The 11-Day Journey

Murmuring, grumbling, complaining.   We are all guilty of it, and we really don’t stop to think about what it costs us.   Not only does it turn us into people that others don’t want to be around, it can actually change the course of our journeys.  We say it’s just harmless venting, and yes, there are times that we need to vent a little bit, but spending our time complaining or murmuring about our situations, or about other people in our lives, is something we should not be doing.  Period.

shutterstock_614595179When God delivered Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, He intended for them to inhabit the Promised Land.  The journey from where they were to where they were going was an 11-day journey (Deuteronomy 1:2), and yet it took them FORTY years to make it (Numbers chpt. 14).  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years because they did nothing but murmur and complain at almost every turn.  In Numbers chapter 14, God even said, “How long will these people treat me with contempt?  How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  How long will this wicked community grumble against me?”  God goes on to say He was going to destroy them, but Moses interceded and asked Him to spare them.  God agreed to spare them, but then said not one of those who murmured and complained against Him would see the Promised Land.  The consequences these people experienced as a result of their complaining cost them far more than they would have ever expected, and an 11-day journey became one of 40 years.  God still took care of them during their 40 years of wandering, but it could have all been over much sooner, if only for a change of perspective.

How many times have you or I extended the amount of time we had to spend in certain circumstances just because we refused to stop complaining, gossiping, or getting caught up in the opinions of those around us?  Sometimes we can be swayed by group complaining.  After all, negativity is far more contagious than anything positive.  We get into situations where we feel justified in talking bad about someone, because we feel they deserve it.  People who have mistreated us, or even made poor personal decisions that affect us, are easy targets of our complaining, but we better be careful.  The more we complain, the more we “wander” until we change our perspective.  Israel eventually stopped complaining and trusted God, but it was at such great expense.  A generation of people (and complainers) died in the wilderness and never actually got to enter the Promised Land.  They missed out on the most amazing blessings and stayed stuck in a difficult and discouraging situation, because they chose to complain about everything instead of being grateful and trusting God to work things out.  Again, I ask how many times do we extend our own challenges because we do the same thing?

shutterstock_1017742099God tells us over and over to be grateful, but He also tells us to stop complaining!  Philippians 2:14 says to do all things without grumbling or arguing.  Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  There are many other verses that tell us to speak words that lift up and encourage, not tear down and destroy, and even with all of this knowledge of what God expects from us, we just don’t seem to be able to stop the grumbling.   We can’t seem to let go of criticizing others around us for not responding to things like we think they should.  We walk around thinking our way is the best way, and eventually it diminishes our ability to actually listen to the people around us.   You’ve probably heard the saying, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth, because you should listen twice as much as you speak.”  We are losing the ability to listen for the purpose of truly hearing, and it is harming us and our society.

When we listen to others, we are able to discern far better the reason for their reactions and even emotions at times.  We learn each other and can read between the lines to the deeper meaning (or problem) behind the words someone is speaking.  But listening this way requires humility.  You cannot truly listen to someone else while being full of yourself.  Being so convinced we are right takes up all the space inside us that is needed for seeing things from another point of view, one that may actually be better than our own.  We have to humble ourselves in order to listen, and we need to listen as though we are trying to learn something.  When we have an interest in something, we listen to information and instruction about it completely differently.  We WANT to know all we can about the subject.  The same is, or should be, true about listening to others.  We should love each other in such a way that we want to know all we can about each other – not for the purpose of judging, but for understanding how to help and encourage each other more effectively.  Based on the way we listen, it’s obvious we aren’t nearly as interested in each other as we claim to be.  I recently came across a verse that has become a prayer for me, even though Isaiah 50:4 is actually a statement of something God has already done.  Two of the phrases struck me and have become this prayer: “Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught.”   I want to love and care for others in a way that causes me to humble my spirit and speak words of encouragement.  I want to set aside my expectations of who or what they should be and listen as they teach me who they are, because that kind of perspective can change the world one person at a time.

shutterstock_294695897We all have situations in life that are extremely difficult at times.  We deal with all kinds of problems and challenges, some that are gut-wrenching or heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see why we might fall into a perpetual state of complaining.  When we are hit with trouble from every side, it’s hard to keep pressing forward or even to hold to our faith while standing still.  Romans 4:8-9 reminds us, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  That sounds encouraging, but the truth is, in the heat of our troubles, we don’t believe those words are true.  Not only that, it feels good to complain!  It really is true that misery loves company.  We’ve elevated complaining to an art in our society.  We’ve become a people who actually tries to “one-up” each other in the difficulty of our circumstances.  It’s like we wear our troubles as a badge of honor!  We’ve all known people who seem to only have words of negativity about themselves or others around them.  They are the ones always looking to gossip or share negative things about someone else, often in an attempt to make themselves look better or seem more important.  We’ve known people who complain or grumble in order to look more like a martyr for doing something.  We’ve known people who also live like Eeyore with a “poor, pitiful me” mentality.  As people of faith, when are we going to wake up?!  When are we going to admit that our complaining comes not just from a place of feeling slighted by others, but by believing we have been slighted by God (though we probably wouldn’t admit that out loud)?

So how then do we set aside our tendency to grumble and complain?  We do it by changing our focus.  I realize that is easier said than done, but some of the best advice on what we should be doing is found in God’s word.  Philippians 4:8 tells us exactly what we should be thinking about.  “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  This isn’t just advice for people of faith, but for all mankind.  How do we stop complaining?  By dwelling on THESE things!  I’m not saying it is easy to do, but we absolutely have the power to focus on whatever we choose.  We need to surround ourselves with friends and family who can listen to us vent for a bit, but then gently help us shift our focus.  Thinking on the things mentioned in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t mean we won’t feel the emotions that sometimes overwhelm us.  We will still get frustrated, sad or even angry, but we don’t have to continue ruminating on the difficulties we face day in and day out.  My great-grandma liked to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest.”  We can’t keep thoughts from popping into our head at times, but it doesn’t mean we have to let them take up residence!  And by the way, we also don’t need to let everything that pops into our heads pop out of our mouths!

shutterstock_228591001This world is in need of joy; WE are in need of joy.  That means we also need each other!  We need to focus on loving each other and helping each other, rather than “wallerin’ around in our troubles” (and yes, I just used the word “wallerin’”).  When we complain, we end up cutting off support we would otherwise have, because people don’t usually want to be around a complainer.  More importantly, it grieves God to hear us continually complaining about our lives.  He loves us and has promised He is working everything out for our good.  He just wants us to trust Him because He sees a much bigger picture than what you or I can see.  So often, we are just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining about where or how God is leading us.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk wandering around in my own personal wilderness for 40 years, when I could have walked through it in 11 days by trusting God, focusing on the good, and simply biting my tongue.  Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught!

Blessings!

 

Are You Parenting Your Gifts?

I wanted to write a post last week as we approached Mother’s Day, but life’s circumstances kept me from it.  Life isn’t what it used to be and it seems to be crowding out my passions more and more, but maybe the delay was there to give me time to think a little differently.  Maybe this post needed a “twist”

shutterstock_129320129Many of you who know me or have read my blog for the past few years know that I did not give birth to children of my own.  I used to say I was not “blessed” with children of my own, but I have tried to change the way I look at it.  Children are certainly a blessing from God, but so is every other gift with which God blesses us.  And just like it is the responsibility of a mother or father to nurture, grow and raise his/her child, it is our job to nurture, grow and raise our appointed gifts.  One gift from God is not greater than another and if we are living as we should, we will not treat them as such – in ourselves or in looking at those around us.  God entrusts all of us with specific gifts that require sacrifice, patience, responsibility, passion, love in order to raise them.  Those gifts also often bring us disappointment, frustration, and heartaches as we see them not turning out the way we planned, or when we make mistakes in how we raise them.

We need to start looking at our lives differently.  We need to open our eyes to the world around us and recognize where we are being called to serve.  It’s just so incredibly easy to get lazy and not walk out the path for which we are chosen.  It’s easier to become a lazy parent of our gifts.  It’s easy to feel those gifts tugging at us for attention but simply offer up something to keep them occupied so that we can go on living the lives WE want instead of realizing the importance of doing the hard work that comes with nurturing and growing that which God placed within us.  I admit, I have often found myself the lazy parent of my gifts.  This blog has many times reminded me of it.  The intentions are good but the execution is lacking.  I have made excuses in my mind for all the reasons that keep me from my writing, or working on my books, or doing something with my music, or reaching out to find opportunities to speak.  I’m not saying the distractions aren’t valid, because most of them are, but I am saying that it is easy to give up and stop trying whenever life gets too complicated or too busy.  Just like a parent with a child, sometimes I’m just too tired to put in the effort anymore.  In the long run, that not only makes me feel I’m failing as the parent/steward of my gifts, but it can also have lasting impacts on the effectiveness of those gifts or what they turn out to be.

shutterstock_782571799We really are all gifted in certain ways.  God has given to each of us the abilities and interests we need in order to fulfill what we are called to do.  He has equipped us to walk whatever paths are before us, and He has promised to go with us wherever we go, but there are times those paths (or those gifts) feel like a burden.  I don’t know a parent who hasn’t had times of feeling burdened by the responsibility of raising his/her children.  It doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids, but the reality of day-to-day living is far more challenging than anticipated.  There are discouragements and frustrations that come along that make them question if they are doing the right things or dealing with their kids in the best ways to ensure they grow up to be good people.  The same is true of our other gifts and talents.  We know what we are called to do, or we recognize the gifts within us, but it is a continual learning process as to how we need to nurture them.  We make decisions that involve our gifts and then second guess if that was really the best use of them.  Other times we make obvious mistakes in the direction we go and then beat ourselves up for it.

Living with purpose isn’t easy in the chaos of our busy lives.  Just like parents can become so distracted by everything that is continually pulling at them, we can get distracted by so many things the enemy devises to keep us from nurturing what God has given us.  We can become so overwhelmed by our lives that we no longer even see our gifts, let alone know how to use them.  We end up lost in a sea of fear, doubt, depression or anxiety and then feel like giving up.  Being overloaded with life makes us want to just zone out and not have to consider our never-ending responsibilities.

shutterstock_760829524There is another aspect of parenting that also applies greatly to our gifts: protection.  Parents must protect their children, and we must also protect our gifts.  Our talents, abilities and callings must be protected.  People can be so mean and so incredibly judgmental of what we do with our lives.  They can discourage us, or even try to forbid us from using our gifts when it doesn’t fit their ideas or beliefs about what we should be doing.  People may even belittle the gifts themselves, making them seem meaningless or trivial when compared to the gifts or talents of others.  For example, someone with the ability to be a great musician, speaker, athlete or business-man/woman are often lauded to have great gifts.  It is “respectable” or “honorable” to be a doctor, lawyer, singer, athlete, etc.   On the other hand, the man or woman who is gifted to understand people with disabilities, or to clean homes/buildings, drive a bus, or anything else that isn’t as “shiny,” are viewed as having lesser gifts.  What about people who have the gift of praying or service?  You know them, the ones who are quietly faithful to do whatever it is God has given to them to do, without accolades or applause.  Are their gifts any less valuable?  On the contrary, I’d say they have the greatest gifts of all!   My point is that we don’t know each other’s children as well as know our own, and the moment we start thinking our gifts are better than someone else’s just because they look different, we are treading on very thin ice.

Maybe we don’t think we received the gifts we should have, or the gifts we wanted, but they are chosen for us by the God who spoke the worlds into order and knows everything ahead in our journeys.  That’s a pretty impressive and special thing to consider.  God doesn’t expect us to all be able to do the same things because He didn’t equip us to do the same things.  We need to stop looking at other people’s “children” and comparing them to our own.  What matters is how you raise YOUR gifts!  If you are called to serve, then serve with all your heart.  If you are called to pray, then pray mightily without doubting (as James 1 tells us).  If you are called to encourage, then do it.  If you are called to be a doctor, then be the best doctor you can be!  Whatever it is that you do, it is important because God chose you to do it.  Your prayers, service, cleaning, listening, forgiving, helping are equally as important as the brain or heart surgeries, arguing court cases, landing planes, or anything else.

shutterstock_217599499So today, I hope we will all step back and consider the gravity of parenting our respective gifts.  It is a responsibility, and it can be difficult and disappointing at times, but it can also be a source of great joy!  You are not here by chance, and you are not here to just take up space.  We are here “for such a time as this,” and we need to turn our focus upward.  We need to live according to the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that has been given to us by our Heavenly Father and extend those things to the world around us.  We need to encourage each other’s gifts, not envy them. We need to support each other, not tear each other down.  We need to recognize the specialness of our own gifts from God and feel honored to be entrusted with raising them.  There may not be a holiday here on earth to commemorate or honor us for the raising of our gifts, but if we do it humbly as we are called to do, there is coming day where we will be honored by our Heavenly Father when we hear the words, “Well done.”

Blessings!

Liquid Courage

shutterstock_101290495For years, California has been in a historic drought.  This week we have been hit with torrential rains which have caused all kinds of issues, including flash floods in many areas.  Weather events can bring all kinds of challenges and even destruction, but that’s not the point of this particular post.  Instead, I want to talk about an idea I call “spiritual irrigation.”

There is a great difference between something being watered by irrigation or by rain.  Deuteronomy 11:10-11 makes a contrast between the Promised Land as being one that “drinks water of the rain of Heaven,” whereas the land of Egypt being a land that is “watered with your foot.”  In other words, Egypt required irrigation, and the irrigation was achieved by fetching water and dispersing it, and partly by digging trenches with the foot.  Mechanisms were also used that were powered by men sitting on the side of the machine using their feet to create the power.  It was a predecessor to our modern (and amazing) irrigation processes today.

So why does it matter, and where in the heck am I going with this?  Humankind has, from the beginning of time, searched for ways to rely more on themselves than on God.  That is a reality none of us want to consider, but it is true nonetheless.  We, as human beings, do not like the idea of having to trust God for our needs because we think He may not supply them on our timetable – and often He doesn’t.  We like security, safety and predictability.  Boy how we like predictability.  We want to have enough money in the bank so that we can take care of ourselves in the way WE want to be taken care of.   We won’t admit it openly but we, as people of faith, are afraid God is going to let us down.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have been let down by others in life.  It’s hard to find someone who is true to their word, always and in every circumstance.  It is hard to trust someone implicitly and yet we are told over and over that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.”  We are told in His word that He will supply all our needs.  So why do we spend so much of our time trying to take care of ourselves?  Because we don’t like the rain, we like irrigation.

shutterstock_93784720Irrigation allows us to be more in control of our destiny.  We can plant crops where they wouldn’t normally thrive because we have found ways to transport water from one location to another in ways it wouldn’t occur naturally.  Irrigation certainly requires less reliance on God to provide the rain we need – or think we need.  We have gotten so used to doing things our way that we forget the source of our blessings.  We start thinking we are truly in control of something as basic as water itself.   Oh sure, we pray for God to bless us with rain but if we get too much, we start to complain.  After all, we’ve been watering our crops and now that it’s raining, there’s too much water!  We wring our hands and wonder what we are going to do.   We’ve all seen buildings (or cities) built in areas where there is little doubt they will be flooded or even washed away if there is a lot of rain.  We actually criticize people in these areas and say, “well what did they expect?  They built in the middle of a flood zone.”  But why?  Because the rains don’t always come and after a while, no one actually believes they will.

So today it struck me, this thought of spiritual irrigation.  As people of faith, we often build our lives on what we think is best.  We make our plans and if they don’t really fit with where God may be leading us, then we find ways to make it work.  We “irrigate.”  I’ve heard my own uncle speak of his call to the ministry and how he really didn’t want to be a pastor.  So instead of doing what God was leading him to do, he tried other ways to get the conviction to stop.  He taught Sunday School classes.  He led the choir.  He got involved, but in his heart, he could not escape his calling.   Most of us do the same thing.  We know what God wants us to do but we would rather do it OUR way than His.  It’s funny to think the Bible tells us “His ways are not our ways,” and yet we still can’t seem to get it!  God is rain and we keep trying to live by irrigation.  We not only want to create the path ahead, we want to control the flow of the water.  We live this way and then when God does exactly what He has promised to do, we often complain that it “isn’t the right time” or “it’s too much,” so we wring our hands and start looking for ways to minimize the effects.  We feel God leading us to something else and we find all kinds of reasons not to go.  Or we feel God calling us to stay right where we are and we find all kinds of reasons to still leave because staying isn’t what WE want.  Believe me, God is not only capable of bringing the rains, but taking care of the drainage when it’s necessary as well.  He knows how to control the flow!

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Waiting on the rain isn’t easy.  It is often terrifying.  To be honest, faith itself is terrifying!  Waiting for God to bring what we need, WHEN we need it takes a strength I sadly admit I do not often possess.  It’s hard not to start irrigating when the rains don’t come.  The more we rely on ourselves and our plans/abilities to make things work, the greater the chance we may build where we shouldn’t.  The more we irrigate spiritually, the less we appreciate the rain.  Just like the farmer who relies solely on irrigation, rain becomes a nuisance.  We want it to rain (or snow) somewhere else so that we can store up the water and then use it as we see fit.  Yes, we want the rain, but not necessarily directly.  Yes, we want God to work in our lives, but not directly.  We want Him to provide our needs in ways that allow us to control the flow.  Whatever happened to the truth of the Doxology?  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

shutterstock_73938031I am tired of being a “spiritual irrigator,” and my definition of a drought is probably much different than God’s.  I want to live with a faith that follows God’s leading and trusts Him to provide the rain.  When we shed our need for control and put on that cloak of trust, we get to experience the most amazing moments.  We get to dance in the rain because we know from where it came.  We start seeing God’s providence instead of looking at Him as if His ways are interrupting our great plans.  From our perspective, it is better to plan and execute rather than follow and trust.  But from God’s perspective, it is far better to simply trust Him for everything we need and then dance in the rain when it falls.

Blessings!

A Flawed Yardstick

shutterstock_321656606In life, all of us tend to measure ourselves by how we compare with the other people in our lives.  Do we have as much as they have?  Do we look as good as they look?  Are we as successful as they are?  We do a lot of comparing and although it can spur us to make positive changes in our lives, it more often makes us just feel worse about our circumstances.  The truth is if we never saw or knew what someone else has or did, we’d be much happier with what WE have.  Right now I wish I could remember that truth more strongly than I do.

My husband and I have a good life.  We have a great marriage, a great (though imperfect) family, amazing friends, a wonderful church, good jobs, two awesome dogs and a home to call our own.  However, like most middle class families, we sometimes (or often) struggle to make ends meet.  We’ve been blessed to, on certain occasions, be able to save a little extra to buy something frivolous that we want or maybe even go on a short vacation.  We don’t have the luxury of taking extended time off or going on glamorous or exotic trips.  We don’t drive glamorous vehicles, but our old vehicles are paid for and they still run decently.  In another year and a half, if we stay on track, we will be debt free with the exception of our home.  I don’t think we will ever be anything but upside down on that!  Welcome to middle class America where you make just enough to get by, but never enough to get ahead.  I know we are not the only ones in this boat!

It’s easy for all of us to sometimes look at the people around us and wonder why it seems that others are blessed with the things we want.  It’s easy to question why we work ourselves to the bone and try to be decent people when there never seems to be any payoff in comparison to what we see others getting.  We see people who are mean, manipulative or even dishonest, being rewarded at every turn while we feel as though we get kicked over and over, no matter how hard we try.  As people of faith, we can even question, like in the 73rd psalm, “Why do the evil prosper?”  It seems that doing the right things, being good to others even when we don’t agree with them, or living by the “golden rule,” will do nothing but wear you out.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all thought it at one point or another.  The interesting thing is that if we didn’t ever have to see or listen to what others are getting, we would be much more content with our own situation.

shutterstock_337724702It is an interesting thing to consider that when we actually look at someone who is less fortunate than we are, we suddenly feel better about our own situation.  For example, when you pass a homeless person shivering in the night, or drive through a run-down and even dangerous area of town, it puts things in perspective.  We find ourselves suddenly grateful that we have a roof over our heads, a warm bed in which to sleep, clothes to wear and food on the table.   But you see, normally we aren’t taking time to consider those who have less than us.  We only consider and look at people who have more.  When you pay attention only on those who have more or are getting the things you want (or have even prayed for) it can be tough to swallow.  And if you believe God is in control, it can be even worse because it can sometimes lead to you feeling like God is mad at you or somehow he doesn’t see or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  If that’s true, then what’s the problem?

First of all, we take a lot of verses and twist them to make it sound like God is some kind of cosmic cash-cow with which we just pull the lever and get what we want.  I’ve heard a lot of people (and preachers) who often quote the last phrase of James 4:3 and say, “You have not because you ask not,” and leave it at that.  Is that a truth?  Yes, but we must continue and read the next verse that says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your own lusts and pleasures.”  You see, this isn’t just “Ask God and you’ll get what you want.”  The reality is very simple if we go back to Psalm 37:4.  If you truly delight yourself in the Lord, it means you will come into agreement with His will.  You will seek Him first, and when that happens, the desires of your heart will change.  You won’t be concerned with keeping up with the neighbors, but instead will be concerned with living as Christ lived and being obedient to His principles.  Your desires will be aligned with God’s will.  You will want what He wants because you delight in Him above all else.  And when that happens, you will find the desires of your heart granted.  You will ask and receive because you are NOT asking with the wrong motives.  It isn’t rocket science, but no one wants to talk about this aspect of God’s word.

So back to this issue of feeling unfulfilled as a person of faith.  It really is all in your perspective.  It all comes back to God’s grace and mercy, and how we view it.  God’s grace and mercy are things that are freely given to us.  shutterstock_308297366Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, and mercy is NOT getting what we DO deserve.  For example, even though I’m saved, I still sin.  I don’t deserve for God to forgive me time and time again for doing or thinking the same thing, and yet he has promised to forgive us EVERY time we ask and wipe the slate clean so He can bless us.  That is grace – I don’t deserve it but He blesses me anyway.  On the flip side, I deserve to have to feel miserable and condemned because of the things I think or do, yet God promises to not only forgive us but to forget it completely and then helps us move forward and live abundantly with all kinds of blessings.  More practically speaking, it could also look something like this:

  • Grace – Maybe you don’t always do the right thing financially, but God looks for the areas in which He can still bless you. You end up with nice things, in spite of how you behave at times.
  • Mercy – Maybe you are oblivious or selfish and often make other people feel worse about themselves or their situations (even if it is unknowingly). Instead of leaving you with no friends (which is what you deserve), He allows you to continue to have relationships, and He even continues to help you grow and change.

Grace and mercy really do go hand in hand many times.  If we look close enough, we can see both of them at work in our lives in the very same situations.

We all really love grace and mercy when it applies to us.  We love when God blesses us even when we don’t deserve it.  We love that He forgives us and then helps us through the repercussions of our bad decisions or behavior.  We love that He doesn’t take away everything we have just because we rub it in other people’s faces through our insensitivity to their circumstances, or maybe even if we simply don’t appreciate it.  And when we’ve done something stupid (like my husband and I have done financially on many occasions) and should experience great loss, we let out a huge sigh of relief when God provides a way to minimize the impact.  We love grace and mercy – until it happens to someone else.  shutterstock_74446510When we look at someone who gets something  we think they did NOT deserve, it makes us angry or jealous.  We just can’t figure out why God would do that.  After all, why wouldn’t God punish them instead of allowing good things in their lives?  I must confess I have a big “justice gene” in me, and it’s hard for me to watch people do wrong (or not do right) and just keep landing on their feet.  We’ve all watched people who have made terrible decisions in their lives and still keep coming out on top.  That’s a hard thing to witness when you spend your life truly trying to do the right things and somehow keep coming out on the bottom.  It can be a very difficult thing to handle.

In Matthew 20:1-16, we are told a parable of a landowner who went out at around 6:00 a.m.  and hired men to work in his vineyard.  He made a contract with them to work until 6:00 p.m. for a full day’s wage.  At 9:00 a.m., the owner went back and found some more men to come work for him.  He told them to come and work and he’d pay them “whatever was right.”  The owner did the same thing again at noon, 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.   Remember, no one but the first set of workers had a contract.  When quitting time came at 6:00 p.m., the owner started paying everyone, beginning with those who were hired last.  The owner paid them a full day’s wage.  Remember these guys only worked for one hour!  Then he did the same with each group of men, paying each of them a full day’s wage, regardless of when they started working.  You can just see the first group of men standing there as the process was going on, thinking surely they will be paid MORE since they worked all day long and these other “lazy” men got paid full wages.  When it came time to pay the 6:00 a.m. workers, the owner paid them exactly what they had contracted for – a full day’s wage.  Was that a fair amount?  Absolutely!  Did it make them angry?  Absolutely!  When they complained about it, the owner said, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a day’s wage?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  Ouch!  It’s interesting to note that if those 6:00 a.m. workers had not paid attention to what everyone else was paid, they would have been happy with their wages and for the fairness of the owner who kept His word.  They were richer at the end of the day than when they began, but that no longer mattered.

So often we are like the 6:00 a.m. workers, especially as Christians.  We know what God has promised us, so we go about serving Him as we believe He has asked us to do.  We attend church, tithe, sing, teach, and a host of other things, and we even do them with the right motives!  We study and we try to live the way He has instructed us to live.  We strive to be generous, love others and forgive even without being asked.  We stand up for what is right, and take the high road in our personal and professional lives.  And you know what?  WE ARE BLESSED!  If we are doing what we are called to do, then we will absolutely be blessed.  God has promised, and He does not lie.  So then everything should be great, right?  Wrong!  See, God doesn’t care how late in the day someone starts serving Him; He cares about HOW they serve Him.  Someone could spend a lifetime making bad decisions but asking God to forgive him/her, and guess what?  He WILL!  When He forgives, He forgets and wipes the slate clean.  That means He is free to bless that person when he/she makes good decisions or is obedient to His will.  But we cry out “That isn’t fair!” shutterstock_294695897 We sit back and start thinking about all the effort we’ve put in, maybe even the persecution we’ve endured in life for living right, and start feeling slighted that God doesn’t give us more!  Once we get into that cycle, we become ungrateful and resentful not only of what others have, but of the fact that God now seems so unfair.  Sometimes it shakes our faith to the point that we start considering becoming selfish and living however we want, because in our minds, obviously that’s what pays off.  We feel we have a right to complain about it, just like those 6:00 a.m. workers did, and God’s answer is the same as the owner of that vineyard:  “I am not being unfair to you, friend…Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”  The truth is, we are envious because He is generous, and the entire problem begins when we start looking around and comparing what we have to what others have.

God is a gracious and merciful Father.  All of us count on Him keeping His word.  We count on the way He forgives and restores us, even when we don’t deserve it.  We count on the fact that He blesses us any time we serve him with the right motives, instead of punishing us for when we don’t.   We each have our own walk, and I don’t know exactly what is going on in your life, just like you don’t know exactly what is going on in mine.  You don’t know where I’ve been or the state of my relationship with God, just as I don’t know yours.  So before we get too judgmental with others (or ourselves), or become too critical of God Himself (because that is the reality of what we are doing), we need to step back and remember who He is.  God IS love, and He is continually forgiving ALL of us when we ask and blessing us far beyond what we deserve.

We need to stop determining  our opinion of God’s mercy and grace based on how we all compare to each other.   If we look at what anyone else has as a measure of His generosity, we are in danger of using a terribly flawed yardstick  to judge both those who we think are better OR worse off than ourselves.  The truth is that if we have more than others, it isn’t a sign that we are better than them or that God likes us more.  And if we have less than others, it isn’t a sign that God likes us less!  Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t.  Consider the faithfulness of God in your life instead of being upset that He is faithful in someone else’s.

Grace and mercy – two beautiful aspects of God’s character that we twist and turn to fit the way WE think, but thankfully His ways are not our ways.  He is more loving, forgiving and generous than any one of us could ever be, and I am grateful.   If He has made specific promises, He will always keep His word (like the owner with the first group of workers).  But in those areas where His promises are what He will do, but not HOW He will do it, we must trust that He will always “do whatever is right.”  Very few people spend their entire lives in true service without sliding backwards every now and then.  Every time we sin, we lose time – work time, service time.  We are the equivalent of the “lazy” workers who didn’t put in a full day’s work.  That puts almost all of us in the category of the other workers.  When we lose time, we must trust God that He will reward us with “whatever is right.”  It is quality, not quantity for which He is searching.

shutterstock_130134731So today, I will look to Him and His faithfulness to me instead of looking at the possessions, successes or blessings of anyone else.  Will I stay in this place?  Unfortunately not, but through the beauty of God’s grace and mercy, I can return to it with a simple refocusing and the promise of His forgiveness whenever I ask…no matter how many times it takes.

Blessings!

When You Don’t Feel Thankful…

shutterstock_159498437It’s that time of year again when everyone is supposed to stop and count their blessings and be thankful for all the things in their lives.  But what if things feel so bad in your life that you’ve lost the ability to see the good things, or to even believe they exist anymore?  What if you are depressed by current events or financial problems?  What if you are in the middle of a difficult or challenging situation that is overwhelming your mind?  Or what if you are experiencing sadness, hurt or disappointment that is overwhelming your heart?  What if you don’t FEEL thankful?  I ask because I need the answer myself.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for us to gather together to count our blessings and remember all God has done for us.  Most of us have time off at some point for the holiday weekend where we have the opportunity to stop and reflect, but often that reflection never happens or it is clouded by all the distractions going on around us.  Thanksgiving, for many, has become nothing more than a long weekend filled with family arguments, frantic shopping, and stress of other obligations. For some, it has turned from an opportunity to relax and reflect, into four days of elevated heart rates, packed schedules and frustrated hearts and minds.  For others, it is nothing more than a reminder of what they have lost or never had in life – whether it is family, love or material possessions.

It’s hard going into the holiday season when there are things in your life that are weighing you down.  I think we’ve all experienced that sensation one year or another.  For me, there is a lot on my heart and mind.  Much of it I cannot share with anyone because it is something that needs to stay between me and God for right now, but it weighs heavily on me.  Then you add the loss of holiday traditions that I used to love, and stresses of work and home, and I find myself overwhelmed by it all.  shutterstock_213079855Then I look around, and all I see is a coming weekend of frenetic activity that revolves around everything BUT something positive.  It doesn’t make me feel very thankful at all.  It makes me feel depressed, which then causes me to start thinking about everything that’s wrong or all the stuff I need to do.  It sucks the gratitude right out of me, because the majority of the negative things I’m thinking about are valid.  There ARE things that need to be resolved, things that ARE frustrating, things that DO hurt me.  It’s all true, so how am I supposed to stop and be thankful?  We must find ways to stop the madness, both externally and internally, so that we are able to find peace in the midst of the storms and thankfulness in the midst of our chaos.  Here are some practical things to consider…

  1. Learn to say “No.” – I know it sounds selfish, but we all need to learn the word “no,” especially around the holidays. Do not commit to so many events, cooking, volunteering or family get-togethers that you are running continually from one thing to another.  It’s okay to want to do all these things, but there are only 24 hours in a day and if you do not learn to say no, you will drain yourself to a point where you cannot do any more.  Trust me, you will eventually break down in some way.  Instead, decide what is most important to you and let the rest go.  Besides, when you take it upon yourself to do everything someone asks you to do (or you think you need to do), you may be robbing someone else of the blessing of being able to step in and help or participate.  You aren’t a martyr, so stop acting like one and set some boundaries.
  2. Create your own personal tradition – Traditions can be wonderful but life happens and sometimes those traditions end up changing or even disappearing completely because they involve others. Consider creating some traditions for yourself that do not depend on anyone else.  For example, decide you are going to spend a certain amount of time doing something you enjoy.  It might be taking a walk, listening to music, getting coffee, painting, or whatever floats your boat.  Make it something you can do whether someone else joins you or not.  If you are a person of faith, you can decide to set aside an amount of time – whether it is days, hours or even just a few minutes – where you get by yourself, turn off all the technology that is constantly pinging at you, and spend that time with your heavenly Father.  It can be talking to Him or reading His word, but make it time just for you and Him.  It is GREAT to have traditions with family and friends, but make sure you have some traditions just for you that are totally in your control.  That way you won’t feel so sad or resentful when someone else fails to uphold traditions you used to treasure.
  3. Rest – I suppose this could go hand-in-hand with learning to say no, but you NEED to find time to rest. The holidays are filled with frenetic activity and even if you aren’t actively participating in all of it, the pace swirling around you will inevitably affect you.  It’s like standing in the middle of a crowd that is fighting with each other even if you aren’t fighting.  The stress of it all will still affect you even if you just stand there.  Not participating in the holiday madness, doesn’t automatically mean you are resting!  Resting is something we have devalued in our society and we need to get back to taking time to stop now and then.  Go to bed at a decent hour and rest so that you are able to truly enjoy the things you choose to do each day.  If you choose to participate in something that has you out late (or all night) then prepare and plan to take time the next day to rest, instead of engaging in all kinds of activities.  If you don’t take time to truly rest, you will find yourself much more susceptible to the natural stresses that occur during this time of the year.  Your fuse will be shorter and it will be almost impossible to not feel drained on all fronts.
  4. Pray – You can pray anywhere, any time. I’m not talking about the prayers you hear in church or on TV where it is filled with the “right” things to say and a bunch of “Lords,” “Fathers”, “thees” and “thous” but the kind of prayer that God actually takes delight in!  TALK to God.  Talk to Him like you would your best friend.  If you’re angry, then tell Him.  He already knows it anyway so you might as well be honest.  If you’re sad or confused, then tell Him.  Ask Him to help you because He has promised that He will!  You don’t have to spend a certain amount of time praying or get on your knees.  I pray all the time in my car, just talking to Him and telling Him what I’m afraid of, worried about, or need help with.  I tell Him things that I thought were funny or things that made my day.  Sometimes it is as simple as me saying, “Hey God, I was just thinking about how much I don’t want to go to work this morning, so would you please help me get through the day?  ”  That’s it.  No fanfare and no righteous verbiage.   I think He would much rather have us, as His children, just call Him like we do anyone else we have a relationship with.  He already knows everything, but when you talk to Him like you would anyone else, it makes your relationship much more real and prayer no longer feels like an obligation.  He enjoys hearing from us just like we enjoy it when our kids (or others) talk to us and want to keep us in the loop of their lives – even if we already know what they are about to tell us.  And when God becomes real to us, then everything else changes.

Listen, no one ever said life was easy.  We all have things that hit us and knock us down and steal our joy or gratitude, but making changes so that it can be restored can sometimes be just as hard.  When you start setting boundaries and taking care of yourself, there are others around you who will not be happy.  Don’t expect otherwise because it often requires them to adjust also, and change isn’t easy for most people.  There are others who will have strong opinions and be more than happy to share them with you.  They may try to make you see how “selfish you are being,” or get upset because you won’t join in everything they think you should be doing.  But you see, they aren’t the ones who have to live with those choices or who have to answer to God for them.  We are told to be thankful and to give thanks in ALL things, not just the good stuff or what we think is the good stuff.  That being said, in order to clear the clutter out of your head and heart so that you are able to be thankful, you have to sometimes make difficult choices or change the way you approach things. Taking some of those steps listed above may initially cause stress for others but the bottom line is you are not responsible for everyone else.  You are responsible for doing whatever is necessary so that you can prepare your own heart to be reminded of everything that you truly do have.  That is often easier said than done.

shutterstock_223186420There is much for which to be grateful.  If you’re reading this, it means you woke up this morning.  It means you took another breath.  It means your heart beat another time.  That means anything is possible today, tomorrow, or any time to come.  What’s in the past is past, and the possibilities are endless for the future, but you will never be able to step back and appreciate that truth without a conscious effort.  You can’t wait until you FEEL thankful, because the cares of this world will absolutely choke you until you can’t see anything else.   You will never begin to feel thankful until you actually become thankful, and becoming thankful is something we should all strive for. When we take care of ourselves (in all areas), our hearts become softened to the whispers of our Father.  When we rest, we are able to contemplate.  When we reflect and contemplate on things, we begin to see the true meaning of life and nature of God.  And when we see the true nature of God, we cannot help but become thankful.  Becoming thankful is a choice based on what we know to be true.  Once we become thankful, we begin to feel thankful, and it is then we are able to deepen our roots so that we are able to reach out in greater ways to the world around us and share a true spirit of gratitude and love.  And that, my friends is what thanksgiving is all about.

Blessings!

Life From Death

shutterstock_156553007I watched a video recently from the Smithsonian Channel that was showing how plants have their own version of nerves and electrical impulses (video link posted below).   Although this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone since they are living organisms, it still made me stop and think about a few things.  Just stay with me for a few moments on this.  First of all, after seeing the video, I joked about the fact that this creates a very difficult position for people who don’t eat meat because they claim they don’t want to “kill” something.  I am mostly vegetarian for health reasons but it’s always interesting to listen to those who see themselves as more holy, compassionate, enlightened or evolved than others because they claim to be treating all living things as equal.  I’ve always said that everything we eat was alive at some point (if you exclude the processed crap that is out there).  If you say you refuse to eat anything that has life, then you will most likely starve.  Even most dirt contains particles from things that were once living.

Call me a “hippie” if you want, but I’ve always been aware of the fact that the things we eat have given their life for ours, regardless of what it is.  We are sustained by consuming plants and/or animals that had to die so we could live.  If we stop to think about that truth, it should cause us to be more grateful and respectful toward the things we eat.  Eating should be an honorable endeavor.  Quite frankly, it should make us a little more humble and a little less arrogant about the life around us.  Just because we must eat to survive doesn’t mean we should do it without thought or appreciation for the sacrifice.

shutterstock_133769489This is Easter weekend.   People of faith around the world are commemorating the death, burial and resurrection of their Lord and Savior…and I am certainly one of them.   As I thought about this whole thing with food, I found a striking similarity for those of us who identify ourselves as “believers.”    I have been redeemed and changed by the fact that Jesus died on a cross for my sins.  I am forgiven.  I am spiritually alive.  I am alive because God promised me I am alive.   John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  And the reason I have everlasting life is because Jesus  (who is God Himself)  was willing to lay down His life and sacrifice it for mine.  He endured the most terribly painful, humiliating and horrific torture and death…and He endured it all for ME.  He endured it for YOU.  He did it because He loves us with a love that we can’t completely understand.  He did it before we loved Him.  He gave His life for mine, and just as I should respect and honor the sacrifice of the living things that died so I can eat and be nourished, I should even more so honor and respect the sacrifice the God of the universe made so that I can live eternally.

shutterstock_177898622You see, nothing comes without some kind of sacrifice.  There are no free rides in life.  Somewhere, somehow, someone or something paid (or will pay) the price.  How amazing it is that God knew I had a debt that I could never repay so He humbled Himself and confined Himself to an earthly body so that He could live among mankind and redeem me by taking my place on the cross.  He took my beatings.  He took the ugliness of the torture and the betrayal of His friends.  God, the creator of the universe,who could have called ten thousand angels to kill everyone involved, let them spit on Him for my sake.  He allowed them to nail Him to a tree and mock Him as He hung there.  And then, when it was time, He said “It is finished,” and dismissed His spirit.  They didn’t take His life from Him, He dismissed it Himself.  He willingly gave it up…and He did it for me.

But that wasn’t the end.  Praise God that wasn’t the end!  Because on Easter morning, the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus came out alive!  It isn’t just His death that gives me life, it is His resurrection!  That is why people of faith around the world celebrate this holiday.  That is why we gather in churches across the world with fellow believers and sing praises to the One who didn’t just die for me, but He ROSE for me!  He conquered death and hell and as a result, has both the ability and authority to set me free forever!  I cannot help but sing out the words to that song…”My chains are gone!  I’ve been set free!  My God, my Savior has ransomed me.  And like a flood, His mercy reigns…unending love, amazing grace.”

shutterstock_74847238So this Easter season, I pray we are all filled with the assurance that we are loved beyond comprehension by the One who has the power to redeem us not only for eternity, but for every day and every moment.  I pray we pause to consider His sacrifice and honor it by spending more time living a life filled with genuine love, not judgment, for others.  We are all just sinners saved by His grace, and the sooner we realize the only reason we live is because He died, the sooner our arrogance and pride will fade into a humble gratitude for the unspeakable gift He gave.

Blessings!

Click here to watch “Do Plants Respond To Pain?”

I Still Believe…

Every year I get out my Christmas decorations and put them up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  In the midst of my decorations each year sits a framed letter I wrote to Santa when I was only nine years old.  I don’t always stop to re-read it but this year I took a few extra moments to do so and decided to share it with all of you.

photo 2As cute as I find that letter, it strikes me how much I can see my adult self in that little girl’s note.   I loved Christmas…and still do.  Even though I was starting to get older, I still chose to hold to the truth there was a Santa Claus out there who spread love and joy around the world.  I had a wonderful childhood and it wasn’t that I was trying to live in some fantasy world, but I just loved Santa and what he represented. I’ve often said I was not a normal kid and it’s so true!  I remember writing that letter and truly believing everything I said.  First of all, I knew that I could always be a better person.  I didn’t care about material gifts but gifts of the heart.  To me, love was the greatest gift you could give or receive.  Love also meant you were honest, which is why I couldn’t even get through my letter to Santa without correcting my opening statement that I had been “good.”   I felt like I didn’t deserve anything not because I was so terrible, but because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help others.  I wanted “stuff” for other people (or animals)! Yeah…I was a sappy child.  All I wanted was for Santa to know that he was important to me and that I loved him.  And if there was something he could bring me, I didn’t want stuff because it didn’t matter to me at all.  More than anything, I just wanted him to know that I was grateful and that I cared about him and loved him with all my heart.  It’s interesting to me that what I said or asked for in my letter is still reflective of the way I think today.   Material things still don’t matter to me.  Sure, they are nice to have, but what really matters is the connections and relationships we have with the people around us.  What matters is love.  THAT is the true magic of Christmas.

So in this season of overspending and over-committing to activities, let us remember to stop and show our love to the people in our lives…not with gifts we can buy but with the gift of ourselves and our time.  In a season where the world tries to distract us from the true reason why there IS a Christmas, let us be thankful to our Father who IS love.

And may my grown up Christmas letter always be filled with the same sentiment it had when I was nine. Blessings!