Beyond your roughest road is great joy

I can’t remember the name of the highway (it might have been I-10), but it was a road leading to Pensacola, Florida, where I went to college my freshmen year. My parents and I were going for a visit while I was still in high school, and we hit this particularly bumpy stretch of pavement. It went on for a long time, and it was really uncomfortable in the back seat. The car bumped and bounced all over the place. I had a notebook, of course, and was trying to write something, but I couldn’t because the ride was so rough.

Life is like that highway. You’ve got to get from Point A to Point B, and even though there’s a direct route, it’s not an easy road. There are potholes and obstacles. Sometimes you have to swerve. Sometimes you even may have to stop to fix a flat. But it’s the only way to get there.

What do you do in those situations? Do you turn around and go back? You can, but what’s the point of that? No, if it’s the only road you can take, it’s better to press on and just deal with the discomfort, because you know the road will smooth out on the other side. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

wood-road-dirty-forest_1532x1021Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:6-9.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

God has a plan for everyone. It’s up to us to go along with it, but the plan is there. What Christians forget sometimes is that the road isn’t easy, and God never promised it would be. He actually promised the opposite. But He does say that on the other side of the rough rode of following Christ is great joy.

That’s what we need to hold on to in the tough times. When the road gets difficult and the potholes keep coming and the rain won’t stop falling, just remember that God is with you, and He’s also on the other side of your struggle. He’ll help you get through it. He’ll send help when you need it. He’ll provide strength when yours runs out. Just keep believing that He’s right and that His promises are real.

The road might be a muddy mess, and you’ll be muddy by the time you cross it. But once you’re past it, you’ll look back on it with fondness. You will, believe it or not. Because in retrospect, even though it was a hard and challenging and difficult time in your life, you’ll see it as the moment when you knew God was with you.

God’s way and common sense aren’t always the same

I got all turned around yesterday, which isn’t exactly uncommon, but it’s a funny story. Wichita has three really excellent movie theaters, all owned by the same company. One is east, one is downtown, and one is west. I was meeting a friend at the theater to see Ant-Man (great show, by the way), and since I was going to be in town, I figured it was a good time to hit the store and pick up some prescriptions and some groceries for our upcoming camping trip. My preferred grocery store is on the west side of the city, and it just made sense, because there was a theater out west. I could stay on the same side of town to do my shopping. Great plan, right?

Well, what my overworked brain neglected to remember is that we had planned to see the movie at the east theater. So much for efficiency. After I got off at the wrong exit, I had to turn around and book it out to the east side as fast as I could. I made it just in time, but it was close.

From where I was sitting, it made sense that we should see the movie at the west theater because the rest of my errands were on the west side, but I planned my errands after we planned the movie. So it didn’t matter where my errands needed to happen, because the place I needed to be was at the east theater.

How many times in life do we end up in this situation? We tell God that we’ll follow His lead and do what He says is right, but one day we come up with our own list of needs and requirements that take us in a completely opposite direction. Maybe everything we’re doing is good and helpful, but that doesn’t mean we’re going the direction God wants.

27PNUR3Z83_1502x991Today’s verses are Psalm 18:30-32.

God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
and he makes my way perfect.

Sometimes it feels like doing things God’s way doesn’t make sense. The way He tells us to live makes it easy for people to take advantage of us. Forgiving people who hurt us, loving our enemies, sacrificing for people who will only turn against us later on–following Jesus isn’t an easy road, and many days it’s not even a fun one.

On the tough days, it would be so much easier to follow common sense instead of Jesus. If someone hurts you, hurt them back. That way, they’ll know not to hurt you again. If someone steals from you, steal from them, so they’ll understand how you feel. Can you see how that way of thinking could escalate?

Common sense is great, but it’s based on a human code of morality that will change with time. Common sense that isn’t rooted in biblical truth is fickle. So sometimes following Jesus will go against human common sense. Common sense tells us that turning the other cheek in a personal argument will result in more beatings, but Jesus says it’s how we’re supposed to live.

It’s easy to rely on our common sense, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what Jesus says should take priority. Maybe it’s more convenient for you to beat up the people who’ve been bothering you, but that’s the exact opposite of how Jesus says to handle the situation. In that example, common sense will take you in the opposite direction of what Jesus says to do.

They can’t both be right. So it’s up to us to choose which way we’re going to follow. Our own common sense is as flawed and misdirected as we are, though, so how far do you really think you can trust it? Wouldn’t it be better to trust God’s way? God has a pretty awesome track record, after all. Maybe it’s not easy to follow Him, but it’s never boring. And the Bible says it’s perfect.

So if God’s way is perfect and it goes against our common sense, who has the better chance of being wrong?

You can look perfect outside and be a wreck inside

Think of your favorite television show character or your favorite character from a novel. Just name someone. Why do you like that character so much? There are all sorts of reasons why people identify with fictional characters, and, as a novelist, it’s fascinating for me to understand why. But one thing I’ve discovered in most character studies is that people respond to vulnerabilities.

You could have a character in a book or movie that has no weakness, never screws up, never makes enemies, but I’m not sure anyone would like him. He’d be boring. At a writer’s conference I was just at, one of the speakers explained that the human brain’s favorite story is a story of struggle. Those are the tales we love, and, by extension, those are the characters we love too.

If you identify a favorite fictional character that you’ve seen or read about, just think for a moment about what kind of vulnerabilities that character has. And I’m not talking about weaknesses. I mean the bits and pieces of their lives that humanize them. The dust on their bookshelves, the disordered chaos of their spaceship, the wrinkles in their superhero cape, and their willingness to share it with others or hide it.

I’d be willing to bet that your favorite character has some quirks and tics that make him or her vulnerable, because that’s what makes a character likable. And in real life, it’s also what makes a person real.

70L5UYL0FO_1555x1037Today’s verses are 1 Peter 3:3-4.

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

This verse is mainly directed at women, but I think the context is relevant to both genders. We live in world that’s obsessed with appearances. We’re told every moment of every day how we should look, and if we don’t conform, there’s something wrong with us. We’re instructed to fill in all the gaps, to fix all the cracks, and to patch up the dents by whatever means necessary so that we don’t give people the idea that we’re unprofessional or uneducated or unpopular.

Dye your hair. Bleach your teeth. Pluck your eyebrows. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but don’t you ever get tired of not being real? Don’t you ever wonder if the face of the person sitting across from you is their actual face? Or is it a mask they’ve applied to keep people from getting too close?

Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak. It’s about admitting that you don’t have it all together. It’s knowing that your bookshelves are dusty and your trash cans are full and your workspace is messy and still being okay if other people see it. That’s hard to do. It’s difficult to open yourself up to criticism that way, because people are critical. People like to poke fun at others for a variety of reasons, and if you open your heart to another human being, you’re always taking the risk that it will backfire.

You can look perfect on the outside and be a wreck inside. You can give the appearance of having it all together but in reality your world is falling apart. When you’re out in the world or at work or at church, you just slip your mask on and pretend like everything is fine, until you get home, and there’s no one to face the darkness by your side. Why would there be? You’ve convinced everyone that there is no darkness.

No one is strong enough to get through life alone. And it is absolutely possible to make people think you’re fine when you really aren’t. And, sure, it’s scary to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s terrifying to open your life to someone else’s scrutiny, but it’s what’s inside you that matters the most. The person you are in your soul is the person who will live forever, not the made-up, all-together fashion plate on the outside.

Instead of worrying about whether or not you look like you’ve got life figured out, spend some time actually figuring life out by reading the Bible and listening to what God says. He’ll tell you how to live. He’ll tell you what’s important.

So let’s get vulnerable. Let’s get real. That doesn’t mean you walk around telling everyone your troubles and your sorrows. But it does mean that you aren’t ashamed of them.

Never underestimate the power in a kind word

Slogging along through life gets really old really fast, especially if you’re stuck in a period of waiting for God to act. You know He’s going to do something, and whatever it is will be amazing and wonderful and life-changing. But until you get there, you’re just stuck. And it’s everything you can do to just keep functioning.

So what happens if someone comes along and notices? What happens when they demonstrate that they care about you or about how hard you’ve been working? how does that make you feel?

For me, it’s energizing. I can have my head down, buried in Word documents, cranking out word count like a fiend, but if someone comes along and mentions how much they enjoy what I’m writing, suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like my feet are stuck in the mud. The mud just becomes an obstacle to overcome, and it feels like it’s worth it.

person-woman-hand-rainyToday’s verses are Acts 4:36-37.

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

How would you like to have nickname like that? This guy Joseph, who the apostles nicknamed Barnabus, was such a cool, uplifting guy that they called him The Encourager. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of reputation? The kind of vibe that just cheered people up wherever you went?

The thing people don’t always understand about encouragers is that they aren’t always obliging. They don’t always tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they tell you what you need to hear, whether it’s fun or not. They are kind people, overall, and they care about you, but they care enough about you not to lie to you or coddle you. They love you enough to tell you the truth.

Sometimes that’s not easy to swallow, as the Apostle Paul eventually discovered in his relationship with Barnabus, but it’s what you need to hear to get you back on track with God. If your perspective is off, you need someone to smack you upside the back of the head to help you get straight again.

Who are the encouragers in your life? Yes, there’s a place for the cuddlers and the caretakers. There’s a time when you need someone to hug you and feed you cookies, but those times should be few and far between. More often than not, we need our encouragers to come along and challenge us to pick up our sword and get back into the fight.

They’ll do it kindly. They’ll speak truth in love to you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s probably what you need to hear.

So are you feeling down? Are you tired and weary? Yes, rest, if you need to, but if you don’t? Find an encourager. It may not be the happiest conversation you’ve ever had, but I guarantee it will change you–or at least it will change the way you look at your situation. And really, that’s what most of us need anyway.

Just because you’re still waiting doesn’t mean you’re lost

My yard is full of weeds. We don’t have a lawn here at Safe Haven Farm. We have weeds, and at certain times of year, the green “grass” is practically yellow with all the dandelions. But it’s not worth pulling them up. One, there are just too many of them. Two, their roots are so deep and so intertwined with the other plants that you can’t ever uproot them completely. And, three, even if you get them all up, the seeds will still plant themselves in spite of your efforts. So out here, we don’t worry about them.

It’s a never-ending battle with weeds. If you garden, you understand. Could you imagine what gardening would be like without weeds? But weeds never go away, kind of like other unchanging circumstances in our lives. Maybe it would be easier to live without those situations or relationships, but that’s not the path we’re walking.

See, following God is easy when He asks us to do easy things. When He asks us to help a friend, when He asks us to be kind to someone who has been kind to us, when He asks us to be thankful for all the good things He’s given us, those are all pretty easy to accomplish. I mean, I don’t know many people who would turn a friend away if they needed help. And most people I know are kind in return when someone else is kind to them. And from personal experience, I know it’s easy to be thankful for all the blessings God has given me. But following Christ isn’t about the easy moments.

pexels-photoToday’s verse is Hosea 12:6.

So now, come back to your God.
Act with love and justice,
and always depend on him.

I prefer using the New Living Translation when I read the Bible, but when I want a deeper word study, I use the Amplified Bible. And this verse is interesting in the Amplified Version:

Therefore return to your God! Hold fast to love and mercy, to righteousness and justice, and wait [expectantly] for your God continually!

The part that caught my eye this time is the last bit. That part about waiting expectantly always stings, because I’m good at waiting. But waiting expectantly is different than just waiting. Waiting expectantly means you fully believe that God’s going to do something. What really grabbed my attention was the very last word in the verse: continually. 

Stop and think about that for a moment. Wait expectantly for God continually.

That means we’re supposed to be still and expect God to do great things all the freakin’ time. Not just on Sundays. Not just on Wednesdays or whenever you’re at church. Not when you pray. Not when you’re singing in the choir. All the time. Continually. Of course, that also means God is continually doing great things, and we’re the ones who aren’t paying attention.

Sometimes we lose our patience because we have to keep waiting. In our instant-gratification culture, waiting for anything usually indicates that we’ve made a wrong turn or a wrong decision. But that’s not always the case when you’re following Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus means that we walk His footsteps, and Jesus didn’t have an easy life. We are to help friends, but we’re also supposed to love our enemies. We are to be kind to everyone, not just the people who are kind to us but those who hate us. And yes be thankful for the good things, but we’re also commanded to give thanks for the “bad” things too.

The Christian life isn’t sunshine and daisies all the time. It’s more like hurricanes and dandelions. It’s pulling up weeds that never stop growing. It’s trusting that God is right even when everything in your life feels wrong, and it’s waiting and waiting and waiting because you believe that God’s going to work things out.

Just because you have to keep waiting doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path. It actually might mean you’re on the right one.