When things don’t go your way, get excited

You don’t always get what you want. It’s one of those life lessons we learn at an early age, usually when birthdays or Christmases come around. You know what I mean.

Even if you’re overwhelmingly grateful for the gifts you receive, if someone has totally guessed wrong, it’s a little sad. One year, a relative gave my brother bedsheets for Christmas. And it’s not that he wasn’t thankful for the sheets. He needed them. But for Christmas? When you’re like 7 or 8?

It’s a good lesson to learn, though, to be thankful for what you’re given, even if it isn’t what you wanted. It’s good to learn it early because that’s a lesson that doesn’t change as you age. Most of the time, you aren’t going to get what you want out of life. So decide how you’re going to handle it now.

christmas-xmas-gifts-presentsToday’s verses are James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

I have a lot of plans. I want a lot of things. But what I want is rarely what I end up getting, and that’s okay with me. God isn’t keeping me from achieving my goals or hitting my deadlines because He wants to make me miserable. He isn’t holding back all the things I want because He’s mean. If He holds anything back, it’s because He’s got something better in mind. If He prevents me from hitting a deadline or making a goal that I think is important, it’s because He’s got something bigger planned.

God never intends for us to go without. He never wants us to have less than we need. But if we want to have all the things He’s promised for us, we’ve got to get on board with Him. We’ve got to follow His plan. We’ve got to get on His schedule, because He’s the one who can make things happen. So that means we have to start living life by His rules and seeing life through His eyes.

That means we rejoice when we don’t get our way. That means we get excited when we have to work harder to achieve something we thought would be easy. That means we leap for joy when someone makes like tough for us.

It goes against everything we feel, I know. When we hit tough times, it’s tempting to want to sulk, but don’t give into that mindset. That’s not an attitude God can bless.

So the next time you don’t get your way, thank God for it. It won’t feel natural, and that’s okay. It isn’t.

Just go right on rejoicing

As I was traveling back from my friends’ home in New Jersey with my brother earlier this week, I experienced a very rare moment: my genius brother was wrong and I was right. It doesn’t happen often. Usually it’s the other way around. But I knew I heard the dude at the gate in Atlanta say that gate-checked baggage should be picked up at the baggage claim at the airport in Wichita when we arrived. So when we stepped off the plane in Wichita, I told my brother that he needed to get his bag from baggage claim, but he didn’t believe me. He’d retrieved bags in the jetway in Wichita before, so it made no sense for them to be sent to the baggage claim.

I didn’t argue because I thought maybe I’d misheard. That’s usually how it goes. My brain hears things or thinks things, and I end up distracted and don’t get the whole story. So when his bag didn’t appear on the jetway, he asked the gate attendant. Sure enough. His bag had been sent to baggage claim.

Yes! Vindication!

Ever been there? When someone assumes you’re wrong for whatever reason only later to discover that you were right? It’s a pretty awesome feeling, finding out that you were on the up-and-up when everyone else just automatically assumes you can’t find your own nose with both hands and a road map.

That whole little kerfuffle was funny, and it’s something light-hearted I can tease my brother about now. But there are other more serious showdowns in life where people accuse you of things of which you’re innocent. Or they claim you’ve done something that you haven’t done. Or they assume things about your heart or your attitude that they can’t possibly know. And, what’s most frustrating, you can’t convince them otherwise. Your accusers shut their ears to you, and the only one other than you who knows the truth is God.

What do you do then? How do you react or respond? And just what the heck are you supposed to do with yourself until God sorts everything out like He’s promised He will?

5JA2DJT9G9_1556x993Today’s verses are Psalm 109:26-31.

Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me because of your unfailing love.
Let them see that this is your doing,
that you yourself have done it, Lord.
Then let them curse me if they like,
but you will bless me!
When they attack me, they will be disgraced!
But I, your servant, will go right on rejoicing!
May my accusers be clothed with disgrace;
may their humiliation cover them like a cloak.
But I will give repeated thanks to the Lord,
praising him to everyone.
For he stands beside the needy,
ready to save them from those who condemn them.

Nothing happens in our lives without a purpose. Yes, life is dark, and the world is broken, and because of that brokenness terrible things happen to us. But there’s nothing so terrible in our lives that God can’t turn into something beautiful. It takes time and patience and a lot of trust, but eventually you’ll get there.

Hurting people hurt people. That’s the truth. And it’s that truth that reminds me that my battle isn’t against people. So no matter what anyone does or says to me, I don’t ever want to hurt them in return. And I want to remember always that the difficult times in life are the moments when God proves Himself the most faithful. Not that He’s less faithful any other time but I’m just paying more attention.

Trouble and heartache will come. Some of it you’ll bring on yourself, and God is faithful to get you through it. The rest of it you won’t deserve, and God’s still faithful then too. Our goal as a Christ-follower is to keep on rejoicing regardless. Keep on singing. Keep on dancing and praising, and above all else, keep your eyes on the Lord. He’s the one who knows your heart, and it doesn’t matter what accusation anyone throws at you when the God of the Universe knows you to your soul.

God is right. God is faithful. God is true. God is real. He loves me unconditionally, and He forgives me perpetually. He’s more than enough for me. And no matter where I am today or tomorrow or ten years from now, whether I have everything or I’ve lost everything, whether I’m safe or in danger, I will still say the same thing. Because He doesn’t change. And nothing anyone else says or does will change that either.

What horrible thing happened to you this week? What difficult trial are you facing today? Who’s telling lies about you or threatening you or hurting you? Don’t stop rejoicing. No matter what. Tell God how awesome He is and believe it and watch Him work.

Photo by Kryziz Bonny, some rights reserved, creative commons

That I might not be silent

 

Life is one big balancing act sometimes, where you have to figure out how to take the good and the bad. And sometimes you run into situations where you’re powerless to help. There are some things in life that you can’t fix. Eventually, we all have to face the reality that life is more than we can handle alone.

And that’s where God comes in. With God, we can face any challenge, conquer any enemy, and win any battle. Maybe some days it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s the truth. And when we know we have God on our side, we can stand up to the troubles of the world with our head held high, and we can laugh–genuinely laugh and honestly rejoice–in the face of darkness. Because we have faith that God will bring us through.

So throw off that robe of mourning. Yes, there’s a time for it, but that time will eventually pass. Abandon that hiding place where you’ve taken refuge to recover from your wounds. There’s a time to rest, but that time passes too.

It’s time to get back to what we were made for. Forget the quiet. Let’s get loud. Let’s remind the world who Jesus is and what He’s done for us–and what He will do.

Psalm 30

Photo by Kryziz Bonny, some rights reserved, creative commonsI will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.

You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.

For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

When I was prosperous, I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.

I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
“What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

A second place pumpkin from the 2013 Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Celebrate the small victories

When was the last time you had a bad day? And I don’t mean a bad day as in a horrible, no-good, really bad kind of a day. I mean a bad day as in just a not-good day. Where something went wrong. Where people let you down. Where bad drivers made you grumpy.

It doesn’t have to be a day of epic badness to put you in a bad mood. Sometimes just one thing can go wrong, and it may not even be a huge problem. Those days are more common, I think, than the others. Just a bad day. And I hope that you are in a place in your life where your good days outnumber your bad days. Even though it may not feel like it, they probably do.

So if we honestly have more good days than bad ones, why do the bad days feel so overwhelming? Could it be we just don’t know how to celebrate the good days when we have them?

Today’s verse is Zechariah 4:10.

A second place pumpkin from the 2013 Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

A second place pumpkin from the 2013 Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.

I thought this verse was interesting because this is God talking to the prophet Zechariah, telling him to be sure not to discount small things. And I think that’s really relevant to our lives right now.

You don’t need to wait for a huge accomplishment to celebrate something. I’m not sure where that concept came from. Every day, I know something happens in each of our lives that’s worth celebrating. No, it may not be earth shattering. It may not change the world. Maybe you didn’t win first place, but you still won something. It means something in your life. And it might even mean something in the lives of people around you. So you should celebrate.

Did you get through a month without a speeding ticket? Celebrate!

Did you make it a week without eating something you’re not supposed to? Celebrate! (with a stick of celery, of course)

Did you get through a day without strangling that one person at work? Celebrate!

Whatever small victory you’ve achieved in your life, take the time to mark it down. It doesn’t have to be a huge affair. It doesn’t even have to include others, although that always makes it more fun. Celebrate the quiet victories in your life, and then when the bad days roll around again, you’ll remember the good days better.

It’s not wrong or indulgent to celebrate, especially when you’re celebrating something that God has done in your life. Actually, that’s encouraged! The more we celebrate God’s work in our hearts, the better!

I mean, how many Christ-followers do you know celebrate the day they accepted Christ? What about the day they got baptized? What about the day that God answered that desperate prayer to find your keys?

Do we celebrate those things? Do we mark those things down? If we don’t, how do we expect to remember them? And if we can’t remember them, it’s no wonder it feels like our bad days are overwhelming.

So what has God done for you today? What small prayer has He answered? What quiet miracle has He done? Don’t let it slip by unnoticed. Don’t let it pass you without acknowledging it. Even if you just stop for a moment to take a photograph or write a paragraph or tell somebody about it.

Just celebrate.

And when you start celebrating the small things God does for you, you might be surprised at how often you end up celebrating.

The Houses of Parliament, London, England

Sometimes love is a better teacher than justice

Have you ever been driving and someone behind you is riding your bumper and acting like an absolute idiot? I’m usually okay at controlling what I say, but when it comes to bad drivers, a lot of my inhibitions fly out the window. Bad drivers upset me worse than almost any other person, mainly because in their irresponsibility they not only endanger their own lives but the lives of other people around them.

So after the guy who was riding your bumper needlessly for the last three miles zooms around you and disappears down the road at 90 mph, how do you feel? Relieved? Or vindictive? I hate to admit it, but a major part of me leans more toward the vindictive side. Then, suppose you encounter this driver again a little ways down the road, stuck on the shoulder with a flat tire or an empty gas tank. How do you feel then?

I wish I were a good enough Christian to tell you that I would pull over and have compassion on the poor idiot, but I’m not. Just being honest, I’d probably drive on and feel justified. After all, he’s getting the least of what he deserves. A flat tire or an empty gas tank isn’t a big deal, and it’s the least punishment he deserves for his reckless behavior.

On first blush, that’s probably the reaction everyone would have. That’s probably what any other driver would do. If the weather is okay and a gas station is close at hand, why not? Today’s verse tells us why not and reminds me that we’re not supposed to react like everyone else. As a Christ-follower, we are supposed to love.

The Houses of Parliament, London, England

The Houses of Parliament, London, England

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 13:6.

It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

The word it in this verse is love, but not just regular love. This is agape love, the word for the kind of love that only comes from God. It’s the kind of love that allows us to love people who hurt us, who use us, who betray us, and it’s how we–as Christ followers–are supposed to live.

The way I see it, this is different from a speeder being pulled over or a drunk driver being arrested. To me, it’s good to see justice done. It’s good to see that people will be held accountable for their actions, but that is something that a law enforcement officer has to do. It’s not my job to determine crime and punishment for people just like me. Rather, it’s my job to love others no matter what they’ve done to me.

It’s easy for me to rejoice when someone else receives what I think is owed them. It’s not as easy to love that person in spite of how they hurt me or how they offended me or how they inconvenienced me.

Yes, my gut instinct is to leave a bad driver on the side of the road. Maybe he’ll think about his carelessness as he’s waiting for someone to come along and help him. But as Christ followers we’re not supposed to live by gut instinct. We’re supposed to live as Christ lived. We’re supposed to do things the way Christ would have done them. And what would Christ do in this situation? He’d stop and help the person in His path, no matter whether He thought they deserved their life lesson or not. Why? Because that’s love. And love is a far better teacher than vindictive self-righteousness any day.

So who is that person who drives you crazy? What are the circumstances that make you angry? And when do you want to sit back and watch as someone gets their just desserts? Try thinking about it from a different perspective. Try thinking about that person with the love that comes from God. Do they look any different to you now?

God is in charge of justice and revenge. God is in charge of doling out punishment. That’s not our arena, unless you’re a law enforcement officer or a member of the courts who are charged with upholding the law in our society. I don’t fit into one of those categories. I’m just an average Christ follower with a shamefully powerful tendency toward road rage. My job is to love people no matter what they’ve done to me.

You never know how God is going to use you. Sometimes love can teach lessons better than justice. Who knows? Maybe that person you stop to help would listen to you much sooner than they would listen to an authority. Maybe your one act of love helps save that person’s life as well as the lives of other drivers around him.

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s blessings don’t always feel like blessings

It rained last night. In June I wouldn’t have been so happy about it, but last night wasn’t bad. In June, I didn’t want to see another drop of rain.

I wish I would have found today’s passage back then.

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Joel 2:21-23.

Don’t be afraid, my people.
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.

Throughout the Bible, God uses different aspects of nature and different circumstances in our lives to communicate with us. He has control over both, so what better means to demonstrate not only His power but His love?

I enjoyed the rain last night, although driving home in some of the heavier spots was a little nerve wracking. The rain was nice. It was refreshing. But I can tell you if I had seen last night’s storm back in June, I wouldn’t have been so happy about it. We were already soaked in Kansas, and we didn’t need any more rain. But it just kept coming.

I was so tired of the rain, so tired of having to clean up my basement after it leaked, so tired of being worried that the whole place was going to flood while I was gone and tired of worrying that my roads would wash out and prevent me from getting home in the first place. And I just didn’t understand why God was allowing us to flood like that.

But the more I thought about it, the more I talked to God about how frustrated I was, the more He reminded me that He wasn’t trying to cause trouble. He was preventing trouble.

Kansas had been in a drought for like three years. Maybe longer. And honestly even though we got more than enough rain, I’m not sure if our “levels” are back up to where they need to be. but as an agricultural state, it’s not good for us to turn into a desert. The rain was a good thing. It was inconvenient and troublesome, but that was because I was worried about it. And I shouldn’t have been.

See, the rain during that time was a blessing. It was a gift from God. Without that rain, I’m not sure what Kansas crops and livestock would have looked like next year.

And that got me thinking. How many times do we treat God’s gifts like they’ll only cause us more trouble? Rain is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, of His provision, but if you only see the inconvenience of it, you will miss the point. It’s the same with any other blessings God gives us. God’s blessings and gifts don’t necessarily come easily. Yes, He gives them out free, but most of the time, that means you have to change something about your life in order to make the most of them. The plain and simple truth is that God’s blessings don’t always look or feel like blessings.

My 2005 Malibu after my very first wreck, Wichita, KS -- 2008

My 2005 Malibu after my very first wreck, Wichita, KS — 2008

Example from my own life? My first major wreck. I’d bought a “big girl” car with my own money, and I loved that car. I had it for three weeks because someone got up on the highway in a truck without securing his aluminum ladder. The wind blew it off and into my path, and in swerving to avoid it, I lost control and punched through a guard rail going 70 miles per hour. The impact sheared the whole front of the car off and took out 20 feet of the railing, and I walked away with a few airbag burns (and a separated shoulder, which we didn’t realize until four weeks later).

On the surface, the wreck was awful. It was the worst thing that I’d gone through in my life up until that point. I was hurt and sore and angry and disappointed, and I didn’t know what I had done wrong to deserve to go through it. But how did the story end? I got a better car.

My first car had been a 2005 Malibu with 50,000+ miles. With the settlement from the guy’s insurance company, I was able to buy a nicer 2008 Malibu with 17,000 miles.

My wreck was a pain, but God used it to give me something better than I had. On the surface, it looked awful, but God had a blessing in mind the whole time. It’s like rain. Rain can be taken as a difficulty, a pain, a curse, but according to this, rain is a sign that God hasn’t forgotten His promises to us. What our enemy means for evil, God can use for good.

So before you look at that tough situation in your life right now like it’s trouble, take a step back and ask God about it. Because there’s a good chance that there’s more to it than what you can see right now. And if you’re a Christ follower, you can know God is working things out for your good and His glory. Remember, God is faithful. He always keeps His promises. And even though it doesn’t always feel like it, He never leaves us.

So hang in there and hold on. God’s got it covered, and someday soon you’ll be able to look back and see His hand all over it.

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Whatever happens

I spent all of January posting about change because of everything that was transitioning in 2013. But let me just say, I had no idea how much things would change and how many aspects of my life were going to be affected. I knew about a couple of areas, but for now, let’s just say that I think a lot more is going to change by the end of 2013 than I expected.

I mean, first off, I’m getting a new phone. And not just a new phone to carry around with me, but a new phone service. I haven’t had a new phone service in nearly 20 years. But the way things are working out, for financial reasons, we had to do something different. And maybe that sounds like a small thing, but learning a new phone and a plan on top of everything else isn’t exactly simple. And there are all sorts of other things coming down the pipe, and to top it all off, there’s a big winter storm coming in today. And I don’t mind the snow, but the ice will be difficult.

And it would be so easy to sit down and point out all the negatives in all of these situations I’m dealing with, but I’m pretty sure the Bible says not to do that. And I’m pretty sure the Book of Philippians has a thing or two to say on just focusing on the negatives, but why does it matter? When everything changes and when you’re disappointed and when you’re tired of everything, what’s wrong with allowing yourself to feel unhappy?

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 3:1.

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Sometimes life just happens. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, and you get caught up in the drama and the high emotion, and there’s nothing you can do about it except press forward. And it’s all you can do to drag yourself out of bed because you know you’re just going to face another day where you have to work a job that stresses you out or you have to face an unpleasant situation that you can’t control.

And it’s in those moments where I feel that I just want to sit down and cry. I want to curl up in a ball and not talk to anybody and not have to be a shining example of Christ to the world because I’m so tired of not having control. I’m so tired of everything going wrong. I’m so tired of finally getting the hang of something just to have it change on me again.

So why is it important to keep looking up when those moments come? Why can’t I tuck myself in a corner and refuse to listen to what God is saying?  What’s wrong with sinking into a dark hole and giving up?

Most of the time I worry about how my actions and reactions will affect the other believers around me. But in this instance, I don’t think that’s the concern. Yes, it’s important for mature Christians to be a good example to new believers, but it’s doubly important for mature Christians to have a healthy perspective of circumstances in their life. Because it won’t matter how long you’ve been following Christ; you’ll grow bitter toward Him. And bitterness and faith don’t really work well together.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say when things are good we are to rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t even say when things are bad to rejoice in the Lord. He says whatever happens. Good or bad. Planned or unplanned. Expected or unexpected. Happy or not.

Rejoice if you got the job. Rejoice if you didn’t. Rejoice if someone you love dies. Rejoice if someone you love welcomes a new life into the world (shout out to Luis and Val Alicea and little Isabella who arrived at 1am today!). Rejoice if the sun is shining. Rejoice if it’s cloudy. Rejoice if everything is right. Rejoice if nothing is.

Rejoice. No matter what.

Why?

Because it will protect your faith.

Choosing to have joy is a hard thing, especially when you’re struggling emotionally. Choosing to be thankful even for the bad things in life is challenging because it’s so much easier to just give up. But if you give up, you’re stepping out of a story that’s bigger than you. You’re choosing to believe that God can’t use a difficult situation in spite of how difficult it is. You’re choosing to believe that God is unable or unwilling, and that’s not true.

But so many people harden themselves when God doesn’t give them what they want. And it’s not that God is holding back blessings. It’s just that He has something better planned. But we have to choose to believe that.

Notice also that Paul apparently has repeated this a couple of times. But he says he never gets tired of repeating it, probably because he needed to hear it every time he said it or every time he wrote it.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been a follower of Christ, I still struggle with this, because I get stuck in that dark place between opportunity and challenge where I can see how God could give me everything I want. But then He turns around and sets me on a completely different path from what I thought He wanted. And I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t understand many times why He does the things He does.

But let’s be honest for a moment. Do you really want to know what He has planned? If I think back ten or even fifteen years, I would have never imagined He could have brought me this far, and if He had told me about the responsibilities I would be trusted with as a 30 year old when I was a goofy little 15 year old? I would have had a coronary.

God has plans for us. They’re good plans. Plans to give us hope and a future. But the world is broken and so are we. And it’s rarely an instance of God just snapping His fingers or wiggling His nose in order to get us what we want; there’s usually some attitudes that have to be changed on our part before we can get there. And there are definitely challenges we have to overcome first. But if we can persevere through the challenges and through the difficulties and maintain the joy that we have on the good days throughout the bad days, something miraculous happens.

We grow up. We get stronger. And our faith increases because God proves Himself over and over again through difficult times. And later on down the road, He’ll usually give us what we want. We just have to want Him more first. If we can want Him and want what He wants more than anything, then facing trouble with a smile isn’t that hard because you realize that anything He allows is just going to help you later on.