What Keeps You Up at Night?

Man Can't Sleep (2)

   Pastor Nick runs a mid-sized, evangelical church in a fair-sized city where, every Sunday, he preaches for approximately twenty-five minutes (after working on the sermon for four days) for two services in front of four hundred people a service. Every other day of the week, Pastor Nick makes emergency house calls (mostly involving teenagers), counsels with people (usually the same people), and runs a food pantry on Mondays, a Bible study on Wednesdays, and a coffee house on Fridays.

   Meanwhile Katrina, a 27-year-old woman living in the suburbs of Peoria, spends her days (and nights) caring for two one-year-olds, one two-year-old, and an almost four-year-old. Since she is not able to work outside of the home because she can’t afford the daycare, she has become the daycare. Every morning, three other women drop off their children at her house: another two-year-old, a five-year-old (on the kindergarten bus at 12:30pm), and three six to eight year-olds (on the bus at 8:30am). Everybody is back to Katrina’s house by 3:30, and moms arrive between 4:37 and 6:10 – not that Katrina’s tracking.

   Emma is all about deadlines. Her deadline for the Spencer article is at 10am, the deadline for the book revision – the entire 286-page book revision – is due tomorrow (and she’s only 202 pages in), and the deadline to pitch the new book proposal at the writers’ conference is Thursday at 3pm sharp. (She wants to bring a thriller but romance is in – although not Amish – and definitely not a YA dystopian about a heroine with a sword, a bow or a slingshot – even if the boyfriend is to die for.) In the meantime, there are tweets to write, Facebook posts to edit, and Instagram pics to update. Oh – and there’s the blog. Always the blog…

   So – what do all of these fine folks have in common?

   Pastor Nick, Katrina and Emma all worry about whether, in the end, any of their hard work will be successful. All of their endless days and sleepless nights – is it worth it? Will they achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish – or will they fail? And even if they do succeed, will it even matter?

In the long run, when it’s all said and done, when they stand before the Lord and give an account, will it be an account worth giving?

   Late in the evening, after everyone else has gone home from work, Pastor Nick sits at his desk and wonders about Sunday’s sermon – did it really touch anyone? Will anyone go home differently than they came in? And what about Ed and Sue? Did he get through to them? Will they even try to forgive each other? And the coffeehouse – will it help keep kids off the streets?

   Katrina lays awake at night wondering how her children will turn out. Will they be good people – kind, compassionate, responsible? Or will they fall in with the wrong kids when they’re older and end up doing – she doesn’t even want to think about what they might be doing. Then when they’re older, will they still believe in God? Or will they reject God and leave the church as so many kids eventually do? Katrina tries to teach them right from wrong but she barely has enough time to cook, do laundry and run errands much less spend time with each of them.

   What if she fails her children??

   Emma would like to sleep but that’s a luxury she doesn’t have. Sometimes – okay, lots of times – she wonders why she does it: the revisions, the deadlines, the rewrites, more deadlines– and for what? What if the books are never published? Or what if they are – and then nothing happens? She tries to write books that will mean something – books that will make a difference to people – but how can she really ever know whether they will? Will all the long years of work have been just a waste of time? Or a whole life . . . ?

   The fact is that it’s not up to us whether or not our work succeeds – because it’s not our work. It’s God’s. Jesus said that he’d come to do the work of the Father, the implication being that it was not his own work. There’s great comfort in that truth because if it’s not our work, then it’s not our responsibility to make it succeed. It’s God’s.

   When we plant a seed, we’re not responsible to make it grow. We are responsible to water and weed the plant as it grows, but we can’t make the seed or the plant grow; only God can do that. In the same way, we can’t do anything other than our best with what we’re called to do and then we simply have to leave it up to God to make it work. We’re just stewards of the work; God is the master.

   Nevertheless, recognizing that fact does not give us a license to slack off; we have our part to play and it’s our destiny to fulfill that part. The problem we make is that because it’s “our destiny,” we think it’s even in our power to make that destiny succeed. It’s not. God gave us our assignments – and only he can bring them to fruition.

   Pastor Nick can’t make people listen to or obey the word – all he can do is to be faithful to bring it.

   Katrina can’t make her children do what’s right when they’re older nor can she make them have a relationship with God – all she can do is to teach them the right way and then pray that they follow it.

   Emma can’t make publishers choose her books nor can she make the books best-sellers – all she can do is to write them and promote them.

   It’s up to God to do the rest.

   In the end, all we’re required to do is the best we can with what we have and then to pray that the Lord will bring success to our work. Period. We simply cannot do more than that.

      Now – feel better?

 

 

 

God Is Watching.

gods-eye-nasa
“God’s Eye In the Sky” (NASA photo)

   Click.    The backdoor lock sprang and imperceptibly, the doorknob turned. Flashlight off, the intruder paused, listening for the piercing scream of an alarm and hearing none, nudged the door open a tiny crack. In slow motion, he peered around the edge of the door and then crept forward, a stealthy shadow, into the house.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The man froze in mid-step, bulging eyes straining to distinguish the source of the soft, croaky voice floating from the thick darkness.

   “Jesus is watching.”

   The burglar drew in a sharp breath and then sighed in relief.

   It’s just a bird! A stupid, freakin’ bird!

   The man clicked on his flashlight and aimed it in the direction of the voice.

“Birdie,” he whispered, “it’s hunting season.”

    His light beam danced around the room and then stopped, catching the reflection of a pair of red, glowing eyes and a set of very white bared fangs.

   The voice croaked again. “Meet Jesus.”

   God is always watching. Whether that thought brings any comfort or not is another story entirely. But it should. The knowledge that when things go from wrong to very wrong, from a  small mishap or a disappointed expectation to a long-term heartache or a sudden tragedy, God is not unaware.

   “‘I have seen the anguish of my people in Egypt and have heard their cries [and] I have come down to deliver them . . . for I know their sorrows’” (Acts 7:34, LB; Exodus 3:7, NKJV).

   If you remember, the Israelites suffered as slaves under the cruel oppression of the Egyptians for 400 long years. And in all that time, God was silent.

   But God was watching.

   God witnessed every whipping, every beating, every deprivation, every shameful violation, and every degrading humiliation wrought upon the Israelites by their slave masters. God heard every mournful, wailing prayer, every desperate, sobbing plea for help, and every heart-splintering scream for deliverance as His children begged to be freed from the vicious brutality of the Egyptians. He also listened as the Israelites shouted at, bargained with, cussed out, and  even forsook Him for other gods because of His silence. For silent God was – for centuries.

   But why?

   God does nothing arbitrarily. God had a plan for the birth of a new nation, a people of His own to proclaim His name throughout the whole world. But before that could happen, that  people would be required to suffer slavery for 400 years at the hands of the most powerful gods known to man at that time. Nevertheless, throughout all of those  excruciating years, God never missed a single moment of the suffering of His people; He saw it all – the shredded flesh, the indelible scars, and the tears as numerous as the grains of sand upon the earth.

   Perhaps, in the midst of the pursuit of the destiny that you were 1000% certain God had called you to, things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Maybe you struggle to find the strength to make it through just one more day. Or perhaps circumstances in life – your hopes and dreams – have simply not happened the way you had hoped they would happen and every day you feel that you’re sinking deeper and deeper into the dark and formless void of hopelessness and nothingness.

   Maybe you’ve ceased to dream at all.

   That’s how the Israelites felt. And my guess is that’s precisely how Moses felt after squandering  his identity as an exalted Egyptian prince and ending up instead a forgotten fugitive on the backside of the desert with nothing to his name except the rags on his back and a crooked staff in his hand.

   Even so, God never relinquished His watch over the Israelites or over Moses; night after night, year after year, decade after decade, He never failed to see. And in the end, God delivered His people in a way far more miraculous than they could ever have  imagined and, in doing so, proved Himself to be the God above every other god on earth.

   If you’re in that place, that desert where dreams die and destiny is destroyed, then hold to the truth that, in order to rise from the ashes, we must first walk through the fire. And should you find yourself in the flames, don’t lose sight of one thing: It’s all part of the plan. Nothing can happen or is happening that God does not see.

   Our God is the god of the Resurrection – and He’s watching you.

Money Just Appears – But How?

Cash 4

   How would you like for money to just show up in your bank account from time to time – and for no apparent reason? Have I ever mentioned that that’s happened to me several times? No lie.

   The first time it happened was perhaps fifteen years ago. It all began when I balanced my checkbook and ended up showing $700 dollars more than I should have had. Now you wouldn’t know this but I love running numbers and balancing checkbooks and accounting – especially when I’m in the black. And since it’s not every day (or even ever) that I find an extra $700 in my bank account, I went over the statement and checkbook again – and again. I figured I must’ve either forgotten to write in a deposit or I’d made a math mistake somewhere along the way. However, I found no errors in the statement or in the checkbook. And I was still showing an extra $700 which, by the way, hadn’t been there the prior month. So I did the next thing it made sense to do: I went back further – months – and checked and re-checked those bank statements and check registers. Still nothing. No errors whatsoever.

   At this point, I have to confess, I was completely baffled. How does any extra money – much less hundreds of dollars – just show up into a bank account, leaving absolutely no trace as to how it got there? I didn’t have a clue. But I was positive the bank would be able to find the error. Because certainly there had to be one. However, when I got to the bank, the conversation went something like this:

   BANK GUY: “So you found a mistake in your bank statement?”

   ME: “Well, there is a mistake – I just haven’t found it.”

   “What?”

   “I’m showing an extra $700 in my account and I have no idea why.”

   “Seven hundred dollars?”

   “Correct.”

   “You must’ve forgotten to write in a deposit.”

   “No, checked that. Which is why I’m here.”

   “Well, let’s go over it. I’ve pulled your bank statements for the past several months.”

   Minutes tick by. Radio silence. Finally the bank guy looks up and says, “I can’t find any errors.” He shrugged. “I have no idea where the money came from. Just write it into your checkbook. It’s yours.”

   I was not unhappy about that. As to where it came from, I simply chalked it up to the only reasonable explanation: God did it. How else would an extra $700 just be there? It’s not even as though a mysterious deposit appeared; it was just there – and no one can explain why or how.

   Fast forward a few years later and it happened again. This time my account was suddenly showing an additional $300. But I didn’t assume it was God this time; I did figure that I had made an accounting error so I re-examined my statements and checkbook registers for missing deposits and/or math errors. But again – I found nothing. This time, I didn’t bother going to bank. I was beginning to understand that sometimes God provides in miraculous ways.

   Nevertheless, I’d never heard of money just mysteriously appearing in bank accounts until I encountered a couple who’d had many financial miracles in their time and who explained that we can, if we are faithful in our tithing and giving to the Lord, “call” money into our accounts. Now I didn’t know that and had certainly never done it, but I have been a tither and giver for a long time. (I don’t normally mention that because I’m not looking for a pat on the back about it.) Still, it did shed some light as to why God would put money into my account.

As my father used to say, “You can’t out-give God.”

   Evidently not.

   My father and mother had been exceptional givers in all the time I’d known them; my sister and I had grown up watching them give, even in their early years of marriage when, being in the military, dad made close to nothing. At one point, dad brought home $400 a month as an Air Force NCO, and yet every Sunday for as long as I can remember, I’d see mom drop a ten or twenty dollar bill into the offering plate at church.

   I know now how much that cost them.

   Dad always used to tell a story to illustrate God’s faithfulness to provide. One time, back when credit-debit cards didn’t exist and everyone carried cash, dad described how the day came when he and mom were literally down to a nickel between them – no cash, no savings and no food or gas. But that very day, dad’s paycheck arrived in the mail. And it was always that way. As the old saying goes, “God is not often early, but He’s never late.”

   As the years passed and my parents’ income grew, so did their giving. They gave, not only to their church, but to several ministries and charitable organizations. Later, when I found out how much they gave every month, I was stunned. For example, they sent $500 a month to a little old nun who ran a ministry all by herself and depended on people’s giving as her sole support. Even after mom died and dad retired, he still continued sending that money. I used to wonder how he could afford to do that – being retired and all, but after he died, I found out. In retirement, he was earning over $60,000 a year. While it’s not millions, it’s a lot more than many make in retirement and so dad had no worries about money.

   You can’t out-give God.

   As for me, two months ago, I noticed that I again seemed to have several hundred dollars more in my account than I should have had. Thinking initially that some checks I’d written for bills simply hadn’t cleared yet, I took some cash from my account and used that until all my checks and debit purchases had paid out. After a week, I checked my bank statement and everything had cleared. But still – there was over $600 more in the account than I should have had. So I re-did the math. Still, zero mistakes. None. However, since this particular amount of cash was too big to risk writing in without verification, I decided to take it to the bank and have them double-check it. (Different bank, by the way.)

   ME: “I have an extra $630 in my checking account that shouldn’t be there and I can’t account for it. I’ve double-checked the whole thing: statements, checkbook – I found no mistakes.”

   BANK LADY: “You have no idea how it got there?”

   ME: “Well, I do have some idea, but you’re going to think I’m crazy.” (deep breath) “God put it there.”

   BL: “God?”

   ME: “Yeah. He’s done it before. Two other times.”

   BL: “I see.”

   I don’t think she did see.

   BL: “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find the error.”

   ME: “Great!”

   Ten minutes tick by. Fifteen. Twenty.

   BL: “Well, I can’t find an error, but I’ll send all of your paperwork to my supervisor. She’s really good at this – she will find the error.” She smiled – sort of. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

   ME: (chuckling): “Okay, you let me know.”

   Two days later, Bank Lady called. “We went back a few months to when your account was not showing a surplus balance and rechecked all of the statements after that.” (pause) “We, uhm, can’t find any trace of how that surplus got there – it’s just there. You have an extra $632 in your account.”

   God did it – again.

   Chasing a dream takes money – no matter what that dream is. I tell this story to make the point that the best thing you can do to make certain that you have the money to finance your plans is to finance God’s plans. Someday I’ll share how God supernaturally provided my house after I’d given the house money I’d saved to a church-building fund. In the big scheme of things, it was only a tiny bit of money but it was all I had. As I said to God back then, “If you help me to get my house, I’ll help you to get yours.”

   But that’s a story for another time.

   Need cash to fulfill your destiny? Begin to give. It can be scary sometimes, especially when God asks you to give big – even all you have. Of course, you can always say “no”. But I don’t recommend it.

  

 

“Yes” – The Magic Word.

Cleaning Fairy 3   Ever had a day where you feel as if all you do is say “no” – and that may or may not be followed by an exclamation point? I have. Picture a high school classroom. (Of course what I’m saying may or may not be what I’m thinking . . .)

   “No, you can’t do the test with your book open.” Wrong book anyway.

   “No, you can’t go to the nurse for your mosquito bite.” Or your achy pinky or your split ends.

   “No, you can’t text your essay.” And please don’t hand-write it!

   “No, I won’t friend you on Facebook.” (:/)

   “No, you can’t go to the bathroom again.” Two year olds don’t go that much.

   “No, you can’t do your test with a partner.” As if it would ever get done. 

   “No, I will not tell your boyfriend he’s a jerk for breaking up with you.” He was a jerk before he broke up with you.

   “No, there will not be an extension on your homework.” Nope.

   “No, I have not graded the essay you finished ten minutes ago.” You hand-wrote it. So next week. Maybe.

   “No, I do not believe you have to keep kicking your chair in order to focus.” Or playing with that infernal fidget-spinner thing or tearing up little pieces of paper . . .

   “No, I do not want to know who your mother is dating.” I really, really don’t.

   Sigh.

   How about at home? Ever say “no” there?

   “Hello? No – thank you. I do not want to contribute to a fund to save endangered stink bugs.”

   “No, I don’t really recommend that you rely on the Cleaning Fairy to get that room cleaned.”

   “No, you can’t use the car to take your six friends to the party at Johnny’s house. In fact, nix the party at Johnny’s house.”

   “No, you can’t skip your shower today.”

   “Hello? No, I don’t care to contribute to a ‘Block the Highway’ protest on Interstate 81.” (pause) “I know I’m mean.”

   “No, I really don’t feel like petting a teenage mountain lion at the zoo today.”

   Sigh.

   Some days when I find myself stamping “no” onto every request that comes my way, I end up feeling like the wicked Witch of the West. Not a sweet feeling. So – a few days ago, I decided to “yes” as many requests as possible . . .

   “Yes! I’ll donate to save the poor endangered stink bug! Do you take Monopoly money?”

   “Yeah, skip the shower. Once a week is fine.”

   “Of course you can do the test with a partner. Maybe they’ll let you do that on your Regents exams, too.”

   “Certainly you can go to the bathroom again. And get a drink. And go to your locker. Say hello to the nurse for me. And of course I’ll be happy to repeat everything you miss while you’re gone.”

   “Need an extension on your homework? Just let me know when you think you might get to it.”

   “Try not to kick the table too loudly.”

   “Why not wait for the Cleaning Fairy to do your room? It doesn’t smell that bad.”

   “Really?? Mom is dating him??”

   When my little experiment was finished, I actually felt better, more positive, more like a really good person. I actually felt like – well, the ice cream man or the accountant who finds you the big tax refund or the Home and Careers teacher who lets you bake cupcakes all day. It felt great! I could even identify with the happy change in old Ebenezer after his little date with the Nativity ghosts. And the best part was hearing people say “thank you” instead of “I’ll just die and it’ll all be your fault if I don’t get to … go on Spring Break with 62 of my best friends” or “borrow your brand new shiny IPhone because I shattered mine” or “copy my research paper off Wikipedia!!” 

   So my recommendation is that you try it – have a “yes” day! Say “yes” to as many requests as you possibly can in one 24-hour period. You’ll make untold numbers of people happy, you’ll feel better about your contribution to society, and who knows? You may even go down in history as a really memorable person! How great is that?

   Disclaimer: We do not recommend, nor will we be liable for, any consequence technically deemed a Class A felony as a result of any “yes” statements made during the said 24-hour period. This includes signing any contracts or co-signing any loans, as well as filing for any marriage licenses and/or divorce papers. In addition, it is not recommended that anyone agree to any dares, including but not limited to clothing, beverages, road trips or the random provoking of grizzly bears, law enforcement officers or women on diets. Other than that, enjoy your “yes” day.

   It could be life-changing.