Showing Up Late for God

I recently read a post by Tom Kraeuter titled, “In God’s Presence.” Tom was discussing the attitude or perception we bring with us when we come together to worship. He summed it up at the end with the following sentence. “What do you suppose would happen if we actually acted like He [God] was there?”

What a great question, and not just for worship services, but for all of life. For God is indeed with us in a special way when we gather together for worship. However, as followers of Christ, God also dwells with us and within us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by the living God as a result of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God paid the highest price to make this happen (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And yet, I fear that my life does not demonstrate this acknowledgement of God’s presence as it should.

I remember when I was younger, before I was married, and when my wife and I were still dating. There was always a great anticipation when I knew I was going to be able to see her. This was magnified during the college years because we were often separated for weeks at a time. One instance stands out in my mind clearly.

It was the weekend before spring break and I was anxious to get home. However, I had to serve that weekend in a church in Iowa. Following the Sunday service, I packed up the car and headed back to Kansas City. I had to drop off another guy at school before heading back to St. Louis. So, we drove the four to five hour trip, without stopping, back to the dorm. By the time we got there, a restroom break was definitely in order. As it turned out, the dorms were locked, as was everything else on campus. So, I thought I would use the restroom when I stopped to fill up the car with gas. When I got to the gas station in town, there was no restroom.

I headed out of town, thinking I will stop somewhere along the way from Kansas City to St. Louis. However, the longer I drove, the more the anticipation of seeing my future wife grew. I was in a hurry to get home. As each rest area or exit approached, I just kept on driving. There was a problem though. Not only had it been eight or nine hours since my last “break,” I had also been drinking, and finishing, a two liter bottle of caffeinated soda to help me stay awake. Needless to say, by the time I arrived at my wife’s house, I was in serious pain. I jumped out of the car to run to the door to meet her, but I could not even stand up straight. She met her future husband at the door, only to be greeted by a hunched over guy who shouted, “I will see you in a minute,” as he rushed past her to get the restroom.

I know, it is a goofy story. Some of you probably think it is over-sharing. I don’t care. What it helps remind me of is a moment in time when I was full of anticipation, to the point of disregarding everything else, even intense discomfort and pain.

For each of us that have been brought into the family of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been given a great gift. We have been given the privilege of having the God of the universe dwell within us to guide us, strengthen us, and to allow us to share in His great purposes and plans. He brings us peace and joy, even in the midst of troubling times. Yet, I am afraid that when it comes to our relationship with God, we are often guilty of showing up late. What I mean by that is that we can get to the place where there is no anticipation for meeting with Him.

We show up late in our daily lives. How many times have I stayed up too late, just watching one more thing on television, checking a few things online or in email? Before long, I am getting to bed late by 30 minutes, an hour, or even longer. So, as I set my alarm the next morning, I realize that if I am going to get enough sleep, I am going to have less time in the morning. My time with God will be very short or be passed up altogether. Therefore, for the sake of some meaningless entertainment or piddling around the night before, I have given up the opportunity to spend time in God’s Word and prayer. I show up late for the Creator of the universe, Who desires to fill my life with wisdom, joy, peace, and His presence. I don’t have enough foresight or anticipation to look beyond the preceding evening’s trivialities to what is waiting for me the next morning.

We show up late for our gathered events. The previous example can apply to our times of gathered worship together as well. If we stay up too late on the nights before our worship gatherings, we are going to less ready to get up and get going the next day. If we do make the effort to show up, we are tired and not at our best. We show up late for the service or Bible study. As a worship leader, I don’t pay a lot of attention to who actually comes into the service late. My attention is usually on the songs we are playing and singing. I just know that when the singing time ends, there are a lot more people present then when we began.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not throwing stones. I have noticed that, on days when I am not leading, I am prone to show up late also. Why is that? If I was anticipating being a part of the church of Jesus Christ worshiping their God and Savior, wouldn’t I make sure I was on time? You would think so. It must be that I value other things more than God and His people.

When we gather together to worship, I believe God blesses this in a special way. His people have come together to worship Him and to hear from Him. He has promised that when we get together is His Name, He is there with us in a unique way. Our presence is also important in another way. We encourage and serve each other by our presence. When we sing together, we not only worship God, we challenge, encourage, and edify each other. If I am sitting in a worship service, surrounded by a bunch of empty seats, feeling like I am singing by myself, this is not very encouraging. If I have others beside me, in front of me, and behind me, singing out the praises and greatness of God and His promises to us, that encourages me. And if I am there for you, then I am helping to encourage you as well.

Worship is not just about me and what I am going to get out of it. If I am showing up late, sure, I may still receive a blessing from the singing and the Word. But what am I saying to God? What am I saying to the others in the congregation? Am I saying that you were not important enough for me to get here on time?

I know that there are many things that can happen on a daily basis. I know that Sunday mornings can be chaotic. There are many who come in late due to circumstances out of their control. Others come in late because they have been serving somewhere else that morning. What I am talking about are those things that are within our control. What can we do to demonstrate to God and others that they are worth our time and effort? Let’s ask God to help fill us with an anticipation that makes us not want to show up late to meet with Him, whether that is on Sunday or every day of the week.

Together for His glory…

When God’s Footprints Are Missing

I have seen them for years. I am sure that many of you have as well. These are the pictures with the footprints in the sand, along with the accompanying poem. It speaks of looking back on the path that we have walked in life and seeing one or two sets of footprints in the sand, depending on the event or season of life. As the poem or story goes, when there are two sets of prints, it is when the Lord is walking beside us. When there is only one set, it explains that this is when the Lord is carrying us.

There is actually a passage in Scripture that speaks of the footprints of the Lord. However, the message is not the same as in the story above. It does speak of missing footprints. The difference, though, is that it is the Lord’s footprints that are missing.

It comes at the end of Psalm 77, which has a theme of seeking the Lord in the day of trouble. The Psalmist, Asaph, speaks of being weary and troubled. However, in places throughout the Psalm, he also remembers the faithfulness and works of the Lord. And towards the end, Asaph recalls the work of the Lord in delivering the nation of Israel from Egypt and the pharaoh at the Red Sea.

“Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” Psalm 77:19-20. A couple of things stand out to me in this passage.

God’s path was through the sea. God knew what His plan was for His people. They did not understand it. They were crying out to God and blaming Moses for bringing them to death’s door. But God had things under control, and His plan was to lead His people through the sea and bring them safely to the other side. In fact, God said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” Exodus 14:15-16. It was as if God said, “What are you waiting for? Let’s get going.”

God’s footprints were unseen, but He was leading His people. Moses, Aaron, and the people did not see God leading them through the sea on dry land. There were no footprints in the sand or sea floor. But the presence of God was unmistakable. The traveled through the sea on dry ground. The water stood up like a wall on either side of them as they traveled through. As soon as they passed through, the water came crashing back to where it had been before, wiping out their enemies and oppressors. God’s footprints were unseen, but He was there with His people – leading, providing for, and protecting them.

We may not always see God’s footprints. We may sometimes have trouble seeing what God is doing. Obstacles and trials can press in on us from every side, making it hard to focus and remember the promises of God. Yet, He calls for us to continue walking in obedience, even when the way is unclear. We can do this with confidence, even if we don’t know what we are walking into, because God is with us.

God has promised that He will always be with His people. He will hear us when we cry out to Him. He is with us in times of joy and in times of suffering and trial. We need to remember His Word and His promises. We need to remember how He has worked in our lives so many times before. We need to recall the work He has done throughout history. The evidence of the presence of God is all around us. We only need to open our eyes to see it. He is there, even when He does not leave any footprints.

Together for His glory…

Does God Get Tired of Me?

Our youngest son, Caleb, is now in his mid-20s. Yet, he will always have many childlike ways. He can also, like many people with Down Syndrome, be very repetitive in his actions and conversations. If it is a rebellious trait, it can be tiring or aggravating. However, there are also those actions that can bring a smile to our faces every time.

Caleb likes trying to scare my wife and me. Most of the time, this involves putting plastic spiders or wind-up, chattering teeth under our pillows.  After doing this every night for three weeks, we obviously know it is going to happen at bedtime. And yet, he keeps on doing it. He has so much fun doing it that it makes it fun for us too. Of course, we make it into a game where we try to get him back in the same way. And so this goes on and on.

Do we ever get annoyed with it or tired of him doing it? No. Even when we are very tired, the discovery of the teeth or spiders always makes us shake our heads and smile. Why? Because he is having fun with it, and it is harmless, he loves us, and he is our child and we love him.

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4-5

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think God gets tired of me coming to Him with the same thing, over and over and over. Every time I pray, it seems like I say the same things to Him. Does God get bored with me? Is He tired of listening to me? What do you think?

I would say it depends on the manner in which we come to Him. If we come to God in a prideful manner, confident in our own righteousness or asking for things for our own selfish gain, then I would think that God would not delight in this. If we are coming to God with a lack of sincerity and genuineness, like we can hide something from Him, I don’t think He would delight in this either.

But if we come to God with sincerity, humility, and even the simplicity of a child, why would God not delight in us, even if we are coming to Him with the same thing we have brought before Him so many times? I mean, let’s face it; nothing that we bring to God is going to be a surprise to Him. He knows everything we will ever say, before we even think it. So, in a way, everything is repetitious and redundant to Him. Yet, He always tells us to come to Him.

The verses in 1 Peter tell us that in God’s sight, we are chosen and precious. God longs for us to come to Him and, through the blood of Jesus Christ, He has provided us a way to come into His very presence. So, if we are feeling like God is tired of us, maybe we should examine our own hearts. We might be applying our own human weaknesses to the holy character of God.

Our feeling that God is tired of us might just be that we are tired of asking for something that God does not seem to be willing to provide according to our plans and wishes. It could be that we are coming with the wrong spirit, doing these things out of obligation rather than trust and delight in God. Maybe we are coming with hearts that are not thankful for all God has given us. It could be any number of things.

The important thing to remember is that God is not a man. He is not flawed. He loves with a perfect love. And He delights in His children. So, does God get tired of us coming to Him over and over? No. If fact, it is His desire that we come to Him, and find in Him the peace, rest, and joy that the world and our flawed expectations and perspectives can never provide.

Now, if I could just find a way to leave a spider under His pillow.

Together for His glory…

Suffering For No Apparent Reason

I once knew a guy who thought God had it out for him. Everything in his life was going wrong. The problem was that he was responsible for most of things that were happening to him. When you get ticketed for driving on expired driver and vehicle licenses, this is usually your fault. Especially when they expired a year prior and were from a different state than where you have been living for a year. This was one example of many things. When I suggested that he might be the one responsible for the bad things happening, he was shocked.

Let’s get one thing straight at the start here. No one is perfect. My list of failures, blunders, and stupidities could wrap around the world a few times. Apart from the grace of God, there is no way I would still be standing today. If we are honest, we know this about ourselves. And yet, there are times that this life does not seem to make sense. Suffering and hardship seems to come when it should not have or when we would not have expected it to.

I know someone who finds themselves in a very difficult work situation. She has been teaching for about 20 years. She used to love her job. She works in an area that is tough economically and where many students drop out or don’t succeed. But she looks at these kids as if they were her own and works hard to help them, not only in her subject expertise, but in other areas of life. It is no surprise that many former students still contact her years later. In spite of all this, she is enduring suffering within her profession. Recently, an administrator sat in on one of her classes for 5 minutes, then departed, and then proceeded to give her a substandard teaching review. This is in her permanent record. Unfair? Yes. Infuriating? Absolutely. Immoral? Probably. One would only have to talk to former students and parents to know that this kind of review is not accurate or fair. And yet, there it is. What do you do?

I know a family. They love their children. They do everything that they can to provide for their kids. Life together started “normally.” They were married and in the next few years, their children started coming along. That is when things began to change for them. You see, all of their children fall on the Autism spectrum. Two of the kids are much more significantly impacted. I understand very little about autism, other than how I see that it impacts people, both those with the diagnosis and their families and friends. One diagnosis would be difficult. Three just seems like a kick in the teeth. What happened? Did God blink or something? Does He not care? Why would this level of hardship be allowed to reside with one family? As this family loves, works hard, struggles for solutions, and tries to do what is best for their kids, the many questions seem to go without answers.

I am reminded of the question Jesus was asked. “Who sinned?” (John 9:2). In other words, whose fault is this? We want to find some way to explain why these things happen. Jesus’ response was “no one.” Okay, that’s great, but what about the suffering? What about the hardships? Why does it seem like some people coast through life and others get dumped on, without any relief on the horizon?

In the Bible, there are examples of many people who suffered. Much of this suffering seemed undeserved. Two examples that come to mind are Joseph and Job. Both men endured suffering that they neither understood nor deserved. In Joseph’s case, God’s ultimate purpose was revealed. In Job’s case, it never was, that I am aware of. Job lost everything, except for a nagging wife, who told him to curse God, and friends who blamed Job for his own demise and gave him terrible and inaccurate advice. In the end, God restored Job and rebuked Job’s friends, but there was never an explanation provided. And I am sure that the scars, both physical and emotional, were a reminder throughout the rest of Job’s life.

Suffering is a tough issue to deal with. The very presence of suffering in the world is what causes some people to reject the existence of God altogether or to not want anything to do with a God that would allow such things to happen. And yet, if there is no God, suffering becomes even more terrible to deal with, in my mind. If there is no God, there is no hope beyond what we can achieve and survive in this life. There is no ultimate justice in the world. Many things will come to with an end without a satisfactory or just solution. I find that possibility a far worse option.

I have been recently reading in 1 Peter 2:13-25, where Peter is instructing believers to be subject to those who God has placed in authority over them. This included the emperor, like Nero, who persecuted and had Christians put to death. It included masters, who may have treated their servants cruelly. In this age of always defending our rights, this seems so contradictory. Why would Peter say this? He states the reasons. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” 1 Peter 2:15

Okay, I can mostly get this. By doing good, it is a testimony to others by our obedience to God. But what about unjust suffering? This is where it gets more difficult. Peter continues, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 2:18-20

God seems to clear up at least one thing here: there will be unjust suffering in this world. Peter goes on to say that when we endure in the midst of unjust suffering, it is a gracious thing in the sight of God. What does this mean? The ESV Study Bible suggests that this is an indication that God’s people will receive a reward from Him for enduring suffering righteously. In addition, it could also mean that patient endurance of suffering is evidence of God’s grace at work. So, regardless of the “why,” the suffering does not escape God’s notice. When we suffer and patiently endure, it is evidence of God’s grace at work in us and, in addition, that we will be rewarded by Him.

Following Jesus can mean so many different things. But here, Peter goes on to say that something that I don’t necessarily like to hear. We have been called to follow in the steps of Jesus. And in the context of this passage, that means following through suffering. What? “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. In the context of this passage, I don’t think this can mean anything else. However, I don’t think this means that we go out looking for a life of suffering. I think it is meant to instruct us on our perspective to suffering. There are several things we can take from this.

First, this is a broken world. There is no way around this fact. The results of sin and a fallen human race are evident all around us. There are evil people who will cause suffering for others, whether on a small or large scale. In addition, the impact of sin has corrupted God’s beautiful design for His creation. Disease, disorders, and disabilities are not God’s design. These have come as a result of a broken world that rejected God’s perfect will. And until He renews and restores it at the culmination of history, we all will suffer the impacts of sin on creation.

Second, following Jesus will bring suffering. Jesus said that the world hates Him and, therefore, will hate us. We are living in an age in America where the allusion of a Christian nation is fading away. This world lies in the power of the evil one. It has since the fall of man. The Bible is clear on this. Satan will do whatever He can to destroy the work of Christ. We should not expect the world to stand up and applaud when we follow Jesus.

Third, Jesus suffered more injustice than anyone ever has or ever will. Jesus was completely without sin. God in human flesh. The Creator of the universe walking among us. Yet, He was despised and rejected by those He came to save. He was beaten, abused, cursed, and humiliated. And He bore the complete weight and punishment for the sin of the world. He deserved nothing but glory. He suffered more than anyone in history ever has or ever will. And in the midst of it, continued to trust the Father, who judges justly.

Fourth, because of Jesus’ unjust suffering, we can have hope. We can have hope because His suffering has provided us a way to escape a just judgment. In our sin, we deserve God’s wrath and judgment. Christ has purchased, through His suffering, our forgiveness through His blood. If we receive Christ, we are provided the righteousness of Christ as our very own. This is not justice. This is not fair. This is grace. And this gives us hope, for we can entrust our lives to the One Who judges justly. We can trust Him to resolve all of the suffering, grief, and tragedy that we see in the world and even in our own lives. It has not gone unnoticed. It will not be without reward. It might still be very, very difficult. It might not always make sense. We might doubt and struggle along the way. But our God knows our suffering. He endured it Himself on the cross. He promises to be with us all along the way, until we make it safely home.

“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:22-25

Together for His glory…

The Foundation of Trust

Over the past several years, I have heard many songs by various Christian artists that deal with the topic of trials and suffering. Many of these songs spring from passages that deal with suffering and the issue of evil and hardship and how God relates to those situations. In some biblical passages, we are allowed to see the outcome and purpose behind the suffering. In others, we are not. And for the people in those situations, and for us, we are called to trust in God.

In some of these recent songs, though, the songwriter does something that is a little different. They seem to almost invite suffering. Within the context of the song, it is usually within the purpose of bringing greater glory to God, so it seems their heart is the right place. However, it kind of comes across to me like they are saying, “Bring it on, God!”

I don’t know about you, but this makes me a little nervous. I think life has enough hardship and sorrow without asking for more. Maybe I am a wimp, but I can’t see myself ever praying, “Bring on the suffering, God.” I do want God to be glorified in my life. I do want God’s best for me and those I love. But God makes me a little nervous. His ways are often mysterious and His ways are not my ways. The ways of God can make us tremble. And it is good to have a healthy fear of the Lord, as long as it is balanced along with fullness of Who God is.

My wife and I were talking about this topic this morning. On Sunday, we sang a Chris Tomlin’s song that contains the line, “God, whatever comes my way, I will trust You.” She mentioned that this is a hard phrase to say. She is right. It’s hard to sing it when there is hardship in your life that you are trying to understand. It is hard to say, when you know that life can bring the unexpected and unwelcomed. It is hard to sing it when You are afraid. However, as she and I discussed, we always need to remember this within the context of Who God is. And even with this song, the line is within the context of the earlier part of the song:

Sovereign in the mountain air
Sovereign on the ocean floor
With me in the calm
With me in the storm
Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn

 In Your everlasting arms
All the pieces of my life
From beginning to the end I can trust You
In Your never-failing love
You work everything for good
God whatever comes my way I will trust You

“Sovereign” by Chris Tomlin | Jason Ingram | Jonas Myrin | Martin Chalk | Matt Redman. © 2012 Said And Done Music; A Thousand Generations Publishing; sixsteps Music; Sixsteps Songs; songs; Worship Together Music; Thankyou Music; Sony/ATV Timber Publishing; Open Hands Music; SHOUT! Music Publishing.

Why can we trust God with whatever comes our way? Because He is sovereign. He is with us. He will never leave us. He is with us in joy and sorrow, when it is light and when it is dark. God holds us in His everlasting arms. He loves us with a never failing love. And He works in all of our circumstances to bring forth an ultimate good, even through suffering.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Romans 8:31-35

The answers are clear: No one or nothing can separate us from the love of God. And He has promised that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39

You see, if being able to say, “I trust You,” in whatever comes my way was solely based on my ability to summon up the courage and “have enough faith,” it would be pointless. I am weak and don’t feel very courageous at times. However, if my trust is founded in the fullness of the character of my God, then I am saying, “Based on Who You have revealed Yourself to be, I will trust You.” And for me, wrapped up in my confession of “I will trust You,” is “help me to trust You.” As the father who had come to Jesus exclaimed, “I believe; help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

So, I may not understand all of Who God is or what He is doing, but if my trust is based on His character and promises, I have a foundation to rest upon. My trust is not based in outcomes, appearances, circumstances, people, or things. My trust is based on the unchanging character of God, His unfailing love, and His promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him. We trust and we pray for more faith. We remind ourselves and each other of the unfailing love of God, Who cares and provides, and suffers with His children.

Together for His glory…