Don’t Miss Your Life By Looking For Life Up Ahead

5 Ways We Can Find Joy Right Now, No Matter What

Tired and bleary-eyed, I stared at the in-flight monitor and sank down into my seat.  This was going to be a loooong trip.

Seventeen hours, to be exact.  I felt my inner five-year-old urging me to ask the flight attendant (in a whiny voice), ‘Are we there yet?’  

In my desire to land in Israel and begin what promised to be a phenomenal vacation with my wife, I was missing the small joys in the journey of getting there.  The thought of life without wifi and being surrounded by passengers who (apparently) didn’t believe in showering had me in ‘just get through it’ mode.  (I know, first-world problems.)

While we’ve all probably had flights like this, I’m not really talking about literal travel.  I’m talking about how we travel through life day-by-day.  

So often, we fixate on whatever we don’t like and begin to look beyond it to the next thing.  When life will (supposedly) be better.  But if we’re really honest, ‘better’ never comes.

How can we break free from the lie that real life lies up ahead so that we can live with joy and contentment now?  

Missing The Journey

When we live like real life is just around the corner, we miss the journey and (quite literally) miss our lives.

You know how it goes.  We think ‘Real Life’ will start when we’ll finish school and get our first real job.  When we’ll find the right person and finally get married.  When our marriage gets better.  When we have kids.  When they start sleeping through the night.  When they leave home and we’re empty nesters, free to do whatever we want.  When…

What are your ‘whens’?  

By the way, I’m not trivializing the stuff in your life that’s difficult.  We have a friend whose husband left her with several young children.  I can’t imagine criticizing her for wanting to get past that.

Most of us are dealing with far less on a day-to-day basis, but we’re all facing something we’d rather not be.  How can we long for something better yet find hope and contentment even if better never comes?

5 Ways We Can Find Joy For Our Journey

The book of Philippians is a great place to begin.  We find Paul wasting away in prison through no fault of his own.  We can be fairly certain that he’d rather get out, and, that he’s far worse off than we are.

But his response is – in a good way – other-worldly.  He doesn’t whine or complain like I did.

Let’s take a look at Chapter 4:1-9, where we’ll find 5 ways we can find joy and contentment for our own journey.

Choose joy in the Lord.  Paul tells us to ‘rejoice in the Lord.  Again, I say rejoice’ (verse 4).  Although he’s in jail, no one can take away his relationship with Christ, which is everything.  No matter what we’re going through, we can find our own joy in the Lord, who has promised to finish the good work he’s begun in us (see Philippians 1:6).

Remember God’s presence.  In verse 5, Paul reminds us that ‘the Lord is at hand’.  He’s near, and that’s real.  So often when we struggle, it feels like we’re living life on our own.  But God is right there with us, and his love for us hasn’t changed one bit.

Turn anxiety into thankful prayer.  In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’ (6).  We can (understandably) dwell on our circumstances, but God invites us to find reasons to be thankful and talk to him about what we want with humility.  For example, when one of my wife’s mentors was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, she praised God for the ways it gave her chances to share Christ with her health providers even as she begged God to heal her.

Consider your focus.  In verse 8, Paul gives us 8 things to focus on regardless of how life’s going.  We can’t unpack them here, but in general he calls us to direct our attention to things that will help us worship God and find the best in others.  Again, our ability to choose is highlighted here.  Without ignoring the challenges, we can always find something to praise God for, and, something worth commending in others.

Find godly examples and follow them.  ‘What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things’ (9).  We need to find people worth following, and build relationships with them.  Then we’ll see what’s worth building into our own lives.  Around the time of this post, for example, I have the privilege of staying at the home of Dr Sam Molind.  I only see him once or twice a year, but his unbridled enthusiasm for Christ, love for his family and boundless energy well into his seventies has made a massive impact on who I’d like to be. Who can you follow?

It’s Worth It

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes fighting for joy right where we are doesn’t feel like it’s worth it, does it? Complaining and sulking – preferably with others – is far more organic than anything we’ll find at our local supermarket.

Finding our joy in Christ and focusing on what’s going well can feel like a forced pep talk that doesn’t really change anything.

But natural as that line of reasoning feels, it’s a lie.  God says that finding our joy in him actually works.

‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… and the God of peace will be with you.’ (7, 9)

Notice that although God doesn’t promise our circumstances will change, he promises to change us so that we can handle anything that comes our way.  To be with us personally so we’ll have complete peace.

And in a broken, fallen world where something will always be not quite right, that’s even better than a quick fix.

Questions for reflection:

  • What do you wish you could just get past right now?
  • What piece of Paul’s advice could really help you, and, how can you start living it out?

 

 

Marry Someone Who Will Call You Out In Love

‘Hey, I meant to tell you something.’

It was just a kind, casual comment. But years of experience had taught me that my wife had something important to say. Something I probably didn’t want to hear.

Without warning, I felt like I had two people inside of me.  The first was a ninja, ready to dodge any incoming criticism. (And maybe launch a counter-attack).  The second knew she loves me and had learned her criticism always makes me better.

I didn’t know who was going to win.

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8 Reasons Your Devotional Times Are Boring & Inconsistent

Every morning, I had the best of intentions.  Today would be the day I had a mind-blowing, distraction-free devotional time.  But – every morning – something always seemed to get me off track.  And, if I was really honest, many times I didn’t want to read my bible or pray all that much.  Something had to change.

Can you identify?  If your times with God are boring, inconsistent, or both, it may because of one of these 8 reasons.  The good news is that, in uncovering the bad news lies the beginning of hope.

 

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Trusting God With Your Special Needs Child

When you find out that your child has special needs, it can feel like your world has ended.

And, in a way, it has.

Still, those of us who have traveled down the path with Jesus know that we can trust him.  Often, though, this trust comes on the other side of some very hard lessons.

Matthew, our son with special needs.

Matthew, our son with special needs.

One World Ends

For me, October 2nd, 2003 had been just like any other afternoon.  That is, until the phone rang.  It was my wife, Sharon. She could barely even speak through her sobbing.  I’ll never forget what she finally blurted out.

‘The doctor thinks Matthew has autism’.

Autism?!  Back then, autism wasn’t big news.  I had heard of it, but that was it.  But based on Sharon’s frenzied reaction, I immediately sensed that it wasn’t good.

In the days and months to come, we tried a million different things and some of them helped.  But not nearly enough to give him anything like a ‘normal life’.

This was the first really big thing that went seriously wrong in my previously charmed life.  The first thing that my drive and intelligence couldn’t fix.  The illusion of my control was failing.  Fast.

Your Story

I know that many of you have your own October 2nd.  The day your own child was diagnosed with a condition you couldn’t fix, or, had something tragic happen.  The day that the life you had scripted went off the rails.  Or, maybe it’s just been a slow realization that things aren’t going to ‘be OK’.

Before I try to share anything else, I just want to tell you that I’m sorry.  Your circumstances and your child(ren) are probably different than mine, so I’m not going to tell you I completely understand.  I don’t.

But even though there are lots of things we can’t understand, there are plenty of things we can.  God has lessons for us to learn,  and our kids with special needs are often our best teachers.

So what can we learn?

I’m (slooowly) learning a million things through Matthew, but I think the most basic one is this:

God can be trusted.  No matter what.

In these last few moments, I want to invite you to think – or re-think – about this with me in the context of your own son or daughter. (Or other life circumstance).

A Harder, Better, World Begins

At this point, you may be thinking, ‘Look, I already know that God can be trusted.  That’s old news.  And honestly, how does that help me?’

I’m a pastor.  For four years at seminary, the idea of God’s trustworthiness was hammered into us.  I knew all about it.  In English, Greek, and Hebrew.  But not really.  I knew about God, but I didn’t actually know or trust him very much.  (A pastor-neighbor later pointed this out to me!)

So we can know something intellectually, but practically have it make very little difference in how we think and act.  God uses the real stuff of day to day life so that our head, heart and hands begin to line up.

It seems like God does his best work through adversity and painful loss.  I often imagine what it was like for Abraham when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, the one he had waited 100 years for (see Genesis 22).

Those of us with special needs kids – in a way – know what it means to lose the kids that we love.  Sometimes the loss is complete, like the funeral I did for a friend’s son who had lived just a few hours.   More often, as with Matthew, the loss is less complete, but still very painful and real.  Unlike Abraham, we usually don’t have a choice.  But we are asked to respond in trust.  Will we?

It’s true that God called the whole thing with Isaac off just in time.  But before Abraham knew that, he was ready to trust and obey.

More than he had realized, Abraham had come to trust God.   ‘…now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’ (Genesis 22:12).

Trusting God With Your Special Needs Child (Or Hard Circumstances)

If we’ll truly give – entrust – God with our kids, and keep doing that, we’ll trust him with anything.

When we do, God provides, often in unexpected ways.  In Abraham’s case, just after God spared Isaac, he ‘looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”’ (13, 14).  

Shortly after Matthew’s diagnosis, we found out his therapy costs would be $10,000-$15,000 a year.  Given our income, it may as well have been the national debt.  As that news sunk in, I got angrier and angrier at God for putting us in an impossible spot.  But, as our dinner guest – our largest donor – rang the doorbell – I figured I would fake it and at at least try to be pleasant.

Honestly, I couldn’t wait for him to leave so that I could wallow in our misfortune.  But as things wound down, he casually mentioned that, if we ever had a need, all we had to do was ask.  Before he left, he had written us a check for $10,000 – enough to cover all Matthew’s therapy costs for the entire year!  He did this every year until Matthew’s schooling was picked up by our new school district.

Before our friend’s visit, I ‘knew’ God could be trusted, but now I really knew.  Matthew is God’s son even more than he is mine, and somehow, some way, he will provide.  It’s a moment I’ve come back to again and again.

But back to you and your story.  Where are you struggling to trust God today?  It may be with your own special needs child, or, just some other really tough circumstance.  I hope that, no matter where you are, the following questions will help you to reflect and put your trust in the God who provides.

How are you (really) doing with trusting God with your special needs child or difficult circumstances?  How have you seen God provide for you specifically in the past?

 

 

Are You Friendly Distant?

How We Keep People At Arm's Length With A Smile (And How To Overcome It)

On a warm autumn day, for five minutes or so, we talked about our lives.  Our jobs, our kids, our weekends, and (of course) the football game later that day.  It was enjoyable, and we sped off with a smile and quick goodbye.

As I drove home, though, I felt a strange dis-ease about our interaction.  It was friendly and nice.  There was no tension.  And there was some back-and-forth.  It’s not like my friend talked my ear off.

But, our time together still felt empty.  We had held each other at arm’s length with a smile.

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1 Incredibly Hard Thing Husbands Must Do For Their Wives

Anyone who’s ever been in a romantic relationship knows how awesome, complicated, and just plain hard it can be. What if someone you trusted could make it simpler and easier for you?

I’m a guy. I like to keep things simple and straightforward. So I’m thankful for Ephesians 5:21-33, the Apostle Paul’s cheat sheet for marriage. There, he tells us guys the one thing we absolutely must do to have a successful marriage. If we do this, the other things tend to take care of themselves.

But even if you’re not married or in a relationship, you can do this in your other relationships as the best way to prepare.

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7 Secrets To A Lust-Free Summer

Before we know it, summer will be here.   I can already picture long weekends down the shore, the scent of freshly-cut lawns, the sounds of the ice cream truck, and… a bunch of stuff I’d rather not see.

Like women who are dressing to get attention.  Babushkas get traded for bikinis, and that’s a temptation for most of us men.

We want to honor God and the women around us, but that doesn’t just happen all by itself.  It takes some effort and intentionality.

In this post, I want to convince you that it’s worth the effort and then give you 7 specific strategies for success.

Lust: What’s The Big Deal?

Some of my secular readers, and even some Christians, may be thinking, ‘Seriously, what’s the big deal?  There’s no harm in just looking.  Or not much, anyway’.

Is that really true, though?

Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’  But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”.

Jesus isn’t naive.  He understands that it’s worse to actually sleep with someone than to look at them with lust.  His point is that wrongful desire, which we can’t see, is ultimately behind our sexual sin, which we can.

Lust & Your Favorite Dessert

Author Paul Tripp illustrates this by using an everyday example we’re all (waaay too) familiar with.  Dessert.   Let’s say we’ve just finished dinner and we’re stuffed.  We know we shouldn’t eat that strawberry shortcake staring at us from the middle of the table.  But, truth is, we really, really want it.  The obvious truth is that we don’t want to just look at the cake.  We want to eat it.

It seems crazy to say it, but lust works the same way.  Lust doesn’t just want more lust.  It wants the actual experience.  (See David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11).  That’s why Jesus says what we do with our hearts and eyes is a big deal.

As we rapidly head toward summer and the temptations it presents, we need to be convinced sexual purity is critical if we’re going to stay safe and love the people around us.

Are you convinced?  Really?

7 Secrets For A Lust-Free Summer

If you are convinced, what can you do about it?

  1. Attack it at the root.  Since all our actions can be traced back to the hidden, but real, dynamics of our hearts, this is where the real battle occurs.  Biblical counselor John Bettler has a great, short article where he lays out the ‘pyramid of lust’.  I can’t unpack it all here, but read the article and pray through it.  The basic idea is that underneath obvious sexual sin at the top of the pyramid lies less obvious relational and ‘life’ lusts that drive it.  For example, someone’s struggle with pornography may really be about an easy escape from his loneliness.  Dealing with that is the key to long-term transformation.
  2. Build community.  This should include some loving accountability, but goes way beyond it.  We need to develop healthy, give-and-take relationships where using and objectifying people become less and less natural.
  3. Be where God has placed you.  The story of David’s downfall with Bathsheba begins with this interesting observation: ‘In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war… David stayed behind in Jerusalem’ (2 Samuel 11:1).  That set the stage for him to see Bathsheba and everything unraveled from there.  Sometimes what God is calling us to do is hard, but doing it insulates us from other, far worse things.
  4. Memorize relevant Scripture.  As a starting point, check out this list of 25 verses. Extra credit: find passages that force you to think a little, like 1 Timothy 6:6-10.  This passage is actually about money, but can easily apply to other challenges like sexual sin.  So you have to engage with it (and God) instead of just robotically memorizing it.
  5. Use the Joseph strategy.  When Potiphar’s wife tried to take Joseph to bed (Genesis 39), he didn’t stand there and have an extended discussion with her.  He ran away.  If certain situations are a temptation for you, why not just avoid them as much as you can?
  6. Be careful what you watch and consume.  We know that our bodies will pretty much reflect what we eat, right?  It’s the same with our eyes and hearts.  Are you discerning about what you watch on TV and Netflix?  The stuff you look at online?  If you need to make changes here and have been putting it off, make a commitment to do it. Today.  And tell someone else so that you actually follow through.  Covenant Eyes, Net Nanny, and OpenDNS (whole-house filter) are some good starting points.
  7. Be thankful for your spouse or boy/girlfriend.  If God has blessed you with a wonderful boy/girlfriend or spouse, thinking about them is one of the best ways to honor God – and them! – that I can think of.  My wife Sharon is awesome.  She’s beautiful, funny, a devoted mom, is all-in with our ministry and loves God more than me.  When I think about her, stuff that could be tempting loses its power. Even if you’re in a relationship that isn’t great, though, focusing on what is great about it will only help you.

Obviously, this isn’t a magic formula or quick fix.  But our efforts in this direction really add up and it’s worth it.

Summer is just around the corner and we need to be prepared.  Although our culture doesn’t think that keeping our minds and eyes pure is a big deal, God says it is.  With a little consistent effort this is a fight we can win.

Questions For Reflection:

  1. Which of the suggestions above would help you the most as you prepare for purity this summer?
  2. How can you specifically start to apply it?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Hope For When Your Heart Is Shutting Down

Our hearts are always shutting down.

It can begin with a defining moment where someone says something you can’t forget.  Or maybe it’s been many small disappointments with someone who failed you.  Again.

Either way, it’s so natural to hold people (including God) who disappoint us at arm’s length.  It feels safe and hurts less, but ultimately has disastrous consequences in our lives.

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Easter, God’s Invitation To Hope Again In Life’s Hard Places

As we look toward Easter and the hope of the resurrection, it’s hard not to think about the things in our lives that need transformation, isn’t it?

Strained relationships with family and friends.  Flabby, aging bodies.  Exams and assignments that don’t seem very relevant to the careers they’re supposedly preparing us for.  Your annoying next-door-neighbor or roommate.  Unjust deeds that go unnoticed or unpunished.  And… yeah.

Is there any place in our lives that doesn’t need the hope that Christ brings?

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Seeing God For Who He Really Is

The day wasn’t going well.

We had just learned that my autistic son Matthew’s therapy costs were going to be about a third of my salary.  And, that the insurance company wasn’t going to cover a dime.

As the day wore on, I found myself getting angrier and angrier at God.  ‘God he needs this therapy to make progress, but there’s absolutely NO WAY we can cover it. Wasn’t it enough that you gave us a son with autism?  What are you going to do about it?!’

I wasn’t really asking.  I had been deeply shaken by Matthew’s diagnosis, and this latest bad news seemed to further confirm God’s lack of concern and ability to help.

Can you relate to my microscopic faith and small view of God?  Do you ever feel like you ‘know’ the right answers but wonder if they really mean anything in your real, everyday life?

After 25 years of being in Christ, I’m convinced that our biggest problem is that we really don’t think much of God.  We believe a lot of true things about him, but in practice our confidence in him is pretty low.

I don’t want to live like that, and I know you guys don’t, either.  How can we develop a massive view of God that matches who he really is?

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