Stop seeing your weakness as a failure

The yard at Safe Haven Farm is a mess this morning. It’s so bad we can’t even use the normal back porch door. Instead, we have to come and go through the front door (this is the country; nobody uses the front door). What’s happening? We’re having a new patio installed!

We’re so excited to finally be losing the narrow old porch steps. They were always a tripping hazard, and in the winter time it was even more dangerous. When the new patio is done, we’ll have nice wide steps, a nice wide porch, and a nice patio and curving sidewalk to the driveway. It’ll be beautiful! … But it’s not beautiful right now.

That’s an important lesson about life I need to learn over and over again. When you’re trying to achieve a goal, it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, and usually you have to get your hands dirt. And sometimes cleaning up a mess means you have to make a bigger mess first.

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Following Jesus sounds backwards. Ask an average person off the street if their goal is to be weak, and they’ll probably look at you funny, especially in America. Especially in the Midwest. Around these parts, weakness isn’t something to be celebrated. It’s something to get over.

A storm blows your house down? That stinks. You just build it again. You lose your crop of wheat or corn? Tough potato chips. You get through it and plant against next season. It’s not common to rejoice when things go wrong. It’s not normal to celebrate when you aren’t strong enough to accomplish something on your own.

I struggle with this concept because I don’t like asking for help. Actually, I hate it. I run from store employees before they can ask if I need help finding something. I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I don’t like admitting that I’m incapable of anything. I never have.

So when I run into a problem, I want to fix it immediately. I want to snap my fingers and make it go away, like I think I’m Mary Poppins. But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does following Jesus.

Frankly, when you choose to follow Jesus, you don’t get any stronger. Actually, you learn that it’s okay to be weak, because that’s how you have access to His strength. And His strength is perfect. But when you want to fix things, when you want things your way, on your timetable, it’s hard to back off and let Jesus take over.

Following Jesus is messy business because the world is broken. It’s messier still because I’m messy, and Jesus is still working on me. I’m so thankful Jesus loves messy people, because my life is untangling a strand of Christmas lights. There’s no “easy” solution. You can’t just shake all the knots out. You have to pick the knots apart one at a time, and most of the time it looks like you’re making a worse mess than you had before. But once everything is laid out for Jesus to see, He’ll show you what needs to stay in your life and what needs to go. Then, you can start putting the pieces back together. And you’ll be better for it.

You can’t do it by yourself. You aren’t strong enough. And you know what? It’s okay to not be strong enough. In fact, that’s something to celebrate.

So let’s stop seeing our weakness as failure. Let’s stop seeing our messes as nightmares. And let’s accept them for what they really–growing pains. With Jesus’ help, we’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it on the other side.

Where would you be today without your team?

One of the things I’ve always loved about camping is the teamwork. Everyone has a job to do, and as much as possible (when we were younger) we were given jobs that matched our skills. I mean sometimes you just had to wash the coffee pot out, even if you didn’t drink coffee or didn’t like washing dishes. But it was your turn, and coffee pot needed to be cleaned. By doing your part, you helped the whole team.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers forget that we’re on the same team. We hurt each other by what we say or by what we don’t say. We misunderstand each other. We jump to hurtful conclusions. We take sides. We point fingers and exclaim that if the offender was a good enough Christian, he or she would know better than to behave like that. And we forget about grace and mercy and forgiveness, and that without them, we’re just like those who have no hope. And our little team falls apart.

21503D358DToday’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The whole world doesn’t belong to the same family. We aren’t all children of God by birth. We become children of God when we choose to follow Jesus. When that happens, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you’ve done or where you’re going. You are immediately adopted into God’s family. And that means the Christian who’s sitting next to you in the church pew is your brother or sister, and you’re going to spend eternity with him or her.

That’s great news if you like the Christian sitting next to you. But what if you don’t like them?

Oh, unscrew that halo. There are plenty of Christians in your life that you don’t like. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not a sin to dislike someone. But as a Christ-follower, you are called to love them. Period. There’s no discussion. And love means something a little different than our culture believes. Real Love takes a lot more focus and energy and sacrifice and endurance than what our culture calls love. Real Love is only possible with God’s help.

People fail. Even Christians fail. They will disappoint you. They will hurt you. They’ll reject you and betray you and falsely accuse you. And in the face of all that, you are to love them in return. You are to respond to their anger and hurt and misinformation with grace and peace and patience.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you shouldn’t respond with name calling or rumor spreading. You shouldn’t call names. You shouldn’t lash out with angry accusations. And you shouldn’t threaten. Please, please don’t threaten. Threats never help anyone, and they certainly never deepen a relationship. People who are on the same team should never threaten each other.

Instead of threatening, lashing out, trying to hurt your brother or sister in Christ, think of how to approach them with love. Try to consider how they feel. Think about where they are in their life and what might be causing them to act the way they are.

It’s so easy to misunderstand. Are you willing to destroy another person simply because you assume you know what he or she is feeling? Remember, we’re on the same team. Remember, Christ died for that person too. Remember you aren’t perfect, and you’ve probably made as many or more mistakes than the Christian you’re angry at. Where would you be now if the Christians in your life had just given up on you?

Maybe you’re hurting, but don’t hit back. Believe it or not, the whole situation probably isn’t about you anyway. Hurting people hurt people, and none of us are perfect. It’s up to you whether or not to be gracious.

Just know that God has enough of a sense of humor that if you don’t let it go, He’ll make you be next door neighbors in heaven for all eternity. Wouldn’t you rather sort things out down here before He comes back to get us?

We all need each other. So give teamwork a chance. God’s got us on the same team for a reason.

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.

All day long, I put my hope in you

Psalm 25

O Lord, I give my life to you.
I trust in you, my God!
Do not let me be disgraced,
or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.
No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.
Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth.
Remember me in the light of your unfailing love,
for you are merciful, O Lord.

The Lord is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness
all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.

For the honor of your name, O Lord,
forgive my many, many sins.
Who are those who fear the Lord?
He will show them the path they should choose.
They will live in prosperity,
and their children will inherit the land.
The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.
He teaches them his covenant.
My eyes are always on the Lord,
for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.

Turn to me and have mercy,
for I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
Oh, save me from them all!
Feel my pain and see my trouble.
Forgive all my sins.
See how many enemies I have
and how viciously they hate me!
Protect me! Rescue my life from them!
Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge.
May integrity and honesty protect me,
for I put my hope in you.

O God, ransom Israel
from all its troubles.

Cheer for ones who screw it up because you’re not perfect either

I actually sat down and watched a basketball game on television on purpose last night. In the last three years, this has happened on more than one occasion, mostly because my college, Wichita State University, has a pretty awesome basketball team.

Both teams did a fantastic job, and while I was definitely rooting for the Shockers, I was impressed by the Jayhawks too. The game was great, but something happened that really broke my heart.

It was in the final minute of the game. WSU was going to win. It was unavoidable by that point, but the Jayhawks were still trying to get a basket. And someone on the court (I don’t know who) got in a last-second three-pointer. It was a beautiful shot!

And nobody cheered.

Maybe a few did. But the vast majority of the KU fan base that was in the crowd didn’t cheer at all. Or if they did, I didn’t hear it.

Seriously? One of guys on their team scored a three-pointer at the last second and nobody cheered? Sure, it didn’t win the game. Sure it wasn’t going to help them win the game. But it was still a really impressive shot. Don’t they deserve recognition and encouragement for that?

Maybe it didn’t bother anyone else. But it bothered me. Because I see the same thing happen in our own lives over and over again.

NCAA2015_vanvleet_greeneToday’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

It’s easy to give up on people, isn’t it? It’s so easy to just write people off, because the less you get your hopes up, the less you risk being hurt. And while there is wisdom in distancing yourself from truly foolish people who never learn, God never calls us to give up on anyone.

Just because you think you have it all together doesn’t give you the right to point out the failures in someone else’s life. But for the grace of God, you might be in the same place.

Following Jesus is a process. Yes, when you make the choice to follow Him, your sins are forgiven fully and immediately. That happens all at once. But learning to live for Him? Learning to turn away from your old life and cling to the new one? That takes time. And, unfortunately, it takes falling down frequently.

Maybe you know someone who has screwed up their life. Maybe you know a Christian who has screwed up their life. That doesn’t make them not a Christian anymore. Even the Prodigal Son got screwed up in Luke 15 because He had his eyes on something His Father hadn’t intended for him, but that didn’t mean he was no longer a son. He started in the Father’s family, and when he came to his senses, the Father was waiting for him.

Christians are going to screw up. We’re going to fall flat on our faces because we’re human and we’re not perfect. When that happens, it’s our responsibility to repent. We need to change our thinking and recognize that what we’ve done is wrong and not what God wants for us. That’s part of being a Christian. But the last thing a Christian who’s stumbled needs is another Christian refusing to support them because they’ve messed up.

No, don’t deny the sin. Call it what it is. And don’t make excuses for their choices. They had a choice, and they made it. But if they’ve turned away from it, if they’ve changed their mind about that behavior, don’t keep rubbing it in their face. God has forgiven them. Why can’t you?

Instead, encourage them. Remind them how much God loves them. Remind them what it means to cling to God’s grace. Tell them what God has done in your own life, and love them unconditionally–the same way Jesus loves you. And when they make a choice that will bring glory and praise to God, cheer them on.

No, one good choice can’t make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done in the past. But the same is true for you, Christ-follower. Maybe they lost the battle, but that doesn’t mean they should give up. Just like you shouldn’t give up on them.

Do you know someone who’s struggling? Do you know a Christian who has completely screwed up his or her life? Are they doing all they can to follow God? Cheer them on.

They might have lost a battle, but the war isn’t theirs to win anyway. And it’s not yours either.

Pink flower at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

A Psalm for a tough day

Pink flower at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Pink flower at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Psalm 86:1-13

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer;
answer me, for I need your help.
Protect me, for I am devoted to you.
Save me, for I serve you and trust you.
You are my God.
Be merciful to me, O Lord,
for I am calling on you constantly.
Give me happiness, O Lord,
for I give myself to you.
O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive,
so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.
Listen closely to my prayer, O Lord;
hear my urgent cry.
I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble,
and you will answer me.

No pagan god is like you, O Lord.
None can do what you do!
All the nations you made
will come and bow before you, Lord;
they will praise your holy name.
For you are great and perform wonderful deeds.
You alone are God.

Teach me your ways, O Lord,
that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
so that I may honor you.
With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God.
I will give glory to your name forever,
for your love for me is very great.
You have rescued me from the depths of death.

Northern England / Southern Scotland on the way to Hadrian's Wall

The wait is worth it

Anyone who tells you life isn’t about waiting is lying. Some days, it feels like that’s all life is. Waiting. When you’re a kid, you are waiting for the day you can drive a car. When you’re old enough to drive, you’re waiting for the day you’re “grown up enough” to live on your own. When you’re out on your own, you’re waiting for the right person so you don’t have to be alone. You get the idea. But it seems to work that way in our walk with Christ too.

He leads. We follow. But He doesn’t always lead where we expect Him to, and He never moves on our timetable. Never. It’s either too slow for us or too fast, and we have to learn to wait. We have to learn that waiting is worth it.

Northern England / Southern Scotland on the way to Hadrian's Wall

Northern England / Southern Scotland on the way to Hadrian’s Wall

Today’s verses are Hebrews 6:11-15.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance. For example, there was God’s promise to Abraham. Since there was no one greater to swear by, God took an oath in his own name, saying: “I will certainly bless you, and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.” Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.

What’s one thing you’re waiting on right now? I bet you have more than one. But I know you’re waiting on something. You’ve probably been waiting on it for a while too. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering why you have to wait so stinkin’ long. It’s just a simple yes or no, isn’t it?

In those moments when you get tired of waiting, on those days when you’re ready to give up because it just doesn’t feel like God is going to do anything, think about the stories in Scripture. The example today is Abraham, and he’s a great example. But he’s not the only one.

God made promises to Abraham. Ridiculous, impossible promises. And Abraham had to live a good deal of life before he even got to see some of those promises kept. And–just being brutally honest here–he didn’t actually live ( on Earth) to see all of God’s promises realized.

Even so, Abraham lived believing that God would keep His promises. He endured all sorts of trouble, holding on to God’s Word. And I know that when we meet him in eternity, Abraham will still believe it was worth it. All the pain, all the doubt, all the fear, all the uncertainty and unknowns–don’t think it’s only in today’s modern world that we face such things. People haven’t changed that much in 8,000 years.

God kept every promise He made to Abraham, even though Abraham didn’t always hold up his end of the bargain. And aren’t we thankful? Because all of us are in the exact same boat.

God has made so many promises to us, and He will keep them. Because He’s God. That’s what He does. And we need to remember that even when it doesn’t feel like He’s keeping up His end. He is. It just isn’t going to look like we think it should look.

What are you waiting on today? Don’t despair. You may have to sit still, but God is never still. He’s always working on something. And there are no better hands to leave your problems in. He has unlimited resources, unlimited time, and unlimited love, and He wants what’s best for you.

So what’s a few weeks? What’s a few years in the face of that kind of opportunity? Enjoy the downtime. Soak up the quiet. Use the time you’ve got in the interim to get to know Him better, because I promise, when He’s ready for you to stop waiting, you’re going to hit the ground running, and you won’t slow down.

He’s got it. Stop worrying. He knows what He’s doing, and He is good. Truly, truly good.