How can you achieve success in God’s eyes?

Success is an ironic means of measuring your self-worth, mainly because success looks different to each individual. Most of the time, you have to define success for yourself because it doesn’t mean the same thing to different people. Maybe this is a bad example, but I considered myself a successful writer long before my first book was published. I had defined success for myself very early in life, judging that I would be successful when I could say for certain that someone had accepted Christ because of something I wrote. That happened in 2006 or so. Every other success I’ve had in writing since then has been gravy.

Yet even though the definition of success changes from person to person, we’d all pretty much agree that we’d love to hear God say we were successful. Right? Wouldn’t God’s definition of success trump everyone else’s? It does in my book. So what does a person have to do to achieve success in God’s eyes?

landscape-mountains-nature-man_1555x1037Today’s verse is 2 Chronicles 31:21.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.

Hezekiah was the king of Judah during the period of history when the nation of Israel was divided. He ruled over the southern kingdom for 29 years and took the throne when he was only 25 years old. And the Bible says he was a good king because he obeyed God. If you read his story, you’ll find that it’s true. He reopened the temple and rededicated it. He re-instituted the celebration of Passover, and he led his kingdom to destroy all their false gods and idols. He was the king whose life God extended.

I love this particular verse because it’s very simple. Much of the Bible is. Hezekiah did everything with his whole heart focused on God, and because his focus was in the right place, God made him successful.

Keep reading his life story and eventually you’ll find that he takes his eyes off God and becomes proud. It’s then that things start falling apart. But as long as he remained dedicated to the Lord, God took care of everything else.

It’s easy to be afraid when God tells you to do something, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before, or if it’s something you’re uncomfortable doing. We’re usually afraid of the unknown, even if we say we aren’t. But God has never wanted our lives to be dominated by fear.

Don’t get me wrong. Some fear is good for us. Fear can tell us that we’re about to make a really stupid decision. It can warn us that what we’re doing needs to stop. But sometimes we take fear too far and we let it control us, and that’s not what God ever intended. The fear that paralyzes us in the face of God’s plan doesn’t come from Him; it comes from our enemy.

If you’re seeking God with your whole heart, you shouldn’t have room for that kind of fear. That’s a difficult place to reach, though. I’m not there yet. I still feel fear at the most inopportune moments.

God’s plan often will push us far outside our comfort zones, but those are the times when we need to fight through the fear and keep moving forward. God’s plans are never bad, and they’re always for our good, even if we don’t understand them all the time. And when we experience irrational fear while we know we’re doing what God has called us to do, we need to ask for the strength to persevere. Focus on seeking God with all your heart. Don’t give the fear that comes from the enemy a foothold in your heart.

That’s what it takes to be successful. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience fear. No, you’ll probably encounter more fear than the average Joe on the street if you’re dedicated to doing what God has called you to do, but God will give you the courage to face it and win. You won’t face it alone either.

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A statue of a lion at Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

Facing evil the way Jesus did it

Our world is full of evil. It’s a broken, dark place, and it can be overwhelming and frightening, especially in those moments when we feel weak or alone. But like I posted yesterday, those of us who follow Christ have a power in us stronger than the darkness in the world.

So, knowing that, how will it change how we live? How will understanding the power God has given us change the way we face evil? That’s something I want to know because I face evil every day.

Evil can look like so many different things though, so what am I saying when I talk about evil? I’m talking about everything that is opposed to God. Can you list how many perspectives, personalities, or people in your life who make decisions that go against what God says is right?

What do you do with those people? As a Christ-follower, how do you handle those people?

A statue of a lion at Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

A statue of a lion at Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

Today’s verses are Luke 8:26-29.

So they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee. As Jesus was climbing out of the boat, a man who was possessed by demons came out to meet him. For a long time he had been homeless and naked, living in a cemetery outside the town.

As soon as he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down in front of him. Then he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Please, I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had already commanded the evil spirit to come out of him.

This is one of those passages that everyone usually knows or has seen some poor Hollywood account on a made-for-TV movie. And maybe this isn’t the best example, but I’m of the opinion that we should always look to Christ when we need to know how to live. And there aren’t many other examples of evil that come to mind.

The story of the Gerasenes Demoniac (try to say that three times fast) is a famous story, but what would have happened if Jesus had refused to help him? What would have happened if Jesus shut him out?

There wouldn’t have been a story. The demon-possessed man would have continued his horror of a life until his body finally wore out.

But that’s not what happened. The Demoniac approached Jesus, and Jesus didn’t run. He didn’t back down. He didn’t turn away. He didn’t shut His eyes.

He told that demon what to go do with himself–all of his selves.

What can we learn from that? Now, granted, I’m pretty sure I don’t run into demoniacs every day. But I do know people who are dead set on doing what they want to do instead of what God says is right, and in God’s definition, that’s evil. So when I’m confronted with evil, I have a choice. I can either ignore it, or I can face it.

But not in a weakling, cowering, sniveling way. Jesus didn’t face the demoniac and ask him politely to vacate the man’s body. Well, I say he didn’t. I wasn’t there. But I highly doubt it was a polite conversation.

So what’s the point? Well, how many times do we turn away from evil when it crosses our path? I posted yesterday about fear and how it’s so much easier to shut our eyes to evil. And it is easier. But it’s wrong.

There’s a reason why God left us here on Earth. We’re here for a purpose, and that purpose is shining the light that Christ gave us for the rest of humanity–the ones who are lost in the darkness and who want to get out. But we can’t pierce that darkness until we’re willing to take a stand against evil.

But that might look different than you think.

When Jesus faced evil, He did it with confidence. He did it with strength and certainty. And if He can do that, so can we.

So today, when you come face to face with something that contradicts what God says is true, don’t shrink away. Don’t fall back. Don’t retreat. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Stand up. Speak the truth (in love, always in love). Shine a light in the darkness, and–who knows?–maybe someone who hasn’t met Jesus yet will choose to join us on this crazy adventure called life.

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing the demon in the storm window

I got home from the Realm Makers conference in Philadelphia on Sunday around 3pm. Both my roomie and I were both exhausted, so instead of being productive like we probably should have been, we decided to watch some Firefly.

So we did–and that’s when we heard it.

*thump-thump*

Like someone walking around upstairs.

Nobody else should have been in the house. At first, I thought I’d imagined it, but we heard it again. So we both crept upstairs, me carrying a flyswatter (stop laughing; a flyswatter is a perfectly legitimate weapon). We did a quick search of the first floor.

Nothing.

We went back downstairs and resumed our watching.

*thump-thump*

Again. Like someone dropping shoes on the wood floor. Or like something banging on the outside of the house.

We repeated this process about four times, growing more and more unsettled with each suspicious thump-thump until we ended up standing outside trying to find out what on earth could be making the sound. And that’s when we saw motion in the storm window.

It turned out to be a cottontail rabbit. A young one I think. It had gotten stuck in the storm window and was trying to jump out. Every time it jumped it would bang its stupid bunny head on the window.

Yes, I’m uncompassionate. It made me laugh. And then it made me think. What I would have done? Would I have been brave enough to stay in a house where there was a creepy ghosty noise banging away on the windows when I couldn’t explain it?

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A full orange moon setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse 2 Timothy 1:7.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Fear is dangerous. Granted, not all fear is bad. Some fear is good. Fear is a natural response to stupidity–or at least it should be. But some kinds of fear are paralyzing and not in a good way.

We fear things that we can’t control, and because we can’t control them, we make no attempt to change them. Fears can become like shackles, binding us up and keeping us locked in a dark corner instead of living in the light like we were created to do. If we aren’t careful, our great big lives can be made teeny tiny by our fear.

And one thing I’ve noticed, especially among Christians, is that we fear the world. We fear the darkness in other people, in organizations, in countries. And darkness is certainly worthy of respect but not fear–fear and respect are totally different. The trouble with fearing darkness is that it’s easy to turn away from it. It’s easy to ignore it. It’s so much easier to pretend that it doesn’t exist because we can’t control what might happen if we face it.

At the Realm Makers 2014 conference, the keynote speaker, New York Times Best Selling author Tosca Lee, had this to say about the darkness of the world and the Christian’s response to it:

“Darkness is a fact of existence, as is light. If we cover our eyes in response to darkness, we are afraid of it. And we are commanded not to fear.”

The world is full of fears, but God has given us His Holy Spirit. And He who lives in us every day is bigger and stronger than any darkness we may face in the world, so why are we afraid? Why do we give into the fears our enemy whispers in our ears?

I’m not saying to accept the darkness or condone it. I’m saying we shouldn’t ignore it. I’m saying we shouldn’t change the subject or write it off like it doesn’t matter. Darkness does matter, and we who are armed with the Light have a responsibility to conquer it in the name of Christ.

I’d like to tell you I would have slept just fine without knowing about the Demon Bunny in the storm window, but I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t found it. The point I’m getting to is that I went looking for an answer. I didn’t just ignore it. I didn’t just put it out of my mind. I ventured out of where I was comfortable to find the cause, and when I found it, I dealt with it.

If we can face the darkness of our world with that kind of fearlessness, I think our lives would be different. I know our faith would be stronger.

What are you afraid of today? What dark aspect of the world are you setting aside and refusing to face because it will make you or others uncomfortable?

Stop. When you’re afraid, remember that fear doesn’t come from God. If you have an opportunity to share Christ’s light with someone lost in darkness, fight the fear. With God on your side, your fears are nothing but a stupid bunny trapped in a storm window. All they do is make noise.

Medieval armor on display in the White Tower of the Tower of London, London, England

Grammar that can change your perspective on winning

I don’t really follow popular culture very much, not in comparison to others. There are niche genres in pop culture that I enjoy, but as a rule I don’t spend much time immersed in it. I just don’t see much use for so-called reality television, talk shows, or sitcom rehashes. But every now and then, something from that world crosses over to the news world and can’t be ignored no matter how hard you try. And that happened with Charlie Sheen some time back.

Honestly, I didn’t follow any of it. I couldn’t even tell you what happened. I just know he made somebody mad and they fired him and he spent an inordinate amount of time saying some pretty mean things. Apparently. But one phrase he continually used really took pop culture by storm and before anybody really thought about it, there were t-shirts and flair and bumper stickers with his face and the phrase in capital letters, “Winning.”

From what I understand, it was a phrase he started using to emphasize that even thought studio executives and his own family were trying to keep him down, he kept succeeding, which meant he could misbehave more. Or something to that extent. I don’t know. All I really know is that he’s not in the media anymore, and I’m glad about it.

But what does it really mean to win? To triumph? To have victory? There are a lot of things in my life I want victory over. There are a lot of contests and races I want to win, but I’m pretty sure I’m not looking for Charlie Sheen’s definition of the word.

Medieval armor on display in the White Tower of the Tower of London, London, England

Medieval armor on display in the White Tower of the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are Romans 8:35-37.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

Overwhelming victory sounds good to me. And it sounds like it’s only possible through Christ.

I love the New Living Translation. It’s my go-to translation, but see I learned this verse differently. And while overwhelming victory sounds good too, that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. The way I learned verse 37 is as follows:

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

More than conquerors. We aren’t just winners, we’re more than winners. It’s decisive. It’s certain. And it goes beyond victory to that place where there shouldn’t even be any doubt that we’ll win.

But for grins this morning, I looked up the Greek. Now, I don’t know Greek, but this is the age of Google. And cross referencing with Google is pretty easy and pretty cool if you already have a basic grasp of language. But Google Translate stuttered a bit and threw me this word: ὑπερνικάω.

Okay. Google wanted to separate it because it didn’t know what it was. So I just Googled that word, and I discovered something I didn’t know, which isn’t all that unusual. It’s just that it makes this verse even cooler than it was before.

Without going into tremendous etymological detail, let me sum this all up. Click on the link if you care, but the word ὑπερνικάω is a verb. It shows action. And it’s a combination of two other Greek words that mean beyond and conquer. It means a super-conqueror who is surpassingly and overwhelmingly victorious. And this is the only place in the Bible where this word appears.

Yeah. And I thought this verse rocked before.

In the other two translations, this phrase is translated as an adjective. A predicate adjective, of course, but not a verb. Word usage in a sentence means everything. It changes the power of the sentence. An adjective describes; a verb shows action. Yes, through Christ, I am more than a conqueror. But this goes beyond that. According to this, through Christ, I can more than conquer anything that anybody throws at me.

That’s the difference. I am verses I can.

I apologize for the grammar lesson, but this rocked my world this morning. It’s one thing to see yourself as more than a conqueror. It’s one thing to describe yourself as more than a conqueror. It’s something else entirely to live like it. Living like it takes action. Living like it takes doing, taking chances, taking risks–but if you believe this there is no chance, no risk, no danger because overwhelming victory is already yours through Christ. So what are you afraid of?

Whoa.

I fear failure. I fear what people think of me. I fear not living up to my own expectations, as well as the expectations of others. And on the other hand I fear success. I fear not knowing what to do with it. I fear so many things that I can’t control. But why am I afraid? Well, I’m trusting myself to do these things. I’m trusting my own abilities and my own knowledge and my own personality and quick wit to win the victory. But none of those things are what makes it possible for me to have surpassing, overwhelming victory over my fears. The only weapon that can do that is Christ.

So whatever you’re facing today, don’t face it with your own abilities. Don’t try to win with your charm or your intelligence. Don’t try to gain victory with your money or your influence. If you want to win, if you want victory, turn to Christ. He’s your secret weapon. Through Him, you can do anything. Through Him, you can more than conquer. You can live.

Now that’s winning for real.

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Preparing for the challenges ahead

It’s difficult to believe that 2012 is coming to an end. This is one of those years that I thought would never get here, and now it’s over. I honestly haven’t thought much about 2013; that’s probably going to start today. But one thing is certain about what is coming: It won’t be better than what we experienced in 2012. Actually, it may be worse.

I’m not trying to be cynical, and I’m not trying to be a downer or anything. I guess I’m just trying to prepare myself mentally to face the challenges that are coming next year, the ones I know about and the ones I don’t. Our world hasn’t experienced a great healing or a revolution of peace and love. 2012 has been the opposite of peace and love and healing, and it’s going to get worse and worse. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t been reading Scripture.

So as a follower of Christ, how do I prepare for a year that will probably be more difficult than this one? How do I get ready to face the challenges that are coming?

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moon in the pine trees at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 12:32.

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

This is part of a statement that Christ made to a group of Gentiles (non-Jews) who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover just before He was crucified. The verse right after this one states that Christ said this to indicate to them that He was going to die. But of course, still most of the people didn’t believe Him or didn’t understand. In spite of everything He had said and done, people refused to believe He was who He said.

Funny how some things never change.

But what caught my attention today about this verse is that it really does have a double meaning. Christ used it to tell them that He was getting ready to die–to be crucified, literally hung between heaven and earth for six grueling hours of physical agony to pay the price for our sins so that all people can come to God. But this verse also has another meaning in another context. Because if His followers lift Him up figuratively, in worship and praise, making Him the center of our attention and focus, something miraculous happens–people are drawn to it.

Have you ever witnessed this? I have. I’ve seen it. A group of people sit and sing songs praising God and people come over to hear it. I’ve been sitting in a worship service at church with nonbelievers all around, and somehow in the middle of that worship service something changes inside those people who don’t believe. And by the end, they want to believe. And I’ve seen it happen beyond just singing; I’ve seen it happen in living. Because if you live a life that gives praise and honor and glory to God no matter what the circumstances you’re in, people are drawn to it.

Why? Do you think it’s something special about you?

Well, maybe it is. But I don’t really think there’s anything special about Christ-followers, other than who we follow. If we remember to keep life in perspective and remember that God has everything under control, that He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises, we don’t have to live life without fear. We can be confident who we are, where we’re going, and why we’re here. Do you realize what that makes us look like to people who don’t have that assurance?

If we lift Christ up in our lives, if we hold Him high and point to Him with every word we say, He attracts people to Him. It’s not something we’re doing; it’s all about Him.

And I find it ironic that Christ said this to the disciples just before He died. He knew their lives were going to become chaotic shortly after He said this. Maybe the disciples thought that the worst was behind them; knowing how they reacted to other situations, I’m sure they didn’t expect anything like what happened. But Christ knew it was coming, and He wanted them to be ready.

Guess what, guys? The worst hasn’t even started yet. You think 2012 was difficult? You think 2012 was depressing and overwhelming? Well, it’s going to get much, much worse because this world isn’t our home. It’s broken, and it’s breaking more every day. But we don’t have to focus on that. We can lift Christ up in the darkness, and not only will that keep our perspectives straight, it will also draw others who don’t believe to Him.

And that’s my parting thought for the last day of 2012. Don’t be discouraged. Maybe things will keep getting worse, maybe the darkness will keep getting darker, but we don’t live in darkness.

John 12:35-36

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”