A mullberry tree and the yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What difference can a puff of smoke make?

I got to spend some time with one of my closest friends yesterday. We’re both busy, so we don’t often get to actually sit down and just talk. So it was really nice, encouraging, refreshing. And in the course of our conversation, we discussed that we had known each other for seven years. Seven years!! That doesn’t seem possible. Because I would swear it was just yesterday we were on the OSU campus watching the Third Day/David Crowder Band contest and meeting for the first time.

And that got me think about how many other milestones have come and gone this year. My family moved to Wichita in July 1991; that was 22 years ago. We moved to the farm over Labor Day 1994; that was 19 years ago. We performed our first Judgement house in 2000; that was 13 years ago. The silly little kids I taught in Bible class on Wednesday nights are married now. The crazy teenagers from my drama team are married and some have children now. My fellow survivors from the class of 2001 have established families and careers around the US and even the world.

The list can go on and on, but the question is always the same. Where have all the years gone? How can time be moving so rapidly?

A mullberry tree and the yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A mulberry tree and the yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 4:14.

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

I’ve always tried to appreciate the things I have when I have them, and I’ve always tried to be mindful of time. Growing up, everyone always told me how fast time goes, and I thought I’d done a pretty good job of it. I tried to make the most of every second. I didn’t waste time yearning and wishing to be older but did the best I could at the age I was.

But I don’t think you really appreciate how fast life flies until you’ve lived enough to look back on it. You can understand and believe that life goes fast when you’re 10 or 11, but you can’t really grasp how rapidly time can slip through your fingers until you’re 20 or 30 and you watch the children you knew as infants stepping up in leadership roles.

Our lives are nothing in the grand scale of eternity. They’re less than nothing. This translation compares our lives to morning fog, but I’m not sure if it’s really the clearest way to describe them. The Amplified Version says they’re “a puff of smoke.” Fog tends to hang around a little while, but smoke? Not so much. It’s here a moment and then it’s gone. What do we have? 80 years? 90 years? Maybe more. If you think about how many years have passed since the beginning of time (10,000 at the most), 80 or 90 years is nothing. But even 10,000 years fades in comparison to eternity. Eternity is timeless. You can’t even compare it.

I’ll be 31 this year. That blows me away. I have a hard time even writing it down because I remember thinking that 30 sounded old. But I can tell you that 30 years have gone by quicker than a camera flash.

So with our brief lives as small and insignificant as they are, what’s the point? So we make it to 100, so what? What difference does it make in comparison to eternity, or even in comparison to the 10,000 years of history that have already passed? Does it even matter?

I think deep inside all of us want to matter. We want to know that we’ve left a legacy, that when our time is done, people will still be touched. I’m pretty sure that’s too tall an order for any human being. But that’s one of many things that’s awesome about following God. God cares about small, insignificant things like me. Our lives, brief as they are, matter to Him. And the beauty of it all is that a life lived for Him, no matter if it’s 20 years or 30 years or 80 years or more, isn’t insignificant. God is a God who takes what is insignificant and uses it to do great big things–like helping other people generations and generations after our time is gone. That’s not something you can accomplish on your own.

So don’t despair that time is fleeting, but remember that our time is limited. And so are we. But if you’re a Christ-follower, the time you have is a gift, and you choose to use it in a way that God can grow. A puff of smoke isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference in the world, but a puff of smoke in God’s hands can become something more. Because God has a history of taking small, insignificant things and making them last forever.

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s blessings don’t always feel like blessings

It rained last night. In June I wouldn’t have been so happy about it, but last night wasn’t bad. In June, I didn’t want to see another drop of rain.

I wish I would have found today’s passage back then.

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms rolling into Reno County at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Joel 2:21-23.

Don’t be afraid, my people.
Be glad now and rejoice,
for the Lord has done great things.
Don’t be afraid, you animals of the field,
for the wilderness pastures will soon be green.
The trees will again be filled with fruit;
fig trees and grapevines will be loaded down once more.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem!
Rejoice in the Lord your God!
For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness.
Once more the autumn rains will come,
as well as the rains of spring.

Throughout the Bible, God uses different aspects of nature and different circumstances in our lives to communicate with us. He has control over both, so what better means to demonstrate not only His power but His love?

I enjoyed the rain last night, although driving home in some of the heavier spots was a little nerve wracking. The rain was nice. It was refreshing. But I can tell you if I had seen last night’s storm back in June, I wouldn’t have been so happy about it. We were already soaked in Kansas, and we didn’t need any more rain. But it just kept coming.

I was so tired of the rain, so tired of having to clean up my basement after it leaked, so tired of being worried that the whole place was going to flood while I was gone and tired of worrying that my roads would wash out and prevent me from getting home in the first place. And I just didn’t understand why God was allowing us to flood like that.

But the more I thought about it, the more I talked to God about how frustrated I was, the more He reminded me that He wasn’t trying to cause trouble. He was preventing trouble.

Kansas had been in a drought for like three years. Maybe longer. And honestly even though we got more than enough rain, I’m not sure if our “levels” are back up to where they need to be. but as an agricultural state, it’s not good for us to turn into a desert. The rain was a good thing. It was inconvenient and troublesome, but that was because I was worried about it. And I shouldn’t have been.

See, the rain during that time was a blessing. It was a gift from God. Without that rain, I’m not sure what Kansas crops and livestock would have looked like next year.

And that got me thinking. How many times do we treat God’s gifts like they’ll only cause us more trouble? Rain is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, of His provision, but if you only see the inconvenience of it, you will miss the point. It’s the same with any other blessings God gives us. God’s blessings and gifts don’t necessarily come easily. Yes, He gives them out free, but most of the time, that means you have to change something about your life in order to make the most of them. The plain and simple truth is that God’s blessings don’t always look or feel like blessings.

My 2005 Malibu after my very first wreck, Wichita, KS -- 2008

My 2005 Malibu after my very first wreck, Wichita, KS — 2008

Example from my own life? My first major wreck. I’d bought a “big girl” car with my own money, and I loved that car. I had it for three weeks because someone got up on the highway in a truck without securing his aluminum ladder. The wind blew it off and into my path, and in swerving to avoid it, I lost control and punched through a guard rail going 70 miles per hour. The impact sheared the whole front of the car off and took out 20 feet of the railing, and I walked away with a few airbag burns (and a separated shoulder, which we didn’t realize until four weeks later).

On the surface, the wreck was awful. It was the worst thing that I’d gone through in my life up until that point. I was hurt and sore and angry and disappointed, and I didn’t know what I had done wrong to deserve to go through it. But how did the story end? I got a better car.

My first car had been a 2005 Malibu with 50,000+ miles. With the settlement from the guy’s insurance company, I was able to buy a nicer 2008 Malibu with 17,000 miles.

My wreck was a pain, but God used it to give me something better than I had. On the surface, it looked awful, but God had a blessing in mind the whole time. It’s like rain. Rain can be taken as a difficulty, a pain, a curse, but according to this, rain is a sign that God hasn’t forgotten His promises to us. What our enemy means for evil, God can use for good.

So before you look at that tough situation in your life right now like it’s trouble, take a step back and ask God about it. Because there’s a good chance that there’s more to it than what you can see right now. And if you’re a Christ follower, you can know God is working things out for your good and His glory. Remember, God is faithful. He always keeps His promises. And even though it doesn’t always feel like it, He never leaves us.

So hang in there and hold on. God’s got it covered, and someday soon you’ll be able to look back and see His hand all over it.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Hutchinson, KS

Words should be a gift

I love words. They’re my favorite topic of study, my favorite tools to use, my favorite everything. And it doesn’t matter what language either. Words are amazing no matter what language you speak. And one of the most awesome aspect of words is unfortunately also their most dangerous; Words have power.

At least, words have the power we give them. You’ve heard people say that words have weight, that words can cut, that words can bring life. It’s true. The things we choose to say will either help or hurt, and as Christ followers we need to be able to keep a hold of our mouths.

The cause of my foul language, Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Hutchinson, KS

The cause of my foul language, Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

When I was little, I thought this verse was talking about cursing. And I’m sure that cursing is one of those usages of words that isn’t really necessary, but I have realized something as I’ve worked with many international offices and people from other countries. You do realize that curse words aren’t the same from culture to culture, right? Words that are horribly offensive in American culture are just normal words elsewhere and vice versa. So you can’t point fingers at a handful of words and call them foul. No. You have to know what those words mean and understand their usage.

Some of the most hurtful words in our language aren’t curses. They are words used to tear other people down. They are negative words spoken by negative or insecure people in order to make themselves feel better at the expense of others around them. You can know someone who never curses but who is still foul and abusive because of the way they use their “good words” to hurt people.

All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t point fingers at curse words while we alter the heart of other words in order to damage people.

God gave us words so that we could be a blessing to people. Words are supposed to be a gift we give to others. Too often we twist them around and turn them into something they were never intended to be. People get hurt. Friendships get broken. Marriages are destroyed. Hearts are scarred. And that’s not why God gave us language.

So think about what you say before you say it. Check your attitude before you speak. Ask yourself if what you’re about to say will help someone or hurt someone? Consider what you’re about to say from every angle and weigh the consequences, because once you say it, you can’t take it back. Oh, yes, you can apologize for it, but that isn’t as good as not saying it to begin with.

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Don’t be stupid

I don’t like calling technical support numbers because inevitably I end up talking to someone who thinks I’m a moron. I would much rather try to figure the problem out on my own with Google’s assistance than to spend the time to call somebody. I think half of that is proving to myself that I don’t need help, even though I recognize that’s pretty silly. But every now and then, you have to call. You have to face the fact that you don’t know everything and that some technical issues are beyond your control.

A recent example? My mom and I have been customers of a cell phone company since February, and while I’m sure their service works fine for people who don’t use their phones so much, it’s really not working for us. In fact, I think we’ve both already worn out the phones we bought from them, plus the fact that the coverage at my house is pitiful (even though they told us it wouldn’t be). So we decided to switch to a nationwide carrier, one that my company offers an employee discount for, and I’m not going to say which one (can you hear me now?).

Mom and I completed the transaction to set up the plan and purchase our phones yesterday afternoon. Well, by the evening we had both received phone calls from this company telling us that there was something wrong with our request to transfer our phone lines. Okay, without going into a whole lot of boring detail, let’s just say I ended up on the phone with them at 7:30 last night trying to figure things out. First, I spoke to a very nice young lady who told me exactly what she thought was wrong and gave me instructions on how to fix it. I got the information she needed and called back. And that’s when I talked to “Mike.”

Have you ever experienced that aha! moment when someone answers the phone and you know instantly that they’re going to be rude? Yup. That was “Mike.” I could tell even in the way he said hello that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation. Now, in all fairness to him, I’m sure he was just trying to help, but he was incredibly full of himself. He told me that he couldn’t even look at our account because our numbers weren’t live yet, and whoever I talked to before had been making stuff up, and that he was going to solve all my problems for me. You can always usually tell people who are trying to make themselves sound more official because they use big words that don’t fit the context of what they’re talking about (“on the 19th, your phone account will come into fruition”).

I was really, really irritated. Not only did this guy talk to me like I was a child, he went so far as to tell me that his coworker had given me bad information. He wanted to call our current cell phone provider right then, and I know that’s what they’re supposed to do to verify information, but honestly, he was so unpleasant I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. I just didn’t want to talk to him. So I dismissed myself as quickly as I could and called our current service provider myself.

And as I was waiting to talk to them, I started getting worried. Maybe I had misjudged “Mike” and he really was right about what he’d said. Maybe I’d made some other huge mistake in the account setup process and this was going to take longer to fix than I’d thought! … But then, the very helpful lady at the other service popped on and confirmed everything the first gal I’d talked to said.

“Mike” had been blowing smoke the whole time.

So I called back and talked to a super nice southern gentleman who helped us get everything sorted out, so now we’re good to go. But I remembered a very important lesson about how treat other people that I really felt led to share this morning.

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 12:1.

To learn, you must love discipline;
it is stupid to hate correction.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone will be wrong at some point in their life. Just expect it. You’re not perfect, and believe it or not, making mistakes is how you grow. But you only grow from your mistakes if you learn from them. You’ll only get something out of what you’ve done wrong if you recognize that it was wrong and that you shouldn’t do it again.

But time after time, what I’ve noticed is that the people who are the most unpleasant about their knowledge are the ones who are usually wrong. I know a lot of smart people, and the ones who are stuck up and snobby about their intellect are the ones who can’t seem to give me correct information. On the other hand, the really super smart people I know who are humble about the size of their brains are the ones whose input I can trust 100%.

The lesson here? Be pleasant and humble about what you know, even if you are 100% sure you’re right, because you may discover that you’re wrong some day and it’s a lot easier to save face if you’ve been humble about it from the beginning. Remember, even though you’ve worked to attain your intelligence, intellect is a gift from God. You didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be a super genius. That’s not how it works.

So be nice. And also … don’t talk to me like I’m a moron. Because you may end up in a blog post.

A very steep section of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Overcoming fear

Life is full of scary things, and if you focus on all there is to be afraid of, it’s easy (very easy) to be overwhelmed with how little we actually have control over. The key is to recognize that God is in control and trust that He’s going to take care of the details. But that’s easier said than done, especially if you’re a control freak.

I’m convinced that God put certain passages in Scripture just for me. That’s how I feel about today’s passage.

A very steep section of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

A very steep section of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Deuteronomy 31:4-8.

“The Lord will destroy the nations living in the land, just as he destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites. The Lord will hand over to you the people who live there, and you must deal with them as I have commanded you. So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

I don’t spend an enormous amount of time in the Book of Deuteronomy, but whenever I read it, I remember how much I love it. With a name like Deuteronomy and its location in Scripture, I get it mixed up with Leviticus and Numbers. But Deuteronomy doesn’t have as much law in it, not like Leviticus does. Yes, there are some portions about the Law and dos and don’ts and things like that, but the book as a whole isn’t just the Law. It’s about the Children of Israel, the generation after one that left Egypt. And this passage marks where Moses turns command over to Joshua.

Put yourself in Joshua’s shoes. What a terrifying proposition! This isn’t like a promotion at work that you’ve been waiting for. This isn’t even like a promotion you didn’t see coming. This is like your boss pulling you from an area where you’re comfortable and a job description that you’re confident in and tossing you into the role as CEO of a major company. In a matter of moments, you go from being the one who takes orders to the one who gives orders, and you didn’t see it coming. If you haven’t worked for a big company, that may not sound intimidating, but if you’ve ever worked for a corporation you’ll understand just how frightening that sort of event would be.

I can’t imagine going from my little writing position to suddenly being in command of my company. It’s not something I would even want. And it makes me wonder if that’s how Joshua felt. After all, he saw what Moses had gone through. He saw how the Children of Israel had treated Moses. He witnessed everything first hand as a soldier, and then when he’s given command, he suddenly has to face the fact that he’s the one God wants in charge.

So it’s no wonder God tells him over and over again not to be afraid, not only in this book but also in the Book of Joshua, directly after this one.

But what I find interesting about this passage is how God repeats key phrases. God tells Moses to tell Joshua not to be afraid and that God will go with him. And then Moses tells Joshua that God said not to be afraid and that God will go with Him.

Why repeat it? And it seriously is almost exactly repeated word for word. Couldn’t the Scriptures have just said something like “Moses told Joshua all God had said.” There are other passages like that. Why not here? Why put it down again? And what’s more, if you look ahead to Joshua 1:1-9, you’ll see almost exactly the same thing repeated.

This is what I have learned about the Bible. God doesn’t waste words. If He chooses to repeat something in Scripture, it’s not an accident. It means something, and usually it means we need to pay attention. It means what He’s saying is something He wants us to really understand.

Whether you’re a CEO of a company or at the bottom of the food chain, you face scary things all the time. Life is scary. Living is scary. There’s not a moment that fear can’t take advantage of your life, especially when you grasp just how powerless we are. But what God wants us to know is that He’s not going anywhere. The same God who went ahead of Moses, the same God who went ahead of Joshua, is the same God who is going ahead of us today.

God knows what’s coming. He knows what the future has in store for us, even if we don’t, and He isn’t going to let us face it alone. He’s there. And if He’s there and if you can trust Him, you don’t have to be afraid. Fear isn’t something that you need to give in to because God has given us the power to overcome it.

I don’t normally do this, but I love the song “Overcomer” by Mandisa. And I watched the music video for it last night that features some pretty well known overcomers. The YouTube link for it is below, and if you have a moment, I’d really suggest watching it and remembering that no matter what you’re facing in life right now, God is telling us not to be afraid. You’re going to face challenges and impossible situations, but God isn’t going to let you do it by yourself.