God’s Law is a ruler, not a sledgehammer

I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?

God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.

So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?

metric-cmToday’s verses are Romans 5:20-21.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.

But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.

God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.

Seriously. People are a mess.

But God knows that.

Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.

So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.

Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.

Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.

If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.

The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

Don’t let your insecurity dictate your direction

I struggle with insecurity. A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them that, but it’s true. I’m a recovering people pleaser, after all. Insecurity is part of the gig. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of emotional trauma, but I’ve finally come to understand that insecurity is something everyone struggles with. We’re all insecure about something. It’s just not the same from person to person, and we all react to our insecurity in different ways.

Some people lash out. Others tear people down. Some hide. Some run. Some fight. But at the root of it all is this cold pit of fear in your stomach that won’t go away no matter how many times you tell yourself that you know what you’re doing. Living with insecurity is miserable because it makes you miserable. It colors the way you see yourself and others, and it endangers your relationships.

So what beats insecurity? Confidence and peace. But those aren’t things you can pour out of a bottle or find stashed in a treasure chest. I don’t know about you, but a load of confidence and peace sounds like something I could use right now. So where do you get them?

WJDK7M84F9Today’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible calls God the source of hope. I think it’s important we remember that. Too often we put our hope in things that can’t really satisfy us or solutions that treat the symptoms of a problem instead of its cause.

If you’re struggling with insecurity today, the first thing to realize is that you can’t find security anywhere other than in Jesus Christ. If you look to other people or titles or wealth or status to give you the security you crave, you’re going to be disappointed. People will always let you down, and all the success in this world won’t amount to much when you die. You can’t take it with you. So instead of letting your wealth or your family name or your reputation define you, start looking at yourself the way Jesus does.

Another way to find confidence is to ask God for it. That’s something we can ask for. Confidence and peace aren’t mystical, ethereal constructs that can’t be understood. No. If you need confidence and peace, ask God to give it to you. But realize where it comes from. Confidence and peace come because you trust God.

That’s the tough part. You’ve got to trust God.

Trust that He’s in control. Trust that He hasn’t made a mistake. Trust that He’ll tell you when you need to turn. Trust that you’re where you are now because you’re following Him. Trust that He won’t leave you alone and that He won’t abandon you.

For me, my insecurity comes when I stop trusting God. When I take matters into my own hands and try to accomplish things in my own strength, that’s when I start getting nervous and unpleasant. That’s when I get snappy and grouchy, because I’m relying on myself, and Myself isn’t strong enough.

Maybe no one understands you. Maybe it’s just you and God on the road right now, and you’re starting to wonder if the compass God gave you is actually working. Let’s get something straight. God doesn’t change, and I’m not aware of any time in Scripture where God set someone off on a path and then changed His mind about where they were going or what they were doing. God sees things through. He finishes what He starts, and He’s not done with any of us yet.

So trust Him. He’s worthy of it. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Shut out the negative voices. Granted, don’t be a jerk about it. And always be humble enough to hear correction, because you aren’t perfect. But don’t ever put someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or opinions higher than God’s.

Don’t let your insecurities dictate the direction you’re going. That’s God’s job. So learn to recognize His voice apart from the voices of insecurity and the lies of the enemy. Then, once you know what God wants, trust it. Trust Him. And shut out the insecurity using the peace and confidence you gain from knowing who God is and that nothing can ever separate you from His love.

We all owe someone something

Unexpected things happen all the time. You can plan and scheme and organize until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t guarantee that everything you want is going to happen the way you want it to happen. This past Saturday was my book release event at a local coffee shop in downtown Wichita. We’d been planning for months. We had everything worked out, and everything was going to be perfect. We were expecting big crowds and a lot of excitement.

Well, there were big crowds. But they weren’t there for the book release. Unbeknownst to me, the WSU Shockers decided to have a basketball game at the downtown arena at the same time as the book event, and there wasn’t a single place to park anywhere. I had to circle the block four times before I found a place about a mile or two away. It was my event, and I didn’t get there until fifteen minutes after it was supposed to start.

Needless to say, I was somewhat put out (to put it mildly).

But you know what? People still came. I was shocked and touched and humbled. Friends showed up to help with setup. Many made cookies and brought candy. And there were a lot of encouraging hugs and big smiles, and those were worth more than a big crowd to me. And it was a wonderful reminder for me that I have my plans, but God is going to do what He’s going to do in spite of my plans. And even though His way doesn’t seem better to me at the moment, it will be more satisfying in the end.

ZOM5QYEIMVToday’s verses are Job 23:10-14.

But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
but have treasured his words more than daily food.
But once he has made his decision, who can change his mind?
Whatever he wants to do, he does.
So he will do to me whatever he has planned.
He controls my destiny.

Maybe Job isn’t the best book to quote from, but you have to admit it’s accurate. Honestly, the only way Job could really understand all the horrible things that were happening in his life was to accept that God is God and He always knows best–even if it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we need to be humble enough to grasp it.

I struggle with this. I like making my own decisions. I like being independent. I don’t like having to rely on anyone else for answers or help or guidance or support. I want to make my own way and not owe anyone anything. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, but it’s completely impossible. No one can live that life. We all owe someone something. Isn’t it better to accept that the One you owe the most to is the Lord?

You don’t control your life. Your life is bigger than you are, and the only one strong enough to help you get through it is God. What you can control is how you react to events in your life. You can choose to see everything that’s wrong, or you can choose to believe that God has a plan and will eventually work it out for your benefit.

So where are you today? Are you in the middle of your master scheme that’s going perfectly? Or are you standing in the wreck of your carefully laid plans that have gone awry?

Take a step of faith and decide to trust the Lord. No matter how wrong things may feel like they’ve gone, God is big enough to find the silver lining for you. Just ask Him to help you see it too.

It’s good to be uncomfortable

When I was a little kid (8 or 9 years old), I took piano lessons. My mom is a really accomplished musician, and she wanted me and my brother to be comfortable with music. I liked piano, and I was pretty good at it, but I lacked the discipline to really practice, which is what eventually led me away from music as a potential career. But during the years that I played, my mom always set up a series of recitals for us.

I hated recitals. I hated getting up in front of people. I hated knowing that people were watching me. I hated the possibility that I would make a mistake and look like a fool. But my mom insisted that I do them, even though I hated them, because it was good for me. If I had never gotten up in front of people, I would have missed out on some really important lessons that I’ve needed in life. I needed to know how to present myself to people. I needed to know how to be professional in front of an audience.

Honestly, I needed it more than I ever could have imagined. This coming Saturday, I’ll be up in front of a crowd reading from my latest novel. Believe me, I’ll be drawing on some of the things I learned during those dreaded piano recitals.

I didn’t like them. They were the last thing on earth that I wanted to do. But I needed them, because if I’d stayed comfortable in my little introverted shell, I would never have learned what I needed to know.

4K2VPPOSR1Today’s verse is Joshua 1:9.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

I think this may be a verse I’ve said to myself more than any other verse. I put myself in these uncomfortable situations, and while it’s important for me to be there, I don’t want to be there. I’m scared. I feel inadequate. I feel like anyone else would be better suited to the job than me. But it isn’t anyone else there. It’s me.

God has specific things for me to do, and He wants me to be courageous in how I do them. That means pressing forward when I don’t know how to do something. That means having enough humility to ask for help when I’m stumped. That means trusting other people to know the right decision when I don’t.

Fear keeps me rooted in place, and that’s not the life God has for me. Insecurity keeps me silent when God is telling me to speak up. That isn’t what God has called me to. I’m supposed to live victoriously. I’m a conqueror. More than a conqueror, the Bible says. So what am I doing cowering in the corner when God’s already won the battle for me?

I can’t go far enough away to escape God, even if I wanted to. He’s always with me, so why do I insist on being afraid? My silly fallen nature, I guess.

So what is it that God wants to teach you? Everyone has something. We all have a lesson we’re in the middle of learning, and take it from someone who knows, most lessons aren’t fun. Most lessons mean you have to get uncomfortable, and we live in a world that tells us to get comfortable. Our culture tells us to find where we are happy and stay there and never push the edges and never challenge the status quo. And that kind of living is fine if you want to stay the way you are. But I don’t.

I want to grow. I want to know God better, deeper, more than I did yesterday, and I can’t do that by standing still. My faith can’t grow if I don’t challenge it, and I can’t challenge my faith by only doing the things I’m comfortable doing.

So I’m going to get uncomfortable. How about you?

Take the good and learn from the bad

We have an old orchard here are Safe Haven Farm. It’s nothing fancy. Not even close to fancy. It’s just mainly old. But we’ve got apricots and mulberries and pears. But these aren’t nice pears. Oh, no. These are wood pears. Not sure if that’s really what they’re called or not, but that’s what folks around here call them. They’re fibrous and tough and hard as rocks. Seriously, you get conked on the head with one of these pears, and you’ll be nursing a lump for a week or more (ask me how I know).

That being said, if you can get a knife into them to cut out the bad parts, they’ve got really great flavor. So if you don’t mind doing a lot of work (and I mean a lot of work), you can actually end up with some pretty tasty preserves. It’s quite a labor intensive process, but we think it’s mostly worth it. Thankfully, we have a revolutionary thing in our home–a Squeezo. I’m sure I’ve posted about the Squeezo before, but it really makes pear processing so much easier.

It’s awesome because you take the cooked pears, dump them inside the hopper, crank them through, and good pear sauce comes out, while the bad stuff like the fibrous bits and pieces of core come out in a different bowl. It’s really handy because it separates the bad from the good.

The Squeezo machine for processing canned goods

The Squeezo machine for processing canned goods

Today’s verses are Colossians 4:5-6.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds. Eat the chicken around the bones. There’s a lot of idiom about how to get through life, and a lot of it has to do with eating. That isn’t really relevant. Just interesting.

We all know that life is a mixed bag. Sometimes you end up in situations that are half-good. Other times you end up in situations that are mostly bad. But it’s rare that you’re ever in a circumstances that’s truly ALL good or ALL bad. No matter how bad your circumstances may be, you can always find something good about it.

You may be in a really low place today. That’s okay. Everyone has been there (yes, I promise, everyone has been there before). And maybe the only good thing you can find is that God loves you unconditionally, and you know what? If you know God loves you unconditionally, that’s enough good to tackle any bad circumstance, even if that’s the only good thing you know.

Life will throw you curve balls. People will disappoint you. Your job won’t be what you expected. You might be abandoned or betrayed or lied on or disliked, but it’s your choice to focus on those things. Just like processing pears, you’ve got a Squeezo for your life. Not to be cutesy about it, but if you look at your life through the Bible, you’ll get a much clearer picture on what is good and what isn’t.

When God says something is true and right and good, hold on to it. When God says something is wrong, let it go. Just let that lie or that rumor or those hurtful words roll right off into the trash bowl, because they’re not useful for anything except to be thrown away. Focus instead on the good that will come out of the situation–what you’ll learn, what you’ll know, how you’ll be able to better help someone else.

Regardless if the situation you’re facing is good or bad, you can make the most of it with God’s help. Ask God to come alongside you and show you what you’re missing, and He’ll point out ways that you can overcome this circumstance that you’re facing. God’s Word will help you to sort out what’s true and what isn’t, but you have to use it if you want it to work.

Dreams are like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has a dream. Granted there are a few who don’t. But the vast majority of people I know have a burning desire in their hearts to accomplish something. Maybe it’s something that’s never been done before, or maybe it’s something that others have already tried. It doesn’t matter if it’s an original idea or a revised one, it won’t leave you alone, and your soul is only quiet when you’re pursuing it.

So what happens when the season of your life prevents you from chasing your dream? What do you do then? You don’t have the money. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. You just can’t make a living and chase your dream at the same time. Or, you can, but some important part of your life will suffer. You can chase your dream at the cost of your spouse or your children. You can chase your dream at the expense of your health. You can do all of those things, but you have to realize what it’s going to cost you.

Instead, wouldn’t it better to let God work things out? Sure, He works on a different timetable. He won’t move as fast as you want Him to, or He’ll move so fast you’ll scramble to keep up. But you’ve got to remember that your dream didn’t appear in your heart by accident. God gave you that dream, and He wants to help you achieve it. It just has to be in His timing and not yours.

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:6.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Dreams start out like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them. They grow a little at a time over the years until they turn into something you can recognize. I mean, after all, plants all look alike when they’re first sprouting. But you can’t tell grass from wheat right away. It takes a little bit of time before you can identify what your dream actually is.

But once you know it, you can start helping it along. Feeding it, caring for it, giving it what it needs so that it can grow bigger and stronger. For me, when I understood that my dream was about writing, I took classes in writing. I practiced writing. I followed other writers and read what they wrote. I fed that dream until it grew big enough that it wasn’t just a vague inclination anymore.

But I hit snag. Even though I’d cared for my dream, it still wasn’t the right time to live it. So I had to do the hardest thing: I had to give it back to God. He’s the One who gave it to me to begin with, but I didn’t want to give it back. It was mine. But I couldn’t help it grow anymore. I had done all I could to make it happen, and it wasn’t enough. God was the only One who could give it life. That took a long time. But I finally got there.

And along the way, I’ve learned the most dreams are the same. God gives them to us, but at some point, we have to be willing to give them back to Him. Without Him, they won’t ever become what they were meant to be. We’re not strong enough to accomplish that. Only God can. And He’s promised that whatever dream you have won’t die. Maybe it will feel like it is because you’re turning loose of it, but that’s not the point.

God just wants you to trust Him. So will you trust Him with your dream? Will you let it go and let Him have it back and trust that He’ll turn it into something bigger and better than you can imagine? Turning it loose won’t kill it. Quite the opposite. Sort of like you, your dream can’t live until it dies first and becomes something bigger.

So turn it over. Whatever it is. You can’t accomplish your dreams alone. They’ll stall and stop and flounder and fail, but if you give them to God, He’ll rejuvenate them. And on the day you least expect it, your dream will show up again with more possibilities and more joy than you thought possible, when God says the time is right.