Temporary

It’s very easy to get caught up in life, I think. We live life every day, and sometimes I think we forget that this life is temporary. I know I forget it often. I am so busy with everything that I do in life — my work, my family, my friends, my hobbies — that I forget that not much of it is going to last.  I touched on this in a previous devotional, about how only the things we do for Christ will last in eternity. But this morning, the verse of the day takes it a step further.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died[a] will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

Our entire lives on earth are temporary. Think about that. Every detail of our lives will eventually fade away and the person who we actually are will live on still, either in heaven with God or in hell.

We’ve been talking about the second coming for so long. And I’m not talking about people like this Camper guy who claims to know when Christ is coming back. The Bible says no one knows the day of Christ’s return — not even Him. Only God knows that. So the one thing you can be certain of is that when someone stands up and says they know when the rapture will happen, you can trust that it won’t be the day they’re claiming.

But Christ is coming. He promised He would, and He always keeps His promises.

So we need to remember that our lives on Earth aren’t going to last forever. We need to remember that the things we are able to see are the things that will pass away. It’s the things we can’t see that will last forever. The things we can’t see (like Love) are eternal.

So on this Tuesday after a holiday weekend, as I dive back into the corporate world, I am going to do my best to remember that the trials and struggles I encounter aren’t going to last forever. And I’m also going to try to remember that my successes and accomplishments also are only temporary (unless I did them for God . . . and then they’ll last forever). My focus needs to be on the life that is coming. And if I can do that — if I can keep my focus on the life that is ahead of us — it makes this temporary life easier to bear, because I understand that my life down here is just preparing me for what’s coming ahead.

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Fear

Fear is petrifying. Isn’t it amazing how one little emotion can control so much of you? It can paralyze you. It can seize you and keep you from moving, from feeling, from thinking, from seeing. And it’s fascinating to me that Fear is often the root of many other uncontrolable emotions. Like hate.

The verse of the day today is Psalm 56:4.

4 I praise God for what he has promised.
      I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
      What can mere mortals do to me?

I want to live my life this way. I want to trust God so much that just knowing He has promised something is enough for me, without seeing Him actually keep His promise. I want to trust God so much that I’m not afraid of anything. I want to trust God so much that fear plays no part in my life and that I am nto afraid of what people can do to me.

I’d like to think that I’m there, but I’m not.

I have never had trouble trusting God. He’s the One Person in my life who has never let me down. But my same old worries and concerns and fears still creep into my thoughts, and sometimes it’s hard to focus on anything else. And I guess that’s normal. I guess that’s just being human. But I still think it’s weakness, and I still think it’s a sin. And sin, for a believer, is a choice we don’t have to make.

Christ overcame sin so we wouldn’t have to be controled by it. And He gave us the power to choose not to sin.

So I’m working on not being afraid anymore. I have a host of things I fear that I don’t talk about because I know it’s wrong to be afraid. But ignoring your fears and facing them are two separate reactions.

In any case, God has made many promises, and I have no doubt that He will keep all of them. Becuase that’s who He is. But not knowing what those promises will bring is unsettling sometimes too. Because I know for a fact that He expects more of me than I expect of myself and that He trusts me more than I really think He should.

I know God has promised great things. But I refuse to fear what is coming (or what isn’t coming) in my life because I know that He has everything under control.

What really matters

Sometimes it is difficult for me to distinguish the difference between my life and my actions. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that you are what you do, and it’s even easier to label people (yourself and others) by your job description or by your talents or by your accomplishments. Tony is a lawyer. Sarah is a dancer. Jake is the winner of the race.

I think we label people because we can’t see inside them. So it’s easier to identify people by putting labels on them, either to help us distinguish them from the crowd or to keep them safe in a box where they won’t threaten us. Either way, people are far more than how their labels describe them. We usually just can’t see it.

Every individual’s life is precious. There’s no denying or disputing that. Every person is unique and special and God sacrificed His most precious blood to save us.

Conversely, our actions are repeatable. Our accomplishments can be bested. Our job descriptions change, sometimes like the wind. And our talents aren’t really that unique, if you think about. Any “new” talent anyone has probably isn’t truly new; it just hasn’t been seen before.

I got to thinking about this when I read today’s verse of the day.

Acts 20:24

24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

I find this interesting because Paul (who is speaking) was a pretty important guy. He was educated. He was intelligent. He was a Jew among Jews, which at the time meant he was pretty special. But none of those things mattered to him after he started following Jesus. I’m sure Paul accomplished a lot in his life, but the only thing that mattered to him after he started following Jesus was telling other people about Him.

This really made me wonder about the worth of my own actions.

My life, as in who I am inside, is precious to God. I get that. But what about my actions? What about the things I have done that haven’t been for Him?

Anything I have done only for myself really has no bearing on God. The things I do for myself are small and insignificant because they only benefit me — and most of the time I don’t know if it’s an actual benefit or not.

But the things I have done for God, not matter how small they start out, they usually end up ballooning until hundreds of people are blessed or encouraged. And most of the time, I never intended to accomplish anything like that. I just knew I needed to do what God had called me to do, and I did it. I had no idea how He would use it.

There’s an old hymn (I think it’s a hymn) called “Little is Much When God Is in It” and I think that’s very true.

We only have a limited time on Earth. Compared to eternity, it’s not even substantial enough to classify. The Bible just calls it a vapor, a puff of smoke. One moment here, the next moment gone. So in that limited time, what are we going to accomplish? What talent are we going to pursue? What job are we going to do? And what is the point?

Paul felt like his accomplished life would be worth nothing if it weren’t directed at doing God’s work, at finishing the task that had been appointed to him by God. I agree with that. And I agree with it in the perspective of my own life. The things that I have done for myself won’t last. But the things I’ve done for others in God’s name? That’s a whole different ball game.

I know many Newtonian Laws passed out of vogue with the advent of Einstien’s Theory of Relativity and the craziness of Quantum Physics but as far as I can tell, every action still has an opposite and equal reaction. What we do on Earth effects what our lives will be like in eternity. Our choices on Earth directly effect our lives in eternity. I don’t want to say that Earth is the proving grounds of Heaven, but it kind of is. If you can choose to live your life for Christ while you are mired in the darkness of this world, if you can see past the temporariness that is life on Earth and realize that what is coming after Earth is so much better, if you can live for eternity now while you’re dying with every breath — heaven will be a rewarding place.

I know my life is precious. But my actions are useless, futile, and small until I do them for God.

C.T. Studd wrote a poem that I think pretty much sums up what Paul was saying:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

In the grand scheme of life, our actions will either make us greater on earth or bring us greater reward in heaven (which usually means we are made more humble on earth). The next promotion won’t last. The next “new” talent will fade into obscurity. The next accomplishment will pass as soon as someone does something better or greater. But the things you do for Christ remain and will be remembered forever, if not by people then by God Himself. And that is what really matters.

Judging

Christians are really good at judging people, which is pretty incredible because that’s not something we’re even capable of doing. It seems easy to look at someone who is doing something we don’t agree with and to levy judgment against them simply for the reason that we don’t like their actions. But there’s a big difference between disliking someone’s actions and judging them as a person.

I find it interesting that many people who say they follow Christ think it’s their mission in life to judge other people, whether they’re making the right choices or not, whether they’re living their lives the right way or not. They say they follow Christ when they do this, but we don’t have a record of Jesus judging anybody. Because that’s not why He came. Jesus came to save people, not condemn them.

The verse today comes from John 3:17.

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 Christ was here on a rescue mission.

So where do Christians get the idea that we’re supposed to walk around telling people what they’re doing wrong and how that affects their worth as a person?

Now. I should probably clarify what judging actually means. Judging is passing sentence on a person’s heart based on what their actions.  And if you think about it, that’s all a judge in a court room does. Based on the evidence of a person’s actions or behavior, a judge makes a ruling on whether a person meant to break the law or not . . . and whether he’s sorry about it or not.

Judging is about us determining someone else’s motivation. And that is impossible for us to do. We can’t know someone else’s heart, their reason for doing the things they do, their motivation for living life. That is hidden to us. All we can see is the results of their motivation.

Now . . . can we judge actions? Yes. If you believe the Bible, you believe in right and wrong. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Being jealous is wrong. Disobeying parents is wrong. But stating those facts isn’t being judgmental. That is what the Bible says. Many times. Over and over. The Bible declares that these things are sin. And in the same breath, the Bible turns around and says that all of us are sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another sin. So how can one sinner turn to another sinner and declare himself worth more or less? We can’t. Only God can determine the worth of a soul, and we already know the price He paid for us — His Son.

Now . . . is it wrong to call another Christian on their crap? No. If you know a Christian — someone who professes to follow Christ — and they are living a life that is obviously against God, you as a Christian have a responsibility to step up and talk to them. Christians, we’re family. We are supposed to keep each other honest. We’re supposed to keep each other accountable. And while we can’t see someone’s heart, we can see their actions, and a Christian’s actions should look different than someone who isn’t a Christian. Again, calling another Christian out on repetitive, obvious sin isn’t judging; it’s being obediant to Scripture.

Now . . . is it wrong to see someone sinning and immediately decide that they are not a follower of Christ? Yes.

Is it wrong to speak ill of a person as though you understand their heart and their motivation? Yes.

Is it wrong to see a person’s actions and decide that they aren’t worthy of God? Yes.

Many of us would say we’ve never done those things, but if we say that we’re lying. We do it all the time, whether we mean to or not. Yes, we can see someone’s actions and deem whether or not they are wrong by using the Bible as our moral/ethical compass. But to decide whether or not that person is worthy of being loved? To decide whether or not that person is worthy of being prayed for? To decide whether or not that person is “good” or “bad” person? Wow. Where do we get such egotistical ideas? There’s nobody good. There’s nobody worthy of being loved. Not even us.

So the next time you see someone sinning — whether it’s a little bitty sin or a great big sin — try to remember that while we can judge whether the sin is right or not, the sinner belongs to God. God has already judged. The law already declares us lost. Jesus came to rescue us. And it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to be saved. And if Christ didn’t come to judge people, why do we think we need to?

Listening

Verses like the one this morning make me cringe. Actually, most verses out of James make me cringe because so much of what James writes about is what I struggle with. And this morning is one that truly throws me for a loop.

James 1:19

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

As I was reading this today, I realized something I never saw before. I always considered these three instructions to be individual. As in, we need to make sure that we are good, attentive listeners. We need to make sure we don’t talk too much. We need to make sure we don’t lose our temper. But as I was reading this morning, I started to wonder if instead of individual commands they’re actually connected.

How many times have I sat and listened to someone speak without interrupting them to tell them that they’re wrong and getting angry about it?

Listening is a sign of respect. Listening demonstrates that you love someone else more than you love yourself, that you’re more concerned about what’s going on in their life than you are about what’s happening in yours. Listening is hard. But that’s probably becuase it’s a good thing to do.

So what do you do when you’re listening to someone and they say something wrong? Or they say something offensive? What do you do? Do you jump all over them? Do you interrupt them and tellt hem that they’re wrong?

If we think about these three commands as though they are all connected, what are they saying to do?

Be quick to listen. That means we need to be eager and excited to listen to someone else’s story. But once they get started, let them finish their thought without interrupting them. And then, don’t get angry at them for expressing beliefs or opinions that contradict your beliefs or opinions. Let them finish their thought. Let them have their say. And then — calmly and without anger — explain your position. Explain your beliefs. Explain your opinions. And explain why you feel that way.

I struggle with this enormously, especially if someone is telling me something I have already heard before. If somebody is repeating something I’ve already heard, I usually interrupt them and finish the thought for them. And, honestly, that’s just rude. I should care more about the people who are talking to me than I do about what they’re telling me. So what if I heard it before? I shouldn’t be in such a hurry that hearing it again bothers me.

I am always quick to listen, but I’m not always slow to speak. And that’s something I need to work on.

Brotherly love

Love is such a strange word. It has so many meanings, and English tends to use the same word for all of its many meanings. Because there’s a big difference between saying you love somebody and saying you love the taste of coffee.  

I would be fascinated to know how the word love is translated in other languages. Because I’m sure that other languages have a generic word for love. I know Greek has many different words for many different kinds of love, but I don’t know about other languages. I know there’s a linguistic difference between family love and romantic love in Japanese, but I can’t tell you the different words.

The verse of the day made me think about the different kinds of love this morning.

Romans 12:10

10 Love each other with genuine affection,[a] and take delight in honoring each other.

I’m always curious when the Bible expands on how to love someone. Not just love them. But love them “with genuine affection” which in this case means “with brotherly love” according to BibleGateway.

It’s super easy to tell somebody that you love them. At it’s very basest definition, love is a word. And words are easy to use. What is difficult is meaning what you say. And when you mean that you love somebody, you have to back it up with action.  You have to spend time with them. You have to talk to them. You have to remember their birthdays. Etc. But then again, a lot of your action depends on what kind of love you have for that person. If it’s romantic love, you’d better be sending flowers and talking on the phone at all hours of the night. But what does it mean to love someone with brotherly love?

The same verse in the Amplified Bible uses the phrase “as members of one family.” That’s how we are supposed to love each other. I think that’s probably a very good idea, since technically we are members of one family. God’s family. But that begs the question, how do members of a family love each other?

It’s interesting to me that no matter how evil our culture becomes, families still seem to realize that there is a bond among them that nobody else shares. You still grow up together. You still live together, at least at the beginning of your life. And no matter where you go in life, you still have whatever your family instilled in you.

I have been extraordinarily blessed to have an amazing family. My mom, dad and brother are some of my closest friends. So it’s very interesting to me that the Bible says I am to love fellow Christians with the same love I have for my blood family. It’s that love that says, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you are family and I love you and I always will. ” At least, that’s how brotherly love works in my family.

It also means we aren’t afraid to call each other on our crap, no matter if it’s a younger sibling doing the calling or not (again, this is also the way it usually works in my family). But always with love.

I don’t even really know what I’m saying this morning. And I’m not sure if I’m making sense or not. I rarely even make sense to myself.

I guess I was just needing a reminder that when the Bible tells us to love someone, we need to do it; not only say it but back it up with action. And when the Bible says that we need to love fellow Christians like they are family, we need to do that too. Because if we can’t love each other and get along down here, we’re in trouble. Because we’re going to spend eternity with each other. So we’d better work out our differences down here while we have the chance, right? =)

I’ve heard of “Drink Responsibly” but “Help Responsibly” is a new one on me

I am an enabler. I am never happier than when I can be in the background, helping someone accomplish something great from the sidelines. I think that may be one of the reasons I love stage managing so much.

Stage managing is my favorite part of theater. Directing is too much pressure. Acting is too visible. Stage managing, for me, is the happy medium where you can support both director and actors, making sure they all have what they need to do their job the best they possibly can.

I love to help people. And I know a lot of other people like that too. There’s something cathartic, I think, in serving other people. It gets your focus off yourself and reminds you how blessed you are. And, besides that, it’s just fun. And it’s even more fun if you can help people in a group. But there’s one thing that those of us who like to help people need to remember. And the Bible verse for today made me think of it.

Romans 15:2

2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

 We need to make sure that we’re helping other people to do what is right.

For example, say someone asks me to help them write a research paper for a class. I love to do things like that. I love helping people tweak their papers, and most of the time I try to explain why I edit things the way I do so they will know how to edit better in the future. But when it comes time for me to help this person with their paper, they actually want me to write the whole paper for them. Well . . . I love to write . . . . and I love to help people . . . . and I’m pretty positive I could still right a rockin’ awesome research paper even though I’ve been out of high school for ten years now (yikes! really? wow!). But if I wrote the paper for this person, would that be the right thing?

No. It wouldn’t. Part of being in school is learning how to complete assignments on your own. If I wrote the entire paper for this person, they would never learn that lesson.

Here’s where the trouble comes for me.

I hate telling people no. I hate disappointing people. I hate letting people down. And, inevitably, that’s what happens when people ask me to do things like this for them. But as much as I want to help people, I have to remember that even though my intentions are the best, human nature still plays a part in this drama called life.

People are lazy. It’s just a fact of life. And everyone suffers from it. And if you get a person like me who likes to help other people, I will willingly sacrifice time and effort to help a lazy person succeed without ever having to struggle. Sometimes helping people do the right thing is telling them that I won’t help them do what they’ve asked me to do.

This is definitely something I need to work on because it’s something I truly struggle with. I have such a weakness for people who need help. And many times I think I have helped people get out of situations God was using to teach them something. And when I do that, I have put myself direction between that person who is being chastised and God, and that is not a place I want to be. Because at that point, I have taken it on myself to tell God He is being unfair. Wow. That is such a bad idea . . . . such a bad place to be . . .

So. How do you know when to help someone and when not to? Well . . . if someone is broken down on the side of road and needs help changing a tire in 110-degree weather . . . . stop and help them. But if someone needs help buying a book for school because they’ve spent all their money on clothes . . . don’t. Or if you know you’ve helped this person with the same thing previously and haven’t seen them accept responsibility for it, don’t help them.

Do you see the difference?

Helping people who want to help themselves is right. Helping people who want you to do all the work for them is a very bad idea.

Helping people is good. It’s not only good; it’s a commandment. And it’s fun. But we have to make sure we’re helping people do the right thing. Because if we are consciously enabling people to do wrong, to live a life that isn’t pleasing to God, we will be the ones responsible. Yes, the person who is actually making the choices will be responsible for his or her own actions. But aren’t we responsible for our choices too? And if we know we’re helping people do the wrong thing, don’t we bear some of the burden too?