Don’t give power to powerless things

We have a little garden plot here are Safe Haven Farm. It isn’t much, and it’s actually much less now than it used to be. But we get some fresh veggies out of it.

When I was younger, we’d eat out of the garden. We had potatoes and carrots and onions. We had everything to make salsa, except the tortilla chips. I loved the results of gardening. What I didn’t like was the work behind getting those results.

In this part of Kansas, our soil is fertile, but it’s filled with clay, which makes digging difficult. And then there are the weeds.

Weeds, weeds, everywhere, from dandelions to cheat grass and everything in between. Weeds make gardening difficult. They sap the nutrients from the fruit-bearing plants, and sometimes they’re difficult to distinguish too.

And even if you can tell the difference between a weed and a real plant, usually their roots are woven together, so you can’t pull one up without killing the other.

I hate weeds. Everyone does. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re part of the original curse (Genesis 3:17). But weeds don’t just affect our gardens. Weeds can affect our lives too. Weeds can be spiritual.

Idolatry is a spiritual weed. Ever thought about that?

When I think about idols and idolatry, I envision mass groups of people in robes bowing down to bronze statues or singing in foreign languages. Like some twisted church service thousands of years in the past when people didn’t know any better.

Maybe in some cases that’s true. Historically some cultures did bow down before forged statues, but you won’t see that kind of idolatry happening in the United States. American idolatry is much more subversive.

Sports. Artists. Politicians. Performers. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Idols can take the shape of even the most innocent relationships. It’s the power you give them over your life that makes them idols.

Those bronze statues people worshiped in ancient times had no power at all, except what the people who bowed down surrendered (Jeremiah 10:5).

We all have idols. Let’s just admit that right now, because it’s true. We all have something or someone in our lives that is fighting to take precedence over God and His plans. The question is who you’re willing to surrender your life to.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. So to figure out what idols are in your life, you have to ask yourself what role God should be filling.

God is our comforter. He should be the one who helps us manage our stress. Are you turning to something else other than His Word or His promises to calm you down? That’s an idol.

God is our sufficiency. He should be the one who makes us whole. Are you looking to another relationship to complete you? Are you looking to something you can achieve to make you feel worthwhile? That’s an idol.

God is our security. He should be the one who makes us feel safe, who makes us feel loved. Are you looking to what another person makes you feel to sooth your insecurity? Are you looking to your success personally to make you feel safe? That’s an idol.

Your sports team may be a community, but it shouldn’t be the root of your community. Your job may be how God provides for you, but never forget that it is still God who provides. And you may never be happy with the way you look, but you should always remember that God made you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

But identifying idols is only one part of this. And it’s the easiest part. Removing idols from your life is difficult, painful work. Not only does it hurt you, but it hurts the people around you.

You have to dig up your life to expose the roots of the problem. So do the people who care about you.

If you’re blessed (like I am), you have people in your life who love you so deeply that they’re willing to experience the pain of uprooting your idols alongside you. No matter how much it hurts them or inconveniences them, they’ll hang in there right beside you. They’ll walk you through the pain and the heartache of realizing how flawed you actually are, and they’ll love you throughout it all.

But how much better would it be if we didn’t let idols put down roots in our lives? Remember, idols only have the power we give them (Jeremiah 10:5). So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t give our idols any power at all?

That job you think matters so much? Instead of trusting your finances, how about you try trusting your faith?

That person whose opinion will make or break you? How about you care less about what they think and more about what God says?

That relationship you think you can’t lose? Ask God what He thinks about you and then reevaluate how the people in your life treat you.

Identify what could become an idol before it puts down roots. It’s like pre-treating your garden plot for weeds before you plant. That way you can pull it out before it damages your life and the lives of those around you. (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has give you the power to choose who will control your life. You can either hand that power over to powerless things, or you can give it back to God, who can actually do something with it.

Which do you think is a better idea?

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The value of being genuine and the cost of being fake

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Most Monday nights, my roomie and I grab our fleece blankets and watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Sometimes we color, and other times we just watch, but we always marvel at the array of valuable items people hang on their walls or use for storing spare change.

And then sometimes we grimace in sympathy for the poor folks who bring in priceless artifacts that turn out to be reproductions. Items these people spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on are worth only pennies in comparison.

That should tell us something about the value of being genuine, not just in living but in living for Christ.

I like genuine people. I like knowing that the person I’m talking to is real, honest, transparent. I like knowing that they’re telling me exactly what they feel, because then there’s no surprises later. But how many genuine people do we really know? How many genuine Christ-followers do we know?

We can find a definition for being a genuine Christ-follower in 1 John 4:20-21. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

You don’t get much clearer than that. If you want to be a genuine Christ-follower, you need to love people. What I find interesting is that this passage says we’re supposed to love other Christ-followers. Shouldn’t that be easy?

Have you ever been around a church?

Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. I’ve been blessed with so many awesome Christ-followers in my life, and they are priceless to me. But I’ve also been surrounded by Christians who aren’t so nice.

Religion and church people have torn me up inside. They’ve cut me to ribbons and left me bruised and broken at the side of the road. And other church people have seen me lying there and kept on walking. The people in my life who have dealt me the deepest wounds are people who claim to follow Jesus.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You can’t let what someone else has done to you force you into being someone God never intended you to be.[/su_pullquote]

It’s not okay. But if you’ve been there, you’re not alone. And you can’t let what someone else has done to you force you into being someone God never intended you to be.

Jesus didn’t save us because we’re smart or funny or pretty. He didn’t save us because we’re popular or the best at something. Jesus saved us because He loves us for who we are. He’s the only one who really knows us that well anyway.

So why not be real? Why not be genuine? Sure, it’s a little scary to reveal your heart and your soul to other people. Believe me. I’m an introvert. I know.

Why not love people? Loving others can be dangerous, yes. You always risk your heart when you love, but focus instead on loving God more than you love people. And He’ll give you the love you need to share with others.

Being genuine, loving people, doesn’t really cost you anything. Being with people costs you less in emotional damage than the price you pay by hiding your heart.

You want to be valued? Be genuine. You want to be genuine, Christians? Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s words. Not mine.

I dare you to keep your mouth shut

I have a bad habit of rambling when I get on certain topics. There are just some things I love talking about. My family. My church. Writing and telling stories. Missions. A particularly beautiful and brilliant little girl with crazy curly blond hair.

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to stop talking about someone or something you love? It’s not easy. When you’re passionate about something, you can’t shut up about it. When your life revolves around a person or a purpose, you just can’t help yourself.

How many of us can say that the person or purpose in our lives that we can’t shut up about is Jesus Christ, though?

FA746BB4CDToday’s verses are Acts 4:16-20.

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

I think Acts gets overlooked sometimes because it’s such a detailed book focused on so much history, but the Book of Acts (or the Acts of the Apostles) is an active book, full of excitement and new beginnings and extraordinary events. It’s the start of the Church. It’s the story of how a handful of men turned the entire world on its head in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts is a big deal.

What amazes me is to see the transformation in the disciples. They went from these timid, frightened cowards to these bold, powerful heroes who were willing to lay down their lives without question for what they believed. That doesn’t just happen. These men saw something, experienced something. And when they shared what they believed with the rest of the world, the world itself changed.

And the keepers of the old guard? The old religious elite? Well, they weren’t happy, as usual (some things never change). And they told the apostles that they needed to be quiet. They needed to stop being so loud. They were upsetting people. But I love what Peter and John said in return. They just couldn’t help themselves.

I want to love Jesus like that. I want to be the person who is so in love with Jesus that I can’t stop talking about Him even when people get tired of hearing it. I’m such a people pleaser that I tend to back off if I upset someone, and, I mean, of course I don’t want to be rude. But my goodness, do you know what Jesus has done for me?

When you see Jesus everywhere, of course, He’s going to pop up in every conversation. And that may make some people uncomfortable. Heck, it will make people uncomfortable. There’s no may about it. But if we’re following Jesus the way we should, He’ll be in every conversation we’ll have. And even if we try to stop talking about Him, we won’t be able to.

Believe me, I dislike obnoxious people as much as the next person. And I never ever want to be like that. I don’t ever want to turn people off because I’m rude about what I believe. But by that same token, my Jesus has done so much for me. He’s forgiven me. He’s given me a new life. He gave me breath this morning, and He answered my prayers yesterday. He never leaves me. He never fails me. And He gives me a reason to keep pressing onward.

If anyone else had done that much for me, you’d understand if I wanted to be loud about it. So why is it any different with Jesus?

Let’s get loud about what Jesus has done for us today. And you don’t even have to do anything different than you normally would. Just take a moment and think about everything He’s given you, everything He’s done, the mercy He’s extended, the grace He’s offered so freely, and the joy and purpose your life has since you accepted Him.

Spend a little time thinking about that and what it really means, and I dare you to keep your mouth shut.

When faith becomes a show, it’s not about God anymore

I like food. Except turnips. I draw the line at turnips. I’ll eat just about anything else. Food is one of my favorite parts of being a human being, and it’s one of those gifts God gave us that I’m thankful for every day. And I’ve always been that way.

So imagine my shock when I found out about a little thing called fasting.

Where you don’t eat. You just pray. Like all day long. Or longer.

What? People actually do that? Yes, they do. But fasting is one of those things I don’t think a lot of people understand. I know I didn’t understand it for a long time. I mean, why would you give up eating for any length of time if you didn’t have a medical exam? I’ve only fasted a few times in my life for reasons of prayer. I struggle with blood sugar issues, so fasting isn’t usually the best choice for me. But fasting isn’t always about food. Sometimes it can be a technology fast or a fast from other influences in life that affect us.

But there are some things about fasting that we need to remember, and they’re as true today as they were 2,000 years ago.

174H_1000x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:16-18.

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Fasting shouldn’t be a challenge you give yourself. It’s not about proving your strength or resilience. It’s not about demonstrating how much faith you have that you can go a certain length of time without eating or checking Facebook or whatever. It’s not about putting on a show at all. Fasting is worship. Fasting is to be so intent on prayer that you aren’t even thinking about food or entertainment or what’s on sale at Old Navy. It’s trusting the Lord for everything you need, even for something as basic as feeling hunger, and focusing only on Him. It’s acknowledging that you are weak, but God is strong.

You shouldn’t go around talking about how you’re demonstrating your devotion to God by giving something up. No. just do it. And if people notice and ask, tell them. But don’t go in search of the spotlight. The minute you do that, your fast becomes about you and not about God. It becomes the opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

Jesus never looked for the spotlight. It kept finding Him, sure, but He was always quick to redirect it to God so that others would worship the Lord. We should do the same thing.

Fasting is a good discipline to get into, whether its from food or technology or other things in our lives. As Americans, we are far too comfortable, far too focused on what we have or what we don’t have. Taking time to demonstrate to God that you care more about spending time with Him than eating means a lot, especially in our super-sized American culture.

Just remember if you go that route your fast is to worship the Lord. The moment it becomes about what you’ve sacrificed for God, it’s not about God anymore. And if it’s not about God, seriously, what’s the point?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Loving good Christians with God’s grace

I experienced a really difficult situation with some really good Christians when I was younger. You know the type. They are the first to tell you that your loved one you lost is in a better place. They’re the first one to point out what they think is sin in your life. They’re the first ones to comment on how someone else isn’t living for God. They’re the ones who tell you you’re struggling because God is punishing you.

When I was younger, I had no patience for it or them. They actually just made me angry, and a lot of that came from my own experiences with hyper-religious Christians. I was bitter and resentful inside for a long time, and that anger manifested in a general dislike of anyone who came off as “too good.”

I still struggle with it, but I think I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older. Or maybe, the longer I live, the more I realize just what Christ did for me and how lost I would be without Him.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are John 3:1-3.

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Everybody needs God’s grace, whether it’s the druggies in the gutter or the Bible-thumper in the church pew. Nobody can make it without Jesus. And something that I’ve begun to realize more and more is that a legalistic Christian is in just as much bondage as someone who doesn’t know Christ.

Maybe you’ve studied the Bible. Maybe you know who Jesus is. And maybe you’ve even given your life to Him. That makes you a Christian. But if you are living with the idea that your outward appearance or your behavior will make you a better Christian or that it will make God happy with you, you’re being deceived.

You can clean yourself up all you like, but if the motivation of your heart is to look like a good Christian and talk like a good Christian so people will know that you are a good Christian—your focus is wrong.

No Christian is a good Christian. I’m so sick and tired of people calling me a good Christian. People have told me that all my life, and I’m not good. I stumble. I lose my temper. I put myself first. I have a whole long list of things I do that make me bad.

But being a Christian isn’t about how you dress or how you talk or whether or not you keep the Ten Commandments. Being a Christian is recognizing that you aren’t good enough but that God loved you enough.

Christians locked in this lifestyle of dress code and behavior standards and what you can eat and what you can’t eat and when you go to church or where you sit—that has nothing to do with being a Christian. But it’s a lot easier to put rules and regulations on yourself than it is to accept the fact that you owe God more than you can ever, ever repay—and that He doesn’t want you to repay Him. Just to accept Him.

So many Christians cling to this idea that we have to have standards. Maybe none of them will say that they’re depending on their standards or the standards set by their church to make them good—but that’s what it seems like. So how do you deal with that?

If you are a Christ-follower, freed by the blood of Jesus, justified by faith, holy in God’s sight, how do you handle “good” Christians who are trapped in the chains of their own standards?

I used to get angry at them. I used to walk away from them. I didn’t want to waste time and energy on someone who thought I was a heathen.

But what did Jesus do? Jesus ran into the religious elite of His day all the time. And, yes, most of the time He accused them or He challenged them. But when those religious folks weren’t yelling at Him, when they came to Him seeking, He made time for them. He talked to them. He showed them that He loved them as much as everyone and demonstrated that they needed Him more than they needed their religious traditions.

So isn’t that what I should do too? Just because someone is preaching at me that wearing pants is of the devil or that listening to country music is evil (that’s nothing compared to this), that doesn’t mean they have rejected God’s grace. That may just mean they don’t understand how much they need it. And who am I to turn against them because they don’t know the way?

I can be patient with them. And if I can’t be, God can give me patience. I am confident in who I am in Him and what He has called me to do, but that doesn’t give me a reason to be angry with anyone else. That just gives me a responsibility to live God’s grace and freedom.

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

What you miss when you judge others wrongly

Have you ever made a judgment call on someone else’s personality only to discover later that you were wrong? Yeah, it’s kind of embarrassing. And it happened to me yesterday.

The first leg of my flight went from Philadelphia to Atlanta yesterday around noonish, and I ended up tucked against a wall at the back of an MD88 next to a grouchy, irritable woman and her absent-minded mother, and of course we were sitting in front of an infant who wouldn’t stop crying for the entire two-hour flight.

So needless to say, by the time I got off the plane in Atlanta, my nerves were shot. So when I boarded the flight bound for Wichita, I was already in a pretty foul humor.

I walked up to my seat, and there was an old man in my row. I politely told him that I had the window seat, and he took one look at me and my WSU t-shirt and said: “Oh, you’re one of those #$%& Shockers.” And then he proceeded to mutter about idiots and morons as I climbed over him to get to my seat.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say or what to think, so I just tried not to do either. I responded politely, buckled myself in, and then plugged my earphones in for the rest of the flight.

What on earth could possess someone to say something like that? Or to be so mean in general? Seriously. It was extraordinarily rude.

Fortunately for my mental state, the seat between us remained empty, so we both got to stretch out a little for the short hop between Atlanta and Wichita. But I kept my earphones in because I really didn’t want to talk to him.

A little more than halfway through the flight, when the flight attendants came around with drinks and pretzels, he put the middle tray table down and indicated that I could set my drink there if I didn’t want to risk spilling on my Kindle.

After I finished my drink and my pretzels, I packed them up neatly and shut my eyes for just a moment. Well, I guess I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up later to discover that he had taken care of my trash too. And a few moments later as the plane began to descend, he started doing the cha-cha sitting down. I thought there was something wrong with him, but then I realized he had earphones in too and was rocking out to some kind of music.

It was actually kind of funny.

Shortly thereafter we were on the ground, and the grumpy old man and his wife disappeared in the rush to deplane. But it left me wondering if he really was as grumpy as he seemed. And maybe I missed an opportunity to have a really great conversation with someone.

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is John 7:24.

Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.

We hear it all the time: Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Well, guess what, folks? We all judge. We judge everything all the time. If we didn’t, we’d all be making stupid decisions every moment of our lives.

We have to judge. We have to make judgment calls. If you never weigh two decisions against a standard, you never know what it is to make a choice, and you never understand what it is to make a wise choice.

What is interesting about this verse is that Jesus says it to the religious leaders of His time. They were attacking Him because He had healed someone on the Sabbath, the time when people weren’t supposed to work, but Jesus threw their attacks back in their faces. And rightly so. Because the religious leaders only grasped the letter of the law and not its meaning.

Every situation, every person, every thing in life is more than it appears. There’s always more to the story. There’s always more to a person than what you see. But if you make your judgment call based on something superficial, you may miss the point. And you may miss the opportunity to bless someone or to be blessed yourself.

Now I’m not saying you should throw caution to the wind and run out and do something foolish right now. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying is that maybe we should give people the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe that grouchy old man had just gotten off a flight where he’d had to listen to a child screaming or had to listen to the psychotic ramblings of an angry passenger. Maybe he was at his wit’s end too. That didn’t mean he wasn’t worth talking to.

So the next time you encounter someone who might not look or act the way you think they ought to, don’t just write them off. Don’t just ignore them because you don’t think they’re worth your time.

You never know. God may have put you in their path for such a time as this–or vice versa. But if you pass them by, you’ll never know.

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Define yourself

Are you good at something? Have you got a talent for something, or do you look at it like God has gifted you with certain abilities? Everyone has those gifts. Everyone has talent. Those things in life that come easy to you may not be easy for someone else. So it’s only natural to build a life on those talents. It’s a smart decision to choose a career doing what you’re good at, and if you enjoy doing it that’s an even bigger plus. Talents and gifts are wonderful, but there’s a downside to them too.

The problem with talent is that sometimes I think we let it define us. And if you’re a very talented person, you can get kind of lazy about it. If everything comes easily to you, you don’t really have to work to achieve anything. I was one of those kids in high school who never had to study, so when I got to college and had to start, it threw me for a loop. I’d gotten used to school coming easy, so when I had to work for my education, I learned a couple of things about life in general. Because life is that way too.

No matter how talented you are, you can always increase your skills. No matter how gifted you are, you aren’t going to be perfect. And if you let your talents or your gifts define you, when you encounter those moments where you could learn something, you won’t want to. Instead, you’ll just get discouraged because it feels less like learning and more like a personal attack.

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 2:13-19.

But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.

It’s very easy to use your talents and gifts to identify yourself. If you ask me who I am, I’ll tell you I’m a writer. That’s what I do. Constantly. As in all the time. I never stop writing, even when I’m not writing things down, I’m still writing in my head. But writing is my job–it’s not who I am. It’s just hard to distinguish sometimes, but I’m trying to learn how. Because I don’t want to take something that I do and turn it into who I am as a person. That cheapens who I am because a job has a description and a job can change and a job is subject to other people’s opinions, but I shouldn’t be. As a person, I am who God made me.

Paul sort of touches on this in the passage today. Jews and Gentiles, two people groups who were constantly at odds with each other, came together to become one people through Christ. Because that’s what Christ does. He reconciles us to God, and in being reconciled to God, we reconcile with each other in spite of our differences. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Thanks to Christ, it doesn’t matter where you were born or what your family looked like or what kind of job you have. If you believe in Him, you are part of His family, citizens of God’s kingdom. That’s where your identity should come from. If you’re a Christ-follower, you’re a child of God.

But I’m kind of a practical person. So what does that mean practically?

Well, that means you’re loved and accepted unconditionally. That means there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more or less than He already does. It means you’re never alone, you’re always welcome to speak to Him, and you’ve got someone on your side who is your biggest fan. And it doesn’t matter if you succeed and make it big or fail and fall flat on your face, God will never ever let you go.

Personally, I find that identity more appealing than Writer. Because a writer is bound by the limitations of his/her craft. Writing is subjective. Writing is entertainment and entertainment is fickle, just like people. And if I find my identity in my writing, what will I do when people stop liking it. If my writing identifies me and people don’t like it, that means people don’t like me. See where this is going?

Whatever you’re using to define yourself today, stop. Just take a moment and ask yourself who you are. And if God isn’t the source of that definition, something’s wrong. Your religion shouldn’t define you. Your job shouldn’t define you. Your family shouldn’t define you. Your personality shouldn’t even define you. The only person who has the right to define who you are is God.

So if you don’t know who you are, ask Him.

He’ll tell you that you are loved. And once you know that, you can do anything. You can face any challenge, any discouragement, any problem, and they don’t have to touch you because your identity comes from Someone who never changes.