Turkey at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

I’ll bring the pie

Thanksgiving wasn’t an official holiday until President Lincoln made it that way in 1863. Americans have a lot to be thankful for, even though the state of our country isn’t perfect. But beyond the borders of country lines, Christ-followers have a lot to be thankful for. No matter where we are today, no matter what country we’re living in now, one thing that so amazes and excites me is that everyone who follows Christ has a permanent home in heaven, where all of us have our true citizenship.

So, Christ-follower, no matter what kind of situation you’re dealing with right now, just remember that you have God’s grace in your life. Take a moment to celebrate, even if it’s just a few seconds to acknowledge who God is and what He’s done for you. He deserves it. He’s worth it.

May everyone have a truly blessed Thanksgiving, whether you’re American or not. And one day we’ll all be able to have a giant feast of thanksgiving together in eternity.

I’ll bring the pie. =)

Psalm 100

Turkey at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Turkey at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

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Black rhino at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

You never know … but God does

Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. Sometimes, it goes the opposite direction. Sometimes you end up stuck in situations you would never have chosen, and you didn’t do anything to deserve it. You didn’t break the rules or do something stupid. Life just happened, and boom! You’re stuck.

When was the last time you thanked God because you were stuck? When was the last time you thanked God because something bad happened in your life? Those occasions don’t usually call for a praise service. It’s escaping those circumstances that normally bring on the adulations and exultations. But the Bible says over and over and over again throughout the Bible that we are to be thankful and that we are to thank God for our circumstances, good or bad, when we’re through them or when we’re in them.

Why is that? Is it just for the sake of our perspective? I do think that plays a role. When you wake up and you choose to be thankful no matter what, it does something to your attitude. But is there more to it than that?

Black rhino at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Black rhino at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Isaiah 55:8-11.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
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.”

Who gets God? Who understands Him? Who can wrap their mind around the way He thinks? Anyone?

I don’t know anyone who can claim that. Granted, I know people who do claim it without really saying that they claim it. But no one really understands God in the same way that people understand people. Why? Well, there’s no one like God. No one else even comes close. So why do we think that we can think they same way He does? Why do we think we can put words in His mouth?

Now, I do believe Christ-followers have insight into why God does what He does, and maybe even a glimpse into His plan through the power of the Holy Spirit. But there’s a difference knowing God’s heart and knowing His thoughts.

Here’s the thing about bad circumstances or unhappy situations: they might just happen sometimes but they don’t ever happen in a vacuum. When something bad happens to you, the way you react to it will set the tone of the circumstance as a whole. You can treat it like a curse, like a problem, like a punishment. Or you can treat it like an opportunity to get to know God better. The way you tackle trials in your life makes all the difference in the world.

But I still think this concept goes deeper than just perspective. I honestly think there’s a very practical reason why God tells us to be thankful for every part of our lives, including the bad parts. Simply because we don’t always know what’s good for us and what’s bad for us. Sometimes we see things in our lives, and we think they’re bad. But God allowed those bad things to cross our paths because He planned to make something good out of it. Sometimes we look at a bad problem as a punishment, when it’s really just God preventing something worse from happening in our lives.

This is a corny example but how many times have I gotten on the road later than intended? For whatever reason. Cats underfoot. Garage door broken. Can’t find my pants. I could get upset in those moments and take my frustration out on God, but what would have happened that day if I had made it out the door on time? I might have run across a wreck, a wreck I missed because I was running late.

There have been so many other examples like this, but you get the point. It’s quite practical.

Bad things happen. Horrible things happen in life, things that tear you up inside and rip you apart and leave you a shell of who you were. But just because a situation looks bad now doesn’t mean that it will always be bad.

That’s what’s so amazing about God is that He can take those bad situations and turn them into something we’re thankful for down the road. In some instances that doesn’t seem possible. How can the dark, horrible parts of my life ever be something I’m happy for? I used to think that; now I’ve lived it.

What bad thing has happened to you? What terrible trouble is hovering over your head? Stop looking at it like it’s bad. Yes, it may be bad, but just because it’s bad now doesn’t mean it will always be bad. God has a habit of redeeming the bad and making it better than good. Who knows? The bad in your life right now might be what’s keeping you from running into something worse.

You never know, but God does.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 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.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live more, learn more, love more

I haven’t lived a lot of life. Some days I feel like I have, but in comparison to other people I know, I’m still one of the new kids on the block. I still have trouble considering myself as an adult, let alone that I have any sort of experience to share on how to live. But one thing that I have learned is that the longer I live, the more I understand how amazing God is and how undeserving I am of His grace.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:6-7.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

I made the decision to believe in Jesus when I was seven years old. I remember walking the aisle of Inwood Baptist Church in Houston. I remember stepping out in front of the whole congregation. And while I knew the choice I had made and it had been my choice alone, I didn’t feel any different.

How many sins can a seven year old commit? This was pre-1990. This was pre-internet, pre-cell phone. The era of mostly wholesome kid’s cartoons and classic Disney. So when I would hear in church or read in the Bible that I was supposed to be thankful that God had saved me from my sins, I was, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t quite grasp what that meant because even though I certainly wasn’t a perfect child, my life didn’t change overnight. I didn’t really become a different person, even though spiritually I became a new person.

I was thankful, but I didn’t know what I was thankful for.

Well, let’s fast forward 24 years. Isn’t it funny how living a little bit can change your perspective on so many things? I’m not old, but I’ve lived enough to make mistakes. I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and wish I’d listened more closely to what God was telling me as a child.

The simple truth of the matter is that the longer we live, the more we have to be thankful for. Sometimes just waking up is something to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s just having enough to eat or having a car to drive or having a friend to talk to. When you’re young, you don’t have those things to miss. But there’s a big difference between having things to be thankful for and actually being thankful; it’s like the difference between having a car and having a car you drive. Being thankful takes living to another level.

I think it’s interesting that the passage for today connects our faith growing strong with thankfulness. Those two things don’t normally go together, if you think about it from our perspective. When your faith grows strong, it’s usually through testing, which means it’s usually a time of trouble or difficulty of some kind. So this verse is saying that the troubles in our lives will result in us overflowing with thankfulness.

How does that work? Because from our point of view, trouble is really just trouble. Difficulty and challenges are just frustrations that life throws at us. But remember as Christ-followers, we’re not supposed to live by our point of view. We’re not supposed to rely on our perspective. We are to look at the world the way Christ does. We’re to live like Christ lived. We’re to follow Him every step of the way, and when you look at trouble from God’s perspective, it doesn’t look like trouble. It simply look like an opportunity to grow stronger.

As a seven year old, I wasn’t really looking for those opportunities, and I didn’t really understand them when they came. But as I got older and I got to know God better, I realized that the troubles and challenges I faced in my life weren’t merely obstacles. They were a chance to help me get to know God better than I already did. They gave me the chance to dig in and search out who God is and what He wants from me and what He offers me as His daughter. And when you think about it that way, how can you not overflow with gratitude?

This is God we’re talking about here. The God. Through His Son’s sacrifice, I can come to Him and ask for anything. I can have a relationship with God through Jesus, and the more I get to know God and Jesus, the more I love them.

Stop viewing the difficulties in your life as obstacles. Try changing your mind about them. Try seeing them as opportunities to get to know God better, and He might surprise you. Build the foundation of your life on the truth from God’s Word and watch what happens. Even when the hard times come, even when you’re surrounded by trouble and hollowed out by heartache, if you’re living your life in God and for God, you’ll see life differently. And in spite of the darkness around you, you will bubble over with gratitude toward God because even though life is tough, God has chosen to be there.

The gym at NewSpring Church during Judgement House 2013, Wichita, KS

How something small can change the world

Finishing projects makes me happy, whether it’s washing a load of laundry or dishes or a writing 150,000 word novel. Granted, I don’t like to wash dishes, but I like to see that the dishes are done. And there’s a great sense of accomplishment after they’re finished.

But have you ever done something that succeeded beyond your expectations? Have you ever completed a project that made a difference far beyond what you had planned?

Yes, sometimes success is a result of our hard work. Our hard work certainly contributes to it. But there are other times in life (I’ve found that it’s most times in my life) that my success has less to do with how hard I’ve worked and more to do with how God chooses to use the work I’ve done.

The gym at NewSpring Church during Judgement House 2013, Wichita, KS

The gym at NewSpring Church during Judgement House 2013, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 3:20.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

If you’re a Christ-follower, everything you do can have a purpose. Everything you do for other people, no matter how small, can grow to become something God can use to change a life. And that’s not something that happens on its own or because of you; it’s God working through you that makes the difference.

We don’t have the power on our own to change anything, to accomplish anything of great significance, to heal the hurting or the find the lost. All of that is outside the realm of our ability, but God does it through us every day. With God, those small acts of kindness become big heart-changing victories. With God, the tiniest deed done in His name can endure for a lifetime.

How often do we thank Him for that? How often do we recognize Him as the one who makes the difference?

This blog is a great example. It started with me trying to get focused in the mornings, but what it has grown into is a source of encouragement for hundreds and hundreds of people. Yes, I get up and write it. Yes, I do the work behind it. But all I’m doing is transferring my heart and my thoughts onto a blog post; God is the one who takes those words and uses them to touch hearts.

I didn’t ask Him to do it, either, and I certainly didn’t expect it. But as January begins in a couple of weeks, I will mark the beginning of my fourth year of daily devotional writing. This year I published my second devotional book, and a couple of new followers tag along after this blog every month. It’s amazing!

So what are you doing today that God could use to change the world? Whatever it is, if you trust it to God, He will make it bigger and more effective than you can imagine. No act is too small that He can’t use it. No person is too insignificant that God can’t take their talents and use them to bless people.

So dream big and don’t be afraid to do something for God. Believe me, He can take your tiny little achievements and use them to influence people for ages and ages to come.

Bench in a little garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Is your friendship about you?

How important are the friends in your life? Sometimes I forget how awesome my friends are. I’m so blessed to have amazing people in my life, and I’m so overwhelmed at their kindness and their encouragement, especially in the dark times of my life.

As many of you know, I tend to be somewhat independent (stop rolling your eyes). I don’t like depending on other people, and I don’t like asking for help. But there are times when I need it. And in those times, I have an arsenal of amazing people who step up to surround me with prayer and words that have to come straight from God.

Bench in a little garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bench in a little garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Romans 12:10.

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

I thought of this verse today when I thought about friendship. So much of friendship in our culture is about what others can do for us, but what I’ve learned over the years is that friendship–the ones that last–should be about what you can do for your friend.

Have you thought about that? Have you ever asked the friends in your life what you can do for them? Or is your friendship all about you?

What does it mean to show genuine affection to someone? Well, to me, that means you treat someone else kindly out of pure motivation. You do kind things for others because it’s the right thing to do, because you truly want to do it. It’s not a front. It’s not for show. It’s genuine. It’s real.

Show me a friendship with genuine affection, and I’ll show you friends for life.

But genuine affection is a concept, and concepts are great, but they aren’t good for much until you put them into practice. And that’s where the second part of the verse comes in.

Take delight in honoring each other.

Okay. That sounds complicated and religious. Well, it’s not. What does it mean to honor someone? Honoring someone is simply putting that person before yourself. It means showing preference to someone else.

Practically speaking, it’s giving your friend the bigger slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner.

Another translation says to outdo each other in kindness. And another translation says, “practice playing second fiddle.”

Do you need the attention in the friendship? Do you need the be the one who’s at the center all the time? Honestly, ask yourself, because if the answer is yes, I’m sorry to be blunt, but you’re missing the point of friendship.

God made friends so we wouldn’t have to stand alone, so we could be part of a team, so we could be a part of something bigger than we are. There’s a song on the radio right now with a lyric that always makes me smile: “God put a million million doors in the world for His love to walk through/One of those doors is you.”

And that is so, so true.

If you have friends, take the time to find out what they need. Ask them how you can help them. Get involved in their lives for more than just what you need. Practice playing second fiddle. Skip the attention you think you need. You don’t need it. Shower them with the attention. And something amazing will happen. Your friendship will get stronger. Your friend will grow, and so will you.

I have amazing friends who have poured themselves into my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them. What about about you?

Moon rising over Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

No excuses

Has God ever told you to do something specific? No, not in an audible voice, but still in an undeniable, unshakable, inescapable desire to accomplish something. It starts out as a spur-of-the-moment idea, one of those concepts that you should be able to easily brush aside as nonsense, but it doesn’t brush away. It’s like a sand burr in your brain, and it keeps poking and poking until you can’t ignore it anymore. Or pressure on your heart.

At least, that’s how God talks to me outside of Scripture. Maybe I’m nuts, but that has been my experience. And I wish I were a “good” enough Christian to tell you that every time I realize it’s God talking to me I jump right up and do exactly like He’s commanding.

Right. Most of the time, I duck my head down, stick my fingers in my ears, and hum a song to myself in hopes that He’ll leave me alone and ask someone more qualified to take care of it. And it’s not that I don’t think He equips people for tasks. For me, most of the time, the issue is time itself. I don’t have much to offer. But something happened yesterday that made me remember exactly Who is in charge of time.

Moon rising over Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon rising over Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Joshua 10:12-14.

On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!

So much of the Old Testament can be confusing because of cultural references, and–let’s not beat around the bush here–the Old Testament records a lot of major supernatural things happening that we just don’t see anymore. True, the New Testament records miracles too but not like the first 39 books of the Bible. And today’s passage is just one small mention of one major thing.

According to this passage, the sun and the moon stopped moving until Israel defeated their enemies.

What the heck? That’s not something you hear about every day. That’s not something you hear about every thousand years. I mean, shoot, we get all excited for lunar eclipses. What would happen if the sun and moon both just stopped moving in the sky? It would make the Mayan apocalypse of 2012 look like a bad science fiction movie…. wait….

What am I getting at here?

Okay. Confession time. God told me to do something recently, and my response to Him was, “Are you freakin’ crazy? That’s nuts!” But God’s not crazy, and when He wants me to do something, He doesn’t stop leaning on me until I get it through my thick skull that, yes, He is talking to me. So I said yes, but I reminded Him how busy I was. I reminded Him how much work I had to do and how little time I had to do it in. If He didn’t help me out, it wasn’t going to work.

So what happened? To keep this long story short, the day after I stopped fighting, I got more accomplished than I have in ages. And I got it done everywhere, at work, at home, in my personal to do list. Everywhere.

Seriously?

I don’t know why God doesn’t just knock me over the head with a two-by-four some days. He has so much more patience with me than I deserve.

Here’s the thing, Christians (and I’m so talking to myself right now). If God has told you to do something, He isn’t going to leave the whole weight of it on your shoulders. Yes, many times, we have to take the initiative, but God doesn’t expect us to carry out His plans all on our own strength. After all, they’re not our plans; they’re His. So why would He give us something to do and then leave it entirely on us?

I have no excuse for refusing to do what God has asked me to do. All my supposed obstacles became opportunities.

So what’s stopping you? Are you scared? Ask Him for courage; He helped a teenager slay a warrior giant. Are you broke? Ask Him for resources; He can take five loaves and fishes and feed 10,000 people. Or are you like me and you’re too busy? Remember, you’re talking to the God who can stop the moon and sun in the sky whenever He chooses.

No excuses, Christ-followers. Think about it. Let’s stop handing Him a bunch of lines and just do what He asks. I think we might be surprised at what He does in our lives.