Life will surprise you but it doesn’t have to upset you

Life doesn’t always go the way you expect it will. You can plan all the details carefully and still not be ready for the curve balls it throws you. You can be capable and clever and still end up on your backside when life is done with you. And that’s why it’s important to understand that you can never plan life.

You can get ready for what you think will happen, but that’s it. You can’t control when it happens or how it happens. Sometimes things just happen. Both good things and bad things can catch us off guard. When the surprise is good, sometimes it’s hard to accept because–come on, good things don’t just happen, right? When the surprise is bad, we tend to point fingers at God and demand an explanation for why He would hurt us like this. Neither perspective is helpful.

So if you can’t avoid surprises, good or bad ones, how do you get through life without falling down all over yourself? Well, honestly, sometimes you are just going to trip and fall on your face. It’s good for you, though. Getting up again builds character. But facing the uncertainties of life is a lot easier when you see them the way God sees them–not as speed bumps sent to frustrate and annoy you but as opportunities to see a miracle up close and personal.

me-n-katie

Me and my best friend (I haven’t mastered the Art of Selfie yet ….)

Today’s verses are Luke 7:1-10.

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people, he returned to Capernaum. At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said, “for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.”

So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.

Can you imagine the faith this Roman had? He didn’t have to see Jesus do a miracle to believe that He could do it. We should be amazed. Because Jesus marveled at this guy.

I’m putting my best friend on a plane today. Again. I think this marks the fourth or fifth time I will watch her walk back through security in an airport and step out of my everyday life.

I never expected to have a best friend other than my brother, but when you encounter someone who is quite literally the other half of your brain, friendship sort of just happens. Almost overnight in our case. We’d known each other for years, but the best friend bit came along in the last six or so. And just as we had gotten to the place where we could finish each other’s sentences (or sandwiches, if you happen to be a Frozen fan), God told her to become a missionary.

That’s life. What’s more, that’s life following God. You never know what’s going to happen. You never know what He’s going to do. And honestly it’s better if you don’t know it ahead of time, but man–it can be frustrating. Because for once–just once–I’d like things to be easy and straight forward and simple. But they don’t work like that. This abundant life thing God has given us tends to complicate our worlds.

At least, that’s what it seems like if you’re looking at it from the world’s perspective. When you see it from God’s perspective, it’s really quite simple. God knows what He’s doing, so just trust Him and do what He says.

It’s all in how you see your circumstances. Your attitude about God and what He’s doing in your life depend on how much you trust Him. Do you believe He knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises? If you do, then you probably don’t have a problem leaving the country to become a missionary half a world away.

But what if you’re the one left behind? What if you’re the one who always ends up the anchor, the one who stays put, the one who holds down the fort? What if you don’t get to be a missionary and have to stay where you are instead? What if you’re the friend left alone in the airport waving goodbye to someone you won’t get to hug again for six months–or maybe longer? How does trusting God work out in that situation?

Well, who says they’re different? One person has to trust God enough to leave. The other has to trust Him enough to stay. Believe that God has a plan either way. Everything comes down to trust. Do you trust Him enough to believe that He can bring beauty from ashes? Do you trust Him enough to believe that He is more than your current circumstances?

It’s okay if life catches you by surprise with the things you don’t expect, but you don’t have to stay surprised. God is right there with you, and He’s big enough to manage any complication. So tell Him about it, listen for an answer, read the Scripture, and then do what He says.

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God sees you when you’re struggling

I climbed a Scottish mountain yesterday. It was pretty exciting. Our little crew of international travelers walked up this really steep path to get to this ancient rock, which marked the place where the Clan MacLaren used to rally in older times.

It was a difficult climb. It was raining. And not just raining. Pelting. So loud and hard you can actually hear it on our videos that we’ve taken. A ridiculous amount of rain, especially for a bunch of Kansans.

The mud was thick and threatened to swallow us up. The rocks were few and far between, and the loam wasn’t very good at providing good places to grip.

But we made it to the top, and it was worth the trek. The view was beautiful, and we could say that we accomplished something incredible.

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

Today’s verses are Revelation 2:2-3.

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

It’s easy to give up when times get tough. It’s easy to walk away from a challenge, especially when you don’t feel up for it or when you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t capable. And when you think God isn’t paying attention, it’s even easier to walk away from a time of struggle.

But here’s news for you, friends. God is watching. All the time.

He sees when you struggle. He sees when you falter. He sees when you need help, and He cares. He’s not ignoring you. He’s watching you every step of the way.

Maybe that doesn’t comfort you, but it comforts me that God cares enough to watch what I’m doing. And He cared enough to intervene when it gets to be too much for me, which is always.

What are you struggling through this morning? What impossible task are you facing? Don’t give up. It will get harder before it gets better, you can almost count on that, but just because the situation is tough right now doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you.

So hold on. Keep climbing. Because the view from the top is worth the trouble it took to get there.

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.