French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Let God hear you sing

How busy are you this Christmas season? Parties to attend? Social gatherings to plan? Last-minute shopping to finish? Honestly, a lot of that is part of what I look forward to. It’s not every day that I get to bake for people and buy awesome and ridiculously funny things for people I love without having to justify myself.

But I’m one of those people who gets caught up in the celebration while sometimes forgetting the reason for it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a perfectionist. Or if it’s because I get focused on a goal or a project. But it’s very easy for me to let go of the purpose behind what I’m doing and keep soldiering forward, even if I don’t remember why I started. Sometimes that’s beneficial, but other times it’s not such a good trait.

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 3:16-17.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

I’ve always read this verse like a benediction, like Paul was gracing his readers with the knowledge and/or ability to live by God’s Word. And maybe he was, but as I read this verse today, something stood out to me about it that I hadn’t seen before. Or maybe I just hadn’t thought about it before.

What does that word Let mean do you?

I did a brief bit of Googling to try to find the appropriate English translation, and I didn’t have much luck. And both my normal go-to translations (the Amplified and the Message) both use the exact same word. Let. So to the best of my ability I can assume it means to let, to allow, to make it happen.

Let God’s Word fill your life. You have to let it, because it won’t get there on its own. That’s the thing about following Christ; it’s not a passive activity. You don’t get wisdom from God through osmosis. You get it through growing closer to Him, through having a relationship with Him, and you can’t have a very good relationship if you’re not invested. And that takes time. Loads and loads of time.

I love Christmas songs, and I love to sing. But I don’t always think about what I’m singing. It’s traditional to sing Christmas songs at Christmas time, so I do. I don’t really question it. But when did I last really take time to sing? Honestly sing? Without pretense, without tradition or expectation. Just singing with a thankful heart, like the verse says.

I posted yesterday about how short life is, and that’s very true. But in our brief lives, some things are worth spending time on, and singing is one of them. Whether it’s Psalms or hymns or spiritual songs–or songs without words that allow you to exalt God–or songs with words that still bring honor and glory to Him with their heart–take the time to sing this Christmas season. Make the time to sing.

I grew up in a musical family, so music is everywhere around me. I don’t go anywhere without it. Singing is normal as breathing for me, and I know it may not be normal for others. But if you’ve never tried just singing for the joy of singing, you should. Just sing for God, so He can hear you. So what if you’re tone deaf? So what if your voice squeaks or you can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Know what? That doesn’t matter.

If you can get comfortable enough with God to sing for Him, you can be comfortable enough to talk to Him. And that’s part of what building a relationship is. The more time you spend with Him, the better you get to know Him. And then one day you’ll wake up and He’s your best friend.

But it probably won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen by accident. It’s intentional. You have to let Him in. So stop fighting him, and take time to sing. What better time of year than Christmas? And if anyone complains about the racket you’re making, just sing louder. Maybe they’ll take the hint and start singing too.

Old broken door to the granary at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Responding to brokenness with joy

Our world is a pretty sad place. Everything’s broken, and brokenness is always sad, whether it’s something small or something big in our lives. But I have met people who have every right to be unhappy and miserable yet somehow they are more cheerful than people who have everything. How is that?

Well, if you’re a Christ follower and you have the Holy Spirit inside you, you have access to a power you can draw on at any time that will help you make it through a day or a week or a month or a year with a cheerful heart. That power is joy.

Old broken door to the granary at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old broken door to the granary at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 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!

But what is joy? Is it just happiness? Is it healthy thinking? Is it a choice? We talk about joy a lot. We say we’re joyful or that we’ve lost our joy or that someone is joyous, but what does it actually mean?

This month I’m doing a study of the Fruit of the Spirit because part of living a life that is led by the Spirit is demonstrating these qualities. I want God’s Spirit to be a part of my life every moment and not just in the times when I don’t know what to do.

From what I understand, the word joy itself that is used in the Bible is the same as happiness. The difference is that many times happiness is something that can be taken away because it’s based on circumstances, but joy is a gift that God gives to people who believe in Him. So that gift doesn’t depend on our circumstances. It depends on the person who gave it, and since we can always trust God, we can always have joy.

But what it comes down to this morning is that joy is a response. No matter what happens in our lives, joy is how we are supposed to answer. Whether we have everything we want or just the things we need or maybe not even that much, we are supposed to respond to life with joy.

Joy is happiness. It is healthy thinking. It’s all of those definitions and more.

The fact that this kind of joy is a Fruit of the Spirit means that it will take some time to cultivate. The difficult part about this kind of joy is that it isn’t readily apparent until you truly begin struggling. If you haven’t had difficulties in your life, I’m not sure you know what this kind of joy is like because you have to know sorrow before you can understand what it’s like to know joy.

When I was younger, I thought I understood, but then I thought I understood a lot when I was young. But when you begin to live and when you truly understand how broken our world is, life is full of sorrow. I don’t know how God stands it. My heart breaks for this world and all the evil things we do.

People hurt each other. We tear down our own lives. We crush dreams. We interfere. Families are falling apart. Life is no longer precious, and what once was bad is now good. Heroes are snubbed and villains are exalted. Everything is backward. Everything is broken. And even where life is supposed to work, there is still dysfunction and sadness and sickness.

But in the midst of all of it, no matter what situation you’re in, you have the power to choose joy. Joy is a response to what God is doing, to what He’s saying, to what you’re learning, to what you’re experiencing. Whether it’s good or bad, whether it’s happy or sorrowful, whatever the situation if you have the Holy Spirit in your life, you can choose to respond to your circumstances with joy. And once you choose to respond with joy, life looks different.

Oh, everything is still broken. That won’t change. But once you choose to respond to that brokenness with God’s joy, your whole perspective shifts because you will understand that the things that matter are still intact. God isn’t broken. The Bible isn’t broken. And while our relationship with Him probably doesn’t look like what it should most of the time, He is still in control and He knows what He’s doing and if we let Him do what He does best, He’ll take the broken pieces of our lives and our dreams and put them together again in a way that accomplishes something awesome.

Granted, we may never see the outcome of the difficult moments in our lives, at least not in a physical way. But what we’ll experience goes beyond mere happiness. Real joy comes from peace and confidence and trust and unwavering knowledge that everything is going to be okay. And once you grasp that, you can respond to anything with a cheerful heart.

If you have the Holy Spirit, you have joy. So what are facing today? Frustrations at work? Frustrations at home? Frustrations in general? All of the above? No matter what you’re facing, you can choose to have joy. Just ask for it and remember that you’re not facing life alone. If you have the Holy Spirit, God is walking through life at your side.

So smile. The world may be broken, but if you belong to Christ, you’re not.

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Choosing to live by the Spirit

I’m hoping that spring will be here soon. In other parts of the country (maybe the world), spring may have already settled in but not in Kansas. In Kansas, we’ve enjoyed a few days of summer and apparently today winter is coming back for a (hopefully) last hurrah. Spring is a wonderful time of year where life comes back to the world, a beautiful picture of what God does in our lives. Yes, the allergies are awful, but watching the world turn green and smelling the blossoming flowers and feeling the warm breezes is absolutely worth it. Spring reminds us that life doesn’t end when we think it does.

I have an orchard here at my little farm. It’s nothing spectacular, just a few apricot trees and pear trees that give new definition to the concept of organic. But in springtime, after the blossoms have fallen, the fruit starts to appear. And it’s a good reminder for me that trees that don’t look like they’re accomplishing anything are actually working–they’re producing something.

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:16-24.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

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!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

What does it mean to live by the Spirit? Some people take it too far, I think, and turn Spirit-filled living into some emotional experience. I’m not saying living by the Spirit is void of emotion; that’s not it at all. But I really think a hallmark of Spirit-filled living is balance. You aren’t ruled by emotion. You aren’t ruled by the law. You’re ruled by the Spirit.

You can be a follower of Christ and have the Spirit of God in you without being filled by Him. You can believe in Christ but not allow the Spirit to work. So how do you live by the Spirit? Well, first of all, you have to know what God wants, and that’s where Bible reading comes in. And then you have to communicate with God, and that’s where prayer comes in. And then you have listen. That’s the hard part for me. Sitting still and listening for God’s voice is difficult when I feel like I need to be rushing around doing ten things at once. But once you can get the point where you learn to recognize God’s voice and obey, you’ll start noticing a difference in your life. And others around you will start noticing too.

Today’s passage is pretty long but it’s one of the best set of verses about living by the Spirit. It’s a good measurement because if you’re living by the Spirit, your life is going to have certain qualities:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These nine qualities are often called the Fruit of the Spirit, and they are what the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we listen to God’s voice and obey.

So for the month of May, I want to study the Fruit of the Spirit. I want to know what they are, what they mean, and what they look like in our lives. I want to make sure I have them because I want to live a life that is Spirit-led. And the first step of accomplishing that is to be still and listen.

Just like verses 24 and 25 say above, as a follower of Christ, my sinful nature has been nailed to the cross. It has no power over me anymore, and through God’s power, I can resist. I don’t have to sin. I can choose not to sin through Christ’s strength. But just because sin has no power over me and heaven is my eternal destination doesn’t automatically mean that I am filled with the Spirit. I have the Spirit; He’s a part of my life. But that doesn’t mean I let Him lead. And that’s what I want.

It’s not required to live by the Spirit if you’re a Christ-follower but it’s the kind of life that God desires for us. It’s the kind of life that can make a difference in the world, and the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to do anything. God has already taken care of the truly hard part. We just have to listen and take God at His Word, and while that can be challenging sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.

So make up your mind. You can be a Christian and cling to your hell insurance or you can choose to let the Spirit lead. The choice is yours, but I say if I’m going to live for Christ, I want to live all out.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Something to remember

What’s the big deal about rejoicing anyway? The Bible says over and over again that we need to rejoice, and Philippians is full of instances where Paul says to be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.

And I get that we need to be joyful because it will help our perspective. I get that we need to rejoice in difficult circumstances because it will help other people be encouraged. And deep down inside I understand that difficult circumstances come to help us grow and to remind us that this world isn’t home. But there are days when it still feels like an exercise in futility to continue rejoicing when nothing seems to go right.

So on those days when it’s difficult to find joy in anything, maybe we need to remember one important fact.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:4-5.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Maybe this doesn’t bring comfort to you like it does to me, but the idea that the Lord is coming soon is enough to make me jump for joy.

I’ve read this set of verses many times, and every time before I have split them up into two statements: An admonishment to rejoice always and instructions to be considerate because God will be coming back soon. But when I read it this morning, I read it differently.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so maybe it wasn’t intended this way. But what if it’s three statements on how to live instead of two? Rejoice. Be considerate. Remember.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

What if that little tag on the end of that verse isn’t a warning like I’ve always thought it was? I’ve always read it like Paul is saying we need to be considerate or else. Rejoice and put others first, or else God will get you when He comes back soon.

But this morning that’s not how it sounds.

Rejoice always. Making this choice is great for our focus and our perspective.

Be considerate. Making this choice is great for our relationships with others.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you don’t feel like rejoicing, you still have something to rejoice about. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you’re so bogged down with your own troubles that you can’t invest in others for a time, you still have something to look forward to.

With the pressures of daily life and the stress of just living, it’s so easy to forget that God is going to come back for us. It’s so easy to get buried in this life and think this is all there is. But this isn’t all there is. This world isn’t home. God is preparing a place for us that defies explanation, and we will get to live there with Him for all eternity, along with the others who have gone before us in Christ. No more sickness. No more pain. No more night. No more suffering. No more conflict or stress or tension.

That is our home. Not this broken, worn down shell of a world that we turned over to Satan thousands of years ago.

Yes. Rejoice always. That’s not an option. When everything goes wrong, rejoice. When everything goes right, rejoice. Choose to have an attitude that makes you unsinkable.

And be considerate of other people. Put others first. Help others succeed. Encourage others. Be there for others.

But above all else, remember, the Lord is coming soon. The world won’t go on like this forever, and when the ticking clock of Time itself finally winds down, all of us who know Christ will get to go on living with Him.

The little annoying troubles in life are just pebbles in our shoes as we’re walking home. Yeah, they’re irritating, but they’re just little things. And, yes, little things can add up until the sum of them feels like a big thing, but that’s perspective. Because even a mountain of pebbles is still insignificant compared to what God can do with faith the size of a mustard seed.

Red, blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Happiness in spite of a broken heart

God can work with a broken heart. Did you realize that? I mean, we say it all the time. We talk about it in church a lot. God uses broken people, which is fortunate because all of us are broken. But those people with broken hearts have the opportunity to be used in a truly great way.

There’s something about recognizing that you are broken that allows you to let God truly do what He wants to do in your life. I don’t know if it’s because you aren’t hiding. I don’t know if it’s because you’re being honest with God and with yourself and with everyone else. I don’t know. But the humility that comes from understanding how broken we are is something that God can take and make beautiful.

Red, blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Red, blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

That one word therefore has a lot riding on it. It really means something like because. So if we really want to understand what these verses are about, we’d better check the verses that come before it. Since I’m doing a study of Philippians right now, I actually blogged on these verses yesterday. But I’ll add them into this text again too.

Philippians 2:5-8 says: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

And because He did this, God elevated Him. That’s where our verses for today pick up. Because He chose to be humble, because He chose to have a humble attitude even though He deserved to rule, God raised Him up.

This is the way it works with all of us. If we are willing to live humble lives with humble attitudes, not trying to cover up our brokenness with religion but trusting God to help us through, God will move us from the lowest rung on the ladder to a place where we can make a real difference for Him.

For years, I tried to do things on my own. I’m independent like that. Of course, I believed in Christ. I trusted God. But I had my own ideas about what my life needed to look like. I had my own ideas about where I would go to school, who I would marry, where I would live, what I would do for a living. And I was bound and determined to do things my way. But my life really hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would.

Just being honest this morning, I really thought I’d be married by now. Or at least, I thought I would have gone on a date. And there was a time when that really bothered me because isn’t that what is supposed to happen? Aren’t all good little Christian girls supposed to grow up, get married, have kids? That’s the norm. That’s the plan I had. That’s what I wanted when I was younger. But there came a day when I realized that what I wanted for my life wasn’t necessarily what God wanted, and at that point I had a choice to make. I could either focus on my discontentment in how my life had turned out and forge ahead to clear a path toward the goal I wanted–or I could go along with what God wanted, in spite of the fact that it led me in a different direction than I ever thought I’d go.

I haven’t always made the best decisions in my life, but this time I decided to go with God. And I’m glad I did. He has allowed me to do things I never thought I’d get to do. He has opened doors for me to help others in ways I never could have if I had been married and had children.

But before He could use me the way He wanted, I had to let go of the dreams I had for me. I had to take the broken pieces of my dreams and my heart and trust them to God to fix or throw away or do whatever He wanted to do with them. And because I was willing to let go of those broken pieces, He was able to do something with them, reshape them, repurpose them, and recreate them into something so much better than I even knew how to wish for.

There are still days when I think about what it would be like if I had gone down that road of marriage and family, but I’m not sad that I’m not there. Maybe that path is still in my future. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m not worried about it because God has given me something to do today, and as a single person I can accomplish more for God because I can be totally dedicated to Him. Not saying a married person can’t be totally dedicated to God, but I imagine it’s more difficult with a spouse and children. Now I look at being single as a privilege.

I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know if you’re married or divorced or single or widowed or somewhere between all of those. But what I do know is that God can take a broken heart and make it beautiful again. He can take the unhappiness and discontent that living life for yourself, by yourself inevitably brings and turn it into something wonderful and, satisfying and full. But you’ve got to be humble enough to trust Him. You’ve got to be willing to let go of what you think you deserve or what you think life owes you or what you think God owes you.

If you can do that, you’ll be surprised where you end up, and you’ll be amazed what He gives you the opportunity to do.