Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Wardrobe malfunctions don’t impress God

How do you demonstrate that you’ve changed? How do you show that you’ve become a different person? It’s difficult to do in some cases because so many times a heart change isn’t visible from the outside. If your heart changes–well, you still look the same. That’s what’s difficult about change; most of the time you have to take people’s word that they have.

Like an apology. How do you know it’s sincere? It’s not like you can judge by how many tears somebody cries or how much their voice wavers when they speak because every person is different. Well, until someone’s actions prove their words are sincere, you can’t really tell if an apology was real. Until you get to see how someone has changed, you won’t really know that the change was real, no matter if they claim it was or not. Granted, I believe we’re supposed to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But God knows what’s real and what isn’t.

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Joel 2:12-13.

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish.

In the culture of the Old Testament, it was common to tear your own clothing when you were mourning. It was a symbol of intense grief. So if you’re ever reading the Bible and someone in the Old Testament starts tearing their clothes, they’re not having a wardrobe malfunction. They’re demonstrating repentance. They’re showing how sorry they are for something or how upset they are about something.

Well, I’m sure it started out as a way for a very passionate culture to show their hearts to other people, but as time passed, it became a symbol like any other symbol. It developed its own meaning in the culture, and all you’d have to do is tear your clothes and everyone would think that you were sorry for what you’ve done–whether you really were or not.

Kind of like our own culture. Do something wrong, and call a press conference to offer a tearful apology. Do something wrong, and agree to go on a famous talk show and tell your side of the story. Do something wrong and write a book about it. And most of the time, our culture buys it. Why? Well, they stood up and said they were sorry. And we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that’s good.

But it’s not about telling the culture that you’re sorry. The point of apologizing for something you did wrong isn’t to show the world that you made a mistake. I mean, that’s an important part of it. To tell the truth. But that’s not the main point. The main point of apologizing for your actions when you have done wrong is to tell God. It’s to come before Almighty God and admit to Him that what you did was wrong and that you repent, that you are sorry, that you won’t do it again, and that you need His help.

And God knows if you’re just tearing your clothes.

He can see our hearts. He knows our motivation. He knows. So trying to put on a show for Him doesn’t work. He’s not interested if it isn’t real.

That’s what these verses mean. Don’t tear your clothes; tear your heart instead. If you’ve done wrong, be sorry. Don’t just offer Him a half-hearted apology that doesn’t affect you. If you’ve done wrong (and everyone has), be sorry and change your mind about what you did. That’s the difference. You can be sorry about what you did all day long, but until you change your mind about it, it won’t have the effect you’re hoping for. And this is true for any sin. Big sins. Little sins. All sins.

You have to examine your own life and your own actions, and you have to compare them (not to each other) but to Scripture. Is what you did wrong according to the Bible and the way God says to live? If it is wrong by that standard, you have sinned.

Guess what? So have I! And I hate it. As a perfectionistic, performance-driven person, I hate the things I do that don’t match up to God’s Word. I get so frustrated with myself because I want to be perfect, but I can’t be. And God knows that. But that doesn’t mean I can give up and live however I want and lead others to live however they want. That just means I won’t be perfect, and God is going to pick me up again when I fall.

This month has been about change. It’s what I’ve been studying. And the one facet of change that I keep coming back to is that real heart change is impossible without God. And honestly, a real change of mind is impossible without God and without the Bible. But the first step of reaching that real change of mind is ours. It’s our choice. It’s up to us to look at what God says is right and judge our actions by that standard, and if we find something wrong in our lives, we need to change our minds about it. And then we need to apply Scripture in our lives, and before you know it, your heart will change too.

So make a choice. Change your mind, and God will change your heart. He doesn’t care how sorry you look or how sorry you feel. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t intend to change, and if all you’ve done is put on a good show, maybe you’ll have people fooled, but as far as God is concerned, you’ll just have a ripped up shirt.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Walking on porcupines

Have you ever tried to get a picture of a porcupine? Well, if you do, good for you. I’ve never seen a real one. So I have no photographs of porcupines, but I do have hippos. And that will work for today, because I’m not talking about real porcupines anyway. I’m actually talking about friendship.

I don’t think I post enough about friendships. I don’t even know where to start most of the time because I am so overwhelmed and so thankful to be friends with such amazing people.

Our friends determine so much in our lives. And if you have awesome friends — and I mean truly awesome friends and not just popular ones — you should count yourself fortunate.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Hippos working on their tans – Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Who are your friends? Do your friends ask more from you than they expect of themselves? Do your friends treat you the way you treat them? Do your friends love God? Do your friends speak truth? Do your friends give you sound advice based in Scripture and tempered with the love of God?

If you have friends like that, you are richer than the richest man in the universe. Because there are “friends” out there who will hang out with you just because they want something from you. There are “friends” out there who need a prop. And even though they may be your “friends” when they feel like it, the day will eventually come when they won’t have time for you. And they’ll drop you like a rock.

I always told myself that I didn’t really need friends, that I could get along just fine without them. And, if we’re being honest here, that’s probably true. But how lonely would life be? How empty would life be? And, truthfully, how much more difficult would life be? If I didn’t have my friends to rely on and blow up on and cry on, life would be much harder than it is now.

Today’s verse just made me think about friendship and what it really is. Because true friendship goes beyond blood. It stretches deeper than DNA and further than a family name. Because we don’t get to choose our families; we choose our friends. And, what’s more important, our friends choose us. And what’s more, true friends keep choosing us even when we have a bad day, even when we’re struggling at work or at home, even when we snap, even when we don’t feel good.

Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through a field of porcupines? Just think about that. It wouldn’t be pleasant at all. They’re volatile and unpredictable, and they’re covered in needles. All it would take is one wrong move, and they’ll let loose a volley of needles that will leave you wincing.

But no one walks on porcupines. I’m sure there’s some kind of fee or fine you have to pay for that. But even though we don’t actually walk on porcupines, we do have to walk through life. And life can have its needles and touchy spots. And so many times through Scripture, God talks about friends and walking. It’s not unusual to see the concept of friendship lined right up with the concept of walking through life.

Why? Well, think about it. What else do friends do but walk with you, even through the most difficult times in your life? That’s what friends are for.

I got to thinking about this verse because of a birthday present one of my friends gave me. Silly socks covered in porcupines! They’re adorable! And they’re bright, and they’re fun! I love them! (So far, I have encountered two things that turn me girly: Bath & Body Works hand soaps and funny, silly socks.)

But beyond the fun of the socks, they just made me think about friendship. Because friendships aren’t forged in the good times. Maybe they start in good times. Maybe they start over a fun conversation or a good cup of coffee. But they don’t get very deep there. To grow a deep friendship, you have to walk through some porcupines, and you have to do it together. And somewhere between needles, you’ll make a choice to either keep walking or turn back.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to determine if the friendship is one that’s worth pursuing. Sometimes turning back is the best decision you can make. But if you turn back on every friendship the moment the going gets tough, you’ll never understand what it really means to have a real friend.

I guess, what I’m saying this morning, is that the closest friendships in my life have come through some amount of difficulty — whether it was through a difficult situation we tackled together or through a difficult conversation we had to have to straighten things out between us. The best friendships you have aren’t just going to happen. Like any relationship, you have to work at them.

So if you have a friend (or friends) in your life who you have walked on porcupines with, be thankful for them. And tell them that you’re thankful for them. You never know when you might not have the opportunity to thank them anymore.

And if you’ve never walked through porcupines, you will. So it might not be a bad idea to find someone who won’t mind walking with you. Just remember that true friendship is a two-way street. And if you’re walking through a field of porcupines with a friend, you’ll both take hits, but you’ll both be there to keep each other going.

Blossoming rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Watch what you think

Everyone knows the danger in spouting off. It’s easy to say something that offends someone else. It’s easy to hurt peoples’ feelings. It’s easy to say something you wish you’d never said. So a lot of times, people will just filter what they say. But how many people realize that what you allow yourself to think about can be just as damaging as what you say out loud?

Blossoming rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Blossoming rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 19:14.

May the words of my mouth
    and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

My brain runs constantly. It never shuts off. It never slows down. It’s always going. Going going going, worse and faster than the Energizer Bunny. There’s always something to think about. There’s always something to plan. If I ever stopped thinking about stuff, I might just collapse.

But if I don’t watch the content of what I’m thinking about, I can get myself in serious trouble.

People talk about the importance of a positive thought life, and that’s probably a good thing to strive for. Thinking positively has a lot to do with your outlook, and it can help in difficult circumstances to keep seeing life on the bright side. But positive thinking will only get you so far, and it’s not something that you can easily dredge up if you don’t already have a Godly perspective. But even people who know God and try to follow Him often have trouble thinking about the good things God has done.

Is that important?

Well, yes. This Psalm is saying that not only do the words we say out loud need to please God, but the things we think about too.

This was a concept that hit the Pharisees upside the head when Jesus was alive on Earth. Jesus told people that, yes, adultery is wrong, but that even if you lusted after someone in your heart, you were just as guilty as if you had committed adultery. Yes, murder is wrong, but even if you hate someone in your heart, it’s just as bad as if you had killed them. Jesus explained to people that what you think about is just as important as what you say out loud.

So knowing that, how do we handle our thought lives? How can I — with my overactive, over-abundance of brain function — keep a handle on what I think about? After all, it’s a lot easier to put a filter on your mouth than it is to put a filter on your brain.

Maybe this is silly, but we need to think about what we think about. Philippians 4:8 gives a list of things that believers should think about.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

People sometimes call this verse a “filter.” If you run your thoughts through this filter, do they work? Does the caliber of what you’re thinking about match with these qualities? If not, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about it.

So how do you stop thinking about something you shouldn’t be thinking about?

For me, that’s the hard part. When my brain gets stuck in a rut, it’s the hardest thing in the world to get out of it. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Remember, if you are a follower of Christ, you have the Holy Spirit inside your heart. He’s there to help you. So don’t be afraid to ask.

You have a choice in what to think about. Just because a thought appears in your head doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour thinking about it. No. If it’s not a thought that you should have, drop it. Don’t think about it. Or stand up to it. Realize and recognize that it’s not an excellent thought, that it’s not worthy of praise, that it’s not true or honorable or right or pure or lovely. And choose to not think about it again. Ask God to help you. And if you keep struggling, find an accountability partner.

Eventually, what is in your mind will come out of your mouth. Maybe you can keep them separate at first, but eventually what is going on in your heart is going to happen in your life. We may think we can compartmentalize forever, but that’s a lie Satan tells us. The best defense is to be genuine, inside and out.

The only sword in the world sharp enough to cut through our crap

I have always heard the Bible called a sword. When I was little, we did sword drills, which basically were contests to see how quickly you could find a specific verse. I wasn’t ever sure why we called the Bible a sword until I realized that that Scripture actually calls itself a sword in multiple places.

I think it’s fitting. After all, if you rush into battle, you have to take a weapon to defend yourself with. It’s the same with spiritual battles too. We have to have a weapon to fight with, and Scripture is the only thing that will work in the battles we have to fight.

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:12.

12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.

I’m going to demonstrate a portion of my geekiness this morning. There’s a Japanese anime that I really enjoy watching called Rurouni Kenshin. What I like the most about it is that it really lacks the odd, strange things that permeate most anime (at least in the first two arcs). Most anime is based around spiritual stuff or weird things, not that I mind that generally speaking, but Rurouni Kenshin is different. It’s actually a historical anime, based on the life of an actual assassin during the Meiji Revolution in 1858. The show revolves around sword techniques.

Basically, without going into too much detail, the main character has taken a vow never to kill again to atone for all the lives he took during the revolution, and to help himself keep that vow, he carries a reverse-blade sword. It’s a sword that has the blade on the wrong side. So when he swings it at people in self-defense, he can’t kill them. He’ll give them a good bruise, but he won’t end their life.

I thought about this aspect of this show today when I read our verse. This is one of those verses that I’ve grown up hearing, but I’ve never really thought about it.

What’s the big deal about the Bible being a two-edged sword? I get the fact that it’s sharp. Obviously. But why the metaphor?

Going back to the show, the main character has to be careful to swing his sword a certain way. Becuase if he flips the sword around and uses it, he’ll kill people because the blade of his sword is on the wrong side.

If you have a sword that is sharp on both sides, it doesn’t matter which way you swing it. It will cut no matter what direction it goes. And I guess that’s what hit me this morning when I read this verse.

It doesn’t matter who uses the Bible to reach others. It doesn’t matter where you’re located or what language you speak. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how educated you are. The Bible is a double-edged sword, and no matter how you swing it, it will cut through barriers.

The last part of this verse says that it “exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” The Amplified Version puts it this way: “exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.”

The Bible cuts through the crap that we use to hide our motivations and our intentions. It cuts through the stories we come up with to use as a shield to protect ourselves. It cuts through the lies that we tell ourselves. And it makes us understand that we are insufficient on our own.

The only way it can do this is because it’s the Word of God. It’s the sharpest sword there is, and there is no defense against it. But even though it can cut through anything, it never leaves us bleeding. Christ already bled for us.

The Bible reveals our faults and our failures and reminds us that Christ already took care of them.

Every day is a battle, no matter where you are. If you’re a Christian, you’re in a war. So don’t forget to take your sword and don’t hesitate to use it today to defend yourself and to charge the enemy’s line. Nothing can stop the Sword of God and no one can escape it. Not even the ones who wield it.

The dating habits of men and women (and why they make me want to write a book about it)

I find it interesting how men and women act around each other when they decide they’re interested in each other. It’s a fascinating dance to watch. Kind of like people watching at Wal-Mart. Everyone responds in different ways. Some guys strut. Some girls giggle. It varies completely from person to person, but it never fails to be a good show.

There are a few exceptions, though. Some folks don’t really change at all. Those are the couples I admire.

But the majority of the time, both the guy and the girl are totally absorbed with portraying the perfect image of themselves. The guy dresses nicer than normal. The girl wears more makeup. The guy listens when she yammers away about something he doesn’t care about. The girl doesn’t convince him to get his hair cut or to buy new clothes. The guy brings her flowers and chocolates and calls her all the time. The girl doesn’t nag. The guy holds her hand. The girl laughs at his jokes even if they aren’t really that funny.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I’ve seen it happen so many times where a guy and a girl convince each other that they are different people than who they really are. And when they finally take the next step and get married, the images they’ve created to hook each other vanish, leaving them wondering where the person they fell in love with has gone.

The verse today is straightforward. So this will be brief. I actually mentioned it yesterday, as this verse is in the same chapter as yesterday’s verse.

Proverbs 31:30

 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
      but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

Now, this does come out of Proverbs 31, which is usually applied to women. But every verse in the Bible is applicable to every person in the world, whether male or female. And the truth of this particular piece of Scripture is definitely universal.

You can charm each other all you want but, in all honesty, when it comes to relationships, you need to base your real attraction on something deeper than charm . . . or outside appearance. Because one is fake and the other won’t last.

Charm is great, but let’s get real, folks. It’s a tool we use to advance a relationship. We do it at work. We do it at school. We do it at home. We do it in relationships too. Some people have more of it than others do, but generally speaking, we don’t walk around charming everybody we run across. We only try to charm the people we want to invest in . . . and, being brutally honest here, we usually only charm the people who can do something for us in return.

And beauty? Yeah. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one because I will run out of room on this blog. Some day I’m going to write a book about beauty and what it actually is. I can honestly say I have never met a woman who needed to wear makeup, despite her age. Young or old doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never met a woman who needed to cover her face up. But society and culture tells us we need to look a certain way. And I’ve seen beautiful, absolutely stunning young women refuse to go outside because they haven’t got their makeup on yet. Where do we get the idea that beauty comes from what we put on our faces? No matter how we try to escape it, everyone gets old. Everyone goes gray. I’m not even 30 yet and I have more silver hairs than I care to admit (nobody ever believes me, but I finally convinced my dad the other day when he got a good look at my hair in the sunlight). And what the world defines as beauty is fleeting. It’s more than fleeting. It’s so brief that it’s more like a puff of smoke.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. Whatever measure of physical attractiveness you have will disappear. And have you noticed that the longer people try to keep themselves young, the stranger they end up looking by the time they get old?

Now . . . am I saying it’s wrong to want to look nice? No. Absolutely not. Somebody once told me that if you care enough about somebody else, you’ll devote the time to your appearance to demonstrate that fact. I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that . . . I can see dressing up for special occasions. But on a daily basis? Not so much. . . . But that’s me . . . and I’m still single . . . and that outlook might have something to do with that . . . =)

In any case, since charm isn’t real and beauty is going to disappear no matter how hard you hold on to it, we need to be looking at something deeper in people than what they look like or even how they act. Find out who they are inside. I know that’s something relationship gurus talk about all the time, but it’s a lot harder to put into practice than it is to just talk about.

If you can find someone who loves God and does what He says and doesn’t question His Word and wants to live for Him with everything He’s got, that’s what needs to be attractive to you. Because those qualities only get stronger as you get older. And those are drives and passions that will deepen farther than mere superficial charm. And when all the glamor of dating and courtship wears off and you realize that your wife has acne scars and hairy legs and is prone to whining . . . and your husband snores and tracks mud in the house and crunches tortilla chips loud enough to wake the dead . . . your mutual belief and desire to follow God will remain. And you can love each other for who you actually are and not for the facade you put up when you were dating.

Just be real with each other.