Life’s too short to rush from one crisis to the next

Last week, I took some friends to the zoo to show off what Wichita has to offer in the way of tourism. We didn’t plan to pick a gorgeous day for walking around outside, but that’s what we got. It’s December, so we expected it to be cold and snowy or rainy and miserable, but it wasn’t. It was beautiful. Light jacket weather. Warm sun. Blue skies. And all the animals at the zoo were feeling it too, because they were all outside soaking it in.

Sometimes life throws us rare moments of joy or wonder. It’s not that life is altogether a horrible thing. Quite the opposite. But normal life can get tedious sometimes, and we can get so busy with the day-to-day stuff that we forget to rejoice when something rare and wondrous and incredible comes along.

A goat chilling in the rare December sun at the African Farm exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A goat chilling in the rare December sun at the African Farm exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 6:16.

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m wired to work. I don’t stop. Even when I’m sitting down watching a TV show, my brain is going a million miles an hour in the background. I’m always running, running, running to get stuff done, and that’s great for productivity most of the time. That’s great for the everyday tasks that need to be done. But when you get into the habit of work, work, work, when the time comes to rest it’s hard to stop.

And you must. We have to be able to turn off the work, work, work part of our brains and learn how to rest, otherwise we’ll burn ourselves out. Rest doesn’t have to be complicated either. It can be a short moment that you just stop what you’re doing and do something else for five minutes. Take a walk. Spin around in circles. Laugh at the sky. Make a cup of tea and drink it. Whatever floats your boat. Whatever gets you out of your work-work-work focus and into a mindset of refreshment. It’s different for everyone.

God expects us to rest. Don’t just rush from one crisis to the next. Life’s too short for that. Look for the road you’re supposed to be on and walk it consistently, and the proper road will give you the opportunity to rest. The wrong road will suck the life out of you.

But whatever you do, don’t let the moments pass. Don’t let the rare times when the sun is shining go by without taking the time to enjoy it. When you see God do something awesome, stop what you’re doing and recognize it. Praise Him for what He’s doing. It doesn’t matter how bad a mood you’re in, if you start praising God, you’ll probably feel better when you’re done.

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Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Get excited about what God is doing

When something great happens, don’t you want to tell everyone? I got some great news the other day, but it’s not time to talk about it yet. I will soon, but I have to stay quiet for a little while. And it’s so hard! I just want to scream it at the sky and run around in circles and dance or something–anything–because I’m so excited.

When was the last time you felt that way about something God did in your life?

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Chronicles 16:23-27.

Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods.
The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the Lord made the heavens!
Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and joy fill his dwelling.

God does awesome things for us every day. Did you realize that? He does things for us that we never asked Him for, things we don’t even know how to ask for. And He does them just because He can.

That sunrise this morning. God did that. The rainbow after the storm the other night. God did that too. God is in the habit of doing miracles every morning, every afternoon, every evening, and most of the time we’re just too busy to pay attention.

Slow down.

The world isn’t going to end if you take a few moments to look around and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Listen to a bird sing or a child laugh. Feel the wind on your face or marvel at the color of the grass (or the wheat, if you’re in Kansas). Smell the lilacs or the roses, whichever floats your boat. And take a moment to recognize who is responsible for all the beauty around us.

And you don’t have to live in the country to enjoy the miracles God does every moment. You realize your cup of coffee is a miracle, right? You can taste it. You can enjoy it. Both of those gifts come from God. And, man, let me tell you I think coffee is a wonderful gift.

There’s nothing better than drinking a cup of hot coffee on a brisk spring morning and watching the sun come up. And that’s something anyone can do, whether you work full time or not. Maybe you work a different shift. If that’s the case, marvel as the sun sets when you’re on the way to work.

The point is that we need to get excited about the things God does for us every day. Maybe they might sound small, but even the smallest miracle is still beyond our capacity. It’s still impossible for us to do. So why don’t we celebrate?

Celebrate the tiny things, the small victories, and tell everyone who did it. Shout it at the sky. God did it! And He did it for me because He loves me!

You want something that will change your perspective on life? Give that a try. After a few days of rejoicing over daisies and lattes, then you’ll start recognizing how many huge things God does for us too.

Praise God for what you don’t have yet

My first novel hits the stores today. It’s a project 13 years in the making, and I never expected it to get this far. I’m so excited that I can hardly focus or think about anything else, but I’m absolutely terrified that people will hate it. And more than anything, I’m scared that it will fail.

I want it to challenge the way people think. That’s why I wrote it, because God challenged the way I think, and I wanted to share what I learned about faith and about following Him. I just did it with spaceships, bounty hunters, and malfunctioning androids. Different strokes, you know?

I’m asking that God will use it, not only to challenge our way of thinking in 21st Century America but also to support itself. I’d love to be able to make a living on this thing and its sequels. And I found myself yesterday telling God that if He made it successful in the ways I wanted, I would praise Him for it. But just as I thought that, I felt a little tug in my heart.

You know the feeling. It’s the finger poking you in your chest or that hand slapping the back of your head like Gibbs off NCIS.

And that unmistakable still, small voice asked me a question that rang in my ears: If I can praise God for what I already have, why can’t I praise Him for what He’s going to do later?

1056131_54670030Today’s verses are Acts 16:22-25.

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks. Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening.

Paul and Silas were among the world’s first missionaries, and they always seemed to be getting into trouble. This was no exception. Because they couldn’t stop talking about Jesus, they got themselves beaten and arrested. But they weren’t moping or feeling sorry for themselves. No, they were singing praise songs.

I’m sure they had both gotten to the point where they could thank God for the tragedies and the difficulties in their lives, but I don’t think they were spending all this time thanking God for the chains and the prison. I firmly believe they were already seeing past the prison, to what God was going to do in their lives after He got them out of prison, which He did in rather spectacular fashion (check out the rest of Acts 16 for the rest of the story).

But how does that apply to us today?

Have you ever tried to praise God for something He hasn’t given you yet? To thank Him for prayers He hasn’t answered yet?

It’s easy to praise Him for what He’s already given us. We have it. We can see it. We can hold it in our hands. But praising Him for something He hasn’t given us yet takes faith–faith that He will do it, faith that He’ll provide and open doors and that He’ll really do what He’s promised to do.

Maybe it sounds arrogant to praise God for what He’s going to do for us tomorrow. And, granted, if you aren’t careful you can turn into one of the “name-it-and-claim-it” prosperity gospel preachers who tell you God will always give you what you want. And that’s not from Scripture. Not at all.

God always answers prayers in the way that’s best for us, and that doesn’t mean we always get what we want. It means we get what God wants–and ultimately that’s better anyway.  But regardless if God answers the way you expect or the way you don’t, He still answers. And maybe His answers aren’t what you want, but you can know they’re always good. Because He is good.

Will my book be successful the way I want it to? I don’t know. I hope so, but more importantly, I want my book to be successful in the way God wants it to. That’s what matters. That’s what will make a difference.

So whatever you’re asking God for today, don’t bargain with Him. Don’t base your response to Him on whether He does what you want or not. That’s not the point.

If you can praise Him whether you have what you want or not, you’ve already achieved something greater than mere success. You’re seeing life from His point of view. And that’s worth more than any 5-star review or royalty check.

Alone isn’t always better, especially when it comes to worship

When I’m tired and stressed out, the last thing I want to do is be around people. When I’m running behind on my deadlines and have so many unresolved issues in my own life, the last thing I want to do is talk to people about their lives.

With everything that’s been going on in my life–between work and sickness and family issues–I hadn’t been to church in about a month. I realized it as I was pulling into the parking lot yesterday. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I’ve managed to get myself over committed again. Some of it is my own doing. The rest of it is someone else’s doing (hence Friday’s post). But no matter who is responsible, I still have too much work to get done and not enough days left in 2014. Even as I was parking the car, I was thinking maybe I’d have opportunity to slip out early so I could get some work done.

Well, God took a 2×4 to my thick skull today and reminded me why I needed to be at my church today. Because hiding doesn’t help you manage your tiredness and your stress, and focusing on your own unresolved issues often makes them worse instead of better.

700879_77376177Today’s verse is Colossians 3:16.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

I spend most of my 45-minute commute every morning talking to God and singing along with the radio or my own personal mix of music. And that’s good for me. It helps me get my focus right. It helps me remember that my life isn’t about me and that God has put me where I am for a reason. But there’s something different about being in a group of people all singing together or all praying together. It’s important to do it on your own, but when you’re one voice among many, all talking to the same God, it becomes more real somehow.

I’m sure I’ve realized this before, but standing in worship yesterday with an auditorium full of other Christ-followers, all singing at the top of our lungs–it helped me remember that I’m not in this fight alone. And maybe that’s a silly thing to realize, because it’s something I already know. But when you lock yourself away, it’s easier to forget that you are surrounded by a community of people who believe the same way you do. People who understand you better than you think.

And instead of worrying about my problems and my issues and my deadlines and all the things that I am responsible to do, I just stood in awe, lifted up by 1500 voices (or however many our auditorium holds these days) all telling God how great He is. And all I could think about was how I hope it made Him happy, how I desperately wanted Him to know how thankful I am for my life and my family and my priceless friendship with Him.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot to do. But what really matters in the end?

It’s ironic, really. I didn’t want to go to church because I had too much to do. But I went anyway because I knew I needed to. And when I got home I finished three major things that I’d been trying to get done all last week. That should teach me something.

I’m so blessed to have a wonderful church. No, it’s not perfect, but no group of people is. What’s important is that it’s where I’m called to be right now. If you don’t have a church or some place you can go to worship–and I mean really worship–please do yourself a favor and find one. And once you find it, go. Yes, life is busy and frantic and stressful, and it’s getting ready to get worse with the holidays approaching, but the more time you spend alone on your own deadlines and problems, the more you focus on them and the less you focus on just being in God’s presence.

It’s the one place I can really be still. Where I can’t find words and I don’t worry about it because with Him I don’t need them. Where I don’t try to hide because He knows me inside and out. And, yeah, I can worship in my car on my own, but when you’re in a group of people all focusing on God and all telling Him how wonderful He is, your problems don’t seem so insurmountable.

It will seem like a hassle. It will seem like more trouble than it’s worth. It will sound like work. But going to church where you can worship God in a community of like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ is never a bad idea, no matter how busy you are. Take the time to do it. Get your focus off yourself, and put your focus where it belongs–on God.

Your problems won’t go away, but you’ll see them for what they are–opportunities for God to show you just how wonderful He truly is.

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

When your lunch sings louder than you do

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s verses are Luke 19:36-40.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Searching for grace

Thanksgiving is this week, and it’s normally this time of year when everyone starts talking about the things they’re thankful for. And as much crap as I give people about the 30 Days of Thankfulness routine on Facebook, I will admit that it’s pretty cool to see and read. And it really does make a difference if you let it. If you wake up and you’re thankful immediately, it does tend to change the way you look at the rest of your day.

I don’t want to wax uber-spiritual, but when I think about what I’m thankful for, the very first thing that comes to mind is grace.

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises in bloom at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

This is one of those verses that you can find all sorts of different opinions. What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? I’ve heard just about everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t, but whatever it was, it brought Paul a lot of trouble. It upset him and tormented him and made him beg for God to take it away, but God only replied that His grace was sufficient and that His power worked best in Paul’s weakness.

Grace is a terribly misunderstood gift, I think. We sing about God’s grace in church, and we talk about it in our Bible studies. But do we really grasp it? Grace. What is grace?

Grace is understanding that you can’t do anything to make God love you more or less than He already does. Grace is God’s presence in our lives helping us get through a day that just won’t stop pounding us. Grace is seeing how badly a situation could have gone and rejoicing when we see that it turned out better than we feared. Grace is the courage to face the impossible with courage and faith. It’s the certainty in the uncertainty. It isn’t something you can put your arms around exactly, but it’s something none of us could live without.

Did something go right for you today? That’s grace. Remember, our world is broken. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to, so if anything in your life works out, that’s grace.

Did something go wrong today? Grace kept it from being worse. And no matter how bad it is, it can always be worse.

I’m not a bad person. I never even really went through a rebellious phase in my life; I’m still waiting for that to hit, I guess. Most people would probably call me a “good” Christian, although I’m not quite sure what that means. But at the end of the day, I’m just another person like everyone else trying to make it in our screwed up world. And if my eternity depended on me, there’d be no future joy to look forward to. No, I’m not a bad person, but I’m not perfect. And perfect is what I need to be–so I’m thankful for God’s grace in sending Christ for me so I don’t have to be perfect.

Without God’s grace, I couldn’t make it through a day. And it shows up in so many places, places I’d never expect to see it, and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not surprised exactly; I’m just amazed that God could love us so much when we’ve given Him nothing, when we can give Him nothing in return. Not really.

Take a moment today, even if it’s just a few seconds, to identify the grace God has in your life. If you’re at work, don’t think too long on it, or you’ll end up in tears. That’s what happens to me. I just start thinking about how awesome God is, and pretty soon I’m bawling. I didn’t used to be so emotional … but then I didn’t used to understand exactly how much God has forgiven in me, how much He gave to purchase me, how much He had to love me to do it.

Sometimes His grace can be hard to see, especially in the dark times, but it’s at those moments when we need to seek it more. It’s in those difficult moments when we don’t know what the next step is or where we’re going or how to handle the tidal wave of trouble that is intent on knocking us over–it’s then that we need to be aware of His grace more than ever. The irony is that His grace isn’t hard to find; we just have to open our eyes to see it.

So look for God’s grace today. I promise it’s not far away. And while you’re looking, listen to this song by Matt Redmond. It’s my new favorite.