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.

Your spiritual gift is worth more than a plate of cookies

As I’ve stated in many other posts, I love giving people things. I love giving gifts. Birthdays. Christmas. Anniversary. Just because. There’s nothing better than to show up unexpectedly and deliver a present to someone just for the heck of it. Anyone else ever been there?

It’s a great trait to have, sure, but it can be a double-edged sword too. What if you don’t have enough money to purchase gifts? What if you don’t have time to make something intricate and beautiful? Can you still go see people if you don’t bring a gift? Maybe that sounds silly, but that’s one of those silly little fears that pop up at the back of my head. I can’t just show up at somebody’s house or workplace without something give, can I? That’s rude, isn’t it?

What I need to remember (and everyone like me) is that the best gifts you can give aren’t always wrapped up in boxes and ribbons. Sometimes, the best gift you can offer is your time and your perspective on following Jesus.

wood-light-brown-dessertToday’s verses are Romans 1:11-12.

For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

In my life, I’ve never longed to visit anyone to bring a spiritual gift. Have you? This is Paul talking to the Church at Rome, though, so if Paul can talk like this, it’s most likely something we should pay attention to.

Paul is this legendary figure in my mind, so it’s hard to remember that he had nothing. He traveled from one corner of the continent to the other. He didn’t have a home or family. He didn’t have possessions really. So of course he had no tangible gifts to bring people. But what he could bring to share with others was the spiritual gift God had given him.

I don’t take my spiritual gifts seriously often enough. If you’re a Christ-follower, you have one too, and God has given them to us so that we can enrich and encourage the Body of Christ, the Church. So what if you don’t have time to make cookies? So what if you don’t have enough money to buy something nice? The gift of your time and your care and your love is worth more than you might think.

What I also love about this is how Paul states that he wants to visit to encourage the people of the Church at Rome but that he also needs encouragement too. If Paul can admit to needing encouragement, heck–I’m right there with him.

So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t give someone a gift. And absolutely don’t let your perceived lack of something prevent you from spending time with other believers. Don’t underestimate the power of the spiritual gift God has given you. He can use you to bless people ten times more than a plate of cookies could. You just have to let Him.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion

I’m a fairly emotional person, but I decided at a young age that I didn’t trust them. So I always try to make decisions based on what I know rather than what I feel, and that has served me pretty well over the years. There are some biblical precedents for living that way too. But what do you do with all your emotions? Because we all have them, even if we’d like to deny it.

God created us with emotions for a reason, and maybe we can’t always trust the way they make us feel, but they’re a part of our lives, for better or worse. The problem I run into is that I don’t take care of my emotions. I ignore them. I push them down and cover them up. And that might work for a limited amount of time, but eventually they’ll get out of hand. When my emotional batteries drain down to zero, that’s when I implode, and I usually take a few people down with me.

Managing emotions isn’t about ignoring what we feel. That’s just asking for trouble. Instead, it’s learning to recognize what is worth investing in emotionally, and it’s taking the proper time to rest after you’ve been through an emotionally draining experience.

6T45YAK7M1Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-30.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

This passage has a couple of different meanings, all of which are probably relevant to the average 21st Century Christian’s life. Jesus is mostly talking about the weight of religion and religious rituals that cause stress and exhaustion. Following Jesus isn’t religion. It’s not jumping through hoops or putting on a show so that God will be pleased with your performance. Jesus just asks you to come as you are and follow Him, believe in Him, trust Him, and live like He did. And it’s not a matter of performing or getting a perfect score or wearing the right clothes or knowing all the answers. None of that stuff matters.

Trying to do everything right all the time is exhausting. Trying to keep up appearances all the time wears you out. It’s a never-ending dance that you will keep trying to do for the rest of your life, and you’ll never succeed. That’s not the life Jesus has called us to.

But the meaning of this passage goes beyond just freedom from religion. In the Amplified Version, where it says that “you’ll find rest for your souls” it actually means “renewal and blessed quiet.” Following Jesus means that your soul will be refreshed. You’ll find peace in following Jesus, far beyond what any perfect performance can bring.

Jesus knows that we’re emotional creatures. We were created that way, and it’s not wrong to feel. Yes, our emotions can get the better of us when we stop focusing on what God says is true, but as long as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, we can manage our feelings with wisdom. But even then, you’re going to wear yourself out. The emotional stress of the day is going to take it’s toll, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, and if you don’t take the time to recharge your batteries, you’re going to be running on empty when the sun rises tomorrow.

It’s okay to feel. It’s not wrong. Just be sure that what you’re feeling aligns with God’s Word, and if it doesn’t, take steps to make it right. If what you’re feeling doesn’t match up with what God says is right, shut it out. Don’t think about it. Don’t focus on it. Do what you can to change the way you think, and you will change the way you feel.

Following Jesus isn’t about emotional exhaustion. Jesus never asks us to work ourselves to death. That’s the farthest thing from what He wants. Yes, there are hard choices to make. Yes, following Jesus sometimes means you’ll go through dark times. But you can go through darkness and challenging circumstances and still be emotionally healthy.

So are you feeling rundown today? Run to Jesus. Go tell Him what you’re feeling and let Him take that heavy burden off your shoulders. He’ll replace it with one that’s a lot lighter, and He’ll show you how to find rest and peace in Him.

When things don’t go your way, get excited

You don’t always get what you want. It’s one of those life lessons we learn at an early age, usually when birthdays or Christmases come around. You know what I mean.

Even if you’re overwhelmingly grateful for the gifts you receive, if someone has totally guessed wrong, it’s a little sad. One year, a relative gave my brother bedsheets for Christmas. And it’s not that he wasn’t thankful for the sheets. He needed them. But for Christmas? When you’re like 7 or 8?

It’s a good lesson to learn, though, to be thankful for what you’re given, even if it isn’t what you wanted. It’s good to learn it early because that’s a lesson that doesn’t change as you age. Most of the time, you aren’t going to get what you want out of life. So decide how you’re going to handle it now.

christmas-xmas-gifts-presentsToday’s verses are James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

I have a lot of plans. I want a lot of things. But what I want is rarely what I end up getting, and that’s okay with me. God isn’t keeping me from achieving my goals or hitting my deadlines because He wants to make me miserable. He isn’t holding back all the things I want because He’s mean. If He holds anything back, it’s because He’s got something better in mind. If He prevents me from hitting a deadline or making a goal that I think is important, it’s because He’s got something bigger planned.

God never intends for us to go without. He never wants us to have less than we need. But if we want to have all the things He’s promised for us, we’ve got to get on board with Him. We’ve got to follow His plan. We’ve got to get on His schedule, because He’s the one who can make things happen. So that means we have to start living life by His rules and seeing life through His eyes.

That means we rejoice when we don’t get our way. That means we get excited when we have to work harder to achieve something we thought would be easy. That means we leap for joy when someone makes like tough for us.

It goes against everything we feel, I know. When we hit tough times, it’s tempting to want to sulk, but don’t give into that mindset. That’s not an attitude God can bless.

So the next time you don’t get your way, thank God for it. It won’t feel natural, and that’s okay. It isn’t.

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.

A lifestyle that’s for the birds

Yesterday, a friend and I went hopping all around Wichita scouting locations for some photoshoots that will be featured on the next year’s catalog of books from Crosshair Press, and we found ourselves in the renovated jungle exhibit at the Zoo. Seriously, if you’re in the Wichita area, you must go to the Zoo. It’s amazing.

But as we were walking around, I kept hearing this one particular bird. Now, the jungle exhibit is packed full of birds. There are always birds singing. But this one bird? My goodness. That sucker had a set of lungs. And I had no idea where it was until it landed on the post right in front of me, and I snapped this photo.

Imagine. Being a bird. You eat. You sing. You hop around and look pretty. And that’s about all you’re responsible for. No wonder birds sing all the time. That’s got to be the greatest life! No worries at all!

Know what? That’s the kind of life you can have too.

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Really loud bird singing his heart out at the Tropics exhibit (Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS)

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:26-27.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

I always think of this verse when I hear birds singing. Birds are carefree because they don’t have to worry about anything. But it’s not that birds have nothing to worry about. They just know they don’t need to.

People are a different story. We have the ability to worry, so we take advantage of it. We think about what we’re going to eat. We think about what we’re going to wear. We think about what we’re going to drive. We think, think, think all the time, and when we discover that most of the things we think about are out of our control, we worry.

Stop right there. That’s not the life we were designed for. I’m talking to myself here, because worry is one of my besetting sins. I don’t talk about it out loud, but inside I’m usually a mess of anxiety and nerves about something. And in my brain I know that worrying is silly, but I can’t seem to help myself.

So it was a joy yesterday to run into this little fellow singing his little birdy head off. A great reminder that birds don’t worry about tomorrow because they’re trusting God to take care of it. God is trustworthy. He’s never let them down, and He never will. So why stress?

That should be our lives. That should be my life.

I belong to Jesus, but it’s a daily choice to follow Him and live the way He would. Sometimes is less of a choice and more of a battle. But regardless, God has promised to take care of me and provide for me and help me. He’s made the same promise to the birds, and He’s never let them down. He’s never let me down either. And He won’t let you down.

So that think you keep worrying about? Let it go. And when you start worrying about it again? Let it go again. Sing a song instead of worrying. Turn your praise music up as high as it will go and sing at the top of your lungs. Tell God how great He is and get on with your day.

It works for the birds. It’ll probably work for us too.

It’s not up to us to find a way to provide for our future

The momma cat here at Safe Haven Farm caught a big, fat mouse for her remaining kittens the other day. She brought it up into the yard so that her kittens could chase it around and learn how to hunt. The kittens are getting pretty big now, but they still rely on their mom to provide a lot of what they eat. I couldn’t help but think about how that compares to my life following Jesus.

It’s easy to get caught up in what we have and what we don’t have in our lives. In a culture like ours that is constantly focused on having the latest and greatest material possessions, it can be difficult to remember that the best things in our lives were given to us, entrusted to us for safekeeping. We don’t really own anything of real value. You know that, right?

I mean, you can work for your paycheck. You can earn a living. You can buy a house and so on and so forth, but you didn’t make any of that. God made it before you did, and He chose to give it to you for safekeeping. Your life, your family, your home, your savings–all of it belongs to Him, whether you admit it or not. So if He’s been good enough to give you everything He’s already given you, why do you doubt that He’ll continue to give you good things in the future?

Amelia Pond bringing a captured mouse to feed her kittens, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Amelia Pond bringing a captured mouse to feed her kittens, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 84:10-12.

A single day in your courts
is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.
He gives us grace and glory.
The Lord will withhold no good thing
from those who do what is right.
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
what joy for those who trust in you.

I guess for me it’s not that I doubt God will give me good things. It’s that I doubt His definition of good. No, I don’t really doubt it. Just sometimes it scares me. What God says is good is absolutely good, yes, but living Good according to God in this world is hard work. It’s not easy.

God is good. Period. So everything He does is good. We can all believe that 100%. But being good and doing good doesn’t happen automatically, not in our broken, sinful states. It’s a choice we have to make every day, and we can only accomplish it with God’s help.

The world show us all these things that will make us happy. We’re exposed every day to the temporary highs of living for self, and we get to see how much fun it looks like–but we also get to see the consequences. And they’re not nearly as much fun.

There are no shortcuts to following Jesus. You want to follow Him, you go His way. You do what He does. You says what He says. And if you live that life, you’ll be blessed. See what it says? God won’t hold back anything that’s good for those who do what’s right. That’s a promise, and God always keeps His promises.

So it’s not up to us to find a way to provide for ourselves. No, we shouldn’t be lazy. God’s given each of us a job to do, so we ought to get out there and do it. But the results aren’t our problem. When we try to control the results of our choices, that’s us trying to play God, and we’re not strong enough to do that.

We are supposed to do what we’re here to do. Live the way God says is right to the best of your ability. Trust Him. And God will provide what you need.

He really will. It may not be the amount of money you’re hoping for. It may not be the house you dreamed of or the car you really wanted. It may not even be the job that you think fits your skill set. But that doesn’t matter. If God gives it to you, take it. Run with it. Do your best.

In the end, do we really even know what we need? We can’t even make up our minds what we want!

So do what’s right and be on the lookout for God’s provision. He will always always provide. It may not be what you’re expecting or who you’re expecting, but you’ll get what you need right when you need it.