Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

What you miss when you judge others wrongly

Have you ever made a judgment call on someone else’s personality only to discover later that you were wrong? Yeah, it’s kind of embarrassing. And it happened to me yesterday.

The first leg of my flight went from Philadelphia to Atlanta yesterday around noonish, and I ended up tucked against a wall at the back of an MD88 next to a grouchy, irritable woman and her absent-minded mother, and of course we were sitting in front of an infant who wouldn’t stop crying for the entire two-hour flight.

So needless to say, by the time I got off the plane in Atlanta, my nerves were shot. So when I boarded the flight bound for Wichita, I was already in a pretty foul humor.

I walked up to my seat, and there was an old man in my row. I politely told him that I had the window seat, and he took one look at me and my WSU t-shirt and said: “Oh, you’re one of those #$%& Shockers.” And then he proceeded to mutter about idiots and morons as I climbed over him to get to my seat.

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say or what to think, so I just tried not to do either. I responded politely, buckled myself in, and then plugged my earphones in for the rest of the flight.

What on earth could possess someone to say something like that? Or to be so mean in general? Seriously. It was extraordinarily rude.

Fortunately for my mental state, the seat between us remained empty, so we both got to stretch out a little for the short hop between Atlanta and Wichita. But I kept my earphones in because I really didn’t want to talk to him.

A little more than halfway through the flight, when the flight attendants came around with drinks and pretzels, he put the middle tray table down and indicated that I could set my drink there if I didn’t want to risk spilling on my Kindle.

After I finished my drink and my pretzels, I packed them up neatly and shut my eyes for just a moment. Well, I guess I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up later to discover that he had taken care of my trash too. And a few moments later as the plane began to descend, he started doing the cha-cha sitting down. I thought there was something wrong with him, but then I realized he had earphones in too and was rocking out to some kind of music.

It was actually kind of funny.

Shortly thereafter we were on the ground, and the grumpy old man and his wife disappeared in the rush to deplane. But it left me wondering if he really was as grumpy as he seemed. And maybe I missed an opportunity to have a really great conversation with someone.

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Bright tropical fish beneath the water at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is John 7:24.

Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.

We hear it all the time: Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Don’t judge. Well, guess what, folks? We all judge. We judge everything all the time. If we didn’t, we’d all be making stupid decisions every moment of our lives.

We have to judge. We have to make judgment calls. If you never weigh two decisions against a standard, you never know what it is to make a choice, and you never understand what it is to make a wise choice.

What is interesting about this verse is that Jesus says it to the religious leaders of His time. They were attacking Him because He had healed someone on the Sabbath, the time when people weren’t supposed to work, but Jesus threw their attacks back in their faces. And rightly so. Because the religious leaders only grasped the letter of the law and not its meaning.

Every situation, every person, every thing in life is more than it appears. There’s always more to the story. There’s always more to a person than what you see. But if you make your judgment call based on something superficial, you may miss the point. And you may miss the opportunity to bless someone or to be blessed yourself.

Now I’m not saying you should throw caution to the wind and run out and do something foolish right now. That’s not what I’m saying at all. What I am saying is that maybe we should give people the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe that grouchy old man had just gotten off a flight where he’d had to listen to a child screaming or had to listen to the psychotic ramblings of an angry passenger. Maybe he was at his wit’s end too. That didn’t mean he wasn’t worth talking to.

So the next time you encounter someone who might not look or act the way you think they ought to, don’t just write them off. Don’t just ignore them because you don’t think they’re worth your time.

You never know. God may have put you in their path for such a time as this–or vice versa. But if you pass them by, you’ll never know.

Do your loved ones know how much they matter?

I usually avoid a lot of current events when I’m putting a devotional together in the mornings before work. Mostly, news I hear about is so depressing it’s just not worth bringing up, but something happened this week that I just couldn’t stop thinking about.

Robin Williams died.

I know of many actors who have passed away. Many comedians who graced the stage and made people laugh, dramatists who made people cry, artists who brought the fantastic to life. But I really think this is the first time an actor who I really liked has died–not of old age, not of natural causes, but apparently by taking his own life.

I can’t even tell you how many Robin Williams movies I’ve seen. I own lots of them. The man just made me laugh. And it’s heartbreaking to think that someone who brought so many people so much joy couldn’t find enough meaning in his own life to keep living it.

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:14-16.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

I know it’s probably understood. I know it’s probably something that everyone has already thought of. But when was the last time you went out of your way to tell someone important to you what they mean to you?

I’m not talking about strangers on the street. I’m talking about people in your family. People in your home. People you go to church with. People you live life with.

Do they know what you feel?

Don’t just assume they know. Obviously, I can’t speak for Robin Williams or for anyone else who has taken his or her life. But I can speak from experience when it comes to feeling alone and isolated, like I can’t do anything right, like I’ve failed. I know what depression feels like.

And when somebody is so deep in depression that they would consider taking their own life, they need to know they matter. It’s not just love. It’s not just respect. It’s purpose.

We can have all the love and respect and success in the world, but it won’t give us purpose. God is the only one who can accomplish that. Sometimes God communicates purpose through Scripture. Sometimes He does it through the Holy Spirit. Other times, He does it through His children–us–who are called to love others.

So how are we doing on that one? Not with strangers on the street even. I mean in our own families.

Do you think someone you love is depressed? Do you suspect someone you care about is on the edge? Don’t assume they know how you feel.

When you’ve convinced yourself that you’re alone and isolated, you don’t know anything for sure. When you’ve talked yourself into believing that you can’t do anything right, a pat on the back isn’t enough.

Maybe you think it’s overkill. Maybe you don’t think they need it.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather annoy them than take the chance that they convince themselves the world would be better off without them.

It’s their choice. That decision is up to them. It’s between them and God, just like the condition of their heart is between them and God. But don’t leave it like that. Don’t just leave them alone to sort things out by themselves. People lost in depression think they want to be alone, but they don’t really. They don’t really know what they want.

It’s my experience that people lost in depression just need to know that they matter. And they need to hear more than just words. They need to remember that they’ve made a difference, and they need to see that the world really is a brighter place because they’re in it.

And I don’t know how to accomplish that. I think it’s different for every person. But it has to start somewhere. It has to start with someone. And it might as well be us, Christ-followers.

God didn’t give us His Light so we could use it to beat people up. He gave it to us so we could push back the darkness and the lies of our enemy and help the world see how much God treasures us and what God gave up so that we could have a purpose.

Wherever you go, wherever you are, whatever you do, keep your eyes open and recognize that our broken world is full of broken, hurting people who just need to know they aren’t alone. And remember that without Christ, we’d be right there with them.

Sometimes you need a Jedi mind trick

I’m attending a training seminar in Philadelphia this week. So far, it’s great. It’s all about getting organized and learning to make the choices that will help you achieve the most productivity.

The facilitator said something in yesterday’s session that really stood out to me: Ordinary happens. Extraordinary is a choice.

How true is that? I’ve learned it’s very true. The everyday, the normal, the average, the mediocre just happens. It doesn’t require any extra effort. It doesn’t require any sacrifice or commitment. What’s average is going to happen anyway.

But if you want to be extraordinary, if you want to go above and beyond and achieve something great, you have to make a choice. And the first step in making a choice is changing the way you think.

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

A Jedi costume from the Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

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

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

If you’re a science fiction movie fan, you probably know all about Jedi mind tricks. And I admit sometimes I wish I could use a Jedi mind trick on myself. It would make thinking about the right things easier.

You know you have control over what you think, right? Sometimes I wonder if people actually grasp that. They don’t have to think about the first things that pop into their heads. They can choose what they think about.

If it’s not a thought that’s useful or productive or a thought that will lead you down a useful or productive road, you don’t have to think about it. No, you can’t control it popping into your brain, but you can decide whether or not to waste time thinking about it.

Few of us really have time to waste. Let’s just be honest about that. Even people who don’t have a lot going on could be using their time better than on things that don’t matter.

It’s difficult to take thoughts captive, though. They’re slippery things. Often it feels like the moment you have them under control, they wriggle out of your grasp. It’s a never-ending battle, and that’s where friends and accountability partners come in. That’s also where it helps to have a Bible close at hand.

Maybe that sounds clichéd but it’s true. If you’re having trouble keeping your thoughts in line, a good place to start is with daily Bible reading. There’s something about the Bible that helps me calm down and focus on things that matter.

That’s one of the reasons I started this blog. If I can start my morning off thinking about things that really matter, usually I find my day goes better.

What about you? Do you have trouble caking your thoughts captive? Or have you got it down to a science? If your thoughts are running wild and you’ve never even tried to direct them, you might want to give it a try.

Just because your brain wants to think about something doesn’t mean you have to think about it. You have a choice. You don’t have to let your thoughts control you. The most productive and effective people are the other way around.

Loving others when you don’t feel like it

When was the last time you made someone’s day? I got to do it yesterday morning, but in a bit of an unconventional way.

I’m writing this morning’s blog post from the hotel dining room in Philadelphia, right next to a big picture window from where I can see towering skyscrapers and beautiful brick plazas. I’m directly across from a 53 story building, at the top of which is my training conference this morning.

I got into Philly last night, after having spent a night with some dear friends. I wasn’t 100% sure that the building across the street was the one I was supposed to be at, so I popped over and stuck my head inside. Only in this building, they have a stereotypical security guard behind a desk.

I walked inside, and he straightened up and scowled at me. So I just asked him if this was where I could find the conference I was attending. He told me that it was indeed the correct location. I thanked him and politely explained that I had gotten in from Kansas and wanted to make sure I wasn’t lost.

The guy broke out into the biggest grin and said: “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore!” And then he burst into laughter. “I’ve always wanted to say that!”

(not my photo)

(not my photo)

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 4:8.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

It can be difficult to show love at times, especially in circumstances where you’re stressed or unhappy, but love is what makes Christ-followers different from the world. Or at least, that’s what should make us different.

Regardless of our circumstances, we are supposed to love people. We’re supposed to be kind to people. We’re supposed to go out of our way to care for people, especially when we don’t feel like it. It’s that kind of love the world needs to see right now.

I don’t know that man at the security desk. He may be there this morning, and if he is I’ll be sure to say hi. But whether I saw him again or not, whether he smiled at me or not, whether he acknowledged that I went out of my way to be polite when I absolutely didn’t feel like it or not, I shouldn’t be impolite to him. I shouldn’t snub him or be rude to him.

Unfortunately, that’s how we behave more often than not. We treat others the way they treat us instead of the way we would prefer to be treated. But that’s not love. That’s selfishness.

Granted, you don’t always get the response I got. Most of the time, people just look at you like you’re nuts. But sometimes–sometimes you get to make somebody’s day. And there’s nothing like that.

So be on the lookout today for how you can cheer somebody up. Believe me, it’ll make your day.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Questioning your faith can make it stronger

One night this week, as I was driving home, I noticed a big flashing sign that said a part of the highway would be shut down. I made a mental note, but I didn’t worry about it because the sign said it would be open during the times I normally travel.

So I got on the road the next morning and approached the highway junction, and I was surprised to see a sign that said: Right Lane Closed Ahead!

Well, the other sign had said it would be open. Was it wrong?

Not wanting to take any chances, I jumped into the left lane and continued on. And continued on. And continued on. And surprise, surprise, surprise—the right lane wasn’t closed after all.

I could have trusted that first sign, but I wasn’t sure.

Has that ever happened to you in your faith? You heard the truth first and then someone contradicted it and you questioned your beliefs?

It’s happened to me. I think I know what I believe and then someone I respect or someone who I think knows more than I do tells me I’m wrong. And it shakes me. And I spend a lot of wasted time worrying that I’ve been making the wrong decisions.

I used to stress myself out, but that doesn’t really accomplish anything. I don’t learn anything from it, that’s for sure.

What I have learned to do is to go to the source when I have a question. If it’s a question about work, I go to my boss. If it’s a question about writing, I go to books I trust. If it’s a question of faith, I go to the Bible.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

The Bible claims to be the Word of God over and over again, which is different than any other religious type of manuscript. I spent nearly 1,000 words yesterday morning on how the Bible is different from other books, so I won’t rehash that here. Here I’m just going to assume that if you’re a Christ-follower, you believe the Bible.

The Bible should be our go-to source for how to live our lives. Not talk shows. Not 12-step guides. Not our friends. And not even our family members. Yes, consult them. Yes, get their thoughts. Consider their opinions. But realize that the one source for truth is the Bible.

Why? Because the Bible came from God. God inspired the writers of the Bible to pen the words He wanted so that throughout the ages, God could speak to His people.

If you want to build a house, you have to know your foundation is strong. If you want to sit on a chair, you have to know it’s going to support your weight. And if you want to make a difficult choice about your faith, you should know that what you’re being told is true.

It’s okay to question what you’ve been told. It doesn’t matter if it’s your pastor of 20 years. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend of 10 years. Your parents? Your siblings? Your coworkers?

I’m not saying don’t trust them. I’m just saying think twice before you put your life in the hands of someone else’s interpretation of Truth without checking it out for yourself.

In the end, the person responsible for your walk is you. The person who will be held accountable for his or her choices is you. You won’t be able to shift the blame because God knows your heart. So you’d better be sure you know what you believe and why, and when someone questions what you believe (and they will), you’d better be prepared to seek an answer in the right place.

Christians can be the most critical people on Earth. We think we know best, not only for ourselves but for everyone else around us. And maybe we’re just trying to help, but I really think in many instances we do more harm than good, especially when we preach at people and refuse to actually help them when they need it.

So don’t let someone’s disagreement shake you. People will disagree with you, and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. But that doesn’t mean your faith has to get weaker.

Actually, when you have a question about your faith and you take the time and make the effort to seek the answer in the Bible and ask God for His help, you’ll find your faith gets stronger.