His Love Never Fails (even when we do)...



I can’t even begin to explain my evening the other night. (And this is another post where you’re going to see how irrational my mind can be (and typically is))…

Let me set the scene: It was Sunday; I’d skipped Sunday school (not typical for me) (however I did watch two shows on Biblical teaching programs on TV in lieu). I went home after church and did some work (and was feeling pretty good about myself getting ahead of the week on work). I made/ate dinner, and went to a Sunday evening service (which I never do- my church doesn’t do Sunday evening service) with friends to hear my friend speak. Fast forward to twenty minutes after the service: I got stuck in traffic on the interstate for four hours due to a large accident involving multiple tractor trailer trucks and vehicles.

The interstate sign flashed a warning of 'be prepared to stop', but that's nothing new (think of ‘boy who cried wolf’). And by the time I came upon it there was nowhere to detour. So there I sat. At first, I thought nothing of it. I figured I was detained for 20 or 30 minutes, so I chilled out. It was one of those moments that I knew there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well make the most of it. I checked email, Facebook, made phone calls- anything and everything I could think of on my phone. I turned my car off after 10 minutes. Twenty minutes after that, frustration began to present itself. I saw the ambulance fly by me almost immediately after I was stopped. The wrecker truck came whizzing by twenty minutes after that. My (lack of) patience was wearing extremely thin, and I assumed that one lane would open shortly. (wrong)

After 45 minutes, it became very apparent I was going to be there for a while (when the big trucks around you shut down- you know you’re in for a wait). And I can testify that on an old smartphone, an hour goes quickly. But the ancient technology only exhausted me. Once again, my (lack of) patience just couldn’t withstand constant uploading, and shutting down. My phone case has been chewed by my dog, so certain letters don’t register well when I try to type. Apps don’t load quickly, if at all. And the battery drains extremely too quickly. (And side note, the charger in my car works when it wants, and can’t be touched or it quits). Typically I would have had my iPad with me for church- but I didn't know if the church I was visiting would be accepting of it, so I left it home. If I had it, I could’ve done a lot more (I had a long-running (mental) list of things I could’ve been doing if I’d had it).

Well after the hour mark, and still no sight of any relief, my mind went into overdrive. I began talking to God. (I’d like to acknowledge that upon first stopping in the traffic I did say a prayer for those involved in the accident, as well as those responding to it; and thanked Him for allowing me to miss it). But at this point, I was all over the board. I kept thanking Him for His grace in me missing the accident; I prayed for those involved once again. I thanked Him for the warm weather (though it undoubtedly was the rain that contributed to this mess), it was almost 60 degrees, making sitting in a turned off, unheated car very bearable. As well as the fact that I had almost a full tank of gas ‘just in case’. I thanked Him for the fact that I didn’t have to potty. (Go ahead and laugh- but I typically can’t go an hour without a bathroom break- so this was a grand relief) (I’ve already gone 3 times during this blog post- but I have had a pot of coffee… (it is Coffee With Christ, you know))). I was grateful that I have a smartphone to help pass the time, slow and old as it is. Then once my ‘gratitude’ was out, my ‘attitude’ came out. I began questioning why He put me there in the first place, particularly after I had such a productive day (I was a ‘good’ girl that day- not being lazy…). I questioned why He didn’t insist that I bring my iPad- allowing me to work on other things and be more productive while stuck. I questioned why this had to happen at night, when I didn’t have a flashlight that I could at least read my Bible (even though I didn’t have my highlighter- which irritated me as well, since it’s usually in my Bible bag- but I’d just removed it the week prior, and hadn’t replaced it). I didn’t have any notepaper so I could write my blog, or at least take notes for it. The list went on and on. I knew I should be grateful (and I was- to a degree) that my situation wasn’t as bad as those in the accident, or as bad as it could’ve been. But, I was beginning to get irritated that I was even in this situation at all, and finding faults all along the way that kept picking at my growing frustration.

Exasperation was really setting in at this point. Just what were the responders doing? Why didn’t they have a lane open yet? (As if I know anything about how cleanup from a bad accident should be or how long it should take). It was approaching my bedtime (yes, I have a bedtime), and I was increasingly growing cranky. And just when I thought I might snap- I saw a bunch of cars coming towards me. People ahead of me in traffic had turned around and come back (in the wrong direction) on the berm to the exit behind us. I’m not going to lie: my first thought was that they were idiots; they were going to cause another accident. But then I began contemplating how maybe that’s what I should do. If I could cross the traffic, I could turn around and head home. Others were doing it, how could it hurt, right? (I mean, I still had to stop at the grocery store to pick up stuff for my husband to make a sandwich to take with him hunting in the morning- which was just another added annoyance). But I couldn’t safely cross traffic to make my get-away.

By now, I’m aggravated at this extreme waste of time. There were so many things I could’ve and should’ve been doing at home (laundry, my Bible study, the store…) but there I was, stuck in this traffic, with nothing that I could do in my car (stupid phone and unpreparedness)… But the longer I sat there, the more I reflected on how, instead of doing those things I thought of- I'd have probably just put on my pajamas and sat on the couch watching Christmas movies on TV; ones I've seen numerous times before; accomplishing nothing anyway. And that would've been as big of a waste, if not a bigger one than sitting in traffic. At least sitting there had me thinking...

I thought about the sermon messages I'd heard that day. One was about understanding why we believe what we believe- specifically about the Bible's accuracy and integrity. The other message-the most recent one and what my friend preached on was love (1 Corinthians 13), specifically about what it means. I thought about my life- things I’ve wrestled with in my heart and my mind concerning these two messages. They are both so different. It wasn’t an immediate conclusion to see where they were similar. And it wasn’t an immediate correlation of where I needed to concentrate. But as I thought about the two separate messages, they began to comingle. The Bible, with all of its commandments, historical, scientific, medical facts, and its stories, is a giant book of love to us from God. Referencing my first sermon, in order to be able to be a true Disciple of Christ, we must understand why we believe what we believe—which means we need to understand the Bible; and to understand the Bible we must study it; to learn what it is meant to teach us. Believers have something special; we have Christ’s love, mercy and grace. Unbelievers have nothing. (No wonder they’re miserable) Our Bible is God’s written Word (John 1:1-18); it is God’s written love letter to us. The personification of love is Christ; there is no greater example than Him (John 3:16). There’s no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend. (John 15:13) And we are all friends of Jesus (more than friends, actually). (Song of Solomon 2:16, 6:3) And I was reminded of the two greatest commandments: Love God, love others. (Matthew 22:37-39) Love. How loving was I being aggravated at God for this situation? How loving was I as I mocked the people standing in the middle of the interstate talking with each other? (Why wasn’t I out there showing God’s love to them- maybe one of them needed it)? How loving was I being as the anger, bitterness, and selfishness settled in thinking about how uncomfortable, how tired, and how bored I was? (I’d like to say that I had a turning point here, got out of my car and spread the Gospel… but, no; I was still too stubborn to acknowledge a radical heart change.)

An anxiety attack was upon me after hour three had come and gone. I was really tired, finally had to go to the bathroom, and was beginning to feel nauseated. I noticed how dark it was with all of the vehicles’ lights shut off, and few stars in the sky. The darkness began to envelop me and fear settled into my already queasy stomach. Where was God right now? Why were any and all of us in this particular situation? I started pleading with Him to make this end. I realized how badly I just wanted to go home; to just be at home. And it started sinking in- I waste too much time doing ‘stuff’ and not enough time enjoying this life; God’s love letter to me personally. (And I certainly don’t spend enough time telling or showing others Christ’s love for them). I began praying fervently, aloud. I felt the anxiety release and a peace settle in. I felt a renewed ‘second wind’ stir within me, assuring me that I wouldn’t go insane sitting in this car for another hour or more. And, I admit this sounds fabricated, but this time, when I prayed for His mercy in this situation, a star twinkled brightly (when the sky was so dark previously), and suddenly the vehicles around me started their engines; we were about to be released from this turmoil! (And yet, part of me was still apprehensive that it was really over).

And that’s how life goes, doesn’t it? We get comfortable in our lives, doing our stuff, and ignore warning signs coming up. We then get stuck in mayhem and chaos, looking for a shortcut to get us out of the mess. We question God’s motives; immediately blaming Him for not seeing how ‘good’ we’ve been, having the audacity to think that He owes us something. Even accusing Him of not loving us enough. We easily forget the good He has given us, (as if Salvation isn’t good enough) but we all have many blessings to be thankful for in our lives. God is Love. God’s Word is His love letter to us. God loves us. Why is it we’re so slow and too closed-minded to love others? Or even accept His love; and sometimes that means it’s uncomfortable, and at times, painful? But boy when we do accept Him—look out! (John 5:24) He shines through the darkness (Psalm 27:1, John 8:12, 1 John 1:5). He gives us His Peace, His Joy, and His Eternal Love (Galatians 5:22). So, in the end, when the temporary turmoil is over, was all the grumbling (aggravation, frustration, irritation…) really worth it? The greatness of our pain cannot compare to the greatness of His Love. Sometimes He just has to bring us to a complete stop for a point to be driven home. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I…, If I…, If I… but don’t have love, I am and gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: Love is patient, kind, not envious, not proud, not dishonorable or selfish, forgiving, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres…never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Challenge Ahead


I have the privilege of coordinating the collection of shoe boxes for Samaritan's Purse at my church.  This is a bittersweet thing for me.  On the one hand, seeing the congregation join together in the mission of providing children they have never met with toys, coloring books, and hygiene supplies that will open the door and allow those children to hear and experience the truth that Jesus loves them is amazing.  In five years the number of shoe boxes we collect has almost doubled.

But the flip side of this coin is the knowledge that there are children in this world that have never been shown this love, children who are devoid of hope, children that don't know or understand that what they experience in this world is not all there is, nor is it what it was supposed to be.  Each year as I go through videos and testimonials of how these simple shoe boxes impact children and communities my heart breaks and I hug my own children a little tighter.

As Stacie reminded us earlier this week, our calling doesn't have to be some "great" thing that everyone sees and recognizes as important.  Our great thing can be as simple as packing a shoebox for a child in another country, recognizing that our neighbor with the new baby is feeling overwhelmed and cook a meal for her family one night.  Maybe your calling is to notice the cashier that is scanning your items for your holiday meal isn't smiling and then really talking to him or her.  There are so many in this world that don't feel hope, especially at this time of the year.

I want to challenge you to make a conscious effort for the next month or so to really SEE the people around you.  Ask God to show you those who are hurting, who need to know they aren't alone, and then be His hands and feet.  This is going to take some preparation on your part.  Pray and ask God to show you how you should respond.  I have a blogging friend that carries candy canes around with her at this time of year with a little note attached to them thanking the recipient for their service.  She gives them to cashiers, buggy boys, nurses etc.  Others have made "blessing bags".  A ziplock bag full of items a homeless person might need such as hygiene items, restaurant gift cards etc.  I don't know how God would like to use you, but I do know He DOES want to use you.  All you have to do is open yourself up to that possibility, and allow God to move.

We would love it if you shared some of your ideas and experiences in the comment section!


How far will you go?



In today’s times, it’s so easy to sit back and watch; to be comfortable with our lives and reap the rewards of those around us. Most of us are consumedly busy with work, families, our homes, etc. that we can’t seem to fit in any ‘extras’; like discipleship. We often think attending church once or possibly twice a week, occasionally opening our Bible to read a passage or two in the mornings, praying before a meal during the day is ‘good enough’. And if we encounter someone who needs Jesus? Giving them a smile and uttering something about ‘God loves you’ as an encouragement is going above and beyond…

But is it really? How often we take for granted that we have our Bibles; that we have family that supports our lifestyle; and that we live in a nation (though it may be flawed) that allows us, even encourages us to practice our ‘freedom of religion’… And what do we do with these honors? For most of us, nothing. We continue with our daily lives, watching others around us teach, preach and pray. How much longer do you really think you can continue on this path without losing sight of His direction for you? We stumble in the dark, fighting with our lack of time, energy, money, patience [insert your own deficiencies], forgetting that Jesus is the only Light we need to finish our journey; His journey with us? (John 8:12)

Remember the times that Christ told His disciples that the day was approaching that He was going to die, but be resurrected on the third day? (Matthew 16:21, Mark 9:31-322, Luke 18:31-34) It was even foretold by numerous prophecies in Scripture before Jesus was born. (Psalm 22, Isaiah 43) The disciples had no reason to not know what was coming. Yet, they were shocked, grief stricken, broken…consumed with themselves, and the effect that Jesus’ suffering would have on them. How selfish could they be? How selfish are we? How often do you hear, see, know the plan to follow, yet instead of concentrating on, expecting, and rejoicing in the outcome—do you focus on the pain you must go through to get there? We wallow in our struggles, inflicted with self-doubt and lack of trust in God. We refuse to see Him working, right alongside of us to accomplish the plan. (John 20:11-18, Luke 24:13-34) We, too, ignore what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean. Jesus was tortured, took on our sins (every last despicable, ridiculous one we’ve ever thought and done), separated Himself from our Heavenly Father, and died for our forgiveness. He then arose on the third day to prove to us that He overcame death and sin, and we will too one day. (Can we fully comprehend what that truly means?) (And if so—how do we continue on with our daily routines?)

God has a will and a plan for you. (Jeremiah 29:11) It may not be a great ministry to teach or preach. It may not even be hosting a Bible study. It may just be to support your spouse or friend that is being called to do one of these ‘great things’… (1 Samuel 14:7: ‘Jonathan’s armor bearer’) The point is: God has called you to action, in some shape, some form. He only asks that you relinquish control of your ‘life’ to Him. (Romans 12:1) All you have to do is all you can do. He never intended for you to be too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed to enjoy His fellowship and His love. (Our whole lives are because and about His Love.) He only intended for you to love Him, and give your life to Him. Are you willing to give Him all you have?

Snowflakes

Image courtesy Pen Waggener, used under CC by 2.0

It snowed here today.  First time of the season.  There wasn't any accumulation, but seeing those fluffy, fat snowflakes falling from the sky was a beautiful sight.  You see, snowflakes always remind me of God.  They amaze me.

Did you know that although every snowflake crystal is unique, some say that there are not ever two snowflakes alike, each has six-fold radial symmetry?  This means that from the center out you can conceivably fold a snowflake 6 ways and it will be identical on opposite sides.  Rather amazing that God can create something so small, so alike others of its kind and yet so unique and different.  And yet, he not only did so with the snowflake, but with us as well.

We are all created in his image.  Most of the human race share similar lines of symmetry: 2 eyes, legs, ears, arms etc.  You get the picture.  And yet we are each unique.  Not just in what we see; eye color, hair color, weight, height.  but in our talents, our gifts.  God has hand crafted each and every detail of what makes us "us" with a plan in mind.  He knew whom we would come into contact with, how that would affect us on this journey; the scars we would form, the bonds we would make with others.  God knew what form we would need to be molded into in order to best show His workmanship and that is the form He gave us.  Then He breathed life into us and began our journey.

While an individual snowflake is beautiful in and of itself, alone it travels to the ground and leaves very little evidence, if any, of it's existence.  It is when snowflakes join together that we see their impact.  This is why God calls us to not stop meeting with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), why He reminds us that we are a part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), and why each of us has a unique purpose within the body (Romans 12:4-5).

God has gifted you with a special talent, something that sets you apart and yet allows you to fit into a custom niche in His body, perfectly designed for this time, this place.  Do you know what yours is?  Are you ready to join with others and blanket the world with His love?
 

Let go, and let God.



If you can't see the video above, click here to view it

Oh my, it’s easy to hold on to our grievances, isn’t it? It’s easy to hang onto that bitterness of a friend or who wronged you; to worry over your finances and wonder how you’re going to afford groceries after all the bills get paid; to stress about the anxiety at your job; to fear the future for your children in this fallen world; to just wallow in your sadness, even depression. We hold onto all the misery in our lives…but why? God doesn’t promise that as a Christian we will have an easy go; but He doesn’t want us to be miserable in this life either. Why does God let bad things happen? (That’s a whole other message)- But possibly it’s in part to show us the glory of the good; to make us much more appreciative of all the good in our lives (and we all have tons to be thankful for). Possibly it’s to teach us a lesson; to bring us closer to Him; to use us to bring someone else to Him… the possibilities are endless. The fact is- God is God. He’s the only One that knows how our story will go, and eventually end. He is King over everything, including your problems; and as hard as it is to believe and understand at times, He truly does care about your problems, no matter how minute they may seem (in retrospect). If it concerns you, you concerns God. (That in itself should be humbling). But He tells us time and time again in His Word not to be consumed with worry in this world. (Psalm 46:10, Psalm 55:22, Matthew 11:28-30, 1 Peter 5:7) It’s not that He doesn’t care about you or your problems, it’s because He wants you to trust Him to take care of them. His shoulders are bigger than ours; allow Him to take the burdens from you. Release the tension to Him.

We have got to learn to let go of control. There is nothing we can do better than God. He knows better; He has a clearer view of everything than we could ever imagine. (Isaiah 55:8-9) He knows all of the facts, and has the best outcome. We only see a tiny glimpse in our self-deluded world. (And are we really that arrogant to think that we know better than Him and/or that we are more favored, loved, and important than anyone else that we should always get what we want or be relinquished of the anguish? Does it occur to us that maybe He allows the roughness into our lives for the Glory He will get when we overcome it? (and we will: John 16:33) Or maybe He uses it to bring us closer to Him? (What a blessing that is!)) But the point of all of this is to just trust God. Trust that He has your best intentions in mind. Trust that His Will for you far surpasses your own will. (How many of us even know what we really want?) (And if we don’t really know what we want, how in the world do we think we know how to get it?)

Our true problem isn’t the problem itself. Our true problem is acknowledging that we can’t control it. It’s not that we don’t want to surrender the situation/issue to God to handle; it’s that we don’t want to surrender ourselves to God. (Luke 22:41-42) We don’t want to let go, and let God. Perhaps we’re afraid of the outcome. Perhaps we’re afraid of the effort. Perhaps we’re afraid of ourselves. It’s much easier to blame God for our problems and for not taking care of them when we don’t really give them to Him to deal with in the first place. Sure we may pray that He intercedes. But then we continue to stress, worry, and be consumed by the issue that we supposedly laid at His feet. It’s like we dropped it off for His care for a few hours, but stopped back by to pick it up and hold it for a bit; as if telling Him He’s not taking good enough care of it. Or we lay it down, but keep a finger on it, not truly letting go. (And yes, it sounds so much easier to say than to do. But if we can learn to do… there’s so much more we can do.) Give it to God, and see what He has to give you in return. He promises to take it, if you let Him. So let go, and let God.

Hindsight

 
It’s human nature to second guess yourself, your words and your actions. Hindsight really is 20/20. And as a Christian, I feel like every decision I make hinders on the reason behind it. Will this bring honor or dishonor to God? Am I doing this for Him, or for me? Sometimes, even the most insignificant choice leaves me feeling restless and wondering what my motivation behind it really was. (Beware- you’re about to see how irrational my mind can be) For instance, do I wear my regular mascara or my waterproof for church? I frequently am brought to tears during worship or a sermon, so I want to plan ahead. But, if I wear my waterproof, does that mean I am planning on crying, and wanting everyone to see how ‘Spiritual’ I am? Or, if I wear my regular, does that mean I am guarding my heart, so nothing truly affects me and brings any attention to myself? (Or vice versa- if I wear waterproof- am I ‘hiding’ my emotions, and if I wear regular am I putting them out there for all to see?) (I told you, it’s ridiculous the things that go through my mind). At the end of the day (or at least the end of the church service), it doesn’t matter if I have ‘raccoon eyes’, or ‘long, extended lashes’- what matters is where my heart is. If I wear regular mascara and am brought to tears, then who really cares if my makeup is smeared down my cheeks at the end of service? And who cares if I look like I wasn’t affected at all during the service thanks to my waterproof brand? God knows where I stand in my heart (better than I do most days). As long as we bring Him the Glory, it just doesn’t matter. And my mascara isn’t going to make or break my eternity or my ability to affect anyone else’s eternity either. But…
The bigger decisions really keep me up at night. (No, my mascara ‘issues’ don’t contribute to my sleeplessness, just my anxiety before Sunday school) It’s those big ‘life altering’ decisions that cause my insomnia. There’s been something, a task really, I’ve been doing for a couple of years now; the way it got started was in undoubtedly only by and through God. And He’s continued to guide me along the way, opening some doors, and closing others. It’s been a process that has been exhausting, yet rewarding. (Sounds like a no-brainer: continue with it- it’s ‘obviously’ God, but…) I’m to the point where it seems to be stalling out. Do I continue? What if the purpose of this was strictly to grow me closer to Him (which it has undeniably done) and for nothing else? Was all the time and effort, exhaustion and sleeplessness, anxiety and arguments just because I needed it? I won’t deny that it was worth it—but I also can’t help but feel a little bitter that it was an awful lot of sacrifice on my end to just benefit me. Shouldn’t others reap reward from it? And I’ll admit, there was a time, not too long ago, that I lost the purpose of this task from Him. I was pursuing it more for my gain, than His. Thankfully, He showed me my selfishness, and I stepped back from it for a bit. But I’ve felt the burden to continue on with it again recently, and I have. Why? Other than being prodded back by God, I don’t know. It hasn’t changed; it hasn’t profited anyone else yet; and has only left me more anxious, defeated and unsure than before. Is this truly from God? Is this truly what He wants from it? Am I really just being beaten up again for my own self-growth? I struggle with that. This is a lot of time and work for just me. And I want it to help others. But here’s where my mind starts (ir)rationalizing… After all this work, surely God will use this for more than just me. Surely He will use this for His Glory, and as a result, use me. (I will inevitably benefit from this). And the second-guessing begins… Maybe this wasn’t God at all. Maybe this was just my selfish wants, stemmed from my career desire. Maybe this was the devil getting in my head, trying to make me lose sight of Jesus… Maybe…
It doesn’t stop there. I can go back and forth all day on this issue. And unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer. I don’t know where this will lead. I don’t know the purpose behind the inception of this task. But, so long as my heart stays in check with God, I know He’s with me (Deuteronomy 31:6; Psalm 73:23; Psalm 139; Zephaniah 3:17; Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) and He’ll use it somehow. (Romans 8:28).
Hindsight really is 20/20. I’ve seen the good that has come from this task so far. And later, I will see it in the current struggle with it. I just have to have patience (Psalm 37:7-9; Romans 2:6-7; Romans 8:24-25; Colossians 3:12), and faith that His will be done; not mine (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). My advice (for what it’s worth) is to never stop praying about it. Continue to check yourself (Acts 20:30); your motives. Is what you’re doing or saying honoring to Him? Who really stands to gain from the outcome? Continue to seek His guidance, and ask for Him to enlighten you with the path you are to take. And above all else, just trust Him. (Psalm 18:2; Psalm 91:2; John 13:15; 1 Timothy 4:10) He created this world (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 42:5; Jeremiah 10:12; Nehemiah 9:6; Acts 17:24; Hebrews 1:10), and you (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13; Psalm 139:16; Job 33:4; Jeremiah 1:5), and He’s not going to let anything happen that won’t benefit you some way, somehow. (Deuteronomy 16:15; Deuteronomy 28:12; Numbers 6:24; Psalm 10:22; Psalm 29:11) The biggest benefit being eternity. Praise God!