He’s God at both ends of your journey

When I have a question, no matter how random or strange, all I have to do is type it in my smartphone and wait for an answer. When I’m hungry, I can go to a fast food restaurant and get a burger immediately. When I’m thirsty, there are Quik Trips on every corner with fountain drinks on the cheap.

No matter what I need, or even really what I want, there’s a way to get it right now. Nobody really has to wait for anything.

We live in an instant gratification kind of world, and to a certain extent, there’s nothing wrong with that. The convenience of modern technology has made it easy to get fast answers, make fast decisions, and accomplish more in less time than ever before. Those are all great things. But instant gratification doesn’t help us learn patience, and it absolutely doesn’t help us learn to make long-term decisions.

mountains-man-person-hikerToday’s verse is Isaiah 46:4.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.

There’s nothing short-term about God. But being a long-term God also means He’s not really into instant gratification.

You can ask Him for an immediate answer until you’re blue in the face, but He won’t just because you asked. He loves you enough to withhold a good blessing in order to give you a better one, and sometimes that means holding off on answering your prayer until it fits in His schedule. Not yours.

In a world obsessed with now, now, now, I think God is asking us to wait, wait, wait. Nobody really likes waiting, but you have to admit that it builds character. And once you get down the road a little farther, you can look back and realize that waiting actually did you a favor. How many times have we jumped on a deal or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity only to discover that a better deal or a better opportunity came up a few weeks or months later?

There’s always a time for action, but waiting is an option we need to consider more frequently in our fast-paced, instant-gratification focused, short-term world. God has promised that He’ll be with us until the end of our life on Earth. He isn’t just God for a moment. He’s not just God until you have a problem too big for Him to solve (that never happens, by the way). And He won’t even stop being your God after you die. He’ll be your God in eternity too.

So don’t ever get it in your head that God’s going to walk away from you or abandon you. One of the many things I love about God is that He’s in it for the long haul. He doesn’t sign up to be our God for the days of our youth. No, He wants us all the days of our lives, from our foolish childhood, to our rebellious teenage years, to our bullheaded mid-life crises, and finally to our wiser years when we finally start understanding what matters in life. Throughout all of those stages in our life experience, God wants to be our God. And if we ever feel like He’s stepped away from us, He isn’t the one who moved.

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Northern England / Southern Scotland on the way to Hadrian's Wall

The wait is worth it

Anyone who tells you life isn’t about waiting is lying. Some days, it feels like that’s all life is. Waiting. When you’re a kid, you are waiting for the day you can drive a car. When you’re old enough to drive, you’re waiting for the day you’re “grown up enough” to live on your own. When you’re out on your own, you’re waiting for the right person so you don’t have to be alone. You get the idea. But it seems to work that way in our walk with Christ too.

He leads. We follow. But He doesn’t always lead where we expect Him to, and He never moves on our timetable. Never. It’s either too slow for us or too fast, and we have to learn to wait. We have to learn that waiting is worth it.

Northern England / Southern Scotland on the way to Hadrian's Wall

Northern England / Southern Scotland on the way to Hadrian’s Wall

Today’s verses are Hebrews 6:11-15.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance. For example, there was God’s promise to Abraham. Since there was no one greater to swear by, God took an oath in his own name, saying: “I will certainly bless you, and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.” Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.

What’s one thing you’re waiting on right now? I bet you have more than one. But I know you’re waiting on something. You’ve probably been waiting on it for a while too. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering why you have to wait so stinkin’ long. It’s just a simple yes or no, isn’t it?

In those moments when you get tired of waiting, on those days when you’re ready to give up because it just doesn’t feel like God is going to do anything, think about the stories in Scripture. The example today is Abraham, and he’s a great example. But he’s not the only one.

God made promises to Abraham. Ridiculous, impossible promises. And Abraham had to live a good deal of life before he even got to see some of those promises kept. And–just being brutally honest here–he didn’t actually live ( on Earth) to see all of God’s promises realized.

Even so, Abraham lived believing that God would keep His promises. He endured all sorts of trouble, holding on to God’s Word. And I know that when we meet him in eternity, Abraham will still believe it was worth it. All the pain, all the doubt, all the fear, all the uncertainty and unknowns–don’t think it’s only in today’s modern world that we face such things. People haven’t changed that much in 8,000 years.

God kept every promise He made to Abraham, even though Abraham didn’t always hold up his end of the bargain. And aren’t we thankful? Because all of us are in the exact same boat.

God has made so many promises to us, and He will keep them. Because He’s God. That’s what He does. And we need to remember that even when it doesn’t feel like He’s keeping up His end. He is. It just isn’t going to look like we think it should look.

What are you waiting on today? Don’t despair. You may have to sit still, but God is never still. He’s always working on something. And there are no better hands to leave your problems in. He has unlimited resources, unlimited time, and unlimited love, and He wants what’s best for you.

So what’s a few weeks? What’s a few years in the face of that kind of opportunity? Enjoy the downtime. Soak up the quiet. Use the time you’ve got in the interim to get to know Him better, because I promise, when He’s ready for you to stop waiting, you’re going to hit the ground running, and you won’t slow down.

He’s got it. Stop worrying. He knows what He’s doing, and He is good. Truly, truly good.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

What Sherlock taught me about facing difficulty

I don’t watch television. If I find a show that I enjoy, I wait for it to come out on DVD and then marathon it, because I don’t like being tied down to a television schedule. And I’ve never been able to figure out how to get digital recorders to work anyway. Well, last year, I got hooked on a remarkable television show: BBC’s Sherlock. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s amazing. Created by two Arthur Conan Doyle freaks (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the evil geniuses behind Doctor Who, my other current BBC obsession), it’s brilliant and funny and exciting and fresh and just all-around great entertainment. And it’s British. And it has Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in it, so what more could you ask?

Well, the season two finale was just evil. Evil, I tell you. And I’ve been waiting–waiting, waiting, waiting–patiently for the new series to come out. And I’ve got friend who watched it early because it launched in England earlier, and I thought about doing that. But for once, I wanted to watch it with everybody else, like a normal person. So I cleared my schedule on Sunday night and sat down to watch it on PBS.

And PBS was having major signal issues.

Now, if folks have cable, they didn’t have a problem. But I don’t have cable. I live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with no access to cable systems, so I still operate on rabbit ears, which are hooked to a converter box and plugged into my television set. And something was wrong with the signal because every 15 seconds, the picture would fuzz and go silent for 5 seconds. And if you’ve watched any Sherlock, 5 seconds is a heck of a lot of time. You could miss an entire Cumberbatch soliloquy in 5 seconds.

I. Was. Pissed. Frustrated. Angry. Irritated. And just plain grouchy. I mean, seriously. I’d been waiting how long for this? Looking back on my reaction now, I’m kind of embarrassed about it because it seems like a very small thing to get so bent out of shape about. And that got me thinking about my life and perspective on a grander scale.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

Speedy’s Café at 187 N. Gower more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC’s Sherlock, London, England )yes, I’m that kind of geek that goes and takes pictures of set locations)

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.

Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
    Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

As I’ve posted before, Ecclesiastes is one of those books that you have to be careful with because Solomon was in quite a funk when he wrote it. So it’s not a book to just pick and choose verses and base your life off them. It’s a book to read in its entirety and understand as a whole.

To a certain extent, what this verse is saying is true. God has a certain way of doing things, and we have nothing to say about that. But God doesn’t bring hard times into our lives. God doesn’t take away good things from our lives. The world does that. Our own sin does that. The frustrations and irritations in our lives aren’t because of something God is doing; it’s a result of where we live and how we live.

But this is the verse that came to mind this morning after my frustrating experience with PBS last night. Not saying that PBS is like God. Not at all. But the situation reminded me of some similar events in my walk with God, where I was powerless to change anything, where I had a choice to either give up and cry about it or do the best I could until God revealed why it was all happening.

I’d like to think I’m a really great Christian who can handle whatever life and the world throws at me without complaint, but that’s not really the case. It’s funny. What I’ve found is that I can usually handle the really big things okay. The terrifying illnesses? No problem. The ridiculous expenses or the massive inconveniences? Not a big deal. But the small things? The tiny irritations? The pebbles in my shoe? They drive me flippin’ insane.

The tiny irritations of the Christian life are what make me crazy, and that’s not the way it should be. How I deal with the tiny irritations, especially when they stack up, will help me deal with the big problems later down the road. Like Sherlock last night. Instead of being grateful that I could see any of it, my first reaction was to get snippy and irritated. Why? Because I didn’t get what I wanted? How childish is that?

God doesn’t bring difficulty into our lives, but by the same token, He usually doesn’t snap His fingers to take it away when we encounter it. Some people like to say that means it’s His responsibility, and that’s their prerogative. But that’s like blaming a gardener for weeds. Weeds just happen; it’s not the gardener’s fault, and blaming him for it is a waste of effort and resources, especially since he will probably know the best way to deal with them anyway.

The perspective you choose when you encounter difficulty in your life will change everything, either for good or for worse. Don’t delude yourself. You are going to face tough times, regardless of whether you follow Christ or not. Why? Because our world is broken. And, no, God isn’t always going to step in and save you from the bad times because that’s not the way He works. There have been instances in the past where God has done that, where He’s intervened in ways that people can’t understand, and that’s not to say that He won’t do it again. But that’s His choice. That’s His prerogative, and if intervening doesn’t fit in His plan, He’s not going to do it. And He has that right as Sovereign God.

But just because He doesn’t step in doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us, doesn’t mean we’re alone or that He doesn’t care. It means He’s got something better. It means there’s a bigger plan and intervening would wreck it. Let’s face it, I learn more from difficulty than I do from comfort. I grow as a person when I face difficulty, and if I’m going through something tough right now, that means I’ve got something to learn. And whatever I learn is going to help me later on.

So if God has set you on a crooked, winding, steep path, don’t complain about it. Push forward and be thankful He’s equipped you for it. And when difficulty comes, don’t complain and don’t give up. He let it come for a reason. And when you don’t get what you want, remember that there’s something better on the other side.

True story. After I complained about PBS crapping out on me, my amazing friend Jessica told me about an incredible app. A PBS app! That allows you to watch current PBS episodes! Seriously? How awesome is that? So even though I didn’t get to see Sherlock last night, I’ll be able to watch it and the other episodes and the other PBS shows I love on my tablet, probably with better reception.

See? Something better.

I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t see the big picture. God doesn’t give me difficulty, but He lets me go through it so I remember He’s the one in control. And in His grace, He gives me what I need to get through and helps me learn something along the way.

So why be afraid of difficulty? Why get upset about it? Rejoice about it. Embrace it. Because you’re going to come out the other side better.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder

Have you ever told God what to do? I hate to admit to it, but I do it frequently. I think I know best. I tell Him what I expect out of life, and I expect Him to give it to me. And when He turns around and does something that I don’t expect–usually something I don’t want–I get upset. I worry. I stress out. And while I don’t exactly doubt Him, I certainly don’t feel like trusting Him.

Where exactly do we get the idea that we can tell God what to do? I’m not sure if that’s just part of the human condition or not, and maybe it’s an older sister complex. I have always tended toward the bossy side. But seriously who gets to boss God around? Nobody. Especially not me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. My proud heart is always full of words and possibilities and opportunities that I think I need to take advantage of, and God is crazy for not letting me do what I think is best.

Anyone else ever catch yourself thinking that way?

Today’s verses are actually an entire passage. I don’t do this often, but the whole chapter was just so good, I had to put the whole thing up, especially with what’s been going on throughout Kansas in the last few weeks with all the flooding and storms. The chapter is from the book of Job, and the person speaking in this chapter is a guy named Elihu, who sort of puts Job and his useless three friends in their places. But regardless of what is happening in this chapter (which is relevant, of course), the words Elihu says here are timeless. They’re still true today. And they are words we all need to remember as we tackle life’s ups and downs.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Job 37

“My heart pounds as I think of this.
     It trembles within me.
Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
    as it rolls from his mouth.
It rolls across the heavens,
    and his lightning flashes in every direction.
Then comes the roaring of the thunder—
    the tremendous voice of his majesty.
    He does not restrain it when he speaks.
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
    We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens.
The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
    and the driving winds bring the cold.
God’s breath sends the ice,
    freezing wide expanses of water.
He loads the clouds with moisture,
    and they flash with his lightning.
The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.

“Pay attention to this, Job.
    Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
Do you know how God controls the storm
    and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
Do you understand how he moves the clouds
    with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes
    and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
    Can you do that?

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused?
We cannot look at the sun,
    for it shines brightly in the sky
    when the wind clears away the clouds.
So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
     He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.”

Otter playing in the water, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Waiting for God to answer

God is amazing. It’s one thing to believe it when life is difficult and circumstances try your patience; it’s something else to know it without a shadow of a doubt when you fully realize that He actually is listening, that He actually does care, that He actually does have a good plan for you.

Otter playing in the water, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter playing in the water, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-8.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
    who have no confidence in the proud
    or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
    You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
    I would never come to the end of them.

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
    Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
    you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
    As is written about me in the Scriptures:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.”

I’m going to be brief today because I don’t know if any commentary I can add to these verses will make them any clearer than they already are, but this is the state of my heart this morning. I’m just overwhelmed and amazed that God would answer a prayer I’ve been praying for so very long. And I’m looking for some way to express how grateful I am, but I don’t have the words for it. So it’s much like verse 5 says: “O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.”

Now if only I can hold on to this level of confidence when things don’t go my way.

No matter what’s happening in your life or where you are in your walk, God has a plan. And every now and then you’ll get to see a glimpse of what it could be, a tiny part of what He’s doing. And even if you don’t get to touch it or finish it right at that moment, you still get the opportunity to glimpse the greater picture. And that’s enough to remind me that what God is doing is so much bigger than me, so far beyond anything I can accomplish on my own, and it’s so much better to let Him work on His own timetable rather than conforming to mine.

Are you waiting for God to answer? Keep waiting. He will. In some way, He will. Just be alert and pay attention. He won’t leave you hanging. Even though it may not be the answer you want (especially if it’s not the answer you expect), He will answer. It may take some time, but that just means you get longer to prepare for what’s coming. And let me tell you, if God’s got His hand in it, what’s coming will be too much for you. And that’s why He’s giving it to you, so He can help you do it.

Delicate pinkish-white flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Lose the entitlement mentality

Do you pray like I do? You ask God for the things you want and get your heart set on them because–well–of course, He’ll answer. He’s God. And God is good, and what I want is good, so surely He’ll give me what I want. Anyone else think like that?

Yeah, I have to admit that’s the way I used to pray, and I would get so frustrated because God didn’t give me what I asked for. It took a few years for me to be able to look back and understand that the things I asked for then would have hurt me. They would have distracted me. They were temporary. They weren’t worth it. God knew it, but I didn’t at the time.

This is the strange part about praying because we need to bring our requests to God. We need to ask Him for things. He wants us to ask Him for things. But whenever we ask Him, we always need to remember that He may not give it to us, and if He doesn’t, it’s not because He’s bad or mean or a liar. It simply means it’s not time yet or maybe our perception of what we’re asking for isn’t accurate.

Delicate pinkish-white flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Delicate pinkish-white flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:10.

May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.

Continuing our little study of the Lord’s Prayer, this is the second part of the instruction manual for praying. Yesterday we started with remembering who God is, remembering that we need to worship Him first before we do anything else, recognizing and acknowledging Him for Who He is. But what about this second step? What does this mean?

Well, think about it.

May your Kingdom come soon.

If we’re praying for God’s kingdom to come soon, that means we care more about the life to come than we do about the life we’re living now. It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day routines. It’s even easier to get distracted by the busyness of life. So I know I forget often that this world isn’t all there is. We have a better home, a better life waiting for us, and we need to be storing up treasures for that life rather than this one. Because on this dirt ball that we call home, what the world calls treasure is temporary.

May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

That’s what I started off talking about. God’s will is done in heaven. Duh. That’s an obvious statement, right? But how often is God’s will done on earth? I can tell you I don’t always do what I’m supposed to do. My life would probably look a lot different if I did. So if we’re praying for God’s will to be done down here, that means we’re asking for God to help us know what His will is on a day-to-day basis. And that means we’re willing to give up what we want in favor of what He says is better–even if it doesn’t make sense.

Neither of these steps is weird or unusual, but how many of us actually use these in our prayer lives? How many of us talk to God about these things? How often do you start a prayer by worshiping God first and then telling Him that you care more about eternity than your earthly life and that you’re willing to give up everything you want to do what He says?

If you pray that way, you’re a better Christian than I am.

What’s the point of praying like this? It comes down to attitude, I think. Once we get our perspective straight and remember who God is, the next thing we need to tackle is our entitlement mentality. We think we deserve things. We think God owes us one. No, we’d never say it out loud, but that’s how we treat Him.

Ask God for what you need. He wants to hear from you. But ask respectfully, understanding that God knows what you’re asking for and why you’re asking for it. Remember He doesn’t look at the outside. He looks at your heart and judges your motivation. So if you’re asking for something out of a selfish desire, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get it. But even if you ask for something with the purest motivation, you still may not get it, and you can’t let that ruin your faith in God. If nothing else, it should bolster it, because I guarantee ten years from now you’ll be able to look back and realize exactly why God didn’t give you your way. You’ll be thankful then.

So skip the angst when your prayers aren’t answered and just thank God for it now. It’ll save drama in the long run.

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Circumstances

November 2012 may go down in my personal history as the suckiest month ever. Seriously. Between car wrecks, damaging storms, deaths in the family and now allergic reactions that send me to the emergency room at Midnight … I can’t even guess what’s coming next and I don’t want to.

But no matter how many ridiculously frustrating and sad things happen in life, there’s one thing I’m trying to remember.

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Our circumstances shouldn’t dictate our perspective. Just because we are currently going through difficult times doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us or that He is punishing us for something. It just means that the world isn’t perfect. And it means that we aren’t perfect yet either. Or that we still have a lot to learn about living.

And personally, I think hard times are a good reminder for us that this life isn’t all there is.

There are a couple of verses in Scripture that talk about how to respond to difficult times. The passage escapes me, but there is a verse that says to rejoice in difficult times. But rejoicing in difficulty is different than being thankful in it.

Rejoicing means that you can still be positive even when you’re going through uncomfortable or unpleasant situations. But being thankful? Being thankful for adversity is hard. You have to step back and look at all the troubles in your life and turn to God and thank Him for it. That’s what being thankful in difficulty looks like, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been doing too well at that.

How am I supposed to thank Him for letting me have a car wreck that I caused? How am I supposed to thank Him for letting a crazy wind storm tear up my property? How am I supposed to thank Him for my Great Aunt’s death, for my swollen up eyeball, for my stressful work situation? Am I really supposed to thank Him for all of that?

Yes.

Granted, I don’t have to. He doesn’t force us to do anything, and gratitude is something you can’t fake. Not to God.

But so much depends on your perspective. If you can take the difficult situations in your life and be thankful to God for them and be specific when you thank Him for them, know what happens? You look at those circumstances differently.

That car wreck becomes an opportunity to be a better driver and share the story of God’s grace with people. The wind storm that ripped up my property provided a chance for me to get to know my neighbor better. My Great Aunt’s death reminded me of how precious family is and how short life can be. And my swollen up eyeball? … Well … that was a good learning experience of how I shouldn’t ever rub my eye. Ever. … No, it was a good opportunity for me and God to have a serious talk about trusting Him.

Circumstances are temporary. They’re like life. They never stop changing. They’re like the weather in Kansas; if you don’t like it, wait a while and it will change. So if you base your perspective on your circumstances, you’ll be as volatile as the wind. But if you base your perspective and your joy and your gratitude on God and on His Word, even when your life turns upside down, your focus will remain steady.

So when the difficult times come, and they will come (in droves often), don’t get discouraged. Just recognize them for what they are: a chance to grow.