Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Election Is Over. Now What?

It’s over, America.

We’ve watched almost two years of wall-to-wall campaign coverage, argued politics in Facebook comments sections for hours on end and endured an onslaught of political advertisements and random strangers asking us if we’re registered to vote. 

And now we have chosen a new president. 

Chances are, you’re not happy. You’re not happy with the candidate that won. You’re not happy with Uncle Bob or your friend Jane. You’re not happy with leaders you used to admire. You’re not happy with the media. You’re not happy with America. 

Maybe “you’re not happy” is an understatement. You’re probably sick and tired of all of it. Let’s go a little further, you’re probably mad as hell.

I’ve felt it, too. The anger. Disgust. Frustration. Sadness. Disappointment. 

Those emotions have led me to think, say and do some things I’m not proud of. I have strong opinions, I’m passionate about those opinions and I get emotional about them – not always a great combination. 
    
Don’t get me wrong – I have had some great conversations with wonderful people, many of whom disagree with me on just about everything. Those exchanges have helped me understand why people are thinking the way they are and have helped me shape my own stances on certain issues. I hope you’ve had some of those types of interactions, too. But I’ve also let my emotions run wild, both in person and on social media.

Now it’s over. The votes have been cast, the winners announced, and the speeches delivered. 

But it’s not really over is it? The wounds and divisions that have been caused by this election might take a long time to heal, if they ever heal at all. The anger is still very real and very much on the surface for all to see (just take a quick glance at Facebook or Twitter). 

We’ve pitted ourselves against each other based on a wide variety of lines: race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, political party… the list goes on and on. 

The most disheartening thing for me has been the division among Christians in this election and how we’ve let two political candidates rip people of faith apart from the inside out.

We need to heal. We need to heal as a Church and as a country. But how?

I don’t have a lot of answers, but just some thoughts on how we might get started. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Last Page


The other day I reached the last page in the journal I’ve been writing in and tracking my life with for the last two and a half years.

I decided to flip through some of the early entries I made in the journal – and many of those entries seemed pretty familiar to me. Some of the struggles I’ve had to work through are the same ones I’m wrestling with now. I had to double check the dates of the entry to make sure they read “2014” and not “2016.”

After I closed the journal, leaving that final page blank for the moment, I felt a wave of discouragement and disappointment. How could I still be dealing with some of this? Why do I feel like I’ve made so little progress? Why is this taking longer to walk through than I originally hoped?

A discouraging thought then popped up in my head: God, You must be pretty disappointed with me.

* * * * * * *

Writing is how I process what’s going on in my life. The good stuff. The bad stuff. And everything in between.

Everyone processes life differently, but it’s critical that we find an outlet – or a combination of different outlets – where we can express ourselves honestly and completely. We have to find a way to air out all of our junk and pour out our hearts before God and the people closest to us.

For some of us, writing is that outlet. For others, it might be just talking it out. Maybe its artwork or music; exercising or building something.

I’m a huge believer in journaling. As someone who is naturally prone to forgetfulness, it’s a great way to remind myself of that God is good and still faithful. God is. I can go back and remember all the answered prayers, all the times He walked me through a difficult situation, all the reminders to just trust in Him and find rest, peace and joy in Jesus and nothing else.

My journals also a reminder that life is messy. It’s not always going to feel like I’m listening to “Walking on Sunshine” on repeat (although that gets old really quickly).

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, emphasis mine). There will be moments where you feel like you’re in over your head. But Jesus is bigger than all of it.

It helps to write all that down once in a while.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Do Something That Scares You


“Do not be afraid.”
“Fear not.”
“Have courage.”

Abraham needed that reminder. Joshua did, too. So did Paul, the Apostles, Jesus’s mother Mary, and dozens of other characters in the Bible.

So do we. A lot. At least I know I do.

Those phrases are repeated hundreds of times throughout Scripture -- the most repeated sentiment or phrase in the Bible -- and I don’t think that happened by accident. 

Whenever I've read those verses commanding us to exchange our fear for courage, I used to think God didn’t want us to ever be afraid. I thought God meant that ever experiencing fear was an insult to Him. My solution: Play it safe. Stay in the shallow end of the pool instead of stepping up to the diving board on the deep end.  

But what if we’re supposed to feel fear sometimes? Maybe God repeatedly tells us "don't be afraid" because we need to face something that scares us -- and then walk through it. 

IF IT DOESN’T SCARE YOU, IT WON’T HELP YOU GROW

If we’re honest with ourselves, fear is often the biggest barrier we face to experiencing growth. But fear can also be an indicator that we’re close to doing something that we’re called to do in the first place.

In one of Pastor Rick Warren's recent Daily Hope devotionals, he writes that "there is no growth without change; there is no change without fear or loss." Whenever we face a big decision that will cause some significant change and discomfort, fear pops up.

Fear is uncomfortable. Fear makes us pump the brakes and tempts us to make a U-turn instead of charing ahead. But the goal is not to avoid fear. Sometimes we need to be scared. We need to experience those moments when we know we're in over our heads. It's how we respond when we reach those moments that matters and can help us build our faith. 

The goal isn't to avoid fear, but to conquer it. When fear pops up and tells us we're not ready or qualified or equipped to face that thing, we invite God into our situation. We remind ourselves that God is bigger than our fears. We exchange that fear for faith.

We have to do something that makes us shake a little bit and doubt ourselves. 

WHEN WE'RE SCARED, WE GO TO GOD

Facing our fears gives God a chance to show up and speak into our lives. Fear drives me to Him and make me realize I need to lean more on Him for support, guidance, comfort, strength and reassurance. And when He walks us through it, there's no doubt about who gets the glory.

When you’re afraid, God reminds you that he is your shield and your reward (Genesis 15:1), because He will fight for you (Deuteronomy 3:22), because He is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9) and He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). 

Many of the heroes of the Christian faith felt fear. They had their doubts. They had their reservations about God’s plans. But they decided that their faith in the Lord was bigger than their fears. They made a decision that their fear would not prevent them from doing the thing they knew God wanted them to do, and they were rewarded for their obedience and faithfulness.

Doing something that scares us will put us in a position to depend on God in ways we never have before. And that's the best place to be. 

WHAT MATTERS MOST OFTEN SCARES US THE MOST

Starting over is scary. Opening up a business is scary. Becoming a parent is scary. Writing a book or publishing your work for the whole world to see and scrutinize is scary. Deciding to become a mentor or seeking out a mentor is scary.

But all of those things are exciting, too. And they are all important. The most important things, the things that matter the most, are usually the scariest things we will ever do.

The world needs more curious travelers, more creative innovators, more intentional parents, more fearless mentors and more people willing to share their voice and start a conversation on issues that matter.

So are you doing something that makes you a little nervous and a little afraid and makes you want to quit? Good! 

Fear can sometimes serve as a signal that you are close to doing something that might make a difference in this life and for eternity. 

But we have to be willing face those fear head-on.  

TO GET RID OF FEAR, WE MUST FACE IT

I was speaking with a couple of collegiate divers recently who told me that the biggest obstacle they face is fear.

For platform divers, the distance from the elevated platform to the water in the pool is 33 feet. A lot can go wrong in 33 feet. They know this perfectly well every single time they stand up there right before taking the plunge. How do they overcome it? They just have to do it. And then do it again and again.

And after a while, they're standing up there on the platform and remember that because they've executed the dive hundreds of times, they can do it one more time.

The great theologian John Wayne put it perfectly: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”

The only way to get over the fear of something is to actually do the thing. You can't get over fears you never face. And every time we face a fear, the less afraid we'll be when we face them later. 

We can saddle up and take on any challenge, take advantage of every opportunity and face every fear because after God says, “Don’t be afraid,” He follows that up with “I am with you.”

When God says “Don’t be afraid,” how will we respond?

Getting scared isn’t a bad thing. It means you made a decision to get off your couch and do something. It’s how you handle that fear that will make all the difference. We have to get ourselves to the other side of fear by faith. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Throw Yourself A Convention

Two weeks ago, the Republicans held their party convention. Last week, the Democrats held theirs. Maybe this week should be our turn.

If you’re a news and political junkie like me, chances are you were probably following the both conventions like a comic book fan follows Comic-Con -- except instead of jumping with joy over the new Justice League trailer, you probably watched the convention speakers with a mixture of anger, sadness and contempt.

It’s very easy to put politicians and candidates on a pedestal they have no business being on. We either put all our hopes and dreams in them (or their plans) or we treat them like the harbinger of the apocalypse.

But there is a truth many of us forget about, myself included, in the midst of an election year, the 24-hour news cycle and an increasingly hyper-politicized culture: The President of the United States cannot fix your life or mine.

Donald Trump is not going to wave a magic wand and deliver a job to your doorstep. Hillary Clinton is not going to come over to your house and help pay your tuition bills.

Look, don’t get me wrong: politics are important. Presidential elections are important. We should care. We should be informed. We should be engaged. And we should be able to discuss the political issues that face our communities and our nation with friends and family members without it devolving into a fistfight.

You can vote for whoever you want, or vote for nobody at all.

But after the elections are over, you are still responsible for your own life -- regardless of who wins.

A couple of weeks ago on his radio show, Dave Ramsey said people should buy some red, white and blue streamers and confetti and throw themselves a convention in their living room. It’s actually a good idea.

You are the only one who is going to fix your life,” he said. “None of those people have affected my life anything but negatively by taking my freaking money... Your destiny is in your hands. It’s not in the hands of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Thank God!”

Thank God, indeed.

If you’re looking to experience real hope and change for our own lives, we have a better chance of finding both in own living rooms instead of in Cleveland or Philadelphia.


* * * * * * *

So what would a “John/Jane Smith Personal Convention” look like? We can look to the actual party conventions to get an idea.

These are the two main functions of party conventions that can help us guide our own: 1) they nominate the person who will be the standard bearer for their party and 2) they decide on what will be in their party’s platform (the set of goals that will guide them moving forward).

Who will be the leader of your life?

Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

In a contest between myself and God for control of my own life, it’s no contest at all. There is no one else I would rather put my trust in than God. No one else comes close.

Whenever I choose to run the show for myself, I find a way to mess it up. Whenever I put my too much hope in someone else, I end up disappointed. And when my hope is in Jesus, I don’t have to stress over who is in the White House.

I’d rather humble myself and follow Jesus’ lead in everything instead of trying to do it all on my own. We let him chart the course, and then we take our steps in faith.

What will be your personal platform? What are your own personal goals and objectives?

A career change. Repairing your relationship with God. Finishing your degree. Saving for a future home.

We all have to choose what our priorities and goals will be and set a game plan for accomplishing them. No politician is going to do that for you or your household.

Something to remember: Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Don’t just build your platform on your own. Spend some time seeking God and asking those close to you to determine what will go into your own personal platform.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

God Loves Us Too Much To Leave Us Alone


“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 
– Deuteronomy 31:8

* * * * * *

I’ve tried running away from God. I’ve been angry with Him. I’ve questioned and doubted His plans. I’ve been frustrated with Him. I’ve wanted nothing to do with Him.

And yet, in the midst of all of those times, I learned something valuable about God and who He is: God loves me too much to leave me alone. He stays. He remains. He’s faithful, even when I’m not, and He waits until I’m ready to turn back to Him so that we can start over again.

He cares about us too much to leave us hurting and bitter and broken and empty. He loves us too much to let us go through it – whatever “it” is, big or small – by ourselves.

He loves us too much to give us what we want at the expense of what we need. He loves us enough to say “No” sometimes. It doesn’t mean He’s not good. It doesn’t mean He doesn’t care. It doesn’t mean He’s not able. It means there’s another way. A better way. His way. I don’t always get it – at least not in the moment. In fact I usually don’t. But I’m not asked to “get it” – I’m asked to trust Him.

He loves us as we are, wherever we are in life. But He also doesn’t want us to stay there. And that means in the same way that God doesn't leave us alone, we shouldn’t leave God alone, either.

And just like God is continually pursuing us, we should never stop pursuing Him. God doesn't leave us alone, so why should we leave Him alone?

Philippians 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Hebrews 4:16 adds: “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” (emphasis mine)

We have an open invitation to come to Him with everything – from our praise to our pain; from our questions to our requests; from our doubts to our thanks! If you're a Christ follower, you serve a God who is deeply personal, intimate and approachable – not some detached deity.

Got questions? God wants to hear them. Feeling angry? God wants to hear it. Need guidance? Ask God for it. And don’t stop asking until you get answers! Be the kid in class that doesn't stop asking questions. God can handle it. He wants to handle it. Life is better when our stuff is out of our hands and in His.

I’m glad that God, despite my own emotions and failings and doubts, still won’t leave me alone. He is still there. He still cares for me. He still loves me. He still wants my heart and my trust. He still wants me.

And those truths keep me running back to Jesus, asking Him to soften my heart a little more each day. To help me have a little more faith today than I did yesterday. To help me just keep my eyes fixed on Him and not on anything else.

God won’t leave us alone. And we shouldn't leave Him alone, either.