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.

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

More to life than success

God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t prefer one person to another person. Yes, He has a closer relationship with some than others, but that’s not His doing. I really believe that we all could be people after God’s own heard like David was if we would try. And, yes, the Jews are the people God chose to use throughout history (and they are His chosen people), but He doesn’t love the Jews more than He loves any other people.

God is fair. He treats everyone the same. And that’s good to know. Right?

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:45.

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

I think Christians get the wrong idea some times. I think we live with the assumption that just because we’ve placed our faith in Christ, that means our lives will never go wrong. I think a lot of Christians proliferate the idea that once you accept Christ into your life, all your problems disappear. I know that’s what Christian media does.

Name a Christian book or movie that portrays a Christian character who gives his or her life to God at the end and gives the impression that everything is going to be fine. Happily ever after endings. Can you think of one? It shouldn’t be hard because that’s about all Christian media communicates. Accept God and your life will be perfect. And that’s not true. Most of the time, when you accept Christ, your life gets harder than it was before.

According to this verse, God treats every person on earth the same way, regardless of whether they believe in Him or not. He lets the sunlight shine on believers and nonbelievers. He lets rain fall on believers and nonbelievers. He blesses both, in spite of the fact that neither group gives Him the credit He deserves most of the time.

So why do Christians get upset when nonbelievers succeed?

I know a lot of people who don’t believe in Christ, and I consider them my friends. They are very successful people, and since they don’t believe in God, they credit themselves for their success. And that’s fine. Because they don’t believe. They don’t know any better. And it’s not my job to correct them. But it’s easy to get caught up in wondering why God allows nonbelievers to succeed when I am stuck in one place and can’t move forward.

It’s frustrating because God treats everyone fairly whether they believe or not. And Christians have expectations while nonbelievers don’t. It’s not that Christians have rules, but we are called to live a certain way. And I think the most frustrating part of watching a nonbeliever succeed is knowing that he or she doesn’t have the same expectations on their lives as a Christian does. Christians are supposed to love each other more than themselves. We’re supposed to sacrifice for each other. We’re supposed to focus more on the life to come than the life we have now. And nonbelievers don’t have to do any of that.

A Christian who sacrifices success because that’s what God has called them to do will encounter the same struggles as someone who doesn’t believe. What point is there in giving my life to Christ if I don’t get any of the perks, right? If I’m going to be stuck in one place and have to give up succeeding because I care more about the people around me than my own dreams, why should I turn my life over to God? Because He won’t treat me any differently either way. And as a weak-minded, puny human being, that doesn’t sound very fair to me.

But that’s because we aren’t looking at it from God’s perspective.

Yes, it is frustrating to watch someone who doesn’t believe succeed in life. Yes, it’s irritating to give your dreams to God and have to sit on them until He says it’s time while you watch people with no regard for spiritual things push forward and succeed, but success in this life is temporary and full of potholes. We get so caught up in watching other people succeed, and we get so upset and frustrated because the most successful people in life aren’t Christians, that we forget the entire point of the Christian life: we weren’t designed for this life.

This life isn’t all we have. This life is just a proving ground.

You can seek success in this life, but what good is it going to do you when you die? That’s why the Bible says we’re supposed to store up treasures in heaven. We’re supposed to be living for the life that’s coming, not for the life that we have now. As a Christian, our perspective needs to be for eternity. We only get 80 or 90 years on Earth. Eternity is forever.

So does it really matter if a nonbeliever gets a promotion and you don’t? Does it really matter if a non-Christian achieves success and gets famous and you don’t? Does it matter at all?

Why should it matter? What is it going to change in the grand scheme of life?

Not much.

So should we give up? Should we not even try to succeed in this life? I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying we need to get our perspectives straight. We need to stop living for the next promotion or the next pay increase, and we need to make the most of the time we have down here to prepare for the life that’s promised to us after we die. And we need to start treating nonbelievers the same way God does: the same way we treat believers. And you never know. If a nonbeliever witnesses a believer being fair? Maybe they’ll grasp the fact that there’s more to life than success.

Hay bales - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Make hay while the sun shines

I have been struggling with my focus recently. I mean, more than normal. Usually my focus leaves something to be desired anyway, but in recent months I haven’t been able to stay grounded on one topic long enough to finish anything. Maybe I’m too busy. Maybe I have too many things going on. Maybe I finally reached the limit of how much multitasking I can actually do, and my brain has given up trying to keep it all straight.

Granted, it’s not like I’m late to work or forgetting about responsibilities or anything like that. I just don’t feel like I’m getting as much done as I should be. And when I sit down to work on a project that’s hanging over my head, I can focus for about five minutes. And then my brain wanders off to something else. And as a result, I don’t finish anything, and I actually start more projects.

What’s wrong with me?

Hay bales - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Hay bales - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:16-17.

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.

It’s easy to forget that we’re on the clock. It’s easy to get trapped in the thinking that life will move forward as it always has. But a day is coming when life is going to change drastically, and when that day comes, we will be out of time to accomplish real things that matter.

I live in the middle of 640 acres of wheat and alfalfa. None of it belongs to me, sadly, but through the 18 years I’ve lived here, I’ve enjoyed learning about how different farm life is from life in the city. In the city, you can procrastinate for extraordinary lengths of time because of all the conveniences. But out here? Not so much. If you have an opportunity to get something done on a specific day, out here, you need to do it. Because if the opportunity passes you by, it may not come again until it’s too late.

Making hay is one of those things. I’m sure many people have heard the idiom, “making hay while the sun shines.” I first heard it in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, The Long Winter. But the concept of making hay on a sunny day is exactly what this verse is talking about. You can’t make hay when it’s raining. The hay gets moist and hard to handle, and then it molds. You have to make hay while it’s sunny. You have to take the opportunity when it presents itself, and you can’t put it off. Otherwise, you’ll lose it, and it probably won’t come around again.

I have so much to do. I have so many projects on the back burner and not enough time in my lifetime to accomplish them all, and when I get the time to work on them, the load is so overwhelming I don’t even try. Does anyone else understand how that feels? Maybe it’s work. Maybe it’s school. Maybe it’s family or friends. But you have so many responsibilities on you that it seems futile to even try to make any progress because it won’t make a difference. It’s a horrible feeling.

So what do we do? How can make the most of every opportunity and stay sane? I think I’ve tried to take every opportunity that’s come my way, and as a result I’m drowning. I’ve been treading water for years. Maybe that’s why verse 16 is followed by verse 17.

Don’t act thoughtlessly. In the Amplified Version, that means “vague, thoughtless, foolish.”

If you’re going to take an opportunity, know what it’s going to require of you first. Know how much of yourself you’re going to have to invest before you agree to do it. And if you don’t have enough of yourself to give, don’t take it. Because a good opportunity can easily become a distraction.

We can’t just live life without thinking. We can’t just agree to everything that comes our way because eventually we’ll hit a wall, and then all the opportunities we’ve agree to accomplish will lay uselessly on the side of the road waiting for you to finish them when you no longer have any interest in them because you’re so burned out on everything else.

So maybe it’s clear how to avoid jumping into opportunities you don’t have time for. But what do you do when you’re neck-deep in something you can’t give up on?

Well … the verse doesn’t say you have to finish it, I guess. It just says to make the most of it.

Do your best. Prioritize. Step back from the whole mess and sort through everything you want to accomplish and decide what matters most, and then focus on that and let everything else go. Then, when you finish it, move on to the next thing. And when you’re tempted to move to something else? Think about before you start it. Ask yourself if it’s really an opportunity or if it’s just a distraction.

You can eat an elephant, but you have to do it a bite at a time.

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The difference between a paradox and a contradiction

I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I’m not really smart enough to be a nerd, though, but I’m satisfied with my geek status. I love science fiction. Don’t ask me why; I’m just wired that way. I grew up with Star Trek. I adore Stargate (in spite of the fact that I have been openly mocked for enjoying the movie by those less geeky than myself), and I’ve spent far too much time staying up watching both SG-1 and Atlantis. I love the concepts and the scenarios science fiction allows a writer to explore without offending people.

I love paradoxes. I love being able to examine concepts or ideas or situations that don’t exist but do. Probably the most famous science fiction concept is the grandfather paradox, which pretty much confuses everyone. But it’s a concept that can’t exist even though it could exist. Each possible conclusion seems to negate itself while at the same time making it possible for it to occur in the first place. A paradox. Something that is but isn’t. A statement that seems self-contradictory but actually expresses truth.

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:4.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Does that make sense to you? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense to me. This verse is pretty much saying that people who are sad should be happy because they’ll be comforted. Well, to me, needing comfort because I’m sad means I’m sad. Needing comfort because I’ve lost someone or some thing indicates that I’m exactly opposite of happy.

This statement is a contradiction.

Or is it?

Many people believe that the Bible is full of contradictions, possibly because of verses like this, verses that state the impossible as though it is something that is possible. This verse is an example.

To me, I see this verse as a paradox, not a contradiction. Stating that people who are mourning should be happy seems contradictory, but this verse isn’t about being contradictory. It’s talking about how we should handle loss.

If the world were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. If we were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. But the world is broken, and so are we. So what does that mean for this verse and for the countless others like it that speak contradictory truth?

Contradiction is about opposition. If you’re being contradictory, your own goal is to argue. Contradictions state the opposite, whether it is true or not.

Paradox is about truth. And we can’t full wrap our minds around it because we can’t fully understand truth. People are limited. Truth isn’t.

And when something seems contradictory, the first aspect you need to examine is whether or not it’s grounded in truth. I can tell you the sky is green and the grass is blue all day long, but all the evidence says I’m lying (although some folks I know will insist that the sky has no color). I can tell you that you don’t need a degree to get a good job even if all the experts say that’s false. I can tell you any number of statistics or data sets that contradict anything you can think of, but if it’s something I just made up, it has no basis or foundation in truth.

That is a contradiction.

But a paradox?

God blesses people who are sad because they will be comforted.

What truth is that based in? Well, the rest of Scripture to start with. The Bible is full of other promises that God has made to bless and protect people who are experiencing a time of grief. But if you aren’t one who trusts the Bible, look at the experiences of people who follow Christ. While they may not want to relive their time of grief and mourning, they wouldn’t trade it for the world because in those times God became more real to them than ever before.

I guess my point this morning is that when we run into verses in scripture or when we encounter moments in our lives that don’t make sense, we shouldn’t just check out. When bad things happen, we shouldn’t give up on God, and we shouldn’t give up on following the path He’s laid out in front of us. Because He’s doing something. We may not be able to see it, and I know we can’t understand it, but He never stops moving. And all His plans are good.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it untrue.