Cities aren’t meant to be hidden (and neither is faith)

Homes in the country are easy to spot. At least, they are in Kansas. We’re pretty flat around these parts, so if you’re driving down a dirt road looking for a house, there are a few things you can count on to be true.

Most of the time, you can see a house from miles and miles and miles away. We also don’t have a lot of trees here in the heartland. So many homes are just out in the open. But homes that have been here for a long time are usually always surrounded by some kind of hedgerow. So if you see a big clump of trees in the middle of a field, there’s a good chance there’s a house.

But what if it’s night? Well, then, the best course of action is to look for the yard light. Many farms will have yard lights somewhere on the property that shine brightly enough to illuminate the yard. There are no streetlights in the country, so a yard light is going to stand out for miles and miles around.

That’s the point. Letting people know where you are. There wouldn’t be much point to a yard light that didn’t shine.

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:14.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.

Ever try to think about hiding a city? Gosh, that would take a lot of effort. Cities are big. You really couldn’t even hide a small town anymore. But we’re not supposed to hide our cities and towns, just like we’re not supposed to hide our yard lights. Cities and towns and lights all serve a purpose, and the main purpose is for them to be found.

Cities need people, otherwise they wouldn’t be cities.

So if it doesn’t make sense to hide your yard light or to hide a city, why do Christians try to hide Christ?

On one hand, that’s an easy answer. Jesus upsets people. Jesus makes people angry. He calls them to be accountable for their choices, responsible to face their own consequences, or to recognize the fact that they are not the absolutely authority over their own lives. Jesus isn’t popular, and people who follow Him aren’t either.

It’s not fun to be unpopular. You get left out of a lot of things. And you get made fun of and disrespected.

But how else are you going to see the road in the darkness if you don’t use a light? That’s what we forget. The more we try to keep Jesus to ourselves so we don’t offend other people, the more we hurt our own walk. If we don’t live Jesus in public, it’s really difficult to live for Him in private.

Maybe it makes us the butt of unpleasant jokes or causes people to treat us unkindly, but you know what? Jesus never got treated like royalty. Why should we expect it when He didn’t? And He even deserved it.

Living for Christ on a daily basis is a moment-to-moment choice, and it’s not easy. But the more you try to live your life for Him, doing what He says is right and honoring Him with your choices, the more light you’ll have to see by. And then one day you’ll wake up and the road won’t be dark at all. You’ll know exactly where you’re going because you can see.

And then something else amazing will happen. Other people will start tagging along.

It won’t happen overnight, but slowly others will start asking you questions about why you make the choices you make. They’ll want to know why you’re so sure you know where you’re going. And, more than anything else, they’ll be curious about the light you have in your life. They won’t call it that, but you will see more clearly than anyone else they know. And they’ll want to know what your secret is.

If they ask, be ready to tell them. Because it’s not the name-brand batteries in your super-duper LED flashlight that’s illuminating your road. It’s the light from Jesus in your life. And just like you can’t hide a city on a hill in the darkness, you can’t hide the light of Jesus in your actions. People will be drawn to it. So just be ready.

It won’t be easy, but on the day when that person who was making fun of you comes to you and asks for help, you’ll see that it’s all worth it.

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Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The world is scary but you don’t have to fear it

I’m a child of the ’80s. I grew up in a time when morality and faith seemed to be making a comeback. It was a time when you could almost trust strangers you met on the street. It was a time when things in the world were bad but not so bad.

Fast forward 30+ years later. What happened?

Do you ever wonder? How–in a mere 30 years–did we go from trick-or-treating outside at night to having to do it in daylight? How did we go from the personal accountability of my childhood to the government making laws so that people “do the right thing”?

I don’t think about it very often because it’s so sad. It breaks my heart to see what has become of us. Not just America. But of American Christians, who are just as guilty for the state of our nation and our world as those who don’t believe.

When I was a kid, the scariest thing we had to face was some unemployment or some local gang troubles. That was really it. Now? What kids face now? I don’t know how parents do it. I know so many precious, cherished friends with young children, and I don’t know how they help their children not be afraid when the world is falling apart.

ISIS. Ebola. Conspiracies. Oh, for the days when drugs were the scariest problem in schools. Now our high schools have daycare facilities because so many kids have kids of their own. Now you can’t travel from one place to the next without being frightened that you’ll contract a deadly disease.

But it’s even worse than that. I don’t know if the stories are true, but word is circulating now that wedding chapel ministers are being threatened with arrest because they won’t perform same-sex weddings. And there are other examples of people who are doing what the Bible says is right and they are being threatened because of it.

And if I’m not careful, I start getting afraid of what’s going to happen when that spirit stretches from sea to shining sea–when no one who believes in Christ and refuses to back down in His name is safe.

It’s coming. That day is coming. And if you don’t realize it now, you’d better wake up. You need to make that decision now before the time comes, before your faith is challenged, before it happens. Because you can’t make a decision like that in the heat of the moment. You have to make up your mind now whose side you’re on–your own or God’s.

And it’s scary. I’m not so “Christian” to tell you that a part of me isn’t scared. I don’t want to go to prison. I don’t want to die for my faith. But I will. I made that decision in high school, and I meant it. I guess part of me just didn’t expect to have to face it in my lifetime.

And I’m so glad God knew this was coming. He told us it would come. And those who take Him seriously have been anticipating the day when our world breaks down and starts targeting Christ-followers as their enemies.

Over and over and over in the Bible, God says not to be afraid. Don’t fear. Don’t be afraid. And there’s a reason for that–because this world is scary. Life is scary. And there’s so much that we can’t control because we’re just people. We have so many limitations. So many faults and failures. But God says not to be afraid because He doesn’t have faults and failures or limitations, and He promises that He has everything under control.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 41:13.

For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.

Don’t be afraid. God is here to help us. He promises that so many times–more times than I can count–and He never makes a promise that He doesn’t keep.

When you get right down to it, fear is a choice. Everyone fears. But you, Christ follower, you don’t have to. You don’t have to live in fear of anything. Not of destitution. Not of disease. Not of disgrace. Not of danger. Nothing.

That doesn’t mean your life will be perfect. It won’t be perfect until we get home because this world is broken and breaking more and more every day. But that means in this scary world, you don’t have to live in fear.

So choose today. Make the choice today what side you’re on. Set it firmly in your mind, and if you have already made that decision, reaffirm it. Because the day is coming when you will be challenged, and before that day gets here, you’re going to face all sorts of things that will terrify you if you let them.

Just know you don’t have to let them.

Our God is bigger than the world’s fears. Do you believe He can do miracles? Do you believe He is who He says He is over and over and over? Do you believe He is here to help you?

Good. So start living like it.

 

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Would you die for a paperweight?

Know how libraries have banned book months? Where some books just have content that’s too extreme to be allowed?  I worked in a library all through high school and college, and the banned books events always fascinated me–mostly because I thought it was ironic that libraries seem to boast about how many banned books they keep in their catalog.

Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of it being banned? Always made me smile.

Have you ever read a banned book? There are lists all over the place, some comprehensive and others not so much.

Well, the Bible is the ultimate banned book. People have died for this book, and that can’t be said of Huckleberry Finn or The Color Purple. Both great stories, but nobody died because they owned a copy.

So why are people afraid of the Bible? What is it about the Bible that scares people so much?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 5:8-14.

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible.

The Bible calls itself the Word of God over and over again. All throughout Scripture, the Bible is called light because it is Truth. And the problem with Truth (and Light) is that it reveals what’s hidden in darkness, and revealing what’s done in the dark makes people uncomfortable. It demonstrates that we’re not as good as we think we are, that we need a Savior, that we are not the final decision maker in our own lives, that our lives (in fact) don’t belong to us anyway.

Christ-followers don’t talk about the Bible as much as we should. Maybe that’s because it intimidates us. Maybe that’s because we don’t think it’s relevant. Maybe we’ve never tried. But the fact is, Christ followers know what we know about God from the Bible.

So why don’t more Christians know what’s in the Bible? Honestly, I meet more Christians who know more about reality TV than they do about Scripture. And, believe me, I like entertainment, but the life lessons (worth keeping)that  you can pick up on TV didn’t begin on TV. They started in Scripture.

The Bible can be intimidating, that’s for sure, especially if you’ve never tried to read it. But there’s something about the Bible that might make it more interesting, if you think about it.

Whether you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God or not, you have to recognize how many people have given up their lives or their freedom simply by owning a copy and refusing to give it up.

Regardless of what is written in it, first take into account how it has changed the course of human history, how it has changed the lives of people who read it, and how it seems to terrify governments everywhere. Have you ever thought of that?

Without even mentioning that there exists more evidence to the authenticity and accuracy of the Bible than any other historical manuscript in the world, how it changes people should get you interested in what it’s about. Irrelevant books don’t change people.

(And, yes, the change in people’s lives comes from the power of the Holy Spirit, but you know what I mean.)

If you’re looking for an undeniable source of truth to base your life on, realize how many others have chosen the Bible. Again, I’m not saying you should believe the Bible is truth just because so many others have. But I’m saying you ought to take it seriously. And, if nothing else, it ought to make you realize that reading the Bible isn’t as impossible as people seem to think it is.

Uncounted Christ-followers in the age of the Early Church were murdered for their faith. That hasn’t changed either. More people are killed for their faith today than in ancient times.

I’m not talking about dying for their faith. I’m talking about being murdered for their faith. There’s a big difference there.

People don’t die for coffee table paperweights. These are real people, with real lives, real choices–and they are willing to give up their lives (often in brutal or sadistic ways) rather than give up their faith.

So whether you’re ready to accept what the Bible is or not, at least recognize that it’s more than fairytale. Be willing to really consider it. Be open to researching what it really is and where it came from, who believed it and who died for it, and I think you might surprised.

A rather large hole in my brand new siding at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

It never rains, it hails

I live in Kansas. Have I mentioned that? Because I do. But I don’t just live in Kansas. I live in a small, remote area of wheat fields and sheep farms that tends to attract the most extreme weather in the state. And Kansas is a land of extreme weather.

I have multiple friends who are trained weather spotters, and one of them calls my house the Bermuda triangle of weather. Generally speaking, if there’s bad weather going on in Kansas, the strangest weather will be right over my house.

Take Wednesday night for example. The whole state had storms, yes. But the big, glaring red spot with Ping-Pong ball size hail was where? You betcha. Centered right over my house. And yesterday morning I got up for work and looked at the house, and in the morning light it looked fine. My brand new vinyl siding had weathered the storm! Hooray!

Well, hold your horses. I didn’t check the south side of the house where there were a dozen holes in the siding–some the size of tennis balls. Brand new siding–totaled. Brand new window screens–totaled. Brand new gutters–dented and dinged.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. This same thing happened in 2007. We had a horrible storm, Broke windows, destroyed the siding, totaled the roof. So we got it fixed. And the week after–maybe even the day after–the last bit of work finished, another storm blew through and did twice as much damage.

And don’t think I’m complaining. This is life in Kansas. And we got off easy this time, honestly. None of the windows broke. The cars were all under cover. And all the trees that could have come down have already come down. If I wasn’t willing to handle this kind of life, I would have moved years ago.

But what struck me as I stood in the back yard, gawking at my Swiss- cheese-formerly-known-as-vinyl-siding is the timing. Oh, the timing of this storm is just amazing. Smack dab in some of the busiest months of my year. I’m running wild. My parents are running wild. And in the last few days, it feels like everything has just blown up.

What do you do in moments like that? How do you keep moving forward? How do you press on when it feels like every step you take is just the prelude to taking three steps backward?

A rather large hole in my brand new siding at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A rather large hole in my brand new siding at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:6-7.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

Life here isn’t perfect, and it’s never going to be perfect. If we think it’s going to be, we’re just asking to be disappointed. And, let’s just face it, Christians, we have an enemy out there who doesn’t want to see us succeed for the cause of Christ.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should start jumping at shadows. I’ve met people who like blaming their difficult situations on Satan when it’s usually fairly obvious that their own bad choices have led them to where they are.

So don’t hesitate to examine your life. Check your heart. Check your attitude. See where you are with God. Before you start blaming all your life’s problems on Satan, make sure that you haven’t made decisions that have led to your current trouble. And if you find out that you have made mistakes, stop.

But, if you examine your life and you find that you have done the best you can, that you have held to what the Bible says, that you’ve put God first in every aspect of your life–and you’re still having crazy insane issues that don’t seem to stop? Well, then it’s a good chance that the Bad Guy is trying to slow you down.

And in that case? Don’t let him.

When you can step back and recognize that what you’re experiencing is simply our enemy picking on you, his petty schemes are easier to spot and they’re much easier to laugh at.

Yes. Laugh at.

And honestly that’s the best thing you can do. If he has to resort to throwing sticks and (hail)stones at us to upset us, he really must be desperate.

Don’t let him win. Don’t give in. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it’s overwhelming. But think of the big picture. Remember who’s already won this war. And when you put the whole thing into context, you aren’t in as much trouble as you feel like.  Because God is bigger than anything Satan can throw at you.

So remember that the next time it hails on you. Siding can be replaced. Houses can be repaired. Lives can be rebuilt. And, in the end, Satan has already lost because he can’t take the things that really matter away as long as they already belong to Christ.

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Live like a messenger who’s about to get shot

What do you do when people lie about you? How do you react when people talk behind your back? How do you respond when people make fun of you?

I’m a people pleaser, and even thinking about the fact that some people don’t like me makes me feel sick inside. I want everyone to like me. I want every person I meet to feel better because they’ve met me. But while that’s a great goal to strive for, not everyone is going to feel that way. I’m going to rub some people the wrong way. Some people will misunderstand me. And it won’t be because of anything I’ve done, necessarily, but their reaction to me will stem more from their personal experiences than my personality. We all make snap decisions about people.

But as a people pleaser, I like to make people happy. So when they’re not, I am crushed. I can’t focus on anything else other than what I could have done differently to make them happy. But is that important? Is making people happy something we need to spend a lot of time on? When it comes to pleasing people, what does God think?

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:10-12.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

We’re still in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, studying the things that matter to God. The first time I read through this verse this morning, I actually thought I wouldn’t use it. The rest of the verses at the beginning of Matthew 5 were pretty straightforward when you’re trying to discern the things that matter to God, but this one? Not so much. Because peace matters to God. Humility matters to God. Doing the right thing matters to God. But what about persecution? Persecution matters to God? He wants us to be persecuted?

Does He really?

True, the verse says that we’ll be blessed or happy when we are persecuted for doing the right thing, and that goes back to what’s been said many other times–that God cares about us doing the right thing. But I think this verse is about more than that. Like I said above, I’m a people pleaser, so I’m often tempted to make people happy at the expense of what’s right. I don’t want to be persecuted. I don’t want to be mocked. I don’t want to be lied about or have “evil things” said about me.

But guess what? If you’re living for God, the world is going to say mean things about you. If you’re following Christ, you’re going to be made fun of. People are going to make up stuff about you. It’s what they did to Jesus. Why do we expect things to be different for us? The world hasn’t changed.

So what’s the bottom line here? What does this have to do with God’s expectations for us?

Well, the way I see it, we’re supposed to be living a life that’s so obviously sold out to Christ that we welcome mocking and scorn. Not accept it. Not necessarily expect it. But that we don’t let it shake us when it does come.

Why do people make fun of us? Why do Christians become the brunt of so many cruel jokes or the object of so much hate? Well (just being 100% honest here) in America many Christians I’ve met are so full of themselves that they need some persecution to help them get their heads back on straight. But around the world in general, bring a Christian is very different than being a Christian in America. There is true hate for Christ in the world. There are more Christians martyred for their faith today than there were in Rome.

It comes down to the fact that Christians who are truly following Christ shine light in the darkness, and people like darkness. They like to live the way they want to live. They like to do what they want to do regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and when a Christian comes by living according to God’s love, that light reveals to them that they are accountable for how they’re living. The light makes them uncomfortable. And at the crossroads, they are faced with the choice to either turn to Christ or to shoot the proverbial messenger.

What they think doesn’t matter. What they say doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that they react at all because that shows you that you’re touching a nerve, you’re striking a chord, you’re making a difference–at least enough so that it catches their attention. If your life isn’t different enough to cause a stir, you might want to double check your priorities.

I’m not saying that God wants us to seek persecution. That’s not it at all. But what I get from this verse today is that what matters to God is how we live. It matters that we do the right thing, yes. It matters that we love others, yes. It matters that we do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, etc. But it also matters that we live the kind of life that shines a light into the darkest corners of an unbeliever’s heart so that they are faced with the choice to either turn to Christ or turn away from Him.