The fierce winds that blew so cold and strong this weekend had another effect besides breaking me out of the denial that winter is coming. I love Iowa and I love Iowans but this east coast born and bred really doesn’t like Iowa winter. Especially when the arctic front drops just below Des Moines making it feel more like Canada than the Midwest. And the infamous winter white-outs … what’s up with that? I neither heard nor experienced that in the east coast. Nor flesh-freezing weather; seriously, is that necessary? But I digress.
I live downtown which is usually, remarkably for a city, neat and clean. We have our dumpsters for our trash and neat little poop bag dispensers for dog owners like me to keep the sidewalks and small grassy strips clean. Most buildings have some kind of container out front for cigarette butts and we even have street people who regularly swing by and collect cans and bottles to redeem for the five cent deposit.
Every few weeks you see groups of people wearing matching Principal or Wells Fargo t-shirts, laughing and enjoying a “day off” from work as they volunteer to walk around the city and pick up trash. Des Moines is a great place to live, made even better by how clean it is. This past weekend, however, the winds they did blow. And they blew and howled and tore down allies and in the process helped themselves to whatever they could find in the dumpsters. Trash and lots of it was lifted and carried and deposited all over the streets and sidewalks and buildings. Isn’t it amazing how long it takes to clean and how fast a mess can be made? Des Moines was a mess.
I am Des Moines. I am a mess. I have a dumpster that I do my best to stash my trash in and I try really hard to keep the top down so no one can see or smell it. I think that only I know its contents and as long as I can keep it contained I look good to the rest of the world. My streets are clean. Problem is, now and again the winds come and lift the top and spread the contents around and low and behold, there is my stinky garbage visible and in plain sight and in all kinds of places it shouldn’t be. How humiliating. And I remember again the futility of trying to keep myself clean and how even my very best efforts are always in vain.
Thankfully I have a God who is neither too ashamed nor too proud to walk my streets and clean up my mess. God, the Creator of the universe, dons a t-shirt, takes up a garbage bag and one of those pointy sticks and stabs up my sins, cleans up my hurts, lifts up my offenses, sweeps away my pride, and sets me to rights again. This isn’t His day off; this is His daily work! And He does this with patience and grace and with so much love for me regardless my state. Jesus- my Savior, my King- and my ever humble and oh-so gentle garbage man … how incredibly amazing is that?
I just started a new journal. Last week I put aside the one I was using for more than a year with the pages full of prayers and notes about daily life circumstances. As I put the old one down, I flipped through its pages and looked back on where I have been through the past year or so. The year was full of wonderful blessings and new friendships but it was also full of hard and confusing trials. It is always incredible to look back and see how God was working in my life each day and in all those life situations. My God was with me each step of the way and it is more amazing how he used all those life circumstance and trials to mold me into who I am today and to teach me lessons I hope to never forget. He taught me about patience, about forgiveness, and about love. He taught me so much about the depths of His heart and His love for me as I discovered the depths of my own heart and love for others. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I could not see it at the time, but as I look back, I can see how God kept His promise to me. He did work all those things together for my good.
Yet, here I am today in the midst of another trial and I am so quick to forget that God is working in this situation as well. I know what the lesson is this time. God wants to teach me about trust. Like the other lessons I learned, this one will not be easy either. I learned patience cannot be learned in a hurry or right away...it just doesn’t work that way. I learned forgiveness does not mean to ignore the pain and forget what happened, but to choose to not hold hard feelings and to love anyways. I learned love is a more than fuzzy feelings but a choice that needs to be made in the good times and bad times, in the ups and the downs, in the highs and the lows. Now I am learning about trust...not just about trusting God when everything in life is wonderful but when life is not fun, things hurt, and life is confusing.
For most of my life I have been a Christian and it is always so easy to say “I trust God” without really putting much thought behind the words. Now I ask myself, “can I trust God...even when it hurts?” Is He really working in this situation for my good even though it may not be going the way I want it to go. I so badly want to take control the situation and want answers from God right away (there is that patience issue again). I want to do this my way and in my timing and in the way I think it should go. I am so quick to forget that I tried that before once and it didn’t turn out so hot. I am not very good at being God. He is much better at it. He knows what He is doing. I realize I need to trust in Him. I need to trust in Him knowing He is in complete control of the situation and is working “ALL things” for good in my life in His perfect timing. Even though I cannot see it today and most certainly cannot feel it today, I will choose to trust in God. Even as I write these words I am discovering that as I make the choice to trust God, my inner spirit is filled with joy and peace knowing I am in God’s hands and in the very midst of His will for my life. I am excited to see what this trial looks like on the other end and learn all that God wants to teach me through it. I am sure someday in the future I will look back on these pages of my new journal and once again see how God was with me the entire time working the situation for good in my life.
James 1:2-3, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”
So...can I trust God even when it hurts? Yes, absolutely...because God is completely sovereign, infinite in wisdom, and perfect in love. I am reading a great book called Trusting in God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges. Check it out...I can’t put it down.
Last night I was enjoying a steak burrito from Panchero’s with a little pico, hot sauce, and a handful of jalapeños. A buddy and I had decided to discuss some Immersion worship ideas, and out of nowhere, he hit me with some knowledge. It was one of those things that I had always felt and known deep down, but never heard someone put it to words in such a way that I saw it as a relevant truth.
I started coming to Immersion several years ago. Being a musician myself, I really dug the worship music, but I also really learned a lot from the messages. It was a time I looked forward to every week. But inevitably after I had been a regular for months on end, I started hearing overlap. I could sing half the songs with my eyes closed, and I could extract the point of a message long before the speaker ever got there. I felt as though I wasn’t learning anymore, or that the feeling I got from being convicted every week was gone for good. I was slowly losing my motivation to attend Immersion, and church in general.
Naturally, I think a lot of us get to this point sometime or another. The great thing about God’s word is that it’s consistent, and you can draw the same conclusion from tons of different verses. However, that also means that for us big-picture thinkers, we may not feel challenged consistently as these concepts become second nature. Or, regrettably, we may become bored and lose interest in a relationship with God as we feel it has become stagnant or that we’ve “learned everything.”
Now, obviously that’s not true, but we can’t deny that we all get that feeling sometimes. It goes without saying that we can all use good reminders of teachings, some more frequently than others, but when your entire relationship with God feels like nothing but a series of reminders, what do you do? Luckily for us, God sends along people like mi amigo en Panchero’s…
Seriously, just get up and do something! The knowledge that I digested along with my succulent Amerimexican cuisine was that serving a ministry, no matter how seemingly insignificant the role, changes your heart for it completely.
When you contribute your time and effort to a body of believers, you gain a new perspective. The instant you decide to show up a bit early and hand out bulletins, you’re no longer a bored spectator, but a herald of good news. With each piece of bread you break off and pass to your brothers and sisters during communion, you step closer and closer to furthering the ministry as a whole rather than idly watching it pass by. Even choosing to reach out to someone with something as small as a joyful greeting spreads Christ’s love like wildfire.
In short, you’re helping the ministry expand and prepare itself to serve people who were just like you, years ago, walking in for the first time. If you don’t believe me, try it and see for yourself!
It certainly doesn’t even have to be Immersion either!
Offer up some of your free time to help a ministry grow, and you’ll see how quickly God changes your heart for the ministry itself and the people involved. We’re commanded to serve one another in love, not because God needs us to make huge ministries or churches, but because God knows that serving one another in love is one of many things that He made us to do, and that it ushers in His presence and fills us up!
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Who knew that burritos were such an enlightening entrée?
Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.
Some friends invited me to lunch at their house yesterday. There were a lot of people there I hadn't met before. A friend introduced me to this person, told me his name and we shook hands. I said "So nice to meet you 'so and so'." I say 'so and so' because I literally repeated his name back but was not listening at all. I was so wrapped up in everything going on around me, I could not remember what he had told me his name was just 20 seconds earlier!
About an hour later I left, was driving in my car on my way to the bookstore and talking to my mom on my cell phone. I asked her a question, she began to answer, and before she could even get the answer out I would interrupt with another question that was completely unrelated. This went on for about 5 minutes before she finally said “Can we get back to your first question?”
I am feeling especially convicted by my behavior yesterday. Aside from being rude, it got me thinking. If I listen this attentively to friends and family who are physically with me, how well do I listen to what God is trying to tell to me through His Holy Spirit? Am I stopping or even slowing down to listen to what He is saying back to me? There are some days I feel like I am in a constant conversation with God, but so often it's this one-sided dialogue because I never shut up long enough to hear what He wants to say! Some times I’m not even focused on what I’ve just asked Him!
God desires a relationship with us. Have you ever been in a relationship or had a friendship with someone and you felt like all they did was talk about themselves? I have, and it drove me nuts...I imagine God feels the same way.
"Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." Proverbs 1:5