Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

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On the privilege of being poor

I heard a statement once that true wealth is never having to say no to guacamole at Chipotle. I hear that, because I really love guacamole, but wow–it’s pricey.

It’s easy to be wealthy in America. Granted, the definition of wealth varies from culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. Wealth can either mean that you have a lot of financial assets at your disposal, or it can mean that you have been blessed with the intangibles of life–health, family, friends, faith, etc.

In my experience, most “good Christians” will say they’re wealthy because of all the blessings God has given them, and that is absolutely true. But for a moment, let’s just get real about this. Because money is real, and the struggles we all face with money are real. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 1:9-10.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

I read this passage over and over again the other night, mainly because it just made me smile. The way God sees things is so different from the way we see things. And this passage isn’t talking about being rich in blessings. This is unashamedly talking about finances.

If you don’t have as much money as someone else, be happy. I’m not sure the phrase “boast about” is the best translation. According to the Amplified Version, someone who is in “humble circumstances” should “glory in his high position.” That doesn’t mean you go around bragging about being poor. That’s just silly. But what you are supposed to do is to recognize that God’s trusted you with an awful lot.

It’s hard to even say that you’re poor when God’s given you so much already, but when you don’t have as much money as other people, you have to have more faith. And, honestly, faith isn’t something that everybody has in equal measure. So if you’ve got more faith than finances, you should understand that it’s an honor to live that lifestyle.

But likewise, if you are one of those folks who have a lot of money, you’re not wrong. It’s not bad to have money. It only becomes a problem when you love your money more than you fear God. If you’ve got a lot of money, you should be thankful at how God is humbling you. Because even if you’ve worked your tail off to earn your wealth, you have to be humble enough to accept that it all belongs to God anyway.

In my life, as well as in the lives of most people I know, the part about glorying in my high position in spite of humble circumstances bit is more relevant. I am not wealthy, financially speaking, and–yes–I do sometimes say no to guacamole at Chipotle. But I was okay with that because I’m rich in other ways. I have eternal life guaranteed. I have friends and family who love me unconditionally (which is priceless, because I’m so not worthy of love). I have free, open access to the throne room of God, who created the Universe, and He’s given me permission to ask Him for the desires of my heart. That’s huge!

But I’d never thought of a lack of finances as an honor. That’s what this verse is saying. Isn’t it funny how we silly little humans twist God’s perfect plans all up until they’re unrecognizable?

Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t aspire to be poor. That’s not the point. If we aspire to anything, it should be to glorify God. That’s the one thing both poor and rich have in common–recognizing God as the source of true wealth.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re poor. God doesn’t have it out for you. It’s actually the other way around. Being poor is a privilege. Not having the same financial status as others gives you an opportunity to show your faith and share your faith with others.

It’s not easy. But faith never is.

China cups and plates for use at the Pink House at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

You rarely say thank you for the things you expect

Do you know someone who constantly asks you for things? It could be anything. Help with work. Information on a topic of interest. Something personal. Something big. Something small. We all have those people in our lives who ask us for things. And, let’s be honest, it’s kind of nice to be asked for things.

It’s nice to be able to serve as a source of wisdom or intelligence. It’s nice to be considered an expert on something. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, maybe. That’s what it feels like to me–that maybe all the random stuff jangling around in my head has a use.

I like to help people. I like to offer helpful information or funny stories. I like to be the person who has the answers. And I don’t mind being the one who always helps other people. But there are times when I get tired of it. And the one thing all those times have in common is how the person I’m helping responds.

Helping ungrateful people stinks.

You’ve helped an ungrateful person before, haven’t you? You do your best for them. You sacrifice time and effort to help them achieve their goal, and they don’t thank you. Or they don’t even acknowledge that you’ve done anything for them. Or, even if they thank you, they don’t mean it–and you can tell they don’t mean it.

It’s those people I get tired of helping, not because I want attention or adoration but because gratitude is right. But that gets me thinking about my own behavior. Do I thank people when they do nice things for me? Do I make sure they understand how much I appreciate their time and effort on my behalf?

Today’s verses are Luke 17:11-19.

China cups and plates for use at the Pink House at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

China cups and plates for use at the Pink House at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 
He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. 
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. 
Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Do you ever find yourself in that position? Not with leprosy per se but faced with an issue you can’t overcome on your own. You don’t have to search hard for trouble. Trouble just happens naturally, and before you know it, those little troubles can become overwhelming.

That’s when we turn to God. We cry out for God to help us. We make bargains and promises, and most of the time, God does what we ask.

Then what? What do you do when God answers your prayer? How do you react? Are you stunned speechless? Do you stare blankly? Do you throw a party to celebrate? Do you run out and tell everyone about your good luck?

I think that’s what happened with these guys Jesus healed on the road. Ten of them. Lepers. It was a horrible disease that required them to leave their families and live in colonies of similarly infected people. And just like that, Jesus healed them. Nine of them ran off rejoicing. I’m sure they knew what had happened. I’m sure they realized who had healed them. But Jesus is God, right? Isn’t that what He’s supposed to do?

So often I think we jam God and Jesus into this little box. He’s the God of Creation. Yes, nice title. He’s the Maker of Everything. Also nice title. But what can He do for me? God is the Great Physician. The Great Healer. That’s what He does. He brings the dead to life, He forgives sins, He works all things together for our good, yada yada yada.

That’s what we expect from God, isn’t it?

The problem is when you expect something from someone, you don’t feel the need to thank them. You don’t thank a taxi driver for taking you from point a to point b, do you? You don’t thank your barber for cutting your hair? Granted, if you’re polite, you do. But you see where I’m going, don’t you?

Those nine men knew who Jesus was, and they expected Him to heal them. And that’s awesome. If 21st century Christians could grasp that concept, we’d all be a lot better off. They knew who Jesus was and they expected Him to do the impossible. But the one understood something that the nine didn’t.

God doesn’t owe us anything.

You realize that, don’t you? God isn’t beholden to us. We don’t deserve anything He does for us. The prayers He answers He does out of the goodness of His heart, not because He must. He answers our prayers and directs our lives and helps us through difficulty because He wants to.

So if you don’t like helping someone because they don’t show gratitude, how do you think God feels when we treat Him the same way?

Being like the nine is just step one. Recognize who God is. Believe He can do the impossible. Yes. But there’s a difference between expecting Him to do great things and believing you deserve it.

So the next time God does something for you, sure, go celebrate. Go tell everybody about it. Make sure the whole world knows how awesome God is. But before all that, stop. And just say thank you. You don’t have to put on a show. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. Just thank Him.

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Waking up thankful and your outlook for today

I woke up Saturday morning with the most amazing sense of gratitude. I was just thankful. And it might have had something to do with the cool weather. It probably had more to do with getting about ten hours of sleep in a night, which only happened because of the cool weather.

I don’t remember the last time I rolled out of bed and the first thought I had was gratitude. And that bothers me. Not that I woke up thankful–but that I can’t remember the last time I woke up thankful before then.

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:20.

And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I get so buried in life sometimes that I forget to focus on the things that matter. It’s good to be engaged in life, that’s true. God has given us our lives and our talents and our abilities for a reason, but we shouldn’t become so absorbed in the petty things of life that we forget the important things.

The important things are the things that will matter when life is over.

How often do I roll out of bed and thank God I’m still breathing? As someone who grew up with a fairly severe respiratory problem, breathing means something a little different to me than it does to other people. But when was the last time I thanked God for my breath?

When was the last time I thanked God for my coffee? That sounds small and insignificant, but you know what? God made coffee. He created coffee plants, He created brilliant people who thought up the idea to grind up beans and boil them in water, and He gave me the financial stability to buy a pound of it at the store. So God gives me my coffee in the morning. But how often do I remember to thank Him for it?

I focus on the day-to-day goals I need to accomplish. I focus on the problems I need to overcome. I focus on what has to be done, what shouldn’t be done, and how I’m going to get it done. And I usually ask God for help, but at the same time, I neglect to thank Him for what He’s already done.

And that’s not how we’re supposed to live.

We are to be thankful for everything. Thankful for the big things. Thankful for the small things. Thankful for the good things. And, yes, thankful for the bad things. Thankful for everything.

How different would our lives be if we woke up every morning thankful? How different would our perspectives be if–instead of waking up and immediately thinking about all of our problems–we thanked God for everything we’ve seen Him do already?

True, I think it’s far easier to be thankful first thing in the morning after I’ve slept well and had a nice, strong cup of coffee and stood outside in the cool morning air. It’s easy to be thankful for that.

But can I be thankful after a night of only four hours of sleep? When I’ve run out of coffee filters and have to improvise with paper towels? When the air is so thick you can wear it and you can’t stop sweating? It’s those days I don’t want to be thankful. Those days I don’t want to focus on the good things that God has done because for some reason it’s just easier to be miserable.

But easier is rarely better.

Life is too short, too precious, and too important to waste it by focusing on everything that’s wrong. Because once you start focusing on everything that’s wrong, you’ll never stop. There’s no end to wrong in this world. There’s no end to the brokenness. But thanks to Jesus, broken doesn’t have to stay broken.

No matter what’s wrong in your life, if you know Jesus, you have something good you can focus on. No matter how broken your life may be, if you know Jesus, you don’t have to focus on all the things that you’ve done wrong or that people have done to hurt you.

You can watch the sun rise and know that God did that. You can feel the wind blow and know that God made it. You can watch birds fly or listen to music or smell flowers blooming and know that none of it is an accident.

And if He’s big enough to do all that, He’s enough to walk beside you and take care of your problems. So stop focusing on them, and pay attention to what He’s doing. He’s always up to something, and He never stops working.

Wake up. Get your thoughts out of the darkness. Grab your wonderful cup of coffee and take a few moments just to think about what God’s already done for you this morning. It just might improve your entire day.

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

If it doesn’t cost money, does that make it free?

My random desk calendar shared a bit of wisdom with me yesterday that I don’t really agree with. The best things in life are free.

Are they really? I mean, I understand what it means. It means that the best parts of life can’t be purchased with money. But just because something doesn’t cost money doesn’t make it free. Everything costs something.

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

Awesome fried chicken given to me for lunch, San Miguel, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Joshua 24:11-15.

When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them. “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve.

It’s easy sometimes to forget all that God has done for us. I’m guilty of it. I get to thinking about how hard I’ve worked and what a good person I’ve been, and then I almost convince myself that I deserve the good things in my life because I’ve worked so hard to achieve them.

And I’m not knocking hard work. Hard work is essential. And when you work hard, it’s natural to reap the benefits of your work. But there’s a fine line between earning a reward and deserving a reward, and we should never forget that we don’t deserve God’s grace. We can’t work for God’s grace. We can’t earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple.

But Christians can grow big heads about grace, which is ironic because nobody can earn it. But we think we can. We live a good life, so we think we deserve it. Maybe we’d never say it out loud, but deep down in our hearts, that’s what we think sometimes.

Loosen that halo up, brothers and sisters. I can’t be the only one guilty of this. Maybe I am, but I don’t think so.

It’s that tiny little voice that whispers to you, reminding you of all the good things you’ve done and that you have a right to expect good things and that if God is who He says He is He won’t let anything bad happen to you because you’re such a good Christian.

I think everyone hears that voice, but it’s up to us whether or not to listen to it.

See that’s what happened to the children of Israel after God delivered them from Egypt. I think they got comfortable. They got used to the luxury of living in the Promised Land, and they forgot to be thankful. They forgot who it was who had provided for them.

God brought them victory. It wasn’t their soldiers or their battle tactics or their generals. They weren’t particularly fearsome. They weren’t particularly bright. But they triumphed because God was on their side. And then God gave them homes they didn’t build and crops they hadn’t planted, provided everything they needed, and they didn’t have to do anything to get it.

But that didn’t make it free. Someone had to build those homes. Someone had to work the land. And I’m betting the Israelites appreciated what God had given them a few years down the road when they lost everything.

The best things in life don’t cost money, but that doesn’t make them free. We should never forget that, and we should never take it for granted when someone does something for us. Never take grace or mercy for granted.

If we ever get used to mercy, if we ever forget the cost of grace, God may have to remind us. And when God has to remind us of something we already know, it’s never fun.

So take a moment today and just be thankful for all that God has given you in your life. Everything that matters that you didn’t have to pay for. All the things you could never replace that God simply gave you because of His great love.

Don’t take them for granted, and never forget that you could never pay the price for them. That’s why God had to do it for us.

I had dinner with crazy Italians last night

Seriously. Not making it up. Well, the crazy part maybe. (I know you’re reading, and you know I love you guys.)

I’m a pretty closed person when it comes to being myself around people. I try to be compassionate and pleasant and likeable as a general rule, but there’s a lot more to me as a person that I keep bottled up until I know my ridiculous, loud personality isn’t going to scare you to death.

I am so fortunate to have friends who know the ridiculous, loud me and love me. I’m even more fortunate to have friends who love the real me who don’t hesitate to tell me when I’m making a really stupid decision. So when those friends (the real ones, who won’t feed me a bunch of lines about positive thinking when I’m acting on a truly dumb idea) get excited about something I feel God leading me to do, I jump for joy.

It’s one thing to have a friend’s words of encouragement when you’re undertaking a big challenge. It’s something else to have a friend’s actual support, knowing they’re behind you 110%.

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Two little girls at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 13:20.

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.

I’ve posted about friends a lot on here, mostly because my friends are such a vital part of my life. I’ve really tried to be wise about the friends I choose because so many of them play a role in helping me make decisions, and if my inner circle of advisors aren’t wise and don’t live their lives according to Scripture, they won’t give me counsel that will help me do it either.

I have been so very blessed to have such a variety of friends from all corners of the world, all cultures and backgrounds, all personality types. I have friends who are as introverted as I am. I have friends who are insane crazy people. I have friends who occupy high-ranking corporate positions and friends who work minimum-wage. And the most beautiful part about all my close friends is that they love Christ, and in the dark moments of my life, they help me remember how much I love Him too.

Do you have those kinds of friends in your life? If you don’t, you really ought to look for some. Just remember that the best friends you can have don’t always say yes to you. The best friends you can have are the ones who love you for who you are but don’t want you to stay the same. Yes, that’s a paradoxical statement, but I believe it’s true.

The best friendships I have had in my life are with people who love me for who I am as a person, but they love me too much to let me plateau in my growth—both professionally and spiritually. If you have a friend who just agrees with you all the time, that could be nice, but do you ever get to really know that person? The best friends you can have challenge you to grow and love you regardless.

My friends are patient people because I’m stubborn. Compared to me, donkeys are easy to get along with. I’m set in my ways, and I don’t like change. But you can’t go through life without changing. Everything changes. Granted, the things that matter don’t, but it’s how you grow to survive the little things that don’t matter that help you determine the real things that do.

Is there a friend who is open and honest with you in your life? Is there a friend you trust to tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it? Is there a friend who loves you too much to let you make a foolish decision?

Find that person. Because that person is worth his or her weight in gold. And the more you hang out with wise people like that, the wiser you will become if you’re willing to pay attention.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.