Reality Bites: What We Can Count On

This was originally posted in April.

Grow Up Blog

In Wichita, James Bryan Smith talked about reality. He said that reality is “what you can count on.” He also referenced Dallas Willard’s definition of reality as “what you find out when you find out that you are wrong.”

Are there things that we can count on that are constantly hiding behind our wrong assumptions? I think there are.

In this life, I can count on getting angry. I can count on desiring something that I don’t have. I can count on being disappointed with another person. I can count on making mistakes. I can count on feeling helpless at times. I can count on not having all the answers. I can count on needing help from another person.

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I don’t think anyone can dispute that this is reality for every person who walks the face of the earth. We are limited, frail, and needy people…

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God is Speaking, Are We Listening?

God is present to his people, he is with them. If there is anything we can learn from the life of Jesus is that God was with him and part of Jesus’ mission was to provide a way for God to be with all of his people, even in the difficult times.

I have seen some difficult times of late, yet God has been with me in surprising and miraculous ways.

What has happened of late is that the books I am reading have had significant insights that touch on exactly what I am going through. Sermons I hear preached, not only have some encouraging words but are addressing the exact situation that I am going through. Podcasts that I listen to discuss things like prayer with the exact questions that I have about prayer but were afraid to ask.

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As much as I like to talk about God’s presence and work in my life, I am always hesitant to force my sense of God’s handiwork in every situation. I am cynical by nature, and don’t trust my own motives and desires in these situations to give me an accurate picture of what is truly happening.

But, like I have stated here before, the more you experience God the more you are able to recognize when he is at work. The more you begin to expect God to show up in a variety of ways. Though lately, I have experienced a heaviness and a burden that has been uniquely difficult and challenging and I have been angry at the way that God has handled my situation, I have also been overwhelmed at how often He shows up. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me, even in my darkness. And it hasn’t just been platitudes and spiritual pats on the back, it has been deep words of encouragement, surprising messages individually designed for me, and discussions, interpersonally or intrapersonally, that have been what I was looking for without knowing what I was looking for.

Just this past weekend, it was J.R. Briggs’ discussion of wilderness as the training ground for God’s chosen people. It was a sermon from Steve Queen on Romans 8 as a reminder that all things work for good for those who love Him. It was a podcast from Renovare on C.S. Lewis and how he wrestled with how to pray and the function and benefit of prayer. I didn’t go intentionally seeking these things out at these exact moments to receive these exact words. God sent these items to me and probably others if I was paying attention.

Though I have had plenty of words with God about how he has done things, I haven’t been surprised to see him work in this way over and over. My relationship with God, through Jesus, has taught me to expect God to show up. It still amazes me, though, how He is present and ready with just the right words at just the right times.

Are Difficult Times Required In Order To Grow?

Since I have been writing this blog in earnest over the last year, I have chronicled the amazing times, the heartbreaking times, and the really hard times.

This past year has presented some of the richest and most profound times with God I have ever experienced. But as soon as I experience a spiritual high, the next week will bring devastating news about my Dad’s battle with Cancer. An enriching breakthrough spiritually might be happening in the midst of the most difficult moments of my professional life. There is joy and pain often mixed in the same day, sometimes the same hour.

I began to ask myself, are the times of great spiritual growth preparing me for the struggles and the obstacles or are the obstacles and struggles providing the framework for the times of significant growth? Does the crucible of change and improvement with God have to be struggle, hurt, and difficulty? Or was the growth already there and I just needed the difficulty to demonstrate and contextualize the growth?

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I guess what I am trying to say is that I am thankful for the difficulties while at the same time wishing and praying that they would go away. I know that good will come out of struggle while often trying to avoid it.

Jesus himself asked that the cup he had to bear would pass from him but then prayed that if that couldn’t happen, may God’s will be done. I feel that I understand this sentiment on the tiniest of levels and I am starting to see that God’s will is the best place for me to be.

Just don’t make it too hard, Lord.

Lament: When It Is Not Okay and That Is Okay

Lately, I have found expression for my own frustrations and disappointment in the Psalms of Lament. The thing about these Psalms is that they are honest and emotional while acknowledging the reality of God. I find this an incredibly healthy way of interacting with God. I decided to write my own modern lament patterned after Psalm 3.

Lord, where can I find dedication to your Son!

Why do the once faithful seem to move away from you the first chance they get?         Why are they so weak in the face of personal difficulty or challenging social situations?

Many say, “I once believed, until this happened.” Should a few poor situations really push people away from you?

But you have given me an assurance of your faithfulness to me.

Even when I have faced my own bad situation, at church and otherwise, I have never wanted you more Lord.                                                                                                     You have been with me and others through Wilderness times.

Don’t let your church be sullied by unbelief, modern sensibilities, controversies, reduction of the mission, or scandals.                                                                                       Give no one ammunition to bring down your name in response to your church’s example.

From you comes blessing, living water to sustain us, peace, and direction for the future. May your blessing be on your people.

The Uniqueness of the Ordinary

No one in our culture likes the ordinary. Nothing ordinary goes viral or gets likes or gets copied. The ordinary is often shunned as if it is wrong or terribly mistaken.

The church in American has picked up the aversion to the ordinary. No church highlights their willingness to meet the ordinary people, provide tools for ordinary situations, or celebrates the purity of the ordinary.

But the ordinary is the most important aspect of our days. How we manage the ordinary is how we manage life. Who we are in the ordinary situations is who we are. If we don’t stress the ordinary in our days then we are ignoring 95% of our existence.

This is where Growing Up comes in. Becoming a mature follower of Christ means that every moment, every situation, and every encounter is an opportunity to live my life in the way that Christ would if he were I. My mornings are not just the preparation for the day but an opportunity to commit that day over to God. Driving is not just a point A to point B thing but a mobile prayer closet. Dinners are not just communal necessities but a chance for thankfulness and unity among loved ones. My work is not just routine but my God given tasks that require my God given abilities.

The ordinary is everything. Christ was ordinary yet he changed the world and offers us an ordinarily extraordinary life.

Embrace the ordinary.

I Am Not Very Observant

Most of the time, I am too distracted, too busy, too worried, too anxious to notice all the good and meaningful things that are around me.

I recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s book Practice Resurrection. This book is Peterson’s conversation on Ephesians. I had read this book, or portions of it, several years ago, but never knew it was the better written, and more deeply thought out version of what I am trying to do here with this blog. For example, this section from page 2:

The most significant growing up that any person does is to grow as a Christian. All other growing up is a preparation for or ancillary to this growing up…The human task is to become mature, not only in our bodies and emotions and minds within ourselves, but also in our relationship with God and other persons.

The rest of the book is like this. Peterson is reading my mind and heart and illustrating it in a very thoughtful and profound way. His subtitle to the book is, “a conversation on growing up in Christ.”

The thing is,  I have read this book before and remember nothing about this talk on Christian maturity and Growing Up.

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How much truth, how much meaningful content, how many messages from God just pass us by without us paying much attention?

It worries me that Peterson was addressing my own key message and purpose and it barely registered for me. Maybe one of the first steps in maturity is fewer and fewer of these moments and messages pass us by unnoticed. A sign of maturity may mean that we are in a state where we are more spiritually observant and receptive to all God is throwing at us. Our distraction levels are lowered and the Holy Spirit has more room to work.

What is it that you have let pass you by unnoticed? Do you need to read that passage of scripture again? Can you find that sermon online that you should have been paying attention to? Can you take your time with your next book long enough for the words to soak in? Or do you just need to approach the next thing with more receptivity to God’s work in your life?

He is present and he wants to connect with us. Are we listening?

Re-Growth: My Letter To God

I have been writing this blog in earnest for one year now. There are some interesting things we have discussed over this time and hopefully some of you have gotten half as much out my postings as I have in writing them. This week, I will be highlighting some of my favorite posts as a year in review. Thank you for reading and lets keep Growing: 

(December 5, 2016)

Dear God,

The life I want most for myself is a God-breathed life; a life where those that know me, know a little of Jesus.

I want decisions I make to have a hint of the special and holy and divine. I want to be inspired daily and not live a hum-drum existence. Without you in my life, my life is full of limits and boundaries and roadblocks. With you in my life, I can accomplish many things I couldn’t accomplish on my own. I want to lean into that reality and watch you work. I want to be as amazed by your work in my life as everyone else.

I have seen so much in the last few months. Your presence has been there, moving me to the next thing. I can’t believe I am here in my life right now. I wouldn’t have predicted this scenario. I need you Lord. I need the best of me to be all of you. I have so many questions and concerns. Please don’t turn those into worries. Worries are no friend to growth, they try to stifle it. I put my worries behind me and your transforming power in front of me.

Come Lord Jesus.

Your indwelt and loved child,

Scott


I encourage you to write a similar letter to God. And don’t misplace it. Returning to the letter a year from now should be a keen reminder of what God has done in your life and how you have Grown Up.

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photo credit: Lukas.bO