Old disc in the snow

Old, rusted tools aren’t beyond saving

My property is very old. My house is old, my land is old, my trees are old–everything about my home is old. And in the south pasture, next to the foundation of an old granary is a rusted disc. I guess the technical terminology is disc harrow, according to Wikipedia. I’m sure years and years ago, it was used to cultivate soil for crops, removing weeds, tilling up the dirt and so on. But it isn’t used now. It’s old and rusted and just sitting in the back pasture.

Part of me feels like it was irresponsible to let the old thing rust away in the south pasture. But what was I going to use it for? I don’t have horses, and I may have five acres but anymore that’s not enough to raise any kind of profitable crop. So it sits out there abandoned.

Old disc in the snow

Old disc in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 116:5.

How kind the LORD is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!

On first thought, this verse really has little to do with that old disc out in my back pasture. But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that it has everything to do with it.

God is the only Person I’ve ever met who could take someone who was abandoned and deemed useless by society and culture and use them to make a difference in the world. God is the kindest, most merciful Person I’ve ever encountered.

If you haven’t already, I really suggest reading the entirety of Psalm 116. The writer is basically talking about how God reached down and saved him from danger.

God doesn’t have to do things like that.

He’s God. He is self-sustaining, eternal, and all-powerful. He knows all and sees all, and He can do everything. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need anyone. So when faced with the choice to reach down and help someone who can do absolutely nothing for Him in return, why would God do it? Why does God insist on helping us, especially when we can’t repay Him?

What does it mean to be merciful? What does it mean to be kind?

Mercy and kindness, to me, go hand in hand. Because mercy is giving someone something they don’t deserve. Mercy is being kind to someone who doesn’t deserve kindness.

Mercy is extending a hand of forgiveness to people who have hurt us. Mercy is accepting punishment for someone else when you’ve done nothing wrong. Mercy is offering to help someone who can offer you nothing in return simply because it’s the right thing to do.

And that’s what God does for us every day, whether you believe in Him or not.

Some days I feel very much like an old rusted tool that isn’t useful for anything anymore. I feel used up and worn out and run down, like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to find some grain of creativity when I’ve already given it all away. Some days I feel like I’ve lost whatever usefulness I had and that I’m not good for anything anymore. But on the days when I feel like that, I need to remember the old disc in my south pasture. And I need to remember Psalm 116.

God is merciful and kind. And no one is beyond His ability to save and restore. Even those facing death aren’t beyond His reach. He’s God. He can do anything, and He can use anyone, no matter who they are or where they came from.

That old disc out in my south pasture is beyond my ability to restore. Just like I know some people (including myself) are beyond my ability to help. But no one is beyond God.

And the irony is that we don’t even have to ask Him to use us. He does it anyway. But if we ask Him first and if we go along with it, we can experience a lot of joy.

Half moon above the apricots

Everything changes

Change is inevitable. It’s part of life. Nothing stays the same. Seasons pass. People age. People die. People are born. Jobs go away. Jobs get harder. Taxes increase. New government official are elected and enact changes in policies. Kids you knew when they were toddlers grow up and get married.

There’s a line in an old country song by Tracy Lawrence called “Time Marches On” that says: “The only thing that stays the same is everything changes.” And that’s very true.

So since change is inevitable, why do we get so attached to the way life is today? Is that just the way we are? Change bothers some people more than others, but I think all change is difficult at some level, even if you like change. I don’t. I hate change, but at the same time I appreciate it. Because it’s necessary. Imagine what life would like if nothing ever changed.

Half moon above the apricots

Half moon above the apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

This is a statement that Christ said to the disciples shortly before His death. He was trying to comfort them, explaining that He wouldn’t always be with them, but that Someone else was coming to walk beside them through life.

From what I know of Scripture, the disciples didn’t like change either. At least, they didn’t like change they couldn’t control. That’s where I am. I’m such a control freak that I accept the change I initiate. When it’s change that I start, I don’t have a problem with it because I can wrap my arms around it and I can comprehend what needs to be done and I can often see the light at the end of the tunnel because I control how fast I’m moving.

But when it’s change someone else affects in my life? Yeah, that doesn’t go over so well.

One of the many things I love about Jesus is that He understands that. He knows that I have a desperate need to control the situations in my life, but He also knows that if I actually had that power, I wouldn’t do a very good job of managing. And He loves me enough to take that responsibility away.

Part of being in control is that you have to know everything. You have to know every possible outcome, and you have to know everything that could possibly go wrong. If I wanted to control my life and manage my circumstances effectively, I would have to know everything, not just about myself but about the people around me. And I am not capable of that. That is beyond my ability. It’s beyond anyone’s ability, and to declare otherwise is like telling God that you know better.

The disciples freaked out about Jesus leaving. I mean, He had been walking with them in their lives for three years. Their closest friend. Their mentor. Their brother. And they believed He was who He said He was for the most part, and at the news that He was leaving them, they despaired.

It’s so easy to get upset when things don’t go your way. It’s so easy to sit and pout and cry when life doesn’t turn out the way we think it will. It’s easy to get frustrated with God because He makes you wait before He’ll give you an answer. And the longer you have to wait, the easier it gets to be discouraged.

And God knows that. He created us. So He knows how we think. That’s where this verse comes in. Because Jesus didn’t leave the disciples without hope. God hasn’t abandoned us. Even when He isn’t speaking or moving in a way we can see, that doesn’t mean He isn’t working. God gave us Himself. If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit within you, a direct line to God Himself. We can go to God any time and tell Him what we’re struggling with, and He won’t turn us away in disgust or impatience or disappointment.

But He does want us to trust Him. And it’s hard to trust someone you aren’t talking to.

The New Living Translation says, “Don’t be troubled or afraid.” But in the Amplified Version, that same statement means this:

Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.

God has given us peace. It’s a different kind of peace that the world offers. The world tells us to cling to financial gain and economic stability and political morality, but all of that changes. None of that is solid. God’s peace comes through Christ. God’s peace comes through believing that God knows what He’s doing even if it doesn’t feel like it. Feeling upset or unhappy or scared is a choice.

We can choose to be at peace in the midst of inevitable change because the one thing that matters never changes: God knows what He’s doing, He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises.

Cave in the mountains

The difference between a fortress and a shield

Do you ever feel like you need protection? I’m not really one of those people who prefers to sit back and wait for life to come to me. I usually race into conflict with arms open wide, trying my best to get everyone to get along. But as much as I prefer action, there are days when all I want to do is hide. On those days, I feel like the world’s weakest person because I just want to curl up in the darkness and block out the world and everyone in it.

That’s probably not wrong, but isn’t there a way to face conflict between people without getting hurt?

Cave in the mountains

Cave in the mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The passage for today is Psalm 18:1-2.

   I love you, LORD;
      you are my strength. 
  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

I forget this really easily. I spend a lot of time fighting, if you will. Of course, that’s metaphorical. I’m not a soldier or a warrior in any stretch of the imagination, but I do end up in the middle of a lot of relationships. And the people who you love can hurt you more than anyone else.

In these verses, David calls God His rock. What does that mean? I mean, if you say someone is your rock, what are you talking about? I’ve always thought it meant that someone is stable and solid and unmoving. If I have a friend who is a rock, that friend is someone I can count on no matter what. But David didn’t stop there. God is our rock and our fortress. Okay. So God is both someone we can count on no matter what and someone we can go to for protection. But notice that He’s also our shield.

So what’s the difference between a shield and a fortress? Well, a fortress is a place you go to for protection. A shield is protection you carry with you.

This is where I get hung up. Because I think that I can run to God for protection until I feel better and then I charge back into battle again. But I leave my shield behind. And that’s why I get hurt again and have to run back for protection when I get hurt.

God’s power isn’t contained merely within a place of refuge, but He gives us the strength to go out into battle and He promises to protect us in the middle of conflict. We don’t have to run away and find a quiet place to recuperate. That’s nice sometimes, but we shouldn’t forget that God has offered to protect us as our shield too.

You have to trust your shield, you have to let the hurtful things others say hit the shield and not you. You have to let the lies that Satan throws at you hit the shield and not you. That’s what a shield is for.

For me, it’s not so much trusting my shield, it’s remembering to take it with me.

So when you wake up in the morning and you know that you’re going to face trials and difficulties, don’t try to do it by yourself. Don’t trust your own abilities to deflect the hurt that will undoubtedly come your way. Take a shield you. Trust that God will absorb the impact. Granted, you’ll probably still feel it. Even people who carried shields in historical battles still felt the impact of swords and arrows, but the pain didn’t linger. So even if you feel the impact, you won’t have to focus on the pain.

That’s what a shield does.

Sheep

Once you leave, can you ever come back?

I have a lot of experience raising sheep. I know that’s not a normal thing to admit to, but it’s the truth. And maybe I don’t have enough experience to really talk about it, but I did it long enough to know how hard it is. My brother and I did it for 4-H for two years. A great experience, in all honesty. It was hard, dirty, taxing work, and it involved training a super dumb animal how to stand, how to stand still, and how to walk.

But before 4-H and during, my neighbor ran a herd of ewes on my five acres. Sometimes there were twelve. Sometimes there were twenty. But no matter how many there were, the fences would always break. And you’ve never seen anything like a herd of twenty sheep stampeding toward you at the same time. It’s terrifying until you learn how to yell, and then they scatter away from you like they’re afraid you’re going to eat them. The sheep would run crazy all over our property. They’d eat the fruit tree blossoms and leave droppings all over the yard. And it was my job to round them back up again. They were beyond stupid. They were just ridiculous. But I did get a lot of exercise.

Sheep

Sheep - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

So when I read today’s verses, John 10:7, 9-10, I spent a little time recalling my exciting adventures chasing sheep all over my five acres.

So he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

This is a good example of why it’s a good idea to read the whole chapter. This passage seems a little discombobulated, but if you read the entire chapter of John 10, it gets clearer. Jesus is talking about being the Good Shepherd. The whole of John 10 really is fantastic.

But what is really interesting to me is how Jesus clarifies his statement. Notice verse 7 says “he explained it to them.” At the beginning of John 10, Jesus is talking about being a Good Shepherd. And he clarifies not by calling himself a shepherd but by calling himself the Gate.

Christ is the gate. We are the sheep.

But even as much as I noticed that Jesus clarified by identifying himself as the only way to salvation, I thought it was doubly interesting that he expands by saying, “They will come and go freely.”

Really.

I think there’s a perception that once you decide to follow Christ you are strapped down to a big book of rules and you aren’t allowed to live or have fun or do anything pleasant with your life ever again. That perception is there, even among believers. That’s why Christians hesitate to give their whole lives to God. They’ll believe that Jesus died for them, but they won’t take that last step and live for Him.

So how do you explain that Jesus is the Gate that allows his sheep to come and go freely?

What I have learned in my brief life as a Christian is that while God tells us what we should do, He also allows us to choose. We already know what He expects from us, how He wants us to live. So sometimes we choose right, but sometimes we choose wrong. But in any case, He gives us the chance to choose. We are free to choose. We are free to come. We are free to go.

Once we’ve entered his fold, we are his sheep. And there is a verse later on that speaks to when a sheep wanders too far away how the Good Shepherd will come out and bring him back (often with some leg breaking involved).

God doesn’t force us to do anything. We always have a choice. We have a choice to drink or abuse drugs. We have choice of what clothing to wear. We have a choice of what person we will date. We have a choice of what friends we make. We have a choice of how to spend our time each day.

God also says in this verse that it’s his purpose to give us a rich and satisfying life. A rich and satisfying life doesn’t come from obeying a bunch of rules. To me, there is nothing richer and more satisfying than knowing I’m free because of Christ’s sacrifice and that even when I’m not perfect, God still loves me.

We should all strive to live a life that is pleasing to God, and we should all learn from our mistakes. But we aren’t born perfect. And when we first accept Christ, we aren’t immediately changed into someone who will never make mistakes. We all stumble. Not saying we shouldn’t try to do our best, but we shouldn’t give up either. Because God doesn’t give up on us.

Sometimes we make wise choices. Other times we make easy choices. But no matter what choice we make, we are still free to come back.

Sunset at the farm

What God expects from us

I am a people pleaser. I like to make people happy, and I like people to be happy with each other. But in order to please people, I have to know their expectations. It’s impossible to please someone until you know what makes them happy. And that holds true at work, at home, or wherever else you go, no matter what relationship you’re in. If the other person in your relationship, whether it be a friend or a family member or a coworker or a boss, never expresses his or her expectations for you, you’ll never know how to please them. You’ll never know how to meet those expectations.

Sunset at the farm

Sunset at the farm - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Micah 6:8.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Have you ever been frustrated with God because He can’t talk to you? Or because you can’t see Him? There are days when I really wish He would just appear so that we could talk face to face and get a few things out in the open.

Some days I just want to get a clear answer from Him so I know what He is expecting from me.

Does He just want me to have faith? I know that having faith is what pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6). But there are many different ways to have faith. Does He want me to keep working where I’m working? Does He want me to keep living where I’m living? Does He want me to pick up everything, sell all I own, and go somewhere else? All three options require faith, so which one is the right one? Which one will make Him happy with me? What does He want from me?

Micah, who wrote the Book of Micah, was an Old Testament prophet. And if you’ve never studied the Old Testament prophets, you should that these guys were hardcore. They usually ended up in really dangerous situations because of the things God commanded them to say. They faced kings and queens and delivered messages of doom from God. They stood up for what was right in the times when doing right wasn’t popular. Well, beyond that, I guess. They just stood up for what was right, even facing down kings who usually did the right thing but sometimes strayed. Like David and the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7).

We live in a world where doing the right thing is difficult. We live in a culture where good has become bad and bad has become good. I laughed at something I saw on Facebook yesterday about one of the presidential candidates, a list of six things people needed to know about him. It was presented as though every item was evil, and I have to say I probably agreed with every one of them. Maybe that makes me a “bad person” as far as the world is concerned, but each item on that list was a biblical response to something in our culture that the Bible says is wrong.

And it’s getting worse every day. The world and our people and our culture are all slowly circling the drain. We aren’t going to go on like this forever. And when we’re all called to account after everything is over, we aren’t going to be able to tell God that we didn’t do what was right because we didn’t know.

We all know. Because God has told us what is good. He’s told us what’s right; He’s told us what wrong; and nobody has an excuse.

No, God hasn’t appeared to anyone I know and explained the intricacies of His expectations, but He did give us the Bible. And as much as possible, He presented it to us in a way that leaves no doubt of its authenticity.

I have encountered many people who want to argue about the Bible. They want to discuss it and disprove it — but they’ve never read it. How can you discuss something you’ve never read? How can you disprove something if you’ve never studied it? Maybe this is wrong of me, but I refuse to have a discussion (let alone an argument) about the Bible with someone who won’t read it. Because until they read it, they are merely regurgitating other peoples’ opinions about it.

Evidence is abundant that the Bible is true. If you doubt that, go study it. But you can’t deny that God is clear in Scripture. He tells us what He expects from us in Scripture, over and over and over again. It’s our choice to read it and hear it and do it.

Do right. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. That’s what God expects.

Bird on a ledge

The difference between serving and enabling

Have you ever tried to get ahead by stomping on people? How has that worked for you? I know people who have used the talent and sacrifices of others to gain a place in the business world, and while it might be the fast track to success in business, it rarely is a lasting kind of success.

Bird on a ledge

Bird on a ledge - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Mark 9:35.

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Jesus had the right to demand to be served by His disciples. He was God. He could have commanded that they all bow down to Him and ordered them to follow His every whim. But that wasn’t how Jesus lived. Actually, He lived a life opposite of that. He served other people. He sacrificed Himself and His own comfort to provide for people around Him.

He actually washes the Disciples’ feet at one point. That’s something the lowliest servant was expected to do.

So how does that apply to our lives? Are we supposed to only serve people and make allowances when they walk all over us? Because when you change your perspective to care more about other people, people will take advantage of you. That’s the inevitable consequence of living the way the Jesus did because we live in a broken world and the people we’re trying to help aren’t perfect (kind of like we aren’t perfect). People take advantage of each other, and when you are willing to serve them, you just make it easier for them to use you.

Is that right? Is that how we’re supposed to live? Are we supposed to enable people around us to continue living the way they want while we do nothing but support them?

Here’s where I feel like we need to draw a distinction between serving and enabling.

Being a servant is a mindset. It’s an attitude. You don’t think you’re better than other people. You are willing to drop what you’re doing or suspend what is important to you to help someone else achieve their goals. You love people more than you love yourself. That is the attitude and mindset of a servant.

Enabling is different. Enabling other people means you make excuse for them. It means you never correct them even when they are doing something that is wrong.

But isn’t that just love? One of the aspects of love is that you make allowances for other peoples’ faults. Does that mean we love people so much that we make excuses for them? No. Making an excuse for someone is almost tantamount to accepting their fault. And the Bible doesn’t say love accepts peoples’ faults. It says love doesn’t hold it against them. Recognizing an error in another person’s judgment and addressing it with kindness and concern doesn’t mean that you’re acting superior; it means you love them enough to correct them.

The most successful business people I have met earned their position not by stepping on others but usually by helping other people at their own expense. It’s a backward way of looking at work. It’s a backward way of looking at life. But from what I have seen, “backward” really isn’t as strange as it sounds, especially since it works.

If you want to be first, you need to live like you’re last. If you want to be successful, you need to live like a servant. That’s true. But even if you have the mindset of a servant, it doesn’t negate what is right and what is wrong. And while there will be people who take advantage of you (Christian or not), that doesn’t mean you have to continue to enable them keep taking advantage of you. Address the issue with kindness, concern and humility. Most of the time, people won’t even be aware that they’re doing it; taking advantage of people is almost instinctive.

Just because you are a servant doesn’t mean you have to enable people to live a life that is wrong.

Be humble. Serve others. But love them enough to correct them.

The Old Schoolhouse

Making the grade

When I was still in school, I liked tests. I liked them because I got to show off how much I knew. I used to look forward to the standardized state tests too because it was an opportunity to prove how much I had learned in a year. I was a weird kid.

But when I finished school, I thought that meant the tests were over. I thought that tests were something I would only have to deal with in school, but that’s not true at all. Tests are something we will deal with for our entire life. We just won’t always get a grade.

The Old Schoolhouse

The Old Schoolhouse - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:12.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

In school, you have to take tests to prove to your teachers that you have learned (or you haven’t learned) the lesson they were teaching. In life, tests may come just because the world is broken. And in life’s tests, there is no grading on the curve, and in many cases there is no A+ grade and sometimes not even an F grade. Sometimes there’s no grade at all. Sometimes the tests will last for years, and it’s all you can do just to get through one.

So what do you do when you encounter a test that lasts for an extended period of time? When you get sick or when someone you love gets sick or when you lose your job or when you lose your house? How is that a test? Is it multiple choice?

I’ve always thought that the tests God gives us are true/false tests. Either that or yes/no questions. We either say yes to Him or no. Yes to the world or no. And that always seems easier to me when I run into a difficult situation I have to endure.

We can either say yes to God and answer the questions that come our way based on what we know from the Bible. Or we can ignore what God says and try to answer the questions life throws at us using our own wisdom or our own experiences to light the way.

There’s nothing wrong with using your own experience to help guide you, but trusting in your own experience will only get you as far as your own experience has reached. So what happens when you encounter a test about something you haven’t experienced? Then you’re just making up answers. I’ve been there and done that (it was called General Biology my sophomore year of college at Wichita State, and I had to make up every answer I put down on those tests because I didn’t understand anything).

But when you use what God says in Scripture to answer the questions that life throws your way, you’ll pass the test. It may not always feel like you passed the test. But you will. Because the Bible deals with situations and circumstances and answers to questions that we have already experienced and have not experienced yet. And it applies to everyone. And it’s relevant to everyone.

I remember taking tests that seemed to last forever. And sometimes life tests are that way too. And sometimes we have to choose to keep going even though we don’t know the answer for sure. Sometimes we have to answer the way Scripture tells us without knowing if it’s going to work or not, and we have to just hold on and pray that it does. (And it will; just saying.) But having patience is the hardest part for me. The waiting is the most difficult aspect of taking a test for me because I want to know if I passed or not. I want to know the results right away. And that’s not realistic, not in a classroom and not in life either.

But if we can endure tests with patience, then the Bible says we’re happy. Because if you can stick with God throughout testing and trials, if you can stay loyal to God, according to the Message paraphrase the same verse says, “the reward is life and more life.”

Everyone will go through times of testing and temptation. Everyone. Because the world is broken, but if we endure and answer life’s challenges the way God has told us in the Bible, it will be worth it because God will bless us. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take blessing over a grade any day.