My Wish List

Sometimes I look at my favorite websites like Cabela’s or some of the fly-fishing sites that I purchase gear from and add things to my wish list. Most of them have features for wish lists that conveniently save the things you hope to buy or have given to you someday because you can’t afford them today.

It is pretty easy to go through page after page of nice things, see all the cool stuff I don’t have and add lots of things to my wish list. Pretty soon my list is long and pricey. The problem is that at some point in my browsing all the cool things I become more interested in things I don’t really need. I can become dissatisfied with what I have even though it has been working just fine. I know that this is the wrong way to think so I convince myself that I need things that I really don’t need and I feel much better about being unhappy with what I have.

I have so often been confused by such a simple question as “what do I need?” I have prayed and prayed for things I needed and then been aggravated and frustrated at God because He failed to supply me with those things like He promised me He would!

Philippians 4:18 At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.

Just reading this verse a person might get the idea that Paul was sitting at home enjoying a new fly rod and sipping on some Starbuck’s coffee that the people from the church at Philippi had sent him. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Paul was in prison and probably wrote this letter in near darkness or dim torch-light. He was sleeping on the ground and being guarded by Roman soldiers. The gifts he received were probably less than magnificent, they were most likely meager if the soldiers allowed Paul to have them and not keep them for themselves. Yet Paul continued on doing God’s work in the worst possible conditions when by all appearances he did not have all he needed.

Apparently my idea of what is needed is not quite right. Paul needed just enough light to see, something to write with and something to write on, food and water to sustain him and a place to sleep. He was so in line with God’s view of things that he saw that he needed nothing else. I am sure he wanted some other things but he was able to get past that and do amazing things even while Roman rulers attempted to shut him down.

Philippians 4:19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

This is another one of those verses I have heard lots of times all by itself and thought, “Wow! Jesus is going to buy me everything on my wish list!” Paul wrote this in an entirely different context than how most people quote it. God doesn’t promise to give us a mansion or a Corvette, a hunting lodge or a new diesel truck. He promises to be with us in hard times and give us what we need to further His Kingdom in those hard times. Now, I might not want to go through hard times, I am sure Paul didn’t either, but everyone does. Christians and non-Christians all suffer through trials and that is how life goes. I can know, if I seek God and search for ways to further His Kingdom, that God is providing me with all I need even though it may feel like I am lacking. He has and will always supply all my needs.

James 1:2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

This verse makes a lot more sense if I look at my needs the way God sees them. He works to show Himself to me in the midst of my troubles and I become more like Him. I have read that last verse before and thought it was just crazy talk. But when I look at the amazing things God did through Paul when he was experiencing trials I can understand it better.

Philippians 4:20 Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen.

Paul wraps up this section of scriptures with these words. I have looked at verses like this as just some good sounding words like when someone says a really eloquent prayer and throws in a bunch of religious sounding phrases. But this is important. This is how I need to approach my day, every day. All glory to God. What I need separates itself from what I want when I live this way. My view of the world becomes God’s view of the world. My future is provided for.

God, open my eyes to see that all my needs are being met. Show me that even when my situation looks bleak I can still serve you. Show me how to have joy in my troubles. All glory to You forever and ever! Amen.

How Will I Survive Today?

This is one of those days that I just don’t feel like I have what it takes to walk out that door and survive the day. I used to think that was a bad thing. If I felt too weak or too untalented, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t grow strong and talented after a cup or two of java.

I’d mask my fears with arrogance, arrogance that had just a touch of anxiety and anger in it and hope for the best. Usually my hopes were not realized. The day would turn into just what I feared it would before I apprehensively stepped out the door.

As I look around me I see a lot of people dealing with how to cope with days that seem like the they can only get worse from here on out. People feel as though all that they had put their faith in is crumbling and they are losing control of their lives.

This is actually a good place to be. Whenever I felt like I had control, I also felt I had little or no need for God. This was not the truth. I finally found that I had the not-so-unique ability to turn a great day into a train wreck. That’s about all my control was good for.

It is in these moments of realizing that I am not in control that I can learn that I don’t need control.

It is in these moments that I can do the one thing that will virtually guarantee that I will let go and allow God to move.

I can simply pray according to his word.

Psalm 86:1 Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer;
answer me, for I need your help.
2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you.
Save me, for I serve you and trust you.
You are my God.
3 Be merciful to me, O Lord,
for I am calling on you constantly.
4 Give me happiness, O Lord,
for I give myself to you.
5 O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive,
so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.
6 Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord;
hear my urgent cry.
7 I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble,
and you will answer me.

God will never fail to hear me and answer me. He will protect me, save me, be merciful to me, give me joy, forgive and love me with unfailing love.

There may be chaos around me. There may be things I fear, people I fear, circumstances I fear but he will protect me and save me.

I only need to need him, devote myself to him, serve and trust him, call on him always, give myself to him, cry out to him and make him God and stop trying to take over his seat on the throne. He has all this craziness around me under control. It is never as bad as it appears. I can’t fix it. Only God can.

“That Guy”

The other day, I read something that a cousin of mine wrote about my Uncle Norman.  He quoted him as saying, “That’s between you and God.”

I thought about that for a while.

Actually, I am still thinking about it.

One of the things I have had a hard time getting through my layers of thick bone that make up most of my head and into my often alarmingly small amount of brain tissue is that ultimately, a man or woman’s relationship with God is between him or her and God.

That may sound simple but as it usually works out, I take simple and complicate it.

I have a problem with wanting to define what makes a relationship with God.  Even when my relationship was the most unhealthy, I still found ways to insert my standards are ideals into the relationship of others.

Paul warned Timothy about people like me.

1 Timothy 6:4 Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions.

It is somewhat disconcerting to read God’s Word and see myself described in such a bad light.

But there is good news.  I don’t have to be “that guy”.

See, I also learned that my uncle didn’t just use that line acknowledging what was between a person and God as an excuse to refuse to invest in that person.  He prayed.  He prayed faithfully.  He prayed repetitively.  He refused to stop caring and he refused to stand back and succumb to hopelessness.

He stopped taking action that people feel the need to take and, instead, took action that God would have him take.  A lot of things can change if we just pray and then love unconditionally.

But far too often I am “that guy”.  I walk in between someone else and God and forget that I am not the way, I am in the way.  No man goes to the Father through me.

So, my goal for today and the day’s ahead, is to step out of the way and stop stirring the pot of jealousy, division, slander and evil suspicions.  I need to take more time and pray for those I am tempted to judge or criticize and love them unconditionally.

 

Driving a Stick

Back in the seventies, dad bought me a car. It was a ’73 Duster in a light shade of green only a color-blind guy like me could love. It had no air-conditioning and in fact there was nothing fancy about it at all. It was just a car. The only luxuries on this baby were power steering and power brakes, they were options on a car then but I don’t think you can get a car today without those features. The transmission was a manual, just like the windows and everything else on that car. It was all manual or it just wasn’t there at all.

It had a rubber floor and vinyl seats. I put carpet in the car and speakers in the back window tray. I installed a really nice 8-track player and put the bobble-headed Boston Terrier dog in the back window. He would sit back there and nod in approval to the music being played at excruciatingly loud levels. I really liked that car even though at first I really hated it. I didn’t hate it because it was an ugly color or because it lacked A/C or even because it looked cheap on the inside. I hated it because I couldn’t drive it.

The first day after dad bought the car, he took me out to learn to drive that stick. We drove out to a seldom used gravel road. On the way there, which was only a few minutes, I sat in silence picturing myself grabbing gears and popping the clutch like a professional race car driver, skillfully careening through the country roads where we lived.

We pulled onto Stump Road, which is now wide and paved, and we switched places in the car. I already knew what to do. I was sixteen and I knew everything. I got in the driver’s seat and got ready to drive. I didn’t buckle my seat belt. In those days, most seat belts were stuffed deep into the seat or even behind the seat so they were out of the way. People preferred to adhere to the urban legends of the day that seat belts caused people to be killed in otherwise harmless accidents. I grabbed the wheel and pushed in the clutch. So far, so good, this was going to be cake! I pulled the car into first gear and away I almost went.

I killed the engine, I killed the engine what seemed like a hundred times. At first dad laughed, then he got a little aggravated and then he just didn’t say anything. Flames were shooting out of my eyes. I was so mad that I couldn’t do this seemingly simple task. I tried and tried until the flames were extinguished and could no longer hold back the tears.

I had grown accustomed to learning everything simply and easily. It really got on my last nerve that I couldn’t get the hang of this one thing. I went home and gave up.

Fortunately for me, I only gave up temporarily. My fire was re-lit and I was ready to try again after much thought and replaying my mistakes over and over again showed me exactly what I was doing wrong. We made the drive back out to Stump Rd. and I drove it like I stole it from then on out. Mom and dad worried day and night because I drove that car like an idiot, but I was an idiot that could really drive a stick.

Galatians 6:9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

I’ve tried a lot of things because the bible said to. I’ve failed at quite a few of them and given up. I’ve heard people say that God gives us gifts and we should stick to the gifts God gives us. That sounds pretty good but what if I am not good at doing some things that God commands me to do and the only reason I can’t be skillful in doing them is that I refuse to work through my failures? If I am failing at doing good, don’t I just need to keep going out to Stump Road and learning?

Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Paul wrote these words from prison. He was imprisoned several times. I’m sure that I would have had the mentality that if I was ending up in prison that I should probably give up my whole ministry before someone killed me. But while sitting in prison, Paul was surprisingly upbeat and refused to see failure. He took time to write letters to churches he had been to or started to guide them in their newly found faith. Paul had learned from every setback and used his downtime to bring glory to God.

I had heard and read the verse above a lot of times, it is engrained into my head forever. I will never forget it. But it is way past time to brand it on my heart and to put it into practice. If I fail, I cannot give up. I need to do what God calls me to do knowing that His work in me may not be the destination but the journey. This verse doesn’t apply to things that bring praise and credit to myself, things that make me live a life of luxury and comfort, it applies to the things I do to bring glory to God. God used the time Paul spent in prison, time the religious leaders took away from Paul to shut him up and get him out of their hair, to write the letters that encourage me thousands of years later. God’s strength is pretty amazing stuff. Paul’s words were immortalized when he was being silenced. His preaching was gone when those who heard it were gone. His writing lives on as God’s Word. I am eternally grateful that Paul didn’t give up.

God, help me to not be intimidated by failure. Give me endurance and perseverance to do your good works. Help me to seize opportunity from the mouth of failure and keep doing your will not matter what the situation. Amen.

Uncle Norman

My uncle passed away on July 4th of this year.  He was ninety-nine years old.  He spoke of heaven as the next thing on his bucket list the last few years.

Yesterday, at his funeral, I heard that he figured his friends all thought he must not have made it do heaven because he hadn’t shown up yet.  He had outlived them all.

I could fill a few pages with my own stories of Uncle Norman but, instead, I’ll write a little bit about one of the the things he taught me.

I had the privilege of working with him at a church for a while.  It was a hopeless kind of church and I was there working with another pastor before he arrived.

I had thought I could make a difference there and things had not gone the way I had envisioned them.  I was disappointed and beat down when Uncle Norman stepped in to pastor.

I didn’t really like Uncle Norman’s vision for the church.  He had no grandiose plans to turn that church into anything special, no big crowds, no status in the community, no big changes.  He just stepped in and started loving those people.

I guess I had gone there in hopes of changing everyone, making that church as respected as the Baptists down the street.

I clearly was imposing my vision of what a church ought to be on them and totally disregarding what God wanted them to be.

I really don’t talk much about my time there in that church.  I have always felt like a failure there.

But sitting in that funeral yesterday, honoring a man that had clearly learned that his primary purpose in over six decades as a pastor was to love people, I saw that I am a blessed man indeed.  I have been blessed to have such an example in my life that I know what humility and living out the Great Commission looks like.

A lot of people have never seen a man like my uncle.  They’ve never had someone like that in their lives.  I’m blessed to have been embraced by him and taught valuable lessons that I was able to see lived out with my own eyes.

Goodbye, Uncle Norman.  You did life right.

1 Timothy 6:13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.

The Devil

I suppose a lot of people don’t believe in Satan. He has been cartoonized and trivialized to the point of becoming just a myth. But this no-good shiftless creature exists and I have proof.

Even as a young child, I wondered about how a being that has been face to face with God and has seen his power could still oppose such a daunting force that he is certain to be defeated by. Satan’s handiwork, though impressive and overwhelming at times, is an exercise in futility.

I’ve cast a few thoughts his way and thought, “What an idiot! He’s going to get it really bad one of these days.”

You are probably wondering where my proof of the existence of Satan is. Well, it is not any big earth-shattering revelation. It is just common sense. In my life, I have emulated Satan far more than I have emulated Christ. I’ve opposed Christ at almost every opportunity thinking that I had some sort of power inside me that could override what he desires and force my will upon him. I’ve puffed myself up with pride and filled my head with lies so that I can carry on my crusade to promote myself and put aside God’s kingdom.

This behavior is a near-perfect reflection of everything that Satan embodies. How can I possibly reflect what does not exist?

Just as Christ can reflect his nature through me, the devil can reflect his dark image.

It is important for me to grasp this clearly because each day I make choices about which image to project. Do I emulate Christ or the old devil?

Ezekiel 28:17 Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. Your wisdom was corrupted by your love of splendor. So I threw you to the ground and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.

Just as Satan was filled with pride and his wisdom was corrupted, I am in a constant battle against these things. If I pretend the battle isn’t raging, I automatically lose. Of course, Satan is in a lot worse shape these days. Jesus dealt him some pretty severe blows and took away some of his abilities in the taste of what is yet to come but he is still plugging away, trying to make people look more like him than Christ.

I subject myself to pain and anguish when I choose to reflect the image of darkness and the void that is his desires rather than the unending supply of grace God has given me unfettered access to. It sounds like utter foolishness to do such a thing, yet I do it anyway.

Today, God, help me see you only, thirst after you only and make me look much more like you as well.

Meet Mr. Know-It-All

I have in the past been a man of many strong opinions, many of them stupid, but they were strong. They weren’t rock-solid strong but more than likely had a strong odor or strong in the sense that they were spoken loudly and with conviction. Loud opinions that stink are not a great foundation for a lifestyle.

I kept at it, though, and even convinced some people I was right. Most people were just convinced to avoid me.

My opinions tended to involve a little bit of common sense, a little, tiny bit of God’s Word and a whole lot of inflated ego. As a result, although I believed I had used logic and reason to come up with the most perfect opinion on almost anything (including things I had little to no knowledge of), I was often as wrong as wrong could be or at least far enough off target that if I kept following my opinion, I was farther off in left field every day shouting to the world that I was in center field.

There is a lot of pressure in having to be right about everything. No man can do it. A smart man realizes this and seeks to change his wrongness to rightness. I was not a smart man even though, in my opinion, I was a genius. When I was wrong, rather than admit it, I would do my best to convince the right that they were more wrong than I was.

Needless to say, I didn’t experience happiness a whole heck of a lot.

I’d become irritated if people wouldn’t jump on my bandwagon and happily dance down the trail of wrongness with me, abandoning being right. Most people wouldn’t do that. I was irritated a LOT!

2 Timothy 2:16 Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.

A good thing to think about from time to time, sometimes several times a day, is, “Am I just talking to hear my head rattle and get others people’s heads rattling along with me?”

Sometimes when I speak, I get on a roll. I keep it coming and I go from being a participant in a conversation to the entertainer. What are the effects of all those words going to be? Am I going to encourage people to be judgmental and hateful and cruel? Am I going to make people uneasy and afraid? Am I leading them to or away from God?

I have a much easier time controlling the words I type here. I can sit down and focus on one goal. That goal is to encourage. I am not here to do all those bad things that can happen so easily when my tongue is controlling what is being said. But a lot of what comes out of my word hole during the day is determined when I sit down here and turn to God’s Word early in the morning.

I find it a lot easier to allow others to think for themselves and not try to tell them how to think. I trust God to work in the lives of people much more than I once did. For some reason, I thought people needed my idiotic opinions in order to make good decisions. I see that is a ludicrous idea now. People need God, not my opinions.

2 Timothy 2:19 But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.”

I’m not in competition with God. I’m in communion with God. My opinions tend to run my life. The more I have, the less room for truth I have in my life. My opinions are most often based on me and what I want and think I need. God’s Word encompasses all of creation and what it takes to bring his Kingdom to his people. God is bigger than what my mind can create and imagine. So my opinion on what this world is coming to, what the actions of others say about them, what God’s actions say about him are basically just thoughts about things I don’t really understand at all. I like to think that I have a deeper level of knowledge than I do but really I only see the surface and rarely take into account all that lies below.

I’m usually wrong. But God’s truth stands firm. The tighter I grasp it and put it into my life, the righter I become. But he doesn’t make me right to blow my horn and tell the world how great I have become. He does it so that I can serve them in the right ways. It isn’t about me. It is about my part in something much bigger than me.

Closing the Ears of God

There was once a time that man could exist on this planet in perfect harmony with God in paradise. He simply had to obey one rule. It wasn’t a difficult or complicated rule. It was simple. Out of the abundance of things to enjoy in God’s creation simply don’t eat one kind of fruit.

Genesis 2:16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

Sometimes I think that if I only had to live by that one rule that I would have it made and my life would be a piece of cake. But I am pretty sure that I would find myself walking by that tree once in a while just to make sure of where it was so that I would know how to avoid it. Then maybe I would spend time looking at it and taking some pictures of it so that I would recognize the danger should I become disoriented and not realize I was in the same neighborhood as the tree. Before long I would be stuffing myself on its fruit and I don’t even like fruit. I’m like that, people are like that. So passing judgment on Adam and Eve is the silliest thing I can possibly do. I would have probably screwed things up for all of mankind far quicker than they did.

So all of us have to live with the consequences of sin by living a pretty tough life here on earth. We struggle emotionally, physically and spiritually because of what sin has done to the perfect creation of God. I have a friend that has become a believer in Jesus Christ and has turned his life around and yet he has had to go to jail because of the things he did in sin. Unfortunately, even though salvation has cleaned his slate in the eyes of Christ, it isn’t until the end of the earthly life that we are free from the consequences of sin. That’s when we get to cash the check. God does, however, offer us many tools with dealing with those consequences and we can handle some things that would eat a fellow without God up pretty quick.

If I choose to sin, it makes life tougher. I am basically looking God in the eye and saying, “I want your influence in my life to be less, I want control and I want you to back off!” I have to face what I am doing as a blatant disregard for the good God wants in my life.

Isaiah 59:2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away
and will not listen anymore.

If I am living a life full of sin it affects God’s hearing. He doesn’t listen. Why would He do this? Because that is what I am asking him for by sinning. He isn’t going to condone my selfish actions by answering my prayers when I am willingly separating myself from Him! It is me and me alone that closes the ears of God. When I turn my back on my disobedience and move back toward God, He hears me much better.

Matthew 3:8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.

Turning to God doesn’t just happen one day when we become a his child and He adopts us as his own. It is a daily process of drawing nearer to Him and He helps us cope with this world of sin that pulls and claws at us every day in hopes of wearing us down and causing us to turn to our own desires. It is something I must do every single day. My focus must be on the source of life and not on the things that I know should be forbidden.

When I feel the lure of things I should avoid, what do I expect it to bring me if I should give in and give it a try? Sin only brings pain. It pulls me far from God and puts me in peril. Why do I expect it to bring me joy and pleasure?

Psalms 16:11You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Those things are only brought to me by being in the presence of God, cleansed of the sins that separate me from Him. He will lead me through the consequences of the sins of others and myself. He will give me joy. He will show me the pleasures of living. I cannot find them elsewhere.

God, give me contentment in your presence. Show me the way of life and grant me joy and the pleasures of living with you forever. Amen.