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.

Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail

How does God want us to live?

I’m not sure people understand what it means to seek God’s will. Seeking God’s will sounds so poetic and so epic. And Christians are forever seeking God’s will for their lives as though it’s some ethereal concept that no one can really understand. But the pure and simple definition of “seeking God’s will” is: how does God want us to live?

The answer is in Scripture. So if you’re not willing to read Scripture and you’re not willing to listen to people who do, you aren’t going to find the answer to that question. No other philosophers know. No other Christians under their own authority know. No experience is going to teach you.

There are many parts to God’s will, many components to how He wants us to live our lives. And I think many of us, even those of us who read Scripture and try to apply it consistently, forget sometimes that God has given us commandments about how to live. It’s not an issue of Him suggesting that we do something and giving us the option of obeying or not. No. There are specific principles in Scripture that we are commanded to obey.

Granted, it doesn’t mean that we’ll go to hell if we don’t obey. If we believe in Christ, we’re saved. Period. But many who have struggles in their lives might not have so many struggles if they were to take God at His word and actually live the way He says.

Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail
Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

I don’t think it can be plainer than that. I know it can’t get simpler, at least in concept. Actual application can be challenging, but if you want to know God’s will, here it is.

Christians are always to be joyful. It doesn’t matter where you came from or where you’re going. Be joyful. Remember that joy is different than happiness. Happiness depends on your situation. Joy supersedes your circumstances. If you have Christ in your life, you have joy. If you follow Christ, then even on your worst day, your joy should be greater than your situation because this world isn’t home. We’re just passing through here and our trials are light and momentary compared to the awesome eternity God has in store for us.

Christians are never to stop praying. It should be constant. Without ceasing. We should live a lifetime of prayer, constant communication with God. And it shouldn’t be the cute little prayers we learn as children. It should be personal, individual, in your own voice talking to your friend God and telling Him about what’s going on in your life. Praying for the people you love. Praying for yourself. Praying for everything, even the requests you think are small and insignificant.

And Christians are to be thankful in all circumstances. Good, bad or indifferent. Why do we think difficult circumstances give us the option to complain? Why do we think a bad day gives us a reason to grumble?

I struggle with this because bad days can really get me down. And it’s not bad to be down. Everyone has bad days, and everyone feels down every now and then. What’s bad is when you stay down. What’s bad is when you get so focused on the bad things in your life that you can’t see what God is doing. If you are at the point where you can’t see God working in your life and in the lives of people around you because all you can see is how bad you have it, stop what you’re doing right now and talk to Him.

Make a list of the things you have. Make a list of the things you’re thankful for. And if you can’t make a list for yourself, ask someone close to you to do it for you. Because I guarantee everyone has a page full of things to be thankful for. Those of us who forget are just so focused on ourselves that we can’t remember. And there’s always something in our own lives that someone else would kill to have–and we take it for granted.

The Message says it this way:

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

If we can do this, if we can really grasp these things and really live this way, it will change our perspective. It changes our lives completely. And suddenly the situations and circumstances that are weighing us down become non-issues. Because nothing can steal our joy, because we get to tell God about it and know that He will help, and because something God will always come out of it so we can be thankful even during the worst troubles.

The barn at Safe Haven Farm

Don’t build a bigger barn

Probably my favorite musical of all time is The Fiddler on the Roof. I loved it as a child before I really understood what it was about, and I love it as an adult now because of the music, because of the history, because of the characters, because of the setting. It’s a brilliant, beautiful story, and I’m super excited that Music Theatre of Wichita will be performing it this summer. Tevye, the main character, wants to be wealthy. And that’s what I thought of today when I read this morning’s verse.

The barn at Safe Haven Farm

The barn at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Luke 12:15.

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

This is Jesus talking. This statement comes from the Parable of the Rich Fool. You can find it in Luke 12:13-21. It’s a story Jesus told about a man who lived on a very fertile farm that produced a lot of crops. And so he decided that he would build more barns and store all of his grain and be wealthy so he didn’t have to work anymore. This is also where we get the phrase, “Eat, drink and be merry!” because that’s what he told himself he would do. However, just after the man accomplishes all of this, he dies. And everything he worked for was for nothing because he couldn’t take it with him.

It’s very tempting to want to measure the worth of our lives by our possessions because possessions are easy to value. You can get to thinking that you are wealthy because you have so much money or so much land or so much of this or so much of that. And when you think that you are wealthy because of those things, it’s easy to rely on them.

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. The Bible says repeatedly, not only in statements but also in concept, that it’s the love of money that is evil. It’s loving money more than God that is dangerous and leads to sin. It’s not money itself. Money is a tool to be used to help bring more people to Christ. But we have a difficult time looking at money that way.

Going back to Tevye from The Fiddler on the Roof, he wanted to be a wealthy man because he didn’t want to have to work anymore. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s more important? Seeking wealth or treasuring the wealth you already have?

Most of us are more wealthy than the richest king in the world. If you live in the United States or if you live in a developed nation — or if you have your health — or if you have a family — you are wealthy. Maybe not in terms of possessions or in terms of your bank account, but if you have food to eat and a roof over your head, you are already better off than many other people in the world. And if you have a car to drive? That sort of wealth puts you in the top percentile of the world.

And, as my awesome Pastor likes to say, King Solomon was the richest person to ever exist, and he’d never had a hot fudge sundae. Think about that.

We. Are. Wealthy.

And where has it gotten us? We focus on money until we can’t see anything else. We focus on obtaining riches so we can live a comfortable life. Well, I don’t know if we were necessarily meant to live a comfortable life here. Yes, it’s good to take care of our families. Yes, it’s good to have a roof over your head. But spending the exorbitant amount of money we do on our things? On possessions that won’t last and do nothing to reach into eternity? Is that what we’re supposed to do? Is that how we’re supposed to use our money?

Build bigger barns? Eat, drink and be merry?

I don’t think so.

If you have money, don’t love it; use it. And do as Christ says. Don’t measure the worth of your life by what you own because when your life on earth is over, you won’t have your possessions anymore. What you’ll take with you into eternity are your good works and your heart. And if you spent all your time on earth pursuing money and wealth and fame, those things will burn to ashes because they’re made of nothing more substantial than straw.

But if you leverage your resources to do good for others who can’t do good back to you, if you spend your time and your effort helping the less fortunate, if you sacrifice to see that the things God is doing are done well, those things will last.

Don’t build a bigger barn. Fill up the one you have and give the rest away. That’s more than wealth. That’s how God wants us to live.

Write God’s will on your heart

Hey, everyone! Wow. Apologies for not posting at my normal time. I didn’t sleep at all last night. I don’t know what was going on, but my brain wouldn’t shut off.

For those of you who aren’t in Wichita and aren’t a part of NewSpring Church, we’re currently in the middle of a fantastic outreach program called Judgement House. Thousands of people come to it every year and last year nearly 2,000 people accepted Christ (that we know of). It’s just a huge ministry. But it often keeps us out late. Thing is, last night we got out early. It was really slow. I think the Chris Tomlin concert in town had something to do with it. Silly Chris Tomlin.

In any case, I actually had an opportunity to go to bed at a decent hour. But I couldn’t get my brain to shut down. So I selfishly nabbed an extra 15 minutes of half-sleep this morning instead of writing the devotional.

I’m going to keep this brief because I’ve got to get to work. But I wanted to share today’s verse:

Psalm 40:8

I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.

Okay, so this is an example of metaphorical language that we don’t hear very often in our very literal society. What does it mean to write something on your heart? Well, my first thought is that it means to memorize it. But I think it’s deeper than that.

What does it mean to share your heart with someone? What does it mean to give your heart to someone?

In Western culture, the seat of the emotions is the heart. And by referencing our hearts, we are really talking about who we really are inside.

When you give your heart to someone, you aren’t giving somebody your blood-pumping muscle. You give them yourself. You give them your life. You trust them with who you are as a person.

When you share your heart, you are telling other people about who you are, about your motivation, about why you do the things you do or think the way you think. You are sharing who you really are inside.

So what does it mean to write something on your heart?

To me, it means to know something so well that you don’t have to think about what you will do when faced with a challenge. If you know a route by heart, you don’t have questions about what direction to go. If you know a friend by heart, you know what they’re thinking before they do.

But then why doesn’t the verse say that we love God’s will so much that we know it by heart?

Well, that’s because God’s will is something you have to work at understanding every day. It’s not this ethereal concept that no one can comprehend. God’s will is a practical, relevant, day-by-day process that you walk through a step at a time. And we actively have to work at pursuing God and His will every moment of our lives.

And that requires action.

Write God’s will on your heart. Keep your eyes open every day for what God wants you to do and learn it so well that the next time the same problem happens, you won’t question what your response will be. You’ll just know.