You can build on the truth

Life is nuts. Or is it just me? Maybe I only spend time with super busy people, but it feels like everyones’ lives are spinning out of control in the chaos that is our world. We have less time to produce, less time to rest, less time for family, less time for friends, less time for everything in our lives, yet somehow, in spite of working harder and longer than any other civilization in history, we get less done.

The American Dream? Right. It’s a Ferris wheel, spinning around and around and going nowhere. That’s how life feels most days. I don’t mean to be a downer, but can anyone else identify with this feeling?

Chaos. Futility. Constant exhaustion and the overwhelming certainty that you’ll amount to nothing but failure at the end of your life, regardless of how hard you work.

A kitten at Safe Haven Farm giving me a dirty look

A kitten at Safe Haven Farm giving me a dirty look

When I find myself sinking into that mindset, it’s time for a walk. I need to get away from my computer, get out of my own head, and go somewhere else, a place where I can recognize what’s really true and what really isn’t. For me, that’s outside on our patio with a kitten in my lap. For you, it may look different (although you should never discount how soothing the interaction with an animal can be).

Regardless, you have to stop moving. You have to stop thinking. You have to be still. Only when you’re still can you truly let your brain process, otherwise it’ll keep running in the background.

Once I’m still, then I can think. Then, I have to go back to basics.

What do I know for sure?

So much of what I worry about and stress over are unknowns. They’re the things I can’t control, the outcomes I can’t manipulate, the opinions I can’t change. No, none of that is my responsibility, but that doesn’t stop me from freaking out about it. And once I start thinking about all those things, I wind myself up into a ball of nerves and frustration, and before I know it, I’m snapping at people and just feeling generally angry. Then, whatever productivity I might have had goes out the window.

If you can’t identify things you are sure of, there might be something else going on. But I’m willing to bet that everyone knows the grass is green. Everyone knows the sky looks blue. Everyone knows gravity is constant, or at least constant enough to keep us from being flung off this spinning dirtball into the void.

Basics.

The sun will set tonight. It will rise tomorrow. And you can’t do anything to stop it either way. In one minute, sixty seconds will have passed. You need to drink water, or you’ll end up dehydrated. You need to eat, or you’ll starve. And everyone needs hugs, even people who don’t think they do.

What are the basics you know?

ps46-1-3I also know that God is in control. I know God is good. I know He has never promised to leave me. He’s promised to work all the crap in my life out for good, to bring glory to His name and to provide a beautiful future for me. I know He has my best interests in mind and that He’s the only one big enough to weave all the disjointed strings of my life into a masterpiece.

Maybe you don’t know all that. And that’s okay. But I do. There’s no promise that God has made to me that He hasn’t kept. He’s always there. He always keeps me on track. And everything I do, I want to do for Him, because He’s the only one who can make everything work out.

Those are my basics. Those are my certainties. That’s bedrock, where I start building again. Life and the world and people and circumstances can knock down everything I’ve built (and they have), but nothing can touch that foundation. Lord willing, nothing will.

There are several times in the Bible where God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” He says it so many times, and I don’t know why it’s so easy to forget. But if we can just remember to be still—to stop moving and thinking and running ahead—and remind ourselves who God is and what He’s promised, life won’t feel so chaotic anymore.

Because once you know one truth, you can build on it. Because rock is solid, storms won’t move it. Because storms won’t move it, you can build on it. Because you can build on it, you can restore what you lost.

Because God is God, we can trust Him. Think about what you can build on that truth.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Psalm 46:1-3

Life is nuts, but God is good. And even if it doesn’t feel like it, He’s got it all under control. So stop chasing your tail. Take a minute. Remember who He is, and if you don’t know who He is, learn. Then, ask Him for help. He won’t turn you away, and He won’t ignore you, not if you truly come to Him for help. He may not give you the answer you want, but if you really trust Him, you’ll do what He says.

Life as a headless chicken

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]M[/su_dropcap]y solid old farmhouse is more than 100 years old. That may not mean much to folks in the northeastern United States or my dear friends in England, but in Kansas, it’s a big deal. It’s the perfect sanctuary for writing. I turn on my music and hammer out words by the tens of thousands and feel good about myself. The trouble comes when somebody needs me.

My office is on the second floor at the south of the house. The only stairwell is on the north. There are several solid wood doors between us, and if it’s summer time, I also have a window air conditioner running. There’s so much noise, I can’t hear when anybody shouts up at me. I can’t even hear my cell phone ring. So if anyone wants to get my attention, they have to walk up the stairs, throw my office door open, and throw things at my head.

It’s a chore to get my attention sometimes. But that’s true even when I’m sitting in a quiet environment.

One of my favorite television shows, Longmire (based on the brilliant book series by Craig Johnson), has an episode called “An Unquiet Mind” where we get a peek inside the main character’s tumultuous thoughts. His mind is never quiet. He’s always thinking about something, and that’s how I feel most times.

Do you ever feel like that? Like your brain is so noisy that you can’t get a word in edgewise?

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Here in America, we’re expected to live busy, crowded, noisy lives. That’s what it means to be American, isn’t it?[/su_pullquote]

My mind is never silent. It’s not chaotic. Not usually. But it sure is loud in there most of the time. I’m thinking about what I have to do today, what I have to do tomorrow, what I have to do next week, next month, next quarter. I’m worrying about friends and family. I’m fretting about the dwindling decimals in my bank account. I’m thinking about bills that need paying, chores that need doing, meetings that need scheduling, manuscripts that need editing, blog posts that need writing, etc.

We weren’t meant to live like that. That’s not how God designed us to function, in spite of what those around us might say. Here in America, we’re expected to live busy, crowded, noisy lives. That’s what it means to be American, isn’t it?

But is that how we were meant to live?

We’re not supposed to be lazy. We’re not supposed to sit back on our blessed assurance and live a life only reacting to trauma and disaster. But we’re certainly not supposed to live life like headless chickens either.

So how do you prevent being dragged into the chaos of life and still manage to get things done? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

peachy-divider

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] underestimate the value of silence. Silence isn’t something I’ve ever truly appreciated until recently. Silence always meant that something was wrong or someone was waiting on me. And I hate it when people are waiting on me. But it’s difficult to find an instance in the Bible where silence is considered negative.

Sure, there’s all sorts of Psalms begging God not to be silent, but most of the time, silence is a good thing. Proverbs says over and over again that even fools are called wise when they shut up (Proverbs 17:28). Fast forward to the New Testament and James encourages people to make listening the priority rather than speaking (James 1:19).

Silence is hard to find, both externally and internally. But it’s something we should strive for, because—like it or not—Someone is trying to get our attention.

God talks to us every day. He makes Himself known every moment. The whole world has no excuse for ignoring God. But for those of us who know the Bible, we who’ve been raised in it from cradle to pew, how can we possible explain ourselves? Burying our lives in chaos? Drowning ourselves in anxiety and noise?

God’s calling us. He’s shouting at us, waving His arms in desperation, trying to catch our eyes.

Pay attention! Listen to what I’m saying! I’m here, and I’ve always been here, and I’m not leaving you. Not ever. I’ve done everything to prove Myself to you. Why aren’t you listening?

[su_pullquote]God’s calling us. He’s shouting at us, waving His arms in desperation, trying to catch our eyes.[/su_pullquote]

We don’t have to succumb to the tidal waves of stress and exhaustion the world (and even the church) sends in our direction. We don’t have to fear what’s coming tomorrow or in November or in ten years. God’s in control. He knows what He’s doing. He never makes mistakes. He always keeps His promises. And all we have to do is trust Him.

Yes, easier said than done, but nothing worth having was ever easy to achieve.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Revelation 3:20

rev3-20Is your life so noisy you can’t hear Him? Is your life so busy you can’t see Him? Then something should change. Maybe it’s the way you live. Maybe it’s the way you think. But something’s got to give, because you weren’t made for this.

Don’t let yourself get so mired in noise and the craziness of life that you can’t hear Jesus calling you. It’s easy to get there. Believe me. But you don’t have to stay there. Climb out if you can. Ask for help if you can’t. Just get out. Open your ears. Open your heart. Listen.

Jesus is knocking. Can you hear him?

The difference between stillness and effectiveness

Colorado has lots of beautiful lakes and streams and creeks, and many people who go out to camp bring boats and kayaks and rafts. We didn’t. If we’d had room, maybe. But I don’t go to the lakes to boat or kayak. I go to take photos. There’s an old family legend about a specific lake in Colorado, Taylor Reservoir–a photograph my dad took many moons ago. The world was so still that the Collegiate Mountains with all their trees and the sky and the moon were reflected perfectly in the waters. Dad snapped a photo of it on his old film camera, but in trying to get the image reproduced again, he lost both the negative and the only print of it (conspiracy theories, anyone?).

In any case, none of the lakes we visited in Colorado this time were still enough to take a breathtaking photograph of. The breezes were strong enough to toss the waters and obscure the reflection. It was still beautiful, but I would have loved to be able to see the mountains reflected perfectly.

Mirror Lake near Tincup, CO

Mirror Lake near Tincup, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 46:10.

Be still, and know that I am God!
    I will be honored by every nation.
    I will be honored throughout the world.

When God says to be still, immediately my brain jumps into defensive mode. Still? I can’t be still. I have too much work to do. So I brush it off and continue running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and before I know it, I’m more stressed and more frantic than I was before. And surprisingly I haven’t gotten as much done as I wanted because I can’t focus.

I make the mistake of confusing being still with being effective. Being still isn’t sitting around doing nothing. Being still is living at peace with God, trusting that God has it under control, and taking steps to take care of yourself in the mean time. That means taking a Sabbath. That means eating right and caring for the body God gave you. Being still is a lifestyle, and it has nothing to do with sitting around. It just isn’t being frantic all the time.

When you’re still, you can catch reflections. Like the waters in the lakes of Colorado reflect the image of the mountains and the sky, we can reflect the image of God to people around us. But if we’re running like busy crazy people all the time, God’s image is obscured. All people will see is our own craziness and not God’s power.

When we’re still, we can reflect God’s peace into other peoples’ lives. When we’re still, we can focus on what matters. We can see clearly because our vision isn’t clouded with anxieties or insecurities that we have no control over. And all of that makes us more effective in general.

So don’t fall for the lie that being still means you won’t accomplish anything. Actually, being still and focusing on God will help you accomplish more than you would otherwise. And, what’s more, you’ll be able to portray a beautiful picture of God to the world around us. People will see Him in you. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway?

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

This world has nothing for me

God created this world for us to enjoy, and some days I really do love it. Like yesterday. Yesterday was beautiful. Spring is finally deciding to show up here in Kansas, and yesterday was almost picture perfect (except for the 30 mph winds). On days like yesterday, it can be difficult to remember that the world is broken.

The world has so many beautiful things in it, and it’s so tempting to want to live for those things. But we need to remember that everything we see is temporary and it’s the invisible things that will last forever.

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Beautiful green wheat around Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:14.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the world has no power over us. We have a choice. We don’t have to live for the world. We can live for Him instead. After you meet Christ, what can the world offer you to compare to Him?

But if that’s the case, why do so many Christ-followers end up stuck back in the world again?

I can’t speak for any of them, but I find myself being drawn back to the world’s way of doing things when I get too busy. When I’m so busy I can’t keep track of anything, I forget the things that matter. I have to focus on what’s right in front of me, and most of the times that’s something temporary.

This is what I need to remember. Even when I’m busy, I can still make my decisions based on God’s eternal principles instead of the world’s temporary guidelines. What God says is right is right all the time. It doesn’t change, just like Him. And if I live my life according to what He says is right, my life will be more consistent than if I tried to follow what the world says is right.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I don’t have to listen to the world. I have another option. The world has nothing in it for me. I don’t care about anything the world says is important because the world doesn’t understand what really matters.

It’s just up to me to keep my focus where it needs to be. It’s up to me to make choices based on God’s truth rather than the world’s convenience. It’s easier to go with the flow, especially when you’re busy, but in the long run, you’ll find the road is a lot less bumpy if you follow God’s directions instead of the world’s.

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Knowing what matters and what doesn’t

Do you ever wonder what happened to our joy as a culture? Americans used to be pretty happy folks, and anymore I just don’t think that’s the case. But you can leave the U.S. and go to another country, like a third-world country, and you would be shocked because the people living there are happy. And they have nothing. But here in the U.S.? We have everything. We have more than everything. We have every toy imaginable, every tool you could ever need, and more food than we could ever eat–but we still try.

So why aren’t we happy? Why aren’t we content? And what has to happen for us to change?

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:9-11.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

I’ve posted many times on the difference between joy and happiness, and I recently learned that in the actual language of scripture the words actually mean the same thing. What’s different is where the concepts put their roots. In other words, happiness derived from circumstances can change, so if you are happy because your circumstances are happy, it won’t last. But happiness derived from knowing Christ is solid and strong and unchanging, and even if your circumstances change, God doesn’t. And that’s why, as believers, we can be happy even if our situation isn’t.

But how do we get there?

According to the text, the Church at Philippi was in a pretty good place, but they still had growing they could do. Paul wanted them to keep growing. They had love, but he wanted them to have more love. He wanted them to keep studying so that they could learn more about God and know Him more. He wanted them to understand what really mattered.

So what really matters? Apparently the Church at Philippi needed to grow in love and knowledge and understanding of God before they could grasp it. And the result, once they did grasp it, would be a pure and blameless life. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty good to me. A pure and blameless life full of love, understanding and knowledge sounds like something I could be happy about.

So here’s the deal. If we want that kind of life, we have to understand what matters. And once we understand what matters, I think it will make a huge difference in our level of happiness too. Because we’re all so caught up in things that don’t matter we’ve forgotten how to be happy.

Look at your schedule today. Identify something you plan to accomplish that will produce results beyond right now. I’m willing to bet that the majority of our schedules aren’t filled with events that will change eternity. I mean, look at my list: work, laundry, dishes, housecleaning. I know what I plan to do today. And none of it will produce something eternally significant.

Or will it?

I’m going to work today. I have a job, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. But at the end of the day, it’s just a job. It’s something God has given me that allows me to provide for myself and others financially. But in the grand scheme, the job itself doesn’t matter. What matters is the people there. What matters are the relationships I’ve built. So what if I don’t get a raise? So what if I don’t get the position I wanted? So what if I have to skip lunch once in a while in order to get my projects done? It’s just a job, but the way I react to it will allow me to have an impact for Christ on the people around me. And that does matter. Because when the day is over, the job will still be there; but the people around me might not be.

And if we take that perspective with everything in our lives, I think our attitudes might change a little. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a vacation to one of the coasts, we all have stuff going on, but in those events you have to identify the aspects that matter. And how do we do that?

Well, the things in our lives that matter are the things that matter to God. The little unimportant things are necessary sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we have to dwell on them. And that doesn’t mean they have to take up more time than their level of importance deserves.

You want to be happy? I believe this is the first step. Understand what’s important to God and make that a priority in your life. Stop spending so much time and energy on the details that don’t matter. Stop fretting over pieces of your life that won’t make a difference in eternity. Identify what really matters and what really doesn’t. And let the other stuff go.

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Slow down!

Autumn is here, at long last, and we in south central Kansas are hovering on the line between the first hard freeze and the continued suffering of allergies. Fall is my favorite season. It’s not too hot; it’s not too cold; and you have the excuse to eat a warm pumpkin-something with every meal. But it’s also a difficult season because the chill in the air and the joy of being outside brings on this desire to hang out with people, to host parties, to attend get-togethers. Fall brings this strange need to commit to more than you can accomplish. Maybe no one else experiences this, but I do. Every fall. And I don’t really have any intention of changing that because … well … that’s fall.

But even though I will probably continue to bite off more than I can chew from late September through December, today’s verse (and last night’s message at church) reminded me that one thing I don’t have to do is worry about it.

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 64:4.

For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!

Stress makes everything worse, especially when you’re busy. But stressing out over things you can’t control is a waste of time, energy and resources. Now … if I really have said yes to more commitments than are possible, it’s my responsibility to back out of one of them, if I were honest. But I haven’t hit saturation yet (wait til Christmas gets here!).

We shouldn’t worry or be anxious. It’s tempting. Oh boy, is it tempting. But when we feel the worry creeping up on us, we need to hand it off to God. Why?

As today’s verse says, God works for those who for Him. It’s not our job to run around fixing all our own problems and trying to fix the problems that are beyond us anyway. It’s our job to wait on Him.

Our God wants to help us. Do you get that? Can you wrap your head around that concept? I can’t. It’s amazing. It’s huge. That the God who spun Jupiter in orbit, the One who filled up our oceans and invented the idea of seeds and harvest, would want to take His time and His resources and His energy and invest in my life? Wow.

There no other gods like Him.

What can our idols do? What can our petty little celebrities do? What can our vaunted politicians scrambling for national power do? What can our religious leaders do? What can you do? What can I do?

Nothing compared to Him.

So don’t be anxious. There’s no one like Him, and He works for those who wait for Him.

Don’t worry. Wait.

And while you’re waiting, enjoy life. I get so busy rushing rushing rushing that I forget to be thankful so many times. I forget to pay attention to the sun rise or the moon or the stars or the steam coming off my cup of tea or coffee. I forget to be thankful for all the awesome things He’s given me. I get so focused on what I think is important while I’m rushing that I forget to pay attention to what really matters: Him. And what He’s done for me. And being thankful.

Does waiting require that you slow down?

Yeah. But it’s worth it. Because when you slow down, life comes into perspective. And those of you who rush like crazy (like me) to accomplish things because you think you’ll run out of time, guess what? You won’t. Most of the time, if you slow down and do it right, you’ll actually accomplish more than you would have if you were rushing. Maybe when you rush through something, you’ll finish faster, but what for? So you can find something else to worry about or rush through?

No. Slow down. Stop and smell the roses. Or the coffee. Or the Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin candle from Bath & Body Works (ahhhhh!).

Stop. Wait. Be thankful.

We weren’t designed to rush through life. We are made to enjoy what God has given us. So let’s enjoy it and be thankful and let Him sort out the details.