Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live more, learn more, love more

I haven’t lived a lot of life. Some days I feel like I have, but in comparison to other people I know, I’m still one of the new kids on the block. I still have trouble considering myself as an adult, let alone that I have any sort of experience to share on how to live. But one thing that I have learned is that the longer I live, the more I understand how amazing God is and how undeserving I am of His grace.

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Twisted branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 2:6-7.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

I made the decision to believe in Jesus when I was seven years old. I remember walking the aisle of Inwood Baptist Church in Houston. I remember stepping out in front of the whole congregation. And while I knew the choice I had made and it had been my choice alone, I didn’t feel any different.

How many sins can a seven year old commit? This was pre-1990. This was pre-internet, pre-cell phone. The era of mostly wholesome kid’s cartoons and classic Disney. So when I would hear in church or read in the Bible that I was supposed to be thankful that God had saved me from my sins, I was, but I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t quite grasp what that meant because even though I certainly wasn’t a perfect child, my life didn’t change overnight. I didn’t really become a different person, even though spiritually I became a new person.

I was thankful, but I didn’t know what I was thankful for.

Well, let’s fast forward 24 years. Isn’t it funny how living a little bit can change your perspective on so many things? I’m not old, but I’ve lived enough to make mistakes. I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and wish I’d listened more closely to what God was telling me as a child.

The simple truth of the matter is that the longer we live, the more we have to be thankful for. Sometimes just waking up is something to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s just having enough to eat or having a car to drive or having a friend to talk to. When you’re young, you don’t have those things to miss. But there’s a big difference between having things to be thankful for and actually being thankful; it’s like the difference between having a car and having a car you drive. Being thankful takes living to another level.

I think it’s interesting that the passage for today connects our faith growing strong with thankfulness. Those two things don’t normally go together, if you think about it from our perspective. When your faith grows strong, it’s usually through testing, which means it’s usually a time of trouble or difficulty of some kind. So this verse is saying that the troubles in our lives will result in us overflowing with thankfulness.

How does that work? Because from our point of view, trouble is really just trouble. Difficulty and challenges are just frustrations that life throws at us. But remember as Christ-followers, we’re not supposed to live by our point of view. We’re not supposed to rely on our perspective. We are to look at the world the way Christ does. We’re to live like Christ lived. We’re to follow Him every step of the way, and when you look at trouble from God’s perspective, it doesn’t look like trouble. It simply look like an opportunity to grow stronger.

As a seven year old, I wasn’t really looking for those opportunities, and I didn’t really understand them when they came. But as I got older and I got to know God better, I realized that the troubles and challenges I faced in my life weren’t merely obstacles. They were a chance to help me get to know God better than I already did. They gave me the chance to dig in and search out who God is and what He wants from me and what He offers me as His daughter. And when you think about it that way, how can you not overflow with gratitude?

This is God we’re talking about here. The God. Through His Son’s sacrifice, I can come to Him and ask for anything. I can have a relationship with God through Jesus, and the more I get to know God and Jesus, the more I love them.

Stop viewing the difficulties in your life as obstacles. Try changing your mind about them. Try seeing them as opportunities to get to know God better, and He might surprise you. Build the foundation of your life on the truth from God’s Word and watch what happens. Even when the hard times come, even when you’re surrounded by trouble and hollowed out by heartache, if you’re living your life in God and for God, you’ll see life differently. And in spite of the darkness around you, you will bubble over with gratitude toward God because even though life is tough, God has chosen to be there.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How to restart in ten minutes or less

What does it take to restart your perspective on life? I think that’s a great question. So many people are facing discouraging circumstances and frustrating situations. I’m one of them, and I would love a simple answer for how to stay positive in difficult times.

Honestly, I’d love to avoid difficult times. I’d love to find a way to skirt around them and not have to go through them at all. But in this broken world, difficulty is normal. And the simple truth is that your circumstances don’t matter but how you look at them does. How you see your circumstances determines whether you just get through them or appreciate them.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:28.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.

I posted yesterday about finding a way to restart, looking for the answer to changing my perspective about life, the universe and everything (42, for you geeks out there). Too often I find myself operating with limitations in my life, mainly because I’m just tired and worn out all the time. But I got to thinking yesterday morning about something I haven’t done in a very long time that might be part of the problem.

I spent my morning being grateful. And not the 30-days-of-thankfulness-on-Facebook brand of grateful. I woke up yesterday morning and got in my car and as I was driving my 45 minutes to work, I thanked God. I thanked God for the beautiful sun that was rising just over the edge of K-96. I thanked God for the frost on the fields that meant maybe my allergies will get better. I thanked God that I had a job, and not just a job but a job with a great company, and not just a job with a great company but a job doing what I love for a great company. Not many people get to say that. I thanked God that my family owns our house and our land. I thanked God that I own my car and that I have enough money in the bank to pay for gasoline and groceries and the occasional 700-page fantasy novel.

Before I was even ten minutes down the road, I was in such a great mood I couldn’t believe I’d been so surly yesterday.

How is it possible that taking ten minutes to be grateful can make such a difference? Can we really just list off the things we’re thankful for and seriously, honestly, openly thank God for those things and immediately be in a better mood?

I’m not promising anything, but it seems to work for me. It helps me stop and slow down and think about all the awesome things I have that I don’t deserve, that I didn’t do anything to obtain, and that God has provided for me because He keeps His promises. It makes me stop thinking about the things that are going wrong or that I don’t want to deal with or the conflicts I’m dreading, and it makes me think about the things I have. And if God can provide me with all of that, He can absolutely help me through the day.

There isn’t enough gratitude in our world. Very few people really express gratitude as often as they should. I know I don’t, and it’s a shame because it makes so much difference, not only to the people around you but also to you.

How does gratitude help you? Well, I think it helps you remember that someone did something for you that they didn’t have to do. Someone else took time out of their day or focus away from their own issues to help you in some way, and they didn’t have to do it. They gave you something. Even if it was just opening the door for you or holding the elevator open for you or letting you walk through the doorway first, that’s kindness demonstrating they are paying attention and wanted to do something nice for someone else.

Don’t let those small acts of kindness slip by without notice. Don’t just assume that people are going to do nice things for you. Pay attention, and you might realize that people show you more kindness than you originally thought.

We all have more than we think we do, and taking the time to thank God for everything in our lives forces us to acknowledge it. So take a moment and say thank you. But if you don’t mean it, if you aren’t really thankful, don’t even open your mouth. This is a heart thing, and if you’re just paying God lip service, it won’t help you at all and it won’t impress Him.

Thank Him for the small things. Thank Him for the big things. Thank Him for the good things, and, yes, thank Him for the bad things. Because if you can seriously, honestly thank God for the bad stuff in your life, that bad stuff won’t seem so difficult to get through. It won’t seem so daunting or frightening or intimidating.

If you want to restart and refresh your perspective, begin with gratitude. It may seem like a small thing, but it changes everything.

Statue of a stone lion in the Chinese garden, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Knowing what is good

Our lives are full of a lot of things, some good and some not so good. It’s funny how we categorize events and people and gifts into good and bad or good and not good. It’s pretty easy for just about anyone to say that something is good or that something isn’t good, but I’m not 100% convinced that any of us know what is truly good, at least not on our own.

Using our own judgment doesn’t always work because we don’t know everything. We like to think we do, but we don’t. As Christ-followers, we need to depend on Scripture to tell us what is good and what isn’t.

Some things seem fairly obvious, right? Like stealing. Or killing. But are they obvious? Or are they only obvious because of the culture you’ve grown up in? What about marriage? What about children? What about death? What’s good? What’s bad? And how do we know the difference?

That’s why we have the Bible. That’s how we’re supposed to know how to live, how to die, how to serve, how to think, how to act. The Bible tells us what is good and what is bad, and it rarely coincides with our gut instincts.

Statue of a stone lion in the Chinese garden, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Statue of a stone lion in the Chinese garden, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Psalm 92

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to the Most High.

It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,
your faithfulness in the evening,
accompanied by the ten-stringed harp
and the melody of the lyre.

You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
I sing for joy because of what you have done.
O Lord, what great works you do!
And how deep are your thoughts.
Only a simpleton would not know,
and only a fool would not understand this:
Though the wicked sprout like weeds
and evildoers flourish,
they will be destroyed forever.
But you, O Lord, will be exalted forever.
Your enemies, Lord, will surely perish;
all evildoers will be scattered.

But you have made me as strong as a wild ox.
You have anointed me with the finest oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the defeat of my wicked opponents.
But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.
They will declare, “The Lord is just!
He is my rock!
There is no evil in him!”

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Watching for answers

If you ask your closest friend to do something for you, do you step back and forget about it and are surprised when they do it? Or do you wait expectantly for them to do as you’ve asked? If one of my friends asked me for something within my power to give, I wouldn’t be able to rest until I got it done. But if my friend asked me to do something for her and then she acted as though it weren’t important, I don’t know if I would be as urgent in completing her request.

If she weren’t actively looking for an answer to her request, I might not make it a priority. Because if she doesn’t care enough about what she’s asked for to look for it, is it really something I need to spend my time doing?

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 4:2.

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

When I first read today’s verse, I actually read it in the Message. And this is what it says in the Message:

Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude.

It’s nice too. But I don’t think it’s grasping the specific meaning of this verse, if I’m reading the English translation correctly. On first read, this verse seemed (to me) to be saying two separate things, Pray diligently and Stay alert.

It’s good to pray diligently. It’s good to be stay alert. Both of those are good to do separately, but they’re even better to do at the same time, which is actually what this verse is talking about. For a little more specific focus, check out the Amplified Version:

Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving.

I’m good at praying. I pray a lot. God and I are pretty much on very earnest speaking terms. I tell Him everything. I tell Him things I won’t tell anyone else, including my best friends. There are just some parts of me that are reserved for Him and Him alone.

But I’ll tell you what I’m not good at: expecting.

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten my hopes up too many times. Maybe it’s because my dreams haven’t come true so many times. And I trust Him completely, because even if He hasn’t answered my requests exactly like I would want, He has always answered. And it’s good that I haven’t gotten what I wanted when I wanted it because He knows what’s better for me anyway. But it’s difficult for me to ask Him for something and then wait expectantly for Him to answer. Why? Because I want Him to answer the way I want, not necessarily the way I need.

But this verse doesn’t say to pray to God and forget about what you’ve asked Him for. No. It says pray (earnestly, unwearied, and steadfastly) and be both alert and intent in your prayers. What does that mean?

That means, ask God for something and watch for Him to answer.

How many of us do that? How many of us remain alert after we ask Go for something. I don’t. Deep down, I’m afraid that He won’t answer. Or that I won’t like His answer. So I ask Him and then to guard my heart, I conveniently step back from it.

But what does that say about how much I want what I’m asking for? To me, backing away from a request after I’ve made it, show disinterest, like I don’t really care. And that’s not the message I want to send. Yes, God knows my heart. Yes, He knows what I’m going to ask for before I ask for it. But in humility, we need to tell Him what we want. And then, with gratitude, we need to watch for His answer — no matter what it is.

The trick is to want His will more than anything else. The goal is to desire His plan above any desire in your heart, to want His dream more than yours. And that’s difficult to do. And, yes, I believe God gives us dreams for a reason. He’s created us to be who we are for a purpose, and he’s put us in specific places in order for us to make a difference. But our dreams won’t make a difference until they sync up with His.

Maybe this is taken out of context. But I don’t think so. Remember how Jesus prayed just before the crucifixion in Matthew 26:39?

“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus wanted something. If possible, He didn’t want to go to the cross. Who can blame Him? He asked God if there were any other way. But before He waited for an answer, He recognized that God’s plan was better than what He felt like.

So the next time you ask God for something, don’t forget to stay alert and watch for His answer with thankfulness. And even as you ask, make sure you really are content with God’s will above your own. His plan is better. But you have to believe that. Because if you don’t, when you don’t get the answer you want, it will throw you.

Red rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Undeserved

Do you ever wish that people could get what they deserve? Because many times it feels like they don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passed by a reckless driver when there’s no cop in sight. And then I get a ticket because I forget to signal a left-hand turn.  Or what about at work? It’s frustrating to watch people who don’t work receive the same benefits that you do when you’re killing yourself. Just like it’s irritating to watch people who live immoral lives prospering when you make all the right choices and are barely scraping by.

It makes me wish that people could get what they deserve because then maybe life would be more fair. But that begs the question: what do “bad” people deserve? What do “good” people deserve? And how do you define the difference between the two?

Because maybe someone is a good person but just tends to drive faster than is “safe.” Maybe someone is a good person and just has trouble concentrating at work. Maybe someone wasn’t raised to understand the dangers of an immoral lifestyle, but that doesn’t make them a “bad” person. The reverse is true. Just because you abide by the law, word hard and live right doesn’t make you a “good” person either.

When it comes down to it, I don’t think there are bad people or good people; we’re all just people. None of us are perfect, and if we’re honest about who we are and how we think and how we live, we’d understand that we really don’t deserve anything. At least, we don’t deserve anything from someone who is perfect.

Red rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden - Colorado Springs, CO

Red rose in the Glen Eyrie Rose Garden – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Romans 3:24.

Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

I get trapped into thinking that I deserve good things sometimes. After all, I follow Christ. I obey Scripture. I live the way God says. So shouldn’t I deserve to be blessed?

That’s where the fine line between deserving and expecting comes into play. I don’t think any of us deserve any good thing that God does for us. But at the same time, we should expect good things. Why? Because God has promised to do good things for people who follow Him, whether we deserve them or not.

Remember, God is perfect. Truly righteous. How can Someone who is utterly perfect ever owe someone who isn’t? Because that’s what deserving is about. I was curious about the word origin of deserve so I wandered over to the Online Etymology Dictionary, and this is what I found:

deserve – late 13c., from O.Fr. deservir, from L. deservire “serve well,” from de- “completely” + servire “to serve.” From “be entitled to because of good service” (s sense found in L.L.), meaning generalized c.1300 to “be worthy of.”

If you’re not accustomed to reading dictionary entries, let me summarize. The word deserve comes from Old French, derived from Latin. Basically, the original word stemmed from the phrase “to be entitled to because of good service” which was generalized into “to be worthy of” later on.
 
To be entitled to because of good service.
 
Like a good waiter is entitled to a decent tip. Like an actor is entitled to a standing ovation after a brilliant performance. If you want to deserve something, you have to do something for the person who is rewarding you.
 
So tell me, when was the last time you did something for God?
 
The plain and simple truth is that none of us deserve anything from God, let alone kindness. Salvation, being made right with God through Christ, is a gift that’s greater than anything in the world. No one deserves it. No one can earn it. No one can change it. You can either accept it or reject it.
 
If God gave us what we deserved — what we really deserve — life would look a whole lot different. If God were truly fair, none of us would have salvation because none of us have done anything to merit it. Maybe we treat each other right every now and then. Maybe we put others first on occasion. Maybe we tell the truth most of the time. But all the time? Every day? That’s doubtful, even for the “best” person in the world.
 
In all of human history, there’s only been one perfect person, and God had Him killed so we could live free.
 
So how do you normally react when someone gives you something good you don’t deserve? Personally, I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t know what to say. I just know I want to say thank you however I can. And that holds true with what God has given me too.
 
So that’s what I’m pondering today: how can I show God how thankful I am for what He’s given me?
Friends - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Saying “Thanks” isn’t the same as being thankful

How many of us have good things in our lives? And how many of us are good about recognizing where those good things came from? I’m part of the crowd that recognizes my good things come from God, but I’m not very good at actually saying thank you as often as I should. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because part of me knows that He knows I’m thankful already.

But there’s a big heart difference between feeling thankful and actually thanking someone.

Friends - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Friends – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 103:2.Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.

I live a busy life. I’m always running around so crazily that I’m never sure if my head is still attached. I don’t know if I just get busy because I refuse to say no, or if I just get busy because life is busy. I can’t figure it out. But I should never be so busy that I forget to be thankful.

I have an awesome family. They’re nuts and silly and wonderful, and I don’t know what I would do without them. And even though sometimes I think we drive each other more bananas than we already are, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I have a job. It drives me crazy, and it’s making me turn gray. But it’s a job, and I can show you the things God did in my life to make it possible.

I have amazing friends from every walk of life, at every stage of life. Some old. Some young. Some in between. Some single. Some married. Some married again. Some with kids. Some without. Some very country … and others very Italian. =)

When was the last time I really stopped to say thank you?

When was the last time I stopped and praised God for bringing these awesome people into my life? When was the last time I stopped to thank Him specifically for everything He has done for me?

Thanking God for what He’s done is like prayer. He already knows that we’re thankful, just like He already knows what we’re going to pray. Asking God for things isn’t for His benefit, it’s for ours. Just like thanking God for what He’s done in our lives isn’t for God’s benefit either.

Praying to God gets us to the point where we recognize that we can’t make it through life on our own. Thanking God for what He’s done helps us remember that we didn’t accomplish things by ourselves.

The greatest, most awesome things in my life aren’t things I did for myself. They are gifts God gave me. And I want to be thankful for them.

So this is me taking a moment to say thank you.

It can be difficult to remember to do in the hustle and bustle and shuffle of everyday life, especially when you feel trapped by your circumstances. But even on the days when you feel cornered and alone, and you feel like all you’ve ever tried to do has failed, remember the things that God has given you. Make a list. Write it down. And you will be shocked to realize just how much He’s done for you already.

I always am.

God has given me everything I need and just about everything I want. And it’s not because I deserve any of it. It’s because He is good. And He wants to do good things for His children. And even on the days when He doesn’t give me the things I want, I want to be thankful for how He’s provided for my needs.

God is my refuge, my safe place, my biggest fan, my hero, and my best friend. He’s given me a beautiful home, a wonderful church, an amazing family, and supportive and hilarious friends. And He gave me a dream that He’s helping me achieve (slowly but surely).

And on the difficult days, He doesn’t leave my side. And that’s worth more to me than anything else because I know no matter how badly I screw up, I can’t screw up enough that He’ll ever give up on me.

In short … be thankful. Praise God. It’ll get your perspective right. And once your perspective is straight, your day will get a whole lot better.

Entitlement in blessing

When someone does something nice for you, what is your reaction? Do you expect people to be nice to you and do things for you? So when someone does, do you just act like they were required to do it? Do you refuse to accept someone’s kindness? Are you humbled that someone would be kind to you? Do you run around and tell everyone about it?

I love to watch little kids open presents. They get so excited, and once they have it open and know what’s inside, they’ll usually run around showing everyone.

If someone does something nice for you, generally your first reaction is going to be to tell people about it. Isn’t it? You’ll want to tell your friends and your family and the people you work with that someone you know did something amazing for you.

That’s what I thought when I read today’s verse, 1 Chronicles 16:8.

8 Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
      Let the whole world know what he has done.

1 Chronicles is one of those Old Testament books that gets looked over sometimes. It’s a history book, usually used for extended reference with 1 Kings. But it has detail in it that 1 Kings doesn’t, and we can learn things from the Chronicles that we don’t in the Kings.

In 1 Chronicles 16, David and a select group of people are moving the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. This was a big event. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God. It was where He would speak to the High Priest. The Israelites carried it into battle with them. It was a symbol. Not an idol. And it was supposed to be at the center of the Temple, in a chamber called the Holy of Holies. Well for some reason or another (it’s complicated), the Ark needed to be moved back to Jerusalem (I can’t remember if this was the time the Philistines stole it or if it was a separate occurence).

In any case, when David and his people got the Ark back to Jerusalem, David wrote a song. The first line of the song is today’s verse.

When was the last time God did something for you that He didn’t have to do? I bet it was more recent than you think. Did you wake up this morning? Are you able to read and understand the words in this post? Do you taste the coffee you’re drinking?

How much has God done for you just in your early morning routine?

I think we expect God to just do things for us because He’s a good God. But we live in such a screwed up world that the entitlement mentality of our culture has spread to our faith.

God is not required to do anything for us. I mean, He already sacrificed His Son so we could have eternal life. What more can we ask from Him? Yes, He tells us to ask Him for what we need, that we don’t have because we don’t ask. But even when we ask, we’re supposed to have the right heart. And many times, I don’t think we do.

God has done amazing things for us. God is doing amazing things for us, and many times we don’t even realize it. So we don’t thank Him like we should, and we don’t tell others about it either.

So today, think about what God has done for you. Because even the “little” things are bigger than we think, too big for us to accomplish on our own. And once you see the things that God has done for you, tell others about it. Because nothing demonstrates gratitude like telling other people what someone else has done for you.

God helped me wake up this morning. He gave me a life where I have a warm bed and hot coffee to drink. He’s provided me with a job that I enjoy, even though it stresses me out sometimes. He’s given me a car to drive that is still going strong at nearly 121,000 miles. He gave me the ability to write and the hands to type my thoughts down. He gave me a family that’s incredible and friends who help keep my focus straight. He gave me a church that’s out-of-this-world awesome. He’s given me opportunities to do the things I love and help people at the same time. He’s given me everything that I need and many things that I wanted. And the things that I wanted that He hasn’t given me are probably just around the bend.

God has been good to me. Very good. And the least I can do is proclaim that goodness to other people. I want the whole world to know that God has blessed me when He didn’t have to.

How has God blessed you this morning?

Think about it. Thank Him for it. And then tell somebody.