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.

Oil rig lit up before sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico from Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Living like salt and light is a calling

Have you noticed that if you start living the way the Bible says to live that people kind of look at you funny? I mean, it’s one thing to tell people that you’re a Christian. It’s another thing to live like one because people who don’t believe (or people who believe but don’t follow) don’t understand.

If we start living our lives focusing on the things that matter to God, we’re going to stand out. That’s just the way it is because the way God-followers live is different from the way other people live. And that is the point.

Oil rig lit up before sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico from Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Oil rig lit up before sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico from Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:13-16.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Christians are often called salt and light. If you’ve spent any time in the church, you’ve probably heard that statement–that we are called to be salt and light. And as a child, I used to wonder what on earth that meant. I just knew it was in the Bible so it was important, but I didn’t really get how it was supposed to happen.

But here’s what I’ve learned about things we are “called” to do: We can’t do them on our own.

Yes, we can prepare for them. Yes, we can expect them. Yes, we can hope for them. But as far as accomplishing our calling, I don’t think we have the power or the ability or the foresight or the strength to make it happen on our own. We can know what we’re called to do, and we can be ready for when it’s time to move. But we have no control over when that starter pistol goes off. That’s up to God. We just have to be prepared for when those marching orders come.

An example? I’m called to be a writer. I have been since I was young. I have always had a gift with words and communication, and it’s always been my dream to use my gifts to help other people get to know who God is, whether they believe in Him or not. But being a writer is a difficult task. Anyone can write, but being a writer takes a lot of practice and a lot of rejection and a lot of time. A lot of time, which means it also requires a lot of patience.

I prepared to be a writer as much as I could. I learned how to write. I learned what to do and what not to do and when I can do the things I’m not supposed to do (that’s the trick with writing because there are no hard and fast rules). And I expect and hope that one of these days I will get to use my writing on a greater scale than just a blog or three-minute sketches at church. That’s my calling, but I have no control over when that’s going to happen. All I can do is be ready.

And I might be wrong, but I think it’s that way with any calling. I don’t think God is going to call us to accomplish something that we can do in our own strength. Otherwise, what’s the point?

If you believe in Christ, you are salt. If you believe in Christ, you are light. What does that mean?

That means, Christ in you is like salt to the world. A preservative and an irritant. Salt both preserves things and irritates things, though usually that irritation comes when salt is cleansing a wound. And the part about being a light? It’s the same thing. Christ in you is like light to the world–shining in darkness, obvious and beautiful, and revealing. But it’s not you or me who is the salt. It’s not you or me who is the light. It’s Christ in us.

We are called to be salt and light, but we can’t do that without Christ. We are called to live different, but we can’t do it without Christ. But if we focus on the things that matter to God, if we live the way the Bible says to live, our lives will be different naturally. If you love God, love people, do right, love mercy, walk humbly, and keep believing, your life can’t help but look different. And being different matters to God? Why?

Because the more like salt you are, the more like light you are, the less likely people who don’t believe yet will be able to ignore you.

So live like the Bible says today. Live according to the things that matter, and your life will be different. You will be happy, and the people around you will wonder what you have that they don’t. And then you can tell them.

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.

Butterfly on a rock in a stream

Choosing to change the way you think

Going with the flow is easy. Blending into a crowd is easy. Just dress the same as everyone else, talk the same as everyone else, walk the same as everyone else, and you won’t stand out at all. But do we really want to live our lives as carbon copies of each other? Is that what we were supposed to do? Is that how we were supposed to live?
We weren’t intended to blend into the scenery. We were all created unique, with specific and obvious differences to make us stand out. So why do we feel like we have to fit in to the stereotypical roles the world has created? We can choose what is right. Or we can choose what is wrong. And the first step in living a life that truly represents who you actually are as an individual is choosing to change the way you think.
Did you realize that you have command over that? Did you realize you can change the way you think? That you’re not trapped in the vicious cycle of the same kind of thinking as everyone else in the world? I think our society has lost this fact. People like Copernicus and Galileo, Newton and Da Vinci, Edison and Einstein, George Washington Carver and Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — they thought outside the box. They made the decision to think differently than everyone else around them, and they changed the world.
Butterfly on a rock in a stream

Butterfly on a rock in a steam - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

What’s interesting to me is how people think they can be unique and individual by copying each other. It’s common in the culture we live in. People think they’re expressing their individuality by following a fad or dressing like other people who feel the same way they do, but all they’re doing is copying someone else.

The only way to truly live a life that expresses who you are is to be honest about who you are, to yourself and to God. Today’s verse is Romans 12:2.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
If you want to be a new person, one who is 100% you and no one else, you have to change the way you think about everything. You have to change the way you view life. You have to change the way you view people. You have to change the way you view eternity. You have to change the way you view tragedy and death and sadness and trials and unhappiness. You have to change the way you view success and failure. You can’t just look at everything the world says is good and agree. You can’t look at everything the world says is bad and agree.
You have to view your life like God views it.
Some people might say that choosing to change your thinking to be like God’s is just trying to copy God instead of being yourself. Read the verse again. It doesn’t say that God will change you to be like Him if you change the way you think. It says that God will transform you into a new person. Not a copy of Himself.
If He wanted copies of Himself, He would have created them.  But He didn’t. He created us. And He did it for a reason.
At the end of the day, we all have a choice. We can either choose to follow the trends and popular opinion of the culture we live in. Or we can choose to change our thinking to be what God has declared in Scripture. Both choices have consequences, but only one will transform you into a new person.

Diplomatic immunity

I love the Lethal Weapon series. Yes, it’s profane but the story is fantastic and so are the characters, not to mention the acting. You might think it’s funny, but when I read the verse of the day today, I immediately thought of Lethal Weapon 2.

No, not the part about blowing up a toilet (although that’s got to be one of the best movie moments in cinema history).

The very end part — where the Facist South African ambassador is standing on the top deck of the ship, shooting Riggs over and over again and Murtaugh takes aim to take him down.  The ambassador holds up his credentials and shouts, “Diplomatic immunity!” And Murtaugh, with his trusty six-shooter, shoots him anyway.

How many times have we been there? Not literally, obviously, because I’m pretty sure I’ve never shot anybody. But as Christians, we are ambassadors for Christ. So how many of us use that position like Arjen Rudd did in Lethal Weapon 2? We use the power we obtain to live the life we want to live, and we don’t care who we hurt along the way. And, more importantly, we don’t care what people think about us and leave most people with a sour taste in our mouths when they think about Christianity. This is what the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20:

19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

 We speak for Christ. We are His ambassadors on Earth. That’s our job.

As Christ’s ambassadors, though, we won’t be punished when we go to heaven. If you know Christ, you’re safe. It’s our own brand of diplomatic immunity, I suppose. We’re here to reach out to people and show them God’s love through Christ, but most of the time, don’t we usually just think about ourselves? Do we even bother thinking about how our actions will hurt other people? Or do we consider how our actions might make people think about Christ? There’s an old saying that you are the only Bible some people will ever read, and that’s very true. If someone who doesn’t believe looks at your life and sees nothing attractive about it, why would they want anything to do with your faith?

Because of God’s love and mercy, even if we live that way, we still get to go to heaven — but the people we’ve hurt or influenced won’t.

So pay attention to how you act and what you say. People are watching more closely than you think. And in today’s world, you don’t have to wear a skirt or speak in King James English to be different. All you have to do is love people, and everyone will notice.

Okay? Okay. Okay. Okay-okay-okay. Okay.