Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday 10: Things in 2013 to Thank God For

Last year proved to be full of trials for Kaitlin and I; but too often we dwell on what went wrong and not on what went right. The list of reasons to praise God in 2013 goes far beyond ten items, but it's a good start (though it is not in any particular order, as always):

10. We have an amazing, loving church to lean on and grow with. 

West Rome Baptist Church has become for us the family that every church needs to be, especially within our Growth Group (our fancy word for Sunday School Class). All we feel from the moment we enter the doors is love, and the friendships we have gained are true blessings. Whether we need to be sharpened and reminded of God's truth or simply need to let it all out in the open and be completely transparent and honest, God has used our church and church family to strengthen our faith and help us feel His love. When I broke my leg in the accident and was out of work for over two months, our Growth Group all pitched in to help us, cooking us meals and even raising money to help pay hospital bills (they didn't hold back any love either, they raised over $2000). 

9. Monk (Also, Netflix (until they stopped streaming Monk (which was too soon, so not Netflix, actually))), Ducks, Reba, and George Lopez.



These guys kept me company for months while I was bedridden and bored out of my mind. I probably would have lost that mind I was bored out of, if not for their help. I'm thankful for clean, funny shows. Why is it so hard these days to find them?

8. Our God, the Provider

I cannot tell you how many times I looked at our bank account in shock because the numbers just didn't add up. In our favor. The only explanation was that God was providing as He promised. He was not letting us go down like that. There is no other way I could have been without work for 3 months, up to our knees in debt to hospitals, and still be able to afford to care for ourselves. God was in control and provided all our needs, putting money in the account that literally could not have been there, helping our Sunday School class raise over $2000 to help pay costs, etc. Our God was true to His promises to us, though we were undeserving. To say I am thankful is an extreme understatement, for sure. 

7. Toyota (because nothing beats Toyota (besides maybe BMW)

We came into 2013 without a car in our name. Both of our vehicles were totaled during the previous month, so we were either using rentals or borrowing from family. In February, we found a Toyota Avalon XLS at an unbelievably great price from the original owners, who took great care of it. In the fall we found a Toyota Tundra Limited (Access Cab), which is also in great shape and an incredible deal. It sounds weird and I hesitate to say that material things can be associated with God's glory, but I do know this: God knew a need we had and was faithful to provide that need for us through these two awesome Toyota's.

6. Creation (and our dear park ranger friends who make enjoying State Parks a reality)

Most of our bestest dates happen while camping. Being totally immersed in God's creation never fails to bring us a sense of tranquility and awe. God created this Earth and the life upon it and called it good! Why do we spend so much of our life inside buildings and in cities, completely shut off from the beauty in nature? As soon as my leg was healed from my wreck, we took as many opportunities as we could afford to go camping. Black Rock Mountain has been our favorite so far. If you've never been, go!

5. Weekends (and jobs that don't require us to work on the weekends)

I may have to set my alarm for 3:50am every morning, and it isn't always easy being responsible for teaching Spanish to every child at school, but it only makes the weekends more glorious and special to us. Being able to leave work Friday and know we will have a few days to rest is a blessing that not everyone is able to enjoy, and I am very grateful for that. 

4. The love of our families

I thank God for families we can depend on and lean on in times of need. I also thank God that we both have parents who love each other and everyone around them. It's hard to find marriages that last as long as our parents' have, and it is a great blessing to have such loving examples to follow. 

3. Owl City

Who can listen to Owl City and not feel good inside? If you find them, tell them to call me. I don't believe them.

2. The Mustard Seed Mission and our many missionary friends in Nicaragua

Not only did Kaitlin and I have the amazing opportunity to serve Christ in Nicaragua, but we did so in the company of a God-centered host family that housed us, cared for us, and prayed for us. I am so thankful for that experience and for the opportunity to return! Visit SendZackandKaitlin.com for more information on our next missionary journey and how you can help us get there!

1. Jesus

Jesus dies for my sins and saves me every single day. Being saved isn't a one time event, it's a sanctification process and I'm thankful for every moment of it. I'm thankful for being able to constantly walk in His grace, covered by His blood. I'm thankful He calls me friend and that God calls me son. I'm thankful that no matter what, I have His Spirit in me so that I can do great things through Him and never be far from His guidance or comfort. 2013 (and every year before and every after) was made possible by Jesus. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What if Everything DOESN'T Happen for a Reason?

I've heard it said way too many times, and so have you:

"Everything happens for a reason!"

I find that it is most often used as a way to comfort someone faced with some sort of trial, loss, or other unfortunate situation. I also find that many Christians quote it as though it were God's word itself, when in reality I think it paints an awful picture of God that is far from His glory.

Maybe I'm a blasphemer, but I just don't believe that God purposes trials or has predestined "reasons" for them. I don't think He's looking down on us struggling or suffering, hoping we "get it" and learn the lesson our situation is supposed to teach us. He may not take our suffering away when we call on Him, but that doesn't mean He willed it. He just wants to be the One we call on when we're going through all our junk.

He gets it! He gets our junk. In fact, He so gets our junk, that He fatally nailed all of it to His own Son. He knows life gets hard, and wants to walk us through it and give us strength and peace. He wants to fight beside us and be there when we need someone to run to. He wants to be the one to carry us and catch all our tears. Jesus himself said this:

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." - the Gospel according to John, Chapter 16, verse 33

Jesus clearly separates His doing from the world's doing, and the troubles of the world from His desire. Why would He have to overcome troubles that He Himself purposed in the first place? He wouldn't! He doesn't want us to look at our troubles as lessons to learn. In fact, He tells us here that He gives us His word so that we can have peace through our trials knowing that He has already given us victory.

What if, instead of telling people that "everything happens for a reason" when they come to us faced with tragedy, we tell them to "take heart"? What if we told them that our LORD is sovereign and good, and that He already beat this world and all the stuff it throws at us thousands of years ago. What if we told them He cant wait for us to experience His gracious and compassionate love (Isaiah 30:18). The phrase "everything happens for a reason" is a lie that needs to stop!

It's not just a lie we often tell others; it's a terrible lie we often tell ourselves. Have you ever felt like you were going through tough times because you did something wrong and God is "mad" at you? It springs from the same exhausting concept. Yes, exhausting. Awfully exhausting. We trap ourselves in this worldview that if life sent us into a rut, it's because God is disappointed in us and He's trying to teach us something. Cause and effect. Everything happens for a reason.

How exhausting! God never wants us to feel like we are constantly disappointing Him, especially when life isn't going "our way". He wants to be our Rock, our Foundation, our Guidance, our Everything. He wants us to hand it over to Him and trust Him, even if things don't change. That's the whole point of our faith, right? We follow God because we love God and know He is true even if we can't always see it. We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

There is an Enemy who doesn't want you to have the peace of heart that Jesus promises you. There is an Enemy who does want you to feel like God is disappointed in you and "punishing" you through trials and tribulation. He is a cruel, evil Enemy and a oppressive, hateful Enemy. And he can get you so frustrated because you feel like you're doing everything "right" but God still isn't pulling through for you and is instead punishing you for not working hard enough. He can make you feel like you're never doing enough for God, and that's the "reason" life isn't happy.

He can't, however, pluck you from the Hands of your eternal, divine, loving Daddy because no matter how much he tries to hide from it, Satan is a defeated, overcome Enemy. Jesus paid too high a price for God to let you go down easy (or at all). If there is a "reason" at all you're going through tough times, it is not God's doing, it is the doing of the Enemy and of this broken, fallen world. Ever since Adam and Eve, man has been giving evil an open invitation to pervert God's word, design, and creation, which He all has called "good." God is not the cause or reason for your sorrow.

No matter what, there is always good news. Very good news. Jesus. Jesus has overcome this entire world and everything that makes us feel anything short of peaceful. He overcame it all and gave Himself for us, and now we share in that victory. Don't let the Enemy trap you in exhausting, unhealthy thinking, but rather let the power, love, and grace of our LORD give your heart rest and your spirit peace, knowing that many like you are suffering as well, and that God sees and cares. You can have peace knowing that God carries you through the storm and hurts when you hurt, and that your name is written in Heaven, and that one glorious day, He will bring you home (my apologies for the run-on, I got a little carried away there...).

But not before He does great and mighty things through you right here.

Photo taken during the spring of 2013 of an oncoming storm at Fort Mountain State Park

"[Satan's] cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." - C.S.Lewis