What’s in your heart is more important than what you do

fruit-plant-results-harvest-tree_1170x350

We have pear trees at Safe Haven Farm, but they aren’t just any pear trees. They’re wood pears. They’re wicked hard and unbelievably stubborn. Nothing kills these things, and you have to wait until they’re on the edge of being rotten before you can get a knife into them.

I’ve always figured it’s because the trees themselves are so old. The pears are as tough as tree bark because the trees are ancient. At least, the trees are ancient by Kansas standards. Trees don’t always last long around these parts.

But in the last few years, a tree sprang up in the orchard that produced smallish round pears that you could eat straight off the branch. We’re still at a loss as to where the tree came from and why its fruit is so different, but the old trees make me a appreciate the new one.

The Bible has so many stories about farming in it, and it always makes me smile. In Galatians 6:7-8, the Bible says, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

God set the Laws of Nature in motion when He created the world, and nothing (except Him) can stop them. That means if you plant a pear tree, you’ll get pears. If you plant a wheat field, you’ll get wheat. If you plant green beans, you’ll get green beans. You can’t plant green beans and expect to get strawberries. It just doesn’t work that way.

Life works exactly the same. If you do good things, you’ll receive good things. If you do bad things, you’ll receive bad things. Yes, in some cases, you can do good things and be rewarded with bad things, but the bad things are usually temporary—a preliminary bump in the road on the way to better things.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]But what I’ve learned about following Jesus is that it isn’t really your actions that determine your success.[/su_pullquote]

But what I’ve learned about following Jesus is that it isn’t really your actions that determine your success. Yes, your actions play a huge role. But more important than your actions are your motivations. Why do you do what you do? What is in your heart?

I mean, look at our pear trees. Sure, they’re both pear trees, and they both produce pears. But the old trees give us big, hard, misshapen fibrous chunks of woody fruit. The new tree gives us soft, sweet, juicy fruit. The old pears are perfectly edible. They just take more work to process because you have to cut out all the bad stuff to get to the parts that actually taste like pear.

You can work with the old hard pears, but you have to dig to get to the good stuff. The same is true if you do the right thing with the wrong motivation. Maybe you do what God says is right, and that’s great, but your heart isn’t joyful about it or happy or humble. You’ll get a good result back, yes, because you planted a good seed. But that result will be tainted by your bad attitude. And if you want to do something useful with it, you’ll have to dig out the unhelpful bits.

It’s so much better to do what God says is right with a heart that’s right too. That way, the results you get won’t just be pleasant, they’ll be useful. And you can build on your results right away because you won’t be spending time separating the bad fruit from the good.

It’s important to plant good seeds, so that you’ll harvest a good crop. But even more so, it’s important to plant good seeds with an attitude that’s right. An attitude that recognizes God as Lord and not just God.

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Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Are you leaving God’s gifts unopened?

Have you ever left money on the table? I don’t mean literally. Sure it’s possible to walk out of your house and leave a wad of cash sitting on the kitchen table (yes, I’ve done it). But what about figuratively?

I didn’t understand that was even possible until I discovered a little something grown-ups like to call a 401K. I’m very fortunate to have a job that provides a 401K for me, along with matching contributions at a really competitive rate. The first time I heard someone talking about “leaving money on the table” was in discussion on how much of a percentage to automatically contribute from a bi-weekly paycheck to my 401K. Because my company matches a certain percentage, the 401K people encourage us to put as much into the account as possible… otherwise we won’t be getting the most advantage out of the amount the company is willing to contribute. You’re leaving money on the table.

It’s the same when you don’t haggle over the price of something. Like in a Mexican market some place. Normally folks will charge you way more than what the item is actually worth, expecting you to haggle the price down. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table because you’re giving away money that the seller might have been willing to live without.

It’s not a smart thing to do. But I’m pretty sure it happens fairly often.

So what about leaving a gift unopened? Have you ever done that? Has someone ever given you a gift that you didn’t open? Imagine Christmas morning, sitting around a tree stuffed full of presents and nobody opening them. Imagine a birthday party where you don’t open your gifts.

Would that be awkward or is it just me?

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

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

Did you know that God has given us gifts? He’s given us all sorts of gifts, too many to name. The trouble with many of them is that they’re gifts we can’t open yet. They’re promises that haven’t come true. It’s like knowing that Christmas is coming and that someone is going to get you a gift, but you haven’t seen it yet.

But the biggest mistake Christ-followers make is thinking that all of God’s gifts are like that, when they aren’t. God has given us many, many gifts that He wants us to open now! But for some reason, we’re just letting them sit in the corner.

A good example? Peace. God has given you the gift of peace. Did you know that?

What is the gift of peace? It’s the ability to stop worrying. It’s the reassurance that God is in control. It’s the guarantee that even though life may suck right now, it won’t always, and that God is strong enough to bring beauty out of ashes.

Peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. It’s priceless. Invaluable. And if you believe in Christ, God’s already given it to you. Is that a gift you’ve opened yet?

I’m not sure what it is about peace that is so hard to grasp. I struggle with peace a lot because I’m just a control freak. I want to know everything about everything so I can control every possible detail, whether I’m capable of it or not.

But the more I control something, the more I worry about it. The more I worry about it, the less peace I have. And the less peace I have, the farther away from God I grow because I convince myself that He doesn’t care because if He cared, why doesn’t He help me?

Vicious cycle.

A foolish, vicious cycle.

God has given you peace. Period.

But just because He gave it to you doesn’t mean you’ve automatically accepted it. You have to choose to accept it. Just like you have to choose to accept a gift. Just because someone gives you a Christmas present, doesn’t mean you accept it. Just because you open a Christmas present doesn’t mean you’re going to keep it. You might take it back to the store and return it.

That’s the trick with a gift. Its mere existence doesn’t mean you use it. You have to choose it.

God won’t force you to accept any of His gifts, but if you won’t take them, what’s the point of Him giving them in the first place?

So the next time you’re worrying about something, remember that God has given you the gift of peace, and it’s your choice whether to accept it or not.

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

What you miss when you judge others wrongly

Have you ever made a judgment call on someone else’s personality only to discover later that you were wrong? Yeah, it’s kind of embarrassing. And it happened to me yesterday.

The first leg of my flight went from Philadelphia to Atlanta yesterday around noonish, and I ended up tucked against a wall at the back of an MD88 next to a grouchy, irritable woman and her absent-minded mother, and of course we were sitting in front of an infant who wouldn’t stop crying for the entire two-hour flight.

So needless to say, by the time I got off the plane in Atlanta, my nerves were shot. So when I boarded the flight bound for Wichita, I was already in a pretty foul humor.

I walked up to my seat, and there was an old man in my row. I politely told him that I had the window seat, and he took one look at me and my WSU t-shirt and said: “Oh, you’re one of those #$%& Shockers.” And then he proceeded to mutter about idiots and morons as I climbed over him to get to my seat.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say or what to think, so I just tried not to do either. I responded politely, buckled myself in, and then plugged my earphones in for the rest of the flight.

What on earth could possess someone to say something like that? Or to be so mean in general? Seriously. It was extraordinarily rude.

Fortunately for my mental state, the seat between us remained empty, so we both got to stretch out a little for the short hop between Atlanta and Wichita. But I kept my earphones in because I really didn’t want to talk to him.

A little more than halfway through the flight, when the flight attendants came around with drinks and pretzels, he put the middle tray table down and indicated that I could set my drink there if I didn’t want to risk spilling on my Kindle.

After I finished my drink and my pretzels, I packed them up neatly and shut my eyes for just a moment. Well, I guess I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up later to discover that he had taken care of my trash too. And a few moments later as the plane began to descend, he started doing the cha-cha sitting down. I thought there was something wrong with him, but then I realized he had earphones in too and was rocking out to some kind of music.

It was actually kind of funny.

Shortly thereafter we were on the ground, and the grumpy old man and his wife disappeared in the rush to deplane. But it left me wondering if he really was as grumpy as he seemed. And maybe I missed an opportunity to have a really great conversation with someone.

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is John 7:24.

Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.

We hear it all the time: Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Well, guess what, folks? We all judge. We judge everything all the time. If we didn’t, we’d all be making stupid decisions every moment of our lives.

We have to judge. We have to make judgment calls. If you never weigh two decisions against a standard, you never know what it is to make a choice, and you never understand what it is to make a wise choice.

What is interesting about this verse is that Jesus says it to the religious leaders of His time. They were attacking Him because He had healed someone on the Sabbath, the time when people weren’t supposed to work, but Jesus threw their attacks back in their faces. And rightly so. Because the religious leaders only grasped the letter of the law and not its meaning.

Every situation, every person, every thing in life is more than it appears. There’s always more to the story. There’s always more to a person than what you see. But if you make your judgment call based on something superficial, you may miss the point. And you may miss the opportunity to bless someone or to be blessed yourself.

Now I’m not saying you should throw caution to the wind and run out and do something foolish right now. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying is that maybe we should give people the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe that grouchy old man had just gotten off a flight where he’d had to listen to a child screaming or had to listen to the psychotic ramblings of an angry passenger. Maybe he was at his wit’s end too. That didn’t mean he wasn’t worth talking to.

So the next time you encounter someone who might not look or act the way you think they ought to, don’t just write them off. Don’t just ignore them because you don’t think they’re worth your time.

You never know. God may have put you in their path for such a time as this–or vice versa. But if you pass them by, you’ll never know.

Sometimes you need a Jedi mind trick

I’m attending a training seminar in Philadelphia this week. So far, it’s great. It’s all about getting organized and learning to make the choices that will help you achieve the most productivity.

The facilitator said something in yesterday’s session that really stood out to me: Ordinary happens. Extraordinary is a choice.

How true is that? I’ve learned it’s very true. The everyday, the normal, the average, the mediocre just happens. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It doesn’t require any sacrifice or commitment. What’s average is going to happen anyway.

But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to go above and beyond and achieve something great, you have to make a choice. And the first step in making a choice is changing the way you think.

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

If you’re a science fiction movie fan, you probably know all about Jedi mind tricks. And I admit sometimes I wish I could use a Jedi mind trick on myself. It would make thinking about the right things easier.

You know you have control over what you think, right? Sometimes I wonder if people actually grasp that. They don’t have to think about the first things that pop into their heads. They can choose what they think about.

If it’s not a thought that’s useful or productive or a thought that will lead you down a useful or productive road, you don’t have to think about it. No, you can’t control it popping into your brain, but you can decide whether or not to waste time thinking about it.

Few of us really have time to waste. Let’s just be honest about that. Even people who don’t have a lot going on could be using their time better than on things that don’t matter.

It’s difficult to take thoughts captive, though. They’re slippery things. Often it feels like the moment you have them under control, they wriggle out of your grasp. It’s a never-ending battle, and that’s where friends and accountability partners come in. That’s also where it helps to have a Bible close at hand.

Maybe that sounds clichéd but it’s true. If you’re having trouble keeping your thoughts in line, a good place to start is with daily Bible reading. There’s something about the Bible that helps me calm down and focus on things that matter.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. If I can start my morning off thinking about things that really matter, usually I find my day goes better.

What about you? Do you have trouble caking your thoughts captive? Or have you got it down to a science? If your thoughts are running wild and you’ve never even tried to direct them, you might want to give it a try.

Just because your brain wants to think about something doesn’t mean you have to think about it. You have a choice. You don’t have to let your thoughts control you. The most productive and effective people are the other way around.

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

This world has nothing for me

God created this world for us to enjoy, and some days I really do love it. Like yesterday. Yesterday was beautiful. Spring is finally deciding to show up here in Kansas, and yesterday was almost picture perfect (except for the 30 mph winds). On days like yesterday, it can be difficult to remember that the world is broken.

The world has so many beautiful things in it, and it’s so tempting to want to live for those things. But we need to remember that everything we see is temporary and it’s the invisible things that will last forever.

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:14.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the world has no power over us. We have a choice. We don’t have to live for the world. We can live for Him instead. After you meet Christ, what can the world offer you to compare to Him?

But if that’s the case, why do so many Christ-followers end up stuck back in the world again?

I can’t speak for any of them, but I find myself being drawn back to the world’s way of doing things when I get too busy. When I’m so busy I can’t keep track of anything, I forget the things that matter. I have to focus on what’s right in front of me, and most of the times that’s something temporary.

This is what I need to remember. Even when I’m busy, I can still make my decisions based on God’s eternal principles instead of the world’s temporary guidelines. What God says is right is right all the time. It doesn’t change, just like Him. And if I live my life according to what He says is right, my life will be more consistent than if I tried to follow what the world says is right.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I don’t have to listen to the world. I have another option. The world has nothing in it for me. I don’t care about anything the world says is important because the world doesn’t understand what really matters.

It’s just up to me to keep my focus where it needs to be. It’s up to me to make choices based on God’s truth rather than the world’s convenience. It’s easier to go with the flow, especially when you’re busy, but in the long run, you’ll find the road is a lot less bumpy if you follow God’s directions instead of the world’s.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Dallas, TX

Questions you don’t need God’s help on?

Everybody has questions for God. Sometimes they’re silly. Sometimes they’re serious. But every now and then, you end up in a situation where you need an answer. You have to make a decision, and you can only put it off for so long. You have to choose.

I’m there now. And in one way of looking at it, making this choice isn’t a big deal. But if you consider all of the ramifications, it could have a huge impact.

The long and the short of it is that I’ve received the first concepts for the cover of my book, Nameless. And I was desperately hoping that one of them would stand out as the absolute winner … but they’re both fantastic. And now I have to pick one.

I have to pick the book cover that will represent my novel in a way that will make people want to pick it up and read it. It’s not an earth shattering decision, but it’s important because it could very well determine whether the book sells or flops.

So I’m exercising a right that I have as a follower of Christ. I’m asking for God’s opinion.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer's Market, Dallas, TX

Pretty flower at the Dallas Farmer’s Market, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is James 1:5.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

So many times I think we are afraid to ask God because bringing our daily concerns to Him seems trivial.  I mean, He’s God. He shouldn’t care about the simple, easy, picky things I’m facing in my life. He shouldn’t care about a book cover design.

But that’s a lie. He does.

God wants to be a part of our lives in every way, from the big decisions to the small ones. And we should never forget that the small decisions may seem small but they can have huge consequences, so it’s essential to ask for wisdom before you make any decision.

God invites us to ask Him for help. He wants us to. That’s part of being in a relationship of any kind. You ask questions. You ask for opinions. You ask for help. We have friends because we were never meant to go through life alone, and God wants to be an intimate part of our lives.

Now, should you ask God what color socks to put on this morning? Well, that’s up to you. It’s highly unlikely that your socks could change the course of your life, but you never know.

I’m asking God for wisdom to choose the right book cover. Not necessarily the one I like the best, but the one that is the best option for the book itself. And that’s difficult for me because I don’t care about book covers. I never look at covers when I’m deciding what book to read. I look at the titles, and I read the back cover. That’s how I choose books. So if there is anyone completely unequal to the task of choosing a book cover, it’s me.

I’m not afraid to ask for God’s help on this. I need Him. It’s the things I already know how to do that I struggle with asking about. After all, if I already know how to do it, why would I ask for God’s wisdom? And that’s pride talking. I think I know what I’m doing. I still need God’s help to actually do the right thing.

What decision are you facing today? Is it something you already have experience with or is it something you don’t know how to handle? Either way, ask for God’s wisdom. He’s invited us to ask, so we are nuts if we don’t take Him up on it. It’s like being friends with the most brilliant mathematician in the world and still struggling through your math homework alone.

Don’t let Satan’s lies convince you that your problem isn’t worth God’s time. That’s not your decision to make. You’ve been invited to ask; so ask. And don’t believe for a second that you have life handled on your own, because you don’t. Nobody does.

Just ask. Be sure about what you need to know. Trust that God will give you an answer. And then be willing to act on it, whether you think it’s the right answer or not.

Nobody said it would be easy, but so many times doing the right thing never is.

Tree stuck between mountains at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Choose your attitude

I was hired to be a webmaster and a writer, but my first few weeks on the job, I spent the majority of my time as a pack horse. We had a lot of heavy boxes and equipment to move from our office to the hotel where we were holding our national sales meeting. And the team I worked with at the time was entirely composed of women. And not just women–girly women. (We’re in marketing, for heaven’s sake!) Granted, they’re tough, and they work like crazy. But none of them expected me to be able to lift a 50-pound box in dress slacks and heels. That’s when I got to explain that I live on a farm. So I added “He-woman” to my job description that day.

But my manager at the time kept apologizing because hauling boxes and heavy equipment wasn’t why I was hired. It was something extra I had to do, and I think she was concerned that I would be upset about it. But it didn’t bother me. I like being helpful no matter what I’m doing, although at the time I had wished they would have told me what I would be doing so I wouldn’t have worn heels! By the time that day was over, I was tired, but I wasn’t unhappy. I could have been, I suppose. To have been “subjected” to a day of hard labor at a position where I was supposed to be writing might have upset some folks.

But I had already chosen how I was going to feel about the experience. I had chosen to be cheerful about it. I mean, hey, I had a job. And it wasn’t like they were saying, “Lift this box or you’re fired!” No, I hauled those boxes around because they needed to be moved, and I could do it.

Tree stuck between mountains at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Tree stuck between mountains at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:5-8.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Attitude is everything. If your attitude is sour, your perspective and your focus will be sour. It colors everything. But the beautiful thing about attitude (which is also the ugly thing about it) is that you can choose it. You decide when you roll out of bed what your attitude is going to be today.

No, you can’t control the events of the day. No, you can’t control your circumstances (at least, to a point). No, you can’t control other people. But you can control how you react. You can control how you respond. You can control what you think. And while you may not be able to control how you feel, you can choose how you act on your feelings.

For just a moment, try putting yourself in Jesus’ situation. He was God. He is God. He’s always been God. He always will be God. Creator of the universe. Creator of time itself. The beginning of everything. Endless, eternal, worthy of all our praise. God. But when He had the choice to do nothing or to make a way for us to be saved, He chose to save us, even though it meant that He had to give up everything.

This is how the Amplified Version puts it:

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

Jesus had every right to hold on to His status and position, but He didn’t look at it that way. Granted, when He came to Earth, He was still God. He was still God’s Son, but He was human too. It’s like asking me to give up my life to become an amoeba. That’s not a sufficient comparison, but it’s as close as I can get with one cup of coffee.

It’s unthinkable. And Jesus didn’t stop there. Not only did He give up everything, He took it a step further and died a humiliating and excruciating death.

You realize He knew He was coming to His death, right? Jesus knew why He was born. He knew why He was here. All the years He grew up, all the years He lived, all the years He taught, He knew He was here for one purpose–to die for us. But did He complain? Did He mope? Did He grumble? No!

And if that’s the way Jesus lived His whole 33 years in the shadow of impending crucifixion, why can’t we choose to be cheerful when we have to do something at work we don’t think is our responsibility? Why can’t we face frustration and irritation with a smile? Why can’t we stand up for what we believe with joy? Why can’t decide to be content with what we have?

Maybe today is going to suck for you. Maybe the week will be awful. Maybe the month or the year is going to be stressful and overwhelming, and maybe you have no control over anything that’s happening in your life. And the only thing you’re sure of is chaos.

You can’t choose your circumstances. But you can choose how you face them.

Jesus chose His attitude.

Choose yours.