Biblical stress relief is a thing

Stress is normal, right? It’s how we’re supposed to live. It’s how we demonstrate that we’re effective workers.

I mean, if I’m not stressed out about something, does that make me a sub-standard employee? Does that make me lazy or disinterested? Everybody knows that the best employees are always rushing, always exhausted, always stressed about something, right?

I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re physically capable of carrying that kind of stress for an extended period of time. So how do we change it? How do we fix it?

I’m not an expert, but I have lived with a lot of stress in my life. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I know that following Jesus isn’t easy (John 16), but Jesus also says that His burden is light and those who seek rest should come to Him (Matthew 11:30). So where’s the middle ground?

That’s how I found Exodus 14.

Yes, Exodus. The Old Testament, Moses and the Burning Bush, ten plagues of Egypt–Exodus. Just about everybody knows the basic story.

The Basics

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brenner) in The Ten Commandments

God tells this shepherd dude, Moses, to go to Pharaoh (King of Egypt) and demand the release of the Hebrews, the slave nation Egypt was working to death. (Cue Charlton Heston: “Let my people go!”) Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t budge. (Cue Yul Brenner: “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) God smites Egypt with fleas and frogs and boils. Oh my! Pharaoh relents, and the Hebrews go free. But that’s not the end of the story.

God tells Moses to lead the Hebrews (a.k.a. Israelites) to the Red Sea. Basically, God directs them into a dead end. The Israelites don’t know that. But God makes sure that Pharaoh knows. And God sets it up so that the Israelites, His beloved people, are like sitting ducks. Even more than that, He “hardens Pharaoh’s heart” so that the King of Egypt will come after the Israelites.

Pharaoh does. He and his whole army chase them down, and God parts the Red Sea so that His people can safely cross. Then, God collapses the Red Sea on the Egyptian army as they’re in pursuit. Not a single one survived.

It’s sobering to remember just who God is and what He’s capable of, isn’t it?

So where’s the stress relief?

Look. God got them into this situation. He told Moses where to set up camp. He knew it was a dead end. He knew they were vulnerable. And then He went and ensured that Pharaoh and his entire army would come after them. Why?

“I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (Exodus 14:17-18)

God put His people in this situation so that all of Egypt could know who He is. God let the Israelites face terror and annihilation so that the world could know His great name and know that if they turned to Him, they could be saved.

But what matters about this whole story is the fact that God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.

[su_pullquote]God got them into that mess, and He was the only one who could get them out of it again.[/su_pullquote]

Are you following Jesus today? Are you living for God, doing your best to keep His Word, to trust Him? I am. But that doesn’t make life easier. In spite of doing everything God asks of me, I usually get more trouble. But instead of handing my troubles to God, I clutch them tighter. I try to fix them myself. But I didn’t run into this trouble because I was doing my own thing. I ran into trouble because I was following Jesus.

That means it’s not my trouble to fix. It’s His.

I shouldn’t stress myself out trying to solve problems I can’t solve. But that’s where my stress mostly comes from. Instead, I need to trust that God will provide a solution My when it’s time.

It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, though. You can’t look at every situation in your life this way. The first thing you have to do is check your heart. Are you actually following God? There’s a chance your own actions have led to this difficulty you’re facing.

But if your heart is clean before Him, if you’re honestly following Him with everything you have and trouble still finds you (it will), remember this.

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14

Isn’t it possible that the things that are stressing you out right now—the ones you can’t control—have actually come from God? Maybe God wants to show how awesome He is through your life. Maybe God wants everyone to know His name through you.

exodus14-14Hold on to that with both hands. Recognize that He’s the one who calls the shots. Let Him work. Get out of His way. Stop trying to control things yourself and trust Him like you say you do.

My God moves mountains and parts oceans. He can do the impossible because that’s who He is. And when I consider all the trouble in my life, I need an impossible God to help me. And if that means He has to let me sweat a bit in order to help everyone else recognize who He is, bring it on.

My life is in His hands. So why should I be afraid of anything? He got me into this. He can get me out of it.

Choosing to glorify God clears up the gray areas

I run a publishing company with two very good friends. It’s a little side business we decided to try last year, and it’s growing. It actually might be getting close to becoming a “real” business soon, and while that’s exciting, it also means a lot more challenges. Some I expected and others I didn’t.

The publishing company has a blog that the three of us update weekly, and we wanted to do TV and movie reviews. No big deal, right? Well, a legal situation in the middle of this year prompted us to start looking into the legality of using images we don’t own. Like stills from movies or television shows. It’s a big, confusing mess of legalese, and really all it amounts to is that the whole thing is sort of gray.

So what does that mean? It means you have to make the best, wisest decision you can with the information you have. Sure, you can wing it. You can guess. But that’s a surefire way of making the wrong choice. You need to think, to look at your goals, study the law, and make your decision.

Ever realized that following Jesus is sort of the same in some ways?

OT37RD9KJNToday’s verses are 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The Bible is very clear on the important aspects of following God. Who God is. Who Jesus is. The work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation by grace through faith. Eternal security. And many others. But there are other areas that aren’t as black and white. There are other areas some people call gray. And navigating the gray areas is often the biggest source of conflict between believers.

The law is very clear about some things, and it’s a bit fuzzy on others. Best example? Modesty. Should women only wear skirts? I’m not sure if this is as big a deal today as it was 15+ years ago. When I was in high school, it was the only discussion (or it felt like it was). Jeans and slacks and trousers are considered by some to be immodest when worn by women. But the other side of that coin? What about women who live in states like Kansas where the wind never quits blowing? Have you ever tried to wear a skirt and work outside in Kansas wind? Modest isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind.

But there’s no verse in the Bible that says women shouldn’t wear pants. The Bible just instructs us to be modest. And modesty (to a certain extent) is a matter of preference. And that’s where an understanding of the spirit of the law needs to go into effect. What is the point? What is the truth? Why is modesty important, and what should we do achieve it?

That’s when you need to start studying. You need to start digging and asking questions. You need to look for the answers because they aren’t always obvious. And you might not ever find an obvious answer, and it’s at that point when you need to take what you know about the Bible and about who God is and what He expects and make the best choice you can.

Don’t cheap out on this, folks. That’s a quick way to get yourself in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know what to do, study. Read the Bible. Search for the answer. Get council from someone at your church who you trust. Listen. And pray. Talk to God and ask Him what you’re supposed to do. And then–choose.

It all comes down to glorifying God in everything you do. That’s how you can clear out the gray areas. That’s how you can figure out what you’re supposed to do when the answers aren’t presenting themselves easily. First and foremost, do everything for God’s glory. That means obeying His Word in letter and spirit–in letter for the instructions that are obvious and in spirit for the expectations He has for our lives.

Knowledge is learning, but wisdom is using it

The other night, I was out late and hadn’t eaten dinner. So I swung by McDonald’s for a chicken sandwich, and I got a kick out of the Schwann’s truck in the parking lot. Ironic. A Schwann’s truck full of food, and the driver is stopping to eat a Big Mac or something. But of course the poor guy had to stop. It’s not like he could eat any of the food in his truck. It’s all frozen.

Sometimes my life is like that. I’ve got a great big brain full of lots of information and random bits of nonsense, but I can’t use it for anything. I mean, some of what I know is useful. Some of what I know can be used to help others, and I do my best to live that way. But do we ever stop to think about education and learning from that perspective? It’s not bad to learn. It’s not bad to be educated. But I do believe there’s a place in life where you can be too educated.

S059QDGBOG (1)Today’s verses are James 1:22-25.

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

Knowledge and Wisdom are two important parts of following Jesus, and both of them are gifts. But knowledge, in my mind, is theoretical. Knowledge is knowing every Bible verse, being able to quote Scripture cover to cover, knowing every reference. And that’s not bad. Good grief, if you have that knowledge, that’s amazing.

But there’s a massive difference between having knowledge and acting on it.

You can know that a piece of cheese is rotten before you eat it, but just knowing it’s rotten won’t make any difference in your life unless you make a choice whether or not to eat it. Maybe that’s a bad example, but think about the Scwann’s man. The dude (or dudette) had a whole truck full of tasty entrees and desserts, just ready to be eaten, but they would just continue to sit in the back of the truck because he didn’t what he needed to actually use them. Schwann’s food has to be thawed or baked before you can eat it (unless you got fudge bars). But you get the point.

So many Christians are just walking encyclopedias. We’re full of information. We’re full of the Bible. We’re full of Church language. But all we do is carry it around, and it’s not changing our lives or the lives of people around us because we don’t use it. We have to stop at the McDonald’s for a meal because what we’re carrying around with us isn’t nourishing.

You can read, learn, understand, and accept every verse in the entire Bible, but until you DO it, it means nothing. There’s a big step between mentally accepting that the Bible is true and believing it strongly enough that you change the way you live because of it. You can say you believe the Bible, but that won’t do anything. That won’t make any chance in your life or in the lives of people around you.

But if you pay attention, if you do what the Bible says, if you listen to what you’ve heard and obey, your life will turn inside out. God will show up in ways you can’t ignore. And you’ll be so full of blessings you can’t contain them. But that first step is yours to take.

So learn, yes. Learn all you can. But don’t learn just because you’re afraid of what comes after learning. That’s the point of going to school, to move on to the next step. Don’t let fear hold you back. Learn all you can, and move on. Learn all you can, and let God use what you’ve learned to do what He wants you to do.

Getting knowledge is a great idea, but turning your knowledge into something that gives God glory? That’s wisdom. And you really ought to go after both of them.

How can you expect God to answer when He might not?

I remember the very first time I submitted something to be published. I think it was 1991, so I would have been 8 or 9. I was so excited to send off this awesome poem I’d written, and I thought for sure it would be published. Yikes. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but nothing I slapped together in elementary school was ready to be published. I never heard back from the publication.

But that didn’t stop me. I kept trying. Over and over and over again. And every time, I thought it might be the last time I’d receive a rejection letter. (If any of you are writers, you know what a silly thought that was!) As I got older, I kept writing, kept submitting, but now I was praying. I believed God had gifted me as a writer, and I wanted to use my skills for Him. So I’d write and submit and pray, pray, pray. And guess what?

No. Nothing was ever accepted. Sometimes that was hard to swallow, because I believed I was doing what God had called me to do. So why wasn’t He giving me success? He tells us to expect an answer to our prayers, but it’s still up to Him whether or not He answers. So how are you supposed to balance expecting God to answer your prayer when you know He might not?

AW41W55XCBToday’s verses are John 16:31-33.

Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

This is Jesus, talking to the disciples. If you have a moment and are able to read all of John 16, you should. Jesus is telling them about all the tough stuff that they’re going to face in the coming days and weeks and months. The disciples, dimwitted as they are, aren’t really tracking until the end, and then Jesus tacks this bit on at the very last.

Look at it again. Jesus is basically saying that He’s going to be abandoned, and all His followers are going to be scattered to the four winds. And He’s sharing this tidbit (and all the heavy stuff that came before it) because He wanted His followers to have peace.

Really? What sense does that make? You’re going to be scattered and alone, and now you know, so you can be filled with peace. Does that make sense to anyone?

The Bible is full of examples where people have prayed to God, and He’s answered their prayers with an affirmative. There are plenty of examples too where people prayed, and God said no. And what we need to wrap our brains around is the fact that whether God says yes or no, He still answers. And His answers are better than ours, even if they make us unhappy at the time.

From my earliest memory, I wanted to be published. I wanted to have a book on the shelf. I wanted people to read my stories. I didn’t know how to get there, but I knew that’s what I wanted. So I tried everything I could think of, and I prayed long and hard for God to make a way for this dream to come true. And it has. It just hasn’t come true the way I expected it to.

God will always answer your prayer. It just may not be the answer you want, and you have to learn to be okay with that. The disciples faced it too. They wanted Jesus to do certain things, say certain things, go certain places, and He refused. Jesus wouldn’t let anyone put Him in a box.

Sometimes the answer isn’t what you want, but it’s always what you need. You won’t find peace accidentally. It’s something you have to ask for specifically. And your peace has to be founded in Jesus, because He’s the only one who can take the bad news and turn it into something good. Being scattered, being abandoned, being alone–they’re all bad and scary, but because Jesus is who He is, He can turn them into something beautiful.

Expect an answer. You will get it. So ask God for what you need. And believe that He will answer your prayer. It may be yes. It may be no. It may be wait. But whatever answer you get is the answer you need. You can trust Him, and because you can trust Him, you can have peace.

Don’t be afraid, even if you can’t see what’s coming

We’ve got a new batch of kittens at Safe Haven Farm–seven of them! And other than several of them having some issues with runny eyes, they’re all healthy and hilarious. Yesterday I went out to play with them, and I had to laugh. It was a particularly windy day, and every time a gust of wind would come along, all seven would scurry into the shadows of the garage again. When the wind would stop blowing, they’d creep out to play some more, until the wind gusted again. Then they’d scatter.

Being afraid of the wind in Kansas is going to limit their experiences, because it’s always windy here. Eventually they’ll learn not to run in fear when the wind blows, but I couldn’t help but think about how strange it must be. If you’d never felt wind before, it would be pretty scary. You can’t see it, but it can knock you clean over if you aren’t paying attention.

Jethro, one of the new kittens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Jethro, one of the new kittens at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 3:22.

Do not be afraid of the nations there, for the Lord your God will fight for you.

When the children of Israel were preparing to go into the land God had promised them, after they’d been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, God turned command of the army over to Joshua. Moses had done his job. And this was one of the messages God left with him: that the people shouldn’t be afraid of what they would encounter on the other side of the Jordan River because God would be there fighting for them.

And that’s a promise God kept over and over again.

We all face moments in our lives when we’re uncertain about what’s coming. In those moments, I always feel like I have some invisible enemy that’s going to sneak up on me when I least expect it. None of us knows what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s difficult to face a day sometimes when you don’t know where you’ll be at the end of it. Some people don’t know if they’ll still have a bed to sleep in. Some people don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.

None of us know what’s coming. Like the Children of Israel who’d never seen the land they were going into, we face troubles and frustrations on a daily basis that go above our heads. There are circumstances and situations that we’re not prepared for. There are confrontations and accusations we have to face that we don’t know how to respond to.

It’s all unknown and uncertain, and there’s nothing more terrifying than the unknown. But what God told the Children of Israel back then is the same thing He’s saying to us know. You may not know what’s coming, but He does. And He isn’t passively sitting on the sidelines judging our performance. God is actively involved in our lives and in our world, and He will fight for us.

Granted, if you want God to fight for you, you need to be on His side, which means you need to be doing what He says is right. If you’re there, then you have nothing to fear. If you’re not there? You might want to think about getting there.

Just because I can’t see what’s coming doesn’t mean I should fear it. Most of my future is completely uncertain, but I will choose not to be afraid for one reason and one reason alone–my God is certain. I belong to Him, and He will fight my battles for me.

There are only two sides you can be on

What is it about human nature that compels us to take sides against each other? Throughout history, you can see evidence of how groups of people eventually split apart over some disagreement, which then led them to either take up arms against each other or run away to do their own thing.

Groups with opposing ideologies are always at each others’ throats. Democrats versus Republicans. Christians versus Muslims. Batman versus Superman. We have an opinion, and when we find people who share our opinion, we like ganging up on others who disagree.

And, to be perfectly honest, sometimes, taking a side is good. You have to stand for something, right? But how do you know which side is right? That’s the hard part. If you take a side, that means you have to stand against the other side. And if there’s nothing else I’ve learned in my life, it’s that every story has more than one side. So if you’re using somebody’s story to decide which side you’re going to support, you might want to make sure you have considered all the angles. Otherwise, if the side you’re supporting turns out to be full of it, you’re going to be a part of hurting a lot of innocent people.

So how can you know what side to be on? Can you choose a side that you can always know will be the right one?

pound_britishToday’s verses are Joshua 24:14-15.

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

This is Joshua talking. Joshua took over leading the Children of Israel when Moses was finished. And this is at the end of Joshua’s life, where he’s reminding the people around him of the choices they had. They could choose to follow God, or they could choose not to follow God.

Funny enough, those are the same two choices we have today. Not much has changed.

In our lives, in our families, we have two choices. We can either live the way God has told us to live, or we can choose not to. Now, that looks different from person to person. Maybe you have a wonderful family, but just because you have a great life doesn’t mean you’re following God.

And, granted, following God looks different from person to person, but the number one characteristic you’ll see in the life of someone who is pursuing God with his/her whole heart is a singular focus on pleasing God.

So the next time someone asks you whose side you’re on, think about it. There are really only two sides you can be on. God’s Side or Not God’s Side. It’s not about the democrats and the republicans. It’s not about the liberals and the conservatives. It’s not about the air-in-the-tires Amish and the no-air-in-the-tires Amish (no, I’m not making that up). Are you on God’s side or aren’t you?

When God says trust Him, do you trust Him? When God says to love Him, do you love Him? When God says to love people, do you love people? Or are you buried so deep in your own self-importance that all you can see and hear is what you want for yourself?

The attitude of the heart directs our actions. What’s in our hearts that comes out of our mouths. Why matters more than What. Granted, some “whats” are always a bad idea, regardless of the why, but you understand what I’m saying.

It’s easy to support someone who is hurting because there’s something in us that wants to stand up for the little guy. We all cheer for the underdogs. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But are you sure your underdog is really telling the truth? Or are you letting blind loyalty direct your choices rather than God?

If taking a side means that you have to hurt someone else, physically or emotionally, I don’t think that’s what God wants or asks. So count the cost before you take a side, and make sure you’re on the side that is truly blameless. That’s the only side that will keep you blameless too.

Don’t be afraid to ask God for something impossible

When was the last time you asked God for something impossible? I’m not talking about asking for a million dollars or asking for a dream vacation. I’m talking about something out-of-this-world extraordinary. Something no person on Earth has the capability to achieve. Like the restoration of a broken relationship, the redemption of a lost soul, or the healing of a broken body.

We get so caught up in our material wealth in this country that we lose sight of what is truly impossible. We live buried in debt that we can’t get out of, so our idea of impossible is being independently wealthy. But what about the things that really matter? The people we care about, the lives around us, the hurting hearts?

When was the last time you asked for something truly impossible?

Nothing-is-IMPOSSIBLEToday’s verses are Jeremiah 33:2-3.

This is what the Lord says—the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord: Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.

Yes, this is God inviting you to ask. Throughout the Bible, God invites His people to talk to Him, to get to know Him, to have a conversation with Him, and in every instance in Scripture when someone gets closer to God, they change from the inside out.

Can you imagine what it’s like to encounter God like Moses did? Or like Joshua? Or even like the prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, who heard God’s voice clearly? After you’ve experienced God like that, how could you ever doubt Him?

Granted, they all had their bad days, when the struggles of life overwhelmed them, and then God had to remind them who He is. And, fortunately for them, they listened.

But what about us? What great God experience do we get? Well, I guess that depends on how closely you’re paying attention. No, we don’t get to see oceans parting and or city walls collapsing, but we do experience divine appointments–those moments that only God could have coordinated. We get to witness Him working in our lives and in other people’s lives. We get to see the miracles of nature that God has created.

Everything is a miracle.

And just because we don’t see crazy ridiculous “miraculous” events here in this country doesn’t mean they aren’t happening elsewhere. There are all sorts of reports of impossible things happening around the world–the dead being raised, impossible prayers being answered, God intervening in ways that are obvious.

Just because it’s not happening in America doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in other countries. Sorry to burst your bubbles, friends, but America isn’t the bastion of hope and light that we used to be.

But that doesn’t mean God won’t do the impossible if we ask. I’ve seen Him do impossible things, just in my own life, and I can think of several impossible things that I’d like to see Him do right now. I bet you can think of some too.

So why don’t we ask? Are we afraid He’ll say no? Are we afraid He’ll tell us that He can’t do it or that He won’t do it?

Don’t be afraid.

You know who God is, right? God is good. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, God is inherently God. He’s the only one who is. So whatever God does is good.

Maybe it doesn’t seem good to us right now, but that’s because we don’t understand it. That’s where trust comes in. Maybe He’s withholding something that’s good right now in order to provide us with something better later on down the road. You just don’t know.

He won’t strike you down for asking. The Bible is full of examples of people who asked God questions we might think are impertinent, and Jesus never rebuked them. If it were an honest question from a heart genuinely seeking, Jesus never turned anyone away. And God is the same.

What is that impossible thing in your life that you desperately wish would happen? Who is that one person you think will never change? What is that relationship you’re afraid is doomed to fail?

Don’t be afraid to ask for the impossible. God is in the business of the impossible, and there is nothing beyond His reach. That doesn’t mean He’ll always do what you ask Him to do, and there are uncountable reasons why He might say no. But we should always remember that if God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, that just means He’s going to answer them in a better way later on.

God never ignores us. Not ever.

So ask already.

I know what I’m asking for. How about you?