If you can’t be kind, just don’t be unkind

Being kind is hard enough when you like the people around you. When the people are mean or dramatic or harsh or difficult, being kind becomes almost impossible. But as Christ-followers, we are always to respond kindly, even in circumstances when we are standing up for ourselves or against something that is wrong.

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:31-32.

1113096_42782006Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Kindness isn’t something you have to go out of your way to demonstrate. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But what about in those circumstances where you don’t want to be kind? What about the times when people take advantage of you because you’re kind?

Well, it’s true. If you’re kind, people will take advantage of you. You should expect it to a certain extent. But that doesn’t mean we are called to live life as doormats. There is a way to stand up for yourself and be kind at the same time. And what I’ve learned about kindness is sometimes it’s not going out of your way to be nice to people. Sometimes kindness is simply not doing or saying something cruel. Sometimes kindness is not participating in a conversation or not commenting at all. Sometimes kindness is acknowledging someone’s presence politely.

If you don’t know how to start being kind to someone, start by not being unkind.

See that’s where I come from. When someone is mean to me or when someone treats me unfairly, I want to treat them the same way. There’s that part of me that wishes the Golden Rule worked both ways, so that if someone treats me like dirt it gives me the right to treat them like dirt in return. But that’s not what it’s about. And that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live.

If someone is cruel to you or blames you unfairly or just treats you like garbage, don’t reciprocate. That will make it worse. Don’t give them ammunition. Don’t give them a reason to keep picking on you. Sure, if they want to pick on you, they’ll fabricate a reason, but you don’t have to give them one. If you’re giving them the bullets to put in their gun, everybody will think you deserve what you get. But if you don’t give them any reason to hate you, they’ll just be shooting blanks—and people notice things like that.

But you don’t have to buy them chocolate. You don’t have to wash their car. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind to them. I mean, if you have the kind of personality where you can do that, do it! But to me, it’s more important to start with focusing on not being unkind.

Say hi to the guy who makes you mad when you pass him in the hallway. Acknowledge your coworker when she sends you rude emails. When that guy you work with throws you under the bus, gently respond with facts and figures if you have them. And if you don’t, be gracious. But whatever you do, don’t pin the blame on someone else.

None of that would be called “kindness” if you think about it. But what you’re doing when you choose not to be unkind is putting the people around you before yourself. You’re giving up your “right” to pay back blow for blow, and instead you’re thinking about the whole picture instead of just the place you have in it.

If you’re in a situation where you just can’t be kind, don’t stress yourself out about it. Don’t try to force yourself to play a role. If you can’t be kind, then just don’t be unkind. You might be surprised how your life, your perspective, and your relationships change for the better.

A toenail doesn’t have to be friends with an eyeball

Who is that person in your life that you just don’t understand? Is it a family member or a coworker? I know people who just bug the fire out of me, and I really want nothing more than to shake them or throw something at them or pop off and tell them what I really think of them.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, I’m not nearly bold enough to do any of that. So I resort to creating characters like them in novels and making them look dumb. Yes, passive aggressive. I know. I’m working on it.

But do you ever wonder why you have to put up with it? The Bible is so full of examples of Jesus’ patience and goodness toward stupid people, and it frustrates me. Because I don’t want to be nice to stupid people. I want to be angry at them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned growing up in the church, it’s that not all Christ-followers agree. When I was younger, that bothered me, because I thought everybody had to agree. We all have to believe the same thing, don’t we?

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, friends, but you’ll never see a time when everyone in a church–or any gathering of people–believes the same thing. Sure, you can agree on the basics. You can find common ground on the important things. But everyone sees life differently or has lived a different kind of life.

Those differences are valuable if you harness them, but if you let them drive a wedge between people, they can tear everything you’ve built down.

As you follow Christ, you’re going to encounter other Christ-followers who come from different cultures and different traditions and different perspectives. If they truly follow Christ, you can have a deep relationship with them because you have something in common with each other, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to agree on every subject. And that’s okay.

A Christ-follower from Africa is going to have a very different view of life and living than a Christ-follower from Canada. That doesn’t mean one is wrong and the other is right. What matters is that both people believe in Jesus for their salvation. But for some reason people love to point out things that are different, and once they see something that’s different, if it threatens them, they’re likely to decide it’s bad.

But if the Bible doesn’t say it’s wrong, who are we? If God doesn’t have a problem with it, why do we?

Our differences make us stronger. It all comes back to the Body of Christ. We all have different jobs, different loves, different passions, different talents, and we all come together in the name of Christ to serve Him. But if you’re the hands of the Body, don’t be telling the lips what to say, and vice versa. If you’re the feet, you don’t know how the eyes work. If you’re the ears, you’ve got a different job than the nose.

Because we’re different, we complement each other. Because we’re different, we are stronger together than we are alone. But because we’re different, it’s hard to remember that sometimes. Being different is difficult. We don’t communicate the same way. We don’t see life the same way. And if we aren’t careful, all we’ll start to see is the differences, and before long, we’ll convince ourselves that we’re too different to work together.

What would happen if your body parts decided they were too different to work together anymore? Yup. You’d fall apart. And the same thing will happen with the Church.

So give each other a break. Yes, we’re different, and that’s the point. You’re going to run into members of the Body that drive you crazy. And you’re not going to understand them, and they’re not going to understand you. Imagine a toenail trying to comprehend an eyeball. One is hard. The other is soft. One protects, and the other is protected. They have absolutely nothing in common, except that they are both in the Body.

Maybe that’s all you have in common with that person in your life that you don’t understand. And if that’s the case, that’s fine. A toenail doesn’t have to be best friends with an eyeball, but they do need to recognize that they each do an important job–and they have to do it their own way.

If you focus on what makes you different, you’ll be frustrated and angry because how are you supposed to get along with someone you don’t understand? But if you focus on the things you have in common, understanding each other won’t really matter. Instead, you’ll enjoy getting to see the other person’s point of view.

Yeah, they might learn something from you, but you might learn something from them too. We’re different for a reason. And that reason isn’t to destroy each other. It’s to learn from each other.

Alone isn’t always better, especially when it comes to worship

When I’m tired and stressed out, the last thing I want to do is be around people. When I’m running behind on my deadlines and have so many unresolved issues in my own life, the last thing I want to do is talk to people about their lives.

With everything that’s been going on in my life–between work and sickness and family issues–I hadn’t been to church in about a month. I realized it as I was pulling into the parking lot yesterday. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I’ve managed to get myself over committed again. Some of it is my own doing. The rest of it is someone else’s doing (hence Friday’s post). But no matter who is responsible, I still have too much work to get done and not enough days left in 2014. Even as I was parking the car, I was thinking maybe I’d have opportunity to slip out early so I could get some work done.

Well, God took a 2×4 to my thick skull today and reminded me why I needed to be at my church today. Because hiding doesn’t help you manage your tiredness and your stress, and focusing on your own unresolved issues often makes them worse instead of better.

700879_77376177Today’s verse is Colossians 3:16.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

I spend most of my 45-minute commute every morning talking to God and singing along with the radio or my own personal mix of music. And that’s good for me. It helps me get my focus right. It helps me remember that my life isn’t about me and that God has put me where I am for a reason. But there’s something different about being in a group of people all singing together or all praying together. It’s important to do it on your own, but when you’re one voice among many, all talking to the same God, it becomes more real somehow.

I’m sure I’ve realized this before, but standing in worship yesterday with an auditorium full of other Christ-followers, all singing at the top of our lungs–it helped me remember that I’m not in this fight alone. And maybe that’s a silly thing to realize, because it’s something I already know. But when you lock yourself away, it’s easier to forget that you are surrounded by a community of people who believe the same way you do. People who understand you better than you think.

And instead of worrying about my problems and my issues and my deadlines and all the things that I am responsible to do, I just stood in awe, lifted up by 1500 voices (or however many our auditorium holds these days) all telling God how great He is. And all I could think about was how I hope it made Him happy, how I desperately wanted Him to know how thankful I am for my life and my family and my priceless friendship with Him.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot to do. But what really matters in the end?

It’s ironic, really. I didn’t want to go to church because I had too much to do. But I went anyway because I knew I needed to. And when I got home I finished three major things that I’d been trying to get done all last week. That should teach me something.

I’m so blessed to have a wonderful church. No, it’s not perfect, but no group of people is. What’s important is that it’s where I’m called to be right now. If you don’t have a church or some place you can go to worship–and I mean really worship–please do yourself a favor and find one. And once you find it, go. Yes, life is busy and frantic and stressful, and it’s getting ready to get worse with the holidays approaching, but the more time you spend alone on your own deadlines and problems, the more you focus on them and the less you focus on just being in God’s presence.

It’s the one place I can really be still. Where I can’t find words and I don’t worry about it because with Him I don’t need them. Where I don’t try to hide because He knows me inside and out. And, yeah, I can worship in my car on my own, but when you’re in a group of people all focusing on God and all telling Him how wonderful He is, your problems don’t seem so insurmountable.

It will seem like a hassle. It will seem like more trouble than it’s worth. It will sound like work. But going to church where you can worship God in a community of like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ is never a bad idea, no matter how busy you are. Take the time to do it. Get your focus off yourself, and put your focus where it belongs–on God.

Your problems won’t go away, but you’ll see them for what they are–opportunities for God to show you just how wonderful He truly is.

I wait quietly before God

Do you ever just have upsetting days? Those days where everything conspires against you to ruin your mood? Some days start out bad, but then other days come along and they’re fine until the end–when that one thing happens that completely wrecks your perspective.

When that happens, how do you calm down? How do you get your focus back? When you’re so angry, you can’t even speak–when you’re so frustrated, it’s all you can do not to burst into tears–how do you see God in that situation?

In those moments I just want answer. I just want God to tell me what I’m supposed to do with myself. I want to do something–run or fight or jump up and down or scream or just something. Anything except stand still.

But making hasty decisions is always a bad idea. And making hasty decisions when you’re angry will always, always make more trouble than it solves.

So what do you do? I read Psalms, and I read until one makes me cringe because it hits all the right emotions raging in my silly human heart.

That’s what happened yesterday. I was so mad, so frustrated and worn out and tired and disappointment and discouraged. You name it. It all hit at once, and I just wanted to give up. Even after I cheered up, even after I calmed down, I was still debating about how to handle this overwhelming frustration I can’t seem to shake. So I started searching Psalms, and I found what I was looking for.

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Psalm 62

I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
but curse me in their hearts. 

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. 

Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales,
together they are lighter than a breath of air.

Don’t make your living by extortion
or put your hope in stealing.
And if your wealth increases,
don’t make it the center of your life.

God has spoken plainly,
and I have heard it many times:
Power, O God, belongs to you;
unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
Surely you repay all people
according to what they have done.

Wait quietly before God. People may turn against me, but my God is my fortress that can never be shaken. He’s told me plainly over and over that He repays people for what they’ve done.

I want to run. I want to fight. But all I’m supposed to do is to wait quietly before God because my victory comes from Him. Sure, that may mean I need to make some changes. But that doesn’t mean I have to take it all on my own shoulders and make decisions on my own.

But what it does mean–for now? I need to remember where my hope is. Not in people. Not in the world. But in my God.

Are angry today? Frustrated? Lost and unsure of yourself or what you’re supposed to do? Instead of scrambling to make sense of it or to defend yourself or to find an answer, think about just waiting quietly before God. Just stand still and be open to what He wants, instead of just what you want.

The ones who matter and the ones who mind

Have you ever been blamed unfairly? I think that’s something everyone experiences. You’re just rocking through life, doing what you do, and somebody comes along and blows up your world when they drop the bomb on you: “You screwed up!”

What do you do when that happens? Do you get angry? Do you respond with a scathing email? Do you crumble in a heap and hate on yourself? There are all sorts of ways to answer an unfair, unfounded accusation. It depends on your personality type. But if you’re a Christ-follower, there’s only one way to react: You react the way Jesus would.

blameToday’s verse is 1 Peter 2:12.

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

The whole “WWJD” craze burned out years ago, and it’s a shame, because it was a beautiful concept. What a great idea to give yourself a reminder on what Jesus would do every time you had to make a decision!

But just because you don’t see the WWJD bracelets around anymore doesn’t mean that you can’t still ask yourself the question. And you should. In every situation. Not just the good ones or the happy ones.

What I would love to do when people blame me unfairly is to put up a huge sign where everyone in the world can see it, showing them that I’m right and my accuser is wrong. Isn’t that horrible? I’m ashamed to say it, but that’s what’s really in my heart when somebody points out my wrong when I haven’t done anything wrong.

But I don’t like confrontation, so my passive aggressive version of that is to create characters just like the people who piss me off and put them in novels where I make them look like idiots.

Yes, the ugly truth of my vindictive side.

But Jesus didn’t do that. If he ever told stories about anyone, He just told the truth, and if they came off as idiots, it wasn’t because He embellished. And He didn’t get angry either. When He was unfairly blamed, He just took it and quietly pointed out the truth.

So that’s what we’re supposed to do.

What I’ve learned about people who blame others unfairly is that they’re often jumping to conclusions. They need someone to blame, so they pick an easy target. Or they’re trying to get the Powers that Be to ignore their own screw ups, so they redirect attention to someone else’s screw ups instead.

Dealing with people like this is a two-fold process. The first step is simple, but it’s not easy. It’s learning how to hold your temper and your tongue when people point fingers at you that you don’t deserve.

It takes time to learn how to do it, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. And the more you realize why people are throwing you under the bus (to get the attention off their own shortcomings), the easier it is to deal with.

The second step takes a lot more effort and long-term planning. It’s living a life that contradicts anything negative that’s said about you. It’s conducting yourself with behavior that is above reproach, so that even if someone accuses you of wrongdoing, nobody would believe it.

Wow, can you live a life like that? Jesus did, and that means you can too. No, it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It just means you need to live the way Jesus did. You make decisions the way Jesus did—not selfishly or anxiously, but with the greater good in mind. Do your best to get along with your coworkers. Don’t get dragged into drama. Try to be a peacemaker. When you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. And always, always do what’s right.

If you live your life that way, it doesn’t matter what anyone accuses you of. No accusation will stick.

If someone has blamed you for something you did wrong, yes, take responsibility for it. Step up. But if you aren’t wrong, respond quietly and gently with the truth and let the pieces fall where they will.

Because the people who mind don’t matter…. and the people who matter don’t mind.

One reason you shouldn’t unfriend someone

Monday was National Unfriend Day, which encourages Facebook users to slim down their friend list. I didn’t even realize that there was such a thing. As I was listening to the radio on the way into work (or maybe on the way home?), the radio people were talking about the types of friends they thought people should unfriend.

I get that. We all have Facebook friends who post inappropriate things from time to time, and if it’s something that you really don’t want to see, yes, remove association. But these radio folks weren’t saying to unfriend people for inappropriate photos or posts. Not even for polarizing political material. They unfriended people because of posts that made them feel like bad parents.

Whoa. What?

Okay. I’m not a parent, but I am a writer. And writers are among the most insecure lot you’ll ever encounter in life, mainly because we’re all used to being shot down all the time. But I’m friends with many, many other writers on Facebook, and I find their posts informative. And when they post that they got 5,000 words done for NaNoWriMo, I applaud them. I don’t sit back and feel terrible about myself because I only managed my 700 or so for the daily devotional today.

I don’t have kids, but I do know what it’s like to compare myself to others. And, friends, there’s no freedom in that life. Only chains.

comparison_wiseToday’s verses are Romans 9:20-21.

No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into?

God made you who you are. He gave you the talents and the dreams that you have. He knew everything about you before your parents even wanted you. Before time began, God knew what you would love, what you would hate, and what would make you feel worthless. That’s why we have verses like these and others all throughout Scripture that say the same thing over and over again: I made you just the way I want you.

It’s easy to compare yourself to other people. Maybe that guy at work is so much smarter. Maybe that girl at school is so much prettier. Maybe that mom at the park has so many creative ideas. Whoever you’re comparing yourself to today, stop.

If you are a Christ-follower, you have one standard, and it’s not the super-crafty, uber-organized, always-put-together soccer mom on your newsfeed. It’s Jesus. You follow Him. You do what He says is right. And you give it your best for Him, whatever your best is.

Maybe one person can juggle six balls. Maybe another can only manage two. Maybe you’re normal and can only manage to carry one without dropping it. If you can only carry one ball, God doesn’t expect you to juggle 10. And quite honestly, if you know someone who’s juggling 10 balls, it’s highly likely that they’re just holding one and letting God juggle the other nine.

If you read Facebook and feel inadequate in the light of other people’s accomplishments, someone is whispering lies in your ear, and it’s not God.

Our enemy loves to use discouragement and insecurity to stop us from doing our best for God. He likes to tell us that our best isn’t enough, that’s we’ll never succeed, because we can’t perform like Suzy Homemaker down the street or John Q. Public in his corner office.

How do you fight him off then? Well, you can unfriend all the people who make you feel insecure, but that won’t solve the problem. Because the problem isn’t with Facebook, and the problem isn’t with the soccer mom. It’s in the way you see yourself.

The way you fight him off is with truth, but it won’t be of much use to you until you accept it.

God loves you. He really does. More than you understand. And He made you. You aren’t an accident. You were lovingly and carefully put together by God’s own hands, and He doesn’t make mistakes. So don’t tell Him He made you wrong. That’s what you do when you compare yourself to someone else.

You have something that woman down the street or that man in the adjoining office can never have–you. You don’t need to be anybody else but you. So stop trying. And stop putting yourself down because you don’t measure up.

Someone else probably feels the same way about you. Have you ever stopped to think why super-crafty, uber-organized, always-put-together soccer mom on your newsfeed feels the need to post about her day? Maybe she’s just as insecure about life as you are.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

You can afford generosity in God’s name

Stingy people aren’t much fun to hang around. If you don’t know any stingy people, count yourself fortunate. They’re exhausting.

I am fortunate to know many, many generous people, but that doesn’t mean I’m surrounded by wealthy folks. Whether you are stingy or generous, it has nothing to do with how much money you have.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 25:37-40.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Some of the most generous people I’ve ever known haven’t been wealthy, at least by what the world would call wealthy. I’ve known some who invited me over for dinner, when they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. I’ve known others who relied on God’s provision from paycheck to paycheck in order to feed their families, but they never hesitate to offer what they have to help someone else.

Generous people humble me, and more than anything they make me want to be generous too. And I’ve learned something about generous people. Because I’ve known a lot of them. They all have something in common.

None of them have anything.

If you ask them about their house, they’ll tell you they don’t own a house. God owns a house and let them use it in His name. If you ask them about their possessions, they’ll tell you they don’t have possessions. God has blessed them with the things that make life easier, and they get to make use of them to help others in His name. The same is true of their finances. Everything they have is God’s, including their money. God is just trusting them to manage it in His name.

Have you ever tried to live that way? Looking at your house, your car, your money, your everything as though it truly belongs to God and He’s just letting you borrow it? Would that change your perspective on the things you call your things? Would that lead you to take better care of the things God has given you? Or would you worry less about them?

If nothing else, it should make us second guess how we use our things.

But what happens if you open your house to strangers and they tear it up? What happens if you give money to someone and they let you down? Believe me, I feel those questions. I come from a school of thought that you’re supposed to be responsible with the things you have, and I don’t think that’s wrong.

But what’s more important? Doing what God says or taking care of things that don’t even belong to you?

God has given us everything we have, and as Americans, we have a lot. I don’t think we really understand how much we have until we leave the country. The areas of Mexico and Guatemala that I’ve been in have been among the poorest I’ve ever seen—and also the kindest and most generous.

Does it make sense for Americans to cling to what doesn’t even belong to them?

Before you decide to favor your things over the people around you, take a moment and really talk to God about it. Yes, we’re supposed to be wise, and I do believe God gave us brains for a reason. But don’t ever let concern for things get between you and doing what God says is right.

No house or car or paycheck is worth that.

When you open your doors and your home and your heart to others, God is able to reach others with His love through you. You get to be an extension of God, welcoming people and loving people and helping people.

Don’t worry about the expense. Remember, God gave you the means to obtain what you have in the first place. If He wants you to have it again, He’ll give it to you.

Don’t lose the opportunity to be Jesus to someone because you’re afraid to lose something you don’t even own.