Dirty dishes in the kitchen of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Being honest with God

Some days I get tired of responsibility. I’ve always been a responsible, mature person. Even when I was a child, somehow I still ended up as the adult in the room. The grownups always looked to me to keep things in order, to keep the other kids in line, to be the one who took care of things. As an adult, it’s the same way. Responsibility just tends to gravitate toward me, and most of the time I’m fine with it. But I have some days when I just want to shirk all of it.

I think maybe that’s why I hate doing dishes. It’s my own way of rebelling against being a mature, responsible adult. I just leave the dishes rotting in the sink and go watch a movie.

Responsibility is exhausting. But if you look at my responsibilities versus the responsibilities of people in history, I really don’t have that much. I mean, it’s not like I’m leading a country or a nation. When I think about responsibility, the first person who comes to mind is Moses. Now that was stress.

Dirty dishes in the kitchen of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dirty dishes in the kitchen of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. The Lord sent him to perform all the miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, and all his servants, and his entire land. With mighty power, Moses performed terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel.

Moses was responsible for leading the nation of Israel out of captivity. How many million people? I can’t remember. But it was a lot. And they were difficult. But if you read Moses’ story, you’ll see how God helped him.

What I find ironic about Moses is that he didn’t consider himself leadership material. He looked at himself and his abilities and told God there was no way he could be of use, but God saw something else in him. And through God Moses became one of the most successful leaders in history. Even the secular world will admit to that. It’s not every day that one man can lead a nation across a desert for 40 years. That takes a special leader–and a special God.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for Moses to have to undertake that level of responsibility. I’m sure it exceeded anything he ever thought he’d have to deal with, and maybe he thought it would be done in his lifetime. But it wasn’t. Even so, he never gave up. Granted, he wasn’t perfect; nobody is. But even to this day, if you want to know about leadership, Moses is a good person to study.

But what do you do when you’re so weighed down with responsibility that you can’t focus? How did Moses handle those days when he was exhausted by the weight of the responsibilities he had to carry? I haven’t studied this like I should, but I do know that Moses got frustrated frequently. And I don’t blame him for that. The people of Israel were frustrating people. But I’m not sure they’re more frustrating than people we work with or live with or deal with on a daily basis. People are people, no matter where you are or when you are.

What I love about Moses is that he was never fake with God. He struggled. He sinned. He fell on his face, and God helped him back up again. Moses told God exactly what he thought, and God listened. God never gave up on him, never stopped helping him, never turned His back. And that’s what I struggle with the most–being real about my failings. I’m a perfectionist. I want to do everything exactly right, and I don’t like it when people know I make mistakes. And there’s something in me that says if I don’t tell anyone about how frustrated I am, those frustrations will just go away.

The irony? God knows it all. He knows already. If you’re frustrated with the responsibility you have, He knows it. Don’t try to hide it from Him. Hiding it will make it worse. Just tell Him how you feel. There’s something awesome in the freedom to vent to God, knowing that He knows your heart better than anyone else.

Want to know how to endure responsibility? Don’t hide it. Don’t hide the frustrations you feel, not from God. Maybe you don’t need to share your frustrations with the people you’re responsible for; they probably won’t understand. But you don’t have to hide from God. It’s actually a bad idea to hide from God. It’s actually stupid. So don’t even try it.

Be honest with Him. Be honest about what you think you can’t do, and you will be shocked what happens. Because when you start being honest with Him, you’ll feel peace. It’s happened to me before, where I’m ranting and raving to God about the things He’s gotten me into and all of a sudden, I just feel better about everything and He gives me the answer I need to deal with whatever situation I’m facing.

Responsibility is exhausting, but God is greater than any responsibility that’s on your plate. He’s waiting to help you face it. You just have to ask Him for help, and you have to be willing to listen to what He’s trying to tell you and do it. But whatever you do, keep up the conversation. Moses knew God face-to-face, and while none of us have that, we do have God’s Spirit in us.

Be honest. Be grateful. And He’ll help.

Waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

It’s hard to hide an ark

God asks us to do crazy things sometimes, or at least they seem like crazy things to us. To Him, they make perfect sense, but He operates on a level higher than us. But when was the last time God asked you to do something that didn’t make any sense? He’s asked me to take strange international trips. He’s asked me to give financially when I didn’t really have the finances to give. He’s asked me to give time and effort when I was running low on both. And He’s asked me to talk to people about things I don’t want to talk about. Crazy stuff.

But after reading today’s verses, I think maybe I need to redefine crazy.

Waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Genesis 6:14-16 and 22.

“Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior.Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.” … So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Crazy, right? It’s so crazy, it makes all of the “crazy” things God has asked me to do sound pretty tame. And I don’t care who you are, as far as I know, Noah is the only one in history who ever received this command. I don’t know of anyone else who God asked to build a giant boat and fill it full of animals. It makes me wonder what my reaction would have been if God had asked me to do something like that. I’d like to think that I would have said, “Yes, Lord! Of course!” But my reaction probably would have been more like Bill Cosby’s famous Noah routine: “Right.”

But whether God asks us to build giant boats or not, following Christ does require us to do some strange things that make us stand out. Believe it or not, that’s kind of the point. Many times believers are referred to as symbols of light or examples or ambassadors to the world, and it should be impossible to conceal any of those. I think it’s in Matthew where believers are called a “city on a hill” because they can’t be hidden. Remember the song “This Little Light of Mine”? Yeah, same concept.

And as a result of following Christ and doing all these things like loving our enemies and giving to God’s work financially and reading the Bible and believing what’s in the Bible, many times we invite criticism and mockery. I can’t tell you that I have been put in front of a room of people and publicly humiliated; that hasn’t happened (yet). But I have heard my beliefs and the foundations of my faith mocked by people in authority over me. I’ve seen the basis of all I believe torn apart and held up as an example of ancient, irrelevant ritual. I’ve been in a class with a teacher who has pretty much said that anyone who believes in the Bible is a fool.

And if being called a fool or a backward person or a crazy bothers you, maybe those sorts of things will affect you. But honestly, if you’re going to choose to follow Christ, you need to realize that you’re going to be made fun of. And we don’t even have to build a giant boat. American Christians are renowned for hiding their faith. Noah didn’t have that option. You can’t exactly hide an ark. Everyone around him knew exactly what he was doing.

And what’s more, for poor Noah, not only did he build the ark, he told people about it. Over and over and over. He told them what it was for, why he was building it, and why they needed to come with them when God destroyed the Earth. But nobody believed him. Can you imagine the ridicule he faced? Can you imagine what he had to endure from his neighbors and his friends and maybe even his family?

But he didn’t let it phase him. Oh, I’m sure he had bad days. Remember, this didn’t happen overnight. It was like 120 years or something. I can’t remember, but Noah built the ark and then had to wait and wait and wait while God gave people the chance to change their minds and come with him and his family. But nobody did. They all kept their distance and made fun of him.

And that’s a lesson I need to learn. It’s not that people’s opinions matter so much to me, but I like people to like me. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t like rocking the boat. I don’t like being in the spotlight, especially as the person who causes conflict or difficulty. But part of what I want to accomplish with my life is to become a writer that challenges the way people think, and I’m not going to be able to do that if I’m always worried about whether or not people like me. I’m going to have to get to the point where it’s okay that people don’t.

The one person we need to worry about pleasing is God, and if we can get that right, everything else will fall into place. So whether God is telling you to write a book or quit your job or to be a missionary or to build a giant boat and fill it full of giraffes or whatever, do it. Make sure it’s from Him, but once you determine that it is from God, do it. But realize that you’re going to turn heads. You’re going to draw attention. And many people won’t understand, even if you explain it.

But don’t worry about that. You just do what God has told you to do. He’ll work out the details. He did it for Noah, and the same God who took care of Noah and his family is the same God I talked to this morning just before I sat down to write this.

And just because I can … and because it’s really funny, enjoy:

Bear pacing at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Spiritual endurance is greater than physical endurance

Endurance comes in many shapes and sizes, although you can strengthen and increase it pretty much the same way in every instance. Physical endurance requires hard work, training, practicing; if you’re going to run a marathon you can’t just jump up and do it. You have to train. It’s the same way with emotional endurance. You can’t tackle huge emotional issues before you’ve had to tackle similar ones on a smaller level. Spiritual endurance is also the same; it’s not a good idea to jump into spiritual battles before you’re ready to fight.

While some people spend a lot of time increasing one, they often overlook the other two. You don’t get all three automatically just because you work on one. You have to work on all three.

Bear pacing at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Bear pacing at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Judges 16:4.

Some time later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek.

Samson is one of those really fascinating characters in Scripture who I can’t wait to meet when I get to heaven, mainly because I don’t understand him. Samson is the closest thing to a true superhero who has ever lived. He had tremendous physical strength, although his strength relied on God. God was the One who gave it to him when he needed it. Samson’s story can be found in Judges 13-16. He was one of the Judges of Israel before they had a king, similar to Gideon who I posted about previously. But Samson was very different than Gideon.

What caught my attention this morning is that Samson had a lot of physical endurance but he didn’t have much emotional or spiritual endurance. If you read those four chapters in Judges (you should; they’re short), it almost reads like a reality TV show. I’m just going to say it: Samson is pretty much an idiot. And while his physical strength is impressive, his choices are not. He makes some very bad decisions, and while God still uses them, they eventually lead to his destruction.

Samson was super strong, but a pretty face caused all reason to leave his head. Maybe he killed thousands of Philistines, but the same wrong choice repeated again and again tries even God’s patience.

Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on what we look like. We idolize those who can accomplish great physical feats, but those same people aren’t encouraged to build their endurance inside. That same mentality permeates the church too, where it’s important to put on a good show but what goes on in our hearts isn’t a big deal. And to God, it’s the opposite. He doesn’t see what’s on the outside; He looks at the heart and sees who we really are.

It is important to build physical endurance. It’s part of being healthy. But your physical endurance will only last as long as your body does. Spiritual endurance and emotional endurance will last as long as you do–an eternity. So which one is more important?

Honestly, if Samson had spent more time building his spiritual strength, he probably wouldn’t have come to the same end. Granted, his life and death served God and God’s purpose, and that was the point. But I think he would have been so much happier if he had focused on spiritual strength instead of his physical strength.

I don’t know if I’m making sense this morning. But don’t let our culture tell you what is most important about your life. Culture would have you believe that the body is what matters because it’s all culture can see, but you are more than your body. You are not a body with a soul; you are a soul who has a body. And the physical strength we have pales in comparison to what our spirits can endure, but before that endurance can be obvious, it has to be tested and trained.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not knocking physical strength. Yes, work out. Yes, build up your body and your muscles. Be healthy–but not at the expense of your soul. You won’t gain spiritual strength by default when you train your body, so don’t expect to be able to stand against spiritual attacks just because you can benchpress a Volkswagen.

So while you’re working out today, spend some time in prayer. Or work on memorizing Scripture. Or think about your relationship with God. Engage your mind in something that will help you build spiritual strength because days are coming when it won’t matter how physically strong we are. All that’s going to matter is the strength of your heart and soul. And even though Samson was incredibly strong physically, when that strength left him, he was just an ordinary man, and he didn’t have the soul strength to make the wise choice.

Wheat at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Endure when it feels like nothing will change

For me, the hardest part of endurance is the length of time I have to wait before I see results. I’ve mentioned before that I really hate waiting. I don’t mind training and preparing and planning, but once what I have trained and planned and prepared for has happened, I want immediate results. I want to see a ROI–a return on investment, as we call it in the marketing world. But most of the time that’s not how it works.

Following Christ and living for God is less like a marketing campaign and more like wheat farming. In a marketing campaign, you do the work, you submit the materials, and you wait for your leads to come in so you can track them down and try to convince them to buy product. It’s all very rapid, and you get fast results. In wheat farming, or other types of farming, you plow your ground, you plant your seed, and then you wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And pray that it doesn’t get hailed to bits or blown away. And pray that there’s enough rain but not too much. And you keep waiting until it’s finally time to harvest.

That’s what the Christian life is like. And that’s why we need to learn how to endure patiently because some things can’t be rushed, and if you give up too soon, you’ll miss out.

Wheat at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:9.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

It’s hard to do the right thing. It’s hard to press on and do good when all it seems to accomplish is to get you in trouble or to encourage others to take advantage of you, but that’s what we are called to do. As Christ-followers, we are called to live a life that honors God, and that means living according to the Bible. And maybe you didn’t know this, but the Bible isn’t exactly popular anymore. If you want to be politically correct, the Bible isn’t really the source for that.

It’s tiring to live the way the Bible says in a culture that mocks everything you believe. And it’s growing more and more difficult every day, it seems. And sometimes, in that quiet dark corner of my heart that I don’t like to admit is there, I wonder if it’s really worth it.

Have you ever been there? Where you’re just tired of being treated like a fool? Or you’re tired of always having to do the right thing and be branded as a goody-two-shoes? Or be labeled as “The Christian” when you really know the label means “self-righteous” to the people who use it?

Or are you tired of having to deal with other Christians? I think sometimes we focus on how frustrating it is to work in a culture with people who don’t believe the same way we do, but what about having to work with people who do believe the same way you do? It’s twice as frustrating because we have expectations for how Christians are supposed to behave, and when they don’t meet those expectations, it’s easy to get angry.

I get tired. I get worn out. I get exhausted with dealing with people and situations and circumstances, and there never seems to be an end to any of it. But then, I see a verse like today’s verse and I remember that many times I’m just in the growing phase of the season. People are growing. I’m growing. And if I try to harvest too quickly, I’ll kill my crop.

That’s why we have to endure. That’s why we can’t give up, whether you’re dealing with believers or unbelievers. We’re planting seeds every day, and maybe we’ll see something sprout. Maybe we won’t, but most of the time we’re going to harvest something. Maybe we won’t recognize it. Maybe we won’t even realize it, especially if we aren’t looking for it.

So don’t give up. And if you’re frustrated, try shifting your focus. Instead of seeing only how long you have to wait, try looking at how much your crop is growing while you’re waiting. We had so much moisture recently here in Kansas that the wheat outside my window has turned the most brilliant shade of green I’ve seen since last March. I got so used to the dull, dead colors of winter that seeing so much green nearly brought tears to my eyes.

And it reminded me that even in a season when it feels like nothing is growing, something is. You just have to look for it.

Wheat field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Living when you know trouble is coming

I heard it said once that the anticipation of pain is much worse than the actual pain itself. I’m not sure who first noticed this fact, but it’s true. The anticipation of pain can create so much fear in us that we procrastinate. We’re so afraid of what might hurt we aren’t even willing to try it. People avoid doctors for this reason, even if they need to go.

I watched a movie recently, Ben Affleck’s Argo, about the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970s, and there was one scene where a bunch of the hostages were lined up and their captors were getting ready to shoot them. And just as they had been prepared to die, the shooters pulled the triggers, and there were no bullets in the guns. It had all been to scare them, but it was enough to drive some of them to their knees. They had anticipated pain and death; they got neither. But either way, it was incapacitating.

How do you handle the anticipation of pain and difficulty? Many times, we know it’s coming. We know things may be quiet now but trouble is just over the horizon, and we have no choice but to walk toward it and tackle it as it comes. But even if we make that choice, how do you live in the interim?

Wheat field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat field at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Mark 10:32-34.

They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear. Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”

Knowing that Jesus is God is a funny thing because even though I believe it, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how a man can be God and how God can be man, both at the same time. But that’s what the Bible says, so that’s what I believe. And, to put it frankly, if I understood it, I could put Jesus in a box, and I don’t want Jesus in a box; I want Jesus on a throne.

But as God, Jesus could look forward or look backward even while He was alive as a human on Earth. Had had all the power of God but He was 100% man at the same time. And He knew why He was here. He was born for a reason – to suffer and die for the sins men and women had committed since Adam and Eve failed. Can you imagine growing up with that kind of knowledge? Can you imagine going to school knowing that you wouldn’t ever have your own children? Can you imagine living your life knowing that it was going to end and not just end but end brutally.

He knew everything that was going to happen. He knew He would be betrayed by the people He loved. He knew He would be brutalized. He knew it all, and He chose it anyway. And it’s not like He found out the week before He died; He knew all along. So if you look at Christ’s life, what do you see? Do you see someone who was bitter and resentful? Do you see someone who was resigned to die and who had given up on living?

Not so much.

So what does that tell us about how we’re supposed to live when we know that hard times are coming?

The first few months of 2013 have been nice for me as far as my stress level and obligations go, but it’s getting ready to change in the next few weeks. Life is getting ready to take off, and to be honest about it, I’m kind of dreading it. I’m standing here and watching the tidal wave of stress and responsibility coming toward me at unstoppable speed, and it’s getting ready to crash over me. There’s no point in running from it because I can’t run that fast. And there’s a part of me that wishes it would just hurry up and get here because the span of a few weeks that separates it from me are overwhelming. The waiting is more stressful than the actual events that are approaching.

But what I’m reminded of this morning is that I don’t have to dread it. Jesus knew what was coming for Him, and He didn’t face it with resignation or defeat. He faced it, yes, and He was sure about it. And while I would exactly say He was cheerful about those impending things, He certainly didn’t let it affect His relationships or the life He had left. He knew God was going to use it and that He would make it through.

So if you know difficult times are just over the horizon and there’s nothing you can do about it, don’t spend the time you have left dreading what’s coming. Don’t focus on the anticipation of discomfort, otherwise it will color everything you do. Instead, think about what those difficult times will bring. Think about how you’ll grow. Think about how you’ll help others. Think about what you will be able to do for God.

God will give you the strength to face whatever circumstances come your way. And when it’s over, you’ll be able to look back and see why it needed to be difficult, but what’s more, the results will be so amazing that the difficulty will hardly seem important anymore.