God provides for us what He requires from us

Ever feel like you’re in over your head? Golly, I’ve been there more than once in my life, with the majority of those times happening within the last 10 months. Without fail, most of the times when I feel overwhelmed is when I’m doing something I know God has told me to do.

Something I’ve learned following God all these years? He asks me to do things I can’t do, and He does it all the time. Talk to strangers. Do math. Run a business. I don’t know how to do any of that. But those are specific things He’s told me to do. Well, not the “do math” part, but it’s implied with the “run a business” part.

When God tells you to do something impossible, you’ve got two choices. Either you tell Him no, or you ask Him for help. Because, yes, God asks us to do impossible things, but He knows we can’t do the impossible. That’s why we have Him. And if we know nothing else about God, we know that God has always, always provided for us what He requires from us.

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian's Wall in Northern England

Happy Scottish sheep grazing on the green grass near Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England

Today’s verses are Genesis 22:6-8, 13-14.

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and Abraham was willing to do it. The writer of Hebrews states in chapter 11 that Abraham had faith that God would resurrect Isaac if need be, and he didn’t even hesitate. God told Abraham what He wanted, and Abraham went to do it. And God provided the sacrifice for him.

Over and over and over, throughout Scripture and even throughout the lives of Christ-followers in history, God has always provided. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s faith. Maybe it’s clothing or shelter or safety or status. Whatever a Christ-follower needs, he or she gets exactly when they need it. The trick is you probably don’t have it to start out with.

You have to be willing. Abraham was willing to give up his son because God asked him to, trusting that God knew what was best. And when God asks us to do something, we should be willing to obey even if what He’s asking doesn’t make sense right away.

God won’t contradict His Word, though. So be sure you always weigh what you think He’s telling you to do against Scripture. But once you determine the path He wants you on, get on it, whether you think you’re equipped for it or not.

So what’s keeping you in place today? Are you scared because you don’t know the future? Well, nobody does, so don’t let that stop you. God knows what’s coming, and He can be trusted. Do you lack money and finances? Do you lack independence? Do you lack courage? What about education or experience?

Don’t listen to the fear that’s holding you down. If your reason for telling God no is because you’re afraid, you’re listening to the wrong voice. God doesn’t operate through fear. And if He is asking you to do something for Him, He will provide you with everything you need to make it happen. Maybe you think it’s impossible. It probably is, but with God, all things are possible.

Give God a chance. Be willing to take that first step. God has always provided what He requires, and He won’t stop now.

Planning for a tomorrow that won’t happen

Yesterday was a historic day in geekdom. If you’re familiar with the Back to the Future movies, you might remember that yesterday marked the day that Doc Brown and Marty McFly visited in the future–October 21, 2015. If you go back and watch Back to the Future II, it’s really hilarious where people in the 1980s thought we’d be.

Flying cars. Hover boards. Self-adjusting clothing. Rehydration machines. And a whole host of other technological advancements. Granted, many of those things exist, but they aren’t available for common usage yet.

I’m a big fan of science fiction, because I like to imagine the possibilities. It’s fun to think about what could be tomorrow or what might be next year. But nobody knows what the future actually holds, so we really shouldn’t be too surprised if our plans don’t always work out.

road-street-desert-industryToday’s verse is Matthew 6:34.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

This is a good verse for me at this stage in my life. I’m in a place where I’m not guaranteed a paycheck, so I’m tempted to worry about where my provision will come from. I’m working in an industry that is solely dependent on opinion. Working as a creative writer (novelist, copywriting, etc.) is a subjective field. That means people don’t have to even have a reason why they don’t like your work; they just might not like it. But that’s scary.

Movies like the Back to the Future trilogy envisioned a world where all these impossible things were suddenly made possible through technology. And we’re well on our way to achieving those things in the actual 2015, but most of their predictions were wrong. I mean, granted, they got a few things right … like Star Wars VII and the Cubs in the playoffs. 😉

But the point is that tomorrow is unknown. We can guess. We can plan. We can schedule. But in the end, we have no power over tomorrow. It’s not something that we can control or predict. That’s why it’s so important to trust God.

God knows tomorrow. He knows the day after tomorrow too. And the day after that and the day after that. Everything that’s coming, He already knows about. So when we go through tough stuff in our lives today, it’s a fair chance that He’s simply helping us get ready for what’s happening tomorrow.

It’s okay to plan. It’s okay to be ready. But don’t live for tomorrow. If you do, you’ll miss out on what God has for you today. It’s tempting. Believe me. I want to look ahead. I want to spend all my time planning and figuring out the best way to do stuff, but my plans rarely work out. And that means I’ve spent all my time and energy today planning for a tomorrow that won’t actually happen.

So the next time you feel yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole of attempting to predict the future, put the brakes on. That’s a pit you don’t want to dig. So make a few notes if you must, and then focus your attention on what you can do today. You only get one today, and then it’s gone. So don’t waste it.

Only God knows the future. And He’ll let us know what we need to know about it when we need to know, but not before.

Life Lessons that Contradict Everything You Know About the World

Sometimes God’s logic just doesn’t make sense to me. Well, most of the time, if I’m being honest. I read the Bible, and I try to understand why He does what He does, why He allows what He allows, and sometimes I think I can grasp the fringes of His thoughts. But I can’t grasp them completely. And that’s a good thing.

If I always knew what God was up to, I wouldn’t need to trust Him. And believe me, I need to trust Him. He’s brought me down such crazy roads and insane adventures to get me where I am in my life right now that I don’t really want to know what’s out ahead of me yet. He’ll tell me when I need to know.

But that doesn’t bring a lot of comfort for people who do want to know, who do want to understand why God makes the choices He makes. It can be scary sometimes, especially if you don’t know God well. But one of the ways we can get to know God is through Jesus and what Jesus said while He walked on Earth. But don’t start thinking that Jesus made more sense than God did.

img_3651-edit-2wmToday’s verses are Matthew 5:1-12.

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

“God blesses those who are poor [in spirit] and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Most people have heard of the Beatitudes, even if they don’t know that they’re actually called the Beatitudes. Frankly, this particular passage of Scripture, I think, should be called Life Lessons that Contradict Everything You Know About the World. Isn’t that true?

If Jesus is saying that God will bless the humble and the mourning and the persecuted, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Those people are miserable, aren’t they? And why does it say you should be happy when you face all sorts of evil? What sense does that make? It’s just because people were nicer back in the day when Jesus said that, right? This bit of Scripture was only relevant during Bible times.

Well, if that was the case, it wouldn’t be in the Bible at all, because everything in the Bible is current and relevant and useful for 21st Century living and beyond.

Generally what I’ve experienced is that people don’t think applying these principles to life will actually work. They’re antiquated platitudes from a bygone age, and you can’t live your life so naively. These statements Jesus made so long ago are so against common sense that there’s no way they could ever be effective. But nothing could be farther from the truth. 

The Beatitudes portray the attitudes of a Christ-follower the way they’re supposed to be. And our reaction to the Beatitudes shouldn’t be that Jesus’ statements are so out of date, it should be shock and outrage that our world is turned so far upside down. God’s wisdom goes against what the world says is right, and that’s because the world is broken. God and the World are never going to agree. They can’t, because they stand on opposite sides of the line.

If we try to make the world’s reason and logic fit with God’s reason and logic, we’ll just end up confused. They can’t both be right.  And since we are just as broken as the world, who says God’s logic has to make sense to us to begin with?

Jesus showed us how to live a life diametrically opposed to the world’s wisdom. He didn’t go along with the popular crowd. He didn’t agree with the politicans or the religious elite. He agreed with God. And you were free to love Him or Hate him, and He wouldn’t change. He still hasn’t, and He isn’t going to.

Just because you can’t understand why doesn’t mean God is wrong. It just means God is bigger than you are.

Trouble isn’t an inconvenience, it’s an opportunity

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you understand what it’s like to be immersed in a culture that isn’t your own. Even if the common language is something similar to what you already speak, everything is still different. And we’re very fortunate to live in a very small world, where the major cultural differences are something you can research before you leave home. But in my experience, it’s not the major things that throw me. It’s the small things.

Take England, for example. I knew they drive on the other side of the road, and while that took a little getting used to, it didn’t affect my everyday life as much as trying to navigate the shower did. In the US, we have one knob for a shower, usually. You just turn it and water comes out. Well, in England (at least, where I stayed), there’s a knob for pressure and a knob for temperature, and if you get them mixed up, you’ll be in a lot of hot water–literally.

It’s kind of like life, if you think about it. The big troubles are easy to identify. You might even be able to prepare for them before they hit you, but the little, annoying, nit-picky, everyday problems can’t really be quantified. You can’t prepare for them. You just have to survive them.

step-forward-e1338890548766Today’s verse is Matthew 6:34.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

We all run into trouble every day, no matter who we are or where we live. Sometimes it’s big trouble, but most of the time it’s small. Like little pebbles getting stuck in your shoes. And when those little troubles keep hitting like ocean waves pounding on a beach, it’s important not to focus on them.

Trouble is easy to focus on because it’s obvious. You can’t get away from it, and no matter how far you run, it always finds you. Trouble is everywhere because the world is broken and because none of us have a perfect life. But that doesn’t mean we have to live our lives focusing on our troubles.

If all you can see is the trouble you’re in and how it’s going to affect you tomorrow, you’re going to miss what’s happening today. See that’s the problem with focusing on little troubles. They feel huge when they hit, but they really aren’t that big of a deal.

When you get a rock in your shoe, it feels gigantic, doesn’t it? Or what about an eyelash in your eye? You have to stop everything. And it’s not wrong to stop, as long as you keep moving again.

What would happen if you’re walking across a parking lot and get a rock in your shoe. Sure, you stop to dig it out, but what would happen if you decide it’s too much trouble to keep walking? What if you turn around and go back because you’re afraid of the other rocks that might get in your shoe next?

That’s no way to live.

Big trouble you can often see coming from miles off, but the little trouble springs its traps on you at the most inopportune moments. But if you live your life worrying about those moments, you’ll only see them as inconveniences, instead of what they really are–opportunities for God to show how big He is.

Be ready for the future, yes, but don’t let the problems of tomorrow dictate your actions today. You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yeah, it’ll probably include some kind of trouble, but that’s life on Earth. And we can’t let it derail us from the path we know God has set us on.

Don’t be afraid to live life one step at a time. Focus on today, and don’t let the little troubles get you down. God is bigger than any trouble in your life, and He’s just waiting for you to let Him prove it.

 

Where do we go from here?

Eleven years ago, on a Tuesday very much like this one, I got up around this time to go to class. I was a freshman in college 1,000 miles away from home. Even back then I had a daily routine that I couldn’t deviate from much, just out of concern that I would forget. I’d get up around 6:00 a.m., work on my morning devotion (except that I was reading them back then instead of writing them), and then I’d spend about half an hour on the phone with my mom. Afterward, I’d get dressed and head out in time for my early morning class.

Other students on campus were still in class when we got the news about the attack on the Twin Towers. I happened to be moving during the time the announcement went out by word around the small college I was at, so I didn’t hear about it until I got back to my room. I had a voice mail from my mom. That’s how I found out. Everyone on my floor flocked to the one television in the common area (it was a scarily conservative Christian college, but that’s another story). And I can remember like it was yesterday watching the first tower fall. And then the second.

I wasn’t scared, but I did feel raw inside, and I hurt for the people who had died. I hurt for the families who had lost loved ones. And I hurt for the people who didn’t know.

That same day, we had a moment of silence across campus. At noon, wherever you were, you were to stop and pray as the clock tower chimed. I remember standing on the brick plaza in front of the Varsity Commons, one of the cafeterias, and praying specifically for the families but also for our country as whole. That we would turn to God. That we would recognize that our world is evil and that people left to themselves and their own devices are wicked. And I think for a brief moment, maybe America thought about it.

But it didn’t last. And now, we’re worse than we were.

I blogged on a verse out of Isaiah 65 yesterday, but before I posted, I read the whole chapter. It made me cry. And it made me uneasy because it sounds awfully familiar. It was originally written for Israel, and if you know anything about the history of Israel, you’ll know it came true. And more and more, America seems to be following the same path, so why wouldn’t it be relevant to us too?

But I’m not going to offer an opinion on what it says. I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

But no matter what you think about where America stands and what direction we’ve gone in the last eleven years, please don’t let people forget. It’s not being overly sentimental. It’s not living in the past. It’s remembering a very dark moment in our history when innocent people died for no reason, when average people became heroes, and when our country was united for the first time in a long time. And if we can remember that, we can remember what matters.

Isaiah 65 (The Message)

“I’ve made myself available
    to those who haven’t bothered to ask.
I’m here, ready to be found
    by those who haven’t bothered to look.
I kept saying ‘I’m here, I’m right here’
    to a nation that ignored me.
I reached out day after day
    to a people who turned their backs on me,
People who make wrong turns,
    who insist on doing things their own way.
They get on my nerves,
    are rude to my face day after day,
Make up their own kitchen religion,
    a potluck religious stew.
They spend the night in tombs
    to get messages from the dead,
Eat forbidden foods
    and drink a witch’s brew of potions and charms.
They say, ‘Keep your distance.
    Don’t touch me. I’m holier than thou.’
These people gag me.
    I can’t stand their stench.
Look at this! Their sins are all written out—
    I have the list before me.
I’m not putting up with this any longer.
    I’ll pay them the wages
They have coming for their sins.
    And for the sins of their parents lumped in,
    a bonus.” God says so.
“Because they’ve practiced their blasphemous worship,
    mocking me at their hillside shrines,
I’ll let loose the consequences
    and pay them in full for their actions.”

God’s Message:

“But just as one bad apple doesn’t ruin the whole bushel,
    there are still plenty of good apples left.
So I’ll preserve those in Israel who obey me.
    I won’t destroy the whole nation.
I’ll bring out my true children from Jacob
    and the heirs of my mountains from Judah.
My chosen will inherit the land,
    my servants will move in.
The lush valley of Sharon in the west
    will be a pasture for flocks,
And in the east, the valley of Achor,
    a place for herds to graze.
These will be for the people
    who bothered to reach out to me, who wanted me in their lives,
    who actually bothered to look for me.

“But you who abandon me, your God,
    who forget the holy mountains,
Who hold dinners for Lady Luck
    and throw cocktail parties for Sir Fate,
Well, you asked for it. Fate it will be:
    your destiny, Death.
For when I invited you, you ignored me;
    when I spoke to you, you brushed me off.
You did the very things I exposed as evil;
    you chose what I hate.”

Therefore, this is the Message from the Master, God:

“My servants will eat,
    and you’ll go hungry;
My servants will drink,
    and you’ll go thirsty;
My servants will rejoice,
    and you’ll hang your heads.
My servants will laugh from full hearts,
    and you’ll cry out heartbroken,
    yes, wail from crushed spirits.
Your legacy to my chosen
    will be your name reduced to a cussword.
I, God, will put you to death
    and give a new name to my servants.
Then whoever prays a blessing in the land
    will use my faithful name for the blessing,
And whoever takes an oath in the land
    will use my faithful name for the oath,
Because the earlier troubles are gone and forgotten,
    banished far from my sight.

“Pay close attention now:
    I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
    are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
    Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
    create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,
    take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city,
    no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle,
    or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—
    anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses
    and move in.
They’ll plant fields
    and eat what they grow.
No more building a house
    that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields
    that some enemy confiscates,
For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
    my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it,
    they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
    with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer.
    Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.
Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
    lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
    but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.

Clouds over the field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Survivor’s guilt

Now that Kansas has experienced the first real storms of the season, that must mean spring is officially here. But what a way to ring in the season! From what I can gather, by yesterday morning (April 15) there had been 121 reported tornadoes in Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Texas and Kansas. Most of those in Kansas.

I was taking shelter at my parents’ house in Wichita, so we got to watch a lot of the storm on the television, and there were times when there were eight tornadoes on the ground at one time. Some of those tornadoes stayed on the ground for upward of 30 minutes. Some of them were a 1/2 mile wide and were preceded by 3-inch hail. The meteorologists were having to cut away from covering dangerous thunderstorms because of the number of tornadoes wreaking havoc on the state. We had some close calls. One tornado passed within seven miles of my home in Haven. And a completely different tornado passed within five miles of my parents’ home in Wichita. All within a few hours of each other. And I know people who had much much closer calls, as in two blocks. Only a few people were injured, and no one died. But I know people who lost their homes.

And while I’m very thankful that neither my house nor my parents’ house (or my grandparents’ house) sustained damage, I can’t help but wonder why. We were all prepared. We were all ready and waiting. The tornado in Reno County was heading directly toward Haven, toward my house, toward my friends living there, and then it just turned. Just shifted north and went up toward a different community instead.

The same thing happened in Wichita. The tornado was on the ground, heading directly for my parents’ house. We were in the basement, poised to jump into the furnace closet. The trusty meteorologist said we had five minutes to take precautions–and then the tornado shifted east and devastated a lower-income neighborhood of southern Wichita instead.

Why?

Maybe this is going to sound terrible, but if the tornado had come and wiped out everything I own, it would have been all right. I was prepared. I was ready to lose everything. I’d had a conversation with God that morning about it, that if it needed to happen it needed to happen and that I’d trust Him no matter what. I was all ready to lose my home. So how do I deal with the fact that I didn’t lose anything but friends and other people did?

Clouds over the field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Clouds over the field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 139:16.

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

It’s so hard to get stuck in today. It’s easy to focus on the events of yesterday and today, and it’s even easier to obsess about what might happen tomorrow. So it’s difficult to fathom that God knew everything before any of it started.

He knew that on April 14, 2012 I would be huddled in the basement of my parents’ house listening for the rain and hail to stop to signify the moment we needed to jump into the furnace closet and cover our heads. And He knew I’d be sitting in my upstairs office on April 16, 2012, wondering why my house is still standing pristine and untouched while so many other people weren’t as fortunate.

He knew this before He even created the universe. And that blows my mind. Every moment of my life was written before a single day had gone by, before days even existed. And while this verse isn’t exactly about trusting God, not in the way of Romans 8:28, I still think trust is implied. Because if God has known the whole story of our lives since before the universe even existed, isn’t it a good idea to trust Him with everything?

I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, but I don’t have a problem trusting God when bad things happen. I struggle to trust God when good things happen. I have a hard time believing Him when other people get hurt or when other people lose their lives. I’m a fixer, and I’m a doer, and the fact that I always seem to survive things is difficult for me because I feel like it would be better if I experienced the devastation instead of someone else.

But the fact remains that God knows what’s going on. He knew my property and my family would get through the storms of April 14 unscathed, just as He knew other people wouldn’t. I don’t know why. I don’t understand, and I’m probably not supposed to. But what I do understand is that He knows what He’s doing. He always does. And there’s never anything that happens that doesn’t have a purpose.

Bad things may not be His will for our lives, but He can always take the bad things that happen and make them good. He’s big enough to do that. And feeling guilty because you survived something other people didn’t won’t change it. The best thing to do is trust Him. Who knows? You may be able to be a blessing to someone else, whether you lose everything you own or not.