Waterfall in Sedgwick County Zoo Jungle Exhibit - Wichita, KS

You can’t thank Him enough

Do you ever wake up and just feel the need to be thankful? I don’t know about you, but I get caught up in all the picky little details of life so often. You’d think maybe I’d know better by now, but it seems to be instinctive. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed. It’s so easy to stress out over things I can’t control. And then, when I get my head back on straight, I look back and wonder what I was thinking when I was freaking out over nothing.

This is one of those mornings where I can clearly see how much I fret over things that I can’t control anyway, and I wonder what’s wrong with me. And I marvel at how patient God is with me, especially when I always go back and pick up the same worries I promise to lay down.

So today, I just want to spend some time being thankful, readjusting my perspective. Honestly, that’s what being thankful is–understanding that someone has done something for you that they didn’t have to do and recognizing it.

God is so good to me, so patient and so kind. He’s given me so much, and He’s got big plans. And that’s not just the case for me, but for everyone. And it’s easy to forget because the important things God has for us to hear are often said in that still, small voice, and that still, small voice can get lost in the loud, noisy chaos of ordinary life. And we need to slow down and be quiet if we want to hear it.

If you feel like you need to say thanks to God, do it. If you feel like you don’t need to? … Do it anyway. Because you still need to. And after a few moments of thanking Him for what He’s done, I’m willing to bet that you’ll move from needing to thank Him to wanting to thank Him, especially after you really see everything He’s done for you.

Waterfall in Sedgwick County Zoo Jungle Exhibit - Wichita, KS

Waterfall in Sedgwick County Zoo Jungle Exhibit – Wichita, KS

Psalm 138 (The Message)

 Thank you! Everything in me says “Thank you!” Angels listen as I sing my thanks.
   I kneel in worship facing your holy temple
      and say it again: “Thank you!”
   Thank you for your love,
      thank you for your faithfulness;
   Most holy is your name,
      most holy is your Word.
   The moment I called out, you stepped in;
      you made my life large with strength. 

 When they hear what you have to say, God,
      all earth’s kings will say “Thank you.”
   They’ll sing of what you’ve done:
      “How great the glory of God!” 
   And here’s why: God, high above, sees far below;
      no matter the distance, he knows everything about us. 

 When I walk into the thick of trouble,
      keep me alive in the angry turmoil.
   With one hand
      strike my foes,
   With your other hand
      save me.
   Finish what you started in me, God.
      Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Hope is dangerous

I saw a great movie this weekend, and while there were many parts of it that were stunning and remarkably well done, there was one concept that stuck out to me. I can’t remember the line, but the concept is that hope is poisonous. That life is nothing but despair and hope is the poison that kills us slowly. After all, there’s no worse prison than the one you think you can escape but never really can.

In that instance, I suppose you could look at hope as being poisonous, especially if you just want to die and hope won’t let you. And actually, it applies to life. Because there are days when life feels like a prison, where you’re surrounded by enemies, where you just can’t ever win, where you just can’t ever get ahead. Without hope, it wouldn’t be worth living. And even those people who live on hope from day-to-day, get tired.

In selecting a verse for today, at first, I thought of the passages in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is pointing out that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, all our faith is in vain which would make Christians the most miserable people of all. And that’s true, but hope for salvation and resurrection isn’t exactly what I’m needing this morning. I know Christ is alive. I know He rose from the dead, and I trust that His sacrifice redeemed me and that when my time on earth is done, I’ll get to go home.

But what about today? I’m still on earth, and it’s Monday. Again. And no matter how much I try not to stress, I have a stressful life. And I have people in my life who are against me. And I have situations in my life that are discouraging. And I have relationships that are complicated and strained and overwhelming. So how do I hold on to hope today when all I really feel like doing is giving up?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 17:7-8.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

Like faith, hope is a choice. It’s not an ethereal, abstract concept that’s just floating around in the void and can’t be truly understood. Hope is a concrete fact. It’s something you choose to do day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

The difficulty with hope isn’t that it’s poisonous. It’s just dangerous.

You have to be careful where you set your hope. If you have made your accomplishments or your education the source of your hope, you’re going to be in trouble. Because those things will fail you. If you have made your wealth or your possessions the source of your hope, those things will eventually fade. And if you’ve made people your source of hope or even the strength of the human spirit (whatever that means), they will eventually let you down.

You have to be careful where your hope comes from.

This passage out of Jeremiah talks about tree that draws its strength from a river. If that river were polluted, the tree would be too. And that river where the tree drew its strength would do more harm than good.

But if you’re drawing your hope from God, from Christ, from what is written in Scripture, you’ll be like a tree by a clean, pure river that grows strong and tall with deep roots. In bad storms, you won’t fall. And during times of intense discomfort, you’ll still be able to do what God created you to do.

So how do you put your hope in God? It’s a choice.

You choose to trust Him. You choose to believe what the Bible says: that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s working everything out for the good of those who follow Him, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises.

Or you can give up.

It’s up to you.

Jesus is alive. So I have hope that some day I will get to go home.

But I also know that God is still working in my life, growing me, helping me, walking with me. And because I know that, I also have hope for today, that no matter what comes He’s there. And there’s nothing we can’t tackle together.

Jesus on a billboard - Hays, KS

Who is Jesus?

The Christian community thinks they have a pretty good idea of who Jesus is. We must. We put up posters of Him all over churches. We post images of Him all over Facebook. We even paint billboards of Him by the side of the road so weary travelers will see and experience a life transformation by the compassion in His eyes.

I don’t intend to offend anyone. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And, sure, creepy billboards of a long-haired guy crawling around in a wheat field might appeal to someone. But how does that tell me who Jesus is?

Jesus on a billboard - Colby, KS

Jesus on a billboard – Colby, KS

Today’s verse is John 14:6.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

When I think about who Jesus is, this is usually the first verse that always comes to mind. This or John 11:25 where Christ is speaking to Martha at Lazarus’ grave, telling her that He is the resurrection and the life.

But have you ever tried to introduce someone so amazing you can’t express it in words? How do you introduce someone who Is?

It’s not something we can understand. The concept of being forever. I mean, we talk about eternal life and living for eternity, and that’s something we try to wrap our heads around. But what about the concept of always existing? Because God has always been. He is. He was. He will be. Jesus is the same.

When God introduced Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14-15), Moses asked Him for His name. And this is what God told him:

God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.

God is. Jesus is.

Neither of them used to be. They are. And even though they will be tomorrow, they still are today. The same as they were yesterday. The same God who spoke to Moses from a bush that was on fire but didn’t burn is the same God who put on flesh and came to earth and sacrificed Himself for us. That same God is the God who lives in those who believe in Him today.

I was talking with a friend earlier this week about the kind of life that Jesus lived when He walked Earth. It’s overwhelming to think about. Because Jesus is God. He was God then. He’s God now. So even as a Man walking around on Earth, He was God. He knew everything God knows. And that means, He knew every sin everyone around Him had ever committed and ever would commit. And He loved them anyway.

He knew why He was there. He was there to die for us. That was His entire purpose of coming to Earth. He came to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10). And if it had been me, I don’t think I could have been gracious. I think I would have rubbed it in. I would have wanted to let people know — to make sure they understood the sacrifice I was going to have to make for them. But He didn’t do that. He loved people. He gave to people. He helped people. And He hung out with people who were broken, the dregs of society. The only people He showed no compassion to were the religious crowd who thought they were good enough on their own. Christ didn’t even waste His time with them.

So what does that mean for us?

To me, it means I need to take Him seriously. And it irritates me that the Christian culture is trying to represent Him in ways that are irrelevant. I guess I can appreciate a billboard with a Jesus-like figure painted on it. I guess I can recognize the need for black billboards with white letters claiming to be statements from God. I guess I can accept signs by the road that ask you if you’re ready to meet God when you die. Whatever. But those things wouldn’t mean anything to me if I didn’t already know Him.

I met Jesus when I was seven years old, and like any friendship, it’s grown over the years as I’ve learned who He is. But I can guarantee I didn’t come to know Him because I saw a billboard about Him. I came to know Him because people in my life introduced me to Him.

So, Christians, I think it’s time we stopped investing in creepy roadside billboards and got out into the community to meet people face to face. God is a face-to-face kind of person. He works through individuals. He always has, whether it was appearing to Abraham or Moses or Joshua or Gideon in the Old Testament or talking to the Samaritan Woman or to Zacchaeus or to Nicodemus.

And if you’re ever driving through Colby, KS, you need to seriously stop and look at this billboard. Because it is the creepiest thing you’ll ever see in your life. Just FYI.

Pine cone on stone steps - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Being good

There’s an old saying. “God is good all the time and all the time God is good.” Have you ever heard that? I think I learned it in Sunday School, or maybe my parents taught me. I can’t remember. Usually people recite it back and forth to each other. It’s one of those stoic old formulaic things that really rubs me the wrong way … except it’s true.

But what does it mean to be good? Do we really grasp that? Because none of us are good. I mean, there are some of us who are okay. I don’t consider myself a bad person, but then, what is bad? What standard do you use to judge good and bad, right and wrong? If good is perfect, none of us are good enough.

Pine cone on stone steps - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Pine cone on stone steps – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:34.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
    His faithful love endures forever.

This is actually part of the chapter I blogged about yesterday, but I just couldn’t get this phrase out of my head. The text actually comes out of an Old Testament history. The Chronicles are the history of the kings of Israel and Judah with a little more detail. And this is during the time that King David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem.

Yes, the Ark of the Covenant really existed. No, it was nothing like Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, since Jesus is our Mediator between God and Man now, the Ark is no longer needed, which is why it’s not around anymore. Just FYI.

Just a brief bit of explanation: the situation with the Ark started back during the time when Saul was king. I can’t remember exactly, but he did something foolish and allowed the Ark to fall into the hands of the Philistines, one of Israel’s enemies. I don’t remember the verse, but it’s a somewhat entertaining bit of Philistine history. So as king, David decided that the Ark needed to be returned to Jerusalem. But his first attempt was shoddy and not according to God’s rules. That happens in 1 Chronicles 13, and one of David’s people ends up dying because he touched the Ark when he wasn’t supposed to. So David left the Ark halfway to Jerusalem for three months before he realized that he had done it wrong. He comes back in Chapter 16 to do it right. And this verse comes out of a song that David sings when they get the Ark back to Jerusalem.

As a child, when I read this story, I didn’t understand it. Even now, I still struggle with it somewhat. Because it seems to me that these peoples’ intentions were true. They wanted the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, to be returned to Jerusalem where it belonged. And just because someone who wasn’t in the right “class” of people touched it, he was killed?

That sounds harsh to me even now. But the truth is, God had told them a specific way to move the Ark. And David thought he knew better. Yes, his motivation was true, but even if your motivation is true, that doesn’t excuse your actions if they’re wrong.

This story is just one indication that we really don’t know what “good” is. We can tell you our interpretation of good. We can tell you the “good things” we’ve done. But are our “good things” even good? If we don’t know what good really is, how can say anything we’ve done is good?

What is good? And what does it take to be good?

Only God is good. And He’s good all the time. So if you’re trying to define “good” you have to look at God.

Good is the opposite of bad. Good is genuine and real, striking a balance between a true heart and correct action. Being good requires perfection. None of us can be good. Period.

Random people on the street who’ve lived in sin all their lives can’t be good. People who’ve grown up in the church and have decided to do their own thing can’t be good. People who’ve grown up in the church and have never left the church can’t be good. None of us can be good. Maybe we can try, but I guess what I’m saying is that none of us can be good enough.

God is good. In every situation. In every circumstance. In every life. Even when you feel bad, even when you are bad, God is good. He can’t be anything else.

If we want to be good, we need to run our actions through the filter of God’s goodness. We need to ask ourselves if the choice we’re getting to make is based on our own selfish desires or on what God has clearly told us in Scripture. We need to ask ourselves if the way we’re treating people is based in anger or love.

Are we living like Jesus did? Are we living like God has told us? Whether that means addressing your thought life or your pride or your improper relationships, we need to change. And even those of us with the best most pure intentions need to re-examine our hearts. Because even if we have good intentions, we’re still not good enough. And our good intentions can easily become something that destroys other people if our actions don’t match up with what God has said is right.

Another reason this verse won’t get out of my head is the new Casting Crowns song that’s been played all over the radio recently. I embedded it below. It’s a little creepy, but all music videos are, so I suggest getting it to play and looking at something else while you listen.

Just remember that nobody’s good enough. We’re all just beggars that Jesus gave bread. And while we are supposed to help each other and keep each other accountable, not one of us is better than someone else.

Only God is good. The best we can do is imitate Him, but we can’t pick and choose His qualities to imitate. Like Scripture, it’s all or none. He is good and righteous and just; but He is also merciful and loving. It’s a hard line to walk. But that’s why He gave us the Holy Spirit. That’s why we have Christ’s example in Scripture.

Blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Being thankful

Do you ever have a day when you just want to sit and be thankful? That’s where I am today. So much is happening, so much is going right, so much is going wrong, everything is going too fast–I just want to take a moment and sit and be thankful. Because I know that no matter how the events in my life end up, God will be glorified.

Why? Because I have chosen to live a life that brings glory to Him. I have decided to make decisions that allow me to give Him glory. And even when disappointing and unhappy circumstances come into my life, I know that He is able to use those things to bless me and glorify Himself. Because that’s what He does.

God will be glorified no matter what. Why be at odds with Him? Why fight Him when He has our best interests in mind anyway?

King David sang a song when he and his army brought the Ark of the Covenant back into Jerusalem. This is the whole of David’s song, and I thought it would be a good reminder. This is in The Message, but you can read it in New Living Translation too.

Blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

1 Chronicles 16:8-36

Thank God! Call out his Name!
      Tell the whole world who he is and what he’s done!
   Sing to him! Play songs for him!
      Broadcast all his wonders!
   Revel in his holy Name,
      God-seekers, be jubilant!
   Study God and his strength,
      seek his presence day and night;
   Remember all the wonders he performed,
      the miracles and judgments that came out of his mouth.
   Seed of Israel his servant!
      Children of Jacob, his first choice!
   He is God, our God;
      wherever you go you come on his judgments and decisions.
   He keeps his commitments across thousands
      of generations, the covenant he commanded,
   The same one he made with Abraham,
      the very one he swore to Isaac;
   He posted it in big block letters to Jacob,
      this eternal covenant with Israel:
   “I give you the land of Canaan,
      this is your inheritance;
   Even though you’re not much to look at,
      a few straggling strangers.”
They wandered from country to country,
      camped out in one kingdom after another;
   But he didn’t let anyone push them around,
      he stood up for them against bully-kings:
   “Don’t you dare touch my anointed ones,
      don’t lay a hand on my prophets.”
Sing to God, everyone and everything!
      Get out his salvation news every day!
   Publish his glory among the godless nations,
      his wonders to all races and religions.
   And why? Because God is great—well worth praising!
      No god or goddess comes close in honor.
   All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,
      but God made the cosmos!
   Splendor and majesty flow out of him,
      strength and joy fill his place. 
Shout Bravo! to God, families of the peoples,
      in awe of the Glory, in awe of the Strength: Bravo!
   Shout Bravo! to his famous Name,
      lift high an offering and enter his presence!
   Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!
God is serious business, take him seriously;
      he’s put the earth in place and it’s not moving.
   So let Heaven rejoice, let Earth be jubilant,
      and pass the word among the nations, “God reigns!”
   Let Ocean, all teeming with life, bellow,
      let Field and all its creatures shake the rafters;
   Then the trees in the forest will add their applause
      to all who are pleased and present before God
      —he’s on his way to set things right! 
Give thanks to God—he is good
      and his love never quits.
   Say, “Save us, Savior God,
      round us up and get us out of these godless places,
   So we can give thanks to your holy Name,
      and bask in your life of praise.”
   Blessed be God, the God of Israel,
      from everlasting to everlasting.