God is the source of hope for the New Year

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Lots of people are gathering food and party supplies to ring in the New Year with snacks and togetherness. Some folks (like my family) are planning a quiet evening of movie watching. And then? Well, the New Year will begin, and we’ll all get back into our routines. And, if previous years are any indication, the momentum we gathered at the beginning of the year will run out about a month into it.

And there are all sorts of explanations. It might be a lack of discipline. It might be general laziness. It might be too much stress or too little sleep or both. Many factors play a role in derailing resolutions. But in my experience, there’s nothing that can derail me worse than a loss of purpose or direction. If I don’t know where I’m going or if I don’t have a goal to reach, I wander. I hesitate. I second guess myself. I give up. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

 

nature-flowers-plant-springToday’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People have to have hope. You can’t live without it. Love lasts forever, yes, and your faith can fail. Mine does often. But if I ever lose hope, I’ll stop completely. I’ll lose faith if I lose hope. I’ll stop loving if I lose hope. My hope in the Lord gives me the strength to have faith, to love people who don’t love me in return.

When we get home and receive everything God has promised us, we won’t need our hope anymore. But while we live on earth, hope is a necessity. And fortunately for us, God has given us everything we need to cling to hope in Him. He’s demonstrated His goodness. He’s proven His Word. He’s shown us that He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises.

When you know God like that, you trust Him, and when you trust Him, He gives you joy and peace. At that point, your hope becomes something confident, something unbreakable, something unquenchable. And that’s how I want to face 2016, with unquenchable hope.

Don’t mistake hope with naivete, though. I think a lot of people do. Just because you hold on to hope doesn’t mean you’re living in denial. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the facts. It just means that you’re placing your trust in Someone who is big enough to make all the negative facts work together into a positive result.

2016 is going to bring a lot of challenges, but you know what? God is bigger than the challenges I’m facing, and I trust Him completely. So the hope I have in Him can be confident, because He is where hope comes from.

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.

Nobody needed that roof anyway

When was the last time you had faith that something would happen? It doesn’t have to be something miraculous. Maybe it’s something as simple as having faith that there would be a movie ticket left to buy when you went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron this past weekend (rockin’ awesome show, by the way). Or maybe it was faith that God would answer a prayer.

Everybody has faith in something. It’s an essential fact of life. But it’s been proven over and over again through history that only faith in Christ is truly life-changing. It’s easy to grasp the fact that faith changes you, but did you realize that your faith can change other people too?

hole-in-roof-2-big.jpgToday’s verses are Mark 2:2-5.

Soon the house where he [Jesus] was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

I hope to meet these four gentlemen someday. I’d love to talk to them, hear about this experience from their own perspective. I mean, it had to be terrifying. Trusting Jesus so completely for the well-being of someone they all cared about.

That’s my sticking place. I don’t have a problem trusting Him with me. It’s trusting Him to take care of the people I love that I struggle with the most.

But these four guys were out of options. Jesus was their only hope, and they were determined to do whatever was necessary to get their friend at His feet. But what I love about this story isn’t that the paralyzed man had faith that Jesus would heal him. It’s that his friends had faith that Jesus would heal him. And it was because of the friends’ faith that Jesus responded.

And I don’t know if that resonates with you like it does with me today, but it’s something I need to remind myself of frequently. I don’t know if you recognize this, but we live in a really screwed-up world. Nothing is as it should be. People hurt each other. Families self-destruct. Friends tear each other to bits.

Trapped in the middle of all of it, helpless and useless, I watch. There’s nothing I can do. I have no words of comfort to speak. I have no wisdom to share or encouragement to offer. What can you say in the face of so much brokenness? When people you love are hurting so badly, what can you do?

And then I remember the four friends. What did they do? They brought their friend to Jesus. Whether their friend believed Jesus could make a difference or not was irrelevant. They believed it. And that’s where I’m trying to stand in our world today.

Regardless of what happens, I believe that whatever God does will be something beautiful. Maybe it won’t start off feeling that way, but He’ll turn even the darkest moments into shining light. I believe that with all my heart. But beyond clinging to the vague, ethereal hope that everything will be okay eventually, I’m not afraid to ask Him to fix what’s wrong in our world right now.

I know what some end-times scholars will say. The way the world is just means Jesus is coming back sooner. The world is supposed to be this way. And maybe they’re right, but they don’t know.

Yes, eventually everything will be okay. But what would have happened if those four friends took that perspective? Sure, their paralyzed buddy might have suffered in this life, but when he dies, he’ll be in paradise. I’m sure their friend was thankful afterward that they hadn’t thought that way.

And just like them, I don’t want to give in to the “eventually” club. Yes, God will make everything right in the end, but it’s not the end. Not yet. We’re close, but we’re still here. And as long as we’re here, why not ask for a miracle? Why not believe He can do the impossible?

Who cares if you’re the only one who believes it? What does it matter if you have to dig a hole and get your hands dirty? What does it matter if people look at you funny? If you believe Jesus is what your friends need, then wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get them to Him?

So drop everything right now and bring your friends to Jesus. Just lay them at His feet. Maybe you can’t do it physically, but you can do it emotionally and spiritually. And don’t just ask Him to help because you feel like you have to. Ask Him for help because you know He can, because He’s the only one who can.

Maybe it’s your faith that’s the key.

I wait quietly before God

Do you ever just have upsetting days? Those days where everything conspires against you to ruin your mood? Some days start out bad, but then other days come along and they’re fine until the end–when that one thing happens that completely wrecks your perspective.

When that happens, how do you calm down? How do you get your focus back? When you’re so angry, you can’t even speak–when you’re so frustrated, it’s all you can do not to burst into tears–how do you see God in that situation?

In those moments I just want answer. I just want God to tell me what I’m supposed to do with myself. I want to do something–run or fight or jump up and down or scream or just something. Anything except stand still.

But making hasty decisions is always a bad idea. And making hasty decisions when you’re angry will always, always make more trouble than it solves.

So what do you do? I read Psalms, and I read until one makes me cringe because it hits all the right emotions raging in my silly human heart.

That’s what happened yesterday. I was so mad, so frustrated and worn out and tired and disappointment and discouraged. You name it. It all hit at once, and I just wanted to give up. Even after I cheered up, even after I calmed down, I was still debating about how to handle this overwhelming frustration I can’t seem to shake. So I started searching Psalms, and I found what I was looking for.

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Psalm 62

I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
but curse me in their hearts. 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. 

Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales,
together they are lighter than a breath of air.

Don’t make your living by extortion
or put your hope in stealing.
And if your wealth increases,
don’t make it the center of your life.

God has spoken plainly,
and I have heard it many times:
Power, O God, belongs to you;
unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
Surely you repay all people
according to what they have done.

Wait quietly before God. People may turn against me, but my God is my fortress that can never be shaken. He’s told me plainly over and over that He repays people for what they’ve done.

I want to run. I want to fight. But all I’m supposed to do is to wait quietly before God because my victory comes from Him. Sure, that may mean I need to make some changes. But that doesn’t mean I have to take it all on my own shoulders and make decisions on my own.

But what it does mean–for now? I need to remember where my hope is. Not in people. Not in the world. But in my God.

Are angry today? Frustrated? Lost and unsure of yourself or what you’re supposed to do? Instead of scrambling to make sense of it or to defend yourself or to find an answer, think about just waiting quietly before God. Just stand still and be open to what He wants, instead of just what you want.

Puffin floating on the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

How do I rest when life is too busy?

I could stand a little peace and quiet. How about you? I just came off a ridiculous weekend. Awesome and fun and exciting. But I’m tired. Even though so many exciting things are happening right now, there are still days when I just wish I could tell everyone and everything to be quiet and leave me alone so I can rest.

But even then, as much as I need rest, I usually don’t allow myself to take it. Because there are so many things going on, if I’m not involved surely something isn’t going to be done right. Can anyone else identify with that feeling? It’s okay if you can.

We can’t just run at top speed all the time. Well, you can. Been there, done that, don’t want to do it anymore. I’m not an expert, but I can speak from experience. And if you’re one of my performance-driven perfectionist brothers and sisters, I just want to ask you one question: What is the foundation for your hopes?

Everybody has hopes and dreams, expectations of what life is going to be like. I haven’t talked to anyone who didn’t have a hope of some kind. So take a long, hard look at what you hope for and figure out what you’re basing that hope on.

Is it something solid? Something proven? Something trustworthy? Or just some vague, general feeling?

Personally? I’ve got a lot of things I’m hoping for. I’m hoping that my mom’s re-evaluation at the Mayo Clinic in September comes back saying that she’s okay. I’m hoping that this crazy business venture I helped start in January really does manage to work. I’m hoping that two years from July 6 I’ll get to hug my best friend again. And those are just the top of the list.

Those are all great things to hope for, but it’s one thing to hope that all those things will happen. It’s something else to know that even if they don’t, everything will still be okay anyway.

Puffin floating on the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Puffin floating on the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is Psalm 62:5.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.

Hope is one of those fuzzy conceptual ideas (it floats, it has feathers, etc.) that it seems few people have a practical idea of how to implement. I’d crack an Emily Dickinson joke here, but I’m not sure if anyone would get it.

What does it look like to live a life where your hope is in God and not just some of it–all of it? We sang an old song at church this weekend that got me thinking about this.

I haven’t got it figured out yet, but God has taught me a lot about hope in the last few years. And I can tell you that if my hope is truly in God, I can let go.

Yes, I hope my mom’s test results will come back good. But you know what? They haven’t come back good since March 2013 and everything is still all right. We still have everything we need. He’s taking care of us. And He’s still obvious in our lives.

Yes, I hope that this crazy small press we started is going to work. I would love to see it flourish and grow. And I’d love for my novels to make it big. But if they don’t, I’m okay with that. If the business doesn’t work, I’ve learned so much, and it’s already been a fantastic adventure with three of my close friends.

Yes, I hope my best friend makes it across the pond safely and that God protects her in all her global wanderings in the next two years. But if that doesn’t work out the way I want it to, you know what? She’ll still be okay.

Because she belongs to Him. Because my business belongs to Him. Because my mom belongs to Him. Because I belong to Him. And God never treats His creation carelessly.

Remember that when life doesn’t go the way you want it to. Remember Who God is. Hope is less about the promise itself and more about who made it and whether or not that person can be trusted.

No matter what happens, if you put your hope in God, that means you aren’t relying on your own strength to make something happen. You aren’t depending on other people for an outcome. You aren’t building your foundation on unstable ground. And if you aren’t spending your time and energy and resources trying to make something happen or worrying about whether or not someone will come through, you can spend that time doing what you need to do–rest.

God can be trusted. Not only that, but God is the only one big enough to take the broken pieces of life and fit them back together again in a way that’s better than they were before.

So rest easy. Put your hope in God, and if your confidence falters, read up on how God has come through for other people throughout history.

Be honest with yourself. You aren’t big enough or strong enough to change anything. You don’t have as much control as you’ve convinced yourself you have. That doesn’t mean you sit back on your blessed assurance and do nothing. But it does mean you can let go of the things that are to big for you anyway–those giant things you couldn’t control anyway? You know what I’m talking about.

Stop trying to make them happen on your own. Have confidence in God and rest easy.

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Your ticket to one wild ride

Do you take God seriously? I mean, do you trust Him when He promises to bless you for obedience? When God tells you to do something and you do it, what do you expect will happen? Do you think He’s just going to turn His back on you? Do you think He’s asked you to do something just to watch you dance like a puppet on a string?

God doesn’t work like that. Yes, there are many times when we’ll encounter situations in our lives that will test our faith, but it’s never God dangling a carrot in front of our faces to see if we’ll bite.

So when you obey, when you do what God has told you to do, are you ready for what comes afterward?

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 5:15-16.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

God told me to do something a few years back, or at least He put the germ of an idea in my head. At the time, it wouldn’t have worked. If I would have tried, I would have failed. And even though the idea fascinated me, I didn’t hear Him telling me to jump up and do it.

And throughout the years, God kept bringing it up every now and then, kind of like a tickle at the back of my brain. “Hey, don’t forget about this! This is something I want you to do, but you’re not ready yet.”

A few years later, actually in August of last year, that idea came rushing back on me again stronger and louder than ever before. And this time I couldn’t tune it out. This time I couldn’t ignore it.

So I didn’t. I did what He was telling me to do. And guess what? He held up His end of the bargain. Way more than I expected Him to. In fact, He’s opening doors so fast that I can’t keep up. It’s all I can do to keep holding on as He takes me on what will probably be the craziest ride of my life, and I couldn’t be more excited.

But why does that surprise me? Why do I expect failure when God has never given me reason to doubt Him? I guess it’s not that I doubt Him; I just doubt my interpretation of what He tells me. And that’s why it’s important to have people around you who are on the same page as  you spiritually, to confirm what you think you’re hearing.

But how many times has fear of failure stopped me in my tracks? How many times have I not done what God was clearly telling me to do because I was afraid. I don’t want to think about it. But I need to. We all need to.

I learned today’s passage in an older translation that used the phrase “redeeming the time.” I always used to wonder what that meant. And, it’s true, it does mean to make the most of every opportunity like the newer translation says, but there’s something really beautiful in that phrase: redeeming the time.

Taking the time that might be wasted otherwise (in worrying, in anxiety, in purposeless pursuits) and using it to accomplish something for God. That’s redeeming the time. And that’s what we’re called to do. Why? Because the days are evil.

And they are. We’ve never lived in darker days. More people are persecuted for their faith in Christ today than ever before. More people are trapped in darkness than ever before. More churches are being closed due to scandal than ever before.

Frankly, Believers, we don’t have time to waste. So if God has called you to do something, don’t just stand there. Do it. You have a certain amount of time that’s been allotted to you. Some have more than others. But whatever you have God gave you for a reason, and He doesn’t make mistakes. He hasn’t put you where you are for no reason. He hasn’t walked you through all your difficult circumstances just to test your mettle. He’s got a plan for you, and because He’s good, so are His plans.

So do you trust Him? Do you take Him seriously? And if you do what He’s asking you to do, are you ready for the ride He’s going to take you on?

Don’t doubt that it’ll be wild. Because once you tell Him yes, you’re going to see amazing things happen, things that no one else will be able to explain, things that may only mean something to you–but they’ll mean something to you. And that will be enough to remind you just Who you’re working for.

You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Neither am I. Nobody is. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. So stop fooling around and get busy doing something that will matter when eternity gets here.

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.