When God Provides …

Just last night I was reading the last chapter in the book of John (Chapter 21). In this chapter, the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ death, but not his resurrection, and in light of all that had happened, Peter made a grand announcement – he was going fishing. He decided to go back to doing the things he’d done before Jesus came into his life. He was (essentially) giving up on his ministry and walk with God in order to return to the life he used to have before he found Christ.

The other disciples went with him, and they toiled all night, but didn’t catch a single thing. I’ve read this story many times, but this was the first time that it occurred to me what a blow that must have been for these men. They thought that Jesus was dead. The ministry that had consumed their lives for three years was suddenly gone. And even fishing (the one thing they used to be good at) wasn’t working for them any more! It was like they couldn’t catch a break!

But then something amazing happened. In the midst of that moment of total failure, Jesus came on the scene:

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  “No,” they answered (John 21:4-5 NKJV).

Jesus then gave them instructions – he told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. And even though they didn’t know it was him speaking, they obeyed. The result was a miracle catch so large that they could barely haul it to shore. That was when they realized what was happening – they realized that Jesus wasn’t dead! The biggest tragedy they’d ever faced wasn’t actually a tragedy any more!

Of course they rushed to the shore to meet with Jesus face to face. And when they arrived, the Bible gives us a detail that is small, almost to the point of insignificance, but so powerful that it overwhelms me:

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it,and some bread (John 21:9 NKJV)

Jesus had just given his disciples a monumental miracle. He’d just revived their dreams, their faith, and even their careers in one single supernatural act. But that wasn’t all he did. He cared so much about these men that he also cooked them breakfast!

I can’t get over how beautiful that statement is, and how much meaning it has for our personal lives. We don’t serve a God who only cares about the big things. When He moves in our lives, he doesn’t pass over the “insignificant” details. He provides for the big and the small, the significant and the seemingly insignificant. He doesn’t just provide – he is MORE than enough.

Isn’t that amazing?

As we near the end of this year, there may be some of you who are wondering how everything went so wrong. You may feel just like the disciples did at the beginning of this chapter – facing a life that looks to be in shambles. Or maybe you’re not in dire straights, but there are certain areas of your life that just aren’t working out the way you’ve wanted them to.  I’m here to remind you that God is with you in all of this. He sees where you are. He knows your fears and your frustrations. He has not abandoned you. In fact, he can take everything that you thought was wrong and make it all right again – and he can do it in an instant!

So if you’re struggling, frustrated, or just unsure … cling to Jesus today. He is the one who will NEVER leave you (even when you feel alone). He will NEVER abandon you (even when everything looks terrible). He is NOT done with you (no matter how impossible your situation may seem). And best of all – he CARES. He cares about the little things and the big things. He cares that you have enough – and that you have more than enough. He will give you the testimonies that will stun and amaze your friends and family. AND he will also do the “little” things that hold a personal power and meaning for you that can’t be expressed in words.

The love of God is more – more than we expect, more than we imagine, more than we could ever understand. And his love never ever fails.

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Embracing the Unexpected

This may very well be my last blog entry in 2014, and so before anything else I want to wish everyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

But before the year ends I want to tell you a little bit about the whirlwind of a week that just happened to me. I help to run the theater program at my church – we perform skits as a part of our weekly church services. We also put on a few full-length productions every year, normally around the holidays. We’d spent the past few weeks working on a silly, funny Christmas play based loosely on A Christmas Carol, and I was kind of excited about it. But then last Sunday I got what seemed like terrible news – we weren’t going to be able to do that particular show. Without going into too much detail, it became clear rather quickly that we were going to have to scrap the play entirely and start over with something new.

I had a full cast of actors (many of whom had made special arrangements to be in the show) who were excited to perform, a whole bunch of families who were planning on coming, exactly 2 weeks until the show date, and NO SHOW. Given the position I found myself in, you might not be surprised to hear that my first thought was “Where can I get my hands on a new script?” You might also be able to imagine the horror I felt when my pastors suggested that I might want to try writing a show of my own.

Write a show? I had two weeks! The way I saw it, I barely had enough time for the actors to learn their lines, and they wanted me to WRITE them first? Didn’t they know that I wrote nonfiction? Didn’t they know how badly I struggled with things like plot and dialogue? I didn’t even have an idea – I mean, literally, not even an hint of a spark of an original idea for a Christmas play. The whole thing just seemed impossible …

Except that behind the panic (and believe me, I was in a panic) I could see the hand of God pushing me to do this. I knew it wasn’t just my pastors asking me to do something. I knew that this was too perfectly orchestrated to be an accident. I also knew, from personal experience, that just about every time I’ve ever agreed to go along on these crazy leaps of faith I’ve ended up on my feet.

And so on Monday morning when I got to work I got a coffee and locked myself away in my office with a few mindless projects so that I could focus on brainstorming. And only a few hours (and several spreadsheets) later, I suddenly had one! Paula Casill, the girl who’s never had a particularly inspiring idea for a fiction piece in her entire life, suddenly had an idea that she found exciting, one that was big enough for a full-length play, and one that she wanted to write! Was it even possible?

Apparently so! Over the next few days I spent every free moment glued to my computer typing like a madwoman. Some scenes were so easy I wrote them off in one go. Others took thought and time and conversations with actors and re-writes in order to get them sounding natural. There was very little time for things like sleeping, grocery shopping, or communication with the outside world. But by Thursday night it was done – a completed script.

The show isn’t until Sunday, so I can’t say for sure how well we’re going to pull it off, but all early signs point to it being just as good as (if not better than) our first production. Our actors are all on board, and rather than being frustrated with all of the work they “wasted” working on the old show, they’re excited at the prospect of being involved in something original.

But here’s the most amazing part – the play uses a standard “storyteller” dramatic device to make it easier to transition between scenes and the storyteller’s narration was written in a classic children’s poetry style. When the script was finished I looked at it and realized that it is perfectly suited to be adapted into a book. So that’s the new plan! As soon as the show is finished I’m going to start working on the book! Just like that, without even realizing what I was doing, I ended up writing something awesome in a completely new genre!

Why am I telling you this story? Well, for two reasons (and no, neither of them involve patting myself on the back).

The first is this – because I think that there are a lot of people out there who reject and despair at the uncomfortable, out-of-the box situations that happen in their life. They see them as impossible challenges (or at least, that’s how I saw THIS) and that often leads to giving up, running away, or some other form of surrender. But when we can learn to trust GOD more than we trust in our own abilities, these impossible challenges suddenly become POSSIBLE.

The second reason is that I have been reminded first-hand how often God will use our challenges and adversities to expand and bless us. I didn’t come into this December looking to write a children’s book. In fact, I’ve NEVER wanted to write a children’s book. It just didn’t seem like something in my wheelhouse.  But God had plans of His own, and He knew exactly how to use my current circumstances to accomplish His will.

So when the unexpected challenge or the impossible mountain suddenly appear in your life, let this story be an encouragement to you. Don’t run away. Don’t give in to fear. Stand up, square your shoulders, and plow ahead. You never know where that kind of persistence and determination can bring you. I can’t tell you what’s waiting for you on the other side of your mountain, but I can say this much – it’s worth fighting for!

Move Forward

or, What To Do When You Get Stuck

In the process of chasing after our dreams, goals, or aspirations, we will inevitably come to a point where we feel stuck. Even if we’re doing our best to follow God’s lead and to obey His voice, we may still encounter moments where things are looking grim and we don’t see a way out.

Ever feel like that? Ever feel like you’ve hit a dead end or backed yourself into a corner? Ever look for a way out and realize that all of your options look terrible?

I’ve been there – and so have countless men and women before us. So what are we supposed to do when we’re trying to get ahead only to find that we have nowhere left to go?

Well let’s look at a group of people who found themselves in this very scenario, in the most literal way ever! When the Israelites first escaped from Egypt, they left with singing and dancing and rejoicing. After 400 years of bondage, they had suddenly and miraculously been set free. The dream that had once seemed so impossible had instantly become very real. They were literally walking their way into their freedom. They had every reason to rejoice. And then just as suddenly, everything went terribly wrong. Their journey brought them to the shores of the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit behind them, chasing them down to punish them and drag them back into captivity.

Stuck between a sea and an army, the Isralites started to panic. They had nowhere to go, no way out of the problem that they’d suddenly encountered. They were stuck, and it was scary. So Moses spoke to the people in order to calm their fears:

And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”

And the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward (Exodus 14:13-15).

Moses told the people not to be afraid. He promised them that God was going to fight their battles for them. He explained that their enemies would be defeated. He got all of that right. But he messed up on one important detail.

You see, Moses told the people to stand still and watch what God would do on their behalf. But in the very next verse God corrected him. He said, “Why are you praying? Why are you asking for help? You need to be MOVING FORWARD!” God didn’t want the people to stand still. He wanted them to take a step of faith. Even though there was an ocean in front of them, even though the way was impassible, God told the people not to stop!

That is a frankly extraordinary commandment! I wonder what the people thought when they heard it. It’s not like they knew that the sea was going to split before them. Nothing like that had ever happened before! Nevertheless, they had the faith to march right up to the water’s edge. They obeyed God, and moved forward, despite the dangers of the situation, and God suddenly performed a miracle greater than anything the world had ever seen!

You might be facing a situation that feels a little like the one the Israelites faced all those years ago. Things might be looking helpless. There may not be any “good” options. But if you’ll keep following after God, if you’ll keep pressing forward, and if you’ll put your trust in Him, He will perform miracles that will shock and amaze you.

So don’t get stuck. Don’t stop moving. Don’t allow fear to paralyze you! God is ready to move on your behalf, but He’s waiting for you to move first!

Are Dreams God-Given?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve decided to start covering material here that prove more relevant to the people who read my books. Specifically I’m interested in covering topics that, while directly related to my book topics, was not addressed directly in the books themselves.

So with that in mind, I want to talk about dreams – not the dreams you have in your sleep, but the dreams (goals, aspirations, and desires) that you have in your heart. It’s actually the focus of my soon-to-be-released 5th book, Dream-Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream. But I realized recently that one of the assumptions that I made when my book was that most people would presume their dreams to be a good and God-given thing, something worthy of pursuit.

Of course I recognize that most people who would willingly purchase a book with a title like mine can be presumed to have some interest in successfully achieving their dreams. But since I have a little more latitude in this blog than I do in a manuscript, let’s take the time to answer the questions.

Are dreams godly? Are they God-inspired, God-given? Does God want His people to pursue their dreams?

I believe that the answer to each of these questions is YES. Now that isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions to this rule, or that it’s possible to pursue dreams that run contrary to God’s will; but I believe that Christians as a whole are far too tentative about reaching out for the things they dream of achieving, because they don’t necessarily believe that God wants them to succeed.

But here’s the deal, when God first created mankind in the garden of Eden, He pronounced a blessing over them, and that blessing came with a commandment (Genesis 1:28). He told them to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth and to subdue it. Then He gave them dominion. This is a point that I touch on in the book – that from the beginning of our existence as a species, God spoke His intent over us – that we should flourish and thrive.

That same intent is clear in the promise that He made Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2. He promised to make Abraham great. He desired to expand him, to bless him, and to help him achieve prominence in the world.

God did the same thing for Isaac, for Jacob, for Joseph, for Moses, for Joshua and Caleb, for Gideon, for Deborah, for David, for Solomon, for Jabez, for Esther, for Isaiah, for Nehemiah, and for countless kings and prophets. He took people out of obscurity, out of ordinary lives, and He pushed them to achieve greatness. Some of these people were hungry to chase after the purposes that God had placed over their lives, while others took some convincing. But each one of them was placed in their point in history for a specific purpose, to achieve something great.

In fact, if you read through the Bible you will find that the only times that God cast people down and thwarted their dreams were when they either 1) attempted to fulfill them in their own strength and for their own glory, 2) attempted to fulfill them in direct disobedience to God or His laws, or 3) attempted to fulfill them to the detriment of God’s people. The men who built the Tower of Babel, the wicked kings of Israel, and enemies of Israel all stand of examples of this truth.

But for the people of God, the ones who loved Him with all of their hearts, His pattern was (and has always been) to bless their efforts, to make their way prosperous, and to give them success. And the thing about this success that He gave to them is that it was never entirely “spiritual.” It always came with natural benefits as well. The men and women who pursued their dreams, who followed after God’s higher calling, ended up prosperous, powerful, and famous. Those weren’t their primary goals – their first desire was always to obey and honor God – but it can’t be denied that they reaped incredible natural benefits.

I believe that the truth that is so prominently displayed in the stories of the Bible is still actively in effect in our lives as Christians today. I believe that God has purposely planted us in this time and in this place so that we can be used to glorify and honor His name. Furthermore, I believe that the honor and the glory that He’s looking for from us doesn’t come from living out our lives in quiet obscurity. I believe that, just like the many men and women of the Bible, we are meant to make a violent impact on the world around us. We are meant to stand out, to be successful, to achieve impossible things. I believe it, because it is exactly what Jesus told us about our own potential:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:12-13).

So if you have a dream in your heart, don’t dismiss it as trivial in the sight of God. Don’t assume that it is in conflict with His plan for your life. If you are willing to do things God’s way, to follow His direction, and to honor Him with your efforts, you have every reason to expect that He will make you a great success.