God keeps track so I don’t have to

Have you ever been so far behind that you’ve got practically no chance of catching up in your lifetime? Have you ever been so surrounded by chaos and craziness that you can’t keep your head above the waves no matter how good a swimmer you are? Have you ever trusted someone to help you stand up after life has beaten you down only to feel the shock of them kicking you while you’re too tired to defend yourself?

Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. How about you?

This isn’t a very good blog post.

Since last fall I’ve tried to make these posts deep and rich, full of more than one Bible reference and practical stories from life. But today’s post isn’t going to be like that, simply because I haven’t been able to write that kind of post.

But what’s true in the long, deep, rich posts is true in smaller posts like this one: God is always good, even when your situation isn’t; He never makes mistakes; and He always keeps His promises.

When I reach low points in my life, I run to the Psalms. It’s reassuring to me to read the words of the writers, especially the Psalms of David. David asked God hard questions. “Where are you?” and “How long will you be angry with me?” and “Why are these horrible things happening?” and “Why have my friends turned against me?”

There are no easy answers. God didn’t respond with platitudes or religious verbiage. He didn’t wave the questions away as though they didn’t matter. Instead He granted David (and the other Psalm writers) an understanding of Who He is.

Psalm 56

O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me.
But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

They are always twisting what I say;
they spend their days plotting to harm me.
They come together to spy on me—
watching my every step, eager to kill me.
Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;
in your anger, O God, bring them down.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.

My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
This I know: God is on my side!
I praise God for what he has promised;
yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
For you have rescued me from death;
you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
in your life-giving light.

Not an overused religious cliche in sight, right? David doesn’t pull any punches when he’s talking about the state of the world and the kinds of people who want to destroy him. And I don’t know about you, but some of that sounds awfully familiar to me.

Everyone has people in their lives who are hurtful. We all have relationships that aren’t healthy in some way or another. And maybe no one is actively trying to kill you (I hope not, at least), I’d be willing to bet there are several who are trying to hurt your reputation. Maybe they’re even succeeding. But don’t give up. 

God isn’t blind. He isn’t ignoring you. And He isn’t ignoring them either.

But just because they’re getting away with it now doesn’t mean they’ll get away with it forever. Just because your life is rocky and crazy and overwhelming and frustrating right now doesn’t mean it will continue to be that way. Just because there are people and obstacles in your path that are causing destruction and pain right now doesn’t mean they’ll always be there.

Things may be tough right now, but God hasn’t gone anywhere. Instead of being angry and upset at Him for your life going differently than you wanted, spend the time asking Him what He has planned. Trust me, His plan is better anyway. Just trust Him. Do what He says is right. And keep moving forward.

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Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Changing lanes without clear vision

When we left to go camping for a week, we loaded my dad’s HRR down with all our equipment and supplies. There wasn’t an inch to spare. The stuff in the car was piled so high you couldn’t see out the rear window, which meant the rearview mirror was of no use whatsoever. So for every turn, every lane change, and every instance of backing up, you had to use the sideview mirrors.

It’s completely doable, and I don’t feel like we took any major chances with not behind able to see, but there’s something intensely disconcerting about not being able to see straight behind yourself when you’re driving. If you’ve got to change lanes or back up, you don’t always get a clear picture of what’s behind you, what you might hit or bump or run over. Sometimes you have to see it from the side. Seeing something from the side isn’t always easier. Most of the time it takes more than one glance to make sure you’re seeing it clearly, but you can see it. You can know what’s behind you even if you’re looking at it from a different angle than you’re used to. And then, you have to make the choice and change lanes, even if it feels like you can’t see everything.

road-street-car-vehicleToday’s verses are Psalm 37:5-6.

Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

When you’re navigating through life, you aren’t always going to feel like you know the right answers. Sometimes it will feel like you’re trying to change lanes when you can’t see out your back window. In those moments, you have to trust what you know.

Just like I could use my side mirrors to see behind me, you have to use the information you have available to make the best decision you can. It’s the same for following God. You might not be able to see all of His plan, but you can see bits and pieces. And you can know who He is. So that gives you enough to go on.

Even if all you knew about living was that God is good, that would be enough to know you could trust Him. Because you can always trust someone who is 100% good. That person won’t ever do anything wrong, won’t ever do anything to harm you, and even if you end up in difficult circumstances, that person won’t ever turn against you.

But we know more than that about God. We know God is good. We know God has a plan for His children. We know His plans are His best for us. We know He’s promised that everything in the life of a Christ-follower will work together for our good and His glory. We know He’ll never abandon us. We know so much about who He is and what He does in our lives, how can we ever think that God is keeping secrets? How do we ever assume that God doesn’t love us, when He tells us in His Word over and over again all that He’s done to reconcile us to Himself.

So maybe you can’t see everything. Maybe you don’t have the answers to every question. Know what? That’s okay. You can know enough about one or two questions to give you an idea of where you need to go or what you need to do.

Maybe the view out the back window is obstructed, but you can see clearly enough from the sides–maybe not the whole picture but enough to know you aren’t going to run into or over someone else.

God gives us what we need so we know when to leap and when to stand still. He doesn’t just shove us out into the world and expect us to follow Him blindly. He does expect us to follow, yes, but He will provide all the information you actually need to make a decision. You just have to look for it.

When God isn’t what we want, He’s always what we need

When I was a freshman in college, I attended a very strict, very conservative Christian college in Florida. The best place to shop for groceries in that area was the Wal-mart down the street from the campus, and it never failed. Every time I walked into that store, someone in the aisle would mistake me for an employee.

I wore a blue lanyard that had my school ID on it, so maybe that was why they always mistook me for a Wal-mart employee. It was funny, though, because I spent enough time in the store that I could answer most of their questions anyway.

But has that ever happened to you? You see someone and assume you know why they’re here? And then you find out you were wrong?

triumphal_entryToday’s verse is John 12:12-13.

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!”

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode on a donkey as He entered the city of Jerusalem, and just about everybody in the city came down to welcome Him. They were so happy to see Him. They waved palm branches and cried out to be saved.

Not even they realized that a few days later, they’d be the ones crying out for His death. The same people who called Him the King of Israel would be the ones mocking Him as He died on the cross.

I always used to wonder how people could change so drastically in less than a week’s time. How could they welcome Him so joyously only to betray Him so viciously?

Well, for one, people are just mean. That’s a fact of life. But, two, they’d misunderstood why Jesus was here in the first place. They made assumptions. And it’s sad because Jesus was plain with everyone why He’d come and all the prophets who had foretold His coming were plain about why He was coming.

But the reasons Jesus came weren’t the reasons people wanted Him.

The people wanted a king who would rule over them politically. They wanted a king who would drive Rome out of Israel. They thought Jesus had come to do that, but He hadn’t. What Jesus had come to do was so much more important.

But how often do we find ourselves in that same position today? We come before God and ask Him to do things for us, to answer our prayers the way we want because it’s what we want.

Culture, and even other Christians to some extent, tells us that God will give us everything we want, and we just have to have faith. So we grow up in a culture that says God is the great wish granter. Like a genie where we rub the lamp or click our heels three times and we get our heart’s desire.

And then one day we find out that’s not who God is. And what do we do? We give up on Him. We turn our backs on Him because He’s not who we want Him to be.

Sound familiar?

What I’ve learned in life, though, is that maybe God’s not what I want Him to be, but He’s always what I need Him to be.

He isn’t a wish granter or a genie. He won’t give me everything I want just because I want it. He doesn’t play favorites, and there’s no place I can go to get away from Him.

But He’s strong enough to carry me when I can’t take another step. He’s big enough to work out the problems of my life when I’m lost in chaos. He’s great enough to take the broken pieces of my heart and make something beautiful of it. And He’s gracious enough to love me even though I’ve never done anything worthy of love.

That’s what I need.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming you know what God is about. Don’t think He’s only around to give you what you want, like a great big vending machine in the sky.

Jesus came 2,000 years ago to provide what we needed, and He’s the same today as He was then. And we need Him more now than ever.

So if God doesn’t give you what you want, don’t give up on Him. Just because you didn’t get your way doesn’t mean He isn’t there. It probably just means you didn’t know what you wanted in the first place. Trust the One who knows what you need and who is strong enough, big enough, great enough, and kind enough to give it to you free of charge.

Ripe peach on the tree, Entz Orchard, Newton, KS

God can restore what you’ve lost

Misdiagnosis. What does that word mean to you? Anyone have experience with that? When the doctors say you have something wrong and then it turns out you don’t?

Welcome to the last two years of my family’s life. After a two-year ordeal with my mom’s health in a somewhat precarious state, we’ve been told officially that her diagnosis of Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID) was incorrect.

On one hand, we’re overjoyed that she doesn’t have to go back to doing treatments and taking medications and being quarantined in her house. She can go back to living a normal life again.

But in my own mind, I’ll admit to a bit of irritation. What exactly have we been doing for two years then? What was the point of all this? I know there’s a point, because with God there’s always a point. But have the last two years seriously been in vain? The ridiculous amount of antibiotics, the vicious medications, the long and tiresome IV IG treatments–was it all for nothing?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m overjoyed that she isn’t sick. But what was the purpose for having to go through the last two years?

Ripe peach on the tree, Entz Orchard, Newton, KS

Ripe peach on the tree, Entz Orchard, Newton, KS

Today’s verses are Joel 2:21-27.

Don’t be afraid, O land.
Be glad now and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things.
Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.
The trees will again be filled with fruit;
fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
Once more the autumn rains will come,
as well as the rains of spring.
The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain,
and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.
The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost
to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts,
the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts.
It was I who sent this great destroying army against you.
Once again you will have all the food you want,
and you will praise the Lord your God,
who does these miracles for you.
Never again will my people be disgraced.
Then you will know that I am among my people Israel,
that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other.
Never again will my people be disgraced.

One of the many things about God that always amazes me is His constant promise of restoration and redemption. There are many verses throughout the Bible that give dire warnings about disobeying God or about the consequences of turning against God. But for every one of those verses, I think you can probably find two or three about how God desires to restore us even after we’ve turned against Him.

God is in the business of restoration.

And I’ve come to the conclusion over the last few years that even when it feels like God is taking something away from you, He isn’t. Maybe that’s the way you interpret it. But if God ever withholds something from you or asks you to give up something you want for His sake, He won’t leave you that way.

He only asks us to give up what we’re holding on to so that He can hand us something better. After all, you can’t accept a gift from God when your hands are already full of something inferior.

Looking back over these two years, I can see many relationships that we’ve built that we didn’t have before. We’ve met so many people who we’ve been able to encourage. Maybe that was the point? I don’t know.

I can’t tell you I know what the point is. But what I can tell you is that God is good. He’s always good, whether you’re sick or healthy, rich or poor, employed or not. Wherever you are, God is good. That’s who He is. And maybe we have to experience things that aren’t good, but that doesn’t make Him bad. It doesn’t mean He’s not in control. It just means He sees the whole picture, and it means we have something we need to learn–or someone we need to help–or something we need to do that we wouldn’t do unless we struggled a bit.

Whatever you’ve lost, God can restore it. And if He doesn’t restore it, He’ll redeem it. Sometime in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe ten years from now, maybe longer, God will show us what this season has been for. And we’ll understand why.

What are you holding on to today? What good thing are you clinging to that might prevent you from receiving a great thing? What have you lost? Just because you don’t have it anymore doesn’t mean it’s over.

What God doesn’t restore, He always redeems. But we have to let Him do it His way in His time.

The crooked path to the top of Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Opportunities aren’t accidents

Have you ever had the opportunity to sit back and watch God work? There have been moments in my life where I’ve been able to see Him working in ways that only He could, but  I can honestly tell you that I’ve never seen Him so obviously than in the last six months.

God has opened so many doors. He’s been so present and has provided for me in so many different ways that I can’t even begin to explain it all. And I can trace it all back to a single moment in January this year when I finally said Yes to what He’d been telling me to do since last August.

God has plans, and they’re good plans. And He doesn’t just dump people into the midst of His plans when they aren’t prepared or equipped. Maybe they aren’t prepared or equipped when it starts, but by the time God says go, they’re ready.

But no matter how life works out, one thing is certain: We can plan and prepare and try to make up our own minds about our futures all day long, but God is the one who truly calls the shots. And we can either get on board with that or we can keep hurtling helter-skelter down a path we’re forging on our own, blind and ineffective until we wear ourselves out and end up going back to Him anyway.

The crooked path to the top of Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

The crooked path to the top of Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 10:23.

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
    We are not able to plan our own course.

So much of life is waiting. I’ve blogged about that before. I hate waiting. I hate it. I want to be up doing something, preparing for what’s ahead so I can anticipate and control a situation and pretend like I have some type of command.

I’m trying to learn to love waiting, and in the last six months, I’ve made great strides toward that because it’s become more apparent to me than ever how and why God makes us wait.

I was talking to a friend in the Starbucks parking lot the other night about baking cakes. When you mix up a cake and throw it in the oven, it would be so much easier to just eat the batter right then. Cake batter is awesome. But it’s not cake. If you want cake, you have to wait (yes, even if the cake is a lie, you still have to wait).

God often calls us to a time of waiting so we can develop and grow and get stronger and learn what we need to learn. Maybe we just need to learn how to trust Him.

Waiting isn’t punishment or a curse. It’s a gift, marvelous, quiet downtime when you realign and get your thoughts straight and focus on grounding yourself in truth. Because when God says jump, you’d better be ready to jump.

When God is ready for you to go, you need to go. And when you say yes, don’t think for a moment that things will slow down. Actually, they’ll get faster and crazier and more awesome than you imagine.

God has planned the direction of your life, and it’s up to you to say yes to His will. Or do you think He forces you? No. God doesn’t force us to do anything, but He won’t always intervene when we end up stuck in the hole we dug for ourselves.

What is God telling you to do today? Is He telling you to wait? Is He telling you to jump? Whatever it is, just say yes. Do what He’s telling you to do. Stop fighting Him.

If He’s opened a door and made a way for you to do something, do it. Make sure it’s from Him–make sure it’s in line with Scripture and it won’t cause you to compromise on the truth of Scripture–and go for it with everything you have.

Opportunities in your path aren’t accidents. They’re strategic. God has created you unique. Whether you believe it or not, you have gifts and abilities that no one else has, and God wants you to be able to use those talents to reach other people with His love.

Don’t doubt the gifts God’s given you. Don’t take credit for them either, but don’t doubt them. Doubting them isn’t humility; it’s insecurity and fear. God has made you to do awesome things for Him.

Don’t doubt Him. Don’t doubt His plan. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let that fear keep you from saying yes to God.

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Underdog

I love underdog stories. Those stories where the main character comes from unfortunate circumstances but still manages to overcome the challenges in his life are the most heartwarming stories in culture, I think. Like the Karate Kid movies, even the new one, which I really enjoy. Like the Mighty Ducks. In some cases, even some superhero types are considered underdogs. They just never intended to be heroes.

You have to admit, there’s something endearing about a character who has always had a rough time in life suddenly finding himself (or herself) in the middle of a situation where the stakes keep getting higher. And there’s something inside us that cheers for the underdog constantly. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re trying to accomplish; if it seems impossible, and if the odds are stacked against them, we cheer them on. At least, I do. I have a soft spot for underdogs.

What’s amazing to me is that so does God. The Bible is full of underdog stories, where average people like you and me end up in extraordinary circumstances, and through God’s power, they change the world. Yesterday I blogged about how God can take the sadness in our lives and change it into something worth rejoicing about, but that’s not all He can do.

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Zephaniah 3:19.

And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.
    I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together
    those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
    wherever they have been mocked and shamed.

You want to talk about underdogs? Let’s talk about Israel for a moment.

When I was little, I used to think that Israel had to be some amazing, great country full of resources and power. I used to think that they had to have done something incredible for God to have called them His Chosen People. But let’s be honest here. Israel is a beautiful country, and they have many resources. But in comparison to other countries in the world, they’re kind of small. They have a lot of history, but other countries have more. Honestly what makes Israel special isn’t anything they’ve done; it’s the fact that God chose them.

By that same token, I used to think that Abraham was someone special. I used to think that he had some kind of special gift or something that made him the best candidate to found the nation of Israel. But he didn’t. He was just a guy. There wasn’t anything special about him other than the fact that God called and he obeyed. That’s it.

Israel and Israel’s history is full of instances where they were the lightweight in the corner who didn’t have a chance. But every time Israel’s leaders did what God told them to do, whether they were patriarchs or kings, God gave them victory over armies much larger than they were. God took a little, unimportant country and elevated it to a place where the region had to recognize their victory. He did the same with people, ordinary shepherds, children, uneducated people, outcasts, foreigners. You name someone who would be relegated to the dregs of society and read about how they followed God and how God raised them up to a level where other people (people who had made fun of them or hated them) had to recognize that they had achieved something.

Only God can do that.

Do you think Joseph could have become the second most important man in the world on his own steam (Genesis 37-54)? Do you think David could have had the strength to stand up to Goliath without God on his side (1 Samuel 17)? Do you think any prostitute could deserve to belong in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself without God changing her heart (Joshua 2)?

God is a God of underdogs, and He’s always looking for people who are willing to answer when He calls. And those people who answer when He calls have a chance to do the impossible, because when God is working with you, the impossible isn’t impossible anymore.

Are you in a situation where you feel inadequate? Do you find yourself in a place where no one recognizes you, whether you want them to or not? Are you lost in the shuffle of the crowd? Are you the low man on the totem pole?

Guess what? God’s cheering for you. It’s the folks on the bottom who attract God’s attention. I’m not saying He can’t use people on the top. He’s done that before too, but I’d be curious to know how those people at the top got there to begin with. Usually if you start out at the top, you aren’t interested in helping folks at the bottom–and that’s what God usually asks.

So if you’re inadequate and all you know is that you don’t have the skills to accomplish what God has called you to do, you’re in good company. But don’t worry because your responsibility is to answer. You don’t have e to know how it’s going to work out. You just have to do what God’s called you to do, and He will equip you for any eventuality you encounter along the way. And through His power and His strength and Him just being Him, He will change you from being the ineffective one at the bottom of the chain to someone who can change the world.