Butterfly at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

God isn’t finished with you yet

I’ve been writing seriously since I was 11 years old, but when I started back then it was just for fun. It never occurred to me that writing could be something I did for a living. I loved writing books, but I never anticipated that anyone would ever want to read them. My friends changed my opinion on that.

I can’t remember the first time I submitted something for publication. I don’t remember what it was. It could have been a novel. It might have been a short story. I purchased a Writer’s Market Guide every year since 2005, but I know I was submitting before then.

The point is I never got accepted, but I kept trying because deep down inside I truly believed that God had given me a story that needed to be told. And when it was time, someone would publish it.

Butterfly at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Butterfly at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:6.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Part of following Christ that is so difficult is believing that He’s still working even when all the doors of opportunity have shut in your face. It happens a lot. Sometimes life shuts the door. Other time people shut the door. And even if you prepare yourself for it, it still hurts.

A lot.

Especially if it’s someone you care about or someone you respect who’s the one shutting you out or closing you down.

I’ve been working on this story for more than 10 years. I started it in 2001, my freshman year of college, and it’s gone through many revisions and many changes to become what it is today. Everyone who reads it thinks it’s brilliant, but no publisher will take a chance on it because it’s too weird. It pushes too many boundaries. It’s too Christian for the secular market and too secular for the Christian market, so I’ve been tempted to give up on it more than once. I understand what it’s like to pour my heart and soul into something and have someone else imply that it’s not good enough.

For years I’ve questioned God about it. I want to be done with it. I want to move on, but He would never let me give up. Just when I think I’d be finished, He’d bring someone else along to cheer me up, to encourage me, to tell me that it wasn’t garbage. And that would remind me that it just wasn’t time yet.

God has plans for all of us, and He’s promised that He’ll see them through to completion. This verse is really referring more to our life as Christ-followers. When you accept Christ, you don’t become perfect overnight. Your spirit is redeemed, and your soul is saved, but you still have to live with a broken body and a sinful nature. And you still have to live in a sinful world too. Following Christ is a process, and you learn something new about God every step of the way.  And God has promised that what He started in your heart on the day you accepted Christ is a process that won’t be finished until Christ comes back for us.

But I think it refers to our dreams too. God gives everyone a dream. Even if you’ve ignored it to the point that you’ve forgotten what it was, you had a dream. God gave it to you. And God never gives us anything without a purpose.

The difficulty comes in realizing that the fulfillment of our dreams won’t look like what we expect. If you want to see your dream become reality, if you want to make the most of your dream, you have to give it  back to God, and God will make it bigger and better than you could ever imagine. But it will take longer than you expect, and when it’s finished, it won’t be what you expect either. Because God doesn’t work like we do.

I always knew my book would be published. I just didn’t plan on founding the publishing company that would do it. Beginning in June of this year, my critique group and I will be launching an independent small press, Crosshair Press. I posted all about it on my personal blog a little while back. The four of us felt the undeniable call of God to do this, and to start it only made sense to launch with our own stories, on the off chance it didn’t work. (If we fall on our faces, the only work at risk will be our own and we wouldn’t have jeopardized someone else’s.) Believe me, this wasn’t my idea. I don’t have time for this, but somehow God is making it happen anyway. We’re becoming more official every day; we even have a Facebook that’s got a decent following.

And the fact remains, my unpublishable book will be published in January 2015. Not what I expected. Not even how I expected.

So what’s the point?

Don’t give up on God. Maybe your life circumstances are all working together to discourage you. Maybe people you trusted have turned against you. Maybe you think you’re out of opportunities to try again. Or maybe you’re just so tired you can’t keep going.

Don’t give up. Your dream is still alive, and God’s not finished with you yet. Remember that and keep moving forward. Keep trusting God. He can see how all the pieces fit.

The final product will surprise you, and when you see it, you’ll understand that everything you went through to get there will be worth it.

God never gives up on us

Today’s verse is Matthew 16:15-16.

15Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.”

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single Christian that didn’t identify with Peter one way or another. He was all impulse and instinct, shooting his mouth off and putting his foot in it too. Peter has a reputation in Scripture for screwing up, honestly. If he wasn’t scolding children, he was chopping off people’s ears.

But Peter got one thing right where not all of the other disciples did. Peter knew Who Jesus was. Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the One who had been sent to save Israel. Peter understood that Jesus was the Son of God.

I think that’s something that a lot of Christians need to get straight in their heads today. We have no problem telling people that we’re Christians. And most of the time we don’t even mind telling people that we believe the Bible. But do we mention Jesus much in our everyday conversation? And I don’t mean at church. I mean in the workplace or on the street or in restaurants and movie theatres.

The plain and simple truth is that Jesus makes people uncomfortable. He is not (and never will be) a neutral presence. You can’t just ignore Him, although some people try really hard. Even secular scholars admit that Jesus existed, but then that presents a problem. I’ve heard it said before that Jesus was one of three things: a liar, a lunatic or He is Lord.

If He were a liar, tricking His way into the hearts and minds of people in the first century, He would be the greatest con man in history. But lying seems unlikely because there were so many witnesses to the miracles that He did. Similarly, He could have been a lunatic, but His statements aren’t the ravings of a mad man.

So if He isn’t a liar and He isn’t a lunatic, He has to be Lord. It’s the only option left. And that bothers people because it means Jesus is in control. And it means that God really loved us enough to strap on human flesh and come to live in the dirt with us, and sometimes I don’t know what to do with that kind of love. I don’t know how to react to it, and it scares me that anyone could love me that much.

People are rebellious. We want to live the way we want to live. We don’t want to admit that God knows what He’s doing because that means we don’t. And for Jesus to come into the picture and tell us that we have no control over our lives  makes people upset. We want control over our lives because we think we can handle it, because we’re proud, silly people.

Peter had it right. Jesus is the Messiah. He was in the first century. He is today, in the twenty-first century. And we don’t need to be afraid of standing up and declaring the fact when we believe it.

The funny thing is, I think Peter really did believe it. But when he was pressed, he denied it. He ran away. He abandoned Jesus, even though deep in his heart he believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

But when it was over, and after Jesus had come back to life, He tracked Peter down and made sure Peter understood that He still loved him and that there was still a lot of work He needed Peter to do. And from that moment on, Peter became a powerhouse, and he never looked back.

And that tells me that even when we aren’t bold or when we aren’t as vocal about our faith as we probably should be, Jesus still loves us. And He still has plenty of purpose for our lives. And if we can really understand that there is nothing we can to make God love us less (or more), the courage we gain is unflappable. God is on our side so what on earth can stop us? Not a thing.

The only thing that can come between you and God’s plan for your life is you. God won’t force Himself on anyone. Granted, God is still powerful enough to use you even if you’ve given up on Him, but if we turn on backs on Him because of doubt or distrust or hurt or fear, we won’t reach the full potential He has for our lives.

But if we hold on to Him, even in the dark days, and trust Him especially when nothing makes sense, He’ll see us through the hard times. And if we go back to Him after we’ve betrayed Him, He won’t turn us away. He loves us. Jesus understands what it’s like to be human; He spent 33 years living among us and experienced everything we experience. He knows.

So if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, don’t be afraid to proclaim it. Live it with every breath. And if you’ve been afraid in the past, stop and go back to Him. He’s waiting for you and He wants to let you know that He still has plans for you if you’re willing to step up. Trust me, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.