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.

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you can drive like an idiot

People in Wichita don’t know how to drive. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s never more obvious than when the weather is bad. The worse the weather, the worse the drivers out in it are. They either go too fast or too slow. I usually get to see the colorful variety of Wichita’s most inept every Monday through Friday morning as I drive into work. It’s an odd mixture of people and an even odder mixture of vehicles.

One morning last week, I drove a couple of miles with a big white van riding my bumper. I was going five over, and I couldn’t see their headlights they were so close. I got over out of their way as soon as I could, and they shot around me like I was standing still. Not a big deal—except that the conditions were somewhat treacherous. That same day, a newish SUV with big tires and bright lights crept along the highway, hovering in the middle of both lanes, taking up too much room on both sides and not letting anyone pass. The guy was going at least 30 under, which is never a good idea on K-96 on a weekday morning around 7:15.

I thought it was ironic, the giant under-tired white van was clipping along like it ruled the road and the new SUV, designed for foul weather conditions, was afraid to accelerate. And that got me thinking about how many circumstances we encounter in our own lives that are exactly like that.

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Drum ornament hanging on the Christmas tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 18:39.

You have armed me with strength for the battle;
    you have subdued my enemies under my feet. 

Have you ever charged into a fight when you weren’t prepared for it? Have you ever walked into a situation you weren’t equipped to handle? I have. There’s no worse feeling in the world than realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Why? Well, it’s not exactly like you can bow out; you’ll lose respect. But at the same time, you don’t know what you’re doing, so you can’t help but fail, which means you’ll lose respect. But have you ever considered the flip side of that situation?

How many times, as Christians, do we hang back and fear our own inadequacy when we are more than capable of doing what needs to be done? This is me. This is me all the way. All my life I have struggled with feelings of insufficiency and inadequacy. People laugh at me when I say that, but it’s the absolute truth. My greatest fear is failing to perform to the expectations of people I love and respect, and that fear has kept me bound in silence many times when I probably should have spoken up.

Mentor a child? I’m not good enough. Share Christ with someone who doesn’t believe? I don’t know enough. Volunteer for a church ministry? I’m not talented enough. Any of those sound familiar? This isn’t really a Christmas post, but what better time of year to consider this issue?

How many of us live our Christian life like a fully equipped SUV crawling along in the snow? How many of us Christians are so burdened and weighed down with fears of our own inadequacy that we never even try to run? We’re so afraid that we never move faster than a walk, and we don’t get nearly as far as we might have if we would have used our gifts to their fullest. This is a reminder to me today. I convince myself that I’m not good enough, not talented enough, not fast enough, not brave enough to do the things that God has called me to do. But those things that I tell myself aren’t true. God has promised to equip me to accomplish everything He’s planned for me to do.

As it usually works with things in my life, my life isn’t about me; it’s about God and what God wants to do with my life. Now, that doesn’t mean we should be like the rickety old van, barreling down a snow-covered highway when it’s not designed for that kind of speed. God has a plan and a purpose for all our lives. Like me. I’m a writer, a communicator, a storyteller. I’ve known that since I was little. So if I try to make a living using mathematics, not only am I going to fail miserably at my job, I’ll be miserable. God has equipped us for whatever task He intends us to complete. We just have to be willing to take Him at His Word.

So ask yourself what you’re afraid of this morning. Are you crawling along when you could be running? Or are you running down a road you should be walking? Personally, I prefer speed. I’ll always go fast if I can, but pushing my limits on an icy road when my car has bald tires is more than irresponsible. It’s just plain dumb.

So don’t be dumb. Know your limits, but don’t be afraid to push them when you know you’re where God wants you.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember who your enemy is

I’m always shocked when a good deed turns sour. Have you ever seen that happen? Have you ever watched something that started out good become so twisted and backward that it turned into a weapon? Before your eyes, an idea that was meant to help people became a tool to tear people apart. A pure, simple request can into a major issue that has people at each others’ throats.

Do things like that just happen? I don’t think so. It takes craftiness and skill to turn a pure, innocent idea into a raging tool of destruction. And if we as Christ-followers don’t keep our eyes open, we’ll be tempted to think that craftiness and skill comes from the people around us rather than its true source—our enemy.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:12.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I posted recently about how predictable Satan is, but I didn’t really talk about how sneaky he is. And personally I think he takes great pride in how he can take someone’s good deed or someone’s good intention and twist them into something hurtful.

Maybe you’ve never seen him do it. It’s masterful. Completely evil but totally masterful. Say you want to buy flowers for a loved one. You have the best intentions in mind. You want to show that person how much you care. Well, when you get to the florist, their delivery people have a bad day and don’t drop the flowers off when they’re supposed to. So the person who was going to get the flowers late in the afternoon on a Monday gets them early instead, when he/she is in a meeting. And it interrupts them and breaks their concentration, and their whole day ends up spiraling out of control, and they’re angry about it when they were supposed to be happy. And that makes you angry because you spent your time try to do something nice for them, and it didn’t work.

That’s a pitiful example, but you get the idea. You can start with the best of intentions, but Satan can twist circumstances and (if they’re not paying attention) people’s perspectives to turn the kindest deed into a personal attack. When that happens, you have two options. You either go with your gut or you do what you know is right. Believe it or not, those two don’t always go hand in hand.

When somebody hurts your feelings, what do you do? When someone treats you like you’re stupid, how do you respond? When you feel like the person talking to you is talking down to you, what do you say in return? My reactions vary from sharp words to full-on tears, depending on who I’m dealing with. If it’s somebody who already intimidates me, you can bet I’ll be crying if they raise their voice at me. It’s embarrassing, but it’s true. If it’s someone I view as a peer or a friend, sharp words are likely, as much as I hate to admit it.

I don’t like being talked down to. I don’t like being treated like an idiot. And I really don’t like being interrupted when I’m trying to explain something. Maybe that’s pride. I don’t know. But it’s like pulling teeth to get me to back off and react with humility when someone is talking over me. But here’s the evil genius of the entire scheme: Most of the time the person talking down to you is only reacting to your tone. Or they’re just reacting to the tone of the person they talked to before you.

How many conflicts could have been ended before they even began if we just remembered that most people don’t want to fight? I mean, who really loves confrontation anyway? Yes, there are some difficult people out there, but generally speaking, people don’t want to fight with each other. They want to get things done. And getting bogged down in misunderstandings is a waste of time. Satan knows that. Why else does he keep turning us against each other the way he does?

He knows how it divides people and hurts people, and he loves to turn us against each other, especially if the people fighting are Christ-followers. Because the more he can drive us apart, the less effective we will be in accomplishing God’s purposes.

So the next time you find yourself embroiled in any kind of conflict, take a moment to just breathe and remind yourself that the person you’re talking to isn’t your real enemy. They’re doing the best they can in the situation, and maybe they started at you with sharp words, but sharp words in return aren’t going to help calm anyone down. Somebody has to back off. Maybe it should be you.

Satan wants us to fight each other, but it’s our choice whether to go with it or ignore him. Trust me. We’d all be better off if we ignored him. So stow the sharp words. Get your perspective back where it belongs, and remember who your enemy is.

Sunset through the apricot trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sometimes darkness clings

If you’ve followed Christ for any amount of time, you have probably encountered some aspects of spiritual warfare. As children of God, we have an enemy who hates us and wants to cause us pain, who wants to make us walk away from the plans God has for our lives. And there are times when we are more open and vulnerable to attack, but in those times God shows His strength through us, kind of like what I blogged about yesterday.

And while it is quite exciting to think that we have access to that kind of strength, we need to remember beyond anything else that we can’t beat the darkness by ourselves.

Sunset through the apricot trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset through the apricot trees – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 13:12.

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.

This is one of my favorite verses in Scripture. It doesn’t sound as dashing in the New Living Translation as it does in the New King James, honestly; the New King James makes it sound epic … like something out of Lord of the Rings. But this is probably more practical in actually understanding what Paul is talking about.

But even this translation is full of metaphor. Removing our dark deeds like dirty clothes? Putting on an armor? Sorry. I don’t think I have one of those lying around. If I did, I think I’d know about it, no matter how dirty my house might be.

So what on Earth is Paul saying? For the most practical explanation, though, I think the Message says it clearest:

Romans 13:11-14 (The Message)

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

Here’s the deal, Christians. We don’t have a lot of time left. God has been patient for a very long time and has extended chance after chance for the world to turn to Him. Even America. We have had countless chances to give up our futile pursuits of personal pleasure and self-entitlement. God’s patience will wear out soon.

But remember, Romans is written to Christians. Paul is talking to believers in this passage. Christians, we need to wake up. We need to pay attention to what God is doing around us. And we need to get rid of the darkness in our lives, no matter what form it takes. If it’s negativity, get rid of it. If it’s complaining or griping, get rid of it. If it’s impure thinking (the full range from sex to gossip), get rid of it.

Like every other morning, I’m talking to myself. I struggle when I’m exhausted. I can get easily discouraged by the darkness I see all around me, by people who should know better, by people who don’t know better, and by people who don’t care either way. And sometimes it feels like the darkness of our world is like a sticky black tar that clings to us, and nothing we do can get it to release us.

That’s where the metaphor comes in. I don’t have an armor lying around my house, but God has given me a metaphorical armor when He sent His Holy Spirit to live in me. When the darkness in this world gets to be too much, remember that we’re not fighting this battle alone. Stop focusing on the ground you’re losing and focus on the truth – God’s already won and you don’t have to give in to the darkness. If you’re a Christian, you’re already wearing an armor of light; you just may not be using it.

So … use it.

We don’t have any light in us without Christ. So how can we push the darkness back without Him? We can’t. So why are we trying? Why are we throwing Bible verses at people when our lives don’t match what Scripture says? Why are we doing good works when our hearts aren’t motivated by our faith?  Why are we trying to make a difference in the world on our own? It doesn’t work.

Stop trying to fight the darkness in your own strength. You will lose. And when you accept that, you can accept help. That’s how you use your armor of light. You ask God for help.

God gives us strength, not just to endure, not just to keep going, but to live and to live right. We don’t have to be negative. We don’t have to be discouraged. We don’t have to complain or gripe. We don’t have to subsist on impure thoughts and gossip and whatever else slows us down. God’s Spirit — our Armor — gives us the strength and the power to stand up against all that.

When the darkness clings to you, remember you have an armor of light. So start using it. And pay attention. Stop wasting time chasing things that don’t matter; stop wasting time focusing on what you don’t have or what you don’t know or what you can’t control. Plug in. Get busy. There’s lots to do and not much time left to do it, and it doesn’t matter where you are because the workers are few and there’s a lot of field to harvest.

So if you don’t have an armor, get one. And if you’ve got one, start using it before it’s too late.

Glen Eyrie Castle - Colorado Springs, CO

Remember who your enemy is

This is war. I get caught up in everyday life pretty easily, and I forget that while we are living life daily, we are also waging war daily too. Our lives are a war, and every day is a battle where you either win and take ground or lose and give up ground.

But this is a strange war in that we aren’t fighting people we can see. We aren’t fight anyone around us. We aren’t fighting the people who we think we’re fighting. When it comes to this war, we’re fighting the unseen.

Glen Eyrie Castle - Colorado Springs, CO

Glen Eyrie Castle – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

We have an enemy out there. If you are a Christ follower, you have an enemy who wants nothing more than to see you suffer. Satan won’t stop until he can bring all of us down, wreck our lives, destroy our testimony, and drag us through the dirt until we have convinced ourselves that God doesn’t love us anymore.

He can’t keep us out of heaven. If you believe in Christ, that’s where you’re going no matter how you live. But Satan will do all he can to keep you from reaching other people with the truth.

For the next two weeks, my church will be putting on an outreach drama that God uses to rock our city every year. He’s been rocking our city with it for twelve years so far, and I’m confident that year 13 won’t be any different. Why? Because we have no idea what we’re doing.

Satan throws everything he’s got in our path during this time of year. It’s crazy. Ridiculous even. To the point of being hilarious. Just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, he throw something else awful at you. And there’s no other explanation for it — for why it had to happen just at this very moment — other than the fact that he’s trying to distract us.

Why? Because there’s something about the truth of Scripture that people can’t ignore. And there’s something about presenting the Gospel clearly that they can’t argue with. And when 500 people praying specifically for one thing — that God would work in hearts — God honors it. And Satan doesn’t want that. So he tries everything he can to get us to trip up. To fight with each other.

It’s an old tactic. Make your opponents lose focus. Force them to fight with each other rather than focusing on the real battle. Satan has been doing this for years. And the irony is that we don’t have to let him win. We don’t have to fight with each other. We just need to remember who our enemy is and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We need to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the goal, and we need to remember that this is a war.

We aren’t fighting this war with our fists or heavy weaponry. We’re fighting with prayer. With faith. With the truth in Scripture. With love that only the Holy Spirit can give us to share with other people.

So whether you’re participating in this gigantic outreach at NewSpring Church in Wichita, KS, or whether you’re going to work or school or a family gathering, don’t forget that you’re fighting a battle today. So in the thick of the fight, keep your eyes on the real enemy and remember that he’s only fighting so viciously because he’s already lost. And as long as we remember what side we’re on, he won’t take anybody else down with him.