Not So Smooth Seas

The sway of the ship was slowly but steadily growing. Passenger’s faces were painted with a mixture of discomfort and concern. The storm was approaching.

My companions groaned and quickly prayed for smooth sailing and calm stomachs. Me? Well, I was up out of my seat powerwalking to the deck. I wanted to feel the power of the sea.

Open water, especially when it is windy and wild, has always been an odd mix of calming and exhilarating for me. Hearing the waves crash violently against the rocks can both soothe and motivate me.

Standing there on the deck in the middle of the Aegean Sea surrounded by white-capped waves helped me to process the horrors I had just seen in a refugee camp. But it also motivated me and encouraged me to press on and to make a difference in my own corner of the world.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

James, the brother of Jesus once wrote, “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Both of these quotes are appropriate for our current troubled times. Many of us may be feeling the stresses of life crash around us. Both on a macro and micro level we all are being impacted by this pandemic and all the implications following lockdown.

But how we act and react is crucial.

We must realize that in the midst of any circumstance God remains good. Our faith is not dependent on our circumstances. We cannot be tossed back and forth by the situations that we face on a day to day basis.

Our circumstances change, but the object of our faith does not.

And so, when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can endure the storms that come. In fact, we can joyfully embrace the trials that we face because we know, as the Bible tells us, that these trials will deepen our faith and ultimately produce steadfastness in us.

We can also realize that when, not if, but when God sees us through these rocky waters, we will be better prepared for the next set of waves when they come. Troubled times come and go. This set of unfortunate circumstances is not the first that we have faced, and it will not be the last. In fact, Jesus tells us that, “in this world, you will have troubles…” But, thankfully, He doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just leave us with the bad news that we will face trials and troubles, no, He gives us hope. He continues on and says, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Understand that in this time God is looking to develop you into the man or woman that He created you to be. As He molds you, don’t forget to be joyful in the midst of every circumstance. And ultimately, rest in the fact that Jesus has already overcome this world.

After the storm died down a bit, I snapped the picture shown above. It is a nice reminder that even when the wind and the waves rage, the sun is still shining.

Even when the wind and the waves of our lives rage, the Son is still shining. Trust in Him today.

9 Qualities To Stuff In Your Stocking

This is a very busy time of year for most people. There are times that I feel as though my hustle can’t keep up with my bustle. But through it all, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the real importance of the season. The true “reason for the season” has always and will always be Jesus. His relentless and wonderful love for us caused Him to leave the splendor of Heaven to come and be born in a dirty feeding trough. He exchanged streets of gold for streets of dirt.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Unfortunately, we are all so susceptible to the oppression of busyness and the disease of self, and we can quickly forget (or ignore) what really truly matters most. It’s times like this where we might only focus on what we do, and we forget who we are supposed to be. But the truth is, it’s less about what you do, and more about who you are.

Who we are will dictate what we do.

So, let’s take this time and check our hearts. Let’s be sure that who we are is who God calls us to be.

Here are 9 things that we should be this (and every) season.

Loving- Romans 12:9 tells us that we ought to “let love be genuine.” Love is something that we can’t fake. We can’t hide behind a fake smile and just try to be polite. No. Our love for people needs to be real. But, as 1 John tells us, we can only truly know and show love if we first truly know and love God. God loves, and God is love. So, it is imperative that we love people, no matter who they are or what gifts they have or have not given us.

Present- There are too many distractions floating around and vying for our attention. Be present with the people you are currently with. Our family and friends deserve to have our attention. If we are physically present, but not emotional or mentally present, we are doing a poor job of loving.

Joyful- Joy is not an emotion. We can be happy and yet joyful. We can be sad and yet joyful. Joy is not dependent on your current situation, rather it is an attitude of the heart. We can be joyful in the midst of great happiness and in the midst of great pain. Joy is from God and we can share it with others. Romans 15:13

Patient- Chances are that during this season you will be forced to occupy the same room as a person or group of people that are somewhat difficult to deal with. It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and produce patience in us. Graciously show patience to others because God has already shown great patience to you.

Forgiving- We all have been hurt by people. A flippant remark. An offensive joke. Old wounds. Yep, they happen. But we can’t hold grudges. When we hold onto past hurts and pain it destroys us from the inside out. Reconciliation should always be our main goal. God has forgiven us so greatly, we need to forgive others as well.

Selfless- Life is too short to only think of yourself. Philippians 2:4 tells us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Ask yourself, how can I make someone’s day today? How can I show Jesus’ love to them right now? How can I put others before myself?

Thankful- We all, no matter what our current situation is, have something to be thankful for. First, let us give thanks to our God for the salvation that is available to us! Second, let us be thankful for the people in our lives that are there for us, who bless and encourage us. Don’t forget to thank them in person!

Welcoming- As we huddle around our friends and families we can’t forget that there are people who may not enjoy the same sort of relationships we do. We ought to be ready and willing to include them and show them the Love of God. As believers, we should be beacons of hospitality, warmth, and care. Family isn’t always built with blood.

Ready- We need to always be ready, both in this season and out of this season to share the extraordinarily Good News of Jesus and His love! This particular season gives us many opportunities to share that good-news message. Let’s not miss out, we need to be ready!

Many of the things listed flow from or build off of one another.

I hope that this list helps you to be reminded of who we are called to be. And I pray that we would not get caught up with the “stuff” of the season. Instead, I pray that we would allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and make us look more like the Savior that came all those years ago.

The Trees Are Singing!

The leaves are beginning to fall to the ground, and it makes me smile so big that my face hurts. Am I the only one who will walk 15 feet out of my way in order to just simply hear the satisfying “crunch” of fallen leaf underfoot?

As I look out my window this morning I see trees that are bursting with vibrant colors set against a gray cloud-covered sky. Perfectly beautiful.

There are so many things that I look forward to in the fall. Walking outside and seeing my breath. Jumping in piles of leaves. (Yes, I am still 5 years old.) Eating apple cider donuts. Spending time together with family and friends. Huddling around a bonfire. And of course, eating turkey, pie, mashed potatoes, and rolls.

As I sit here gazing out at the incredibly beautiful leaves a Psalm comes to mind. Psalm 96 to be exact. The Psalm focuses entirely on worshiping God who is oh-so-worthy of all of our praise.

I would highly encourage you to stop reading this post right now and go and read Psalm 96. It’s not long, only 13 verses. So, go ahead and read the Psalm now, I’ll wait.

You back now? Wasn’t that awesome!

I particularly love the wording used in verses 11-12.

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy…”

The whole earth cannot help but declare the greatness of our God.

When I was younger I remember wondering why the leaves on the trees would change color and then fall to the ground. It’s a question that all of us have wondered at some point in time. The answer is pretty incredible.

When temperatures drop the heartier parts of the tree, the branches, roots, etc. can endure the colder temperatures. However, the fragile leaves of broadleaf trees cannot. They are thin and filled with water and sap cells that will quickly freeze during the winter months. Therefore, any part of the tree that is unable to survive freezing temperatures is sealed off and eventually will detach from the rest of the tree.

I am not here to remind you of a lesson that many of us learned in elementary school. But what I do hope to remind you of is this simple yet incredible fact, God designed trees to function in this particular way. That’s pretty neat.

God is infinitely wise, infinitely creative, and infinitely knowledgeable in order to design, create, and maintain trees in the way that He did.

The forest does indeed sing for joy because of its Creator.

We need to remember that every time we see a tree change colors, or a squirrel bury an acorn, or a bird feed its young, or rain fall from the sky, or waves splash onto the shore…we are witnessing creation do exactly what it was created to do.

Creation glorifies God when it does exactly what it was specifically designed to do.

You and I were also created for a specific purpose. And when we fail to do what God designed us to do we are effectively robbing God of His glory. God designed us to know Him, worship Him, obey, Him, love Him, and tell others about Him. I have no intention of robbing God of His glory.

So, let the heavens declare, the leaves fall, the sea roar, the trees sing, and let the people trust in Jesus.

“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised…” Psalm 96:3-4

The Long Journey to the Pie

Pie is always a good idea.

Pie is an even better idea when it is shared with friends.

Not too long ago I got together with some good old friends. It was a typical “guys” night. Way too many buffalo wings, lots of laughter, and a sad realization that we all are a lot older than we used to be. As the night wore on everyone threw out options for what we should do next.

We stood in the parking lot for a solid 15 minutes trying to decide.

  • Go-karting? Too expensive.
  • Mini Golf? Too lame.
  • Video games back at so-and-so’s house? The baby was asleep.
  • Pie? Perfect.

“Why don’t we just walk there!?” I exclaimed. “It’s literally right down the street!” My idea was met with a lot of enthusiasm and even called, “the best plan of the night.”

So, we set off walking. And it was just about a half a block into our journey that I realized the pie place was quite a bit further than I had originally thought. Our short walk was not going to be short at all.

After about 10 minutes the group caught on that our walk was no small stroll. One person even asked if we should turn back and just drive. But the collective answer was, “No. We have come this far. The pie will be worth it.”

And let me tell you, the pie certainly was worth every step of that brutally long (I’m exaggerating just a bit) walk. At the table, one of my friends suggested I write a blog about the event (this is your shout-out Steve) and so here it is.

And here is the point…

Often times our journeys turn out to be a lot longer than expected, and that’s OK.

Many of us are faced with situations and seasons that cause pain, frustration, and fear. Maybe for you, it’s a frustrating situation at work. Or a broken relationship with someone you love. Or maybe you are dealing with health problems that just don’t seem to go away. Or maybe you are like my wife and I and are waiting to adopt and experiencing the pain of childlessness. Whatever your journey is, it may seem unbearable, or at least unbearably long.

But we must patiently endure and pray that God would help us to be content.

Proverbs 16:9 is clear that even though we may have our own plans ultimately it is God who directs our journey. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

And because it is the Lord who “establishes our steps” we need to remember that He knows what He is doing. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

As I walk through my own unexpectedly long journey I find comfort knowing that God is with me through it all. King David knew that truth as well. In the 23rd Psalm, he wrote about walking through terrible, dark, and deadly times, but he did not fear. Why? Because he knew that God was with him. We need to remember that truth as well.

The journey may be long, but we have a wonderful companion.

We also need to learn to be content in the midst of our journey. Now, please understand that contentment isn’t just simply saying, “I guess I’m fine with this for now.” Contentment is saying, “Lord, if I have nothing else in life other than you, I am ok with that. Because you have already given me everything I need, and you are what I want above all else.”

If you are reading this and you resonate with the frustrations of a longer-than-expected journey I want you to know that I am praying for you. I am praying that God will give us the strength to endure, joy in the midst of pain, and peace that can only be found in Him.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13