Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Why asking is better than demanding

Have you ever had to pull rank on someone? I don’t have to do it very often. The last time I had to do it was over the phone with somebody, which is awful. My best friend and I were trying to get to Philadelphia for a writing conference where we were speaking on a panel, and the airline had canceled her flight with no warning. And I ended up on the phone for four hours, arguing with three different airline representatives about the situation.

If it had been our fault, I would have backed off. If it had been a vacation, I would have backed off. If it was the weather, that would have been something else entirely. But we were committed to speaking at this conference, and it was the airline’s fault. So it was only right that they find us another flight. They just wouldn’t.

Until I got direct with them. Until I told the guy I was talking to exactly how I felt about the situation—that I would never fly their airline again (I haven’t) because I’d never experienced customer service so lacking (I hadn’t) and that I intended to contact them regarding the entire fiasco (I did). And surprise, surprise, he happened to have a flight waiting just a few hours later.

But I don’t like to be demanding, even if I’m demanding the right thing. With an airline, to a certain extent, I understand that they are limited by restrictions and regulations. Although, in this case, they should have done what was right the first time I asked them and saved us all four hours of anguish.

But what about between Christians? Have you ever had to pull rank on another Christian? Have you ever had to demand that a Christian do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do?

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Water lily at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Philemon 1:8-9.

That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.

I love the way Paul approaches this entire situation. Onesimus was a slave that had run away from his master, Philemon. Philemon was a Christian, and when Paul met Onesimus in prison and led him to Christ, Paul wrote to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus.

If anyone could have pulled rank on Philemon, it was Paul. Paul was one of the greatest Christ-followers in history. I guarantee, if he told me to do something, I would have done it.

But Paul didn’t operate like that. Philemon was his friend and his brother in Christ and instead of simply demanding that Philemon forgive Onesimus, Paul just asked him instead.

Why does that work? Why is that better?

Well, for one, if someone makes the choice to do what is right instead of doing it because they’re told, you can know it’s because their attitude has changed. There’s a big difference between doing something because you’ve chosen to do it and doing something because you’ve been told.

It’s a bigger blessing for the one who chooses and a bigger blessing for the one who asked.

Does that mean you’ll run the risk that they’ll say not? Sure. And in some cases, you have to pull rank and demand what is right. But if you have the opportunity to ask instead of demand, take it. It’ll help you grow in your relationships with others, and it’ll give people around you a chance to do the right thing for the right reason.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How do you live for God’s glory?

I like practical advice. When I ask a question, I’d like a straightforward answer. Life doesn’t have to be complicated, and faith doesn’t have to be confusing. Unfortunately, so many times that’s what it becomes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so thankful to have grown up in the Church (capital C … because the Church is something bigger than a building), but we do have our own language. Don’t we?

What I find ironic about religious jargon is that most church people can’t even define it. It just sounds good when said out loud. And those phrases that sound good said out loud rapidly become catchphrases we Christians spout off, but do we ever really think about what they mean?

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:31.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Is it just me or does “do all for the glory of God” sound a little foggy? Maybe it’s because we don’t talk that way. Somehow this powerful little statement became a widely used phrase that you hear everywhere in religious situations.

For the glory of God this. For the glory of God that. And obviously it’s important, because it’s in the Bible. But what does it mean? If that’s what God wants from us, then I want to do it. But how do I do it?

Well, first of all, we need to break the phrase down and identify what it’s actually talking about. What is glory? If you look it up in the dictionary, in most cases it will say that glory is something people give people they want to honor or praise or worship.

I was curious, so I did a little word study over at BibleHub.com. I don’t speak Greek, so I could have it wrong. But from what I can tell, the original Greek word used (δόξα) literally means “what evokes good opinion, i.e. that something has inherent, intrinsic worth.”

Have you ever thought about it that way? Saying that you want to live in a way that brings glory to God is a florid, dramatic statement in my opinion. Maybe that’s just because I know so many extroverts, but even the word glory makes me think of people with their arms spread wide, shouting to the sky. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But can I really drink a cup of coffee to the glory of God?

Today’s verse says to do everything for God’s glory, so how would drinking a cup of coffee fit into that?

Thinking about it from this other perspective might clear it up a bit. As Christ-followers, we are to live the kind of life that gives people a good opinion about God.

How does drinking coffee fit into that? Well, for one, we can do it. That’s a huge blessing for me, and it’s probably an even bigger blessing for the people around me, especially in the mornings.

Because of God’s covenant with us through Jesus, we don’t live under a set of laws. We’re under grace, which means that God will grant us salvation through Christ free of charge, with no expectation, because we couldn’t afford it anyway. So we can eat meat. We can eat vegetables. We can drink coffee and Coke and–gasp!–yes, even alcohol!

There’s nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love. There’s nothing a Christ-follower can do that will cause God to reject him or her. The only unpardonable sin is refusing to accept Jesus in the first place.

But that still doesn’t answer the question. How do I live for God’s glory? What do I have to do to live a life that will give people a good opinion of God?

Like I said before, I like practicality. And it doesn’t get much more practical than this: Find out what God wants you to do and do it.

That’s it.

There’s no magic formula. There’s no special chant. There’s no secret handshake. You read the Bible or seek Christian counsel to learn how God says to live, and then you live that way. And when someone asks you why, you tell them you make your choices because of what God says is right.

That’s what it comes down to. Choices. Everyone has choices. We face choices every day, ranging from what color socks to wear or what career path to take or whether to speed on the way in to work or not. The question isn’t how do you live life for God’s glory. The question is how does God want me to live?

Love God. Love people. Do what God says is right.

Baby red panda looking down from his perch at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Focus doesn’t happen on its own

This is the time of year when I get really busy. My brain races. It’s so full of information and things I need to do, and then I get stressed out. Well, I don’t want to do that this year. I want to manage my stress instead of letting it control me, and to do that I need focus.

Baby red panda looking down from his perch at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Baby red panda looking down from his perch at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:21.

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

When I first read this verse today, I didn’t think it had anything to do with focus. So I almost skipped over it. But if you think about it, it has everything to do with focus.

It takes focus and perseverance (and God’s help) to overcome anything, especially our default settings. And as human beings, let’s face it, our default setting is evil. Left on our own to our own devices we will do the opposite of what God has called us to do, and whatever is opposite God is evil.

It’s easy to do what’s wrong. And I’m not just talking about what culture defines as wrong because our culture is screwed up and we shouldn’t use it as a basis for anything. I’m talking about what the Bible calls wrong. Lying. Stealing. Hurting others. Being selfish. Those things are easy because they’re hard wired into us. But as Christ-followers, we have a choice. We don’t have to live that way. We can choose to take a different path. But choices don’t happen by accident and they never happen on their own.

No one can choose for you. Maybe they think they can. Maybe they try to. But choice is personal. Choice is something in your own heart and spirit. Choice goes beyond mere behavior and is a reflection of your attitude toward life, toward others, toward God.

And if you’re going to choose to do what the Bible says is right, you aren’t going to be able to do it without some level of focus. First, you have to identify what evil is. I think our culture has taught us to believe that evil is easy to spot. We expect to see devils in red suits with pitchforks. We expect the antagonists in our lives to look and act like bad guys. But the truth is that evil blends in, and oftentimes the only way to know what is evil is to know what the Bible says. And if you don’t know what the Bible says, you’ll be deceived.

But beyond even recognizing evil, our response to it requires purposeful effort. Like a grass fire. You can’t just sit back and wish that it will go out on its own. You have to get in there and put it out. It takes effort. Responding to evil is the same, but we try to do it in our own strength. We preach, we protest, we march, we shake Bibles at it while we stand at a distance. Standing at a distance and condemning evil is easy because you don’t have to get your hands dirty.

But what did Jesus do? When He was faced with evil, did He stand on a street corner with a sign and shout at people? No. He went and found the worst of them and took them to lunch. He hung out with the worst kinds of people. He spent His time with thieves and liars. He expended His energy loving the unlovable. He didn’t run away from evil. He didn’t condone it. He didn’t accept it. But He sure wasn’t afraid of it. So we shouldn’t be either. But you can’t face evil in your own strength. You have to face it like Christ did, with God’s power and grace and love.

We are all going to face evil in our lives. Every day. So choose now how you’re going to handle it. You can accept it but if you’re a Christ-follower, that’s going to cause some trouble for you down the road. You can fight it with protests and and Bible verses shoved down other people’s throats, but I wouldn’t say that’s very effective. Or you can identify it and love the people who are trapped in it.

It takes effort. It takes time. It takes risk. It takes focus, friends. So focus on what’s good and then do it, especially to those who are bound by evil. You never know how God is going to use you and your choices to help someone else.

Bolivar Island lighthouse from the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Do justly

I’ve only seen a message in the clouds once. I can’t remember what the airplane was writing with the smoke against the blue sky, but I remember seeing it and wondering why God couldn’t make His instructions so clear.

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever wish that God would just tell you what He wanted you to do? Someone I work with has this habit of leading a conversation toward what he wants to communicate, but he won’t tell us what he’s thinking because he wants us to guess. And it irritates the fire out of me because I won’t have an option anyway; whatever he wants us to do, we have to do. So why make us guess?

I feel that way with God sometimes. And then I read a verse like today’s verse and I kick myself because I remember that God is always clear and concise and it’s me who gets things muddled up.

Bolivar Island lighthouse from the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Bolivar Island lighthouse from the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Micah 6:8.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

It honestly doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it? Do what’s right. Love mercy. Walk humbly. But hang on a second. Think about those three things.

Do what’s right. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

What do they actually mean? What is God actually telling us to do? How is He telling us to live?

I’ve never done this before on this blog, but I’m going to do it now. I’m going to take three days and focus on the same verse because those three things are important. This month I’m trying to get my perspective in order and focus on things that matter, and from the language in this verse, these three things matter. So I want to make sure I understand where God is coming from.

So…the first one…do what is right. Sounds easy enough.

Those of you who read my ramblings regularly (say that three times fast) know that I’m not a Bible scholar, so I often check other translations. This is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?

Do justly. Do what is right. Seems straightforward except for one little question that plagues 21st Century postmodern cultures: What is right?

This whole topic of there being no absolute right or wrong has been really damaging to people, I think. I’m not an expert on the subject, but even I can see the holes in it. Because if right and wrong depend on the individual, there will never be any order. Societies that adopted that kind of culture didn’t last very long. Unfortunately, that’s where America is heading.

But that still doesn’t answer the question. What is right? If there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong, what is it? Where do you find it?

Well, check out the beginning of today’s verse: “The Lord has told you what is good.”

Do you think we have the Bible just so it can gather dust on the coffee table? I’m pretty sure that’s not how it was intended to be used.

Some people get upset about the Bible, calling it a book of dos and don’ts, but let’s be honest here. That’s kind of what it is. Yes, it’s much more than that, but the Bible is an instruction manual. It’s like a roadmap. The Bible is full of stories and examples of how to live and choices and consequences and what’s real and what’s not, but if it sits unopened and unread on our shelves, how will we know what God is trying to tell us?

The Lord has told us what is good. He’s told us what’s right. And He expects us to do it. Can you call yourself a Christ-follower and do what’s wrong? Sure. But why would you?

So what is right?

Love God. Love people. Remember that from yesterday? Yeah, pretty much the basic answer for nearly anything.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Doing what is right is sometimes the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s so much easier to do what’s wrong. It’s so much easier to give in to rumors and gossip. It’s so much easier to lie. It’s so much easier to steal. It’s so much easier to think only of yourself. And you can absolutely do all of that, and God won’t love you any less or any more than He already does.

But each of those choices has a consequence you’ll have to face at some point. If you gossip, eventually you’ll have to face the person you’re talking about. If you lie, eventually you’ll have to face the truth. If you steal, eventually you’ll have to face repayment. And if you only think of yourself, eventually you’ll have to face yourself and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

Read the Bible and learn what is right, and then focus on doing it every day. Eventually doing what’s right will become a habit, and it’s a good habit to have because just as poor choices have bad consequences, good choices eventually have great rewards.

Do what’s right. That matters to God, so it should matter to us.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Enduring metaphorical lions

Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, but it’s always worth it. And God always honors people who do what the Bible says. Maybe it might not feel like it. Actually, at first, it may feel like you’re being punished for doing what the Bible says, but there’s never been a time when God hasn’t provided for his people or protected them when they needed it (even if they needed protection from themselves).

We live in a dark, broken world. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to; that’s been true since Adam and Even sinned. And the longer we live, the farther we seem to slip away from what God intended our lives to look like. We live in a culture that calls what is good bad and what is bad good and while we don’t have laws that force us to turn against God (yet), popular opinion and political correctness and peer pressure can be just as forceful.

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Roaring lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Daniel 6:10.

But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.

I love the stories in the book of Daniel. It’s such a complicated book, with so much going on, so much history, so much prophecy. But the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den is one of those little Bible stories that nearly everyone knows, whether they know the reason or purpose behind it or not. And if you’ve grown up in church at all, it’s likely you’ve heard the story or at least colored a Daniel in the Lion’s Den Worksheet.

It’s ironic because Daniel’s story is one we often relegate to children’s books, but it’s more relevant to the adult world now than it’s ever been. In case you don’t know the story, you can find it in Daniel 6. It’s worth reading. Basically, the king’s advisors got Daniel in trouble because they were jealous. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because he wouldn’t stop praying in public, but an angel came and closed the lions’ mouths so they couldn’t hurt him. That’s the story.

For years and years, I’ve heard this story used as a premise for the concept of civil disobedience. In a nutshell, that just means that if a law ever commands that a Christ-follower turn against God, God’s law supersedes the law of men. In all other circumstances, we are subject to the authorities who are in power (I think that’s Romans 13). But when those authorities force us to disobey God, Christ followers need to obey God rather than men. Much like how Daniel did it here. But this month I’ve been focusing on endurance, and something stood out to me that I’m sure I’ve seen before but have just forgotten. Many times when we have to endure a situation or circumstance, all we really need to do is just to keep on keeping on.

When Daniel heard that the law had been signed, he didn’t go walk a picket line. He didn’t mark in the streets with a cardboard sign covered in catchphrases. He didn’t join a protest or a political organization. He didn’t issue written statements or go on national TV to declare his opposition. He didn’t do any of that. He quietly went home and prayed just as he had always done. I don’t know if that strikes a chord with you or not, but it makes me think. Because when I run into tough circumstances, the first thing I think to do is to go on the defensive. I want to put up my shield and hunker down and prepare to ward off the attacks of the people coming after me. Or I just attack.

Don’t misunderstand. We do need to be ready and prepared. We are fighting a battle, but we’re not fighting against people in this battle. And going defensive or offensive, usually ends up hurting people and hurting the cause of Christ. Yes, we need to stand up for what is right but always with humility and grace.

What did Daniel do? He didn’t change anything. He was already praying three times a day. So he just kept on doing it. And I think that’s what we need to do most of the time. We don’t need to change our tactics. We don’t need to get more aggressive. We don’t need to alter our course. I mean, if something is wrong, yes, it needs to change. But if not?

It’s like waiting in line at the grocery store. This is a horrible example, but work with me. If you get in line at a grocery store and you wait and wait and wait and get tired of waiting and decide to jump into another line, what happens? Usually, that line will move slower than the one you left.

Our world is dark and broken, and we can’t fix it. Honestly, God’s not even going to fix it. He fixes us. And when difficult and challenge circumstances come our way, we just need to endure them. We need to press on and keep doing what we’re doing. Check your heart, yes. Make sure you’re in the right place, and if you are, keep on doing what you’re doing. And take your troubles to God and trust Him sort them out.

Do what is right in spite of what people say about you. Do what God commands in spite of what people think of you.

Will that get us in trouble with people around us? Probably. Will that make us the butt of unfair jokes? Most likely. Will we be thrown into a pit of lions? Maybe metaphorically. But God can shut the mouths of metaphorical lions just as easily as real ones.