stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

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.

stepping out in faith

I’m reading through the book of Joshua right now, and even though I’ve read that book many times, I feel like I either notice new things for the first time, or at least I’m focusing on things for the first time.  This time through, Joshua 3 has really stood out to me.  In Joshua 3, the people of Israel are heading to the Promise Land, and God instructs them to camp near the Jordan River.  God tells the people to be ready, because He was going to show Himself in a mighty way.

God tells the people that God is going to part the Jordan River, so they can cross it safely as they enter the Promise Land.  The people are told that as soon as the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant come to rest (or stand still) in the river, God would part it.  So the people got ready, watched, and waited.  But there were men who did not wait.  There were men whose faith was required before God was going to move.  The people watching could have been wishy-washy about the situation.  They could have had a “wait and see” approach to the promise.  Maybe God would part the river, maybe He wouldn’t.  There was little investment for them.

The men carrying the Ark of the Covenant had to be fully invested.  They had to step into the river.  Joshua 3:15 notes that the river was overflowing its banks (the river in spring time was significantly deeper, faster flowing, and more treacherous than the rest of the year, due to rain and melting snow).  Stepping in was a big deal.  If God didn’t act in the way He said He would act, they very well could have been swept away by the current and drowned.  But they believed God, knowing Who He was, knowing His character, and knowing His faithfulness, so they stepped out.  And in His character, God protected them, provided for them, and allowed them to cross.

Sometimes God does ask us to step out in faith, and the step He asks us to take is treacherous.  It can be a dangerous step that requires complete faith, knowing that if God doesn’t show up, we’re going to be in a world of hurt.  This is the type of faith God wants from us, and sometimes He will call us to act upon it.  Faith that He will do what only He can do.  Faith to do what we cannot do without His intervention.  If God calls on you to take such  step, would you make that step?  Would you step into the river, knowing it will overpower you unless God intervenes?  I hope that I would.

the opposite of full life

We recently had our 25th anniversary service here at KCC, which was a fun time.  The music was great, seeing videos from people whose lives have been impacted by KCC over the years was encouraging, and I found the teaching to be inspiring.  Pastor Dave spoke about the church’s vision: that we be a body of believers experiencing full life in Christ.  Now, I’ve heard this before.  As a staff member, I’m certain I’ve heard it more than anyone reading this.  So how could something I’ve heard before inspire me again and again?  Well, I’m not living a full life in Christ in all areas of my life yet.  I’m striving for it, but I’m not there yet.  I didn’t have to think long and hard about what to write on my paper when asked what areas you I knew I most needed growth in, because I’m already aware and working on them.  I need to pursue a full life in Christ as much as the next guy.

Anyway, Pastor Dave is speaking on the vision of the church, so naturally he puts up John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal, to kill, and destroy, but I (Jesus) have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”  I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that verse, but if you go here, you know it’s someone close to 1,000,000 times.  Right?  We’ve done whole series on full life in Christ, and while looking at different parts of full life and how we can live that out, we always come back and reference this verse.  I know this verse.  I did not look it up.  I just typed it.  It’s ingrained in my heart and mind. And yet, as God often does with passages we’ve read several times, He brought something new to my mind.

We often look at the Full Life side of this verse, as we should.  But God impressed on me, as I listened to Pastor Dave read the verse, that I need to also pay attention to that first part of the verse.  There are two opposite options here: full life in Christ, or death, theft, and/or destruction from the thief, the enemy.  And I pondered that the rest of the day, and well into the week.  And I came to an important conclusion.

Succumbing to temptation is a bigger deal than we tell ourselves when faced with it.  I should probably say than the enemy tells us when tempting us, because the lies are from him.  But we listen, and we repeat the lies to ourselves, so either phrase is fine.  When faced with temptation, we might reconcile it with not being a big deal, it’s only once, wonder what the harm will be, and who it could hurt if no one even knows about it.  We make it out to be a decision without consequences, and since it’s what we want, we do tend to succumb to it.  But the truth is, temptation is presented by the enemy, by the thief.  What’s he trying to do?  Kill you, steal something from you, and/or destroy you.  Sounds pretty serious.

So I took this conclusion and thought about something I had preached about recently, which is being equipped with the Word of God to ward off spiritual attacks from the enemy (from Ephesians 6).  I mentioned that it’s important to memorize Scripture, especially as it pertains to the areas we are most tempted, so that when we are tempted, we can deflect it with the truth of the Word of God.  I believe that.  But maybe you don’t know where to start, or maybe you have too many avenues of temptation you’re fighting off to memorize that much Scripture that quickly.  I don’t know.  But you can start here. Memorize John 10:10 if you haven’t already, and when you are tempted, throw that one back at the enemy.

Rebuke the enemy when you’re tempted.  “I know you’re trying to kill me, steal from me, and destroy me, and I won’t have it.  I want to experience life to the full in Christ!”  I’ve been exercising this the last couple of weeks when I’ve been tempted in different areas.  And then I take time to talk to God about it, and then I wonder what area of my full life is the enemy after?  Is he trying to steal something specific from me or destroy a particular area of my life? Is what he’s tempting me with worth that particular cost?  The answer has been no every time. Most importantly for me, drawing a contrast between what’s being offered and what I have and can have in Christ helped me shrug off the repeat temptations when they come back around.  I already know what the cost will be, I know what he wants to do in my life, and I’m just not willing to give up a full life in Christ – in my relationship with Him, in my marriage, in my family, in my friendships, etc – for a quick fix that’ll leave me worse off.

Choose to overcome temptation for the sake of full life.

no leftovers

Growing up, the worst thing I could hear about dinner was that we were having leftovers.  I know some people love leftovers, but I am not one of those people.  The only time I really enjoy them is post Thanksgiving, and even then, there’s about a one-day window for me.  After that, I just don’t want it.  I’m not even good about eating food I bring home from a restaurant, because it’s never going to be as good as it used to be.  It’ll be second rate at best.

You certainly wouldn’t want to eat leftovers for a special occasion, though some people do eat their wedding cake on their first anniversary (I did not, because I don’t even like fresh cake).  Sarah and I recently celebrated our 15th anniversary, and though we had food leftover in the refrigerator, we did not eat it.  We were on vacation with our sons, so we didn’t go sit down at a romantic dinner, but we did go celebrate (vacationing was part of that, in fact).  We did not spend the day in silence, either.  We spoke to each other throughout the day, we told each other that we love each other, we expressed how happy we were to be married to each other, and so on.  Though we’ve said it all in the past, we continued to say it, because it remains true, active, and central to our lives.

Sadly, many Christians treat God to leftovers and settle for past expressions of love for Him.  I’m included in that.  I certainly have done that and do that from time to time.  I don’t give Him my very best everyday, and sometimes the stories of my relationship with Him are past dated and stale, because I have nothing new to say.  What I find is that when I a not actively investing in my relationship with Him, I still have stories to tell, but I have nothing new to say.  I can always point back to last month, last year, some great time in my past when I’ve experienced Him.  Of course, I can, because He is faithful, and His mercies are new every morning.  And I do not think it’s wrong to speak to God’s faithfulness and presence over time; on the contrary, I think it’s good to recount how God has blessed us throughout our lives.  But we should never be content in our spiritual life based on how we had experienced Him, how we had served Him, how we had sought Him.  We should not be content with giving or receiving leftovers, when there is more to be given, more to be received, and more of Him to be experienced.  Philippians 3:13-16 says:

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Let’s not hang our hats on what we’ve already done and already attained, but at the same time, we should hold onto the truth of what we have attained while we continue to press on in our walk with Christ.  Don’t settle for leftovers.  Keep pressing on, keep growing, keep seeking to experience full life in Christ, in every area of your life.

This song did not initially click with me.  It didn’t speak to me in any positive way, and I really didn’t feel empowered when we would sing it in church. On the contrary, I would hear this song and feel a little guilty.  I wrestled with it, because I thought, “I can’t sing that.  I get shaken all of the time.”  Because when things get bad – and sometimes they do get bad and even really bad – I feel emotionally shaken up.  I thought that my emotions betrayed me as a person of faith.  I mean, if I really had faith, wouldn’t I be able to handle everything in stride?  The answer is yes and no.  The true answer is yes, but the problem is that the question I asked myself was from an American understanding, not a Biblical understanding.

The American understanding is to conflate shaken with shaken up.  That’s how I heard it as it was sang, and I even sang it while praying quietly that I would get better at this.  But now I understand that being shaken is not the same as being shaken up, and I learned it right on time and right out of the Bible.  There is no shame or lack of faith in having emotions.  Jesus even had them.  He wept at Lazarus’ dying, even knowing He would raise him from the dead.  He was pretty emotionally shaken up when He prayed in the garden.  He was distressed.  But He wasn’t shaken.  Again, there is a difference, and it can be seen in the passage that I assume this song was borne out of.

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If it wasn’t this passage, it was one of the several others that communicate the same message, or maybe all of them at once.  I can’t say.  What I can say that reading these two verses and stopping without reading the rest of the Psalm will do you a disservice.  It will give you a wrong understanding.  It may make you think that if someone puts all their hope in God alone, he will never be shaken up, but that wouldn’t be consistent with the words of the author.  For in verse three, he compares himself to a broken down wall or a disheveled fence, and in verse seven, he refers to God as a refuge, which he was in need of.  He was emotional shaky, as I have been, and I assume you have been, yet he says again in verse six that he will not be shaken.

To be shaken means to be moved or greatly moved, to be dislodged, dropped, and overcome.  If a person is rooted in God, in His Word, then no matter what comes his way, he will know that he cannot be moved.  I may feel like a broken down wall, but I will not fall away or drop.  I may feel like a disheveled fence, swaying back and forth, but I will not be dislodged.  The storms of life may beat on me, but they will not wash me away.  Things will happen in my life that leave me emotionally shaken up, in tears, unsure of where to go next, but because my hope, my salvation, and my faith is in God alone, I will not be shaken.  My faith will not be altered.  My joy will not be stolen.  Because these, along with my salvation, is in Christ alone.  And as I wait, sometimes for a while, and sometimes in silence, for Him to intercede on my behalf, my faith will assure me that He will indeed intercede.  He is my rock.  He is my refuge.  He is my source of life.

There’s a Time

One thing I love about living in Michigan is having all four seasons. When we lived in Florida, it did not feel like we had four seasons.    Everything was close to the same to me. If it wasn’t too hot for me at the beginning of the day, I knew it would be too hot for me by the end of the day.   I missed having a crisp fall. I even missed the cold and snow of winter.  By the end of a long Summer, which is usually way too hot for my liking, I really look forward to and appreciate cooler weather. And by the end of winter, I grow tired of the bitter cold and look forward to a little warmer weather. As seasons change, I welcome the change.

Life moves in seasons, too. Some are extreme and uncomfortable, some seem perfect and relaxing.  Some are joyful, while others are sorrowful. Not all seasons of life will be the same, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. I don’t always appreciate the difficult seasons in my life, but when I pass through them into a more enjoyable season, they do cause me to appreciate the next season more. When I am in a difficult time in life, I always look forward to a particular time or season that I know will be better.  I hold out hope for a better time, hopefully this side of Heaven.

I don’t know what season your life is in, but if it’s not going so well, be encouraged. God is not missing in action. He’s moving and working, and hopefully soon you’ll be in the next season, appreciating it even more when you compare it to the last one.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” ‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬
http://bible.com/59/ecc.3.1-4.esv