The awesome limo that took me to lunch Wednesday, Wichita, KS

What a limo ride taught me about God’s favor

Yesterday was supposed to be a normal day. Nothing earth shaking was supposed to happen–just work. And lots of it. (I take it back. A friend was going to come surprise me at 11:23 a.m. … but something happened to prevent it, and she was gracious enough to understand.)

A coworker of mine won a contest on a local radio station, and she got to pick a handful of people at work to be picked up by a limousine and driven to a nice restaurant for lunch!

And she asked if I wanted to go? What?

I’ve never ridden in a limousine in my life. I’ve seen pictures of them, but I’ve never sat in one. So when this monster pulled up into the lot of the Epic Center, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The driver’s name was Floyd, and he was really nice (though we were told his name would be Leroy…. go figure). And all of us had to scoot in down one long bench seat. There was a compartment with ice, a compartment with Cokes, and a bunch of glasses and bottles. The roof had little LED lights in it that twinkled like stars.

And good old Floyd had that heater turned up so high, nobody needed a coat inside, which was nice because it only got to like 25 today.

But as we drove across town to the restaurant, I couldn’t help feeling humbled. I hadn’t expected this sort of a thing. I’m not sure anybody did. We all just showed up at work today, and BOOM! We ended up in a limo, being taken for a free lunch.

The awesome limo that took me to lunch Wednesday, Wichita, KS
The awesome limo that took me to lunch Wednesday, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Proverbs 3:1-4.

My child, never forget the things I have taught you.
Store my commands in your heart.
If you do this, you will live many years,
and your life will be satisfying.
Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
and you will earn a good reputation.

Has someone ever done something nice for you when you really hadn’t done anything extraordinary to deserve it? I mean, maybe you showed up on time. Or you didn’t mind watching a kid at the last minute. Or whatever. As far as you were concerned, you were just doing your best to treat others the way you wanted to be treated.

I think a lot of times we Christ-followers focus on what goes wrong in our lives. I know I do. It’s easier for me to face the troubles and trials when they come if I’m expecting them, so when I get blessings instead of disasters, I don’t know what to do. I almost don’t know how to handle myself.

I didn’t used to spend much time thinking about the concept of favor when I was a kid. It didn’t really mean anything to me. But it was something my mom talked about a lot–that we had favor. I didn’t start noticing it until I got older. As far as I was concerned, I was just living the way Jesus would want me to live, making decisions as He would, treating people like He would, working like He would, and I would end up with opportunities.

Some people would say it’s because I worked hard to earn them, and maybe they’re right to a certain extent. But I say I worked hard because that’s what Jesus expects from me–to work for people as though I’m working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23).

The Bible is so full of wisdom, and all we have to do is learn it and apply it to our lives. Sure, sometimes life gets screwed up, and sometimes you have nothing to do with it. Sometimes life is just life. Sometimes you do the right thing, and you end up in bigger trouble than you were before.

But other times, you do the right thing, and God gets to show you what real favor looks like. It’s privilege you don’t deserve. It’s regard you haven’t exactly earned. It’s respect you don’t know how you obtained.

You get all that just by working hard? No. You are given that when you remember how God says to live and you choose to live that way.

Now, you may not end up in a limo being taken to T.G.I. Friday’s for a free hamburger … but favor will make itself known in opportunities or unexpected gifts that really brighten your day. And when you see them, don’t ignore them. Acknowledge them for what they are.

You made the right choice, and God is blessing you. So thank Him for it. He doesn’t have to, you know. He’s not bound to shower you with limo rides just because you chose to do what He expected of you anyway. But He’s a good God, and He knows that we all need a little encouragement every now and then.

So are you tired of doing the right thing all the time? Think nothing good ever comes from doing the right thing? Think nobody notices? Just hang in there. You might have a limo waiting for you too.

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The main street at Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Doing the one thing you’re called to do

When you have three good paths you can walk, how do you choose the best one? Has anyone else ever been there? I seem to end up at an intersection of competing opportunities every other day, and being the perfectionistic people pleaser I am, I always try to do everything for everybody.

But you can’t do that forever. You can’t always say yes. I mean, you can, but sooner or later, you’re going to crash and burn. Because you’re not superhuman. You have to sleep and eat and take care of your health at some point, whether you believe it or not.

The main street at Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

The main street at Old Cowtown, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This is a familiar story. Most everyone probably knows it, and it’s probably been used in more Sunday school lessons and sermons than anyone can count. I know I’ve heard this story all my life.

So why do I keep trying to make decisions like Martha?

Martha’s heart was in the right place. She wanted to use her gifts to serve Jesus, but she was trying to do too much. She weighed herself down with too much responsibility, and then when she saw her sister sitting and listening, doing one thing (no matter how important it was), I’m sure she got irritated.

I would have been. But Mary had the right idea. She had the opportunity to do one thing–listen. And I think we all usually end up in that same place. We have the chance to do many things or we have the chance to do one thing, and if you’re the sort of person who can manage lots of multitasking, you won’t want to stop with one thing.

And it’s not bad to multitask. If you’re a “ten-talent” servant, make the most of what you have. Use your gifts and your abilities for God, and He’ll multiply them exponentially. But remember even the ten-talent servant started out with five talents. It was God who doubled them. He didn’t take ten and try to make good on the investment on his own.

What has God called you to do? Do you know? Some people know specifically. Other people have a sort of vague understanding. But whatever it is God has called you to do, just do it. And just do it alone.

Don’t do anything else. Don’t try to add to it. Don’t try to supplement it. Don’t try to enhance it.

God has created you for a specific task, and maybe you’re one of those people who can handle multiple tasks, but I’m willing to bet they’re probably all related to each other in some way.

Everything I’m good at has to do with words. Everything God has gifted me in has to do with words and communicating. When I try to do anything other than that, I can do it, and I can do it well, but it’s difficult for me. It’s not my gift. And most of the time whenever I agree to do something outside my gift, it’s to please other people.

Not always, of course. When I have the time and I can help set up chairs or work outside and pick people up and drop people off, I’m so glad to do it. But when it comes to efficiently managing the time that God has given me, saying yes to tutoring someone in math would be a horrible idea, no matter how much I want to make them happy.

Get serious with God. Get close to Him. Get to know Him. And the more you get to know Him, the better understanding you’ll have of what He wants for your life.

Ask Him, and keep your options open. Be willing to do what He asks you to do, and you never know where you might end up.

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Better than a reward

I’m a big fan of the Stargate television franchise, both Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. Maybe that makes me a geek to admit, but I think they’re fascinating. And science fiction is one of my passions because it’s a form of storytelling that allows you to tackle difficult cultural topics without being offensive.

I bring this up today because I just recently watched an episode where one of the characters faces the choice to do the right thing (telling the truth) or to do what she has always done (lie and run away). And one of the other characters encourages her to do the right thing because she will experience relief and happiness as a result.

Is that what happens? Well, not exactly. The character who chooses to do the right thing is actually put in prison and sentenced to life. Not what I would call happy or a relief. If you want to see the episode, it’s called “The Powers That Be” (Stargate: SG-1, Season 9, Episode 5). And it’s the first thing I thought of when I read today’s verse.

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

Joyful are people of integrity,
    who follow the instructions of the Lord.

Crazy science fiction shows aside, truth is true no matter where you find it. And that’s the case with this concept: people who do the right thing can be joyful. But in many instances, our culture defines joy as happiness, and they’re not the same thing.

Happiness anymore is identified with instant gratification. We want immediate results in our favor when we make any choice, difficult or not. That’s why people make bad choices many times because bad choices usually provide instant gratification of some sort, but when the consequences catch up with us, that’s when life isn’t much fun anymore.

Joy is different. Many times, when you do the right thing, when you try to make choices based on the Bible, when you try to live the way God has called us to live, life won’t get easier. On the contrary, it may even get harder. As in the case of this television show episode, even though the character decided to do the right thing, she had a lifetime of bad choices built up that she still had to pay for somehow. Consequences don’t go away just because of one good decision. That’s a law of the universe. If you’ve planted a whole field of bad seed and choose–at the end–to plant a few good seeds, you aren’t going to get an awesome harvest. Maybe those few good seeds will sprout something nice, but the majority of the harvest will be horrible. And that has nothing to do with God. That’s the result of your own choices.

But what if you always make the right call? What if you always do the right thing? Doesn’t that entitle you to some instance or moment of immediate satisfaction, beyond just knowing that you did the right thing?

Maybe.

But at the risk of sounding hyper-spiritual, isn’t joy reward enough? I mean, joy is rarely instant, but it is constant. And why do the right thing at all if you want a reward? Is that the reason to do the right thing? Is that the reason to live the way we’re supposed to live? Isn’t it enough to do right because it’s what God expects?

If we live our lives because we want something in return for our good decisions, I don’t know if we’re living with the right perspective. If we make choices because we will receive a reward for them, I don’t know if our focus is right. Why do you make the choices you make? Why do you do the things you do? What is your motivation for living, for making choices, for choosing between right and wrong?

I’m not saying rewards are bad. No way. I’m just saying I don’t think they should be our focus.

If you’re in a relationship with someone, whether it’s a friendship or a marriage or whatever, do you do good things for that person because they will reward you for it? Do you do good to that person because you expect them to do good back to you? Maybe you do. I don’t know. But to me, in my relationships, I do good for people because I love them. I don’t expect anything in return. I don’t do good for people so they will reward me; I do good for people because I want to be a good friend, an encouragement, a blessing.

Rewards are nice. But what is better is a deeper friendship than I had before.

That’s what’s at stake here. You can do the right thing for God because He will reward you. He’s said He would, and He does. But if all you want is a reward, your life will be shallow. And even the joy you receive won’t satisfy completely because you’ll always want more. But if you do the right thing for God because you want to know Him more, because you want to deepen your relationship with Him, the joy you get will be far better than any financial gain. There’s no end to God, and the better you get to know Him, the more you want to know about Him.So if you’re facing a difficult choice today, choose to do the right thing. Make a decision based on the Bible. Do what God would have you do. But don’t choose based on a reward you might receive. That’s the same motivation you would make a bad decision with. Do the right thing because, even if the results are difficult to handle, you’ll get closer to God, and that’s better than a reward any day.

Evergreen tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Courageous habits are built

Every day we all face challenges that will either stump us or cause us to grow. Even if we make the wrong decision, we can still learn from it and know what to do the next time the challenge comes. But if you don’t know what to do and you choose to do nothing, what will you learn from it?

Evergreen tree - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Evergreen tree – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses come out of the Book of Esther, which I was reading last night. Two sets really stood out to me:

Esther 2:20

Esther continued to keep her family background and nationality a secret. She was still following Mordecai’s directions, just as she did when she lived in his home.

Esther 4:11-16

“All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days.” So Hathach gave Esther’s message to Mordecai. Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”

Granted Esther’s situation was a little different than any that we will probably face today. She’d been taken from the life she knew and made a queen because of her beauty, and an evil man in the king’s court was trying to annihilate the Jewish people. And it fell to Esther to stop him.

But even though her situation was very different from any we will likely face anytime soon, the principles of how she acted during that time are still relevant to us today.

Before Esther even reached the king’s court, she has already built a habit of humility by obeying her cousin Mordecai. So when Mordecai told her to keep her heritage a secret, she didn’t hesitate to obey him.

Then when the plot to destroy the Jews came to light and Mordecai told her to ask the king for help, even though she hesitated out of fear, when Mordecai reminded her that God had put her in a position of authority for a reason, she did it.

Part of doing the right thing is making it into a habit so that when you face the really difficult times, it’s easier to do what you know is right even if it’s scary.

Pop culture would have us believe that courage is some mystical force we summon up out of the blue in order to face the great fears that average people shrink away from. Maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe some people are just bolder than others. But courage isn’t magical and it isn’t something that just materializes. It’s something you have to work on. It’s something you have to choose to do over and over again before it really makes any difference.

Just as it’s important to make doing the right thing a habit, doing courageous things needs to be a habit too. But courage doesn’t always present itself in the grand light the movies and books always display it. Courage is small sometimes. It’s not always attractive. And it’s not always successful – at least in the way the world would call successful.

Courage can be as small and insignificant as smiling at a homeless person. That doesn’t sound big. That doesn’t sound earth shaking. Maybe it’s not. But if you’re a shy, introverted person (like me), it’s you putting yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s you caring more about someone else than yourself. It’s you risking that in response, that person might speak to you, and when you’re an introvert, that’s terrifying. But courage is action in spite of fear, trusting that God has put you where He’s put you for a reason and will catch you when you step wrong.

Even Esther didn’t see the results of her courage until later. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 deal with her plan. She didn’t just come out and ask immediately for what she wanted. She had to prepare the king’s heart for what she was going to ask. But that meant patience.

Courage is something we all need to have. But it isn’t going to look like what the movies say it will. It’s often small, and it’s often very personal. But if you take courage and do what God is calling you to do, even if it feels small at the time, He will use your actions to do something incredible with it.

That’s what God does. He takes our small act of courage and uses it to bless a lot of people.

Long memory

Human memory is amazing. People can remember the strangest things about their pasts, things that you’d think don’t matter at all. But even if it’s something random or (honestly) useless, people can still sometimes recall details about their life as a child. What’s even more amazing is that sometimes a smell can trigger a memory. This happened to me last week.

I walked into one of the elevators in the building I work in. I guess someone had purchased breakfast at the cafe on the first floor and carried it up to their office because the elevator smelled like bacon and eggs. But either someone else had gotten on with ridiculously strong cologne (a lot of the men in this building wear cologne strong enough to make your hair stand on end) or someone had sprayed room freshner in the elevator (that’s possible too as the cleaning ladies are totally OCD).

But the combination of breakfast smells mixed with that smell that was either room freshner or men’s cologne made me think–immediately–of the Four Winds Dining Center at Pensacola Christian College, where I went to school my first year of college. I hadn’t smelled that combination of scents since I left PCC. And just like that I was 18 years old, walking into the Four Winds in my collared shirt and my skirt, swiping my ID card at the door, and making a beeline for the Mexican food station for a taco salad.

I’d always heard that scents can bring on memories, but I’d never experienced it until then. It was startling.

The human mind tucks all sorts of interesting tidbits away, some even without our knowledge, I think. Because I swear I learn things without meaning to sometimes. But then those things stick with me for years. I can remember things from when I was 4. And I’m fairly certain I don’t have the most impressive mind out there. It’s random and it makes strange associations sometimes, but I get the feeling it’s pretty normal for the most part.

So . . . here’s my thought. If human memory is so incredible, can you imagine what God’s memory is like? Imagine being able to remember everything about every instant in perfect, flawless detail. And not just remembering what things look like on the inside–but being able to pierce flesh and see straight down into someone’s soul and remember even what somebody was thinking. Talk about sensory overload. I know I couldn’t keep it all straight. I’m glad He can.

So Hebrews 6:10 was a big encouragement to me this morning.

10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers,[a] as you still do.

God has a long memory. He can remember everything about everyone, the good and the bad. His memory is perfect.  (That gives new significance to Him saying He will forget all ours sins, doesn’t it?) And He remembers the good we do for each other.

Do you ever feel like you’re out there doing the right thing all the time and nobody notices? Do you ever feel like you sacrifice constantly to do the right thing and you never see the reward for it? I feel like that a lot. There are so many times when I could do what I want to do and nobody would know the difference except God and me — but knowing that God sees everything I do is enough for me to do what I need to do instead of what I want to do. But it’s still frustrating. Because doing what’s right and good is so much harder than just doing what feels right and good (which is usually the opposite of right and good).

It’s frustrating. And it’s lonely. Because you feel completely alone when you do the right thing. Because most of the time doing the right thing puts you in the background where no one will notice you. And you can’t step up and claim ownership over the good things you’ve done — most of the time that will cause more trouble. A good example is if you forgive someone who doesn’t realize they hurt you (for whatever reason). You forgive them, but they don’t even realize the “sacrifice” you’ve made in not feeling bitter against them. But for them to know how difficult it was for you to forgive them, you’d have to tell them that they hurt you. And then they’ll get hurt and then you’ll both start fighting . . . You see what I mean?

Sometimes doing the right thing means you have to keep your mouth shut. It means you have to stay in the background. It means you have to act in the shadows where no one can see you and where you get zero recognition.

But even if people forget about you, know that God never does. God sees everything. He sees your heart. He understands your motivation. And He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t forget the good things that you’ve done for other people. He doesn’t forget the sacrifices that you’ve made to help others. He doesn’t forget anything you’ve done for Him or for other believers or for people who don’t believe.

So if you’re feeling depressed or discouraged or alone this morning, think about this verse. And don’t stop doing the right thing even if it’s hard. Doing the right thing is always harder than doing what’s easy. But in the end it’s worth it. And even if no one else notices, God sees. And He’s the one who matters anyway.