What You Can Control

There is a long list of things we cannot control.  These things range from the weather to other people’s actions and include the work of God.  There are so many ways we seem powerless to bring the outcomes we desire. 

There is also a long list of things that we can control.  You can show up early, work hard consistently, push yourself to do your best, and make the most of every opportunity.  You can choose your words, the expression on your face, your attitude, and the volume of your voice.  You can be a victim or an overcomer, walk the way of Jesus or ignore him, and you can be the kind of person other people want to be around. 

We tend to focus on all the things we cannot control.  We wait for a big break, something to show us clearly the next step or God to do a miracle.  While those things are not beyond the realm of possibility for a believer, they are still beyond our control.

How might your life change if we put our energy into all the things we can control.  What would happen if our effort increased, our consistency improved, and we were the kind of friend others might want to have in their life?  One sure way to make the world a better place is to do our best and let God take care of the rest. 

What is Lacking?

A man came to Jesus and asked him a question.  If you harmonize the story, he is a rich, young ruler.  He asked Jesus a straightforward question.  What must I do to inherit eternal life?  Jesus seemingly brushed him off with, “You know the commandments.” He says, “I have kept those since I was a boy.” It can sound arrogant, but it is more a statement about his lifelong quest for righteousness. 

Jesus then says, “One thing you lack …” (Mark 10:21).  The rest of his sentence is about him selling his possessions and giving them to the poor.  Before we rush into explaining what Jesus is saying and what he means, I want to focus on the first statement. 

This guy looked like he had it all together. He was living a righteous life.  Keeping the ten commandments throughout your life is no small feat – no lying, no stealing, and never using the Lord’s name in vain.  He sounds like a good guy.  And then you see that he has wealth and power on top of that.  From all external measures, he was being blessed by God for living a Godly life. 

Jesus says, “One thing you lack.”

If we seriously follow Jesus, then a valid statement is, “Jesus show me what I lack.”

Genuine spiritual growth is achieved when we are willing to ask ourselves and possibly others, “What is the one thing that is lacking in my faith?”

Jesus is honest and tells this guy what he needs to do, and all the accounts say he went away sad.  Tough questions have demanding answers.  The way forward into the life Christ desires from us is by asking these questions and living with the answers and not avoiding them. 

It’s A Wonderful Life Moments

As a child, I watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and was struck by this feeling at the end of the film.  If you recall the movie, there is a crucial scene near the end where everyone shows up in a big way for George Bailey.  They give him money to repay what uncle Billy lost and add notes of encouragement for what he meant to their life. 

For me, I could not wait for the day when something like that would happen for me.  One day I will encounter a struggle, and all the people whose life I had touched would arrive at my door with gifts and letters to show me how wonderful my life has been.  In a little over six months from now, I will turn 50, and I am still waiting for that day. 

I have asked many older adults if that kind of event has happened for them.  No one I asked had ever felt like there was this one time when all their good deeds ever came to light.  The closest most people get is their funeral.  If you die young enough, people will line up to pay their respects and tell the family how much you meant to them.  Live too long, and only a few close friends will know your work. 

Let me set the record straight; there are no “It’s a Wonderful Life” moments for most people in this life. 

But don’t let that stop you.  Keep doing the right thing.  Every day you get up, keep being a kind, gracious, giving, faithful, loving, and helpful person.  Keep serving others, especially those in need, while maintaining a humble heart.  Keep seeing the good in people while trying to be a good and Godly person yourself.  Stay on the journey of faith with integrity even when no one notices. 

The truth is, our heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret, will one day reward you (Matthew 6:1).  It may not make this life feel wonderful, but it will make the next one worth every righteous act. 

The Nullifying Word

The words “Thank you” are like precious gold.  The term “sorry” fixes a broken relationship.  The response of “you are forgiven” can bring healing to the people. “I love you” is the most significant phrase in the English language. 

All of us must understand that those words can get nullified by one little three-letter word.  BUT

“Thank you, but …

“I am sorry, but …” 

“You are forgiven, but …”

“I love you, but …”

Suddenly the words that could have brought health and healing are lost by one simple addition.  Without that word, those statements are powerful, potentially life-changing.  With that word, they become ways to complain further or try and correct someone’s behavior. 

One of the most significant ways to improve your life and relationships is eliminating the word, but, from your sentences. 

Everyday Courage

Our men’s group that I attend at the Church has been talking about the topic of courage for several weeks.  We have primarily focused our attention on some of the characters of the Old Testament.  Noah, Moses, Joshua, and David are all men who displayed great courage at specific points in their life. 

Honestly, most of what we have studied has been beyond our group of men.  We will never experience a worldwide flood, lead a nation out of slavery, take over a whole country, or rule as king.  Most of us are common laborers with day jobs or are retired from work. 

As a result, our attention must focus not on enormous feats of courage, rather on everyday courage.  We need to do simple things every day to demonstrate our trust in God to the world.  Most of our moments of bravery are not giant Goliath defeating scenes but little moments that draw upon the same reservoir of faith.  We need that same spirit to talk to a neighbor or coworker about Jesus and invite them to Church with us.  Courage can be doing the right thing at work when everyone else is bending the rules to make an extra dollar.  There is a certain fortitude required to lead a ministry at Church when you know it will draw criticism. 

Most people I know think of following God as this enormous decision followed by a couple of significant moments that the world will see.  The truth is that faith requires everyday courage to be the person, spouse, parent, child, and worker that God wants us to be.  It is not very glamourous, and it can be more demanding than we imagined.  Heroes of faith are not made in the big encounters that the people notice; they are made in the challenging work of the everyday. 

Clinging to Hope

Fishing season has arrived here in the Ozarks. It is one of my favorite times of the year as I spend hours on the water somewhere watching a line or bobber.

But for me, this season is bittersweet. Every year while standing there holding my pole and waiting for a fish to bite, I begin to think of my dad.  He and I spent a lot of time on the water together over his lifetime.  We fished all over the Midwest and even into Canada.  He was the only man I have known who loved fishing as much as I do.  While I find joy on a lake or river, I also feel this sense of loss. 

I suppose it is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate Easter.  The world has come alive with green grass, warmer temperatures, and fish feeding; at the same time, we think about the resurrection of Jesus.  Each year when I stop and think about dad, I take my hands and grab tighter to the hope offered to us through Jesus’ resurrection.  I can’t think of anything that will make this situation better besides eternal life offered in the name of the One who overcame the grave. I could build a memorial to the past or look forward toward eternity, and I choose to look beyond death and into the glorious unknown. 

When my boys were little and went fishing with me, I would tell them to hold their poles tight.  They needed to make sure not to lose their grip and have a fish yank it out of their hands.  Now that all of us are older, my encouragement is quite similar.  Hold on tight to hope, and don’t let anything rip it out of your hands.  It will be the only thing better than fishing.  

One Divine Moment

I can remember a lesson I taught to a group of teenagers 25 years ago. 

I can remember a Sunday School lesson I taught a group of adults about 23 years ago. 

I can recall with vivid detail a sermon I preached about 20 years ago. 

Why do I remember all these specific messages?  Because these were times when the Holy Spirit took my words and did something I cannot explain.  God reached down and used what I had said to touch the hearts of everyone in the room through me.  Each of these was a divine moment where everyone was left in silence, and Jesus was glorified. 

The people who were in the room those days also still talk about those messages.  Somehow all of us knew that something extraordinary had happened, and none of us would be the same. 

I hope you have had some encounters like that in your life: a time where a sermon or lesson reached deep inside your soul and touched you in the darkest places with the power of God. 

Moments like these are rare.  They are genuinely divine situations where the grace of God, knowledge of Jesus, and power of the Holy Spirit intersect.  I have one about every 2 or 3 years.  With each one, I look back in awe at what God did through me. 

Here is the thing:  you never know when they are going to happen.  You never know when God is going to touch a speaker or a sermon.  You have no idea when there will be a perfect intersection of events that cause you to feel God uniquely.  You really have no idea when these deeply spiritual moments will happen.  So my suggestion is that you show up every week to your small group, worship time, and sermon.  Who knows?  One day you may experience exactly what I am talking about, and your life will never be the same.  Maybe this is the weekend God breaks through and touches your heart.  You will only know if you are present. 

Blessed Restraint

There is a side of righteous behavior that is never seen.  There is one sign of growing in maturity that will never get noticed.  This virtuous action of the mature is found in the lack of their words or activity.  It is what I call “Blessed Restraint.”

This may be hard to imagine for some of you, but know that you do not have to act on every impulse.  No matter how compelled you feel to behave a particular way, if it is contrary to God’s will, restraint can and must be shown. 

You also do not have to express every thought that goes through your head.  Just because you think it does not mean you have to say it.  Often it is far better to hold our tongue than hurt others with our words. 

It is hard to give people credit for their lack of action.  Still know that holding back can be a blessing to everyone, including yourself. 

A Well-Trained Ear

A skilled musician can listen to an instrument, hear the notes clearly, and know when things are played well and when the proper notes are missed.

An adept mechanic can listen to car noises to diagnose issues and potential problems.

An experienced veterinarian can listen to an animal’s sounds and interpret them into issues that need to be addressed.

An accomplished counselor can hear through a client’s words to get at the heart of their problem to help them live a better life.

A long-time Christian should be able to hear the voice of God. They can listen closely to the scriptures, other believers, and the opportunities around them, and their senses should pick up something that others miss. The good news is that it is not a unique gift that separates these people; instead, it is a lifelong dedication to develop their skills. Anyone can do it if they are willing to work day after day.

A well-trained ear can hear beyond the noise to experience something different than the casual observer. Take time to develop your ears while you are quietly listening.

Bad Experiences Don’t Always Remain That Way

It has been said repeatedly but bears being stated one more time:  Life is hard.  There are so many ups and downs, along with good experiences and bad.  We walk through failures, heartache, relationship struggles, loss, difficulties, our own and others’ sin, and slow decay of our bodies.  The good news is that each of these events can have a positive outcome.

Bad experiences can turn good when …

  1. They bring you closer to God.
  2. They positively change you.
  3. They bring you closer to other people.

These occurrences are often opportunities for us to evaluate what is profoundly important.  They cause us to ask questions of eternal significance.  They push us toward relationships with God and others.  Every bad incident has the power to help us come to our senses concerning the depravity of life and the joy of faith. 

All of us dread the challenging encounters that make life hard.  Through the years, I have observed that not all bad experiences become bad memories.  The pain may be the exact thing you need to make your life more fulfilling.