Take time to recognize God’s abundant blessings

I ate way too much last night. Americans have this idea that British food is strange, right? Well, it’s not. There may be some strange things here, but hey, we have deep fried Twinkies.

Last night, we had a ladies evening at a restaurant here in Carlisle called The Dutch Uncle. The way the deal had been set up was really fantastic. You came in and sat down with your group, and they just kept bringing food out family style until you couldn’t eat anymore. Pizzas and nachos and platters of meats and cheeses. Pasta with mussels and clams. Olives and fried chicken thighs. And just when we would finish one plate of food, they’d bring another one out.

For two hours. One plate after another. And I couldn’t help but compare the experience to God’s blessings.

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Us at the Dutch Uncle last night (photo credit to the marvelous Mona Bops)

Today’s verse is John 1:16.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

Sometimes God’s blessings are hard to recognize. Sometimes they’re obvious. But whether we actually recognize them or not, they’re abundant. They range from the generic but beautiful sunrises and sunsets to specific answers to specific requests.

We don’t deserve any of them, but God gives them away freely, expecting nothing of us in return. We can’t earn His blessings, but we can be in a position to experience them. That’s the only part that’s up to us. And even when we don’t make the wisest choices, God is still blessing us in small ways, which we choose not to notice most of the time.

Just like those plates of food that kept coming to our table at the Dutch Uncle, God’s blessings just keep coming. Over and over again. But unlike a meal, you never get tired of God’s blessings.

What was really interesting to me last night was that while I was chewing on a delightfully fried chicken thigh, I was having conversations with six British women who’d come to join us. Six wonderful women who are friends with my best friend, who has been living over here for nearly a year now.

I had prayed specifically that God would provide a group of friends in Carlisle for her to fit into, and last night I got to see exactly how God had answered that prayer. And I was so thankful.

What’s a blessing that God has given you today? How about a second blessing? Or a third? He hands them out all over the place, so sometimes they’re easy to miss. But take a moment and recognize them, because He doesn’t have to bless us. He just does. Because He’s that awesome.

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Getting gifts is awesome, but giving them is better

I spent most of the day yesterday doing something I’ve never done before–helping a friend prepare for a Passover meal she’s hosting at her house for more than 20 people.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a Seder Meal, I seriously recommend it. It’s honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I love how it connects the Old Testament to the New Testament.

For years and years, my friend has held a Seder at her home, but because I was working, I couldn’t help get everything ready. Well this year, thanks to my new working situation, I was free to help all day yesterday and all day today too! And, let me tell you, if you think getting a Seder Meal together sounds easy, you’re wrong. Stand and mince 15 pounds of apples and see if you still feel the same way.

With all the sweeping, mopping, shopping, chopping, stirring, baking, cleaning, etc., it was a full exhausting day–and it was an absolute blast. I wore myself out yesterday, and I can’t wait to jump back into it today. And maybe that sounds insane. Maybe that makes me sound like a glutton for punishment. Or maybe that just illustrates the truth of a principle Jesus established 2,000 years ago.

give_receiveToday’s verse is Acts 20:35.

And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

This is actually Paul talking to the leaders of the Church at Ephesus, and he’s reference something Jesus said in Luke 6:38. It’s one of those Jesus principles that doesn’t make sense at first glance.

How can it be more blessed to give than to receive? If you get something, that’s a blessing. If someone gives you something, that’s a great thing. Gifts are among some of life’s greatest joys. That’s why we have birthdays and Christmas and anniversaries and other celebrations where we give gifts to each other, right?

But what abut the person who gives that gift? You’ve been that person, haven’t you? The one who buys a gift carefully and wraps it painstakingly and waits impatiently to be able to give it to the person you love? Isn’t it a tremendous thrill to watch them open it and get so excited? Wouldn’t you call that a blessing?

See, when you get a gift, it’s awesome. But don’t overlook the joy you feel when you are the gift giver. And that applies to everyday situations in life.

When you do something kind for someone, you’re giving them a gift. When you sacrifice your time or resources to help someone, you’re giving them a gift. And maybe it doesn’t sound like it should work, but trust me, when you drop everything and give all you have to someone just because you can? Friends, there’s no joy like that.

When you stumble across someone who needs help and God tells you to help, don’t ignore it. Don’t shove it away. Do it. I promise, the greatest joy you’ve ever known is waiting on the other side. And they’ll thank you. They’ll thank you over and over, and you’ll almost be embarrassed to say “you’re welcome.” Why? Because you will be so grateful for the opportunity to do something in Jesus’ name that you will feel like the one who got the blessing.

That’s been my experience. Whether it’s time or money or talent or whatever, when I give it to help someone else, I get more out of it than I give.

That’s how giving to God works. He always, always gives back more than you let go of. He always, always pays you back more than you sacrifice. And He pays you back in ways you can’t quantify–in ways you can’t put a price on.

Take that time you don’t think you have to do something kind for someone else. Buy a friend’s groceries. Mow a neighbor’s lawn. Make popsicles for someone’s kids (maybe that’s creepy, but we had a neighbor do that when I was little, and it was the highlight of my life at the time).

Just give.

You’ll get more back than you expect. More than you can contain, actually. And somewhere mixed up in all of it, you’ll also have a great time.

So what are you waiting on? Permission? You’ve got it. So get out there and start helping people.

Sometimes being faithful is aiming for the easy target

I never win anything. Seriously. Granted, sometimes I lose on purpose because I don’t want to hurt the other team’s feelings (this is why sports weren’t good for me), but most of the time, when I try to win, I end up losing anyway.

So being in Las Vegas this week hasn’t been a huge temptation for me. Even if I tried to win something, I knew it wouldn’t work. But just when I thought I would escape unscathed, I saw a game on the trade show floor that peaked my interest. It was basically a ski ball game at the Wells Fargo booth. You played ski ball, and your ski ball station was linked to a marker on a wall. The more balls you sink, the further your marker moves. And if you win, you get a stuffed pony.

Now, I have no need for a stuffed pony. But I couldn’t help thinking that my favorite little cowgirl (aka HooChild) might really get a kick out of one. So I decided I’d give it a try. The ski ball table was divided into three sections, fast, faster, and fastest, and if you could get the balls in the fastest section, you’d definitely win. But I was pretty sure I couldn’t do that repeatedly.

The easiest hole to get the ball in wouldn’t move your marker much, but if I could hit it over and over again, I thought maybe I’d have a chance. So that was my strategy. Just keep hitting the slow hole repeatedly, hoping the other three players would be more aggressive.

And guess what? It worked. I won! So HooChild gets a pony, and I was reminded of a very important lesson.

My prize stuffed pony! - Las Vegas, NV

My prize stuffed pony! – Las Vegas, NV

Today’s verses are Luke 16:10-12.

If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

This is the point of one of Jesus’ parables, emphasizing the fact that if we can’t be trusted with what we’re given on Earth, why should we be trusted with the true wealth of eternity? It’s a tough question, because it’s difficult to be faithful with a little.

What does that mean though? To be faithful with a little? Well, think about my experience with ski ball. I could have taken more risk and gone for the harder-to-reach goal, but there was less chance I’d make it. I knew I could hit the lesser goal repeatedly. Maybe it wasn’t as flashy. Maybe I wouldn’t get as much attention. Maybe my ski ball skills wouldn’t be recognized. But I knew I could achieve it over and over again.

Now does that mean we shouldn’t ever stretch ourselves? Does that mean we should never take a leap of faith? No, of course not. Sometimes it’s important to aim for impossible goals, but sometimes it’s equally important to aim for a target you know you can hit.

That’s being faithful with a little. That’s repeating a small, seemingly unimportant, rarely noticed task without any acclaim or promise of reward. Eventually, you’ll be rewarded for it, but it takes a long time.

But you know what? That’s okay. If you can be faithful when you only have a little, you learn responsibility and wisdom. If you can keep doing what’s right even when it doesn’t feel like anything’s changing, you learn patience and grace. Then, one day, when everything turns around and you have everything you ever wanted, you won’t have to learn responsibility, wisdom, patience, and grace. You’ll have already learned it. And that means you’ll use your achievement for God’s glory instead of your own, which means you’ll only continue to increase.

The more faithful you prove yourself with small things, the more God will trust you with. God doesn’t stop pouring out blessings on us after we’ve shown Him that we’re willing to trust Him. God will give you so much, you won’t be able to contain it all.

But most of the time God isn’t going to just dump a heaping helping of everything-you-always-wanted on you. You can’t earn it, because there’s nothing we can do to earn blessings. Blessings are given because God is good, but God isn’t going to bless someone who isn’t trusting Him first.

Do you only have a small ministry? Don’t give up on it. Keep serving and sacrificing and doing what you have to do, and God will bless it. Do you only have a small amount of money? Don’t give up. Keep tithing, keep trusting God to provide, and He will.

By the time the full force of God’s blessings hits you, you’ll be ready for them.

Living Scripture in a world that is searching

We live in a pretty wicked world. This crazy planet is falling apart at the seams, tearing itself up, destroying itself from the inside out. And I’m not talking about the natural disasters we’ve had recently. I’m talking about people.

People are destroying each other, and they’re destroying themselves. Political leaders are taxing people to death or forcing wars on people or making foolish financial decisions. And the people of the world’s country are too ignorant, too lazy or too selfish to do anything about it.

It’s enough to get you down if you focus on it. I come from a patriotic family with many relatives in the military, and I still believe America is the best country in the world. But we’re having a real struggle right now. And I honestly believe the majority of our problems as a country are our own fault. As a country, we are reaping the seeds the generation before us sewed. And the generation before us made a real mess of things.

I don’t think you can blame our current financial situation on one person. I don’t think you can blame the state of the country’s politics on one person either. I don’t think we can honestly blame the politicians for the state our country is in becuase when you get right down to it, America is still a republic. We’re a democratic republic, the strangest form of government ever conceived, and as such we get the political leaders we deserve. No one has political authority in this country until someone gives it to them.

If America is in ruins, it’s the fault of the people. Yes, the political leaders may share some responsibility, but the lion’s share falls on the shoulders of the citizens who either keep themselves blind to the truth or who are too lazy and self-absorbed to care.

I believe a lot of the responsibility for the state the U.S. is in now also falls on the Christians. Christians who cared too much about themselves to reach out to their neighbors. Christians who insisted on keeping up appearances and convinced everyone around them that they were perfect. Christians who carried thick Bibles everywhere but had no idea what the Bible actually says about life. So obsessed with making sure that people got their lives right before they came to Christ that they chased everyone away from the Truth and made faith in Christ something boring and pedantic and stereotypical. Christians have a responsibility to the country they live in, and I believe we let our country down.

But I see something stirring in America. I see a generation of young people who have grown up in divided homes. I see a generation of young people who are tired of church as usual, tired of religion, tired of false faces. I see a generation of young people who want to make a real difference in the world. And these young people are getting old enough now to start taking responsibility in the way this country is run.

Kids getting married now are determined to stay together, no matter what. They’re saving their money, being careful about what they buy and how they buy it. They’re asking questions about faith. And they honestly care about what happens to their neighbors, to their families, to their friends, to the world.

But as excited as I am about the possibilities stirring in this country, I can only be responsible for me. I can love people. And I can pray for people. And I can share what I believe in both words and actions. But when it comes right down to it, the only person I need to keep in check is myself, and I think Christians forget that sometimes. We can get so busy trying to correct other peoples’ mistakes and forget that we’re just as broken as they are.

So how does a Christian be a Christian in a world like this? How can we be a light in a world full of darkness? Yes, I think people are searching but just because people are searching for truth doesn’t mean they’re going to find it. And if we are to be lights to people, we need to know the truth. We need to know the answers for when they ask. We need to live it.

How do we do that?

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:14. But I’m putting the whole section of verses in for context.

Psalm 119:9-16

9 How can a young person stay pure?
      By obeying your word.
 10 I have tried hard to find you—
      don’t let me wander from your commands.
 11 I have hidden your word in my heart,
      that I might not sin against you.
 12 I praise you, O Lord;
      teach me your decrees.
 13 I have recited aloud
      all the regulations you have given us.
 14 I have rejoiced in your laws
      as much as in riches.
 15 I will study your commandments
      and reflect on your ways.
 16 I will delight in your decrees
      and not forget your word.

You want to know how to be a real Christian in a world that is desperately seeing something genuine?

Obey the Bible.

Read it. Know it. Live it. It will revitalize your life and your relationship with God. And it will make you shine. And in a world this dark, a little bit of light is all you need to truly stand out. And when the day comes that the people around you really open their eyes and honestly start searching, you’ll be able to give an answer for the hope you have.

God has given us His commandments for a reason. They are the key to life, abundant life full of blessings and joy. We don’t have to keep His commandments to be saved. To be saved, you just have to trust in Jesus. But His commandments are opportunities for us to receive blessings so numerous we can’t contain them all.

In a world that is searching for truth, it’s our responsibility as followers of Christ to be light. And the only way we can be light is to let God’s light shine through us. The only way to do that is to know what He says about life and living. The only way to do that is living by Scripture.

What to do when your air conditioner gives up the ghost

Life is about making choices. We choose what to eat for breakfast. We choose what clothes we wear. We choose–to a certain extent–what kind of job we work. We choose what music to listen to, what kind of car to drive, what kind of house to live in. Life is about making choices and dealing with the consequences of those choices, whether they be positive or negative.

For example, I had a choice of where to sleep in my house last night. I got home around Midnight, and generally when I get home that late, I sleep on the first level because the house air conditioner cools the place down very well. The second level of my 100-year-old farmhouse has window a/c units that work well but you have to give them a headstart.

It was 90 degrees in the house when I got home at Midnight. So I turned on my air conditioning, took a shower, and then went to bed. I woke up at 2 a.m. covered in sweat and realized . . . the house air conditioner wasn’t working. It was 90 degrees on the first floor. It was 90 degrees in my basement. And it was 94 degrees in my bedroom on the second floor. I’m not sure why the house air conditioner isn’t working, but it would figure that it would break just before I leave the country on Saturday. =) It’s probably all these weeks of 100+ temperatures. It finally just gave up the ghost.

I tried sleeping in the basement, but it was just as hot and I didn’t have a fan going. So I chose to go up to the second floor, turn on my room a/c unit and just wait for it to cool down. I actually got a pretty good night’s sleep (it is currently 83 in my bedroom, where I am parked in front of the a/c unit composing this blog this morning).

I could have chosen to remain on the first floor. I acclimate fairly quickly and I probably could have gotten to sleep, but I would have been a terrible sweaty mess for work today. So I chose to be incredibly uncomfortable for about half an hour in my room while it was cooling down and managed to get a good night’s sleep without drenching myself in sweat.

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I thought about this too. I had a choice even after I had made my choice. I could have laid in my hot bed in my hot room listening to the a/c unit chugging away doing its darnedest to cool this place down and could have been upset. I could have felt sorry for myself and I could have focused on how unfair it is to lose my air conditioner in the middle of the summer and on how inconvenient it was for me to have to wander around my house like someone who doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep. But I decided that feeling that way was a waste of time. I was in my room (even though it was hot), in my comfortable bed (even though it was hot), and I had an air conditioner. And it was working. Even if it were a tad inconvenient, I had an option that involved sleeping in an air conditioned room. So I chose to be thankful instead.

The verse today is also about making a choice.

Psalm 119:30

30 I have chosen to be faithful;
I have determined to live by your regulations.

Faith is a choice. Trusting Christ to save you from your sins is a one-time decision, but trusting that God knows what He’s doing with your life even when none of it makes sense is a choice I have to make almost every hour of every day.

We can either choose to trust that God is good and that He knows what He’s doing and that He always keeps His promises. Or we can choose to believe that He isn’t and He doesn’t and try to do our own thing. There’s no inbetween choice. Those are the only options. And the consequences from that choice determine what kind of a life you’re going to lead.

If you do your own thing and try to figure life out on your own, you’ll never have peace and life will never make sense. Because life is too big for us to understand. The big picture of our existence is too broad and too detailed and too complex for us to grasp. Our lives are all tiny pieces of a giant mosaic that fit together beautifully, but we are too small to see the whole picture.

But God can see everything. He can see how my life fits into the grand scheme of His plan. And instead of me flailing and floundering trying to understand life on my terms, I choose to just trust Him.

And by choosing to remain faithful to Him, by choosing to live by the Bible, by choosing to live like Christ, I will have a life that God can bless. Abundantly.

And I can speak from experience because it’s true. God has given me everything I need and just about everything I’ve ever wanted. I’ve never lacked for anything, even during the years when I didn’t know how I was going to afford food. Even during the time when I could barely make it paycheck to paycheck, God was faithful me. And now at this point in my life, I couldn’t ask for anything more. Although, a functioning air conditioner for the whole house would be phenomenal . . . . but until we get it fixed, maybe I can start a sauna . . . . It’s all good. Because I have chosen to trust God even in circumstances that seem unfair.

And besides, I’m leaving for Guatemala on Saturday so I’ll just consider this training. I have already gotten used to 106 and 110 degree temperatures outside. Now I can get used to the same temperatures inside.

Make the choice to trust God. Choose to live a life He can bless. Choose to believe He knows what He’s doing. And that way, even though life may not be happy, you can still be peachy.

Why our blessings depend on our choices

Good morning again from Colorado Springs. Today is our last day at this writing conference, and I have to say this has been the most encouraging experiences I’ve ever had at one of these things. I will try to blog about it separately some other time, but I have been extraordinarily impressed with the teachers, the attendees, and the facilities at this conference/workshop.

The verse this morning is Proverbs 23:24.

24 The father of godly children has cause for joy.
What a pleasure to have children who are wise.

I really believe that children are born with a desire to please their parents. Depending on the child, and depending on the parents, some succeed and others don’t. I think a lot of it has to do with how easy it is to please a parent. If a child tries over and over and over to make their mom or dad happy and they never are able to do it, they’ll eventually give up. But if their mom or dad are too easy to please, the child will never strive to achieve anything truly great. So, just like everything else in life, there has to be a balance.

I’m not going to wax eloquent on child-rearing because I don’t have children, so my credibility on such a topic is probably questionable. But anything I believe about children and parenting comes directly out of Scripture. So I guess it’s not really my opinion anyway.

In any case, I know people who have wise children. Do you? I don’t know what it is about children who display wisdom but it’s refreshing, encouraging, and moving. It makes me smile. And I know it makes their parents happy. Well . . . beyond happy. Joyful.

For a parent to have a child who has accepted the truth of Scripture and is actively seeking God in their life is a huge, amazing blessing. Because that parent can take comfort knowing that their child will reap the benefits of leading a godly life. That even though their child may reach places in their life that are dark or scary or depressing, that as long as God leads them, that child will follow and God will protect them. Is there a bigger blessing than that?

I know the joy I felt when any of the students or children I worked with made wise choices. If that’s anything like what a parent feels, I don’t think there’s any feeling like it. You just want to leap and shout for joy and praise God all day long because you can see that someone else has the opportunity to experience the same great things God has taught you.

But I got to thinking. God is our Father. So doesn’t this work for Him too? Doesn’t God rejoice when we make wise decisions? I think He does. And, boy, would I love to see God rejoicing about something. Wouldn’t that be incredible?

Personally, I’m a people pleaser. I like to make people happy. But there’s a big difference between making people happy and bringing them joy. And if you want to bring God joy, just make wise choices. Obey Scripture. Live your life to love others. Trust God no matter what.

That may sound simplistic, but how complicated is it? Most of the time in life, you only have two choices. You have the right choice, and you have the wrong choice. Sometimes you have more than one right choice, and that’s great. But it doesn’t always work that way.

When you’re faced with a wrong choice, why would you make it? To make yourself happy? To please yourself? Sure. Why not? It’s your life, and it’s your choice. Absolutely.

But understand why making wise choices brings God joy:

When we make wise choices, that means He is able to bless us. He is able to give us good things. He is able to provide for us in ways that show us exactly how much He truly loves us.

When we make wrong choices, we prevent Him from doing that.

We don’t bring Him joy by making wise choices because He demands that we obey Him. It’s not that He’s up in heaven on some ego trip, totally dedicated to making sure that our lives are no fun whatsoever. No.

God loves us. And as our father–as our Daddy–He wants to give us good things. But He needs to be able to trust us. And if we can’t be wise with what He’s already given us, how can He trust us with the boatload of blessings He really wants to give us?