An unchanging anchor for your soul

I think it’s safe to say that autumn has finally arrived in Kansas. It’s been cold enough for the last few evenings that the leaves are beginning to change colors. Fall is my favorite time of year–the bright colors, the chill in the air, the pumpkin-flavored everything. Just makes me want to wrap up in a sweater with a cup of tea and read all day.

We get used to the seasons changing, especially here in Kansas. We get every season in the course of a week sometimes, so weather changes are common for us. But even though life changes just as frequently, it’s more difficult to handle than the weather. If the weather is changing, you just put on more layers or take off more layers. You grab an umbrella or a pair of boots. Or you bring your sunscreen and a hat. When life changes, we’re often left stumbling around in circles, trying to make sense of things that just don’t make sense anymore.

Life is always changing. In our human experience, it’s the one thing we can always count on. Life will change. That’s life. It is a fundamental part of our existence, even down to our language. A language that doesn’t change is called dead. A life that doesn’t change isn’t really alive.

So if change is part of life, why is it so hard to handle? Why is it so difficult to face changes in our homes or our families or our relationships? Isn’t there a way to face change without the heartache it inevitably brings?

leaf-autumn-16016Today’s verses are Hebrews 6:16-19.

Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.

Change always brings some level of hurt, maybe small, maybe big, but it’s always there. Even if the change I’m experiencing is good, I still feel a slight twinge of sadness for the way things used to be. But it’s not the good changes I worry about. It’s the big ones. It’s the ones that mean I have to leave everything I know. It’s the ones that mean I have to do something I’ve never done before. It’s the change that means I have to get uncomfortable. That’s the change that scares me. That’s the change that hurts me.

Change hurts. It always does. And if you think you can escape it, you’re wrong. So instead of trying to avoid being hurt, maybe it’s a better idea to take steps to learn how to manage the hurt before it hits.

How do you deal with change? How can you stand your ground when no ground feels certain? You just have to find somewhere to stand. You need an anchor, something that won’t change no matter what. And that’s God. God always keeps His promises. Always. And for His children, those of us who’ve chosen to follow Jesus, He’s always promised to love us, to provide for us, and to guide us.

When our lives change, when everything turns upside down, we just need to run to Him. We need to tell Him what we’re going through, what we’re feeling, what we need, and then we just need to stand on His promises. We need to trust Him as our Rock, the solid ground that will keep us standing even through the storms of life.

It’s not easy to do, though. Not because it’s difficult but because it goes against our inner programming to throw all our abilities to the wind and depend totally on God. But that’s the only way we’ll survive. That’s the only way we’ll get through life’s changes, the good ones and the bad ones.

God is our anchor. He’s the one unchanging point throughout history. And if we make Him our anchor, we’ll always have a safe place to be. We’ll always have a sure place to stand. And from that one, sure place, we can take a new step forward, trusting that He’ll catch us if we fall.

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God never promises you’ll be rewarded … in this life

I went to a book reading event last night. No, not for my own books. For someone else’s. It was more for my own education than anything else, since I didn’t know the author and hadn’t had a chance to read her books yet (even though I have them). I wanted to see how the event would work—how a professional company puts on a book release/signing event.

Well, I purchased my ticket ahead of time. A $10 job instead of the more expensive $17 one. The $17 ticket came with a copy of the book, which is number three in a trilogy. And I didn’t want to buy the book until I’d read the other two.

So I picked up my ticket and looked at it, and lo and behold! I had a $17 ticket! In very obvious words on my ticket (which I had only paid $10 for), was the permission to obtain a copy of the book! They’d given me the wrong ticket which actually gave me an upgrade. I could go to the event and get a copy of the book without paying full price!

And that’s when the little voice in my head started up.

It’s wrong. It’s unethical. It’s dishonest. And it goes against what God says is right.

So what did I do? Yep. I went back to the desk and told them they gave me the wrong ticket. And I wish I could tell you I was a good enough Christian to hope they’d let me have the book anyway, for outstanding moral fiber, if you will. That didn’t happen, of course. But they did thank me for being honest about it.

Little white flower against the gray stones at Carlisle Castle, Northern England

Little white flower against the gray stones at Carlisle Castle, Northern England

Today’s verses are Psalm 119:57-60.

Lord, you are mine!
I promise to obey your words!
With all my heart I want your blessings.
Be merciful as you promised.
I pondered the direction of my life,
and I turned to follow your laws.
I will hurry, without delay,
to obey your commands.

When you do the right thing in life, you won’t always get a reward for it right away, but God promises to bless you when you live life on His terms. He makes that promise over and over again. But just because He promises it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see it in your lifetime.

Just saying.

There’s no scripture anywhere that says you’ll live to see the results of your good works or your investments. There’s no promise anywhere that says you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But before you start to think that God’s a big stingy mean-hearted grouch in the sky, remember what He’s promised. And that He never breaks His promises. And that this life is only temporary.

Our life here isn’t supposed to be perfect and always right, where the good are always patted on the back and given things for the only reason that they are good. No, life on earth is broken. It’s falling apart and getting worse by the day. Actually in our culture now, wrong is rewarded. The people who break the law are exonerated. The people who hurt others get off Scott free. It actually feels like doing the wrong thing means you get punished, doesn’t it?

Well, when life starts feeling like that, remember where our home actually is, remember who God is, and remember what He’s promised. And His rewards are way better than anything earth can give.

Relying on our insecurities will never make us strong

Everyone in insecure about something. Some people are insecure about getting up in front of people. Other people are insecure when they deal with numbers. Others are insecure about dealing with people.

You can be the most talented person in the world, but when you are faced with the one topic you are insecure about, you’ll shut down.

Regardless of what you’re insecure about, when you’re thinking about it calmly, you recognize that your insecurity is a weakness. It’s an area where you need to be stronger. You know that. But in the heat of the moment, when you are faced with a situation that frightens you or when you have to make a snap decision, it’s easy to fall back on what we know, and the one thing we all know is our own insecurities.

But insecurities make us feel not secure. That’s why they’re called insecurities! And maybe it’s comfortable to fall back on them, but what if you had something stronger to hold on to instead? Wouldn’t that be a better idea?

InsecureTurtleToday’s verses are 2 Peter 1:3-4.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

God has given us all a list of promises miles and miles long. God has made so many promises that we don’t have time to talk about them all. And, what’s awesome, is that He’s kept all of the promises that He’s made.

He always keeps His promises. That’s who He is.

So instead of falling back on your insecurities, what about trying to fall back on God’s promises instead? It sounds like it should be easy to do, but it’s a difficult habit to get into, especially when you’re accustomed to relying on your own strength.

How do you live by God’s promises? Or, as the Bible says in the next verse after these, respond to God’s promises? That part is easy in theory. It means you put weight to what God’s said. It means you put your money where your mouth is. It means you take God at His Word.

Example? God has promised that if you give to His work (i.e. tithe) that He will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings so numerous you won’t be able to contain them all (Malachi 3:10). This is a promise. And to take God at His Word, that would mean you would start giving to God, whether you think you have the finances to give or not. And then you just trust that God will provide for you.

That’s all there is to it. You live life trusting that God will do what He says He’ll do. You make decisions based on what God has promised to do for you.

I don’t like speaking in front of people. I despise getting up and talking in front of crowds. But it’s part of this career path God has me on right now. I don’t like it because I can’t always think of the right things to say, and I’m terrified that I will come off looking like a fool. I get so scared that I will be a poor representation of Christ because I babble like an idiot. But God has promised before that He will give His children the words they need to say when they need them.

So when it comes down to the choice of speaking in front of a group or not, what do I do? If I’m going to fall back on what’s familiar, I’ll lean on my insecurities. Those insecurities tell me I’m a horrible speaker, that I’ll say stupid things, that I’ll make mistakes and confuse people. Those are my insecurities. And they’re not helpful.

But if I choose to believe God’s promise, I’ll get up in front of people and God will help me. He’ll give me the strength to face my fears, and He’ll give me the words to speak when I need them.

See the difference?

So what decision are you facing today? Are you leaning on what your insecurities are telling you about yourself? Or are you thinking about what God has promised you instead? If you’re cowering in fear, I guarantee, it’s not God you’re listening to.

Hold on to God’s promises. He always keeps them. Trusting your insecurities will only leave you insecure and unfulfilled. Which choice do you think is better?

Orange lillies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God is God indeed

I can’t believe today is the last day of September 2013. How did it get here so fast? Yesterday it was August, and the day before that it was April. This year is sailing by faster than I even thought possible. Tomorrow is October, and the month is already scheduled full, practically every day. That means November will be here in the blink of an eye, and December always comes faster than I anticipate too.

I shouldn’t really think about it, because the more I think about it, the more stressed out I get. So much is happening all at once, and I really have no control over any of it.

Orange lillies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Orange lillies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 7:9.

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

I needed to read this today because with my life spinning around me chaotically I needed to remember who my God is. It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? I mean, you’d think we’d remember who He is, but we don’t. Why else do we worry? Why else do we try to take over things that we can’t control? Why else do we ignore His warnings and His words? It’s not that we’re malicious in our disobedience; it’s just that we forget who He is. And it’s time for me to remember.

The God I talked to this morning is the same God who created the universe. It’s easy to say that, but it’s not easy to understand it. I can believe it, but I can’t wrap my mind around that. It’s too big for me. So maybe I should say the God I talked to this morning is the same God who walked with Abraham and guided him to his destiny as the father of a nation. He’s the same God who appeared to Moses as a bush that burned but was never consumed. He’s the same God who changed Gideon from a coward hiding in the shadows to a mighty man of courage. He’s the same God who spoke to Elijah and Elisha and Samuel.

It’s different when you think about Him that way. It’s one thing to recognize Him as creator; it’s something else to understand that He hasn’t changed at all from the person He was. He loved Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and all of Israel through all of history in spite of their failures and flaws. He didn’t make allowances for them, but He loved them anyway. And He’s the same today.

If you read higher in this paragraph in Deuteronomy 7, you’ll find that it’s Moses delivering his departing words to the nation of Israel, and he reminds them that God didn’t choose Israel because they were a strong, victorious nation. He chose them because they were nothing. God likes making something amazing out of something insignificant. That’s the way He works. That’s the way He has always worked, demonstrating that He is the only one who can take nothing and make something from it.

That’s who God is. That’s the God I talked to this morning, and I shouldn’t take that for granted. I shouldn’t forget, because if He was faithful then, He’ll be faithful now. He kept His promises then, so He’ll keep His promises now. He never gave up on people who deserved it in the past, and He won’t give up on me today, tomorrow, or later on in my life. That’s not who He is.

So as fast as life flies and as busy as I get and as anxious as I become, God is the same through all of it. I can’t control events in my life, but God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t stand back with his arms crossed, ignoring me as I walk this path He set me on. No, He’s paying attention. He’s watching, and He’s waiting for the opportunity to help. That’s how He worked in the past, so there’s a good chance that’s how He operates now.

Are you busy? Are you stressed? It’s the time of year for it, and it’s only going to get worse. But you’re not on your own. And you don’t have to tackle life and life’s challenges by yourself. If God set you on this road, He won’t step back and let you fall on your face. Trust Him. If you fall, He’ll catch you. You may not be able to control your life, but as long as you hang with God, you’ll be able to face it with your head held high.

You can’t control your life, but He can. He’s been doing it for generations and generations, and the people who trusted Him in the past were never disappointed.

Wind in the ripening wheat heads at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When everything changes, God is constant

Kansas is a windy state. Many folks don’t realize that, mostly because many folks don’t think about Kansas. We’re kind of low on the totem pole as far as noteworthiness goes here in the U.S. We’re ranked 50th on the tourist ratings. Most travelers just drive through Kansas without stopping. And, yes, there are areas of the state that are immensely, ridiculously flat, but the whole state isn’t like that.

I love it here. I love traveling to other states, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. But I tell you what: The wind in this state is nuts. The wind never stops blowing here. If we ever have a completely calm day, usually it just means that a huge storm is about to come crashing down on you (we have huge storms too).

Around here, especially in Western Kansas, the high, constant winds provide another outlet for generating energy. If you haven’t seen the wind farms in Western Kansas, let me tell you they’re amazing. It’s like you’re watching acres and acres of giant ballerinas spinning in the sky. I don’t know why they make me think of dancers because those giant wind turbines are standing still, but something about the turning of the blades makes me think of ballerinas. I don’t have a photo of them because the stretch of I-70 where you can see them the best prohibits stopping, but I’ve been tempted to risk it just to snap a picture.

Not just any place can host a wind farm cost-effectively. There has to be enough wind to make it viable. The point I’m getting at is that the wind is constant here, constant enough that putting a wind farm in the middle of nowhere is a good idea. If the wind only blew half the time, it wouldn’t be worth it; but you can always trust the wind to blow in Kansas. Wind in Kansas is constant.

Wind in the ripening wheat heads at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wind in the ripening wheat heads at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Numbers 23:19.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through?

All throughout January I’ve been posting about change and how life changes and how we can deal with it. Facing change with boldness, facing uncertainty with confidence, is not an easy thing to do, but what I’ve learned is that if you can find something constant in any situation, standing your ground gets a lot easier.

I hate talking to people I don’t know. I’m know good at talking anyway, but holding a conversation with someone I’ve never met is very difficult for me. But if I can find common ground, it’s easier. If I can find some constant between us, we have something to talk about.

I love visiting other countries. I love studying other cultures and other languages. But I’m not a linguist, and sometimes communication is hard because I don’t speak the language and I don’t understand all the cultural nuances. But I’ve met family, brothers and sisters in Christ, from countries all over the place, and even if we don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture, we have something in common. We all follow Christ. And that constant gives us something we can both relate to.

We don’t say a desert is constant because the sand is always shifting. It’s different from one moment to the next. The shorelines aren’t constant because the ocean reshapes them. But rocks? Rocks are eventually weathered away by erosion from wind and rain, but it takes a long time. When we see a rock, we think about it being solid and unchanging. That’s the difference.

And that’s the difference between people and God.

People aren’t constant. We aren’t steady. We may try to be, but it’s our nature to be blown on a different course every day by the winds of popular opinion or anxieties or circumstances. And while some have grown enough in their walk with Christ to understand the importance of being constant and steady, we’re still human; we’re still vulnerable to the lure of inconsistency, no matter how damaging it is.

I’m not saying you can’t trust people. We have to trust each other. But that trust always needs to be supported by a level of understanding that human beings are still made of dust.

But God is different. God is constant. Like the wind in Kansas, He’s always there. Like the giant rocks on the faces of great mountains, He doesn’t change. Like an anchor at the bottom of the ocean keeping the huge ships from drifting away on the tides and unyielding undercurrents of the sea, He can’t be bullied and He can’t be intimidated.

God is constant. Completely constant.

He’s always been there. He’ll always be there.

Coping with change in life is just like any other struggle we face, like talking to people we don’t know or venturing into cultures we don’t understand. If we can find something constant to hold onto, everything else will fall into place. And God is the constant we need in our crazy, out-of-control lives. When you reach out to Him, He’ll be there. He’s waiting for you right now, arms open, hands extended.

Will reaching out to Him make your life less nuts? Probably not. But when everything around you is spinning, it’s nice to know that you have someone to hold onto who isn’t.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How strong is your hope?

Do you have hope that bounces back when it gets dropped? To really answer that question, I think we need to understand a little bit about hope in general. Hope isn’t some ethereal insubstantial concept that’s just floating around in the void; hope is a real, solid thing. Granted, you can’t touch it, and you can’t see it, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Hope is something we experience when someone we trust makes us a promise. When someone promises us something we don’t yet have, we trust that they will keep their word, and we have hope that one day that promise will come true.

I’m working on a trilogy of books at the moment. The first one is pretty much about hope. The second one is about promises. The third one is about trust. And in my studying and researching and praying about this series, I learned something about all three. They’re all connected.

 

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 10:23.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Hope is only as strong (and as resilient) as the character of the person who makes the promise. If someone you don’t trust at all makes you a promise, you won’t have any hope that it will happen. Even if that person is sincere in their desire to do something good for you, even if that person means well, if they are untrustworthy, you have no reason to hope that they will do what they say.

But what about someone you trust? What about someone who has proven themselves over and over again? If they make you a promise, would you hope that they would keep it? Well, I would. But the real test comes when it doesn’t look like they’re keeping their word. Right?

Life gets in the way. People let us down, and it’s easy to believe that God will too. But God isn’t like people. God is God. And because of Scripture and because of God’s work in our lives, we know we can trust Him. It’s just that He doesn’t work the way we usually expect Him to.

Honestly, the question isn’t really about how strong your hope is; the question is really about how much you trust God. Hope is an extension of trust; hope is a response to trust. So if you trust God, you will hope in Him, and when it looks like (and feels like) He is going back on His word, your level of trust in Him will determine how long your hope will endure.

So if you feel hopeless this morning, especially this week before Christmas when it seems everyone is depressed about something, stop asking why your hope is gone and start looking at who you’re trusting. Are you trusting the current economy to solve your problems? Are you trusting your finances to answer your questions? Do you trust the talking heads on television to explain why your life isn’t working? Are you trusting your friends to identify you and provide you with self-worth? I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with any of those, but if you put your trust in any of those things, that’s where your hope is centered.

The economy isn’t stable. Neither are your finances. They’ll be good one moment and gone the next. And people are fluid and foolish, especially the ones on television. Even your friends will let you down, including the ones you trust because no one is perfect. Where will your hope be then?

That’s where God comes in because He never lets His people down. He never abandons His people. He never forgets His people. And though we may feel like He’s not around or like He’s not working, most of the time that’s because we’re not really looking for Him. Or if we are looking for Him, our attitudes need an adjustment, like a near-sighted person wearing glasses for farsightedness.

Think about it. How strong is your hope? If it’s not strong at all, you might want to consider re-evaluating who you trust.

 

Wheat and sky - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Never forget

God always keeps His promises. Always. But we forget because we get so tied up in all the stress and trouble of life. And when we run up on an issue or a circumstance that is too much for us, it’s very easy to think that God is throwing trouble at us that we can’t handle. And some days it feels like He’s doing it just because He can. And I know that God doesn’t do that, but when I make a habit of forgetting the promises He’s kept, it’s pretty easy to start thinking that God isn’t who He says He is.

Wheat and sky - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat and sky – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 66:5.

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!

We need to make a habit of reminding ourselves of how God has kept His promises in our lives. Whether we write it down on paper or online or if we share it with people around us, we need to constantly keep God’s promises in the front of our minds. And when He keeps His promises to us, we need to mark it down and remember.

I have a friend in the hospital right now. She unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest on Sunday and wasn’t doing well at all. She is 25 years old, and I’ve known her since she was in seventh grade. So I’ve spent the vast majority of this week praying for her and asking God to heal her. And you know what? He has. Last I heard yesterday, she is still having trouble speaking but her humor and her attitude are intact, which are signs of higher brain function. There’s a good chance she’s going to pull through. And that is an answer to prayer. That is a direct response from God after I (and many many others) asked Him to touch her and heal her.

But this isn’t the first friend who’s been in the hospital who God has healed because we asked Him to.

Dozens of times–maybe more than that–God has shown Himself to be the Great Healer at our request. But the passage of time makes it easy for those memories to dim. And if we don’t actively try to remember those things, they’ll slip away. And the next time trouble comes on us, we’ll wonder where God went. And He never left us. We have just forgotten what He looks like.

I never want to forget.

I have seen miracles.

Not water turning into wine, no. But I’ve seen a small bit of food feed more people than it should have (and I’ve seen that more than once). I’ve never seen someone come back from the dead. But I’ve seen peoples’ hearts change almost overnight because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in them. I haven’t ever spoken in tongues, but I’ve witnessed how God can help people who don’t speak the same language communicate. I have seen things that cannot be explained, and I have seen them happen too many times for it to be coincidental.

I’ve seen a lot. The trick is remembering. Because if I can remember all the things I’ve seen God do, if I can remember all the experiences I’ve had that can only have come through Him, there is nothing that can scare me. There is nothing in my life that can stop me.

And the next time I run into trouble at work, projects that seem too much for me or responsibilities that are crushing me, I need to remember the instances where God got me out of scrapes in the interior of Mexico. Because if God is big enough to help me out of a jam across the border, my little troubles in my dusty little cubicle are nothing.

God has proven Himself to me in so many ways. But once all is well again and life has gone back to some semblance of normal, it’s easy to forget. And I don’t want to do that. I want to remember all the good things God has done for me so that when trouble comes again (and it will), all I will have to do is share the memory of how God got me through before. And that will not only help me, it will also help others around me.

God always keeps His promises. It may not be in the way we expect, but He always does.