Making Your Dreams Come True

Because I am the Papa to two young granddaughters, I have seen the movie “Tangled” approximately 4,000 times.  One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Rapunzel and Eugene visit the Snuggly Duckling, a tavern where they encounter a group of rowdy thugs who are prepared to beat them up.  Just before the first punch is thrown, Rapunzel asks the magic question,”Doesn’t anyone here have a dream?”  A cute song breaks out where the ruffians share their secret dreams: being a concert pianist, falling in love, interior design, being a florist, and the list goes on.  Who would have guessed big ugly brutes would have sensitive dreams like this?

I’ll bet you have a dream, too.  It might be buried deep down there where no one can see it or know about it, but it’s there… waiting on the day when you muster up enough courage to try.

Let me ask you to sit down, because there’s something I need to tell you that will be hard to hear.  Contrary to what most people believe, dreams don’t come true all by themselves.  Sure, you can go to Disney, where dreams come true, but I’m talking about a different kind of dream.  I’m talking about the dream of becoming someone new and different and better.  I’m talking about the dream of achievement, of accomplishment, the kind of dreams that don’t end when vacation is over.  These dreams don’t just happen- they are realized by intention.

Maybe you’ve been dreaming, and you think it’s time to go for it.  Let me share with you the 5 elements of making your dreams come true.

Make Your Dream Specific

The sharper and more specific your dream, the better you will be able to make a plan to reach it.  Don’t just dream about losing a few pounds- dream about losing 30 pounds.  Don’t just dream about earning a degree- specifically name that degree.  Dreaming in specifics will give you the framework for making a detailed plan on how to make that dream come true.  If you want to lose 30 pounds, you can make a schedule, plan meals, and systematically document your progress and know what’s ahead.  Make your dream specific.

Embrace Change

The old saying goes like this: “You can’t expect a different outcome by doing things the same way.”  Unless you are willing to change your routine or your thought patterns or your habits, you won’t see your dream come true.  If your dream is to run a 10k, it will never happen until you make the change from a sedentary to an active lifestyle. If you dream of losing 30 pounds, you’ll have to change your eating habits.  If you dream of a better relationship with your spouse, the dynamics of your relationship will have to change.  Many people are simply unwilling to change, which explains why there are so many unrealized dreams out there.

Embrace Self-Discipline

If realizing dreams was easy, people would realize them all the time.  But they don’t, and a big reason is because people don’t want to do the difficult work of learning self-discipline.  People who are self-disciplined don’t need anyone to make them get out of bed, or go to work when they don’t feel like it, or say no to key lime pie, or apologize when they are wrong. 

But without self-discipline dreams aren’t realized, because our dreams stretch us.  In our dreams, we are better and stronger and faster and wiser than we are now.  We’re who we aspire to be in our dreams, and there’s only one pathway to who we really want to be: self-discipline.

Refuse to Give Up

We want to see our dreams come true right now, don’t we?  But a dream that can be achieved in a week or two isn’t a dream- it’s a trifle.  Dreams are big, they are sweeping, they are grand, and those things TAKE TIME!  You won’t learn to play that musical instrument in a month, but you will in a year.  You won’t lose 30 pounds in a month, but you will in 5 or 6 months.  You won’t learn to speak Spanish or change relationship dynamics in a week.  It takes much longer.  Challenges and obstacles will await you at every turn and during every day.  You’ll get tired, you’ll get depressed, and you’ll get discouraged.  All dream chasers do.  But nothing will stop you unless you give up.

Involve a Friend

There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with others.”  Every morning at 5AM, I attend a challenging exercises class.  I’ve come to love the people in that class, because without them there’s no way I would continue to get up that early just to suffer.  But we encourage each other.  We pull each other along.   I would even say we are chasing our dreams together.  Find someone who will join you in the pursuit of your dream.

I believe that no matter who we are or how old we are, there is a dream waiting to be realized.  We see pictures of people who are fit, or we see pictures on our friend’s Facebook page of them traveling, and we secretly think, “I wish that was me.”  That’s what a dream feels like.

I hope you have a dream.  But more than that, I hope that you’re sensing it’s time to make your dream come true.  Go for it!  Be relentless.  Know specifically what you want.  Embrace change.  Grit your teeth and discipline yourself.  And take a friend with you.  Good luck, and if you need encouragement, I’m your guy!

Why Christianity Seems So Objectionable To Our Culture

In the last 50 years, Christianity has experienced a sobering reversal of fortune in our culture.  Until the middle of the 1900’s, attending church was not only a cultural expectation, it was an important sign of good citizenship.  Fathers wanted their daughters to date “good, upstanding, church-going boys,” and our society as a whole embraced the value of Christian spirituality.

But no more.  In fact, the definition of what is culturally normal has made a 180 degree turn.  These days, it’s the weird people who attend church.  Christians are labeled “sheeples”- weak minded, easily influenced folk who lack the critical thinking skills to see their own blindness.

In case you’re fuzzy about some of the changes I’m referring to, let me outline a couple of ways culture’s worldview has changed, making Christianity seem objectionable.

In contrast to the traditional Christian worldview, today’s culture believes that truth has the ability to evolve.  As humans get smarter, and as more and more scientific advances take place, the old standards of truth feel outdated  and confining.  Even the notion of absolute truth (something that is always true regardless of circumstances) is judged by today’s culture as an archaic concept.  While this might seem legit on the surface, changing what is absolute is like moving the goal posts on a football kicker.  If absolute standards are disagreeable or distasteful, there are two choices: either bring the belief system into compliance with the truth or redefine truth.  Our culture has chosen to redefine truth (described as evolving truth), which stands in sharp contrast to Christianity’s adherence to unchanging truth.  The result: Christianity is objectionable.

Second, our culture recognizes love as God’s foundational attribute.  In other words, love is the basis for who God is, what God does, and how God makes decisions.  The reason this viewpoint has become so popular is because it conveniently ignores the attribute that balances love: judgment.  Nothing ticks off someone in our society quicker than to tell them that what they are doing is bad or wrong.  To our culture, virtually anything goes “because God is love, and a loving God wouldn’t be mean enough to tell me I’m wrong.”

Even a cursory reading of the Bible will provide a different picture of God’s true nature.  God certainly is love- and He loves us with a love that is different than anything in this world.  But God’s primary attribute isn’t love- it’s holiness.  Holiness is the perfect blend of love and judgment, and both of those attributes find equal expression in God’s thoughts, words, and actions.  Because God is holy, He cannot and will not tolerate whatever is not holy.  If you ever doubt God’s love for you, then look no farther than Jesus on the cross.  But don’t make the mistake of ignoring God’s judgment.  And once again, that’s a facet of God that our culture doesn’t want to hear about.  That makes Christianity objectionable.

Third, our culture has come to believe that happiness is the main objective of life.  Follow your heart.  Don’t worry, be happy.  Even though you can’t afford it, go ahead and buy that new car, because you deserve to be happy.

It is shocking to hear Jesus’ response to this kind of worldview.  Jesus said things like, “If you want to be first, then you have to be last.  If you want to live, then you must die.  If you want to be served, then you must become a servant.  Unless you give up everything, you are not fit to be my follower.”  The world hears these words, rolls their eyes, turns their back, and walks away.  Seeking personal happiness.

And last, our culture believes that life should be fair.    Our culture has adopted a worldview that seeks to make all ideas, behaviors, and beliefs equally valid and tolerated.  Once again, on the surface that might sound nice, but this worldview collapses under the weight of scrutiny.  While all people are certainly equally valuable and should be treated as such, not all ideas, habits, practices, and beliefs are valid.  They just aren’t.  But once again, to suggest that an idea or belief is wrong today is viewed as not treating people fairly.

And have you noticed that when life doesn’t seem fair, most of the time it’s God’s fault?  Why did God allow this to happen?  Why didn’t He do something?  I’m saddened when our culture blames God for bad things, yet refuses to give Him credit for the good things.

These thoughts only scratch the surface on this important topic.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as to why Christianity has become so objectionable to our culture.

The Real Process of Spiritual Rebirth

The Sunday sermon was coming to a close, leading up to an invitation to become a Christ follower, and the invitation went something like this: “Becoming a Christ follower is as easy as bowing your head and inviting Jesus Christ to come and live in your heart and forgive you of your sins.  His presence in your life will provide a new direction, giving you victory over your circumstances and bringing joy to your life.”

While some parts of that invitation are true, I’m not certain that it gets at the heart of what spiritual rebirth is all about.  For some time, I have been concerned that we (those of us who preach or share our faith with others, including me) have adopted a less than honest method of explaining what it means to be reborn spiritually.

Before I go farther, let me share my heart.  I wholeheartedly believe that helping people find new life in Christ is one of the primary purposes of the Christian life.  I’ve dedicated my life and my ministry to that end.  But I’m uneasy with the way that I sometimes hear the Gospel being presented, and these words are my way of reinforcing to myself and to anyone else interested what I believe is an honest, direct, and Biblical way of explaining the process of spiritual rebirth.

Let me offer a reason why I think the process has gotten off track.  Our culture has adopted an egocentric perspective of life.  In other words, life has become about us.  We are encouraged to have it our way in virtually all areas of life.  No longer do we value characteristics such as commitment, sacrifice, and the sense that we are individual members of something greater.  And this attitude has crept into the way we view and practice our faith.  My observation is that faith is no longer the hub of our lives.  Instead, it has joined a myriad of other things as just another spoke in the wheel that orbits that which is at the center- ourselves.  Instead of life being centered around faith, faith has joined our hobbies, our work, and our other interests in being items that compete for available time and importance.

So how has this worldview affected the way we present the process of spiritual rebirth?  Because self and not faith is the hub of our existence, spiritual rebirth is presented as a solution to the problems of life.  Jesus becomes a problem solver, a soother of hurt feelings, a provider of what’s missing, or the reliever of a guilty conscience.  Don’t misunderstand me- Jesus is all these thing and more to us.  But solving problems and soothing hurts are different issues than spiritual rebirth.

As I read about how Jesus spoke and taught about spiritual rebirth, I think I see a few basic principles.  First, spiritual rebirth isn’t about solving a problem.  It’s about dying a spiritual death.  It’s about putting to death the corrupted nature that has ultimately led us to where we are in life.  It’s about renouncing our old ways of thinking, acting, and believing.  If you want to feel better, then give God your problems.  If you want to be born again, the old you must be put to death.

Second, I wonder if we don’t have it backward when we say that we invite Jesus to save us.  It is actually Jesus who invites us to come to Him and be saved.  This is significant, because when we are in control of the invitation to be saved, then we are also in control of the terms of salvation.  If my rebirth comes at my own invitation, then I’m inviting Jesus to do for me what I want.  Unfortunately, what I want is rarely what I need.  I’m usually thinking about a new job or a better relationship.  But to Jesus, spiritual rebirth is much deeper.  It is surgery.  It is a full system restore.  It is about dethroning ourselves and enthroning Him.  Yes, there is an element of us inviting Jesus to do His work in us when we are spiritually reborn.  But the agenda isn’t ours- it’s His.

And third, when the process of spiritual rebirth genuinely takes place, there is a new Sheriff in town.  There is a new King.  If we are still in control of our lives, then we haven’t understood what spiritual rebirth is all about.  When we are spiritually reborn, we are birthed into a Kingdom whose King is someone other than us.  We’re reborn as servants and slaves.  We are no longer the hub.  The world cannot revolve around us any more.

I don’t remember Jesus inviting people to follow Him so they could feel better or have their problems solved.  He invited people to become a slave, give up their wealth, and die to themselves.  He didn’t mince words, beat around the bush, or apologize for the difficulty or commitment.  And neither should we.

All The Way Back

The Masters Golf Tournament advertises itself as “An Event Like No Other.”  This year’s Masters lived up to the billing.  The caliber of golf was elite.  There was high drama when golfers at the top of the leader board wilted under the smothering pressure.  The course was as beautiful as ever.  But all that paled in comparison to the win by Tiger Woods.

I remember the day I heard on the news of Tiger’s “trouble.”  The news came out slowly, but when the picture cleared, the result was too bizarre to be believed.  The golfing legend, the best player in the game, was arrested following a public fight with his wife.  As time passed and more details came to light, the situation went from bizarre to incredible to pitiful.  Tiger was so messed up.  His personal life was in shambles, and everything about him, including his golf game, fell apart.

I don’t know Tiger personally, and I have no inside scoop on what actually went on, but my sense in watching Tiger’s reaction to his fall from grace was that he was unrepentant, smug, condescending, and unapologetic.  After playing a round of golf, I would sit in the clubhouse and listen to my golfing friends pontificate on Tiger’s future.  It was unanimous- Tiger was finished.  And no one was sad about it.  He was reaping the rewards of his actions.

Tiger suffered a long string of physical ailments that kept him from playing, even if things were different.  He had back surgery and could barely walk, much less swing a club.

But as time went on, something slowly seemed to change in Tiger.  His attitude seemed to soften.  He became more introspective.  He seemed more mature, and with that maturity, a  sense of humility seemed to emerge.  His back began to improve, and he worked like never before to claw his way back.  When he was finally able to compete, his demeanor was different.  Softer.  His inner drive was still strong, but it’s as if the old Tiger was replaced with… someone grounded and tempered.  After a long grind to regain his form, he made it all the way back when he tapped in for a one shot Masters victory.

I think I’m as surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response of the public as I am his regaining of his skills.  I began to wonder: why did the public take Tiger back?  Why did people weep when he won?  What make all of America shout “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger?”  Here’s my guess.

I believe we like to see hard work and sacrifice rewarded.  The skill and talent required to win at that level is practically impossible, and Tiger faced longer odds than most in the field.  He was overcoming serious physical issues.  He was competing against players younger and stronger than himself.  And yet there he was.  I believe America grasped how hard Tiger had to work to get there, and winning felt to us like his hard work was rewarded.

I think people cheered for Tiger because people respond to humility.  There was quite a while in Tiger’s journey when he seemed oblivious to his failure.  It didn’t appear to bother him. There was no contrition.  And it was only when people sensed a softening of his attitude did they seem to see him in a different light.  Watching Tiger embrace his children following his win showed a humility that had been missing earlier, and America responded.

And finally, I believe people cheered for Tiger because we love to see stories of redemption.  There’s just something about a story of restoration that strikes close to our hearts.  I believe redemption resonates with us because we all have our own stories of failure, and to see someone restored after a fall makes us hopeful that we can be restored, too.

If I could choose one takeaway from this year’s Masters tournament, it would be this: if Tiger can make it all the way back, you and I can too.

The People You Don’t Want To Be

Early in my ministry there was a homebound man who I periodically visited.  He was a nice man, but after a couple of visits I dreaded having to go back, because the visits were always the same.  I would come in, sit down, and ask the magic question, “So how are you doing?”  He then proceeded to give me what became known as the “organ recital”- an hour long, body system by body system detailed rundown of his health.  His list of maladies was longer than my arm, and once he got going, there was no stopping him.  It happened every visit.

We all know folks like that, don’t we?  They might not give you an organ recital, but they have a quality or habit that makes them someone you wouldn’t exactly ask over for dinner.  They are kind the people that we don’t want to be.

I’ve given this topic some thought, and I came up with a short list of the kind of person I don’t want to be.  Here’s my list, and I’m sure you can develop a list of your own.  In no particular order…

The Constant Advice-Giver

There’s nothing wrong with giving advice.  I give advice on a regular basis.  But from experience, unsolicited advice can often be irritating, especially when someone isn’t looking for advice.  There are times when people just want to talk through a situation or problem.  They’re looking for clarity.  They want to process thoughts out loud.  I’ve come to appreciate friends who ask before advising.  A simple question such as “Are you looking for advice here, or are you looking to talk things out?” can keep you from treading where you aren’t yet invited.  If I’m sincerely interested in helping people without giving advice, I should learn how to ask good questions.

The Know It All

These folks not only have answers to every question, they are convinced that their answers are always the right answers.  There’s nothing wrong with being smart or being right, but people are put off by those who will not consider the possibility that they are wrong.  I was in a conversation with someone like this, and I became so exasperated that I asked them to share with me the last time they were wrong about something.  As of this morning, I’m still waiting for their answer.

The “It’s All About Me”

A couple of weeks ago, my assistant told me I had a phone call.  I said hello and didn’t speak again for 45 minutes.  I’m not exaggerating.  Toward the end, I began to measure their breaths, looking for a chance to break in and end the agony.  I would occasionally try to interrupt, but for the most part, it was a complete one-sided conversation.  I’m still a little fuzzy about why they called me.

Sometimes it is right to talk about ourselves.  But a conversation is unsatisfying to all involved if there isn’t a chance for everyone to contribute.

The “I Can Top That One”

I was involved in a group conversation, listening to someone tell a story of losing their luggage on a trip overseas.  The moment the story ended, another person in the group piped up by saying, “Well, when I was overseas…” launching into a story of their own where they topped the experiences of the previous speaker.  As the second person was droning on, I carefully watched the face of the first speaker.  At first their face fell, then their eyes rolled, and then they walked away.

People’s stories are personal, and sharing them is a way of sharing parts of themselves.  When they do, I should honor them by allowing their stories to stand on their own.

The Wet Blanket

Remember Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh?  He’s a wet blanket.  To wet blankets, nothing will go right.  Something’s wrong with everything.  It won’t work.  It’s too difficult.  We’ll never get back in time.  Everything is negative.

I get it that things don’t always go smoothly.  Sometimes planning just doesn’t go as planned.  But I should at least wait until something has failed before I pronounce it’s doom.

Please understand that I’m not making fun of anyone, and I’m certainly not trying to be mean.  If I have come across that way, I apologize.  But these are the kinds of people that we don’t want others to perceive us to be.  I know you don’t want to be labeled as a know-it all.  It would hurt if you knew that people considered you to be a wet blanket.  My point is to be aware of how we interact with other people, so that when people are in our company they enjoy their time with us.

Is there a person type you would add to the list?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The Value of Solitude

I realize I’m speaking in generalities, but I believe people in our current generation are some of the most stressed out, harried, unsettled people ever.  You might feel like you’re one of them.  And when you think about it, it really shouldn’t be this way.  We have access to more creature comforts than any other culture or group.  Compared to our predecessors, we are free from the stress of securing the basics of life, like where my next meal is coming from,  what happens if I get sick or injured, or how I will  provide for my family.  Virtually all of us own cell phones and have instant access to more information that we can use in two lifetimes.  Our houses are heated, cooled, powered, and equipped with running water.  Skilled health care is readily accessible.  Local stores sell food and whatever else we need.  So why are we so stressed?

I believe a major cause is sensory overload.  Our easy access to information has become a two edged sword- we’ve become addicted to needing information.  We’ve become addicted to the need for constant sensory input.  Many people cannot fall asleep at night unless the TV is playing in the background.

As an exercise, walk through your typical day.  Try to accurately gauge the amount of sensory input your mind is exposed to on an hour by hour basis.  Unless you live alone or the kids have grown and left home, mornings are probably a zoo.  Driving to work usually involves listening to the radio.  Then there’s everything associated with work.  Evenings are a jumble of catching up, eating, homework, housework, and TV.  That doesn’t count the numerous times each day we check our emails, look at our social media homepages, answer calls, carry on conversations… You get the picture.

The antidote to overload is solitude.  Solitude isn’t necessarily an escape to an uninhabited island (unfortunately).  Solitude is stolen moments free from external stimulation.  There is more value in solitude than simply shutting out noise and enjoying silence.  Here are some valuable benefits to a life of someone that makes time for solitude:

Solitude allows you process and contextualize the events of your life.  It’s hard to overstate the importance of being able to accurately contextualize the events of the day.  Taking a few minutes to reflect on what happened and what was said will enable you to separate the wheat from the chaff of life.

Solitude is where you are refreshed, recharged, and restored.  This is self-explanatory, but it’s also true.  There’s a reason why basketball and football games have halftime.  You can certainly survive the day or week or month without a period of refreshing, but who wants to live like that?

Solitude is the best atmosphere for making important decisions.  When an important decision needs to be made, advice from friends, family, and experienced acquaintances are both valuable and advisable.  But once you get your advice, it helps to take uninterrupted time to sort, mull over, consider options, and weigh consequences.  That’s the value of solitude.  The extraneous voices and the drone of life are quieted.  If you think about it, I think you’ll agree that most of your important decisions have been made during  times of solitude and reflection.

Solitude is where God’s voice is best heard.  If you happen to be a person of faith, then recognizing and understanding God’s voice is critical.  When God communicated with people in the Bible, He never seemed to shout over the din of life.  Instead, He chose occasions that resembled times of solitude.  Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Job, they all heard directly from God, and God seemed to choose private, quiet times to communicate.

I’m not suggesting we quit our jobs for the desert life of a monk, nor am I suggesting we smash our cell phones and drop out of modern life.  But I am recommending a fresh look at the benefits of periodic solitude.  Turn off your radio when you’re driving.  Sit out on the porch.  Take a short walk.  Eat lunch outside.  You might be surprised at what you’ve been missing.

Circumstances or Choices?

I recently ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.  He is a motivated, articulate, hard working man who is involved in heaven knows how many areas of family, work, and community.  When I asked him where he’d been, he gave me the answer that many people can identify with: “I’m being overwhelmed with life right now.”

Most of us know what he’s talking about.  What begins as the gentle ebb and flow of the rhythm of life turns into a tsunami that washes over us  and threatens our ability to cope.  What felt stable yesterday feels out of control today.  The key to dealing with the feeling of being overwhelmed lies in our perception of what’s happening and why.

Most people will tell you that their life feels overwhelming because of their circumstances.  “My job came to an end, and I don’t know what I’m going to do next.  My husband spends all his time looking at his phone instead of engaging our family, and I’m left to do everything around the house.  Our debt load is crushing, and I don’t know how we’re going to pay the bills.”  Life feels overwhelming because of what’s happening.

But what if there’s an alternate explanation?  What if we feel overwhelmed not so much because of our circumstances, but because of the way we react to our circumstances?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that losing our job, dealing with debt, or enduring a broken relationship isn’t overwhelming, because it is.  But I have observed that few people realize that although they might not have control over the challenges and difficult circumstances of life, they have a great deal of control over how they choose to interpret and deal with those challenges.  We have a choice: either let the circumstances of our lives determine our future, or choose to move forward with purpose and take charge of our lives.  Will our circumstances manage us, or will we choose to manage our circumstances?

In case you’re wondering what this looks like in real life, let me give you a couple of ways you can manage your circumstances.

You can choose to control your attitude.  Learn to distinguish between the really important and the simply irritating, and react accordingly.  Be content with where you are and what you have until God chooses to give you more or move you. Be thankful for what you have instead of pining for what you wish for.

You can choose to control your priorities.  We can’t be all things to all people, so what if we choose to stop trying and see what might change?  Learn the difference between the important and the urgent.  Learn how to draw appropriate boundaries.  Learn how to say no.  And learn the real meaning of the concept of rest.

You can choose to control your habits.  The apostle Paul wrote that while lots of things might be permissible, not everything is beneficial.  What if you chose to go to bed an hour earlier instead of watching TV?  What if you chose to pay closer attention to what you eat and drink and the effect that your intake has on your outlook?

We can’t control everything that happens to us in our lives.  But we have a choice as to what those circumstances mean, and how to move forward.  While the unavoidable circumstances of life happen, I believe we’re ultimately more a product of our choices than our circumstances.  You really do have a choice.  Choose wisely.


Tell me if  this has ever happened to you.  You get out your Bible, your journal, and a cup of coffee, anticipating a deep and meaningful time with God.  You find your chosen place to read, quiet your mind, and begin.  The verses move past, but nothing earth-shattering jumps out.  You re-read what you just read.  Still nothing meaningful.

“OK God,” you think, “I’m finished reading now.  I’ve even read everything twice.  Time for you to speak to me… One, two, three go…” And still nothing.

This is where I am as I write this.  My Bible and journal are open beside my computer.  I’ve been at this for almost 30 minutes.  My journal page is empty, and I haven’t heard a word from God.  Is He mad at me?  Is this some kind of test?  Am I missing something?

Well, let’s go through the checklist.  Have I done something that would prevent me from hearing from God?  Not that I know of.  Have I rushed through my reading or praying?  Maybe, but I tried not to.  Is God making some kind of point?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that one.  All I know is I tried to listen and He didn’t say anything.

As I have gotten to know God better, I’ve learned that every day doesn’t bring a life-changing revelation.  Come to think about it, God has never seemed to be a conversationalist.  He speaks when He has something to say.  When He speaks, it’s important and memorable.  But sometimes, He doesn’t speak.

I can’t explain why God sometimes chooses not to speak.  But I know this: although God doesn’t speak to me every day, He hears me every day.  I might not have heard something definitive from Him, but He has heard everything I’ve said or thought, and there isn’t a single detail of my life or my circumstances that have escaped His attention.

If you’ve taken the time to read, pray, and listen to God but haven’t heard anything, don’t worry or don’t get discouraged.  He’s right there.  He see you, He hears you, and He’s on the job.  You haven’t wasted your time.

When Life Isn’t Fun

Lately I’ve been reading from the last few chapters of the New Testament book of Acts, which is a narrative of the arrest and imprisonment of the Apostle Paul.  If I had to describe the events of these chapters in a single phrase, it would be “Sometimes life just isn’t fun.” 

Paul has been out on a missionary journey, and he makes his way back to Jerusalem.  While in the Temple, an angry mob of Jews attack, requiring Roman soldiers to save him.  This begins a long, systematic defense of his life and ministry in front of the Roman commander, the Jewish Council, two governors, an Emperor, a King, and perhaps even Caesar. 

Paul was innocent of the charges brought against him, but his defense failed to win his freedom.  As a matter of fact, his wish and his destiny was to continue his appeal process all the way to Rome.

I can only imagine how Paul must have felt about the circumstances of his life.  Sure, there was undoubtedly a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that he was in God’s hands, but how discouraging it must have been to be imprisoned for years, in spite of his innocence.  Life probably wasn’t much fun.

If we read closely and pay attention to details, I believe there are a couple of truths that we can recognize and file away for the times that our lives don’t seem very fun.

First, think about how long and drawn out this process was.  After a period of imprisonment, Paul appeared before Felix, who told him to go away and await his verdict.  Two years later, there was still no verdict, and Felix was replaced by another official.  And still no decision.

Doesn’t our life sometimes seem that way?  We’re caught in a hamster wheel of circumstances that go round and round and round, and there’s no end in sight.  In Paul’s case, none of his circumstances were random or accidental.  God was carefully orchestrating everything.  As a matter of fact, Paul’s incarceration actually saved his life, because there awaited an angry group of Jews ready to kill him as soon as he was released.  If life doesn’t seem like fun for you right now, remember that nothing happens outside of God’s control or His knowledge.  Just as God had a purpose for Paul’s protracted imprisonment, He has an equally important purpose for your life, too- in spite of the circumstances.

Which brings me to the another insight: sometimes it stinks to be us.  I know that doesn’t sound very graceful, but I think you know what I mean. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives stink.  Paul had to sail on a ship to reach Rome, and before his ship set sail, God revealed that there would be a horrendous storm that would wreck the ship.  Paul knew the misery that was coming.  And yet God asked Paul to keep going forward.  At that particular moment, it stunk to be Paul.

Here’s good news when life stinks: life never stinks for no reason.  God doesn’t shipwreck us or cause our kids to rebel or get us fired from work because He is bored and wants to be entertained.  When life stinks, it’s usually for one of two reasons.

Sometimes life stinks because there’s a critical lesson of life God knows we need to learn.  It could be patience, or dependence, or the breaking of a rebellious spirit.  But whatever the lesson, it’s always for our good, and if we cooperate, it will always turn out for our best.

Sometimes life stinks because it’s the best thing for the Kingdom of God.  And that’s hard.  It feels like punishment.  It feels cold and cruel and unloving.  But because of what we’re asked to endure, the Kingdom of God moves forward in a very significant way.  Paul willingly boarded a vessel that was destined to wreck, and it did.  But he survived, and his witness in Rome moved the Kingdom forward. 

I hope your life is currently full of fun.  But if it isn’t, then take a few minutes to review these chapters in Acts.  I pray that you will find some comfort in the knowledge that even though life might not be fun, God is in control, and God has a purpose.



Know Your Mission

As I was reading my Bible this afternoon, I ran across a statement that made me stop and take notice. I was reading in Acts 20. Paul was traveling to Jerusalem, and he was in a hurry. But trouble was waiting for him there. Here’s the verses I read:

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” (Acts 20:22-23)

My first thought was this: if trouble and hardships are waiting for you in Jerusalem, then why are you going? Why put yourself through something if you know in advance that it’s not going to go well? The answer is found in the next verse:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20;24)

In spite of whatever was awaiting him in Jerusalem, Paul was still going because traveling to Jerusalem was Paul’s mission that his Lord had given him. Paul knew his mission… in detail. And his life was dedicated to bringing his mission to pass. Which raises a rather uncomfortable question for me. How intentional am I in bringing my life’s mission to pass?

This is a question that can be glossed over with little effort. But I believe doing so would squander a great opportunity to correct the tendency to drift along in life. I’m confident that I know the Kingdom mission that the Lord has given me: I’m a pastor, and my mission is to influence as many people for Christ, and to prepare my local congregation for heaven.

So what’s the issue? I’m not satisfied that enough of my day to day decisions, my thoughts, or my choices are bringing me closer to my “Jerusalem.” Instead, I break my life down into chunks of time, too often thinking thoughts like, “Man, if I can just make it to the weekend, things will slow down for a day or so. If I can only get my sermon written, or if I can get past this meeting, then I’ll have time to think about the future.” Thought patterns like these redirect our concentration from our mission to our circumstances. Paul’s circumstances paled in comparison to his mission.

Let’s be honest. Life is complex, and there are many worthy issues that we face on a day to day basis that need to be handled. However, this story reminds me that life’s mission is larger and wider than what happens this week or next. I can’t let the circumstances of today prevent me from keeping my eyes on the big picture.

Looks like I need to head toward Jerusalem…