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.

Lamp at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Juggernaut

I said yesterday that the world needs unstoppable Christians, even though the world doesn’t want them. But what does it mean to be an unstoppable Christian? What does it look like? What does it sound like?

Lamp at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Lamp at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 16:18.

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

This is one of those verses that causes some confusion, mainly because English is such a strange language and doesn’t translate well. It’s a good example of how you can’t just pick a single verse out of Scripture and proclaim it to be how everyone should live without trying to understand it in context. This is Jesus speaking, and many people think He is saying that He will build the Church on Peter. That’s not the case, and that’s a discussion for another day. The Church is built on Jesus; He’s the real Rock.

But the statement I really want to focus on this morning is the fact that the Church is to be so strong that the gates of hell (or the gates of Hades) won’t be able to stop it.

Whenever I read this verse, the only word that comes to mind is juggernaut. It’s a fun word to say, besides, but the concept is true. The Church was intended to be a juggernaut. An unstoppable force that charges through life unafraid and uncompromising. And for the most part, I think the Church is there … except for the unafraid and uncompromising part. Because from what I have seen, the Church is afraid and because we are afraid, we have compromised on the things that really matter, allowing the things that don’t to turn us into something Christ never intended.

I’m not trying to start a discussion. This isn’t a political blog. It’s a daily devotional. And I had intended to post on how hope makes us unstoppable ever since I finished the post yesterday. It just so happened that today is August 1, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. I hadn’t planned to post anything about it, but this is what God laid on my heart last night. He actually didn’t let me sleep much because of it; I spent much of the night arguing with Him about saying anything at all.

I’m not taking sides with anyone other than God on this one. It’s too politically charged, no matter how much people say it isn’t. No one is listening on either side; everyone is angry on both sides. So I’ll stay on God’s side and let everyone else fight it out. All I’ll say is I believe the Bible. By all means, go eat a chicken sandwich; I think it’s good to support a business, and I applaud the folks at Chick-Fil-A for being courageous enough to stand for something, especially when that “something” is an unpopular opinion. I appreciate that they have comported themselves with dignity and respect.

But I’m not so sure the rest of the Christians attending Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day will behave the same way.

I think many Christians have bought into the idea that the Church is a juggernaut barreling through life, mowing people over, throwing its weight around. And the perception the world has gotten from that kind of “unstoppable” is that the Church is a bully. Whether that was our intention or not, I think that’s what the world sees.

Christians, we don’t need to bully people who don’t believe. We need to love them.

I posted yesterday that hope is part of a process. You have to have faith before you can have hope. Guess what? You have to have hope before you can love.

Do we understand the hope we have in Christ? I mean, really? Think about it. We all make mistakes. Without Christ in our lives, we would be lost and wandering around with no guidance and no direction and no security. Without Christ in our lives, we would have no purpose. I can’t imagine my life without Him. He’s my closest friend, my biggest supporter, the shoulder I cry on, the one person I trust with everything I am. He is my hope.

And people with that kind of hope are unstoppable. Not because they are confident in their own abilities or their own wisdom or their own translation of the Bible. No. They are unstoppable because that kind of hope gives them the freedom to love everybody … no matter who they are or what they’ve done or what they believe.

That is the kind of hope the Church needs. That is the kind of unstoppable the Church needs to be. Not a bully barreling through the streets, crushing the hopeless under our wheels. But a light that people can’t ignore and can’t say anything bad about.

I am upset that a respectable business (with darn good food) is being threatened simply because their CEO expressed something that people don’t agree with. The inequity of the situation isn’t lost on me. But it doesn’t surprise me either. Come on, Christians. Didn’t you see this coming? We aren’t the first ones the world has hated. The world hated Christ long before it hated us. But just because they hate us doesn’t mean we have to hate them back.

If we understand the hope we have in Christ, we don’t need to resort to hatred; we have access to something stronger. Love. If you follow Christ, you have the Holy Spirit, Who will give you the power to love people beyond what you are capable of doing alone.

Our culture is childish. This entire situation is evidence, and the world’s reaction proves it. And how the Church responds to this will determine many things. The culture wants what they want no matter what the consequences; they don’t believe in consequences. They want to do what they want to do.

Let them.

And love them anyway. It’s what Christ did for us. And let them see through our love that everything they think is important and everything they think matters most is dust in the wind. And that there is something better than what they can see right now.

If you are a Christian and you are attending Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, I beg you to remember your witness. I beg you to ask yourself why you’re going. And I beg you to take every opportunity to show love to everyone you meet there. Don’t make this about politics. Don’t make this about bullying. Make it an opportunity to show the world what real unstoppable hope looks like.

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Love in spite of success

Life is backward. Have you noticed that? Not like Benjamin Button backwards, but so many times we think we know everything there is so know and we discover that we really know nothing at all. We think anger will solve a problem when we really need to be kind. We think our knowledge will solve an issue when we really need to trust someone else. We think we have reason to mourn when really we have reason to rejoice.

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lots of apricots - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:15

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

The fact that Scripture has to tell us to do this is evidence of how screwed up the world is. You’d think this would be common sense, wouldn’t you? When someone is happy, be happy for them. When someone is sad, be sad with them. But so many times, this isn’t what we do.

I’ve seen people who are supposed to love each other fall apart because one of them succeeds and the other fails. I’ve watched friendships deteriorate over this. And I don’t understand. Because if we love each other, we should be happy for each other. We should rejoice when the people we love experience success or see their dreams come true.

But so many times, it doesn’t happen that way. When someone we love succeeds, we get jealous. We feel envious of our friends who we love because they have found something we haven’t yet. Or because they have achieved something we feel they don’t deserve, and we get angry because we feel like we do deserve it. And when friends can’t support each other, the friendship falls apart.

Why is that?

The whole chapter of Romans 12 is about how to live. And for me, the main verse is Romans 12:9.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.

If you really love someone, it doesn’t matter what happens between you, you will always love them. If you love someone with the kind of love that God has for us, it won’t matter if your friend fails or succeeds, you can’t love them more or less.

For me, this is one of the big tests of love. Because it’s easy to love someone when they fail. Maybe that’s just me speaking. But that’s the way it works for me. When someone stumbles or falls and they need help, it’s easy for me to love them. But what happens when they succeed? What happens when they achieve everything you wanted for yourself and you get left behind?

Can I love someone even if they get everything I wanted? Can I love someone when I’m struggling to make it from day-to-day and they get to move on to bigger and better things?

Rejoicing for a friend who has achieved your dreams while you have to stand still is difficult … unless you love them. And then you are so deliriously happy for them that you hardly even realize that the world is telling you to pout.

So how do you get that kind of love?

You choose it.

Love isn’t some flowery ethereal concept floating around in the void. It’s not a feeling that just swells within you. It’s a choice. And choices aren’t easy to make, but once you make them, you have something to stand on.

Sometimes that kind of love doesn’t make sense, but that’s the kind of love we are supposed to have. Not pretend love. Not fair-weather love. Not convenient love. Real love, that loves in spite of failures or successes.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Loving like Jesus when it doesn’t make sense

Christians are supposed to live the way Jesus did. Every “good” Christian knows that. Actually, every “bad” Christian knows it too. So why is it so hard to accomplish? Well, yes, Jesus was perfect. But there is nothing that we have experienced in our lives that He doesn’t understand.

I think we get caught up this time of year remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which is a good thing to remember. It’s everything. If Christ hadn’t come and allowed Himself to suffer for our sins, we would have no hope. If He hadn’t died and risen again, He would be like any other world religious leader. But so many times I think we focus on the fact that He is God that we forget that He was a human being just like we are. And He didn’t just come to die and rise again; He came to show us how to live.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:2.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Living a life of love is a lot easier said than done. Loving unlovable people takes some sacrifice, if we’re being honest about it. It’s a lot more convenient to just ignore them, but that’s not what Christ did.

He loved unlovable people. He forgave unforgivable people. He healed incurable people. If anyone was a lost cause, Christ gave them a reason to live and a purpose. He worked more than just physical miracles; He changed people. He still changes people today.

Granted, He didn’t waste much time on fools. And He didn’t concern Himself with the religious leaders who were already sufficient in their own righteousness. But the people who knew they needed help? They flocked to Him by the thousands, and He never turned anyone away.

So how does that example affect my life? How do I live the way Christ did? How do I love the way Christ does?

Jesus doesn’t discriminate. He loves everybody. It doesn’t matter where people came from. Even when Jesus was on earth, He healed everyone, regardless of nationality or race. Or even religious persuasion, if you think about it. Jew. Gentile. Neither. If they came to Him and they believed in Him, He helped them. Whether they were difficult people or kind people, quiet people or loud people, talented people or not-so-talented people, it didn’t matter.

It’s so easy to put labels on people. It’s comforting to be able to categorize others so that I know how to control them or how to handle them, but labels don’t really help. Putting labels on people puts them in a box that I don’t ever let them out of. Jesus didn’t label people. He loved them.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to live for people He loved. Jesus came to die, yes, but He also came to show us how to live. He sacrificed years of His life in service of people around Him.

Many of us are willing to die for the people we love because we know that we’ll go to heaven when we die, but what about living for people you love? That’s a bigger sacrifice. Because you have to give up what you want out of life to live for other people. And that’s difficult.

In our culture today, love is a cheerful happy feeling that swells in response to happiness. But that’s not love. Love is a choice. Love is action. Love is sacrificing yourself–your finances, your future, your job, your wellbeing–for the sake of someone else. And in our self-centered world, love is difficult to find.

Love isn’t easy. And real love is even harder. Jesus is the only one who had it figured out, and I’m thankful for that because as much as I try, I’m not there yet. I’m still pretty selfish myself.

But the only way to please God is with faith. And faith means taking God at His word. So if God says that I’m supposed to love people the way Jesus did, that means I should choose to do it even if it doesn’t make sense, even when it’s difficult.

That’s what Christ did. So that’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s never easy, and it doesn’t always feel good. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t ever tried it. But nothing worth having was easy to obtain. And God’s got it under control. God knows what He’s doing, He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises.

Brotherly love

Love is such a strange word. It has so many meanings, and English tends to use the same word for all of its many meanings. Because there’s a big difference between saying you love somebody and saying you love the taste of coffee.  

I would be fascinated to know how the word love is translated in other languages. Because I’m sure that other languages have a generic word for love. I know Greek has many different words for many different kinds of love, but I don’t know about other languages. I know there’s a linguistic difference between family love and romantic love in Japanese, but I can’t tell you the different words.

The verse of the day made me think about the different kinds of love this morning.

Romans 12:10

10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other.

I’m always curious when the Bible expands on how to love someone. Not just love them. But love them “with genuine affection” which in this case means “with brotherly love” according to BibleGateway.

It’s super easy to tell somebody that you love them. At it’s very basest definition, love is a word. And words are easy to use. What is difficult is meaning what you say. And when you mean that you love somebody, you have to back it up with action.  You have to spend time with them. You have to talk to them. You have to remember their birthdays. Etc. But then again, a lot of your action depends on what kind of love you have for that person. If it’s romantic love, you’d better be sending flowers and talking on the phone at all hours of the night. But what does it mean to love someone with brotherly love?

The same verse in the Amplified Bible uses the phrase “as members of one family.” That’s how we are supposed to love each other. I think that’s probably a very good idea, since technically we are members of one family. God’s family. But that begs the question, how do members of a family love each other?

It’s interesting to me that no matter how evil our culture becomes, families still seem to realize that there is a bond among them that nobody else shares. You still grow up together. You still live together, at least at the beginning of your life. And no matter where you go in life, you still have whatever your family instilled in you.

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have an amazing family. My mom, dad and brother are some of my closest friends. So it’s very interesting to me that the Bible says I am to love fellow Christians with the same love I have for my blood family. It’s that love that says, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you are family and I love you and I always will. ” At least, that’s how brotherly love works in my family.

It also means we aren’t afraid to call each other on our crap, no matter if it’s a younger sibling doing the calling or not (again, this is also the way it usually works in my family). But always with love.

I don’t even really know what I’m saying this morning. And I’m not sure if I’m making sense or not. I rarely even make sense to myself.

I guess I was just needing a reminder that when the Bible tells us to love someone, we need to do it; not only say it but back it up with action. And when the Bible says that we need to love fellow Christians like they are family, we need to do that too. Because if we can’t love each other and get along down here, we’re in trouble. Because we’re going to spend eternity with each other. So we’d better work out our differences down here while we have the chance, right? =)

Delightful

What makes you happy? What delights you? I’m a pretty happy person most of the time, so I guess I could say that a lot of things make me happy. But what about delight? The idea of being delighted about something or taking delight in something (or someone) is a far stronger idea than just being happy about it.

Something that delights me? A good book. I know that’s nerdy but it’s true. I love a story with a twist I didn’t see coming. A good example is the book I just finished reading, Adam by Ted Dekker. Yeah. Amazing. And, of course, delightful. The story itself was great, but when this twist came along, I just couldn’t stop grinning.

Something else that delights me? Watching the teens I worked with in youth group growing up and serving God, not because their parents bring them to church all the time but because they want to. I can list the teens who are actively serving God right now, and every time I see them, I just feel all bubbly inside.

Being delighted about something or someone is an incredible sensation. It’s hard to describe in words. But first, you have to have a great deal of love for what you’re delighted about before you can even think about taking delight in it. I love stories. I love plot twists. And I love high school students. But I don’t love them because I take delight in them; I take delight in them because I love them.

So when I read the verse of the day this morning, this is what it made me think of.

Zephaniah 3:17

17 For the Lord your God is living among you.
      He is a mighty savior.
   He will take delight in you with gladness.
      With his love, he will calm all your fears.[a]
      He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

God takes delight in us.

I don’t think we really understand how incredible that is. I mean, if I were God I would take delight in the galaxies that I made or all the different fish in the sea or all the different plants and processes I created and put in place. I wouldn’t take delight in humans. Why would He take delight in us? Why would He love us first, above everything else that He made? We’re the ones who have wrecked the world He gave us. We’re the ones who dishonor Him and turn our backs on Him. We’re the ones who blame Him unjustly for the probelms we’ve brought on ourselves. If I were God, I wouldn’t want anything to do with me.

So I’m very glad I’m not God. Aren’t you? =)

I just can’t wrap my head around how anyone could take delight in me. I have failed so many times. I’ve failed other people, I’ve failed myself, I’ve failed God even. But He keeps giving me more chances to get back on track — not to prove myself (because God doesn’t want me to prove anything to Him) but to live for Him, more chances to experience His blessing, more chances to trust Him with everything that’s important to me, more opportunities to stretch my faith longer and deeper.

I am speechless that anyone could love me that much. Knowing that God really does take delight in me — not in my potential, not in my actions, but in me as a person — is life-changing, mind-altering, earth-shaking. And it helps me remember that whatever He does, He does for a reason.

Maybe things aren’t going the way I want them to. Maybe my life isn’t what I wanted it to be. Maybe I want things to happen that haven’t happened yet. But behind all the things I want and dream and expect, God is in control. He knows what He’s doing, and He loves me. There are days I don’t feel His love, but those are the days I have to believe in what I know to be true because my emotions and feelings are just as broken as the rest of the world.

Behind every dark place in my life, the truth remains that God loves me. And because He loves me, He takes delight in me. And it’s not for anything that I’ve said or done. It’s not for any dubious beauty that I possess. It’s not for the promises I’ve made Him or anything I’ve given Him or anything I might do or become for Him in the future. It’s because He has chosen to love me. So, in gratitude, I choose to love Him back.

Isaiah 53

Today’s verses are one of the most beautiful sets of verses in all of Scripture. It’s probably fitting since we’re coming up on Easter.

I don’t want to clutter these verses up with commentary, so I’m going to keep it brief.

Isaiah 53:3-4

3 He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
   We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
      He was despised, and we did not care.

 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!

Yes, this is about Jesus. And, yes, it’s in the Old Testament, which was written centuries and centuries before Jesus was even born. Like Genesis 3:15 or Psalm 22, it’s talking about something that hadn’t happened. And sometimes I wonder if the people of the day realized what this was when they read it. That it was talking about the Person who was coming to save us all.

I don’t think I have anything to add that’s going to make this clearer. What more is there to say? Jesus suffered, and we figured He was simply being punished for something He had done, when in reality He was being tormented for everything wrong I’ve ever done.

If you have time (and even if you don’t) you should read all of Isaiah 53. Actually . . . here it is. You should read it:

1 Who has believed our message?
      To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
      like a root in dry ground.
   There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
      nothing to attract us to him.
 3 He was despised and rejected—
      a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
   We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
      He was despised, and we did not care.

 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
      it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
   And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
      a punishment for his own sins!
 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
      crushed for our sins.
   He was beaten so we could be whole.
      He was whipped so we could be healed.
 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
      We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
   Yet the Lord laid on him
      the sins of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
      yet he never said a word.
   He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
      And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
      he did not open his mouth.
 8 Unjustly condemned,
      he was led away.[b]
   No one cared that he died without descendants,
      that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
   But he was struck down
      for the rebellion of my people.
 9 He had done no wrong
      and had never deceived anyone.
   But he was buried like a criminal;
      he was put in a rich man’s grave.

 10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
      and cause him grief.
   Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
      he will have many descendants.
   He will enjoy a long life,
      and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
      he will be satisfied.
   And because of his experience,
      my righteous servant will make it possible
   for many to be counted righteous,
      for he will bear all their sins.
 12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
      because he exposed himself to death.
   He was counted among the rebels.
      He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

I can’t say it any better than that. This is grace. And it’s love. And I don’t deserve it. But I’m so thankful for it.