stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

He’s there

I have wondered where God has gone at different times in the past. I felt like there was distance, because things were not going well, or at least not from my perspective. I’ve lost jobs, I’ve lost friends, we’ve been through a lot of difficulty. It’s easy to feel despair and wonder where God went. Intellectually, as Christians, we know that God is there. He’s everywhere, so wherever there is, He’s there. But we don’t always feel like He’s there, because we can’t physically see Him.

The Bible never indicates any sort of despair for Joseph, who went through some pretty despairing things. Maybe he felt lost and alone; maybe he didn’t. But we know that he wasn’t alone. After he was sold into slavery by his brothers, Genesis 39:2 says, “The Lord was with Joseph.” When he was thrown into prison for something he didn’t do, Genesis 39:21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph.” Every time something bad happened, and it would have seemed that God had checked out on Joseph, the Bible reminds us that He hadn’t. God was there. God was with him.

We have a strange tendency to interpret any sort of mayhem in our lives as judgment or distance from God, but that’s not always the case. God is always there, wherever we go and whatever we go through. I don’t know where you are or what you’re going through. It may make you feel all alone, but you are not. God’s right there, wherever you are.

I grew up in a church tradition that focused heavily on two members of the audience most services: the unsaved and the wayward believer. Every message ended with an attempt at conviction. You should be convicted that you are not saved, so you can get saved today; or, you should be convicted that you are not following God, so you can get right with Him today. People, saved and unsaved alike, would go to the altar and pray every service. It seemed successful, but it rarely accomplished an important aspect of teaching: I rarely left feeling encouraged. I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough and wondered if I ever would.

This is the style I learned to preach, too. Many of my early messages would end emotionally high, pushing everyone to respond in whatever way applied to the message. I assumed I was doing it the right and only way. That’s another thing about the church culture I grew up in: we believed the way we did everything was the only right way to do anything. We weren’t bashful about it, either. So, although I strayed from some of what they did and believed, I held firmly to my teaching and speaking style. I felt that if anyone could listen to me preach and not feel convicted, I must not have done something right.

This carried over into conversations, too. It was like I thought the Holy Spirit had personally employed me to be His convicter. I was quick to point out where people needed to follow God more closely, trust Him more, lean on Him more firmly. It didn’t matter what the person was saying or going through. I always wanted to push them to go deeper, to do more.

Several years ago, I went to a conference in Lansing and listened to John Piper speak. It was a message to only pastors. He talked about the different audiences in the room every time you teach and how we should address them. I don’t remember his exact wording or even all of the different groups, but I remember some of the breakdown. He said you would have the unrepentant sinner, the repentant sinner, the wayward Christian that needed convicting, and the tired saint that needed encouraging. He noted that most of the time the church only spoke to the unsaved and the wayward Christian, leaving a lot of weary saints unaddressed and unencouraged. He encouraged us to pay attention to the audience and speak what needed to be spoken to each group. I found that enlightening and convicting.

I know that most of you reading this don’t preach often or at all, but I think it applies to regular conversation. You’ll run into all types of people inside and outside of church. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all mentality on how to speak to them. As they say at Starr Elementary, you need to speak with good purpose. Know who you are speaking to, and speak to them where they are. Some may need to be corrected, but others may need to be encouraged. Some may need to be lifted up. Everybody needs something, and we should use our words to be of help.

1 Thessalonians 5:14

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

Don’t Be Surprised

People are not always dependable. There are times when I ask someone something, reach out to someone, or depend on someone to get something done, but deep down, I’m not really counting on their doing whatever is I need. Usually that’s because I’ve been burned by that particular person. It just happens. So, when that person does come through and do what I hoped, I’m surprised. I never tell them that I’m surprised, because that’s just rude. But in my heart, I’m surprised when a person I cannot on with 100% confidence delivers.

Unfortunately, there are other times I am surprised, as well. Sometimes I am surprised when I pray for something, and God does it, provides it, whatever. There have been times I have said, “I cannot believe…” only to later realize that I should have believed. I asked God to work in a particular way, and He did it. When we are surprised when God acts on our behalf, we reveal our faith to be more limited than we’d probably like to admit. When we pray to God, we should pray expectantly. We should believe it’s already done, just as we have asked.

Mark 11:24 (NLT) says, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.” Jesus is speaking here, and He’s telling His followers that God can do the impossible. He had just told them that with absolute faith in God, they could move a mountain. Faith in prayer leads to God’s showing up in the impossible. Keep in mind, though, that the motive must be Godly. James 4:3 says that we don’t have, because we don’t ask, and when we do ask, we ask with the wrong motives. So, you can’t just take Mark 11:24 out of context of the whole Scripture and plan for God to give you anything your selfish heart desires. But when you ask in faith, out of a pure motive, God can and will show up.

Don’t be surprised when God heals someone you’ve prayed for to be healed. Don’t be surprised when God provides financially in unexpected and miraculous ways when you’ve cried out to Him. Don’t be surprised when people in your family who are so far and in opposition to God come to know Him if you’ve been praying for exactly that. Don’t be surprised. Pray in faith, believing He will do it, and watch Him go.

He cares

I was at a soccer game last night watching one of our former students. I sat towards the front, because it was cold, and I wanted to have the Sun on me. After a few minutes, a young lady and her grandpa moved down from the top of the bleachers for the same reason. She said, “I just want to sit in the Sun.” Because they sat right behind me, I was able to hear everything they were saying. Each was talking into one of my ears. I didn’t mind, though. I enjoyed their conversation, particularly the grandfather’s part in it all.

The young lady seemed to talk endlessly. Periodically she’d stop, and he would respond with short answers or questions. It’s been a long time since I was a college student, and I was never a traditional student, so I didn’t really connect with a lot of what she talked or complained about. Much of it seemed inane to me. I wasn’t her audience, though. She was talking to her grandpa, who clearly loved her and cared about every little thing she talked about. For every complaint or need, he offered encouragement, told her it was going to be okay, and when applicable, offered to provide for her. He was compassionate and generous, and he never got bored with her. She talked for almost the entire first half, which was 40 minutes straight, and he hung on her every word.

It was a long, boring drive back from the game, which gave me time to think. I spent time thinking about those two. The grandpa reminded me a lot of Sarah’s grandparents in his companion and generosity, so I spent time thinking about them. I spent time reflecting on whether or not someone would listen to my talking or listening to my kids and get the same impression of me. I came to the conclusion that I need to work on that. Then I thought about God, and how He is like the grandpa. I’ve heard people tell others that it’s a waste of time to pray over certain things, and so they won’t. I won’t say anything specific, because I don’t want to draw attention to anyone inadvertently. But I will tell you that they are wrong. You can’t waste God’s time. He’s not bound by time, anyway. He doesn’t see your concerns as trivial, because their your concerns, and He loves you more than you understand. If you care about it, He cares. He may not have the same conclusion as you regarding it, but He cares.

It doesn’t matter what your care is. You can go to God. He is compassionate, generous, and never gets bored listening to His children. 1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all of your cares on Him, because He cares for you. You are the catalyst in His care, not the concern itself. It may seem trivial to others, but you are not trivial to God.

are you passionate?

I’ve been helping with the Comstock Football team this season. I’m not a football coach. I’m not qualified to be one. I’m the chaplain. That I can do. My primary role is to support the team and encourage the players. On Tuesdays, we have an optional meeting for any player or coach that wants to attend. At those meetings, I will discuss a topic that is pertinent to the team and a focus of the week, but I approach it from a Biblical perspective. This week, we talked about passion. As I was preparing for it, it occurred to me that while most of us (me included at times) would like to say we are passionate about God, it may not be an accurate description based on definition.

A passion is a strong emotion or drawing to something that is nearly uncontrollable. When you are passionate about something, you will go to great lengths and through extreme difficulty to accomplish it. Jesus’ last week leading up to and through His dying on the cross is called the Passion of the Christ. Why? Because His desire for your being saved was strong and nearly uncontrollable, so He was wiling to go to great lengths and through extreme difficulty to accomplish it. Jesus epitomizes passion. Do I? Do you?

I’m passionate about a lot of things. I’m passionate about my wife and marriage. I’m passionate about my children. I’m passionate about youth ministry. I’m passionate about food. I go to great lengths to ensure I’m achieving whatever I view as excelling in each of those areas. You can probably name some things you are passionate about, as well. Whatever it is, it’s probably okay that you’re passionate about it (barring sin, of course). It’s not like you only have the capacity to be passionate about one thing. You can be passionate about many things and still be passionate, even most passionate about God.

Are you, though? How passionate are you about God? To what lengths would you go to spend time with Him, to worship Him, to read His Word? Is God something that you fit into your schedule, or is time with God the cornerstone of your schedule? Do you pass Him by, because you were just too busy, or do you turn down opportunities when you know they’ll keep you from Him? God shouldn’t be getting what’s left of our day. He shouldn’t just be getting those last few exhausted minutes before we crash and sleep. He should get our best time and best focus, whether that’s the morning, afternoon, or evening for you. You should be excited to read the Bible. You should be excited to go to church and worship Him with your friends and family. It shouldn’t be the option you choose only when other better opportunities are not available.

How passionate are you about God? Is there something in your life you need to set aside, because it’s stealing your passion and focus?

Lose-Lose Proposition

I like being right. I may like knowing that you know I’m right even more than I like being right. It’s hard to tell. That comes from pride, of course. It’s something I have to consciously push past in my relationship with God, with other people, in my job, etc. Having a predisposition to pride doesn’t excuse living pridefully any more than being predisposed to any other sin excuses it. We all have choices to make.

Because I am naturally prideful and like to be right, I used to find myself always ready to be in an argument where I could exercise being right. It didn’t matter if it was a major issue or not. I was ready to argue my case in any situation.

I would keep my eyes and ears out for foolish people to argue. For a while, this made me happy. It’s not like I won every argument, but I won my fair share, and each time stroked my ego. After a while, though, I got tired. It ceased to bring me joy. It only brought me aggravation.

The thing about arguing with fools is that, even if you win, you’ve still spent your time with openly foolish people. That’ll wear you down after a while. Not only will it wear you down, but it will also rub off on you. We tend to assimilate to what we are exposed to often. That’s why the Bible says that bad company corrupts good morals. When I was always looking to argue, it’s safe to say that I was also being a fool.

The Bible tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. That means we need to be prepared to share the Gospel and maybe even defend it at times. It doesn’t tell us to always have an answer for everything and be ready to argue with anyone who wants to argue.

I have found arguing with fools to be a lose-lose proposition. Proverbs supports this. If you don’t answer him he will think he has won, that you’re afraid of him, and he is smarter than you. He may even share that with other people. But if you do answer him, you may have to sink to his level, and other people will see that, too. There’s no way to win with an argumentative lifestyle. The only way to win when it comes to argumentative, foolish people is to make sure that you are primarily spending your time with other people.

don’t get overrun

I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of making hasty or poor decisions “just this once.” Just this once turns into just a couple times, turns into days, weeks, and months of the same type of decision. Whether that is related to spending, food, or some other area I may slip, I have a long history of struggling with it. I’ve gotten a lot better with it, but how often I have to fight certain impulses lets me know that I’m not where I want to be yet. Maybe I never will “get there,” which is probably fine, because it’ll just give me more chances to learn and exercise self control.

I am not of the belief that you should never make a frivolous purchase just to treat yourself or family, nor do I believe one should never take a cheat meal. What I do believe in is planning and choosing self control over impulse. That looks different in different settings. For example, with dieting, I try to plan my cheat meals. I had something to look forward to, which helped me resist temptations along the way, and through resisting I gained a better ability to resist. With spending, I’ve adopted the habit of waiting at least a day. If I see something I really want, I don’t buy it the first day. Sometimes that costs me the ability to buy it, which I just chalk up to God’s not wanting me to have it. I was recently offered a really good deal on something I really did want for one of my kids, but they insisted that I had to decide that day. The offer was only available the first time it was offered. I explained my conviction, thanked him for the offer, and moved on with my day.

Self control is one of those areas of my life that God has truly convicted me, probably because it had been one of my greatest areas of struggle. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, which means if I’m walking in the Spirit, I will see it. But it’s also a matter of protecting oneself from harm. I’ve come into a lot of harm (mostly financial and health related) from a lack of self control. God doesn’t want me to say, “no,” to things to steal my joy. He wants me to say it, because it’s better, healthier, and full for me to avoid certain things. Self control is given by God, through the Holy Spirit, to protect us and keep us. It’s a big deal. Don’t let yourself get overrun by your impulses, leaving yourself exposed to or suffering some sort of harm.