Help each other, but do it yourself

I’m great at making lists and plans and schedules. What I’m not so good at is sticking to them. Do I have any brothers and sisters out there? It’s not difficult for you to see everything that needs to be done, and you don’t even have to fight to get them into a somewhat-reasonable schedule. But when the day comes to actually follow the schedule, other priorities have popped up. People ask you to do things you didn’t plan for. Life happens.

And you have to adjust your schedule accordingly. But then you’re faced with a dilemma, because the new things you’ve added into your schedule prevent you from having enough time to do what you planned originally. So you push everything back. And then by the end of the week, it snowballs, and you’re completely buried.

I struggle with this so much because I have a hard time accepting that my plans and my goals are more important than the plans and goals of other people. And that’s where it gets tricky, because you can’t very well put yourself first and still follow Jesus, can you?

0D9BF61E08Today’s verses are Galatians 6:2-5.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct. 

On first glance, this passage almost contradicts itself, doesn’t it? One one hand, we are to share each other’s burdens, but we’re supposed to be responsible for our own conduct too. Can those two statements exist in the same sentence? Help each other, but do it yourself?

Every Christ-follower has something to do that God has designed them for. It’s a unique and individual task assigned to every believer. And you should never ever undervalue that fact. What God has called you to do matters, and you shouldn’t set that calling aside lightly.

But, sometimes life does happen. Sometimes the people in your life need your help, your support, your love, and when that happens, you have to be willing to do what’s needed. Because you’re called to help your brothers and sisters in Christ just as much as you’re called to fulfill God’s destiny for your life.

But there’s a difference between helping a brother or sister who needs you and constantly putting out fires. Helping someone with a burden isn’t the same as doing your own work, and if all you’re doing is carrying other people’s burdens for them, you’re going to wear yourself out, you won’t accomplish what God has called you to do, and you’ll prevent your friend from learning a lesson God needs to teach him.

So what does this paradoxical approach to scheduling your life even look like? Beats me. It’ll be different for each person.

Once you figure out what God wants you to do (and that’s a whole different blog post in itself), you need to do it. You need to get your life to the place where you can do what God tells you to do without delay or excuse. Then, you have to DO it. That’s another step. It’s one step to find it. It’s another step to plan it. It’s a huge step to take action, but you must. Don’t just sit there. Do it.

My problem is that I don’t see my calling as equally important to someone else’s. I know I’m called to do something important, but if someone else comes along and needs help, I put more value on their calling than on mine. And that’s not necessarily wrong. I mean, who knows, maybe your calling is to help others achieve their callings. Anything’s possible, and the Body of Christ has many parts.

But if you know for sure what you’re supposed to be doing for God, don’t let anyone else tell you it doesn’t matter. That means if it’s important enough to put on your schedule, it’s important enough for you to do it, and it’s important enough for you to turn down other projects for it.

Don’t be hard-hearted about it, of course. And if life happens (as it so often does), stop to help. But ask God about it first. Ask God’s permission to step away from your calling in order to do something else.

Maybe you don’t know what your calling is, and that’s fine. Don’t give up until you find it. Ask God to reveal it, because you have one. Everybody does. Sometimes it’s a dream. Sometimes it’s a goal. Sometimes it doesn’t even look like a calling. But you’ve got one.

What you are doing for God matters. Period. And, yes, it’s important to help other people. Yes, it’s important to encourage your brothers and sisters. But don’t treat your calling as dispensable. God designed you for a purpose. There’s nothing insignificant about that.

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Let’s get to work while we still have time

When I’m really busy or loaded down with deadlines, my default is to stop working and play. The more I have to do, the more I want to do nothing. I’m not sure what that is or where it comes from, but it’s one of the weaknesses I’ve noticed about myself. And it’s a pain in the butt.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot to do. And the things I’m doing are important. I’m following Jesus with everything I have, writing for Him, working for Him, loving people for Him, trying to live according to His Word. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I feel like doing. It comes down to what I am doing and what I haven’t done.

time-watch-hands-of-a-clock-clock-pointersToday’s verses are Romans 13:11-12.

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.

There’s not a lot of time left. I’m not sure how many people are willing to accept that, but the world is getting darker by the moment. If you’re a Christ-follower, you can’t ignore that fact. The longer the world goes on in this state, the more trouble we get into.

This world and our lives here won’t last forever, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that our time is running out. We have a limited span of time to be here before God calls us home, and in the big picture of eternity, our handful of decades on Earth isn’t very long. But God gave it to us for a reason.

You can do a lot in 70 years. Heck, you can do accomplish a lot in 32 years, if you’re willing to work hard and do what God says is right. But it’s not easy. And you run into those days where you don’t want to do anything, where life just feels like you’re running in circles, like you aren’t actually accomplishing anything.

And maybe you’re not. Maybe you really are spinning your wheels, and if that’s the case, you need to stop and think about your situation. Are you really doing what God has called you to do? Or are you just staying put because that’s where you’re comfortable?

Our time here is running out, and God put us on this Earth to work for Him. I know it’s frustrating to be so busy you can’t keep your head above water, but that’s where priorities come into play. That’s where we need to start making the hard choices that will allow us to do the things that matter and let the things that don’t slip away.

What has God called you to do in your life? Are you doing it? If you aren’t, why not?

There’s nothing wrong with resting. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. We all need it from time to time, and it’s important that we take the time we need to recover when we’re tired. But don’t stay there. Don’t keep sitting when you need to be moving. Don’t keep resting when you need to get back to work. We all have jobs to do.

The sunlight is nearly gone, and soon it’ll be too dark to work. So let’s get busy about God’s work now, while we still have the time.

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Get uncomfortable

Are you comfortable? Just in general. If you are, that’s good. One point some Christians really like to focus on is how we need to live sacrificially for Christ, and I don’t dispute that. But what I’ve found to  be true is that even if you sacrifice for Christ, that doesn’t necessarily equal discomfort.

I guess comfort means different things to different people. God gave us this beautiful Earth as our temporary home. It’s here for us to take care of and to enjoy. The trouble comes when we start to value our comfort more than His commands.

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:7-9.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

I grew up with comfortable faith, and that’s not necessarily bad. We all should be comfortable with what we believe. But I do think it is possible to get too comfortable.

Religious ideas and concepts–the rituals and traditions that identify us as one denomination or another–are comforting, especially if we’ve grown up with them. Whether it’s the Eucharist, practicing confession, reciting liturgy, or skipping the third verse of a hymn, our traditions in the church sometimes give us a false sense of security–that because we choose to live in such-and-such a way or because we choose to hold to such-and-such tradition, we don’t need to ask the hard questions about faith and relationship with God.

It’s difficult to ask hard questions when you’re too comfortable.

I’m not saying that any of our religious traditions are bad or even wrong. Most of the time there is a symbol behind them that means something or should mean something (except skipping the third verse of the hymn, that one I’ve never been able to figure out). But when we rely on those traditions to define our faith, when those religious rituals become more important to us than growing and building our relationship with Christ, something’s wrong.

Or did you think once you meet Christ, that’s all there is to it?

How many relationships have you had where you just meet someone and you never get to know them better? Can you even call that a relationship? Sure, if you want to meet Christ and never speak to Him again, I guess that’s okay. But is that what you really want? If that’s the case, why meet Him at all?

I love this passage today because it always makes me stop and think about how much emphasis I put on living  “a good Christian life.” Yes, obedience is important and expected. Yes, God has given us certain standards we are to live by in order to keep us under His umbrella of blessing. But you know what?

There’s nothing l can do, no lifestyle I can live, no language I can speak, no accomplishment I can achieve that will make me worthy of the awesome gift God has given me through His grace.  That’s what grace is, people.

It’s overwhelming, completely and entirely unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. We can never deserve it. And I love what Paul says in this passage. Yes, living a “good Christian life” is important, but those things we think make us such good Christians are meaningless.

Read this same passage again in the Message:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

Talking like this makes me uncomfortable. Talking about these sorts of things–throwing away the symbols and traditions and rituals–is uncomfortable because I’m a creature of habit. I don’t particularly like change. I like security and certainty and repeatability.

Again, all those things aren’t bad. But compared to knowing Christ, they’re garbage. Actually, they’re worse than garbage. If my research is correct, what Paul calls them is a word that is offensive in nearly any culture (the word usage is something I’m probably going to post on later this week).

The point is, what do you value more? Your comfort? Your security? The certainty and the repeatability of “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Or are you willing to get uncomfortable? Are you willing to get your hands dirty? Are you willing to step away from the lists of rules and the stained-glass rituals that make you think you can do something to earn righteousness? Are you willing to offend people with the truth? Are you willing to change your mind about what following Christ actually looks like and sounds like?

If you are, hold on for the ride. Because much like sacrificing for Christ doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, being willing to get uncomfortable isn’t uncomfortable. It’s the most exciting choice you’ll ever make.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, North England, United Kingdom

Doing God’s will instead of just finding it

The concept of following God’s will for your life is something you’ll hear in churchy circles on a regular basis. Everyone wants to know God’s will. Who wouldn’t? It would be so much easier if God would just thump us on the head with a neon sign explaining exactly what we’re supposed to go do with ourselves, but He doesn’t really work that way.

That all-important question drives so many people: What is God’s will? We treat it like a holy question, like it’s some camouflaged animal crouching in the brush too scared to reveal itself. But I don’t think God’s will is like that. I don’t think we have to tiptoe around God’s will in our lives like it will disappear if we step too hard. I don’t even think God’s will is difficult to discern. What’s difficult about God’s will is obedience.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, North England, United Kingdom

Stones of Hadrian’s Wall, North England, United Kingdom

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.

I think we get caught up in finding God’s will for our life, when we really need to find God’s will for today. We don’t understand our lives anyway, so trying to find the answer to sum up the purpose for our life in one word isn’t a very good idea. I don’t think we can do it.

But finding God’s will for today? What does the Bible say? What is right in front of you today? Do you need to go to work? Do you need to go to school? Do you need to take care of someone else? I love this passage because it’s talking about a group of people who made a real difference. The churches of Macedonia didn’t have much, but because God told them to give, they gave. And God blessed their obedience through Paul. Can you imagine being a supporting church for the Apostle Paul? Yikes.

Whatever God has put in your path today is what you need to focus on right now, and you need to do that according to how God says to live in the Bible. That’s why it’s so important to know what the Bible says. But what about tomorrow? Just being honest here, I’m facing some pretty big decisions in 2014, one of which just popped up a few days ago and seems to be taking on a life of its own. It’s exciting and terrifying and wonderful and so much bigger than me, and the first question I had was: “Is this God’s will?” Because I don’t want this to be just some wild hare that popped up in my random brain.

But if I take it and examine it according to the Bible, it’s not. Making this decision wouldn’t contradict anything in Scripture. On the contrary, it would actually help spread God’s word to other people. Plus, it’s something I’ve always dreamed of, and it’s something people need. It’s something that God can use to really make a difference in people’s lives.

Everything is in place just about. God has opened many doors, especially in the last few days, that demonstrate that this idea isn’t from me. It’s from Him. So why do I hesitate? Why am I still stuck in the “searching for God’s will” phase?

Honestly? I’m terrified. This is a huge step. It’s a massive decision. It’s not the decision I ever anticipated making, and it scares me because it’s unknown. And that’s where we get to the obedience part.

If God has told you to do something, do it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t speculate. Don’t worry. Just jump. Dive in head first and trust that God will catch you. If you’re living your life for Him, if you’re seeking Him first in every decision you make, if your purpose in life is to give Him glory, you can’t make a wrong move. The decisions and choices you make, if they are dedicated to Him, will be successful. Maybe not in how you define success but it’s more important to be successful in God’s perspective anyway.

So here’s to 2014, a year of change and transition! I’ve mentioned a few times how awful 2013 was, and it really was. It was a tough year. A hard year. A frustrating year. But one of the many blessings that came out of 2013 was me learning how to trust God all over again. I’ve always trusted Him but never like this. I saw God do miracles last year. I saw God take situations that could have no resolution and tie everything up with a beautiful bow. And if God can do that with all the craziness of last year, I know He can do miracles this year too.

So I’m going to trust Him. If He says jump, I’m going to ask: “How high?” He knows what He’s doing, and He never asks us to do something that He won’t equip us for. That doesn’t mean the process will be easy. It rarely is. But as long as He’s there, it won’t fail. Not in the areas where it matters.

So what is God telling you to do today?

Learning God’s will

Do you know God’s will for your life? Shoot, forget your life. Do you know God’s will for today? Or for this hour?

Sometimes knowing God’s will is an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute kind of thing, but no matter what His will is for you or for me, it’s something that we have to be taught, according to today’s verse, Psalm 143:10.

10 Teach me to do your will,
      for you are my God.
   May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
      on a firm footing.

God’s will isn’t some etheral, abstract concept floating around in the void waiting to be claimed by the person who seeks it. God’s will is a concrete, sensible sort of action that you can wrap your head around. There’s nothing vague or fuzzy about God. He is always clear, He is always concise, and He is always certain.

If the instructions you’re getting from God seem confused, you might what to check your source.

We aren’t born knowing God’s will. And God’s will isn’t like lightning that suddenly strikes us one day and we realize that we haven’t been doing God’s will.

We learn what God’s will is through Scripture and through biblical instruction. And, honestly, we learn God’s will over time spent not doing it, even though deep down we already know what it is.

The Bible says that I am to love God more than any other person in my life. I am to do everything to the glory of God, as though I were working for God and not for people. I am to honor my parents and love my enemies. I am to be thankful for troubles and difficulties in my life because they work patience.  I am to trust God, that He will work out everything in my life for my good and His glory, whether my current situation already be good or whether it be frustrating. I am to share my faith with other people who don’t believe, not as a Bible thumper but as someone who was one hopeless who has found peace and joy in Christ. I am to use my gifts and talents for God.

This is God’s will for my life. These things never change. And no matter where I’m living or what church I’m going to or what job I have, none of these things will vary.

I had to be taught these things, especially because half of them don’t make sense. Half of them–well, all of them–wouldn’t occur to someone naturally because they go against what normal human existence expects.

I learned these things through my own Bible study and through the teaching I received from my parents and my pastor and my authorities at church. And once I learned these concepts, the Holy Spirit was able to explain to me or to reveal to me how I could live them in my own life.

The Bible is a living book, and it would be a living book just because God breathed its content through its authors. But what makes it so extraordinary is the Holy Spirit, Who explains what the Bible means and how we can apply it to our lives. That’s why Scripture makes so little sense to unbelievers. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit in your life, the Bible seems like foolishness.

Once we know God’s will, the practical everyday concepts God has told us to live, the Holy Spirit can lead us with certain steps forward. Because if we know how to live, we can live. If you know what you’re supposed to do, you can take the next step.

Now, will you always be able to see the results of that step? No. Will you always be able to see what you’re walking on? No. Will it always feel like the right step? I wish it did, but it doesn’t always. No matter how desperately we want to do God’s will, everything He tells us to do will still be contrary to our fallen human nature. So honestly, doing God’s will rarely feels right. But at the same time, you’ll know it’s right.

And when you know something, that makes all the difference in the world. Because if you know God will catch you, no leap of faith is too great.