Don’t let the Big devalue the Small

Something huge is happening today. I’ve been posting about it for the last few days. My best friend will be home tonight! I’ve been waiting for this day for more than two years, and in the last few days, it’s been all I can think about. We’ll get to have adventures together. I’ll get the privilege of seeing her face nearly every day. It’s huge and exciting and I can’t wait for tonight when she gets here!

But you know what? It’s not tonight yet. I still have hours and hours and hours until Katie arrives at the airport tonight. And, yes, it’s a big thing to have her home again, and most everything else in my life pales in comparison. But just because other events are smaller doesn’t mean that they’re less important.

Little flowers at Happy Meadows Campground near Colorado Springs, CO

Little flowers at Happy Meadows Campground near Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:11-13.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

People are impressed by flash. Big booms and explosions, fancy light shows and displays, marketing and lace and suave charming facades. We like the big, impressive shows. They get our attention, and as long as they keep up the action, they keep it. And, honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s okay to be flashy. I know a lot of flashy people who are devoted, dedicated Christ-followers. It’s great to marvel at a big show. Lightning storms are awe-inspiring. I’m a pyro and love fire, and I love guy movies where all sorts of things blow up. I get so caught up in the bigness of an event that I tend to miss the small, important things. And often what God wants us to learn is usually more obvious in the still, small moments.

God could have appeared to Elijah in any way He wanted. He could have been in the wind. He could have been in the earthquake. He could have been in the fire. But He chose to speak to Elijah in a still, small voice.

Elijah could have been carried away paying attention to the big stuff. I’m sure it was impressive. But what if he had been so focused on the big stuff that he missed God’s little voice? He would have missed the most important conversation of his life.

So what big thing is happening for you today? You know what’s happening for me. But I’ve got half a dozen other things going on today that are much smaller, and I need to pay attention to them. God gave me stuff to do today. Some of it’s big, and some of it’s small, but because God wants me to do all of it, it’s all important.

Don’t get so wrapped up in the great big events of your life that you forget the importance of the small stuff.

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Take the good and learn from the bad

We have an old orchard here are Safe Haven Farm. It’s nothing fancy. Not even close to fancy. It’s just mainly old. But we’ve got apricots and mulberries and pears. But these aren’t nice pears. Oh, no. These are wood pears. Not sure if that’s really what they’re called or not, but that’s what folks around here call them. They’re fibrous and tough and hard as rocks. Seriously, you get conked on the head with one of these pears, and you’ll be nursing a lump for a week or more (ask me how I know).

That being said, if you can get a knife into them to cut out the bad parts, they’ve got really great flavor. So if you don’t mind doing a lot of work (and I mean a lot of work), you can actually end up with some pretty tasty preserves. It’s quite a labor intensive process, but we think it’s mostly worth it. Thankfully, we have a revolutionary thing in our home–a Squeezo. I’m sure I’ve posted about the Squeezo before, but it really makes pear processing so much easier.

It’s awesome because you take the cooked pears, dump them inside the hopper, crank them through, and good pear sauce comes out, while the bad stuff like the fibrous bits and pieces of core come out in a different bowl. It’s really handy because it separates the bad from the good.

The Squeezo machine for processing canned goods

The Squeezo machine for processing canned goods

Today’s verses are Colossians 4:5-6.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds. Eat the chicken around the bones. There’s a lot of idiom about how to get through life, and a lot of it has to do with eating. That isn’t really relevant. Just interesting.

We all know that life is a mixed bag. Sometimes you end up in situations that are half-good. Other times you end up in situations that are mostly bad. But it’s rare that you’re ever in a circumstances that’s truly ALL good or ALL bad. No matter how bad your circumstances may be, you can always find something good about it.

You may be in a really low place today. That’s okay. Everyone has been there (yes, I promise, everyone has been there before). And maybe the only good thing you can find is that God loves you unconditionally, and you know what? If you know God loves you unconditionally, that’s enough good to tackle any bad circumstance, even if that’s the only good thing you know.

Life will throw you curve balls. People will disappoint you. Your job won’t be what you expected. You might be abandoned or betrayed or lied on or disliked, but it’s your choice to focus on those things. Just like processing pears, you’ve got a Squeezo for your life. Not to be cutesy about it, but if you look at your life through the Bible, you’ll get a much clearer picture on what is good and what isn’t.

When God says something is true and right and good, hold on to it. When God says something is wrong, let it go. Just let that lie or that rumor or those hurtful words roll right off into the trash bowl, because they’re not useful for anything except to be thrown away. Focus instead on the good that will come out of the situation–what you’ll learn, what you’ll know, how you’ll be able to better help someone else.

Regardless if the situation you’re facing is good or bad, you can make the most of it with God’s help. Ask God to come alongside you and show you what you’re missing, and He’ll point out ways that you can overcome this circumstance that you’re facing. God’s Word will help you to sort out what’s true and what isn’t, but you have to use it if you want it to work.

Stress is my comfort zone

When you’re carrying a heavy bag, it’s a bad time to try climbing a mountain. Even if you’re in great shape, hauling a heavy backpack around when you’re trying to find good footholds and solid rocks to step on is difficult. It’s slow going. And it’s exhausting. So why do we expect mental stress to affect us differently?

I do. Because, I mean, I’m just thinking. Or I’m just organizing. Or I’m sorting through emotions and expectations and deadlines. It’s not “real” work, so it shouldn’t make me tired. It shouldn’t exhaust me. Well, that’s not true. Mental exhaustion is a real thing, and it’s something people need to take seriously (especially creatives… you know who you are).

I always end up there. Always. It doesn’t matter what job I’m working or where I’m living, eventually I end up in the place where I’m stressed out and exhausted and still pushing forward even though I’ve got nothing left. And frankly, I’m tired of it.

sky-ditch-eye-holeToday’s verse is Proverbs 12:25.

Worry weighs a person down;
    an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Anxiety is heavy. It weighs you down much more than you think, but it’s also one of those burdens that’s really difficult to drop. I don’t know why that is. My worry and my anxiety are the burdens I despise yet can’t seem to let go of.

My anxiety and my worry are actually the reasons why I end up over-stressed and over-worked, because I fall back into my same old habits of performing. Because if I perform above expectations, God will bless me above expectations. But I take it to the next level and run myself into the ground and then despair because my situation hasn’t changed. Some take that as a sign that God isn’t listening. I take it as a sign I’m not working hard enough.

So guess what I do? That’s right. I work even harder.

God is teaching me–yet again, seriously because this is the same lesson He’s been trying to teach me for 20 years–that I have convinced myself I need to feel stretched thin. I yearn for that stressed-out, busy feeling to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something, to help me feel like I’m doing something important. And that’s just foolish. God never intended for us to live that way. It’s not healthy, physically or mentally. And it’s not the best for us. Maybe we feel better, but it’s not actually better.

Stress is my comfort zone, my own personal ditch where I can fall down and stay put. And while I worry and fret until my hair turns gray and my insides twist all up, I convince myself that I’m doing good work. I must be. Because I’m so stressed out!

All my life I’ve been told God doesn’t want us in a comfort zone. He doesn’t want us comfortable. He wants us obedient. So those of us who are hiding in our stressed-out ruts, lying to ourselves and everyone else, we’re not doing what God says to do. God says get up. God says get out. And trust Him. Don’t just talk like you trust Him. Actually trust Him.

But I’m practical. It’s one thing to know you’ve got a problem. It’s something else to work out a way to solve it. That’s where those encouraging friends come in. If you haven’t got them, you need them. Go to church. Or go to a friend’s house, someone you know is close to God, and be brave enough to be honest about where you are. Because the longer you stay in your stress pit, the lower you’re going get. And the lower you get, the harder it is to climb out.

Listen to wisdom. Do wisdom. That’s one way you can tell the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom is active and real. It’s something you can take with you and use everyday. So don’t just hear words someone says to you. If they’re wise, listen and do it.

It’s not easy. But you don’t have to do it alone. You have a lot of people around you who love you. Maybe you don’t feel like it, but at times like that, don’t trust what you feel. Trust what you know. Ask for help. Then get up and do something about it. And don’t worry what people will think. People will always think something. The people who matter won’t care.

Make a list. Make a schedule. Decide what you’re going to do and do it and then stop. Find someone to keep you accountable if you have to. Just stop killing yourself to please God. That’s not what He wants. And you know that. Running yourself into the ground to please Him is only to make you feel better. It’s not for Him.

What God wants from you is faith. Faith that what He asks you to do is enough, regardless of how you feel about it.

How can you expect God to answer when He might not?

I remember the very first time I submitted something to be published. I think it was 1991, so I would have been 8 or 9. I was so excited to send off this awesome poem I’d written, and I thought for sure it would be published. Yikes. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but nothing I slapped together in elementary school was ready to be published. I never heard back from the publication.

But that didn’t stop me. I kept trying. Over and over and over again. And every time, I thought it might be the last time I’d receive a rejection letter. (If any of you are writers, you know what a silly thought that was!) As I got older, I kept writing, kept submitting, but now I was praying. I believed God had gifted me as a writer, and I wanted to use my skills for Him. So I’d write and submit and pray, pray, pray. And guess what?

No. Nothing was ever accepted. Sometimes that was hard to swallow, because I believed I was doing what God had called me to do. So why wasn’t He giving me success? He tells us to expect an answer to our prayers, but it’s still up to Him whether or not He answers. So how are you supposed to balance expecting God to answer your prayer when you know He might not?

AW41W55XCBToday’s verses are John 16:31-33.

Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

This is Jesus, talking to the disciples. If you have a moment and are able to read all of John 16, you should. Jesus is telling them about all the tough stuff that they’re going to face in the coming days and weeks and months. The disciples, dimwitted as they are, aren’t really tracking until the end, and then Jesus tacks this bit on at the very last.

Look at it again. Jesus is basically saying that He’s going to be abandoned, and all His followers are going to be scattered to the four winds. And He’s sharing this tidbit (and all the heavy stuff that came before it) because He wanted His followers to have peace.

Really? What sense does that make? You’re going to be scattered and alone, and now you know, so you can be filled with peace. Does that make sense to anyone?

The Bible is full of examples where people have prayed to God, and He’s answered their prayers with an affirmative. There are plenty of examples too where people prayed, and God said no. And what we need to wrap our brains around is the fact that whether God says yes or no, He still answers. And His answers are better than ours, even if they make us unhappy at the time.

From my earliest memory, I wanted to be published. I wanted to have a book on the shelf. I wanted people to read my stories. I didn’t know how to get there, but I knew that’s what I wanted. So I tried everything I could think of, and I prayed long and hard for God to make a way for this dream to come true. And it has. It just hasn’t come true the way I expected it to.

God will always answer your prayer. It just may not be the answer you want, and you have to learn to be okay with that. The disciples faced it too. They wanted Jesus to do certain things, say certain things, go certain places, and He refused. Jesus wouldn’t let anyone put Him in a box.

Sometimes the answer isn’t what you want, but it’s always what you need. You won’t find peace accidentally. It’s something you have to ask for specifically. And your peace has to be founded in Jesus, because He’s the only one who can take the bad news and turn it into something good. Being scattered, being abandoned, being alone–they’re all bad and scary, but because Jesus is who He is, He can turn them into something beautiful.

Expect an answer. You will get it. So ask God for what you need. And believe that He will answer your prayer. It may be yes. It may be no. It may be wait. But whatever answer you get is the answer you need. You can trust Him, and because you can trust Him, you can have peace.

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

When your lunch sings louder than you do

Life is loud. And busy. And crazy. And it takes all of our focus and determination sometimes just to get through a day, let alone a whole week. And it doesn’t stop with the daily grind from Monday through Friday. Most of the time, we have other things happening in our lives too. After work or school. On the weekends. All the time.

Life is so busy and so loud, when do we have time to sit still? I don’t. I’m always running from one hot project to the next with my hair on fire. I rarely get to rest. I rarely get to slow down at all. And that is usually 100% my choice.

I’ve learned this lesson at least a dozen times already, but I always seem to need a refresher.

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Funny little moth/bird critter midflight at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Luke 19:36-40.

As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen. “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

This passage is talking about something Bible-people usually call “the triumphal entry.” Triumphal is just one of those words that screams stained glass, so I try to avoid using it. Basically, this is the moment when Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before He would be crucified.

The crowd welcomed Him on this day. Funny how they changed their minds about Him when He didn’t give them what they wanted. But that’s a post for another day.

What caught my eye this morning is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they told Him to shut His followers up. The translation I learned this passage in says, “even the rocks would cry out.”

I don’t speak Greek, so maybe my understanding of this is wrong. But I’ve always believed that what Jesus was saying here indicated that if people refused to give Him the praise and worship He deserved, creation and nature itself would do it instead.

How embarrassing would that be? To be beaten out in our worship by a rock? Or a flower? Or a bumblebee?

But when was the last time you sat down and really just absorbed nature? Romans talks about how nature provides all the proof necessary for us to recognize and worship God as Creator.

Have you watched a sunset or a sunrise? Have you marveled at a hummingbird or the bright feathers on a cardinal? What about the way tree leaves sound in a breeze or the wonder of how water can be liquid, solid, and gas? Not even talking about the human body here. Not even talking about the solar system. Just a flower. A dandelion. Or an ant. A single cell.

All of them scream praise to God in the loudest way they can, but somehow our lives are so loud, we still manage to drown them out. We tune them out and focus on our small, petty everyday problems. Or we focus on our huge, life-altering, faith-shaking problems, because people have those too. Either way, we focus on our problems and how big and unconquerable they are, and we forget about how huge and mighty our God is because we can’t hear nature’s praise and worship chorus going on.

Take some time today. Just a few minutes even. Watch to the wind in the trees. Listen to a bird singing. Smell your lunch. Whatever. Just do something that will help you stop–just stop–and be quiet and recognize who God is. And even if you feel like you can only spare a second, thank Him. Just a nod. Just a moment’s recognition that you know He created all of this and you know He is worthy of praise.

It will change your perspective. I promise. Because if you can wrap your head around the fact that God created all the ingredients that went into your lunch, maybe you’ll remember that He can help you face that meeting today, or your overflowing inbox, or that phone call you don’t want to make, or that paper you don’t want to write, or any number of the seemingly impossible tasks we face on this Tuesday after Memorial Day when life goes back to it’s deafening pace.

Find a moment to be quiet, and I promise the praise and worship of nature will shock you. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want inanimate objects–like my lunch–to sing a better song to God than me.

Moon rising over Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

No excuses

Has God ever told you to do something specific? No, not in an audible voice, but still in an undeniable, unshakable, inescapable desire to accomplish something. It starts out as a spur-of-the-moment idea, one of those concepts that you should be able to easily brush aside as nonsense, but it doesn’t brush away. It’s like a sand burr in your brain, and it keeps poking and poking until you can’t ignore it anymore. Or pressure on your heart.

At least, that’s how God talks to me outside of Scripture. Maybe I’m nuts, but that has been my experience. And I wish I were a “good” enough Christian to tell you that every time I realize it’s God talking to me I jump right up and do exactly like He’s commanding.

Right. Most of the time, I duck my head down, stick my fingers in my ears, and hum a song to myself in hopes that He’ll leave me alone and ask someone more qualified to take care of it. And it’s not that I don’t think He equips people for tasks. For me, most of the time, the issue is time itself. I don’t have much to offer. But something happened yesterday that made me remember exactly Who is in charge of time.

Moon rising over Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon rising over Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Joshua 10:12-14.

On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. Is this event not recorded in The Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the middle of the sky, and it did not set as on a normal day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!

So much of the Old Testament can be confusing because of cultural references, and–let’s not beat around the bush here–the Old Testament records a lot of major supernatural things happening that we just don’t see anymore. True, the New Testament records miracles too but not like the first 39 books of the Bible. And today’s passage is just one small mention of one major thing.

According to this passage, the sun and the moon stopped moving until Israel defeated their enemies.

What the heck? That’s not something you hear about every day. That’s not something you hear about every thousand years. I mean, shoot, we get all excited for lunar eclipses. What would happen if the sun and moon both just stopped moving in the sky? It would make the Mayan apocalypse of 2012 look like a bad science fiction movie…. wait….

What am I getting at here?

Okay. Confession time. God told me to do something recently, and my response to Him was, “Are you freakin’ crazy? That’s nuts!” But God’s not crazy, and when He wants me to do something, He doesn’t stop leaning on me until I get it through my thick skull that, yes, He is talking to me. So I said yes, but I reminded Him how busy I was. I reminded Him how much work I had to do and how little time I had to do it in. If He didn’t help me out, it wasn’t going to work.

So what happened? To keep this long story short, the day after I stopped fighting, I got more accomplished than I have in ages. And I got it done everywhere, at work, at home, in my personal to do list. Everywhere.

Seriously?

I don’t know why God doesn’t just knock me over the head with a two-by-four some days. He has so much more patience with me than I deserve.

Here’s the thing, Christians (and I’m so talking to myself right now). If God has told you to do something, He isn’t going to leave the whole weight of it on your shoulders. Yes, many times, we have to take the initiative, but God doesn’t expect us to carry out His plans all on our own strength. After all, they’re not our plans; they’re His. So why would He give us something to do and then leave it entirely on us?

I have no excuse for refusing to do what God has asked me to do. All my supposed obstacles became opportunities.

So what’s stopping you? Are you scared? Ask Him for courage; He helped a teenager slay a warrior giant. Are you broke? Ask Him for resources; He can take five loaves and fishes and feed 10,000 people. Or are you like me and you’re too busy? Remember, you’re talking to the God who can stop the moon and sun in the sky whenever He chooses.

No excuses, Christ-followers. Think about it. Let’s stop handing Him a bunch of lines and just do what He asks. I think we might be surprised at what He does in our lives.

Shaggy mule at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Before you ask, make sure you want an answer

Have you ever asked a question you didn’t want to know the answer to? I think we all have at some point or another. I know I’ve certainly gotten answers I didn’t want to hear, and when someone tells me something I don’t want to know, I usually react the same way: denial. If it’s an answer I don’t want to hear, I deny its truth. I try to come up with another explanation. Or I ignore it altogether.

And I suppose asking more questions about an answer you don’t like from a boss or a friend or a family member is a good idea. It’s always a good idea to look for the truth, and you can’t always trust that another person is going to tell you the truth. But I’ve learned over the years that if God answers in a way you don’t want, denying it doesn’t help you.

Shaggy mule at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Shaggy mule at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 95:7-8.

For he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
    the flock under his care.
If only you would listen to his voice today!
The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
     as they did at Massah in the wilderness.

God wants us to search for Him. He wants us to reach out in the darkness and find Him, like Paul talks about in his message on Mars Hill in Acts 17 (we just finished up a series about it at church), and He always answers. Not always immediately in a way we can discern, but He always answers. The trouble is, do you want an answer? I think that’s the question we all need to settle before we start seeking Him. It’s easy to search. In fact, it’s expected in our culture now. Everyone searches for something, but some people find their identity in the search instead of in the answers they get.

I know people who are perfectly content to search for God for the rest of their lives, and I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. But they’re making it way too difficult. God isn’t hard to find. He’s plainer than the noses on our faces, but He’s not popular. He’s not politically correct. And He answers our questions in a way that makes us realize how much we need Him, and that’s a hard pill to swallow if you want to live life on your own terms.

So ask yourself before you ask Him if you really want an answer. I’ve asked questions out of duty before and ignored the answers because I didn’t like them. Not only was it a waste of time for the person I was asking, I didn’t learn anything. True, later on I wished I’d paid attention, but that’s often how it goes. If you spurn wisdom when you hear it, you won’t have it when you need it.

God’s answers will probably upset you. Just prepare yourself for that because many times we want our own way. We don’t want to submit to His, and we have this idea that if God is good, He’ll let us do what we want. But it doesn’t work that way. It never has, and you don’t have to believe in God or follow Christ to understand that’s not how wisdom works. If you’re honest with yourself, you already know that.

God wants to talk to you. He wants to have a relationship with you. He loves you more than you can imagine, and He wants the best for you. He knows what’s best for you. But we are all like stubborn, willful children who throw tantrums when we don’t get our way, but God is a good parent and doesn’t give in. And we have to learn to accept His answers the first time He gives them to us. Why? Because it will save us a lot of heartache in the long run.

God doesn’t answer us in ways that make us unhappy to deprive us of our fun. He’s not trying to squash us or prevent us from living our lives. He’s trying to bless us. He’s trying to give us a better life than we can ever earn on our own, the kind of life where you have no regrets. Because if you twist off on your own, believe me, you’ll have regrets. And there’s nothing more poisonous to a happy life than regrets.

Do you want God’s answers? Are you willing to listen to what He has to say, even if it isn’t what you want? It’s your choice, but you need to get it settled in your heart before you ask. You need to check your attitude. Sometimes I forget and when God tells me something I don’t want to hear, I block it out, only to get down the road a day or so and wish I’d listened.

He knows what He’s talking about, and He’s worth listening to. Don’t shut Him out, and don’t harden your heart to Him. He wants the best for all of us, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.