re supposed to be walking will become obvious.

That’s a promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
and he makes my way perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random dirt road somewhere in the jungle, Peten, Guatemala

Directions from an outdated map

I love Google Maps. Without it, I would be lost–well, literally. I am directionally challenged, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. As far as I’m concerned, the hood of the car always points north, so if you tell me to turn any direction (north, east, south, west) I won’t have any idea which way I’m supposed to go. I laugh when people ask me for directions because if they only knew how discombobulated I am all the time, they’d never ask me how to get from point A to point B.

Before I give anyone directions, I usually always Google it so I can tell them north, south, east and west–because most of the time the people who ask me for directions understand that, even if I don’t. Oh, the irony! But have you ever tried to give directions from an outdated map? That’s a foreign concept to most people now because of Google Maps and other digital navigation services, but there was a time when you had to rely only on paper maps. And if your paper map was wrong, you were going to be in a heap of trouble.

Random dirt road somewhere in the jungle, Peten, Guatemala

Random dirt road somewhere in the jungle, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Isaiah 48:17.

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is good for you
    and leads you along the paths you should follow.

The trouble with asking for directions is that many times you have to wait for an answer. Especially if you ask me! You have to wait for me to look it up on Google Maps!

Life directions aren’t all that different from navigation. And it’s usually a good idea to ask someone who knows where they’re going for directions, but no matter who you ask, you still have to wait for an answer. And I get tired of waiting. And when I get tired of waiting, I strike out on my own. I’m a pretty resourceful person, so going my own way isn’t exactly a challenge at first. But the difficulty with following your own map is that it’s not up to date.

You can follow your own rules, follow your own directions, follow your “heart” or whatever you want to call it from dawn until dusk and you’ll end up going in circles because the core of who we are inside is lost.

We’re born lost. Some of us just won’t admit it. Like somebody in a grocery store who won’t ask where the peanut butter is–of course they know where it is, they just want to walk the length and breadth of the store three times to find it. Right?

Admitting that we’re lost takes humility. I don’t know why. It just does. Even knowing that I’m not the world’s best with directions, I don’t like admitting that I’m lost when I’m out on the road somewhere. I want people to think I know where I’m going. I want people to think I’m a good navigator, a careful navigator, that I’m smart enough to find my way around when I don’t have a map.

But navigating life is a little different from navigating a grocery store. There are similarities, yes, but the stakes are higher. With one, the biggest risk you take is going home without your peanut butter; with the other, you risk the blessings you haven’t received yet.

God has told us everything we need to know about how to get where we’re going, and the beautiful thing about the Bible is that it’s never outdated. Unlike Google Maps, it doesn’t need to be updated. The Bible has the directions we need. We just need to listen to them. God teaches us what is right and good through Scripture. He leads us down the paths He wants us to take. But He never forces us to go against our will. We have to choose it still. You’ve heard the expression about leading a horse to water? I’m pretty sure that’s what God does for us. He leads us to the crossroads, tells us what we need to know to make the right choice, and then leaves it up to us to decide which path.

Some choices aren’t that clear cut. Sometimes you have two good choices. But more often than not, you have a right choice and a wrong choice, and if you’ve listened to the Bible, you’ll know the difference. But choosing the right over the wrong isn’t always easy. It’s better, but it’s not easy. And of course, you’re free to do whatever you’d like, even if you’re a Christ follower. You don’t have to follow the paths God has laid out for you. You don’t have to use God’s directions as you navigate this life. You can make it up as you go, if you want. But if that’s what you choose to do, you should remember that you really don’t know where you’re going.

Have you ever tried to navigate using both Google Maps and Mapquest? More often than not, the directions they give you aren’t the same. True, you’ll eventually get to your destination, but one way is better. One way is faster or avoids more road construction or takes into account the type of neighborhood you’re driving through. And if you try to take one set of directions and use it alongside a different set, you’re just going to end up confused.

So stick with one direction provider. Just make sure it’s someone who really does know where they’re going. And if they don’t know either, make sure they know who to ask.

Leaf-cutter ant trail

What to do with that fork in the road

When you have two good choices, which one do you pick? When you come to a fork in the road and both look to be good roads for you, which one do you take? It’s an old question, one that people have struggle with for years in poems like The Road Not Taken by Frost. People write about it. They sing about. Everyone has choices, and we all have to make them. And then we spend much of lives looking back over our shoulder wondering if the path we took was the right one.

Leaf-cutter ant trail

Leaf-cutter ant trail - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Psalm 25:4-5.

Show me the right path, O LORD; 
      point out the road for me to follow. 
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
      for you are the God who saves me.
      All day long I put my hope in you.

The choice of which path to take isn’t a new problem. People have been dealing with choices since Creation. And much of the story of Mankind is all about the choice to obey God or not. Eat the fruit or not. Leave your home and go where God tells you or not. Get in the boat or not. Sleep with a woman who isn’t your wife or not. You get the idea.

So when you come to a fork in the road, how do you know which way is the right way? According to this Psalm, you ask for directions.

I don’t like asking for directions, whether it be to find a restaurant or if it’s an item in the grocery store. I’d rather find it on my own. I’d rather use my own rationale and logic and make a few mistakes and walk a little farther or turn around a few times than appear incompetent and ask someone how to find it. And maybe that’s okay in the grocery store or while you’re navigating a city, but it’s not a very wise idea for navigating life.

If you choose to live life haphazardly, making uninformed decisions, making choices with no foundation of knowledge, you’re going to end up in trouble. You’re going to end up lost. And you’re going to take others down with you because life doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

I have gotten frustrated with God on many occasions because of where I found myself on the road of life. I had chosen to follow a road I thought looked good for me, but it didn’t take me where I thought it would. And, at best, it turned out to be nothing but a distraction. So was it right for me to be frustrated with God about a choice I made?

No. If I had looked ahead, if I had examined my motivation before I started down that path, I would have realized that I wasn’t choosing the path for God’s sake — I had taken it for my own.

So many times we choose roads to follow based on our own desires. What we want. Our dreams. Our goals. And we don’t ask God first. We just assume that He’ll be okay with it because we’re following our heart. That’s what He wants, isn’t it? He wants us to be happy, doesn’t He?

Above all else, God wants us to follow Him. He wants us to be holy, like He is. Not for His sake but for our own. And sometimes that means choosing a path that doesn’t feel right, even though it might look right to us. And the only way to tell the difference is to compare it to Scripture.

When you know a road will contradict the life and the purpose that God has designed for you, that is a road you shouldn’t take. If you choose a road because it looks easy, it will distract you. If you choose a road because it will give you fame and fortune and wealth and power and influence, it will leave you empty. If you choose a road simply because it’s what you want, you will give up before you reach the end.

But if you choose a road because it calls you to do something that God has said is right, you won’t be sorry. And that road will lead to another road. And that road will lead to another road, until one day you have left all the difficult little trails behind you and are booking along on a highway at top speed, wondering how God could have brought you so far.

If you need to know which road to take, ask for direction and compare your choice to what Scripture says is right. God will reveal the answer.

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost (1874–1963).  Mountain Interval.  1920.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.  

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Bible is a road map . . . and it’s not nearly as confusing as MapQuest.

Where do you go when you need answers? Do you ask your friends? Do you ask your parents? Do you Google your question and see what the internet forums have to say? Do you look to see if Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil or Oprah has a new book out that will explain the meaning of life?

As Christians, there’s only one place we need to go to get the answers we need to live life.

Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

From a young age, I learned how important than verse is. No other “religious” texts claim anything like this. This verse identifies all Scripture as being breathed to live by God Himself, though the writers He chose, and it specifies where we are supposed to look for direction when we’re feeling lost.

The Bible has often been compared to a road map. It contains all the information we need to get through each day. The difficulty is, you have to read it before it will make a difference. And for some reason, so many Christians have bought into the lie that the Bible is confusing.

Kind of like people bought into the lie that the Constitution is confusing. It’s not. Granted, the language the Constitution was written in is old but if you care enough about it, you can understand it.

The Bible is exceedingly more important than the Constitution and it’s even been translated into modern languages like the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) . . . and if those aren’t simple enough, there are even fantastic paraphrases like The Message. And though paraphrases aren’t good for intense Bible study, they’re great if you’re looking to understand the main concept behind a passage.

For example, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in The Message begins in verse 14 because that’s where the main concept of the passage begins:

14-17But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

It’s not hard to understand. And it’s not difficult to read.

But it is painful sometimes.

The only difficult part about reading Scripture is having our mistakes and our sins exposed to us. But we need to remember that everyone who reads Scripture will feel the same way and that’s the reason God gave it to us. Read today’s verse again!

 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

That is why we have Scripture. It not only points us in the right direction and warns us about pitfalls and dangers in our path, it also shows us the errors and the rebellion and the mistakes we’ve made and demonstrates what it means to live a godly life.

And on top of all that, Scripture explains why we don’t have to worry. We don’t have to pay for our sins, remember? We do need to turn from them and recognize that they aren’t helpnig us. But once we get to that point and believe that Christ paid the penalty for us and accept that free gift of salvation, we don’t ever have to be afraid of judgment.

John 3:16 is probably the most famous verse in the Bible but usually people stop there, but read all the way to verse 21. Here it is in the Message:

16-18“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.

 19-21“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”

God intended for us to be alive today, in this very moment, becuase He has a purpose for us. And even though life is hard sometimes and confusing and twisted up and painful, there’s only one place we need to go when we need answers. It’s not our friends or our family or the talking heads on television. It’s the Bible.

It’s not hard to understand. God gave it to us so that we could know for sure what we needed to do every day of our lives. We just have to be humble enough to accept what Scripture says and apply it to our actions. Otherwise, what’s the point?