Rusty pump well

Talking is good, but living is better

I know people who talk a lot. They can talk all day long about the things they can do and the places they’ve been, but when it comes down to actual action or serving someone else, they seem to forget everything they claimed to be. I’ve even met people who talk about loving to travel and loving to do big things for God, but when you give them the option to go on a mission’s trip, they aren’t willing to follow through.

And that’s fine. There are always circumstances, and since I don’t have a window into people’s hearts, it’s not my place to judge. It isn’t my place to judge anyway. But haven’t you experienced the same thing? Where you encounter other believers who are more talk than action? People who like to talk about God and talk about the things that God is doing in other peoples’ lives? Strange how those people rarely touch on what God is doing in their own life. They’d rather live vicariously through others.

Rusty pump well

Rusty pump well - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 4:20.

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.

When I first read this, I thought about that crazy movie, Kingdom of Heaven, with Orlando Bloom and Liam Neeson. It’s really an interesting movie because it shows what can happen when two groups of people pursue what they think is God’s will when they don’t really know who God is to begin with.

And actually, I guess that’s kind of fitting. Because in the Kingdom of Heaven movie, there’s a lot of talk going on. The Muslims talk about what God has called them to do. The “Christians” talk about what God has called them to do. The rallying cry on both sides of the battlefield during the Crusades was “God wills it!” but I don’t think either side had it right.

The book of 1 Corinthians in the New Testament is a letter written to the Church at Corinth by Paul. The Church at Corinth had major issues. I mean, serious issues. We think our churches in America are screwed up? Yeah, we got nothing on Corinth. We’re getting there, though. In any case, 1 Corinthians was Paul’s first letter to them, addressing all the really horrible things that were going on. And chapter 4 talks about Paul’s relationship with the Church of Corinth and how they have forgotten their place.

It sounds to me like there were people who had taken charge in the church who were full of nothing but hot air. And I don’t care what you’re doing, being led by someone who’s all talk is dangerous. Even in the business world, the secular arena, people know that following someone who is nothing but talk is a bad idea. Those people will sacrifice others to get their way. They’ll run from challenges because deep down inside they are cowards.

What Paul is saying is that God’s kingdom isn’t about talking. It’s life, but not just life, it’s a life lived with God’s power evident in every facet.

So what does this mean for us today?

Well, talking is easy. It is. Especially if you have a lot to talk about. I like to talk. And I’ve had a lot of experiences that make for great table conversation. But if I let the whole of my life be caught up in talking about the things I did in the past, what will I do today? If I get so caught up in talking about the things that God has done in other peoples’ lives, what am I doing for God right now?

Talking is good. But living is better.

And living to find God’s will is okay, but if all you focus on is finding God’s will for your life as a whole, you’re going to trample over the small opportunities He has for you right now. And you’ll trample over other people around you too. Seeing the big picture is important, but never forget that big pictures are made up of small parts.

So don’t just talk about the great things God is going to do. Go do something. Even if it’s small. Even if, in your estimation, it doesn’t count for anything. Because that’s what is so awesome about God because even something small can become something amazing with His power if you do it for Him. That’s living in God’s power. And that’s more than just talk.

Pink flowers

Being patient with other Christians

Do you ever get frustrated with other Christians? I do. There are so many Christians out there who profess Christ but don’t follow Him. There are so many Christians who’ve been in church for years who have no concept of what true service is. There are so many Christians who know the Bible but haven’t figured out how to apply it to their life.

And I get frustrated with them. So today’s verse is really, truly aimed directly at me.

Pink flowers

Pink Flowers at Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Ephesians 4:2

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ouch. Do you ever read verses that step on your toes? This is one for me because I really struggle with this. I’m usually quick to point out the faults of other Christians, and I’m not always gentle about it. And I know I’m not patient either. I don’t know if it’s because I keep thinking that if they would make the obvious choice and do what the Bible says, their struggles will be over or what. But it’s very easy for me to criticize and it’s very easy for me to be impatient.

I have high expectations for God’s people. Not because they’re superheros but because they have access to God, because through Him they can do everything, and because they don’t have to settle for ordinary. People talk about the mission’s trips and the experiences I have gone through as though they can’t do anything similar. Well, yes, they can. There’s nothing I have done that someone else can’t do–and do a better job at! But other Christians convince themselves that great things are done by great people, and that’s not true. Great things are done by God, and if we ask, He’ll let us tag along.

And I lose my patience easily with those sorts of comments (and with those sorts of Christians) because they insist on putting God in a box. But this verse says that’s now how a Christian is supposed to act.

Even if a Christian gets off track, although it is my job to try to set them straight, I need to do it gently and humbly. And even if another Christian isn’t off track and they’re just driving me crazy, I need to be patient with them. Why?

Well, beyond the obvious answer of “the Bible says so,” God has also been patient with me. I’m not perfect. Far from it. And when I make mistakes, God is always there waiting to pick me up and set me back on my feet again. And if God can be that patient with me, why can’t I be that patient with my brothers and my sisters in Christ?

I need to be patient with other believers because I love them. Love is what sets us apart, makes us stand out in the crowd of inscrutable religions. And traditional Christians aren’t very good at it, let’s just be honest.  The Christians I’ve met who grasp this concept are radical, revolutionary thinkers who break every mold they come across.

I truly believe that many people won’t have chosen not to follow Christ have done so because of their experience with Christians. Let’s be real here. The Jesus many Christians paint of picture of with their lives isn’t very flattering. He either has no moral standards at all or He hates everyone. And if that’s the Jesus we are trying to introduce people to, it’s no wonder that the world doesn’t want anything to do with Him. And what sort of family are we asking people to come into? A family that has impossible expectations? A family that demands you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps while they throw rocks at you? A family that demands perfection from you every moment of every day and doesn’t allow for any faults or weaknesses?

Is that truly an alluring concept? Is that really the kind of family we want to belong in?

I’m not saying look away from sin. Sin needs to be addressed when it appears, and it needs to be addressed with gentleness and humility because without God’s grace you could end up in the same situation.

But I’m not talking about sin. I’m talking about everyday relationships. When a Christian you’re around slips up and isn’t acting very Christiany, what do you do? Do you yell at them? Do you call them a fake? Do you puff yourself up and tell them what’s wrong in their lives?

Yeah, none of those options sound gentle or humble.

When that happens, apply this verse. Be patient because you love them. If you feel you need to mention it, be gentle and humble about it. And after the conversation is done, don’t hold it over their heads. Let it go. Forgive them for not being perfect because you’re in the same boat.

View from a family palace throne

The only throne room where boldness won’t get you flayed alive

One of my favorite places in the world is the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Peten, Guatemala. I love history and ancient cultures, and Tikal is a spectacular place to study both of those things, an amazing reminder that no matter how great a civilization may become they are still vulnerable when they have no moral foundation. There are a number of palaces standing in Tikal where ruling class families lived. Palaces are kind of like apartment complexes where the whole family lived.

Every ruling family had a skill or had some form of knowledge that they hoarded, astronomy for example or medical knowledge. Something that the rest of the culture needed to survive but that the family wouldn’t share with anyone else. In the palaces, there is a throne area with a long, wide courtyard in front of it. I took a picture from the throne when I was in Tikal in July 2011.

View from a family palace throne

View from a family palace throne - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

What’s really cool about this is the acoustics. The guy in the red shirt is my friend, Jim Dinsmore, and from where he is standing, he could speak in a quiet voice, and I could hear him clearly. This area was designed so that the person sitting on the throne could hear everything that was whispered in the courtyard.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for people to approach the head of one of these families. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to address anyone like this. But I have an active imagination, and I can feel the fear and trepidation something like this might cause. To be so small and so far away from someone so much bigger and more powerful than me would terrify me. I’m not sure how these situations played out in Tikal, but I know that the Mayans weren’t exactly known for their mercy. So putting one toe out of line probably resulted in a particularly painful death.

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:16.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

This verse is out of a passage in Hebrews that is talking about Jesus as our High Priest. In the Jewish religion, there was a High Priest who was the intercessor between God and people, who followed a strict set of guidelines and fulfilled all required expectations to be able to approach God on the peoples’ behalf. When Jesus came and died for us, He became our High Priest. He is now the intercessor between God and Mankind. And what the end of Hebrews 4 and the beginning of Hebrews 5 is talking about is our ability to come before God and speak to Him.

If you have chosen to follow Jesus, that means you have full access to God Himself. He isn’t some distant ethereal being floating out in the universe somewhere who doesn’t care about your everyday life. He is a real, living Person who wants to help you and who wants to know you.

Hebrews 4 says was can approach God’s throne with boldness. The Amplified Version uses the adverbs fearlessly and confidently.

Think about that. And think about this photo from Tikal. If I were in a Mayan’s position, there would be no boldness in me, not in approaching the head of a family on a throne like that. I would be as far away as I possibly could be. Put that in perspective and imagine approaching the throne of the God of the universe. It doesn’t even compare. But Hebrews is saying that we could walk right up to the throne of God and talk to Him.

And we won’t be shunned. We won’t be mistreated. We won’t be punished.

We will receive mercy and grace when we need it most.

Can you wrap your head around that? Because I can’t.

So wherever you are today, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, just remember that as a follower of Christ, you have free, open access to God Himself. You can walk boldly up to His throne and tell Him what’s going on in your life. Yes, He already knows, but He wants to hear it from you, in your own words. And He’ll help you.

If what you’re going through is something you don’t deserve, He’ll help you. If what you’re going through is something you do deserve, He’ll help you. Even if the trouble in your life is of your own making, He’ll help you. There may still be some consequences, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to face them alone.

Be bold. You can. God wants you to.

Sunrise behind trees

Remember. Hope. Wait.

How awful would it be to have to live the same day over and over again? I mean, I can only count on my hand the days that were so good I would have wanted to experience them over and over. The majority of the time, while I’m thankful for the day, I’m also very thankful that it’s done. Every morning is a new day. And I’m thankful for that.

Sunrise behind trees

Sunrise behind trees - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Lamentations 3:23.

Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

I had intended to stop there. Because how can you top that? God is so faithful and so awesome and so kind to us that even if we screw up royally, He still forgives us and still gives us another chance the next day to get it right. He’s the God of second chances and third chances and fourth chances.

Mercy is withholding punishment that a guilty person deserves. And God gives us new mercy with every sunrise. Not old mercy. Not mercy that drags up the past and shoves it in our faces but new mercy that doesn’t even remember the sins of yesterday.

How can anything be better than that? Well, I kept reading. And then I read the whole passage in context, and I felt the need to share because this really touched me today. This is Lamentations 3:19-27 in The Message:

It’s a Good Thing to Hope for Help from God

 19-21I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
   the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
   the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
   and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

 22-24God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
   his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
   How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
   He’s all I’ve got left.

 25-27God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
   to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
   quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
   to stick it out through the hard times.

We all struggle. Everyone. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we come from or how rich we are or how poor we are or if we’re gainfully employed or not. Everyone has trouble. Everyone hits the bottom. Everyone despairs. And that despair can be hard to forget.

But there’s one thing we need to remember: God’s mercy is new every morning.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve hit rock bottom and feel like you can’t stand up anymore, God’s mercy is new with the sun. His love never runs out. And it’s a good thing to wait for Him because He is good to those who wait with passion and seek with diligence.

And if we can remember that, we can have hope. Not the loud, obnoxious hope that people brag about when they’re trying to show others how spiritual they are. But quiet, confident hope that God will come to your rescue even in the darkest of times.

That kind of hope makes all the difference in the world.

We’re nearing the end of January 2012. February is just over the horizon, and I know people who are struggling to keep their chins up, whether for economic reasons or health reasons or emotional reasons. Just remember it’s a good thing to quietly hope for help from God. It’s good because it gives God the chance to show you He knows what He’s doing.

Elephant

A mind like an elephant?

Elephants never forget, right? That’s what people say, at least. I think it has something to do with how they can remember places and locations like traditional walking paths and burial grounds. Apparently, they just have really good memories. And that’s more than I can say for some of us human types.

People forget things all the time. I forget things all the time. I get so bogged down and crazy in my day that I forget all sorts of things, and even when I write down the things I want to remember, I usually end up forgetting something anyway. Best example is when I go grocery shopping. I will make my list out, and then I’ll forget my list. Or even if I don’t forget the list, somehow I still end up forgetting something I really really needed.

Why is that? Me, I think I’m scatterbrained. I know I’m busy. I think it’s a lack of focus too. There’s so much going on that it’s difficult to concentrate on just one thing. But sometimes concentration is what we need to make sure that we don’t forget something truly important.

Elephant

Elephant - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:25.

But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

I think people forget (or maybe they never knew) that the Bible is an instruction book on how to live. It’s not just a collection of old stories that talk about God and miracles and people who dressed funny and floods and catastrophes. It’s one big story about how to live–and how not to live–and about the consequences people who made really poor choices had to face.

It’s full of wisdom. Practical wisdom. Step-by-step instructions on how to get through a day in some instances. But people don’t think about that. Even Christians get it in their heads that the Bible is a book we use to convince people that Jesus is God. And that’s true. The Bible does offer evidence that Christ is God. And the Bible offers all sorts of evidence about its own viability. But the Bible isn’t just a body of evidence. It’s God’s direct words, spoken to you and to me to teach us how to live and how to have a relationship with Him.

You can read technical articles and biographies about great Christians and 12-step programs about how to clean your life up all day long, but nothing else will teach you how to get close to God better than the Bible. And it works the same way as all those other books: you have to read it, you have to do what it says, and you have to keep doing what it says.

That’s it. Just like any other instruction book.

What good is an instruction book if you don’t read it? What good will it do you if you don’t do the things it tells you to do? If you’re building a table and it tells you to put Leg B into Slot B and you decided you want to put Leg F in Slot B, your table is going to look funky. Why? Because you didn’t follow the instructions.

No one gets upset at the instructions when they don’t follow them and their project doesn’t turn out. They just realize that they didn’t follow them. But when we don’t read the Bible and our lives go crazy, we turn on God and claim He doesn’t love us. What? How can He not love us? He gave us an instruction book. It was our choice not to apply it in our lives. And we have to face the consequences of that choice when things don’t turn out the way we expected.

The Bible is here for us. God gave it to us so we can know how to live.

Read it.

Do what it says.

And keep doing what it says. Don’t forget. Don’t set it aside like a checklist or a grocery list like it’s something so unimportant that you can remember it without effort–because you probably can’t.

And God says He’ll bless you for it.

The steps toward Tikal

Kicking people while they’re down

Living a real Christian life isn’t easy. It never has been, and it never will be because we live in a broken world and because we have two natures constantly warring inside us. Once we decided to follow Christ, we received the Holy Spirit. So we have God’s spirit in us. But that doesn’t get rid of our old imperfect desires either. So in a way, every Christian is bipolar. We are constantly in a war between our old self and the new self God has created in us.

So what happens when a Christian gives in to the old desires that he or she used to live by?

I’ve seen this happen a lot and most of the time Christians don’t react right. Maybe many of you know this from personal experience like I do, but Christians can be the meanest people on the planet. Wow! People who profess Christ as their Lord can be vicious — and not just to unbelievers but to others who profess Christ. To their brothers and sisters in faith. Sometimes Christians are more cruel to each other than we are to people who don’t believe. Personally, I feel that’s a big reason why those who choose not to believe stay away from us. Because if we can’t love each other, how could we love anyone else?

For Christians who stumble back into old sins, their Christian support groups usually turn on them. And even those Christian support groups that mean well still go about it the wrong way. They use guilt and manipulation. They preach and thump Bibles. And pretty soon the “offender” is so beaten down about the wrongs he or she has done. they have no joy left at all. All thanks to God’s loving people.

Is that the way it’s supposed to work?

The steps toward Tikal

The steps toward Tikal - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Not according to Galatians 6:1, which is today’s verse.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

See how the Bible says we’re supposed to help? Gently and humbly.

The Amplified Version says it this way: without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness.

To me, it all goes back to the golden rule. We need to treat each other like we want to be treated. Put yourself in that “Fallen Christian’s” shoes. How would you feel if suddenly the people who said they would always support you turned their backs on you? How would you feel if someone kicks you while you’re down, when you’re already feeling guilty?

Hey, Christians. It’s not our job to make other people feel guilty. We aren’t the ones who are in charge of convicting people. That’s God’s job. Our job is to love people and live lives that point to Christ, and God will take care of the rest.  The rest is between that person and God. And when someone stumbles and falls back into sin, it’s our job to help them up again — not kick them in the ribs. And we’re to do it gently and humbly.

Why? Because it could be you.

The paths we walk in this world aren’t easy. It’s an uphill climb. It’s a tough battle everyday to live the kind of life we’re supposed to live. And it isn’t a matter of if you will fall; it’s a matter of when. You and I and any other Christian are just as fragile. We can fall any time, and we have no concept how far we can fall, how wrong we can be, how badly we can act, how sinful we can become. If we aren’t prepared, if we aren’t ready for temptation, if we aren’t armed to stand against it, we will fall. There’s no if involved.

And, yes, we need to be vigilant. We need to keep a watchful eye on ourselves to make sure we aren’t pulled into the same sin alongside the person we’re helping, but that’s another topic for another day. We are help others and we are to be gentle about it and humble, understanding that we’re all in the same boat.

We need to remember that when we encounter another Christian who has fallen, it could have been us.

Obeying God isn’t a game of hide and seek.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God would tell us clearly what He wanted us to do? I mean, beyond the obvious. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t murder. Love Him. Love others. Those are obvious. Those are the ones we all know, whether we follow Him or not. But what about the specifics? There are millions of choices to make and thousands of methods to go about doing all of those things.  So which one do we choose?

Example? Do we leave our home and travel to a foreign land to love others? Or do we stay home and do the same thing for the people who are hurting all around us? It’s the same concept. Both are obedient. But the choice whether to stay or go has major ramifications. It’s a big deal. How do we know what to do?

The really awesome thing about God is that He doesn’t hide Himself. He never hides from us. It’s the other way around. Even from the beginning, it was Adam and Eve who hid from God after they did wrong, not God hiding from them. And if we ask Him to help us, He will. We just have to be willing to accept the answer.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:5.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

I think there’s a perception sometimes that we shouldn’t ask God for things because He’s already done too much for us. Or because He’s too busy to listen. There couldn’t be anything more untrue. God wants us to ask Him for things. He wants to give us good gifts. He wants to tell us how to live our lives, but we are rarely interested in listening.

Most of the time, I think we seek Him and seek the path He has planned for us and then, when He answers us, we get scared or full of insecurity and doubt and we shut Him out and convince ourselves that He didn’t really answer us. After all, surely He couldn’t be asking us to do something that is so dangerous or so out of the box! Right?

I know I’ve had this argument with myself many times. I get lost and confused and turned around. I worry and I stress, and I’m at the end of my rope. So I ask God for help (I should have asked for help first before worry and stress set in) and God answers me. But the answer He gives me is something I don’t want to hear. It’s an answer that pushes me beyond what I’m comfortable doing. It’s an answer that requires me to trust Him on a level I haven’t experienced before. So what do I do?

I tell myself I heard Him wrong. I tell myself that I am making up crazy ideas and I go about my day, wondering why God isn’t showing Himself to me. Sound familiar to anyone else?

God wants us to ask Him questions. He’s a wealth of knowledge and information and He loves us so very much. We have access to the Creator of the Universe. We can speak to Him like He’s our Daddy, but many of us don’t because we think He doesn’t want to hear from us. And the rest of us are so petrified by doubt and insecurity, we don’t do what He tells us to do.

Sometimes we have big decisions to make. Other times, our decisions aren’t so big but we still need help making up our minds, especially if the choices we have are both good. God wants to help us make that choice. There are so many ways He speaks to us, through His Word, through other believers, even through nature. He cares about the decisions we make. But He can only do so much for us if we refuse to listen.