Wheat in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What is hope?

Hope is dangerous. I posted about that earlier in the month, and it’s true. We have to be so careful where our hope comes from. But what I failed to ask is a basic question that I don’t think people really think about: what is hope?

Everybody talks about hope. Everybody wants hope, especially those people who have lost it. But what is it? Where do you find it? How do you hold on to it? Is it some ethereal concept just floating around in the void? Or is it a concrete choice that you make every day?

Wheat in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat in the snow – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 8:24-25.

We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

Whenever I think about hope and trying to understand what it is and where it comes from, this is one of the passages I go to. The other passage is Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Maybe Hebrews 11:1 is more about faith than hope, but it just demonstrates that hope and faith are inseparable. Hope is part of a process. You don’t just wake up one morning and have hope in a general sense. Hope isn’t general. I mean, you can be a generally positive person. But generic hope isn’t really hope; hope is specific. And hope always comes from faith.

If you want to have hope, first you have to have faith in something.

The passage out of Romans refers to “this hope” that we received. The hope Paul is talking about is the promise that God made that we would be adopted as God’s children and given new bodies. That is a promise God gave all those who choose to put their faith in Christ, but that promise has yet to be fulfilled. So we’re waiting for the day when it happens. We are hoping for that day, hoping to see the promise kept, hoping to get to be with God.

Scripture says it better than I can. If you already have it, you don’t have to hope for it.

It’s like kids opening presents on Christmas morning. They’ve told their parents what they want, and they’ve had to wait for a month, every day seeing the number of presents beneath the tree increasing. Until finally on Christmas Day, they get to open their presents and see what their parents have given them. Once they open their presents, they don’t have to have hope anymore; they know.

What part does faith play, though? Scripture says faith is confidence that what we hope for will happen. So hope stems from faith. If you don’t have faith, you can’t have hope.

Going back to the Christmas analogy, if a child doesn’t have faith in his or her parents, they aren’t going to look forward to receiving anything from them for Christmas. So why should they get excited about presents under a tree? Why should they get excited about Christmas at all? They don’t have any faith, so there’s no reason to hope. And if there’s no reason to hope, there’s no reason to participate at all.

Faith is the foundation of everything, but hope is the result of faith. If you choose to put your faith in someone (or even in a purpose or a way of life), you choose to trust that person. Usually that person has made a promise and you are trusting that person to keep his word. And because you trust that person, because you have chosen to have faith in that person, you have hope.

So just as you have to be careful where your hope comes from, you have to be careful who you put your faith in. Because who you put your faith in will determine how resilient your hope is.

Who do you trust to change your life? Who do you trust to repair your relationships? Who do you trust to put the pieces of the American economy back together? Who do you trust your children to? Who do you trust your future to?

If you trust another person, you need to prepare yourself for disappointment. Because people will let you down. Whether it’s Oprah or Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or any other television show personality who claims to have all the answers, none of them can claim a level of perfection above you. Maybe they have been trained, maybe they have some life experience, but no truth they preach on television is their original discovery. The same is true with our country’s leaders. No presidential candidate is going to solve all our problems. I don’t care if you’re conservative or liberal.

Faith should be in someone who isn’t going to let you down. Faith needs to be in someone who can actually keep the promises he makes. Why else would you trust him?

If you have faith, your heart will change. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather faith that only runs to God when trouble is brewing. I’m talking about real faith, where you believe and you trust even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else. If you trust God, your life is going to show it. How? Because you’ll have hope.

And hope is truly dangerous, dangerous in a way I didn’t post about last week. People who have hope are frightening because they are unstoppable. And I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some unstoppable Christians. And even though the world doesn’t want them, the world needs them now more than ever.

Advertisements
Rusted barrel against the garden shed - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Purpose

What is your purpose? Why are you here? Why are any of us here? Those are questions people have asked for as long as people have been around. We need to know why. Why is that? Why does it matter if we have a purpose or not?

Rusted barrel against the garden shed - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Rusted barrel against the garden shed – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ecclesiasties 3: 11.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiasties is a really interesting book. Hardcore but interesting. It’s one of those books that if you aren’t careful you can very easily take statements out of context because it’s Solomon searching for answers. And in his search for answers, he makes some pretty big mistakes and some pretty grand assumptions about life in general. Not all of them are true. And he learns that at the end, but when he’s in the thick of it all, it’s hard for him to see the truth.

This passage comes briefly after the one where he is stating that there is a time for everything, whether it’s dying or laughing or harvesting or war. And actually the rest of this passage is him pretty much just stating that what God decides is final and there’s nothing we can do about it. And that we can’t know God’s plan, so we might as well make the most out of life.

And I suppose that is true. We are limited in what we know about God’s plans, but we aren’t limited in what we know about God. We know all we need to know about God because the Bible provides that doorway for us. We have access to who God is through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit and through the truth of Scripture.

Knowing who God is makes a world of difference when you’re looking for purpose. I was discussing this with a friend over the weekend. God is orderly. He is organized. He is structured. There is no chaos in Him. So knowing that God is a God of order and purpose means that there is an order and a purpose to all of our lives. Even if we can’t see the end result of that order and purpose, we know it’s there.

I was curious about the statement that God has set eternity in our hearts. That’s beautiful. Quite poetic. But what does it mean? Well, according to the Amplified Bible, it means this: “a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy.”

You’ve heard the phrase that we all have a “God-shaped hole” inside our hearts? That’s what this is. God created each of us with a purpose. But it’s not just an everyday kind of purpose. It’s an eternal purpose. It’s the reason we were made. And an eternal purpose can’t be found outside of God and His plan. And until we embrace God and His Word and the fact that He made us for a reason, we aren’t going to be able to find that purpose. And until we find our purpose, we’re going to keep asking why we’re here.

I think that’s why so many people are lost, wandering around, not knowing who they are or why they matter. How can we know who we are or why we matter if we believe that God isn’t important? Or that He doesn’t exist?

I’m a practical person, objective-focus and goal-oriented. If I didn’t have a purpose, I wouldn’t get out of bed. If I didn’t have a reason to live, I wouldn’t. But I do. And that purpose was given to me by Someone who is orderly and good, and it’s a purpose that will last forever.

I don’t know God’s purpose for your life, but I know His purpose for mine. I’m here to do what He asks me to do. I’m here to live the way the Bible says, and I’m here to bring glory to Him. That’s my purpose. And as many ways as I can bring Him glory, I will, whether it’s through writing or loving others or quietly accepting blame when I don’t deserve it and trusting that He will reveal the truth in time. My purpose is to live for His glory. Every action, every thought, every accomplishment is for Him. And anything I plan to do, if I use it to praise Him, He will use it to help others.

I don’t think there’s anything better than that.

Tree on a mountain at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Success is like fire, whether you see it that way or not

Success and failure both affect the way we look at our lives. If you have never had to struggle with the dream you’re trying to achieve, you won’t understand the people who have. And if you have constantly had to struggle to achieve your dream, some small part of you will be tempted to resent the people who meet success with little difficulty. But either way, success or failure will color your perspective on life.

Tree on a mountain at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Tree on a mountain at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Proverbs 27:21.

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but a person is tested by being praised.

I don’t think I could work as a refiner. I’m not sure how the process has changed with modern technology, but I assume the concept is still the same. You have to heat the silver and the gold to extraordinary temperatures until all the bad material (dross, if I remember the term right) rises to the top and can be scraped off. And you have to do it over and over and over again.

I wouldn’t have the patience for it. Funny how I wouldn’t have the patience for it as a career, but the concept is part of life.

It’s part of everyone’s life. We all go through trials and tests. We go through the proverbial fire to allow the bad material in our lives to burn off so God can scrape it away. Granted, that can only happen if we let Him, but that’s the point of going through trials and troubles.

But the distinction today’s verse draws is interesting to me. Fire is what is used to test the purity of precious metals; praise is the test for a person. Another word that could be used is flattery.

This is how the Message puts it:

The purity of silver and gold is tested 
   by putting them in the fire;
The purity of human hearts is tested
   by giving them a little fame.

Fame. Success. Victory. Achieving your dreams. That’s how you can test the purity of a person’s heart.

One of my greatest fears is that I will allow my successes to affect my perspective on life. I’ve seen it happen so many times. Someone can start out strong, on the right foot, with the right view of what’s important; but after he achieves success, after money isn’t an issue anymore and people all know his name, he forgets how he got there. And before you know it, he’s rich and famous, yes; but any moral standing he had is gone.

How does that happen?

Fame will test your motivation. But you have to let it be a test. Troubles and trials won’t teach you anything if you refuse to learn from them. But if you can view success as a trial, you’ll be stronger because of it.

Part of the American Dream is achieving success and taking it easy for the rest of your life. That’s what it’s all about, really. Dream big. Work hard. Get what you want. Then kick back and relax. Maybe that’s okay, but if you achieve success, that doesn’t mean you can let down your guard. If anything, success means you have to be more vigilant than you were before.

If we achieve our dreams, if we succeed in business or whatever it is we’re pursuing, the moment we start thinking it happened because of us, we will eventually fall. Any success, any good thing, we have in our lives is given to us by God.

Maybe you worked to achieve it; good for you, but God gave you the strength to work. Maybe you dreamed it up to begin with; also good for you, but God gave you the gift of creativity. Maybe you made all your contacts; wonderful, but God provided you with opportunities. Yes, you had to seize them, but what good is trying to seize an opportunity before God provides it?

I chose the photograph for today because it reminds me of how deceptive perspective can be. That fir tree is sits at the top of a mountain on the grounds of Glen Eyrie. I took that photo with a zoom lens. From the ground, it looks no bigger than the nail on my pinky finger, but I’m pretty sure it’s taller than I am. It just depends on how close you’re standing to it.

So just remember. It doesn’t matter who you are or what goal you’re striving to reach, we need to keep our perspective. Success is a wonderful thing, but we shouldn’t ever forget how dangerous it is. Success should be treated like fire. When handled properly, it can provide light and warmth for everyone around it. When left untended, it can burn everything down.

Chessboard table in the Pink House loft - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

God makes everything come out right

Everyone is overwhelmed. Have you noticed that? There’s so much going on, so much happening that none of us have any control over. Some of it is good. Some of it is great. The rest of it is awful and scary and horrible. Whether it’s the economy or health issues or job problems or family problems, everyone I know seems to be experiencing some crisis that they can’t control.

Maybe that’s just life.

But how encouraging is that? “It’s just life.” Yes, that’s true, and the sooner we accept that life is difficult and broken and flawed, the sooner we can move on (psychologically) to the fact that this life isn’t our permanent home.

But permanent home or not, we still live down here. And we’re going to live down here for a little while longer until Christ decides it’s time for us to go home.

So how do we handle those difficult days when people we love are sick and there’s nothing we can do about it? How do we handle those difficult weeks when we don’t know where our groceries are going to come from? How do we handle those difficult times when the stress at work is so bad we’re teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown?

For me? I praise God. Even for the bad stuff. Especially for the bad stuff. Because as Christians, we know that God can take the bad stuff and make it something beautiful. He’s the only one who can. And the reason He lets us experience bad things is so we can grow, not only in our faith but closer to Him.

So on bad days, I turn to the Psalms. Today hasn’t started. And who knows? It might turn out to be a good day. But some Psalms are perfect for good days and bad days. Kind of like this one. It’s a good reminder that when we’re having a bad day, we need to say good things about God. … and that on good days, we need to do the same thing.

Chessboard table in the Pink House loft - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chessboard table in the Pink House loft – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Psalm 103 (The Message)

O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
don’t forget a single blessing!

He forgives your sins—every one.
He heals your diseases—every one.
He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

God makes everything come out right;
he puts victims back on their feet.
He showed Moses how he went about his work,
opened up his plans to all Israel.
God is sheer mercy and grace;
not easily angered, he’s rich in love.
He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold,
nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,
nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth,
so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children,
God feels for those who fear him.
He knows us inside and out,
keeps in mind that we’re made of mud.
Men and women don’t live very long;
like wildflowers they spring up and blossom,
But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly,
leaving nothing to show they were here.
God’s love, though, is ever and always,
eternally present to all who fear him,
Making everything right for them and their children
as they follow his Covenant ways
and remember to do whatever he said.

God has set his throne in heaven;
he rules over us all. He’s the King!
So bless God, you angels,
ready and able to fly at his bidding,
quick to hear and do what he says.
Bless God, all you armies of angels,
alert to respond to whatever he wills.
Bless God, all creatures, wherever you are—
everything and everyone made by God.
And you, O my soul, bless God!

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What friends are for

Do you ever feel the need to be alone? I’m not talking just getting away from people. Even the most extroverted person needs some quiet time every now and then. I mean alone, like you cut ties with everyone you knew. Alone, as in by yourself with no one around you.

Why is that? Why do some people feel the need to shut others out and try to shoulder their burdens by themselves? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I’m afraid that people will think I’m weak.

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

School house window – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:3-4.

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

1 Kings 19 is an interesting chapter. It follows one of the most amazing Old Testament stories in the Bible, when Elijah challenged Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was real, Baal or God. Elijah called fire down, and the prophets of Baal just made idiots out of themselves. And all of Israel that had gathered there declared that God was the true God and that they would worship Him.

It was a high moment in Elijah’s life. But, of course, that made Queen Jezebel pretty angry, and she threatened to kill Elijah.

Whenever this story comes around, most folks will focus on the fact that Elijah crashes. After experiencing a mountaintop day with God, the next day, he crumbles into a useless heap in a cave and has a pity party.

Or people will talk about God asking Elijah what he’s doing there. Or people will focus on how God spoke to Elijah, not in the wind and not in the fire but in the still, small voice. But as I was reading this morning, something stood out to me that I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before.

Verse 3, at the very beginning of the story, tells us that Elijah fled for his life and left his servant behind before he went on alone.

Maybe that’s not significant. But it popped out on the page at me today because I am constantly doing the same thing.

I live on a mountaintop pretty much. My life is amazing. I get to see God doing awesome things just about every day. But it’s not uncommon for me to take a tumble and have a bad day either. I’m human. And I’m emotional enough, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it, that I can end up pouting under a broom tree asking God to kill me.

And on those days, I don’t want anyone to see me like that. So I leave people behind and go off and figure out how to handle my emotional breakdowns all by myself.

Is that the right thing to do? I don’t really think so. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with taking quiet time to get your heart and your mind right. There’s nothing wrong with taking alone time so you and God can get right again. But that’s not what I’m talking about. And that’s not what Elijah did either.

Elijah didn’t want his servant to witness him being less than perfect. This is the same servant who got to see his master be bold and daring just days earlier. This is the same servant who not only got to see Elijah call fire down from heaven but also rain, after it hadn’t rained in three years.

Elijah knew he wasn’t living up to the expectations God had for him. Why else would he tell his servant to stay behind while he went on alone? Elijah wasn’t wandering off to get his head straight. He was going off to beat himself up, to tear himself down, to rip himself apart. And he was too proud to share his feelings with anyone else because he was afraid of what they would think of him.

Maybe I’m putting words in Elijah’s mouth. But that’s what I do.

I’m still working through this. I’ve always been a loner, the kind of person who has to fight through challenges and struggles on my own. But God is beginning to show me that being alone isn’t always the best thing. He’s given us friends for a reason, to keep us accountable, to make us laugh when we don’t even feel like smiling, to love us on the days when we really can’t stand ourselves.

The simple truth is that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and refusing to be honest about that with other people will only hurt our relationships, even if you’re just trying to protect them from your screwups.

God didn’t allow Elijah to be alone. He sent an angel to take care of him. And after God was through talking to him, he sent Elijah on several tasks, ending with appointing a successor, Elisha. They traveled together, and Elisha never let Elijah out of his sight.

God’s given us friends for a reason. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather friends, the ones who are only with you on the good days. I’d be willing to be that everyone has a friend who would do anything for them, whether they know it or not. Those friends love you for who you are. And on those days when you feel like crawling into a cave and asking God to kill you, instead go to those friends and tell them what’s wrong. Let them listen, and don’t worry about what they think of you.

Most likely, they’ll just listen. And they’ll love you anyway. That’s what friends are for.

Waterfall in Sedgwick County Zoo Jungle Exhibit - Wichita, KS

You can’t thank Him enough

Do you ever wake up and just feel the need to be thankful? I don’t know about you, but I get caught up in all the picky little details of life so often. You’d think maybe I’d know better by now, but it seems to be instinctive. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed. It’s so easy to stress out over things I can’t control. And then, when I get my head back on straight, I look back and wonder what I was thinking when I was freaking out over nothing.

This is one of those mornings where I can clearly see how much I fret over things that I can’t control anyway, and I wonder what’s wrong with me. And I marvel at how patient God is with me, especially when I always go back and pick up the same worries I promise to lay down.

So today, I just want to spend some time being thankful, readjusting my perspective. Honestly, that’s what being thankful is–understanding that someone has done something for you that they didn’t have to do and recognizing it.

God is so good to me, so patient and so kind. He’s given me so much, and He’s got big plans. And that’s not just the case for me, but for everyone. And it’s easy to forget because the important things God has for us to hear are often said in that still, small voice, and that still, small voice can get lost in the loud, noisy chaos of ordinary life. And we need to slow down and be quiet if we want to hear it.

If you feel like you need to say thanks to God, do it. If you feel like you don’t need to? … Do it anyway. Because you still need to. And after a few moments of thanking Him for what He’s done, I’m willing to bet that you’ll move from needing to thank Him to wanting to thank Him, especially after you really see everything He’s done for you.

Waterfall in Sedgwick County Zoo Jungle Exhibit - Wichita, KS

Waterfall in Sedgwick County Zoo Jungle Exhibit – Wichita, KS

Psalm 138 (The Message)

 Thank you! Everything in me says “Thank you!” Angels listen as I sing my thanks.
   I kneel in worship facing your holy temple
      and say it again: “Thank you!”
   Thank you for your love,
      thank you for your faithfulness;
   Most holy is your name,
      most holy is your Word.
   The moment I called out, you stepped in;
      you made my life large with strength. 

 When they hear what you have to say, God,
      all earth’s kings will say “Thank you.”
   They’ll sing of what you’ve done:
      “How great the glory of God!” 
   And here’s why: God, high above, sees far below;
      no matter the distance, he knows everything about us. 

 When I walk into the thick of trouble,
      keep me alive in the angry turmoil.
   With one hand
      strike my foes,
   With your other hand
      save me.
   Finish what you started in me, God.
      Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Hope is dangerous

I saw a great movie this weekend, and while there were many parts of it that were stunning and remarkably well done, there was one concept that stuck out to me. I can’t remember the line, but the concept is that hope is poisonous. That life is nothing but despair and hope is the poison that kills us slowly. After all, there’s no worse prison than the one you think you can escape but never really can.

In that instance, I suppose you could look at hope as being poisonous, especially if you just want to die and hope won’t let you. And actually, it applies to life. Because there are days when life feels like a prison, where you’re surrounded by enemies, where you just can’t ever win, where you just can’t ever get ahead. Without hope, it wouldn’t be worth living. And even those people who live on hope from day-to-day, get tired.

In selecting a verse for today, at first, I thought of the passages in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is pointing out that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, all our faith is in vain which would make Christians the most miserable people of all. And that’s true, but hope for salvation and resurrection isn’t exactly what I’m needing this morning. I know Christ is alive. I know He rose from the dead, and I trust that His sacrifice redeemed me and that when my time on earth is done, I’ll get to go home.

But what about today? I’m still on earth, and it’s Monday. Again. And no matter how much I try not to stress, I have a stressful life. And I have people in my life who are against me. And I have situations in my life that are discouraging. And I have relationships that are complicated and strained and overwhelming. So how do I hold on to hope today when all I really feel like doing is giving up?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 17:7-8.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

Like faith, hope is a choice. It’s not an ethereal, abstract concept that’s just floating around in the void and can’t be truly understood. Hope is a concrete fact. It’s something you choose to do day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

The difficulty with hope isn’t that it’s poisonous. It’s just dangerous.

You have to be careful where you set your hope. If you have made your accomplishments or your education the source of your hope, you’re going to be in trouble. Because those things will fail you. If you have made your wealth or your possessions the source of your hope, those things will eventually fade. And if you’ve made people your source of hope or even the strength of the human spirit (whatever that means), they will eventually let you down.

You have to be careful where your hope comes from.

This passage out of Jeremiah talks about tree that draws its strength from a river. If that river were polluted, the tree would be too. And that river where the tree drew its strength would do more harm than good.

But if you’re drawing your hope from God, from Christ, from what is written in Scripture, you’ll be like a tree by a clean, pure river that grows strong and tall with deep roots. In bad storms, you won’t fall. And during times of intense discomfort, you’ll still be able to do what God created you to do.

So how do you put your hope in God? It’s a choice.

You choose to trust Him. You choose to believe what the Bible says: that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s working everything out for the good of those who follow Him, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises.

Or you can give up.

It’s up to you.

Jesus is alive. So I have hope that some day I will get to go home.

But I also know that God is still working in my life, growing me, helping me, walking with me. And because I know that, I also have hope for today, that no matter what comes He’s there. And there’s nothing we can’t tackle together.