Life is a series of delayed consequences

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There’s one bathroom in my 100-year-old house. It has a shower, a sink, a toilet, and a linen cabinet, but it’s very small. Basically a little closet off the kitchen. And I’ve been shaving my legs in this bathroom for over 20 years without any trouble. Granted, it usually requires you to be a bit of a contortionist. But without going into any more detail, let’s just say that a few evenings ago I did something uncharacteristically clumsy.

Basically, I fell. I bruised my arm and one of my legs pretty good. I decorated a hip and my tailbone with bruises too. Oh, and the most important part, I smacked the back of my head on the door of the linen cabinet. The knot that swelled on the back of my head was the most impressive thing I’ve felt before. It was the size of my palm.

Head injuries can be a bit scary, but this wasn’t the first time I’d tried to crack my head open (probably won’t be the last either). I still called my mom to make sure I didn’t need to do anything else other than stay awake for a little while and dump ice all over my head.

The funny thing? It didn’t really hurt. Granted, it felt like one of the old cartoons, where Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote got whacked on the noggin and grew a lump tall enough to throw horseshoes at. But it didn’t hurt. I mean, it felt bruised and swollen, but that was it. I had always expected getting banged on the head would hurt a lot.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]I had always expected getting banged on the head would hurt a lot.[/su_pullquote]

After talking to my mom, we decided to leave it alone and see how I was doing in the morning. She planned to call me halfway through the night to make sure I could wake up. And then my roomie came back out for the night too, just to check on me. Because, see, the thing about head injuries is that the real problems don’t always show up immediately. Sometimes the problems don’t show up until later, and by then you’re in big trouble.

I think it’s interesting because head injuries aren’t the only issues we face that have delayed consequences. Actually, living life is a series of delayed consequences.

Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, isn’t the best source for wisdom, but he’s right in what he says in Job 4:8. “My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.” That old adage about reaping what you sow? Delayed consequences. Who you hurt today could hurt you tomorrow. That law you break today might come back to haunt you next week.

Tomorrow’s results depend on today’s actions. But it isn’t always a case of today and tomorrow. Sometimes it’s today and next year. Sometimes it’s today and ten years from now. Or even a lifetime from now. But consequences always roll around, and they will be the results of your actions, bigger and louder than what you started with.

Maybe I smacked my head on a linen cabinet on Sunday, but Monday morning I had more bruises than I did on Sunday. And Tuesday morning I had more sore muscles than I did Sunday. One action. More than one consequence. So don’t you want to make sure your one action is a good action?

[su_pullquote]Everything we do has a reaction, and it’s not equal and opposite. It’s the same and greater. It just doesn’t happen right away.[/su_pullquote]

Always remember that the things you choose to do never result in nothing. Everything we do has a reaction, and it’s not equal and opposite. It’s the same and greater. It just doesn’t happen right away.

So if you’ve done good things, hang in there. Keep waiting for your harvest of good to roll around. And if you’ve done bad things, keep praying, and God will help you get through the consequences. You’ll still have to face them, but you have someone to call for help.

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What’s in your heart is more important than what you do

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We have pear trees at Safe Haven Farm, but they aren’t just any pear trees. They’re wood pears. They’re wicked hard and unbelievably stubborn. Nothing kills these things, and you have to wait until they’re on the edge of being rotten before you can get a knife into them.

I’ve always figured it’s because the trees themselves are so old. The pears are as tough as tree bark because the trees are ancient. At least, the trees are ancient by Kansas standards. Trees don’t always last long around these parts.

But in the last few years, a tree sprang up in the orchard that produced smallish round pears that you could eat straight off the branch. We’re still at a loss as to where the tree came from and why its fruit is so different, but the old trees make me a appreciate the new one.

The Bible has so many stories about farming in it, and it always makes me smile. In Galatians 6:7-8, the Bible says, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.

God set the Laws of Nature in motion when He created the world, and nothing (except Him) can stop them. That means if you plant a pear tree, you’ll get pears. If you plant a wheat field, you’ll get wheat. If you plant green beans, you’ll get green beans. You can’t plant green beans and expect to get strawberries. It just doesn’t work that way.

Life works exactly the same. If you do good things, you’ll receive good things. If you do bad things, you’ll receive bad things. Yes, in some cases, you can do good things and be rewarded with bad things, but the bad things are usually temporary—a preliminary bump in the road on the way to better things.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]But what I’ve learned about following Jesus is that it isn’t really your actions that determine your success.[/su_pullquote]

But what I’ve learned about following Jesus is that it isn’t really your actions that determine your success. Yes, your actions play a huge role. But more important than your actions are your motivations. Why do you do what you do? What is in your heart?

I mean, look at our pear trees. Sure, they’re both pear trees, and they both produce pears. But the old trees give us big, hard, misshapen fibrous chunks of woody fruit. The new tree gives us soft, sweet, juicy fruit. The old pears are perfectly edible. They just take more work to process because you have to cut out all the bad stuff to get to the parts that actually taste like pear.

You can work with the old hard pears, but you have to dig to get to the good stuff. The same is true if you do the right thing with the wrong motivation. Maybe you do what God says is right, and that’s great, but your heart isn’t joyful about it or happy or humble. You’ll get a good result back, yes, because you planted a good seed. But that result will be tainted by your bad attitude. And if you want to do something useful with it, you’ll have to dig out the unhelpful bits.

It’s so much better to do what God says is right with a heart that’s right too. That way, the results you get won’t just be pleasant, they’ll be useful. And you can build on your results right away because you won’t be spending time separating the bad fruit from the good.

It’s important to plant good seeds, so that you’ll harvest a good crop. But even more so, it’s important to plant good seeds with an attitude that’s right. An attitude that recognizes God as Lord and not just God.

God’s Law is a ruler, not a sledgehammer

I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?

God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.

So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?

metric-cmToday’s verses are Romans 5:20-21.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.

But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.

God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.

Seriously. People are a mess.

But God knows that.

Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.

So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.

Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.

Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.

If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.

The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.

God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card

Everybody screws up. It’s just part of life. And when you screw up, you should do what you can to make amends. You should pay what you owe. You should take responsibility for your actions, and often that means facing up to the consequences of your choice.

Maybe you have to pay a fine or fee. Maybe you have to do community service. Maybe it’s something like losing privileges at work or even at home. Either way, it takes a good deal of humility to accept punishment or correction after you’ve done something wrong. It’s a lot easier to play the role of a victim, but if you choose that route, you’ll never learn what you need to learn.

Either way, don’t be surprised when consequences come your way after you make a choice. Good or bad, every action causes a reaction, but unlike physics, consequences are rarely equal or opposite of your original choice. If you make a bad choice, you’ll always face bad consequences, and usually they’ll be on a much larger scale.

So what about grace? If we’re saved and we follow Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’re in the clear? Doesn’t that mean we don’t have to face the consequences for our actions?

3BBC051F8BToday’s verses are Romans 6:14-16.

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 

Christ-followers, we get this whole grace vs. consequences concept all turned around somehow. When Christ saved us from our sins, He freed us from our eternal death sentence in hell. That’s grace. That’s 100% right. If you trust that the price for your soul is paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross alone, you’re saved. Absolutely.

But what happens if you take something that doesn’t belong to you? What happens if you lie or cheat or gossip? Do you think you’ll get away with it? Or when you get caught (because you will get caught), do you think people will just let it go? Do you actually think you won’t have to face some kind of consequence for the bad choices you make?

Because of God’s grace, we won’t face hell if we belong to Christ. But if we choose to sin, we will have to face the results of our choices. Like sowing and reaping. Cause and effect. Action and reaction. It’s a natural law.

We blunder through life making foolish decisions without asking God what’s right. We run over people. We run into people. We hurt others without thinking. We selfishly chase our own ambitions and ignore God’s warnings. We do it our way because our way is easier, faster, more fun. And we end up doing things God says we shouldn’t do. And then we’re shocked when God expects us to take responsibility. We accuse Him of abandonment. We shake our fist at heaven and demand to know why He’s treating us this way.

Friends, God’s grace isn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. We still have a responsibility to live a life that honors Christ. And, no, there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love, but God loves us enough to not let us act in ways that will ultimately lead to our own destruction.

But God is so good. Even in the midst of our own messes, God is still with us. He’ll step in and give us strength to face our consequences. He’ll give us wisdom when we need it, patience when we need it, peace when we ask for it. But that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Are you facing consequences today because you made a wrong choice? Or because someone in your life made a wrong choice? Don’t be a victim. Maybe you are innocent in all of it, but take the opportunity to get humble before God anyway. Accept responsibility. Own up to it. And ask God to help you face the consequences of your actions with faith.

He has never turned anyone away who came to Him truly seeking. He won’t stop now.

Stop trying to hit a ball that’s not in your court

Have you ever made somebody angry? Whether you intended to or not, you hurt someone. What do you do? How do you handle it?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you should take responsibility and ask forgiveness. Period. There’s no hemming and hawing. There’s no rationalization. There’s no trying to get out of it. At least, there shouldn’t be. Own what you did and ask forgiveness.

But what happens if the person you hurt won’t forgive you? What happens if they see your action as unforgivable? What if, despite your trying to make amends to the best of your ability, they still want to hurt you?

bird-sparrowToday’s verses are Matthew 10:26-31.

But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

We live in a difficult world. Hurting people hurt people. That’s just the way it works, and often times we get caught in the middle. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you will hurt the people around you. And the world has gotten so small that you can hurt someone you don’t even know.

The number one thing to remember is that you should never ever automatically assume you are in the right. You’re a flawed, broken human being, and you could be wrong. Granted, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes your actions are justified. Sometimes your choices were the right ones. But not always. And you should never assume that you are blameless, because it’s rarely the case.

When there is blame to be cast, accept it. Don’t shrug it off. Look it in the face and don’t flinch. And do what you can to mend fences (within reason). But once you’ve done your part, step back.

It’s important to understand that not everyone will forgive you. And, this is the part that kills me, not everyone will like you. Some people will just dislike you for no reason you can fix. And even if you do everything in your power to make them like you, they still might not.

Ultimately, following Christ isn’t about whether people like you or not. Following Christ is about living a life that honors Jesus. As much as possible, we’re to live peacefully with people around us, but that won’t be possible in every situation.

You can’t live your life in fear of what people may do to you. Maybe another person is holding something against you, but you can’t control them. You aren’t their Holy Spirit, and they have to make the choice to take their hurt to Jesus instead of piling it all on you. All you can do is humbly ask forgiveness, decide not to repeat your actions, and then get on with your life.

In the end, just remember that God isn’t blind. He knows more about your situation than you do, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. He cares about you. He cares about your problems. He cares about your losses. And if He notices when a sparrow falls, you can be sure your troubles won’t go unnoticed.

Have you done everything you can to make peace? Have you done all God asks to resolve the conflict? Then move forward. The ball isn’t in your court anymore, so stop trying to hit it. God sees the truth, and He’ll work out the details in a way that’s better and more beneficial for both sides. What we have to do is to learn to live without resentment.

Don’t be afraid of what people can do to your body or your finances or your possessions. Everything you have is a gift from God anyway. If it’s taken from you in a way you feel isn’t fair, just trust that the Lord will restore it. You might find out that you didn’t need it as much as you thought in the first place .

A bad choice is bad, regardless of who makes it

Imagine that you’re riding in a car with a friend. When you get in the car, you notice that your friend doesn’t buckle his (or her) seat belt. When he’s driving, he doesn’t use his turn signals. And he goes much faster than the posted speed limit. Are you shocked and surprised when your friend gets pulled over by a police officer? Are you stunned speechless because you could never have imagined your friend in that position?

Come on. Be honest.

No, you’re not surprised. You probably figured it was only a matter of time. Why? Because your friend doesn’t obey the rules of the road. That doesn’t mean he’s not a great friend. It just means that neither he nor you should be surprised by the consequences when they catch up.

Today’s verses are Matthew 7:15-20.

Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

How closely do you really pay attention to what people say and do? Would you recognize a red flag in a relationship if you saw it?

You have to be careful with statements that you can identify a person by their actions or choices, because we are more than what we do and say. But it is true that you can identify wisdom in a person by their choices, just like you can identify foolishness. And that’s what we’re supposed to be looking for.

Bad choices lead to bad consequences. Just like good choices lead to good results. That’s common sense. That’s a law God set in motion from the beginning of time.

Somehow this always comes back around to judging and how we’re not supposed to judge, and that’s true. But what this is truly saying is that you have to keep your brain switched on. You can’t just turn off and accept whatever hair-brained idea your friends suggest. You have to think.

If someone is choosing to do something dumb, identify it for what it is. It’s dumb. And you can’t get smart from dumb. Senselessness never magically produced sense. It doesn’t work that way. Just like a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. Just like foolish choices can’t result in a truly positive outcome.

We all run into people like this in our lives, the ones who say they’re our friends but who really only care about themselves. Be aware of them. Learn to recognize them for what they are–not true friends. And keep your distance. otherwise they’ll drag you into their problems, their consequences, their issues.

All of a sudden, even though you’re just a passenger, you’ll still have to face consequences of your own. A bad choice is a bad choice, regardless of who’s driving or who’s just along for the ride.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How can you stop being angry?

I don’t get angry easily. It takes a special person to really make me mad. I get frustrated, sure. I get snappy, yeah. But angry? Not usually. Unless the situation is just right or (and this is more likely) my current problem is a result of my own actions.

This happened the other day. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say I got mad. I got really mad. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that upset. And the day didn’t get any better. It just kept getting worse. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find a solution. I couldn’t do anything about any of it. And the more I kept messing things up, the more angry I got.

When I get that angry, I tend to shift blame. That’s my first response. Isn’t it everyone’s? It’s not my fault. I’m not the one who such-and-such. Or if he/she would just let me do my job, this wouldn’t have happened. Anyone else ever experience that?

Well, I hate to tell you this, but getting angry about it isn’t the right way to handle it.

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sun setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are James 1:19-21.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

God has some harsh things to say about anger. He doesn’t say it’s wrong. No, anger can be useful at times to stimulate us into action. But anger can rapidly rage out of control, especially when the focus of your anger is wrong.

Don’t ever make anger your first response. Maybe it’s what you feel first, but that doesn’t mean it’s what you have to express first. First, you need to listen. You need to take a deep breath and slow down and refocus. Then, when you’re calmer, pay attention.

In my situation, I was ready to blow up. Seriously. Those of you who know me know how rare that is, but I was totally on the brink. Absolutely ready to chuck it all in the corner and give up completely.

But a nagging little voice at the back of my brain started whispering louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it. The voice kept asking the same question: “Who are you really angry at?”

It’s a good question to ask when you’re angry because most of the time the people we take our anger out on aren’t the people we’re actually even angry with. They’re just convenient targets.

So I took a deep breath. I hid in a quiet place for a little while until I could think straight. I asked God to take the blinder off and give me courage to face the truth.

I was angry at me. Because I was in a situation of my own making. Unwise choices. Consequences. Nothing earth shaking. Just irritating. And absolutely, 100% my fault. No one else’s.

And when God gave me the strength to face that fact, my anger actually went away, and it turned into a fierce desire to make things right again, to never get to that place again, to make the decisions I need to make and act on them immediately.

So who are you angry at today? Who made you angry? Who are you dealing with in your life who you think is the central focus of your anger? Are you sure that’s really the person you’re angry at?

Whoever you’re angry at, figure out a way to sort it out because anger left to simmer gets stronger and hotter as the years go by, and before you know it, that little bitty flame will grow into something you can’t control, a fire that blazes and destroys everything in its path.

Don’t be afraid to discover it’s yourself you’re angry at. Being angry at yourself is actually the best possible outcome because with God’s help, you can change your attitude. And our attitude is usually where everything starts.