stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

I know that I can be stubborn and defensive.  Unfortunately, I have several eyewitness testimonies to support that claim.  As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to trust my own wisdom, which is prideful of me.  Sometimes this makes me very skeptical of other people trying to push me in a direction other than the one I was already intending to go.  It can make me very defensive over any correction.  I know that because of this, it can be difficult to lead me.  Knowing one needed to correct me has been stressful for those that have led me, because they were not always sure how I would react.  Would I listen to grow, or would I listen to defend?

One verse that struck me when I read it last year, and struck me again last month, is Deuteronomy 1:12. As Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about how God had appointed him to lead them, he pointed out that they were not the easiest to lead.  He said, “But you are such a heavy load to carry! How can I deal with all your problems and bickering?”  It first caught my attention, because I thought it was funny.  Moses was often very blunt with Israel. My first thought was that I wish I could get away with talking to people like that!  But then I realized I was identifying with the wrong side of the conversation.  I have often been such a heavy load to carry for those that have led me.  I have been contentious, I have bickered with others, especially over corrections.  I wonder how many of my bosses have ever wanted to say to me, “You are such a heavy load to carry!  How am I supposed to deal with you?”  This is something that God has convicted me over, and it is something that I pray about daily.  I want to experience full life in my field.  I want to listen, learn, and not always be defensive.

I want to grow, and I want to be better at my job, but I will never grow if I don’t let others lead me well.  This has gotten better as I’ve gotten older and realized how much I still don’t know, but I wouldn’t say I’m 100% cured. Pastor Dave can attest to that, at least to the not 100% cured part.  One practical tip I have adopted is trying very hard to not respond immediately to critique.  I listen, I try to fight the urge to respond, and then I go home and think about it.  I pray about it.  I will usually respond the next day or the next week.  And do you know what I’ve found?  I would have been wrong to defend myself every time, because the critiques have often been true.  Sometimes I don’t reach the same conclusion, and I do come back and explain why I disagree, but I do so respectfully, not combatively, because I want to be a joy to lead, and I want to be better than I was yesterday.

How heavy of a load are you for your boss(es) or your teachers?  Are you a joy to lead, or are you a burden at work and/or at school?  Be honest with yourself.  Maybe ask someone else’s perception.  And listen without defending yourself!  Wanting to be a joy to lead should be a priority for all Christians.  We should want to listen and follow well, because at the end of the day, we know whatever we are doing, we are doing for God.  Imagine everything you do at work and at school is an offering to God.  What exactly do we want to give Him?

Colossians 3:23 (NLT)

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”

consult the Lord

My default setting when problems arise in my life is to figure out how I can fix it.  I will come up with several ideas on what I can do, bounce my ideas off of Sarah for her input, research ideas that are not even agreed upon, and I will usually pick a favorite or best idea.  There have been several times when this hasn’t worked for me on bigger issues, because for me to proceed with an idea that will be life-changing and a great undertaking, I have to have peace about it.  There have been many times when I felt restless and didn’t have peace from God on proceeding with one of my many solutions.  I get frustrated in these times when God isn’t on the same page as me, and after griping for a while to Him about it, I always come back to the conclusion that it’s my job to get on His page, not the other way around.  So then I pray and ask for guidance.  I consult the Lord.  The time between recognizing the problem and consulting the Lord keeps getting shorter, which is good.  I want it to be my instinct to seek Him first when problems arise, not after I’ve exhausted my mental efforts.

Not only are the solutions God often provides not what I came up with, but His solutions have often been something I would not have wanted.  They solve the issue, but they stray far from what I wanted and what makes sense to me.  I like doing what makes sense to me.  It’s comforting, and I tend to trust my own intellect, reasoning, and problem solving skills. But sometimes what makes sense to me isn’t exactly as it seems, because I’m not perfect.  I can’t always see the big picture.  I don’t know everything going on behind the scenes of what I see before me.

In Joshua 9, the people of Israel were in the process of taking the land of Canaan.  God had instructed them to not make treaties with nations currently living there, because He did not want their false religions tripping up the Israelites.  This meant that Israel was either going to take the land peacefully, or there was going to be war, but there weren’t going to be any allies but God.  The Gibeonites didn’t like their prospects, so they set out to deceive the Israelites.  They lived in the land Israel was taking, and they knew Israel wasn’t making any allies.  They didn’t want to give up their land or their lives. So they put on old clothes, worn out sandals, and packed some moldy bread, and they went out to meet the people of Israel.  They told the Israelite leaders that they were from a far away land and had traveled a great distance to make peace with them, because they knew they were a mighty nation.  They asked how they could know that the Gibeonites were really from far away, so they showed them their clothes, sandals, and their food. They looked road weary, their clothes and sandals were old, worn, and dirty, and their food was spoiled. It all made sense, so they entered a peace treaty God had forbidden.

Joshua 9:14 says, “So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord.”  They stepped outside of God’s will, because they did what made sense without so much as asking God.  We must be careful not to fall into the same trap.  We just don’t know everything, cannot see everything, and are in need of His guidance.  We must be careful to consult the Lord first, seek His guidance first, and do what He instructs us to do.

eyes fixed on Jesus

Every time I really wanted to do something when I was younger that my parents wouldn’t allow me to do, I would always tell them who else was doing it.  When I wanted to go to movies (we weren’t allowed to go see any movies For a long time!), I told them who in church I knew were going.  Deacons and Sunday school teachers’ kids, even.  When I wanted to watch Seinfeld, I let them know it was the pastor’s favorite TV show, according to his kids.  Whatever it was, I always came armed with people who were doing it, hoping to sway my parents.  It never worked.  They always said the same thing: “We’re not so-and-so’s parents.  We’re your parents, and you have to listen to us.”  I always hated that, but it was true.  I had one set of rules to follow, one standard to meet, and it was set by my parents, who were my authority.

Every so often, I catch myself doing this with God.  There may be a show I want to watch on Netflix, but I know I shouldn’t based on the content.  But then I’ll hear that someone I admire and respect has watched it, and I start to think, “But God, so-and-so does it.  Why can’t I?”  It would be wrong for me to watch something I am deeply convicted is not okay for me to watch, because those convictions are based on God’s standards for my life, and He is my authority.  But it’s not hard to find Christians who are doing things that you are specifically called not to do or even to find Christians who are doing things God has commanded all Christians not to do.  It’s really quite easy.  And then it’s easy to excuse yourself in doing it.  After all, that person may seem like a pretty great Christian to you, and if they think it’s okay to do, you may as well do it, too.

The problem here is that people are not our standard of holiness.  Not even your pastors as your standard of holiness.  We should be pursuing God and setting good examples by trying to live a holy life, but we cannot be your standard.  When God commanded the people of Israel to be holy, He didn’t tell them to be holy, because their leader Moses was holy.  He said, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2, NLT).  When God had Peter instruct the church to be holy in 1 Peter 1:15, He didn’t say to be holy, because Peter and the other apostles were holy.  He said, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.”

It’s easy to get distracted and tempted to do things that don’t meet that standard when we fixate on what other Christians may or may not be doing.  We need to instead keep our eyes on God, because He is both the standard and the authority.  We should strive to be holy, because He is holy.  Hebrews 11 talks about some great people of faith, but then in Hebrews 12, God instructs us to look through that crowd, to cut through it, and to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.  Just Jesus.  That’s how we are able to run the race set before us with excellence.  Don’t get distracted by what others are doing and not doing.  Focus on the standard: Jesus.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

do step one

I have two children, ages 7 and 2.  They are both getting to or are at the age where we have expectations for them, and we give them instructions.  Jaxon (2 years old) doesn’t get too many detailed instructions, and he certainly doesn’t get lists of instructions.  Jakob, though, is to the point where he gets lists of instructions.  When it’s bed time, we tell him to go put on his pajamas, use the bathroom, and brush his teeth.  Then we double check and make sure he actually went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, because he’s a seven-year old boy that needs reminding.

Sometimes in the course of giving them instructions, we will give them a single instruction, followed by, “and then come back and see me.”  This way, they do not forget the list, or they can fully concentrate on step one.  When they are finished, we give them the next thing we want them to do.  But if step one was to clean up all the toys in the living room, and we look and still see toys on the floor, we don’t give them the next step.  We remind them to go do step one.

It isn’t uncommon for me to meet with someone from church that wants to hear from God.  They want God to show them what to do next, and they’re not sure how to hear Him.  They want to do whatever He has planned for them, but they’re waiting to hear.  I have also been in this situation of wanting to hear and waiting for God to say something.  I have earnestly sought Him, and I wasn’t hearing.  I have been in the same situation many Christians find themselves, and even though it has been frustrating, I have learned the importance of doing step one.

There have been times when I’ve been waiting on God to show me the next step, only to realize I hadn’t done the last step He had called me to take.  Once I took that step, and sought God, He showed me the next thing I should do.   I suppose there are times when God doesn’t see fit to give us the next step when we haven’t even taken the first step He’s asked us to take.

If you are holding out and waiting to hear from God, and you’re frustrated that you’re not hearing anything, I encourage you to pray.  Ask God, “Is there something You have already told me to do that I have not followed?  Is there something in your Word that I’m neglecting?”  Find step one.  Do step one.  Then seek God and see about step two.

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.