Airplane oxygen masks are a two-step process

I’m not a huge fan of airplane travel, mainly because it’s far less expensive to drive, but sometimes you have to fly. Like when I went to Ireland a few weeks ago. I couldn’t drive to Ireland (well, I could try, but I don’t think I would succeed).

As I sat and listened to the flight attendants run through their little spiel about airplane safety, I smiled when they got to the place about securing your own oxygen mask first. I was traveling with two other people on the way to Ireland, and I had laughingly joked with my sister-in-law that I’d need to make sure one of my travel buddies had her oxygen mask on if we crashed.

That’s the rule with oxygen masks

First, you secure your own and make sure that you are breathing. Then, you help the people around you, children, the elderly, or generally distracted (but totally adorable) traveling companions. It’s a two-step process. First, take care of yourself. Then, take care of those around you.

Exodus 18:17-18 Always PeachyThe problem I usually have (when I’m not flying on an airplane) is that I skip ahead to step two without doing step one. I tend to want to take care of everyone around me first before seeing to my own needs. I want to help people, and I don’t want myself to get in the way. But it’s too much for one person to do alone, and I exhaust myself. (Exodus 18:14-18)

I’ve spent years telling myself this fact over and over again, but only recently did a new way to think about it occur to me. Using airplane oxygen masks correctly is a process.

A two-step process for an airplane

In an emergency situation on an airplane, you can’t just randomly try to help everyone around you. You’ll be in the way of people who are trained for that situation, and you’ll do more damage than you prevent. You’re supposed to stay seated. The best way for you to help those around you is to first take care of yourself.

That goes against my personal programming, but if I don’t first make sure that my thoughts are clear, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be of help to anyone. The truth is, if I don’t take care of my own needs first in that sort of situation, I won’t be able to help anyone around me.

If we accept that concept on an airplane, why can’t we accept it in our everyday lives?

A two-step process for life

Instagram Airplane MasksI’m talking to myself here. I run myself ragged for the benefit of others. I wear myself down and work my immune system to its lowest point for the sake of those around me. It’s how I’m wired. But I need to start looking at taking care of people as a two-step process.

If I want to help others, I need to take care of myself first. I need to sleep, to eat properly, and take care of my physical and spiritual needs first. Granted, that doesn’t mean I completely ignore people who need help, but before I work myself to exhaustion helping the helpless, first I need to make sure I’m strong enough to be of service. And this isn’t just something I’m making up. This is a biblical principle! (Ephesians 5:29-30)

As Christ-followers, we are called to serve others but not at the cost of our relationship with God or our physical health. Life is a balance between being a good steward of what God has given us and giving sacrificially so that others can share our blessings.

Wearing yourself out helping others may be a noble concept, but it’s not practical or healthy. And it’s not what God intended for us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) If you really want to help others to the best of your ability, first take the time to make sure you are taking care of yourself.

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The world isn’t small after all

Kansas isn’t a small state, but if you compare our population numbers to the rest of the U.S., we number among the lowest people per square mile (ranked 41 out of 50). While Wichita is the biggest city, it’s not uncommon to run into people you know on the streets regularly. Whenever that happens, how do we normally react? We exclaim: It’s a small world!

In some cases, it’s true.

The world gets smaller and smaller every day, especially when it comes to technology and communication. Ten years ago when my good friends Jim and Shelley Dinsmore moved to Guatemala as missionaries, it was a big deal to talk to them on the phone or video chat with them. But now, I stay updated with them continually on Facebook.

When my best friend moved to England, if we hadn’t been able to talk every morning, I might have gone a little nuts. But technology allowed us to stay in touch even though she lived 4,300 miles away.

So, yes, the world seems small, but is it actually shrinking? Of course, not. The only thing technology changes is our perspective.

Hebrews 13:16 Always PeachyOur perspective is the problem

You would think that being connected to every country, every person, and every source of information in the world would expand our thoughts. You’d assume that having a global mindset would encourage people to care more about those around them than before. But that’s not the case.

Our current generation is more selfish than it’s ever been, and it’s not just the younger generation that’s grown up with smartphones, virtual reality, and tablet computers. Our selfishness has nothing to do with technology, although I’m sure it hasn’t helped the situation. Human beings are naturally selfish. It’s part of our nature, and if we don’t check it, it’s a part of us that will take over our lives. (James 4:1-2)

Technology doesn’t make the world small. Our own self-interest does.

Open your eyes

Instagram Small World Always PeachyThat lady in the pew next to you is part of your world. The distracted driver on the road behind you is part of your world. The screaming child in the grocery store with his or her frazzled mother or father is part of your world. The grumpy teenager, the struggling elder, the blustering politician are all part of your world.

They all have bad days, just like you. They say things they later regret, just like you. And they need grace, just like you. But since we don’t see them as part of our individual world, we insult them or we complain about them or we discriminate against them. And instead of extending forgiveness, compassion, and understanding (Philippians 2:3-4) to those around us, instead we focus on ourselves and our own needs.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t care for ourselves. We need to be good stewards of the life God has given us, but that doesn’t give us the right to ignore people around us who we can help. (Proverbs 28:27)

The world isn’t small

So stop living in yourself. The world is full of people who are hurting and lost and discouraged. You don’t have to save the world. Jesus already did that. But helping others is something He wants us to do. (Hebrews 13:16)

Don’t wait. Take the opportunity to help someone when you can. You won’t regret it, and God won’t forget.

The grace in thinking twice

I never thought it would happen to me. I was sitting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, eagerly anticipating my pumpkin spice latte. I pulled up to the window, offered my smart phone screen for the barista to scan the code of my Starbucks Card Account. And the barista leans out and says: “The car in front of you paid for your coffee.”

We all heard about the rash of “pay it forward” acts of kindness that seem to strike people in the drive-thru lanes of coffee and fast food establishments. I’ve even done it before, paid for the order of the person behind me. And it’s an amazing feeling!

But this isn’t a post about being grateful. This isn’t even a post about being generous. This is a post about how you shouldn’t feel.

Because when this happened to me, my initial reaction wasn’t gratitude. It was irritation.

Why? Because all I needed was one more purchase on my card to earn a free drink. And because some overly nice person in front of me bought my coffee for me, I’d have to come back again to earn my free coffee.

Yes, I’m that bad of a person.

Yes. Please laugh at me. Because it will make me feel better about being such a horrible, ungrateful person. Goodness.

This is what the Bible means about taking captive every thought, folks (2 Corinthians 10:5). Maybe your initial reaction to something isn’t what it should be, but that’s not the reaction you have to act on.

Tough stuff can happen in life. Things go on that make us question what we believe or lose our faith in others. And then sometimes good things happen too. Sometimes we expect the good things that happen, and other times we don’t. Regardless, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’re still supposed to be thankful for it (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I would love to get to the point in my life that my first reaction to anything is spiritual, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. I would love to be the person who can look at any situation and see the beauty of what God is doing immediately. But I’m not there yet. Maybe someday I will be, but until then, I have the grace of second thoughts.

Gratitude isn’t my default. Faith isn’t my default either. My initial reaction any situation is to try to fix it myself or to evaluate it based on my own capability. But, frankly, it isn’t my initial reaction that matters.

My initial reaction to a situation only matters if that’s what I choose to act on. If somebody paid for my overpriced latte and I continued to feel irritated about it because I didn’t get my way, that’s a problem. The question comes down to what’s in your heart? What is your true attitude?

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

Initial reactions normally reflect our sin nature. People have bad days. We have difficult seasons that color the way we see our lives and other people. And if you catch us off guard at one of those moments, with a good thing or a bad thing, the way we react at first might not match up to what we say we believe. But that’s not hypocrisy. That’s a startled reaction from a flawed human being.

What matters is how we choose to act from that point on. Second thoughts are usually the point where I get a hold of myself and calm down. My second reaction is usually calmer than the first, reasoned and thought-out, once I’ve had a moment to think about how I feel, what I feel, and why I feel that way. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one out there who would say this.

So what can we all take away from this?

Don’t base your understanding of someone on their initial reaction to a situation. It takes a lot longer than a snap decision to get to know another person. Sure, a snap decision can tell you a lot about someone, but not the deep stuff.

And for those of us on the snap decision side? Maybe a spiritual reaction isn’t our default, and maybe it never will be, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for it. No, we’ll never be perfect, but the more often we choose the right reaction to a situation (good or bad), the sooner that choice will become habit.

So, thank you, whoever you are, for paying for my pumpkin spice latte. It was delicious! And thank you too for helping me understand the grace in thinking twice and the habit of gratitude.

What does ice cream have to do with dismemberment?

I love ice cream. A lot. It’s one of my (many) weaknesses. I can turn down cake no problem. Cookies are a bit of a struggle, but I can manage it. But ice cream? My Achilles’ heel. My Kryptonite. Whatever association you want to make, it’s usually my undoing.

Generally, I try not to even think about it, because when I start thinking about ice cream, then I want some. And I happen to know that a small chocolate M&M mix from Braums is only $2.99 and only has about 350 calories in it. And that’s not bad. That’s what I tell myself so that I can rationalize the irrational desire to go get ice cream when I’ve already had my allotment of calories for the day.

Once I start thinking about something I want, I want it more. When I want it, I start telling myself that it’s okay for me to have it, and then I am smart enough to convince myself that I need it or that I deserve it. After all, I’ve been living on celery and walking 2 miles a day for weeks now. Surely I deserve some ice cream.

By the time I get to that point, the battle is pretty much lost. I’m going for ice cream, regardless of whether I actually need it or not. Is that a case of reverse mind over matter? Where your brain convinces you that you need something when you really don’t need it at all? You just want the way it makes you feel when you get it.

three-1024x768Today’s verses are Matthew 5:27-30.

“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

No, eating ice cream isn’t a sin. That was just a silly illustration to show that lust takes many different forms in our lives. There’s lust for power and and wealth and status. Yes, even the desire for some foods could probably be called lustful, although I expect we Americans are one of the only nations in the world that struggles with the idea of the lust for food. In any case, lust doesn’t always have to be about sex. It just usually is. But regardless of what form lust takes in our lives, it never ever satisfies.

You don’t have to be a counselor or a mentor to understand that lust is extremely damaging to relationships. It compromises trust and wrecks lives. That’s why Jesus says it’s better to cut your hand off than to live while it betrays you. Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You aren’t really supposed to go dismember yourself. But we can grasp the concept.

Lust is selfish. It’s entirely self-focused. It’s all about what I want right now. It’s the exact opposite of love, the character quality it disguises itself as.

You know Jesus faced lust. Probably in all its many forms. If we believe the Bible when it says (Hebrews 4:15) that Jesus experienced all the same temptations in life that we do, we have to understand that he was tempted by lust as well. He just didn’t give into it. But that just means He is more qualified than anyone to tell us how dangerous it is.

Lust is like a fire that will burn us up if we let it. We’re all so good at lying to ourselves about what we need. We can convince ourselves and everyone around us that we have it all under control, but we’re locked in a death spiral that will only end when we hit bottom.

So don’t write lust off as something that won’t bother you or something that you’ll never experience. You can’t live without coming face to face with some kind of lust, so don’t underestimate what it can make you do. You’ll turn against God to scratch that itch. But if you’re prepared mentally and spiritually to face it, with Jesus’ help, you can withstand it. With Jesus’ help, you can do anything.

Hold on to the truth. Don’t give in to the lies. And put your whole faith in Jesus. He’s the Man who faced lust and never gave in, and He’s standing ready to help us get through the day.

Sacrificing for the right reasons doesn’t feel like a sacrifice

I’ve heard it said that the best definition of love is sacrifice. If you love someone, you’ll sacrifice for them. But what does it mean to sacrifice?

In American culture, the concept of sacrifice has such a negative connotation. If you sacrifice something, that means you’re giving something up, and everybody knows giving something up stinks. But I have a problem with that definition, especially when it comes to the concept of sacrificing for God.

When you sacrifice for God, is it really a sacrifice? Have you ever thought about it that way? Because when I sacrifice something–my time, my energy, my focus, my finances, etc.–for God, I always get back more than I’ve given.

See we think of sacrifice as giving something up and never getting anything in return, but that’s not the case. Well, maybe it’s the case if you’re sacrificing for selfish reasons. Nothing done with selfish motivation ever pays a return–not really.

But turn that around. When you sacrifice for selfless reasons, you’ll be hard-pressed to see your choice as a sacrifice. I know tons of people who sacrifice every day. They sacrifice their time and their emotions and their money. They sacrifice possessions and privacy and personal desires. They sacrifice all kinds of things, but because they’ve got their perspective straight, they don’t see it as a sacrifice at all. They see it as an opportunity to do something kind for someone else.

desertToday’s verse is Hebrews 11:24-27.

It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward. It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger. He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.

Just about everybody knows the story of Moses, whether it’s The Ten Commandments version of his life or the Prince of Egypt version. And we all like to focus on the fact that Moses talked to God and went before Pharaoh and said things like “Let my people go!” and brought the plaques on Egypt, etc. etc. etc. (no, wrong Yul Brenner quote…. so let it be written, so let it be done).

But how often do we focus on the fact that Moses had every right to stay in Egypt and claim a position of lordship? Moses might not have been born Egyptian, but he’d been raised in the palace. He could have stayed. He could have claimed title and land and riches and status. But he didn’t. He chose to walk away from it, and he ended his life doing what God had called him to do.

Talk about sacrifice, right? Walking away from a life of privilege to herd sheep at the hind end of the desert? Releasing his rightful claim to comfort and security in exchange for a barefoot conversation with a burning bush? But if we could talk to Moses today, regardless of all the crap he had to go through leading the Children of Israel, I don’t think he’d say that he sacrificed anything. On the contrary, he had a front row seat for some of the greatest miracles in recorded history.

Perspective is everything.

Are you in situation right now where you feel like you’re sacrificing and no one is recognizing it? Well, I hate to be the rain on your parade, friend, but sacrifice has absolutely nothing to do with recognition. If you sacrifice, you aren’t necessarily going to get to see your name up in lights. If you sacrifice for someone you love, they may not even notice. But if you’re sacrificing for the right reason, it won’t matter.

If you give up something you want expecting something in return, that’s not sacrifice. That’s bartering.

If you keep seeing your sacrifice as something you “had to do” for whatever reason, you’ll never move past it. If you keep bringing it up, you haven’t sacrificed anything. You’re still holding on to it. And you can’t walk that line. You can’t say you’ve sacrificed something if you’re still clinging to it.

But if you let go of what you want, especially if you’re letting it go for God’s sake, and you don’t pine after what could have been, you’ll be surprised at the turn your life will take. Maybe at the beginning, it’ll feel like you’re walking away from the best dream you’ve ever had, but when it’s over, you’ll be standing on a mountaintop talking to God like He’s your closest friend.

Just because you give up something you want doesn’t mean your life is going to be unhappy. It doesn’t even mean that you’ll end up losing out. In fact, you might even end up with more than you had to start.

Focusing on what’s wrong isn’t going to help you

I woke up on Monday morning in a horrible mood. Do you ever just have mornings like that? Where you wake up and you just can’t cheer up? No matter how you try, you just stay in the dumps.

I hate those mornings. Fortunately, they’re few and far between. But when you have a morning like that, is there a way to get back on track?

1302654_51792540Today’s verses are Genesis 39:19-23.

Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

I don’t think there’s anyone in the Bible who had more reason to sulk and stew than Joseph. Sold into slavery by his own brothers, shipped to a foreign land, falsely accused, thrown in prison and forgotten–Joseph never did anything to deserve that kind of treatment. But he never gave up, and he always kept focused on living his life for God. How did he do it? He worked.

He worked for Potiphar before Potiphar’s wife lied about him. Then he worked for the warden of the prison. I’m sure he mourned, yes, and I’m sure he asked God why he had to go through all of this, but he didn’t ever sink into that black hole of self-pity.

When I’m in a bad mood, I find the best way to get out of it is to stop focusing on myself. Sure, it’s important to identify why you’re upset, because if there’s something really wrong, you should change it or fix it. But if you’re in the middle of circumstances that you can’t change, focusing on what’s wrong isn’t going to help you.

Instead, try focusing on what you can do to help people around you. Or, focus on what you need to accomplish in a day. No matter who you are, you’ve got goals you want to achieve. Instead of expending your energy on thinking about what’s keeping you in place, start working on all the things you need to get done in order to start moving again.

For me, there’s nothing more uplifting than making a list and checking items off of it. Maybe that’s my tiny bit of Type A showing, but it’s true. Or if that doesn’t work, set aside some specific time to do something that will cheer you up. Read a book and get your mind off the problem. Bake some cookies and take them to people you care about. If the weather is nice, go outside and walk or ride your bike. If the weather is bad, play a game inside or read a book.

Just stop focusing on the problem.

That’s not to say that you should live in denial. No, if there’s a serious issue going on, you should deal with it. But how many of us really live with serious issues in our lives? Most of the time, if it’s serious enough, we’ll do something about it.

Most of us just live with annoyances. Most of us just grin and bear it. The long hours. The lack of appreciation. The disrespect or the minimal acknowledgement. The coworker who drives you nuts. That small group leader who totally gets under your skin. The hypocrite you have to ride next to on the bus.

And when you’re in a bad mood, they all seem to gang up on you, don’t they? It’s like everyone is out to get you. Everyone has made it their mission in life to ruin your day. And the rational part of your mind knows that’s not true. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

So set up times in your day to sit and think about something else. When you catch yourself focusing on it or stewing on it, do something else. Get up and go visit with a coworker you haven’t talked to in a while. Ask someone if they want a refill on their cup of coffee. Do something productive like cleaning out a cabinet or washing dishes. Or turn on some music and sing or dance or whatever.

If you can get your focus off of what’s dragging you down, you might be surprised to find that you’re not in as bad a mood as you first thought.

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

God will use someone, but it doesn’t have to be you.

Selfless people are heroes. And I find it ironic that the most selfless people I know aren’t wealthy or famous or powerful. Some of them are, but most of them are normal, average people with limited resources. But limited resources don’t stop them from being willing to give everything they have to help someone else.

I was thinking about being selfless this morning, and the story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath came to my mind. It’s a relatively long passage, but it’s a good read.

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

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

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 17:8-16.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”

But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”

So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

This poor widow really had nothing. She had herself, she had her son, and she had enough food left for one meal before they starved to death. Put yourself in her shoes. What would you have done if some crazy, wild-eyed preacher walked out of the wilderness into your home and asked that you feed him before you eat your last meal.

I’d like to think my reaction would be as mild as the woman’s, but I don’t think it would be. If I were in her shoes, I think I might have told him to buzz off and let us starve to death in peace. But that’s not what the widow in this story did.

I’ve often wondered why the woman didn’t hesitate. From what I know of Elijah, he wouldn’t have looked clean-cut and appropriate. Actually, when he came to Zarephath, he had just come from living in the wilderness and being fed by ravens. This was at a time of drought and famine in Israel, due to the evil King Ahab. Everyone was starving. And I’m not sure, but I don’t think that the woman would have heard of Elijah. This was before the events on Mt. Caramel.

But something convinced her to listen to him. Maybe she believed him. Maybe she felt like she didn’t have a choice. Maybe she thought it didn’t matter. Personally, I like to think that she was selfless. Why else would God have chosen her to be the one to feed Elijah? Because that’s what happened. God used this poor widow to provide for His prophet, and as a result, the widow and her son had plenty to eat too.

What would have happened if she had refused to do as Elijah asked? Well, she and her son would have starved. And God would have used someone else to provide for Elijah.

And I guess that’s the point I’m making this morning. We all have limited resources (until we start drawing on what God has made available to us), and we all face a choice about what to do with those resources. And it never fails that the less someone has, the more they are willing to share and vice versa. Granted, I know some very wealthy people who are very generous with their finances, but they seem to be the exceptions.

When it comes right down to it, if you are a follower of Christ, you have a calling to help others, not necessarily wild-eyed preacher types but maybe it’s your next door neighbor. Maybe it’s your friend at school. Maybe it’s a coworker who needs a ride to the airport. And it doesn’t have to be a financial need either. Maybe it’s time someone is asking for. Or clothes. Or shelter. Or just a listening ear.

Someone in your life needs something from you. God has put that person in your life for a reason, and you have a choice to help them in spite of the cost to you personally or to ignore them and put yourself first. You can do either. That choice is up to you. But before you make that choice remember the story of this poor widow in Zarephath. She had a choice too, eat her last meal or share it with a crazy preacher who claimed God would provide for them both.

God didn’t have to use her. He could have used anyone. But in taking care of Elijah, God wanted to bless someone else too. And that’s what happens when you use your resources to help someone else. Not only do you help them, but God helps you at the same time.

You can’t out-give God. You can’t give Him so much that He can’t pay you back. Don’t believe me? Try it. This widow did, and she realized the benefit of serving God far outweighs the instant gratification of serving herself.

God will use someone. It doesn’t have to be you. But you’ll be much better off if it is.