The barn at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A foundation stronger than your circumstances

I work in the plumbing industry, which is really strange for me to say. That’s my full-time job. I write articles and brochures about my company’s pipe-joining systems for plumbing and heating in homes, commercial projects and industrial plants. Starting out in this job (three years ago March 22), I knew pretty much nothing about plumbing. I actually knew very little about the entire concept of creating a building from the ground up. And I can’t say I know everything now. Honestly, I probably shouldn’t even say I know a lot. But I know so much more than I did.

But there was one aspect of building construction that I did understand and that was the concept of having a strong foundation. If a building doesn’t have a strong foundation, you’re asking for trouble. As I posted yesterday, Kansas is one of the windiest places in the world, and if your house isn’t firmly attached to something, one of those strong windstorms will blast through and take your house with it. It doesn’t even need to be a tornado.

But the same is true in life. If your life doesn’t have a solid foundation, the storms of life can rock your world. But they don’t have to be giant storms. Even little cracks in a foundation are a big problem. Just like everyday issues can chip away at you until you’ve become someone you never intended to be.

The barn at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The barn at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 62:6.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.

Throughout January I’ve been posting about change and how to deal with change when it comes. And I suppose I should preface all of this by stating something obvious: Even if you have a strong foundation, life is still going to throw curve balls at you. Even if you’re firmly grounded, you still experience earthquakes. Just by having a strong foundation it doesn’t mean change isn’t going to have an effect on you; you’ll still experience it. But the strength of your foundation will determine how you handle the experience.

My property has a chicken house on it that was built probably in the 1940s. I’m guessing. There’s also a barn about 100 yards away from the chicken house. It’s a small barn. No loft. I’ve mentioned this a few other times before, but I experienced a ridiculous windstorm here in early November last year. That crazy south wind slammed into my chicken house and lifted it eight inches off its foundation, bent it backward and twisted it sideways. It’s a wreck.

That same windstorm did absolutely no damage to my barn.

Why?

Well, there are probably some other reasons, but I don’t think it’s wind break. Both the barn and the chicken house have about the same amount of trees between them and the open south pastures. Granted, the chicken house faces south, while the barn faces east with its side toward the south. But the strength of those winds should have shaken the barn up somehow.

My best explanation? The barn has a better foundation.

The chicken house was really just sitting on the dirt with some concrete poured around it. It was hand built by the family who first built our house, I think. In any case, it wasn’t exactly a professional job. Neither was the barn, for that matter, but it was built much later. And while I don’t know the state of its foundation, it’s a bigger foundation than the chicken house in any case. So when they face the same damaging wind storm, the chicken house gets bashed to pieces because its foundation isn’t strong enough to support it.

Foundations are–well–foundational. If you don’t have something strong to build on, the whole of your structure will suffer. But foundations can be deceiving too, because maybe you think your foundation is strong enough, but you don’t really know what it’s made out of. And you spend your life building on it, and then one day everything comes crashing down because you didn’t realize how weak it actually was.

Some foundations wear away with time. Or they erode. Or they just weaken. Maybe they started out strong, but as the years pass, they just wear out because what they’re made of isn’t a good enough material for building.

So if you’re going to build a life, why would you build on a foundation that’s uncertain? The economy and finances, human relationships, even yourself are uncertain at best. And if you try to build your life on those things, it’s all going to come crashing down. If you’re going to build your life on a foundation, you need to build it on something that doesn’t change. I know people who have gone through intense trouble. Deaths. Layoffs. Bankruptcy. You name a horrible thing, and they’ve experienced it. But in spite of it, they’re still standing strong. How is it possible?

Their foundation is stronger than their circumstances. Just like my barn, they have a foundation that is stronger than the storms they’re facing. They have chosen to build their life on the truth of the Bible, on the truth of God’s love, and on the faith that God knows what He’s doing and that everything He does is good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

So check your foundations today. What are you building your life on? Yourself? Your friends? Your job? None of that is good enough. Build your life on Christ, the Rock that doesn’t change. And all that means is to make decisions based on what the Bible says. Live your life the way Christ did. And not only will your foundation grow strong enough to weather any storm, your life will change too.

Wind in the ripening wheat heads at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When everything changes, God is constant

Kansas is a windy state. Many folks don’t realize that, mostly because many folks don’t think about Kansas. We’re kind of low on the totem pole as far as noteworthiness goes here in the U.S. We’re ranked 50th on the tourist ratings. Most travelers just drive through Kansas without stopping. And, yes, there are areas of the state that are immensely, ridiculously flat, but the whole state isn’t like that.

I love it here. I love traveling to other states, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But I tell you what: The wind in this state is nuts. The wind never stops blowing here. If we ever have a completely calm day, usually it just means that a huge storm is about to come crashing down on you (we have huge storms too).

Around here, especially in Western Kansas, the high, constant winds provide another outlet for generating energy. If you haven’t seen the wind farms in Western Kansas, let me tell you they’re amazing. It’s like you’re watching acres and acres of giant ballerinas spinning in the sky. I don’t know why they make me think of dancers because those giant wind turbines are standing still, but something about the turning of the blades makes me think of ballerinas. I don’t have a photo of them because the stretch of I-70 where you can see them the best prohibits stopping, but I’ve been tempted to risk it just to snap a picture.

Not just any place can host a wind farm cost-effectively. There has to be enough wind to make it viable. The point I’m getting at is that the wind is constant here, constant enough that putting a wind farm in the middle of nowhere is a good idea. If the wind only blew half the time, it wouldn’t be worth it; but you can always trust the wind to blow in Kansas. Wind in Kansas is constant.

Wind in the ripening wheat heads at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wind in the ripening wheat heads 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?

All throughout January I’ve been posting about change and how life changes and how we can deal with it. Facing change with boldness, facing uncertainty with confidence, is not an easy thing to do, but what I’ve learned is that if you can find something constant in any situation, standing your ground gets a lot easier.

I hate talking to people I don’t know. I’m know good at talking anyway, but holding a conversation with someone I’ve never met is very difficult for me. But if I can find common ground, it’s easier. If I can find some constant between us, we have something to talk about.

I love visiting other countries. I love studying other cultures and other languages. But I’m not a linguist, and sometimes communication is hard because I don’t speak the language and I don’t understand all the cultural nuances. But I’ve met family, brothers and sisters in Christ, from countries all over the place, and even if we don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture, we have something in common. We all follow Christ. And that constant gives us something we can both relate to.

We don’t say a desert is constant because the sand is always shifting. It’s different from one moment to the next. The shorelines aren’t constant because the ocean reshapes them. But rocks? Rocks are eventually weathered away by erosion from wind and rain, but it takes a long time. When we see a rock, we think about it being solid and unchanging. That’s the difference.

And that’s the difference between people and God.

People aren’t constant. We aren’t steady. We may try to be, but it’s our nature to be blown on a different course every day by the winds of popular opinion or anxieties or circumstances. And while some have grown enough in their walk with Christ to understand the importance of being constant and steady, we’re still human; we’re still vulnerable to the lure of inconsistency, no matter how damaging it is.

I’m not saying you can’t trust people. We have to trust each other. But that trust always needs to be supported by a level of understanding that human beings are still made of dust.

But God is different. God is constant. Like the wind in Kansas, He’s always there. Like the giant rocks on the faces of great mountains, He doesn’t change. Like an anchor at the bottom of the ocean keeping the huge ships from drifting away on the tides and unyielding undercurrents of the sea, He can’t be bullied and He can’t be intimidated.

God is constant. Completely constant.

He’s always been there. He’ll always be there.

Coping with change in life is just like any other struggle we face, like talking to people we don’t know or venturing into cultures we don’t understand. If we can find something constant to hold onto, everything else will fall into place. And God is the constant we need in our crazy, out-of-control lives. When you reach out to Him, He’ll be there. He’s waiting for you right now, arms open, hands extended.

Will reaching out to Him make your life less nuts? Probably not. But when everything around you is spinning, it’s nice to know that you have someone to hold onto who isn’t.

Lizard on a rock on a hiking trail at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

When everything changes, God is good

I know good people. They’re the kind of people I can trust will always do what’s right, even when it’s difficult. Those are good people to know, to surround yourself with, because they keep you honest and they usually experience good things as a result of their wise choices. Granted, they aren’t perfect. Nobody down here is, but there’s something about people who always do the right thing that is attractive and terrifying. You want to be friends with them, but you’re afraid of them at the same time because if someone always does what’s right, how do they feel about someone who usually ends up doing what’s wrong?

Most of the time those good people don’t even consider themselves good, and the ones I know certainly don’t. They’re just trying to follow Christ as best they can. And that’s one of the amazing truths about God is that He truly is good. There’s no one better. And because He is truly good, everything He does is right.

Lizard on a rock on a hiking trail at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Lizard on a rock on a hiking trail at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 32:4.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect.
    Everything he does is just and fair.
He is a faithful God who does no wrong;
    how just and upright he is!

There’s no second guessing with God. If He does something, it’s good. The Bible says that over and over and over again. So where does all the hurt and brokenness in our world from? Well, God didn’t create the world like this; He created it perfect, and we’re the ones who broke it. He’s doing the best He can with a world that refuses to listen to Him. If He wanted a world full of robots to do His bidding, He could have “fixed” our world long ago, but that’s not who He is. And those people who get angry at Him for allowing atrocities in our world would chafe against a solution like that anyway.

I don’t claim to understand everything. I don’t claim to understand God. Nobody can do that. But I would like to think I know His heart. I know what the Bible says about Him, and I believe the Bible. So when the Bible says He’s good, that means He is. The world isn’t good. I’m not good. People aren’t good. But God is. And He is working to make things good again for the people who follow Him.

Does that mean that everything that happens is good? No. But we’ve got to remember that the world is currently under different management than it was originally intended. God created it and gave it to us to take care of, but our first parents forfeited that right when they disobeyed, and Satan took over. Yes, God is ultimately in control, but right now Earth is under the governorship of Satan. We gave Him that right, but one day God will take it back. One day God will make everything right again. And until then, we have to trust Him.

So how does that help us today? Today we face a world that is more uncertain than ever. Personally, I live in a country that no longer recognizes itself. Like a rebelling teenager, the United States has pushed away from everything that is good and is striving to do wrong because we can. The rest of the world is already there, but the U.S. is running to catch up and the consequences are going to be disastrous. The whole world is running itself into the ground. I have to laugh about doomsday clocks and the Mayan calendar and all the other threats that say the world is going to end because the world is going to end, but not with ice or fire. The world is going to collapse on itself, rotted from the inside, trying to support a facade of self-righteousness that’s too heavy for something without a spine.

The world is changing by the hour, and most of those changes are bad. Or they will bring bad things, even to people who trying to live right. But because I know that God is good, I trust that He does good things and that He can take even the ugliest situation and make it beautiful.

So when everything goes wrong today, remember that God is good. We may not understand what’s happening or why, but if you’re a follower of Christ, nothing can happen to you that God can’t use for good.

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

When everything changes, God doesn’t

Do you know people who keep their promises? They’re good people to know. Their word means something to them, and you can trust that when they make you a promise, they will do all they can to see it through to the end. But how many times does someone have to keep a promise before it becomes part of their character? Once? Ten times? Half their life?

The amazing thing about God (one of the many) is that He has made thousands and thousands of promises, just that we know about in the Bible, and He has kept every single one. Maybe I’m generalizing, but I don’t think a normal average human being can do that. At some point, we have to break promises because we aren’t capable of always keeping them; but God is.

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Isaiah 44:8.

Do not tremble; do not be afraid.
    Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago?
You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
    No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

From the moment He created time itself, God has been making promises to His Creation, and up until now, every promise He has made, except for a few, have become reality. And those few outstanding will change everything once He does what He’s promised to do.

The hallmark of someone you can trust, someone who keeps their promises, is that when they say they’re going to do something, they’re really going to do it. And that works with God as well as with people down here.

So what does that mean for us? Yes, it’s good to know that God keeps His promises, but you have to know His promises before it really has any bearing on our lives. You have to know that He has promised to never abandon us. You have to know that He has promised to help us get through life. You have to know that He has promised to make everything work out for good for the people who have chosen to follow Him.

Has He really promised those things? Yes, He really has. And because God keeps His promises, we can know that He will truly do them.

God has been keeping promises for thousands and thousands of years. The Bible is proof of what He has done and why He has done it. And since He has been keeping promises for so long, why would He stop now? What we need to remember is that God doesn’t change. In our whole life, our whole existence, He is the one person that doesn’t. Everything else does. Life happens. People die. Babies are born. People get married. People get divorced. People move and leave and return. Churches change. Jobs change. Economies change. Governments change.

In our lives on Earth, there’s only one constant: Everything changes.

And change isn’t bad. Most of the time it’s good because it forces us outside our comfort zone, but the change that we welcome is usually the change that we initiate. It’s the change that we don’t choose that is difficult to bear. It’s the change we have no control over that discourages us and frightens us and worries us.

But even when everything around us changes, God doesn’t.

I’m sitting at my office computer accessing the internet from a wireless connection that is broadcast to my farm from a tower in a nearby town. When high-speed internet came to the rural areas of Kansas, there was much rejoicing because we were all still stuck in the limited universe of dial-up modems for years. And with every year, our technology changes and our ability to communicate over vast distances improves. We are able to do things today that people 30 years ago could only imagine; we are able to do things today that people 100 years ago couldn’t even dream.

Our world has changed drastically in the last decade or so. It’s weird for me to stay that I remember 20 years ago, but I do. I remember what the world was like in the ’80s and ’90s. I remember watching the slow change that overtook us until we became the country we are today.

But sitting in my office with all my technology, living in my world that is so drastically different from the world I grew up in, I am writing about the same God who told Noah to build an ark to save who he could. I am writing about the same God who promised Abraham that he would be a great nation. I am writing about the same God who turned a little shepherd boy into the greatest king Israel had ever known. The same God who heard the cries of the people who were seeking Him, the same God who made everything, the same God who send Christ to die for us, is same now as He was then.

And in a world that refuses to stop changing no matter how hard we try to hold on to what was, having that constant is awfully nice. Because we can trust that no matter how topsy-turvy everything in our lives gets, God is still working things out. He promised He would. And if God has kept His promises for all these thousands of years, He isn’t going to stop now.

So don’t despair when things change. Don’t worry and don’t shut down because God’s not changing, and He still has the power to take any situation (especially the ugly ones we’ve screwed up) and make it beautiful. We just have to let Him.

Snow on the chicken wire at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Do we have to deserve mercy?

Is it wise to show mercy to someone who refuses to learn? Is it a good idea to give mercy to someone who is just going to turn around and hurt others, someone who never had any intention of changing? No, we don’t know people’s hearts, and we can’t read people’s minds, and we should never judge. And we are commanded to love everyone. But are love and mercy the same?

 

Snow on the chicken wire at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Snow on the chicken wire at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 7:5-7.

But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

We often refer to God as being merciful because of the sacrifice Christ made on the cross for us. But even God’s mercy only extends so far, especially when the ones who are asking for it don’t hold up their end of the bargain. But what do these verses actually mean? Do we have to deserve mercy? Because if we have to deserve mercy, I think that would defeat the point. We deserve damnation. We deserve to be punished because of the way we live. That’s where mercy comes in.

But think about it this way: What’s the point of showing mercy to someone who has no intention of using it? Mercy is something that is given to you to use, but we have a choice in how to use it. We can either use it to help other people, or we can forget about it. We can conveniently misplace it. It can be like the Christmas present you got that you don’t think you need, that gets stuffed in a closet somewhere. But how are we to know who will use mercy and won’t? How can we tell?

Maybe I’m wrong, but this is the way I see it: We don’t know.

I can’t tell you what you are thinking in your heart. I can’t know the thoughts you have. Sometimes I have a pretty clear idea, but even the people I think are an open book can turn around and become someone completely different at the drop of a hat. And it turns out I didn’t know them at all.

Sometimes believers get full, I think. We get so full of the good things that God has done in our lives, and that’s awesome. Because if you are living the way God has told you to live, God blesses you. That’s the way it works. And the closer you get to God, the more He changes you to be like Him, the more blessings you receive. And there are times when I just stand and marvel at the life that God has given me, because I don’t deserve any of it. But I have the life I have because I chose to follow God even when it didn’t make sense. That was my choice. But it’s easy to get caught up in that and forget how merciful God really is.

Because you see, God does know our hearts. He knows my heart, and He knows your heart. He knows what we’re all thinking right now and what we’ll be thinking tomorrow and ten years from now. And because God knows whether or not we will take advantage of His mercy, He has every right to withhold it until we come to our senses and live the way He’s told us to live. But that’s God. He has that prerogative and right, and He is justified.

But I’m not God. I’m nobody. I’m just a little beggar who made a choice.

Maybe this is a poor example, but I finally got to see Les Misérables the other day. And this morning, at reading this verse, the only thing I can think of is one of the beginning scenes when Jean Valjean is taken in by that priest. Frightened and broken, Jean Valjean steals all that silver from the church and runs away, but he’s captured and dragged back by the police, but he claims that the priest gave him the silver. The police put him before the priest and ask if it’s true. The priest has every right to be angry; he’d showed kindness to a man who had nothing, and in return that man had stolen from him. But the priest doesn’t condemn him. He verifies to the police that he had indeed given the silver to Jean Valjean, and then he turns around and gives him the two silver candlesticks off the table.

Mercy. Mercy in spite of the fact that he deserved condemnation.

I can’t see people’s hearts. So I really don’t know people. But because God has been merciful to me and because God’s mercy is a part of my life, I want to live a life that shows mercy to others.  I can’t determine whether or not someone will take advantage of the mercy I’ve shown them. Granted, if I show them mercy and then they turn around and bash me over the head or stab me in the back, then I’ll know. And then there are other steps to take, but until you take a chance with people, you’ll never know for sure. And while one might crush your hopes and dreams, another might turn out to be the biggest blessing you’ve ever had.

So don’t be afraid to show mercy to people, especially if they don’t deserve it.