Preparing for storm season

Preparing for storm season is part of life in Kansas. Powerful storms and tornadoes are usually the first thing that comes to mind whenever people think about my beloved home state. Even when I was in Ireland, once people realized where I was from, the first thing they asked about was if I had experienced storms.

It was either the tornadoes or The Wizard of Oz. No, I don’t have a dog named Toto. No, I don’t have ruby red slippers. Sorry to disappoint.

Tornadoes are scary things, which is why preparing for storm season matters. I’ve never been in a tornado per se, but I’ve been close to them. I’ve seen them from a distance, and I’ve felt the frightening stillness that proceeds one. I’ve witnessed hail that broke windows and shattered vinyl siding. I’ve seen torrents of rain that washed away roads and drowned wheat crops. And I’ve walked in the debris and rubble of the aftermath. Powerful, dangerous, deadly—tornadoes pose a terrifying threat to people who aren’t ready for them.

But what if you are ready?

In the last ten years, tornadoes have started venturing out of their traditional habitat, the central plains and Midwest. States like Missouri and Massachusetts and Alabama and Georgia have started seeing tornadoes more frequently, and the damage they do is unprecedented. Why? Because few in those parts of the country have ever experienced a storm like that before, and preparing for storm season isn’t something they think about.

In May 2011, an EF5 tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri. Officially, 158 people died, and more than 1,100 people were injured.

Four years earlier, in May 2007, a gigantic EF5 wedge tornado struck the small Kansas town of Greensburg and leveled 95% of it. The tornado itself was wider than the town. Eleven people died.

Instagram image storm season prepIt was a similar-sized tornado, although the size of the cities was vastly different. So how can one city have seen so many die while the other only a fraction? That’s not to minimize the deaths of 11 people. Any death is tragic. But what made the difference?

There were many reasons, but I wonder if one has to be that the Joplin tornado of 2011 was only the third tornado to hit the city since 1971. That’s three tornadoes in 40 years. Greensburg, on the other hand, probably has at least one close call per year.

People in Greensburg were prepared. They had shelters, safe places, basements. They listened to the warnings and knew what to do and where to go. They were ready.

You can’t expect people who’ve never experienced a tornado to know how to withstand one.

Trouble is natural

Preparing for storm season is a great idea, but we don’t face tornadoes every day. Those aren’t the storms I’m talking about. Jesus told His disciples that facing trouble and storms in this life is something they should expect (John 16:33), and that holds true for us today. So many times, Christians think that life is going to go well for them. We expect to enjoy blessings and good harvests and problem-free lives, and to a certain extent, we are supposed to expect those things. But not from life.

Expect good things from God, but there’s no good thing that comes from life (James 1:17) . Anything good in life is from the Lord directly.

Instead, we’re supposed to expect trouble (1 Peter 4:12). We’re supposed to be on the lookout for storms. This truth shows up in Scripture over and over again. Think of Jesus’ story about the two men who built houses (Matthew 7:24-27). The foolish man built his house on sand; the wise man built his house on the rocks. And when the storm came, the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Storms will come in our lives. There’s no escaping them. So instead of denying that they’re possible or trying to outrun them, isn’t it better to prepare for them?

Preparing for storm season

Build your life on a solid foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10). When you’re putting down the bedrock of your life, be sure you’re building on unchanging truths. God is good. Jesus saves you. The Holy Spirit will guide you. And He’s working everything for our good and His glory, regardless of what it may feel like right now. If that’s your foundation, no storm can collapse it. Sure, the wind might rattle the glass, but your house will stand.

Nahum 1:7Have a safe place to run (Nahum 1:7). Storms hit us in every moment of our lives, and we need to be ready to run to God for help. Throw your worries to Him. Let Him carry the weight of your burdens. Stop trying to carry it yourself or stand up against the wind on your own strength. Rest in His strength.

Hear His instructions and obey (Psalm 32:8-10). God has given us the Bible so that we know what’s right. He teaches us how to live, how to be blessed, how to be wise. But many times, we just hear and don’t put what we’ve learned into practice. You have to do both (James 1:22).

Storms are scary

When the sky goes dark and the wind starts to blow, when thunder is rumbling so loud that it shakes you, it can be terrifying. And you can feel alone. But don’t. Because you’re not. And preparing for storm season means you don’t have to be afraid.

Life works the same way. If you’re a Jesus-follower, storms are going to fall on you. But you don’t have to be afraid of them. God’s already given you everything you need to withstand them. You just have to use it.

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Small victories win wars

It’s March, guys! The third month of 2017 has already begun. How are you doing with your resolutions? Confession time: January was a complete failure for me, and February wasn’t much better.

I had plans to eat right, to exercise regularly, to rest, and to spend time with the Lord. And while I managed some of it some of the time, overall I failed completely. So in March I trying again.

Does anyone else struggle with this? You have the best, most sincere intentions. You make plans and contingencies. You psyche yourself up for the difficult days, and you try to prepare yourself for the inevitable temptation. You do everything you can to convince your traitorous brain that you shouldn’t eat that or that you’ll feel better after you walk those two miles or you’ll get all your work done eventually and a break will be good for you.

But it doesn’t work.

And then one day you find yourself sacked out on the couch eating M&Ms out of a ten-pound bag while you start in on your fifteenth draft of the same article, and the treadmill makes fun of you silently from its darkened corner of the basement. You feel like the biggest loser on planet Earth.

How does that happen? Well, I’m not sure if it’s the same for anyone else, but I’ve begun to suspect that my approach to goals in general is to blame. I’m a big picture person. I don’t do details very well, and I usually operate under the assumption that no matter what happens, everything will eventually work out.

And since God is in control, that’s true for His people. He’s big enough to work out the details of our lives so that they turn into something beautiful, even if the circumstances are horrible. But that doesn’t absolve us from making wise choices in the mean time.

God gave us brains for a reason.

So many times, as Christians, I think we focus too much on the war, instead of the battle. Wars are made up of many little battles, some that we win and others that we lose. And, frankly, we lose those little battles because we’re willing to accept defeat. In the grand scheme of the war, we can lose a battle because it won’t affect the eventual outcome.

That’s both comforting in one sense and terrifying in another. Yes, it’s great to realize that we’ve already won the war regardless of how many battles we may lose. But does that mean we can just stop fighting?

No! Of course not! (Romans 6:1) Just because Jesus has already accomplished the final goal doesn’t give us the excuse to give up today’s battle. And make no mistake. Today is a battle. This very moment is a battle.

If anyone ever tells you that this life can be free of conflict, struggle, or strife, they’re selling something. Just being honest. Our life here was never meant to be free of those things. As long as we have the Holy Spirit in us, we will be in a constant battle with ourselves and the world around us. But don’t let it discourage you, because Jesus has given us the strength to overcome any challenge (John 16:33).

So how do you win those every-moment battles? How can you overcome the temptation to neglect your physical or spiritual or emotional health?

Well, just like wars are won through through smaller battles, your daily battles should be conquered with small victories. Instead of focusing on the big picture which seems unconquerable, focus on the choice you have to make right now.

Should I eat that handful of M&Ms even though I know it will hurt my blood sugar? Should I not take a break from my daily work because I have too much to do? Should I skip my exercise because it’s too much trouble?

None of those are earth-shattering questions. No answer to any of those questions will shake the world off its axis. But for those questions, there is a right answer and a wrong answer for you. No, the world won’t end if you eat the M&Ms, but it’s not the wisest choice you can make.

Living healthy is a daily battle, and the only way you’ll win is seeking wisdom to face the questions. That’s how you win those hourly battles—by making good choices. And you learn how to make good choices from God’s word. (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Ultimately, the choice is yours. You get to decide what you do, what you eat, where you go, how you act. God has given us that freedom. But if you choose a course of action without wisdom, you open yourself up to the consequences.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love the big picture of life, I can’t win at life on my own strength. I need God’s help. Frankly, I can’t even win in an hourly battle without God’s Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). Nobody can.

But the truth is: God’s given us everything we need to live a victorious life (2 Timothy 1:7).

What choice do you have to make right now? What does God say about it? Have you even asked Him? If you haven’t, there’s your problem. He wants to help. So give Him a chance and see what happens.

My life as a portrait mosaic

I don’t remember the first time I saw a portrait mosaic. I think I was sitting in a doctor’s office or a waiting room somewhere, and at first I wondered if it were some kind of new impressionistic art. The image was all fuzzy and out of focus, and I didn’t understand why it would be framed and displayed.

Well, I just had to look closer.

mosaic-eyeThat one big image was actually made of a ton of smaller images. Probably tens of thousands of little images all came together in one big portrait. I don’t remember what the subject of the portrait was, but the concept stuck with me.

Life is a portrait mosaic

I have my own little picture of my life. I know its shape and size. I know what colors it has. I know the subjects in it. I know what it focuses on. I know because I can see it. It’s my life. I know what it looks like.

You have one too. Everybody does.

Little stories, big picture

We all have an idea of what the portrait of our life looks like. It’s smooth and in focus. It’s not missing any pieces. And it’s perfectly cohesive from one corner to the next. That’s what we see.

But if you look look closer, you’ll realize that your big life portrait is actually made up of many smaller portraits. We all live more than one story. We all experience events in our lives that change who we are and challenge what we believe.

Not everything that’s happened in my life has been happy. Not every choice I’ve made has been good. But God is big enough that He’s taken all those dark spots in my life and fitted them perfectly into the grand portrait of my life.

This is what we’ve got to remember. Just because there’s an experience we’ve had that wasn’t positive doesn’t mean our lives are over. As much as it would be nice to imagine a life full of nothing but happy memories, that’s not how it works.

We live in a broken world

Our first parents broke the world long ago, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of their actions. Nobody is perfect. No life is perfect. No relationships are perfect. So that means we’re all trying to build a life using broken pieces, and it’s not something we have the power to do.

But God does.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

This verse has been used too much probably, but isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it comforting? If you belong to Jesus, if you’re seeking His heart, you can trust that everything happening in your life will ultimately turn out good. Because God is good, even if your circumstances aren’t.

Maybe you lost your job. Maybe a loved one has died. Maybe you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, or maybe you’ve just endured the end of a relationship you thought you’d never lose. Those are all bad things. Nobody’s saying they’re good.

But God is big enough to take those bad things and plug them into a bigger picture where they will play a role in making a beautiful story come to life. That negative experience will just be a part of the larger picture. After all, portraits have to include shadows, or else the image won’t be realistic.

Life might stink right now. It’s okay. Say it. God never promised that life wouldn’t stink. He actually promised the exact opposite (John 16:33). What He did promise is that we wouldn’t have to go through those times of difficulty and suffering alone (Matthew 28:20). He also promised that those dark moments we have to endure won’t be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
mosaic-pin-1When we see one part of a portrait, God sees the whole piece in its entirety. We may only be able to see one pixel right now, and that pixel might be blacker than the pit. But even the brightest painting still has a few flecks of darkness in it. How do you know you aren’t just seeing one of those?

And if the opposite is true and all you see are the good moments, understand that you’ll have to go through some bad stuff too. Everyone does. But a bad situation doesn’t have to ruin your life. A bad situation can be the stepping stone you use to climb higher than you’ve been before.

So instead of focusing on one picture, try looking for the others. You can’t see things from God’s perspective, but you can trust Him when he says He’s got it under control. He sees the whole picture when we see just a small piece.

Death is just a doorway between life and Life

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that God is good. I mean, you know He’s good in that distant disconnected way like the elected official is good or the popular spiritual leader is good or the hero you admire is good. He’s good, but He doesn’t really get you. There’s a big difference between knowing that God is good and truly understanding His goodness.

There’s so much sorrow in the world. There’s so much hurt. People hurt each other physically and emotionally. We say things to each other intended to cut and demean. Some are the brunt of general meanness. Others are not even involved in the evil that’s happening, and they still get hurt. And even in the innocent passing of time, we lose people we love. Sometimes we expect it, due to sickness or age. Other times we don’t. Either way, it still hurts.

And that’s the world we live in. That’s life here. Sure, there are joyful moments. But then “real life” rears its ugly head and reminds us that life isn’t going to get better down here.

If that’s our future, if that’s all there is, why do people keep living? I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the hope of salvation, the peace of knowing that God really is going to work everything out. Because the truth is that God really is good–and not just in some distant, disconnected way. He’s here, in our lives, seeing what we feel and hurting with us when we hit those dark times of sorrow and sadness. And there’s something really important that we need to remember about this crazy, screwed-up, hot mess of a world we live in: It’s not all there is.

doorwayToday’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that even though the world was broken, they could still have peace with God through Him. He’s the one who made the way to be saved. He’s the one who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we would have the power to overcome the world.

Do you know what that means? To overcome the world? It sounds awfully dramatic, and maybe it is. But in a practical sense it means that the world has no power over those who believe in Christ. The world can be identified as a lot of different things. The influences that pressure you to disobey God. The powers of the enemy. Just the brokenness around us that threatens us with a hopeless, meaningless existence. However you define it, the world is powerless against a Christ-follower.

Even death itself has no power over a Christ-follower. We don’t have to fear it. We don’t have to run from it. We don’t even have to hate it. Because of what Jesus did for us, death is just a doorway between this life on Earth and our eternal welcome in Heaven with God.

It’s important to know that we will have trials and sorrows. Multiple trials and sorrows. And it’s important to know that it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to grieve the loss of people you love, the destruction of relationships and families, the consequences people have to face for the choices they’ve made. When you’re sad, you need to grieve. Don’t bottle it up and put on a cheery face to make people feel better. Be sad, but know that you don’t have to stay sad.

The world is still under the control of death, the control of the enemy, the result of our sin. As long as that brokenness endures, we will live with pain and death and sadness. Oh, but we don’t have to stay here. There’s a day coming when we’ll get to go home, where nobody hurts each other, where nobody dies, and where we’ll never have to say goodbye again.

The world is full of death and sadness, but Jesus is stronger than the world. He overcame it. And because He overcame, we can too.

St. Francis Medical Center, Colorado Springs, CO

How do you trust God when life isn’t fair?

Life doesn’t always work the way we want it to. We can make as many plans as we want, but we can’t know the future. We can’t control our lives, as much as we try to. And when those moments come that blow all our carefully laid plans apart, we have a choice. We can either give up or manage the broken pieces as best we can, trusting that God will put them back together again better than they were before.

But it’s hard. It’s really hard. Because we get our selfish little hearts set on things that we want, and we are totally capable of convincing ourselves that God has told us we can have something. And maybe He has. But it has to be on His terms. And the plain truth is that when God says yes to our wants or our desires, we’re rarely in the place in our lives when it’s time for us to have them.

We have to live some more. We have to learn what the desire of our heart really is. Many times it changes and grows as we get older, and even when stays the same, as we age, it gets bigger, broader, as we understand more about ourselves and the world.

But that answer is difficult to accept when we want our way. And it’s so easy to sit back and focus on how unfair life is.

Because it is.

Life is unfair. Work is unfair. Ministry is unfair. Because the world is unfair.

And I don’t know where we (Christians, that is) get the idea that life on earth will be fair when nothing here is fair. The world is broken. We broke it, and it’s not going to be fixed again until after Christ comes back for us.

There’s nowhere in Scripture that says life is fair. There’s nowhere in Scripture where God promises that we won’t have trouble. In fact, the Bible says the exact opposite.

St. Francis Medical Center, Colorado Springs, CO

St. Francis Medical Center, Colorado Springs, CO (where I spent my weekend)

Today’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

This is Jesus talking to the Disciples. Maybe you read that differently, but to me that sounds like a confirmation that sometimes life is going to suck.

This world isn’t our home. We don’t belong here. I think it’s in Hebrews where the writer calls us pilgrims and strangers, aliens in a world we’re just visiting. We’re just passing through.

So why are we surprised when things don’t go our way? Is it the well-meaning teachers of the prosperity gospel? I’ve heard what they say. Those people claim that if you do what God says is right, you’ll have everything you want. Never mind the Bible never says that.

The Bible does say that if you obey God, you’ll be blessed. But being blessed has very little to do with getting what you want. So many times we don’t even know what we want or what we want is bad for us. So how would God be good if He allowed us to have something that would ultimately hurt us?

How many times has God provided what I needed? How many times has He showed up in my life at the pivotal moment? How many times has God let me down? I mean really let me down? I can’t think of once. I can’t think of one promise He’s made me that He hasn’t kept–to the letter.

And how do I repay Him? By whining when I don’t get my way? By grumbling when life isn’t fair? Hasn’t He proved Himself to me by now?

It’s hard to see the big picture. It’s hard to fall back on God when we’re so disappointed. It’s hard to keep trusting when you feel betrayed or let down or like God didn’t hold up His end of the bargain. But when you feel that way, ask yourself if you really understood the bargain to begin with.

God never promised we wouldn’t have trouble, and He never promised that He’d give us whatever we wanted. He just promised that we’d never go without what we need, and we’d never face the struggles of life alone.

We’re going to have trouble. And we’re not always going to get our way. But God always knows what He’s doing. God always keeps His promises.

So just hold on. The world isn’t fair, but Jesus has overcome the world. That means He’s bigger than any trouble you’re facing right now. And if you can just hold on long enough, He’ll prove it to you.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God is bigger than your storm

Storms are a part of life in the Midwest. It’s not that we get used to them; it’s just that they don’t really surprise us. That’s good to a certain extent because few people panic when bad weather approaches, but it can be bad too because sometimes I think we take the weather for granted and forget how dangerous it can be.

We’re entering into storm season, and the country has already experienced quite a bit of tragedy associated with our normal spring storms. Death and destruction always follow big storms, and it’s easy to get to the point where you think it’s too difficult to keep on. I mean, what’s the point of rebuilding when another storm is probably just around the corner?

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

The world is full of storms, both literal and figurative, but the difference between an actual storm and a stormy season in your life is that usually you can take shelter from real wind and rain and hail. And a stormy season of life is something you really can’t escape. It follows you everywhere. Almost like you have your own black cloud hanging over your head, and there’s nothing you can do to get away from it. It just follows you around, dumping rain on you constantly.

Believe it or not, you aren’t alone. You may feel like it some days, but you aren’t the only person to ever have to weather a storm. And there have been many others who’ve gone through the same storm you are. And many of them are just waiting for the opportunity to encourage and help someone else get through it, but they can’t help if they don’t know about it.

Today’s verse comes after Jesus sat His disciples down and pretty much told them that He was going to die and go away for a while. He wanted them to know that even though He was leaving, they would be okay and they wouldn’t be alone.

When we encounter storms in our lives, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to give up. It’s much harder to hold on to faith, believing that there’s a purpose and that God can bring beauty out of the destruction. He can. He’s done it countless times throughout the history of the world, and our lives are no different. But when you’re in the middle of a storm, it doesn’t feel like anything can be beautiful ever again, and it doesn’t feel like anything has a purpose at all.

The disciples were going to feel that too. Jesus knew. And that’s why He told them this. No, I don’t think they got it right away, but we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. Many times we miss the point of what Jesus says too.

Everyone faces storms, figurative and literal. It’s part of being human. It’s part of living in this broken world. But what we should never forget is that God is bigger than our storms. Yes, a storm can cause immense damage and can take precious lives, but God is strong enough to help us through it. If He allows us to go through a storm, there’s a reason. There’s nothing random about God’s choices.

God is able to overcome any trouble we face, and for those who belong to Him, we don’t need to fear the world or anything in it. God is bigger than the world’s problems, and He’s strong enough to take disaster and make it beautiful.

It’s our job to remember that. It’s up to us to never give up. Hanging on to faith and hope is difficult, especially when you watch the storm tearing down pieces of your life, but we have to remember that God is in control and He never lets us go through anything without a reason. And no matter how impossible the obstacles in your life may seem, God is still bigger.

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Overcoming trouble

Life can really suck sometimes. And there is this troublesome expectation in the Christian community that even if life sucks, we need to be happy about it. So no one feels free to be “not okay” around other believers. We all put on masks. We all say that we’re fine. We all fake happiness and peace and general okayness because if we’re aren’t happy or at peace or generally okay, we must be bad Christians.
 
But that’s not the case. Sometimes life really does suck. Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes dreams fall apart. And when bad things happen, it’s not bad to grieve for a while. It’s not wrong to be sad.
 
I’m not really sure why the church got the concept that we have to be okay all the time. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s selfishness. Maybe it’s a misunderstanding of Scripture. I don’t know. But there is evidence in Scripture that Jesus grieved. Jesus felt. He experienced sadness, and He never hesitated to cry when He was mourning.
 
So if Jesus can do it, why can’t we?
 
I’m thinking of the time He raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. “Jesus wept.” I can’t give you the reference, but it’s there. Jesus arrived, found Lazarus dead, and cried because He was sad. Now . . . why He was sad is a different story altogether. But that’s not what I was going to talk about this morning. Although, I do want to focus in on what Jesus did. He wept. And then He got busy. He didn’t stand still. He didn’t stay put. He took time to grieve, but He didn’t stay in a dark well of grief. He got up, and He moved on.
 
That’s hard to do. When you’re grieving, it’s so much easier to stay where you are. It’s miserable, but it feels like it would take too much effort to keep moving. It feels like you have shoes made out of cement. But the longer you mourn, the darker your life will get.  And it’s hard to see the truth when you’re existing in the darkness of your grief.
 
And the truth is that the world is full of troubles. The world is full of problems. The world is full of reasons for grief and mourning. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or where you came from or why you’re sad. Everyone has something in their life that can leave them stranded in dark well of depression.
 
But Jesus said something in John 16:33 that I think is imperative to remember, especially if you’re grieving today.
Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

 

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
 
The world sucks. It’s full of darkness and sadness and trouble, and it’s been that way since our first parents sold us out. And as long as we live here, we’re going to have hard times. Economically. Financially. Troubles in family. Troubles at work. Troubles at church. Troubles in general.
 
But take heart.
 
What does that even mean? That’s one of those figures of speech that always appears in Medieval movies when the brave knights are trying to cheer frightened villagers up. But what does it mean? Well, I checked the Amplified Version, and fortunately it had a little bit more explanation:
 
“but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]!”
 
That’s what it means. Be confident, certain and undaunted.
 
You’re going to have trouble in this world but be confident, certain and undaunted. . . . about what?
 
Jesus said He has overcome the world. And the Amplified Version continues, “I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.”
 
Jesus has conquered the world. We live in a world full of darkness and shadow, but Jesus is stronger than darkness and shadow. He’s stronger than our troubles. He stronger than the things that make us sad. And He has taken the power of those things away.
 
The only way the grief and darkness and trouble of this world have power over us is if we give them power back to control our lives.
 
We have a choice. We don’t have to be controlled by our grief or by the hard times that this world seems to thrive on.
 
It’s not wrong to grieve. It’s not wrong to mourn. But in the midst of those necessary emotional releases, don’t build your house there. Don’t root yourself there. Because if you give those things power in your life, you will live in darkness. And nothing grows well in darkness.
 
So if you’re sad today, mourn. Grieve. Take a moment to understand that you’re not a bad Christian because you feel sad.
 
But don’t stay there.
 
Get up. Take heart. Because grief and mourning have no power over you.