What do to when life sucks

Over the past few decades there have been numerous books that proclaim to have the knowledge you need in order to have an incredibly successful and fulfilled life.  The authors tell you that if you’ll follow their plan, you’ll have more than you could imagine.  Some of these authors are “spiritual” and propose something akin to karma.  Others title themselves as Christians and may even use Bible verses on occasion, however, they are simply teaching karma by another name.

The sad part about these books is that many of us have bought into their bookstand philosophies.  We approach God with the expectation that when I do something good He’ll reward it with what I want.  We also expect the reward to be immediate.  We’ve lost a sense of the eternal.

And another thing…how can someone proclaim to the mother who just lost her child to cancer that she can have her best life if she’ll just follow these steps?  How can we expect the person who just lost everything to have a more positive mental attitude (or PMA for you motivational junkies)?  What happens to the self help philosophy when everything we’ve achieved and hoped for is falling apart?  We look to something bigger than us, to Someone eternal…

Sometimes life just sucks and there’s no making it right this side of heaven.  Did you catch that?  It doesn’t all work out while we’re spinning around on this big blue ball.  The Bible tells us repeatedly to focus on things beyond the temporal: “we walk by faith, not sight”, “set your hearts on things above”, “store up treasures in heaven”, etc., etc., etc.  We’re also told that things will be difficult, especially for those who follow after Christ.

But sadly we have built our theology on the sand of our own expectations.  We are sorely disappointed when God doesn’t play by our rules and do what we want.  We’ve lost sight of the fact that, for one, we are created for His purposes and for another, that we are in a fallen world that is marred by our willful sin.

We need a theology that addresses the reality of life.  We need a God Who put on skin and suffered along with His creation.  And thankfully, we do.  Christ came as man and God.  He walked in our world.  He was killed by people He gave life.  So He understands our pain and our cries.  (Read Psalm 69 as it’s considered a prophetic passage, indicating some of what He was wrestling with before He went to the cross).

My hope is that we begin to discover that the worth of the gospel is in Christ Himself.  Christ tell us in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing God and He tells us repeatedly that we can only know God through Him, that is Christ.

So what do we do when life sucks?  We look for Christ.  What else do I do?  We keep looking for Christ.  And after that, you keep looking.  And you will find Him.  Anything else will give fleeting hope at best.  We need something more than just a great life here and now.  We need something that’s eternal and that can’t be taken away.  And that is only in Christ, for He overcame our sin, our enemy and our death.

May His name be praised.

Hearing God – Part 2

I’m still thinking about some of what I wrote in my last blog on hearing God and some of the comments I received.  In particular, one left by my uncle on recognizing God’s voice: “Abraham, Isaac, and so many Bible heroes recognized God’s voice regardless of the dizzying traffic surrounding their sometimes chaotic lives. Why? Because they learned to recognize His voice.”   As I’ve been thinking about this, I thought about Samuel hearing from God for the first time in 1 Sam 3…

2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.   Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”   But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.  6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”  “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”   Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel learned what God’s voice sounded like.  Have we?  Can we distinguish His voice in the midst of so many others?

As a father, one of the joys I have is to hear the voice of my children (ok, it isn’t all that joyful at 3 in the morning:)).  And I can normally distinguish my child’s voice/cry from other children. Because I’ve learned the sound of their voice.

I daresay the more time we spend in Scripture, in prayer, in God’s presence, the better we’ll do at distinguishing His voice from the noise of life.  For when we hear His voice, something in us knows it’s Him.

May we hear & may we follow.

Love That’s Enough

I was reading in Psalm 57 today and was greatly encouraged.  It’s no secret that life is difficult.  There are joys to be experienced, but also monotony, challenges  and difficulty.  We try to do everything we can to avoid these things, but inevitably, they find us.   But in light of these things,  I’m thankful that God Himself walked this earth as a man (sinless) and can share in the pains and the joys of His own creation.

So when I read a Psalm (like Ps 57), I take great comfort in knowing that God can relate to our difficulties and our frustrations and our questions –  He can  “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15-16).   Thankfully, He does not reject our prayers and He does not withhold His love from us (Ps. 66:20).

Something that I’ve been reminded of lately is that God doesn’t work on our timetable.  He works from the perspective of eternity which means He’s not in a hurry.  His answers may not come when I went them to, but they will come.  Somethings may not be resolved, even in this lifetime, but they will be resolved.

I guess the point of this is simply to remind us that God’s love is greater than we understand and it is more than sufficient for our greatest needs.  And for that I’m grateful.  I hope you have a great Memorial Day.

The Waiting Room

17_waitingroom_invI have those days, today being one of them, where it feels like I’m just waiting on God to do something.  The thing about faith is that it means waiting.  We’re told to wait on God (Ps 37).  It’s like going to the doctor’s office, there’s a waiting room, and then you go to a smaller room where you wait some more (this is a Seinfeld bit, BTW).  Sometimes you wait a little, sometimes a lot.   I’m not quite sure what I’m waiting for, just that it’s what I’m supposed to do.  I’m not good at the waiting, the being still.  I’d rather be doing something.  But even when I’m restless and hurrying up to wait, even then God is still moving & working in some form or fashion.   That’s my hope.  And that is the essence of faith, isn’t it?  Being sure of what we hope for & certain of what we don’t see?  I look forward to when the waiting is done.  But until then, I’ll wait some more.

It’s the small stuff

Ever notice how challenging it can be to trust God for the day to day, seemingly small things? In some regards, it’s “easy” to trust God for salvation. After all, that’s something that is beyond our five senses. We can grasp in our minds what is meant by our salvation, and yet, it still remains something of a mystery that is, on the other hand, so far beyond our grasp that it doesn’t really register.
However, consider the challenge of trusting God for our daily bread. I think the difficulty is trusting God to provide things that we feel we are capable of doing on our own (or should be able to do on our own). When we are told to trust God for our basic needs, that’s what stretches us. I don’t know about you, but what gets me is when God tells me to just wait for something that I can’t see and that I don’t have a deadline for. Part of me wants to scream out – just do something! But there are plenty of good reasons why He is God, chief among them is that He knows what He’s doing.
Take a look at Abraham – take your family and go to the land I’ll show you (paraphrase). How would you respond to that? My response…what? what do you mean the land you’ll show me? shouldn’t you at least let me google where we’re going so I know how to plan?
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what is unseen (another paraphrase – Heb 11:1). For Christ followers, ours is to go, trusting in His provision & resting in His love. One of these days I may actually get this. But until then, I’ll keep stumbling ahead.

Jesus who?

When you were a kid, did you get to see flannel board Jesus?  Or maybe you’ve seen Jesus and His disciples piously captured in stained glass?  For many of us, these were our first impressions of who Jesus is, a nice guy, who healed people, taught good things and wanted us to love our neighbor.   But in reality, there is so much more to this man who proclaimed Himself to be God.

Today, Christ is portrayed as a good teacher, someone who wants to help us be better people and who taught us to love other people.  Yet, when I read what He said about Himself, about people, and about what He requires of His followers, I am reminded that He is so much more than a “nice guy”.  After all, a nice, passive guy wouldn’t so infuriate the religious leaders that he would end up suffering the same punishment as the worst criminals.

I’ve been reading some of Josh McDowell’s writings and I’m seeing things for the first time all over again.  I’m being reminded that following Christ isn’t about making my life “better”.  Jesus is not a spiritual version of Tony Robbins.  Rather, He calls me to a life that isn’t about what I want but about what He wants.  As a whole, I think we’ve lost sight of the idea of God’s kingdom.  God’s form of government is a monarchy, not a democracy.  He has called us to a life of  “followership”.  So the question for me/us is this: do I really believe what He says about Himself?  and if I do, am I following Him?  Do I trust Him?  Do I obey Him?

Over the past year, I’ve been moved out of my comfort zone.  God has brought me to a place of truly needing to trust Him for a variety of things.  Things that have been a source of security have been removed.  And so I’ve been brought to a place of either trusting God (for real, practical things, not just in an esoteric, out there, religous kind of way).  And I struggle, because following means I’m not in control.  Following means that I may not know how things will be taken care of.  It means trusting & depending on God to do what He said He would do.  For either He is God, and therefore He will do what He said, or He isn’t, and I am a fool for following and believing.

Thankfully, God has always shown Himself faithful to His promises.   I do struggle between faith and doubt, often sliding from one edge to the other on any given day, but I’m holding on, for as Peter said in John 6:68-69 , “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. ”

I share all of this, not because I’m standing on the other side, fully accomplished in the following and trusting, but because I’m living in the middle of life, trying to better know who Christ is, trying to really understand what it means to follow in faith.  Thankfully Christ steps off of the Sunday school flannel boards and the stained glass windows and into the mess of real life.  I pray that you’ll find some encouragement in these rambles.

On a different note (pun intended)…I’ve been listening to “Your Love is Strong” by Jon Foreman (lead singer for Switchfoot).  It’s a great song that’s been challenging me (it’s based on Matthew 6).  You may want to check it out.

Where’s the finish line, for crying out loud?

Most people who know me know that I run, albeit slowly. One of the things I enjoy about running is that it can be amazingly simple – the only special equipment you need is a good pair of running shoes. I also run because I’m a huge ice cream fan (my favorite is Fudge Moose Tracks, in case you were wondering). Several years ago I ran my first marathon (that’s 26.2 miles). Training for the marathon was pretty simple: each week I would run a little bit further until I was ready to run 26 miles. Running for several hours at a time can be fun, exciting, challenging, overwhelming, boring, painful, emotional (watch the finishers at a marathon sometime – you’ll see what I mean), etc. There are times when you feel great and other times when you’re ready to quit and go get a milkshake (or a Gibson’s donut).

Running also gives us a great picture of life. On several occasions, the Bible compares our journey to running as it is a;lso a process of endurance, joy, pain, and sometimes boredom.

I feel like I’ve been relating to the enduring part a lot lately. Sometimes I wonder, “where the heck is the stupid finish line?” I feel like I’ve been running for a very long time and I’m ready to be done. I’m tired of the enduring and ready to move on to something else. And yet, the very thing that is exhausting is the very thing that God is using to shape me into a more Christ like follower (see James 1:1-8). And that’s what I’m called to be, a follower. I’m called to go where He leads. Just like the coach who pushes the athletes, so God pushes us and challenges us for He knows that it is through the trying and testing that our faith grows stronger which is pleasing to Him (see Heb 11:6).

The life that God calls us to is not a natural way of life. Paul expresses recognition of this in Galatians 2:20 when he tells us that he lives his life by faith in Christ who lives in him. Unless he relies on Christ, he is unable to live as Christ has called, he will be unable to finish the race. That is why we are instructed to focus on Christ (Heb 12:1-2), so that we might recognize Who it is that calls us and Who it is that will complete His work in us.

So, I will keep running. I may be slow, I may walk, I may get injured, I may falter, I may fall down, but by God’s grace, I will keep moving toward that finish line, wherever it may be.

The following video is of Team Hoyt, a father/son team, which has completed multiple IronMan events – that’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride followed by a marathon.  The thing is, the dad is pulling & carrying his son through the entire event as his son has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk.  I can’t think of a better example of endurance and sharing the journey.