A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Everyone wrestles with God at some point

Do you know someone who has turned away from his or her faith? It’s a hard thing to observe, especially if it’s someone you love. Because you can’t do anything about it. You can’t talk about it, because that will make it worse. And you can’t ignore it because you’d rather chop off your arm than cut that person out of your life.

A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A ram looking particularly grouchy at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 1:6-7.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

This passage is talking to the ones at the Church in Galatia who had decided that following someone else’s “gospel” was a better idea than the Gospel that Paul had brought them. But that’s not what caught my eye about this particular passage.

What caught my attention was Paul’s statement of his shock that the Church was turning away from God “so soon.” In the Greek language, the word is ταχεως, which means quickly or hastily.

Paul was shocked that the Church was turning away from God so soon. So does that mean if it had been later in their walk that he wouldn’t have been as shocked?  It wouldn’t have surprised him if they turned away from God after they’d followed Him for a few years or so?

If that’s the case, there are a couple of things we can learn from that statement, the first of which is that it’s not uncommon for people to get turned around in their faith. It’s not unusual for people to get screwed up. It’s not unusual for people to twist off, especially if they are prone to believing lies disguised as truth.

Everybody struggles. Everyone has something about their faith they don’t like or that they can’t understand or that they wish were clearer. Some people can just accept that God is God and He does what He wants. Others struggle. Others want to know why. And if they aren’t grounded in Scripture, if they aren’t close to God, and if they aren’t really seeking God with everything they are, it’s easy to be led astray.

Because it’s so nice to believe the prosperity gospels. It’s so comforting to believe that we never have to struggle or fight. It’s so much easier to fit in. And it’s so much more fun to do what we want instead of doing what God says is right.

God asks for a lot. His expectations are high. Not for salvation,  because that’s a free gift and we can never afford to pay for it. But the Christian life isn’t easy. It never has been, and it’s not supposed to be. We don’t belong in this world, remember.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when people turn away from their faith after they’ve had it for a while. It shouldn’t shake us. It shouldn’t frighten us.

Maybe someone has some into their life with “gospel” that isn’t really the Gospel, and it’s their choice to believe it or not. But that choice is up to them. That choice is between them and God.

And it may not even mean that they don’t believe it anymore. It may just mean they’re wrestling with God over something they’re being stubborn about.

And the thing about a wrestling match is that more than two people can’t wrestle at a time. More than two people wrestling is a fight. You can’t get between them. You have to let them battle it out.

But what you can do is never stop loving them. Don’t ever turn away from them. And know that if they really belong to the Lord, He won’t let them go. And He’s never lost a wrestling match.

If someone turns away from their faith soon after accepting it, that might be a sign their conversion wasn’t real. But that’s not for us to say either. That’s a heart issue, and only God knows the heart. It’s our job to love regardless and share our faith with everyone we meet.

The one thing we can know for sure is that everybody struggles. We may not know why, and we don’t have to. But we don’t have to stand there gaping with our mouths open when we hear that someone is struggling with their faith. Loosen up those halos, Christian, and admit that you do too.

Don’t be afraid to share those struggles. Don’t be afraid to be honest about the places where you falter and hesitate. Your struggle and your life and your victory may be just what someone else needs to hear to keep them in God’s fold, instead of wandering off with some other shepherd.

 

Penguin at the Omaha Zoo showing off for the people, Omaha, NE

Don’t make decisions to make people happy

We all know them. They’re everywhere, if you think about it. Hidden in plain sight, disguised as normal, average, everyday citizens.

People pleasers.

(cue dramatic music)

People pleasers are the best. They’re great friends to have because they’ll do anything for you. They’re awesome employees because they’ll work themselves to exhaustion. But put a people pleaser in a position of authority and look out.

And I can say this. Because I am a people pleaser. I am a performance-driven, perfectionistic people pleaser…. a truly fearsome thing to behold.

And it is so much easier–so much nicer–so much less stressful to do whatever people want you to do. It’s like a burden lifted off your back when you can just make someone else happy by doing something for them or serving them in any way. But life doesn’t work that way. You can’t always make people happy. And sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions.

If you’re a people pleaser in a position of authority, you have to have something stronger in your life to fall back on that helps you do the right thing.

Penguin at the Omaha Zoo showing off for the people, Omaha, NE

Penguin at the Omaha Zoo showing off for the people, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is Galatians 1:10.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Galatians is another book of the New Testament written by Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Like Philemon, which I was reading last week, Galatians is a letter, but this letter was written not to an individual but to the Church in Galatia.

Back in the days of the early Church, the religious scene wasn’t like is now. In the US, you can go to any major city and find many different kinds of churches. But back then, every city only had one church. And it was The Church.

And Paul was addressing an issue in the Church, where the people had started believing a different version of the Gospel than what Paul had originally preached there. A false version. And Paul calls them out for believing a lie.

See, Paul didn’t have a problem telling it like it was. But like he says in the verse, if he wanted to please people, He wouldn’t have given his life to Christ.

Why is that? Does that mean if you choose to follow Christ you can’t make people happy?

No, not at all. Following Christ means that you love others and put others first. But loving people and putting other people before yourself doesn’t mean you’re always going to make them happy, because sometimes what’s best will make people unhappy.

And more often than not, accepting God’s direction in our lives starts off with unhappiness. I wish I could tell you it was different, but I can’t. Many times in my life and in my walk with God, I’ve had to accept decisions others have made that I didn’t like–that I didn’t agree with–that made me unhappy. But because I trust God has a reason for everything and that He puts the people of His choosing in authority over me, I submit. I don’t like it, but I do it.

And you know what happens? Pretty soon after, I see that God did know what He was doing. And that the people who had to make that difficult decision that made me so unhappy were doing what God called them to do. And it was me who wasn’t grasping God’s plan.

You can’t live your life to make people happy and live your life following Christ at the same time. Following Christ gives you the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives–in a way you can’t ever do on your own–but that has nothing to do with making them happy.

But Paul wasn’t born a people pleaser. That wasn’t his personality. So standing up and calling people out probably wasn’t something that would shatter his world–like it would do for me.

So how do you do it? How do you do what’s right because it’s right instead of doing what people want so they don’t hate you?

I can’t say I know the answer, but I know what I’ve had to do. And that’s learning to value God’s opinion more than the opinions of people around you. And it’s hard. It’s so hard (but you won’t ask for help because you don’t want people to worry). And you’ll cry a lot (usually where nobody can see you because you don’t want people to worry about that either).

But here’s something I know is true: If you value God’s opinion more than the opinions of people around you, eventually those people–if they know Christ–will do the same. It won’t happen the next day. It may not even happen in a year. But one day, down the road, the people who you made unhappy by your unpopular decision will understand.

People’s opinions change. People’s happiness changes. God never does, and He can outlast the most stubborn of hearts. So you hold on to that. Don’t make decisions to make people happy.

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Why asking is better than demanding

Have you ever had to pull rank on someone? I don’t have to do it very often. The last time I had to do it was over the phone with somebody, which is awful. My best friend and I were trying to get to Philadelphia for a writing conference where we were speaking on a panel, and the airline had canceled her flight with no warning. And I ended up on the phone for four hours, arguing with three different airline representatives about the situation.

If it had been our fault, I would have backed off. If it had been a vacation, I would have backed off. If it was the weather, that would have been something else entirely. But we were committed to speaking at this conference, and it was the airline’s fault. So it was only right that they find us another flight. They just wouldn’t.

Until I got direct with them. Until I told the guy I was talking to exactly how I felt about the situation—that I would never fly their airline again (I haven’t) because I’d never experienced customer service so lacking (I hadn’t) and that I intended to contact them regarding the entire fiasco (I did). And surprise, surprise, he happened to have a flight waiting just a few hours later.

But I don’t like to be demanding, even if I’m demanding the right thing. With an airline, to a certain extent, I understand that they are limited by restrictions and regulations. Although, in this case, they should have done what was right the first time I asked them and saved us all four hours of anguish.

But what about between Christians? Have you ever had to pull rank on another Christian? Have you ever had to demand that a Christian do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do?

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Philemon 1:8-9.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

I love the way Paul approaches this entire situation. Onesimus was a slave that had run away from his master, Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, and when Paul met Onesimus in prison and led him to Christ, Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus.

If anyone could have pulled rank on Philemon, it was Paul. Paul was one of the greatest Christ-followers in history. I guarantee, if he told me to do something, I would have done it.

But Paul didn’t operate like that. Philemon was his friend and his brother in Christ and instead of simply demanding that Philemon forgive Onesimus, Paul just asked him instead.

Why does that work? Why is that better?

Well, for one, if someone makes the choice to do what is right instead of doing it because they’re told, you can know it’s because their attitude has changed. There’s a big difference between doing something because you’ve chosen to do it and doing something because you’ve been told.

It’s a bigger blessing for the one who chooses and a bigger blessing for the one who asked.

Does that mean you’ll run the risk that they’ll say not? Sure. And in some cases, you have to pull rank and demand what is right. But if you have the opportunity to ask instead of demand, take it. It’ll help you grow in your relationships with others, and it’ll give people around you a chance to do the right thing for the right reason.

One of the best meals in the world--Pollo con Crema from Las Puertas, Flores, Guatemala

You can afford to be generous

Did you hear the news story the other day about the sports star who left a $.20 tip? I think it was a sports guy. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. I just remember thinking that was pretty cheap.

Even if your service is awful in a restaurant, generally I think it’s a good idea to at least leave a 10% tip. I’m pretty sure 15% is standard in Kansas and 20% is expected in other cities. But I’ve never worked in service, so I don’t know for sure. I just know I’m glad someone is bringing me my food and I don’t have to get up and get it.

What I really hate to hear, though, is about some well-meaning Christ follower leaving a measly tip along with an invite to attend services the following week. I mean, I get what they’re doing, but if you’re going to invite a waiter or waitress to attend your church, it’s probably a good idea to make sure you give them a decent tip.

But why is that so hard to do? Why is tipping so difficult? Is it because food prices have gone up so high that adding that extra 10% or 15% or 20% onto the bill will break you? Or is it because you just haven’t received good service?

I can understand in both circumstances. But leaving a tip, especially if you intend to make it a witnessing opportunity, is more than just a tip. It’s a chance to be Christ to someone else.

One of the best meals in the world--Pollo con Crema from Las Puertas, Flores, Guatemala

One of the best meals in the world–Pollo con Crema from Las Puertas, Flores, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Philemon 1:4-7.

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.

I’m reading Philemon this week, and if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a little bitty book in the back of the New Testament. It’s only one chapter, and it’s jam packed full of awesome.

The back story? It’s basically how Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, encounters this runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul leads Onesimus to Christ in prison, and then he writes a letter to Onesimus’s owner, Philemon, who is a well-known Christ-follower. And Paul begs Philemon to forgive Onesimus for running away and welcome him back not only into his employment as a fellow man but also as a brother in Christ.

It’s a tiny little chapter. Go read it.

And what Paul says in this passage really resonated with me. If you have faith, you’ll be generous. It’s plain and simple. And it’s true if you think about it. The most generous people I’ve ever known have a boatload of faith. Why? Well, they believe that God will bless them when they give their resources away in His name.

I don’t know about sports stars, but Christians should have faith. If you’re a Christ-follower, if you’ve chosen to believe in Christ to save you from your sins so you can have a relationship with God, you have faith. Period. And if you have faith, you should learn how to be generous.

But how do you get there? Well, check out the verse.

You learn to be generous through faith after you understand and experience the goodness of God. Can anyone speak to that? I can. I’ve known God long enough to be stunned speechless when I think about everything He has done for me.

And if God can afford to be so generous with me, why can’t I be generous with other people? No, I don’t have a lot to give financially, but I can give what I can. God will bless it. I don’t have as much time as I used to have either, but what I have, I can give to people and causes that need it. And God will bless it. But most of all, I have what God has given me—and that’s love. And love is the most expensive, free gift in the world, and since the love I can offer others comes from God, my store is unlimited.

So don’t be stingy with the resources God has given you. You’ve had faith He would provide in the past, and He did. So put that faith into action and be generous with the people around you, whether that’s financially or emotionally.

Maybe you can’t afford it, but God can. And it’s His bank you’re pulling from in the first place.

Moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Living quietly a moment at a time

Do you ever crave stillness? Where you have a moment to catch your breath without anyone’s expectations horning in on you? Where you can just enjoy the quiet without deadlines looming or people demanding things from you?

I didn’t used to. When I was younger, I loved being busy. And looking back, oh boy, was I busy! I can’t believe the schedule I kept when I was younger. I really have no idea how I did it without going crazy.

But now? Well, I still enjoy being busy. If I were bored, there would be something wrong. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to yearn for the quiet, alone moments of my younger years, where I didn’t have so many responsibilities and so many people didn’t rely on me.

Moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 62:5.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.

It’s hard to be quiet when life is so loud. I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but it really is difficult to get focused when we have so many things screaming for our attention. But it’s important. It’s necessary.

If you live life in a constant flurry of activity, flitting from one crisis to the next, you never actually process the decisions you make. You can’t. You don’t have time. So you don’t learn from your mistakes. You don’t take time to enjoy your success.

So how do you wait quietly for God when life is spiraling out of control around you? How can you be quiet and still when that means you’ll fall behind?

What I’ve learned is that you can’t always be quiet and still. There’s too much to do. And if you are anything like me, you’ve probably gotten to the place in your life where you have so many people depending on you that if you changed directions suddenly, half a dozen ministries or projects would grind to a halt and fail utterly. If you back yourself into that kind of a corner, it’s my personal belief that you have a responsibility to see it through to the end.

That being said, you don’t have to eat, sleep, and breathe every project and ministry you’re involved in. If you can’t live your life quietly right now, learn to take advantage of the quiet moments when you have them.

When you get home from work, do you jump right into the next project on your list? Or do you take half an hour to decompress? When you finish one assignment, do you jump immediately into the next one, or do you take a walk and let your shoulders loosen up?

I’ve found that I’m actually more productive if I take a break between projects, than if I just power on through without stopping. If I take the time intentionally to breathe and rest and be quiet in between things, I can focus better and work faster.

People weren’t created to work all the time, to run crazy all the time, to kill ourselves on good things all the time. If we try to live that way, we’ll burn out.

So take the time to enjoy the quiet moments when they come. Don’t ignore them. Teach yourself to live quietly a bit at a time, and it won’t be long before you’ll find your whole life is a lot more quiet too.