Are You Agitated and Anxious?

It’s sunny, very windy and 80 degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas today. But 7 years 8 months and 3 weeks ago, it was a different story. A severe ice storm had just hit. Trees were down and power was out all across Northwest Arkansas. Lots of trees were lost in that storm. Trees that did survive lost branches.

This morning, as I sat on our patio, I heard a loud rustling sound and then a tree branch fell on the driveway about fifteen feet from where I was sitting.

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It’s not uncommon to find branches like this after thunderstorms or just a strong wind like we have today. These branches are the result of the ice storm in January of 2009 when they broke off from the trunk and died. It’s inevitable they’ll crash to the ground. It’s just a matter of a time. All it takes is some agitation from the wind. And yet the same wind that agitates the dead branches has no effect on the healthy ones.

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In the moments leading up to His arrest, the gospel writers tell us Jesus was “troubled” and “overwhelmed with sorrow.” The same Greek word is used in both instances, it literally means:

to agitate, trouble a thing by the movement of its parts to and fro, to cause one inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, to disquiet, make restless, to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread, to render anxious or distressed

Do you ever feel that way?

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The A La Carte Christian Life

As Americans, or maybe it’s just as humans, we like choices. We enjoy going out to eat, opening the menu and getting to decide what we want to eat. We get to decide whether we want soup or a salad and what kind. We can choose a baked potato, french fries or no potato at all. We can have our steak rare, medium or well-done. And if we don’t like anything on the menu, the chef may even prepare something special just for us.

To order “a la carte,” literally means “according to the card/menu.” It’s our choice. Not the server’s. Not the chef’s. Not anyone’s choice, but ours.

There’s another type of meal service though. It’s called, “Table D’hote.” It literally means, “the host’s table.” In this type of dining, the menu is mostly planned and our food choices are limited. Essentially, we eat what’s put in front of us.

Table D’hote dining isn’t worse than a la carte, it’s just different. It’s really a matter of expectations. If I sit down to eat and expect to have the freedom to order whatever I want, then I may be very disappointed by the Table D’hote experience. If, on the other hand, I know what to expect and know the chef is the best in town, then I can enjoy the experience and even look forward to whatever surprises may be served.

I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in life is thinking that the Christian life is similar to a la carte dining. Actually, it’s gotten me into a lot of trouble. It’s led to a lot of anger and disappointment. It’s caused me to become disillusioned and cynical.

It’s like I’ve sat down at the table, opened the menu and said, “I’ll have the large portion of peace and prosperity. And I’d like a side of pleasure. Bring me some meaning and significance, too. But leave off the pain and suffering. I’m allergic.”

It doesn’t work that way though. In Romans 8:14-17, it says:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

So I’ve been adopted as God’s child. As a child, I’m also an heir. So far so good, right? Then Paul adds, “…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Yeah, I don’t like the suffering part. But it’s the suffering that allows me to also share in His glory.

The Christian life is not a la carte. It’s Table D’hote. I’m sitting at “the host’s table.” So I don’t always get to choose what I want or don’t want. The host plans the meal.

And that means that along with the blessings and joys also comes pain and suffering. There will be wonderful highs and some devastating lows. At times we will be wondering why we got served a plate of lima beans when the person at the next table is enjoying a medium-rare ribeye, a loaded baked potato and char-grilled vegetables.

Now I’m not suggesting our choices don’t matter and everything has been predetermined by God. I believe our choices do matter. The point is simply this…we don’t get to enjoy God’s blessings without also enduring trials and difficulties. When we think we can pick what we want and pass on the hard stuff, it only leads to feeling angry and disappointed with God.

It’s far better to know the “Chef” not only delights in serving us delicious food, but also knows what’s nutritious for us. And sometimes that means accepting what He puts before us even if we don’t always like how it tastes.

Anticipation

Do you have a favorite day of the year? Your birthday? Valentine’s Day? Your anniversary? Thanksgiving or Christmas? The opening day of deer season?

My favorite day of the year is December 23rd.

Why December 23rd?

It’s because of the anticipation. It’s all those magical moments leading up to being together as a family and opening those mysterious presents under the tree. I love the anticipation, the mystery and the surprises.

There’s something very powerful about anticipation. When we anticipate something bad happening, we call that worry or fear. When we anticipate something good and right happening, we call that faith.

So what are you anticipating for 2016?

To experience the best year ever in your life and in your marriage, it’s critical to begin anticipating it.

Now I’m not suggesting that we can simply create a new reality with our thoughts…however, it’s entirely possible that whatever we’re anticipating is what we’ll see occur. There’s something powerful about what we choose to think about and dwell on. Our thoughts fuel our emotions and desires. Our words and actions flow from what we’re thinking and feeling.

And before you know it, what we anticipated becomes our reality.

So what are you anticipating? What are you looking forward to in 2016? What are your thoughts already beginning to shape for you? Are you thinking about…

Getting in better shape? Growing your business? Getting a promotion? Growing closer to God? Building a better marriage?

My passion is to help you believe God and enjoy an amazing marriage. It’s what I want for myself and it’s what I want for you.

I’m 100% convinced that as you believe God’s Word and intentionally invest in your marriage, 2016 will become your best year ever.

Do you believe it?

If you do, then you’re who I created the 25-session video course, “How to Understand Your Spouse and Transform Your Marriage” for. It’s designed to help you experience a passionate and purposeful marriage. One that’s exciting and fulfilling…and full of adventure.

Currently, the price is $97, but if you order this week, you’ll pay just $48.50 now. I’ll bill you for the other $48.50 on January 15th. You’ll get instant access to all the content NOW though. This is a special offer just for my subscribers. CLICK HERE to learn more or purchase the course.

As an added bonus, I’ll also send you the paperback edition of “The Marriage Experiment: a 30-day intimate adventure” when it releases next month.

If your marriage isn’t everything you’d like it to be…if it feels like you’re lacking passion and purpose…if it feels like you’re stuck and things aren’t getting better…or even if your marriage is good and you want it to be amazing…let me encourage you to work through this course. The sessions are short and highly practical. You and your spouse can start 2016 with your marriage better than its ever been.

Last thing…if you’re looking for something fun to read over the next week or so, I’m offering the first two books in The Lakeside series for just $4.99 this week. CLICK HERE to get immediate access to The Lakeside Conspiracy and The Lakeside Confession in either the iBooks or Kindle versions. If you enjoy mysteries with a romantic twist, then you’ll enjoy these books. Book 3 is coming soon!

Merry Christmas!

The Chief End of Man

The nation of Israel was in slavery to the Egyptians for four hundred years. I wonder what the Jews who were born, lived and died in Egypt during those four hundred years thought. All they knew their entire lives was slavery. They never saw God’s miracles. They never made it to the Promised Land. Maybe Hebrews 11:13-16 was written for men and women like them:

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

If you’re like me, you want trials and difficulties to be over today. If not, yesterday. That doesn’t always happen though. Ten years ago at this time, my dad was battling through the last few months of his fight with leukemia. A year ago, a friend of mine was fighting through the final stages of colon cancer. My dad and my friend would have liked to survive their illnesses. They didn’t want to die. But for them, the trials didn’t end with deliverance, but with death.

Maybe you’re battling a chronic illness today like they were. Or maybe you’ve been trying to repair a marriage or find a job or get pregnant.

And you wonder where God is and when He’s going to help.

Sometimes though, He has something better for us planned than immediate relief. But I’ll be honest, it’s hard to write that or accept that. I don’t want to suffer any more than you do or the Jews in Egypt did. My hope is that your difficult circumstances will come to an end as they eventually did for the generation of Israelites who lived four hundred years after Joseph.

In Exodus 3, God appears to Moses and says, “I am the God of your father–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land.”

God was aware of what the nation of Israel was suffering. He saw. He heard their cries. And He came down to rescue them. He came down to fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

He may be coming to rescue you any day now. Don’t lose hope. Keep crying out to Him. Keep seeking Him…not just relief. Keep seeking Him. I too often have made the mistake of only seeking relief from circumstances I didn’t like. I wish I’d spent more time seeking His face. Because sometimes the trials don’t end when or how I want them to. So what I really need is peace and joy in the midst of the hardships.

Mostly, what I’m reminded of today is that life isn’t about you or me. Whether our trials end today or tomorrow or next year isn’t the point.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a statement of beliefs completed in 1647 to teach the doctrines of the church. The first question and answer in it is:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

That’s why you and I exist. It’s why the Jews exist. It’s why they endured hundreds of years as slaves and were eventually led out by Moses. It’s why you are in your circumstances today. And why I’m in mine. If our current circumstances persist, it’s our opportunity to glorify God and enjoy Him. If He brings relief, it’s our opportunity to glorify and enjoy Him.

In the midst of whatever you’re facing today, how can you choose to glorify God and enjoy Him?

Pulling Back the Curtain

Do you ever wonder why God does some of the things He does? Or doesn’t do other things?

I do.

Do you ever ask, “Why God?” or “God, where are You?”

I do.

Let’s be honest, we don’t have God figured out. And never will. In fact, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

This is His universe. It’s His story. He’s under no obligation to explain Himself to us.

Sometimes that can make life painful or confusing, especially when our prayers go unanswered. We pray for things that mean a lot to us, but nothing happens. At least not anything we can see. It can feel like God isn’t listening or if He is listening that He doesn’t care.

In John 11, I believe God pulls back the curtain and lets us see what He’s up to during those times when life seems to be falling apart and He doesn’t seem to be showing up.

Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is sick. So naturally, his sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That’s a really interesting way to talk about someone. “The one you love.” Obviously, there’s a special friendship there.

Naturally, the sisters, just as you and I would, expect Jesus to come and heal their brother. That’s not what Jesus does though. Instead, He pulls back the curtain for us and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm. He lets us see He’s up to something far bigger than just healing someone. In verse 4, Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.”

Jesus pulls back the curtain with the words “so that.” What’s really going on here? The sickness will not end in death “so that God’s son may be glorified through it.” With that being the primary mission, what happens next in verses 5 and 6 makes sense…

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…”

The whole story hinges on the word, “So.” Lazarus is sick. He’s loved by Jesus. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are loved by Jesus. “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, Jesus immediately departed for Bethany.”

No, that’s not what happens. Jesus doesn’t immediately depart. He waits. For two days.

Two days may not seem like very long, but it is when someone you love is dying before your eyes. It’s a long time when you’re crying out for God’s help, but no answer appears. Most likely, you’ve prayed for something for much longer than two days. Maybe it’s been two months. Or two years. Or ten.

When the answer we want doesn’t come or doesn’t come quickly, it’s easy to lose heart, isn’t it? It’s easy to give up. Sometimes we begin to question God’s love and goodness. I’ve done that. I’ve doubted Him. And I’ve gotten angry. I’ve allowed disappointment with life to become disappointment with God.

But behind the circumstances you and I are facing, there’s always something bigger going on. The big story is God’s glory. When God shows up by either changing our circumstances or giving us the peace and endurance to keep going…He is glorified. Those around us get to see God at work.

The story of Lazarus continues though and we get to see the curtain pulled back again.

When Jesus gets ready to leave for Bethany, He tells His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

He does it again. He pulls back the curtain and lets us see what’s really going on. He says He’s glad He wasn’t there to heal Lazarus, so that they would believe.

When you and I face painful or confusing circumstances, when life throws more at us than we think we can handle, let’s remember God is at work growing our faith. He wants us to see Him at work so our capacity to trust Him grows.

God sees your situation. He knows the desire of your heart. He’s aware of the unmet need. He’s not unconcerned. He loves you deeply. So…maybe He hasn’t answered your prayer yet…or in the way you wanted Him to, so that He will be glorified and so that you will believe. Will God always answer the way we want? No, but when He doesn’t, we still have the promise of His peace.

Whatever you’re facing today…remember to pull back the curtain and take a peek at what God is up to.