True love lives in actions and not in words

In novel writing (and maybe other forms of writing), there is really one cardinal rule to producing an excellent story. Sure, character development is key. Yes, plot is essential. But this cardinal rule is more basic than anything else. It’s the rule of show, don’t tell.

Ever heard that? If you’re a writer, you probably have. If you’re not a writer, maybe it sounds foreign to you until you start thinking about the rules of relationships. It’s one thing to tell someone something. It’s something else to show them.

“Jack walked through the tall grass” is much less meaningful than, “The tips of the prairie grass tickled Jack’s fingers as he marched across the field.” See the difference? The first time, I’m telling you what Jack is doing. The second time, you see what’s actually happening. In writing, that’s the difference between showing and telling.

Frankly, relationships aren’t much different.

love-wide-wallpaper-1920x1200-008Today’s verse is 1 John 3:18.

 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

Have you ever told someone that you love them? It’s easy to do. Those three words fall off our lips, often without any thought of consequence or commitment. You love your friends. You love your family. You love your coworkers (usually).

But what does it mean to love someone? Is it just something you say? Or is there more to it than that?

You can tell someone you love them and the treat them poorly. We see it everyday. What people say doesn’t match up with their actions, and that’s not the way relationships are supposed to work. What’s even more troubling is that we see it in the Church. We see it between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Did you realize that if you believe in Jesus Christ, you belong to Him? Yes, you probably knew that. So then do you understand that if the person sitting next to you at work or at school believes in Jesus Christ too, that makes him or her your brother or sister? That means you are family. That means you are called to love that person with a love that defies explanation, and that love is what will make the world see us as different–as having something they lack.

Christ-followers are family. Maybe that’s why we feel justified in tearing each other apart so frequently.

You say you love the Christian sitting next to you. When push comes to shove, will your love stop at words? When that Christian runs into financial trouble or family trouble or any kind of trouble, can you sit still and keep saying you love them while you do absolutely nothing to help them?

It’s the same with our brothers and sisters around the world. We sit in our comfortable homes, living our comfortable lives, and we post on social media that we love and support our brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. But what are you doing about it?

I know some people get frustrated with the concept of trying to prove their love to others, but I don’t think that’s what this is about. The truth is that love is an action word, and our culture tries to turn it into a passive idea. Love isn’t something that just happens. Love is intentional–or at least it should be.

So who do you love? Do they know? I mean, do they really know, or are they just used to you telling them? When was the last time you showed them?

If you love someone, whether it’s family or friends or coworkers or just strangers on the street, saying you love them isn’t enough. The difference between showing and telling when it comes to your relationships is who your love is about.

Is the love you feel about you? Do you tell people that you love them to make yourself feel better? Or are you willing to sacrifice your comfort or your security or even your life to do something for someone else?

That’s the difference. The truth about love is that it’s not about you. Love that’s about you isn’t love; it’s selfishness. Love that’s about other people? That’s real love. It’s not easy. It’s actually terrifying. But that’s the love we’re called to have, the kind of love that lives in actions and not just in words.

A light in the dark doesn’t help just you

One of the things I love about living in the country is how much you can see at night. That’s ironic because it’s so dark in the country. You can’t see what’s right in front of you, obviously, but when you have a light, you can see it for miles around. Out in the country where I live, you can see the lights of several small towns, and the very large bright glow on the southern horizon is Wichita far in the distance.

In the daylight, lights don’t make much difference. But at nighttime, when there are no other lights around, a light can’t be hidden.

light_in_dark7Today’s verse is John 12:46.

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

This is something Jesus said to a group of people who had gathered to hear him. It’s a bold claim. I’m not sure if anyone else in the history of the world has ever made such a claim. If someone said this today, very few people would listen, I think.

But the Bible and other historical documents have proven over and over again who Jesus was (and is). And the changed lives of those who follow Him are evidence that He speaks the truth–that He is the light.

We get turned around, though. We get hung up on following other men and their interpretations of Jesus’ words. We prefer this preacher to that preacher. We prefer this church to that church. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with your preferences, as long as your faith is in the right place.

A religion or a denomination has never been the source of light. Jesus has always been and always will be the light that guides us, and if you follow Him, you’ll never be lost. Even when you feel like you’re wandering in circles, you won’t be lost because you’ll be right where He wants you.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to do what He does, to think how He thinks, to live how He lived, and to see life the way He saw it. And how do you know all that? Well, why do you think we have the Bible?

Following Jesus isn’t a mystery. Everything we need to know about being a Christ-follower is laid out in Scripture. It won’t just occur to you. You have to read it. You have to study it. You have to make the Bible an active part of your life.

Then, when the darkness of the world surrounds you, you’ll be a light in the darkness because you’re holding on to Jesus’ light. And the best thing about a light in the dark? It draws others to it.

If you believe in Jesus, why don’t you follow Him? If you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you pattern your life after Him? No, it’s not easy, but living life isn’t easy. It’s far better to live life for a reason, and when the reason is Christ, your life will accomplish far more than you ever could have without Him.

When feeling insecure becomes an act of aggression

You can’t believe they said that about you, can you? It’s completely untrue, of course. Designed to hurt and tear you down. Why would anyone say something about you to hurt you when you haven’t done anything to them?

Have you been in that situation? Asked those questions? If you’ve gotten out of bed and interacted with people at any point in your life, you probably have.

It’s a fact of life that not everyone you meet is going to like you. If you’re a people pleaser like me, that’s devastating. I hate the thought that I might encounter people who don’t automatically like me. Even worse, thinking about someone who actively dislikes me turns my stomach inside out. Such a thing makes me wish I were born with more of a hardened personality so that encountering those types wouldn’t be so heartbreaking–but if I had someone else’s personality, I wouldn’t be me.

The truth of the situation? It’s not even about me. And it’s not about you either.

There just seems to be a percentage of the population who is dead set on tearing others around them to pieces. Nothing you can do will change their minds. Nothing you say will convince them otherwise. Some people just see other people as tools or objects to use in their own personal struggle for significance. Why is that?

Insecurity is a silent aggressor. It sneaks up on you like a thief in the night and whispers lies to your heart. It starts with comparison. You see someone you know and you see them doing amazing things, and maybe you’re happy for them at first. But it doesn’t take long before you start seeing that person you know as a rival or as competition. You see that person and their success, and you think their life must be perfect. And it’s not fair, because you deserve success more than they do.

The longer you sit on that passive, silent aggression, the stronger it gets. And then, one day, it’s not silent anymore. And you start nit-picking that person’s actions in front of other people. You start looking for chinks in their armor, and when you find one, you tell others. Because if everybody knows about that person’s weakness, people won’t think they’re perfect anymore. You tell yourself you’re doing the world a favor, because nobody wants to idolize someone who obviously has so many flaws. If you can bring them down to your level, they won’t get the spotlight. They won’t be the hero. They won’t be superior.

But the flaw in that thinking is that the person you’re tearing down is superior in the first place. In your own mind, you build them up until they’re standing on a pedestal above everyone else, and there’s a good chance that person never asked to be in that position. And if you’re both followers of Christ, there’s a good chance God put them there on purpose.

JEALOUSY-_-SESSIONToday’s verses are Psalm 75:4-7.

I warned the proud, ‘Stop your boasting!’
I told the wicked, ‘Don’t raise your fists!
Don’t raise your fists in defiance at the heavens
or speak with such arrogance.’”
For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

Insecurity may be more dangerous than any other emotion. At least, that’s been my personal experience. When I started feeling insecure around other people, that’s when I would turn into someone I’m not. My own feelings of insecurity tainted the words others said to me, so that even praise became thinly-veiled criticism.

When you see your relationships through the fog of personal insecurity, it wrecks you. And it causes you to wreck others.

So why do we feel it? Why do the successes of other people cause us to doubt our own gifts? Why do the talents of our peers make us see ourselves as less than worthy of God’s grace or blessing?

It’s the same lie the enemy has been telling us for years, friends. Pride. Our enemy knows our weaknesses, and he appeals to them on the level that will be most effective in turning us against each other.

You see someone else succeed where you’ve failed, and he whispers that it should have been you. That you deserved to win, and life caused you to lose. You start putting talented people on pedestals, but it won’t be long before you wonder why you don’t deserve to be up there too. Pride leads to jealousy, and jealousy turns into action. And it will all start with the simple question: Why not me?

And, frankly, it’s not that you shouldn’t ask that question. That question is a great one to ask, and the answer might even spur you on to do something great for God. But you should never ask it thinking that the person you’re admiring is any more worthy of God’s grace or blessing than you are. No one is worthy. Period. Not even the most perfect, most spiritual person you know.

God decides who succeeds based on His own Will. No, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to fail. But it does mean that if you’ve failed, you still have something to learn. And, honestly, if you talk to that person you’ve been tearing down, I’d bet you’d discover that they see themselves as a failure in many areas as well.

If you’re that person who feels the need to rip others down to make yourself feel better, stop it. And if you’re a follower of Christ and you still feel the need to point out the flaws in other believers, you need to take a moment and ask yourself who you’re listening to. Because if you feel like you have to tear others down to make yourself feel better, you’re not listening to God. You’re listening to His enemy, the enemy who despises you simply because God loves you.

If you’re the person who’s been hurt by what others have said about you, don’t let it get to you. Recognize insecurity where you see it. Don’t get angry. See it for what it is and forgive. It’s not worth getting angry about. Trust me. Most accusations from insecure people are baseless anyway. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but you don’t have to stoop to their level. What matters is what God thinks, and God knows the truth. That should be good enough for you.

Don’t let insecurity creep into your relationships. If you see someone succeeding, rejoice with them. Maybe you didn’t achieve the same measure of success they did, but maybe that’s not where your gifts are. Maybe God has a better plan for you. Or maybe God’s just trying to teach you something. Either way, tearing someone else down with your words or your actions is never ever the right choice.

Sometimes fear can keep you content

Life is overwhelming. Everyone seems to be struggling to keep their head above the waves with all the stuff that keeps coming at them, and not all of it is bad. Some of it is good. Some of it may even be great, but that’s the way life is. We rarely get life in small doses.

I’ve been fighting discouragement in the last few weeks, questioning the wisdom of my choices and the direction I’m going. It’s funny because even when you start out genuinely questioning what God has told you to do, it doesn’t take long before fear sets in.

Fear can be healthy sometimes, but I believe that’s a specific type of fear. There are different kinds of fear, you know. Sort of like there are different kinds of love. The fear you feel in a life-threatening situation can make you stronger, faster, sharper than you would be without it. I’d say that’s beneficial. But the fear you feel when you start questioning what God has told you to do is the absolute opposite of a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t come from God.

In Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, Dune, there’s a famous statement about fear. He states: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

While it’s true that fear can sometimes spur us to greater achievements, in most instances, fear dulls us and urges us to settle for less because we’re too afraid to keep pushing for the best. So how do you conquer the fear that will stunt your growth? How do you manage your fear when you face those questions that have no answer?

FearToday’s verses are Psalm 27:1-3.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.

How do you conquer your fear? Remember Who’s on your side.

It’s easy to forget Who set you on this path when the troubles and struggles of life start piling up around you. They look so big, so overwhelming, so impossible to figure out, but in those moments when we’re so afraid that we’re going to fail, we need to stop and remember what we’re doing and Who we’re doing it for.

The Bible says that God is our light, our salvation, and our fortress. Think about that. God is our light. As long as we’re following Him, we won’t be lost in the darkness. God is our salvation. There’s no challenge or difficulty we can face that can have the victory over us because God is stronger than any trouble we can encounter. God is our fortress. No matter what weapons our enemy forges against us, nothing can touch us when we’re taking refuge in God’s presence.

So why are we afraid? Sure, it’s intimidating to face unanswerable questions. Yeah, it’s frightening to start down a path you can’t see the end of. But who sent you? Who are you doing it for? Why are you going?

The fear that comes in those moments doesn’t come from God. The fear that makes you doubt God’s goodness isn’t from Him. The fear that makes you doubt that He will take care of you and love you and forgive you no matter what isn’t from Him. It’s a lie.

If you’re following God, if you’re living your life for Christ, if you’re seeking Him first in every choice you make, God will be right by your side. Don’t forget that.

Don’t let our enemy convince you to be afraid of the uncertainties. That’s what he wants, because if he can keep you scared, he can keep you content. God calls us to be fearless, to face the challenges of life with His strength, which He offers us freely.

So what are you afraid of? If God is for you (He is, by the way), who could ever stop you?

If God gave you shoes, why don’t you wear them?

To say the last two weeks haven’t exactly gone according to plan would be an understatement of massive proportions. I didn’t plan to need four new tires on my car the day after I left my job. I didn’t plan to get sick. I didn’t plan to have my car battery die the morning we were leaving for Colorado. And I didn’t plan to still be sick after a week of trying to hack up my lungs.

Funny how the little bumps in the road can be really discouraging, isn’t it? In other circumstances, they might just be inconveniences, but when they start piling up, they tend to drag you down.

745989_48427234Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:15.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

I love the passage in Ephesians that talks about the Armor of God. Always have. But even I tend to focus on the other parts of the Armor of God that are mentioned in the passage. The helmet. The shield. The sword. The breastplate.  But–the shoes?

Come on. Who focuses on the shoes? Who even thinks about shoes? I mean, I’ve been told that you can tell a lot about someone by what shoes they wear, but this isn’t talking about fashion. This is armor for battle. And out of all the pieces of armor that someone would wear, why are shoes important?

Shoes protect your feet. Without your feet, you can’t walk. Yeah, you need to protect your head and your chest and your arms, but that’s from the big attacks. You don’t see major attacks aimed at your feet. No. Your feet run into small things. Pebbles. Sticks. Sharp rocks. Sand burrs and goat head stickers. They’re not enough to bring you down, but they are annoying. Especially when they come one after another.

That’s why you wear shoes. See, my default is barefoot. I hate shoes. But I can tell you stories about stepping on things that hurt. Shoes matter. So apply that concept to shoes in God’s Armor.

The struggles we face in our life aren’t physical. Maybe they feel like it, but there’s something bigger at the heart of every difficulty we face. No, that doesn’t mean to see Satan in every paper cut, but it does mean there are little irritations and annoyances that will come at you for no reason other than to distract you. Satan doesn’t just throw fiery darts. He litters your path with pebbles and rocks, and if you aren’t outfitted for them, they’re going to slow you down.

So what do the shoes of God’s Armor look like? Peace. That’s what the verse says. Peace that comes from the Good News. That’s the Bible. There is no greater peace in the world than peace with God, and God Himself made it possible for us to find it through Jesus’ sacrifice.

When we read the Bible and apply it to our lives, when we understand who God is and what He’s done for us, and when we allow Him to transform our minds and our perspectives and our thoughts, we see the world differently. We see our troubles differently.

When we run into those frustrations and little annoyances of life, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Remember you’re wearing God’s peace. He knows what He’s doing with your life. He knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Maybe you’ll step on a pebble every now and then. Maybe you’ll stub your toe. God gave you the shoes you need, and it’s your job to just keep walking.

Does God put obstacles in our path to make us turn around?

My parents and I had been planning to take a short trip to Colorado Springs for months. My tax accountant is in Colorado Springs (it’s a long story), and with all the changes I’ve had in my financial life this year, we figured we needed a face-to-face meeting with him.

I got new tires put on my car specifically expecting to drive it to Colorado Springs, but Tuesday morning, our plans changed. We’d gotten the car all loaded up, and Mom prayed over our trip for safety–and just like that, the car wouldn’t start. It just sat there like a lump. My 2012 Malibu was dead in the front yard.

We had to make a decision. Was it a sign that we shouldn’t go? Did that mean we needed to reschedule and go the week after? We thought about it, prayed about it, and then we transferred everything to my mom’s 2006 Malibu (I say we, but I mean my dad). We got on the road, and we called the local Haven dealership to come pick it up and check it out.

We got word yesterday that the battery died. I guess it’s not unheard of, but seriously? How many more unexpected expenses are going to pop up in my life now that I technically don’t have a paycheck coming in? Gosh.

And it begs the same question we faced when my car died Tuesday morning. Is this a sign that I’m going the wrong direction? Is it an indication that I’m making the wrong choice because all these things are happening? Does God put obstacles in our path because He wants us to stop what we’re doing and change directions?

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:6-10.

IMG_20150217_065918If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is Paul speaking. There has been a lot of discussion on exactly what his “thorn in the flesh” was, but I don’t think anyone has really come to an actual conclusion. All we really need to know is that God allowed this issue, this difficulty or obstacle, in Paul’s life so that Paul would rely on God’s strength instead of his own.

I haven’t arrived as a Christ follower. I’m still a work in progress, and I will be until I go home to be with Jesus. But I’ve picked up a few things in the years I’ve walked with Jesus, and one thing I know for sure is that if God sets you on a path going a certain direction, He isn’t going to change His mind about it. If you start following Him down a road, and a big boulder appears in your path, that doesn’t mean you stop moving forward. It means you ask Him to help you get around the boulder.

An obstacle is only an opportunity to grow stronger. Maybe you need to rely on God’s strength to move an obstacle out of your path. Maybe you need to learn patience to wait for God to move the obstacle for you. But that doesn’t mean you turn around.

In my experience, God doesn’t say no with obstacles. God says no with His Word. God’s Word is cut and dry about what is right and what is wrong and what God expects of us. Someone who throws obstacles in your path instead of talking to you is passive aggressive, and God isn’t passive aggressive.

If you’re following God and you find an obstacle in your path, first make sure your heart is right. If God is at the center of every decision you’ve made and if you’re truly seeking Him with your whole heart, don’t let that obstacle convince you to turn around.

Second, ask God what you’re supposed to do. Maybe you’re supposed to wait. Maybe you’re supposed to go around it. Maybe you’re supposed to take your mom’s car instead of yours. Whatever the situation is, God will show you what you’re supposed to do, whether it’s pressing onward or sitting still.

But whatever you do, don’t let the appearance of an obstacle in your path convince you to give up. God finishes what He starts. No, the path won’t be easy, but when you come out on the other side, you’ll be able to point to God and proclaim that He’s the one who got you through. It won’t be through your power. It won’t be because of your accomplishments. It will be because He is God and He is strongest when you are weakest.

Are you following a hero who will let you down?

Who’s your hero? That was a question I got asked as a kid frequently, and usually the answer was my parents. That’s not a bad answer. Not at all. It’s not even an untrue answer. I just can’t exactly tell you I thought about it very seriously. It was an answer people liked, so I went with it.

There were people I loved and admired, sure. My parents were among them. And I had an army of role models who have continued to be guiding lights in my life, even now. But a hero?

I caught part of the tribute to Stevie Wonder on TV last night. Lots of famous musical artists from around the world had  gathered to honor this man who had changed their lives. To many of them, Stevie Wonder was their hero. And that’s great. I’m sure he’s a great person. I don’t know him personally. I don’t know his life. I do know he’s been a major influence on music in my lifetime, and I do appreciate that.

But what is a hero?

Maybe Stevie Wonder is a great guy, but do you want to live your life exactly the way he has? Maybe that movie star you admire is really successful, but do you want to make the same choices? Even in your life now. That person who you look up to and spend so much time with, do you really want to pattern your life after theirs?

I guess what I getting at is that any hero you place your faith in on this Earth is going to let you down. Any hero you follow without question is going to give you bad advice at some point. Or they’re going to do something foolish that will make you lose faith in them.

There’s only ever been One Person who could truly live up to the expectations of a true hero.

heroToday’s verses are Hebrews 4:14-16.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Does it sound uber-churchy to say your hero is Jesus? That’s what I was always afraid of, so I would make up other answers of people who I thought were cool. But my real hero has always been Jesus. Why?

He’s never let me down. He’s never broken a promise. He’s never led me wrong. His life was perfect, even though He faced all the same things I have. His death was for me, and with His resurrection I have new life.

In our world, we glorify and glamorize sports teams or musicians. We set actors and politicians up on pedestals. We applaud their humanitarian giving and their generous spirits, and if one of them happens to mention God in a speech, we get all excited. Because you have to be really bold to talk about God in Hollywood.

And I’m sure you do. I’ve never been to Hollywood, so I don’t know. I imagine it’s really intimidating to thank God for the prestigious award you’ve won in front of lights and cameras and everyone. But what’s more important? Thanking God for what He’s done for you or living a life that demonstrates that thankfulness?

We criticize church people for hypocrisy all the time, but we rejoice when somebody famous thanks God for something and then turns around and lives a lifestyle devoid of any sort of conviction or faith.

I don’t want to pick on anyone. Let me tell you, I’ve read a lot of books by a lot of really awesome writers, and if I had the opportunity to pick their brains, I’d love it. But I’m not going to say they’re my hero because they did something I admire.

I’ve seen lots of amazingly talented movie stars and musicians, and maybe I stand in awe of what they are capable of doing. But I would never call one of them my hero just because they can do something I can’t do.

No. To me, a hero is someone you pattern your life after. It’s someone you follow. It’s someone whose footsteps you seek out and walk in. You do what they do, because they’re your hero, and you want to be just like them.

So think seriously before you start claiming people as your heroes. It’s a big deal. Because you will become like whoever you’re following. Pattern your life after another person who’s just as lost as you are, and you’ll end your life without hope, regardless of whether the world calls you successful or not.

Don’t be ashamed to call Jesus your hero. Don’t be afraid that you’ll sound like a crazy person. You might sound nuts, but people thought Jesus was nuts too. So it comes with the territory.

There’s only one hero in our world, and that’s Jesus. He gave His life for us. He gave up everything He had for our sake. He lived a perfect life, and He conquered death. He came to our world and did the impossible, and He made a way for us to do the impossible too.

Who wouldn’t want a hero like that?