Decorative cross ornament from my Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Believing when Christmas is over

Christmas is my favorite time of year, and ringing in the New Year is always bittersweet for me because that means Christmas is over. That means vacation is done and I have to go back to the “real world” again. And we also have to take all our decorations down. That’s the part I dislike the most, mainly because taking decorations down is so much more difficult than putting them up in the first place. That’s what I did on New Year’s Day–took down Christmas decorations, packed up the lights and the ornaments and disassembled the trees. We stuffed everything in boxes and stuffed all the boxes in the basement where they’ll wait until the day after Thanksgiving in 2014 when we’ll put them all up again. I guess it’s a vicious cycle. So why keep doing it?

During the Christmas season, everyone talks about hope and dreams and being thankful for family and friends. Even people who don’t follow Christ do it. It’s just something amazing God does in people’s hearts at Christmastime, and part of that comes from the decorations, I think. Because if people who don’t even believe in Christ can set up a Christmas tree and decorate their homes and sing Christmas carols about the night of His birth, you have to admit that’s something special.

When it comes down to it, I think it’s easier to believe in God at Christmastime because the whole world stops, even if the world doesn’t understand why it’s stopping. It’s easier to remember that Christ brought us hope because we’re face to face with representations of that hope in every manger scene on every street corner. It’s easier for me to believe in general because I get a reminder of God’s goodness every time I see an ornament or a tree or a blinking light on a tree.

So what do we do when all the decorations are gone?

Decorative cross ornament from my Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Decorative cross ornament from my Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 27:11-14.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Christmas should be more than a time of year for Christ-followers; Christmas, or at least what Christmas means, should be a lifestyle. Maybe it’s more difficult to get through the ordinary everyday grind when Christmas isn’t coming, but just because we haven’t got the tree or the ornaments or the lights up doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate what Christmas is. And since we don’t have the reminders on every street corner and on every radio station, we have to make more of an effort to remind ourselves.

Life has bumps and valleys we have to get through. We face challenges and obstacles that are way bigger than we are, and sometimes it really does feel like life’s circumstances are laughing at us. Sometimes I feel like life is just looking for the next opportunity to screw with me. But whether that’s true or not, my responsibility as a Christ follower doesn’t change.

My attitude and my perspective is my responsibility. Tough times are coming, more than I know about, and I need to accept that so I can move on, so I can face those oncoming difficulties remembering who God is and what He’s done for me, in spite of the fact that it isn’t Christmas. It’s absolutely 100% possible to keep believing when it isn’t Christmas; it just takes an effort.

Experiencing God’s goodness doesn’t mean life is perfect. Life down here will never be perfect. That’s the point. But God is still here. God is present in our lives, and He never stops taking care of us, and if we look for Him, we’ll see Him. If we’re open to what He’s doing, He’ll become obvious.

You don’t need a Christmas tree to keep celebrating Christmas, sort of like you don’t need perfect circumstances to believe that God is still working. Just believe. Make the choice today, that no matter what happens in your life you’ll keep believing. It won’t be easy. Life is hard, but God is good.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live fearless in the face of bad news

This isn’t what I planned to post today. I had a completely different thought in mind, but after the events of yesterday, I don’t think I could post anything else. How often do you wake up and expect that the day is going to be normal? You go to work or school or you stay home and do household chores. Whatever is normal for you. And then life T-bones you. It hits you so hard you can’t stop spinning. And the bad news keeps coming.

That was my Monday. I can’t go into detail. It’s all still awfully fresh. But I needed a strong reminder today to help me face the day with confident hope, and I hope if anyone else reads this, they find it too.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 112:7-8.

They do not fear bad news;
    they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
They are confident and fearless
    and can face their foes triumphantly.

I’ve posted on this before. Probably more than once, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt it as strongly as I feel it right now. Our world is full of bad news. You can’t turn on the television or the radio or even read a newspaper or a Tweet without realizing how incredibly screwed up our world is. And as much as I wish Christ-followers could be immune, we’re not. We’re floundering in the midst of it with everyone else.

But do we have to flounder? Does the bad news we get have to shake us to the core of who we are?

No. As much as I don’t feel it today, I still believe that bad news doesn’t have to scare us. The news we don’t want to hear doesn’t have to destroy our lives or our families or our futures.

This Psalm is referencing people who revere or worship the Lord. That’s the they in the Psalm. Notice it doesn’t say that people who fear the Lord won’t ever get bad news. No, we all get bad news, no matter what we believe. But those of us who know God through Christ don’t have to see bad news as an end, because we know God has it under control.

It doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. It doesn’t mean we don’t cry. It doesn’t mean we don’t ache inside for the people who are hurting and the families that are facing such enormous heartache. There’s a time for that. And a time to grieve is good and healthy.

Just realize that you don’t have to be afraid of it. We can all trust that God is going to take care of it all, and we can face the challenges in our lives with confidence, fearlessly. Because the worst news we get on Earth can’t even touch the best news we’ve already gotten, and that is hope through Christ. No matter what we face here, no matter the heartache and the sadness and the pain, this world isn’t our final destination. And the day is coming soon when we’ll get to go home, and we won’t have to hear bad news ever again.

But until then, don’t fear it. God’s bigger and stronger, and even if life doesn’t turn out the way you hope, God won’t leave you to walk it alone.

Don’t be a zombie.

Has anyone else noticed the surge of literature and media about zombies? I don’t mind it, although the literary nerd in me balks at the modification of Jane Austen’s classics into zombie apocalypse novels (I actually understand they’re pretty good).

It’s interesting to me because that is the prevailing thought or comprehension of what it is to be brought back to life after you die. You turn into a zombie. Some mindless, groaning, decomposing monster that lumbers around eating people.

Sounds great.

But resurrection in Scripture has a much different look and feel. One of the most famous chapters in Scripture is John 11 where a good friend of Christ’s, Lazarus, dies and Jesus goes to raise him from the dead. Today’s verse is John 11:25.

25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

People have called it one of the most profound verses in Scripture. And why not? This simple statement is deep. Jesus said this to Martha after her brother Lazarus died … shortly before Jesus would raise him to life again.

And I’ve heard it many many times. You can’t be in any church’s drama team when Easter comes around and not know this verse. I’ve been involved in three passion plays and a passion play divided into four parts, and this verse was in all of them.

It’s one of those famous statements of Jesus’ that is used over and over and over again until everyone has heard it and everyone recognizes it — but no one knows what it means.

What does it mean?

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it means too much to sum up simply. That’s what makes it so profound.

I mean, first of all, it was heretical at the time. Shoot, it’s heretical now, even in some “Christian” circles to believe something like this: that your sole source of salvation from sin is through Christ alone.

It means that all you need is Christ.

It means that once you accept Christ, death has no power over you anymore. Because even if you die, you’ll still live.

It means you actually have to die before you can live, literally and figuratively. How’s that for blowing your brain cells on an early Wednesday morning?

It means so much. There are so many truths packed into a simple two sentences, it’s unreal. But that is how Jesus speaks. Nothing He says is extraneous.

And even though I’ve read this verse and heard this verse and know this verse, this morning, something stood out to me that I knew but hadn’t really thought about before.

Why do you think Christ makes a distinction between being the resurrection and the life?

He calls Himself the Resurrection. Then, He calls Himself the Life.

Why doesn’t He just call Himself the Life? Why doesn’t He just call Himself the Resurrection? Because a part of me had always thought they were the same. But they’re not if you think about it.

Resurrection is restoration. It’s a return to living, a revitalization of someone who had been dead.

Life is life. Life is the everyday challenges and pursuits we face. Life is what we live. Life is a process.

Resurrection is something extraordinary. Life is mundane. But Christ identifies Himself as both separately.

What does that mean? Because Jesus doesn’t waste words. If He wanted people to know that He was just the Resurrection, that’s all He would have called Himself. Likewise with Life. But He didn’t do that. He’s both. And it was important enough to identify both individually.

And that tells me that He is the only source of our Resurrection — our return to living from our sentence of death. He is also the only source of our Life – the purpose we have for living.

That’s huge. Because not only does He love us enough to grant us new life in resurrection, freeing us from the bondage that sin and corruption and death has in our lives, He loves us enough to give us Life too.

Because it’s one thing to return to life. It’s another thing to live, truly live.

What do you think it was like for Lazarus? Or for the other people Christ brought back to life? It’s my personal opinion that they didn’t remember heaven. Because if they had remembered heaven, they would have had no interest in living in this world. Personally, I feel that’s why Christ cried at Lazarus’s tomb before He raised him from the dead. He didn’t want to have to bring Lazarus back to this cold, broken world, but it was something that had to happen to demonstrate to people who Jesus was and is. But what was life like for Lazarus after he came back? Because he had to live, but how did he live?

I know Christians who have trusted Christ. That’s the resurrection. Accepting Him and His gift of salvation brings us back to life. But many times it stops there. And people who have been raised from the dead keep living for things that are temporary.

But that’s not why Christ offers to bring us back to life. He wants to bring us to life so that we can really live, and that means living for things that will last forever. Loving God. Loving people. Living in a way that impacts eternity.

You can’t really live if you’re focused on things that will fade away once the world ends.

Going back to the zombie illustration: all a zombie is really is someone who’s been brought back to life. And if you call “life” lumbering around mostly decomposed, groaning and eating people … then, zombies really live.

Resurrection isn’t enough to live. Resurrection brings you back to life. But living is up to you. Living is a choice. And who you live for will determine the quality and the purpose of your life.

Got life?

Today’s verse is 1 John 5:12.

12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

I’m going to be brief this morning, mainly because there’s not much I can say about this verse. It’s pretty self explanatory. It’s one of those verses in the Bible that can probably cause a lot of controversy because it’s very straightforward.

If you believe in Christ, you have life.

If you don’t believe in Christ, you don’t have life.

Straight. To the point. Clear.

If you have the opportunity, you really should read all of 1 John 5. It talks a lot about how a Christian should live and about how we know Jesus is the Son of God.

But the most basic point from this section is this: Jesus is the Son of God, and if you know Him, you have eternal, real life.

The life we’re living now isn’t eternal and it sure isn’t real. People say that we live in a real world, but we don’t. Earth — the earth that we see, at least — is temporary, a mere shadow of what exists beneath it.

I love The Matrix because it’s such a clear picture of a false world people think is real.

The Bible tells us that the things we see will pass away but that it’s the things we can’t see that will last forever. It’s the things we can’t see — the soul, God, Love — that are real.

Until you know Christ, you won’t grasp any of those unseen things.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s a hard one to swallow because people say it’s exclusive. Well, it’s not. Being exclusive is refusing to accept someone because of something about them — their hair, their skin color, their history. No one is excluded from the offer of salvation through Christ. Everyone is welcome, and everyone has a choice. The church has done a lot of harm in this matter, though, and if you would ask a lot of churches in America today, they would tell you there are requirements in how you look or how you act. They would tell you to get your life straightened out before you came to Christ, and that’s not true.

God wants us just the way we are. If we waited until we got our lives straightened out, we’d never come at all because none of us will ever be right until we come to Christ. And even after we come to Him, all that means is that we’ve asked for forgiveness for the things we’ve done wrong and He’s forgiven us. That’s it. We’re still the screwed up people we’ve always been, and we’ll still make mistakes. But we have the Holy Spirit inside us, helping us get through life and urging us to make the right choices.

I want to live a real life, and I don’t just mean being genuine. I want to live a life that focuses on real things — on people, on God, on my relationship with God. Those are the things that will last forever. Not my material possessions. Not my education. Not my wealth (or lack thereof). Are all of these things good? Well, yes, they’re nice, and I’m thankful for what I have, but I don’t have to live my life based on them.

I know Jesus personally, so that means I have life. So it’s my responsibility to live the life He’s given me to its fullest extent, focusing on the things that will last forever. Because if you build your life on an eternal foundation, when everything else falls apart around you, your life will still be standing.

Encouragement for a Monday morning

Ephesians 1:18 – I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he has called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

This was my verse for today and it really encouraged me.

With the end of Judgement House this year, I’m expecting a bit of gloom to settle over everything. It always does. So I was super excited to pick up my e-mail this morning and see this verse smiling at me.

What a difference a single little modifier makes! The word confident shouted out from the page at me this morning. Paul didn’t pray just for us to remember the hope we have in Christ . . . but that we would remember the confident hope we have. Confidence makes all the difference in the world.

You can hope for something without really believing it will come true. I do it all the time, I hate to admit. I’m an unpublished writer. =) Hope is my bread and butter. But confident hope? That’s something different.

We can hope confidently in the promises God has made to us because He is trustworthy. We can trust Him–and be confident in Him–because He is who He is.

Craziness

So . . . Life is crazy. I just thought I’d share that.

Work is great but really nuts. So much to do. I’ve been pulling 12 hour shifts with no real break for lunch, and now I’m going to have to start working from home on some weekends too. But it’s all good. =) Once November 1 hits, all the deadlines will pass and things will slow down.

Judgement House is getting ready to start too!

So exciting! I will try to post more when I have a moment . . . but no guarantees! =D