Trusting God To Speak; The Discipline of Silence

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not exactly a silent guy. Whether it’s a key-chain jangling, my laugh, my footfalls, or my input on an issue, I am rarely without some sound. For some years, I was the guy who wouldn’t shut up. Then, I was the guy who always had a thought, but I could keep it to myself for a while. But these days, I am still a bit chatty, but I’ve begun to learn the value of silence. Sometimes, this is listening, but sometimes, it’s just being silent regardless of the circumstance.

Many people have a drive to do something. When a tragedy hits, a child needs assistance, or there’s a job to be done, these people step in. But it may be less obvious, too. It could be that drive to save money, the desire to make a name for yourself, or maybe just the desire to “make the world a better place” for those around you. The common aspect is that most people want to DO something! And if you don’t want to do it, it’s a fair bet you want someone to do it! After all, what often happens when there is some major tragedy in the US? People cry out for the authorities (be it law enforcement, local government, or federal government) to “do something!”

This drive, this desire to do something, is can be a holy desire, but oftentimes, it is more of a human desire, something borne of our flesh, our sin-sick side. And that’s what we’re examining today. When that desire is not from the Holy Spirit, we are in danger of doing harm to the cause of Christ, and we are feeding our flesh. Hence, it is crucial for Believers to develop the discipline of silence.

While this may harken images of monks taking lengthy vows of silence, I don’t mean to imply anything that extreme, though some may be so compelled. Rather, I am calling to the need to quiet ourselves (internally and externally) in times of prayer. Sometimes, we spend so much time talk TO God that we forget to listen FROM God. As I often repeat, Christianity, following Jesus, is not about religion (rules and regs) but a relationship with Jesus, with the Almighty God. And you can’t have much of a relationship with someone if you don’t listen to them.

Wait, are you saying God speaks? Audibly? This tends to be where many people get hung up. In general, there are three camps, three answers to this question. One group says, “No. God does not speak anymore, not audibly! He only speaks through His Word, through circumstances, or through other people!” Another group says, “Oh, absolutely! God speaks to me every day; it’s like He’s right next to me, talking as audibly as you.” And a third group straddles a middle ground, “Well, God doesn’t always speak audibly, but He can! He speaks through all the above, and audibly, but He will never contradict His Word.” No matter which group you are prone toward, let me submit that the third group is the most accurate!

“So, God actually speaks to you?”

Sometimes, yes! And sometimes, it’s my imagination. And other times, it’s Scripture, others, or any of the above. But the fundamental point is that He will never contradict His Word, aka the Bible. So, if I hear God telling me to get drunk, I can be sure I’m not hearing God. If someone tells me it’s ok to move in with my girlfriend, I can be sure that person is not speaking for God. And while there may be a caveat or two that someone could site to make some statement sound Biblical when it is truly unBiblical, let’s stick to simple examples.

God often has plenty to say to us, but He is a gentleman, and He will rarely force us to listen. (I say rarely because there are times and is precedent for God to intervene, powerfully, when there is need, but it is truly rare.). In reality, it’s as was said above; it is a relationship, and that relationship must be nurtured or we will find ourselves further and further off-course, following after our own desires and forgetting what His voice sounded like.

The discipline of silence helps to redirect us away from ourselves, learning to quiet our exceptionally boisterous flesh, and tuning our ears to His voice. This can be a time of prayer where you make your requests known but spend several minutes in silence, just listening for Him to respond. It may be turning the radio off on a drive, so you can focus on a Scripture He drew to your attention that day. Or it may be quietly praying in your mind for what the Lord would have you to do in a situation, not doing something and not saying much, until the Lord responds or choosing to let a situation pass when no response is heard.

This is complimented when we regularly spend time in the Word. Without that, our spirit will whither and we will be prone to that same wandering above, more inclined to hear our own selves than the Almighty.

“Jesus said to the people who believed in Him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

John 8:32

Shortly after saying this, Jesus goes on to say “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:38) Later, at the final supper with His disciples, in John 14:8, Jesus reveals that He is “the way, the truth, and the life…”(emphasis mine). So then, it is not any mere truth that sets us free but Jesus Himself, and not just a knowledge of the truth, but a knowledge, a relational, life-spent-with-each-other knowledge of Jesus. In other words, without spending time getting to know Jesus and following His example, we cannot hope to be free.

Hence, it is necessary for us to take time in the discipline of silence to learn to hear His voice to invest in our relationship with Him and our ability to follow after Him.

One final note, as I’m sure I’ve caused a brief bit of confusion. This is not a work we can take credit for. This isn’t a “gold star” that God puts on some cosmic chart. Without Jesus, we would be blind to our need for Him, like a man in the desert who is so dehydrated that he thinks the sand will quench his thirst! And yet, it is something we do out of love for our Savior. In the same way that a man or woman will give their girlfriend or boyfriend, respectively, their time or a gift; in the same way, this is one of our expressions of love and gratitude for what He has done for us.

He made the absolute, ultimate sacrifice for us. Nothing we can do will ever compare, but we live our lives for Him out of love and gratitude. Like a child who uses his father’s money to buy the same father a gift, so we give to Him out of all He has given (and continues to give) to us. Praise the Lord that we don’t have to be perfect but are continually loved and nurtured back when we fail. He is so good, and we are so unworthy. Let us give up our selfishness, and endure the challenge of silence, that we may serve Him better, love Him dearly, and hear Him more clearly. And may the glory, honor, and power be His, forever and ever! Amen!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Live Blameless?!? Have You Met Me?!?

In many places, the Bible tells us we are to live blamelessly, in such a way that no one can bring an accusation against us. And yet, in this technological age, where all our mistakes and failures can haunt us for decades to come, this certainly seems impossible! Seriously, have you seen Facebook, Instagram, or Fail Army?!

Living blamelessly in the modern world sounds like an impossible task, and if it were up to us, it is an impossible task. But thanks be to God that, like many things, it’s not up to us! As He did in salvation, God does the work; we are only required to surrender to that work. Let’s take a look at some such passages.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

(You may recall this passage from my post a couple weeks ago. Yippee! I got to write this post and flesh this idea out.)

Some may look at this passage and think, “aw man! I can’t do that!” But look at what Paul says, “may the God of peace make you holy, and may [you]…be kept blameless…God will make this happen…”. Paul is clearly not calling the Thessalonians to be blameless on their own. Rather, he is calling them to allow God to remove the sin from their lives and develop a blameless character within them.

Dear friends, I warn you as temporary residents and foreigners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when He judges the world.

1 Peter 2:11-12

Peter takes a slightly different turn on this. It is not a contrary statement, but it adds some clarification. Peter encourages believers to live blamelessly so that their neighbors are not able to bring a charge that sticks. Even then, Peter says that even they bring up something, they will see our honorable (adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct) behavior, and that they will give honor/glory to God when He judges the world. In other words, our blamelessness will bring glory to God, even if our neighbors have it out for us, when the end of all things finally comes about.

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation — the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ — for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

Philippians 1:10-11

Once again, we turn to Paul. Here, he encourages us to be filled with the fruit of our salvation, but what is this fruit? Oh, it’s the righteous character produced in your life (don’t miss this!) by Jesus Christ. So then, we cannot believe that this is by our own actions, but there is a mystery here. We are to live pure and blameless lives, but it is Jesus who produces our pure and blameless character. I encourage you to read the whole chapter for greater context, but for brevity’s sake, I’m keeping this short.

And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May He, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

While I started with the 1 Thessalonians 5 reference, this reference actually precedes it. Here, we see that Paul is still points to blamelessness as coming through the work of God in their lives, but he also points to it being an outflow of our love growing for one another and for others. Additionally, it is part of making our hearts strong and making us holy, both things that only God can truly do.

Yet now, He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault.

But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.

Colossians 1:22-23a

Once again, Paul refines this for us. Read this one carefully, though. “He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault.” Did you see that? When we turn from our sin and choose to follow Jesus, He makes us blameless. So then, we can conclude that it is both an immediate reality and a progressive reality; we are made immediately blameless before Him, and He continues to produce in us the character to be blameless.

Now, there is a caveat here, lest someone think I’m selling cheap grace. The caveat is this; if you choose to walk away from Jesus (and I don’t know why you would!), then you are choosing to give this all up. You are choosing to be blameful, to be unholy, to reject the absolute love and work of God in your life. I can’t stop you, but I will beg you not to go there!

I could go on with many more versus that talk about being blameless and being above reproach, but I’ll leave that to your own personal study. The point here is to help you understand that the life of a Believer is one of following Jesus and trusting/letting Him clear the paths and solve the problems that come along the path. Should you clear your old Facebook posts or those inappropriate Instagrams? Yeah, probably! But even so, it is Jesus who does the work of making you TRULY blameless!

Without Jesus, we are to blame for everything; it all hangs on us, and we are guilty as the worst of all humanity! But when we accept His sacrifice in our place and choose to follow Him, with all we have, through thick and thin, happy times and painful times, Jesus clears that guilt (by His death on the cross) and make us blameless. Isn’t that a relief?

Just take a moment and meditate on that, today; in Jesus, you are now blameless! In the sight of God, tucked in with Jesus, you are blameless! No bankruptcy court, no jail time, no jerk on a street corner can take that from you. As Jesus has said, in this world, you will have troubles, but be encouraged because He has overcome this world! Whatever challenges you are experiencing, as long as you are spending time with Him, praying with/to Him, and following His lead, then those challenges are just an opportunity to be refined or to watch Him work!

What a good and glorious God we serve! If you don’t know Him, I encourage you to stop where you are, admit you have violated His standard, and accept Jesus death in your place. Then, begin living for Him by reading the Bible, spending time in prayer (talk to Him and listening for His response, whether in that moment or later on, whether audible, from the Word, or through a person). And as Paul said, “don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard” this Good News! May you walk with Him today, and everyday, to His glory and honor!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Mental Health; The Oft Overlooked Aspect

Normally, Wednesdays are reserved for shorter posts, but this one just couldn’t be much shorter. Nonetheless, this felt too important to hold off on sharing it. So, I apologize for this breech of ediquette, but I hope this post blesses you and draws your closer to Jesus, all the same!

Mental health is a topic that has touched my family in many ways over the last decade, but definitely in the last few years, as it has most people. Even so, much of the information and discussions that have happened often miss a crucial aspect of mental health, largely because we have been conditioned (and condition ourselves) to disregard it, to completely ignore this facet of mental health. We ignore our spiritual health!

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you should know that I’m not into “religion” as people often define it. I’m not about the do’s and don’t’s of life, a set of arbitrary rules, nor the writings and enlightenments of mankind. While some of those things can be useful, and sometimes necessary, I’m about a relationship with the Almighty, who created us to have a relationship with Him and made that possible through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.

So, when I say “spiritual health,” I am not speaking to whatever religion you may have or the obscure “spirituality” some refer to. And that’s not intended to insult anyone, but I believe there is sufficient (and overwhelming) evidence to suggest that being “spiritual” or religious does not sufficiently contribute to spiritual health. It’d be like saying you try to eat right but just can’t resist that quart of Chunky Monkey every Friday. You may not have a large gut or be significantly overweight, but I doubt your doctor would call you the picture of health.

So, what does spiritual health have to do with mental health? It’s pretty simple. Like this week’s post, if you don’t have a proper perspective, you can’t properly respond. And if you’re not spiritually healthy, you can’t be completely mentally healthy. It may be a body-image issue, or maybe anger; perhaps you’re a control-freak, or maybe you struggle with depression. Nonetheless, if you aren’t spiritually healthy, it is more difficult to be mentally healthy.

Well, then, what is spiritually healthy? To swipe a phrase from the world, “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” But a marathon has a starting line, too. So, the starting point of spiritual health is that point when you decide to leave your sinful ways and follow Jesus, trusting in His sacrifice to pay for your sins (past, present, and future). That’s where you start.

Where you go from there is to be in the Bible, daily. You could start at the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and start reading one of those, as you’ll get to know Jesus really well there. But maybe you are so grieved that the Gospels are just too story-like. Well, maybe start with the Psalms. You can pray through the Psalms, giving a voice to your pains, and God will still teach and minister to you there. This can also help you learn some ways to pray, things you wouldn’t have thought of because they just didn’t have the voice the Psalms now gives. Or maybe you’re like me, and you struggle to remember where you left off; aside from buying a bookmark, you could start with Proverbs and read the chapter of the day (example: for today, August 3, you could go read Proverbs’ chapter 3).

And spend time in prayer. A simple structure, if you want it, is to start by praising God for who He is (at least, what you know), then spend some time thanking Him for what He’s done in your life and given you. After that, confess any sins that you’ve done since the last time you talked to Him (this may be the time when you were saved), ask Him to forgive them (knowing He will) and acknowledge any temptations that are present. Then, make your needs know by requesting what you think you need. And then take a moment to leave those things with Him, to provide or say “that’s not really what you need”. Listen for His response; just take some time to be quiet and see if the Lord puts something on your heart to confess, to ask for, or just to think on.

Lastly, continue to listen for the Lord to speak, whether from the Scriptures, in prayer, or from that random person who just happens to give you an answer to a prayer you just prayed that day! Of course, if someone or something gives you an answer that contradicts the Bible, that’s not to be followed (example: you may be tempted to smoke marijuana, but someone offering you a hit is not God answering your prayer; you may be in need of money, and someone remembers that they owed you money and repays you, this is God providing for you.)

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that you need to find a church to be a part of (if you need help with this, you can email me or post a comment, and I’ll happily help you look). But find a local church that teaches from the Bible, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, as you need that community to help you grow and mature in Christ. Plus, isolation is antithetical (the opposite of; contrary) to good mental healthy.

To put a bow on this, the bottom-line is that until people choose to follow Jesus and pursue that relationship, mental health will continue to be a struggle, for that person and for our society.

And one final point, medication and counseling are totally appropriate to help with mental health. I will not contradict the work of Jesus in your life, but I will also not ignore or diminish the fact that God uses various means to help us, including doctors prescribing medication and counselors/therapists helping us work through and give voice to our challenges. So, don’t ignore those aspects of mental health, as well!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Pencil’s Ready? It’s Test Time!

Given that today is August 1, I figured a school-themed title was fitting. Additionally, I was reading in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-25, and Paul talks of testing things. So, let’s go to it! Are you ready?

When I was younger, I hated pop-quizzes. Frankly, I STILL hate pop-quizzes, but I see their purpose. A pop-quiz allowed a teacher (if used properly) to assess what knowledge a student had absorbed and retained. Anyone could study for a test, but not everyone did so without prompting. Of course, there are also those of us who hate being surprised by anything, let alone a test, and clammed up in such moments.

With God, there aren’t many pop-quizzes, but there are times when He chooses to give us a chance to test what we’ve learned from Him, to test if we’ll lean on His understanding or our own. As a hyper-analytical person, I spent much of my life (even as a young Believer) trusting in my own ability. If I didn’t understand a situation, I wasn’t inclined to step into it. If I couldn’t understand a solution, I wasn’t inclined to believe it or try it. And yet, God is gracious; so, He threw me some serious curveballs and taught me to trust in Him and His understanding more than my own, which led me to the past 6-7 months of crazy, exciting, terrifying steps of faith.

In the midst of my reading, though, this jewel stood out.

Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, emphasis mine

Paul reminds us to be careful what we do and do not listen to. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit calls us to do crazy things, and I, for one, have often reasoned myself out of doing it. This is “[stifling] the Holy Spirit.” We don’t want to do that! We want to be so close with Jesus that when the Holy Spirit speaks, we listen and act.

This also holds true for prophecies! It seems that people tend to break down into three groups: 1) tries to deny the prophecy, off hand and without consideration, 2) accepts whatever prophecy, regardless of it’s source or accuracy, and 3) seeks to be balanced, though sometime falling to skepticism or being too quick to accept something. Paul calls us to be the last, but careful not to fall to either side. Rather, he calls us, like the Bereans in Acts 18:11; we aren’t to scoff (to be quickly dismissive) but to test the prophecy, does it hold up or is it contrary to what the Bible has said?

I’ve personally watched too many believers fall away because of false prophets. It may be the guy saying that if you give him money, God will make all your wishes come true. It may be the convincing blogger who says that they know when Jesus will return. Or it could be some wolf who has evil intentions to cash-in, through the church, on some Believer’s gullibility.

This doesn’t mean you have to be up-to-date on the latest scams and cons. Nor does it mean you have to be careful of ever trusting anyone. Rather, it means you need to be so well-fed in the Scriptures (spending time reading and understanding the Bible, to the point of recalling verses from memory) that a scammer, conman, or evil trickster stands little-to-no chance of convincing you of some falsehood. That means time in the Bible, time in prayer, and time in worship.

When bank tellers are brought on, they aren’t shown dozens and dozens of examples of counterfeit money. Rather, they are encouraged to handle real money, to use the tools that help spot fake money, and trust their instincts. You see, if you handle the real thing, then when the fake is handed to you, it’s pretty easy to spot it. If you don’t catch it right away, there are tools that help. The same is true of spiritual things. If we are well-read, well-prayed, and well-worshiping, we will be able to quickly identify the fakes, and even if we don’t catch it right away, a faithful application of the Word will make clear the forgery.

As closing thoughts, Paul prayerfully blesses the Thessalonians. But his words stood out, as well, today.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful.

Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-25, emphasis mine

While I hope to flesh this out more in another post, I couldn’t keep this tidbit from you. God does call us to be blameless; other places use the phrase “above reproach”, which means that for someone to bring a complaint against us, they’d have to make it up, and even then, anyone who knows us would, most likely, be immediately suspicious of the accuser.

This seems almost impossible! And that, I believe, is why Paul follows up his call to blamelessness with the statement that God will make this happen. For me, there’s always this question of “where does God’s responsibility end and mine begin?” But the reality is that if I am spending the time I should, God’s responsibility and mine are the same. In other words, when I am staying connected with Him, I will find it easy (or, at least, relatively so) to live without blame. Meanwhile, He is empowering me, teaching me, working out the truth within me, so that I live more and more blamelessly. To put a fine point on it, it’s not my responsibility to live perfectly, but as I focus on Him, spend time with Him, and worship Him, I will find myself becoming more blameless.

God does the work, as I continually surrender to it. He is so good!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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When Life Sucks…Check Your Lenses!

Have you ever worn glasses? Maybe they were sunglasses, or prescription glassed, or maybe prop glasses for a performance or that “perfect touch to a look.” Whatever glasses they were, didn’t you just hate when you had a smudge on them? It ruins your view, messes with your ability to focus and see clearly, and worst of all, they’re often a bear to get off the glasses! They smear and smear until they finally start coming off.

This world is often like that smudge to the lenses of our vision. Our lenses are developed by both our environments (things we’ve been exposed to both tangibly and intagibly) and by our upbringing (or lack thereof) combined with the things we’ve learned work and don’t work. Consequently, everyone’s perspective is a bit different, but we all see the same world. Contrary to popular beliefs (and even a few studies), there is an objective reality, but it usually takes a couple perspectives to recognize the objective from the subjective (another evidence that God created us for community, but that’s another post for a different time).

So, just as my site is even called, Through Nerdy Lenses, how we see the world is our unique perspective, or our unique set of glasses. Some wear rose colored glasses, seeing the world in ways better than the situation seems to justify. Others wear thick glasses, zooming in on the details some of us breeze on by. Yet others choose to “act cool” and try to go without glasses, bumping into a wall here and a stool there, trying to hold a certain appearance but bumbling through the paces. And just as each person is unique, they’re perspective is.

And yet a commonality of all people is that we all get smudges on our glasses. Some people are fastidious cleaners, removing every tiny smudge when it comes around. These are mostly optimists and a few realists. The optimists are constantly trying to help people see clearly because they’re seeing the best and wish others to see it too. Realists are often cleaning glasses because they want as objective a perspective as they can get, not being too hopeful but not being too depressed. (For the purpose of this post, we’ll just assume everyone is doing this out of the best possible intentions and interests!).

Then there’s a group called pessimists. Some of these folks are truly mislabeled realists who just see a bit more of the darker side off things. And yet, some of these are almost unwilling to have their glasses cleaned because they can’t remember what the world looks like without smudged glasses. After all, if you appear all funky, how can one believe you’ll clean something up. Unclear lenses can make for horrible judgments of people and bad choices made because of fear and snap decisions. But hidden in this group is a group that just seems to be the muck bringers. No matter where they go, or how hard they try to clean their glasses, smudges keep coming!

And for those of you in this group, you’ve probably heard the term “depression” more than not. When I was young, there was “the blues.” Then came “depression.” Nowadays, we have mild depression, moderate depression, severe depression, recurrent episodes of depression, and the king Daddy, manic depressive disorders. So, why are so many people so deeply saddened by the world around them? Let me submit an answer for your consideration.

So many are struggling with deep sadness or grief because so many of us are getting our glasses smudged! Now, before you throw cabbages and tomatoes at me and declare that I’m a jerk, I am not intending, by any stretch of the imagination, to undermine or diminish the reality of being in a depressive state. Most who have walked with me over the last decade have seen me in such a state. So, I deeply empathize! And when I let my walls down, it is apparent that I still battle that demon!

Nonetheless, as one who has been, and often is, in the trenches, I am calling out “there is hope!” And I’m not a snake oil salesman. In point of fact, I couldn’t sell water to a thirst man! But I have learned a lesson or two over the years, and one such lesson was to check my focus, or as I put it here, “check your lenses!” (As a point of empathy, I know this is hard to receive. Sometimes, the darkness closes in so close that you can’t see any light, no hope, no way of escape. I beg you to trust me that morning is coming, and even if it is the smallest sliver you’ve ever seen, there is light coming!)

A phrase I’ve held on to for over 20 years now is the old adage that “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.” Sometimes, the moment when we’re ready to give up is the very moment when we’re about to see a victory, if you will. The pain, grief, sorrow, or trial is just about to break (if not end, altogether), and yet, we can’t see that; so, we’re ready to give up just when we’re about to get relief. Like a man walking in the desert, we fall into the sand and die of thirst, just on the other side of the ridge where an oasis exists. Thus, I’ve often pushed myself over that ridge, no desire to carry on, but not willing to accept the cost of giving up.

When I’m focused on my pains, my failures, my shortcomings, and the darkness, nothing will get better, and each day is just another day of monotony and pain. I’ve wrestled with the demon who tried to convince me that it’d be easier to just be home with the Lord than to continue to serve Him here. But as a wise pastor friend once observed, “when you’re in the place of self-pity, everything you’re hearing is a lie!” When you’re in that place of thinking your life is over and nothing will ever get better, please, dear Reader, know that the enemy of your soul is whispering in your ear! And I beg you to garner whatever teaspoon of strength you have, resist his lies, and submit to God.

Well, what does that look like? How can I? My life is trash; you don’t know my situation! How can you tell me to gather my strength? I have none! How can you tell me to resist him and submit….what does that mean, anyway? Submit to God?

Those are all very good questions, and I’ve wrestled with most of them. If you’ll allow me, let me try to answer them.

First of all, submitting to God is as simple as accepting that you’re going to keep going. The nuances come when the direction you’re going is not consistent with what He’s told us to do. But at it’s simplest, submitting to God is just trusting Him for one more sunrise, one more noonday, one more sunset, and then trusting Him for one more sunrise again. Eventually, you look back and realize He’s carried you through a dozen days, half a year, a decade.

But even then, how does one gather strength when they have none?! I remember feeling that way when I came across an article in which a Navy SEAL noted that when most people are ready to quit, they’ve only given 40% of what they can give. 40 PERCENT?!? That’s not even half-way! That’s not even the MAJORITY of one’s energy! FORTY PERCENT?!?!? But I can tell you, truthfully and with over a decade of experience, that he’s right! Now, I don’t recommend everyone run at 90% or 100%; that’s for the extreme emergencies, and you need a little reserve for such moments. But I have heard dozens of people tell me, “man, I could [raise 3 kids on my own] like you’ve done!” And I marvel because, I would’ve said the same thing before I had to! When we are willing to push, just the smallest mustard seed of faith, Jesus makes us able to do AMAZING things!

“But you still don’t know my situation!”

You’re right! I don’t. The nasty detail of this kind of communication is that I rarely get to know other people’s stories. I truly enjoy more personal interactions! But the reality remains. There’s a saying the world loves to tout, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” And you know, the longer I live, the more true I’ve found this to be.

You may not be raising 3 kids on the spectrum. Maybe you’ve got just one kid, and he/she is a low-functioning autistic; you’re heart is broken, wishing you could communicate more with your child, wishing you didn’t wish for a night to yourself once in a while, guilt-ridden by the feelings you secretly hold. Or maybe you were “slept around” and you’re literally paying for it in child support. Perhaps you got into drugs, and they laid your life bare and scorched the ground of your life. But whomever you are, please here me when I tell you, my Jesus is stronger than that!

There’s a fantastic song by Reliant K, and it almost always makes me cry, if not full-on ugly cry weeping! It’s called “For the Moments I Feel Faint”, and the chorus says this:

Never under-estimate my Jesus!

You’re telling me that there’s no hope,

I’m telling you, “you’re wrong.”

Never under-estimate my Jesus!

When the world around you crumbles,

He will be strong; He will be strong!

Reliant K, For The Moments I Feel Faint

Dear Reader, if you have found yourself feeling hopeless, like you can’t face another day, let alone the next half-hour, please turn to Jesus! There’s an old hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” Equally good is the Third Day tune, “Cry out to Jesus.” It really is as simple as choosing not to live for yourself anymore, accepting His Lordship over your life and His sacrifice in your place, and then choosing to pursue a relationship with Him. He’s waiting for you! He loves you so much, He’s willing to wait until the end of your life or the end of all things, just to know you. Think of that for a moment: The God of the Universe, through Whom all things were made, Who sustains all things, HE wants to know YOU! He wants to sit down for coffee with you, walk along the path with you, help you with your kids, help you balance your checkbook, and every aspect of life. And He wants you to know Him!

And if you are a believer, but the trials of life have beaten the joy out of you, you are not alone! Not only are there many believers who suffer with you, our Lord suffered with you. Jesus even expressed that very feeling on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” That deep grief when so much pain has been endured, when your strength has been gutted, and you find yourself just wondering, “Why, God? Where the heck are you!?!?!?!” He is right there, with you, holding back the darkness from consuming, providing that little bit of cash to keep you from going broke, causing your kids to fall asleep a little quick that one night, or bringing someone to help get you out of the bad situation. He is right there! And He’s not afraid of your grief; He’s asking you to give it to Him! He’s not avoiding your pain; He’s asking you to lay it on Him, and He will carry you! Look up, look into the waiting eyes of our INCREDIBLY loving Savior and Lord! (I’m typing this through eyes filled with tears, both for your situation and for the immense love I know awaits you, if you’re willing to press into Him!)

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Why Do You Keep Following Jesus?!?

I’ve walked with Jesus for 30+ years now. I was blessed to grow up in a Christian household, with incredible parents who taught my brothers and I the Truth. When I was a kid, following Jesus was easy. After all, you got rewards in Sunday School for memorizing verses from the Bible, you got to look cool doing “sword drills” (being given a Scripture reference and quickly finding it in your Bible), and I had a bunch of fun adults who were so loving, it was easy to follow Jesus. An added bonus was that much of the US still believed in “being good”, which often aligned with Christian principles.

As I got into Junior High School, it got more difficult. The country started to turn, and major political issues became hot-buttons, things like abortion, feminism blurring the lines between men and women, and people starting to advocate that sin was no longer “that bad,” even arguing that one sin wasn’t as bad as another sin. And while this isn’t a political post, one can quickly see how someone who held to traditional Christian beliefs/values might have a harder time.

In High School, one person even told me, “I was a Christian once; you’ll be just like me in a year or two!” Determined to prove him wrong, I read up on Christian Apologetics, and I dug into deeper and deeper wells of fact and apologetics (basically, the study of how to defend a belief). I began to read books by Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, and even J.P. Moreland (admittedly, I couldn’t understand Moreland until my later years of High School), deepening the roots of my faith, so to speak.

In High School, I began to, politely, debate my teachers and others who would give me the time, testing my beliefs and challenging feelings with facts. I was slandered, mocked, and often ridiculed because of my faith. But few could poke holes in my points, and fewer still could rebut the facts and figures that backed the truth. Some just resorted to making fun of me whenever they could, even making snide and hurtful statements about my family. And all the while, temptations abounded as I saw others who seemed to “enjoy” various things I knew I shouldn’t.

And then I got into college and found professed Christians who would debate the very Bible they claimed to believe. The world also got more bold in declaring Biblical truths “out-dated,” “irrelevant,” or just plain wrong! And yet, I met an amazing woman, and I thought my days of being solo were over. She and I seemed to be two peas in a pod. So, naturally, we got married and settled in a wonderful mountain community. Yet, some kids later, she decided she was done with me and left. Worse yet, she turned her back on everything we’d once believed.

As is outlined in The Heartfelt Mind-Meld, this was a traumatic experience not just because it was the end of our marriage, but because of how that marriage came to an end. I found myself questioning everything (or almost everything) I once believed. In the end, though, I could not argue against two facts: there is definitely a God, and the Bible is definitely true and accurate. Anyone who digs into these two facts has only ever found two choices: believe the truth in front of them, or deny it by any means.

Now, some would look at my life and think I’ve got it all. HA!!!! I have some things, yes. But so much of what I have I had to fight for, work into the wee-hours of the morning, and spend many times in prayer, sobbing because of the griefs. Even then, I remain keenly aware that I am always just a few missteps from losing it all. My life is painful at many turns, and honestly, it would be easier to turn my back on it all and just live however I felt best. But this is the crux of this post.

The other day, I was thinking back on the many years behind me, the many missed opportunities, and the many ways in which I feel my life has been wasted. (Now, before the comments roll in, let me just stop y’all and say, I know it’s been worth it and will be worth it, but let me take a moment to be real before y’all.) My life is NOT what I wanted it to be. My dreams have NOT been realized! And my hopes…well, let’s just say that I know all to well that “hope deferred makes the heart sick”. (Proverbs 13:12a)

So, why would I keep following Jesus? What in the world does He have to give me, to make this all worth it?! Why the heck do I keep holding to this Truth I speak of, and not just go live it up?!

Well, the answer is simple, but it’s implications are life changing! I keep following Jesus because nothing else will satisfy or resolve any of my pains or griefs. This world holds many pleasures, but they all take something away from you. Fill in the blank and anything you think of takes away your health, takes away your financial means, or takes away your family. Go to any system of belief (aka religion), and you’ll lose any or all of the above, can lose your freedom, will likely lose your ability to fully reason, and you’ll lose your ability to face reality because any religion will either deny reality, ignore reality, or it will leave you feeling empty.

Jesus isn’t some religion, though Christianity is known as a religion. He is the real God and a real Person, and best of all, He lived among us for some 30-ish years, so He understands the challenges, intimately, of being a human! He even lived in the first century, so we have it better than He did, in many respects!

I continue to follow Jesus because He has made Himself known, speaks directly to the realities of past, present, and future events, and He makes Himself available. Jesus opens Himself to being questioned, to being challenged, and to being known. He doesn’t rebuke me if I ask Him to help me in my unbelief. He doesn’t mind if I have a question. And He doesn’t recoil if I’m struggling to understand something.

I hope you can see that the reason I follow Jesus is not because of what He gives me so much as because of Who He is! I desire to follow truth, and He is the Truth! Many have tried to deny Him, and many have gone to their deaths still denying Him, but none have been able to truly disprove Him. Even one of those authors mentioned above, Josh McDowell, tried to disprove God and became a Christian because of the mountain of evidence He found.

Oh, and those pains and griefs I spoke of? Well, Jesus even told believers to expect them. In John 16:33, in some of Jesus final words to His first followers, He says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Jesus didn’t deny the reality of this world. Furthermore, He said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first” and goes on to explain that, similarly, because believers follow Him, the world will hate them, too. In the US, we are only recently starting to see this, but across the globe, Christians in other nations, such as in China, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia (among others), suffer immense persecution.

I follow Jesus because He is authentic, He is the Truth, and He died and rose again so that I could know Him. In other words, He chose to show me (and any others who choose to believe) love while I (and others like me) showed hatred to Him. I could turn my back, but I’d never be able to look myself in the mirror. I could deny all I know to be true, but I would be fooling only myself. And I could sear my conscience, which He so graciously built in me, but I would only be harming myself and for no good reason.

In closing, I endure the criticism, the insults, and the pangs of the mistakes (and outright failures) of other Christians because my Lord, my brother, and my friend, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah/Christ, is worth it! Yes, there are “Christians” who don’t reflect Jesus, just as there are many other people in this world who aren’t loving, aren’t kind, or are downright evil. But Jesus isn’t those things!

He won’t make you feel good with a lie, but He will lovingly bandage your wounds and guide you into the truth. He won’t give you everything you want, but He will give you what you need. But most of all, dear Reader, He won’t force you to accept His Lordship or force you to have a relationship with Him, but He also can’t save you without that. He is righteous. And one day, His justice will be seen on Earth. Consequently, I hope that before that day, or your last day on this Earth (whichever comes first), that you will also choose to follow Him.

As was once said about Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, it is also fitting to say of Him:

“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis,emphasis mine

Choose the adventure, choose the Truth; turn from your sins today, and follow Jesus with me! If you’re willing, then He’s waiting for you!

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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The Source/Supply…In Whom Do You Trust?

Recently, I had a breakthrough. For over 2 decades, The Almighty has been lovingly trying to teach me to trust Him. And as anyone who knows me readily understands, it took those ENTIRE TWO DECADES to sink in. And it’s this realization, this breakthrough, that has prompted today’s post.

Where do you look for your strength or for your provisions? Is it an entity (like the Government) or a person (like your parents) or maybe it’s a thing (like your paycheck)? Perhaps your one of the millions who have bought the line to “look inside yourself.” And while that “look inside” can give you a bit of a boost now and again, it ultimately feels as tenuous, fragile, and unsettling as most of the above. Trust the Government, and you have to make sure your candidates get elected or that your policies are enacted; even a Government shutdown can throw you. People, as reliable as some are, still fall short of being always available or reliable. And let’s not even bother going into the problems with trusting in your paycheck. I’m pretty sure anyone who’s worked for more than 3 years knows how unreliable a paycheck might be!

The entities, people, and/or things we put our trust in secretly reveal our deepest convictions of what is true. For me, I’ve often trusted in my creativity, my problem-solving abilities. I could fix, solve, or repair ANYTHING! And while I remains the guy to call when the impossible needs to be done, I have finally recognized that The Almighty’s ability is far superior to anything I can do. I am limited to that which I have access to, be it money, people, tangible resources (like wood, steel, etc.), and physics (I can’t drive to the other side of the world or make it to some faraway destination in mere minutes). But The Almighty is not bound by such limitations.

Recently, I wrote about the challenge of trusting God when He’s silent. And in my own life, I have seen God make what seemed impossible possible. But even then, I hit bumps and began to doubt. How can I afford XYZ? Oh how will I ever get ABC done? And then Jesus lovingly tapped me on the shoulder, “Hmm. Didn’t I give you this house? Do you think I did not anticipate these things?” And I am humbly reminded that until He made it happen, I could not even afford to be where I am nor doing what I do.

For so long, I’ve bought the line that “this is important; you have to do this now.” And I’ve listened to the critics that “you can’t just step into the unknown like that!” But if God calls you out into the unknown areas of life, who are you to say you shouldn’t go? If He has a plan and asks you to wait, who are you to tell Him there’s no time? But it’s even bigger than that!

If we have acknowledged our sin, accepted Jesus’ death on our behalf, acknowledge His resurrection, and chosen to follow Him as Lord of our lives, then we have abandoned the option to believe He won’t do what’s best for us.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for all, won’t he also give us everything else?

Romans 8:31-32

I know that, at times in my life, I’ve argued with that second question. “Who can be against us?” EVERYONE! LOL! But truthfully, imagine it this way, if you had the Incredible Hulk (or, more directly, Dr. Bruce Banner) as your best friend, and you went everywhere together, can you see anyone really challenging you or picking on you? Even if they did, all Dr. Banner has to do is decide to Hulk-out and BAMMO! Game over! So, yeah, people could pick a fight, but they’re picking a losing fight.

So, when we come across opposition or challenges, if we have chosen to follow Jesus, then we don’t have to get upset or be fearful. We have but to bow ourselves before The Master and ask what He would like us to do? He may ask us to suffer without just cause, or He may remove the opposition, or He may resolve the challenge. Nonetheless (love that word; no less than before the statement was made, this is still true), whatever He has for us to do (including waiting patiently for Him to come through), we can know that He has the best possible plan to resolve the situation.

For me, it’s taken nearly 20 years to get that through my head! I pray it does not take even 1/100th of that time for you! But if you find that you just can’t do that yet, then I encourage you to spend time in prayer and the Word and look for opportunities to wait on the Lord and see Him resolve things you thought couldn’t be dealt with. Sometimes, we are our own hindrance to growth in Christ.

And if you follow this blog, and you haven’t yet chosen to follow Jesus, then I implore you to stop running away now. There is only one God, and He is a just and righteous God. His standard is, and must be, perfection. At the same time, He loves mankind so much that He couldn’t just standby as we destroyed ourselves by sin. No human has ever lived a perfect life, except for one, the God-Man, Jesus, the Son of God. He was sent as God in flesh, to live, to serve, and to be crucified (a capitol punishment; in His case, it was sanctioned murder, being innocent of His accused cries). On the third day, He rose from the dead (confirmed and verifiably dead, but then alive again, confirmed and verifiably). If you will stop living your life by your own standards, accept His Lordship (seeking His way, not your ways), you can be free from your sins and enjoy a relationship with The Almighty God, who loves you so dearly that He’s willing to endure every form of suffering and pain to make a way for you to know Him, even before you knew you needed it and what it was worth. Take time now to start a relationship with Him, confessing your sins, and beginning from this day forward to walk with Him, following His lead (fully, without adding or subtracting from what He’s said), and seeking to bring glory to Him by your submission to Him in all things. If you don’t have a Bible, you can get one here: https://staging.wayfm.com/bible/ (I am not affiliated with Way-FM, in any way; this is just a simple way to get a free Bible.)

1 Corinthians 15:10 – Godspeed!

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Suffering Honors Jesus & Denies The Flesh

The last few months have been an opportunity to learn a lot about suffering for Jesus and denying myself. If you know the Bible, you know that, in Luke 9:23, Jesus lays out that to follow Him means “you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (NLT). That sounds simple enough, but let’s break it down.

Jesus tells us to give up our own way. So, it’s no longer about what I think is best, how I think something should be done, nor is it about when I think He should do something, where, nor why. It’s about letting go of all of that and letting Him be God!

Then, I’m to take up my cross daily. A cross was not a pretty image, nor was it some lovely jewelry or artistic ornament. Rather, a cross was a clear implement of death! Taking up my cross means my flesh gets put on that cross every day! When I get up in the morning, my flesh knows it’s going to be dying that day.

The last part is following Him. If you can get through those first two, this last one is easy! But the focus of this post is mostly that second one. My flesh needs to die!

Let me take a moment and say something that I amNOT talking about: suicide! Suicide is another lashing out of my flesh, but I am also NOT condemning those who have been overcome by the demons in this world and made that choice. What I AM SAYING is that no one should read this post as an excuse nor an endorsement for such an offense. Your life, no matter how you see it, is VALUABLE! You are here because Jesus has purpose for you; don’t turn your back on that purpose!

Now, back to my flesh being put to death. Jesus carried a cross; He hung on a cross, too! He calls us, as disciples of Him, to follow in those footsteps. And that often takes place through suffering. This may be extreme suffering under persecution or just supernatural suffering brought on by family, friends, jobs, or children. Be it persecution, a difficult or troubled child, or a physical challenge due to birth, accident, or even a bad choice, if you follow Jesus, you will experience suffering.

“Wow! Great marketing, man! I bet everyone will want to follow Jesus, now!”

No. It’s not marketing; it’s the truth. And if you choose to follow Jesus or choose to deny Him, I’d rather give you the truth and let you decide based off honest truth/facts rather than lies and emotions. But that suffering you’ll endure, it’s not without cause nor without purpose.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not drive to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jess may also be seen in our bodies.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10

As God has settled my family into a new (to us) home, and as He begins a process of restoration, I’ve become keenly aware of my own sufferings. I literally have therapists telling me how I need to engage in more “self-care” (their term for taking a lunch out, massage, or other things to help de-stress). And while I respect these therapists’ opinions, I seek to honor Christ above all else. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a massage, nor does it mean that I should stress and have a heart attack! What it means is that my de-stressing should be, first, by casting my cares upon Him. Second, I should let Him guide me to the things I need to do. Some years ago, a friend gave me a gift certificate for a massage, and I learned how amazingly loose a massage can make me, restoring a good deal of energy/flexibility. But even in this, it wasn’t something I sought out in place of the Lord, but rather, it was something I received while walking with Him.

Suffering sucks! I will readily admit that! No one seeks out suffering, and no one should. But when faced with a choice to feed my flesh, my desires and pleasures, or to accept some pain or suffering, one should first press into Jesus, and then accept the road of pain/suffering over the road which would encourage one’s flesh. One’s spirit will always be encouraged and uplifted by spending time in the Bible and in worship of the Almighty and Jesus. When Believers place themselves into the hands of the Almighty, by the aforementioned time in the Bible, in worship, and also in prayer, then pain and suffering no longer hold the potency they once did, and we can step into pain/suffering with the knowledge that God has a purpose and is using it for His glory.

When we get to Heaven and enter into the glory of the Lord, what a sight that will be! Many of us believers have no idea how much the Lord has done through us and our pains. Equally so, I suspect that many of us will find ourselves marveling that He used us even in our worst moments. This does not excuse us; we are to be in communion with Jesus, every day. We need to be constantly connected with Him, letting Him flow through us and into our interactions, activities, and thoughts. But even when we fail, He is faithful. Even when we think we have lost it, He is the one holding it all together, making it work for the best.

What an amazing God! What a glorious Father, we serve, then! He has given us everything, taking from us the worst of our refuse, and suffering, in our place, on the cross, and rising again because He is that powerful! Death could not hold Him! The cross could not fell Him! And my worst days are not a surprise to Him! He uses them! Praise God!

I can’t close this any better than Jude closed his letter, and so, with the words of Jude, I close this blog…

“Now, all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and bring you with great joy into His glorious Presence without a single fault. All glory to Him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are His before time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.”

Jude 24-25

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Spiritual Opposition Always Follows Spiritual Progress

This principle shifted my thinking! Spiritual opposition always follows spiritual progress; my pastor, at the time, said this in one of his sermons, and I had never really thought about it before. Some of that was my the time and environments I was raised in, but part of it was my own ignorance, having missed this clear reality in the Bible!

In many ways, I’d grown up in a prosperous time for America, and in the midst of that prosperity (as often happens in prosperous times), the Church in America started dulling its message. With so much prosperity, many churches began to just seek higher donations. Some churches began to seek notoriety through numbers. And still others thought they were doing “good work” but never asked if they were doing “God’s work!” Even so, no matter the cause, the result was the same, many young humans (believer and unbeliever, alike) began to forget what it was like before things were so good.

As often holds true, good times often weaken the resolve of mankind. We forget that we didn’t EARN these good times. We forget that bad times come to all. Worse yet, we lose our ability to press into the bad times and make the best of them. I remember stories of how an orange was a fantastic Christmas gift during the depression, how socks could be such a wonderful resource on the battlefields of World War II, and I personal recall the fragility of portable media, how a hot day could mean the end to your favorite album if you forgot to grab it from your car!

These are small examples, but when we draw this out to the spiritual, it becomes truly potent. The woman who comes to Jesus, and immediately, her pimp threatens her. The man who turns his life over to Jesus, and his buddies show up, unannounced, at his house “ready to party!” Or the single parent who has been praying for his/her kids, and they suddenly have a collector banging on the door. The Enemy of our souls will take ANY opportunity to distract us from the Gospel and from our purpose here on the Earth!

Most of all, when we are making progress (quitting sin, learning a truth, or being faithful to pray for a brother or sister or unbeliever), we can expect to face opposition! It could be as extreme as suddenly being fired from your job, as insane as being accused of a crime you didn’t commit, or as simple as getting an unexpected (or forgotten) bill for something. Whatever it is, when the troubles come, our natural response is, “What did I do wrong?”

We tend to naturally assume there’s some cosmic balancing scale, and we must’ve tossed something onto the wrong side of that scale. I think this goes back to the fall in the garden. We decided to be our own god, and when we made that choice and ate the fruit (not necessarily an apple, y’all!), our eyes were opened, and we used the most logical metric to understand good and evil. And yet, God does NOT work that way! He’s neither a vending machine nor a scale.

In point of fact, the clearest example of this is in Jesus. If God was interested in tic-for-tat or in “scales of karmic justice,” then Jesus wouldn’t have died, y’all! Truly, think this through for a moment; if it was about balancing good/bad or about putting enough good into the vending machine of the cosmos, then Jesus would not have died! Maybe he would’ve bled a bit. Perhaps, he would have endured a small beating, something just to cover the gap. But He certainly would not have died!

In actuality, the very reason Jesus HAD to die was because we were DOOMED!!!! If God were to show some scales of justice, they would be eternally tipped against someone just because of one choice! God’s law demands purity, not “clean enough”. Hence, we never could do right enough to offset the wrongs we’ve done, and that’s assuming we never again failed, but we all know that’s a falsehood; we inevitably fail again.

So, when troubles come, I must ask the question not, “what did I do wrong?” but “what am I missing?” The second opens me to the possibility that it’s not dependent on me. If troubles come, the question of “what am I missing?” allows me to look to God and see what He is doing. Perhaps there is some pride, or other sin in my life, which He is working to remove. It could be that He’s put me in a position to wait on Him. Or it could be that He’s asking, “Will you trust me through this?” like I discussed some weeks ago. Whatever the case, I no longer look to my sinful self and assume I’ve screwed something up. Rather, I look to Him and continue to follow Him through the struggle.

Hence, my focus is restored, once again upon Jesus, and if there’s something I did do wrong, He will show me. This also removes the need to blame others (the need; I no longer NEED someone ELSE to be at fault. If others are at fault, we should hold folks accountable for their actions), as I can walk through this with Jesus rather than trying to “fix it”. Additionally, my keeping my eyes on Jesus, I receive His strength and can deal with the challenge ahead with His grace and His strength, in Truth, and I no longer need to bear the full weight of this challenge.

In short, there is a lot of peace that comes when I recognize that God is not “out to get me”, and if I am following Him, secure in His sacrifice paying the price of my sin(s), then challenges and surprises are no longer fear-filled and indicative of my own guilt. Rather, challenges are just challenges, and I have the blessed opportunity to walk through said challenges with Jesus/God (the Almighty, Creator of All, and all things were created through Jesus) by my side! How cool! What an amazing truth!

Best of all, it’s no longer dependent on me to juggle everything, to keep everything together or accounted for, and I can rest that He’s got it worked out; I can simply follow His lead and enjoy the ride. As an analytical goof who is often taking on more than he should, I can testify that truth is an amazing relief. I can also testify that it is sometimes hard to keep it in mind, as the volleys of life get tossed at me, left, right, and directly in the schnoz! But He is faithful, even when we are faithless! (2 Timothy 2:13)

“Now to Him who is able to keep you [believer in Jesus] from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forevermore. Amen” – Jude 1:24-25, ESV

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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Gratefulness Admidst Pain

Have you ever wanted something, and someone gives you a gift, and you think it’s the something you want, but it’s really something else? Well, my High School English teachers would kill me for that sentence, but I think we’ve all been there a time or two, wishing for A but getting B.

I remember one Christmas so profoundly, I can still feel the emotions and remember every aspect of this one moment. I was about 13 years old, and all I wanted in the world was a stereo! Oh, I could go without ANY OTHER Christmas gifts, if only I could get a stereo! To make matters worse, one night, my parents went out, and I was fiddling around on the limited family computer (I think I was playing an early computer game), and I saw a box. This box sat level with my parents’ bed, with a blanket over it, so I couldn’t see. Being me, I didn’t go look, but I KNEW I was getting my stereo!

Christmas morning came, and the presents started being opened, and I got to my big present. And yet, it wasn’t as big as I had thought, but maybe it was a remote (that was the new thing, then! Remote-controlled stereos), or maybe it was a receipt or some adventure to go on to find my stereo. And as I opened that package, my heart sunk into my legs, and I struggled to hold back tears and be grateful; my gift was my Dad’s boom-box (basically, a CD player with speakers and a radio, for those of you who don’t know what a boom-box is). My parents went on to explain how they couldn’t afford a stereo but could give me this. Oh! I knew my parents weren’t rich, so I tried so hard to be grateful, but the tears welled up anyway…

I find that I still struggle with being grateful when I’m given gifts that are not what I wanted. My heart is so set on a thing that anything less or different is hard to be grateful for it. But, I am also working on it! I’m learning to see the heart in the gift that was given. And the same is true of God.

Sometimes, we ask God for something, like a spouse, but He gives us a better car. “A car is not a spouse, God! Don’t you know this?” LOL! Every time I say something like that, I immediately see one of my kids getting upset with me. Here I am telling the Almighty God of the Universe, the One who knows everything, that He doesn’t know the difference between a car and a spouse. But you know what? He knew I needed that car to keep me from being broken down on the road two weeks later. He knew that I needed that vehicle to help my friend move the following month. He knew!

As for the spouse, sometimes God says no or not-now. Truthfully, I don’t understand that! I really don’t! From my analysis, I know that what is truly needed is a spouse! But then I have to admit that I’ve just violated Proverbs 3:5.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

Do you see the conflict? I’m judging God’s provision by my limited knowledge. I’m trusting in my own analysis. I’m depending on my “educated” understanding. But, as may be obvious to you, God is bigger than me, better educated than the greatest of scholars, and has an understanding beyond human comprehension. He understands, sees, and knows so much more than I can hope to understand, see, or know.

So, when God provides a car, even though I asked for a spouse, I must submit my heart to His wisdom and healing touch. I need to look at that car, let my tears fall, and say with absolute trust, “Thank you!” My perception of what is best is often inaccurate. He knows what I need, and He will provide it. (As an aside, let me say that this DOES NOT mean one cannot keep asking for a spouse! Jesus tells us to be persistent in our requests until we get a response; so, there is nothing wrong with continuing to ask for A when you get B.) In the midst of my humanity, I need to remember my limitations, and I need to practice gratefulness for what He HAS given, even if I am grateful through my tears.

Ok. I should finish my earlier story. In the midst of my trying to be grateful and working so hard to keep from sobbing, I had missed that my older brother was now standing next to the couch I was sitting on. Furthermore, I missed the fact that he was holding a very big box. After clearing his throat, I looked in his direction and was elated to see a nice, new, shiny stereo for me! I didn’t care how it compared to any other stereo, it was my stereo, and I could finally listen to my music in nice, detailed, equalized sound! Yeah, baby! I had arrived!

When we surrender our lives to Jesus, when we line-up behind Him and walk with Him, following His plans for our lives, we will find He has the perfect gifts for us. Sometimes, they’re not what we want, but they are what we need, and they are ours, our gifts from our Father. And through these gifts, we are better equipped and enabled to serve Him. Nothing is wasted and little is much when God is in it! Consequently, I encourage you, Dear Reader, to press into gratefulness for what He gives you, even if you must weep as you’re grateful; He’ll work on that weeping, and you’ll find more gratefulness. Better yet, you’ll find your life more aligning with His, as you practice this denial of what you think is best and gratefulness for what He has given you.

Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10

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