The kitchen counter at Safe Haven Farm after a week (or two or three), Haven, KS

Facing anxieties like ripping off a band-aid

I am a procrastinator, at least when it comes to things I don’t want to do. If it’s something I’m passionate about, I’ll jump up and do it right away, with zeal! But if it’s something I don’t really have interest in doing anyway? Well, it can wait until later. After all, I don’t really need it right now, do I? It’s not important, right?

Wrong. It may not be important now, but it will be important later. And later, when you have run out of time to do a good job on it, you’ll be wishing for the time you wasted back again.

Why is it so easy to procrastinate? I know I’m not the only one out there, and it confuses me. Because I’m a rational person. Some might even call me a wise person. But still–even though I know the consequences–I would often rather face the consequences and do what I want instead of doing what I should do.

It irritates me. But I guess it doesn’t irritate me enough to change. Take my dishes for example (please, take them). If you’ve been reading my posts for a long time, you’ll remember a few other times that I’ve posted about my amazing, alarming stacks of dishes that pile up. It’s not that I don’t like doing dishes. It’s just that there are other more important things to spend my time on. Dirty dishes don’t bother me. They only bother me when I know people are coming over and I know a countertop overflowing with dirty dishes will make me look irresponsible. Then I care about my dishes, and then I spring into action. Of course, it takes ten times longer than it would have if I just did them earlier.

The kitchen counter at Safe Haven Farm after a week (or two or three), Haven, KS

The kitchen counter at Safe Haven Farm after a week (or two or three), Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:11.

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

Living a disciplined life isn’t easy, and there never seems to be an end to it. Because the moment you conquer one aspect of your life and bring it under control, another area seems to let go. Living a disciplined life feels like trying to hold on to sand. The more you grab, the more keeps slipping through your fingers. You bring one area of your life under control, but when you let go of it to seize another area, you lose your grip.

The trick is finding the balancing point, where you are able to live and live well according to how God would want. But you won’t get there overnight. And the journey isn’t easy. And I can guarantee you’ll never get there if you procrastinate.

For me, it’s convincing myself that acting immediately is better than acting later. That requires a change of thinking. But how do you do that? I’m still trying to work it out, but I can tell you that my main reason for procrastination is anxiety.

When I’m facing a challenge that seems completely out of my control, the last thing I want to do is jump in with both feet, especially if I’m on my own. No, I back off and let everything settle. I let myself calm down, first, because jumping in unprepared rattles me, and I can’t recover when I’m challenged. But once I’ve backed off, it’s much easier to keep backing off. It’s much easier to find something more important (or more urgent) to focus on instead of doing what I should be doing, and I rationalize it telling myself that I’m not ready or that I’m not qualified enough.

Lies. Lies that spring from anxiety and insecurity. None of which comes from God .

Facing challenges is so much better if you treat them like a band-aid. Don’t just pick at it. Rip it off. Get it over with. The sooner you get over the pain, the sooner you can get on with life. And if we could look at our uncomfortable life situations that way too, I think we’d all be a lot happier and a lot less stressed. Because that’s ultimately what procrastination leads to. Stress, stress, and more stress, and eventually a poor job done because you didn’t give yourself enough time to do a good job.

Learn to be disciplined enough to shut out those anxious lying whispers when you’re faced with a challenge that scares you. No, don’t be foolish. Don’t just jump into something that you can’t handle. But don’t run away from it either, especially if it’s something you have to do, for work or for ministry or whatever.

Discipline is hard work, but if you can learn it, if you can live with it, if you can figure out a way to integrate it into your life, life itself will get a lot better, and you’ll reap the rewards of it.

So how do you do it? Well, it starts with knowing what the right thing to do is. Know what you’re supposed to do and then choose to do it. It’s that simple.

No. Not easy. It will take time and sacrifice and dedication and commitment. But the choice to act is ultimately simple, and the satisfaction you’ll feel once you’re finished will be worth it.

So why are you wavering between choosing to act or choosing to retreat? You know what you’re supposed to do. So do it.

Now.

A boat on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Galveston, TX

God’s truth is our anchor in life

Why do ships need anchors? I’m not a boating expert at all, but I would assume everyone knows why. When a ship wants to stop and not move any further along its course, it has to drop its anchor so the water won’t carry it away.

Water never stops moving, and it’s teeming with all sorts of invisible currents. The water you touch at one moment is completely different from the water you touch the next. It’s always moving and shifting, and it carries everything that isn’t weighed down along for the ride. So if a ship doesn’t want to move, it has to drop an anchor that will keep it in place.

Have you ever thought that life is a little like that? Life never stops moving. It’s full of invisible forces you don’t always understand that are pulling you along whether you want to go or not, and if you don’t have something to hold you down, you’ll be swept away.

A boat on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Galveston, TX

A boat on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Hebrews 2:1.

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.

I don’t know why people struggle with truth so much. Maybe it’s because we really can’t wrap our minds around the concept of an absolute. We really can’t. We are eternal beings, but since we haven’t experienced an absolute eternity yet, we can’t understand what it will be like. So when it comes to absolutes like truth, we can try our hardest but I’m not sure we’ll actually understand it like we understand other things. Like the way language works or like the way an engine works.

But even if we can’t understand truth on the same level that God does, we can still recognize it. You know the truth when you hear it, especially if you are a Christ-follower and you have the Holy Spirit whispering in your heart. The Bible is true, and God gave it to us so we’d know how to live.

So why is it so difficult?

Well, how good a listener are you? I’m not as good as I could be. Did you ever take those standardized tests that measured your listening as a child? I don’t remember what my score was, but those tests were hard. You couldn’t necessarily trust what you saw on the page, and you had to listen to what the teacher said if you wanted a passing grade.

Funny how similar life can be to tests, isn’t it?

Just because you see something or hear something that you think is a good idea doesn’t make it right or true. You have to compare it to what God says, because what God says is always right and true. We have to remember. We have to pay attention. We have to listen.

God’s way, the right and true way, will act like an anchor in our lives. When this broken world and all its problems try to sweep us away, the truth will help us stand.

So know what God says. Listen to what He says. And do it. If you don’t, the storms of life will blow you down. Sure, the storms of life may still beat you up a bit, but when they blow themselves out you’ll still be standing.

 

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.