When Life Feels Like Too Much

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me~ 2ndCorinthians 12:9

This past Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. 

 Memorial Day is a day Americans set aside to remember those who freely gave their lives in combat for the good of others. The weightiness of the day got me thinking about heady things like sacrifice, honor, nobility and how for the most part the best things in life are hard. It really doesn’t matter if you’re talking about laying down your life for your country, having a healthy marriage, maintaining your integrity in the workplace, raising a decent kid or going the distance in ministry. The best things in life are universally tough to pull off.  

This insight bummed me out for two reasons. 

First, I REALLY hate doing hard things. Like most sane people I prefer the easy option in virtually every situation. The second reason is more personal. I just happen to be deep in the weeds of a bunch of really tough stuff. There are days when I fear that stuff could be the end of me.  I would really love to dump the hard stuff and do something easy.  

Sigh.

 I get that dumping hard stuff is not really a viable option. I also get that I am not alone, all of us go through something tough at some point. So, I came up with a short list of reasons to never give up on doing good (Galatians 6:9).   

Hardness is inescapable in a fallen world- 

Hardness in life is never an accident of fate, nor is it always a result of bad or sinful choices. Hardness in this world came about as a result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Until sin is dealt with once and for all (Revelation 19-21) hard things will simply be an integral part of life on Earth. The whole messy mess is complicated by the reality that Christians have an enemy (1stPeter 5:8, Ephesians 6:11) who has a vested in interest in making life harder for God’s people on account of point four. 

Doing hard things prepares us for harder things- 

I am currently reading through the book of Exodus. In chapter five God sends Moses to Pharaoh for the first time.  Moses tells Pharaoh that God wants Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go so they can worship their God. Pharaoh did not respond the way Moses hoped he would. He scoffed at Moses and increased the workload of the Hebrew people exponentially. The very people Moses was attempting to help turned around and laid the blame for the whole messy muddle squarely at the feet of Moses. By the end of the chapter Moses was clearly bummed-out and was what-the-heck-ing God. He says:  

“Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” Exodus 5:22-23

Because I have the advantage of knowing how the story ends, I was struck by the thought that if Moses had realized at that moment that he was actually doing the easiest leadership stuff he was ever going to have to do he probably would have laid down on the floor and cried like a tired child. Moses didn’t know it yet, but the mission in front of him was going to be hard in ways he could not even begin to imagine. Moses was going to need to have an intimate understanding of how to deal with both difficult people and intense disappointment. He would also need to know how to deal with the negative reactions intensely difficult people were going to have to their disappointment. Mercifully, God did not tell Moses that his life was about to get much tougher. Instead God just used the hard thing (dealing with Pharaoh) to prepare Moses for the harder thing (leading the people through the wilderness). God often does the same thing with us. 

God has a special place in His heart for people who do hard things- 

The Christians in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) did the hardest things Christians are ever called to do. They suffered and some even died for their belief in Jesus. God had nothing but positive things to say about them and the sacrifices they made. In the text God tells the Christians in Smyrna that He understands their pain and difficulty and then praises them for standing strong in the face of intense adversity. He gently and lovingly encouraged them to continue to stand strong and be courageous as they waited for the relief that would come in time.  Throughout the Scriptures God exhibits a heart of compassion for those experiencing hard things. God has not changed. 

The hardest things in life typically have the potential to impact eternity in some way-

 Sharing our faith, living honorably, speaking hard truths in a gentle way, raising decent kids, having a healthy marriage, going the distance in ministry and laying down our lives for others are hard things. They suck-up our energy, eat away at our free time, cost us money and try our patience. Sometimes those things feel like they will break us.  However, hard things also grow our faith, give us wisdom, make us better people and have the potential to change someone else’s eternity. Changing eternity for others is a very good thing. 

It really is the best thing.    

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead~ 2nd Corinthians 1:8-9 NIV

 It was a bad week.  

 I will not weary you with all the details.  I will tell you that my misery involved some irritating and insane demands on my time (which I didn’t have a lot of this week). Then there was a hostile, ungrateful and foul-mouthed person who shall remain nameless, a puppy who has zero intention of ever being house-trained and some hurt feelings that were mostly over a misunderstanding but my feelings were still hurt. Sunday and almost all of Monday was spent dealing with a (normally very sweet) teenager who is doing her level best to remind my husband and I that she is still a teenager. My misery was made complete with a badly pulled hamstring.   

 Sigh.

 By midweek, I was feeling pretty dang sorry for myself. So, I spent some time grumpily telling God my troubles and complaining about the obvious injustice of it all (like He didn’t already know). About half way through the list I swear I heard a still small voice say quite clearly:

 Count it all joy.

 I was neither amused nor joyful. Truthfully, I was more than a little irritated with the Almighty for whispering that particular Bible verse into my heart at that exact moment. All I really wanted from life right then was to vent a bit, feel sorry for my wretched and pitiful self and have the Almighty place His seal of approval on my pity party.

 Seriously. Not amused. Not joyful.

 Shortly afterward, I had a weirdly painful moment of spiritual clarity. It occurred to me that as a 21stcentury American I probably (obviously) have some fairly twisted views on what exactly constitutes a trial and what I was put on earth for. Truth-be-told in my heart-of-hearts I tend to think (unconsciously, most of the time) that the point of life is for me to be happy, milk as many experiences out of life as possible and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

 It occurred to me that this isn’t exactly a biblical view of life, but in the interest of proving myself wrong I spent some time diligently searching the Scriptures and I could not find a single verse that commands God’s people to “enjoy life” or “work towards personal fulfillment” or “have an awesome week”. Rather the Scriptures have a lot to say about hardship and why even good people seem to experience so much of it in this life (1stThessalonians 3:3). Following are four reasons Christians experience trials and hardship:

 Crummy experiences mold us into the image of Christ-

 I sincerely wish trips to Disney land made people more Christ-like but in my experience, they simply do not get the job done. It is the tough stuff of life that prepares us for future events (Genesis 37-47), eliminates our rough edges and molds us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Sigh.

 Difficulties in life build compassion for others and can be the catalyst for future ministry-

 For some reason I will never completely understand human beings are nearly incapable of understanding the needs of others until they experience those needs for themselves or they find themselves in a similar situation. Because God wants His people to be lovers of justice, doers of good and compassionate towards one another (Ephesians 2:10, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 10:24). There are times in life when God will allow His people to experience a hurt or injustice so that we will have a desire to fight injustice on behalf of others or provide comfort to the hurting (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7).   

 Hardships allow us to see our blind-spots and weakness more clearly-

 Regrettably, salvation does not spontaneously bring spiritual or moral perfection (Philippians 2:12, 2ndCorinthians 4:17).  The fancy-pants theological term for the oftentimes slow process of being perfected in our faith is called sanctification. Sanctification is a process that begins at the point of salvation and continues until the moment of our death. There is nothing like seeing our own negative or ugly response to a difficulty, problem or unpleasant person to help us clearly see what still needs to be sanctified (perfected) in our character.

 Difficulties in life drive us to prayer and prayer is an important part of the sanctification process-

 Prayer is the way we build intimacy and friendship with God (1st Peter 3:12). It is also the only way for sinful, fallen people to understand God and His plans (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 5:7) clearly. Sadly, most of us (including me) are a lot less likely to pray when life is easy and everything is going our way. So, God in His infinite wisdom sometimes brings trouble into our lives so we will take our troubles to Him. In the process He provides love, comfort, strength and peace in our times of trouble as He mold us into the image of His son.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persecution of Christians Might Just be the New Normal- Here’s What We Can do About It

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you~ John 15:17-19 NIV

 We live in strange and strangely terrifying times.

 This statement was recently proven true by an incident that should cause even the marginally intelligent to pause and wonder if Western society is devolving into a dystopian nightmare.

 The strange (and strangely Orwellian) event took place following the 46thannual March for Life in Washington D.C.  A group of Catholic students (all boys) from Kentucky were preparing to return home following the march. As they waited for a bus they were verbally harassed by a group of protesters. The group began hurling anti-white, anti-Trump and anti-Catholic slurs at the boys. The insults were far-too demeaning and obscene to repeat here.  After forty minutes or so of said abuse a Native American man began drumming his drum in between the two groups in a very weird attempt to “bring calm to the situation”. As he was endeavoring to “bring calm to the situation” he also verbally harassed the boys, throwing more insults at them.

 One boy stood motionless with what can only be described as a very peculiar smirk on his face as the Native American man drummed his drum directly in front of the teen. An edited video of the much older (Native American) man drumming and the much younger (white) man smirking hit Twitter like a rabid bat flying straight out of the bowels of hell and promptly went viral.  Because of the teenager’s (admittedly weird) facial expression the media (and most of America) jumped to the conclusion that the boys were the instigators in said situation.

 Because that’s what we do these days. We jump to conclusions. 

 In this case jumping to conclusions included vicious accusations of white privilege, vile anti-Christian rhetoric, death threats against the boys and calls for shutting down their Catholic school (because the school must be teaching hate. Duh.). Ultimately, it was proven that the situation was not what it seemed. A longer video proved the teenagers behaved in a remarkably nonaggressive fashion especially considering their ages and the bizarre nature of the situation.

 Some of the haters have officially back peddled. A few even apologized but many have doubled down on their animosity and are calling for the closing of the school and nothing less than the abject humiliation and/or death of every single Christian/Catholic/Conservative currently residing on planet Earth.

 For those of us in the Christian faith community (Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic) hate and suspicion of our faith has become the new normal. Christians and conservatives (even non-religious conservatives) are now the only group left on the planet that is okay to hate, abuse or humiliate. Hostility towards Christians is not a new thing (Luke 21:17, 1stJohn 3:13-14). Therefore, we should not be surprised by recent developments. That said, Christians do need to know how to navigate the new normal. Following are five things Christians can and should do as persecution and hatred of Christians intensifies.

 Defend God and His people-

 Try really hard not to be an insufferable jerk when you do it, but do defend God, the Bible and fellow believers anytime the need arises (1stPeter 3:15). An engaging and thoughtful combination of defending what we believe and praying for those who persecute us is the only way hearts and minds are ever changed (Matthew 5:44). Be as gracious as you possibly can as you speak the truth (2ndTimothy 2:15, Ephesians 4:15). The reputation of God and the church literally hangs on the tactics of God’s people at this point in human history.

 Pray for revival-

 Pray for people you know, pray for people you don’t know and most importantly pray for those in authority (1stTimothy 2:1-3). Without authentic revival we’re pretty much done for as a culture. Best case scenario we will likely devolve into a dystopian nightmare without some powerful and prompt divine intervention.

 Prepare for more persecution-

 Without God’s intervention the odds of the spiritual and/or cultural climate improving on its own anytime soon are pretty much zero.  So, draw close to God, and let go of anything that is obstructing your relationship with Him (Hebrews 2:1, Romans 13:11, Hebrews 12:1). Close relationship with God could become vital in the coming years.

 Stop rushing to judgement-

 Some have developed the nasty habit of doing what the world does: running off half-cocked after receiving a minimal amount of information on a given subject. Stop it. It makes us all look like a bunch of ignoramuses. ALWAYS assume you are only getting half the story. Furthermore, you do not have to be the first one to state your opinion on Twitter or Facebook, especially if your opinion is based propaganda and faulty information. 

 Use the courts to protect the civil rights of conservatives-

 Being born into a Democratic Republic is a gift. We should take advantage of that blessing for as long as the law will allow.

Rejoice-

Seriously. It may not feel like it, but it is a distinct honor and a profound blessing to be chosen to represent our God at such a pivotal point in history (Matthew 5:11-13, Philippians 4:4-9, Esther 4:14).

 

 Own it.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Keeping Bitterness at Bay-

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 There are some sins unique to a few seriously creepy individuals. Normal people might joke about murder. However, few of people actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome little sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all struggle with at some point in our lives (1st Corinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Most people do not become bitter without reason. This can lead other wise sane people to feel justified and even righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Life Hits You With A Curveball

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near~ Job 17:11-12 NIV

 Regular readers of this blog know that I typically write out of my own personal experience and only very rarely tell the stories of others. There are numerous reasons for my reluctance to tell other people’s stories.

 First, I feel really weird telling other people’s stories and I hate feeling weird. I also worry excessively (probably neurotically) about violating the privacy of others. Moreover, I only know what I know, not what other people know, so I am reluctant to assign motives to others and it’s hard to tell some stories without assigning motives. And finally, I avoid offending others unnecessarily and there is no quicker route to provoking an offense than to tell someone else’s story and get it wrong or to assign the wrong motives.

 Sigh.

 All that being said, this week I feel inclined to share what I gleaned from watching someone else live out a really unpleasant chapter of their story with honesty and grace.

 I have a close friend who has been through more tough stuff in the course of the last two weeks than one could reasonably expect to experience in a decade of living. In the interest of protecting my friend’s privacy, I will spare you the nitty-gritty details of her private hell. I will tell you that the situation manifested itself suddenly and with no warning. Within days it morphed into the kind of nightmare we all secretly fear will happen to us and pray never does.

 Life has hit my sweet friend with some nasty curveballs in recent days.

 I define a curveball as any situation we were not expecting that abruptly alters our life in an unpleasant and unanticipated way. Curveballs are frustratingly common in this life. No one, no matter how well they manage their personal affairs, makes it through this life without experiencing at least one season of curveballs.

 Curveballs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they come in the form of an unforeseen job loss, a financial or health crisis, divorce, affair, or the death of a loved one. In truth, the details of said situation matter less than how we handle them.

 Today I am going to share four strategies for managing the curveballs of life I picked-up from observing my friend this week. First….

 Run to God rather than away from Him-

 Alas, the first instinct many of us have when trouble strikes is to get mad at God. We do this because logic tells us that God is the omnipotent maker of the universe and if anyone is capable of preventing trouble, it’s God. While that may be true, it ignores a couple of vital truths. First and foremost, trouble and hardship are a sad but inescapable consequence of living in a fallen world (John 16:33). Even Jesus experienced hardship and trouble in this life (Hebrews 2:10). Secondly, God wants to be there for us and give us comfort in the midst of our trials. And finally, God sometimes uses hardship and trouble to shape us into the people He has called us to be and to prepare us to minister effectively to others. God cannot do any of the things He wants to do in us or for us if we push Him away in anger.

 Accept help-

 God does His best work through His people. Anytime someone offers to help in a crisis we should view that person as the hand of God reaching out to offer practical support in our time of need. It’s essential we take the help that’s offered.

 Own what you need to own-

 With a few notable exceptions, curveballs rarely just appear out of nowhere. Typically there’s a history of reckless/sinful/unwise choices that led up to the life-altering mess. It’s crucial we take responsibility for any part we may have played in creating the situation that led up to the curveball. Taking ownership of mistakes and failings keeps us from blaming God and will ultimately set the stage for us to make better and wiser choices in the future.  

 Find someone you trust and be as real as you need to be about how you feel-

 Talking is the ONLY way to stay sane in a curveball situation. Sadly, we simply cannot be honest with everyone because not everyone is worthy of trust or equipped to deal with the negative emotions that accompany a curveball. So find the one or two people who will listen, pray, and offer wise counsel without judging and share what you need to share to preserve your sanity.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Breaking Free From Regret


Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death~ 2nd 7:10

 Regret is a tough topic.

 Mostly because there are so many different levels of regret. Some regrets are minor in the grand scheme of things. Missed opportunities to do good or an occasional overindulgence (AKA taco night at my house) are lamentable for entirely different reasons. However, none of those scenarios leads to the kind of grief that steals our joy and keeps us stuck in destructive emotional and spiritual patterns.

 Other regrets are tougher to reconcile because some regrets are by their very nature trickier to overcome. A missed opportunity to do good can typically be made-up at another time and the consequences of most indulgences can be remedied with a little extra exercise. Other choices are less easily overcome. We might deeply regret getting married and/or divorced, our chosen career path, the choice to have (or not have) children, or a great big sinful decision that simply cannot be undone.

 Whatever the cause, regret can quickly become psychologically and spiritually debilitating. This is especially true if we allow ourselves to get stuck in the quagmire of “what if” and “if only” thinking. When this happens, we spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what life would look like if only we had made another decision or wishing we had taken another route in life.

 “What if” and “if only” thinking is a pointless waste of energy because it keeps us stuck in the past and focuses our energy in an introspective, navel gaze-y kind of way that will never actually change anything. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge even God cannot change the past. Consequently, there is nothing to be gained by wishing we could do something that even the Omnipotent Maker of the Universe cannot (or chooses not) do.

 That said.

 Dealing with regret is about more than simply “getting over it” or “moving on”. I am convinced that God wants us to do more than just “get over” stuff. He wants to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ and sometimes God uses our deepest and most profound regrets in life to shape us into the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28).

 There are four things we need to do anytime we are struggling with regret.

 The first is…

 Own what you need to own-

 Wise people own their mistakes because they know they will never grow past anything they refuse to take responsibility for (Psalm 32:5). If you have regrets concerning your marriage or how your kids turned out, do enough soul searching to figure out your part in the mess and own it. Don’t blame God, your parents, your spouse, society, or the church for the choices you made. No one can change what they refuse to acknowledge. Taking ownership is the first step to solving problems and living at peace with the past.

 Change what you can change-

 Taking responsibility frees us up to see what can and cannot be changed in any given situation. Sometimes even small changes in how we deal with people or circumstances can dramatically affect the outcome of the situation or the health of the relationship. If you don’t know what to do, read some Christian books, seek the advice of someone who has their life together or spend some time with a Christian counselor or pastor. Whatever you do, don’t give-up.  

Make right what needs to be made right-

 This means seeking forgiveness (Psalm 38:18, Hebrews 8:12). Every sin is ultimately a sin against God, so go to Him first and ask him to forgive you (He will). Then talk to the people you have hurt or wronged. If you were a crummy parent, spouse or friend be honest about your shortcomings and don’t blame others for your failures (Psalm 37:37, Hebrews 12:14). Seeking forgiveness from the people we hurt may or may not change how they feel about us but it does create an environment where God can bless and heal us.    

 Trust in the resurrection power of Jesus to do what we cannot do-

 Sadly, there are times in life when situations or relationships are simply broken beyond our ability to fix them. Once we’ve done what we can do, we need to trust God to do the impossible. The Bible is clear; if you are a believer in Jesus then the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is living in you and working on your behalf (Romans 8:11). The resurrection power of Jesus is not only about salvation. Over time (if we let it) God’s power infiltrates our lives and that power allows Him to do the impossible and fix the things that broken beyond fixing.

 

 

 

 

The Key to Surviving Unwanted Changes

 

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there~ Genesis 39:1 NIV

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I believed with all of my heart that I was one of those unicorn-like individuals who actually liked and even thrived on change.

 I know now I was an idiot who probably aggravated the fire out of everyone unfortunate enough to have a conversation with me about the subject. I am sure there were those who contemplated homicide, as I waxed eloquent on my love for change and ability to adapt to whatever came my way.

 Then along about five years ago I had an unpleasant reality check in the form of at least a dozen different changes I did not like, want or understand.

 Sigh.

 The good news is that I got to be a lot less annoying really quickly as I figured out that I (like all normal people) really only like change I have at least some control over. Change is wonderful when you’re discussing it in the abstract or contemplating something fun, like a move to a new city or a job promotion.

Change is just not nearly as thrilling when it is thrust upon you like ugly and impromptu blind date; or when it comes in the shape of something awful and unwanted like a job loss, a car accident, a death in the family, a grim diagnosis or a divorce you didn’t want.

 However.

 As a Christian I have confidence that nothing enters our lives without God’s foreknowledge. I also believe that if we seek to live for God in the midst of circumstances we do not like or understand, good will eventually come out of even the ugliest of situations (Romans 8:28). Because I truly believe all that, I had to come to terms with the fact that God had a purpose for the changes disturbing my peaceful reality.

 I learned a few lessons during that period in my life; and not just to shut my pie-hole about circumstances I had yet to experience. I also learned that whether or not we barely survive changes or thrive in the middle of it all depends on whether or not we understand and live-out these four truths…

 Unwelcome change brings losses that should be grieved-

 I am not intimating that the trauma of an unexpected pregnancy is somehow equal to the trauma of the death of loved one. However, both changes involve loss and all losses deserve at least a quick trip through the five stages of grief. Taking the time to feel the feelings that come with loss, rather than pretending those feelings don’t exist, will prevent emotional problems (such as depression) and spiritual problems (such as bitterness) in the future.

 Guard your heart against bitterness and hate-

 The greatest danger in unwelcome change is bitterness. We can easily become embittered towards the people who wronged us, didn’t see our value or who betrayed our trust in some way. We can also become bitter towards God for not working our circumstances out in a different way. Bitterness towards anyone is poison to our souls and must be dealt with decisively by grieving the loss, forgiving the jerks that hurt us and accepting the new normal.

 Embrace the opportunities change brings-

 When one door closes another opens. However, we can get so caught-up in what we are losing that we don’t see the opportunities that opening up right in front of us. If you are in the center of an unwelcome change, ask God to show you the doors He’s opening on your behalf. I guarantee you there are some.

 Unwanted changes are a time for reflection and self-improvement-

 I don’t believe God brought unwanted change into my life because I was doing anything wrong or sinful. However, in retrospect I was really bad at saying “no” and standing-up for myself. As a result I was going in a direction others had chosen for me and I had little inclination to do the things I was actually called to do. That period in my life gave me the downtime I needed to self-analyze and eventually form more of a backbone. I also got to know God and myself a whole lot better. In the process of all that reflection I figured out who I really was, how to say “no” and what I was really good at.

 Joseph (Genesis 37-50) is the poster-child for surviving and prospering in the midst of unwelcome change. He was sold as a slave by his brothers, jailed for a crime he didn’t commit and forgotten by the person who had the power to rescue him and yet he never stopped learning, growing and serving God. As a result of his willingness to embrace the opportunities that came with unwelcome he literally changed his world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When God Ordains Trouble

 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God”~ Genesis 44:5a, 7, 8a

 I rarely worry during the day and I’m usually out like a light within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. I would love to tell you it’s because I am some sort of a super Christian who has completely conquered the sin of worry.

 However, that would be a terrible lie.

I do worry sometimes. Sadly, it’s never at an hour when I can constructively deal with issues or problems. For some reason I will never entirely grasp, my brain simply prefers to focus in on all the unsolvable problems of life around three-o-clock in the morning. It never fails to amaze me how I can feel perfectly relaxed and anxiety-free at ten only to wake up with an extensive list of thoroughly bizarre concerns that appear to require my full attention just a few hours later.

 I was back at it the other night, wide-awake at 2:45 a.m. staring at the ceiling, mulling over an issue that has been vexing me on and off for months. The situation in question can only be categorized as an interpersonal disaster. I cannot figure out for the life of me how exactly the situation got to be so bad or even where it all went wrong in the first place.

 Looking back, there are things I could have (and probably should have) done differently. That said, I’m not sure doing things differently would have improved the outcome all that much. The whole thing is a big, stupid mess that appears to have been fated to become a big, stupid mess from day one. And the mess just keeps getting messier no matter what I do (or stop doing) to fix it.

 As I lay awake in the wee hours of the night praying for wisdom, it struck me that there are times in this life when it appears as if God has simply ordained trouble for people. It happened to some of God’s best and brightest. Paul, Joseph, Naomi and David are just a few examples of people who found themselves in serious trouble they did not create and were powerless to escape without God’s intervention.

 When Jesus promised we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33), He was not overstating facts. Friends betray our confidence, the wrong people get elected, persecution occurs, financial misfortune appears seemingly out of thin air. As if all that were not enough, spouses are sometimes prone to wander, terrorists attack without reason or forewarning and kids who were raised right can still go horribly wrong. Even the seemingly most secure and peaceful of situations can and sometimes do transform in the course of a single day.

 God’s purposes are largely hidden and almost always easier to understand in retrospect. Sometimes, as with Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, God has a much larger plan that is unfolding, and our pain is simply a stepping-stone to our true purpose in this life. Other times, God uses trouble to prepare us for responsibilities or blessings beyond anything we could possibly imagine, as He did with Joseph and David. Other times, trouble or persecution is simply the natural consequence of a life of obedience, as with the apostle Paul.

 God also uses trouble to reveal truth we need to see about ourselves. In the process of revealing those truths He refines us and makes us better people. Sometimes God uses trouble to draw us into a closer relationship with Him, and sometimes God uses trouble to reorder our priorities and steer us back to our original calling.

 If you live long enough and serve faithfully enough you will likely find yourself in the middle of a mess you did not make and have no clue how to fix. When trouble comes and life feels out of control, the natural response is to wonder what we did wrong or if God has somehow abandoned us. That response makes sense on a natural level but is an enormous waste of spiritual time and emotional energy.

 Rather, we should get busy praying for wisdom, direction and the ability to be flexible because something infinitely bigger and better is likely right around the corner.

The trouble you are facing today is simply God preparing you for the blessings and responsibilities of tomorrow.