Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Get your head out of yesterday

I don’t run. I’m not built for it. My body tends to revolt against me whenever I try, but I have a lot of friends who run. And they don’t just run; they compete. These folks do triathlons and marathons and all sorts of other forms of torture like that. And one thing that I have noticed when you’re running is that you really need to keep your focus on what’s in front of you, otherwise you could run into trouble … literally.

I’ve never seen a runner trying to compete by running forward and looking backward. I’m sure people do it because people are strange, but I’d be willing to bet, they don’t run well. Because even if you find a way to look backward as you’re running forward, your focus won’t be where it needs to be–on the goal.

I’m also reminded of a line from an older movie, Gumball Rally, an old racing movie we used to watch with my dad. It was a movie about racing. All these different people in all kinds of different cars had to race from coast to coast, regardless of the legality of their actions, and one of the racers was this Italian guy who ripped the rearview mirror off the car windshield and tossed it in the backseat, proclaiming: “What’s behind me is not important!”

These people race. They’re moving forward toward a goal. Looking behind and focusing on where they’ve been will only slow them down and make them unhappy in most cases. And in all honesty, following Christ is very much the same.

 

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:12-14.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

We all came from somewhere. Some Christ-followers came from Christian homes; some didn’t. Some have come from a legacy of people who always loved God; some didn’t.  But no matter where we started, God is moving us somewhere else, sometimes physically, always spiritually. We’re all moving forward, and if we look backward, we’re going to slow down or we’re going to hamper the efforts that are going on around us.

Paul was majorly into sports from what we can tell from Scripture. He talks about running and racing and fighting and wrestling, and actually there are a lot of comparisons between the Christian life and sports. Sports require training. They require focus. They require pushing yourself to achieve something you’re pretty sure you aren’t able to achieve. They require teamwork most of the time. The Christian life isn’t a competition, though, but the other similarities are kind of cool.

And in this case, running is a great example because all of us are runners. If you follow Christ, you’re in a race. You’re not competing against anyone. It’s like a marathon or a triathlon, and Christ has already run the race and won. So the rest of us are competing against ourselves really, and it’s our goal to finish. And you can’t finish the race in front of you if you can’t get your eyes of what’s behind you.

The past is important. Don’t get me wrong. In some cases, it is important to remember the past. We need to remember where we’ve been and recognize what God wants us to learn from where we’ve been, but you can’t focus on yesterday. What’s done is done and can’t be changed; what can change is how you react to it.

I know people who bury themselves in the past. They forget about today and don’t even consider tomorrow, and all they can talk about is what happened before. Where they used to be. What they used to do. And living today is torture for them because all their focus is on yesterday, and they can’t handle the stress of right now or the implications of what might happen tomorrow because they can’t get their heads out of yesterday. And they’re miserable for it.

So what does this mean for us in 2013? Stop living life in a rearview mirror. Stop looking backward to find happiness and contentment in yesterday and start looking forward to what’s coming. Yes, what’s coming is unknown. What’s coming might not be fun at all. But it’s very likely that you’re already prepared for what’s coming, whether you know it or not. You probably experienced yesterday what you needed to know for today and for tomorrow. That’s what yesterday is for.

Learning.

You can learn from yesterday. Just don’t live there.

God sets our paths. He doesn’t let us run alone. And He always provides exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

Keep your eyes forward and run. Don’t worry about the other runners; they’ll handle themselves. Don’t worry about the road behind you; it’s past. Don’t worry about the road ahead of you; take it a day at a time.

 

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Truly valuable

What do you value? I think many times we place value on things that don’t matter, and as a result we are often unhappy. Because what you place value on is what you will seek, and if you value something that won’t last or something that doesn’t satisfy, then of course you’ll be unhappy.

There are many different kinds of things we can value, that even people who don’t follow Christ would see as worthy, but what is it that should matter to us the most? As Christ followers, what are we supposed to value above all else?

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:7-11.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

What Paul is talking about at the beginning of this passage is his heritage, basically. Paul was everything the religious experts of the time could have ever wanted to be. A pharisee’s pharisee, I guess you could say. He was the best. He was the smartest. He was at the top of the food chain. He had it made. At least, he did until Jesus thumped him off his horse and had a one-on-one chat with him on the road to Damascus one evening. Then, everything changed.

All those things that Paul had placed value on before evaporated because he had learned what really mattered. All those past accomplishments did were to make him proud of what he had achieved, of what his family had achieved, of what his social and political status provided him with. Those things didn’t matter.

He was proud of keeping the law. He was proud of living according to the law. He was proud of doing everything according to the law. So he considered that he was a better person than everyone else around him because he knew and kept and did the law. But how empty was that life?

How empty is a life of being better than everyone else? I mean, it sounds good, but even if you’re better than everyone else, you’re still not perfect. You’re just isolated because your attitude has made you that way.

So many times, we value what the world says is important. Or we value what religion tells us is important. But do those things truly matter? Or are there merely complications for a life that was designed to be simple from the beginning? How complicated is it to know the law? How complicated is it to depend on your own knowledge and your own work and your own righteousness to be made right with God?

It’s beyond complicated. It’s impossible. because none of us are perfect, and that’s what’s required.

What makes us right with God is faith. It’s nothing we do. It’s nothing we wear. It’s nothing we achieve. Just believing that Christ paid the price for us. And though it’s not easy, it is simple. And whether we will admit it or not, there is joy in simple things.

So what do you value today? Are they temporary things that add further complication to your life? Or are they simple things that we allow to add further complication to our lives? Life is complicated, don’t get me wrong, but the things that matter are simple. So don’t get bogged down by the complications of life. Don’t let the things that don’t matter and don’t add value to your life weigh you down.

Don’t let the heaviness of your own righteousness convince you that it’s worth something. It’s not. Not in comparison to what Christ did for us.

Christ is all we need. The rest will fall into place. And even though it’s a choice that can be difficult to make a times, faith is truly simple. And in a world that grows more and more complex and complicated by the moment, a little simplicity is a nice change of pace.

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Good enough

Being a good person makes me happy. How about you? But how many good people do you know? I know quite a few myself. Good people are the kind of people who always do the right thing, who never overreact, who never get in trouble, who never do anything to hurt someone else intentionally. I’m not lying. I do know people like that. I’m not one of them. But sometimes when you’re that good I imagine it could be difficult to remember that you’re not perfect.

One of the difficult places I’ve discovered as a Christ-follower is that dangerous place where you learn how to keep all the rules and follow all the traditions, where you find that careful balance between obeying the law and still saying that you trust Christ. Not saying we shouldn’t obey the law. The law is good. God gave us the law to establish order and peace, and–well–many of the Ten Commandments are moral law too. It’s just a good idea.

But where it becomes dangerous is when you convince yourself that you can be good enough. And for a little while, you’ll be okay. Because if you’re a good enough person, you can be a good enough Christian in comparison to others, but what happens when you screw up?

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old elm tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:2-4.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

There’s a lot happening in this section of verses. Too much to really go into in a brief morning devotional, but what is important to understand is that during the Early Church, there was a group of people going around who believed people had to do certain things in order to be saved. Honestly, they weren’t much different from the church leaders during Jesus’ life. Honestly, they aren’t much different from the religious experts in any time. There has always been and probably will continue to be people who believe we have to earn salvation.

Paul is basically calling them on the carpet here. What he’s saying is that those people who believe you have to do something in order to be saved are trusting in their own accomplishments and not in Christ. Thsoe people are trusting in what they can do rather than in what Christ has done. And I find it ironic because our world and even the Church is still full of people who believe this. I know tons of people who talk about how Christ has saved them, yet they’ll turn around and tell everyone how they’re supposed to dress, live, eat, drink, speak, etc. in order to be right with God.

Watch out for those people.

There is no human effort we can make that will make us right with God. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. If there were, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to do what He did. So is Paul saying that we shouldn’t strive to “be good”?

That’s not the case at all. Part of having the Bible is knowing how to live. The Bible is a roadmap to life. It’s a guide that explains how we should make decisions and why. But the trouble comes when you take the lifestyle that the Bible promotes and turn it into something that redeems us. No lifestyle will redeem you. No dress code will make you perfect. All following the Law does is show us that we aren’t good enough.

Yes, being a good person, doing what I know is right, does make me happy. And it should. It should make everybody happy when you do the right, even though sometimes doing the right thing isn’t pleasant. But take a minute to scrutinize that happiness the next time you do something right. Are you happy because you did the right thing? Or are you happy because nobody else did the right thing? Are you comparing yourself to other people?

You can’t be good enough. Neither can I. Trusting your future entirely to your behavior is the quickest way to be disappointed, because even if your conduct is spotless, there will come a day when you screw up. And you’ll fall into a tailspin. When you spin out of control because you made a mistake, you have two options: You can compare yourself to someone else and tell yourself that what you did isn’t as bad as what they did. Or you can compare yourself to what the Bible says and recognize that you screwed up and that God forgives.

Which do you think will make you happy? Maybe at first glance, you’d think comparing yourself to someone else. Because after all admitting that we’re wrong won’t make us happy, will it? You should try it sometime. It’s funny how much a relief admitting wrong is.

Wearing the burden of perfection is exhausting. Take it from someone who has been there. You can’t be perfect, and even if you could, it wears you out. Trying to be perfect doesn’t bring happiness; it just bring weariness.

So do what’s right. Obey the law. But don’t trust your future to it. Because you’re not good enough. The one person who was is Christ, and He took care of it. So trust Him and let the rest go.

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Whatever happens

I spent all of January posting about change because of everything that was transitioning in 2013. But let me just say, I had no idea how much things would change and how many aspects of my life were going to be affected. I knew about a couple of areas, but for now, let’s just say that I think a lot more is going to change by the end of 2013 than I expected.

I mean, first off, I’m getting a new phone. And not just a new phone to carry around with me, but a new phone service. I haven’t had a new phone service in nearly 20 years. But the way things are working out, for financial reasons, we had to do something different. And maybe that sounds like a small thing, but learning a new phone and a plan on top of everything else isn’t exactly simple. And there are all sorts of other things coming down the pipe, and to top it all off, there’s a big winter storm coming in today. And I don’t mind the snow, but the ice will be difficult.

And it would be so easy to sit down and point out all the negatives in all of these situations I’m dealing with, but I’m pretty sure the Bible says not to do that. And I’m pretty sure the Book of Philippians has a thing or two to say on just focusing on the negatives, but why does it matter? When everything changes and when you’re disappointed and when you’re tired of everything, what’s wrong with allowing yourself to feel unhappy?

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 3:1.

Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Sometimes life just happens. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, and you get caught up in the drama and the high emotion, and there’s nothing you can do about it except press forward. And it’s all you can do to drag yourself out of bed because you know you’re just going to face another day where you have to work a job that stresses you out or you have to face an unpleasant situation that you can’t control.

And it’s in those moments where I feel that I just want to sit down and cry. I want to curl up in a ball and not talk to anybody and not have to be a shining example of Christ to the world because I’m so tired of not having control. I’m so tired of everything going wrong. I’m so tired of finally getting the hang of something just to have it change on me again.

So why is it important to keep looking up when those moments come? Why can’t I tuck myself in a corner and refuse to listen to what God is saying?  What’s wrong with sinking into a dark hole and giving up?

Most of the time I worry about how my actions and reactions will affect the other believers around me. But in this instance, I don’t think that’s the concern. Yes, it’s important for mature Christians to be a good example to new believers, but it’s doubly important for mature Christians to have a healthy perspective of circumstances in their life. Because it won’t matter how long you’ve been following Christ; you’ll grow bitter toward Him. And bitterness and faith don’t really work well together.

Notice that Paul doesn’t say when things are good we are to rejoice in the Lord. He doesn’t even say when things are bad to rejoice in the Lord. He says whatever happens. Good or bad. Planned or unplanned. Expected or unexpected. Happy or not.

Rejoice if you got the job. Rejoice if you didn’t. Rejoice if someone you love dies. Rejoice if someone you love welcomes a new life into the world (shout out to Luis and Val Alicea and little Isabella who arrived at 1am today!). Rejoice if the sun is shining. Rejoice if it’s cloudy. Rejoice if everything is right. Rejoice if nothing is.

Rejoice. No matter what.

Why?

Because it will protect your faith.

Choosing to have joy is a hard thing, especially when you’re struggling emotionally. Choosing to be thankful even for the bad things in life is challenging because it’s so much easier to just give up. But if you give up, you’re stepping out of a story that’s bigger than you. You’re choosing to believe that God can’t use a difficult situation in spite of how difficult it is. You’re choosing to believe that God is unable or unwilling, and that’s not true.

But so many people harden themselves when God doesn’t give them what they want. And it’s not that God is holding back blessings. It’s just that He has something better planned. But we have to choose to believe that.

Notice also that Paul apparently has repeated this a couple of times. But he says he never gets tired of repeating it, probably because he needed to hear it every time he said it or every time he wrote it.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been a follower of Christ, I still struggle with this, because I get stuck in that dark place between opportunity and challenge where I can see how God could give me everything I want. But then He turns around and sets me on a completely different path from what I thought He wanted. And I don’t know how to deal with that. I don’t understand many times why He does the things He does.

But let’s be honest for a moment. Do you really want to know what He has planned? If I think back ten or even fifteen years, I would have never imagined He could have brought me this far, and if He had told me about the responsibilities I would be trusted with as a 30 year old when I was a goofy little 15 year old? I would have had a coronary.

God has plans for us. They’re good plans. Plans to give us hope and a future. But the world is broken and so are we. And it’s rarely an instance of God just snapping His fingers or wiggling His nose in order to get us what we want; there’s usually some attitudes that have to be changed on our part before we can get there. And there are definitely challenges we have to overcome first. But if we can persevere through the challenges and through the difficulties and maintain the joy that we have on the good days throughout the bad days, something miraculous happens.

We grow up. We get stronger. And our faith increases because God proves Himself over and over again through difficult times. And later on down the road, He’ll usually give us what we want. We just have to want Him more first. If we can want Him and want what He wants more than anything, then facing trouble with a smile isn’t that hard because you realize that anything He allows is just going to help you later on.

Little pink flowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Little is much

Do you want to do something amazing for God? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re okay with sitting on the sidelines and never jumping into a ministry, and that’s okay if you’re satisfied with a life that doesn’t make a real difference. But if you’re the kind of Christ-follower who wants God to be pleased, what do you do with yourself?

I know some people who are able to give financially to the things that God is doing around the world. And I’m not just talking a few dollars here and there. But not everyone can do that, including me. Others jump into full-time ministry and get to serve God for their actual job, and that sounds amazing. But not everyone can do that either. The rest of us have responsibilities, and while you don’t have to have any special qualifications to go into full-time ministry, it does need to be something God has called you to do.

So how can you do something amazing for God if you can’t give lots of money or you aren’t in full-time ministry?

Little pink flowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Little pink flowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:16-18.

Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.

I get frustrated because I can’t do more for God. I try to squeeze things into my calendar until I’m so overwhelmed with busyness I don’t even know which end is up anymore. What stood out to me in this verse this morning is a pretty simple concept: Faithful service is an offering to God.

See that?

Paul is talking about how he will be proud that his work and sacrifice was useful if the people of the Church of Philippi hold on to the truth, and even if he were to die, he would still rejoice. The way Paul looked at it, his life was an offering to God. And, while I think we should all look at our lives that way, we shouldn’t discount how important our willingness to serve is to God.

Are you doing something to serve other people right now? Do you look at it as something that doesn’t matter? Something that’s not important? That’s a lie. If you are helping someone else, you’re a hero. If you are offering your love and hard work to help another person, you’re awesome. That’s not something you have to do. That’s not something you can be forced to do. That’s something you choose to do, and if you do it faithfully, over and over and over, when it isn’t requested and when it hurts you financially and emotionally, don’t think that God doesn’t notice.

He does.

So be encouraged. Because the one thing that can please God is faith (Hebrews 11:6). If you’re faithful in your service to others in the name of Christ, you will make a difference for God. And even if the difference you’re making is small, God has a habit of taking small things and making them huge.

The Bible is full of stories where God took something small and used it to change the world.

So if you’re tired and weary from the work you’re doing, don’t give up. Keep working. Keep trusting. And keep everything in perspective because even if you are only able to do a little, God can take that little and do awesome things with it. That’s who He is. That’s who He was in the Old Testament. That’s who Christ introduced us to in the New Testament. And that’s who is here today. He’ll be here tomorrow too.

Don’t give up. There’s an old hymn called “Little Is Much When God Is In It” and I’ve got it stuck in my head at the moment because it’s so true. Part of living a happy life is putting others before yourself, and part of putting others before yourself is service. And anyone can serve. You can hold doors for people. You can help people carry groceries. You can listen to a friend when they need to talk. You can pray.

Don’t take any of those “small” things for granted. Because they aren’t small to the person who you’re helping, and they’re not small to God either.

Branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Complaining is normal–but it’s not helpful

What is it about complaining that makes us feel better? Is it something inside us that yearns to focus on a negative? Is it something about people that longs to get everyone to say negative things about other people, about situations, about our jobs? I don’t know, but there is something about complaining that satisfies (temporarily) a darkness inside me. And it’s so much easier to complain about the difficult aspects of life than it is to look on the bright side.

But complaining doesn’t really fix anything. And it doesn’t actually satisfy either. Maybe it makes you feel better for a little while, but it doesn’t last because nothing changes. You don’t change. Your situation won’t chance. Your perspective won’t change. And so neither will your attitude. Complaining doesn’t change anything; it just allows you to sink deeper into depression, and usually you end up taking other people with you.

But what does the Bible say about complaining?

Branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Branches of the old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:14-15.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.

Ouch. Notice it doesn’t say live for Christ without complaining. It doesn’t say work without complaining. It doesn’t say serve without complaining. It says everything. Whatever you do, wherever you go, whatever you’re dealing with, do it without either complaining or arguing.

Double ouch.

Oh, and it gets worse. Wait til you read it in the Amplified Version:

Do all things without grumbling and fault-finding and complaining [against God] and questioning and doubting [among yourselves], That you may show yourselves to be blameless and guileless, innocent and uncontaminated, children of God without blemish (faultless, unrebukable) in the midst of a crooked and wicked generation [spiritually perverted and perverse], among whom you are seen as bright lights (stars or beacons shining out clearly) in the [dark] world,

Did you catch that at the beginning? Two points:

  1. Do all things without grumbling and fault-finding and complaining against God.
  2. Do all things without questioning and doubting among yourselves.

Whoa. Let’s stop right there for a moment because I always thought this verse only referred to our relationship with other people and not our relationship with God.

I mean, who grumbles and finds fault and complains against God? I mean, God knows best, doesn’t He? When He gives us tasks to do, don’t we do them immediately? When He tells us how we’re supposed to live, don’t we obey? When He allows us to go through difficult times, we all realize it’s going to work out for the best, right?

Anyone else not there? Because that’s me.

I mean, in my head I know that God knows best and that He’s working everything out and that His way is best. I know it. But knowing it and living like I believe it are two separate things. And it’s the living like I believe it part that trips me up. Because if I really believe it, I would do what God asks without grumbling about it. I wouldn’t hesitate. I wouldn’t point out all the ways that God’s plan could go wrong.

And after I spend all my time poking holes in God’s plan, I’m too scared to move forward because I’ve convinced myself that I’m not the one God can use and that He wouldn’t really want me anyway. And guess where that leads?

Unhappiness. Discontentment. Because if God is calling you to do something, you won’t be happy until you do it.

But what we also have to realize is that nothing in this world is easy. And even if we agree to do what God has called us to do, it won’t be simple. Life won’t give us a break because we tell God yes. Actually, our enemy will come charging after us like a raging bull when we say yes to God. And we have to be prepared for that, otherwise our attitude will falter. And even if we’re doing what God has called us to do, we will fall back into our habit of complaining and griping and fault-finding with God and with each other. And before you know it, even if you’re living your dream, you’ll be unhappy again.

It’s normal to complain. It’s normal to blame God for your problems. It’s normal to argue with people. But as Christ-followers, we aren’t called to be normal. We are called to be different. We’re supposed to stand out. We’re supposed to be obvious, shining like stars against the black backdrop of the empty void of space.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to be different among people who don’t believe. And the easiest way is to not complain. The easiest way to point people to Christ is to not point fingers at each other. The easiest way to be happy is to stop complaining, stop focusing on what’s wrong and start looking at what’s right.

If you do that, you’ll bring light to the people around you. If you do that, you’ll be a breath of fresh air to your office, to your home, to your school, and even to your church.

So stop complaining. Stop blaming God. Stop arguing with other people. Focus on what you’re called to do and be thankful that God has a use for you, and while you wait for further instruction, praise God for who He is and what He’s done. I guarantee you won’t be able to complain when you’re thanking God for what you have. And a thankful person is a lot more pleasant to be around than one who complains all the time.

Wheat ready for harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Get off the couch

I have a long list of things I enjoy that are complete time wasters. They don’t really accomplish anything, but I do enjoy doing them. Sleeping. Reading. Watching movies. Surfing Youtube. Daydreaming. The list goes on and on. And the irony is that those things we enjoy so much take time, but they make us happy. Or at least we think they do. And maybe they do for a while, but the more time you spend doing them rather than doing the things you know you should do, the more unhappy you’ll become.

There is joy in accomplishment. There is something remarkably satisfying about seeing how dirty my kitchen is and then comparing it to when I have finished doing my dishes. I feel like I’ve actually done something. It’s amazing!

Right now, my kitchen is a nightmare. It’s been a busy two weeks, but honestly I had time to do dishes on Wednesday night. Yes, I chose to do laundry instead, but I could have done dishes at the same time. I just didn’t. And now my kitchen is still dirty. But I chose to do something else instead of cleaning, and while I enjoyed what I was doing, I’m still bothered that the kitchen is dirty.

Wheat ready for harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat ready for harvest at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:12-13.

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

It’s easy to work when someone is supervising you. When your boss is around, it’s easy to do what they want. When your parents are around, it’s easy to do the things that make them happy. And in making them happy, you feel happy. But when you’re on your own, it’s not so easy. You have to be self-motivated, and self-motivation is difficult.

But like Paul is telling the Philippians in these verses, hard work is important, and not necessarily physical work. I used doing the dishes as an example because it’s the most normal thing I struggle with doing. But what Paul is talking about is working on deepening our relationship with Christ. He’s not saying we have to work to earn our salvation. No, that’s not it at all. Nobody can earn salvation. What he’s saying is that we have a responsibility to demonstrate that we have been saved, and we can only do that with hard work, both physically, spiritually and emotionally.

There’s a complicated three-step process here that I learned about in a biblical doctrines class a long time ago, and it throws people for a loop every time. But I’m going to try to simplify it because it’s important and it makes sense.

When we choose to follow Christ, we go through what this doctrine calls justification. It’s immediate. It’s complete. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, and because we didn’t earn it in the first place, it can’t be taken away from us. But just because we have been justified by Christ in the eyes of God doesn’t make us perfect. On the contrary, it just splits us in half because we have the redeemed part of ourselves, but we also have the part of ourselves that remains tied to the world. So the Christian life becomes a struggle between doing what our sinful self wants to do and doing what God has told us to do.

The process of that struggle of learning how to follow Christ is called sanctification. And it takes our entire life on earth. We’re going to fail. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to stumble and struggle and do things and say things that we’re going to regret. This is where the hard work comes in. This is where our responsibility comes in. This is where we have to make the choice to do what God has told us to do in the Bible or to do what we want to do anyway. And that’s hard work. But eventually, when we reach the end of our life on earth (no matter how long it might be), this process comes to an end as God takes us home.

Then we get to experience the third part, glorification, when step into our new lives, when we shed our earthly body and take on the perfect body that God has for us. No more struggle. No more sin.

This three-step process confuses people because they think once they accept Christ, they should be perfect. And that’s not the case. Nobody’s perfect except Christ, but with His power we can make the right decisions. And that’s where verse 13 comes in.

If you know Christ, and if you’ve chosen to follow Him, He will give you not only the desire to do His will but also the power to make it happen.

Can you still choose to sit on the couch and veg? Sure. But you won’t be happy. Maybe you’ll think you are for a little while, but you won’t really be. If you’re a Christ-follower, you have a purpose here. God has something for you to do, and if you’re ignoring it, you’re going to be discontent. It’s a like a Sheltie stuck indoors with nowhere to run. You’re wired to do something specific, and if you refuse to do it, you’ll be restless and unhappy until you do.

Want to be happy, American Christian? Get off the couch and get to work.