The road leading to Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Use your tough times like a stepping stone

I’ve been walking quite a bit in recent weeks, though not recently. Most recently I’ve been locked in my room trying to finish the two books I have in the works (the third AlwaysPeachy devotional book and a romantic comedy for Crosshair Press). But while I was walking regularly outside, I made it about two miles every evening after work. And I remembered something that I had forgotten.

My house is on a hill. Whether you come at it from the east or the west, you have to go up hill. Now, granted, it’s not a huge hill. This is Kansas, and while we do have some variety in our topography, generally speaking we’re pretty flat. But walking to my house isn’t all on level ground. When you start out, the going is easy. Then, you get to the far section line and turn around and bam! You’ve got a really good walk ahead of you.

The road leading to Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The road leading to Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 3:14.

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.

When you experience trouble in life, you develop your own momentum as you deal with them. I didn’t take Physics, but I understand momentum and inertia. An object in motion stays in motion. So if you can get an object moving, as long as no other force counteracts it, it will keep moving. When you go through trouble in your life, you have to start moving, but when you stop is up to you.

When I’m in the thick of dealing with a big challenge in my life, I engage mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically to get through it. I have to, or it’ll bury me. And sometimes when that challenge has been conquered, all I really want to do is collapse on my couch and watch a Jane Austen movie. And sometimes that’s what I do.

But on some occasions, I have the blessing of being able to see more problems on the horizon. I can see them coming, so they don’t surprise me. And instead of relaxing, instead of letting down, I keep up my high level of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical alertness. Why? Because while they’re already at a high level, it’s easier to keep them that way than it is to let them fall only to have to build them back up again.

It’s like going downhill. At the top of a hill, you can go downhill really fast, but at the bottom, at the foot of another hill, you have the choice. You can stop and catch your breath, or you can use your momentum to get most of the way up the next hill before you slow down.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t stop and rest. Trust me, if you’re about to fall over or pass out, the best thing you can do is stop and take a breather. But I know that the second hill is a lot easier to get over if you can use the momentum you gained from conquering the first hill.

Have you got troubles coming your way? Maybe not even trouble. Just busyness. Everybody has that. The holidays are coming, and that usually means we all go nuts.

Get ready now. Start climbing the hill now so you can hit your downhill stride when the craziness gets here, and that way you can coast for quite a ways up the oncoming hill without straining. Sure, you’ll have to kick it back in gear eventually, but part of endurance is knowing when to coast and when to pedal for all you’ve got.

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A steep section of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Walking buddies

When I went to England last summer, I got to walk along Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient Roman fortification that separated the “civilized south” from the “barbarian north.” The section that we walked is called Steel Rigg, and it’s a beautiful trail that winds up and down through the green windswept highlands. Maybe some people think it’s barren, but I think it’s beautiful. And steep. It was ridiculously steep in some places, and I’m not the most graceful or coordinated person. The photograph I picked today shows a particularly treacherous bit. I snapped the picture while the three people ahead of us were trying to get up the side of the hill, just for perspective. You probably have to enlarge the photo to see them (yes, that man is wearing a camouflage poncho….Americans).

I’m not a really active person. I’m trying to be. I’m working on being more active, walking more and taking the stairs and such, but a three or four mile hike up and down wet stone steps with crazy wind isn’t something I do every day. So I was a little nervous about it. And, plus, since I have a clumsy streak, I was absolutely sure I was going to trip on one of the ancient stone steps and tumble down a hillside. But I was determined that I was going to finish this. And I did.

Granted, I had my best friend along with me, reminding me to take it slow and walking beside me in spite of my snail’s pace. And we had a guide with us who knew where he was going. And my brother was along, who’s just a calming influence on me anyway. Without the three of them, there’s no way I would have braved Hadrian’s Wall.

A steep section of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

A steep section of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verse is Isaiah 41:10.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

New years are hard work. They’re sort of like starting from scratch, except you go into them carrying all your excess baggage from the previous year. There are only so many resolutions you can make (only so many resolutions you can keep), and most of the time you find yourself giving in toward the end of the second week anyway.

I’d love to believe that a new year means you can start over again, but turning a calendar page doesn’t give you the power to start a new life. It just means you have to press forward in spite of all the junk you didn’t finish last year. Let’s just be real here. Can you honestly say you’ve done everything you had planned to do in 2013? How about in 2012 or 2011 or 2010? You get the point. I still have projects I started in 1994 that I’m trying to get done (maybe that’s just me).

And that’s discouraging. Personally I have so many awesome things I want to do, so many things I want to accomplish, but life keeps getting in the way, and it’s frustrating beyond measure. And when I sit down with my calendar to figure out how to fit everything I want to do into this set of 365 days, I begin to see how impossible it is, and it makes me want to give up, especially when I meet resistance from every angle.

Then, I run into a verse like Isaiah 41:10 that reminds me not to be afraid or discouraged. Whether it’s the start of a new year or not, life is full of uncertainties, and if you focus on them, you’ll depress yourself. Not knowing is always depressing, I think. And that’s why it’s important to focus on what we do know. As Christ followers, we know that God is with us. We know that He’s promised never to leave us, and we know that He’s working everything in our lives out for good, in spite of how crummy our circumstances may look right now.

It’s like walking along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s hard work, living life. Sometimes you have to watch your feet instead of the scenery because you aren’t sure if your next step is going to be solid enough to transfer your weight from one stone to another, but you can’t stop moving. I mean, you can. But what good will that do you? You can give up and stop moving forward, and then you’ll be stranded out in the middle of Northern England until someone brings a helicopter to come pick you up.

Like Hadrian’s Wall, life has ups and downs, harsh inclines and steep drops, damp stone steps and uncertain footing, and it can be tempting to give up and stand still. That’s why it’s important to have somebody walking with you, someone who moves at your pace, someone who knows where they’re going, someone to catch you when you fall.

Everyone is facing something today. Financial challenges. Work challenges. Health challenges. Family challenges. There’s a challenge for every person–sometimes more than one, usually more than two or three. But as Christ followers, we’re not facing those challenges alone. We just have to remember that. God has told us not to be afraid and not to be discouraged. He will give us the strength we need to keep moving forward. He is always victorious, and He’s offering that help to us today. We just have to take it.

Dead sunflowers in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Endure suffering like a soldier

I come from a family with a proud military background. No one in my immediate family is in the military now, but many relatives have served this country as soldiers, dating back to the Civil War. Some marched or drove tanks in World War II. Some fought in Korea. And I’m proud of that, and I’m proud to have many friends who are in every branch of the service, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Being a soldier is no small thing. It’s a huge sacrifice, not only for the person who chooses it but for his (or her) family as well.

So when the Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus are soldiers for Christ, what does that mean? How should that affect the way we live? How should that change the way we make decisions? How should that prepare us for the difficult times that are coming?

Dead sunflowers in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflowers in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Timothy 2:3.

Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

How does a soldier endure suffering? I’ve never been a soldier in a military sense, so I don’t know. But I have been around many people who have had to stay behind while their loves ones leave the safety of home and travel to distant places in order to protect our country. And I can imagine that probably produces some suffering on both sides, the soldier who leaves and the family who stays. But what I have observed (at least from the family who stays) is something that challenges me in the way I follow Christ. And if I’m wrong, you military folks, please feel free to correct me. But this is what I have observed.

The ones who stay and the ones who go both have difficulties and hardships they have to endure. They’re expecting them, and they are prepared for them. And while they don’t rejoice to be separated or to have to go through those difficult things, they understand it’s for a greater purpose. So even though they’re lonely, even though sometimes they’re scared, even though sometimes they just wish it was all over, if you ask them, they will tell you it’s necessary and they understand.

And that makes me step back and reassess the way I deal with difficult things in my own life. Because if we’re supposed to endure difficult things like good soldiers (the Amplified Version says first-class soldiers), I need to take a lesson from some soldiers. When trouble comes my way, I shouldn’t hide from it, and it shouldn’t catch me off guard. I need to be ready for it. I need to be expecting it. And just because things get rough, that doesn’t give me the excuse to complain. This is war, after all. War isn’t fun.

What I love about this scripture is that it doesn’t say we’re supposed to endure suffering like a good general or a good admiral or a good commander in chief. It says we should endure like soldiers. Soldiers aren’t really in command. They aren’t in charge. There is someone above them making the decisions, calling the plays, issuing orders. Soldiers are supposed to obey–immediately, enthusiastically, whole-heartedly.

That’s where I get caught. Because when God tells me to do something I’ll do it, but it’s usually not immediately. And most of the time it’s not enthusiastically. And it’s rarely with my whole heart. I want to know why. I want to know what’s going to happen. I want to know the next step before I take the first step. But a soldier who constantly questions the orders he’s given isn’t good for much.

So are you going through some difficult things today? Are you facing hardships and troubles? Everyone does. If you aren’t today, you will tomorrow; and if you’ve never experienced trouble, you’re not paying attention.  Don’t be surprised when tough things come your way, and make the conscious choice to handle it the way the Message lays it out:

When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be lonely. It’s okay to feel all those things, but you have to place more value on choosing to overcome those feelings than choosing to wallow in them. That’s the difference between a citizen and a soldier. A soldier looks past the emotion and does what is necessary. And they have understand that they don’t always need to understand, especially when they have a commander they can trust.

So face the trouble in your life today like a soldier. Endure it for a higher purpose. Endure it with the understanding that the war won’t last forever and we’ll eventually get to go home for the biggest reunion in the history of time. It will change your perspective on a lot of things.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Hope is dangerous

I saw a great movie this weekend, and while there were many parts of it that were stunning and remarkably well done, there was one concept that stuck out to me. I can’t remember the line, but the concept is that hope is poisonous. That life is nothing but despair and hope is the poison that kills us slowly. After all, there’s no worse prison than the one you think you can escape but never really can.

In that instance, I suppose you could look at hope as being poisonous, especially if you just want to die and hope won’t let you. And actually, it applies to life. Because there are days when life feels like a prison, where you’re surrounded by enemies, where you just can’t ever win, where you just can’t ever get ahead. Without hope, it wouldn’t be worth living. And even those people who live on hope from day-to-day, get tired.

In selecting a verse for today, at first, I thought of the passages in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is pointing out that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, all our faith is in vain which would make Christians the most miserable people of all. And that’s true, but hope for salvation and resurrection isn’t exactly what I’m needing this morning. I know Christ is alive. I know He rose from the dead, and I trust that His sacrifice redeemed me and that when my time on earth is done, I’ll get to go home.

But what about today? I’m still on earth, and it’s Monday. Again. And no matter how much I try not to stress, I have a stressful life. And I have people in my life who are against me. And I have situations in my life that are discouraging. And I have relationships that are complicated and strained and overwhelming. So how do I hold on to hope today when all I really feel like doing is giving up?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunrise at 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.

Like faith, hope is a choice. It’s not an ethereal, abstract concept that’s just floating around in the void and can’t be truly understood. Hope is a concrete fact. It’s something you choose to do day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute.

The difficulty with hope isn’t that it’s poisonous. It’s just dangerous.

You have to be careful where you set your hope. If you have made your accomplishments or your education the source of your hope, you’re going to be in trouble. Because those things will fail you. If you have made your wealth or your possessions the source of your hope, those things will eventually fade. And if you’ve made people your source of hope or even the strength of the human spirit (whatever that means), they will eventually let you down.

You have to be careful where your hope comes from.

This passage out of Jeremiah talks about tree that draws its strength from a river. If that river were polluted, the tree would be too. And that river where the tree drew its strength would do more harm than good.

But if you’re drawing your hope from God, from Christ, from what is written in Scripture, you’ll be like a tree by a clean, pure river that grows strong and tall with deep roots. In bad storms, you won’t fall. And during times of intense discomfort, you’ll still be able to do what God created you to do.

So how do you put your hope in God? It’s a choice.

You choose to trust Him. You choose to believe what the Bible says: that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s working everything out for the good of those who follow Him, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises.

Or you can give up.

It’s up to you.

Jesus is alive. So I have hope that some day I will get to go home.

But I also know that God is still working in my life, growing me, helping me, walking with me. And because I know that, I also have hope for today, that no matter what comes He’s there. And there’s nothing we can’t tackle together.