Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Are you leaving God’s gifts unopened?

Have you ever left money on the table? I don’t mean literally. Sure it’s possible to walk out of your house and leave a wad of cash sitting on the kitchen table (yes, I’ve done it). But what about figuratively?

I didn’t understand that was even possible until I discovered a little something grown-ups like to call a 401K. I’m very fortunate to have a job that provides a 401K for me, along with matching contributions at a really competitive rate. The first time I heard someone talking about “leaving money on the table” was in discussion on how much of a percentage to automatically contribute from a bi-weekly paycheck to my 401K. Because my company matches a certain percentage, the 401K people encourage us to put as much into the account as possible… otherwise we won’t be getting the most advantage out of the amount the company is willing to contribute. You’re leaving money on the table.

It’s the same when you don’t haggle over the price of something. Like in a Mexican market some place. Normally folks will charge you way more than what the item is actually worth, expecting you to haggle the price down. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table because you’re giving away money that the seller might have been willing to live without.

It’s not a smart thing to do. But I’m pretty sure it happens fairly often.

So what about leaving a gift unopened? Have you ever done that? Has someone ever given you a gift that you didn’t open? Imagine Christmas morning, sitting around a tree stuffed full of presents and nobody opening them. Imagine a birthday party where you don’t open your gifts.

Would that be awkward or is it just me?

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Did you know that God has given us gifts? He’s given us all sorts of gifts, too many to name. The trouble with many of them is that they’re gifts we can’t open yet. They’re promises that haven’t come true. It’s like knowing that Christmas is coming and that someone is going to get you a gift, but you haven’t seen it yet.

But the biggest mistake Christ-followers make is thinking that all of God’s gifts are like that, when they aren’t. God has given us many, many gifts that He wants us to open now! But for some reason, we’re just letting them sit in the corner.

A good example? Peace. God has given you the gift of peace. Did you know that?

What is the gift of peace? It’s the ability to stop worrying. It’s the reassurance that God is in control. It’s the guarantee that even though life may suck right now, it won’t always, and that God is strong enough to bring beauty out of ashes.

Peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. It’s priceless. Invaluable. And if you believe in Christ, God’s already given it to you. Is that a gift you’ve opened yet?

I’m not sure what it is about peace that is so hard to grasp. I struggle with peace a lot because I’m just a control freak. I want to know everything about everything so I can control every possible detail, whether I’m capable of it or not.

But the more I control something, the more I worry about it. The more I worry about it, the less peace I have. And the less peace I have, the farther away from God I grow because I convince myself that He doesn’t care because if He cared, why doesn’t He help me?

Vicious cycle.

A foolish, vicious cycle.

God has given you peace. Period.

But just because He gave it to you doesn’t mean you’ve automatically accepted it. You have to choose to accept it. Just like you have to choose to accept a gift. Just because someone gives you a Christmas present, doesn’t mean you accept it. Just because you open a Christmas present doesn’t mean you’re going to keep it. You might take it back to the store and return it.

That’s the trick with a gift. Its mere existence doesn’t mean you use it. You have to choose it.

God won’t force you to accept any of His gifts, but if you won’t take them, what’s the point of Him giving them in the first place?

So the next time you’re worrying about something, remember that God has given you the gift of peace, and it’s your choice whether to accept it or not.

Beautiful iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Accepting the gift of God’s peace

Have you ever had something go horribly wrong and cause all sorts of ridiculous problems? Don’t you hate that? The day can even start out brilliantly, and everything can be going perfectly, and then BOOM! It all blows up.

Well, that happened to me yesterday. The day even started out well. Everything was going fine. And on my lunch break, life blew up.

How do you react in that situation? What do you do?

Beautiful iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Beautiful iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

What would we do without God’s peace? I’m telling you, I think I probably would have gone crazy (crazier) years ago without Him. I don’t know how people make it through a day without Him, knowing that He’s got things under control.

But even though I know He has it all handled, sometimes I forget. Sometimes I let myself worry, and once I start worrying, there’s no going back to peace until I smack myself in the head with a board.

Like in this instance yesterday. I flipped out. I didn’t exactly panic, but I sure wasn’t as calm as I could have been. But fortunately, I gathered my wits and banged my head against a wall a few times until my sanity returned. And then I calmly went about fixing the problem.

What’s the lesson? Well, my day got thrown off almost entirely because of this thing that blew up, but I did have time to fix it because it happened over my lunch. The problem got fixed, and everything worked out.

I could choose to focus on the fact that my lunch got interrupted, because it did. And it was inconvenient. I had other things I wanted to do over lunch than fix this problem.

Or I could choose to focus on the fact that this problem happened over my lunch, when I had time to invest in fixing it immediately.

See the difference? That’s God’s peace. He gives it to us in so many ways, and half the time I think we choose to ignore it. But that’s the way a gift works. It’s only effective if you accept it.

So what’s going wrong for you today? Maybe it’s the morning and you haven’t had your plans screwed up yet. Just wait. The day is young. Decide now to face the challenges of the day with a cheerful spirit, trusting that God has it worked out and thankful that He’ll help you through it.

Or maybe it’s later in the day and you’ve already experienced the trouble. Take the time to look at what happened rationally and look for the positive. Look for God’s hand in the situation, and I bet you’ll find it. Something good came out of it.

It’s your choice what to focus on, but I can guarantee that you’ll have a happier life if you can find the positive aspects to focus on instead of the negative ones. Don’t live in denial, of course. You can recognize that life stinks without focusing your thoughts on it.

Worry is like taking a shortcut in Houston

I was born in Houston, which is like the fourth largest city in the United States. It’s massive. Full of people. Full of cars. Full of smog. Twice the population of the state of Kansas probably live in Houston. And if you’ve never been in traffic in Houston, you haven’t been in traffic. I get a kick out of people in Wichita who think we have traffic. Ha. No, we have bad drivers; Houston has traffic. Until it takes you an hour to go 12 miles, you haven’t been in traffic.

Fortunately for me, I have never driven in Houston. I hope I never have to. But I remember growing up down there my poor mom had to drive sometimes, when we needed to get to another side of town for whatever reason. I don’t know how she did it. And I really don’t remember a whole lot of it. Most of the time we stayed on our side of town, I think, sticking to side streets and suburbs. But we had a family we were friends with that did require us to drive some distance, and I remember sitting in the backseat on multiple occasions when Mom announced that we were going to take a shortcut.

That was our cue–my brother and me–to groan and ask her not to take a shortcut, because her shortcuts never worked. Of course, we didn’t mind. What else were we going to do? Walk? I was seven and he was five. But it was sort of our family running gag (one of the many) that taking shortcuts were more trouble than they were worth.

So when I got to thinking about the concept of worry this week, the thought of a shortcut popped into my mind. And if you think about it, they’re similar concepts because worrying is easy to do. It’s easy to let it happen. It’s much harder and it takes much more discipline to not worry than it does to give into it. But worry is a shortcut that doesn’t lead anywhere. It makes you feel better somehow because it helps you feel like you’re doing something when you really can’t do anything at all, and for doers (like me) that’s alluring. But it’s an illusion.

Houston, Texas (not my photo as I'm usually cowering in the backseat when we're driving through)

Houston, Texas (not my photo as I’m usually cowering in the backseat when we’re driving through)

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

This is one of the last things Jesus said to His disciples before He was crucified. He wanted them to know that He was going away but that He wasn’t leaving them alone. He didn’t want them to worry because He was giving them a gift that would stay with them forever. It’s nice to know we have access to that same gift–the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knew that His disciples were going to have a lot on their plates when He was gone. He knew what they were going to face. He knew what would be asked of them. He wanted them to be as prepared for what was coming as they could be. And He knew that worrying about the things they couldn’t control would only slow them down, would stunt their growth, would distract them from accomplishing the great things He had in store for them.

Funny how things don’t change, even in 2,000 years.

Worry is still debilitating. Anxiety still strips us of our effectiveness. And yet we all still cling to it because we’ve given into this cultural lie that it helps us do more. But worry is like taking a shortcut in Houston – it’s stressful, complicated, and you never end up where you think you should be.

Worrying is easy. But it’s usually the easy things in life that are the most damaging.

Fighting worry and anxiety off is hard work. It takes discipline and practice, but it’s worth it. Whoever thought taking the scenic route would be called discipline? Well, I think we all need some of that kind of discipline in our lives. We all need to take time to play. We all need to take time to let go of the things that are driving us and prioritize exactly what it is that we’re doing here.

So skip the shortcut. You have time to take the scenic route. And you actually might enjoy it more.

Lake view from a Guatemalan restaurant, Peten, Guatemala

Peace always costs something

How much would you pay for peace of mind? If you didn’t have to spend your day worrying about what might happen or what has happened, what would that be worth to you? Worry is one of those issues that everyone struggles with in some form or another, and marketing professionals make lots of money using that particular emotion to sell products.

Worry is an effective tool to use, and convincing people that purchasing a particular tool or service will alleviate their anxieties. But purchasing a product rarely takes worries away. At least, that’s what I’ve discovered. The only way to deal with anxiety is to live by the Holy Spirit, because one of the fruit or the results of living by the Holy Spirit is peace.

You can’t buy this kind of peace. You can’t earn it either. This kind of peace is something God produces in our lives when we live by the Holy Spirit, according to Galatians 5:22-23. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

Lake view from a Guatemalan restaurant, Peten, Guatemala

Lake view from a Guatemalan restaurant, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

This is something Jesus told His disciples shortly before He was arrested and crucified, and it’s always been one of my favorite verses when it comes to thinking about the kind of peace that God gives us.

According to what Jesus says here, the world does offer a kind of peace. But the peace the world offers is temporary and often causes more trouble than it solves. The world’s peace is something you buy, something you haggle over the price of, something you control, something you turn on and off. It’s not based in anything but emotion, and it’s not strong enough to stand up under real pressure.

Whenever I think about the concept of failed peace, I think about the Treaty of Versailles. For those of you who aren’t history buffs, the Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties signed at the end of World War I that ended the state of war between the Allied Powers (including the US) and Germany. On the surface, the Treaty of Versailles was a wonderful document. Hey, any document that brings an end to war is great, right?

But here’s the problem: The Treaty of Versailles included some controversial parts, including the fact that Germany had to accept the blame for starting World War I, had to make territorial concessions and pay large sums of money. Maybe some people thought it was fair, but the result of such a heavy punishment on an already-struggling country was that more and more people grew more and more desperate. And the more desperate people became, the more angry they grew. And people who probably wouldn’t have gone to war before started gearing up for round two.

Was it right? No, but desperate people do desperate things. One of the reasons World War II came so soon after World War I was the unfair treatment of Germany in the peace negotiations. Again, that doesn’t excuse it, but in my mind, I understand it to a certain extent. Because if peace isn’t fair, it won’t work.

But that’s like the world’s peace. The peace the world gives us may stick around for a little while, but it costs somebody something they aren’t willing to keep giving.

Peace always costs something.

So how is God’s peace different? Well, like the other fruit of the spirit, God’s peace depends on God. God’s peace is a gift. It cost Him the life of His Son, but He gives it to us free of charge. It’s not something that can be taken away (although we ignore it frequently), and it never runs out no matter how many times you draw on it.

And the beautiful thing about God’s peace? If you have the Holy Spirit, you already have it. God’s peace is in you.

God’s peace is always fair because God is fair. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t feel like He is, but we’re the ones with a limited view of justice. He invented justice. And He will never tire of giving us peace.

So whatever situation you’re facing today, physical, emotional, spiritual, remember that if you have God’s Spirit, you have God’s peace. If you know Christ, you can draw from an inexhaustible supply of peace. You don’t have to worry. Worry is a choice. Like joy, it’s a response to circumstances, and you can choose.

So choose peace. God already paid for it. Everyone who follows Him has access to it. And it’ll do wonders for your attitude, for your perspective, and your hair color.

Single tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Peace is a gift; Trust is a choice.

What does it mean to be at peace? To experience peace, oftentimes we think we need to be alone out in the middle of nowhere. Peace is usually associated with calm, like the eye of a storm or the vast openness of the countryside. Actually, its first definition in the dictionary refers to a the harmony between people groups during the absence of war. But is peace really stillness? Can you only be peaceful when everything is calm?

I have learned that peace isn’t necessarily something you can find when everything is quiet. It’s actually more the other way around. Real peace doesn’t come in those moments when nothing is wrong; real peace comes at the times when everything is going crazy and you have to trust that God is going to work it out. That is real peace.

Single tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Single tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

When Jesus was explaining to the Disciples that He had to leave, this is one of the statements that He made. He was leaving, but He wasn’t leaving them with nothing.

What is the difference between the peace we get from the world and the peace we get from God? Is there a difference? Jesus said there was.

The world’s peace is wrapped up in securities and possessions and position. Wealth and status and control–if you have all these things you can have peace because there’s nothing that can hit you that you can’t survive. Right? Peace is knowing you’ve got everything under control. It’s knowing you have money in the bank. It’s knowing you have health insurance. It’s knowing you have a family vision plan. It’s making enough to pay your mortgage. It’s a job you may not like but that pays the bills. It’s not having to worry about anything (except we still worry, don’t we?).

So if that’s peace, what happens when you lose your job? What happens when you don’t have money in the bank and your health insurance goes away? What happens when you can’t pay your mortgage? What happens to your peace?

That’s not the kind of peace Jesus is talking about.

Peace from the world is temporary because anything the world offers is temporary. Finding peace in material things is a really bad idea because those things can be destroyed or taken away. We just had more bad storms blow through Kansas last night, and many folks had a good deal of property damage.

The peace Jesus is talking about in this verse is something that only comes from the Holy Spirit. I wish I knew Greek so I could get the exact word, but the context of the verse from the Message is basically saying that even though Jesus was leaving, He wasn’t leaving us incomplete. God provided everything we needed through the Holy Spirit, so we have no cause to be afraid or distraught.

Peace from God defies explanation.

This verse is pretty much saying that Jesus gave us His peace, the peace He has. Talk about mind blowing! To have the kind of peace that Jesus experienced? So when I think about peace, I don’t think about the eye of a storm where everything is calm; I think about Jesus walking in the midst of a storm and calming it.

The peace we get from God is based in our trust that He knows what He’s doing.

We trust that God doesn’t make mistakes and that He is big enough to work everything in our lives (the good and the bad) together to do something amazing. And if we can trust Him, we get peace because we’re not worrying about the things we can’t control. And we’re not anxious about life. And no matter what comes at us, we aren’t afraid because God is bigger than any obstacle in our path.

In the Amplified Bible, it clarifies a statement out of this verse by saying: “Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.”

Peace is a gift, but trust is a choice.

We can allow ourselves to be frightened. We can allow ourselves to anxious. But we don’t have to allow ourselves to be that way. Instead of choosing to feel fear and indecision, we can choose to trust that God is in control. And when we do that, the Holy Spirit will give us His peace. Not the quiet, soothing, calmness of the open country or the beach or the mountains; nothing nearly so romanticized as that. Most of the time, you’ll just get to sit at an oasis in a sandstorm.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that peace negates grief. Grief is often necessary, and there’s a time and place for it. But peace supersedes it.

God’s peace is something no one can take away from you. And the awesome thing about God’s peace is that it allows you to bring calm into other peoples’ storms too. It doesn’t mean the storm is over. It just means you don’t have to be afraid of it.