In Lieu of Grief

Deciding to leave your job without a backup plan seems to have the same crippling effect as the five stages of grief. I’ve been in denial about thirty times, and I have bargained, or better yet, wrestled with God throughout this process. I’ve accepted it, only to start my walk through the stages again. Many people have asked me, “What are you going to do now?” Faking bravery, I smile and say, “I don’t know.” While this answer suits me most of the time, I am often completely freaking inside the rest of the time.

Yesterday, I was freaking out internally again when I stumbled upon something in my Bible that I had written almost a month ago. It was something that God had showed me the same week I decided not to return to my teaching position in the fall.

For the full story, I suggest that you read Genesis 24. In brief, Abraham decides that it is time to find a wife for his son, Isaac. Abraham sends his chief servant into his homeland so that he may find a wife for his son.

There are five major events that take place during the servant’s journey:

1. He prayed. Before reaching Nahor, the servant prayed, “[God], give me success today” (verse 12).

2. He watched. “Without saying a word, the man watched [Rebekah] closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful” (verse 21)

3. He gave thanks. When he realized that Rebekah was a potential partner for Isaac, he praised God (verse 27).

4. He told others. After Rebekah brought the servant to her father, he tells them of how God moved on his behalf and timely answered his prayer (verse 40).

5. He did not stop. While he took the time to tell the others of God’s work, he did not stay for long. He even asked Rebekah’s family not to detain him since the Lord had granted his request. He wished to return to his master so that he could share the good news (and the success) with him as well (verse 56).

Almost everyone at one time or another has felt as if they were on a journey. As anyone who has ever stepped outside the flat lands of South Florida knows, journeys aren’t all smooth-paved. Paths, much like life, curve and dip, jag and slope. Through it all, we have to remember the One who establishes our ways. This is why I felt so drawWindingRoadn to the character of the servant. When doubt creeps in, these details can help to keep wavering faith in check. The first thing he did with Abraham’s difficult request was to pray. Amazingly enough, before he had even finished praying, Rebekah showed up at the well that God had led the servant to. There, he waited and watched (probably the hardest part for any of us!). When the servant was sure that Rebekah was the proper helpmate for Isaac, he stopped and gave thanks to God right then and there. Unable to hold in his excitement, he spread the good news to everyone around him. Lastly, even though his request was answered, he did not stop. He immediately continued the work the Lord had prepared for him.

Maybe you are like me, and you find yourself on a new journey. Maybe you too are struggling with doubt and uncertainty.

As we navigate through new territory, it’s important to remember the actions of the servant and:

•Pray for success.
•Wait and watch for the Lord to move.
•Praise Him when he answers.
•Share the good news with others.
•Keep moving forward until the race has been won.

And,

Journey on, Sojourner. Journey on.

 

It’s Time

In 2012, God asked me to leave my job and go to the Czech Republic. I went and returned 30 days later with a better relationship with my Creator that was deepened even more over the next six months, as I went without a job. Now, here I am nearly 5 years later, and I find myself at another crossroad. As it stands, I am about to decline my teaching pomost-inspiring-quotes-9-480x720sition for next year, and instead, take a trip across the United States. Not since I was 17 years old, have I thought about making this cross-country trek. Yet, at nearly 40 (1 year and 6 months to go), I find myself readying for a grand adventure.

There are many questions, but the few that plague me the most are:

• Is this what God wants me to do?
• Have I lost my mind?
• Can I trust Him?
• How will I get the money I need?

I may not have the answers to these questions, but I do have these promises to rely on:

• For I know the plan I have for you, says the Lord. Jeremiah 29:11
•  What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived— the things God has prepared for those who love him— I Corinthians 2:9
• In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs16:9
I would love to hear about any crazy trips you have taken or any road trip advice. Leave all of these and more in the comment section.

This is War

This past week I started a new Bible study based on Priscilla Shirer’s book, Armor of God. I’m only two days into the 7-week study and I am loving it. Too often, I get so caught up in the day-to-day monotony of this world, that I forget we are at war. Sometimes, we think our war is the Indy 500 traffic (if you live in South Florida), the ornery woman at the register, or that student who just refuses to listen. But can I tell you that they are not the problem. The Bible reminds us of this when Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).

We devote so much time fashioning our words, emotions, and attitudes into weapons in a vain effort to strike down those who have offended us. We are the only casualty in those scenarios as we are at the receiving end of frustration, anger, loss of relationships, and bitterness. If you ask me, it looks like Satan is the only winner in the battles of the flesh. So, what are we to do? Well, if our war is in the spiritual realm, then maybe that is where our battle should be waged.

In her book, Priscilla highlights that fact that prayer is essential to the battle. Ephesians 6: 13-17 tells us how to “put on the armor of God” as Paul eloquently reminds us of our weapons of spiritual warfare, but we often miss the most important weapon. Look at Ephesians 18, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and request…” Putting on the armor without praying is like going into war only partially dressed. Your defenses are easily left open to attack.

Prayer requires precision and intentionality. It’s not easy. The devil wants to distract us in every way possible. He knows that he is in a losing battle, and he realizes his time is almost up. He knows that a believer in Jesus Christ will never be his, so instead, he uses his tactics to keep us tired, busy, frustrated, and essentially, useless for God’s Kingdom purpose. Prayer keeps us on the frontline. It also keeps us connected to the Father, so when we can’t go on, He is there and steps in to fight on our behalf.

As you proceed to put on the armor of God this week, remember to pray. Pray for strength as you face the struggles of this world. Pray for love as you are confronted with those who wage war against you. Pray for wisdom when you find yourself face-to-face against a threat. Pray to be filled with immeasurable peace as you remember the battle is won, and you are already seated in Victory in the heavenly realms.

Hope in the Desert

I don’t know about you, but I am busy. At least I feel busy most of the time. Even if I am not physically doing something, my mind seems to be in a constant state of work, either I’m mentally creating, going over my lesson plans, or thinking about my to-do list. I have noticed that in one’s refusal to get quiet before God, He sometimes takes drastic measures to get our attention. Surely, if you’ve spent any time in Christiandom, you’ve heard of “desert experiences” or “seasons of drought”. These can be as traumatic as a sickness or job loss or as subtle as a flat tire, coffee on a new shirt, or just a real awful day. In seasons of drought, it often seems that God is far away. But maybe, God is using these moments of His silence to show us just how far the distance has grown.

A quick study of Scripture will show just how often Jesus retreated to the desert places. After healing many people in Capernaum, Luke writes, “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:15-16). After the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Mark says, “After telling everyone good-bye, [Jesus] went up into the hills by himself to pray” (Mark 6:46). Unlike us, Jesus sought out the desert. Jesus knew that he needed the quiet barrenness to meet with God. He needed to get away from the people, the busyness, and the noise of city life. In the desert, he could reflect on His mission and refocus His attention on His purpose. He understood just how desperately He needed God’s strength to carry out His arduous journey.

What is taking up your time? Is it a ministry? Is it a job? Is it family? While God is giving us all these avenues to glorify His name, we must make sure that we take significant time to meet with Him. As a teacher, I experienced extreme burnout last school year. I was drained. For 180 days, all I could do was cling to Jesus. Even into the first month and a half of summer, I spent it at His feet. At the end of the appointed time, I finally knew what Jesus meant when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Thankfully, God worked through my for the entire school year; there was no way I could have done it without Him. I am even more thankful that while I still cling to Him just as much as I did last year, He has given me a new strength for the current year.

Too often we wait until we are suffering in the unquenchable desert before we even think about asking for help. How much better would it be if we stopped frequently on our journey, and allowed the One with rivers of Living Water to nourish our weary souls?

Stop often. Sit daily. Journey more.

 

What I learned about church through #PokémonGO

(Photo: http://www.13wmaz.com)

It was like something out of a horror movie. Hundreds of them coming on foot and by car, flooding a vacant lot, heads turned downward, eyes glazed, slowly moving through the night. If I wouldn’t have known better, I would’ve thought it was a zombie apocalypse. But it wasn’t that at all. It was hundreds of teenagers gathering together to play the new Pokémon GO game. It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before.

I was flabbergasted and shocked that so many people would come together for one common goal. I couldn’t help but laugh at their essentially useless goal. In a world of ISIS and police shootings, hundreds of people are preoccupied with fake monsters in some alternate universe with minimal human interaction. I accusingly thought, “How can they all get together like this for no real purpose? There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.”

And of course only God, in his infinite mercy, gently corrected me. He reminded me of another occasion when people gather together for one reason and for one purpose. Yet now, this Pokémon game had me wondering if outsiders were asking the same thing of the church: “What are they doing in there? Do they even have a real purpose?”

Hundreds of us gather each week. We sing a few songs. We contort our faces in adoration. We stare down in our Bible apps. We sing a closing song. We get up, and we go home. But how big was our impact? What did we do, really? I can’t help but imagine what would happen if hundreds of Christians gathered outside the church in unity, love, and service. What would it look like if we walked out of the church building on Sunday, entered into the local neighborhood, and began meeting the needs of the people there? It would be shocking and strange. And it would be exactly what the world needed.

I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I sense that if ever there was a time when the world needed Jesus and Christians committed to serving them, it is now. The harvest is ready. May we be willing to do the work.

(…Or at the very least, maybe you can place a few Pokémon monsters in the location of your church this Sunday so hundreds of young people will show up in search of something truly out of this world.)

Rejoice!

“This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”–Psalm 118:24 (NKJV)

You may have heard this verse before. Maybe you even sang the song in Sunday school. Some mornings, like today, I even wake up with that verse in my head. It’s a nice little chorus, and I always thought it was a fitting way to jump into a new day. But as I went to check the verse this morning, it appeared to be so much more than a simple child’s refrain.

Like many verses in the Bible, this one is full of meaning, and I really suggest that you read the whole chapter to really get a feel for why the Psalmist was rejoicing. Taunted and hated by his enemy, he had every reason to fear, and yet, line after line he is praising, rejoicing, and giving thanks to the Lord Almighty, in spite of his bleak circumstances.

And yet, here is what we can glean:

  • God is still in control.
    The fact that the earth is still spinning and the sun is making its way over the horizon gives me hope to believe that the God of heaven and earth is still on the throne. We can find in peace in knowing that no matter the political landscape or the thoughtless violence, God is still victorious, and He is still working everything for His ultimate good.
  • God is still loving.
    With a new day freshly dawned, it’s a good time to forgo yesterday’s mistakes and shortcomings. Lamentations 3:22-23 reads, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Today we have been given a second (or a third or a fourth) chance to discover his magnificent, unending love that offers help, hope, forgiveness, and healing.

  • God is still faithful.
    Not only do we get another opportunity to witness the power and authority of God, but we also get another chance to sit at the feet of our faithful friend. God, will never leave nor forsake us. He is trustworthy and true. We can go to Him at any time with any need. We can seek solace under His wings and find the comfort we desperately need.

It’s good to know that while we may change, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We can place our trust in our eternal God. We can delight in what is called, “today” because we have a God working outside of time on our behalf. What do we have to fear? He’s got this. So, be of good courage and Rejoice! Again, I say, Rejoice!

Love 2.0

What does it mean to love? Is it baking a cake for a new neighbor? Is it treating an ornery waitress with exuberant cheer? Possibly. But has anyone else stopped to wonder if our vain attempts at love are drawing people to Christ?

It seems like there have been many discussions on the topic of love lately. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love the sinner. Even nonbelievers are quick to shout, “God is love!” when Christians disagree with them on an issue. Now, I am in no way saying that love is not important; after all, it is a command given to us by Jesus. But honestly, there are times when I don’t even know what “love” is supposed to look like. The American culture has adulterated loved and has often turned it into something akin to a dancing cupid or a “Kumbayah” sing-along. Romance movies have condensed love into some kind of awe-inspiring, one-liner: “You had me at ‘Hello’,” for example. Commercials have turned it into an object of desire only fulfilled by the mass accumulation of material things.

It would be surprising if we did not confuse it.

Recently, I attended a Bible study centered around Kelly Minter’s book, Ruth: Loss, Love, and Legacy. In the book, she brings to light the fact that Ruth’s position was less than that of a servant girl. As I went through the study, questions began filtering through my mind until this thought occurred to me: Maybe it’s humility (not love, necessarily) that has the potential to change the world.

I don’t know about you, but I have often prayed, “Lord, help me to be more like Jesus,” only to find that I steer clear of the things that are considered “less than” or things that would require me to go out of my way for someone else. And yet, here are some things I noticed when I read Philippians 2:6-8:

• Jesus humbled himself.
• Jesus made himself to be nothing (“of no reputation,” NKJV).
• Jesus took on the nature of a servant.

Honestly, this was not what I thought of when I prayed to be “more like Christ.” These requirements were much more difficult than anything I had ever imagined. All this moved me to ask my next question, “How is this love?”

Almost immediately, I thought of the verse, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). In verse 12, Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another,” but in verse 13, He tells them how.

For some reason, I always associated the phrase, “to lay down one’s life” with death, maybe because I knew the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us when He laid down His life on the cross. However, it occurred to me that this is more likely a death of self. What I personally gleaned from this was: “Sacrificing your needs for the needs of some one else, is the greatest act of love.” This is in essence what Philippians 2:3-4 tells us. And in verse 5, it admonishes us to have the same mindset as Christ, which would require that we:

• Humble ourselves
• Become nothing (as in, do not worry about obtaining a name for yourself)
• Take on the nature of a servant

This, then, is love.

I can’t even imagine what the world would look like if we stopped loving people and started serving them. It seems like lately, we have been “loving” people right out of the church. Dare I say that some of our ideas regarding love have become muddled and in some cases, worldly. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see the church try a new approach. Maybe love through humility and sacrifice is the key.

I think I’m going to pray for opportunities to serve others this week without expecting anything (not even a “thank you”) in return. It’s not going to be easy to do something my flesh doesn’t want to do. But if my flesh objects, I’m probably doing something right.  Of course, this will require me to cling onto the greatest Servant of all, Jesus.