New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What has God done for you today?

What has God done for you today? Are you paying attention? I don’t know why it’s so easy to overlook all the awesome things God has done and is doing for us. Maybe it’s because we’re foolish, silly, little people. Maybe it’s just me. But I can tell you that God has done amazing things in my life, and I never want to take that for granted.

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New blossoms on the apricot trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 52:8-9.

But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
    I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people.

The thing is, God deserves our worship and our praise without any of the personal interaction we experience from Him. He created the world. He created the universe. He created us. That’s enough to recognize Him and praise Him, but He doesn’t stop there.

He sent His Son to die for us, to pay for our sins so that we could have an eternal relationship with Him. Figure that in, and He’s worthy of our love and adoration ten times over. But He doesn’t stop there.

He takes a personal interested in our lives. He cares about what choices we make, what struggles we face, what challenges we overcome. He wants to play an active role in our lives, and all we have to do is let Him.

That goes beyond deserving our worship and our praise an d adoration. We don’t deserve any of that. We don’t deserve a love like that, but He invites us to accept it anyway.

God had does great things for me, and I’ll never stop thanking Him. What about you? What has He done for you? What ways has God made Himself known to you? What ways has God shown you how much He cares?

If you’re not paying attention or if you’re too focused on yourself, you might miss it. Trust me, the signs are there. Open your eyes and start looking today.

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.

Guatemalan mountains, Peten, Guatemala

Where do you go for help?

When you need help where do you look? Do you read an instruction manual? Do you Google the problem? I’m guilty of that, honestly. When I have a problem I don’t know how to solve, my first instinct is to find a way to solve it on my own. I rarely ask for advice. That may be a pride issue.

And there’s nothing wrong with trying to find the answer on your own. There’s nothing wrong with looking for help on the internet or even in consulting friends you trust. But what happens when you encounter a problem that none of them can help you solve? Where do you go then?

Guatemalan mountains, Peten, Guatemala

Guatemalan mountains, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 121:1-2.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

One of the cultural things I learned in Guatemala is that when you’re telling a Kekchi person about God you don’t have to convince them that God exists. That’s what we deal with in the States. If you’re trying to share your faith with someone who doesn’t believe, generally the biggest barrier you’ll encounter is that Americans don’t always believe that God is real. That’s not the case in Guatemala. The Kekchi believe God exists; they just don’t believe He’s any different than the gods they already serve. And the god that is most important to them is the god of the earth because the earth is close to them. So mountains are sacred.

It’s ironic because God is even closer to us than the Earth is. But as foreign and strange as that may sound to an American, we do the same thing. When we have trouble, do we look to God? Not always. We look to TV talk shows or 12-step books. We rely on what Dr. Phil says. We search for what the leading evangelists in the nation have to say on the subject. Or we research what the great minds of theology believed.

How often do we just sit down and ask God for help? This is something I’m trying to teach myself to do, that before I race around trying to solve my problem for myself, I take it to Him. God has all the answers we need, and we have access to everything we need through Him. So why do we try to fix things on our own?

Like I said earlier, for me it goes back to pride. I don’t like to rely on anyone else. I don’t like to trust my issues to anyone else. I don’t like being dependent on anyone else. But I’m not self-sufficient, as much as my pride tells me I am.

So how about it? Where do you look for help? Who are you looking to for help today? Are you trying to figure out life’s issues on your own? You can try, but you’re going to hit a dead end, especially if you’re relying on your own knowledge. God gave us the Bible for a reason. No matter what problem we’re facing, it has the answers we’re looking for. We just have to dig in and look for them. God will help us find what we need. And I’m pretty sure your favorite TV talk show host won’t make the same offer.

War Memorial Cathedrel at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

They don’t build them like they used to

I have always loved architecture, even before I got into the building and construction industry. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to build things, but I love to look at buildings, especially old ones. So getting to visit Edinburgh and London this summer was a real treat, because I’m not sure we stayed anywhere that wasn’t as old or older than my 100-year-old house. Old buildings are just cool.

It’s fun to imagine what it took to build them, especially the buildings at a place like Edinburgh Castle. That place is immense, and it’s all built of stone. We get used to modern construction, little houses that are pieced together and pre-manufactured. But even my old house was a custom job in 1915, and Edinburgh Castle, well, I can’t even begin to imagine how much work that was. The oldest castle buildings were built in the 12th Century, I believe, and at first blush you’d think that’s impressive because they’re still there. There are a lot of other castles that are probably older that aren’t in this good a shape. Does that mean Scottish castles are just better built?

Well, maybe. But it’s more likely that Edinburgh Castle is in better condition than others because it’s been maintained. It’s the same with the Tower of London, which is approximately the same age and still in spotless condition. The thing about old buildings that are still intact enough to walk around in isn’t that they were built better than other buildings the same age; it’s that someone came along and kept them up.

Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verses are Jude 1:20-21.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

Life has a tendency of tearing down what we build. As a Kansan, I can appreciate how temporary buildings can be. It’s unusual to find a house the age of my home in these parts because most houses don’t make it that long. The storms blow them down. And while my poor house has certainly taken a beating (I’m getting my new roof put on this week!), it hasn’t been blown over … yet.

But other buildings on my property haven’t fared as well. I have an old 1800s era schoolhouse that’s falling down. But I haven’t maintained it. That’s the difference. Buildings don’t stay up just because you build them; you have to keep them up.

And it’s the same with our relationships. Haven’t you found that the friendships you spend time maintaining are the ones that last? You can’t be friends with someone and never talk to them. If you have a friend you haven’t talked to in years, you’re not friends. You’re acquaintances.

And that goes for our relationship with God too.

Faith is difficult to build. It takes a long time and a lot of effort, but once you’re done, it can be pretty impressive. Faith is impressive, especially to people who don’t have as much of it or who’ve turned away from it. No matter what they may say, I’ve discovered that people who don’t believe have a deep respect for people who do. But just because you have faith doesn’t mean it won’t fall into disrepair if you neglect it.

Time and storms and general chaos will wear your faith down, and if you don’t take steps to keep your faith up, it will fall. So how do you do that? Well, you keep reading the Bible, for one. And you keep talking to God. And you keep up your relationships with other believers who encourage you. This verse is kind of interesting because depending on the translation you pick, it will say either “build each other up” or “build yourselves up.” I don’t know which one is right, but honestly? Either one works. Maintenance is difficult generally speaking, and there’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself or asking someone else to help you.

Faith is like an old castle. It’s carefully constructed to withstand enemy attacks and the ravages of time, but if nobody lives there, it will eventually fall. So don’t let your castle crumble. Take steps now to help your faith grow strong so when the storms and attacks come, you’ll be able to stand through them. That’s not saying you won’t take damage, but it’s more likely that you’ll still be standing in the end.

Pretty pink flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God is exalted in our stillness

I’m busy. I’m beyond busy. I make a headless chicken look calm and organized. There are so many things going on in my life right now, and most of them are good. Some of them don’t meet the traditional definition of good, but I’m trusting that God will take care of that.

But I learned something at the writing workshop that I attended this year, and really it didn’t have much to do with writing.

Pretty pink flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty pink flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Psalm 46:10.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world.”

This is part of the large passage I put up yesterday, but this verse is so good, I wanted to revisit it. The first line is familiar. It appears in many other places throughout scripture. I think one of the first places is in the Book of Exodus when Moses and the Israelites are trapped between Pharoah and the Red Sea. But it also appears here.

At the writing workshop this year, the presenters really focused their keynote sessions on resting and peace. They don’t tell us exactly what we’re going to be hearing when we sign up, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I ended up bawling through most sessions because peace is something I really need, but as a performance-driven perfectionist it’s something I usually deny myself.

So when this verse came up–and subsequent statements about living in God rather than working for Him–I started seeing this statement from a different perspective.

Be still. Know that He is God. And He will be exalted.

Do you read any stress in that statement? Do you see anywhere in that statement (notice the quote marks) where God is saying we have to work ourselves into a pit for Him to be exalted? No.

See, that’s what’s amazing about God is that He will be exalted whether we work for Him or not. He will be exalted whether we acknowledge Him or not. I mean, for Pete’s sake, even rocks rejoice and give Him praise. He doesn’t need us to. He wants us to. He wants to have a relationship with us more than anything, but He doesn’t need us to be exalted.

I run myself into the ground on a daily basis. Sometimes on an hourly basis. And while I don’t think I’m wrong to live that way, I shouldn’t do it all the time. I don’t take sabbaths. I don’t ever slow down.

Well, I shouldn’t say not ever because I’ve had to. Some health issues have finally forced me to take a breather–health issues related to the amount of stress I put myself under. And the irony of my stress is that usually it’s self-inflicted. I expect so much more of myself than anybody else does. I set impossible goals, and then I kill myself trying to exceed expectations.

No, it’s not wrong. Yes, we should always do our best. But God doesn’t say stress yourself out so I can be exalted. He says be still, know He’s God, and He’ll take care of it.

So how are you doing on that score? Being still is more difficult than it sounds. Knowing God is God? You wouldn’t think that’s hard, but it’s not easy either. Why? People don’t like standing still, and people don’t trust very easily. Not really. It’s not our default setting.  They’re both choices we have to make.

Be still. Know God. That’s all we have to do.

Are you stressed out today? Have you worn yourself out working for God? Have you driven yourself to the edge of your sanity trying to accomplish a goal you set so that God will be pleased with you?

Guess what? God doesn’t need you. And maybe He’s called you to do something, and that’s great. And it’s great that you want to do your best for Him. But He never calls you do something alone.

So stop stressing out. Be still. Know God. He’ll be exalted. And actually, He will be exalted more in your stillness than He would have been in your stress.