Everywhere I Turn Is a Reminder

TobyMac’s words filled my car as I drove down the road: “Everywhere I turn is a reminder…I see You in everything, all day.”

I had heard those same words countless times before, but for some reason, they hit home with me this time. 

All we really have to do to see God is just look around. He’s everywhere and in everything. It’s easy to forget about Him in the hubbub of everyday, first-world life. Sometimes we need to just take a few moments to do a mental inventory of God and His grace.

Life is certainly not perfect, and there are many awful things we can focus on (as I write this, the Coronavirus is ravaging the world), but we can just as easily look at all the ways God has blessed us.

Speaking of the first world, in our enclosed little bubbles we forget that billions of people live in poverty in other parts of the world. 

The things we take for granted—like clean water, nutritious food, a sturdy roof over our heads, a steady job, and a car to take us to that job—are all parts of life that vast numbers of people do without every day. 

Just owning a car makes us among the wealthiest people on the planet. Can you imagine that? 

We may think we have it rough when our old car is giving us fits, but it is actually a luxury item that billions of people don’t have access to. 

Think about the ability to walk to the sink and move a handle, allowing fresh, cool water to pour into a clean glass for your enjoyment. God blessed you with that today. 

You could have been born in a third-world country where you had to walk miles to find the closest water, then be forced to share it with livestock. It could be filthy and diseased, but it’s all you have.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, reading this has never experienced that kind of poverty—and likely never will. We really can’t imagine what that must feel like as we live in our climate-controlled houses with our climate-controlled cars sitting out in the driveway.

God didn’t have to bless us with these creature comforts, but He did. For that, we can be thankful every day. These things serve as a reminder of who He is and what He’s done for us. 

Just having the freedom to walk outside and see the sky, the trees, and the rest of nature is a gift as well. Many people don’t have this opportunity for one reason or another. 

People who are homebound, or incarcerated, or trapped in human slavery don’t have this freedom. I can get up right now from my chair and step outside and enjoy a taste of God’s goodness on this beautiful spring morning. Not everyone can.

The point is that there are signs of God’s goodness and grace wherever we look. We don’t have to search very long to find evidence that he’s blessed us in awesome ways.

We can take heart in the fact that He cares enough about us to show His love in these ways.

You may be saying to yourself, Well, what about those people who ARE living in poverty across the world? They don’t have these things to be thankful for. They don’t have a reason to acknowledge God.

No matter what situation you, I, or anyone else find ourselves in, God has never forgotten about us. 

Just remember Joseph’s story in Genesis. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and falsely thrown into prison later on. He spent years locked up before his chance came to be free.

Had God forgotten him? No. God works out all things in His own time. He was working behind the scenes while Joseph waited patiently in prison. Joseph knew God’s goodness and that He would not forget about him. 

In time he was freed and eventually became the number two man in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

The key is remembering that God is good, He’s everywhere, and He has a plan for you. 

Take notice of Him in the small things each day. It will do wonders for your mood, plus it will help draw you closer to God.

And that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it?

Finding Gratitude in Our Lives

None of us here on this earth got to where we are just by our own will and efforts. What we are today is due not only to our own actions but also to those of others in our lives.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that our lives are completely dependent on God’s will for us.

Even though there may be many aspects of our lives that we are not satisfied with, everything that we go through is part of His plan to mold us into the person that He wants us to be. 

One of the best ways to come to terms with this fact is by displaying gratitude to God for all the good things going on in our lives. Every person reading this has something to be thankful for.

Showing gratitude every day forces us to take notice of the small things in life that we might otherwise take for granted.

A while back I read about a simple way to flex our gratitude muscles. It’s easy to use—just remember “1 X 3 X 45.” 

What you do is look for the positives in your life for 1 minute, 3 times a day, for 45 days. You can set a reminder or alarm on your phone to pause during your busy day and perform this simple exercise. 

It takes only a minute—literally—but it could radically change your outlook on life and set you up for a lifetime of being grateful. As you’re thinking about all the good things that are going on in your life, thank God for each one of them. Thank Him that He’s working in your life each day and that He’s given you these blessings.

And don’t think that there’s nothing positive that you can be thankful for. 

We all have something that we can thank God for, even if it’s something as small as finding a convenient parking place. Maybe you didn’t have to wait long for the elevator at work. Or maybe your kids got out of bed this morning without a fuss. It could be anything.

So, go ahead and try this little exercise for 45 days. Do it every day, 3 times a day and discover for yourself what kind of difference it makes on your outlook in life.

An Answer to The Lazy River

Wow.  There is so much hurt in that piece.  So much pain shows through.  I must have really been hurting when I wrote that.  But it was the truth – that is how I felt at that time, as well as many times before that and many times after.  It is hard to know how to formulate an answer to that diatribe.  It is all so raw and heartfelt.  If I were reading it and knew that someone else had written it (instead of me), I wouldn’t want to jump in on top of him quoting Bible verses and telling him how he’s wrong.  That wouldn’t do any good at all, but would most likely alienate him more, driving him further away from God.

I guess one of the first things I’ll say in response is that God has been gracious in allowing me to see a different way to look at life and life events over the last few months.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I’ve got everything all figured out by any means.  But I have been blessed to read books, listen to audio, and take part in exercises that are designed to give one a more proactive, healthier approach to dealing with life.  I’ve still got a very long way to go, but just learning about these methods and beginning to use them to a degree has already made a noticeable impact on my thought patterns.

Life may still seem like a lazy river full of people from all different walks of life, but I would say that now I view the scene much differently.  If asked to describe the lazy river experience now, I would say first of all that there’s much I don’t know and don’t understand about the “ride”.  I don’t fully understand why we’re all on the ride, other than that God created us and started us all at the beginning of the ride.  For many different reasons (reasons that have taken up books and books of explanation), we don’t all begin with the same equipment, and along the way our experience may change dramatically, either for better or for worse.

For example, at the beginning of the ride we may be floating merrily along on a fine inner-tube, only to have it punctured by a low-hanging limb or other unforeseen object, leaving us drifting in the water.  On the other hand, we may find an orphaned pair of sunglasses lying on the edge of the water and, stretching with all our might, manage to snag them as we pass by.  Now we have protection from the sun for our weary eyes.  Are these all happenstance events?  I believe ‘no’ is the correct answer, as God orchestrates everything in our lives according to His will.  We will never understand it all while we’re alive on this earth, and maybe we won’t even understand once those of us who have chosen Christ reach Heaven, but it is truth to say that God’s plan includes us, and in the end all works out for the best to those who have placed their trust in Him.

Yes, I know this all sounds very high and mighty, and I struggle with this truth often – very, very often.  But somewhere deep down inside I know that this IS truth and that if I hold fast to it, I will be OK.  Quite often the flesh part of my nature is not satisfied with trusting in God, and instead wants to rebel and whine about why something is the way it is when it doesn’t make sense that way.

But in the end I must simply trust God.  What other choice do I have, or anybody else for that matter?  We are here, like it or not, and I believe it is in our best interest to align ourselves with the Creator of all this that we see.  But it goes beyond merely aligning ourselves with God.  We are commanded to worship Him, giving Him the honor He deserves.  We are His created beings, designed and built to worship and serve.  Now, I will be the first to tell you that these ideas often do not sit well with me.  God knows this, so it’s no surprise to Him.   For a good part of my life I have felt that I was entitled to do my own thing.  So that’s what I have done, for the most part.  Oh, I’ve tried to include God along the way, hoping that His plans would fit in with mine.  Sometimes they have, but it seems like more often than not I am on my own, wondering what ended up happening, and wondering why God did not give me clear direction.  Obviously, this is no way to live.  Unfortunately, this has pretty much been my story since my late teen years.

This is why I say that we really have no choice but to try it God’s way.  He tells us over and over in the Bible to trust Him.  Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of my life verses.  It’s the one I go back to time and time again when I finally realize that I don’t have all the answers and that maybe there is a better way.  “Ooooh yeaaaaaah – trust God.  I had forgotten all about that. Let’s give it a try.”

I can’t say that every situation has always worked out the way I wanted it to or thought that it would, but somehow everything has always worked out.  Most of the times the terrible outcomes that I’ve built up so much in my mind never come to pass.  It seems that it’s not so much that there’s increasing suspense, with a grand moment waiting to find out the outcome of a situation.  It’s more like the whole thing evolves into something different, so much that the original fear and anxiety melt away as the situation becomes something else altogether.  This is simply my casual observation, and may not hold true for others.

Back to the lazy river analogy.  As I’m floating along, I simply must trust God that He knows what He’s doing.  I believe it is to my advantage to praise Him and thank Him throughout the ride.  By acknowledging His workmanship in the beautiful clouds overhead, or the birds chirping in the trees along the bank, not only am I give Him honor and praise, I’m also helping myself by keeping my thoughts focused on the positive things in life, instead of the negative.  It is no coincidence that this action agrees with Paul’s commands in Philippians 4:8 to do just that.

No only is it disobedience to God in the form of envy, it will do me no good to look around at the other riders and compare my circumstances with theirs.  No matter if they appear better off, or worse, I will have more joy and worship God more fully by showing my gratitude for what I have, trusting God all the while.

At the end of the lazy river ride, however, is when the fun really begins – at least for those of us who have made Jesus our Lord and call ourselves Christ-followers.  We will all have to wait patiently and endure until that day..

Cruise Control Life

For all of my adult life I have longed to live what I call a “cruise control” life.  Sitting back and having life come to me, without significant worry or stress, is the perfect picture of what life should be.  Everything is in place and I have plenty of money, to the point where I never even think of money.  It is just there.  My relationships are all good – my wife and I love each other, the kids are great, I have plenty of warm, intimate connections with friends and extended family.  Everything about my life and those around me is in place.  The basis for attaining and maintaining this idyllic life rests largely on money.  First and foremost, there must be plenty of it, not necessarily Bill Gates kind of money, just way more than I think I need or want, therefore allowing me the peace of mind to enjoy life, knowing that the funds are there, and keep coming in, for me to relax, not worrying about the unforeseen, and simply be in the moment, enjoying life in the present at all times.

Just imagining this kind of life brings to mind a very warm, perfect sort of existence where EVERYTHING is good.  I have to be very careful not to harbor on these images because they are in fact fallacies and do not exist as such.  It is so easy to fall back into that kind of thinking.  It is very comforting to imagine that that life is out there and that somebody somewhere has it; therefore I can possibly have it also if I try hard enough.  

When I was finishing up my college days, I did not have these ideas. I felt led to go into ministry, and was planning to enter seminary right after college.  Money was really not on my mind.  I did not have that mental competition to live as the world lives; I did not relate myself to the larger peer group of the world.  I only wanted to live and to serve God.

The turning point came when I was introduced to a multilevel marketing business.  To put it simply, in a very short time frame I became consumed with this idea of the cruise control life – plenty of money, high lifestyle, smiles all around.  In the world of multilevel marketing, individuals who have attained great success in the business in question are held in high regard, and paraded ad nauseum as examples of what the new recruit can someday be if he or she is dedicated and patient enough, and of course puts enough work into the business.

In the business I was introduced to, one particular individual caught my attention, and I quickly became enraptured with trying to attain his lifestyle.  To me he had it all – pretty wife and gorgeous kids – but much more importantly, he exuded peace of mind that could only come from having more than enough money.  In fact, this is the image he portrayed – almost that he had so much money, he didn’t even know what all he had – not exactly, but sort of.  He described his huge house with a pool and basketball court set on a large wooded lot, his several cars – including a Rolls Royce – his condo on the beach, and on and on.  I remember once hearing him say that his investment income (not the income from the multilevel business) was six figures.  As part of the motivation process we were able to go to his house for an hour or so while in his hometown for a business conference.  I was in awe to say the least.  The house was amazing, as was the outdoor barbecue area and all the beautiful landscaping.  We did not go inside the house, but I didn’t need to – I was firmly hooked at that point.

This man had it all as far as I was concerned.  I wanted what he had.  Over the time I was involved in the business, about four years, I went not only to his home, but also the homes of several other kingpins in the business.  All during this time, this idea of the cruise control life captivated me.  This guy exuded such calm and peace.  I NEEDED what he had.  The idea of no worries was especially enticing to me, someone with known anxious hangups.  I held him in the highest regard, not only because of what he had attained financially, but because all the while he seemed so humble, and gave God the credit for his success.

How could I lose with this scenario?  This seemed to be the ultimate life for where I was at this juncture.  I had wanted to serve God, and now I wanted money, so how could I go wrong?  I could serve God by introducing people to this wonderful business, so that they could also live a peaceful life with no struggles, or problems (all because of the abundance of money they would have), and at the same time I would become fabulously successful (read rich) myself.  It was definitely a win-win situation as far as I could tell.

I cannot fully comment on the theology of all this, especially in this writing.  I do know, however, that over the years I have begun to realize the error of my thinking – there is no cruise control life.  Nobody has everything together in every facet of his life, no matter how much money he has.  There is a struggle somewhere, with something.  Life still comes at you, because we live in a fallen world, and there are still issues and challenges to deal with on a regular basis.

Years later I found out how true this was.  This businessman, this family man, this man of God who I had held in such high esteem, ended up losing his wife because of an affair with his secretary.  Whoa!  How could this happen?  He had it all, didn’t he?  How could he ever need to seek out another woman when he had the perfect wife, the perfect family, the perfect life already?  I don’t know how it could happen, but it did.  Not only did they get divorced, but a large number of the people in his downline (the recruits of recruits of recruits) ended up disassociating with him.  I have no way of knowing how all this affected him financially, or even emotionally, but I know it could not have been for the good.

I feel sorry for the situation he is in, even though it would appear to be from his own doing, but he now serves as a vivid reminder to me of the fallacy of the cruise control life I had held so dear.  If he couldn’t hold his life together with all the apparent accoutrements he had, then I should in no way hope to do the same.  He had exactly what I wanted.  I knew that if I had his life, everything would be perfect.  I’d have no problems, I be more than happy, I’d be content forever, and I’d die happy knowing I’d lived life exactly how it was meant to be lived.  Alas, the life he had on the outside was not enough for him.  Without judging him, it is apparent that he was driven to seek satisfaction outside of his wonderful, beautiful life.

This can and should serve as a powerful reminder to me of the huge error in the thinking I have held dear for two decades.  I’ve never fully been able to reconcile all this in my mind.  A large part of me has still longed for this lifestyle, even after leaving that business long ago.  I have continued to hold to the idea that somewhere out there are those who live this kind of life, and if they have it, then it is possible to attain, and so I must strive for it as well.  It is a struggle that I have battled for far too long.

I try to realize that there is no such lifestyle.  Life will continue to present us challenges on a daily basis, no matter how much money we have.  We live in a world controlled by evil and as such we are not immune to suffering.  God tells us this over and over in the Bible.  How arrogant it was (and is) for me to think I could be above this, especially when there are billions of people in the world with a much, much lower standard of living than I have.  I read a statistic (not verified by me) that said only one out of nine people in the entire world owns a car.  I have not one, but two cars.  I also have a beautiful house with a garage where I can put those cars out of the elements – those same elements that pound the estimated one billion people worldwide (again, not verified by me) who live in inadequate housing such as cardboard boxes, tents, and shacks.

Obviously, I am rich, and for that I will do my best to remain grateful to God.