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.

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Underdog

I love underdog stories. Those stories where the main character comes from unfortunate circumstances but still manages to overcome the challenges in his life are the most heartwarming stories in culture, I think. Like the Karate Kid movies, even the new one, which I really enjoy. Like the Mighty Ducks. In some cases, even some superhero types are considered underdogs. They just never intended to be heroes.

You have to admit, there’s something endearing about a character who has always had a rough time in life suddenly finding himself (or herself) in the middle of a situation where the stakes keep getting higher. And there’s something inside us that cheers for the underdog constantly. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re trying to accomplish; if it seems impossible, and if the odds are stacked against them, we cheer them on. At least, I do. I have a soft spot for underdogs.

What’s amazing to me is that so does God. The Bible is full of underdog stories, where average people like you and me end up in extraordinary circumstances, and through God’s power, they change the world. Yesterday I blogged about how God can take the sadness in our lives and change it into something worth rejoicing about, but that’s not all He can do.

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Zephaniah 3:19.

And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.
    I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together
    those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
    wherever they have been mocked and shamed.

You want to talk about underdogs? Let’s talk about Israel for a moment.

When I was little, I used to think that Israel had to be some amazing, great country full of resources and power. I used to think that they had to have done something incredible for God to have called them His Chosen People. But let’s be honest here. Israel is a beautiful country, and they have many resources. But in comparison to other countries in the world, they’re kind of small. They have a lot of history, but other countries have more. Honestly what makes Israel special isn’t anything they’ve done; it’s the fact that God chose them.

By that same token, I used to think that Abraham was someone special. I used to think that he had some kind of special gift or something that made him the best candidate to found the nation of Israel. But he didn’t. He was just a guy. There wasn’t anything special about him other than the fact that God called and he obeyed. That’s it.

Israel and Israel’s history is full of instances where they were the lightweight in the corner who didn’t have a chance. But every time Israel’s leaders did what God told them to do, whether they were patriarchs or kings, God gave them victory over armies much larger than they were. God took a little, unimportant country and elevated it to a place where the region had to recognize their victory. He did the same with people, ordinary shepherds, children, uneducated people, outcasts, foreigners. You name someone who would be relegated to the dregs of society and read about how they followed God and how God raised them up to a level where other people (people who had made fun of them or hated them) had to recognize that they had achieved something.

Only God can do that.

Do you think Joseph could have become the second most important man in the world on his own steam (Genesis 37-54)? Do you think David could have had the strength to stand up to Goliath without God on his side (1 Samuel 17)? Do you think any prostitute could deserve to belong in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself without God changing her heart (Joshua 2)?

God is a God of underdogs, and He’s always looking for people who are willing to answer when He calls. And those people who answer when He calls have a chance to do the impossible, because when God is working with you, the impossible isn’t impossible anymore.

Are you in a situation where you feel inadequate? Do you find yourself in a place where no one recognizes you, whether you want them to or not? Are you lost in the shuffle of the crowd? Are you the low man on the totem pole?

Guess what? God’s cheering for you. It’s the folks on the bottom who attract God’s attention. I’m not saying He can’t use people on the top. He’s done that before too, but I’d be curious to know how those people at the top got there to begin with. Usually if you start out at the top, you aren’t interested in helping folks at the bottom–and that’s what God usually asks.

So if you’re inadequate and all you know is that you don’t have the skills to accomplish what God has called you to do, you’re in good company. But don’t worry because your responsibility is to answer. You don’t have e to know how it’s going to work out. You just have to do what God’s called you to do, and He will equip you for any eventuality you encounter along the way. And through His power and His strength and Him just being Him, He will change you from being the ineffective one at the bottom of the chain to someone who can change the world.

American flag on the Galveston ferry - Galveston, TX

Freedom is a responsibility

What do you do with freedom? Sometimes I wonder if my generation really understands what freedom is. There’s a concept I’ve encountered among people my age and younger that freedom means you can do whatever you want to do. And maybe that’s true in some counts, but being free is more than that: being free is a responsibility.

American flag on the Galveston ferry - Galveston, TX

American flag on the Galveston ferry – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Romans 6:15-16.

Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become to slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.

Yesterday we celebrated America’s birthday. Some of us celebrated by setting off fireworks. Others of us (who live in a county so restricted we can’t even light a match) celebrated by getting together with friends. Why? Because freedom is worth celebrating.

The people who founded America more than 200 years ago had a dream, and they were willing to sacrifice everything they had to achieve it. Most of my generation has forgotten that the people who founded this country were branded as traitors. And I know the majority of the next generation hasn’t even been taught the basics of what our Founding Fathers stood for.

America was founded with an awesome purpose, not just because the colonists wanted to do what they wanted to do. Maybe that had something to do with it. But the American Revolution wasn’t a study in chaos, not like the French Revolution was. The American colonists did everything they could to avoid war, but it was becoming necessary for them to declare themselves independent from England.

But freedom from England meant everything would change. America’s needs would no longer be England’s responsibility; they would be America’s. Declaring independence, being free, always means that you will take on more responsibility than you had before.

Jesus died to set us all free from the power of sin. If Jesus hadn’t come, we would have no hope of salvation. We’re all born into sin, and without Christ, we can’t escape it. Even with Christ, we still choose it sometimes. But Jesus made a way for us to live apart from sin. He offered us the option to choose Him rather than choosing sin, when before we didn’t have a choice.

So since Jesus has set us free from sin does that mean we can do whatever we want without consequences? Does that mean sin has no power over us because we have escaped its grasp? Does that dearly purchased liberty mean we can run wild and break the laws just because we can?

Why not? We’re free, aren’t we? We aren’t subject to the Law. And this world isn’t our home anyway. Right?

No.

If you’ve accepted Christ, if you’ve been freed from the power of sin and the power of the Law, you have an even greater responsibility.

Maybe sin won’t drag you into hell if you’ve accepted Christ, but even as a believer, you are still vulnerable to the consequences of sin in your life. If we lived in a world without sin, it would be one thing. But our world is still broken, and sin is still in charge here. And believers aren’t immune to the consequences of doing what is wrong.

If you give in to sin and live a life where you do whatever feels good, you will be a slave to that kind of life. You can be a believer and live this way because you’re free. You can choose this.

If you live a life according to the Law where you trust your own good works to justify you, you will be a slave to that kind of life. You can be a believer and live this way because you’re free to make your own choice.

But how are we supposed to live?

If you have accepted Christ, you have a choice. You have the freedom to live however you want to live, but whatever choice you make will have consequences. Choices always do.

Living free doesn’t just happen. It requires discipline. It requires sacrifice. It requires making difficult choices. It means sometimes you have to do the right thing especially when you don’t feel like it. This is true in both the Christian life and in your political beliefs, whatever those may be.

If you choose to follow Christ, beyond just simply believing in Him, those choices are up to you. God won’t force you to make decisions. Those are choices you will have to make along the way, and they won’t be easy. At least, not right away.

If you have the freedom to choose, you have the responsibility to choose the right path, because if you choose the wrong path the consequences will fall on you. You can’t shift the blame to someone else. You can’t point fingers. That’s what freedom is: responsibility. And even though Christ has set us free spiritually, we are still responsible for the lives we live on Earth.

So we can sit back and let others do the work for us and reap the benefits of indolence. We can demand all the attention be put on us and on our hard work and live for glory and admiration. We can do nothing and detach ourselves from the world. Or we can do what Scripture says: love God and love people and wait for Christ to take us home.

The choice is up to you. Just remember that whatever you choose to follow will become your master. Whatever path you choose has consequences you have to face.

It’s a huge responsibility.

So is freedom.

Control Freak

Life is stressful. And no matter how I try, I always end up stressed out about something. I’m better than I used to be, but somehow all the stuff that makes life so crazy just keeps stacking up until I’m buried in a pile too big to climb out of.

I’m not a tightly wound person either. I’m not inclined to anxiety. But somedays anxiety seems inevitable.

Responsibilities. Duties. Family. Friends. Work. Hobbies that become work. House stuff. Car stuff. Bills. Paychecks. Paychecks in comparison to bills. The rising cost of gasoline. The rising cost of everything. If they were just individual concerns, they’d be easier to deal with. But they never come individually. They always come together, all seemingly united in the singular purpose of driving me out of my mind.

But when you get right down to it, being stressed out about anything is really a choice. It doesn’t always feel like a choice, but it is. This is something I really struggle with, especially lately.

When I run into a situation that I can’t control, my automatic reaction is to get stressed about it. I worry about it. I think about it all the time. And even though I can’t do a single thing to change it, I lay awake at night, staring at my ceiling and wondering what other ways I could solve it.  I guess in itself that’s not bad. But it’s not good either.

When I encounter a situation I can’t control — or a problem I can’t solve — the best response is to give it to God and not worry about it anymore.

But it’s so hard to do that when you’re a control freak . . . .

There’s a cartoon show that I love watching called Teen Titans. It’s a DC comic turned into a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon show. It’s not on television anymore, but I have the series on DVD. For being a kid’s show, it’s really quite witty. The Teen Titans are five teenage superheroes that basically run around saving a city from random bad guys and eating pizza on their off days. It’s a riot. One of their minor nemeses is a dude called “Control Freak” and he’s basically a geek in a trench coat with a magic remote control that can turn inanimate objects (TVs, candy bars, vending machines, etc.)  into monsters. He’s one of the fun bad guys because he’s always quoting Star Wars lines and things like that.

But to beat him, the Teen Titans have to take away his remote control because that’s where he gets his power. If he doesn’t have his remote control, he’s just an ordinary geek.

This is honestly what I thought of when I read Philippians 4:6-7 this morning.

 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

We’re not supposed to worry. We all know that, but it’s hard to remember when worrying is so easy to do. We all feel like we have te have some kind of control over a situation, and we can’t rest until we get everything sorted out. But any control we think we have is an illusion.

There’s only one thing we can control and that is our reaction to the stresses of life.

We can choose to worry. Or we can choose to trust God about it and let Him lead the way. We can choose to hold on to the things that stress us out. Or we can give up the remote.

I’m working on my control freak tendencies. It’s funny because my inner control freak can be very helpful when I need her to be, but when I lose control of it that control freak inside me takes over me too. And when that happens, I’m not a very nice person anymore. And I’m so obsessed with getting something done the way I think it needs to be done, I tend to run over people. And that’s not the way we’re supposed to live.

So I’m going to do my best to turn over control of my remote, the tendencies that make me want to stress about the unsolveable problems of life. Because if I don’t turn it over, God might someday take it away to remind me that I really don’t control anything.