Blooming poppy at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it

The truth can be hard to take sometimes. It’s hard to tell the truth too, but if you don’t, you can get into a world of hurt. Honesty really is the best policy, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to say or hear.

We get used to thinking that we’re right about everything. Our choices. Our lifestyle. Our beliefs. But we aren’t right because we think we are. We’re right because we agree with God and what the Bible says, and it’s frighteningly easy to get off that path. That’s when we need someone to come alongside us and help us find the right way again.

But depending on how that person “helps” us, we may get straightened out or we may twist off even further.

Blooming poppy at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Blooming poppy at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:15.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

Have you ever been in a situation where you know the person you’re talking to is messing up their life but you’re too scared to say anything about it? I’ve been there many many times, and only a handful of times have I had the courage to speak up about it. It’s not easy.

But whenever you end up in those situations, you should never hesitate to speak the truth. The truth being what God says in the Bible. But you need to take care in how you speak it.

You know you have control over your voice, right? You know you can control your tone and your volume? Maybe some people don’t realize that and they think they just have to sound angry all the time.  Or maybe they think people won’t take them seriously if they don’t sound angry.

Have you ever seen comments on Facebook or on news pages? Which comments do you take more seriously? The vicious, biting angry ones? Or the calm, rational ones? Honestly, the angrier someone sounds, the less likely I am to listen to them.

And if you take the truth and bludgeon people into submission, I’m not sure how effective that is either. Sure, maybe it works for a little while. You might be able to convince someone to do what’s right by using the truth like a hammer, but from what I’ve learned, that creates a temporary change in behavior. Not a permanent change of heart.

Truth is powerful enough to change people’s hearts on its own. It doesn’t need our help. There’s no strategy or plan of attack when you’re telling the truth. We just need to let Truth do the work, and we just need to get out of the way.

All we need to do is to remember why we’re intervening. Are you getting involved in someone else’s business because you feel responsible or obligated? Or are you doing it because you love them? If you love them, make sure they know it. If you love them, your tone and your voice and your words will express it. If you love them, you aren’t going to beat them down with your words. You’ll build them up.

No, the truth isn’t easy to speak, but you can speak it in love if you love the person you’re talking to.

So do it. Tell them the Truth. Tell them you love them. And then let it go. If they are going to listen, they will. If they won’t, they’ll do their own thing, and that is their choice. But one day, down the road when they come to their senses, they’ll remember.

But they probably won’t remember what you said. They’ll just remember how you said it.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God is bigger than your storm

Storms are a part of life in the Midwest. It’s not that we get used to them; it’s just that they don’t really surprise us. That’s good to a certain extent because few people panic when bad weather approaches, but it can be bad too because sometimes I think we take the weather for granted and forget how dangerous it can be.

We’re entering into storm season, and the country has already experienced quite a bit of tragedy associated with our normal spring storms. Death and destruction always follow big storms, and it’s easy to get to the point where you think it’s too difficult to keep on. I mean, what’s the point of rebuilding when another storm is probably just around the corner?

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

The world is full of storms, both literal and figurative, but the difference between an actual storm and a stormy season in your life is that usually you can take shelter from real wind and rain and hail. And a stormy season of life is something you really can’t escape. It follows you everywhere. Almost like you have your own black cloud hanging over your head, and there’s nothing you can do to get away from it. It just follows you around, dumping rain on you constantly.

Believe it or not, you aren’t alone. You may feel like it some days, but you aren’t the only person to ever have to weather a storm. And there have been many others who’ve gone through the same storm you are. And many of them are just waiting for the opportunity to encourage and help someone else get through it, but they can’t help if they don’t know about it.

Today’s verse comes after Jesus sat His disciples down and pretty much told them that He was going to die and go away for a while. He wanted them to know that even though He was leaving, they would be okay and they wouldn’t be alone.

When we encounter storms in our lives, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to give up. It’s much harder to hold on to faith, believing that there’s a purpose and that God can bring beauty out of the destruction. He can. He’s done it countless times throughout the history of the world, and our lives are no different. But when you’re in the middle of a storm, it doesn’t feel like anything can be beautiful ever again, and it doesn’t feel like anything has a purpose at all.

The disciples were going to feel that too. Jesus knew. And that’s why He told them this. No, I don’t think they got it right away, but we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. Many times we miss the point of what Jesus says too.

Everyone faces storms, figurative and literal. It’s part of being human. It’s part of living in this broken world. But what we should never forget is that God is bigger than our storms. Yes, a storm can cause immense damage and can take precious lives, but God is strong enough to help us through it. If He allows us to go through a storm, there’s a reason. There’s nothing random about God’s choices.

God is able to overcome any trouble we face, and for those who belong to Him, we don’t need to fear the world or anything in it. God is bigger than the world’s problems, and He’s strong enough to take disaster and make it beautiful.

It’s our job to remember that. It’s up to us to never give up. Hanging on to faith and hope is difficult, especially when you watch the storm tearing down pieces of your life, but we have to remember that God is in control and He never lets us go through anything without a reason. And no matter how impossible the obstacles in your life may seem, God is still bigger.

Elements for the Seder meal (parsley, horseradish, salt water, and charoset), Wichita, KS

It would have been enough

I never used to cry in church. As a child, I’d watch adults cry and lift their hands during the worship service in church and wonder what there was to get so emotional about. Sure, I knew God, and I had a relationship with Him through Christ. He’d forgiven me of my sins, and I was thankful for that. But I just couldn’t wrap my head around how anyone could be so overcome by emotion just by singing a song.

Then I grew up. A relationship with Christ looks a lot different when you’re a child than when you’re an adult.

When I met Jesus, I was seven years old, and–let’s face it–there’s not a whole lot that a seven year old can do that needs the grace of God. Yes, a seven year old needs God just as much as a 70 year old, but one has lived a lot longer than the other–enough to make more bad choices.

I’ve lived long enough now to understand exactly how much God has forgiven me for. I’ve made enough bad choices–I’ve sinned enough–to understand why God shouldn’t love me, and a day doesn’t go by that I’m not amazed that He does anyway. But what amazes me even more is the fact that He didn’t stop with saving me. He loves me enough to take care of me too.

Elements for the Seder meal (parsley, horseradish, salt water, and charoses), Wichita, KS

Elements for the Seder meal (parsley, horseradish, salt water, and charoses), Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:7.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

At the Seder meal I was fortunate enough to attend a few weeks ago, there’s one part where the leader reads a list of all the things God did for the Israelites. After each statement, the rest of the people at the table say: “It would have been enough.”

Because it would have been. It would have been enough if God had just led them out of Egypt. It would have been enough if God had just showed them how to build a temple. It would have been enough if God had just provided them with manna. It would have been enough. But it wasn’t enough for God. Because of His love, He went the extra mile.

That holds true today, and that’s what hit me as I sang in church this weekend. If God had stopped with just making a way for us to go to heaven, it would have been enough–more than enough. But He didn’t stop there.

Not only did He save our souls, but He made a way for us to communicate with Him, to have a relationship with Him, to live life with Him. He cares about us enough so that when we need Him, we just have to tell Him what’s happening. He cares about our problems. He cares about our daily life, and He wants to be a part of it.

Can we really understand that? Because there’s no reason why someone like God should care about people like us. But He does.

God deserves our praise and worship for being who He is. The Creator of the universe. The Eternal One. He alone is truly good and righteous, and for that reason alone, we should worship Him. But instead of being a distant, terrifying Deity, instead He sent His Son to die for our freedom because He loved us enough to sacrifice for us. Instead of standing on the sidelines of history, God has touched every moment in time. There’s not a moment when He hasn’t been involved in our lives. There’s not a time when He hasn’t cared about our feelings, our fears, our futures.

Do we get that?

Even if He hadn’t done so much for us, He’d still be worthy of praise. It would have been enough for us, but it wasn’t enough for Him.

So when your Monday becomes Mondayish today, take a moment and step back from your problems. Tell God about what’s bothering you because He cares about your life. He wants to be a part of every decision you make. He wants to walk through life with you.

Let Him. It’s the best choice you’ll ever make. And the more you get to know Him, the more you’ll understand just how much He loves you. The more you’ll understand just how much you don’t deserve His love. And then, you’ll cry in church too.

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Your ticket to one wild ride

Do you take God seriously? I mean, do you trust Him when He promises to bless you for obedience? When God tells you to do something and you do it, what do you expect will happen? Do you think He’s just going to turn His back on you? Do you think He’s asked you to do something just to watch you dance like a puppet on a string?

God doesn’t work like that. Yes, there are many times when we’ll encounter situations in our lives that will test our faith, but it’s never God dangling a carrot in front of our faces to see if we’ll bite.

So when you obey, when you do what God has told you to do, are you ready for what comes afterward?

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 5:15-16.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

God told me to do something a few years back, or at least He put the germ of an idea in my head. At the time, it wouldn’t have worked. If I would have tried, I would have failed. And even though the idea fascinated me, I didn’t hear Him telling me to jump up and do it.

And throughout the years, God kept bringing it up every now and then, kind of like a tickle at the back of my brain. “Hey, don’t forget about this! This is something I want you to do, but you’re not ready yet.”

A few years later, actually in August of last year, that idea came rushing back on me again stronger and louder than ever before. And this time I couldn’t tune it out. This time I couldn’t ignore it.

So I didn’t. I did what He was telling me to do. And guess what? He held up His end of the bargain. Way more than I expected Him to. In fact, He’s opening doors so fast that I can’t keep up. It’s all I can do to keep holding on as He takes me on what will probably be the craziest ride of my life, and I couldn’t be more excited.

But why does that surprise me? Why do I expect failure when God has never given me reason to doubt Him? I guess it’s not that I doubt Him; I just doubt my interpretation of what He tells me. And that’s why it’s important to have people around you who are on the same page as  you spiritually, to confirm what you think you’re hearing.

But how many times has fear of failure stopped me in my tracks? How many times have I not done what God was clearly telling me to do because I was afraid. I don’t want to think about it. But I need to. We all need to.

I learned today’s passage in an older translation that used the phrase “redeeming the time.” I always used to wonder what that meant. And, it’s true, it does mean to make the most of every opportunity like the newer translation says, but there’s something really beautiful in that phrase: redeeming the time.

Taking the time that might be wasted otherwise (in worrying, in anxiety, in purposeless pursuits) and using it to accomplish something for God. That’s redeeming the time. And that’s what we’re called to do. Why? Because the days are evil.

And they are. We’ve never lived in darker days. More people are persecuted for their faith in Christ today than ever before. More people are trapped in darkness than ever before. More churches are being closed due to scandal than ever before.

Frankly, Believers, we don’t have time to waste. So if God has called you to do something, don’t just stand there. Do it. You have a certain amount of time that’s been allotted to you. Some have more than others. But whatever you have God gave you for a reason, and He doesn’t make mistakes. He hasn’t put you where you are for no reason. He hasn’t walked you through all your difficult circumstances just to test your mettle. He’s got a plan for you, and because He’s good, so are His plans.

So do you trust Him? Do you take Him seriously? And if you do what He’s asking you to do, are you ready for the ride He’s going to take you on?

Don’t doubt that it’ll be wild. Because once you tell Him yes, you’re going to see amazing things happen, things that no one else will be able to explain, things that may only mean something to you–but they’ll mean something to you. And that will be enough to remind you just Who you’re working for.

You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Neither am I. Nobody is. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. So stop fooling around and get busy doing something that will matter when eternity gets here.

Beautiful iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Accepting the gift of God’s peace

Have you ever had something go horribly wrong and cause all sorts of ridiculous problems? Don’t you hate that? The day can even start out brilliantly, and everything can be going perfectly, and then BOOM! It all blows up.

Well, that happened to me yesterday. The day even started out well. Everything was going fine. And on my lunch break, life blew up.

How do you react in that situation? What do you do?

Beautiful iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Beautiful iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

What would we do without God’s peace? I’m telling you, I think I probably would have gone crazy (crazier) years ago without Him. I don’t know how people make it through a day without Him, knowing that He’s got things under control.

But even though I know He has it all handled, sometimes I forget. Sometimes I let myself worry, and once I start worrying, there’s no going back to peace until I smack myself in the head with a board.

Like in this instance yesterday. I flipped out. I didn’t exactly panic, but I sure wasn’t as calm as I could have been. But fortunately, I gathered my wits and banged my head against a wall a few times until my sanity returned. And then I calmly went about fixing the problem.

What’s the lesson? Well, my day got thrown off almost entirely because of this thing that blew up, but I did have time to fix it because it happened over my lunch. The problem got fixed, and everything worked out.

I could choose to focus on the fact that my lunch got interrupted, because it did. And it was inconvenient. I had other things I wanted to do over lunch than fix this problem.

Or I could choose to focus on the fact that this problem happened over my lunch, when I had time to invest in fixing it immediately.

See the difference? That’s God’s peace. He gives it to us in so many ways, and half the time I think we choose to ignore it. But that’s the way a gift works. It’s only effective if you accept it.

So what’s going wrong for you today? Maybe it’s the morning and you haven’t had your plans screwed up yet. Just wait. The day is young. Decide now to face the challenges of the day with a cheerful spirit, trusting that God has it worked out and thankful that He’ll help you through it.

Or maybe it’s later in the day and you’ve already experienced the trouble. Take the time to look at what happened rationally and look for the positive. Look for God’s hand in the situation, and I bet you’ll find it. Something good came out of it.

It’s your choice what to focus on, but I can guarantee that you’ll have a happier life if you can find the positive aspects to focus on instead of the negative ones. Don’t live in denial, of course. You can recognize that life stinks without focusing your thoughts on it.

The cloudy sky over a cool old building, Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s okay to say you don’t know

I hate not having answers. I’m not sure why this is, but I always feel like if I don’t have the answers to every problem, I’m a failure. The three words I hate the most to have to say: “I don’t know.”

That’s not a realistic way to live, but that’s often the expectations I put myself under. I tell myself I have to know everything. Even if all I know is that God has it taken care of, I feel like I can’t just say that I don’t know. I have to explain.

Maybe that’s not bad, but it tends to feed my pride and my proclivity to rely on myself.

The cloudy sky over a cool old building, Edinburgh, Scotland

The cloudy sky over a cool old building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is 1 Kings 2:3.

Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go.

This verse comes from King David’s final instructions to his son Solomon. David is about to die, and Solomon is about to become king. After a long life with lots of successes and many mistakes, David probably had this figured out. If anyone could figure it out, it would be David, the man after God’s own heart.

In David’s words, he didn’t tell Solomon to have the answer for every problem or situation. He didn’t tell him to plan for every eventuality. He told Solomon to obey, to follow God and do what God says is right. And, in David’s words, if Solomon could do that, God would bring success and prosperity.

And that rings true today.

Yes, there are habits and strategies you can use to reach success, but there are plenty of people out there with great work habits and brilliant strategies who aren’t successful yet.

I don’t have this figured out, not by a long shot, but what I do know is that God is the one who determines whether you’re successful or not. You can work as hard as you can, but until God puts His hand of favor on you, until He fills your life with grace, you aren’t going to go much of anywhere.

I’m not saying we can be lazy. No, if we want something, we do have to work for it. But we shouldn’t rely on our own strength to get it. Know what you need to know. Do what you need to do. Invest your time and your energy in the task God has given you, but realize that your success doesn’t come just because you’re a hard worker.

That’s a huge relief, especially for this performance-driven perfectionist. I’m going to do the best I can do in every aspect of my responsibilities, but at the end of the day, if there’s a question I can’t answer or a situation that I haven’t prepared for, it’s really all right to say, “I don’t know, but God does.”

That’s not a cop out. That’s not a bad response. In many instances, that’s the only response.

So what task has God given you to do? What has He put you in charge of? Have you done your best? Have you prepared for what you can prepare for? Awesome. Leave it at that, and stop worrying. And when you encounter a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t hesitate to admit you don’t know. Not only will it show others that you’re truly trusting God for the unknown aspects of your task, it will keep your own pride in check. And it’ll help you remember that God is the one in control and it’s by His grace we succeed and increase, not just the strength of our own hands.

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Ask God for help before you need it

I used to work a customer service type of job. It was a position dedicated to helping people find their answers, and even though it was a lot of work, I enjoyed it. The service in customer service is usually fun, until you get a customer who isn’t very nice.

But speaking from the customer’s standpoint (because the customer is always right, right?), I have been in situations where I didn’t receive very good customer service. I came looking for help or looking for answers, and there was no one there to help me. Or the people who were there weren’t very helpful.

Not only is that irritating, it’s discouraging. I’m not one of those people who goes to customer service straight off the bat. I try to figure it out myself first, and if I can’t, then I ask for help. But if the people who are supposed to help me won’t, then it seems like my problem will never be solved because I can’t do it on my own.

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 69:32.

The humble will see their God at work and be glad.
    Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.

How fortunate are we that God isn’t like a lazy customer service person? He’s our loving Father who wants to help us and who is infinitely qualified to do so.

Not that He’s like a customer service line. God doesn’t work like that. Actually, most of the time, He’s helping behind the scenes before we even know we need His help.

But God never turns anyone who comes seeking Him away. Not ever. Never once in history has He turned someone who came seeking Him away, no matter who they are or what they did. Anyone who came to Him for help, He helped.

So have you asked Him for help today? Or are you stubborn like me and insist on trying to make it through life without His help?

Believe me, the more you try to figure life out on your own, the more trouble you’ll make for yourself. It’s so much better to just start out asking for His help instead of getting to the point where you can’t take another step without Him. Wouldn’t it be better to take the first step with Him?

Be encouraged. God is waiting for you to ask for His help today, so don’t wait. God wants to help us, and we’re nuts if we tell Him we can do it ourselves. Because we can’t.

So what do you need help with? A job? A family member? A friend? Whatever situation you’re in, God can help. He knows what to do. He has an eternity of wisdom to offer. So call Him up and see what He says. You don’t have to talk to a computer, and He won’t try to sell you anything. No strings attached.