You can celebrate even the most Mondayish of Mondays

Ever wake up, and you’re just in a horrible mood? There’s no real reason for it. You’re just in a funk. And then things get worse? You forget stuff and have to go back for it. You lose stuff and waste time looking for it. You are so preoccupied with everything you forgot, you lose track of the things you actually remembered?

That was me yesterday morning. Just an all-around, no-good, Mondayish Monday. For no particular reason. I just couldn’t seem to get out of it either. I was grumpy at home, grumpy at work, grumpy to people I talked to.

But then something landed on my desk. By all rights, it should have made my mood worse. But it didn’t. Instead, it just made me realize that life isn’t as bad as it could be. Someday I’ll figure out how my brain works, but until then I’m just going to assume it was that “last straw” kind of moment. In those moments, you can either choose to cry, or you can laugh about it.

My default is laughter. So that’s what I did. And almost immediately, once I started seeing my day from that perspective, my attitude got better. Because maybe it sucked, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Maybe that doesn’t sound like something to celebrate, but wait until you’re there. And then you’ll understand how much joy you can find in the simple realization that life is so much better than it could be.

Bad Hair Day - AlpacaToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

This is God talking to the Children of Israel. They are the descendants of the Hebrew slaves who Moses led out of Egypt, but because of their sin they weren’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. They had to wander the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died out and only their children were left.

This statement is to those children.

See, everyone wakes up in a bad mood once in a while. Everybody has bad days. And that’s okay. We’re human. But that also means we’re capable of making a choice.

You can wake up in a bad mood, but it’s your choice to stay in a bad mood. You can have a bad day, but it’s your choice to foster a bad attitude about it. Your attitude isn’t bad because your day was bad. That’s not how it works. Your attitude is bad because you chose that attitude.

When God gave the Children of Israel the choice to trust Him or rely on themselves, they chose themselves. They chose exile. That was their choice. When God gave their children the same choice, they chose to follow Him instead because they saw the mistakes their parents had made.

The truth is, we’re all born in a broken world. Nothing down here is ever going to work right. It’s not supposed to, not since Adam and Eve broke it. But a day is coming when all of that is going to change. All the things that are wrong, God will make right again.

But God has given us a choice. Follow Him or follow yourself. Believe He is right, or believe you know better. That choice is up to us. It’s always been up to us.

And on the most Mondayish of Mondays, if you believe God really does know what He’s doing, you can still sit back and laugh at the troubles and problems that come your way. Why? Because God is in control and everything that happens to you will work out for His glory and your good.

Didn’t say it would be good. But God will use it for good and will make it good. That’s His promise, and He never breaks His promises.

So are you having a bad day? It’s all right. Bad days happen to everyone. But just because it starts badly doesn’t mean it has to end badly. Talk to someone who loves you. Take a walk outside. Get a glass of cold, clear water to drink. And take a moment and think about everything you have and everything God has given you, and it won’t take long before you remember just how blessed you really are.

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When your heart doesn’t match God’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s verse is Proverbs 21:2.

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

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

Attitude is everything.

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

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

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

I’m just tired.

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

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

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

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

A lamp post at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Uncharted territory is rarely predictable

The beginning of a new year is always an interesting time because everyone is thinking about the future. Everyone is making plans for how this year will be different than last year or how they’re going to improve themselves or their lives. And it’s absolutely a good thing for people to look into how to better themselves. Resolutions are great things, especially if you can keep them. But have you ever been in a position where God is leading you to do something you’ve never done before?

We all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a new year, the making of resolutions, the struggle to keep our resolutions, the disappointment when we drop our resolutions. Everyone has experienced that. But what about God? Not that God makes new year’s resolutions, but if He did, what would they look like?

A lamp post at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

A lamp post at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Today’s verse is Isaiah 43:19.

For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

One thing I love about God is that He’s always up to something. He’s always got something going on. Life with God is never ever boring, and those of us who truly follow Christ understand what the Bible means when Jesus tells us that He came to bring us life more abundant. Life following Christ is always exciting.

What God is referencing in this verse through the Prophet Isaiah is the coming of Christ to save His people. That was something that had never happened before. That was something people had never seen before. And the way He promised to send Christ was impossible, but He explained how it was going to happen centuries and centuries before Christ was born. He gave people a head’s up so they could get on board with what God had planned before it happened.

I think God does that for us today. I think sometimes He hollers down at us and is just waiting for someone to pay attention long enough to see Him waving. God has plans. He has lots and lots of plans, and He’s just looking for someone to step up and offer to do what needs doing. His plans don’t always make sense to us, and even when He makes “paths in the wilderness” for us to follow, they don’t always seem like they go anywhere. But if you’re one of the people who agreed to do what God asked and you find yourself feeling lost, remember that God may be doing something new in your life.

What does it mean to do something new? It means that it’s nothing anyone has ever seen before. So if it’s nothing anyone has ever seen, if it’s a path that no one has ever traveled before, why do you expect to know where you’re going? How can you think you will know what to expect? It’s uncharted territory. The only person who really knows what’s coming is God. He’s the map maker, after all.

So if you’re one of those people who has decided to chase after God wholeheartedly, to live for Him, to “sacrifice” everything else you could be doing with your life, remember in the dark moments that you’re not going to be able to see the end of your road all the time. Navigating God’s plan isn’t like navigating in Kansas, where you can see 20 miles in front of you. It’s more like trying to get around in London or Edinburgh or one of those ancient cities where you’re fortunate to be able to see your next step because the roads are so narrow and the buildings are so close. And because you can’t always see where you’re going, that just means you have to trust your navigation system.

What’s great about God is that He doesn’t leave us to navigate alone. We have the Bible. We have the Holy Spirit. And if you’ve decided to follow the path God has marked out for you, you have everything you need to find your way. You may not be able to see where you’re going, but sight has never been essential when it comes to following God.

It’s not that far into 2014 yet, and some people may already be ready to give up on their resolutions because change feels impossible or too uncontrollable. Be encouraged this morning. Don’t give up, especially if it’s something you know God has called you to do. You won’t always be able to see your next step, but if it’s something God has called you to do, He won’t let you fall.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, North England, United Kingdom

Doing God’s will instead of just finding it

The concept of following God’s will for your life is something you’ll hear in churchy circles on a regular basis. Everyone wants to know God’s will. Who wouldn’t? It would be so much easier if God would just thump us on the head with a neon sign explaining exactly what we’re supposed to go do with ourselves, but He doesn’t really work that way.

That all-important question drives so many people: What is God’s will? We treat it like a holy question, like it’s some camouflaged animal crouching in the brush too scared to reveal itself. But I don’t think God’s will is like that. I don’t think we have to tiptoe around God’s will in our lives like it will disappear if we step too hard. I don’t even think God’s will is difficult to discern. What’s difficult about God’s will is obedience.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, North England, United Kingdom

Stones of Hadrian’s Wall, North England, United Kingdom

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

I think we get caught up in finding God’s will for our life, when we really need to find God’s will for today. We don’t understand our lives anyway, so trying to find the answer to sum up the purpose for our life in one word isn’t a very good idea. I don’t think we can do it.

But finding God’s will for today? What does the Bible say? What is right in front of you today? Do you need to go to work? Do you need to go to school? Do you need to take care of someone else? I love this passage because it’s talking about a group of people who made a real difference. The churches of Macedonia didn’t have much, but because God told them to give, they gave. And God blessed their obedience through Paul. Can you imagine being a supporting church for the Apostle Paul? Yikes.

Whatever God has put in your path today is what you need to focus on right now, and you need to do that according to how God says to live in the Bible. That’s why it’s so important to know what the Bible says. But what about tomorrow? Just being honest here, I’m facing some pretty big decisions in 2014, one of which just popped up a few days ago and seems to be taking on a life of its own. It’s exciting and terrifying and wonderful and so much bigger than me, and the first question I had was: “Is this God’s will?” Because I don’t want this to be just some wild hare that popped up in my random brain.

But if I take it and examine it according to the Bible, it’s not. Making this decision wouldn’t contradict anything in Scripture. On the contrary, it would actually help spread God’s word to other people. Plus, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of, and it’s something people need. It’s something that God can use to really make a difference in people’s lives.

Everything is in place just about. God has opened many doors, especially in the last few days, that demonstrate that this idea isn’t from me. It’s from Him. So why do I hesitate? Why am I still stuck in the “searching for God’s will” phase?

Honestly? I’m terrified. This is a huge step. It’s a massive decision. It’s not the decision I ever anticipated making, and it scares me because it’s unknown. And that’s where we get to the obedience part.

If God has told you to do something, do it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t speculate. Don’t worry. Just jump. Dive in head first and trust that God will catch you. If you’re living your life for Him, if you’re seeking Him first in every decision you make, if your purpose in life is to give Him glory, you can’t make a wrong move. The decisions and choices you make, if they are dedicated to Him, will be successful. Maybe not in how you define success but it’s more important to be successful in God’s perspective anyway.

So here’s to 2014, a year of change and transition! I’ve mentioned a few times how awful 2013 was, and it really was. It was a tough year. A hard year. A frustrating year. But one of the many blessings that came out of 2013 was me learning how to trust God all over again. I’ve always trusted Him but never like this. I saw God do miracles last year. I saw God take situations that could have no resolution and tie everything up with a beautiful bow. And if God can do that with all the craziness of last year, I know He can do miracles this year too.

So I’m going to trust Him. If He says jump, I’m going to ask: “How high?” He knows what He’s doing, and He never asks us to do something that He won’t equip us for. That doesn’t mean the process will be easy. It rarely is. But as long as He’s there, it won’t fail. Not in the areas where it matters.

So what is God telling you to do today?

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you can drive like an idiot

People in Wichita don’t know how to drive. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s never more obvious than when the weather is bad. The worse the weather, the worse the drivers out in it are. They either go too fast or too slow. I usually get to see the colorful variety of Wichita’s most inept every Monday through Friday morning as I drive into work. It’s an odd mixture of people and an even odder mixture of vehicles.

One morning last week, I drove a couple of miles with a big white van riding my bumper. I was going five over, and I couldn’t see their headlights they were so close. I got over out of their way as soon as I could, and they shot around me like I was standing still. Not a big deal—except that the conditions were somewhat treacherous. That same day, a newish SUV with big tires and bright lights crept along the highway, hovering in the middle of both lanes, taking up too much room on both sides and not letting anyone pass. The guy was going at least 30 under, which is never a good idea on K-96 on a weekday morning around 7:15.

I thought it was ironic, the giant under-tired white van was clipping along like it ruled the road and the new SUV, designed for foul weather conditions, was afraid to accelerate. And that got me thinking about how many circumstances we encounter in our own lives that are exactly like that.

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 18:39.

You have armed me with strength for the battle;
    you have subdued my enemies under my feet. 

Have you ever charged into a fight when you weren’t prepared for it? Have you ever walked into a situation you weren’t equipped to handle? I have. There’s no worse feeling in the world than realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Why? Well, it’s not exactly like you can bow out; you’ll lose respect. But at the same time, you don’t know what you’re doing, so you can’t help but fail, which means you’ll lose respect. But have you ever considered the flip side of that situation?

How many times, as Christians, do we hang back and fear our own inadequacy when we are more than capable of doing what needs to be done? This is me. This is me all the way. All my life I have struggled with feelings of insufficiency and inadequacy. People laugh at me when I say that, but it’s the absolute truth. My greatest fear is failing to perform to the expectations of people I love and respect, and that fear has kept me bound in silence many times when I probably should have spoken up.

Mentor a child? I’m not good enough. Share Christ with someone who doesn’t believe? I don’t know enough. Volunteer for a church ministry? I’m not talented enough. Any of those sound familiar? This isn’t really a Christmas post, but what better time of year to consider this issue?

How many of us live our Christian life like a fully equipped SUV crawling along in the snow? How many of us Christians are so burdened and weighed down with fears of our own inadequacy that we never even try to run? We’re so afraid that we never move faster than a walk, and we don’t get nearly as far as we might have if we would have used our gifts to their fullest. This is a reminder to me today. I convince myself that I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not fast enough, not brave enough to do the things that God has called me to do. But those things that I tell myself aren’t true. God has promised to equip me to accomplish everything He’s planned for me to do.

As it usually works with things in my life, my life isn’t about me; it’s about God and what God wants to do with my life. Now, that doesn’t mean we should be like the rickety old van, barreling down a snow-covered highway when it’s not designed for that kind of speed. God has a plan and a purpose for all our lives. Like me. I’m a writer, a communicator, a storyteller. I’ve known that since I was little. So if I try to make a living using mathematics, not only am I going to fail miserably at my job, I’ll be miserable. God has equipped us for whatever task He intends us to complete. We just have to be willing to take Him at His Word.

So ask yourself what you’re afraid of this morning. Are you crawling along when you could be running? Or are you running down a road you should be walking? Personally, I prefer speed. I’ll always go fast if I can, but pushing my limits on an icy road when my car has bald tires is more than irresponsible. It’s just plain dumb.

So don’t be dumb. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to push them when you know you’re where God wants you.

Posts on Jamaica Beach at sunrise - Galveston, TX

Self-imposed blindness

God has a plan. Did you realize that? I mean, I think everyone realizes it, but it’s one thing to realize it and it’s something else to live like it.

God can see everything. Time has no meaning to Him; He created time. Distance or separation has no meaning to Him because He is everywhere. There’s nothing He doesn’t know. And there’s nothing He can’t do. So with that kind of a Person, Someone with that kind of intel, at our disposal, don’t you think it’s a good idea to listen to what He has to say?

Posts on Jamaica Beach at sunrise - Galveston, TX

Posts on Jamaica Beach at sunrise – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Proverbs 29:18.

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful.

I love Proverbs. They’re always so blunt and straightforward. And this is very true. When people try to live life without listening to what God has said, their lives spin out of control. Maybe not a first, but it’s inevitable.

I get curious, though, when I think I understand all that a verse is saying the first time I read through it, so I always end up checking the verse in other translations too. So this is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish; but he who keeps the law [of God, which includes that of man]—blessed (happy, fortunate, and enviable) is he.

I thought this was interesting. The New Living Translation indicates that when people reject God’s Word, they will have no stability. But the Amplified Version is a little harsher. According to the Amplified Version, when people don’t have Scripture (that’s what the “redemptive revelation of God” refers to), they will die. It’s a similar concept, but it’s just enough different that I thought it merited a jump over to the Message.

The Message is my favorite paraphrase, mainly because it usually is able to communicate the meaning and context of the original language in a modern way. So this is the same verse in the Message:

If people can’t see what God is doing,
   they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
   they are most blessed.

When people don’t accept divine guidance — Where there is no vision — If people can’t see what God is doing. Rejection. Ignorance. Blindness. Maybe it’s phrased in three different ways, but really the core of this verse comes down to one thought:

Without God, we’re lost. Without God, we have no direction, we have no purpose, we have no life.

That’s a simple concept, one that every believer accepts without question superficially. But do we really believe it? Because if we really believed it, our lives would look different, our families would look different, our country would look different.

Believers aren’t immune from rejecting God’s direction. As much as I hate to admit it, I do it all the time. God tells me to love people more than I love myself, and sometimes I’m better at it than others. But more often, I end up acting selfishly.

And I think most of the time we’re content to exist in ignorance of God’s will. We’ve convinced ourselves that God’s will is too difficult to find or that if we are able to find it, He will ask something of us that we’re unwilling to give. So we don’t even try.

And if you reject direction and live in ignorance, the only way you can be described is blind. And blind people can’t see where they’re going. It’s the same with families. It’s the same with churches. And it’s the same with countries.

Without God, we’re lost.

God has given us direction in Scripture, and if we believe in Him, we have a responsibility to do what He says, to live the way He has instructed, to be the kind of people He tells us we ought to be.

If we reject that direction, if we ignore that truth and live in self-imposed blindness to God’s plan, we will flail about with no stability and no purpose. And after living for an extended period of time with no purpose, you will lose hope.

So if you know Scripture, don’t ignore it. If you don’t know Scripture, start reading and do what it says. The Bible is God’s Word to us, to tell us how to live, to show us what He expects from us. Scripture tells us our purpose: to live for God.

And once you understand that you really do have a purpose, that you really can follow God’s directions, something pretty awesome happens. You find joy. And joy is better than any perceived freedom you think you’ve gained by flipping God off.

Sunrise behind a tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

God doesn’t need your help to pull off His plan.

I’m a control freak. I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice before. It’s difficult for me to relax until I know every aspect of what’s happening around me. I don’t really like to be in control at all, but I still put myself in positions where I have to be. And I think life would really be a lot easier if I stopped trying to control everything and just let God work.

Sunrise behind a tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Sunrise behind a tree – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Psalm 138:7-8.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I can worry myself into a pit if I’m not careful. I can stress myself out over nothing if I don’t keep my guard up. God has proven Himself to me over and over and over again, but I still keep trying to add my own meager strength to His plan. And He doesn’t need my help.

I love how this set of verses says that it’s God who will work out His plans for me. God works them out. Not me. And I’m glad for that because I can hardly figure my plans out for the day, let alone my whole life. And I find it doubly interesting how the Amplified Version puts the same verse (Psalm 138:8):

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy and loving-kindness, O Lord, endure forever—forsake not the works of Your own hands.

That strikes a chord with me this morning. God isn’t just working out the plans for my life; He’s perfecting them. Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind: that God has plans for me to give me a hope and a future. Good plans. And that He’s working all the details out so that everything can be perfect. It may not be perfect now, but God has seen my future and it’s good.

I’ve been on vacation for the past week. It was really nice to get away, even though it was super hot and I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitos. I can’t express how nice it was to wake up and not have to face the slough of difficult phone calls and challenging emails, the discouragement of late projects and the constant pressure to perform. Don’t misunderstand. I’m thankful for my job. But it’s very stressful. And even as it was, I still had to field a few emails from work while I was on vacation, so I know what I’m walking back into this morning and it’s not going to be pretty.

But I know that God has a plan. And I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be right now. And even though things may not be perfect and they may not be the way I want them to be, I trust that God is working things out. So because I trust Him, I keep going.

The Message is a paraphrase, so I don’t use it for deep Bible study, but so many times I think it really captures the essence of what the Greek is saying in a way that English can’t. And I love how it puts this same set of verses:

   When I walk into the thick of trouble,
      keep me alive in the angry turmoil.
   With one hand
      strike my foes,
   With your other hand
      save me.
   Finish what you started in me, God.
      Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.

If we’re doing God’s will for us today, living according to the Bible, taking each day a step at a time, doing what we know is right, following the Spirit’s leading, God’s got our back. And nothing is going to happen to us that He hasn’t already figured out. We don’t need to control it. We don’t need to understand it. We just need to go with it.

God will finish what He started. He’s perfected His plans for our life. We just need to turn over control and let Him do what He wants to do. He’ll do it anyway, but if we fight Him for power in our lives, it will just make trouble for us. Turn over control; He knows where He’s going.