Whose side are you on anyway?

I thought the nation was divided before, but I hadn’t lived through this November. And here we are, more than a month later, and we’re still reeling. So is the rest of the world. And the only thing that’s certain is how uncertain everything is.

The last year has been about taking sides and switching loyalties and who you support and why. And once everyone made up their mind about all that, it turned into a mud-slinging event, where everyone who disagreed with everyone else made an extreme effort to offend as many people as possible. The last year has been one side against the other, and I’m not sure anyone actually won.

People are really good at taking sides down here. It’s a common topic of conversation, especially around election time. Are you on Donald Trump’s side? Are you on Hillary Clinton’s side? No? Then you must be on a third-party candidate’s side, right? Which one? Who’s side are you on?

If you side with someone, that means you agree with them. That means you believe the same things they believe and support the same causes they support. You stand for what they represent. Right? Isn’t that how it works?

That’s the thought that kicked me in the head during a worship service at my church a few weeks ago. “Our God” by Chris Tomlin is one of those classic worship songs that I never get tired of singing, and I love the way my church sings it. Loud and bright and joyful, because it’s so very true. But as the words of the bridge left my mouth, I stopped.

In case you aren’t familiar with the song, the bridge lyrics are: “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?”

Bold words. Powerful words. And true, because they’re based on Scripture. Romans 8:31 says, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” And if you think about it, who wouldn’t want God on your side?

This is God we’re talking about. Maybe I speak for myself, but having God on my side sounds like a pretty fabulous idea. I mean, if God is on my side, that means I’m right about everything.

If God is for us, that means He supports us. He agrees with us. He stands for what we represent. Right? As we understand the concept of taking sides, isn’t that what it would mean?

That’s how we live. That’s how we treat God sometimes. We look at Him like He’s some genie in the clouds, who exists solely to fulfill our wishes. He’s all-loving, and that means He supports us in every path we take. And He wouldn’t ever correct us or discipline us or discourage us from making a choice He doesn’t like. He’s a good God, after all.

Personally, I’m not sure a god who lets us get away with everything can be classified as good. Children who are allowed to get away with everything aren’t usually liked. Parents who let their kids get away with everything aren’t usually considered role models. So why do we think God is different?

But God is on our side. That means He agrees with us.

Maybe not. See that tiny little two-letter word, if? That’s a huge word. If. It means the statement that follows may not be true. It means the statement that follows is conditional.

If God is for us. If God is on our side. If means He may not be.

So what do you have to do to get God on your side? What price do we have to pay? What task do we have to accomplish?

The answer isn’t easy, but it’s very simple.

If you want God on your side, you need to be on His side.

See, God isn’t overwhelmed by our greatness. Compared to Him, we’re less than fleas. He doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11), and our fantastic attempts to doing good don’t impress Him (Isaiah 64:6). We can’t convince God to be on our side through our own merit.

And, frankly, why would God want to be on our side? What can we do for Him? What can we offer Him? He’s God! Maker of the Universe. Inventor of gravity. Creator of quasars and feathers, to quote singer Chris Rice. He can do anything. He can be anywhere. He knows everything. Time has no meaning to Him.

We are nothing. And the only thing we can offer Him is our hearts.

Exodus 32:26
So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Who’s on God’s side? That’s the question we should be asking. Who represents what God stands for in our culture? Who agrees with God? Who supports God?

There are only two sides that matter, God’s side, and the world’s side. I don’t have a side. Neither do you. Neither does the President or your senator or your town mayor or your teacher or your annoying little brother or sister.

Whose side are you on?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose sides. But this world isn’t perfect. And we do. But when it comes to who you support or what you choose to do or how you choose to do it, you only have two choices for what side to take. You can either choose to do what the world says is right, or you can choose to do what God says is right. There’s no middle ground. There’s no third party.

If you want God to be on your side, you have to be on His side first.

Baby red panda forging his own trail at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Should a child challenge an adult?

Have you ever seen a child trying to tell an adult that they’re wrong about something? Sometimes it’s obnoxious. Other times it’s funny. But the child rarely gives correct information. Most of the time when children try to correct adults it’s because children don’t understand everything that an adult understands, which is the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s similar in a working environment. Usually the veterans of a company are the ones who garner respect, and it’s the new hires who go to them for help. But not always.

Sometimes a newer employee has a different perspective that older employees could find very useful if they’re willing to listen.

Today’s verses are Galatians 2:11-14.

Baby red panda forging his own trail at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Baby red panda forging his own trail at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow Jewish traditions?”

It can be intimidating if you are a new believer and you’re in a room with a bunch of other believers who’ve known Christ longer than you. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like.

You feel alone and isolated and uneducated. You feel like everyone else in the room is having a conversation above your head, and if you stopped conversation to ask what they were talking about, you’re just sure they’d laugh at you. Or they’d feel obligated to explain it all over again in small words.

But you shouldn’t feel that way. Sure, it’s probably a good idea to listen when someone who’s been a believer for years talks about what they’ve learned from following Jesus for so long. But just because someone else has known Jesus for a long time doesn’t give them authority over you. And it doesn’t give them the right to look down on you either. We’re all equal under Christ’s blood.

God doesn’t love someone more because they’ve been with Him longer. That’s not how His love works. He doesn’t love someone more because they’ve done more for Him. Just like He doesn’t love someone less because they haven’t done as much.

What I’ve discovered more often than not is that new believers often look at faith and their walk with God in a completely different way than I do. And their perspective helps me see God more clearly, usually because I’ve gotten so set in my ways that I’ve forgotten what He looks like.

I truly value having relationships with new believers because they ask the questions I don’t ask. They see the holes I step over, and they challenge the verses I think I already understand.

Take Paul and Peter for example. Peter was one of Christ’s original 12 disciples, hand-picked by Jesus Himself. Pretty brassy of Paul to call him out in front of everyone, wasn’t it?

Well was Peter being stupid? Was Peter doing something he knew he shouldn’t have been doing? Absolutely. And where were the others to call out the bad behavior? No, Paul did it.

And that’s been my experience with new believers. They are hungry for knowledge, and once they absorb it, they want more. And they’re not afraid to live by it. They’ve left their old life behind recently, and they have no intention of going back to it. Those of us who’ve known Christ for so long don’t even remember a time when we weren’t following Him. Or if we do, it’s so far behind us, we don’t even think about it.

So if you’re a new Christian, don’t hesitate to challenge an experienced believer on what he or she thinks or says. I mean, do it kindly, of course. But don’t be afraid. They need you. They need you to see things differently. They need you to keep them on their toes. They need you to ask the questions they’ve forgotten how to ask.

And in return, I bet you’ll learn something. And you might even make a lifelong friend in the process.

Why bumpy roads and seed planting are good

Some roads are deceptive. When you first start walking, the path is relatively straight and even, but the longer you walk that path, the more difficult it becomes.

When I was down in Guatemala the last time, we did a lot of driving, some highway but the rest was on these crazy back roads in the middle of nowhere. We’re talking rough roads with bumps and rocks and steep hills and sharp turns. When we left El Chal that morning, the road looked easy, but getting to where we were going took effort and patience and no small amount of discomfort.

Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are James 5:7-8.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

What is it about people that makes us think life is supposed to be easy? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who has this weird idea that life should be easier than it is. And if that’s the case, I should probably just stop talking. But I don’t think I’m alone.

Something inside us tells us that we’re not supposed to have to struggle like this. Or if we struggle, we’re supposed to be guaranteed a reward. But life has no guarantees. Even if you work your butt off, even if you do your very best, you aren’t guaranteed a job. You aren’t guaranteed success. You aren’t guaranteed advancement.

So why do we put ourselves through it?

On that trip in Guatemala, we killed ourselves getting to these remote Kekchi villages, and the goal was introduce people to Jesus. Not to convert anyone. If a conversion happened, that was awesome, but we weren’t exactly expecting it. The Kekchi culture rarely makes spontaneous decisions.

So if you think about it from a normal “evangelistic” mindset, we were busting our buns for no return on our investment. We were walking, hiking, driving, forging through jungle and back roads to get to these villages–one of which had never seen a white person before–and we weren’t going to see anyone come to faith in Jesus.

We were planting seeds.

Planting seeds is just a fancy Christian phrase for introducing people to Jesus or shedding light on who Jesus really is.

That’s the part of following Jesus I think we skip over sometimes. You can do everything you’re supposed to do for God and never see anyone choose to follow Jesus, at least not in your lifetime. Sometimes it takes multiple lifetimes, multiple generations for someone to realize their need for Christ.

And that works the same way in other circumstances too. Just because you don’t get instant results doesn’t mean your work and your sacrifice has been in vain. It just means you’ve planted a seed, and someone else will get to harvest it.

To be honest, that kind of sucks. Because when I plant something, I want to be around to watch it grow and reach the point where it can be harvested. But that’s for my own pride. That has nothing to do with honoring God.

And how many times have I harvested something planted by someone else? That’s how this process works. We plant seeds in people’s lives, and then we step back and let them grow–often without our supervision–and someone else gets to harvest the results.

The village we were going to in this photograph had no church. We wore ourselves out getting there and giving our presentation. And the village packed the tiny little building we were in. There were people hanging from the rafters. We did our thing, and we left.

A few months later, that village started a church. Many people have come to know Christ, and they’re still growing.

What’s the point?

Roads have bumps. Some bumps are bigger than others. Some bumps can be so large you have to slow down to get over them. Sometimes you have to stop and go around them. And even when you get to the end of that road, when you reach your destination, you aren’t guaranteed success.

But that doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful. And that doesn’t mean God won’t still do something fantastic with what you accomplished. Granted, you might never see it. But you don’t have to. Once you do something for God, it never fades. The people you affect for Christ are eternal. The tasks you accomplish for Christ will withstand the greatest storm. And once you plant a seed, nobody can unplant it.

And don’t think it’s just about leading people to Christ. We’re supposed to do all things to God’s glory, and that means our relationships, our jobs, everything.

A lot of the Christian life is planting seeds and praying for the harvesters who come after you. So when you get the chance to finish something for Christ, take a moment to be thankful for the people who planted the seeds before you. Because you didn’t get where you are by yourself.

So if your road is turning out a little bumpier than you expected and you aren’t getting to see results from everything you’ve sacrificed, don’t be discouraged. You’re leaving behind a legacy that other people can use to achieve great things for God. And if you ask me, that’s awesome.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Living for what you can’t take with you

In our lives, we face challenges and disappointments, but the greater part of our lives on Earth is usually pretty incredible. Most of us have opportunities others like us could only dream of. Life may be hard at times, but there are so many amazing things God has given us in this life to enjoy.

People and places and, nature and city life, the beach and the mountain, friends and family, movies and books and music and theatre. The list goes on and on, and we all have access to all of it, and it’s all there for us to enjoy. But not at the expense of forgetting what really matters.

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Kekchi home in Esfuerzo Dos, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Psalm 84:10.

A single day in your courts
    is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
    than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

This is one of those verses that always makes me cringe a little when I read it. I like to be able to read the Psalms like I’m actually saying them, like they’re coming from my heart. But sometimes when I hit this one, I hesitate because I have days where I struggle believing that a day with God can be better than life here.

I mean, I know a day in God’s presence will surpass my best week of life on Earth. That’s obvious. But it’s difficult to compare when I have experienced life on Earth and I haven’t experienced with life in heaven. So some days it’s hard to feel it, even if I know it.

What’s important about this verse is perspective. If you don’t believe that live in eternity with God will be better than life on Earth, you aren’t going to live like it. If you believe life will be better here, you’re going to live for this life. You’re going to invest in things that matter down here, and you’re going to ignore the things that matter in heaven.

When I was at college in Florida, there were all sorts of things I could have bought to make my stay more comfortable, especially in my second semester. But I didn’t because I knew I was coming home to Kansas, and I wouldn’t have room in the car. Our lives down here are the same way.

If we look at heaven as our home and Earth as our college dorm or as our rental house, it changes the way you look at a lot of things. You can’t hang pictures in a leased apartment. Or at least, you probably shouldn’t. In a home you know is temporary, you shouldn’t invest a lot of time changing it because you know you are going to leave. Instead, use your time to invest in the things that last, like the people who live around you. Even if you’re living in a dorm or in an apartment complex, you’ve got people on all sides. You’ve got a short amount of time to make a difference to them, and then when you’re gone, you may never see them again.

If you know you’re moving, you only want to invest time in the things you can actually take with you. If heaven is our final destination, what do we get to take with us? Not our money or our homes, not our possessions or our status. We take our own soul. That’s it. And if you’re fortunate and very blessed, you won’t have to go alone. You’ll get to go home with your friends and your family members. And those are the treasures that really matter.

Do you believe that a day in God’s presence is better than a lifetime on Earth? Would you rather be the lowliest servant in God’s house than a wealthy person here? It’s time to make up your mind.

Epic tree in Se'Tul - Peten, Guatemala

What’s the big deal with strong roots?

Some days I wonder what takes God so long to work. Does anyone else catch themselves thinking that? It’s like you’ve done everything you need to do and you just have to sit tight and wait for God to keep up his end of the bargain. And He doesn’t. Or if He does, He doesn’t do it in a way you expect. But either way, it always takes much longer than you think it will. Either that or it happens much sooner than you expect and you end up scrambling.

But for me, it always seems to take forever. Forever and a day. At least it does for the really important things I want. There’s rarely an immediate answer. And the longer I wait, the more impatient I get. But recently I had something of a revelation. What if it’s me God is waiting on?

Epic tree in Se'Tul - Peten, Guatemala

Epic tree in Se’Tul – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Ephesians 3:17.

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

There are many times in the Christian life where we have to wait. Waiting is part of faith. And I hate waiting, but it’s good for me because I’m such a control freak that I will rush into any situation and try to control the outcome whether I truly understand what’s going on or not.

But sometimes waiting isn’t the answer. Sometimes taking the initiative is right, and God is waiting for us to step up and accomplish certain things in our own life and in our own Christian walk before He lets us take the next step. Because if I haven’t done everything I’m supposed to, if I haven’t taken all the steps I need to, I’m not ready for what God has for me.

The Bible talks about trees a lot in Scripture. Christians are compared to trees that grow by rivers, with deep roots that reach into the waters and are always nourished even in droughts. Even today’s verse says that we need to be deeply rooted in God’s love so that we will be strong.

What’s the big deal with roots?

Well, a tree is only as strong and as healthy as its root system. Trees with weak, shallow roots are easy to tip over. Trees with unhealthy roots are easy to break. But a tree with strong, healthy roots isn’t moving. It might lose some branches in a storm, but its trunk will remain strong even in the worst winds.

And it’s the same with Christians.

Our effectiveness as Christians is directly proportional to how deep we allow Christ into our lives. Have you ever thought about that? Many times we allow Christ into our hearts and into our lives but we put up barricades and tell Him that certain areas are off limits. We block off and compartmentalize certain aspects of our lives and tell Jesus to keep His distance from those, either because we’re not willing to give them up or because we don’t think He can actually help. Or in some cases, we don’t think we’re worthy of being healed.

But if you want to be a strong Christian, you have to let God heal your roots all the way. You can only grow as tall as your roots can grow deep.

I have realized that there are areas in my own heart that I have blocked Christ from healing, many of them dealing with fear and major insecurity issues. And I can rationalize and hypothesize those issues away, but that won’t heal them. That will just allow me to hide them like I always have. But opening that part of my heart to Christ and allowing Him to fix what’s wrong will not only result in peace but will also allow me to take the next steps in my walk with God. But until I let Him fix me, I won’t be ready to do what He’s planned for me to do.

Oh, yes, I can continue to bump along the bottom, still doing good things for Him and helping others. But God has a dream for me that’s bigger than I can wrap my head around. And I’m not living that dream right now. For so long, I thought I was waiting on Him. But now I’m beginning to realize that He’s waiting on me.

If there’s a part of your heart that you’ve closed off to God for any reason, consider opening it up. It hurts, but every wound has to hurt before it can heal. And the stronger your roots grow, the more effective you will be and the more storms you can weather and the more you can accomplish for God.