The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” ― Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Life can be achingly difficult. There are peaks and valleys and sometimes you are in the middle where things are not getting better, but they are not getting worse either.  And then the unthinkable happens. And you are wondering if you have out-Alexandered Alexander.

In the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Alexander is not having a great day. He has to endure gum in his hair and lima beans for dinner. At school, “guess whose mother forgot to put in dessert?” After school “my mom took us all to the dentist and Dr. Fields found a cavity just in me,” and there is worse to come. It’s no wonder the kid’s ready to move to Australia, but in the end, “My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia.”

Now the Alexander book is fiction while our struggles are real. The plans, the script we have laid out for our life often changes. Some of our days are caused by our own poor choices, other bad days are caused by other people. And some of our bad days are triggered by bad news or difficult circumstances which are completely out of our control. Whatever the cause, our faith and trust in God is being tested and defined. God offers us the key to facing the unthinkable.

If I’m Alexander, my first step is to remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10: “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” In my weakest, I have His strength. When I stop relying on me….and begin to trust Him…I”m at my strongest.

But sometimes everything just goes wrong and we can’t seem to make it right again. What then? What’s the answer? There isn’t one. There is often no satisfactory answer to the question why. What we can answer is how.  How do I move forward?  How do I live?  Remember that you are loved and cherished, no matter what has happened to you. Whether you can feel it or not, God is holding you and loving you.  There is no promise that everything will be made right.  Only that you will be loved and held.  It’s not an answer.  But it is a promise.

The fact is that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day he had won’t matter when we spend all of eternity with Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you respond when you have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Why?
  2. What can we do to trust God on those bad days?

Why, God, Why? Part 2

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—surely you do not plan to wipe us out? O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us, to punish us for our many sins. But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil. Will you wink at their treachery. Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1: 12-13.

In the TV game show, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Regis Philbin asks a contestant before they lock in their answer “is that your final answer?” In yesterday’s devotional we talked about how God had outlined His answer to Habakkuk’s question of “how long, O Lord, must I call for help?” Habakkuk got his answer, but based on his reaction in verses 12-13, I can’t help but wonder if he was thinking, “is that your final answer, Lord.”

Habakkuk didn’t like the answer. I wonder how often we don’t like the answer much either simply because it is not the answer we are looking for.  We don’t want the Babylonians running roughshod over us. We just want things to be fixed. We want things to be better. God, can’t you just wave your hand or say a few words and fix all the evil, make things that are out of whack back in line and also transform the not so good people into good people. In other words, make everything right. He could, but is that what is best for us?    

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that along the way God needs to fix us. And we lose sight of the fact that He expects us to embrace making the changes necessary to fix us. Not that we are all that bad. In the aftermath of the hurricane we have seen Christians and non-Christians all over Northwest Florida responding selflessly and compassionately and with great generosity to help family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Yes, there are times when we can be good. In reality, however, there’s only one truly good person. His name is Jesus Christ. Everybody else has fallen short as Romans 3:23 reminds us: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

God ‘s actions and discipline are designed to help us grow. We either can wrestle with what God is doing or not doing in our lives, or we can embrace and benefit from it. But we don’t like hearing that. It creates tension. It creates drama. It would be easier if God just fixed the problem. But as we see in Habakkuk, there won’t always be a nice, neat solution. There may be times when you may have difficult circumstances that you are powerless to change. 

This is when you embrace what God has planned for you. This is where you say, “God, I am still going to trust You ‘even when it gets hard.'”  And when you choose that, God will take you on a journey like no other. It doesn’t mean things will be perfect. Things may get worse. But if you continue to trust God, if you continue to hold onto Him, He will take your faith to a higher and higher level.

Discussion Questions:

  1. A deeply committed believer can express questions and have faith at the same time. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What should our reaction be when we don’t like God’s answer or lack of answer?   

Why, God, Why?

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look,  I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight….The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.” – Habakkuk 1:1-4

You could sit in a church for many years and probably not hear a sermon on the prophet Habakkuk. He is definitely not a household name, even for the regular church goer. Habakkuk is one of Israel’s minor, or lesser, prophets. Habakkuk is a great book, and like all of scriptures is applicable to our lives today.

Habakkuk wanted to know why things were not fair?  Habakkuk was written somewhere around 600 BC during a time when God’s people were becoming very corrupt. There was a lot of violence. There was corruption and injustice. Basically, there were a lot of bad people doing bad things to good people. But even the good people weren’t all that good because they weren’t doing anything about all the bad happening around them. In the midst of all this, Habukkuk asks a question, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? He then makes an observation: But you do not listen.” Most of us have asked that question and had a similar observation.

I asked that my son get his act together, but it gets worse. I needed that promotion but a guy who doesn’t deserve it got it instead. And my migraines keep getting worse. Those questions typically generate more questions. “Is God interested in my situation because He could do something, but He doesn’t show up?”  “How can I trust God with all that is going on?” 

Many people may believe that Habakkuk had a lack of faith, but that was not the case. Habakkuk had faith but he also, like many of us, saw things that didn’t seem to line up with his trust in God. So he had some questions. And God had the answers, maybe not the answers that Habakkuk or we are looking for. God says this in Habakkuk 1:5, “The Lord replied, “Look around at the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” The next verse says, “I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people. They will march across the world and conquer other lands.” God is sending the Babylonians to punish His people.  And in verse 7 God says, “They are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like.

God is agreeing with Habakkuk that something needs to be done and here is what I (God) am going to do about it.  Here is my plan. (To be continued tomorrow) 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Habakkuk assumes that God does not hear, that He will not save, and that He will sit idly by. He cannot see a plan for justice. Do you ever feel the same way?
  2. Do you think it is possible for God to be doing good without us even realizing it?
  3. Do you trust God even when things don’t look favorable? Why or why not?

It’s Not About Me…or You

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”  – Martin Luther King.

Warning: this devotional could make you uncomfortable. Just saying.

When it comes to God, most people have one or two images. One is that God is a sweet, accommodating, giving Santa Claus who will just smile and give you what you want. This God wants your happiness above anything else. The other is that God who seems to turn a deaf ear to your circumstances and ignore your prayers to reduce or eliminate the trials and tribulations in your life. This is the God that seems comfortable when you find yourself uncomfortable. Given that those are two extremes, many people view God as somewhere in between.

The problem is we can’t define God because God is beyond definition. We can’t compartmentalize, classify, mold or stereotype God. We can’t confuse, equate or associate God with the quality of life any more than we can mostly expect beneficial outcomes because we are a follower of Jesus. We know the Bible says otherwise, but we still expect God to remove the obstacles and bumps in our path. We want to live out a “Christianity” that is about us and expect God to go along. We read our Bibles, go to church to personally experience the joys of worshipping with others, we tithe, and as a result we expect God to make life a little easier.  When we think that this is all about us and our benefit, then we are wrong.   

God never intended our trust in Him to be centered on whether life is fair or things are going well. Our trust isn’t ultimately about ourselves, but ultimately about God. It is all about God. The gospel is about Jesus – the fully God and fully human Son of God – who has been resurrected from the dead and sits at the right hand of the father. “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Some people have lost their trust in God because they saw Him as a personal genie that they thought would give them what they want. But God is God and He knows what is best even if we think we have earned what we ask for. And He deserves and has earned our trust regardless of our circumstances. 

The Rev. Billy Graham was asked how to describe God in one sentence. “In some ways it’s not possible, of course, to put everything about God into one sentence,” he wrote. “God is infinite, and we’ll never fully understand His greatness — not on this side of eternity.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. In circumstances like Hurricane Michael, do we tend to make it about us?
  2. What can we do this week to make it all about God? 

In God We Trust

“The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him.” — Nahum 1:7.   

Most people in Northwest Florida didn’t give Hurricane Michael much attention early on. This was not our first rodeo and the previous storms veered away from us. This one didn’t.  As the intensifying storm approached, people all over Northwest Florida turned to God. We asked God to protect us, our homes, our businesses. We were justifiably concerned with the possible damage this unprecedented storm could cause. But the storm kept coming. There was silence on God’s end. And in just a few hours time, life in this part of Florida snapped so abruptly that no one could process it: can I fully trust God in the wake of all this devastation?

This unsettling sense of abandonment appears to contradict Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” By any definition this qualified as “times of trouble.” So why did God seem so agonizingly absent? And better yet, how can I trust God when He allows this to happen. Charles Swindoll shed some light on the subject when he said, “We must cease striving and trust God to provide what He thinks is best and in whatever time He chooses to make it available. But this kind of trusting doesn’t come naturally. It’s a spiritual crisis of the will in which we must choose to exercise faith.” 

It’s easy to lose faith when life becomes difficult and problems appear impossible. In 1 Kings 17: 8-24 we read a story about Elijah and a struggling single mom familiar with troubled times. In this story, the prophet Elijah had gone into hiding from King Ahab. God told Elijah to head north into enemy territory and ask for food from a dirt poor single mom who was about to cook what little food she had left, “and then my son and I will die.” Never the less, both Elijah and this single mom chose to step out in faith, trusting God to provide – and He did. Then true hardship arrived when the woman’s son died. Elijah cried out to God who brought him back to life.

How can you trust God when everything goes wrong? By remembering that God is using your trials to accomplish far more than you could ever imagine. There is more to come beyond this life; He is with you and He is always for you. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

Trusting God is a process, and we can begin to practice it today by thanking God for all the things that never change: His unfailing love for us, His total forgiveness of our sin, and His everlasting promise to make all things work together for good, all in His perfect timing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does our lack of trust in tough times illustrate our distrust in God’s ability and/or His character?
  2. Is it possible to completely trust God? How? 

Trust In Times Of Trouble

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!  — Psalm 46:1-3.   

One of the most famous Bible stories is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found in chapter 3 of Daniel. You know the story: the three Hebrew men tell the king they do not need to defend themselves because God is their defender, they tell him that they are not concerned about the ability of their God, He is fully able to deliver and now they let him know in verse 18: “But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” They are thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, because they refused to bow down to the king’s image. God preserves them from harm. But think of the level of trust; they told the king that even if God does not deliver them, they will still honor Him. 

Fast forward to today. We are asked to trust God in the midst of major troubles. That’s not easy. We prefer God to do what is good and noble and right. Certainly, we don’t expect to be thrown into a fiery furnace. It is easier to trust God when things are good. But God does not work like that. He is God and His plans will be fulfilled even when it doesn’t appear those plans are good or trustworthy. That is where trust comes in. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”s faith was not conditional. They did not believe in their deliverance, they believed in the One that delivers. 

Many of us in Northwest Florida are facing real trials and real troubles. Many of us are navigating through a season in life that you never wanted or even imagined would happen. No one understands this better than your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Can you imagine the stress levels of Jesus? He knows He’s about to die, He knows the totally gruesome way He will die and He knows He does not deserve any of this. And He asks God the Father please if there is another way please don’t make me go out like this. Yet He says, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42)

Do we trust God in times of trouble? In those times of trouble, do we have a my will attitude or a God’s will attitude? And whatever it is that has you shaken today, whatever is going on in your life today, you are faced with an important question. Are you still going to trust God? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it a little harder to trust God after Hurricane Michael?  Why or why not? 
  2. What can we do this week to strengthen our trust in God in turbulent times?   

The Thrill of Hope

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Life sometimes feels like we are flying in a storm, doesn’t it? When storms hit us, literally and figuratively like Hurricane Michael, it is easy to feel hopeless. In Hurricane Michael we have bumped up against circumstances that have the potential to not only make us anxious, but to steal our hope. Since we can’t be sure of the future, our hearts are tempted to look at our reality, and assess God’s faithfulness to us by our lack of hope. It is in times like this that we need to remember that real hope is found in Jesus Christ alone, because we know hope in an unchanging and eternal Savior is a certain thing. 

When we put our hope in Jesus Christ, we are building our house on rock, the only solid rock. When the trouble comes and our hope is in Jesus, we won’t be shaken. Yes, we will still face trials, sadness, sickness and disappointment, but the difference is they will not steal our hope.  Even when life becomes hard we can remind ourselves of the sure source of hope we have in Jesus and Jesus alone because of the cross.

Our hope in Christ is an eternal thing, but it’s also a present thing. We know the eternal future of those who love God, but we also know that Christ fully empathizes with our weaknesses right now. Our Savior experienced many of the things that we are experiencing today. This hope is a present, living hope, because we have a present, living Savior.

When our hope is not in Christ, we risk having our hope weakened or stolen by our circumstances. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can set down strong roots that will give us a foundation when we face trials in life.   

So where does your hope lie? Is your hope found in Christ alone? Whenever your sense of hope starts running out, ask God to renew you with a fresh dose of hope so you can continue to faithfully deal with the difficult situations that come your way.  Be confident that God has a plan for you and that plan will unfold perfectly regardless of present circumstances. Let the trials of life pale in comparison to the promises of God—to work all things for good for those who love Him and to be faithful to Him, according to His purposes and plans. Count on God to be your source of hope and give you more hope whenever you ask Him for it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does finding my hope in Jesus mean to you?
  2. What can we do this week to move our hope toward God?

We Change But God Does Not Change

“God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm.  His attitude toward sin is now the same as it was when He drove out the sinful man from the garden, and His attitude toward the sinner the same as when He stretched forth His hand and cried, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’”  – A. W. Tozer.

Life changes every day for every person in some way. You would think that we would learn to embrace and manage change but it always seems to be a little threatening. Whether it is leaving your friends behind to attend a new school. It is the salesman who left a company he was very comfortable in and moving to a company that has rigorous sales quotas that seem impossible to meet. Or an older person that has to leave the house they have lived in for so many years and transition to a care facility. In a chaotic world that is constantly changing, nothing can be more comforting than to know that God never changes. God is who He always will be. God is a perfect example of dependability, the rock of stability in these times of instability.

The Bible clearly tells us that God is unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” While everything around us is changing, we can depend on God continually showing us His grace, love and compassion. All our material possessions may blow away, but God is still there.    

We in Northwest Florida are still reeling from Hurricane Michael. Emotions run high. But no matter how we feel or what is happening in our lives, our faith and trust must be in Him. “Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.” (Isaiah 26:4). The influences that cause change in your life have no effect on God. He will never be stronger or weaker. His knowledge and wisdom will not increase or diminish. God does not compromise or change His values. And God does not have mood swings. Life and its uncertainties may shake you, but God does not move. It is God’s unchangeableness that has the power to change us.

Yes, the storms of life are continually changing, but God remains the same. He is consistent and reliable. He is your anchor. You can count on God because He never changes and neither do His promises. In a world where everything and everyone changes, we can depend on God’s faithfulness.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does God’s unchangeableness have the power to change us?
  2. How would we live our lives differently if we truly believed all God’s promises will never change?

Not So Small Changes

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.” – Steve Jobs. 

There is a story told about change. A man named Tyler was unsure about his choice of clothes for church so he sought some counsel from his wife. He asked, “Do you think I should change?” She took advantage of the opportunity and replied, “It depends—are you talking about changing your shirt or making a wholesale change as a human being?”

Ouch. I think we are all open to making small changes in our lives that make us happier and more successful, but few of us think we need to commit to something that’s going to change our lives in a daunting and massive way. Our spouse may disagree.  What’s more important is what God thinks.   

Some changes such as Hurricane Michael seem out of our control. Even so, the hurricane produced some big challenges and even bigger changes for many people. When the challenge is this big, the preliminary, small steps we take don’t seem to make a difference. We feel like we make little to no progress. It is easy to get discouraged and begin asking yourself “why bother?”  Isaiah 55:10-11 tells: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit.It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

Isaiah is reminding us that God is at work regardless of the size of changes in our lives. There is no doubt many people in Northwest Florida face big changes ahead that will impact them in a way like never before. The life that many people have known for any number of years is coming to an end, at least for the near future. Life has its way of working out our faith by trial and fire. It is so easy to worry about what the future will look like. That future coupled with the big changes will make it a challenge for all of us to keep God first.

God has a purpose, and His plans to accomplish that purpose are perfect. Trusting God’s purpose, and seeking to understand that He takes all the events from our life and orchestrates good from them, leads to a changed perspective.

So although it may be difficult to maintain the right attitude with the house needing repair and no contractors available to do the work, look to God for His purpose and it will change your perspective.  We can trust that in the midst of all the things that seem to go wrong, God will bring something good out of it.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do big changes make it harder to trust and wait on God than smaller, incremental changes? Why?
  2. God will work in and through every situation to bring good from it. Agree or disagree and why?

A Different Perspective

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Intuitively we know that to be true. But change is only good when it contributes to growth. Ellen Glasgow said, “all change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” Change for the sake of change isn’t a good thing. It becomes a good thing when change enables us to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of the things that can happen to Christians is the idea that we have no problem with good change (the changes we want) but not when the changes cause painful and uncomfortable times. Maybe we need to look at this from a different perspective. Life is a series of problem-solving opportunities. And that includes the changes in your life. The changes you face will either defeat you or develop you – depending on how you respond to them. And those changes can keep you at arm’s length from God or bring Him closer.

Unfortunately, most people fail to see how God wants to use problems for good in their lives. They react impulsively and resent their problems rather than pausing to consider what benefit they might bring.

God can use change to perfect you. Change, when responded to correctly, can build your character and your faith.  Romans 5:3-4 says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

So, while we may see something as pointless, horrible or impossible to change, God sees it differently. And since His thoughts are always the truth, we should attempt to look for them. God is still at work in your life – even when you do not recognize it or understand it. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. The way for us to remain grounded in stressful times is to seek His view. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. How can we better see God’s perspective in the days ahead?