The value of being genuine and the cost of being fake

antique-value-genuine-fake-love_1170x350

Most Monday nights, my roomie and I grab our fleece blankets and watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Sometimes we color, and other times we just watch, but we always marvel at the array of valuable items people hang on their walls or use for storing spare change.

And then sometimes we grimace in sympathy for the poor folks who bring in priceless artifacts that turn out to be reproductions. Items these people spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on are worth only pennies in comparison.

That should tell us something about the value of being genuine, not just in living but in living for Christ.

I like genuine people. I like knowing that the person I’m talking to is real, honest, transparent. I like knowing that they’re telling me exactly what they feel, because then there’s no surprises later. But how many genuine people do we really know? How many genuine Christ-followers do we know?

We can find a definition for being a genuine Christ-follower in 1 John 4:20-21. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

You don’t get much clearer than that. If you want to be a genuine Christ-follower, you need to love people. What I find interesting is that this passage says we’re supposed to love other Christ-followers. Shouldn’t that be easy?

Have you ever been around a church?

Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. I’ve been blessed with so many awesome Christ-followers in my life, and they are priceless to me. But I’ve also been surrounded by Christians who aren’t so nice.

Religion and church people have torn me up inside. They’ve cut me to ribbons and left me bruised and broken at the side of the road. And other church people have seen me lying there and kept on walking. The people in my life who have dealt me the deepest wounds are people who claim to follow Jesus.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You can’t let what someone else has done to you force you into being someone God never intended you to be.[/su_pullquote]

It’s not okay. But if you’ve been there, you’re not alone. And you can’t let what someone else has done to you force you into being someone God never intended you to be.

Jesus didn’t save us because we’re smart or funny or pretty. He didn’t save us because we’re popular or the best at something. Jesus saved us because He loves us for who we are. He’s the only one who really knows us that well anyway.

So why not be real? Why not be genuine? Sure, it’s a little scary to reveal your heart and your soul to other people. Believe me. I’m an introvert. I know.

Why not love people? Loving others can be dangerous, yes. You always risk your heart when you love, but focus instead on loving God more than you love people. And He’ll give you the love you need to share with others.

Being genuine, loving people, doesn’t really cost you anything. Being with people costs you less in emotional damage than the price you pay by hiding your heart.

You want to be valued? Be genuine. You want to be genuine, Christians? Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s words. Not mine.

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Being authentic is about how you listen

When I was a kid, keeping up appearances was pretty normal. Not that you were expected to lie about having a bad day or any of the tough stuff that was going on in life. Not at all. It was just better if you didn’t burden other people with it. That was sort of the general environment of most churches I attended as a younger person. I mean, if you were really having a bad time, you could talk to a pastor or a deacon, but just regular old church-goers didn’t really have the time or the resources to help. That’s just the way it was.

But church in today’s world is a little different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who won’t talk about the difficult things in their lives, but it’s expected now that everyone will be transparent. You walk into a church or a school or a business, and you are who you are. And to a certain extent, that’s somewhat liberating. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to put on a brave face. You can just be yourself.

But what does “being yourself” actually look like? What does it mean? Can you really be 100% transparent with other people, or do you need to draw the line somewhere?

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:14-17.

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Being who you are is more than how you dress or how you speak or how you walk. You are more than the clothes you wear or the food you eat or the places you’ve been or the number of letters after your name or the complexity of your job description. That’s not who you are.

I used to be all about me and what I wanted. And even after I chose to follow Jesus, I still wanted my own way most of the time (sometimes I still do!). But over the years, God’s really taught me that I need to be about Him instead of me. The new life He gave me isn’t focused on what I want or what I need or how I can get the most out of life. No, my New Life is about what God wants me to do and how He wants me to do it.

But does having New Life and being a New Creation mean I shouldn’t talk about my problems? Not at all. One of the reasons why Christ-followers are encouraged (commanded, really) to gather together is to pray for each other, to encourage each other, to help each other. And nobody can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong.

But it does mean that you’re humble. You see your troubles from a new perspective. You see them as lessons that God is allowing you to experience so that you can learn something. And you recognize that God has every right to do whatever He wants with your life, without your permission.

That’s what it means to have faith. Authentic faith.

If you are a Christ-follower, you are new. Period. You aren’t the same person you were yesterday, or you shouldn’t be. God is changing you every day, the longer you follow Him, teaching your heart, teaching your soul, how to live the kind of life He wants. And you’re either listening to Him or ignoring Him.

Authenticity isn’t complaining. It’s not pointing fingers. It’s not getting up in arms about everything you think is unfair in your life. I mean, if that’s where you are right now, that’s fine, and you need to talk about it. And you should be honest about the way you feel. But if you want to be an authentic Christ-follower, be honest about what God is teaching you right now. Maybe it’s a good lesson. Maybe it’s a hard lesson. But you know it’s a lesson, and you know you need to learn it.

If you’re authentic, you’ll accept that you’ve still got a long way to go before you become the person God wants you to be. And you’ll be thankful for how far God has brought you, because you know you’re not the person you used to be. And if you’re struggling to understand why God is allowing you to go through these difficult times, bring it up. Ask someone. Please, please ask someone. Don’t hesitate to find another Christ-follower and tell them about where you are in your life and how you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be willing to listen to a godly answer.

It’s one thing to talk. It’s something else to listen and do something about it.

You can look perfect outside and be a wreck inside

Think of your favorite television show character or your favorite character from a novel. Just name someone. Why do you like that character so much? There are all sorts of reasons why people identify with fictional characters, and, as a novelist, it’s fascinating for me to understand why. But one thing I’ve discovered in most character studies is that people respond to vulnerabilities.

You could have a character in a book or movie that has no weakness, never screws up, never makes enemies, but I’m not sure anyone would like him. He’d be boring. At a writer’s conference I was just at, one of the speakers explained that the human brain’s favorite story is a story of struggle. Those are the tales we love, and, by extension, those are the characters we love too.

If you identify a favorite fictional character that you’ve seen or read about, just think for a moment about what kind of vulnerabilities that character has. And I’m not talking about weaknesses. I mean the bits and pieces of their lives that humanize them. The dust on their bookshelves, the disordered chaos of their spaceship, the wrinkles in their superhero cape, and their willingness to share it with others or hide it.

I’d be willing to bet that your favorite character has some quirks and tics that make him or her vulnerable, because that’s what makes a character likable. And in real life, it’s also what makes a person real.

70L5UYL0FO_1555x1037Today’s verses are 1 Peter 3:3-4.

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

This verse is mainly directed at women, but I think the context is relevant to both genders. We live in world that’s obsessed with appearances. We’re told every moment of every day how we should look, and if we don’t conform, there’s something wrong with us. We’re instructed to fill in all the gaps, to fix all the cracks, and to patch up the dents by whatever means necessary so that we don’t give people the idea that we’re unprofessional or uneducated or unpopular.

Dye your hair. Bleach your teeth. Pluck your eyebrows. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but don’t you ever get tired of not being real? Don’t you ever wonder if the face of the person sitting across from you is their actual face? Or is it a mask they’ve applied to keep people from getting too close?

Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak. It’s about admitting that you don’t have it all together. It’s knowing that your bookshelves are dusty and your trash cans are full and your workspace is messy and still being okay if other people see it. That’s hard to do. It’s difficult to open yourself up to criticism that way, because people are critical. People like to poke fun at others for a variety of reasons, and if you open your heart to another human being, you’re always taking the risk that it will backfire.

You can look perfect on the outside and be a wreck inside. You can give the appearance of having it all together but in reality your world is falling apart. When you’re out in the world or at work or at church, you just slip your mask on and pretend like everything is fine, until you get home, and there’s no one to face the darkness by your side. Why would there be? You’ve convinced everyone that there is no darkness.

No one is strong enough to get through life alone. And it is absolutely possible to make people think you’re fine when you really aren’t. And, sure, it’s scary to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s terrifying to open your life to someone else’s scrutiny, but it’s what’s inside you that matters the most. The person you are in your soul is the person who will live forever, not the made-up, all-together fashion plate on the outside.

Instead of worrying about whether or not you look like you’ve got life figured out, spend some time actually figuring life out by reading the Bible and listening to what God says. He’ll tell you how to live. He’ll tell you what’s important.

So let’s get vulnerable. Let’s get real. That doesn’t mean you walk around telling everyone your troubles and your sorrows. But it does mean that you aren’t ashamed of them.

The three Duck Dynasty amigos (or amigas, more accurately), Wichita, KS

Save the costumes for Halloween

The last time I went trick-or-treating, I was in fourth grade. I think it was fourth grade. I dressed up as a clown, complete with the rainbow colored wig and big poofy pants and even the false nose. And I enjoyed myself thoroughly. There’s something fun—maybe even liberating—about dressing up and pretending to be somebody else.

Too much after that age, though, I think trick-or-treating is usually frowned upon. You get weird looks if you show up on somebody’s doorstep in a costume with a plastic bucket begging for candy.

Grown-ups don’t put on masks and costumes. At least, that’s the general supposition by the adult world. And I find that entirely ironic, because adults are better at wearing masks and costumes than any other demographic in the world.

The three Duck Dynasty amigos (or amigas, more accurately), Wichita, KS

The three Duck Dynasty amigos (or amigas, more accurately), Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Samuel 16:7.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I’m not sure where the desire to dress up as someone else comes from, but there’s something fun about it. Wearing clothes you wouldn’t normally wear. Acting in a way you wouldn’t normally act. I mean, give me a Jedi robe, and all of a sudden I want to get in a laser sword fight with somebody. That’s not a normal inclination for me to feel.

But practically speaking, outside of Halloween or fall festivals or whatever you want to call it, a lot more people get up in the mornings and put on costumes than you think. Most of them are adults, and they do it every day.

They wear clothes they don’t like to impress people. They paint their face up to present an image that doesn’t really exist. They force themselves to act in a way that’s inconsistent with their values or their personality. They’re playing a part.

Know anyone like that? Or maybe you’re that person.

Maybe it started out fun. You got to pretend that you were someone the world calls important. You got to become what the world calls successful or beautiful or accomplished. And that’s a good feeling for a little while. But even the most fun costume becomes a chore after you wear it for a long time. And what started out as being liberating turned into chains around your ankles.

Granted, just because you wear clothes you don’t enjoy doesn’t automatically mean that you’re wearing a mask or that you’re covering anything up. But the people I know who have to dive in to a hugely competitive job market or a truly aggressive corporate environment have to put on a face that isn’t their own. Otherwise, they’ll never succeed.

But if you spend too long wearing a mask, covering up who you really are, you run the risk of convincing yourself that you are that person.

So often we are dissatisfied with the way we look or our lack of talent in a particular area, and we do everything in our power to change it. And that’s not necessarily wrong. We should always try to improve ourselves. But when that desire to change comes from an internal motivation that we aren’t good enough the way we were made, that’s different.

I’m a firm believer that people need to be who they were created to be. We don’t need to change ourselves. We don’t need to pretend to be someone else. We don’t need to exchange our gifts for someone else’s. God made us exactly the way He wants us, and if we try to change that, we’re telling Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing.

So what if you’re short? So what if you’re tall? Too skinny, too round, too light, too heavy, too this, too that. So what if you have a big nose or a double chin? So what if your shoes can double as tugboats?

Know what? God made you. Yes, you have a responsibility to be healthy. Yes, you have a responsibility to live the way God has said is right, which means being true to God’s Word. But none of that means you need to put on a mask in order for others to accept you. Your real friends and the people who matter will accept you for the person you are.

So just be you. And save your costumes for Halloween.

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Nothing perfect about us–except Christ

I’m a people pleaser to the nth degree. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been working in customer service for so long or if I got into customer service to begin with because I’m a people pleaser. Either way, that was the first thing I had to learn when I started working a marketing job; I wasn’t in customer service anymore. So I couldn’t work like I was.

But I suspect I was just born that way. What about you? Have you got any hang ups or habits that you were born with or that you developed over time and just haven’t been able to break? Assuming that your personality quirks aren’t dangerous to yourself or others, there’s nothing really wrong with them.

So why are we afraid to be who we are? I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people who hide their real selves away for fear of rejection by others.

Now, when people say you should just be who you are, a lot of the time they’re talking about doing what you want or behaving in a way that doesn’t accept accountability or responsibility. But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about being real, being genuine with people regardless of what they think about you. Because the only Person who matters in that situation is God, and He’s already told us what He thinks about us.

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Stone bridge at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Romans 5:8.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Think about that. What does God think about us? He loved us enough to send Jesus to die for us while we were sinners. Read that: while we were His enemies.

He loved us enough as His enemies to die for us so that we could become His family.

He loved you, the real you buried underneath all the posturing and posing and faking and words, enough to die for you. God knows the real you, and He loves the real you. He loved you before you were born. He died for you before you were born.

So why are you afraid to be you in front of other people? Why are you afraid to be yourself?

I’m talking to myself here. I have hidden away for so long because I didn’t want to bother people with my problems. I didn’t want to worry people or upset people. I was afraid to share my doubts and my failures and my flaws because I didn’t want people to think the wrong thing about me.

But people can think the wrong thing about you whether you put on a perfect face or not. It’s so much better to live life without secrets and be genuinely yourself. There aren’t any skeletons in the closet to find if you carry them around in the open.

So the next time you’re tempted to answer the dreaded question: “How are you?” with a lame: “Fine,” think about it. Are you saying you’re fine when you really aren’t? Who cares if they didn’t really want you to tell them what’s really going on? If you answer them honestly and they didn’t want an honest answer, that’s not your fault.

Just be truthful. Just be genuine. Don’t hide your problems. We’re all flawed people. We’re all failures. We’re all forgiven. Not one of us is good enough to make it without God’s grace, and not one of us is strong enough to walk through life alone.

Let’s start sharing our loads. Let’s start being open and honest with each other, and maybe the world will realize that there’s nothing perfect about Christianity except Christ.

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Wardrobe malfunctions don’t impress God

How do you demonstrate that you’ve changed? How do you show that you’ve become a different person? It’s difficult to do in some cases because so many times a heart change isn’t visible from the outside. If your heart changes–well, you still look the same. That’s what’s difficult about change; most of the time you have to take people’s word that they have.

Like an apology. How do you know it’s sincere? It’s not like you can judge by how many tears somebody cries or how much their voice wavers when they speak because every person is different. Well, until someone’s actions prove their words are sincere, you can’t really tell if an apology was real. Until you get to see how someone has changed, you won’t really know that the change was real, no matter if they claim it was or not. Granted, I believe we’re supposed to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But God knows what’s real and what isn’t.

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Joel 2:12-13.

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish.

In the culture of the Old Testament, it was common to tear your own clothing when you were mourning. It was a symbol of intense grief. So if you’re ever reading the Bible and someone in the Old Testament starts tearing their clothes, they’re not having a wardrobe malfunction. They’re demonstrating repentance. They’re showing how sorry they are for something or how upset they are about something.

Well, I’m sure it started out as a way for a very passionate culture to show their hearts to other people, but as time passed, it became a symbol like any other symbol. It developed its own meaning in the culture, and all you’d have to do is tear your clothes and everyone would think that you were sorry for what you’ve done–whether you really were or not.

Kind of like our own culture. Do something wrong, and call a press conference to offer a tearful apology. Do something wrong, and agree to go on a famous talk show and tell your side of the story. Do something wrong and write a book about it. And most of the time, our culture buys it. Why? Well, they stood up and said they were sorry. And we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that’s good.

But it’s not about telling the culture that you’re sorry. The point of apologizing for something you did wrong isn’t to show the world that you made a mistake. I mean, that’s an important part of it. To tell the truth. But that’s not the main point. The main point of apologizing for your actions when you have done wrong is to tell God. It’s to come before Almighty God and admit to Him that what you did was wrong and that you repent, that you are sorry, that you won’t do it again, and that you need His help.

And God knows if you’re just tearing your clothes.

He can see our hearts. He knows our motivation. He knows. So trying to put on a show for Him doesn’t work. He’s not interested if it isn’t real.

That’s what these verses mean. Don’t tear your clothes; tear your heart instead. If you’ve done wrong, be sorry. Don’t just offer Him a half-hearted apology that doesn’t affect you. If you’ve done wrong (and everyone has), be sorry and change your mind about what you did. That’s the difference. You can be sorry about what you did all day long, but until you change your mind about it, it won’t have the effect you’re hoping for. And this is true for any sin. Big sins. Little sins. All sins.

You have to examine your own life and your own actions, and you have to compare them (not to each other) but to Scripture. Is what you did wrong according to the Bible and the way God says to live? If it is wrong by that standard, you have sinned.

Guess what? So have I! And I hate it. As a perfectionistic, performance-driven person, I hate the things I do that don’t match up to God’s Word. I get so frustrated with myself because I want to be perfect, but I can’t be. And God knows that. But that doesn’t mean I can give up and live however I want and lead others to live however they want. That just means I won’t be perfect, and God is going to pick me up again when I fall.

This month has been about change. It’s what I’ve been studying. And the one facet of change that I keep coming back to is that real heart change is impossible without God. And honestly, a real change of mind is impossible without God and without the Bible. But the first step of reaching that real change of mind is ours. It’s our choice. It’s up to us to look at what God says is right and judge our actions by that standard, and if we find something wrong in our lives, we need to change our minds about it. And then we need to apply Scripture in our lives, and before you know it, your heart will change too.

So make a choice. Change your mind, and God will change your heart. He doesn’t care how sorry you look or how sorry you feel. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t intend to change, and if all you’ve done is put on a good show, maybe you’ll have people fooled, but as far as God is concerned, you’ll just have a ripped up shirt.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Walking on porcupines

Have you ever tried to get a picture of a porcupine? Well, if you do, good for you. I’ve never seen a real one. So I have no photographs of porcupines, but I do have hippos. And that will work for today, because I’m not talking about real porcupines anyway. I’m actually talking about friendship.

I don’t think I post enough about friendships. I don’t even know where to start most of the time because I am so overwhelmed and so thankful to be friends with such amazing people.

Our friends determine so much in our lives. And if you have awesome friends — and I mean truly awesome friends and not just popular ones — you should count yourself fortunate.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Hippos working on their tans – Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Who are your friends? Do your friends ask more from you than they expect of themselves? Do your friends treat you the way you treat them? Do your friends love God? Do your friends speak truth? Do your friends give you sound advice based in Scripture and tempered with the love of God?

If you have friends like that, you are richer than the richest man in the universe. Because there are “friends” out there who will hang out with you just because they want something from you. There are “friends” out there who need a prop. And even though they may be your “friends” when they feel like it, the day will eventually come when they won’t have time for you. And they’ll drop you like a rock.

I always told myself that I didn’t really need friends, that I could get along just fine without them. And, if we’re being honest here, that’s probably true. But how lonely would life be? How empty would life be? And, truthfully, how much more difficult would life be? If I didn’t have my friends to rely on and blow up on and cry on, life would be much harder than it is now.

Today’s verse just made me think about friendship and what it really is. Because true friendship goes beyond blood. It stretches deeper than DNA and further than a family name. Because we don’t get to choose our families; we choose our friends. And, what’s more important, our friends choose us. And what’s more, true friends keep choosing us even when we have a bad day, even when we’re struggling at work or at home, even when we snap, even when we don’t feel good.

Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through a field of porcupines? Just think about that. It wouldn’t be pleasant at all. They’re volatile and unpredictable, and they’re covered in needles. All it would take is one wrong move, and they’ll let loose a volley of needles that will leave you wincing.

But no one walks on porcupines. I’m sure there’s some kind of fee or fine you have to pay for that. But even though we don’t actually walk on porcupines, we do have to walk through life. And life can have its needles and touchy spots. And so many times through Scripture, God talks about friends and walking. It’s not unusual to see the concept of friendship lined right up with the concept of walking through life.

Why? Well, think about it. What else do friends do but walk with you, even through the most difficult times in your life? That’s what friends are for.

I got to thinking about this verse because of a birthday present one of my friends gave me. Silly socks covered in porcupines! They’re adorable! And they’re bright, and they’re fun! I love them! (So far, I have encountered two things that turn me girly: Bath & Body Works hand soaps and funny, silly socks.)

But beyond the fun of the socks, they just made me think about friendship. Because friendships aren’t forged in the good times. Maybe they start in good times. Maybe they start over a fun conversation or a good cup of coffee. But they don’t get very deep there. To grow a deep friendship, you have to walk through some porcupines, and you have to do it together. And somewhere between needles, you’ll make a choice to either keep walking or turn back.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to determine if the friendship is one that’s worth pursuing. Sometimes turning back is the best decision you can make. But if you turn back on every friendship the moment the going gets tough, you’ll never understand what it really means to have a real friend.

I guess, what I’m saying this morning, is that the closest friendships in my life have come through some amount of difficulty — whether it was through a difficult situation we tackled together or through a difficult conversation we had to have to straighten things out between us. The best friendships you have aren’t just going to happen. Like any relationship, you have to work at them.

So if you have a friend (or friends) in your life who you have walked on porcupines with, be thankful for them. And tell them that you’re thankful for them. You never know when you might not have the opportunity to thank them anymore.

And if you’ve never walked through porcupines, you will. So it might not be a bad idea to find someone who won’t mind walking with you. Just remember that true friendship is a two-way street. And if you’re walking through a field of porcupines with a friend, you’ll both take hits, but you’ll both be there to keep each other going.