stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

just at the right time

When I was younger, and I was in a hurry, I learned that the worst thing I could do was rush my dad. He would intentionally make himself late and not care if someone was rushing him. I learned this one Sunday morning when I was in a hurry to get to church, and he was still in the house. I thought I’d alert him to the time by honking the car horn. In retrospect, I realize honking the horn at someone is rude. I also realize that honking the horn early on a Sunday morning might have been rude to neighbors who might have still been asleep. Anyway, I honked at my dad, who was in the house, who I assumed was almost ready to go but dawdling a little bit. Ten minutes later, he came out to the car. I was really aggravated.

I asked him what took so long, and he said, “I put a load of laundry in.” I was even more aggravated. I asked him, “Didn’t you know what time it was?” He said he did. I asked, “Didn’t you hear me honk to let you know we needed to go?” He looked me in the eye and asked me, “Why do you think I put a load of laundry in?” I didn’t say anything. I was dumbfounded. If he knew what time it was, what time we were supposed to leave, and he heard me honking, why would he intentionally take more time and put laundry in? After he started the car, with me just staring at him, he looked over at me and said, “I move at my pace, not yours. I’m your dad. You’re my son. You don’t tell me when to move or how quickly to move.”

I wish I could tell you that I listened to what he said respectfully and introspectively considered his words, but I did not. I was mad, because his actions didn’t make sense to me and didn’t go with what I wanted.  So I fumed silently all the way to church.  I hadn’t thought about that interaction until recently when I was working on a lesson for youth group.  We’ve been talking about slowing down and waiting with God.  Sometimes we must slow down and wait on God, because He doesn’t move at the pace we want Him to.

Sometimes His pace seems incredibly quick for us, like when He tells us to do something right now that we are afraid to do or tells us to stop something that we like doing. Share the Gospel with that person. But I’m not ready. Stop dating that person. But I love him/her!  Leave your job and follow me.  You get the idea. But where we run into the most frustration, fear, and even lack of faith, is when God’s pace is slower than what we desire. When we want answers right now, direction right now, healing right now, everything right now. When we don’t see movement right away, we can easily start to question God. Is He even real? Does He love me? Is He capable?

The truth is that God is sometimes a slow moving God, at least based on our perception. His lack of haste does not necessarily indicate a problem, and it doesn’t mean He’s not actually working on His end. God never promised speedy returns. In fact, He revealed Himself to be slower moving than people might expect over time, both in prophecy and in Jesus. I want to look at the Father’s character through the life of Jesus.

We know that Jesus was born at just the right time.  He could have come any time over thousands of years, and many were hoping He would.  But He came when He came, because it was the right time in God’s plan. Galatians 4:4 (NLT) says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.”  We also know that He died at the right time.  People sought to kill Him more than once while He was here on earth, but because it wasn’t His time, He didn’t allow it.  But then at the right time, He willingly laid down His life and allowed them to take it.  Romans 5:6 (NLT) says, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”

God has a schedule, which may not match ours, but He is working.  He is working His plan for redemption, and His plan for your life.  He will not always do what we want, when we want it, or how we want it.  We can’t rush Him.  We don’t set His schedule.  He doesn’t answer to us.  Sometimes we must wait on Him, in faith, and see how He works in our lives.

The song below has been an encouragement to me in times of waiting and in times of wondering.  Maybe it will encourage you, too.  I promise it’s not heavy metal, even if the band normally does that.  It’s more like a worship song.

safest location

After a lot of prayer, and being sure God was leading us, Sarah and I moved to Jacksonville, Florida in July of 2004.  We’re both from West Michigan, so the move would take us far from both of our families.  It was an intimidating move to make, especially as two 22-year olds.  We would truly be on our own, forced to be all grown up.  We were sure it was God’s call, though, so we did it.

I remember before we left, when we let our families know that we were going to go, several asked us about going where there were hurricanes.  Weren’t we scared?  I hadn’t really thought about it, honestly.  I sent my friend an e-mail and asked him if they got hit by many hurricanes down there, and he assured me that they hadn’t been hit even once in the few years he’d been down there.  That calmed me down about it.  But our families weren’t as calm about it.  Sarah’s dad gave us a weather radio, so we could listen for hurricane warnings, because he was still pretty nervous.

My mom isn’t the calmest mom.  Some would say she was mildly overprotective of us.  So I was pretty surprised by how unafraid she seemed.  I wasn’t offended that she wasn’t losing her mind, but I was suprised, because I fully expected her to lose it.  I asked her why she wasn’t freaking out, given who she is.  She said, “I figure the safest place you can be is in the center of God’s will.  You’re safer in Florida- if that’s where God wants you – than you are here.”  I was very struck by that.  It really impacted me, so much so that I still think about it often 13 years later.  I got to see another example of what it means to truly live by faith.  And she was right, too.  I did make it out alive, despite the hurricanes that did hit while we were there, the despite the biggest cockroaches ever that also happen to fly, despite the violence in the city we lived.  We were safe.

I was reminded of this conversation last week.  My Bible reading plan had me in Matthew 14. After Jesus had fed the crowed of over 5,000 people, His disciples got in a boat and went to cross the body of water.  But a large storm came.  They were having trouble due to high winds and heavy waves.  Verse 27 says, “But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

They didn’t need to be afraid, because Jesus was there.  The storm hadn’t stopped.  The winds were still blowing.  The waves were still crashing.  Their circumstances were still the same ones that caused them so much fear, but now they were with Jesus. Their safety had nothing to do with where they were or what was going on.  It was all about Who they were with.  The safest place you can be, as a Christian, is with Jesus.  That doesn’t mean nothing can happen to you that is unpleasant.  But it means you will be where God wants you to be, fulfilling the call He has placed on your life, and His presence will be a comfort to you, even in the darkest circumstance.

Psalm 23:4   New Living Translation (NLT)

Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.

Everyone has a particular set of skills.  We excel in different areas, and maybe we struggle in others.  We see that play out at work, maybe in our homes at times, when we’re watching or playing sports, and certainly in school (if you can remember back that far).  Not everyone can do everything really well.  That’s fine.  What happens in churches, though, is we often see our inability to do one thing or even multiple things as a sign that we are not useful at all.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and yet many have felt this way.  We listen to someone teach and think, “I could never teach like that.”  Or during worship, maybe we get distracted by how wonderfully the worship team plays and sings, knowing we have not been so gifted.  Comparing what we cannot do to what others can do can be overwhelming sometimes.

Sometimes, in the face of not being able to do something, we feel as though we can do nothing.  But the truth is that God can use you, just as you are, to His glory and for His good purpose.  I think there is an Old Testament story that perfectly illustrates that.  That is the story of David and Goliath.  I’m not looking at David, though.  David was awesome.  He was called a man after God’s own heart.  Yes, he was smaller than Goliath, but the guy had killed lions and bears with his bare hands, so he wasn’t necessarily a lightweight.  But he did seem to be outmatched nonetheless.  He wasn’t big enough for the armor or sword provided to him, so we he went with his slingshot (FYI – this isn’t a child’s toy but a deadly weapon when used with precision).

On his way out to face Goliath, it says in 1 Samuel 17:40 that he picked up 5 smooth stones from the stream.  Those stones are what I want to look at.  What good are stones in a stream?  They cannot move on their own, cannot talk, cannot sing, cannot teach.  But they are hard, they can be heavy, and they can be used ferociously.  When he faced Goliath, he put one of those stones into his sling and hurled it right at the giant’s head, with precision, knocking him down (after which, he did cut off his head with his own sword, to make sure he wasn’t just mostly dead).  A single rock, in the hands of a master, defeated a giant, skilled warrior.  The rock obviously didn’t do it on its own, but in the hands of a master, it was able to do what the entire army of Israel was afraid to do.

We are more than rocks.  As Christians, we are God’s children, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and capable of doing God’s work on earth.  1 Corinthians 12:4 says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.”  Everyone has a gift.  Everyone has a strength, an area of usefulness and excellence.  Maybe you do not feel competent enough to do something on your own, but through the power of the Holy Spirit – in the hands of the Master – you can do far more than you ever expected, to God’s glory.  Maybe you don’t see your gifts as being as valuable as someone else’s, but they truly are.  They come from the same source of power: the Holy Spirit.  God wants to use you, just as you are, to do something in the church.  He doesn’t want to just leave you in the stream.

Sunday, March 5, we start our 301 class during first service.  Through that class, you will be able to identify what your strengths and spiritual gifts are, and you’ll be able to discuss ways that those gifts can be used for God’s Kingdom, both inside and outside of the church.  If you have not already taken it, I strongly encourage you to do so, because you have gifts and strengths, and God wants you to use those.

Growing Deeper is Risky

On Sunday, Pastor Dave encouraged us to commit to growing deeper and going higher in our walks with God.  Many of us posted that we would commit to doing so in 2017, and I think that is exciting!  Hopefully you have been finding ways to stay faithful to that commitment.  If you’re already letting it slip, don’t hang your head and give up.  Just start today!

Something that was on my mind Sunday morning and that I’ve thought about quite a bit since is how risky growing deeper can be.  Sometimes we think about growing deeper in our walks with God and following His lead like a dreamy dystopia.  Everything will be bright and sunny as we stroll down easy street.  And why shouldn’t it be?  After all, we’re on a journey with God.  But the goodness in a journey isn’t dictated by the roads travelled but the company with which you travel.  When we follow God, He may take us down dark, scary paths.  The roads will wind and bump and be treacherous, but it’s a good journey, because we’re with God. The Bible never makes any illusion to the contrary.  God never promises an easy walk, a sunny, beautiful path, or a lack of danger.  What He does promise is His presence.

When God was instructing Joshua to take the Promise Land, He never said there wouldn’t be dangers. He did tell him not to be afraid, though, because God would be with him.  Joshua 1:8-9 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

It started with Joshua walking with and following after God.  He was to be in the Word of God, reading it, and meditating on it.  He was to be following it, and after God’s will for his life.  And what does God say?  Be strong and courageous.  Don’t be afraid, don’t be troubled.  Why does God have to tell him that? Because if Joshua was to look around at the circumstances God was leading Him into and surveying the danger, it would have been natural to be afraid.  If God was leading him down a brightly lit path, free of danger, there would be no need to be courageous. But God does not always lead us down such paths, so He must remind us to be courageous and not be afraid.

But how do we do that when fear comes so easily?  Well, have you ever walked a child through an area with frightening images or surroundings before?  I have.  Do you know what I tell my sons to do?  Just look at me.  Don’t look at this or that, don’t look around.  Just keep your eyes on me.  And it works!  By focusing on my face, they see someone who loves them, someone they trust, and they do not have a chance to focus on what scares them.  God gives us the same instruction.  Keep our eyes on Him.  After talking about all the dangers and disasters that befell people of faith in Hebrews 11, we’re told that we’re also to run our race, but we’re told to keep our eyes on Jesus.  We don’t look at what happened to those great people of faith, we don’t look at what could happen to us.  No, we look to Jesus.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

(Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Grow deeper.  Go higher.  But keep your eyes on Jesus.  Draw your courage and strength from His presence as you go.

This is Jaxon, my two and a half year old son. Jax wants nothing more than to play with the ornaments at the top of the tree. After all, Sarah put the Hulk and Iron Man ornaments up there, out of his reach. They got moved, because they are Jakob’s, they are breakable, and Jaxon is at the stage in life where every toy in his left hand fights the toy in his right hand. Getting his hands on them would make him happy for about a minute, but they would break, he’d probably get glass in his hands, and Jakob would certainly cry. It’s just not a good idea. As his dad, I want to give him what he wants, but until he is mature enough to want things that are good for him, I’ll wait. I can’t give him the things that he wants that will inevitably hurt him.  I will give him what is best for him, so when the time comes that he wants what is best for him, I’ll give him what he wants.

This is the way it is with God, our Father.  Some would teach you that if you obey God, give to the church, follow Him, etc, God will give you what you want.  After all, the Bible says, “…He will give you the desires of your heart.”  The only thing worse than pulling a verse out of its context to make your point is pulling half a verse out of the context of the whole verse to make your point.  But people do it.  The whole verse, Psalm 37:4, is an if/then formula.  God will give you the desires of your heart if…  Here’s the context (Psalm 37:3-5 NLT):

3 Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. 4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires. 5 Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.

God will give you the desires of your heart when you delight in Him.  Delighting in Him means delighting in His character, in His ways, in His blessings, and in His plans.  If my delight is in God and His plan for my life, then I will delight in what He gives me, regardless of what it is.  God does not conform what He wants and knowsnis best for me based on my desires. When I delight in Him, the desires of my heart are transformed to what He wants and knows is best for me.

God loves us, wants what is best for us, and wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  He will wait until we delight in Him, mature in our faith, and desire His plan for us to do so.

God cared for me

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The youth group did a fall retreat at Bair Lake Bible Camp, from November 18-20.  It was a great weekend. We had a lot of fun, and we studied the Bible together.  One thing people who do not teach may not know is that when you prepare to teach from the Bible, you learn a lot, and sometimes what you are getting ready to teach may be more for you than the people you are going to be teaching. I have experienced this multiple times, and it happened again on Saturday. On Saturday morning, I taught from 1 Peter 5:6-9, which says:

6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

I learned all of these verses separately as a kid, but I learned them separately (read: out of context).  I have discovered in my adult life that many of the one-off verses I learned growing up do not actually mean (or fully mean) what I was told they meant, which is revealed by the full context in which they were said. This was another example.  I learned verse 6 talks about humbling yourself, verse 7 talks about casting your cares and concerns on God, and verses 8-9 talk about being watchful for the enemy who can and will take you down given the chance.  I learned three separate thoughts, not interconnected at all.  But they are interconnected, because two of the thoughts hinge upon the first.  It’s impossible to live out verses 7-9 without living out verse 6.  They are connected.  It’s why they were written by Peter together.

It is difficult to cast your cares on God the way Peter is speaking.  It is for me, anyway.  Instead, I tend to hold onto worry, and I plot how I can fix the situation.  How can I make this right again?  In humility, the Christian is called to turn that worry over to God and trust that He cares for you.  There are things that only He can change, so we must humbly turn them over to Him, and then trust His plan.  There’s also humility in being watchful, knowing that you are susceptible to sin. But that’s not the verse I got to put into practice.  I just wanted to point it out, because context is key in studying the Bible.  Without it, you’re just reading.

Fast forward to Saturday evening.  It was 11:20 PM, and I was talking to Sarah on the phone before heading back to the cabin. In that conversation, I found out my dog had run away that evening.  There hadn’t been any sign of her for hours.  It was cold, it had been snowing and/or raining much of the day, it was windy, and our little Florida dog was lost somewhere.  And I wasn’t there to do anything about it.  What did I do?  I immediately began to worry.  I talked to my youth leaders and let them know I had to go home for a bit, but I would be back before morning.  And I got in a van and left, believing that if anyone could bring our dog home, it would be me.  After all, I’m her favorite person, and even though she hadn’t responded to Sarah, Jakob, and Jaxon’s calls, surely she would respond to me.

As I drove up 131, I began to pray.  As I prayed, my own words about 1 Peter 5:6-9 came back to me.  Was I going to try to handle this on my own, because I’m the fixer, or was I going to turn this over to God and acknowledge His supremacy in this situation?  I told God that I realized I wasn’t going to find her on my own, if at all.  I knew I needed Him.  If Jay was coming home, God was going to have to bring her home to us.  And like any good Christian, I reminded God of His ability.  “You brought all those animals to Noah.  You can bring my dog home!”  I’m sure He was impressed with my grasp of the Old Testament and His power.  Even though I had come to the conclusion that only God was going to be able to bring our dog home and had acknowledged His control of the situation, I continued home.  I wanted to comfort Sarah and the boys, who were upset.  I went to the door a few times and called for the dog, I drove around the block slowly with my windows down, calling for her, and I prayed that God would bring her to me.  I ended up sleeping on the couch for two hours and headed back to camp.  I was resolved that if Jay was coming home, God was bringing her, and if she wasn’t, that was God’s plan, and I was going to accept it.

I was distracted that next morning, and I was running on only a few hours of sleep.  I was worried about Jay, in the sense that I love her and didn’t want any harm to come to her, but I wasn’t worried about how I was going to find her.  That was in God’s hands. But God comforted me through the words of one of my friends and youth leaders, which helped me get through the morning.  On the way home from camp, a lady called Sarah.  She got her number off of our dog’s tags.  She had her.  She was okay.  That alone was a miracle.  Our dog was abused before we got her, so she’s terrified of strangers.  She’s also small and fast.  Catching her is not an easy task.  This lady’s teenage daughter caught her, though (go, teenagers!).  But no one was home, she was mildly afraid of my 7-pound dog, and she didn’t want to keep her too long.  So I swung by home with a van full of teenagers to get her.  That’s us in the picture above.

I’m glad I taught on 1 Peter 5:6-9 that morning.  I’m glad that God reminded me of His words and my own statements on those words.  I’m glad God comforted me.  But most of all, I’m glad that God cares about me, and so He cares about what is important to me, and I can trust Him with whatever worries me.

a father’s love

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Jakob and I attended the Western Michigan game on Saturday.  Sarah’s a Bronco now, so Jakob’s a pretty big WMU fan now and wanted to be there.  It was a nice day.  It was sunny for the first half, a little windy, and in the low-mid 50’s.  Jakob was comfortable in his hoodie and hat until about halftime, as the Sun shifted behind the stadium.  Now it was just in the 50’s and a little windy; it was no longer sunny where we sat.  He got cold quickly, because he doesn’t tolerate colder weather much.  I looked over at him at the beginning of the third quarter, and he was shivering, arms pulled inside his hoodie, and the neck up over his mouth.  I asked if he was okay and if he wanted to stay at the game, and he said that he did, but he was too cold.  He thought he might have to leave, even though he didn’t want to leave yet.  So I did what I would naturally do as his dad: I took off my zip hoodie, put it on him, and sat there in a thin t-shirt.  And I was cold.  My arms were red and goose-bumped, and despite my best efforts, I shivered occasionally.  He stared at me for a minute and asked, “Dad, why did you give me your sweatshirt if you’re going to be cold?”  And I told him: “Because I love you, and I’d rather take care of you.”

A while later, I overheard a conversation a couple rows back from a couple of other guys.  One said, “That is so stupid.”  The other guy didn’t know what was stupid and asked for clarification.  He clarified that my giving my kid my hoodie was stupid, because I would freeze in a t-shirt (I doubt anyone has ever frozen to death at 18 degrees above freezing, though), and it didn’t teach my son anything.  He supposed my son would learn a better lesson if I let him be cold.  He would learn to layer up better for football games.  I didn’t turn around and respond, though at least a small part of me wanted to respond.  Had I responded, I would have told him the lesson my son did learn, had learned, and would continue to learn: I love him, and his well-being is more important than my comfort.  That’s the more important lesson.  He can learn to layer up for football games on his own.  I’d rather he learn my love for him from me.  I’d rather he learn what it means to be loved by his father and how to love as a father for the future.  And I’d rather he learn in small part the nature of God the Father’s love through his relationship with me.

We talked about that last lesson on our long walk back to the car.  Thankfully, as he warmed up from walking, he thought maybe I’d like my hoodie back (I really did!).  But I explained to him that a father’s love not earned; it is freely given first.  He didn’t deserve my hoodie.  He should have listened to Sarah and wore more and warmer clothes.  But I gave it to him anyway out of my love for him.  I extended grace to him, and he appreciated me. This is how God, our Father, deals with us.  We do not deserve His favor.  We do not deserve and could not ever earn His love.  He doesn’t love us, because we love Him.  As Pastor Dave taught on Sunday morning, God extended His love to us not when we loved Him, but while we were in direct opposition to Him. When God sent Christ to die for us – when He made that choice to give us the greatest gift – we were not deserving.  It was solely out of His love, and His love is sacrificial.  And then in response to His gracious, merciful, sacrificial love, we choose to love Him in return.  We love Him, because He loved us.

1 John 4:10-19 says:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

It’s not that we loved Him.  it’s not that we deserved His love.  He loved us.  We love Him, too.