Why it’s so hard to do the next right thing

The best advice often is easy to believe but difficult to live.

This truth hit home recently when a close friend made what he would confirm was a stupid decision, and I offered up one of my favorite pearls of wisdom: “Trust God and do the next right thing,” which is a slight variation of a famous Oswald Chambers quote.

I love the simplicity of it. In my quest to grow like Jesus, I often find myself falling back on this uncomplicated approach. Our growth depends on our response to the perpetual series of choices we face. How do we make those choices? We start by trusting God. Then we do the next right thing. Rinse and repeat. Maintaining that process doesn’t keep us from failing, but it allows us to react well to both success and failure and to experience growth along the way.

It’s not easy to do. I know, because I’ve lived through many, many of my own failings wherein I was slow to embrace the advice I’m so quick to give.

My friend had broken a trust and damaged an important relationship. Thankfully, he was repentant. He felt shame, guilt, pain and remorse. Some might say those are bad things, but I would suggest they are necessary to move us toward the grace of God. He also was depressed. Self-focused. Overwhelmed. He struggled to get past his mistake and move toward restoration. So, I suggested, among other things, that he stop doing what wasn’t working, then trust God and do the next right thing.

His response: “Not sure I know what that is.”

I realized he wanted to make everything right – to magically transform his world back to the way it was before he erred. That wasn’t possible and he knew it. Still, he had allowed himself to be imprisoned by his mistake. Nothing he could do would fix it, so he didn’t know what to do and, therefore, he did nothing.

The next right thing just seemed way too big to even contemplate.

It’s not. In fact, that’s the beauty of the advice. We can apply it first and foremost with the smallest of things and, over time, it helps us with everything else.

Here’s what I’ve found: The “next right thing” never involves a million complicated actions; just one. …  Breathe. Pray. Ask for forgiveness. Perform an act of service like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Turn off the television. Read a book. Go to church. Have lunch with a pastor. Go for a run. … But don’t worry about the outcome. That’s why the advice begins with “trust God.” It not only opens us up to discover the next right thing, no matter how seemingly small that thing might be, but it takes the results off our plate and gives them to the One who is eminently more qualified to own them. It allows us to stop asking why so we can start acting in obedience on one small choice after another.

The time to adopt this pattern is now. When we’re overwhelmed by our mistakes – or the pain caused by someone else or by a huge decision or by anything in life – it’s hard to break free unless we’ve already built some muscle from this spiritual discipline. But no matter where we find ourselves, God is waiting to help us move toward something better. We just need to stop doing what isn’t working, trust Him and do the next right thing.

16 Lessons Learned in 2016

I guess this is further evidence that I’m getting old, but most of the lessons I learned in 2016 were lessons I learned earlier in life. In other words, things haven’t changed that much from my childhood: I need repetition for learning to stand any chance of sinking in. So, with that in mind, here are 16 things I learned (or re-learned) in 2016:

  1. The only time I ever hear from God is when I listen.
  2. You can never have too many grandchildren.
  3. “Trust God and do the next thing” (Oswald Chambers) never goes out of style.
  4. Gratitude drives attitude.
  5. Fake news is a real thing, and not just in The New York Times and Washington Post.
  6. There’s a reason the song says, “I surrender all” not “I surrender some.”
  7. God created squirrels to teach me humility and patience.faith_hebrews-11
  8. Hope is a good thing … as long as my hope is in the right thing.
  9. Jesus had “grit.”
  10. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Not challenging or difficult. Impossible.
  11. Doing little things to help others makes a big difference.
  12. My calling as a “follower” should significantly shape me as a “leader.”
  13. Our nation seems more flawed than ever and yet there’s still no better place on Earth to live.
  14. There’s no word in a cat ‘s vocabulary for “no.”
  15. I often resist giving to/sacrificing for others, but I never regret it.
  16. The worst day with my wife is better than my best day without her.

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When Others Don’t Do What I Want …

Whenever we desire something from another person in life, one of two things eventually happens: We get what we desire or we don’t.
Profound, I know.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I respond to that second reality – not getting exactly what I desire from another person. I’m not talking about correct change from the cashier, although that could be involved. What I’m really talking about is not getting something almost all of us desire every time we interact with others: Understanding.
This, I believe, is one of our most primal needs and one of my biggest sources of frustration. As I’ve grown older, I’ve hidden that frustration better. I don’t throw as many temper tantrums. But I also know I still don’t always handle it well.
Here’s how it usually goes down: I tell someone something and expect a certain reaction or response. They don’t understand (for whatever reason), so they don’t give the reaction or response I desire. Physically, I tense up. My forehead resembles a prune. My effort to thoughtfully engage through better eye contact is piercing rather than soothing. And in an attempt to be clearer, I speak slowly and come across as condescending. This usually prompts frustration on the part of the other person, who rightly sees me as defensive and difficult.
The practical result is this: I may or may not eventually get what I desire from the other person, but I almost always cause damage to the relationship.
To “grow in favor” with people (Luke 2:52), I need to model Jesus more accurately and represent Him more honorably. Here are a few things I’m trying to remember that help me and might help you, as well:

Smile

A Jewish friend reminded me recently of the power of a smile, not just on others but on me. We’re taught this idea early in life, but we tend to forget. It seems too simple and elementary, so we dismiss it to our peril.
pixabay.com
pixabay.com
When we smile, its impacts us physically and emotionally. It causes us to pause in a moment of gratitude, counteracting our selfishness. It changes our perception of ourselves and impacts the perceptions others have us. As the old song says, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”
Proverbs reminds us that a cheerful look brings joy to the heart (Proverbs 15:30), that a joyful heart is good medicine, but depression “dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22) and that a glad heart makes a happy face while a broken heart “crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13). James tells us to count our trials as joy (James 1:2-4) and Paul tells us to rejoice when we face problems (Romans 5:3-4, 12:12).

Empathize

It’s hard to remember, especially in those moments when we’re not getting what we want, that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Shocking, but true. Other people have lives that actually have nothing to do with us. They have sick children, lousy jobs, poor educations, bills they can’t pay, emotional baggage we can’t see … They have all sorts of reasons for not being perfect in the way they relate to us. When I remember this, it’s easier for me to offer grace and understanding. I can patiently work toward getting what I desire and more easily live with it if I don’t.
Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving “as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32), and to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” when he saw Mary and her friends weeping over the death of her brother (John 11:33-35). And He commands us to “love one another” (John 15:12 and 13:33-35).

Release

Whatever we desire in life rests in the strong but gentle hands of the Lord of the universe. If we need something, He will provide it. When my faith is weak, I try to force my will, my opinion, and my desires on those around me. When my faith is strong, I let go of the results and trust God to do what’s best for me.
The writer of Proverbs promises that if we trust in the Lord with all our heart and not on our own understanding and if we submit to God, He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). And Jesus tells us plainly and clearly not to worry about life – what we will eat or drink; about our bodies or what we will wear; or about what will happen tomorrow (Matthew 6:25, 34). Instead, we’re to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Jesus put those words into action when He died for us, saying “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) and “into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

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7 Trust Biscuits to Feed the Soul

My work tends to go through cycles. That’s the life of an entrepreneur, especially an independent contractor. So, for the most part, I don’t worry and I don’t get stressed out by the ebb and flow. For the most part.

In reality, my worry/stress levels are just like my business: They run in cycles.

Earlier this summer, I wrapped up some projects and my client work slowed a bit. I counted it as a blessing. It allowed me to catch up in some other areas where I had fallen behind. As the summer moved on, however, I began to foresee a time in the not too distant future when our trickling cash flow would leave our revenue pond nearly empty.

I didn’t panic, but my prayers for “new work” took on a greater intensity. And at times I allowed worry and stress to creep into my life.

When I’m in that situation, every opportunity looks good, and it’s crazy hard for me to say “no” to any work that comes my way. And new opportunities came my way. God, as always, provides. In an ironic twist – because we all know God loves ironic twists – one of the new projects involves helping people deal with stress. For the record, I’m the student not the teacher.

Anyway, you might think that new opportunities lowered my stress and worry level. Instead, here’s what happened next: I was thankful for the new work, of course, but I now had multiple projects with multiple deadlines and multiple people to please. I went from worried we wouldn’t survive to worried I couldn’t deliver. How sad is that?

What I needed, I realized, was some nourishment in my soul. I needed what I call trust biscuits. God’s word is full of them – wonderful nuggets that remind us that He’s real, that He cares about us, that there’s more to life than, well, life.

Here are seven you can chew on over the next week:

  1. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:19
  2. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” – Psalm 9:10
  3. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” – Psalm 20:7
  4. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6
  5. “Those who trust in their riches will fail, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” – Proverbs 11:28
  6. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13
  7. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” — Philippians 4:12

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A Biblical view of the politics of fear

We’re all afraid of something.

For Clifford Franklin, Orlando Jones’ character in The Replacements, it was spiders. Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) took it deeper: quicksand.replacements

“You’re playing and you think everything is going fine,” he said. “Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.”

That’s the type of fear I’m talking about. And that’s the type of fear both political parties seem intent on using as their No. 1 campaign strategy in the presidential campaigns. “You should be afraid (of pretty much everything), but our party offers the only real hope. Don’t focus on what we’ve done for you (or to you); focus on what we say we’ll do for you.”

So what do we do in the midst of all these fears?

If you do a word search of your Bible, you’ll find that God uses the word fear more than 300 times (NIV). Over and over, God tells us about a healthy fear and a harmful fear.

Healthy Fear: Fear God.

Jesus said, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5)

Healthy fear saved Isaac from the knife of his father. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)

Healthy fear saved Moses. “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.” (Exodus 1:17)

Healthy fear was a qualification for leadership: “But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” (Exodus 18:21)

When people have feared God, they have thrived and grown in their faithfulness and obedience. When they have not feared God, they have struggled, stumbled and disobeyed.

“Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.” (Ecclesiastes 8:13)

Harmful Fear: Fear of the world.

In Isaiah, God tells us not to have “fearful hearts” (Isaiah 35:4) and not to fear “conspiracy” (Isaiah 8:12), the “reproach of mere mortals” (Isaiah 51:7), or disgrace and humiliation (Isaiah 54:4).

Peter tells us that even if we suffer for what is right, we are blessed. Then he quotes Isaiah 8:12 – “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.”

The reason we don’t need to fear the things of the world is because we belong to God. If we fear Him and put our trust in Him, then whom shall we fear?

“But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1)

John lays it out clearly in 1 John 4. God is love (1 John 4:8 and 4:16) and embracing the love of God is the only way to fully abolish our harmful fears. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

So what does this tell us about the elections?

Fear God. Trust God. Do not fear this world.

(Click here  to watch the “fears” scene from The Replacements.)

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Does Life Have You Baffled?

A few weeks ago I bought a baffle. At the risk of getting all technical on you, it’s a cone-shaped thingy that goes on the pole that holds our bird feeders. It keeps squirrels from climbing the pole and eating all the bird seed.

It leaves the squirrels … you got it … baffled.

I no longer see squirrels lounging atop the bird feeders, but there always seems to be plenty of seed on the ground below. So the squirrels gather there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Are they somehow shaking it down or just eating the table scraps from the birds?

Frankly, it has me … you got it … baffled.

When life leaves me baffled, I look for answers. For things like keeping squirrels out of the bird feeders, I turn to Gsquirrel baffleoogle. On worldly issues, it has all (well, most) of the answers. For important matters, I still turn to the Bible. It has all the answers, and I do mean all.

But as I wrote in Grow Like Jesus, God often provides us with a limited amount of direction. It’s as if He’s looking down on us and saying, “Here’s a few clues. Now you figure it out.”

On the hand, I don’t have much to figure out. My life has never been better. I have a wonderful wife, a great job, grown kids who mostly don’t need me, grand kids I can’t wait to see, and my biggest problem involves keeping squirrels from eating the bird food.

Yet, I’m still regularly baffled by many things of life where God is giving me limited specifics and mostly telling me to “figure it out.”

Here are some things that have had me baffled within the last week. Some go back months or even years. Regardless, I find no quick and clear answers; just the call to figure it out.

  • Why do so many people abandon or resist Christianity just because they see imperfect Christians representing a perfect Christ? What do they expect?
  • Why did God kill everyone at Jericho?
  • How do I make “speak the truth in love” more than a nice-sounding platitude?
  • Should I buy a gun before it’s illegal to do so?
  • Should I feel stupid that I didn’t even realize the Brits were thinking of leaving the European Union until a couple of days before it happened?
  • And should I feel even more stupid because I have no idea how that vote will likely impact my life?
  • How much of my work should be “my” projects versus “client” projects?
  • Why do I use the word “frankly” as a crutch in my writing?
  • Why do we try to shape God into an image that fits what we want and what we think is right?
  • Why do we park on a driveway and drive on parkway? (OK, I actually know the answer to that one.)
  • Trump or Clinton?

That’s just the short list. Frankly, I know God provides insights into everyone one of those questions, and, in some cases, the answers are clear if I’ll only look close enough or dig deep enough. But everything in life that leaves me baffled – from the squirrels to politics – has this in common: It’s in the hands of God. So whether I figure it out or not, I can trust that it will all work out. God is never baffled.

Isaiah 46:9-10

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’

 

The Role of Trust in Discipleship

One of the first lessons I learned as a new follower of Jesus was that we’re all called to discipleship. And this weekend, while sitting with my beautiful wife in the Chapel by the Sea, I was reminded of the role “trust” plays in that process.

Discipleship, of course, is something we “do” and something that’s “done” for us. We’re called to go and make disciples, which means we’re supposed to help others grow in their faith. And we’re supposed to grow in our faith, as well.

It all sounds very active. Read a book. Spend time with a mentor. Spend time with a protégé. Practice some spiritual disciplines. Go to a Bible study. Attend a conference.

So where does trust come into the equation?

Well, trust is the foundation for life as a follower of Christ. It all begins when we put our trust in Jesus. But too often we forget to keep trusting because we’re so busy doing.SouthPadre

Audrey and I just took an extended weekend vacation, and that’s how we ended up listening to Chaplain Sam Steele teach on this topic Sunday at the Chapel by the Sea. Perhaps you’ve been to the Chapel by the Sea. There’s one in Alaska. Several in Florida and California, not to mention in a dozen or so other seaside communities. We were visiting the one on South Padre Island, Texas.

The Rev. Steele was teaching from 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul was addressing some in-fighting in the church over who was better – those who followed Paul or those who followed Apollos. He reminded them that we all have different roles to play as “co-workers in God’s service.” Some plant and some water, he tells them, but God makes it grow.

And so it is with discipleship. Whether we are teaching others or learning something from those who teach us, there are things we can and should do. We plant. We water. We do the things we’re called to do so that we can help ourselves and those around us grow like Jesus. But that growth only happens by the grace of God. So as we go about the doing, we have to remember to let go and trust God for the results.

I struggle putting this idea into practice because I like to see results from my doing, and I like to see them quickly. Trust requires patience. It requires faith that God’s timing is what matters. It requires letting go of the human desire control things or to feed our ego with our good works.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to this quote from Oswald Chambers: “Trust God and do the next thing.” I’ve found it comes in pretty handy whenever I don’t know what else to tell myself or anyone else about how to deal with life’s challenges. Or blessings. In good times or bad, there’s always something we can do to grow more like Jesus. And it begins and ends with trusting God.