‘You Steer Where you Stare’

I stole this from Lysa Terkeurst, in her book The Best Yes. I’ve been overwhelmed of late with situations that seem so hopeless. I don’t want to be one of those people who so obnoxiously retorts to everything, “God is good!” Because while it is true that God is good, life is still H A R D. Kids get sick, I don’t mean with the chicken pox or strep throat, I mean they get cancer, their organs fail or they get hit by a truck. Sometimes they die and we are broken. Marriages fail, spouses die, parents deteriorate, people lie, cheat and steal and we are left hurting and tempted to feel hopeless.

But still you steer where you stare. Even in, maybe especially in, the hopeless circumstances we face it is crucial that you fix your gaze on hope. In 1952 Norman Vincent Peale wrote the book The Power of Positive Thinking. It’s not a new concept. As Christians we cling to Hebrews 12:2 that tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. The four noble truths of Buddhism deal with suffering. The Hindus believe in karma which relates to the cause and effect where the intent of today influences the outcome of the future. The New Age movement is all about positive thinking. Native American religion focuses on peace and harmony with nature. Malcolm X preached that if you take one step toward Allah, he’ll take two steps toward you. The common denominator in all these beliefs is: perspective matters! How you come through hard times is determined by what you focus on. When you keep your eyes on the possibility, the hope in Christ, the view is clearer.

How deep is the mud? Depends on who you ask.

This current circumstance may in fact be horrific, but it won’t be forever. It may feel like forever, especially when you are in the tunnel of terrible and have yet to see a glimpse of an end. This pandemic will not last forever even though right now, today, it sure feels like it will. Whatever hardship you are facing will not be forever. It may in fact be the rest of this life, but this life is not forever either.

My faith comes from the hope of those who I've seen triumph over tragedy and being able to look back at my own life and see that what seemed like forever in perspective was really only a bleep on the radar.  Remember when you thought that kid would never: walk, talk, sleep, be potty trained, move out?  Remember when you thought that rebellious kid was a lost cause?  Remember when you thought Christmas or summer break would never come?  I want to spend so much time lamenting the horror, staring at the hard, that I end up driving the ship into the ground.  That's why Hebrews encourages us to look around, others have succeeded, look up, there's hope.  Focus on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.  He knows it needs perfecting.  One of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was: Begin with the end in mind, as Christians the end is eternity, we begin with the trials of the day, at some point He takes it all away and replaces it with glory.

You often hear people say, "I don't know how they survived that!"  Truth is they don't know how they did either.  We survive the unthinkable often times by sheer determination and just doing the next thing.  When you can't even muster the courage to begin much less have the end in mind, Jesus carries us.  We wake up on the other side wondering how we got there.  But in 'fixing our eyes' we can take so much pain out of the journey.  You don't have to carry all your bags, check them at the curb, you're invited to lay down your burdens and experience relief even in the midst of overwhelming trials.

Best Seat in the House

I grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s when concerts were wild and cheap. My first concert was the Doobie Brothers – Michael McDonald – swoon! For my 16th birthday my sister Sydney and her husband Tom took me and a friend to see KC and Sunshine Band in concert at Six Flags. It was a great trip, we mooned truckers on the highway, rode every ride and sang like no tomorrow at the concert.

In the glory days of concerts there were no seats. The floor was open for all of us to cram in and fight to get up front, only the old creepy people sat up in the seats. Front row seats were a big arena thing where seats were all around the stage and you were expected to stay in or at least near your seat. Front row seats were highly coveted and often a pair was given away in a highly sought after radio contest.

But sometimes front row seats are not the best seats. In some venue’s front row seats restrict your view and you miss things. In the movie theater front row seats are the last to fill because they are usually just too close. Sometimes front row seats break your neck because you strain to see and hold that position the entire show. When I bought tickets to a comedy play at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts when we were in DC, there was one seat front and center, but I chose another, because I highly suspected people in the audience would be asked to participate. I was not wrong! My seat was safely in the middle where I could enjoy the taunting of other patrons.

So where is the best seat? It’s not a one size fits all answer. Nosebleed seats can be great when you scraped together every penny to get to experience something you love. Sometimes its great just to be there! Nosebleed seats are the worst if you have a bad knee, a bad hip or bad back and have to climb all those stairs or if you have a fear of heights. I’ve never had 50 yard line seats, but hear they are great. My sister likes end zone seats at Cowboy’s games. I’ve had crummy seats and great binoculars. I’ve had crummy seats and great company. I’ve also had great seats with grouchy people that kind of ruined it.

It also matters whose is in the rows behind you when you have front row seats. A rowdy obnoxious crowd behind you can ruin front row seats propelling you closer to the action to try to see the show. Fans behind you can throw flowers or objects that make you fear for your life. Conversely a crowd behind you really into the show can suck you into the energy and take the show to new levels. Great company can make it all, good and bad, worth it. It all really comes down to perspective.

Life often pushes us to the front row of hard things. My dear friend has front row seats to her twenty-three year old daughter’s fight for life through a liver transplant. Another is living with the diagnosis of a spouse with Alzheimers. Another an only child burying their remaining parent. These are not good seats! We all face difficult trials, but having front row seats to life’s hardest moments is beyond tough. I’ve seen friends have front row seats as their children struggle with suicide and depression. I had a front row seat when they were uselessly doing CPR on my dead husband. I had front row seats with a smart kid that just could not read. I often have front row seats to the hard times of others. Front row seats can really really SUCK! And honestly for many of life’s trials there is not a good seat in the house.

So if I get to pick a seat, it will be next to someone who will help make it the best experience possible. Someone who will point me to Jesus, help me find the humor in the situation and the good in others. Someone who will be filled with hope and encouragement. Someone who will lament the negative and help me move on. These days, if I get to pick a seat, (especially at in service!!) it’s probably going to be in the back with the fun people! When I am assigned a seat, I hope that I will be a good seat companion and part of a great audience and let the show take me it where it leads and that is a better place!

Keep Seeking

To say that I am the opposite of a musical person is a gross understatement. My grandfather bought us a piano when I was very young, maybe even before I was born. He wanted his granddaughters to play the piano. My oldest sister took lessons for twelve years, the next took lessons for eight, I didn’t even make it a year. At recital time the piano teacher suggested (strongly) that my talents evidently lay elsewhere.

I had a similar experience with sewing. I vividly remember spending lots of time with my mom and sisters at Cloth World. I also remember the first time I got a store bought dress. My mother made all our clothes, she even made swim suits and Barbie clothes. She made my and Sydney’s wedding dresses. We shopped for my wedding dress, but when I couldn’t find what I wanted and described to my mom, she said, “I could make that.” And she did. My mother and both my sisters each made their own maternity clothes with the same sewing machine, I was never offered the machine (nor the piano for that matter), I had also failed sewing lessons.

I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember the summer day when mom decided she’d teach me to sew. We went to Cloth World. I picked out a pattern. I picked out the fabric. It was a cute white eyelet, simple, sleeveless top. I was super excited. I also remember mom telling me in frustration, “Go, I’ll make you whatever you want.” And she did, while I disappeared outside. My kids knew if they needed mending or awesome Halloween costumes, Grandma Nina could make miracles happen. She did draw the line at mending underwear that Paxton put in the mending pile once, she was unfazed by the fact he loved those underwear! Me and Paxton are good at finding people’s limits.

Sports came easily to our oldest son. If he lacked talent, he was always the biggest on the team and seemed to have boundless energy. He just loved being on a team. Our youngest could not have been more opposite. He grew up watching his brother play sports and when it came time for him to play, he was perfectly content on the sidelines. The last season he played soccer, I remember him saying to me in the car after a game, “How many more years are you going to make me do this?” Turns out, that was a good question and he never played again.

My oldest son has always wanted to be in law enforcement. My sister always wanted to be a school teacher. The rest of us struggle. I’m 58 years old and still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up. I’m beginning to think I may never know.

It may be obvious what we’re not good at but knowing where we excel can be another story. It’s funny as I sit here typing and reflecting, I can remember with such vivid detail stories and circumstances of my failures, but when I stop and think of victories they elude me. I know I’m not a complete failure, but it’s the failures that stick with me. And I don’t think that’s the worst thing ever. It keeps me humble. It keeps me seeking. It keeps me learning. So I live as though I still have so much to learn and the wisdom of others rushes to the front of my mind far faster than my own.

Disappointed

Yes, it is true–God will remain faithful even when you’re not, because his faithfulness rests on who he is, not on what you’re doing.

Paul David Tripp

Paul Tripp wrote a Wednesday Word about disappointment that really struck a chord with me. He lists six signs you are a disappointed Christian:

  • Disappointment with God
  • Lack of motivation for ministry
  • Numbing yourself
  • Envy of others’ lives
  • Letting go of the habits of faith
  • Greater susceptibility to temptation

I read through the list thinking, I’m not disappointed with God! I might lack motivation for ministry. I am guilty of numbing myself. I do envy others’ lives. I have let go of habits of faith. Surely my susceptibility to temptation is worse than EVERYone else. YIKES! I think I may be disappointed with God!?!?

I am still disappointed that my trip to Israel was cancelled last year. I am disappointed that I’ll never celebrate another wedding anniversary. I am disappointed when the dogs destroy something else. I am disappointed when someone hurts my feelings. I am disappointed with myself. I never thought that in boiling down all that disappointment, really I am disappointed with God and I don’t feel good about that! I felt way better being disappointed with everything else, I feel really bad about being disappointed in God — how dare I?

But I do dare! My friend Allyson, an Army wife, once said, “I don’t need to know the future, or God’s plan but couldn’t he just let me look at the outline?” I want to look at the outline too! But instead of the outline I get his word that takes faith to apply to my own life. I get an outline that seems too abstract to be a guide for my little pointless life. Ultimately my disappointment is a lack of faith. An inability to trust that God is in control and he does have a plan that is greater than what I could conceive.

But, Dr. Tripp does offer us hope! We can admit our weakness to God, become more aware of the things we say to ourselves, seek the company of those who have the confidence, joy and motivation you lack and look for reasons to be thankful and encouraged.

It really comes down to perspective. How do I handle the disappointments I face. Do I face them with hope, trusting that God is in control and that I know how the story ends? Or do I listen to the soundtrack in my mind that repeats, you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you don’t deserve better? This old SNL clip is funny, but all joking aside it does matter what we say to ourselves. It matters way more than you think it would.

And if what I say to myself matters so much, think how much more the words I say to others matter. My default is snarky and sarcastic, that’s not always well received, I know I’ve been a disappointment to many. But I also don’t want to disappoint and if I’m not going to disappoint I have to put effort into building up myself and others.

So my prayer for us today is that we would embrace our fuzzy vision trusting that God knows our future and promises us it will all work out in the end

Even the sparrow finds a home, 
    and the swallow a nest for herself, 
    where she may lay her young, 
at your altars, O Lord of hosts, 
    my King and my God. 
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, 
    ever singing your praise! Selah 

Psalm 84:3-4

Kiss the wave

“I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”

Charles Spurgeon

Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse – January 6, 2021. We are left wondering who are the good guys? And where are they? For followers of Christ we know not to look horizontally, but to look vertically, yet the horizontal pushes against us.

Mark Batterson wrote a devotional last week based on the Spurgeon quote above. He also quoted John Piper who said, “Don’t waste your cancer.” God will work all things together for good — but there is a requirement on our part. We have to let him in to do the work. I can plan, schedule, even pay for the repair work on my home to be done, but the only way the work will happen is if I let the repairmen in. I have to participate. Suffering finds us all, it’s how we let that suffering mold us and shape us that truly produces fruit.

When my kids were in the phase where the battles were mostly verbal, we had a discussion about tornadoes. When I hurl an insult and you retaliate with another insult, the insults grow stronger and stronger and swirl into a tornado. Once the tornado gets started the destruction is devastating and far reaching, not to mention clean up is overwhelming. But these tornadoes are preventable, I don’t have to perpetuate the cycle by trying to one up you. I can let the repairman in. I choose a better path, stop the tornado, avoid the destruction. What I think Charles Spurgeon is telling us is that the waves will come, but I get to decide what will the waves push me up against.

Brian Loritts, in his book Insider Outsider, talks about our need to move from orthodoxy to orthopraxy. As I’m not a seminarian, I had to look that up! Orthodoxy refers to correct belief while orthopraxy leads us to correct conduct. So often I’ve believed orthodoxy is enough and not had the fortitude to apply it consistently to my conduct. I’ve rather lived by the mantra, “Do what I say, not what I do.” My head knows what’s real and right, but I stumble truly living it out. It’s what I do that really makes an impact. The weakest argument ever is “I know, but…”

The most effective way for the enemy to stop the work of God on earth is to have us devour each other instead of celebrate and work together.

Jennie Allen

In this current climate of political ugliness I’m left wondering where are the good guys? But I can’t look around for the good guys, I have to look to our perfect example of Christ and then BE the good guys! We aren’t defined by our beliefs we are defined by our behavior. Paul told the Colossians, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:10) I cannot define myself as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, white or black, male or female, good or bad, right or wrong, just simply a flawed child of God. I can only endeavor to be a follower of Christ and allow him in to do the work in me so that his purpose can be fulfilled, even especially amongst the chaos. I have a choice to perpetuate the chaos or behave in a manner worthy of the cross. Let’s don’t waste the chaos to point to Christ.

And we know for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Snow day!!!

Thank God every day for the wisdom and protection of his law, but don’t ask it to do for you what only his amazing grace can do.

Paul David Tripp

We lived in Utah when our youngest was born. They never heard of a “snow day.” But then again, they got snow, not usually ice, they knew how to manage it and people actually knew how to drive in it. One of the many reasons I love Texas is Snow Days! We don’t get them very often, but what a beautiful gift they are, most of their beauty comes from the fact that, weatherly speaking, they just aren’t all that bad. Their rarity adds to their beauty. They are like that extra hour you get when the time changes, they are true illustrations of the gift of grace, don’t focus on that ‘you have to give it back part.’

We’re on the third Head of School since I’ve been at CTCS (I started in 2004). Some of them have been more generous with snow days than others. Some of us like snow days better than others. I don’t know how many snow days we’ve had in that time period but according to the weather man this is only the third time it has snowed significantly in Central Texas since 2000, when we moved here (April 7, 2007, February 23, 2010, Matt Hines, KXXV). Nobody counts ice storms, while they also get us out of school on occasion there is not one good thing about having to be out when it’s icy!

Ironically today is also National Clean Off Your Desk Day, as well as National Arkansas Day, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, National Milk Day, and National Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friend Day. I guess you get to pick how seriously you want to take this day. Will you be concerned about human trafficking or just splash your friend in a puddle? Who decides these days? How many can there actually be for one day? All that really matters is that you were given another day, it is in fact a gift. And that gift is attached to a choice: How will I use today? I wasted a lot of the morning sipping a cup a tea, contemplating this devotion, but it was in my pajamas and house shoes watching the snow melt and drip from the trees. I may or may not take down my Christmas tree. Regardless I will revel in the gift that is today.

Tuesday is not a snow day, but it is still a gift. Still I must get up and decide what I will do with this gift. I pray I choose wisely!

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

I Peter 4:10

Life in the gray

I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;

Ecclesiastes 3:10-12

I have such a tendency to see the Bible as being so black and white. It so clearly states right from wrong, yet I feel like I live in the gray, so black and white must not really apply to me?!? I thought of the how I gloss over the story of the prodigal son like the time it takes to read the story is how long the father waits for the son to return. In the time it takes to read the story the son blows through his inheritance and is eating with pigs. We don’t get a timeline. We don’t know how long he waited for that son to return. We don’t know what dad did while he waited. Was he grouchy? Did he look for him everyday? Did he whine about him to his wives, servants or friends? (I’m pretty sure the Bible word for whine is lament, by the way) Did he send out a search party? Did he hire a private investigator to follow him and make sure he was okay?

The story seems to speed through the hard and focus on the celebration – hmmm? Could that be the point? I remember when my kids were little I thought they would never be out of diapers then someone pointed out that there are no kids that go to college in diapers. When we’re in the hard stuff we tend to hyper focus on the hard, to waller in the black as though the white has been removed. But life in the gray is what living for eternity looks like. It’s ugly, it hurts, it disappoints, it looks like it needs to be cleaned, there is a tacky residue but it is not forever. It’s just now, just today. So to me I think it’s all pretty much gray. We came from darkness, “The world was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the earth.” (Gen 1:2 ESV) we are headed to eternity, that in our minds is bright and shiny–so that’s our black and white, all this in the middle is gray.

Like I know the end of the story for the prodigal son, I also know the end of my story, I just don’t have a grasp on the timeline! How long will I wait? How long will I endure? Why must I struggle with the same things over and over? When will I ever learn? The answer to all these questions is: Get over yourself, it doesn’t matter!! Because there is nothing better for me than to be joyful and to do good as long as I live, period, the end.

If eternity is the plan then it makes no sense to shrink your living down to the needs and wants of this little moment.

Paul David Tripp

Staff Devo 1/5/2021

Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for yourself in the field and after that build your house

Proverbs 24:27

I looked a lot over the break for something wonderful to use for bi-weekly staff devotions and came up dry. While I could continue the Bob Goff series as we have barely scratched the surface, I felt the need for something fresh. I’ve had this nagging feeling that I should just write, and while that is a daunting idea, I shall attempt.

I did have the opportunity to get away for a few days during the break. I went to visit my friends that live on a ranch near Albany, Texas. I need GPS to get there and even with GPS usually miss the turn, partly because the drive is very remote and I’m usually completely engrossed in an audio book. When I got in my car to come back to work after the break the map was still selected for my display. When I got in the car, because I had not selected a destination it read, “Ready to Navigate.” I glanced down as I turned onto FM 93 and it read, “Driving on Road.” I went to HEB to pick up bread for Helping Hands and in the parking lot behind the store it had idea where I was and it simply read, “Heading North.”

I enjoy a trip so much more when I have more information on the GPS. When it tells me which way to go and informs me of the next turn. When I know where I’m going, how many miles I have to travel and what time I will arrive. But regular, head to back to work on Monday is not like that. I have to show up “Ready to Navigate.” I need to know I’m “Driving on the Road”, and when I can no longer see the road at least I’ll know I’m heading in the right direction. We’ve got the course guides, the lesson plans, the long term and short term goals but what we really need is to show up “Ready to Navigate.” Ready to go where the Lord leads us and where the students need us.

So I decided to begin 2021 simply Ready to Navigate. I know that I am driving on the road and I know the destination is eternity and I have complete trust in the one who does know the way.

Here’s the bottom line

the Christian life, the church, our faith are not about us

they’re about Him–His plan, His kingdom, His glory.

Paul David Tripp