God doesn’t pick anyone because they’re special

During the end of the year, people start talking about everything they’ve accomplished. I do it. Most people I know do it. And it’s really easy to hear about everything that’s going right for people and feel a little bit left out. Do you ever get that feeling? Like you haven’t done as much as you could have? Or that somehow God is doing more for someone else than you?

It’s okay to admit it. That’s a normal feeling. Not a true feeling but a normal one.

When you start looking at people and comparing yourself to them, it’s easy to start thinking that God loves someone else more than you, because all you’re looking at is them rather than God’s work in your own life. I take God’s work in my own life for granted. It can seem small and insignificant to me. And I begin to wonder why other people are so special that God would show up in their lives when He doesn’t in mine.

33E58C5499Today’s verses are Deuteronomy 7:7-9.

The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

The truth is, you aren’t that special. Sorry to break it to you. But God didn’t pick you (or me) out of a crowd because we had some special skill or unique talent. The only thing that makes us special is God’s work in our lives. It has nothing to do with us.

Sort of like Israel. It wasn’t even a country. It wasn’t even a family to start out with. It was just Abraham and his wife, and they weren’t even able to have children. But God made them a promise. And He kept it. And He’s still keeping it to this day. Israel wasn’t special. It was God who was special, who chose to do something miraculous. That’s how it works with us too.

Now don’t misunderstand. We are loved and unique and priceless. God made each of us, so by that token we are special, individually crafted by God Himself. So that by itself makes us special in comparison to the rest of creation, even in comparison to each other. But I don’t have anything that would make God love me more than someone else. Neither do you. We’re all poor and weak and powerless, and it’s God who comes along and gives us strength and success and victory.

God promises to be our salvation, our rock, our healer, our guide, our light. He promises that when we’re weak, we’ll be strong through His power. He promises that even in our darkest moments, He has a plan that He’s working out for our benefit. That’s not on us. That’s all on Him.

God doesn’t play favorites.

So don’t get into the habit of comparing yourself with other people. When the year-end accomplishment letters start coming in and the personal goals for the year grace your inbox, choose to rejoice with your friends instead of comparing yourself to them. Choose to marvel at God’s workmanship in people and realize that God is working in your life too. It just looks different than it does with other people.

God doesn’t pick anyone because they’re special. He picks people He can use. So if you want God to be visible in your life, if you want His blessings to be obvious, be the kind of person God can use. Be humble. Be honest. Be genuine. Trust Him. Follow Him. Honor Him. And if you’re doing all that, He’s probably more visible in your life than you think.

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You don’t have to wait for Friday to start over

The idea of starting over isn’t always appealing. When I finished my freshman year of college, I changed schools. I went from a super-conservative, unaccredited college in Florida to a public state university in Kansas, and it was looking I was going to have to start over again. I had 33 credits and for all intents and purposes, it didn’t seem like they would be accepted. In that instance, starting over wasn’t going to be fun.

The Lord opened some impossible doors, though, and all 33 of my credits transferred (even my Bible courses) to Wichita State University, and I finished my degree there and had a great experience. I was thankful that I didn’t have to repeat my freshman year. So in that case, beginning again wouldn’t have been my preference. But there are plenty of times in my life that I wish I could have a Do Over moment.

I say something or I do something I shouldn’t say or do. Or I come to my senses later on and wish I could have the moment to do over again. Those are the times when you wish starting over was easy.

explosion-firework-new-year-s-eve-december-31Today’s verses are Lamentations 3:22-26.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

This is the time of year that we all start thinking about new beginnings. A new year begins this week, and lots of people will be initiating new ways of living. New diet plans. New budgets. New clothes. New jobs. New everything.

New years mark the time to start over again, and everyone around the world usually embraces the idea whole-heartedly. I mean, after a year like last year, who wouldn’t want a fresh start, right?

But oftentimes, new years are just a rehash of the old year, aren’t they? Not to be a doomsayer. That’s just the truth. Most people who make New Year’s Resolutions end up stuck in the same rut all over again in two or three weeks. That’s a generalization, sure, but it’s not an untrue one.

And that’s okay. You know, we all deal with that. Everyone faces troubles like that.

But what if you need to start over? What if you really do need a new beginning? Well, that’s where God comes in. See, new starts with God really are new beginnings. Every morning, His mercies are new. That means He doesn’t hold sins from yesterday against us. If we’ve confessed them and repented (which means we’ve determined not to live that way anymore), He forgives us and moves on.

God doesn’t hold your sin over your head. He’s forgotten it. There’s no guilt, no shame, no pointing fingers, and no baggage.

Do you need to start over? You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get here. You can start over now, and God will give you fresh start. You just have to turn to Him. Start living your life to please Him. Search for His will in every situation.

The world will remind you of all the wrong you’ve done. The world will condemn you because you aren’t strong enough. The world will give up on you because you don’t have the power to change. That’s not what God does. God makes you into a new person and gives you the power to live a new life for Him.

Don’t wait for Friday. You can start over today. Just ask.

You don’t have to choose between faith and common sense

I went to the theater yesterday to see the new Star Wars movie (loved it, by the way), but I noticed something. A lot of people didn’t come into the theater until after the previews had started, and there were even some trickling in after the movie had begun. I was close enough to overhear some of them talking, and one particular couple muttered to themselves that they should have come earlier.

That kind of made me chuckle. I mean, it’s only the most anticipated movie of the year–maybe the decade. And, sure, Wichita isn’t like the crazy big cities that sell out movies, but it’s common sense to expect that it’ll be busy.

Just struck me as funny how often we don’t think about a situation before we jump into it and find ourselves over our heads.

night-television-tv-theme-machinesToday’s verse is Romans 12:2.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

I think some people believe that you either think or you live by faith, but I’ve discovered that they aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have faith and still think about a situation.

The movie theater is a lame example, but it works. You can go to a newly released (highly anticipated movie) with a few minutes before it starts and pray that you find a parking place and a seat, but wouldn’t it be better to think about it beforehand and leave a little earlier to get there in time?

God didn’t give us a brain just so we’d have it. We don’t have the ability to think just as some random accident. We’re supposed to use our brains to make wise choices.

Granted, we don’t always do that. Sometimes we do dumb stuff, and it’s those moments where we need to learn how to accept the consequences of our choices.

You don’t have to choose between faith and common sense. Think about your next step before you take it. The key is thinking about life, the universe, and everything the same way that God does. Read the Bible and see how God sees things, and let the truth transform the way you think. That’s when your thinking matches up with God’s wisdom, that’s where faith and common sense intersect.

Trying to make faith make sense outside of God’s way of thinking will bring nothing but confusion and frustration. You can’t make God fit with any religion or set of rules. You can’t explain the Bible using mythology or politically correct idiom.

But even after you’ve let God change the way you think, you still have to choose to think. We’re supposed to live by faith, but that doesn’t mean turning your brain off.

Life’s too short to rush from one crisis to the next

Last week, I took some friends to the zoo to show off what Wichita has to offer in the way of tourism. We didn’t plan to pick a gorgeous day for walking around outside, but that’s what we got. It’s December, so we expected it to be cold and snowy or rainy and miserable, but it wasn’t. It was beautiful. Light jacket weather. Warm sun. Blue skies. And all the animals at the zoo were feeling it too, because they were all outside soaking it in.

Sometimes life throws us rare moments of joy or wonder. It’s not that life is altogether a horrible thing. Quite the opposite. But normal life can get tedious sometimes, and we can get so busy with the day-to-day stuff that we forget to rejoice when something rare and wondrous and incredible comes along.

A goat chilling in the rare December sun at the African Farm exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A goat chilling in the rare December sun at the African Farm exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 6:16.

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m wired to work. I don’t stop. Even when I’m sitting down watching a TV show, my brain is going a million miles an hour in the background. I’m always running, running, running to get stuff done, and that’s great for productivity most of the time. That’s great for the everyday tasks that need to be done. But when you get into the habit of work, work, work, when the time comes to rest it’s hard to stop.

And you must. We have to be able to turn off the work, work, work part of our brains and learn how to rest, otherwise we’ll burn ourselves out. Rest doesn’t have to be complicated either. It can be a short moment that you just stop what you’re doing and do something else for five minutes. Take a walk. Spin around in circles. Laugh at the sky. Make a cup of tea and drink it. Whatever floats your boat. Whatever gets you out of your work-work-work focus and into a mindset of refreshment. It’s different for everyone.

God expects us to rest. Don’t just rush from one crisis to the next. Life’s too short for that. Look for the road you’re supposed to be on and walk it consistently, and the proper road will give you the opportunity to rest. The wrong road will suck the life out of you.

But whatever you do, don’t let the moments pass. Don’t let the rare times when the sun is shining go by without taking the time to enjoy it. When you see God do something awesome, stop what you’re doing and recognize it. Praise Him for what He’s doing. It doesn’t matter how bad a mood you’re in, if you start praising God, you’ll probably feel better when you’re done.

We all owe someone something

Unexpected things happen all the time. You can plan and scheme and organize until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t guarantee that everything you want is going to happen the way you want it to happen. This past Saturday was my book release event at a local coffee shop in downtown Wichita. We’d been planning for months. We had everything worked out, and everything was going to be perfect. We were expecting big crowds and a lot of excitement.

Well, there were big crowds. But they weren’t there for the book release. Unbeknownst to me, the WSU Shockers decided to have a basketball game at the downtown arena at the same time as the book event, and there wasn’t a single place to park anywhere. I had to circle the block four times before I found a place about a mile or two away. It was my event, and I didn’t get there until fifteen minutes after it was supposed to start.

Needless to say, I was somewhat put out (to put it mildly).

But you know what? People still came. I was shocked and touched and humbled. Friends showed up to help with setup. Many made cookies and brought candy. And there were a lot of encouraging hugs and big smiles, and those were worth more than a big crowd to me. And it was a wonderful reminder for me that I have my plans, but God is going to do what He’s going to do in spite of my plans. And even though His way doesn’t seem better to me at the moment, it will be more satisfying in the end.

ZOM5QYEIMVToday’s verses are Job 23:10-14.

But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
but have treasured his words more than daily food.
But once he has made his decision, who can change his mind?
Whatever he wants to do, he does.
So he will do to me whatever he has planned.
He controls my destiny.

Maybe Job isn’t the best book to quote from, but you have to admit it’s accurate. Honestly, the only way Job could really understand all the horrible things that were happening in his life was to accept that God is God and He always knows best–even if it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we need to be humble enough to grasp it.

I struggle with this. I like making my own decisions. I like being independent. I don’t like having to rely on anyone else for answers or help or guidance or support. I want to make my own way and not owe anyone anything. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, but it’s completely impossible. No one can live that life. We all owe someone something. Isn’t it better to accept that the One you owe the most to is the Lord?

You don’t control your life. Your life is bigger than you are, and the only one strong enough to help you get through it is God. What you can control is how you react to events in your life. You can choose to see everything that’s wrong, or you can choose to believe that God has a plan and will eventually work it out for your benefit.

So where are you today? Are you in the middle of your master scheme that’s going perfectly? Or are you standing in the wreck of your carefully laid plans that have gone awry?

Take a step of faith and decide to trust the Lord. No matter how wrong things may feel like they’ve gone, God is big enough to find the silver lining for you. Just ask Him to help you see it too.

It’s good to be uncomfortable

When I was a little kid (8 or 9 years old), I took piano lessons. My mom is a really accomplished musician, and she wanted me and my brother to be comfortable with music. I liked piano, and I was pretty good at it, but I lacked the discipline to really practice, which is what eventually led me away from music as a potential career. But during the years that I played, my mom always set up a series of recitals for us.

I hated recitals. I hated getting up in front of people. I hated knowing that people were watching me. I hated the possibility that I would make a mistake and look like a fool. But my mom insisted that I do them, even though I hated them, because it was good for me. If I had never gotten up in front of people, I would have missed out on some really important lessons that I’ve needed in life. I needed to know how to present myself to people. I needed to know how to be professional in front of an audience.

Honestly, I needed it more than I ever could have imagined. This coming Saturday, I’ll be up in front of a crowd reading from my latest novel. Believe me, I’ll be drawing on some of the things I learned during those dreaded piano recitals.

I didn’t like them. They were the last thing on earth that I wanted to do. But I needed them, because if I’d stayed comfortable in my little introverted shell, I would never have learned what I needed to know.

4K2VPPOSR1Today’s verse is Joshua 1:9.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

I think this may be a verse I’ve said to myself more than any other verse. I put myself in these uncomfortable situations, and while it’s important for me to be there, I don’t want to be there. I’m scared. I feel inadequate. I feel like anyone else would be better suited to the job than me. But it isn’t anyone else there. It’s me.

God has specific things for me to do, and He wants me to be courageous in how I do them. That means pressing forward when I don’t know how to do something. That means having enough humility to ask for help when I’m stumped. That means trusting other people to know the right decision when I don’t.

Fear keeps me rooted in place, and that’s not the life God has for me. Insecurity keeps me silent when God is telling me to speak up. That isn’t what God has called me to. I’m supposed to live victoriously. I’m a conqueror. More than a conqueror, the Bible says. So what am I doing cowering in the corner when God’s already won the battle for me?

I can’t go far enough away to escape God, even if I wanted to. He’s always with me, so why do I insist on being afraid? My silly fallen nature, I guess.

So what is it that God wants to teach you? Everyone has something. We all have a lesson we’re in the middle of learning, and take it from someone who knows, most lessons aren’t fun. Most lessons mean you have to get uncomfortable, and we live in a world that tells us to get comfortable. Our culture tells us to find where we are happy and stay there and never push the edges and never challenge the status quo. And that kind of living is fine if you want to stay the way you are. But I don’t.

I want to grow. I want to know God better, deeper, more than I did yesterday, and I can’t do that by standing still. My faith can’t grow if I don’t challenge it, and I can’t challenge my faith by only doing the things I’m comfortable doing.

So I’m going to get uncomfortable. How about you?

God provides for us what He requires from us

Ever feel like you’re in over your head? Golly, I’ve been there more than once in my life, with the majority of those times happening within the last 10 months. Without fail, most of the times when I feel overwhelmed is when I’m doing something I know God has told me to do.

Something I’ve learned following God all these years? He asks me to do things I can’t do, and He does it all the time. Talk to strangers. Do math. Run a business. I don’t know how to do any of that. But those are specific things He’s told me to do. Well, not the “do math” part, but it’s implied with the “run a business” part.

When God tells you to do something impossible, you’ve got two choices. Either you tell Him no, or you ask Him for help. Because, yes, God asks us to do impossible things, but He knows we can’t do the impossible. That’s why we have Him. And if we know nothing else about God, we know that God has always, always provided for us what He requires from us.

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian's Wall in Northern England

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England

Today’s verses are Genesis 22:6-8, 13-14.

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and Abraham was willing to do it. The writer of Hebrews states in chapter 11 that Abraham had faith that God would resurrect Isaac if need be, and he didn’t even hesitate. God told Abraham what He wanted, and Abraham went to do it. And God provided the sacrifice for him.

Over and over and over, throughout Scripture and even throughout the lives of Christ-followers in history, God has always provided. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s faith. Maybe it’s clothing or shelter or safety or status. Whatever a Christ-follower needs, he or she gets exactly when they need it. The trick is you probably don’t have it to start out with.

You have to be willing. Abraham was willing to give up his son because God asked him to, trusting that God knew what was best. And when God asks us to do something, we should be willing to obey even if what He’s asking doesn’t make sense right away.

God won’t contradict His Word, though. So be sure you always weigh what you think He’s telling you to do against Scripture. But once you determine the path He wants you on, get on it, whether you think you’re equipped for it or not.

So what’s keeping you in place today? Are you scared because you don’t know the future? Well, nobody does, so don’t let that stop you. God knows what’s coming, and He can be trusted. Do you lack money and finances? Do you lack independence? Do you lack courage? What about education or experience?

Don’t listen to the fear that’s holding you down. If your reason for telling God no is because you’re afraid, you’re listening to the wrong voice. God doesn’t operate through fear. And if He is asking you to do something for Him, He will provide you with everything you need to make it happen. Maybe you think it’s impossible. It probably is, but with God, all things are possible.

Give God a chance. Be willing to take that first step. God has always provided what He requires, and He won’t stop now.