Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Making God a priority is an attitude

Life is always busy, and I find myself constantly embroiled in a conflict between priorities. I remember being told that God should be my priority. Period. Nothing should come before Him, and I agree with that and believe it.

But what does that look like? How do I live that day by day? And how to I juggle all the other responsibilities I have with that one priority? Making God the priority in life has to be practical somehow, otherwise we couldn’t do it. Right?

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:33.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

I don’t know how many times I sang the old chorus that goes along with this verse. We’d sing it all the time at church. In a round. And as much as I loved the song, I never really thought about its application.

Seeking God above everything else means putting Him first. Yes. I get that. But what does that look like?

Is it simply doing what Jesus would do? Is it obeying the Ten Commandments? Is it changing something about yourself in order to make God happy?

I haven’t got this figured out yet, which is one of the reasons I’m blogging about it. That’s why I blog about these things, in case you didn’t know. These are things I’m working through. These are things I want to remember as the day goes on. All of these posts are letters to myself in hopes that I can get my head out of the clouds and into life where it belongs. And this is one I struggle with because I don’t always know how to apply it.

The best I can do in seeking God and putting Him first is to make the choices the Bible says are right. But the Bible isn’t a 12-step book to living. You have to understand the Bible as a whole to even begin to grasp who God is. And there are areas where the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us what to do. That’s why we have the Holy Spirit, God Himself living in those who have chosen to believe in Christ.

When we face choices in life, seeking God first means doing what the Bible says is right and/or listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice and obeying.

What does that look like practically? An example from my own life deals with my work habits. I have a million things I have to get done. I work full time. I have my own writing business on the side. And I’ve started a small press with some friends. Just those three things are enough to keep me busy enough I hardly have time to sleep. And I am called to do all of those things. They are opportunities God has put in my life.

But what about my family? What about my friends? What about the personal relationships God has given me? Are they less important? God gave them to me too. So which comes first? The opportunities God has given us or the people God has given us? There isn’t always a simple answer.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have friends and family who see what God has called me to do. And I’m doubly blessed to have friends who are willing to work alongside me to make some of it happen.  But there comes a time when you have to make a choice, even between the opportunities God has given you.

And what I’ve learned is that it’s not what choice you make that matters. It’s why you make it.

Seeking God first, making God a priority, is an attitude. If everything you do is for the glory of God, every choice you make will reflect that.

So stop worrying about what choice you’re going to make and instead focus on the why behind it. Look at your motivation. Why are you making that choice? Is it out of fear or worry or pride or anger? If you’re making a choice for any reason other than God’s glory, you aren’t putting Him first.

We all face choices every moment of every day, and God has given us everything we need to make the wise choice. So do it.

Life is busy. It’s always busy, and it will keep getting busier. But if you can keep your motivation simple, it’s easier to choose what path to take. And if your choices glorify God, He’ll take care of the details.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Dallas, TX

Questions you don’t need God’s help on?

Everybody has questions for God. Sometimes they’re silly. Sometimes they’re serious. But every now and then, you end up in a situation where you need an answer. You have to make a decision, and you can only put it off for so long. You have to choose.

I’m there now. And in one way of looking at it, making this choice isn’t a big deal. But if you consider all of the ramifications, it could have a huge impact.

The long and the short of it is that I’ve received the first concepts for the cover of my book, Nameless. And I was desperately hoping that one of them would stand out as the absolute winner … but they’re both fantastic. And now I have to pick one.

I have to pick the book cover that will represent my novel in a way that will make people want to pick it up and read it. It’s not an earth shattering decision, but it’s important because it could very well determine whether the book sells or flops.

So I’m exercising a right that I have as a follower of Christ. I’m asking for God’s opinion.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Dallas, TX

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer’s Market, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is James 1:5.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

So many times I think we are afraid to ask God because bringing our daily concerns to Him seems trivial.  I mean, He’s God. He shouldn’t care about the simple, easy, picky things I’m facing in my life. He shouldn’t care about a book cover design.

But that’s a lie. He does.

God wants to be a part of our lives in every way, from the big decisions to the small ones. And we should never forget that the small decisions may seem small but they can have huge consequences, so it’s essential to ask for wisdom before you make any decision.

God invites us to ask Him for help. He wants us to. That’s part of being in a relationship of any kind. You ask questions. You ask for opinions. You ask for help. We have friends because we were never meant to go through life alone, and God wants to be an intimate part of our lives.

Now, should you ask God what color socks to put on this morning? Well, that’s up to you. It’s highly unlikely that your socks could change the course of your life, but you never know.

I’m asking God for wisdom to choose the right book cover. Not necessarily the one I like the best, but the one that is the best option for the book itself. And that’s difficult for me because I don’t care about book covers. I never look at covers when I’m deciding what book to read. I look at the titles, and I read the back cover. That’s how I choose books. So if there is anyone completely unequal to the task of choosing a book cover, it’s me.

I’m not afraid to ask for God’s help on this. I need Him. It’s the things I already know how to do that I struggle with asking about. After all, if I already know how to do it, why would I ask for God’s wisdom? And that’s pride talking. I think I know what I’m doing. I still need God’s help to actually do the right thing.

What decision are you facing today? Is it something you already have experience with or is it something you don’t know how to handle? Either way, ask for God’s wisdom. He’s invited us to ask, so we are nuts if we don’t take Him up on it. It’s like being friends with the most brilliant mathematician in the world and still struggling through your math homework alone.

Don’t let Satan’s lies convince you that your problem isn’t worth God’s time. That’s not your decision to make. You’ve been invited to ask; so ask. And don’t believe for a second that you have life handled on your own, because you don’t. Nobody does.

Just ask. Be sure about what you need to know. Trust that God will give you an answer. And then be willing to act on it, whether you think it’s the right answer or not.

Nobody said it would be easy, but so many times doing the right thing never is.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Succeed or fail, victory comes from God

If you’re not a control freak, you may not understand the desperate urge to take matters into your own hands. But I am. And I hate sitting on the sidelines when things are happening around me that I don’t have the power to change.

I don’t do this very often, but I stumbled across a Psalm today that really made me think. I mean, they all make me think, but every now and then I rediscover one that makes me stop.

I needed to read this today. I’m flailing through life right now in one of the busiest seasons I’ll experience this year. I’m stressed out and stretched thin, and my performance-driven perfectionistic self is struggling to do everything just right so I can succeed. And I needed to remember this.

I never want to forget this, whether I’m facing failure or success.

Psalm 62

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

I wait quietly before God,
    for my victory comes from him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.
 They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts. Interlude

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.
 My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
 O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. Interlude

Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
    and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales,
    together they are lighter than a breath of air.

Don’t make your living by extortion
    or put your hope in stealing.
And if your wealth increases,
    don’t make it the center of your life.

God has spoken plainly,
    and I have heard it many times:
Power, O God, belongs to you;
      unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
Surely you repay all people
    according to what they have done.

A gorilla in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being bullied is a privilege

The world is full of bullies. If you don’t encounter them every day, I’m sure you know someone who does. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes too. They aren’t just thugs who are after your lunch money anymore. A bully is anyone who uses any kind of intimidation to get what he or she wants. They are in offices and homes and on the street, and they aren’t always physical. Bullies can be passive aggressive too.

So how do you handle bullies when you’re a grown up? If you’re a kid, you’re supposed to be able to go to an authority. But as an adult, sometimes your authority is the bully. What do you do in that case?

A gorilla in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A gorilla in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:28-29.

Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

The Bible says over and over again that we shouldn’t repay evil for evil, that vengeance belongs to God and not to us. And that’s a tall order, especially if I know a bully is involved and he or she has hurt someone I love. But as followers of Christ, we are commanded to love and forgive people who hurt us, but for a bully, that is just a signal to them that you’ll roll over and take the abuse.

So when I encounter a verse like this that says not to be intimidated in any way, I want to know how that’s going to work. Because it’s easy to say that you won’t be intimidated by someone who’s out to get you, but when you’re face to face with them, and their sole purpose is to frighten you or upset you, they’re probably going to get their way.

I really think it comes down to a choice. You can choose to be intimidated or not. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s true. You don’t have to cower or shrink away when a bully is trying to beat you down. You don’t have to fight back either. You can just calmly stand your ground. That’s a choice you can make, and a bully isn’t going to understand it.

You can make that choice because of what the rest of today’s verses tell us. You don’t have to be intimidated because God is behind you, and He’s watching the whole thing. He knows who is in the right. He knows who the aggressor is, and He won’t sit back and let one of His children be mistreated.

If you have the strength to calmly, lovingly stand your ground in the face of intimidation, eventually that person coming after you will get the picture. You won’t break down because you’re relying on Someone stronger, and that Someone will eventually get involved and set things right.

So where do you find the strength to stand up when a bully just wants to beat you down? Look at the second verse listed. You’ve been given the privilege of suffering for Christ.

Suffering for Christ is an honor. Have you ever thought about it that way? Whenever I hear the phrase suffering for Christ, I think of the oppressed and persecuted Christians in Asia and the Middle East. That’s suffering. But being intimidated by a passive-aggressive bully and choosing not to strike back is suffering too. When you choose not to strike back and take the situation into your own hands and trust that God will take care of it, you’re doing that for the glory of God. You’re suffering for Christ.

And that is a privilege. Not everyone gets privileges. That’s why they’re called privileges. I know it doesn’t feel like a privilege when you’re being emotionally raked over the coals, but that’s because our perspective is skewed.

When a bully sets out to tear you down, remember that having the capability to love him or her in return is a gift that God has given you and a privilege you have. If you can look at the opportunity to be bullied as a privilege, you’ll respond to it differently.  You’ll respond to the bully differently.

Who knows why they are the way they are, but there’s always a root cause. People aren’t born bullies.

You’re going to face people who want their own way every day, and some of those people are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want, including trampling over you and anyone else. Stand your ground calmly and lovingly in the name of Christ. Don’t be intimidated in any way by those who would tear you down just so they can get what they want. Love them. Forgive them. But don’t give in to them.

Who knows? Maybe the day will come when they’ll ask you how you got so strong, and then you can tell them. You never know what having a Christ-like attitude will accomplish in your life or in the lives of others around you.

So stand firm. Don’t cower in the face of intimidation. The Big Bad Wolf will eventually run out of breath, and you can face him victoriously, still on your feet with your testimony intact.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Living for what you can’t take with you

In our lives, we face challenges and disappointments, but the greater part of our lives on Earth is usually pretty incredible. Most of us have opportunities others like us could only dream of. Life may be hard at times, but there are so many amazing things God has given us in this life to enjoy.

People and places and, nature and city life, the beach and the mountain, friends and family, movies and books and music and theatre. The list goes on and on, and we all have access to all of it, and it’s all there for us to enjoy. But not at the expense of forgetting what really matters.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 84:10.

A single day in your courts
    is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
    than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

This is one of those verses that always makes me cringe a little when I read it. I like to be able to read the Psalms like I’m actually saying them, like they’re coming from my heart. But sometimes when I hit this one, I hesitate because I have days where I struggle believing that a day with God can be better than life here.

I mean, I know a day in God’s presence will surpass my best week of life on Earth. That’s obvious. But it’s difficult to compare when I have experienced life on Earth and I haven’t experienced with life in heaven. So some days it’s hard to feel it, even if I know it.

What’s important about this verse is perspective. If you don’t believe that live in eternity with God will be better than life on Earth, you aren’t going to live like it. If you believe life will be better here, you’re going to live for this life. You’re going to invest in things that matter down here, and you’re going to ignore the things that matter in heaven.

When I was at college in Florida, there were all sorts of things I could have bought to make my stay more comfortable, especially in my second semester. But I didn’t because I knew I was coming home to Kansas, and I wouldn’t have room in the car. Our lives down here are the same way.

If we look at heaven as our home and Earth as our college dorm or as our rental house, it changes the way you look at a lot of things. You can’t hang pictures in a leased apartment. Or at least, you probably shouldn’t. In a home you know is temporary, you shouldn’t invest a lot of time changing it because you know you are going to leave. Instead, use your time to invest in the things that last, like the people who live around you. Even if you’re living in a dorm or in an apartment complex, you’ve got people on all sides. You’ve got a short amount of time to make a difference to them, and then when you’re gone, you may never see them again.

If you know you’re moving, you only want to invest time in the things you can actually take with you. If heaven is our final destination, what do we get to take with us? Not our money or our homes, not our possessions or our status. We take our own soul. That’s it. And if you’re fortunate and very blessed, you won’t have to go alone. You’ll get to go home with your friends and your family members. And those are the treasures that really matter.

Do you believe that a day in God’s presence is better than a lifetime on Earth? Would you rather be the lowliest servant in God’s house than a wealthy person here? It’s time to make up your mind.

WuShock playing drums with the band

Disappointment can make you stronger

I don’t do sports. I’ve never been into them. But then, I’d never had a team I cared about make it to a place where I could cheer them on until this year. I’m a proud alum of Wichita State University, so even though I don’t really care about sports, I still pay attention when our sports teams accomplish great things. And when our basketball team started their crazy undefeated rush to the NCAA tournament, I started getting excited.

I remember last year. For the first time in a long time, Wichita was getting noticed–and in a good way. Most people don’t even know where we are, let alone who we are. Last year, everyone made fun of our mascot–our beloved WuShock (he’s a shock of wheat, folks; not a stalk of celery or a pencil). This year, people were taking us seriously, and it was nice. Really nice. And this year I thought we could do it. I really thought we could go all the way. Especially when we won our 35th game in a row on Friday. No team ever made it to the tournament with a 35-0 record.

And then–last night happened. The Shockers faced off with Kentucky, and both sides played their hearts out. And the Shockers lost by 2. Just like that, we were done. Along with the other two Kansas teams. The tournament will go on without us.

Sports has disappointments like that all the time, and while it can be difficult to deal with, in the end, it’s still just a game. Life has bigger disappointments than sports ever does. So how do you deal with the disappointments that life hands you?

WuShock playing drums with the band

WuShock playing drums with the band

Today’s verses are Psalm 73:1-5.

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.

I love the honesty of the Psalms. That’s one of the reasons I think reading them on bad days helps me get my focus back. No matter who writes them, the Psalms generally start off with a genuine summary of how life just sucks, and then they end up with the writer coming back to his senses and realizing that God is good.

That’s how Psalm 73 works. If you have a chance, pop over and read the whole thing. It’s not long, and it’s totally worth it. But the basic idea is that the writer is getting frustrated with God because he’s living the way he’s supposed to, and all the people around him (the ones who don’t follow God) are better off.

At one point in the Psalm, the writer even asks God what the point of keeping his heart clean was? What’s the point of following God if all you’re going to get is trouble in return? But instead of giving up on God, the writer went to a quiet place and God revealed the truth to him.

You’re going to face disappointments in life. Just expect it. The world is broken, and nobody is perfect. People hurt people. Things you think will happen don’t. Dreams don’t always come true, and even though you work your butt off to accomplish something, you may not receive the reward for it right away.

Decide now how you’re going to deal with it. Make up your mind now about how you’re going to face disappointment, so when the time comes you aren’t swept away by the emotional letdown.

Am I disappointed that the Shockers lost? Absolutely. But I can tell you what they’re not going to do. They aren’t going to go home and give up playing basketball. They’re going to work twice as hard next year and try again.

I’ve got a couple of major projects in the works right now, projects that I’m counting on to be successful. Am I hoping that they’re going to work? That they’re going to be successful? You’d better believe it. But will I give up if they aren’t? Am I going to stop believing that God is good if my life doesn’t turn out the way I think it should?

No.

Seriously, go read Psalm 73. Life is all about perspective. You really do win some and lose some, and on the days that you lose, you have to pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Don’t give up. Don’t look back. And keep trying until you make it.

And whatever else you do, don’t blame God. He’s got a plan, and He’s working things out. The only thing blaming God does is turn you into someone you don’t want to be.

Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
    and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
    you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
    but God remains the strength of my heart;
    he is mine forever.

Disappointment isn’t wrong. It isn’t even bad, if you can face it in a way that makes you better in the end. Disappointment makes us stronger if you look at it as a chance to improve yourself. Disappointment can increase our faith if we remember that God has a  better plan than what we concocted.

So when disappointment comes, grieve. Sure, it’s difficult to see a dream die. But dreams never stay dead. Don’t give up. Try again. Keep believing. If God isn’t going to give up, you shouldn’t either.

Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

You can’t find happiness by knowing what it isn’t

The United Nations proclaimed March 20, 2013, as the International Day of Happiness. Yesterday, people all over the world celebrated in many different ways.

I guess it’s good to have a day dedicated to celebrating happiness, and the purpose for the day is to remind the world that being happy doesn’t mean being rich or famous. But in all of the materials I reviewed (briefly), I couldn’t find one where they explained what happiness is. All I could find was what happiness isn’t. And one thing I’ve learned about happiness is that you can’t achieve it without a focal point. You can’t be happy just by understanding what it isn’t. You have to have a reason to be happy.

At least, that’s how it works for me. I can’t just be happy because I know it doesn’t come from wealth or fame or beauty. I need to know what it does come from.

Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower in a field near 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.

What does the word blessed mean? In some instances where it shows up (bless the Lord, call her blessed, etc.), it usually means to say good things about. When we bless the Lord, it means to say good things about God, remembering what He’s done for us. But in other instances, like this one, blessed means happy.

With that in mind, check the verse out again. “But blessed (happy) are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.”

And that’s what I’m looking for. If I trust in the Lord and make Him my hope and confidence, I’ll be happy. Why? Because like trees planted by a river, I never lack for anything I need.

You can’t find happiness by understanding what it isn’t. The only way to be truly happy is to understand where it really comes from. Not wealth or fame or beauty or even health. You can’t even find true happiness in the intangibles like family and security and love because none of those things last.

The only way to be truly happy is to place your hope and trust in God. So don’t flail around looking for happiness in all the wrong places. You can try, but you won’t find it.

Trust God and let His promises become the foundation you build your life on.