Everybody falls off the wagon sometime

So. Funny story. I had a great Thanksgiving with my awesome family, and I hope you did too. What I didn’t expect was a freakin’ ice apocalypse to hit Kansas on Thursday night. So starting Thursday night until about 3:30 this morning, we’ve had intermittent power, which means intermittent internet, which means any sort of schedule for posting devotionals kind of went out the window.

How many of us face a similar conundrum after the holidays are over? Whether it’s diet or exercise or whatever else, usually a holiday or a special event happens in the middle of all our progress and throws us off. It upsets our schedule and our plans, and have you noticed it’s 10 times harder to get back on track than it is to get on track to begin with?

It’s so much easier to start a long-term process than it is to start it all over again. But the only other option besides starting over again is giving up.

9A298869D5Today’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 keep going. It takes discipline and hard work, even if what you’re trying to accomplish is something you enjoy doing. But the human nature isn’t wired to keep doing good things. Our sin nature is always out to convince us to get off track, and we have an enemy who is solely interested in destroying us.

What’s important to understand (and embrace honestly) is that you won’t always be on the right track. I mean, sure, aim to stay on. Do your best to keep doing what you’re doing, but know that someday you’re going to fall off. You’re going to fall down. You’re going to trip up.

And it’s okay.

It’s just not okay to stay down. You need to get up. You need to get back on track again. But that’s the hard part, because you’re overwhelmed with shame and regret. You tell yourself you shouldn’t have fallen to begin with, that you knew better, that you don’t deserve a second chance–or third chance–or fourth or fifth or sixtieth or hundredth.

And you want to know the truth? No. You don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it. But then I didn’t deserve a chance to begin with. I was born broken, and God loved me enough to set me on the right road and let me live for Him. I didn’t deserve that, and I don’t deserve the chances He continually gives me. But that’s the point of mercy.

None of us deserve a second chance, but God gives it to us anyway. So it’s up to us to decide whether we want to give up or press forward. That is your call. You’re perfectly free to give up if you want to, but God has promised that if you don’t give up, you’ll gain a blessing. And God’s blessings are always worth working toward.

You fell off the wagon. So what? Everybody does. Get up and dust yourself off and get back on the road again. Don’t live by the illusion that you’ll never trip up because that’s the surest way to discourage yourself, but know that when you do fall on your face, God is there waiting to help you up again.

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A Psalm for Thanksgiving

Psalm 106:1-5, 43-48

Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord?
Who can ever praise him enough?
There is joy for those who deal justly with others
and always do what is right.
Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people;
come near and rescue me.
Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones.
Let me rejoice in the joy of your people;
let me praise you with those who are your heritage.

Again and again he rescued them,
but they chose to rebel against him,
and they were finally destroyed by their sin.
Even so, he pitied them in their distress
and listened to their cries.
He remembered his covenant with them
and relented because of his unfailing love.
He even caused their captors
to treat them with kindness.
Save us, O Lord our God!
Gather us back from among the nations,
so we can thank your holy name
and rejoice and praise you.
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
who lives from everlasting to everlasting!
Let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the Lord!

The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

Don’t fight battles that aren’t meant for you

There is no discouragement quite like facing an impossible task, especially if you’re someone who’s used to getting things done. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make progress. The more work you do, the deeper into the hole you go. The more it feels like you accomplish, the more work appears to regenerate.

People talk about money pits. Well, projects can be time pits. Hope pits. Excitement pits. Where no matter how much energy and enthusiasm you pour into a project, it’s never satisfied, and you don’t have enough to keep investing in it. And pretty soon you feel like an empty shell because you’ve poured everything you are into the black hole of your aspirations, and you still haven’t accomplished anything.

Anybody been there? Anybody been at that moment where you just don’t care anymore? The irony is that you’ve convinced yourself that you haven’t accomplished anything, and that’s a complete lie. Because if you were thinking straight, you’d be able to see what you’ve done, and you’d be able to see how good it is. But when you get to that point, everything feels wrong and broken and not worth doing.

So what do you do? How do you handle discouragement on that level, when you can’t escape it and you’re not strong enough to fight it?

black-and-white-person-sport-competitionToday’s verses are Exodus 14:13-14.

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

When I get discouraged, my first reaction is to work harder. If I have the time to feel sorry for myself, I must not be busy enough. Or if I’m feeling like I’m not accomplishing anything, I just need to get more done, and that will fix the problem. Neither of those reactions are helpful or even true. That’s usually why it’s important to have someone close to you around so they can remind you of the truth.

Even the biggest projects can be completed one step at a time. It’s just having the discipline to keep taking one step at a time over and over again until it’s finished. That’s the hard part. And on some days it can feel like all you’re doing is spinning your wheels, and in those moments, discouragement is always hovering close at hand.

But when you start feeling that way, just stop what you’re doing. If you’re discouraged and you keep plugging away at a project to make yourself feel better, just stop. It won’t help you.

If you’re facing a physical problem that’s keeping you from accomplishing your goals, that’s one thing. If you’re facing a financial problem, that’s something else. But discouragement is more than that. Discouragement is spiritual and emotional, and you can’t overcome discouragement by loading yourself down with more work.

When the Israelites were scared, God didn’t want them to do anything but trust Him. He wanted them to stand still and be calm, and He’d take care of the rest. And that’s the lesson I need to learn today.

I have a lot of challenges facing me. There are things I know how to handle. There are things I don’t. A lot of it I’m just making up as I go along. And if I think about it all too much, I get overwhelmed, because I know how little control I have over my own life. I’ve always known that I’m not in control, but this is the first time I’ve tried to embrace it. And it’s harder than I thought it would be, but once I let go, it’s not up to me anymore. Which is funny, because it was never up to me in the first place.

Too many times I try to fight battles I can’t win. I jump into the fray because I want to be useful. I want to help. I want to show God that He can trust me, that He can depend on me, and show Him that I’m willing to do whatever He asks me to do. But what if He’s just asking me to be still? Do I love Him enough to do that for Him? Do I love Him enough to step back when He asks me to? Do I love Him enough to slow down?

Maybe you’re facing an impossible task, and if that’s the case, great. God will help you achieve it, but you have to let God work. If it’s truly impossible, you can’t make it happen. So you have to take a seat and let God do His thing.

You may be watching God work, but God is working. Let Him. And then focus on what He is doing, what you get to be a part of. Once you see it from that perspective, it will be difficult to stay discouraged.

Take the good and learn from the bad

We have an old orchard here are Safe Haven Farm. It’s nothing fancy. Not even close to fancy. It’s just mainly old. But we’ve got apricots and mulberries and pears. But these aren’t nice pears. Oh, no. These are wood pears. Not sure if that’s really what they’re called or not, but that’s what folks around here call them. They’re fibrous and tough and hard as rocks. Seriously, you get conked on the head with one of these pears, and you’ll be nursing a lump for a week or more (ask me how I know).

That being said, if you can get a knife into them to cut out the bad parts, they’ve got really great flavor. So if you don’t mind doing a lot of work (and I mean a lot of work), you can actually end up with some pretty tasty preserves. It’s quite a labor intensive process, but we think it’s mostly worth it. Thankfully, we have a revolutionary thing in our home–a Squeezo. I’m sure I’ve posted about the Squeezo before, but it really makes pear processing so much easier.

It’s awesome because you take the cooked pears, dump them inside the hopper, crank them through, and good pear sauce comes out, while the bad stuff like the fibrous bits and pieces of core come out in a different bowl. It’s really handy because it separates the bad from the good.

The Squeezo machine for processing canned goods

The Squeezo machine for processing canned goods

Today’s verses are Colossians 4:5-6.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds. Eat the chicken around the bones. There’s a lot of idiom about how to get through life, and a lot of it has to do with eating. That isn’t really relevant. Just interesting.

We all know that life is a mixed bag. Sometimes you end up in situations that are half-good. Other times you end up in situations that are mostly bad. But it’s rare that you’re ever in a circumstances that’s truly ALL good or ALL bad. No matter how bad your circumstances may be, you can always find something good about it.

You may be in a really low place today. That’s okay. Everyone has been there (yes, I promise, everyone has been there before). And maybe the only good thing you can find is that God loves you unconditionally, and you know what? If you know God loves you unconditionally, that’s enough good to tackle any bad circumstance, even if that’s the only good thing you know.

Life will throw you curve balls. People will disappoint you. Your job won’t be what you expected. You might be abandoned or betrayed or lied on or disliked, but it’s your choice to focus on those things. Just like processing pears, you’ve got a Squeezo for your life. Not to be cutesy about it, but if you look at your life through the Bible, you’ll get a much clearer picture on what is good and what isn’t.

When God says something is true and right and good, hold on to it. When God says something is wrong, let it go. Just let that lie or that rumor or those hurtful words roll right off into the trash bowl, because they’re not useful for anything except to be thrown away. Focus instead on the good that will come out of the situation–what you’ll learn, what you’ll know, how you’ll be able to better help someone else.

Regardless if the situation you’re facing is good or bad, you can make the most of it with God’s help. Ask God to come alongside you and show you what you’re missing, and He’ll point out ways that you can overcome this circumstance that you’re facing. God’s Word will help you to sort out what’s true and what isn’t, but you have to use it if you want it to work.

Being authentic is about how you listen

When I was a kid, keeping up appearances was pretty normal. Not that you were expected to lie about having a bad day or any of the tough stuff that was going on in life. Not at all. It was just better if you didn’t burden other people with it. That was sort of the general environment of most churches I attended as a younger person. I mean, if you were really having a bad time, you could talk to a pastor or a deacon, but just regular old church-goers didn’t really have the time or the resources to help. That’s just the way it was.

But church in today’s world is a little different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who won’t talk about the difficult things in their lives, but it’s expected now that everyone will be transparent. You walk into a church or a school or a business, and you are who you are. And to a certain extent, that’s somewhat liberating. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to put on a brave face. You can just be yourself.

But what does “being yourself” actually look like? What does it mean? Can you really be 100% transparent with other people, or do you need to draw the line somewhere?

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:14-17.

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Being who you are is more than how you dress or how you speak or how you walk. You are more than the clothes you wear or the food you eat or the places you’ve been or the number of letters after your name or the complexity of your job description. That’s not who you are.

I used to be all about me and what I wanted. And even after I chose to follow Jesus, I still wanted my own way most of the time (sometimes I still do!). But over the years, God’s really taught me that I need to be about Him instead of me. The new life He gave me isn’t focused on what I want or what I need or how I can get the most out of life. No, my New Life is about what God wants me to do and how He wants me to do it.

But does having New Life and being a New Creation mean I shouldn’t talk about my problems? Not at all. One of the reasons why Christ-followers are encouraged (commanded, really) to gather together is to pray for each other, to encourage each other, to help each other. And nobody can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong.

But it does mean that you’re humble. You see your troubles from a new perspective. You see them as lessons that God is allowing you to experience so that you can learn something. And you recognize that God has every right to do whatever He wants with your life, without your permission.

That’s what it means to have faith. Authentic faith.

If you are a Christ-follower, you are new. Period. You aren’t the same person you were yesterday, or you shouldn’t be. God is changing you every day, the longer you follow Him, teaching your heart, teaching your soul, how to live the kind of life He wants. And you’re either listening to Him or ignoring Him.

Authenticity isn’t complaining. It’s not pointing fingers. It’s not getting up in arms about everything you think is unfair in your life. I mean, if that’s where you are right now, that’s fine, and you need to talk about it. And you should be honest about the way you feel. But if you want to be an authentic Christ-follower, be honest about what God is teaching you right now. Maybe it’s a good lesson. Maybe it’s a hard lesson. But you know it’s a lesson, and you know you need to learn it.

If you’re authentic, you’ll accept that you’ve still got a long way to go before you become the person God wants you to be. And you’ll be thankful for how far God has brought you, because you know you’re not the person you used to be. And if you’re struggling to understand why God is allowing you to go through these difficult times, bring it up. Ask someone. Please, please ask someone. Don’t hesitate to find another Christ-follower and tell them about where you are in your life and how you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be willing to listen to a godly answer.

It’s one thing to talk. It’s something else to listen and do something about it.

Dreams are like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has a dream. Granted there are a few who don’t. But the vast majority of people I know have a burning desire in their hearts to accomplish something. Maybe it’s something that’s never been done before, or maybe it’s something that others have already tried. It doesn’t matter if it’s an original idea or a revised one, it won’t leave you alone, and your soul is only quiet when you’re pursuing it.

So what happens when the season of your life prevents you from chasing your dream? What do you do then? You don’t have the money. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. You just can’t make a living and chase your dream at the same time. Or, you can, but some important part of your life will suffer. You can chase your dream at the cost of your spouse or your children. You can chase your dream at the expense of your health. You can do all of those things, but you have to realize what it’s going to cost you.

Instead, wouldn’t it better to let God work things out? Sure, He works on a different timetable. He won’t move as fast as you want Him to, or He’ll move so fast you’ll scramble to keep up. But you’ve got to remember that your dream didn’t appear in your heart by accident. God gave you that dream, and He wants to help you achieve it. It just has to be in His timing and not yours.

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:6.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Dreams start out like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them. They grow a little at a time over the years until they turn into something you can recognize. I mean, after all, plants all look alike when they’re first sprouting. But you can’t tell grass from wheat right away. It takes a little bit of time before you can identify what your dream actually is.

But once you know it, you can start helping it along. Feeding it, caring for it, giving it what it needs so that it can grow bigger and stronger. For me, when I understood that my dream was about writing, I took classes in writing. I practiced writing. I followed other writers and read what they wrote. I fed that dream until it grew big enough that it wasn’t just a vague inclination anymore.

But I hit snag. Even though I’d cared for my dream, it still wasn’t the right time to live it. So I had to do the hardest thing: I had to give it back to God. He’s the One who gave it to me to begin with, but I didn’t want to give it back. It was mine. But I couldn’t help it grow anymore. I had done all I could to make it happen, and it wasn’t enough. God was the only One who could give it life. That took a long time. But I finally got there.

And along the way, I’ve learned the most dreams are the same. God gives them to us, but at some point, we have to be willing to give them back to Him. Without Him, they won’t ever become what they were meant to be. We’re not strong enough to accomplish that. Only God can. And He’s promised that whatever dream you have won’t die. Maybe it will feel like it is because you’re turning loose of it, but that’s not the point.

God just wants you to trust Him. So will you trust Him with your dream? Will you let it go and let Him have it back and trust that He’ll turn it into something bigger and better than you can imagine? Turning it loose won’t kill it. Quite the opposite. Sort of like you, your dream can’t live until it dies first and becomes something bigger.

So turn it over. Whatever it is. You can’t accomplish your dreams alone. They’ll stall and stop and flounder and fail, but if you give them to God, He’ll rejuvenate them. And on the day you least expect it, your dream will show up again with more possibilities and more joy than you thought possible, when God says the time is right.