In her children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst tells a story about little Alexander and his bad day. From the moment he wakes up, nothing goes his way. “I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” he says on the first page. Sure enough, from there on, a series of bad things happen to him from not getting a window seat in the car to the Dentist finding a cavity. Alexander’s solution is to move to Australia, but his mother reminds him at the end of the book that some days are like that – even in Australia.

Like Alexander, sometimes we wake up with the attitude that it’s going to be a bad day. Why? Because we decide things that don’t go our way are bad. We get frustrated at the obstacles we face and angry about unfulfilled expectations or lost dreams. Left unchecked, this attitude can taint our view of life and put us into a downward spiral.  We become like the woman in Paul Simon’s hit song “Slip Slidin’ Away” who talks about good days with no pain and what might have been.

Yet how often do we lie in bed and think of what might be if we focused on God’s purpose instead of our own expectations. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And now we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (NIV).” If you “trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5),” then your expectations will center on God’s purpose for your life. You will be better equipped to understand that God has a purpose for everything, even the terrible, horrible, no good very bad things that happen to us.

In 2 Cor. 11:24-26, Paul describes the many bad days he experienced in his ministry. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.” Even though Paul experienced many horribly bad days, he continued to trust that God had a purpose for everything. He remained focused on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told us that those who follow him will have bad days. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me (John 15: 20-21).” How well do you know Christ? How much faith do you have in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for His purpose,” not ours. Do you trust that God is in everything, even the horrible stuff? The way we view each day can say a lot about how we view God in our lives.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 16, 2010

The following was sent to me by my friend. With his permission, I am sharing it with you.

A few days ago my daughter and my granddaughter were here for a brief visit. Just before bedtime I got out my green laser light to show my granddaughter. She loved it, precotiously exclaiming “This is really ‘mazing!'”

After she went to bed I went outside to check on my herd of frogs and toads. Yes, you read that right. You see, the light on the north side of the garage attracts a lot of bugs. Every warm night three to six tree frogs perch around the light for a meal, and two to three large toads sit on the ground below waiting to pounce on any careless flyby.

The herd was in full force! Six tree frogs and three large toads; a new world record! The thought then occurred to me, “I wonder how they would react to my green laser light?” I tried the tree frogs first. They did nothing. Then I shined the light on the ground about 6 inches in front of a large toad. He immediately pounced! For the next 5 minutes I was leading toads all over the driveway as they aggressively hopped in pursuit of the shiny green meal.

Those toads reminded me of our pursuit of shiny green nothings. The toads were obviously hungry. But the truth was there was nothing in what they were so aggressively pursuing that could give them nourishment or satisfaction. It was a worthless waste of time and energy on their part, but it was immensely entertaining on my part!

When we spend our time and energy pursuing shiny green nothings, I wonder if the enemy is like me with those toads. He is fooling us, and is immensely entertained by our foolishness. The toads remind me of God’s leading with His people in Isaiah 55:2-3a, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live…”

Let’s learn the lesson from these toads and pursue the satisfying soul food of a deeper relationship with Christ and His people!

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published August 9, 2010.

I stood in awe at the undeniable splendor of it all. A deep orange sun setting upon the lake as it painted the clouds above with hues of pink and lavender. The sound of waves lapping the shore and a gentle wind upon my face added to the beauty. I took in a deep breath and marveled at the scene before me.

For a brief moment I took my eyes off the sunset and glanced at the shore behind me. I was surprised to see a large crowd of people gathered along the beach to watch the sun sink into the horizon. There before us was undeniable evidence of God’s creation in all its brilliance, yet I wondered how many would leave without thanking God or praising him – how many would slip back into the darkness of unbelief?

In Romans 1:20 Paul tells us, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Evidence of God’s presence surrounds us each day. He is there reaching out to us through his creation, his Word, his spirit and his people. God’s desire is to restore us to him through his son Jesus.

How often do we get so absorbed in the things of this world that we fail to recognize God at work in our life. How often do we see the beauty around us, but not acknowledge the source. How often do we get to the end of the day and realize we “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21 NIV). Paul cautions us in Romans 1:25 not to be like those who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

While the picture above gives you a glimpse of the sunset I saw that day, it cannot compare to actually being there. The same is true with God. A sunset is only a glimpse of the eternal beauty we will experience when we are reunited with God. They are daily reminders that God continues to reach out to us. He has given us a way to rid ourselves of the darkness of this world and to be reunited with him through his son Jesus. “He gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). It is up to us whether we chose to believe in Jesus and follow him or settle for the artificial beauty of this world that will fade away like a setting sun.

Anyone who has stood inside a majestic cathedral and gazed up at the towering stained glass windows can’t help but stand in awe at the beauty. The intricate detail of all the pieces precisely aligned create amazing images illuminated by sunlight. It’s a breathtaking feeling that gives us a sense of the infinite magnificence of our God.

But this week I had a different view of stained glass windows. I thought of all the small glass pieces laying on a table in random piles; pieces carefully cut with precision by a master craftsman. To the casual observer, all those pieces look like a bunch of shattered glass, broken and useless. But the craftsman has the full picture in mind and knows how to assemble the pieces to create an inspiring image illuminated by the light.

Sometimes your life might feel like all those pieces of colored glass scattered on the table. All you can see are shattered pieces all over the place and nothing makes sense; broken pieces full of pain and suffering. Mixed within the assortment are blackened pieces of glass that block the light; dark pieces Satan tries to wedge in to create a false image of your life; dark pieces that block the light. In the middle of all these shattered pieces you need to rely on God to help you put It all together.

God is the master craftsman who has a purpose and plan for your life. He sees all of your brokenness and the scattered pieces of your life. He knows how to bring it all together to create a life illuminated by the light of Christ Jesus; a life that can inspire others with the Spirit of God. He can remove the dark pieces and the false image of your life if you humbly submit to the work of your creator; letting go of your efforts to piece your life together so God can form you in his image, illuminated by his light.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NIV)

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. Job 17:11-12 (NIV)

England 2012 (594)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 27, 2010.

When someone close to us is sick or injured, we tend to pray for healing. When we struggle with emotional or difficult situations, we desire release from the pain. When tragedy strikes, we yearn for the time before life was ripped apart. We cry out to God for healing; to take away the pain; to relieve the suffering. But when there is no response we wonder why he has abandoned us. The real question, however, is whether we have abandoned God.

In the midst of suffering in this world it is difficult to remain focused on God. In Psalm 22 David expresses this emotion when he writes “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (NIV) In the midst of his torment, as his enemies pursue him, David shows his humanity by wondering why God does not save him. He reminds God in verses 4-5 how he saved Israel before, how “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”( NIV)

It’s the same rationale we sometimes use when we are burdened with adversity. We look at past times when God has come to our aid. We see others experience healing, the injured become whole again and others who seem to avoid tragedy all together. We remind God how he helped the faithful before and wonder why he does not help us now. In these times it is difficult to see life beyond our own struggles, to understand God’s bigger purpose. Our feelings of abandonment are a very real part of our life on earth.

Jesus experienced this emotion of feeling abandoned by God. While dying on the cross he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 NIV). In the wake of his crucifixion, most of his followers fled for their lives. While Jesus could have sought to save himself from the immense pain of the cross, he remained focused on God’s plan for us. After his cry to God from the cross, “Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” (Matt. 27:50 NLT) This set the stage for his resurrection and our salvation.

While our pain is very real, we must be careful that it does not cause us to abandon God and his purpose. It is a part of surrendering our life to Jesus so that we may become his instrument. In the midst of his distress, David maintained his reverence for God. “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!” (Psalm 22:23 NIV). Continuing our reverence toward God in adversity points us toward the time when we will be fully restored with God, a time when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev. 21:4 NIV)

I was reading Psalm 67 and verses 1-2 convicted me: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us — so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (NIV).” Too often I desire God’s grace, his blessing, for myself. I seek to have his face shine on me so that I can feel his presence surround me and strengthen me. Yet in this Psalm, verse two tells us the purpose is so that God’s ways can be known on earth, that salvation would be “among all nations.”

I am reminded of Moses in Exodus 34:29-30. After he came down from Mount Sinai with the “covenant law” his face was “radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” This caused Aaron and the Israelites to fear Moses. It was apparent to them that he had been with God. It demonstrated what Israel was to be to other nations. The blessings that God bestowed on Israel were not for their own enjoyment, rather it was so that other nations would know God and his salvation. As the last verse of the Psalm 67 states, “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

It makes me wonder if people look at me and see God’s radiance on my face, “the joy of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:10). Do they sense God is at work in my life and feel a proper reverence, a fear of God. The blessings in my life, the abundant grace he gives me should flow into the lives of those around me so that “the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you (Psalm 67:5).”

“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.” – 1 Peter 2:11 (MSG)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 1, 2010.

On a recent trip I watched people coming and going from the hotel where we spent the night. It was morning and it was apparent we were there for different reasons. Some dressed for a wedding; some carried baseball equipment for a tournament game; and some were on their way to a family reunion. Some were there for a brief stay and checked out that morning while others were there for an extended period of time. While many of us headed in different directions, the one thing we had in common was that for one night we all shared this temporary home.

Life in this world is a lot like that hotel. We all share this temporary residence called earth. Like the hotel, we come and go each day for different activities and events like work, weddings, school, ball games and family reunions. Some of us are here for a brief stay while others will stay for an extended period of time. No matter how hard we try to make this hotel feel like home, we cannot deny the fact that it is a temporary residence. One day we will all check out and stand before God.

As Christians, it’s easy to get caught up in this world and act as if this hotel we call earth is our permanent home. When we do that, we attempt to build a palace for ourselves on earth instead of focusing on building God’s eternal kingdom. I Peter 2:11-12 tells us “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives (MSG).”

If we start thinking this hotel called earth is our permanent home, we risk investing our lives in things that will not last. We become vested in the world. 1 John 2:15 warns us to not “love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”

We must get to the mindset that our real home is with Christ, a mindset that focuses on living for Christ and not ourselves. This is the mindset that helps point the way for others to walk with Christ to our eternal home. As Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:6-7, “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

I sat with her as she lay dying. The machine behind me pulsated, providing oxygen to sustain her in these final moments. She could no longer swallow and her voice was barely audible, yet occasionally she was able to say a few words. I held her hand and told her, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Even though she was very weak, she managed to lightly squeeze my hand. The cancer had ravaged her body, taken away all her strength, and now it was taking her life. She was no longer able to sit up and had been bed-ridden for more than a week. But now I sensed the end was near.

I gently pulled the hair away from her face and slowly caressed her head, trying to sooth her. “Water,” she managed to utter. She was no longer able to drink with a straw. I picked up the small sponge on a stick, dabbed it in the cup of water by her bed, and moistened her mouth with it. She sucked on it and I could see the relief on her face as the water refreshed her parched mouth. I set the sponge down and held her hand. “Thank you,” she managed to say with a raspy voice. “It’s okay,” I repeated to her with my mouth close to her ear. “God loves you,” I added.

As difficult as it was to sit with her, I had a sense of peace. I couldn’t help but think of this as an image of God and how he tends to us with a loving touch. In the midst of our difficulties in life, when we feel weak and helpless, he is there holding our hand saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” He dabs our parched soul with living water to refresh us. He is there by our side each step of the way, gently caressing our head, soothing our weary soul. We only need to take his hand and say, “Thank you.”

After a few hours of sitting with her, a family member arrived and took over the vigil. A few hours later she died. I thought of what a privilege it is to serve God; how he calls on each of us to serve him in a special way. No one act of service is any greater than any other in the Kingdom of God. We all have our own calling to convey God’s love to others in need of a loving touch; people who need their parched soul moistened with living water. As followers of Jesus Christ it is a privilege to be his hands and feet in a world full of need.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28 (NIV)

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:20 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 22, 2010. The Gulf Oil Spill started in April, 2010 and was capped later that summer.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been called an ecological disaster. As oil continues to flow from the damaged well deep below the surface, it continues to coat wildlife, beaches and wetlands with the gooey, black substance. A major effort is under way to clean up the oil, but the only way to solve the problem is to stop the flow of oil from the source by capping the well.

It’s a vivid picture of what sin can do to our lives. Sinful thoughts deep inside our minds don’t seem harmful until they spew forth, coating our lives and those around us with its gooey darkness. We struggle to clean the mess sin causes in our life, but the only way to really stop it is at the source. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2: “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (NLT).”

Each day becomes a struggle to control our thoughts and our sinful nature. Paul describes this in Galatians 5:16-18 as a struggle between sinful desires and the Spirit. “These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions,” Paul says to break free we must let the Holy Spirit guide our lives. “Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” If we do not, then we become like Israel who Ezra described as “a land polluted by the corruption of its people (Ezra 9:11 NIV).” Sin continued to spew forth, coating Israel in darkness.

So how do we capture sinful thoughts and focus on the Spirit? We must cap them at the source. “O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts (Jeremiah 4:14)?” We must fix our “thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Hebrews 3:1).” We must let Christ and the Spirit capture our mind. “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7).”

I followed the others into the large room and took a seat with them. I sighed as I sat down, my body aching from another week of skirmishes; my emotions ragged from the continuing attacks. I wondered how much longer our small platoon could hold on.

For the moment we took refuge here, assembled together as one. I glanced around at the group. So many like me who had been fighting this battle for years. So many who bore the scars of relentless attacks from the enemy. I could see the fatigue in their eyes, yet I also saw their determination to press on. Together we were still a formidable force for the enemy to contend with despite our weaknesses.

In this moment together we sang praises; we shared our struggles; we prayed together; we joined together to find strength and renewal. We meditated on our mission and why we were placed here for this battle. We were told victory is ours. Each Sunday there is hope in the assembled faithful.

I left the church still feeling the fatigue and emotional trauma, but ready to take on the enemy for another week. This group of seasoned faithful, believers who deeply care, helped give me hope to carry on. Once again the enemy would try to break us this week because he feared us the most, God’s faithful warriors banded together as the church.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

“He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55:18 (NIV)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

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