Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s blessings don’t always feel like blessings

It rained last night. In June I wouldn’t have been so happy about it, but last night wasn’t bad. In June, I didn’t want to see another drop of rain.

I wish I would have found today’s passage back then.

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Joel 2:21-23.

Don’t be afraid, my people.
Be glad now and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things.
Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.
The trees will again be filled with fruit;
fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
Once more the autumn rains will come,
as well as the rains of spring.

Throughout the Bible, God uses different aspects of nature and different circumstances in our lives to communicate with us. He has control over both, so what better means to demonstrate not only His power but His love?

I enjoyed the rain last night, although driving home in some of the heavier spots was a little nerve wracking. The rain was nice. It was refreshing. But I can tell you if I had seen last night’s storm back in June, I wouldn’t have been so happy about it. We were already soaked in Kansas, and we didn’t need any more rain. But it just kept coming.

I was so tired of the rain, so tired of having to clean up my basement after it leaked, so tired of being worried that the whole place was going to flood while I was gone and tired of worrying that my roads would wash out and prevent me from getting home in the first place. And I just didn’t understand why God was allowing us to flood like that.

But the more I thought about it, the more I talked to God about how frustrated I was, the more He reminded me that He wasn’t trying to cause trouble. He was preventing trouble.

Kansas had been in a drought for like three years. Maybe longer. And honestly even though we got more than enough rain, I’m not sure if our “levels” are back up to where they need to be. but as an agricultural state, it’s not good for us to turn into a desert. The rain was a good thing. It was inconvenient and troublesome, but that was because I was worried about it. And I shouldn’t have been.

See, the rain during that time was a blessing. It was a gift from God. Without that rain, I’m not sure what Kansas crops and livestock would have looked like next year.

And that got me thinking. How many times do we treat God’s gifts like they’ll only cause us more trouble? Rain is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, of His provision, but if you only see the inconvenience of it, you will miss the point. It’s the same with any other blessings God gives us. God’s blessings and gifts don’t necessarily come easily. Yes, He gives them out free, but most of the time, that means you have to change something about your life in order to make the most of them. The plain and simple truth is that God’s blessings don’t always look or feel like blessings.

My 2005 Malibu after my very first wreck, Wichita, KS -- 2008

My 2005 Malibu after my very first wreck, Wichita, KS — 2008

Example from my own life? My first major wreck. I’d bought a “big girl” car with my own money, and I loved that car. I had it for three weeks because someone got up on the highway in a truck without securing his aluminum ladder. The wind blew it off and into my path, and in swerving to avoid it, I lost control and punched through a guard rail going 70 miles per hour. The impact sheared the whole front of the car off and took out 20 feet of the railing, and I walked away with a few airbag burns (and a separated shoulder, which we didn’t realize until four weeks later).

On the surface, the wreck was awful. It was the worst thing that I’d gone through in my life up until that point. I was hurt and sore and angry and disappointed, and I didn’t know what I had done wrong to deserve to go through it. But how did the story end? I got a better car.

My first car had been a 2005 Malibu with 50,000+ miles. With the settlement from the guy’s insurance company, I was able to buy a nicer 2008 Malibu with 17,000 miles.

My wreck was a pain, but God used it to give me something better than I had. On the surface, it looked awful, but God had a blessing in mind the whole time. It’s like rain. Rain can be taken as a difficulty, a pain, a curse, but according to this, rain is a sign that God hasn’t forgotten His promises to us. What our enemy means for evil, God can use for good.

So before you look at that tough situation in your life right now like it’s trouble, take a step back and ask God about it. Because there’s a good chance that there’s more to it than what you can see right now. And if you’re a Christ follower, you can know God is working things out for your good and His glory. Remember, God is faithful. He always keeps His promises. And even though it doesn’t always feel like it, He never leaves us.

So hang in there and hold on. God’s got it covered, and someday soon you’ll be able to look back and see His hand all over it.

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Whatever happens

I spent all of January posting about change because of everything that was transitioning in 2013. But let me just say, I had no idea how much things would change and how many aspects of my life were going to be affected. I knew about a couple of areas, but for now, let’s just say that I think a lot more is going to change by the end of 2013 than I expected.

I mean, first off, I’m getting a new phone. And not just a new phone to carry around with me, but a new phone service. I haven’t had a new phone service in nearly 20 years. But the way things are working out, for financial reasons, we had to do something different. And maybe that sounds like a small thing, but learning a new phone and a plan on top of everything else isn’t exactly simple. And there are all sorts of other things coming down the pipe, and to top it all off, there’s a big winter storm coming in today. And I don’t mind the snow, but the ice will be difficult.

And it would be so easy to sit down and point out all the negatives in all of these situations I’m dealing with, but I’m pretty sure the Bible says not to do that. And I’m pretty sure the Book of Philippians has a thing or two to say on just focusing on the negatives, but why does it matter? When everything changes and when you’re disappointed and when you’re tired of everything, what’s wrong with allowing yourself to feel unhappy?

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 3:1.

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Sometimes life just happens. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, and you get caught up in the drama and the high emotion, and there’s nothing you can do about it except press forward. And it’s all you can do to drag yourself out of bed because you know you’re just going to face another day where you have to work a job that stresses you out or you have to face an unpleasant situation that you can’t control.

And it’s in those moments where I feel that I just want to sit down and cry. I want to curl up in a ball and not talk to anybody and not have to be a shining example of Christ to the world because I’m so tired of not having control. I’m so tired of everything going wrong. I’m so tired of finally getting the hang of something just to have it change on me again.

So why is it important to keep looking up when those moments come? Why can’t I tuck myself in a corner and refuse to listen to what God is saying?  What’s wrong with sinking into a dark hole and giving up?

Most of the time I worry about how my actions and reactions will affect the other believers around me. But in this instance, I don’t think that’s the concern. Yes, it’s important for mature Christians to be a good example to new believers, but it’s doubly important for mature Christians to have a healthy perspective of circumstances in their life. Because it won’t matter how long you’ve been following Christ; you’ll grow bitter toward Him. And bitterness and faith don’t really work well together.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say when things are good we are to rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t even say when things are bad to rejoice in the Lord. He says whatever happens. Good or bad. Planned or unplanned. Expected or unexpected. Happy or not.

Rejoice if you got the job. Rejoice if you didn’t. Rejoice if someone you love dies. Rejoice if someone you love welcomes a new life into the world (shout out to Luis and Val Alicea and little Isabella who arrived at 1am today!). Rejoice if the sun is shining. Rejoice if it’s cloudy. Rejoice if everything is right. Rejoice if nothing is.

Rejoice. No matter what.


Because it will protect your faith.

Choosing to have joy is a hard thing, especially when you’re struggling emotionally. Choosing to be thankful even for the bad things in life is challenging because it’s so much easier to just give up. But if you give up, you’re stepping out of a story that’s bigger than you. You’re choosing to believe that God can’t use a difficult situation in spite of how difficult it is. You’re choosing to believe that God is unable or unwilling, and that’s not true.

But so many people harden themselves when God doesn’t give them what they want. And it’s not that God is holding back blessings. It’s just that He has something better planned. But we have to choose to believe that.

Notice also that Paul apparently has repeated this a couple of times. But he says he never gets tired of repeating it, probably because he needed to hear it every time he said it or every time he wrote it.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been a follower of Christ, I still struggle with this, because I get stuck in that dark place between opportunity and challenge where I can see how God could give me everything I want. But then He turns around and sets me on a completely different path from what I thought He wanted. And I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t understand many times why He does the things He does.

But let’s be honest for a moment. Do you really want to know what He has planned? If I think back ten or even fifteen years, I would have never imagined He could have brought me this far, and if He had told me about the responsibilities I would be trusted with as a 30 year old when I was a goofy little 15 year old? I would have had a coronary.

God has plans for us. They’re good plans. Plans to give us hope and a future. But the world is broken and so are we. And it’s rarely an instance of God just snapping His fingers or wiggling His nose in order to get us what we want; there’s usually some attitudes that have to be changed on our part before we can get there. And there are definitely challenges we have to overcome first. But if we can persevere through the challenges and through the difficulties and maintain the joy that we have on the good days throughout the bad days, something miraculous happens.

We grow up. We get stronger. And our faith increases because God proves Himself over and over again through difficult times. And later on down the road, He’ll usually give us what we want. We just have to want Him more first. If we can want Him and want what He wants more than anything, then facing trouble with a smile isn’t that hard because you realize that anything He allows is just going to help you later on.

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Choosing to rejoice

Christians are called to rejoice. Did you know that? We’re supposed to rejoice. It’s all over Scripture. Over and over again. Rejoice in good times. Rejoice in bad times. Rejoice when we get what we want and when we don’t. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice … and again I say, rejoice!

It’s even in today’s verse!

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Penguin at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:12.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

But what is rejoicing? It’s not exactly one of those words we use a lot in our culture. For me, it usually only comes up when somebody is making fun of old-fashioned ways of speaking.

So, grammar and language nerd that I am, I decided to look it up on And this is what it had to say: 

Rejoice (verb used without object): 1. to be glad; take delight (often followed by in ): to rejoice in another’s happiness. (verb used with object) 2. to make joyful; gladden: a song to rejoice the heart.
Again, I love words. So this caught my eye. That rejoice can be both a transitive verb and an intransitive verb, meaning that it can be used with or without an object. Not all verbs are like that. Let me rephrase for the non-grammarians who I know are rolling my eyes at me right now:  
It means you rejoice because of something or it means that something makes you rejoice.
Maybe that sounds the same, but if you think about it, the context is completely different.
If something makes you rejoice, you don’t really choose it. It’s something so wonderful you just can’t help but be glad. But if you rejoice because of something, that doesn’t generally mean it’s something wonderful. That just means you choose to rejoice, and it can mean you choose to rejoice in spite of what has happened.
The verse says rejoice in our confident hope. I’ve blogged on this verse before and on the phrase confident hope, especially because there are other instances throughout Scripture where confident hope plays a big role in our walk. But at this point in my week of Mondays, I think I need to focus on rejoicing.
When I hear the phrase, “Rejoice in our confident hope,” my first reaction isn’t to think about hope. My first thought is an exclamation of how am I going to rejoice at all? In anything?
I’m exhausted. I’m stressed out. I’m worn down with waiting, and even though I’ve gotten some answers, they weren’t the answers I wanted. So how can I rejoice about all of that? Any rejoicing I do for any of that is likely to come off as half-hearted or sarcastic, and I don’t think God would appreciate that.
Remember the confusing discussion of transitive and intransitive verbs above? This use of rejoice is intransitive, meaning it doesn’t need an object. In my meager definition, it means you rejoice because of something. You choose it.
We can choose to rejoice in our confident hope, no matter what our circumstances are. Why? Because it’s confident hope.
So if you’ve had a great week and everything is going right in your life, that’s something that will make you rejoice.
But if you’re like me and have had a frustrating string of days where nothing goes as planned and you don’t get what you want and all you really want to do is stay in bed, choose to rejoice anyway.
If your hope is in Christ, it’s confident. Even if you don’t feel like it’s confident, it is. Because Christ is trustworthy. And He knows what you need. And He’s working everything out. And He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises. Your hope is confident, even if you don’t feel like it is. And that means, you can choose to rejoice.
Try it. It makes all the difference in the world. And after a few days of choosing to rejoice, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to rejoice without thinking about it.
Blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Being thankful

Do you ever have a day when you just want to sit and be thankful? That’s where I am today. So much is happening, so much is going right, so much is going wrong, everything is going too fast–I just want to take a moment and sit and be thankful. Because I know that no matter how the events in my life end up, God will be glorified.

Why? Because I have chosen to live a life that brings glory to Him. I have decided to make decisions that allow me to give Him glory. And even when disappointing and unhappy circumstances come into my life, I know that He is able to use those things to bless me and glorify Himself. Because that’s what He does.

God will be glorified no matter what. Why be at odds with Him? Why fight Him when He has our best interests in mind anyway?

King David sang a song when he and his army brought the Ark of the Covenant back into Jerusalem. This is the whole of David’s song, and I thought it would be a good reminder. This is in The Message, but you can read it in New Living Translation too.

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

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

1 Chronicles 16:8-36

Thank God! Call out his Name!
      Tell the whole world who he is and what he’s done!
   Sing to him! Play songs for him!
      Broadcast all his wonders!
   Revel in his holy Name,
      God-seekers, be jubilant!
   Study God and his strength,
      seek his presence day and night;
   Remember all the wonders he performed,
      the miracles and judgments that came out of his mouth.
   Seed of Israel his servant!
      Children of Jacob, his first choice!
   He is God, our God;
      wherever you go you come on his judgments and decisions.
   He keeps his commitments across thousands
      of generations, the covenant he commanded,
   The same one he made with Abraham,
      the very one he swore to Isaac;
   He posted it in big block letters to Jacob,
      this eternal covenant with Israel:
   “I give you the land of Canaan,
      this is your inheritance;
   Even though you’re not much to look at,
      a few straggling strangers.”
They wandered from country to country,
      camped out in one kingdom after another;
   But he didn’t let anyone push them around,
      he stood up for them against bully-kings:
   “Don’t you dare touch my anointed ones,
      don’t lay a hand on my prophets.”
Sing to God, everyone and everything!
      Get out his salvation news every day!
   Publish his glory among the godless nations,
      his wonders to all races and religions.
   And why? Because God is great—well worth praising!
      No god or goddess comes close in honor.
   All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,
      but God made the cosmos!
   Splendor and majesty flow out of him,
      strength and joy fill his place. 
Shout Bravo! to God, families of the peoples,
      in awe of the Glory, in awe of the Strength: Bravo!
   Shout Bravo! to his famous Name,
      lift high an offering and enter his presence!
   Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!
God is serious business, take him seriously;
      he’s put the earth in place and it’s not moving.
   So let Heaven rejoice, let Earth be jubilant,
      and pass the word among the nations, “God reigns!”
   Let Ocean, all teeming with life, bellow,
      let Field and all its creatures shake the rafters;
   Then the trees in the forest will add their applause
      to all who are pleased and present before God
      —he’s on his way to set things right! 
Give thanks to God—he is good
      and his love never quits.
   Say, “Save us, Savior God,
      round us up and get us out of these godless places,
   So we can give thanks to your holy Name,
      and bask in your life of praise.”
   Blessed be God, the God of Israel,
      from everlasting to everlasting.

Reason to rejoice

Well, it’s Monday again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I used to think peoples’ aversions to Mondays were kind of silly.  I mean, I got the concept — Monday meant you had to go back to work. But Mondays never seemed to be too bad of a day, especially when Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all just about on the same level. But as I’ve gotten older and gotten a real job (that helps), you know what? It’s not silly.

Goodness, Mondays are hard. It’s not only the fact that you have to go back to work (and after an awesome weekend , that’s hard enough) but it’s the accumulation of things that coworkers have done over the weekend, it’s the stacks of things waiting that you didn’t get finished on Friday, it’s the looming shadow of projects you don’t have time to complete that are yet to come.

And when I step back and look at all that, performance-oriented person that I am, I feel tempted to slip into a terrible mood. After all, how can I ever get it all done? And how am I supposed to have a life if I have to expend all my energy at work on projects that I will never complete? How am I supposed to do the things I know God has called me to do when I’m investing all my time and energy in my job, which even though I’m thankful for I know isn’t the end-all of God’s plan for me.

In the midst of all the questions and the temptation to despair, the verse for today is Philippians 4:4.

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I love Philippians. It’s just as encouraging to me as the Psalms, and it’s a short letter so it’s a fast read too. It’s all about joy and why we should have joy. And the thing I always have to remind myself is that joy and happiness are two separate things.

I may not always be happy, but I can always have joy. It’s like the death of a loved one. It’s not a happy occasion, but I can have joy if that person believed in Christ because I know they’re with him. Like at work–I may not be happy that I’m loaded down with projects, but I can have joy that God gave me a job.

But this verse is different. For grins, I pulled it up in the Amplified Version.

4Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!

Look at that break out of the word Rejoice. “Delight, gladden yourselves in Him.” What that says to me is that no matter what situation I’m in, I have every reason in the universe to be joyful for the simple reason that God is my Savior. God saved me. He loves me. Jesus is my best friend.

This is saying that no matter how unhappy my situation may be, I should still be able to find joy in my relationship with God. That should be the source of my joy, and that’s what I should focus on. And if I can do that, it doesn’t matter what circumstances may come into my life, I will still be joyful because my perspective is correct.

Before this weekend, I probably would have read this verse differently. And it wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong. But before Pastor’s messages this weekend, I would have thought this meant to focus on the fact that God is working everything out for my good . . . or that God knows what He’s doing . . . or that God can see the big picture so that means I should be joyful about everything.

But the truth is, I should be joyful about God simply because He’s God. It’s not the fact that He’s done anything for me (which He has) or that He’s got plans for me (which He does) or that He will always provide for me (which He will) — it’s the plain and simple truth that God is everything I need. I don’t need my job. I don’t need my friends (although God has given me my friends to help me and He didn’t call anyone to be a hermit). I don’t need money. I don’t need fame. I don’t need anything or anyone but Him.

Today is Monday again. It always seems to come around again. But no matter how difficult the day may become or how high the stack of impossible work on my cubicle desk gets, I will delight myself in my God because when you get right down to it, He is everything to me, He has never let me down, and He’s got everything under control. And in a world that’s spinning out of control, that gives me reason to rejoice.