Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

You can’t find happiness by knowing what it isn’t

The United Nations proclaimed March 20, 2013, as the International Day of Happiness. Yesterday, people all over the world celebrated in many different ways.

I guess it’s good to have a day dedicated to celebrating happiness, and the purpose for the day is to remind the world that being happy doesn’t mean being rich or famous. But in all of the materials I reviewed (briefly), I couldn’t find one where they explained what happiness is. All I could find was what happiness isn’t. And one thing I’ve learned about happiness is that you can’t achieve it without a focal point. You can’t be happy just by understanding what it isn’t. You have to have a reason to be happy.

At least, that’s how it works for me. I can’t just be happy because I know it doesn’t come from wealth or fame or beauty. I need to know what it does come from.

Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower in a field near Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 17:7-8.

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.

What does the word blessed mean? In some instances where it shows up (bless the Lord, call her blessed, etc.), it usually means to say good things about. When we bless the Lord, it means to say good things about God, remembering what He’s done for us. But in other instances, like this one, blessed means happy.

With that in mind, check the verse out again. “But blessed (happy) are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.”

And that’s what I’m looking for. If I trust in the Lord and make Him my hope and confidence, I’ll be happy. Why? Because like trees planted by a river, I never lack for anything I need.

You can’t find happiness by understanding what it isn’t. The only way to be truly happy is to understand where it really comes from. Not wealth or fame or beauty or even health. You can’t even find true happiness in the intangibles like family and security and love because none of those things last.

The only way to be truly happy is to place your hope and trust in God. So don’t flail around looking for happiness in all the wrong places. You can try, but you won’t find it.

Trust God and let His promises become the foundation you build your life on.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Late miracles are miracles still

I’ve posted about perspective before, but I’m really needing a good reminder about it this morning. Having the right perspective is vital to following God. Granted, it’s not necessarily required to follow Him, but it certainly helps your attitude because God doesn’t do things the way you want Him to.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 25:1.

O Lord, I will honor and praise your name, for you are my God. You do such wonderful things! You planned them long ago, and now you have accomplished them.

My parents and I arrived at the Mayo Clinic on Sunday morning this week. It’s now Thursday, and we still haven’t gotten to see the specialist we wanted to see. And it’s looking like we may have to wait until next Wednesday.

It’s easy to get discouraged about this, honestly, because God opened all sorts of doors for us to be able to come up here in the first place. So I had expected Him to keep opening doors. So what does it mean when He opens a door and then shuts it just before you walk through?

When you hit those moments, you need to take a step back and calm down, first of all. You can’t make wise decisions when you’re upset. And then you need to take some time and think about who God is.  I think that’s the key we forget often because we think God has to be bound to our schedule. We expect God to work the way we want Him to, and He doesn’t. He’s not bound to do what we want. God is sovereign. He works according to His plan, in His time, and He has the right to do what He wants, when He wants. Because He’s God.

But the Bible tells us something really important about God that we shouldn’t ever forget: God is good.

Over and over and over again. God is good. God is good. No one else is good but God. If there’s one thing you can know for sure about God, it’s the fact that God is good. So when He does work, even if it’s not according to what we want, we can still trust that what He’s doing is good.

I thought saving my vacation to use on myself would be good. I thought spending my time off with friends instead of my parents would be good. But do I know what’s good? Do I really know what’s good for me? I don’t. But God does.

It all comes down to trust. Do I trust God enough to turn over the tiny little things I’ve convinced myself I own? Like my vacation time?

Once you establish that you trust God with everything, your perspective changes too. Because there’s nothing you hold back from Him. He can do whatever He wants with everything you have and everything you are, and then you don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t control. You just enjoy being where you are, being around the people you’re with.

How many miracles does God have to do in our lives before we trust Him completely? Just because it’s not the miracle you wanted doesn’t make the impossible any less miraculous.

God does awesome things. He does amazing, impossible things every day. By all rights, we shouldn’t even be up here. We shouldn’t have gotten an appointment in the first place. That’s a miracle. And what we’ve learned so far has already been helpful.

So what if we have to stay another week? So what if we have to leave and come back? We’re here now. We have the opportunity to meet with a specialist. That’s more than we had two weeks ago.

Perspective. Don’t miss the miracles. God has planned great things in our lives, and He won’t stop working until they are all accomplished. No, He may not accomplish them when we want Him to, but He’ll still make it happen because He has promised. And we can trust Him because He’s good.

Old red shed at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Following God doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days

What happens when you obey God? I think we all make the assumption at times that if we do what God tells us to do, God will do what we ask Him to do. But that’s not really how it works, is it?

I’d like to think that doing what God commands would protect me from trouble, and in many instances, that’s true. If we do what God says, we’ll avoid the paths that can lead to danger and negative circumstances, but obedience doesn’t mean we’ll never face challenges.

Old red shed at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old red shed at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 34:19.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

Verses like this aren’t the kind that we like to read. We want to hear that righteous people never struggle, that righteous people never get sick, that righteous people never fall down. But that’s not the case.

Righteous people–or people who obey God’s Word–still live in a broken world, and bad things happen to good people in a broken world. That’s what makes it broken.

I’ve heard many Christians talking about how obeying God will protect them from trouble. Some Christian leaders in our culture preach messages that claim doing what God says prevents difficulty or challenge or struggle in our lives, but that’s not true. God doesn’t promise that we won’t have trouble in this life; He promises He won’t leave us when we do.

We are guaranteed to have trouble in this life. We don’t belong here. This world isn’t our home, and as Christ followers, the world will hate us. Plus, we have an enemy. Satan is constantly looking for ways to derail us. Put all of that together and you’ve got a recipe for conflict.

Christ followers will have trouble. Period. We’re going to run into difficult times, dark days, and challenging circumstances, but God has promised to come to the rescue. We don’t have to face those troubles alone. We don’t have to fight by ourselves. God will be right beside us every step of the way, offering His strength, His resources, and His insights into what’s really happening.

So when you run into trouble today, don’t be surprised. Don’t let it shake you. Don’t question whether God is really there. Realize that trouble is something everyone experiences, and God has promised that He’ll help us through it. So ask Him for help and wait for Him to show up. He will.

Screenshot from King's Quest (copyright Sierra Games 1987)

It’s not about the carrot

When I was very young, I started playing a computer game with my dad and my brother called King’s Quest. Amazing game. It required thinking skills and reasoning skills and the ability to type fairly fast. You moved your character with the arrow keys and typed instructions. Anything you wanted your character to do, you had to type it. Move rock. Pick up dagger. Swim. Jump. Play fiddle.

And there was one part in the first King’s Quest where you had to convince a goat to butt a troll off a bridge so you could answer Rumpelstiltskin’s riddle and get the beans to grow a beanstalk. (Nope. Not making it up.) The thing about the goat was that it wouldn’t follow you just because. You had to give it a reason to leave its pen, and that reason was a carrot you pluck out of the king’s garden.

So what on earth does that have to do with anything?

Well, if your Christian experience is anything like mine, then you’ve probably encountered some disappointments along the way. Am I wrong? You’ve chosen a path and walked down it faithfully, fully expecting God to turn up and work miracles as you go, and He doesn’t. Or you sacrifice and give up your dreams to pursue a course you think God has laid out for you, and you encounter nothing but difficulty every day until you finally have to turn around and go back to where you started.

What is that? Why is that? Does that mean God is unreliable? Does that mean God just lures us along and is waiting for the opportunity to pounce on us or use us? Are we just the goats and God’s promises are the carrots?

Screenshot from King's Quest (copyright Sierra Games 1987)

Screenshot from King’s Quest (copyright Sierra Games 1987)

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.

It’s not wrong to ask questions. Let’s get that straight before we go any farther. God wants us to ask questions. He wants us to be wise about our choices, and you can’t really be wise until you are brave enough to question what everyone tells you is true. Wisdom begins by understanding who God is and learning that it’s His opinion and His Word that matters. No one else’s.

But my goodness, it gets frustrating sometimes. I’m just being honest here. Sometimes I wish God would just tell me what He wants me to do. Or if He won’t do that, I want some kind of confirmation that I’m doing the right thing–a confirmation that sticks around instead of popping up momentarily and then vanishing without a trace.

But that’s what happens when you rely on signs and symbols. That’s what happens when you go looking for carrots.

Now it’s not wrong to look for signs. It’s not wrong to look for incentives. There are many times throughout Scripture where God says that He’ll bless us if we do something. But there seems to be an idea among Christians that faith is generally incentivized. We’re supposed to take great leaps of faith because God will reward us financially or in some other quantifiable, measurable return. And I’m not saying that’s not true. But should we be doing God’s work for the sole purpose of a return on our investment? Should we obey God merely because we want to get something out of the deal? Or should we do what God tells us to do because He told us to do it?

Hey, Christian, did you know that if you give to God, He’ll give back to you? Hey, Christian, did you know that if you live by what the Bible says, God will bless you? Maybe it starts with incentive, but it doesn’t end there. Maybe God does offer us incentives, but following Christ isn’t about what we can get out of it. It’s not about the incentives. Just like the game. It’s not about the carrot; it’s about who’s offering the carrot. It’s about getting the goat to fulfill a greater purpose than just hanging around in a pen for the rest of its life.

The irony of the game is that after the goat beats the troll, it wanders off on its own. The goat gets to go roam free and find new adventures of its own. It doesn’t care about the carrot anymore. The carrot doesn’t matter anymore because it was never about the carrot anyway. The carrot was just an opportunity.

The incentives God offers us aren’t the point. God is the point, and God can be trusted. His promises aren’t flights of fancy or caprice that He forgets whenever it suits Him. No, when He makes a promise, we can trust that He will keep it.

So what incentive are you grasping at today? Are you sure you’re focusing on the right thing? Are you obeying God just so you can get something out of it? Not saying that’s bad or even wrong, but have you considered maybe forgetting the incentive and just doing it because God asked you to do it? Stop worrying about what you’re going to get out of it and just walk with God.

Get out of the pen, whether there’s a carrot involved or not. You won’t regret it.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing the floods without stopping

Sometimes I have to wonder at Kansas weather patterns. I mean, I expect it to be strange, but Kansas doesn’t just do strange weather. Kansas does extreme strange weather, at least in my neck of the woods. A storm spotter I work with tells me I live in the Bermuda Triangle of weather patterns because if it’s a bad storm and it’s in Kansas, it will find its way to my house. In the last few weeks, if you looked at the radar at all, you probably saw one of the crazy windy, heavy rainfall producing storms that decided to park over my house. And I’m just going to be honest: I’m sick to death of having to clean the water out of the basement.

We never used to have trouble with flooding, but a lot of different issues are playing a role in why the water keeps coming in–namely there’s just so much of it. One storm dropped six inches in an hour. That was the one I missed because I was in St. Louis, and my awesome parents came out and cleaned up for me. We’re scheduled for more rain this morning, tonight, and tomorrow night, and Friday morning too. Then, we’ll get a brief break before it all comes back down again on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Dad’s trying to get everything sealed up this morning, but when you’re talking about that much rain, I’m just not convinced that anything can be done to stop it. And I’m doing my best to fight off the defeatist attitude, but it’s difficult, especially when there’s really nothing you can do to fix it.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 43:2.

When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

I thought of this verse today, which is actually the theme verse for a novel my best friend is writing. It’s one of those lovely, comforting verses that is easy to cling to in troubled times. Even in a superficial glance, it’s easy to love this verse, but then when you start thinking about what it actually means, it makes you just love God even more.

This verse is a promise that no matter what comes in life, God never leaves His people to fight alone. And that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing: fighting. Look at the verse. When you go–when you walk–it doesn’t say when you’re standing still or when you’re waiting in place. If you’re wading or swimming through waters that would cover your head or if you’re fording a river or if you’re walking in a forest fire, stopping will mean you die. Stopping your forward momentum means you’re in trouble. You’re supposed to keep moving. You’re supposed to keep going. And this is God’s promise that you’ll make it through to the other side.

When you face the figurative fires that burn all around you, God has promised that you won’t be consumed. You won’t be burned up. Now, you might get a little toasty. You can’t walk through fire and not feel some of the heat, but that doesn’t mean the heat will overwhelm you. But you have to keep moving.

When you’re fording the waters of a raging river, trying to reach the other side so you can continue on your journey, God has promised you won’t drown. But you have to keep moving.

And when it’s all you can do to just keep treading water, God has promised that He won’t leave you. But like the other two, you can’t just stop. You have to keep moving.

So if life has left you timid and tired and weary and worn, don’t give up. You’re not alone. God hasn’t left. Don’t turn your back on Him just because you think He’s not listening; He is. And whatever you do, don’t stop. If you stop, you might be overwhelmed. Just keep going. Just keep believing. And just keep trusting that God is going to work it out. It’s who He is.

Knowing God means letting Him into your life

Psalm 18:30 says,

30 God’s way is perfect.
      All the Lord’s promises prove true.
      He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.

 I struggle with going God’s way sometimes because I want to go my way. With my way, I can see how the path twists and turns. I have a plan that will help me navigate around the blind corners and the steep hills . . . at least, I think my plan will do that. Of course, when difficult times come along my way, my plan turns out to be pretty much useless. What’s nice about going God’s way is that He really does know all the pitfalls along the path you’re walking. Really. He doesn’t have just some half-baked plan on how to survive when life gets tough. God knows everything about the road He asks us to take.

And as far as God’s promises? God has never made a promise to me that He hasn’t kept. He has promised never to leave me, and He hasn’t. He has promised to provide for me, and He has. He has promised to protect me, and this one I’ve seen Him actually do time and time and time again (and I would love to know the things that He’s protected me from that I know nothing about). He hears me when I call to Him. He listens when I need Him. He doesn’t always act when I want Him to, but He always acts when I need Him to. And He’s always moving. He’s never still, which means that I can be still and wait for Him to work.

God is my shield. He’s the refuge where I take shelter from the storms of life. Like yesterday. Yesterday was a rough day. There were conflicts at work, not necessarily involving me but conflicts where I found myself between people. I always end up between people, and it’s the place I like least in the world to be. And there were all sorts of different difficulties (odd and assorted) going on in life at the same time, and to just sit and think on it all was overwhelming, discouraging and pretty depressing. So I stopped thinking about it and read Psalms. I read every Psalm from Psalm 46 through Psalm 56. The common theme through many of those Psalms is how God does the fighting for you. That you just have to be still. And then the message at church last night was on Elijah and how even though Elijah had gotten down and depressed about something insignificant that God still had work for Him to do. And that when Elijah was being pursued, what he needed to do wasn’t to fight; he just needed to stand and let God fight for him.

God’s way is perfect.

All the Lord’s promises are true.

He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.

I know all of these are true from experience. But here’s the kicker, if you don’t ever go God’s way, how will you know it’s perfect? If you don’t ever give God the opportunity to keep a promise, how will you know that His promises are true? And if you never look to God for protection, how will you know the strength of His shield?

I can sit here and talk about God all day long, but it only goes so far. And people around you can talk about God’s goodness and His mercy and His power and protection until they’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean anything personally until you experience it for yourself.

I used to be like that. I used to sit and wonder and how people could speak so familiarly about God. I used to marvel at how people seemed to be best friends with Him. I was shocked that God would intervene in peoples’ lives on such an individual basis. I mean, I knew it happened in the Bible, but that was the Bible. And things in the Bible don’t happen in modern culture. Right?

But when I stopped following my own rules, when I stopped walking my own path and decided to get on the road God had chosen for me, I learned that He really does know what He’s doing. And when I started taking Him at His word, I discovered that every promise He’s made to me is really, actually, honestly true. And when I ran to Him for protection, He wrapped me in His arms and reassured me and reminded me that He will never leave me.

If you don’t ever give God a chance — a real, honest chance — you will never understand who He is. And I’m not talking about a half-hearted attempt. Even those people out there who are Christians can fall prey to this. We’re all so comfortable in our Christian churches and our Christian homes, listening to Christian radio, watching Christian TV and going to Christian movies. We’re so caught up in “being Christian,” we have forgotten what it means to follow Christ. Or maybe we never knew what following Christ was from the beginning.

Give God a chance. Follow His way for a little while. Trust in one of His promises. Seek shelter under His wings during a difficult day. Believe Him. He’s waiting for us to open our eyes and accept the relationship He’s been offering for all our lives.

 

Spring in Kansas (a.k.a. Bipolar weather in a state where the only constant is the wind)

Autumn is my favorite season, if I had to pick one. And I enjoy cold weather (although I’ve lost my fondness for it by this point). But there is something remarkable about spring. There’s something magical about watching the world coming back to life after it’s been sleeping for so long.

Spring is a beautiful reminder of how God works, I think. After a long season of struggling and discouragement, He renews everything and everything gets another chance to live again. It’s hard to remember though because winter can seem so very long. But spring always comes one way or another (although in Kansas, it seems to hang on longer every year . . . . blizzards in April?).

I guess to someone who has never lived in a bipolar place like Kansas, our winters might surprise them. We aren’t known for getting intense amounts of snow like New England. We aren’t known for consistent artic temperatures like Alaska. If we’re known for anything, it’s for our weather’s confusion. It’s not unusual in a Kansas winter to have the temperature vary 60 degrees in a day. This past winter, we had a 95-degree difference in less than a week. One day the high temperature was around -20 (without figuring in the wind) and less than a week later, it was like 75.

To someone who has never experienced Kansas weather, I think this state might confuse and frustrate them. Because when you’re ready for snow and ice, Kansas gives you fog and rain. And when you’re ready for rain, Kansas gives you a drought. And when you’re expecting a drought, you get tornadoes and hail the size of soft balls. In the winter, especially, the weather never does what it’s “supposed” to do. The only constant in Kansas weather is the wind (unless a tornado is on the way; then when it gets quiet, you need to run for your basement).

So I can imagine how frustrating it might be to someone who has experienced winter in other more consistent places. For example, if you live in New England, you know you’re going to get snow. And you know it’s going to be cold. Oppositely, if you live in California, you know the weather is going to stay in the 70s and be dry and beautiful.

Here? We freeze our butts off for a week and then we see the sun and can run around without a jacket on. It’s like the weather loves to show us a glimpse of warmth and then revels in dashing our hopes with a blizzard that leaves us buried in snow, topped with ice and finished off with freezing fog. And if you didn’t know that that’s just the way Kansas weather is, I could see that it might discourage you.

Life is kind of like that, though. Don’t you think? James 1:12 says this:

 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 Those of us who’ve lived in Kansas for a long time know that if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait it out. Because our winters might be frigid and artic and frustrating, but our summers are hot and humid and fierce. If you’re not a winter person, just wait for summer because it will come.

I’ve found my relationship with God to be very much like Kansas weather. He never changes, of course. He always stays the same, and it’s me who does the changing. But there are times when stuff comes into my life that I don’t like. And it’s not necessarily because of anything I’ve done (although sometimes it is, and I’m just dealing with personal consequences). But most of the time, life just happens. Kind of like the weather. And at that point, I have two choices in how to respond to it — I can pout and be difficult and blue and unhappy; or I can just press on, doing the best I can, knowing that the weather will improve if I just give it time.

Trials and testing in our lives as Christians give us an amazing opportunity to put God to the test. If we are able to keep trusting Him even when nothing seems like it’s going right, we will be blessed. Now . . . notice that this particular verse doesn’t exactly imply that we’ll be blessed while we’re struggling. It actually seems to focus more on the fact that we’ll receive a reward when the trials/testing are over (this specific reward, the Crown of Life, is something we’ll be given when we get to heaven). But in any case, patiently enduring trouble that comes our way gives us the chance to know God for who He really is.

It’s kind of like stargazing. The best time to stargaze is in the winter. The night is clear and the stars are brighter. The only trouble is you go numb if you spend too much time outside looking up at the stars. But it’s worth it because you can see the stars and planets better than any other time. And if you wait until you’re comfortable outside, you won’t get as good a view.

If you wait until you’re comfortable in your life, you won’t get to know God very well because you don’t “need” Him as much as you do when you’re struggling.

I enjoy winter. I like snow (when I don’t have to drive on it), but by the end of the season I’m ready for it to go away. I’m ready for spring. I’m ready to watch the world come back to life, and there is something so wonderful about seeing flowers burst out all over trees, seeing grass climb out of the ground, seeing wheat growing in the field across from my home. It’s wonderful because it reminds me that God has kept His promise to return life to the Earth, and it encourages me because it reminds me that God will keep His promise to me.

Trials and testing don’t last forever. Just like Kansas weather, if you don’t like it, just be patient and try to make the best of it. Because it’s guaranteed to change.