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.

Sunflower facing west at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Crazy Love and sunflowers

September on the farm is a lot of fun because sunflowers start popping out everywhere, and I swear we have more of the bright happy flowers this year than we’ve had before. Sunflowers are the state flower of Kansas, and I actually think they’re a weed. But I love them anyway.

But they aren’t just called sunflowers because they are shaped like suns. That’s what I thought when I was little. But one year we actually planted “real” sunflowers in our garden, the ones that actually produce the seeds you can eat. And I was fascinated to discover that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky (the term is heliotropism, if you care about botany). That’s what I love best about sunflowers, besides being bright and happy and everywhere; I love that they respond to sunlight by following the sun.

I’m currently reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and one of the chapters I just finished reading has a part in it about how we should respond to God. I know I personally get so busy that sometimes I forget to respond to Him the way I should.

Sunflower facing west at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower facing west at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Revelation 4:6-11.

In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
    the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”

Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
    to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
    and they exist because you created what you pleased.”

This is one of the passages Crazy Love encourages us to read when we’re thinking about how to respond to God. I think a lot of the time we get hung up on the beings John is trying to describe toward the beginning. After all, how many times do you hear about things like that? This is the part of Scripture that starts creeping people out because there are so many “weird” things going on. And I haven’t done enough of a study of the Revelation to even begin to express my thoughts on it. But when we read a passage like this, I don’t think we should focus on what the beings are. Instead, we need to look at what they’re doing.

They’re worshipping. And they’re not just worshipping, this is hardcore exaltation. See what it says before? “Day after day, night after night.” That’s one heck of a worship service. And they’re not alone because there are 24 elders who are worshipping along with them.

I know I have a vivid imagination, but just think what it would be like in a place where God is worshipped 24/7. I love my church, and one of the things I love best about my church is the worship. And I’m not just talking about our song set every weekend, although those are fantastic. We have three worship leaders who are awesome inside and out, but worship is about more than just singing. Worship is a way of life. It’s how you get up in the morning. It’s how you go to work. It’s how you sit through meetings. It’s how you clean your house and raise your kids. And that’s what’s so awesome about my church is that it’s a community of people dedicated to worshipping God every moment of their lives.

That’s how we’re supposed to respond to God. We’re supposed to live our lives for Him, making choices in His name, loving others in His name. When we come face to face with who He really is, how can we do anything else? Those people who think they’ll be asking Him questions haven’t really wrapped their minds around how incredible He is.

Granted, God is my best friend. I’m closer to Him than anyone else. But just because He’s my best friend doesn’t mean I’ve lost respect for who He is. And when He is fully revealed to all of us, I guarantee we won’t be firing off questions about quasars and feathers, as it says in Chris Rice’s wonderful song “Questions for Heaven.” It will be all we can do to keep breathing.

So in the busyness and chaos of your life this morning, take a moment to just think about who God is. Seriously think about it. And don’t be afraid to be awed. Don’t be afraid to be speechless. In fact, if you aren’t, you’re not seeing Him the way you should. Thank Him for being who He is, for loving us even though He knows us, for caring about every detail of our lives even though He has much bigger things on His plate.

Don’t get so busy or so wrapped up in your troubles that you forget who He is.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember who you’re talking to

I don’t like reading instructions. I’m one of those silly people who prefer to jump into assembling things without the aid of an instruction manual. I prefer to guess, even if it voids the warranty and especially if there are parts leftover. I’d rather figure it out for myself than have someone tell me or than have to take the time to figure out which page has the English on it.

Did you know there are instructions to prayer? Jesus gave us a format that we should use when we pray, but not many people use it. As I blogged about yesterday, some folks traditionally like to recite the practice prayer. To me, that’s like reading an instruction manual out loud. I’m sure it’s beneficial, but it doesn’t accomplish what it was designed to accomplish until you use it.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:9.

Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.

This is the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. In other translations, you might remember it says something about “hallowed be thy name” but this means the same thing. There is so much going on in these first two lines, I almost split them up to talk about on separate mornings, but they are basically communicating the same concept: God deserves our worship.

That’s the first thing we need to remember when we pray. That’s the first step in the process. Worship. Praise. Telling God how awesome He is.

Why?

How many times do we just go to God with a request? With a demand? How many times do we open the line of communication between us just to ask for something and then shut it down?

Don’t get me wrong. God wants us to ask for things. He wants us to tell Him what we need, but that’s later on in the process. To start with, we need to get our perspective right. We need to remember who we’re talking to.

All too often, I think we get really comfortable with our relationship with God. And on one hand, that’s good. God wants a personal relationship with us. He wants us to call Him our Daddy. He wants to be the closest friend we have–but not at the expense of us forgetting Who He is. He is God. He is I Am. He created everything. He rules everything. And everything is about Him, whether we want to admit it or not. He is terrifying in strength, glorious in power, awesome in love, and furious in wrath. He is so far above us we couldn’t possible comprehend Him, so why do we expect that we can treat Him like a genie in a lamp? Where does that idea come from?

No. Before you ask for things, before you make your requests, before you delve into your list of demands, worship Him. Tell Him who He is to you. Thank Him for what He’s done in your life, in your heart, in our world. Remind yourself of how He’s changed you.

This is so important because by first acknowledging that He is God and you aren’t, it’s easier to remember that He knows what He’s doing. And it’s good to remember what He’s already done for you so you’ll remember that He’s never left you hanging.

So as you pray today, start off by telling God how great He is. Actually, even if you don’t get to your requests, just tell Him how great He is. Thank Him for specific things in your life. Thank Him for specific events in your life, good or bad. Thank Him for always being there.

Once you recognize everything He’s done, it’s hard to stop thanking Him. And once you’re done praying, don’t shut the line off. Don’t hang up the phone. Don’t forget He’s there. Worship Him all day. Keep an open line of communication going all day. When something goes wrong, praise Him. When something goes right, praise Him. Not only will it change your perspective, but it might change your circumstances too. Because Scripture proves that God loves to do things for grateful people who know Who He is.

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Preparing for the challenges ahead

It’s difficult to believe that 2012 is coming to an end. This is one of those years that I thought would never get here, and now it’s over. I honestly haven’t thought much about 2013; that’s probably going to start today. But one thing is certain about what is coming: It won’t be better than what we experienced in 2012. Actually, it may be worse.

I’m not trying to be cynical, and I’m not trying to be a downer or anything. I guess I’m just trying to prepare myself mentally to face the challenges that are coming next year, the ones I know about and the ones I don’t. Our world hasn’t experienced a great healing or a revolution of peace and love. 2012 has been the opposite of peace and love and healing, and it’s going to get worse and worse. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t been reading Scripture.

So as a follower of Christ, how do I prepare for a year that will probably be more difficult than this one? How do I get ready to face the challenges that are coming?

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 12:32.

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

This is part of a statement that Christ made to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover just before He was crucified. The verse right after this one states that Christ said this to indicate to them that He was going to die. But of course, still most of the people didn’t believe Him or didn’t understand. In spite of everything He had said and done, people refused to believe He was who He said.

Funny how some things never change.

But what caught my attention today about this verse is that it really does have a double meaning. Christ used it to tell them that He was getting ready to die–to be crucified, literally hung between heaven and earth for six grueling hours of physical agony to pay the price for our sins so that all people can come to God. But this verse also has another meaning in another context. Because if His followers lift Him up figuratively, in worship and praise, making Him the center of our attention and focus, something miraculous happens–people are drawn to it.

Have you ever witnessed this? I have. I’ve seen it. A group of people sit and sing songs praising God and people come over to hear it. I’ve been sitting in a worship service at church with nonbelievers all around, and somehow in the middle of that worship service something changes inside those people who don’t believe. And by the end, they want to believe. And I’ve seen it happen beyond just singing; I’ve seen it happen in living. Because if you live a life that gives praise and honor and glory to God no matter what the circumstances you’re in, people are drawn to it.

Why? Do you think it’s something special about you?

Well, maybe it is. But I don’t really think there’s anything special about Christ-followers, other than who we follow. If we remember to keep life in perspective and remember that God has everything under control, that He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises, we don’t have to live life without fear. We can be confident who we are, where we’re going, and why we’re here. Do you realize what that makes us look like to people who don’t have that assurance?

If we lift Christ up in our lives, if we hold Him high and point to Him with every word we say, He attracts people to Him. It’s not something we’re doing; it’s all about Him.

And I find it ironic that Christ said this to the disciples just before He died. He knew their lives were going to become chaotic shortly after He said this. Maybe the disciples thought that the worst was behind them; knowing how they reacted to other situations, I’m sure they didn’t expect anything like what happened. But Christ knew it was coming, and He wanted them to be ready.

Guess what, guys? The worst hasn’t even started yet. You think 2012 was difficult? You think 2012 was depressing and overwhelming? Well, it’s going to get much, much worse because this world isn’t our home. It’s broken, and it’s breaking more every day. But we don’t have to focus on that. We can lift Christ up in the darkness, and not only will that keep our perspectives straight, it will also draw others who don’t believe to Him.

And that’s my parting thought for the last day of 2012. Don’t be discouraged. Maybe things will keep getting worse, maybe the darkness will keep getting darker, but we don’t live in darkness.

John 12:35-36

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”