Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

When everything changes, God doesn’t

Do you know people who keep their promises? They’re good people to know. Their word means something to them, and you can trust that when they make you a promise, they will do all they can to see it through to the end. But how many times does someone have to keep a promise before it becomes part of their character? Once? Ten times? Half their life?

The amazing thing about God (one of the many) is that He has made thousands and thousands of promises, just that we know about in the Bible, and He has kept every single one. Maybe I’m generalizing, but I don’t think a normal average human being can do that. At some point, we have to break promises because we aren’t capable of always keeping them; but God is.

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Rainbow in the sky near Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Isaiah 44:8.

Do not tremble; do not be afraid.
    Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago?
You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
    No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

From the moment He created time itself, God has been making promises to His Creation, and up until now, every promise He has made, except for a few, have become reality. And those few outstanding will change everything once He does what He’s promised to do.

The hallmark of someone you can trust, someone who keeps their promises, is that when they say they’re going to do something, they’re really going to do it. And that works with God as well as with people down here.

So what does that mean for us? Yes, it’s good to know that God keeps His promises, but you have to know His promises before it really has any bearing on our lives. You have to know that He has promised to never abandon us. You have to know that He has promised to help us get through life. You have to know that He has promised to make everything work out for good for the people who have chosen to follow Him.

Has He really promised those things? Yes, He really has. And because God keeps His promises, we can know that He will truly do them.

God has been keeping promises for thousands and thousands of years. The Bible is proof of what He has done and why He has done it. And since He has been keeping promises for so long, why would He stop now? What we need to remember is that God doesn’t change. In our whole life, our whole existence, He is the one person that doesn’t. Everything else does. Life happens. People die. Babies are born. People get married. People get divorced. People move and leave and return. Churches change. Jobs change. Economies change. Governments change.

In our lives on Earth, there’s only one constant: Everything changes.

And change isn’t bad. Most of the time it’s good because it forces us outside our comfort zone, but the change that we welcome is usually the change that we initiate. It’s the change that we don’t choose that is difficult to bear. It’s the change we have no control over that discourages us and frightens us and worries us.

But even when everything around us changes, God doesn’t.

I’m sitting at my office computer accessing the internet from a wireless connection that is broadcast to my farm from a tower in a nearby town. When high-speed internet came to the rural areas of Kansas, there was much rejoicing because we were all still stuck in the limited universe of dial-up modems for years. And with every year, our technology changes and our ability to communicate over vast distances improves. We are able to do things today that people 30 years ago could only imagine; we are able to do things today that people 100 years ago couldn’t even dream.

Our world has changed drastically in the last decade or so. It’s weird for me to stay that I remember 20 years ago, but I do. I remember what the world was like in the ’80s and ’90s. I remember watching the slow change that overtook us until we became the country we are today.

But sitting in my office with all my technology, living in my world that is so drastically different from the world I grew up in, I am writing about the same God who told Noah to build an ark to save who he could. I am writing about the same God who promised Abraham that he would be a great nation. I am writing about the same God who turned a little shepherd boy into the greatest king Israel had ever known. The same God who heard the cries of the people who were seeking Him, the same God who made everything, the same God who send Christ to die for us, is same now as He was then.

And in a world that refuses to stop changing no matter how hard we try to hold on to what was, having that constant is awfully nice. Because we can trust that no matter how topsy-turvy everything in our lives gets, God is still working things out. He promised He would. And if God has kept His promises for all these thousands of years, He isn’t going to stop now.

So don’t despair when things change. Don’t worry and don’t shut down because God’s not changing, and He still has the power to take any situation (especially the ugly ones we’ve screwed up) and make it beautiful. We just have to let Him.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How strong is your hope?

Do you have hope that bounces back when it gets dropped? To really answer that question, I think we need to understand a little bit about hope in general. Hope isn’t some ethereal insubstantial concept that’s just floating around in the void; hope is a real, solid thing. Granted, you can’t touch it, and you can’t see it, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Hope is something we experience when someone we trust makes us a promise. When someone promises us something we don’t yet have, we trust that they will keep their word, and we have hope that one day that promise will come true.

I’m working on a trilogy of books at the moment. The first one is pretty much about hope. The second one is about promises. The third one is about trust. And in my studying and researching and praying about this series, I learned something about all three. They’re all connected.

 

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 10:23.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Hope is only as strong (and as resilient) as the character of the person who makes the promise. If someone you don’t trust at all makes you a promise, you won’t have any hope that it will happen. Even if that person is sincere in their desire to do something good for you, even if that person means well, if they are untrustworthy, you have no reason to hope that they will do what they say.

But what about someone you trust? What about someone who has proven themselves over and over again? If they make you a promise, would you hope that they would keep it? Well, I would. But the real test comes when it doesn’t look like they’re keeping their word. Right?

Life gets in the way. People let us down, and it’s easy to believe that God will too. But God isn’t like people. God is God. And because of Scripture and because of God’s work in our lives, we know we can trust Him. It’s just that He doesn’t work the way we usually expect Him to.

Honestly, the question isn’t really about how strong your hope is; the question is really about how much you trust God. Hope is an extension of trust; hope is a response to trust. So if you trust God, you will hope in Him, and when it looks like (and feels like) He is going back on His word, your level of trust in Him will determine how long your hope will endure.

So if you feel hopeless this morning, especially this week before Christmas when it seems everyone is depressed about something, stop asking why your hope is gone and start looking at who you’re trusting. Are you trusting the current economy to solve your problems? Are you trusting your finances to answer your questions? Do you trust the talking heads on television to explain why your life isn’t working? Are you trusting your friends to identify you and provide you with self-worth? I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with any of those, but if you put your trust in any of those things, that’s where your hope is centered.

The economy isn’t stable. Neither are your finances. They’ll be good one moment and gone the next. And people are fluid and foolish, especially the ones on television. Even your friends will let you down, including the ones you trust because no one is perfect. Where will your hope be then?

That’s where God comes in because He never lets His people down. He never abandons His people. He never forgets His people. And though we may feel like He’s not around or like He’s not working, most of the time that’s because we’re not really looking for Him. Or if we are looking for Him, our attitudes need an adjustment, like a near-sighted person wearing glasses for farsightedness.

Think about it. How strong is your hope? If it’s not strong at all, you might want to consider re-evaluating who you trust.

 

Apricot buds in spring - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Psalm 105

God keeps His promises. He made promises to people in the Old Testament, and though many of them died before they saw the realization of the larger promises, God never failed them in any way. And now, in heaven with Him, they can understand that better than they ever could down here.

I needed this today, a reminder that God keeps His promises. I know that He does, but it’s easy to forget when it feels like nothing is going right. But even when things go wrong, God is still working out His plan for all of us.

Apricot buds in spring - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Apricot buds in spring – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Psalm 105

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Abraham,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

He is the Lord our God.
    His justice is seen throughout the land.
He always stands by his covenant—
    the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
This is the covenant he made with Abraham
    and the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
    and to the people of Israel as a never-ending covenant:
“I will give you the land of Canaan
    as your special possession.”

He said this when they were few in number,
    a tiny group of strangers in Canaan.
They wandered from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another.
Yet he did not let anyone oppress them.
    He warned kings on their behalf:
“Do not touch my chosen people,
    and do not hurt my prophets.”

He called for a famine on the land of Canaan,
    cutting off its food supply.
Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them—
    Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet with fetters
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
    the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
    the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
    he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
    and teach the king’s advisers.

Then Israel arrived in Egypt;
    Jacob lived as a foreigner in the land of Ham.
And the Lord multiplied the people of Israel
    until they became too mighty for their enemies.
Then he turned the Egyptians against the Israelites,
    and they plotted against the Lord’s servants.

But the Lord sent his servant Moses,
    along with Aaron, whom he had chosen.
They performed miraculous signs among the Egyptians,
    and wonders in the land of Ham.
The Lord blanketed Egypt in darkness,
    for they had defied his commands to let his people go.
He turned their water into blood,
    poisoning all the fish.
Then frogs overran the land
    and even invaded the king’s bedrooms.
When the Lord spoke, flies descended on the Egyptians,
    and gnats swarmed across Egypt.
He sent them hail instead of rain,
    and lightning flashed over the land.
He ruined their grapevines and fig trees
    and shattered all the trees.
He spoke, and hordes of locusts came—
    young locusts beyond number.
They ate up everything green in the land,
    destroying all the crops in their fields.
Then he killed the oldest son in each Egyptian home,
    the pride and joy of each family.

The Lord brought his people out of Egypt, loaded with silver and gold;
    and not one among the tribes of Israel even stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they were gone,
    for they feared them greatly.
The Lord spread a cloud above them as a covering
    and gave them a great fire to light the darkness.
They asked for meat, and he sent them quail;
    he satisfied their hunger with manna—bread from heaven.
He split open a rock, and water gushed out
    to form a river through the dry wasteland.
For he remembered his sacred promise
    to his servant Abraham.
So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy,
    his chosen ones with rejoicing.
He gave his people the lands of pagan nations,
    and they harvested crops that others had planted.
All this happened so they would follow his decrees
    and obey his instructions.

Praise the Lord!

Wheat in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What is hope?

Hope is dangerous. I posted about that earlier in the month, and it’s true. We have to be so careful where our hope comes from. But what I failed to ask is a basic question that I don’t think people really think about: what is hope?

Everybody talks about hope. Everybody wants hope, especially those people who have lost it. But what is it? Where do you find it? How do you hold on to it? Is it some ethereal concept just floating around in the void? Or is it a concrete choice that you make every day?

Wheat in the snow - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat in the snow – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 8:24-25.

We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

Whenever I think about hope and trying to understand what it is and where it comes from, this is one of the passages I go to. The other passage is Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Maybe Hebrews 11:1 is more about faith than hope, but it just demonstrates that hope and faith are inseparable. Hope is part of a process. You don’t just wake up one morning and have hope in a general sense. Hope isn’t general. I mean, you can be a generally positive person. But generic hope isn’t really hope; hope is specific. And hope always comes from faith.

If you want to have hope, first you have to have faith in something.

The passage out of Romans refers to “this hope” that we received. The hope Paul is talking about is the promise that God made that we would be adopted as God’s children and given new bodies. That is a promise God gave all those who choose to put their faith in Christ, but that promise has yet to be fulfilled. So we’re waiting for the day when it happens. We are hoping for that day, hoping to see the promise kept, hoping to get to be with God.

Scripture says it better than I can. If you already have it, you don’t have to hope for it.

It’s like kids opening presents on Christmas morning. They’ve told their parents what they want, and they’ve had to wait for a month, every day seeing the number of presents beneath the tree increasing. Until finally on Christmas Day, they get to open their presents and see what their parents have given them. Once they open their presents, they don’t have to have hope anymore; they know.

What part does faith play, though? Scripture says faith is confidence that what we hope for will happen. So hope stems from faith. If you don’t have faith, you can’t have hope.

Going back to the Christmas analogy, if a child doesn’t have faith in his or her parents, they aren’t going to look forward to receiving anything from them for Christmas. So why should they get excited about presents under a tree? Why should they get excited about Christmas at all? They don’t have any faith, so there’s no reason to hope. And if there’s no reason to hope, there’s no reason to participate at all.

Faith is the foundation of everything, but hope is the result of faith. If you choose to put your faith in someone (or even in a purpose or a way of life), you choose to trust that person. Usually that person has made a promise and you are trusting that person to keep his word. And because you trust that person, because you have chosen to have faith in that person, you have hope.

So just as you have to be careful where your hope comes from, you have to be careful who you put your faith in. Because who you put your faith in will determine how resilient your hope is.

Who do you trust to change your life? Who do you trust to repair your relationships? Who do you trust to put the pieces of the American economy back together? Who do you trust your children to? Who do you trust your future to?

If you trust another person, you need to prepare yourself for disappointment. Because people will let you down. Whether it’s Oprah or Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or any other television show personality who claims to have all the answers, none of them can claim a level of perfection above you. Maybe they have been trained, maybe they have some life experience, but no truth they preach on television is their original discovery. The same is true with our country’s leaders. No presidential candidate is going to solve all our problems. I don’t care if you’re conservative or liberal.

Faith should be in someone who isn’t going to let you down. Faith needs to be in someone who can actually keep the promises he makes. Why else would you trust him?

If you have faith, your heart will change. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather faith that only runs to God when trouble is brewing. I’m talking about real faith, where you believe and you trust even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else. If you trust God, your life is going to show it. How? Because you’ll have hope.

And hope is truly dangerous, dangerous in a way I didn’t post about last week. People who have hope are frightening because they are unstoppable. And I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some unstoppable Christians. And even though the world doesn’t want them, the world needs them now more than ever.

God always keeps His promises

Today’s verse is Romans 11:33.

33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

I wonder how many times verses like this are in the Bible. So many verses tell us it’s impossible for us to understand God, but we try anyway. And half the time we think we succeed.

Since this is such a common theme throughout Scripture, I thought I’d expand a little bit and see specifically what Paul was talking about in this particular verse. And it sort of surprised me. Not that I’m saying I know so much about Scripture, but I don’t remember reading this bit in Romans 11 before. I reviewed it in the King James Version, and then I remembered reading it but it really never made a whole lot of sense to me. I mean — it did. But it didn’t strike me as totally awesome until I read it this morning in actual modern English.

Romans 11:28-32

28 Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. 30 Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. 31 Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share[k] in God’s mercy. 32For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

These verses just before the verse of the day go into a little bit of background behind the Church Age. God chose the Jews, the people of Israel, to be His people, but they turned away from Him enough that He finally left them to their own devices. He did this so that He could allow His Word to come to the rest of the world. The Gentiles. Everyone who isn’t Jewish. That means me and just about everyone I know.

The Old Testament was all about the nation of Israel. The New Testament, after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension, is about Gentiles. The Church Age. And we’ll be in the Church Age until Christ comes back for us.

It’s complicated. It’s like the plot of a good novel, plenty of twists and turns that don’t make sense until you read the whole story. Because I’m sure if you had talked to many of the people alive during this time, none of it would have made sense to them. I mean, now, we can look back and understand that God shifted His focus away from the people of Israel to pursue those of us who weren’t Jewish. If He hadn’t done that, the U.S. wouldn’t exist. (I know a lot of people don’t believe the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, and I’m not going to get into that debate now. But even you who don’t believe we were founded as a Christian nation can’t argue that Christians didn’t participate in the foundation of this country, that people didn’t come here for freedom to practice true Christianity.) In any case, if God hadn’t shifted His attention to allow Gentiles to come to Christ, I wouldn’t be here. And that’s a fact.

Of course, part of the covenant God made with Abraham was that the whole world would be blessed through him. So God turning His focus to Gentiles was partly to fulfill that promise. But think about the Jews at that time. Not all of them had turned away from God. Not all of them had wanted Christ crucified. Not all of them had been rebellious. But their whole nation was punished. Their whole nation was enslaved and broken apart.

I’m sure at the time it must have felt like the world was falling apart. But God had a plan. It was all part of the story He was creating. The people of Israel needed to be left on their own to realize what God had done for them. The Gentiles needed to be told about God period; they’d never heard about Him before. And when the Church Age is over, God will shift His focus again to the nation of Israel and bring them back to Him as He always has because no matter how much they screw up, they are still His chosen people. And God made a promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and God always keeps His promises.

Isn’t that incredible? Thousands and thousands of years after God made a promise to one man, He will keep His promise to rescue that man’s millions of descendants. How awesome is that?

I can’t really understand how God’s mind works. He knows all the knowledge in the universe. Shoot, He created all knowledge in the universe. But He isn’t just knowledgeable; He’s wise. And there really is a difference. And God is on a level that nobody can comprehend. He can see the whole picture. He can undertand every in and out of every situation. He can see every reprecussion, every consequence, every action, every choice we have ever and will ever make. So there’s no way I can understand why He does the things He does.

But what I can understand is what really matters. God keeps His promises.

It doesn’t matter that Abraham screwed up time after time. It doesn’t matter that his kids were screwed up. It doesn’t matter that his family became a nation of people who were disobediant and rebellious. It doesn’t matter that they all turned away from God more times than anyone can keep track of. God made a promise to Abraham, and God is going to keep that promise. (Note: Please don’t think I’m hounding on the Jews. I’m just trying to make a point. If we’re having a contest between the U.S. and Israel about which one has flipped God off more, I actually think the U.S. is in the lead . . . )

So when God makes a promise to me, I know I can trust Him. And that’s really all we need to know. Anything else would be too much for us. Anything more would terrify us.

God never makes mistakes. And He always keeps His promises, no matter what.

That’s good enough for me.