Tag Archives: God

“Finding Nemo” and Faith

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I looked high and low for a youtube clip of this scene from the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, but I couldn’t find it.  Do you remember the scene where Marlin (Nemo’s over protective father) and Dori (the little blue fish with no short term memory) are trapped inside the whale because Dori thought she could speak whale and tried to ask for directions?  In this scene, Marlin is throwing himself against the baleen of the whale trying to escape to continue his search for his lost son.  In discouragement he sinks to the bottom of the whale’s mouth and gives up.

He says,  “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.”

Dori pauses and comments, “Well, that’s a funny thing to promise someone.”

“What?” Marlin looks up in a bit of surprise.

Dori continues, “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him, then nothing would ever happen to him.  Not much fun for little Harpo.”

I’ve thought about that often.  A good parent doesn’t over protect.  For the good of the child, parents need to let their children have experiences in life.  Age appropriate experiences can provide wonderful teaching moments.  Difficult experience can provide opportunities for growth and for trying new things.  Risky experiences can build courage and faith when handled properly.  You can’t prevent things from happening just for the sake of protecting a child from what MIGHT happen.

My Lucy with Nemo in Disney World.

My Lucy with Nemo in Disney World.

God does the same with us.  If he wanted to, he could place us in a perfect little environment with a protective dome over us.  We could live in a celestial terrarium where nothing would ever happen to us that was outside of our control.  But what fun would that be?  We would never need to learn to trust if there was never any risk.  We would never explore our limitations if we never faced challenges that pushed us to our edges.  We would be bored silly with how safe and ordinary and self centered our lives would be if God never allowed ANYTHING to happen to us.

Maybe that’s why we encourage people to “get out of their bubble” and have an adventure or go on a missions trip or try something scary for God.  You can’t stay at home forever.  Get out there and see what can happen when you let something happen.  Don’t be scared of the possibility of something bad happening.  You should be more afraid of nothing ever happening to you.  Take a chance!  Don’t fear the what-ifs.  Turn them into why-nots?

Kennedy Space Center with our family.

Kennedy Space Center with our family.

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Renewal

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Today I asked for a substitute teacher to take my class so I could participate in a prayer retreat with our mission.  I’m really excited.  Part of me is just looking forward to being with our fellow missionary family for a while.  Part of me is happy for a change in my routine.  But a huge part of me has been longing for some deep time with the Lord.  I have been running on fumes for a while, and I need to fill my tank.  I just want to BE in His presence.  It’s like a date with the one I love!

So in lieu of a decent blog, I have a great quote that a friend posted on Facebook this week.

“We are people who are always looking for ways to stay out of the wilderness, when in reality so much of the best stuff that God wants to do in and through us can only happen in the wilderness. We keep trying to stay away from the only place where transformation can happen. We keep trying to move out from the only place where we can truly meet with God. Wilderness is not always about judgment. In the OT prophets over and over again go into the wilderness so that they can get clarity and perspective, so that they can encounter God. We spend so much time trying to take detours around the ONLY place where we can encounter God in such a way and be completely transformed.” -P. Jonathan Martin
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I’m going out to the wilderness for a while, spiritually speaking.  Don’t call me even if you need me.

 

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathankosread/6262245025/”>Jonathan Kos-Read</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-ND</a>

Indescribable God

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We are guilty of thinking too much of ourselves and too little of God.  Expand your perception of God and your perspective on all your problems will change.  Your problems are very, very small in the indescribably large hand of our very, very big God.  After God spent 4 chapters “asking” Job if he understood the world and the universe, Job knelt humbled and speechless before God.  Who is like our God?  No one!

Job 38:4-33

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.

16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?

31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
or lead out the Bear[d] with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s[e] dominion over the earth?

 

 

Angry at God

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Excerpt from the book Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand by Rick Lawrence.

A month ago our crazy-making gray cat, Penny, survived, barely, the worst experience of her life.  Among her many other peculiarities (including, but not limited to: scream-meowing in our basement every day for no apparent reason, defecating on the concrete five inches from her litter box for no apparent reason, and sneaking outside to hide out of reach under our deck for no apparent reason) she’s absolutely terrible at cleaning herself after she “does her business,” as my wife’s family likes to describe you-know-what.  In short, there’s what we’ll call “crusty matter” hanging off her haunches on most days.

Finally Bev couldn’t take it anymore and decided (with no regard for what others were doing at that particular random moment, I have to say) to grab that cat Penny and clean off her hinterlands in the bathtub.  At first my older daughter, Lucy, was recruited for this suicide mission, but she quickly realized she’d have to maintain a perpetual death grip on a fifteen-pound cat as she was plunged into water for the first time in her life, and Lucy was having none of that.  So, against my will and despite firm protests that I was NOT going to get involved in this covert operation, I stepped in to manhandle Penny into the bathtub.

cat bathWhile Bev was at one end furiously scrubbing the “particulates” off of Penny’s hindquarters with warm water and liquid soap, I was at the other end, desperately trying to hold on to the scruffy neck of an animal who was sure she was about to die.  Her eyes bored into me with disbelief and panic and she frantically tried to claw her way out of the jaws of death.  But I tightened my grip and gritted my teeth and held on- no small feat, because I’m positive her girth would remind you of Jabba the Hutt.  Thirty seconds into this operation she had the kind of look on her face that you’d have if someone was shoving you feet-first into a wood chipper.  She thrashed and growled and dug her claws into my arm while Bev continued to soap up Penny’s nether regions with the sort of trademark thoroughness that, in this case, we honestly couldn’t afford.

And finally when it was all over, we pulled that pathetic, fur-soaked Penny out of the tub and wrapped her in a warm towel and stroked her head and told her that we loved her.  I’m no cat whisperer, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking what you and I would be thinking if we were a pampered, half-crazed house cat that has just emerged from her first “acid” bath:  “What was THAT?”

Now weeks later, and Penny still slinks from me whenever it looks as though I might actually make a slight movement in her general direction.  Her trust in me has been violated by a shattering event her mind can make no sense of- the comfort and safety she assumed around me has now been cross-examined and thrown out of court.  Before her bathing, I was merely just another piece of useful furniture to her.  But now I am dangerous and untrustworthy to her.  I can see she’s having trouble, intense trouble, squaring the food-supplying, head-scratching, lap-offering me with the incarcerating, torturing, and suddenly random me.  If I was like a god to Penny… then the bath incident has apparently turned her into an agnostic.  A few more episodes like this one, and she’ll go the distance to atheism.

So how do we typically make sense of the inexplicable near-death episodes in our own lives?  What do we do when God seems to be dipping us in acid or shoving us into the wood chipper, with His supposedly merciful face inches from our own and His eyes locked on ours, and all of our desperate protestations and life-or-death caterwauling gets us nowhere with Him?  In fact, many of us would say that His grip on the scruff of our necks gets even tighter the louder we protest… Even when the trauma is behind us and we’re safe and enveloped in our metaphorical warm towel, we can’t forget or forgive the horrific offense of what He has done to us…

I recently heard that another one of my friends from long ago is no longer serving the Lord.  She’s angry about a lot of things.  She’s angry at God, too, I think.  This makes me really sad to think about.  I recently read a devotional with the theme of admonishing people to stop being angry with God.  I was a bit shocked that the author thought that this problem was wide-spread enough to include in an international email.  But the more I think about it, the more I believe he is right.  There are a lot of people out there who are mad at God, for one reason or another.

I think I need to make one thing clear, I don’t think that people who are mad at God are going to Heaven.  Think about it.  If you are mad at God, why would you WANT to be with Him for all eternity?  You certainly won’t feel like worshiping Him forever and ever.  Now, can a person recover from their anger against God?  Yes, but it is in part an exercise of their free will.  It does not happen naturally.  Left to their natural tendencies, an angry person will eventually become a God-hater.  That’s a Hellish rut that requires the tow-truck of the Holy Spirit to pull you out of.  But if, with your free will, you’ve denied the Spirit access to your heart’s hitch, how will He ever be able to pull you to safety?

Like Penny the cat who suffered through a bath, we don’t always understand what God is doing.  He seems random and frightening and torturous and malicious.  But He’s not.  He’s probably just washing the poop off your butt.  With Penny’s little cat-brain she couldn’t comprehend what was happening to her.  With your little human brain, you can’t possibly understand the Divine Being whose ways are “higher” than our ways.  How could we possibly understand what God is doing?

So just like it’s ridiculous for Penny to be angry with her humans over the bath incident, it is ridiculous for you, Created Being, to be angry with your Creator.  Let go of your anger against God before it’s too late.

Photo credits:  the photo was taken from this page http://sgforums.com/forums/1796/topics/191114

Thank God for Your Weaknesses

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Ever since I had cancer, I have had to accept that I have a new “normal” level of energy.  I used to be able to work hard for very long periods of time, and I was proud of my strength.  Now I wake up every day at 5am, and the first words in my mind are a prayer asking God for the strength to make it though today.

I just don’t have the stamina that I used to have.  I fight against my own inclinations to be angry about that.  I quit asking WHY long ago.  It’s pointless to ask that.  No one ever gets the answer they want.  It makes me sad to think that the older I get I can expect my strength to continue to wane.  That’s natural.

So today I’m going to share a few clips from the devotional book that I’m reading in the mornings for my “quicky devos”.  I do a longer Bible reading at night when I have quiet time to myself.  In the mornings I am reading Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  Here are a few sound-bites that have ministered to me:

Bring to Me your weakness, and receive My Peace.  Accept yourself and your circumstances just as they are, remembering that I am sovereign over everything.  Do not wear yourself out with analyzing and planning.  Instead, let thankfulness and trust be your guides through this day; they will keep you close to Me…

Come to Me for rest and refreshment.  The journey had been too much for you, and you are bone-weary.  Do not be ashamed of your exhaustion.  Instead, see it as an opportunity for Me to take charge of your life.  Remember that I can fit everything into a pattern for good, including the things you wish were different.  Start with where you are at this point in time and space, accepting that this is where I intend you to be.  You will get through today one step, one moment at a time…

Thank Me for the conditions that are requiring you to be still.  Do not spoil these quiet hours by wishing them away, waiting impatiently to be active again.  Some of the greatest works in My kingdom have been done from sick beds and prison cells.  Instead of resenting the limitations of a weakened body, search for My way in the midst of these very circumstances.  Limitations can be liberating when your strongest desire is living close to Me… My strength and power show themselves most effective in weakness.

Thank you Jesus for being in control of every circumstance of my life.  Even though it’s hard for me to do this because I’m still learning how, I thank you for my weakness.  I don’t understand it, but I trust you.  This is what you’ve given me, and I thank you.  Glorify yourself in my weakness.

An Offering of Garlic for God Almighty

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She teetered to the front of the church on arthritic little feet and carefully placed a small blue bundle on the edge of the stage in front of the pulpit.  This little old lady brought her offering to the Lord, and quietly returned to her seat.

The tin roof panels ticked and expanded in the hot sun.  A blanket of heat pressed down on all of us inside the cement block walls of the church.  As the worship leader strummed his guitar and the congregation swayed together in worship, I stared at that little blue bundle.  From where I stood, I could not tell if the bag contained eggs, small onions or garlic.  But whatever it was, it was clear that this little lady brought something precious from her heart.

I thought of the widow who brought her single coin as an offering to the Lord.  Jesus commended her for giving all she had.  She gave what she could not really afford to give.  She needed every cent to survive.  But she gave more than money; she gave her heart.

I teared up looking at that precious yet worthless little blue bag on the step.  I thought about what a humble offering it was.  Imagine bringing a bag of half a dozen heads of garlic as an offering to the God of the Universe.  The difference between the offering and its worth was never greater.  The dignity of God Almighty, King of Kings, The Alpha and Omega was contrasted against a bag of garlic, and yet, I felt that God was very, very pleased with that little blue bag.

When the worship ended, the pastor carefully and reverently collected the offering in a  bundle.  He respectfully nodded his thanks to the little old lady who bowed her head and smiled to herself.  She brought her all and received the blessing of God.  God Almighty smiled on her and her little blue bag of garlic.

And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

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lump of clay

 

“The same sun which melts wax hardens clay.  And the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sin.”  ~Spurgeon

Problems reveal what you’re made of.  When the pressure comes, do you crumble or turn into a diamond?  The same problem that causes one person to draw closer to God can cause another to shut God out of their lives forever.  The same crisis that causes one person to become aware of and appreciative of God can cause another to curse God and grow bitter and hard.

The Bible says that when God was preparing to deliver the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt,  God had a plan to show his mighty hand to the polytheistic, idol worshiping nation.  He planned to use the man Moses and to use the apocalyptic powers of nature to reveal his mighty powers.  Every time Pharaoh would come close to letting the Hebrew slaves go, he would change his mind at the last minute, his heart getting harder and harder each time.  The Bible says “And God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” because he still had more lessons to teach the Hebrews and the Egyptians alike.  Is it fair for God to harden a man’s heart and then condemn him for it?

Yes, it is fair.  Because your reaction to pain is evidence of what you are made of.  Hurricanes of pain and suffering happen to both the good and the bad.  But only a certain kind of person comes through with resilience.  Your reaction to God will reflect what you are made of in your heart.  Will the pressure turn your life into a clump of dirt or a diamond?  Only going through pressure can reveal that to you.

My roommate from college lost a child when he was just over 1 years old.  As I read her emails from wherever I was in the world, I saw her growing stronger and stronger in her faith.  If you had asked me back in college whether I thought her faith could survive such a storm, I would have said No Way!  And yet, here she was maturing and growing right in front of my eyes and it was the pain and pressure that was promoting that kind of rapid growth.  The astonishingly high divorce rate among couples who have lost a child is evidence that this kind of pressure causes many to crumble.  But not my roommate, she was pressed into her true form through this tragedy.  She is a diamond.

My Jesus who carries a big stick

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This past Sunday in church we watched a “human video” (aka a mime or drama set to music) that I have probably watched 100 times in the last 5 years, since we work with youth and host teams of students as well.  It was set to the song by Lighthouse called “Everything”.  Even though I’ve seen it enough times to know exactly what is going to happen, it gets me wiping the tears every time!

It’s the basic story of God’s salvation of humans.  God creates a girl, creates the world full of beautiful things for her enjoyment and teaches her how to live in harmony with himself.  They dance a sweet dance together and as he spins her out, Satan grabs her hand.  He entices her with more daring and seductive dips and twirls, and spins her into one bad crowd after another.  She spirals downwards until she finds herself holding a gun to her head, ready to pull the trigger.

At that point the song reaches its climax and God begins to pull at an imaginary rope that is connected to her, pulling her closer and closer, back to his loving arms.  She wants to come to him, but her old temptations and habits pull her back down, over and over again.  Finally, God has had enough and he steps in between the girl and her tormentors, he fights for her and wins her back!  Though she is beaten and ragged and broken, he holds her tenderly and clothes her in a white robe.

The thing that I like the best about this drama is that God fights for the girl.  It is the primal scream of every girl’s soul to be fought for and rescued.  But as we have emasculated the men of our society, we have diminished our chances of ever being fought for.  At the same time we have also neutralized and sanitized our image of God.  No longer is he the God of the Old Testament who was capable of brutally punishing his enemies and savagely, passionately rescuing his people from bondage.  No longer is he the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he’s more like Alex the Lion from Madagascar.  We have forgotten about the fearsome and awe inspiring Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia- Aslan who is NOT a tame lion, but he IS good.

But here’s the thing, sometimes I walk through very scary places in life.  I find myself in dangerous dark spiritual alleys with bad guys carrying big weapons chasing me through the unfamiliar streets of life.  Sometimes I have to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  And when I do, I want a great big God who knows how to handle himself in a fight!  As soon as the battle gets too hot and heavy for me, I want to simply breathe his name in my exhaustion and feel him rushing in to rescue me.  The moment I call his name, the battle becomes his- not mine any longer.

So don’t try to paste a pansy image of God onto my grilled cheese sandwich and expect me to be satisfied with that.  I don’t want Mister Roger’s with me on a dark night, I want William Wallace by my side!  I don’t want the pacifist Jesus.  I want the warrior Jesus… I NEED the Jesus who knows how to snap a whip and flip over a table and beat up the bad guys.  Oh he’s not tame, that’s for sure.  But he IS good.  And that’s the Jesus who fights for me.

“Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Psalm 23:4

Not Called?

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I thought this quote was just so powerful that I wanted to share it on my blog.  Just think about this:

“Not called,” did you say? Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell Him whether you will join the march to publish His mercy to the world.   -William Booth

As we have traveled around raising our funds to be missionaries, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a variation of this comment, “I totally admire the sacrifices you are making to do this, I know I could never do that myself.  Maybe if I had a Calling, but I don’t.”  I think the first part of the sentence is more truthful than the later part.  The real reason more people don’t take soul winning more seriously is that it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.

May people who claim to be Jesus Followers are like the rich young man who asked Jesus, “I’ve followed all the commandments to the letter, so what ELSE must I do to follow you.”   Then Jesus disappointed him by saying, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.  Then come and follow me.”  The rich guy was sorely disappointed because he had a lot of nice things.

God will always push us to our limits to show us the idolatry in our lives.  He pushed Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (though he didn’t make him go through with it in the end) to test his fatherly love.  He pushed Joseph out of his family and into slavery, separating him from a doting, spoiling father.  He pushed Saul (Paul) to the ground outside of the city of Damascus, breaking his vicious pride.  He pushed Peter to the point of denying his relationship with Jesus, then brought him around again to “If you love me, then feed my Sheep”.

You want to follow Jesus?  Prepare to be uncomfortable.  But I assure you that any discomfort you feel in you walk with Jesus is nothing compared to the discomfort- no agony- being experienced by those lost souls in Hell.  Kind of puts it all in perspective doesn’t it?  Let Jesus push you to your limits and beyond.  You may be surprised at where you find yourself going once you acknowledge your Call.

 

Complaining is a SIN?? You’ve got to be kidding.

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“Magnify the Lord with Thankfulness.” (Ps. 69:30)

What does it mean to Magnify something?  Think about those old machines called “overhead projectors”  (I’m sorry if you just had a flash back from high school algebra class).  An overhead makes things LOOK bigger than they really are.  I could put my hand on the overhead and the shadow would look HUGE on the wall behind me.  Is my hand really that big?  No.  But this machine makes it look bigger by magnifying it.

The Bible says we are to MAGNIFY the Lord.  Can we really make God bigger?  No, neither can we put God on the overhead and make his shadow bigger.  But what we can do is to make our VIEW of him bigger.  Sometimes we have very little ideas about God.  We think that he can’t help us or he can’t hear us or he can’t heal us.  But the Bible says that God holds the whole UNIVERSE in his hands.  That means he can do whatever he wants to do.  We need to have a bigger view of God.  We need to “zoom in” on God and let him fill our view finder.

How do we expand our view of God?  Through Thanksgiving.  Well, that sounds kind of weird.  Why would giving thanks make God look bigger?  Let’s think about the opposite of Thanksgiving.  The opposite of Thanksgiving is complaining.  Have you ever complained about anything before?  Raise your hand, be honest.  If you have a Facebook account you have probably complained about something before- it seems that half of Facebook is people complaining about something… the other half is pictures of bacon.  Just kidding.  So we all agree that we have complained before.

Did you know that complaining is a SIN?!?  Well it IS!  The Bible says that we are to do all things without complaining.  That means when we complain, we are disobeying God.  Now, can you think of any stories in the Bible where someone complained?  I can.  The Children of Israel complained for 40 years while wandering around in the desert.  “There’s sand in my shoes.  It’s hot out here.  I have to go to the bathroom.  Are we there yet?”  God did AMAZING miracles right in front of their eyes EVERY SINGLE DAY and they barely saw them.  They were too busy focusing on their complaints to notice.

God parted the Red Sea right in front of them, gave them water from a rock, lead them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, healed them from snake bites and saved them from their enemies, but all they could think about was the “comforts” of their slavery back in Egypt.  They complained that they missed the Egyptian food.  They complained that it was hot and dry and sandy in the desert.  They complained that they wanted a god that they could see like the Egyptian idols.  And this really made God angry.

They were so focused on what made them UNHAPPY that they couldn’t see their blessings.   Whatever you focus on gets magnified.  Whatever you magnify, fills you.  God cannot fill you if you are already full of yourself and your own complaints.  Focusing on the little blessings in your life and thinking of each one as a gift from God will make your life feel full of gifts.  With you hands full of gifts from God, you will feel loved by him and you won’t be able to stop praising him with your thankful heart.

Through Thanksgiving, we zoom in and focus on God and he begins to fill our vision until He is all we see.  We make our view of him bigger by giving him thanks and not focusing on our complaints.  We magnify God in our own vision by giving thanks to him for the millions of blessings he’s given to us.  In that way, God gets bigger in our sight and instead of our mouths filling with complaints, our conversations overflow with gratitude.  The people around us will notice our gratitude and will expand THEIR view of God as well.