One wrong step doesn’t mean you have to fall

The internet and media outlets are overflowing with examples of how people have made really bad choices, and it seems to be getting worse every day. I swear, every day there’s a new tragedy to report on. Every day, someone makes the headlines for a horrible decision he or she made–sometimes recently, sometimes in the past.

And what I find interesting (maybe sad is more like it) is that the majority is quick to condemn. If the person in question screwed up royally and hurt other people or betrayed someone or did something that popular culture says is wrong, just about everybody is ready to jump on the bandwagon and talk about how evil that person is. And it doesn’t matter who they are or where they came from or even what they did. There’s comfort in following the crowd. There’s security in saying the same things everybody around you says, whether you have all the facts or not.

The truth is much more challenging–much less comfortable. Because maybe we haven’t done “what they did” but we’ve done something similar, and if we were to put ourselves in that person’s shoes, how would we want to be treated? Kind of tough when you think about it like that. Gives new meaning to “but for the grace of God” right? Because I’m not special, and neither are you. We all have things in our lives that we wish weren’t there, but that doesn’t change the way God feels about us.

TightropeToday’s verses are Psalm 66:16-20.

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Everybody screws up. Nobody escapes it. And that’s not an excuse for sin. If you sin against God and choose to go against what He says is right, you are responsible for your choices. But God doesn’t favor one person over another. He doesn’t love one race more than another. And there’s nothing of us can do to make Him love us more or less than He already does.

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that because I know what I’ve done. I know what I think, what I feel in my heart of hearts. I know the kind of person I am, and it’s really difficult to accept that someone like God would love me in spite of me. But He does. And I know He does. The Bible says so, and I tend to agree with the Bible when it says stuff.

But the Bible does make it clear that while sin doesn’t stop God from loving us, our attitude toward it will keep Him from hearing us. And our attitude is up to us.

You can call your sin what it is–evil and contrary to who God is. Or you can make excuses for it. You can turn away from it and despise it and seek to never go back to it. Or you can keep dipping your toes in it because it’s fun. What attitude do you think God is going to pay attention to?

It’s not about what you’ve done. It’s about your attitude about what you’ve done. It’s the disposition of your heart toward the wrong you’ve done in your life. Are you sorry for it? Do you want to change? Do you want God to bless you? Do you want God to hear your prayers? Call your sin what it is, and don’t be so quick to jump on other people who’ve fallen off that same proverbial wagon.

We’re all in the same boat down here, people. Nobody lives on a pedestal–not really. We’re all beggars just looking for bread to eat. And God’s within reach, offering a feast to us free of charge, if only we’ll reach out and take it.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Praising God because of trouble

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with all the amazing things God has done in your life? I was thinking about that the other day. God has done so much for me and brought me so far. He’s helped me grow and become the person I am today, and He’s answered prayers I didn’t even know enough to pray. Even on the bad days, even when I get news I don’t want to hear, He isn’t far away, poking and prodding at me and reminding me just how good He is.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 52:9.

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.

I don’t praise Him enough. I don’t tell Him how awesome He is often enough. I get wrapped up in my own issues, my own problems, my own shortcomings. I get focused on everything that’s going wrong or everything that’s going right. And telling Him how amazing He is falls by the wayside.

The thing about praising God is that it changes your attitude. It gets our attitudes back where they ought to be. Let’s face it: we get down in the mouth and depressed when we stop seeing God for who He is. Praising God in spite of the difficulties in our lives gets us back on track. And if you believe that, praising God because of the difficulties in our lives makes even more difference.

It’s so easy to just see the difficulties. It’s so easy to just see the struggles. We don’t get the big picture. We aren’t privy to how our lives are going to play out. We know what Scripture tells us: God will be glorified and He’ll make everything right. But let’s be honest. Is that enough? Is knowing that God will eventually make everything right enough to get us through a terrible day that we’re facing right now? Sometimes it is for me. But most times it’s not.

When I’m in the middle of a terrible day right now, I want reassurance that everything I’m struggling through isn’t in vain. Sure, I can cling to knowing He’ll eventually sort things out, but how much better would it be if He’d step in right now and fix my problems today?

Do you ever feel like that?

The funny thing about trouble is that you learn to appreciate it the further away from it you get. Trouble doesn’t last forever. At least, the same kind of trouble doesn’t last forever. That’s not to say you won’t be bombarded with lots of different kinds of trouble, but none of them will stick around forever. And when you get on the other side of it, most of the time you’ll be able to look back on it fondly.

Well, maybe fondly is too strong a word. But I know, in my life, looking back on the difficulties I’ve faced, I wouldn’t trade them for anything now. When I was going through them, I didn’t want them. When I was at the center of all the conflict around me, I would have chopped off a limb to make it all go away. But now, looking back, those struggles were in my life for a reason. God let me experience all those hard things to help me become the person I am today.

So I’m trying to remember that when tough times hit me I need to be thankful for them. Because some day in the future, I’ll look back on this time in my life, and I’ll be able to see how valuable these difficulties are.

That’s not a coincidence. It’s God working. It’s God taking the terrible things in our lives and using them for good. It’s God making something beautiful out of something our enemy intended for evil, and that’s something only God can do. And I don’t thank Him enough for that.

That’s what God does, you see. He restores. He redeems. And that’s the God the world doesn’t know because we don’t talk about Him that way. We get focused on Him as the Rock who supports us in trouble. We focus on Him as the judge who will bring order to the world. And that’s true. Both of those are true, and I’m so thankful they’re true. But the world doesn’t understand that. They don’t see a Rock; they see a crutch. They don’t see a judge; they see a sledgehammer.

What would happen if we praised God more often? What would happen if we thanked Him because of the troubles we face rather than just in spite of them? It’s a challenge we need to accept. It’s a challenge I’m going to try to do better at achieving, for my own sake as well as for the people around me.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

No wonder my heart is glad

We have a lot to be thankful for. We have so many good things. Even on our worst day, even when we are experiencing stress, even when we are overwhelmed with all the tasks we have to accomplish or our responsibilities, we still have more than enough good in our lives that we should be thankful.

So why are we grumpy? Why are we focused on the negative? Well, it’s human nature. But if you follow Christ, you aren’t subject to your human nature. You have two natures now, and you also have a choice which one to listen to.

I love the Psalms of David because so many times they speak to me in a way regular Scripture doesn’t. Whether it’s because they are mainly about praise or maybe because David was a fellow artist, I don’t know. But the Psalms incorporate statements that rock my world.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s passage is Psalm 16.

Keep me safe, O God,
for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!
I take pleasure in them!
Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.

So much of our attitude comes from our perspective. If you focus on the negative in every situation, you’re going to have a negative attitude. Granted, if you only focus on the positive, you’re going to annoy the crap out of anyone you talk to and you won’t be realistic or relevant to anyone. Why? Because we don’t live in a positive world. And being falsely happy and cheerful all the time isn’t helpful or encouraging. We can’t ignore the negative elements in our world, but we don’t have to focus on them.

David had issues. He had troubles in his life. Where do we even start with the troubles in David’s life? Even this Psalm starts out with him asking God for protection, asking God to be his refuge. But then it quickly moves into praise. David talks about his relationship with God, who God is to Him, what God has done for him.

And that’s what we need to do too.

Recognize that God is our refuge. He is. He’s our shield and the One who protects us, and as the days grow darker that protection will be very much needed.

But He’s more than just our refuge. God is our joy. Every good thing we have comes from Him. He is our future and our heritage all at the same time. And the good things He has given us now pale in comparison to what’s coming. And as we wait for that day, He won’t leave us. Ever.

No wonder David’s heart was glad. And our hearts should feel the same way. If they don’t, stop focusing on what you don’t have or what you don’t like or what has made you unhappy and focus on the God who is both your protection and your light. Think about what He’s done, think about what He’s doing (because He’s never still), and even if the day is dark and your life is full of struggle, you’ll be okay because as long as we can see Him, we can remember what we’re living for.

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

God rescues those who cry to Him

God is so good. He’s the kind of friend who never gives up on us, the kind of friend who pursues us when we’re being stubborn, the kind of friend who won’t let us get away with being less than we were created to be.

If you’ve been overwhelmed with work or family difficulties or anything else going on in your life, take a moment to thank Him for being who He is. Think about what it took to save you, the sacrifice He had to make, and thank Him for it. It would have been easier for God to just leave us, and we would have deserved it.

But He didn’t.

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

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

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west,
from north and south.

Some wandered in the wilderness,
lost and homeless.
Hungry and thirsty,
they nearly died.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he rescued them from their distress.
He led them straight to safety,
to a city where they could live.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom,
imprisoned in iron chains of misery.
They rebelled against the words of God,
scorning the counsel of the Most High.
That is why he broke them with hard labor;
they fell, and no one was there to help them.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He led them from the darkness and deepest gloom;
he snapped their chains.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he broke down their prison gates of bronze;
he cut apart their bars of iron.

Some were fools; they rebelled
and suffered for their sins.
They couldn’t stand the thought of food,
and they were knocking on death’s door.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
snatching them from the door of death.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving
and sing joyfully about his glorious acts.

Some went off to sea in ships,
plying the trade routes of the world.
They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
his impressive works on the deepest seas.
He spoke, and the winds rose,
stirring up the waves.
Their ships were tossed to the heavens
and plunged again to the depths;
the sailors cringed in terror.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards
and were at their wits’ end.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He calmed the storm to a whisper
and stilled the waves.
What a blessing was that stillness
as he brought them safely into harbor!
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation
and before the leaders of the nation.

He changes rivers into deserts,
and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
because of the wickedness of those who live there.
But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
the dry land into springs of water.
He brings the hungry to settle there
and to build their cities.
They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
and harvest their bumper crops.
How he blesses them!
They raise large families there,
and their herds of livestock increase.

When they decrease in number and become impoverished
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
the Lord pours contempt on their princes,
causing them to wander in trackless wastelands.
But he rescues the poor from trouble
and increases their families like flocks of sheep.
The godly will see these things and be glad,
while the wicked are struck silent.
Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.

Storm clouds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Nothing is too hard for God.

What do you need God to do for you? It’s difficult to understand, honestly, but God has opened the door for us to speak to Him one-on-one. Maybe not face to face yet, but we can bring our requests and our needs to Him at any time of day. And nothing is too big for Him.

Storm clouds - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 32:17.

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!

I blogged on this same verse a year ago today because apparently Biblegateway.com recycles their daily Bible verses. But I went ahead and decided to use this verse again because I am in pretty serious need of encouragement today.

Every now and then, I just wake up feeling gray. Does that happen to anyone else? There’s no real reason for it. There’s nothing really wrong. I just feel down. Maybe it’s burn-out from working too much. Maybe it’s exhaustion from not sleeping enough. Maybe it’s the onset of a cold. Not sure.

But on gray days, it’s important to remember the things that matter. On those days when I feel sad or discouraged or lonely or insecure, it’s important to focus on something that doesn’t change, on something that’s true no matter what. Because if I can anchor myself to something true, my emotions that are as fluid and changing as the sea won’t carry me away. I might get tossed around a little bit, but I won’t budge.

So this verse stood out to me today. It’s ironic because it’s the beginning of a prayer the prophet Jeremiah prayed, and it’s really not a happy prayer. Actually, Jeremiah isn’t really a happy book at all. There’s a reason he’s called the Weeping Prophet.

The prayer, as a whole (Jeremiah 32:17-25), really serves to recognize that God is sovereign and that He does what He wants. You see, Israel was on the brink of destruction. Jeremiah was actually a prisoner in the King’s palace because he wouldn’t shut up about a prophecy God had given him. God wanted Jeremiah to tell everyone that destruction was coming, that He was going to allow Babylon to destroy Jerusalem. As you can imagine, the King didn’t like that. So he locked Jeremiah up in hopes of getting him to shut up, but, like any true preacher, it didn’t work. And Jeremiah continued to preach even in prison.

And after he concluding a bit of business (you can read the whole story in Jeremiah 32), he prayed this prayer that starts with stating that God can do anything. He’s the only One who can do anything because He’s the only One with the right to do anything.

Even in our world, we grasp the concept of sovereignty. At least, we used to. We have the right to do what we want with our property, whether it be homes or land or our lives or our resources. If it belongs to us, we have the right to do what we want with it.

Well, God made everything. So He has the right to do what He wants with it. And we have no say, although for some reason God still listens to our requests and considers them. He still gives us the chance to ask Him for what we want, and if it fits into His grand scheme for everything, He’ll give it to us.

Do we really get that?

Seriously. Do we really understand how awesome that is? What privilege that is? I don’t. I don’t think I can really wrap my head around that. To have access to Someone Who can do anything, Someone Who made the heavens, Someone Who made the earth: if we really understood the power at our disposal, I think our lives would look different.

Nothing is too hard for God.

So if you are feeling like I am this morning, discouraged and weary, take it to God. He understands, and He cares. And He wants to hear from you. And He wants to help you. And no matter how big your problem might seem, it’s not too big for Him.

 

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When a good question becomes a time waster

As 2011 comes to a close, it’s natural to look forward to the new year. People will be making resolutions, mainly revolving around losing weight. Some people will make resolutions to work harder to finish something they started years ago or to start something completely new. And that’s good. We all need goals and dreams, though many folks won’t follow through no matter how good intentioned they are.

But as another year winds down, I think we should take the time to look backward instead of forward.

Looking backward isn’t always productive because it depends on your perspective. And generally speaking, I don’t recommend looking backward at all. Because it’s easy to get caught in the regret trap, where you can see now the things you wish you would have done or how you wish you would have done something differently. But you can’t change the past, and regret is a useless thing to feel for a long period of time.

But there is one reason we need to look back, and David stated it quite well in today’s passage, Psalm 103:1-2.

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      may I never forget the good things he does for me.

People are forgetful creatures. We do great when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong and we lose the security we think we had, we blame God. Or we get angry at God. Or we become convinced that God no longer cares about us. Or we give up on God, believing that He must not want the best for us after all. Or that He doesn’t exist.

Okay. Well. Stop.

Because when everything was going fine and all was right in the world, God was good. Only when life takes a turn for the worst do people start feeling abandoned and like God doesn’t care. And once you go down that road — the path of blaming God for the perceived injustices in your life — people don’t seem to be able to drag themselves out of it. And I think it’s less of a God issue and more of a person issue.

Because we think we know better than God.

I know I do. Deep down inside myself, my first inclination when things go wrong is to sink into depression and self-pity and complain about why God lets bad things happen to me. But oftentimes our first inclination isn’t the right inclination. And the moment I start feeling that way, I try to stop. Not because it’s wrong, though.

It’s not wrong to question God. It’s not wrong to wonder why. It’s not wrong to seek an explanation. But those responses waste time. And time is something we don’t have a lot of. And when I look back over my life, I see many examples of times that I knew God was telling me to do something and I waited around demanding a clearer sign. Or I waited to act because I wanted Him to confirm the things I thought He wanted me to do. Or I waited because I wanted to understand why He was testing me. And when I look back on my responses to His calling, I am appalled at the amount of time I wasted.

Not saying that God didn’t eventually use me to accomplish great things. But it took me a long time to get my feet moving. And in the time it took me to get moving, I could have accomplished so much more.

But regretting the things I didn’t do or didn’t finish or didn’t notice is a waste of what time I have now. Because I can’t change it. All I can do is vow not to let those things slip by again. I can promise God that I won’t drag my feet when He tells me to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds. And that when He lets difficult things come into my life, that I won’t question.

I understand that I can question, but I’m going to. Because the sooner I get through the testing, the sooner I can learn what He needs me to learn and move on to the next thing. And then when I look back on my life, I will see that I didn’t waste time trying to understand what God was doing. I just did it. And that way, I won’t forget.

When I encounter a trial, I won’t just sit and ask why; I’ll go through it. I won’t lose time that could have been spent doing something else. I won’t ask why so many times that I forget why I’m experiencing the trial to begin with. And then I will be able to point back to the time when I learned something from the troubles in my life. They won’t just be passing woes that I experience over and over again, pinning me down in a black hole I can’t climb out of. The struggles in my life will have meaning because I know I’m going to learn something — and I know that God is going to keep working even if I can’t see him. 

That’s my hope for 2012. 2011 has been a hard year. I can’t say it’s been the hardest, and I can’t say that I’ve struggled more than other people. Because I have a job and I have a family and I have friends and I have a car and I have a church and I have a house and I have food. So that probably puts me in the top one percentile of the world as far as wealth and provision and comfort.

But I do have a bad memory. And I often forget how faithful He is to me. And I want that to change. May I never get so bogged down in the trials of the present that I forget what He did for me yesterday or what He promised to do for me tomorrow.