Glen Eyrie Conference Center - Colorado Springs, CO

Being shaken isn’t the same as being moved

Mountains are pretty stable things, at least from my perspective. I’m sure some geologist could prove differently, but as far as I’m concerned mountains don’t really move easily. Granted, Jesus said if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, we could move mountains … but He didn’t say it would be easy.

I like walking in the mountains and on the beach, and even though the mountains tend to make it harder for me to breathe, usually the footing is more secure than the beach. Beach sand is unreliable at best, and of course, if you’re going to walk on the beach you’ll want to be in the water. So the tide sucks the sand out from under your feet as you walk. That doesn’t happen in the mountains. If you slip while you’re walking in the mountains, it’s not the mountain’s fault. It isn’t the one moving.

Glen Eyrie Conference Center - Colorado Springs, CO

Glen Eyrie Conference Center - Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 16:8.

I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

Life is pretty nuts. There’s always a lot going on, and it doesn’t ever seem to slow down. And I always feel like I’m losing ground or like I’m taking wrong steps, and it’s difficult to find stable footing when it feels like everything around you is shifting.

So a verse like Psalm 16:8 is comforting. But when you’re in the middle of a major life issue and everything around you is falling apart, it’s easier to focus on the fact that nothing is going right than it is to remember that God never leaves us.

Whenever I run into comforting verses like this, the ones with a slightly vague sound, I always look them up in a different translation to get a better grasp of what the language is saying. Some day I’m going to learn Hebrew and Greek. But until then, I have the Amplified Version. It’s usually lengthier than other translations, but it drills down a little deeper into actual word meaning.

This is Psalm 16:8 in the Amplified Bible:

I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Most translations basically say the same thing, but the connotations are different. Because being shaken isn’t the same as being moved.

Let’s face it. Everything shakes. Shoot, even normally steady Midwestern Kansas had earthquakes last year. Maybe that’s a poor example, but nothing in life is stable. Like I said before, mountains look stable and are more likely to withstand traumatic events than something slippery like sand. But they still shake. You put a mountain in an earthquake, and it will lose parts of itself.

And we’re the same way. Even if we have a foundation on something solid and unyielding like the Bible, even when we have faith that is strong and confident, we will still run into events in our lives that will shake us.

We’ll be hurt. We’ll ask God why. We’ll want to get through it, to reach the other side, to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We want to wake up in the morning and be happy again. But we can’t, not because our faith is gone or because we don’t trust God … but because we’re shook up. And it’s difficult to focus when you’re shook up.

But just because you’re shaken, doesn’t mean you’ve been moved.

Everything shakes. But if you’ve set God before you, like the verse says, you’re still on stable ground. If God is at your right hand, you’re not going anywhere He doesn’t want you to go. And you’re not experiencing anything He hasn’t allowed into your life. And if He allowed it into your life, He did it for a reason.

Events in our lives are going to shake us. And it doesn’t always mean you’ve done something wrong; it just means life is broken. A little shake here and there is probably good for us, I guess, to help us remember who’s really in control. Maybe you’ll shake a little and maybe the things that you’re facing will tear you up a bit, but you’ll heal and be stronger for it. The trick is to focus on the fact that you’re still on solid ground. And as long as you’re walking with God, there’s nothing that can shake you enough to move you.

Stop sign at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Do you really want God in a box?

I want God to tell me what He’s up to. Is that too much to ask? I say that with a bit of humor because as much as I want to know what He’s up to, at the same time I know that if He tells me, my brain will probably explode. Either that or I’ll be so scared I won’t be able to take another step. There’s a reason He doesn’t tell us all His plans.

But it’s been one of those weeks where so much has happened, so much has gone wrong, so many emotions have spilled over, and I know without a doubt that God is doing something. He’s getting me ready for something that’s coming, and I’m trying to keep my eyes on that. But in some ways I feel like I’m tripping around in the dark, and it’s all I can do to just hold on and wait until God switches the lights on so I can see which bumps and bruises need bandages.

Stop sign at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Stop sign at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Numbers 23:19.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through?

Numbers isn’t usually a book in Scripture I turn to for comfort. But there’s a little story nestled toward the back of it about a man named Balaam. You might recognize his name. He’s the one with the donkey who decided to start speaking? It’s a cool story, found in Numbers 22:21-41. But Numbers 23 contains the message that Balaam brought to Balak, King of Moab. And this is part of that message that Balaam brought from God.

How many times do we think we understand what God is up to only to grow frustrated and discouraged when life doesn’t work out the way we planned? I do it a lot. I look at a situation and am pretty sure I can see how God is working, and then the floor falls out from under me. And at that point I have two choices: I can either get upset that God didn’t work the plan out the way I thought He would … or I can realize that my understanding of God’s plans is imperfect.

We try to understand God on human terms. Why? Because we’re human. How else are we capable of understanding anything? We think we understand nature and the universe and all of that, but all we’ve done is plucked it out of the sky and shoved it into a box big enough for us to wrap our head around. That doesn’t mean we understand it. That just means we’ve simplified it to the point where we can grasp it. And then everyone freaks out when nature or the universe ends up being more complicated than we thought.

Of course, it’s more complicated than we thought. It’s bigger than we can imagine. It’s more intricate than we can comprehend. What makes us think we’re capable of grasping it?

It’s the same way with God.

Like when people try to explain the Trinity using an egg or a glass of water. Those are human items that a human can wrap his head around, representing a relationship that a human can explain. But nothing on a scale that a human can understand will ever be able to explain the Trinity. Nothing on a human level will ever be able to understand God.

God is not human.

Now, Jesus was. So He understands us. But He was also God and Man at the same time. How’s that for blowing your puny little mind?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to understand God. Part of getting to know someone is learning how they think, and God wants us to get to know Him. But I really believe there needs to be an understanding on our part that God isn’t limited by the bounds of our imaginations. He isn’t limited by our grasp of the universe or by our level of understanding. If He chooses to act in a way that we don’t understand, He can. Because He’s God.

But looking back over the events of my life, I can tell you for certain that God has never done anything in my life that He hasn’t prepared me for in some way. Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back I can see how He prepared me beforehand to deal with the troubles and trials He knew were coming ahead of me. God has never made a promise He hasn’t kept to me, even though He didn’t exactly fulfill those promises in the way I expected Him to.

So the next time you catch yourself trying to put God in a box so you can understand how He works? Stop. Stop and really think about it. Because you don’t really want God in a box. Because if He’s small enough to fit in a box you can understand, He’s too small to handle the problems you’re facing.

Waterfall at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Once and forever

Has anyone ever taken the blame for you? When you did something wrong, was there someone who stood up and accepted the punishment you deserved?

That’s happened to me a few times, where I truly deserved what was coming to me, but someone else stood up in my place and “took one for the team” so to speak.

Waterfall at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Waterfall at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Hebrews 7:25.

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

That’s what Jesus did for us on the cross. He stood up in our place and took punishment that we deserved for our sins so that we could have a relationship with God — the same kind of relationship He does. He died on the cross, He rose from the dead, and now He is in heaven preparing a place for those of us who follow Him.

What this verse is saying is epic.

It’s saying that Jesus can save anyone who comes to God through Him. Once and forever.

We don’t have to ask over and over again.

We don’t have to worry that we’ll lose our salvation.

We don’t have to seek salvation by good deeds or good works.

Salvation comes through Christ, once and forever. Jesus stands between us and God and bridges the gap we could never cross on our own.

This thought is brief today, but it’s a pretty big deal. And a lot of times, this is something I take advantage of. I don’t appreciate this relationship that I have. I can drop everything and go directly to God through Christ and tell Him about what’s happening in my life. I can live my life with confidence and surety that I know 100% where I will go when I die. And I don’t have to be insecure about my eternal future because my future rests in Jesus’ hands and not my own.

How often do I take that for granted? How often do I get caught up in the silly little details of my little life?

Christ saved me, once and forever. How can anything bring me down when I look at life that way?

Yellow leaves in Santa Isabel - Peten, Guatemala

Joy is a better deal

I’m getting this posted later than I wanted, but this past week has been insane. It’s been a wonderful learning experience but trying and exhausting and challenging on a level I really hadn’t expected.

I work for the marketing team of a global company, and our national sales meeting has been going on this week. Our owners came into town from out of the country, and we’ve all just been scrambling to prepare and execute this conference. Two hundred plus people attend this thing, and I’m really thankful I’m not the one in charge of it. But this year I had more responsibility than I expected. And while everyone has been pleased with what I was able to pull off, my little perfectionistic heart has struggled.

Yellow leaves in Santa Isabel - Peten, Guatemala

Yellow leaves in Santa Isabel - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Proverbs 3:13.

Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.

Why do people think that we can find joy in things that won’t last? We look for joy in our careers. We look for joy in our families. We look for joy in our friends. We look for joy in our wealth.

But instead of finding joy, what we find is happiness. And happiness is temporary at best. Happiness is based on our circumstances. Happiness is like sand, unstable and shifting, sucked out from underfoot by the crashing waves of the ocean.

Joy is different. Joy is like a rock foundation that doesn’t move even in the worst storms of life. Joy is that stability in the unstable times of life. And if you have joy, you have something that nothing and no one can ever take away from you. That’s why we all search for joy. That’s why everyone wants joy, even if they don’t really know that’s what they’re looking for.

But happiness likes to masquerade as joy and that’s why people are easily fooled.

But joy isn’t something you find. It isn’t something you stumble on to by accident. It’s something you receive when you choose to follow Christ, when you choose to believe the Bible. Joy is a byproduct of learning the Scriptures and choosing to live by them.

According to this verse, joy comes from wisdom. When you get wisdom, you’ll be joyful. And I’m not talking about education. The difference between knowledge and wisdom is as vast as the difference between happiness and joy.

Wisdom is knowing what God says is right and choosing to do it no matter the consequences. And it’s choosing to live that kind of life that will bring you joy because if you life a wise life, you will have a joyful life.

If you want joy, you need wisdom.

My company had their annual awards dinner last night. It’s a big deal. A swanky event. Jackets required. Semi-formal attire. And enough alcohol to drown someone. As always I’m astonished at the amount of alcohol these people can put away.

Let me be clear. I don’t have a problem with people drinking. I choose not to, but that’s my preference. I don’t have a problem with alcohol; I have a problem with drunks. And there were more than a few drunk people last night.

Getting drunk isn’t wise. I was thinking about it last night as I was watching some of the things they were doing and saying. The only reason to get that drunk is to feel better and forget about your problems for a little while, but what good does it do you when you sober up? You still have all the bad stuff that you have to deal with. And I’ve learned from experience that putting things off and procrastinating doesn’t make them easier to deal with.

Getting drunk may make you happy, but that feeling is going to disappear (and leave a pretty bad hangover in its wake). Investing your whole life in a career may bring you happiness, but eventually that career will end and then who will you be? Buying fancy homes and fancy cars and the nicest clothes might make you happy today, but all those things can be destroyed by a single tornado and then where will your happiness go?

Searching for happiness is fine, but settling for it isn’t a good idea. Because happiness isn’t worth it. It doesn’t last long enough.

Joy is a better deal, even though you won’t always been happy. But happiness will come and go whether you have joy or not.  The only difference is that Joy provides a foundation that helps you stay upright in the darkest moments of your life.

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

This about says it

Sometimes life is just hard. Would you agree with that? Things don’t go the way you planned. People disappoint you. Your dreams take longer to come true than you could ever have imagined. That’s just life.

But sometimes life just gets me down, you know? It’s easy to get discouraged. And when I get discouraged, I go to the Psalms.

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Instead of one verse today, I’m putting up a whole Psalm. It’s one of my favorites and a mainstay when I am feeling discouraged.

And I don’t need to add to it. Period. It’s everything I feel the need to say this morning.

Psalm 86

A prayer of David.

1 Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help.

2 Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God.

3 Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly.

4 Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.

5 O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.

6 Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord; hear my urgent cry.

7 I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me.

8 No pagan god is like you, O Lord. None can do what you do!

9 All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name.

10 For you are great and perform wonderful deeds. You alone are God.

11 Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.

12 With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever,

13 for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death.[a]

14 O God, insolent people rise up against me; a violent gang is trying to kill me. You mean nothing to them.

15 But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

16 Look down and have mercy on me. Give your strength to your servant; save me, the son of your servant.

17 Send me a sign of your favor. Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me.

Sunset over a field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Atlas

There are times in my life when I feel like I am shouldering a burden far too heavy for me to carry. I’m a pretty strong person, but some things in life are too big for me to lift. And after more than four months of lifting and tugging and pulling and dragging, the weight I’ve been carrying around (even though I know I’m not supposed to be carrying it) is finally starting to wear me down.

I spent much of last week feeling somewhat like Atlas. Atlas was a figure out of Greek mythology whose punishment was to hold up the heavens. I can only imagine how heavy that would have been. I’m sure it makes my paltry problems look like feathers in comparison, but Atlas is a mythological figure and I’m pretty real … at least, I was the last time I checked.

And I know I’m not supposed to carry things on my own. I know I’m not supposed to worry. I know I’m not supposed to try to do all this on my own. I know that. But I’m human enough to try it anyway.

Sunset over a field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset over a field - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Habakkuk 2:20.

But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.

I love Habakkuk. It’s an amazing book, and it’s fun to say besides. I had never paid much attention to it until my freshman year of college when I was far away from home and feeling very alone and isolated. I was at a “Christian” college, and one sermon preached at chapel was on Habakkuk. And it got me thinking, especially about this last verse. Because most of Habakkukis about how wrong the world is. How unjust, how unfair, how ugly–and why God isn’t doing anything about it.

So where does verse 20 come in? Because it’s basically the equivalent of saying that God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. How can anyone say that? Because there’s nothing right with the world.

People hurt each other. They lie to each other. They disappoint each other. They try to control each other, and when they fail they resort to backstabbing.

We turn our backs on people who need help. We bury ourselves in our comfort zones and ignore the warning signs that trouble is coming, and then we blame everyone around us when the floor falls out from under us.

Our world calls good evil and evil good. And even in our Christian culture we revere people instead of God. We follow men. We follow religions. We follow churches. And we forget what really matters. We forget what’s really real.

We’re all broken. And not many of us really seem to care.

So what does Habakkuk 2:20 mean?

Whatever else is going on in our screwed-up world, one thing is certain: God is still here. He hasn’t left us. He hasn’t abandoned us. He’s still hanging around, even though we’ve given Him every reason to walk away. He promised He wouldn’t leave us. And He hasn’t.

If you doubt it, look for Him. He’s easier to find than you might think.

And if God is still around, that means we still have some hope. Because that means He still knows what He’s doing. He still knows what’s coming. And He still knows how to make everything work out.

And that’s why this verse is so important. Because it means that no matter how bad things get, no matter how hurt you are, no matter how disappointed you may be or how discouraged or how depressed, God is still here. And that means, the world can just shut up. Because nothing they say can change that.

The world is broken. It’s falling apart at the seams.

But God is in His temple. The earth is silent before Him. Because there’s no problem too big for Him. There’s no disaster too catastrophic for Him. And there’s no person too lost for Him.

And that means I need to stop trying to carry it all on my own. I can’t change anything by worrying over it. All I can do is talk to God about it and trust that He knows what He’s doing.

And even though nothing may be right in the world, God is still there. And that’s enough for me.

A crowd in San Miguel Alto Uno - Peten, Guatemala

Marketing Jesus

What attracts people? I work in marketing, so it’s part of my job to know what will attract a customer to my company’s message. I think it’s ironic that I work in marketing because marketing has no effect on me whatsoever, but it’s fascinating to study. And it’s been interesting over the past two years to see what works and what doesn’t.

I didn’t originally go into marketing. My degree is in journalism, and that’s really the style I prefer. Direct. To the point. Honest (supposedly). Just the facts, ma’am. That’s my kind of writing. You get what you need, and you can trust it because it’s true. Marketing isn’t really like that. I mean, you have to be truthful, but you’re supposed to leave out facts that could be construed negatively. You’re supposed to spin writing so that it presents the most positive image of your product possible.

I never really understood marketing until I started working at my current job, and I won’t say I understand it now. But I grasp it a little better than I did. And the more I grasp it, the more I have begun to notice it in other aspects of life. Specifically in the Church.

Christians are all about marketing.

I’m not talking the old school Christians, though. The old school Christians I know really have no interest in growing the numbers of their congregations. They don’t really don’t care whether the message is spread to its full extent (or if they do care, they put prerequisites on new believers so that they will dress/act/look/speak the same way the rest of the church does when they walk in the doors).

But more new-fangled Christians? Well, marketing is something they do well. They start playing the numbers game, and the more people who start coming, the more new people they need to keep coming. It’s all about appearances. It’s all about getting as many butts in those pews (or stadium seats) as possible. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, but there is a perception among believers that the Bible and Jesus isn’t enough to draw people. So they have market Him. They have to make the Bible relevant to our modern lives.

They think getting the Bible to mean something to our culture is like jamming a square peg in a round hole. It can’t be done. So they change it. They spin it. They leave out facts that could be construed negatively. They only focus on the things that don’t challenge people. And the result is churches with tens of thousands of people, yes. But it’s tens of thousands of people who don’t know anything about Jesus other than that He was a good man and a great teacher. Or they think the Bible can be picked apart and that parts of it aren’t true.

And the irony is that it’s unnecessary. Because the Bible and Jesus are relevant to our world and our culture already. They don’t need our help.

A crowd in San Miguel Alto Uno - Peten, Guatemala

People who gathered to watch puppets - San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is John 12:32.

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

This is from a passage where Jesus is predicting His death, but it’s a concept that’s applicable in other situations too. This statement is in regard to Christ being lifted up on the cross. That’s what it means literally. But one of the awesome things about Jesus is that just about everything He said has both a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. And figuratively, this statement is just as true.

If Jesus is the focus of your church, He will attract people.

In our modern churches with our weak-willed faith, we think we have to draw people with extravagant buildings and fancy coffee and hip music, and we forget that Jesus should be the focus. Christ doesn’t say that if you lift up your church’s mission’s ministry, people will come. He doesn’t say if you exalt your worship ministry, people will come. This says if you exalt Christ, He will do the rest.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Obviously, I don’t speak Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic so I’m thankful for those who do who can translate Scripture. And it’s good to note that I like nice buildings and fancy coffee and hip music just as much as the next person. And I think there is extreme value in creating an environment where people are welcome and where people feel comfortable. But it’s so easy — so terribly easy — to get caught up in that comfort and that style and to focus on those environments. And it’s easy to use those things to draw people to church. But those things shouldn’t be our focus. Those things don’t attract people.

Jesus does.

And if you try to spin Him, if you try to present an image of Him that you think is more palatable, that’s not exalting Him. That’s exalting your opinion.

I’m talking to myself more than anyone else because I’m pretty timid when it comes to sharing my faith face to face. And it’s so much easier to invite someone to church when I tell them that we build awesome sets or that we have great, cheap coffee or that our music rocks hardcore. And, again, there’s nothing wrong with that. If that is something of interest to the person I’m inviting, then yes, I’m going to use it. But I need to be upfront about what my church is about. I’m fortunate, because my rockin’ awesome church is about Jesus. But I’m just as guilty of focusing on the tools we use to attract people rather than the reason we’re trying to attract people.

We don’t have to market Jesus. We just need to worship Him. Jesus will sell Himself.