A temple in Tikal

Temporary greatness

What does it take to be great? As much as I dislike the spotlight, there’s a part of me that really wants to see a novel with my name on it sitting on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. There’s a part of me that would like to be known.

Being great is an accomplishment that everyone in the world seeks, if they’re honest. We all want to be known for something. We all want to leave our mark on the world. So how is it that only some people succeed and others don’t? Well, what is the definition of greatness, actually? Because it varies from person to person.

On earth, being great translates into being wealthy and famous and powerful. On earth, great kings and queens and rulers thousands of years ago were so great that they had temples built to commemorate their death, massive structures of stone that still exist to this day. But is that really greatness? Because when your money runs out and your influence runs out and you reach the limit of your talent and people get tired of you, you’re no longer great and you fall from the spotlight. But is greatness supposed to be temporary?

A temple in Tikal

A temple in Tikal - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:19.

So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This verse comes from a message that Jesus preached called The Sermon on the Mount. It’s the same chapter that you find the Beatitudes, one of the most paradoxical chapters in all of Scripture.

This part of the message is talking about the Law. Basically, Jesus is telling people that He didn’t come to do away with the Law Moses wrote on God’s behalf (the Old Testament pretty much) but that He came to accomplish its purpose. It’s purpose being to bridge the gap between God and Mankind. That’s when He says this, but afterward He cautions them that obeying the Law won’t get them into heaven.

So what does this mean? When I read this, my first question is what is the least commandment? But I don’t guess that really matters, because even if I ignore the commandment that is the least of all of them, I will be the least in eternity.

But if you obey God’s laws and teach them to others, you will be great. Not on earth but in heaven.

Compare the difference to being great on earth to being great in heaven. Just about everything on earth is temporary. Very few things down here are going to last into eternity, those few things being mainly our souls and our love for God and each other . . . and some of our works which will be tested to see if they were worth anything. And that’s about it. No money. No power. No influence. No status. No titles. Nothing of that sort will make it.

But in heaven, there will be a different sort of rank and status. It’s completely opposite of the way we live here, where the person who cared the most about money and power on earth will be less important than someone who cared about others. It will be a place where people who trusted God with everything they had while they lived on earth will outrank people who chose to clung to their own wisdom.

Notice, everyone is still in heaven. And, yes, it will still be wonderful no matter what rank or station you are at, but there will be quality of life in heaven and not many people talk about that. We may all believe in Jesus but not all of us know Him as well as we should. Those people who know Him and live like Him will receive a better reward than those of us who just lived to achieve money and power on earth.

In essence, I guess Jesus is saying that you will receive the reward you seek. If you’re after money and power and wealth and fame on earth and if you work hard enough for it, generally speaking — sometimes — maybe — possibly, you’ll achieve it. And if you seek to be great in heaven and you go about it by obeying God’s laws and teaching others, then you’ll achieve it when you get to heaven. But it’s rare that you will achieve both. Not unheard of. But rare.

So, it’s important to ask yourself what is more important, being great on earth for a little while? Or being great in heaven forever?

Apricot blossoms at sunset

Praying for people you don’t like

Who do you pray for? When someone asks you to pray for them, do you? Do you only pray for them if it’s someone you love or someone you like? Personally, it’s difficult for me to pray for people I don’t like because generally speaking I try to avoid thinking about people I don’t like. So they rarely cross my mind enough to pray for them on any consistent basis.

Apricot blossoms at sunset

Apricot blossoms at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Timothy 2:1.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.

Well, that answers the question pretty definitively, I would say. Who should we pray for? Looks like all people to me.

I don’t pray like I should. I used to be pretty good about it, but anymore my thoughts are so jumbled and chaotic anything I try to tell God usually comes out in a messy, rushed statement that doesn’t really mean anything. But when I sit quietly, I like praying. One of the reasons I love my hour-long commute every morning is that it provides me with time to talk with God, although I get distracted pretty easily.

But the people I pray for are generally people I would talk to. The people I remember to pray for are my friends. But what about my enemies? What about casual acquaintances? What about some guy on the street? Don’t they fall into the category of “all people”?

Yes, they do.

Prayer was never meant to be a popularity contest. We’re supposed to pray for everyone whether we like them or not, whether we know them or not. And I’m not talking about the childish “God please help everyone” types of prayers. Prayers that generic never make a difference. We have to be specific.

When we pray, we need to have a specific request in mind. Much like the verse says, we need to ask God to help them, we need to intercede on their behalf, and we need to tell God how annoying they are and that it’s a real pain to have to pray for someone we wouldn’t even talk to face to face.

Is that what it says?

No. We are supposed to be thankful for them.

Ugh. Really? I posted yesterday about dealing with difficult people. So according to this verse, that means I need to not only be patient and pray for the difficult people in my life but I also need to be thankful for them? Is God serious?

Why? What does it matter if I don’t pray for people I don’t like? Surely someone likes them enough to pray for them. Right? Am I the only one who ever feels that way?

Here’s the problem with that kind of thinking: it’s pride.

It’s really hard to hate someone you’re praying for. Even if that person is a villain, someone who has hurt you repeatedly, someone you would never spend time with, if you are genuinely praying for that person, even though you don’t like them, even though you wouldn’t speak to them, you will have a hard time hating them. If you pray for them, you love them. It just happens.

So maybe that’s our hesitation to pray for people we don’t like: we don’t want to love them.

We don’t want to love people who hurt us. We don’t want to love people who use us. We don’t want to love people who irritate us.

But that’s not the way we’re supposed to live.

I’m not saying you need to jump into that person’s life and get involved in their issues. Actually, that’s a terrible idea because most likely they’ll pull you down into their problems. Prayer doesn’t require that. Prayer only requires that you love them enough to ask God to help them. Let God sort it out. There’s nothing you can do anyway that will change someone’s heart anyway.

So the next time you encounter a difficult person, pray for them. Whatever it is about them that bothers you, pray about it. Tell God exactly what you’re thinking, and He will respond. I promise. And then you’ll watch a miracle happen, not that God changes the person who bothers you … but that He changes you from someone too proud to pray for an enemy to someone who loves unconditionally.

So maybe that’s why we should be thankful for difficult people.

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Does the Golden Rule apply to swine?

I get really tired of doing the right thing all the time. Do you? Some days, I just want to blow everyone off and tell them exactly what to go do with themselves. You can read into that whatever you’d like. Just don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Right? =)

People are very frustrating. And I get very frustrated with people, especially the ones I think should know better. People lose their patience with each other. People don’t respect each other. People don’t put each other first. So what do you do with people who hurt each other? How do you respond to people who refuse to put their own desires on hold to work out a solution with someone they have offended? How you know if you’re supposed to do anything at all?

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair - Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD.

It’s interesting to me that this is the way the longest chapter in the Bible starts out. Psalm 119 has 176 verses, and most of them are about rejoicing about God’s commands. This morning, in the midst of the situations I’m currently dealing with, I could use some joy. And if the key to being joyful is to follow God’s instructions? Well, sign me up. I want to know what God’s instructions are so that I can be joyful. Because in spite of the dictionary definition, joy isn’t dependant on your circumstances. Joy supersedes any situation. Joy comes from God, from the peace you receive knowing that you have done what God desires.

That being said, what are God’s instructions concerning difficult, frustrating people?

Okay. So I Googled “Bible verses about dealing with difficult people” and there are more than 118,000 results. 118,000 results!

Do you think there are so many verses about dealing with frustrating people because everyone gets frustrated with everyone at some point? Granted, some people are superbly gifted at pissing people off, but in general, we all get under each others’ skins at some point because no one is perfect.

And that’s really what I think dealing with frustrating people is all about: realizing that no one is perfect.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Even when I want to do good things, I still end up choosing to do something that is wrong. And if I can’t be perfect for 30 minutes, why do I expect other people to have an innate righteousness? Why do I expect other people to be good when I can’t be good?

Earlier this week, one of the verses I read was Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Otherwise known as The Golden Rule. I didn’t blog on it because I thought it has been done too many times. But, seriously, of all God’s instructions, this one ranks pretty high up in dealing with difficult people. We shouldn’t stoop to their level. We shouldn’t try to hurt them back if they’ve hurt us — or if they’ve hurt someone we love.

But at the same time, I think there’s another verse to remember. Matthew 7:6 says: “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” And if you keep reading, Matthew 7:12 may sound familiar: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

So how do you balance it?

How do you find the balance between treating other people the way you want to be treated but not wasting what precious time we have on people who will ultimately turn on us? It’s a good question and a hard one to answer, and I don’t know if I know the answer yet. But I can tell you the first thing to check.

Check your own heart.

Just as the Golden Rule is found in both Matthew 7 and Luke 6, there’s another passage in both books that should probably be mentioned:

Luke 6:41-42 and Matthew 7:3-5

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend,let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

It’s easy to write people off because they frustrate you. It’s easy to ignore people because they’re difficult. But before you take any step toward correcting their behavior or judging them for their actions, you need to look in the mirror and check yourself first.

It may not be pleasant. It may not make sense. But this is one of God’s instructions. And if we want to be joyful, we need to follow God’s instructions and trust that He knows what He’s talking about, even if it sounds backward.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Sense of direction

Do sheep have a sense of direction? I don’t know. I know they’re creatures of habit, but just because they can get into a routine doesn’t mean they know where they’re going when left to their own devices. As far as I’m concerned, sheep have two settings, hungry and scared. And if they aren’t one, they’re the other.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 53:6.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

I’ve blogged before about how similar we are to sheep. The more you know about sheep, the more you’ll realize how much we’re alike. If you leave a sheep on its own, it will walk the same path day after day because it’s the path it has always followed. And even if there isn’t any food on that path, it will keep looking for it until it walks itself to death.

When you’re raising sheep, you have to establish a routine that you repeat daily. If you don’t, they get scared. I was told during my days raising sheep for 4-H that you would increase your chances of your sheep surviving through the fair if you played a radio in their barn stall constantly. Because there would be radios at the fair, and if the sheep isn’t used to it, it’ll drop dead in fright.

And you also have to establish a feeding schedule every day. You can’t just put all their food in the stall with them because they won’t stop eating when they’re full. They’ll eat themselves to death. And you have to mix salt in with their food instead of providing a salt block because they’ll chew holes in their teeth.

Does any of that sound familiar? Maybe we don’t chew holes in our teeth per se and maybe radios don’t scare us and maybe we can fend for ourselves a little better than sheep can, but how different are we really? I make fun of sheep for lacking a sense of direction, but my sense of direction is no better. Because when I wander off on my own, I get into all sorts of trouble.

There are so many times I am sure I know where I’m going. And I’m confident that even if I get into a sticky situation, I can handle myself well enough to get out unscathed. But it rarely happens that way. I’ve gotten really good at turning around when I’m trying to navigate a city I don’t know. But it’s one thing to turn around when you’ve taken a wrong turn while you’re driving. It’s something else to turn around when you’ve made a wrong choice in life.

Wrong choices in life don’t just affect me. Getting lost in life doesn’t just have an impact on my situation; it affects the people around me too. And the really ironic part of it is that I would never get lost if I just stayed on the path God laid out.

That’s why sheep need shepherds. They aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. So someone has to provide food for them or show them where they can find food. And sheep know that, as much as a sheep can know anything. That’s where we are different. We think we can take care of ourselves. We think we can survive on our own. We think we don’t need a shepherd because if we have a shepherd that means we aren’t in control of our lives.

But shepherds know where to find food. Shepherds know where to find water. They know how to take care of their sheep. Shepherds aren’t enemies with their sheep; their sheep are their livelihood. So why wouldn’t a shepherd want the best for them?

I’m not saying we are God’s livelihood, but why wouldn’t He want the best for us? The issue comes when His best doesn’t match our expectations, and that’s when we walk away from Him and get lost looking for food along our own path. We’re fortunate that He comes looking for us.

It’s the shepherd’s job to know how to take care of  his sheep. It’s God’s job to know how to take care of us. And maybe there are times when it doesn’t feel like God is leading me along a fun path, but I need to trust that He knows where He’s going because I don’t.

Old oil barrel - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The Golden Touch

Some people never struggle with anything. Doesn’t it feel that way? Don’t you know people who succeed at everything they do? It feels completely unfair. When you work your butt off to accomplish great things, and every door is slammed in your face, it’s really difficult to sit passively on the sidelines and be grateful for the success other people have.

Of course, the flaw with that thinking is obvious. Everyone struggles. Everyone has difficulties. And if we think that the sun is always shining on someone, that just means they haven’t told us about their rainy days. Everyone gets rained on, although it feels like some of us get hailed on more frequently.

Old oil barrel - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old oil barrel - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 15:58.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Do you know the story of King Midas? I’m not sure what culture it comes from, but it’s one of those legendary morality tales that has survived thousands of years. In case you don’t know it, the story is about a man, King Midas, who loved wealth. But one day, he is given the opportunity to have a wish granted. And he wishes that everything he touches would turn to gold.

Personally, I think that would be pretty cool. Just to have the power to turn one thing into something else. That would be pretty amazing. But there is a downfall to Midas’s wish. He can’t eat. He tries, and the food turns to gold before it gets to his mouth. And there is a worse consequence. His beloved daughter comes to greet him, and when he touches her, she turns to gold.

The story of King Midas is really more about greed and contentment than anything else, but it’s what I thought of when I read today’s verse. Because I know people who have the Midas touch. Everything they touch turns to gold. Every venture they try succeeds. Every risk they take pays off. And me? I’m stuck on the sidelines. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.

But then, I read this verse.

Nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Take a minute and let that sink in. It doesn’t matter what you do, whether it’s large or small, complicated or simple, if you do it for God, it will make a difference somewhere, somehow. Seem too good to be true? Well, think about it. Who else can make that statement? Only God is big enough to take our lives and our actions and use them in a way that changes others. Only God is able to take our screw ups and our mistakes and make something good come out of it.

I get really frustrated because it feels to me that I have always been on the sidelines helping other people succeed. But what does it mean to succeed? What does it mean to accomplish great things? What is a great thing? How do you measure success? How do you measure greatness?

I’m sure King Midas measured wealth by how much gold he had in his vaults before he had the golden touch. But after? Wealth would have been an apple he could eat. Wealth would have been his daughter smiling at him.

It’s all about perspective.

I have big goals. I have big dreams. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I need to keep my perspective in check because no matter what I do, if I do it for God, it will make a difference, if not here then in heaven where it really matters anyway. Does that mean I can stop pursuing my dreams down here? No way. God gives us dreams for a reason, but it’s wrong to get caught up in whether you are succeeding in your estimation or not. It’s wrong to compare yourself and your progress to someone else because you’re not them. They have their own dreams and goals, and while it’s easy to compare yourself to someone else, it’s not productive.

Nobody has the golden touch. Everyone struggles.

So what if all I ever accomplish is to help someone meet God? So what if all I ever do is to encourage someone to keep following God in the midst of hardship? So what if I put my dreams on hold to help someone else accomplish the task of reaching out to the lost? Maybe that’s not my dream specifically. But if I do it for God, it won’t be a waste of time.

Cliff at the waterfall - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Only human

Have you ever tried to meet impossible expectations? Have you ever deluded yourself into believing that you could accomplish the impossible? And I’m not talking about standing up in the face of persecution. I’m not talking about even winning a battle no one said you could win. I’m talking truly impossible. Like walking on water or flying without a plane or trying to perfect.

Some things are impossible for us.  We’re only human, right? We can do many things, but many things are still outside our reach. Being perfect is one of them.

Cliff at the waterfall - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Cliff at the waterfall - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 37:24.

Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.

Psalm 37 is one of my favorite Psalms. It’s calming and comforting and encouraging, and if you need a lift this morning, I really recommend reading through it.

What caught my eye this morning, however, is how this verse addresses the fact that we are going to stumble. Usually, I focus on the fact that we’ll never fall because God is holding us. But those three words at the beginning — “Though they stumble” — tell us a lot about God and a lot about ourselves.

I spent so much time as a child trying to be perfect. Because being perfect made people happy, and even then I was an indefatigable people pleaser. I would get so frustrated because I couldn’t be perfect. I could get close, but never all the way because as soon as I had a day when I didn’t do anything wrong, I was proud of it. And that blew the whole thing.

That mentality carried over into my adult years, and even though I knew that being perfect wasn’t what saved me, that didn’t stop me from trying. Perfection was the aim. Never taking a wrong step was the goal. I knew in my heart and in my mind that my actions didn’t make me righteous (Christ did that), but I had convinced myself that being perfect would make God happy. Obeying all His rules, all His laws, and never doing anything contrary to what He wanted: that was how I tried to live.

But I couldn’t do it. And at the end of the day, all I had was frustration, at myself for my imperfection and at God for setting me up to fail.

When perfection is your goal, you’ll never accomplish it. It is impossible for us to be perfect in any sense of the word. Even outside of believing and following Christ, perfection is impossible. In the secular realm, it’s less important actually, because people outside the church know they make mistakes and don’t have a problem learning from them so they don’t repeat them. But in the church, it’s a different story. If you follow Christ and you make a mistake, there must be something wrong with you. Right?

So how do you explain today’s verse?

I could go into detail about all the Scriptures that talk about our dual personalities and our struggle with desires that aren’t of God and how God understands all that, but the simple truth is that we are going to screw up. Because we’re only human. We are going to stumble. We’re going to trip over obstacles in our path. We’re going to trip over our own feet. Even if we try to avoid it, we’ll still stumble because we’re not perfect.

But God says that even though we stumble, we aren’t going to fall.

There’s a big difference between tripping over your feet and taking a nosedive in the mud. Tripping is uncomfortable. You can jar your back. You can twist your ankle. You can stub your toe. You can be afraid that you’re going to fall. That’s all part of stumbling. But falling is worse.

As long as you have God by the hand and don’t let go of Him, when you stumble, you won’t fall because He will hold you up.

Fountain at night

Continually

My coffee pot doesn’t regenerate automatically. Does yours? Probably not. Whenever I want (or need) a cup of coffee, I have to make it myself. I have to pour in water and measure out coffee grounds. I have to push the start button. It something I do every morning, part of my routine, because if I want to remember how to spell, I need coffee in my system before I start working on this devotional!  Maybe you have a swanky coffee pot with a timer that will make coffee at a certain time so it’s ready when you wake up. But I don’t. And until I get one, I have to make it myself.

That’s a lousy illustration, but the point is there. Some things in our lives can’t be set on cruise control.

Fountain at night

Fountain at night - Bradley Fair Shopping Centre, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:11.

Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him.

Life is constantly changing. I blogged about this earlier in the week, but it is an inescapable truth. Our lives change. Our circumstances change. We as a people change. The one Person who doesn’t change is God. And in the midst of all the changes we must experience, the only way to stay steady and solid is to hold on to Him.

This verse says that we should continually seek Him. That just means that our relationship with God isn’t something that can be set on auto-pilot.

There’s an old movie, Airplane, that had a funny joke about the auto-pilot system. When they switched it on, this inflatable person appeared in the pilot seat (his name was Otto, of course). But he flew the plane and left the others free to roam about the cabin, doing all the ridiculous things that made the movie so funny.

But when I start thinking about how that applies to my own life, it’s not so funny anymore. Because I have an auto-pilot system. And the more tired and more stressed out I get, the more I use it. It’s easier when I don’t have to think. It’s easier when I don’t have to delve too deeply into my concerns or examine my motives. I just drift through life on cruise control. And while I don’t rock the boat, I don’t catch any fish either.

Our relationship with God is just like any other relationship. If you don’t spend time investing in it, you’ll be strangers. It you aren’t willing to sacrifice your time to get to know Him, He will feel like a distant, impersonal God who only demands obedience and who is no longer relevant to your life.

But that begs another question. If He’s so steady and stable and unmoving, why do we have to search for Him continually? Why is it something that we have to do every day?

Well, we change. We move. We leave. We wander off on our own, even if it’s just a day’s journey. And if it’s longer than a day’s journey, it just takes that much longer to get back.

So is it even necessary to go back?

No, of course not. You don’t have to. If you want to wander off on your own, that’s your prerogative. Even if you’re a follower of Christ, you can go off by yourself. God is a gentleman, as my pastor likes to say. He won’t force Himself on anyone. But there’s a reason God is called the Rock of Ages. When everything else in the world is spinning out of control, He doesn’t move. He’s the anchor that keeps the ship secure in a storm. He’s the solid foundation that keeps the house standing when everything else falls apart. I don’t know about you, but I’m not that strong.

Seeking God continually is something every believer needs to do. It’s a habit we all need to develop, whether it’s daily Bible reading or a special time set aside every day for prayer. Whatever works for you, and if you don’t like structure (like me), do something else. Make something up. But whatever you do, seek God. Continually. Because if you aren’t anchored to Him, you’ll drift away. And before you know it, you’ll be so far away you won’t be able to see Him anymore.