Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Live like a messenger who’s about to get shot

What do you do when people lie about you? How do you react when people talk behind your back? How do you respond when people make fun of you?

I’m a people pleaser, and even thinking about the fact that some people don’t like me makes me feel sick inside. I want everyone to like me. I want every person I meet to feel better because they’ve met me. But while that’s a great goal to strive for, not everyone is going to feel that way. I’m going to rub some people the wrong way. Some people will misunderstand me. And it won’t be because of anything I’ve done, necessarily, but their reaction to me will stem more from their personal experiences than my personality. We all make snap decisions about people.

But as a people pleaser, I like to make people happy. So when they’re not, I am crushed. I can’t focus on anything else other than what I could have done differently to make them happy. But is that important? Is making people happy something we need to spend a lot of time on? When it comes to pleasing people, what does God think?

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:10-12.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

We’re still in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, studying the things that matter to God. The first time I read through this verse this morning, I actually thought I wouldn’t use it. The rest of the verses at the beginning of Matthew 5 were pretty straightforward when you’re trying to discern the things that matter to God, but this one? Not so much. Because peace matters to God. Humility matters to God. Doing the right thing matters to God. But what about persecution? Persecution matters to God? He wants us to be persecuted?

Does He really?

True, the verse says that we’ll be blessed or happy when we are persecuted for doing the right thing, and that goes back to what’s been said many other times–that God cares about us doing the right thing. But I think this verse is about more than that. Like I said above, I’m a people pleaser, so I’m often tempted to make people happy at the expense of what’s right. I don’t want to be persecuted. I don’t want to be mocked. I don’t want to be lied about or have “evil things” said about me.

But guess what? If you’re living for God, the world is going to say mean things about you. If you’re following Christ, you’re going to be made fun of. People are going to make up stuff about you. It’s what they did to Jesus. Why do we expect things to be different for us? The world hasn’t changed.

So what’s the bottom line here? What does this have to do with God’s expectations for us?

Well, the way I see it, we’re supposed to be living a life that’s so obviously sold out to Christ that we welcome mocking and scorn. Not accept it. Not necessarily expect it. But that we don’t let it shake us when it does come.

Why do people make fun of us? Why do Christians become the brunt of so many cruel jokes or the object of so much hate? Well (just being 100% honest here) in America many Christians I’ve met are so full of themselves that they need some persecution to help them get their heads back on straight. But around the world in general, bring a Christian is very different than being a Christian in America. There is true hate for Christ in the world. There are more Christians martyred for their faith today than there were in Rome.

It comes down to the fact that Christians who are truly following Christ shine light in the darkness, and people like darkness. They like to live the way they want to live. They like to do what they want to do regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and when a Christian comes by living according to God’s love, that light reveals to them that they are accountable for how they’re living. The light makes them uncomfortable. And at the crossroads, they are faced with the choice to either turn to Christ or to shoot the proverbial messenger.

What they think doesn’t matter. What they say doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that they react at all because that shows you that you’re touching a nerve, you’re striking a chord, you’re making a difference–at least enough so that it catches their attention. If your life isn’t different enough to cause a stir, you might want to double check your priorities.

I’m not saying that God wants us to seek persecution. That’s not it at all. But what I get from this verse today is that what matters to God is how we live. It matters that we do the right thing, yes. It matters that we love others, yes. It matters that we do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, etc. But it also matters that we live the kind of life that shines a light into the darkest corners of an unbeliever’s heart so that they are faced with the choice to either turn to Christ or turn away from Him.

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Waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

It’s hard to hide an ark

God asks us to do crazy things sometimes, or at least they seem like crazy things to us. To Him, they make perfect sense, but He operates on a level higher than us. But when was the last time God asked you to do something that didn’t make any sense? He’s asked me to take strange international trips. He’s asked me to give financially when I didn’t really have the finances to give. He’s asked me to give time and effort when I was running low on both. And He’s asked me to talk to people about things I don’t want to talk about. Crazy stuff.

But after reading today’s verses, I think maybe I need to redefine crazy.

Waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Waves on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Genesis 6:14-16 and 22.

“Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior.Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.” … So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Crazy, right? It’s so crazy, it makes all of the “crazy” things God has asked me to do sound pretty tame. And I don’t care who you are, as far as I know, Noah is the only one in history who ever received this command. I don’t know of anyone else who God asked to build a giant boat and fill it full of animals. It makes me wonder what my reaction would have been if God had asked me to do something like that. I’d like to think that I would have said, “Yes, Lord! Of course!” But my reaction probably would have been more like Bill Cosby’s famous Noah routine: “Right.”

But whether God asks us to build giant boats or not, following Christ does require us to do some strange things that make us stand out. Believe it or not, that’s kind of the point. Many times believers are referred to as symbols of light or examples or ambassadors to the world, and it should be impossible to conceal any of those. I think it’s in Matthew where believers are called a “city on a hill” because they can’t be hidden. Remember the song “This Little Light of Mine”? Yeah, same concept.

And as a result of following Christ and doing all these things like loving our enemies and giving to God’s work financially and reading the Bible and believing what’s in the Bible, many times we invite criticism and mockery. I can’t tell you that I have been put in front of a room of people and publicly humiliated; that hasn’t happened (yet). But I have heard my beliefs and the foundations of my faith mocked by people in authority over me. I’ve seen the basis of all I believe torn apart and held up as an example of ancient, irrelevant ritual. I’ve been in a class with a teacher who has pretty much said that anyone who believes in the Bible is a fool.

And if being called a fool or a backward person or a crazy bothers you, maybe those sorts of things will affect you. But honestly, if you’re going to choose to follow Christ, you need to realize that you’re going to be made fun of. And we don’t even have to build a giant boat. American Christians are renowned for hiding their faith. Noah didn’t have that option. You can’t exactly hide an ark. Everyone around him knew exactly what he was doing.

And what’s more, for poor Noah, not only did he build the ark, he told people about it. Over and over and over. He told them what it was for, why he was building it, and why they needed to come with them when God destroyed the Earth. But nobody believed him. Can you imagine the ridicule he faced? Can you imagine what he had to endure from his neighbors and his friends and maybe even his family?

But he didn’t let it phase him. Oh, I’m sure he had bad days. Remember, this didn’t happen overnight. It was like 120 years or something. I can’t remember, but Noah built the ark and then had to wait and wait and wait while God gave people the chance to change their minds and come with him and his family. But nobody did. They all kept their distance and made fun of him.

And that’s a lesson I need to learn. It’s not that people’s opinions matter so much to me, but I like people to like me. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t like rocking the boat. I don’t like being in the spotlight, especially as the person who causes conflict or difficulty. But part of what I want to accomplish with my life is to become a writer that challenges the way people think, and I’m not going to be able to do that if I’m always worried about whether or not people like me. I’m going to have to get to the point where it’s okay that people don’t.

The one person we need to worry about pleasing is God, and if we can get that right, everything else will fall into place. So whether God is telling you to write a book or quit your job or to be a missionary or to build a giant boat and fill it full of giraffes or whatever, do it. Make sure it’s from Him, but once you determine that it is from God, do it. But realize that you’re going to turn heads. You’re going to draw attention. And many people won’t understand, even if you explain it.

But don’t worry about that. You just do what God has told you to do. He’ll work out the details. He did it for Noah, and the same God who took care of Noah and his family is the same God I talked to this morning just before I sat down to write this.

And just because I can … and because it’s really funny, enjoy: