Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Don’t be stupid

I don’t like calling technical support numbers because inevitably I end up talking to someone who thinks I’m a moron. I would much rather try to figure the problem out on my own with Google’s assistance than to spend the time to call somebody. I think half of that is proving to myself that I don’t need help, even though I recognize that’s pretty silly. But every now and then, you have to call. You have to face the fact that you don’t know everything and that some technical issues are beyond your control.

A recent example? My mom and I have been customers of a cell phone company since February, and while I’m sure their service works fine for people who don’t use their phones so much, it’s really not working for us. In fact, I think we’ve both already worn out the phones we bought from them, plus the fact that the coverage at my house is pitiful (even though they told us it wouldn’t be). So we decided to switch to a nationwide carrier, one that my company offers an employee discount for, and I’m not going to say which one (can you hear me now?).

Mom and I completed the transaction to set up the plan and purchase our phones yesterday afternoon. Well, by the evening we had both received phone calls from this company telling us that there was something wrong with our request to transfer our phone lines. Okay, without going into a whole lot of boring detail, let’s just say I ended up on the phone with them at 7:30 last night trying to figure things out. First, I spoke to a very nice young lady who told me exactly what she thought was wrong and gave me instructions on how to fix it. I got the information she needed and called back. And that’s when I talked to “Mike.”

Have you ever experienced that aha! moment when someone answers the phone and you know instantly that they’re going to be rude? Yup. That was “Mike.” I could tell even in the way he said hello that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation. Now, in all fairness to him, I’m sure he was just trying to help, but he was incredibly full of himself. He told me that he couldn’t even look at our account because our numbers weren’t live yet, and whoever I talked to before had been making stuff up, and that he was going to solve all my problems for me. You can always usually tell people who are trying to make themselves sound more official because they use big words that don’t fit the context of what they’re talking about (“on the 19th, your phone account will come into fruition”).

I was really, really irritated. Not only did this guy talk to me like I was a child, he went so far as to tell me that his coworker had given me bad information. He wanted to call our current cell phone provider right then, and I know that’s what they’re supposed to do to verify information, but honestly, he was so unpleasant I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. I just didn’t want to talk to him. So I dismissed myself as quickly as I could and called our current service provider myself.

And as I was waiting to talk to them, I started getting worried. Maybe I had misjudged “Mike” and he really was right about what he’d said. Maybe I’d made some other huge mistake in the account setup process and this was going to take longer to fix than I’d thought! … But then, the very helpful lady at the other service popped on and confirmed everything the first gal I’d talked to said.

“Mike” had been blowing smoke the whole time.

So I called back and talked to a super nice southern gentleman who helped us get everything sorted out, so now we’re good to go. But I remembered a very important lesson about how treat other people that I really felt led to share this morning.

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Big, bright rooster at the Kansas State Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 12:1.

To learn, you must love discipline;
it is stupid to hate correction.

Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone will be wrong at some point in their life. Just expect it. You’re not perfect, and believe it or not, making mistakes is how you grow. But you only grow from your mistakes if you learn from them. You’ll only get something out of what you’ve done wrong if you recognize that it was wrong and that you shouldn’t do it again.

But time after time, what I’ve noticed is that the people who are the most unpleasant about their knowledge are the ones who are usually wrong. I know a lot of smart people, and the ones who are stuck up and snobby about their intellect are the ones who can’t seem to give me correct information. On the other hand, the really super smart people I know who are humble about the size of their brains are the ones whose input I can trust 100%.

The lesson here? Be pleasant and humble about what you know, even if you are 100% sure you’re right, because you may discover that you’re wrong some day and it’s a lot easier to save face if you’ve been humble about it from the beginning. Remember, even though you’ve worked to attain your intelligence, intellect is a gift from God. You didn’t wake up one morning and decide to be a super genius. That’s not how it works.

So be nice. And also … don’t talk to me like I’m a moron. Because you may end up in a blog post.

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Finish your race in Christ’s footsteps

I don’t run. I just thought I’d put that out there. I have all these friends who are so into running, cross country, endurance, marathon. I’m glad they enjoy it, but that’s not an activity that I enjoy. It’s ironic, though, because while I don’t run for sport literally, I run through life figuratively. I’m one of those people who never stops moving. I’m always dashing about, up to my elbows in busyness, especially this time of year. But then I don’t think that’s just me.

Everyone is running a race of some kind. Everyone is seeking a goal in their life, no matter what it may be. It could be a big goal, an accomplishment that will change the world. Or it could be a “small” goal, one that will only matter to a few people–maybe even just you. But whatever the size of your goal and no matter how many people it will affect, there will be days when you won’t be up to achieving it, especially if your goal/dream is something that you want God to use to help others.

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Hebrews 12:1-3.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Running is hard work, especially the marathons and cross country races. Those events take time and discipline to prepare for and even more of both if you want to finish. If you sign up to run a cross country race or a marathon, you don’t get to take a nap in the middle of the race. If you’re going to run the race, you have to run it from start to finish without stopping.

I know a lot of runners, but none of my running friends have ever won a marathon. I’ve got a cousin who came pretty close, but everyone else I know doesn’t run a marathon to win. They run a marathon to finish. That’s not to say that you can’t run a race like a marathon with the goal to win, but I’m not really sure if that’s the reason to run a marathon. Remember, I don’t run. So I may be totally off course here. But marathon racing and cross country racing isn’t like sprints or 100-meter dashes. Long-distance running is all about endurance and focus.

It’s kind of like life, don’t you think? If you’re a follower of Christ, God has given you a race He wants you to run, and I guarantee it’s not a 100-meter dash. God doesn’t give us things to accomplish that only take a few minutes and a little bit of effort and faith. No. If God gives you something to do, I promise it will take more of you than you have access to, and the only way you’re going to get through it is with His help.

What we have to remember when we start running the race that God has set for us is that we’re not the only ones running it. There are many others around us who are running too. And, what’s more, Jesus already ran the race ahead of us. We have His example to draw from. We can run our races the same way He ran His.

It wasn’t easy for Him either, so don’t get into the habit of thinking that Jesus sailed through life because He was God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He struggled just like we do with people and circumstances and the general trouble our old sinful world insists on throwing at us.

What I’ve noticed about racing–both literally and figuratively–is that the start of the race is the easy part. Sort of like the end. At the beginning, you’re fit and fresh and ready to go. At the end, you can see the finish line and you have hope that it will be over soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. It’s the middle where people start struggling. It’s the middle where people give up.

Remember that. And when you hit the middle of your race, be on the lookout for discouragement and despair. You’ll wonder what you’re doing. You’ll wonder why you’re doing it. Just like a runner has to train for the middle span of a marathon, we need to prepare for the middle of our spiritual race so we’ll know how to make it through. And the key–as with everything else in life–is to watch Jesus. How did Jesus handle it? What did He say? How did He act? Follow His footsteps, and you can’t go wrong. And on the days when the trouble and the challenges you’re facing feel like too much, remember that He faced more issues than we do, and He’s right there with us offering His help if we’ll just ask for it.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

True mastery from within

What does it mean to master yourself? I’ve read books on self-help and 12-step programs, and none of them really say anything concrete. Because I have a fascination with Japanese culture, I’ve also read a book called the Code of the Samurai, which is a modern-day translation of the Bushido Shoshinshu, a guidebook per se for samurai to study. And while many religions promote self-mastery, none of them really explain how or why.

Some say meditation is how to achieve it. Others say service to others is how to do achieve it. Some even promote self-mutilation to a point. But if you read the Bible, you’ll discover that true self mastery doesn’t come from something that you do; it comes from the inside.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Throughout May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, and today’s focus is on self-control. In other translations, it’s called temperance. To be honest, I always thought this word meant that a sign of the Holy Spirit in your life meant that you didn’t drink alcohol. But that’s not what the word itself (ἐγκράτεια) actually means. In this context, the word means “true mastery from within” and can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit. And that tells me that we can work all we want to establish good habits, and we should. But when it comes down to mastering ourselves, it takes a power stronger than we are to do it.

Have you ever started to do something you know you shouldn’t do and heard that nagging little voice at the back of your head? It’s the voice that tells you to stop what you’re doing because you’ll be sorry. It’s a still, small, quiet thing, and it’s easy to ignore, at least until you do the thing you’re not supposed to do and the consequences catch up to you. Then, you remember the voice. That’s the way it works with me. I don’t remember that I could have said no until I’m past the point of no return.

I think listening to the Holy Spirit takes practice, like building good habits. None of us are born with good habits. Discipline doesn’t just happen overnight. You have to work to achieve it. Painters don’t wake up creating masterpieces. Musicians aren’t born. And writing a novel doesn’t just happen. Just like building a car or losing weight, achieving anything of significance takes design and planning and dedicated effort and focus.

But listening to the Holy Spirit takes something else: Trust.

You have to trust that when He tells you not to do something, it’s for your own good. You have to trust that the things you think will make you happy actually will just make your life complicated. You have to trust Him.

Once you have the Holy Spirit in your life, God begins to change you from the inside out. Suddenly, the things that seemed so important yesterday don’t matter as much today. The pleasures and successes of today don’t seem to be as vital as storing up treasures in heaven. And when you come face to face with temptation, there’s something inside you that gives you the courage and the strength to fight. That’s not an accident. That’s the Holy Spirit. That’s the Fruit of the Spirit showing up in your life as a result of you choosing to accept Christ.

And while it’s a good idea to build healthy habits, sometimes you just have to rely on God to help you through those moments that you’re too weak to handle on your own. You can’t master yourself without God’s help, not truly. True mastery means that every aspect of who you are–every aspect–is under control. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have every aspect of their lives under control.

Health gurus are in great physical shape, but their emotional, mental, or spiritual life is a mess. Spiritual people sometimes aren’t healthy. Yes, I’m generalizing,  but you get my point.

I truly believe that part of Spirit-led self-control is balance. It’s not overly focusing on one area of your life. It’s letting God into all of them. It’s doing what Jesus would do in every situation, not just the ones you want to get His advice on. I’m talking every situation, ranging from “Would Jesus help that little old lady carry her groceries?” to “Would Jesus eat a second bowl of ice cream?” Maybe that’s sacrilegious, but who are we to say that the details of our lives don’t matter to God? It’s often the details that trip me up, so if I want God in any part of my life, it’s in the details.

So if you want to achieve true mastery of yourself, stop reading the 12-step books or following the latest fad diets or whatever your particular issue is. The best way to get control of yourself is to get to know Jesus better. Let Him become your best friend. Study how He lived, pattern your life after His, and have conversations with Him about everything. Maybe you think that sounds funny, but I guarantee you aren’t talking to yourself. If you know HIm, He’s listening. And He always answers. Maybe not in the way you expect, but He never fails.

Door at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Love is telling the truth when people don’t want to hear it

Christians aren’t perfect. We all do wrong. We all stumble and fall. Not one of us is immune. And that’s why God has given us community with other believers, so that we don’t have to face the consequences of our sin alone. Because let’s be honest here: sin has consequences. We’re not home yet, so when we choose to sin, we still have to face the results of that sin.

I blogged at the beginning of the year about how Christians need to treat each other, especially those who have fallen back into a sinful lifestyle. Galatians 6:1-10 tells us how we’re supposed to treat fallen Christians. And when I blogged on it, I really focused on the attitude Christians need to have. But I neglected to mention the attitude the Christian who chose to sin needs to have.

Galatians 6:1 says we are to help that person back on the path. That’s not a conditional statement. It doesn’t say we have to help them back on the path if we feel like or if we know them or if we feel responsible for them.

So what happens if they refuse? 

Door at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Door at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:25-26.

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.

Christians are to love. Period. That’s how we show we’re different. That’s how we demonstrate to the world what we believe. We love them. We love each other. We love.

But what is love? What does love look like? Is it constant forgiveness? Is it continually making allowances for another Christians’ behavior?

I don’t think so.

We’re not to judge. We are not supposed to point fingers at each other, especially in matters of the heart, because we are unable to judge someone’s heart. But the Bible specifically tells us what is right and what is wrong. God tells us how we’re supposed to live. God explains clearly what sin is. And when you know another Christian is engaging in that kind of sin, the kind of lifestyle God has already said is wrong, is it judging them to point it out?

No.

James 5:19-20 says: “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

We are all capable of sin. We all have a choice. Christians can choose whether to sin or not, and more and more, especially in the last few months, I am seeing Christians make terrible choices. Christians I have known for years and years are thumbing their noses at God and doing what they know is wrong, like they’re daring Him to do something to stop them.

Christians aren’t immune to the consequences of sin because we’re Christians. Rain falls on everybody. In Kansas, hail falls on everybody. So if you leave your car outside in a hailstorm, do you think it won’t be dented and pockmarked like a golf ball after the hailstorm is over just because you believe Christ saved you from your sins?

That’s idiotic.

And it’s the same with choosing to sin and thinking that God will protect you because you believe in Jesus.

He won’t.

If you’re faced with a Christian who is sinning and is refusing to change, how do you love them? Do you hug on them and give them presents and buy them things? Tell me. How is that love? All that will do is to encourage them to keep living the way they are living. That will push them deeper and deeper into Satan’s hold because you’re teaching them that they can live however they way, make whatever choices they want, do as much evil as they want, and they won’t have to face the consequences. And that’s not true. Because they will.

Love them by telling them the truth. Gently. Humbly. Kindly. But tell them the truth.

They sinned. They didn’t make a mistake. They didn’t make a poor choice. It wasn’t a weak moment. They knew what was right, and they chose to do wrong anyway. They sinned.

But God still loves them. You still love them. And if they will realize that what they did was wrong, God can redeem that sin. God can take that situation and make it right.

But if they refuse to change their heart, if they refuse to see that what they’ve done is wrong, there’s no help for them. And if they refuse to see the truth, God will have to make them see it. And if they really do believe in Christ, God won’t pull His punches.

If you are enabling a Christian who is sinning to keep on sinning, you are just as guilty as they are. If you are standing in between God and a Christian daughter or son that He is chastising, you are going to absorb the hit just as much as they will.

This isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. And if you love people as much as I do, you feel like a horrible person after you do it. But love isn’t easy. Whoever told you it was lied. It’s easy to sit back and let a Christian destroy themselves. It’s easy to watch another Christian make bad decisions and hope that it all turns out all right. It’s easy to do nothing. But that’s not love.

The difference between correction and criticism

This has never happened before. I went to BibleGateway.com this morning to get today’s Verse of the Day . . . and it was the same verse as Monday. Proverbs 19:20-21.

Maybe it’s a mistake? Maybe someone forgot to put a new verse up? That’s what I was thinking, and so I was just going to go look for a different verse to blog about. After all, the Bible is full of verses and I already covered this one. But then I read it again, and something completely different stood out to me than on Monday.

On Monday, I focused on getting wise cousel but leaving the plans to God. But (for some reason) the verse this morning displayed in the New International Version, which translates just a little bit differently than the New Living Translation:

20 Listen to advice and accept discipline,
   and at the end you will be counted among the wise.
 21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
   but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

If you remember the devo on Monday, does what I saw this morning stand out to you?

Accept discipline.

Wow. How huge is that? Because it’s one thing to accept wise and godly advice from someone. It’s something else to accept discipline. Whether it comes from God in the form of chastisement or it comes from a parent or it comes from a friend, discipline is always hard to accept because it means you have to admit you’ve done something wrong.

A wise person accepts discipline.

Now, what is discipline exactly? The Amplified Version translates that same part of the verse this way: “Hear counsel, receive instruction, and accept correction.”

To me, that means discipline is any statement or action designed to correct an unwise behavior. Discipline can come from many different places. When we’re young, it comes most often from our parents or our teachers — if we don’t do our homework or if we misbehave in class. At work, it can come from bosses – if we don’t meet expectations or if we do something that risks our safety or the stability of the company. Within the church, it can come from pastors or from ministry leaders — if we do something or say something that endangers a ministry. And friends can even discipline (or correct) friends.

So, that begs the question if we always accept discipline. Because isn’t there a difference between discipline and correction and just plain criticism? Well. Yes.

Some people are critical and they will always be critical, and when they turn their focus on you, all they may have to say about you will be negative and unconstructive.

How can you tell the difference? How can you know what correction to accept and what criticism to ignore?

I’m not an expert in this, and I’m not a scholar. And I’m still pretty young. So I can’t tell you that I’ve got any of it figured out, but I can tell you what’s worked for me.

The way I handle discipline/correction/criticism is to take it all 100 percent seriously until I’ve had a chance to think about it. I can’t tell the difference really. I don’t know how to distinguish between them at first blush. I have to examine it to tell.

If someone tells me that I’m dressed in a way that’s too worldly, I take that seriously. And then I take a good long look at what I’m wearing, I compare it to what I believe the standards of Scripture are, and I ask God to show me if I’m wrong or if that person was just expressing an opinion. I also consider the background of the person who made the accusation. If he or she comes from a more conservative background that doesn’t like women to wear pants, that also will affect how I take their statement. If I can honestly say that my clothing choices are modest and appropriate, I will respect the opinon of the person who spoke up but I will not accept their correction because it’s merely criticism. It’s just that person telling me that they don’t like the clothes I wear. There’s no basis in Scripture to support their opinion. (However, if in my perusal of my wardrobe I discovered that all of my clothing is designed to attract attention in a way that isn’t appropriate, I would have some serious decisions to make.)

But . . . let’s say I am working backstage for a large dramatic production at NewSpring, and it’s my job to get props on stage for the actors to use in their scene. I have looked at the script and I know all my cues, and I think I’m doing my job perfectly. But then–the director comes back and tells me to bring the props out earlier, that I’m not bringing them out soon enough. What do I do? Do I immediately assume that the director is just trying to stifle my creativity or tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing? Do I jump to the conclusion that the director is just expressing his opinion and being critical of my work? No. I would treat it the same way. I would take a good long look at my motivation and the circumstances. In this case, when we’re talking about a dramatic production, the director is the one in charge, and if he wants the props on stage sooner, it’s my responsibility to get them on stage sooner — becuase the director is my authority and I am commanded in Scripture to obey my authorities. And in this case, my refusal to accept the direction (aka discipline and correction) will negatively impact the production as a whole. The actors won’t have their props. The whole play will be affected by my decision. Granted, if I have real, honest reasons why I think the props should go out at a different time, I’ll speak up and respectfully request to do it my way. But if the director says no, what the director says goes.

Do you see the difference? If there is no scriptural basis for the correction you are getting, it’s an opinion. You have to base everything in Scripture, but you can’t just shrug off every bit of correction or instruction as criticism. You have to take it all seriously until you’ve compared it to the Word of God. And if you compare it to the Word of God and find your actions lacking, you need to change.

Admit that you were wrong. Accept correction and instruction and discipline no matter how much it might hurt, and you will be called a wise person. Not only will you be wiser for it, you will also help yourself and help others. Because most of the time, discipline doesn’t just keep you out of trouble, it keeps you from causing trouble for other people too.