Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Your ticket to one wild ride

Do you take God seriously? I mean, do you trust Him when He promises to bless you for obedience? When God tells you to do something and you do it, what do you expect will happen? Do you think He’s just going to turn His back on you? Do you think He’s asked you to do something just to watch you dance like a puppet on a string?

God doesn’t work like that. Yes, there are many times when we’ll encounter situations in our lives that will test our faith, but it’s never God dangling a carrot in front of our faces to see if we’ll bite.

So when you obey, when you do what God has told you to do, are you ready for what comes afterward?

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat nearly ready to harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 5:15-16.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

God told me to do something a few years back, or at least He put the germ of an idea in my head. At the time, it wouldn’t have worked. If I would have tried, I would have failed. And even though the idea fascinated me, I didn’t hear Him telling me to jump up and do it.

And throughout the years, God kept bringing it up every now and then, kind of like a tickle at the back of my brain. “Hey, don’t forget about this! This is something I want you to do, but you’re not ready yet.”

A few years later, actually in August of last year, that idea came rushing back on me again stronger and louder than ever before. And this time I couldn’t tune it out. This time I couldn’t ignore it.

So I didn’t. I did what He was telling me to do. And guess what? He held up His end of the bargain. Way more than I expected Him to. In fact, He’s opening doors so fast that I can’t keep up. It’s all I can do to keep holding on as He takes me on what will probably be the craziest ride of my life, and I couldn’t be more excited.

But why does that surprise me? Why do I expect failure when God has never given me reason to doubt Him? I guess it’s not that I doubt Him; I just doubt my interpretation of what He tells me. And that’s why it’s important to have people around you who are on the same page as  you spiritually, to confirm what you think you’re hearing.

But how many times has fear of failure stopped me in my tracks? How many times have I not done what God was clearly telling me to do because I was afraid. I don’t want to think about it. But I need to. We all need to.

I learned today’s passage in an older translation that used the phrase “redeeming the time.” I always used to wonder what that meant. And, it’s true, it does mean to make the most of every opportunity like the newer translation says, but there’s something really beautiful in that phrase: redeeming the time.

Taking the time that might be wasted otherwise (in worrying, in anxiety, in purposeless pursuits) and using it to accomplish something for God. That’s redeeming the time. And that’s what we’re called to do. Why? Because the days are evil.

And they are. We’ve never lived in darker days. More people are persecuted for their faith in Christ today than ever before. More people are trapped in darkness than ever before. More churches are being closed due to scandal than ever before.

Frankly, Believers, we don’t have time to waste. So if God has called you to do something, don’t just stand there. Do it. You have a certain amount of time that’s been allotted to you. Some have more than others. But whatever you have God gave you for a reason, and He doesn’t make mistakes. He hasn’t put you where you are for no reason. He hasn’t walked you through all your difficult circumstances just to test your mettle. He’s got a plan for you, and because He’s good, so are His plans.

So do you trust Him? Do you take Him seriously? And if you do what He’s asking you to do, are you ready for the ride He’s going to take you on?

Don’t doubt that it’ll be wild. Because once you tell Him yes, you’re going to see amazing things happen, things that no one else will be able to explain, things that may only mean something to you–but they’ll mean something to you. And that will be enough to remind you just Who you’re working for.

You aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Neither am I. Nobody is. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. So stop fooling around and get busy doing something that will matter when eternity gets here.

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Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Preparing for the challenges ahead

It’s difficult to believe that 2012 is coming to an end. This is one of those years that I thought would never get here, and now it’s over. I honestly haven’t thought much about 2013; that’s probably going to start today. But one thing is certain about what is coming: It won’t be better than what we experienced in 2012. Actually, it may be worse.

I’m not trying to be cynical, and I’m not trying to be a downer or anything. I guess I’m just trying to prepare myself mentally to face the challenges that are coming next year, the ones I know about and the ones I don’t. Our world hasn’t experienced a great healing or a revolution of peace and love. 2012 has been the opposite of peace and love and healing, and it’s going to get worse and worse. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t been reading Scripture.

So as a follower of Christ, how do I prepare for a year that will probably be more difficult than this one? How do I get ready to face the challenges that are coming?

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 12:32.

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

This is part of a statement that Christ made to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover just before He was crucified. The verse right after this one states that Christ said this to indicate to them that He was going to die. But of course, still most of the people didn’t believe Him or didn’t understand. In spite of everything He had said and done, people refused to believe He was who He said.

Funny how some things never change.

But what caught my attention today about this verse is that it really does have a double meaning. Christ used it to tell them that He was getting ready to die–to be crucified, literally hung between heaven and earth for six grueling hours of physical agony to pay the price for our sins so that all people can come to God. But this verse also has another meaning in another context. Because if His followers lift Him up figuratively, in worship and praise, making Him the center of our attention and focus, something miraculous happens–people are drawn to it.

Have you ever witnessed this? I have. I’ve seen it. A group of people sit and sing songs praising God and people come over to hear it. I’ve been sitting in a worship service at church with nonbelievers all around, and somehow in the middle of that worship service something changes inside those people who don’t believe. And by the end, they want to believe. And I’ve seen it happen beyond just singing; I’ve seen it happen in living. Because if you live a life that gives praise and honor and glory to God no matter what the circumstances you’re in, people are drawn to it.

Why? Do you think it’s something special about you?

Well, maybe it is. But I don’t really think there’s anything special about Christ-followers, other than who we follow. If we remember to keep life in perspective and remember that God has everything under control, that He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises, we don’t have to live life without fear. We can be confident who we are, where we’re going, and why we’re here. Do you realize what that makes us look like to people who don’t have that assurance?

If we lift Christ up in our lives, if we hold Him high and point to Him with every word we say, He attracts people to Him. It’s not something we’re doing; it’s all about Him.

And I find it ironic that Christ said this to the disciples just before He died. He knew their lives were going to become chaotic shortly after He said this. Maybe the disciples thought that the worst was behind them; knowing how they reacted to other situations, I’m sure they didn’t expect anything like what happened. But Christ knew it was coming, and He wanted them to be ready.

Guess what, guys? The worst hasn’t even started yet. You think 2012 was difficult? You think 2012 was depressing and overwhelming? Well, it’s going to get much, much worse because this world isn’t our home. It’s broken, and it’s breaking more every day. But we don’t have to focus on that. We can lift Christ up in the darkness, and not only will that keep our perspectives straight, it will also draw others who don’t believe to Him.

And that’s my parting thought for the last day of 2012. Don’t be discouraged. Maybe things will keep getting worse, maybe the darkness will keep getting darker, but we don’t live in darkness.

John 12:35-36

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

Rusted barrel against the garden shed - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Purpose

What is your purpose? Why are you here? Why are any of us here? Those are questions people have asked for as long as people have been around. We need to know why. Why is that? Why does it matter if we have a purpose or not?

Rusted barrel against the garden shed - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Rusted barrel against the garden shed – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ecclesiasties 3: 11.

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiasties is a really interesting book. Hardcore but interesting. It’s one of those books that if you aren’t careful you can very easily take statements out of context because it’s Solomon searching for answers. And in his search for answers, he makes some pretty big mistakes and some pretty grand assumptions about life in general. Not all of them are true. And he learns that at the end, but when he’s in the thick of it all, it’s hard for him to see the truth.

This passage comes briefly after the one where he is stating that there is a time for everything, whether it’s dying or laughing or harvesting or war. And actually the rest of this passage is him pretty much just stating that what God decides is final and there’s nothing we can do about it. And that we can’t know God’s plan, so we might as well make the most out of life.

And I suppose that is true. We are limited in what we know about God’s plans, but we aren’t limited in what we know about God. We know all we need to know about God because the Bible provides that doorway for us. We have access to who God is through Jesus and through the Holy Spirit and through the truth of Scripture.

Knowing who God is makes a world of difference when you’re looking for purpose. I was discussing this with a friend over the weekend. God is orderly. He is organized. He is structured. There is no chaos in Him. So knowing that God is a God of order and purpose means that there is an order and a purpose to all of our lives. Even if we can’t see the end result of that order and purpose, we know it’s there.

I was curious about the statement that God has set eternity in our hearts. That’s beautiful. Quite poetic. But what does it mean? Well, according to the Amplified Bible, it means this: “a divinely implanted sense of a purpose working through the ages which nothing under the sun but God alone can satisfy.”

You’ve heard the phrase that we all have a “God-shaped hole” inside our hearts? That’s what this is. God created each of us with a purpose. But it’s not just an everyday kind of purpose. It’s an eternal purpose. It’s the reason we were made. And an eternal purpose can’t be found outside of God and His plan. And until we embrace God and His Word and the fact that He made us for a reason, we aren’t going to be able to find that purpose. And until we find our purpose, we’re going to keep asking why we’re here.

I think that’s why so many people are lost, wandering around, not knowing who they are or why they matter. How can we know who we are or why we matter if we believe that God isn’t important? Or that He doesn’t exist?

I’m a practical person, objective-focus and goal-oriented. If I didn’t have a purpose, I wouldn’t get out of bed. If I didn’t have a reason to live, I wouldn’t. But I do. And that purpose was given to me by Someone who is orderly and good, and it’s a purpose that will last forever.

I don’t know God’s purpose for your life, but I know His purpose for mine. I’m here to do what He asks me to do. I’m here to live the way the Bible says, and I’m here to bring glory to Him. That’s my purpose. And as many ways as I can bring Him glory, I will, whether it’s through writing or loving others or quietly accepting blame when I don’t deserve it and trusting that He will reveal the truth in time. My purpose is to live for His glory. Every action, every thought, every accomplishment is for Him. And anything I plan to do, if I use it to praise Him, He will use it to help others.

I don’t think there’s anything better than that.

Fountain in the Rose Garden - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Be careful where you set your heart.

What does it mean to set your heart on things of heaven? I’ve heard that all my life. Store up treasures in heaven. Seek first the kingdom of God. All wonderful things but all vague if you try to put them into practice.

Fountain in the Rose Garden - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Fountain in the Rose Garden – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Luke 12:34.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

How can you set your heart on the things of heaven when we really don’t know what heaven is like? I meant he Bible gives us clues not specific ones. So how does that help us set our hearts on heaven?

I’m a practical person. Granted, I enjoy creativity and artistry to a certain extent, but I really prefer to have some kind of practicality behind it. So vague, churchy phrases do little else than to irritate me.

It’s easy to set your heart on things of the world because they’re visible, tangible, usually immediate, and they make us feel better. But the things of the world are temporary. Wealth spends; health declines; possessions wear out. No matter how much you obtain in this life, you can’t take it with you. So it makes sense to store up “treasures” in heaven, which means to live your life for the intangibles that last forever.

Yes, I’m sure some treasures in heaven may consist of mansions and heavenly wealth and eternal life, yada yada yada. But to me, treasures in heaven are people I love. And that’s a great goal. But how do you set your heart on filling up heaven with treasures while you’re still on earth?

Well, I guess you live the dream God gave you.

God has given everyone a dream. Maybe some of us have hidden it, stuffed it way down deep into the corner of our hearts that rarely sees light because it’s too absurd to pursue in broad daylight. I can’t speak for anyone else. But for me? Writing has always been my dream. From the moment I understood that writing was something I could do for a living, it became my desire. But not writing specifically – publication: that magical word that changes a writer from an amateur to an expert (whether they actually know anything or not).

From the time I was very small, I wanted to be a published author. And I remember the first time I sent off a manuscript to a publisher. I cringe now thinking about what I mailed, and I pity whoever was unfortunate enough to open it. And I remember waiting and waiting and waiting for a response … and receiving none. But not to be deterred, I tried again. And again. And again. And the first time I received a response letter, I was so excited! Until I read it. A rejection notice. I’d heard of them. And this was the first of many to follow.

I could probably paper my walls with all the rejection notices I’ve received now. I remember hitting the bottom when I was halfway through college, thinking that it wasn’t worth it and that maybe I had misunderstood the dream God had given me because obviously nobody wanted anything I was writing.

But then I read a book somewhere that told me to define what success meant to me. And success for me was this: that someone would come to know Christ directly because of something I wrote. And by that definition I was successful through the first set of dramas I wrote for my church, a drama series called “To Be Continued.” And I have been writing ever since.

I had set my heart on being a published author. Granted, I wanted to become a published author so that the stories God has given me can reach as many people as possible. But I had my heart set on the wrong part of that goal. My heart needed to be set on reaching people for Christ. My heart needed to be set on the end and not the means. My interpretation of the dream God had given me was too small.

If I can step back and try to see the big picture of the dream God has given me for my life, that’s what I need to set my heart on fulfilling. If I try to set my heart on my interpretation of the smaller events that will lead to the big picture, it’s like focusing all my efforts on a single puzzle piece and neglecting the entire puzzle.

That’s why we crash and burn when we don’t get the answers we want. That’s why we get depressed and discouraged when our plans don’t work out. We have our hearts set on the means we think we need to accomplish our dream rather than the dream itself. If we can set our hearts on the big picture God has for our lives, it’s a lot easier to let go of the little things that don’t work out like we expect. It’s a lot easier to trust that whatever path He leads us down is the right one, whether it feels like it or not.

I’m almost 30 and have been writing for 20 years without being published. So what? I have my heart set on God using my writing to help people, and He’s done that. And He’ll keep doing it. It just may not look like what I think it should look like. But that’s up to Him.

The best way to tell the difference between your dream and God’s is that God’s dream for your life will always be impossible for you alone. So be careful where you set your heart. And before you get too attached to the plans you’ve made, ask yourself if you’re depending on your dream or God’s.