Drinking Confusion

You have been very hard on us, making us drink wine that sent us reeling.
Psalm 60:3 NLT

Life is filled with periods of confusion.

Lonnie had listened to church folks tell him how much God loved him. One day he acknowledged his sin, repented, and accepted Jesus as his Savior. But he was confused shortly thereafter when, at a church business meeting, the church voted to excuse themselves from a local men’s fellowship because African American churches were joining. Didn’t God love all people?

Garrett was confused too. He had accepted Christ when he was younger but had grown further away from Him. He and his wife rarely attended church. His first marriage had ended in divorce, and the present one was in trouble. Then his wife’s drinking problem led to a wreck that killed their youngest child. Couldn’t God have prevented this?

Carine had a heart for children’s ministry. When a new Vacation Bible School director brought in numerous children from the community, her heart was touched. She decided to begin a van ministry. Every Sunday, she picked up children and brought them to church. When teachers threatened to give up their classes, when no one would sit with the children, and when no one made any attempt to speak to them, Carine was confused. Didn’t Jesus tell the little children to come to Him?

David was also periodically confused. If God favored Israel, why did He occasionally let their enemies defeat them?

I, too, can throw my hat into the ring of confusion. God, if You love me, why the divorce, why the financial struggles, why the rebellious children, why the unemployment, why the layoff, why the betrayal, why the death, why the sickness, why the…

David discovered confidence in the midst of his confusion. But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack (Psalm 60:4). Whether it looked so or not, God was in charge and in control. What appeared as a mess to David wasn’t to God. What appeared to be unconcern wasn’t at all.

The only way I can walk through periods of confusion with my faith intact and my eyes looking upward and forward is to believe the same. God loves me and is ordering the steps of my life—even when the evidence seems to point to the contrary.

Don’t let life’s periods of confusion dampen your faith in a loving God.

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Identity: Was Versus Is

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:27 NLT

I wasn’t sure who I would become, but neither was I always positive I wanted to remain what I was.

In fifty-six years, I’ve been many things. I was a preacher’s kid from the time I was eight years old until my dad died when I was forty-nine years old. I was once a grandchild. That identity vanished when my last grandparent died. For a short period, I was an Orkin exterminator. Crawling under houses, seeing animals I didn’t care to see, hitting my head, and smelling odors convinced me I didn’t want that identity.

For two years, I was a warehouse worker. Someone else decided I shouldn’t continue that identity when they laid me off and never recalled me. Then I became a textile worker for four years. I went from weaver to floor sweeper to supervisor. When I answered God’s call to enter the ministry, I went from being a textile worker to being a preacher. Along the way, I was also a teacher for eight years.

All of those things are positions I once held—things I was once labeled by—but they weren’t who I was. As a nine-year-old lad, I listened to my dad explain the plan of salvation. I chose to ask Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my heart. I pledged to follow Him as my Savior. At that moment, I became what Paul classified as a new person. Everything old passed into the past, and a new life began. From that moment, I was a Christian who might be a preacher’s kid, grandchild, textile worker, Orkin exterminator, teacher, or preacher. My real identity, however, was bound up with Christ.

Another identity I left behind when I chose Christ was sinner. I love the song, “I’m Just a Sinner Saved by Grace,” but I question the theology. Yes, I was saved by grace, but the Bible doesn’t continue to classify me as a “sinner” now that I’ve received Christ. In fact, it says I’m a saint. I’m not perfect—and won’t be this side of heaven—but I am a saint because Christ has given me His righteousness. I am God’s child, friend, and a joint heir with Christ.

Knowing who you are is crucial. It determines your actions as well as your attitudes when you face difficulties in life. What is your true identity?

Wind Grabbing

I observed everything going on under the sun,
and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:14 NLT

The parking lot symbolized what once was but would never be again.

In the early 1980s, Ryan’s Steakhouse was the most popular eating establishment in Greenwood, SC. You could choose from a bar of meats, salads, vegetables, starches, and homemade desserts, or you could order from a selection of juicy steaks. Sunday lunches—as well as Sunday nights after church—witnessed a packed restaurant.

Then other popular restaurants encroached on Ryan’s territory. Places like Chiles, O’Charley’s, and Outback Steakhouse. Ryan’s cut out their signature steaks and went solely to a food bar. Crowds thinned. And one day they closed their doors. Financial struggles—along with waning crowds—made the decision.

What’s left of Ryan’s is on my daily walking route. As I walk up and down its parking lot, I think back to what once was. Cars packed the parking lot and overflowed into a neighboring restaurant’s lot. Lines of people snaked out of the front door, waiting to pay and be seated. The smell of steaks simmering on the grill filled the air—along with conversations and laughter as people mingled.

But not now. Grass grows through cracks in the asphalt. Leaves and pine straw litter the lot. Empty pallets, pieces of rock, and other left-behind paraphernalia spoil the ground. As if someone was in a hurry to leave—or reluctant.

I long for the “good ole” days as I walk through the deserted parking lot. Yet I know they’ll never return. What once brought satisfaction to many—myself included—won’t ever again. King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, knew disappointment as well. He hadn’t sampled Ryan’s, but he had everything else. As the wealthiest man alive, he could, and did. However, nothing brought him lasting satisfaction. Pleasure was always one grasp away. Just when he thought he had found it, the wind blew it from his grasp.

Such is the nature of things, whatever they are. Restaurants, relationships, play toys, possessions, power, prestige. They’re all temporary—here for our momentary enjoyment. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said to store our treasures in heaven . . . to invest in what outlasts time. Those things that will have a lasting influence long after we’re gone.

The Ryan’s of the world lose their popularity—and maybe even close their doors. Your life, too, will one day end, but you can leave a legacy for others to remember and emulate.

Prayer: Father, guide us to invest in those things that will outlive our lives.

Life’s Best Comforter

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3 NLT

My wife and I are quickly moving toward being the patriarchs of our family.

Though I try not to think about it, I know the time is approaching when my mother and my in-laws will die. I remember the sorrow I felt when my father died, but at least I had my mother left. When she’s gone, there will be no parents left. My wife’s parents are more aged than my mother and will soon succumb to death as well. The day is coming when our children and grandchildren will have only us to look to—as we did our parents. How we’ll handle the last parent dying, I’m not sure.

According to Paul, God is the source of all comfort—and Paul needed it. Since trusting Christ as his Savior, turmoil and trials had hounded him. Beatings, stonings, jail time, he faced them all—but found his comfort in knowing God was in control and he was doing God’s will.

God hasn’t changed roles. As He comforted Paul, so He comforts me—not only when we lose a loved one but as we face life’s challenges each day. Paying attention to how God comforts us helps us be better comforters.

God’s comfort never runs out nor does He ever tire of giving it. Giving comfort to others is taxing and can drain the emotions. God can handle the task, for He is all-powerful. Nothing we face is too difficult for Him to know how to comfort us.

Comforting others is often inconvenient. Jesus’ ministry was filled with interruptions from others. When we choose to comfort others, we, too, will have to deal with being inconvenienced. Death, accidents, and broken relationships never happen at a convenient time.

Comforting others takes time we could use for something else—perhaps something more enjoyable. True comfort is more than shooting someone a text or email. Or posting a “prayers” comment on their Facebook post. It involves hands-on activities when possible.

While comforting others is time-consuming, doing so brings comfort to us. God designed us to be involved in others’ lives. Doing so fulfills part of His plan for our life. We can only fully appreciate God’s comfort when we channel it to others.

Don’t soak up God’s comfort without squeezing out some for others.

Prayer: Father, use us as instruments of comfort to those who are hurting.

God Understands

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

Psalm 139:1-2 NLT

Regardless of how many times I explained the concept, some continued to misunderstand and make mistakes.

Correctly punctuating compound sentences is one of the simplest yet most difficult concepts I teach in Language Arts. The rule is simple: when two independent clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction, a comma must precede the conjunction. In order for an independent clause to be claimed as such, it must have a subject, verb, and a complete thought—not just a verb and a few prepositional phrases.

And it was the latter that confused many students. Many of them placed a comma when the sentence was actually a simple sentence with compound verbs. Others would mistake the word “then” for a coordinating conjunction and place a comma. I spilled much red ink correcting papers that related to correctly punctuating compound sentences. Although I explained the concept in every imaginable way, the rule often didn’t sink in. Their failure to understand cost them many unnecessary mistakes.

I, too, have failed to understand concepts when I was in school. My misunderstanding was more in math than English classes though. But more worrisome is being misunderstood by others. The psalmist was confident God understood him. After all, God had created him. He knew everything about him, even his innermost thoughts.

Failing to understand a concept and being misunderstood by others aren’t pleasant. Both can lead to frustration. I’ve taught students who practically gave up, and I’ve known people who struggled with depression because others just didn’t “get” them.

Since God made us, He knows everything about us. He knows what things we struggle with—the hard subject, the unpleasant work atmosphere, the tough relationship, the co-dependent friend, the addiction. He doesn’t have to hear us voice our frustrations because He knows our thoughts. He understands us.

There will always be things we don’t understand, as well as some who don’t understand us. We can live with that as long as our Creator is by our side, guiding us along life’s journey. He’s the friend who will never leave, who will always comfort, and who will forever understand.

Take comfort in knowing God understands when no one else does.