A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How you think determines how you act

Okay, readers. Confession time! Not out loud if you don’t want to. But to yourself. Name one person (just one) who you absolutely can’t stand.

And, go!

Did someone come to mind? If you don’t have anyone in mind, you may not get out enough.

What do you think about that person? When that person comes to mind, what do your thoughts look like? Are they sad? Are they bleak? Do you sag in your chair just thinking about them?

Do you get angry? Do you want to just punch them in the face the next time you see them? Or are you more the type to just passive aggressively ignore them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone without you having to cause conflict?

If you’re like me, you have people in your life who drive you insane, but since you don’t like conflict, you’d much rather just ignore them until they go away. People like that don’t really hurt anything. They’re just there. They get dramatic and cause issues, but they have their uses too. You just try not to have to deal with them, and when you do have to deal with them, you do your best to get done and get out.

But what I’ve discovered is that the more I dislike someone, the more my thoughts turn against them too. My heart, my attitude, turns against them and before I know what’s happening, I’m not satisfied with just being passive aggressive. Instead, I start treating them badly. Unfairly. Rudely.

And that’s just not right. And it’s certainly not honoring to Christ.

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

It’s difficult to live with difficult people, but we always need to remember that we may not be as easy to live with as we think we are. Everyone has their quirks. If we didn’t, if we were all the same, imagine how boring life would be.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but that works both ways. Which is better? Treating someone badly? Or treating someone badly because they bother you?

How I think about someone drastically affects how I treat them, how I respond to them, how I speak to them. I read something somewhere that said you laugh more easily at things people you like say. I’ve found that to be true.

I’m not saying that we need to drop everything and live our lives for foolish people. That’s not a good idea. But what we do need to start doing is controlling our thoughts better. That’s where I struggle. My brain runs constantly. I can’t shut it up.

Maybe I can’t shut it up, but I can redirect it. I don’t have to think bad thoughts about people who bug me. I can choose to focus on their aspects that I enjoy. And there has got to be some aspect of them you don’t despise.

Can’t find it? Stop being so critical for a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. You aren’t perfect either.

How you think affects what you do. How you think about people affects how you treat them. So be careful what you let your brain think about. Don’t focus on the bad things about people, especially people you work with or people you live with. Focus on the good things.

Granted, there are times when things need to change. Sometimes situations can reach a place where something needs to be done. But in general you don’t always have control over that. Most of the time, you are where you are, and they are too.

And in that case, it’s either learn how to live with them or forfeit your testimony. Because I can guarantee if you’ve treated someone like garbage because they bother you, they haven’t seen Christ’s love in your life.

A portable toilet outside Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Mixed messages and your relationship with God

After I graduated from college, I couldn’t find a writing job anywhere. The local newspaper had been sold and wasn’t taking any new employees. There were no marketing positions open. Nothing. I couldn’t even find a secretary job that would take me.

And that’s how I ended up as a sign language interpreter. Yes, a sign language interpreter. For a truly adorable little second grade girl in a public school. Not many folks know I did that, mainly because I didn’t do it for very long, only a semester. I really don’t think I was qualified.

Something I learned? Sign language is less about the hand signs and more about the facial expressions and body language. That surprised me at first, but then I got to thinking about “normal” communication. And it’s true.

Wouldn’t you agree that what you say is less important than how you say it? I mean, you can say the words people want to hear, but the tone of voice you use can communicate the exact opposite of what you’re saying. And more often than not, people listen to your tone or your body language more than the actual words you’re saying.

It’s the same way with your attitude. You can tell God that you want to honor Him and do what He says, but if your attitude isn’t turned toward Him too, all you are is words.

A portable toilet outside Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

A portable toilet outside Glen Eyrie Castle (which has lovely bathroom facilities inside, no mixed messages there), Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 15:11.

It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.

Whatever you have in your heart is what’s going to come out when you speak, whether you say good words or not. You can say good words and still tear people down with your tone of voice. You can claim to be doing what God wants while your heart is cold toward Him.

There’s nothing in the world you can put in your body that will destroy your soul. The only thing that can corrupt you is the attitude you already have in your heart.

So what is that attitude? Are you stubborn and willful? Are you proud and self-centered? Are you desperate to control everything? Or have you just convinced yourself that whatever consequences you’ll have to face for disobedience will be worth it?

When I was interpreting, I remember very clearly that there was one day–one day out of many–that I really felt like I did a good job. And I remember what happened that day: I forgot about myself.

I forgot that I was sitting in front of a room of second graders on a chair three sizes too small for me. I forgot that I really didn’t know what I was doing, that I really wasn’t qualified. I forgot my insecurities and my anxieties and for once I actually, really accepted my role as an interpreter and just did it. And it was great.

How badly do I need to do that with my life now? I really just need to focus on what God has called me to do–not worrying about what I’m qualified for or what I’m capable of or who will be disappointed or who will think I’m ridiculous.

But I want to do it myself. In my time. With my rules. And it just doesn’t work that way.

What I need is an attitude of honesty and humility. So instead of trying to communicate without facial expressions, instead of my tone contradicting my words, I want to embrace an attitude of wholehearted, genuine honesty. Instead of just paying God lip service and then doing whatever I want, however I want, I want to start doing things His way, even if I don’t think it will work.

How about you? When was the last time you told God something you didn’t mean? Did you even think about it? Or did it just roll off your tongue and you forgot about it?

So stop mixing your messages. God knows the truth anyway, and all you’re doing is confusing people around you. And you’re not doing yourself any favors either.

One of the tigers at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Why it’s important for God to be the boss

Sometimes in life, you meet foolish people. And I’m not talking about silly people or goofy people or even immature people. In many cases, people who are silly or goofy or immature are just young or young at heart or don’t have the life experience you do. But that doesn’t make them fools.

The Bible has a very specific definition of a fool. A fool is basically a person who knows what’s right and chooses to do what’s wrong anyway.  A fool is someone who refuses to learn from his/her bad choices.  A fool is someone who won’t listen, not to you, not to authority, not to God.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a fool. The opposite of a foolish person is a wise person, so the next question we need to ask ourselves is what does it mean to be wise?

One of the tigers at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

One of the tigers at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is Psalm 111:10.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

This is one of those verses Sunday School teachers make kids memorize, but I’m not sure if people really take the time to explain it or understand it. As a child, I didn’t really get what it meant to be afraid of God.

God has always been a huge part of my life, and I’ve never been afraid of Him. But my mom helped me understand the concept of what fearing God looks like.

I’m not afraid of my boss. Not really. She’s intimidating in her own way, but only because she has authority in my life. So because I recognize her as my authority, I do what she asks me to do. And that’s the same way with God.

God is our authority. God has the right to tell us what to do. But it’s up to us to accept that authority or reject it. But what this verse means is that if you accept God’s authority, you’re on your way to becoming wise. So the the opposite must be true too. If you reject God’s authority, you’re on the fast track to foolishness.

One of the first steps to not being foolish is having an attitude that is teachable.

Have you met teachable people? They’re awesome to be around. They’re willing to learn. They don’t insist on getting their own way. They quietly allow you to explain yourself, your point of view. They don’t act like they already know it all. That’s the kind of person I want to be. That’s the kind of student, friend, daughter, sister I want to be.

How does your attitude check out? When God tells you to do something, do you automatically reject it? And I’m not talking weird, creepy voices in your head. I mean out of the Bible. That’s the way God communicates with us the majority of the time.

If the Bible says to live a certain way, do you do it? If you don’t do it, why not? Is it because it’s uncomfortable? Is it because it’s unpopular? Is it because you just don’t want to?

It’s okay. Everyone’s been there. I’ve been there in the last few weeks. Where God has obviously told me to do something, and I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to.

That doesn’t mean I’m not His child. That doesn’t mean He’ll throw me away. But it does mean that He’ll go out of His way to show me that living that way isn’t in my best interests.

Respecting God’s authority in your life is the very foundation of wisdom, because when you accept who God is to you and who you are to Him, it changes your perspective on everything. Or it should.

Do you respect God’s authority? Do you recognize that He is God and you aren’t? And if you do, do you accept what that means? That His way is best? Just because you believe one doesn’t mean you act on the other.

It’s difficult to do. It’s hard to live the way God wants sometimes, especially when you want to do things your own way. But live long enough and you’ll learn that God really does know what He’s doing. And your life will be so much easier if you just stop being stubborn and do what He says.

Maybe people say being foolish is fun, but it isn’t really. When you’re a fool, you plateau. There’s only so much foolishness a person can achieve. But wisdom? Wisdom opens doors. Wisdom stretches out farther than your eyes can see. Wisdom is a great adventure that never gets boring, never grows old, and never ends.

So which one do you want?

 

When your heart doesn’t match God’s

Do you always do what God tells you to? Do you always make the decisions that the Bible says are right? I don’t. I wish I could say that I did. But I don’t. Not always. Maybe a good chunk of the time, but not always.

Just being transparent this morning, I don’t even always think the way He wants me to think. In many instances, my thinking is directly opposite of what He wants it to be.

But in spite of that sometimes I can get myself together and do what He says. Sometimes I can make the choices I need to make to live the life I’m supposed to live. But other times? Not so much.

Other times I do what I want, I think what I want, and it doesn’t matter what He says. I know what He says. I’m fully aware of what He says. And I’m fully aware there will be consequences. And I’ve actually even gone so far to say to myself that the consequences will be worth it because I’ve gotten to do what I wanted. I valued what I wanted to do more than what He says is right.

When you get to that point, it’s not about what God says anymore. At that point, it’s about your attitude. And–again, being open and honest–my attitude has sucked for a while.

When your attitude isn’t right, when it doesn’t align with God’s attitude, you have problems, especially as a Christ-follower. Because Christ-followers know better. I know better. But after a while, the stress and the frustration and the anxiety just get to be too much, and you convince yourself that doing what you want to do is better and that the consequences are no big deal.

And whether your sins are white collar or blue collar, at that point, that is a dangerous place to be.

The front porch light at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The front porch light at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 21:2.

People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.

Our attitudes, our hearts, direct our actions. They control what we do and what we say and what we think. You can tell what kind of a person someone else is by their attitude, and you can tell their attitude by the decisions they make.

Attitude is everything.

When your will doesn’t match up with God’s, when what you want to do doesn’t jive with what He says is right, how do you find the strength to do what He says? That strength comes from your attitude toward God.

There have been times in my life where I haven’t wanted to do what God told me, but I did it anyway because my attitude toward Him was right. But when my attitude toward Him isn’t right, I don’t really care what He wants. And maybe I’m the only one who has experienced this, but I kind of doubt it.

So for the next little while, until I can get it through my head, I’m going to be doing a study on attitude. Because I’m tired. I’m tired of being angry and being frustrated and being anxious. I’m tired of relying on myself all the time. I’m tired of trying to make situations work out on my own strength. I’m tired of taking all of that on my own shoulders because I don’t trust God to take care of it the way I want.

I’m just tired.

My attitude hasn’t been what it’s supposed to be, and I recognize that. But I haven’t wanted to do anything about it. And I’m so thankful that God is so patient with me. He lets me have my sulk time. He lets me do things my way long enough for me to realize that it’s not getting better and I really can’t handle life on my own.

So this is me turning my heart back to God where it belongs, doing my best to trust Him even when He doesn’t let things work out the way I want, doing what He says is right even (and especially) when I disagree.

He’s promised that if I honor Him in the things He’s said are right, He’ll take care of everything else. If I obey Him in the things I need to do, He’ll bless me in the things I want to do.

So how’s your attitude today? I hope it’s better than mine has been. But if it isn’t, know that you can still turn back. It doesn’t matter how far away you wander, God always leaves the porch light on.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How can you stop being angry?

I don’t get angry easily. It takes a special person to really make me mad. I get frustrated, sure. I get snappy, yeah. But angry? Not usually. Unless the situation is just right or (and this is more likely) my current problem is a result of my own actions.

This happened the other day. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say I got mad. I got really mad. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that upset. And the day didn’t get any better. It just kept getting worse. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find a solution. I couldn’t do anything about any of it. And the more I kept messing things up, the more angry I got.

When I get that angry, I tend to shift blame. That’s my first response. Isn’t it everyone’s? It’s not my fault. I’m not the one who such-and-such. Or if he/she would just let me do my job, this wouldn’t have happened. Anyone else ever experience that?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but getting angry about it isn’t the right way to handle it.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-21.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

God has some harsh things to say about anger. He doesn’t say it’s wrong. No, anger can be useful at times to stimulate us into action. But anger can rapidly rage out of control, especially when the focus of your anger is wrong.

Don’t ever make anger your first response. Maybe it’s what you feel first, but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to express first. First, you need to listen. You need to take a deep breath and slow down and refocus. Then, when you’re calmer, pay attention.

In my situation, I was ready to blow up. Seriously. Those of you who know me know how rare that is, but I was totally on the brink. Absolutely ready to chuck it all in the corner and give up completely.

But a nagging little voice at the back of my brain started whispering louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it. The voice kept asking the same question: “Who are you really angry at?”

It’s a good question to ask when you’re angry because most of the time the people we take our anger out on aren’t the people we’re actually even angry with. They’re just convenient targets.

So I took a deep breath. I hid in a quiet place for a little while until I could think straight. I asked God to take the blinder off and give me courage to face the truth.

I was angry at me. Because I was in a situation of my own making. Unwise choices. Consequences. Nothing earth shaking. Just irritating. And absolutely, 100% my fault. No one else’s.

And when God gave me the strength to face that fact, my anger actually went away, and it turned into a fierce desire to make things right again, to never get to that place again, to make the decisions I need to make and act on them immediately.

So who are you angry at today? Who made you angry? Who are you dealing with in your life who you think is the central focus of your anger? Are you sure that’s really the person you’re angry at?

Whoever you’re angry at, figure out a way to sort it out because anger left to simmer gets stronger and hotter as the years go by, and before you know it, that little bitty flame will grow into something you can’t control, a fire that blazes and destroys everything in its path.

Don’t be afraid to discover it’s yourself you’re angry at. Being angry at yourself is actually the best possible outcome because with God’s help, you can change your attitude. And our attitude is usually where everything starts.

Why we should celebrate when the lost get found

Yesterday, I posted about my stupid cat Gremlin and her ridiculous idea to hide her two kittens (affectionately known as The Ponds” in reference to the companions from Doctor Who seasons 5, 6, and 7) in the gigantic, garbage-filled dumpster in my driveway. My dad and I despaired of ever getting them out because they were way way back in the back, buried under trash and broken furniture, and all sorts of old things.

Gremlin hid them there because she thought it would be safe, but what she didn’t know is that the dumpster is leaving for the landfill this morning. And if Dad and I couldn’t rescue the kittens, they’d be shipped off alone to the garbage dump.

So what did Dad do? He jumped into the dumpster, trash and all, and sifted and sorted and climbed around trying to get the kittens out. He tried a couple of times while I was at work, but he didn’t have any luck. We weren’t sure what to do.

I wanted to try one more time when I got home. So I got home, changed out of my work clothes, and Dad and I climbed back into the dumpster. And just being goofy for the sake of it, I called out: “Hello, Ponds!” (in true Doctor Who fashion). And what do you think happened?

You guessed it. They popped right out. Pond (just Pond) ran right up to me, and Rory got stuck (so much like his namesake) and I had to fish him out. But we got them both free, and they’re perfectly fine.

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

The Ponds, an earlier photo because their mother has hidden them again (just not in the dumpster)

Today’s verses are Luke 15:4-7.
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

I actually told God on the way home from work that if He helped us get the kittens out, I’d post this passage. This is a story that Jesus tells, and it’s actually the first of a trilogy. The first is about a sheep. The second is about a coin. The third is about a son–the Prodigal Son. It’s all in this chapter, and it’s all about finding what you’ve lost and rejoicing about it.

Have you been there before? I mean, put yourself in that shepherd’s sandals for a moment. You’ve got 100 sheep, and one of them wanders off. Gets lost. Sheep tend to do that. Would you let it go? Would you ignore it?

If you aren’t a shepherd, you might. But if sheep are your livelihood, you aren’t going to let one wander off, even if you have 99 others. Not while you can do something about it.

Sort of like this deal with the kittens. I have two cats already, Barney and Gremlin. They’re both a ton of fun and provide hours of entertainment and companionship. So it shouldn’t matter if I leave two kittens to die, right? I have two others.

If you’ve got pets, you probably cringed. No way could I abandon two kittens in a garbage dumpster when I have the power to do something about it. Not even if I have two others. Because it’s not about the other two who are already safe. It’s about the two who aren’t safe.

Isn’t that how God sees Christians? He loves us. We’re His children. He gave His Son so we could have a relationship with Him. But not every Christian lives the kind of life they should. Some wander off and get lost in the world, and those of us who don’t–the ones who stay behind like good little sheep–sometimes write them off. But God doesn’t. And we shouldn’t either.

God is just as keen to seek out His children who wander off as He is to stay with His children who stick around. And as much as He rejoices when one of them comes home, we ought to rejoice just as much.

When’s the last time you truly rejoiced when a Christ-follower came home after a time of wandering? Did you actually rejoice? Or did you just look down your nose and judge them? Did you give them the cold shoulder? Did you hold their past over their heads and snub them?

That’s not how God treats them. God rejoices when they come home. God went out of His way to bring them home. So we ought to celebrate, because He sure isn’t being quiet about it.

He rejoices when the lost are found again. So we should too. If you can’t get happy about that, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.

You can be safe and still live dangerously

What do you do when something frightens you? When you get scared, how do you react? When I get scared or anxious, I usually get quiet. Terse. More intense than usual. I guess I’m just focusing really hard on what I need to do to avoid more trouble.

Like when a storm is coming. I turn the weather radio on. Or I turn on the weather station to check the radar so I know if I’m in the path of the severe stuff or not. I kind of do that in life too.

When I get nervous or scared in life, I hunker down and look for a safe place to hide. But is hiding what we’re supposed to do?

The 40 cubic yard dumpster at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The 40 cubic yard dumpster at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Nehemiah 6:10-15.

Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home. He said, “Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.” But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!” I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me.

Right this moment, there is a 40-cubic-yard dumpster sitting in the driveway at the farm. This thing is massive. You can drive a car into it. And my parents and I have been in the process of filling it up after two weeks of intense deep cleaning at the farm.

It’s been great to have it there. We don’t have to carry trash into town to dump it. We can just toss it into the dumpster. But we’ve run into a complication we didn’t expect.

Gremlin, the wonder cat (not because she’s amazing but because she’s so dumb we wonder how she’s still alive), had a litter of kittens a few weeks back. Five total. Two have survived, loud little gingers. She had them in the flower bed by the house for a little while, which was nice because they were accessible. But Gremlin must have decided we were a bad influence or something because she picked them up and moved them—into the dumpster.

Not just inside the door. Not on the edge. Deep DEEP into the dumpster. Way far back where we can’t see them, can’t reach them, and can barely hear them. And they sure can’t find their way out.

Undoubtedly, dummy Gremlin was just trying to keep her kittens safe. I understand that. That’s what every mother wants, isn’t it? But what Gremlin didn’t know is that the dumpster isn’t staying there. In fact, the dumpster gets picked up to be taken to the landfill tomorrow morning, and if we can’t get to the kittens, they’re going to end up in the landfill (if the shifting of the garbage in the dumpster doesn’t squish them before they make it).

I’m actually pretty upset about this, but it just seemed to parallel life too well to avoid using it as an example.

How many times have we run for a safe place that didn’t actually turn out to be safe at all? How many times have we learned that it would have been better to face trouble head on instead of retreating?

Being safe is great. I like being safe. But do we really know what safe is? How do we know that what we think is safe today won’t be shipping off to the landfill tomorrow, where we’ll be in even bigger trouble than we were before?

The point is this: When trouble crosses your path, don’t hide from it. When you retreat and run away and try to ignore the problems, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. You might actually be making more.

If you want to be safe, you need to be walking right beside God. That’s the safest place you can be. Granted, maybe that means you’ll end up walking in a storm or walking on water or walking on water in a storm, and none of those sound safe. But they will be. Because God will be with you.

You can be scared and still act. That’s called courage. You can be anxious and still take a risk. That’s called faith. You can be safe and still live dangerously. That’s called following Christ.

PS: For an update on what happened with the kitties, check back tomorrow!