Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

What I learned from a basset hound on a mountain hike

Have you ever faced a challenge you were sure would defeat you? Have you ever started a task and understood a few minutes into it that you’d never finish it? Life seems to be full of experiences like that, those moments when the mountain in your path seems too high to climb and too wide to go around.

If you’ve been there (or if you’re there now), you’re not alone.

So this morning, I want to tell you a story about Booker the Basset Hound. I met Booker on a mountain hike in Colorado over Memorial Day weekend. We’d found a pleasant hiking area in Cheyenne Canyon called Helen Hunt Falls, and we decided to go for a walk.

Well, on the way up, we’d passed a family with an adorable basset hound who was just having the time of his life. And he amazed me because he was climbing steep steps and leaping on tall rocks and making really great time. He wasn’t intimidated. He wasn’t scared. Sure he looked awkward and silly teetering like an overweight slinky up the worn wood steps, but he was having the time of his life. And when his family started to take him back down, he decided he wanted to keep going. And he ended up dragging one of the kids walking him up to the top of the mountain trail.

And, as funny as this may sound, I identified with that silly basset hound. Yes, the awkwardness and lack of coordination too, but mainly that desire to do more, to be more, to see more, to achieve greater things than I should be physically capable.

When you dream big, you face big obstacles. Even if you don’t dream big, you’ll still face challenges in life that are too big for you to tackle on your own. And in those moments, you’ll be tempted to just stop trying.

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:9.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

We face so many difficult circumstances in our lives, some more than others, but in general we all will encounter resistance every day. Even more so if we are followers of Christ.

And doing the right thing is hard. Making the right choice over and over and over again with no guarantee of success or victory or advancement is excruciating. And giving up sounds so nice, so restful, so relaxing.

But believe me giving up is anything but that. Because you’ll always be tormented by “what if.” What if you hadn’t given up? What if you hadn’t stopped trying? What if you hadn’t turned around?

You might have made it to the top of the mountain. It might have been just around the corner. It might have made all the trouble worth it.

The thing about God-given dreams, they have to happen when God is ready for them to happen. Our plans are no different. We can lay our lives out carefully and specifically, but if God isn’t ready for our plans to work out, they won’t. The time has to be right.

We just don’t know when that time is. So we have to keep moving forward until that time gets here. And if we’re paying attention, if we jump when He says jump, we’ll experience the joy of a dream fulfilled.

So what challenge are you facing today? Do you feel like poor Booker, trying to climb a mountain with short stubby little legs (and obnoxious tourists with cameras who keep taking his photograph)? It’s tempting to give up, but in those moments, you have to remember what you’re climbing toward. You have to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re striving to achieve your goal, why you’re working to make your dream come true.

Life is hard, but don’t give up because the view is worth the climb. Don’t let the struggles you’re going through make you forget why you’re climbing.

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Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

When your lunch sings louder than you do

Life is loud. And busy. And crazy. And it takes all of our focus and determination sometimes just to get through a day, let alone a whole week. And it doesn’t stop with the daily grind from Monday through Friday. Most of the time, we have other things happening in our lives too. After work or school. On the weekends. All the time.

Life is so busy and so loud, when do we have time to sit still? I don’t. I’m always running from one hot project to the next with my hair on fire. I rarely get to rest. I rarely get to slow down at all. And that is usually 100% my choice.

I’ve learned this lesson at least a dozen times already, but I always seem to need a refresher.

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Luke 19:36-40.

As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

This passage is talking about something Bible-people usually call “the triumphal entry.” Triumphal is just one of those words that screams stained glass, so I try to avoid using it. Basically, this is the moment when Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before He would be crucified.

The crowd welcomed Him on this day. Funny how they changed their minds about Him when He didn’t give them what they wanted. But that’s a post for another day.

What caught my eye this morning is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they told Him to shut His followers up. The translation I learned this passage in says, “even the rocks would cry out.”

I don’t speak Greek, so maybe my understanding of this is wrong. But I’ve always believed that what Jesus was saying here indicated that if people refused to give Him the praise and worship He deserved, creation and nature itself would do it instead.

How embarrassing would that be? To be beaten out in our worship by a rock? Or a flower? Or a bumblebee?

But when was the last time you sat down and really just absorbed nature? Romans talks about how nature provides all the proof necessary for us to recognize and worship God as Creator.

Have you watched a sunset or a sunrise? Have you marveled at a hummingbird or the bright feathers on a cardinal? What about the way tree leaves sound in a breeze or the wonder of how water can be liquid, solid, and gas? Not even talking about the human body here. Not even talking about the solar system. Just a flower. A dandelion. Or an ant. A single cell.

All of them scream praise to God in the loudest way they can, but somehow our lives are so loud, we still manage to drown them out. We tune them out and focus on our small, petty everyday problems. Or we focus on our huge, life-altering, faith-shaking problems, because people have those too. Either way, we focus on our problems and how big and unconquerable they are, and we forget about how huge and mighty our God is because we can’t hear nature’s praise and worship chorus going on.

Take some time today. Just a few minutes even. Watch to the wind in the trees. Listen to a bird singing. Smell your lunch. Whatever. Just do something that will help you stop–just stop–and be quiet and recognize who God is. And even if you feel like you can only spare a second, thank Him. Just a nod. Just a moment’s recognition that you know He created all of this and you know He is worthy of praise.

It will change your perspective. I promise. Because if you can wrap your head around the fact that God created all the ingredients that went into your lunch, maybe you’ll remember that He can help you face that meeting today, or your overflowing inbox, or that phone call you don’t want to make, or that paper you don’t want to write, or any number of the seemingly impossible tasks we face on this Tuesday after Memorial Day when life goes back to it’s deafening pace.

Find a moment to be quiet, and I promise the praise and worship of nature will shock you. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want inanimate objects–like my lunch–to sing a better song to God than me.

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Being held to a higher standard

Have you ever been in a situation where you were held to a higher standard than someone else? Take a public official or a government leader for example. If someone in a position like that lies or breaks a rule, it’s a big deal (or at least it used to be).

People lie and break rules all the time, but as a public figure, especially as an elected official, you are judged much more harshly than a “normal person.”

Did you realize that concept holds true in the Bible too? The Bible says that there is a certain group of people who will be held accountable for what they say, more so than any other group. Know who they are?

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The beautiful grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 3:1-2.

Dear brothers and sisters,not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

That’s right. Teachers.

Think about it. Who do you go to for help? A teacher can be anyone. A pastor. A Bible study leader. A Sunday School teacher. Anyone who takes it upon themselves to teach other people about God and the Bible. And those people who have chosen that path will be held accountable for what they teach–whether it’s true or not. Because those people have taken the responsibility on themselves to teach others.

Check out verse 1 in the Amplified Version:

Not many [of you] should become teachers (self-constituted censors and reprovers of others), my brethren, for you know that we [teachers] will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity [than other people; thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation].

Did you catch that? Teachers “assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation.”

Yikes.

Granted, if you are a Christ follower, you can never be condemned. But in this instance, I think James is making a point. If you are a teacher–if you have taken it upon yourself to be someone who leads others–you are putting yourself in a place of responsibility that will be judged very harshly by God.

So here’s the deal. If you’re a teacher, if you’re someone who is in a position of leadership, you have a responsibility to share God’s truth with people. Not your opinions. Not your preferences. Now, you can and should make your opinions and preferences known. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the moment your opinions and preferences go from being yours to being God’s, you have a problem.

This concerns me. A lot. Because the longer I live, the more I seem to end up in positions of leadership. And I keep ending up in situations where I am being given more and more responsibility. And the last thing I want to do is to teach something as God’s truth when it’s really just my own personal sentiment.

Kind of like I posted yesterday, as someone who was raised in a godly home, I have a responsibility to share God’s word with others. But as a teacher, I have a responsibility to make sure what I’m sharing actually lines up with God’s Word.

Otherwise I’m just blowing smoke. I’m misleading people. I’m defeating my own purpose, simply because I can’t get myself out of the way.

So how do I do that? How do I make sure what I’m teaching is actually helping people instead of confusing them or leading them away from God? Well, first off, you need to know what you’re teaching. You need to know the Bible if you’re going to teach it. That means you have to read it. And if you’re going to teach it effectively, what I’ve discovered is that you have to go beyond reading it. You have to love it.

I’m leaving on vacation tonight, and one of the main things I plan to do while I’m gone is to sit in a quiet place and have a conversation with God about this very topic. I want to make sure God and I are on the same page. It’s just been so long since I’ve had time to sit and talk to God, and I miss it. We have a lot to talk about, and I’m looking forward to it.

I can’t guarantee that there will be a blog post tomorrow. Or Monday either.  Sometimes getting alone with God means putting everything else to the side.

Teachers have a responsibility to lead others. And because they will be held accountable for what they teach, it’s important they know what they’re teaching.

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Even God’s family has responsibilities

Have you ever thought about your responsibilities as a Christ follower? Because we do have responsibilities. I don’t know if anybody really talks about it, but those responsibilities do exist.

I think it’s really easy to forget that God has a plan for each of our lives, especially because people don’t really talk about what He expects from us very often. And some of that may be fear of confusing salvation by works with salvation by grace through faith, but just because we’re afraid of confusing people with a topic isn’t reason enough to avoid talking about it.

In every family, each member has a responsibility. Sort of like in a body, where every part has something it’s designed to do.  When I was little and my family would go camping, each one of us had an assigned job at the campsite, and it was our responsibility to do our part, otherwise things just didn’t get done. So when we choose to join the family of God, why do we think it’s any different?

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Luke 12:48.

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

This is a verse I grew up with, but in thinking about it this morning, it took on new meaning to me. Every American Christian has been given much, whether you are the wealthiest person in the United States or the poorest. Americans have freedom and opportunity, and if we’re willing to work hard, we can better ourselves. That’s not the case in other countries.

So regardless of how you grew up or when you came to know Christ, as a Christian in America, you have a responsibility to use your resources to help others come to know God through Jesus too. You have a responsibility to love people.

But I want to narrow in on a certain group of Christians out there, one that I have a particular burden for. Because I’m one of them. We’re the Christians who started going to church in a baby carrier. We’re the Christians who grew up with the Bible in our homes and, in some cases, in our schools. We’re the ones who’ve known Jesus since we were children.

So what? What difference does that make? What difference does it make if you’ve known Christ since you were 7 versus 47?

If you’ve been given a lot, a lot will be required of you. But if you’ve been entrusted with a lot, even more will be required. The Amplified Version says: “required and demanded of you.”

If you’re a Christian who was raised in a godly home, who had access to a Bible from the earliest days of your youth, who had parents who taught you to respect God and love Him, who had a church that encouraged you to grow in maturity, you haven’t just been given much. You’ve been entrusted with much. And there’s a big difference.

Do you think it was an accident you were born in a Christian home with a Christian family? No. That was part of God’s plan (just like it was part of God’s plan if you weren’t born in a Christian home with a Christian family). There are no accidents. There are no coincidences.

So what are you going to do with that? I’ve known too many Christians who were raised in families that loved God–not perfect families but what family is perfect?–who decided the God-thing wasn’t for them. Too many people who came to know Christ at a young age are just sitting back and doing nothing with the opportunities God has given them.

That’s why long-time Christians find new believers so refreshing. Their faith is so new, so exciting, so alive. Well, guess what, Long-Time Christian? Your faith can be new, exciting, and alive too. You just have to work at it. You just have to keep testing it, keep pushing it, keep expecting God to do amazing things. And He will.

But you can’t sit back and just wait for it to happen. You have to get up. You have to get moving. You have a responsibility to use the knowledge and experience and the life that God has given you to help others.

Imagine what our churches would look like if the experienced Christians actually stood up and did something instead of expecting to be served. What I’m seeing is that the new Christians are the ones jumping up to participate in ministry, and that’s spectacular! That’s the best way to keep growing in faith. But what about the folks who have grown up with their faith? What about the people who’ve known Christ for 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Where are they? What are they doing for Christ today?

I don’t want to pick on anyone. I just want to ask the questions. And I want to hold myself to the same standard. If I’m not doing anything for Christ today, then I’m wasting the life He gave me. I’m wasting the knowledge of the Bible that He gave me. I’m wasting the relationship He gave me. And I’m missing out on a HUGE opportunity to witness the impossible.

Maybe you grew up in a Christian home and you think this God-thing isn’t for you. Can I respectfully urge you to reconsider? You don’t have to have your parents’ faith for God to be real in your life. Actually, you can’t have your parents’ faith. You have to have your own.

No, you can’t lose your salvation. No, God will never reject you. But I can pretty much guarantee you that He won’t be happy with you if you treat His gifts like they aren’t important.

If you grew up in a Christian home, if you’ve known Christ since you were a child, and you aren’t actively involved in serving others today, you’re in trouble. Because you’re part of a family. You’re part of God’s family. And you have a responsibility to that family. You’ve been entrusted with the greatest responsibility there is–loving people, helping people meet Christ–and if you throw it away or ignore it because it makes you uncomfortable or because it’s too much work, God is going to have something to say about that.

Green mulberry growing on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

We’re already victorious

Do you ever feel stuck? Like nothing you accomplish actually helps you move forward? Maybe even like what you manage to get done in a day might actually put you back a few steps?

You can work your hardest and try with all your might, but you still don’t seem to be able to move forward. You’re just stuck. You just have to wait. And I hate being in that place. I feel helpless and useless. I feel like I can’t do anything right, and I feel like nothing is ever going to change.

I’m working on those feelings. Because they’re not true and they’re certainly not helpful. But what can we do when we hit that place in our lives? We’ll all get there eventually, so how do we fend off the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness?

Green mulberry growing on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Green mulberry growing on the tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Exodus 15:2.

The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him—
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him!

This verse comes from a larger chapter just after God saved the Israelites from pharaoh’s armies by parting the Red Sea. At that point in their lives, I’m sure the Israelites were thankful to God, mostly because what He had done for them was obvious. That’s where this song comes in.

And it’s honestly not a bad thing for us to remember either. We give the Israelites in the Bible such a hard time for being fickle and turning against God whenever they had the chance, but what do we do? God has done the same (if not more) for us than He did for them, and we still have days where we ask Him where He is. We still have days when we doubt Him. We’re just as bad as the Israelites. Maybe we haven’t made a golden calf and worshipped it, but there are plenty of other things we’ve made in our lives that we use as a substitute for God.

Like so many things in life, the issue is perspective. God gave us this life on earth to bring glory to Him, to praise Him, to learn how to walk with Him. But this life isn’t our final destination. Earth isn’t where we will spend eternity. This life is just a pit stop.

So when this life goes wrong, why do we get upset? When our plans don’t work out in this life, why do we get angry with God? This life isn’t the life we were designed to live anyway. A new life is coming, a better life, and that’s what we should be looking forward to. And if you’re a Christ-follower, that life is already guaranteed to you.

God has already won the victory over death and sin. He’s already conquered all the real enemies in our lives. So why be upset? Why be discouraged? Why be frustrated?

No, this life won’t always go the way you want it to, but don’t be like the Israelites, who praised God for His goodness one moment and the complained about His plan the next.

God has given us victory. Period. It may not always look like we want it to, but it’s not up to us anyway.

So the next time life twists off and surprises you or the next time God drops something in your lap that you don’t particularly want, don’t get upset with God. Don’t turn on Him. Remember who He is and what He’s done for you, and remember that you already have victory. And He’s not going to give you more than you can handle without His help.

A tiger showing his teeth at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Fighting never makes it better

Have you ever heard yourself say something and cringed inside? I have. When I’m overly tired or stressed out, sometimes my mouth runs away with me. I have a sarcastic streak too, which can be very funny when it isn’t being used for the forces of evil.

I’ve learned, firsthand, the truth of today’s verse.

A tiger showing his teeth at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A tiger showing his teeth at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:1.

A gentle answer deflects anger,
    but harsh words make tempers flare.

People don’t like fighting. Maybe they like arguing or disagreements, and arguing and disagreement are part of every healthy relationship, whether you’re best friends or married or even family. But from my experience, people don’t like a real fight, especially between two people who care about each other.

So why does it feel like we go out of our way to start fights sometimes? Our culture has certainly dramatized relationships to the point where people like to see domestic strife on the television, but in real life it’s not always exciting or romantic–it’s miserable.

Whatever kind of relationship you’re in, it’s important to understand that answering a cruel word with more cruel words will only make a situation worse. If the person who started the fight is already that upset, fighting back isn’t going to scare them. It’s just going to make them angrier.

Yes, it’s true that some people just want to fight. Some people are just angry as a general rule. But generally speaking even people who start fights don’t really want to fight. There’s usually something else causing their problem, and they’re either too scared or too insecure to talk about it openly.

So what do we do? What can we do? It’s hard to stay calm when someone comes at us in a fighting mood, but I promise if you refuse to engage with them like they’ll run out of steam. And most of the time, if you’re close enough friends, they’ll tell you what’s really going on. Or they’ll give you enough clues that you can figure it out yourself.

And if you’re the offender–well, first pray that you have friends close enough who understand your moods. Again, when I get stressed out or really tired, I say things I don’t mean. Or I say things in ways that I don’t mean. And I am so very fortunate to have friends who understand that and forgive me for my harsh tone.

The point is, whether you’re the offender or the victim, harsh words never help anything. They may make you feel slightly better when you’re saying them, but that good feeling only lasts until the fight starts.

So when you’re tempted to snap back, when you’re tempted to say something you know you shouldn’t, when you’re tempted to release your frustration in the form of harsh words, don’t. It’s not worth it. Yes, talk to someone. Yes, be open and real about what you’re feeling. But don’t turn someone else into the focal point of your frustrations. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that meeting cruel words for cruel words will solve anything.

Answer cruel words gently. And if that doesn’t work, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t calm down, stop the conversation or leave. If he or she is that upset, nothing you can say will make it better until they calm down on their own.

Fighting won’t solve the problem. Fighting only hurts feelings and separates friends, and I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I ever want to do.

The view from my dashboard on Kellogg yesterday, Wichita, KS

When you can’t see the road, stay in your lane

Wichita doesn’t have traffic. We think we do, but we don’t. You haven’t experienced traffic until you’ve driven in Houston or Washington D.C. or any of the larger cities around the U.S. No, Wichita just has busier times than others….. until there’s a wreck.

And there was a wreck somewhere in front of me yesterday evening as I was in a hurry to get across town. Traffic backed up for about a mile, and we came to a standstill for about 20 minutes. And as I sat there and marveled at the crazy drivers switching lanes at every opportunity (running the risk that they would cause another wreck), I couldn’t help but think about how often we are in similar situations in our lives.

Something happens out in front of us–too far away for us to see the details–but we see the results. The results being the disruption of our carefully laid plans. So what do we do? We compensate. We switch lanes. We scurry and scramble and strategize in order to get ahead. And what happens?

That’s right. You realize that you jumped into the wrong lane too late. Or you realize Plan B isn’t as feasible in actual practice as you thought. Either way, you realize that you should have just stayed put. In all your shifting and scrambling, you ended up spending time and effort to get ahead when you didn’t even know which direction you’d end up needing to go.

The view from my dashboard on Kellogg yesterday, Wichita, KS

The view from my dashboard on Kellogg yesterday, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are James 5:7-8.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

The Bible has a lot to say about being patient, about waiting. And I’m not good at either one. I can do it, but I tend to grumble about it. But being patient and waiting for God to make the first move makes up a great deal of the Christian life. The Bible tells us to wait, wait, wait on God. Don’t rush ahead of Him. Wait for Him to move and then move with Him.

Now that doesn’t mean His actions should surprise us. More often than not, you can identify God working in your life. You just have to keep your eyes open. You have to be in a place in your relationship with Him where you recognize His fingerprints and respond to His voice. But even when you’re in that place, if you get ahead of Him, if you start thinking you know better than He does, you’re going to get yourself in trouble.

You’ll be like the people in the lanes around me in traffic yesterday. They couldn’t see what was ahead of them. They just wanted to do something. They weren’t happy staying where they were, waiting to see where they needed to go. They took it on themselves to forge their own path.

And, don’t get me wrong. Forging your own path is often a good idea. I’m all for it. But when you try to forge your own path and you go in a direction God hasn’t blessed, you run the risk of forging a path right off a cliff.

So what’s the point? Don’t get ahead of God. Don’t start thinking you have life all figured out and that you know which direction the compass is pointing.

It’s like runners lined up to start a race. They’re all waiting for that pistol to sound or for a horn to blow. That’s the signal that they can move, start running and run for all they’re worth. And that’s what we need to wait for from God before we jump into action.

Jump into action before He’s said go and you might crash and burn. But don’t hesitate once you’ve heard the starter pistol. Once the door is open and you have the chance to do what God has called you to do, don’t wait or you’ll fall behind.

God promised that He’d come back for us. And He’s promised a lot of things in between now and then, and He will keep every one according to His plans. But He doesn’t need us flailing around trying to make His plan work out ourselves. If anything, we’ll just make ourselves so busy trying to do God’s job that we’ll miss His signal to start running in the first place.

Be patient. Wait and watch for His signal. And when you see it, run like mad.

PS: The real moral of this story is just to stay off Kellogg…..