Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Angry thoughts make an angry life

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more careless about what I say. When I was younger, I guarded my tongue 24/7. I never said what I thought. I was afraid to even raise my hand to answer questions in Sunday School because I didn’t want to get an answer wrong. But something happened as the years passed and the careful watch over what I say has begun to fade. No, I don’t go around just spouting off, but I certainly will tell you what I’m thinking now.

And that’s good and bad. Both. Yes, it’s good to be confident enough to speak your mind, but speaking your mind isn’t always wise. Sometimes it’s better to remain silent. Everyone knows that we can get in trouble for the things we say out loud, but there’s never been a muzzle for our minds. Maybe there should be, because that was one of the things Christ talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.

How do you think? Are your thoughts full of selfishness? Are your thoughts full of anger and pride? Maybe you’re a master of keeping your thoughts to yourself, but eventually what you think is going to affect the way you live.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

This statement was revolutionary, and it still is. Of course, killing someone is wrong, but just being angry at someone? And I should clarify. The Amplified Version is a little more specific on this. This is today’s passage in the Amplified Version:

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court. But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.

The anger this verse is talking about refers to a consistent state of anger or the act of harboring malice against someone. Anger on its own isn’t bad or wrong, but what anger forces you to do in many instances is. The Bible does say it’s all right to be angry, but it doesn’t say that doing something wrong is right–ever.

Notice it doesn’t say that harboring anger against someone is all right if they deserve it. Believe me, I know a lot of people who deserve my anger, but the Bible doesn’t say I can be angry at them if they deserve it. It says not to be continuously angry at all. Well, I guess it doesn’t say not to be angry. But it does say that if you are, you’ll face consequences.

Why? Well, how you think has a huge effect on how you live. Eventually your outside life is going to match your inside perspective, so you’d better make sure that your heart is straight so the rest of you will be too.

I just came off four very long days. I had to be in downtown Wichita starting this past Sunday at 2:30 p.m. I didn’t get a chance to take a breath until last night at 9:00 p.m. when I walked in the door of my house. My company’s national sales meeting is a big deal every year. It’s one of the biggest things we do as a marketing department, and this year it was even crazier because our department was in charge of a breakout session (that I somehow ended up responsible for). So I logged about 7 hours on Sunday, and then on Monday I worked 14 hours. Tuesday, I worked 17 hours. Wednesday I worked 12 hours. And on Thursday, I was really hoping to be able to catch up with everything that had stacked up while I was out, but I didn’t get to. Why? Well–let’s just say, a project popped up that demanded my attention whether I wanted to give it or not.

I’m not going to go into details because it’s not important. What matters is that I was angry about it. Oh boy, was I angry. And most of that anger stemmed from the fact that I was exhausted and overwhelmed and frustrated. I would have been better served just going home, but I had too much to do. So I stayed and kept getting more and more frustrated and more and more angry. And I couldn’t even finish it because I ended up needing input from someone who wouldn’t answer their phone. (And that’s when my director intervened and told me to go home because I looked exhausted. Thank God for bosses who notice those things.)

But even as I left, I was still angry. Almost at the verge of tears because now not only did I have to do this stupid project that didn’t matter, I couldn’t even do it without help. And for a performance-driven perfectionist like myself that’s the last straw.

So I did what any other single, self-sufficient, independent-minded, 21st Century working woman would do in these circumstances … I went to my parents’ house and took a nap.

And I woke up and felt much better. But I was still angry.

I was driving home in the dark last night just thinking about my anger and where it was coming from and why I couldn’t let it go. And so much of it came from my own frustration and my irritation at the whole situation. And, yes, there are some issues that need to be addressed, but being angry about it doesn’t help. And I’m not an angry person by nature, so anger turns me into someone that I’m not. And it’s someone that I don’t like.

So as I was drifting off to sleep (deep, wonderful, blissful sleep in my very own bed in my very own room) last night, I let it go. When compared to everything else that’s going on in my life right now, this whole situation is minor. It’s small. It’s not worth the effort of holding on to it. And I woke up this morning feeling like a new person, ready to go in and face this situation with a clear head and a calm spirit.

Am I going to get angry again? Well … if you know me and you know the situation I’m dealing with, you’ll understand when I say: Probably. But I’m going to try not to. And I’m not going to hold on to it. I’m going to let it go. Because if my thoughts are angry, my actions will be too. And that’s not right. It’s not fair to people around me, and it’s not a very good way to show how much Christ loves people.

Yes, anger has its place, and yes, anger is useful in some instances for motivating people. But it’s not the life we’re supposed to live. And it’s not the way we’re supposed to think.

So if you’re angry today or if you’re facing a circumstance that is probably going to make you angry, let it go. Be angry, recognize that you’re angry, and stop. Tell God about it. Even if you can’t tell the people around you about it, tell God. Yes, He already knows, but talking about it always helps me. And once you’ve got it off your chest, release it and don’t take it up again. Don’t let it penetrate your thoughts because your thoughts have an impact on how you live. And Christ-followers are called to live differently.

Big blue bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

What good does worrying do?

I want to make God happy. I want Him to look at my life and my choices and be pleased with me. And as a result of that desire, I usually end up agreeing to do a lot. But I’m a doer. It’s part of my make up. I’m not good at just sitting around.

But the unfortunate side effects of being a doer is that I wear myself out. Over and over and over again. And the more responsibility I take on, the more prone I am to worrying about whether or not I’m going to do well.

I want to know that the things I’m focusing on are the things that matter to God, and one way to identify what matters to God is knowing what not to do.

Big blue bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Big blue bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 12:22-32.

Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

I don’t usually put so much Scripture up at one time, but Jesus just says this so well. And it’s something I really need to hear this morning, especially where I am at the moment.

I’m composing this post in a hotel room getting ready to run the PowerPoint presentations at my company’s national sales meeting. This event is the biggest thing we do, so it has to be flawless. It’s a huge responsibility. There are so many aspects to keep straight. And I worry. And I stress. And I drive myself crazy thinking about everything that could go wrong.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

So I’m focusing on what Jesus says here. We’re not supposed to worry. We’re not supposed to focus on those things that He provides for us. And while maybe Christ hasn’t provided these PowerPoint slides for me to work with today, He’s given me everything I need to deal with them. I’ve done my best to prepare, and now all I can do is the best I can and trust Him with the rest.

If we could all wrap our heads around that concept, I think our lives would be a lot less stressful. Like Jesus said, why do we worry about what we are going to eat or what we are going to drink or what we are going to wear? He provides for the least of His creation; so why wouldn’t He provide for us?

True, His provision usually means that we have to submit to what He wants us to do, and what He wants us to do doesn’t always match up with what we want to do. But that choice is up to us.

So if you’re facing something stressful today, stop worrying about it. Whatever it is, let it go. In our pursuit to focus on the things that really matter, let’s remember that worrying isn’t something that matters. It’s not even a blip on God’s radar. It’s not something we’re supposed to be anywhere close to.

Do what you can, and leave it alone. God will work it out. And even if it doesn’t feel like He’s working it out, He is. Because that’s who He is and that’s what He does.

So don’t stress. And I’m talking to myself, here. There are more important things in your life that need your attention and your focus than whatever it is you’re worrying about.

Oil rig lit up before sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico from Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Living like salt and light is a calling

Have you noticed that if you start living the way the Bible says to live that people kind of look at you funny? I mean, it’s one thing to tell people that you’re a Christian. It’s another thing to live like one because people who don’t believe (or people who believe but don’t follow) don’t understand.

If we start living our lives focusing on the things that matter to God, we’re going to stand out. That’s just the way it is because the way God-followers live is different from the way other people live. And that is the point.

Oil rig lit up before sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico from Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Oil rig lit up before sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico from Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:13-16.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Christians are often called salt and light. If you’ve spent any time in the church, you’ve probably heard that statement–that we are called to be salt and light. And as a child, I used to wonder what on earth that meant. I just knew it was in the Bible so it was important, but I didn’t really get how it was supposed to happen.

But here’s what I’ve learned about things we are “called” to do: We can’t do them on our own.

Yes, we can prepare for them. Yes, we can expect them. Yes, we can hope for them. But as far as accomplishing our calling, I don’t think we have the power or the ability or the foresight or the strength to make it happen on our own. We can know what we’re called to do, and we can be ready for when it’s time to move. But we have no control over when that starter pistol goes off. That’s up to God. We just have to be prepared for when those marching orders come.

An example? I’m called to be a writer. I have been since I was young. I have always had a gift with words and communication, and it’s always been my dream to use my gifts to help other people get to know who God is, whether they believe in Him or not. But being a writer is a difficult task. Anyone can write, but being a writer takes a lot of practice and a lot of rejection and a lot of time. A lot of time, which means it also requires a lot of patience.

I prepared to be a writer as much as I could. I learned how to write. I learned what to do and what not to do and when I can do the things I’m not supposed to do (that’s the trick with writing because there are no hard and fast rules). And I expect and hope that one of these days I will get to use my writing on a greater scale than just a blog or three-minute sketches at church. That’s my calling, but I have no control over when that’s going to happen. All I can do is be ready.

And I might be wrong, but I think it’s that way with any calling. I don’t think God is going to call us to accomplish something that we can do in our own strength. Otherwise, what’s the point?

If you believe in Christ, you are salt. If you believe in Christ, you are light. What does that mean?

That means, Christ in you is like salt to the world. A preservative and an irritant. Salt both preserves things and irritates things, though usually that irritation comes when salt is cleansing a wound. And the part about being a light? It’s the same thing. Christ in you is like light to the world–shining in darkness, obvious and beautiful, and revealing. But it’s not you or me who is the salt. It’s not you or me who is the light. It’s Christ in us.

We are called to be salt and light, but we can’t do that without Christ. We are called to live different, but we can’t do it without Christ. But if we focus on the things that matter to God, if we live the way the Bible says to live, our lives will be different naturally. If you love God, love people, do right, love mercy, walk humbly, and keep believing, your life can’t help but look different. And being different matters to God? Why?

Because the more like salt you are, the more like light you are, the less likely people who don’t believe yet will be able to ignore you.

So live like the Bible says today. Live according to the things that matter, and your life will be different. You will be happy, and the people around you will wonder what you have that they don’t. And then you can tell them.

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.

Facing north at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Peace doesn’t just happen

What does peace mean to you? To me, it’s a quiet evening at home, sitting on my back porch step with a cup of coffee and watching the sun set over acres and acres of wheat, listening to the wind in the tree limbs and marveling at the depth of the sky. Peace is having things right. Peace is not worrying. Peace is being where I need to be, doing what I’m supposed to do, and being able to face God with a clear conscience.

But peace is one of those achievements that doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it. Everyone wants it, but it doesn’t come naturally to us. And I think it’s something that matters to God, otherwise He wouldn’t talk about it through Scripture so much.

Facing north at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing north at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:9.

God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.

In this study of what matters to God, we’re still in the Beatitudes, which are found in Matthew 5, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I always want to make sure I’m understanding the word meaning as close as I can without knowing Greek, so I also checked the Amplified Version for this verse too:

Blessed (enjoying enviable happiness, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they shall be called the sons of God!

What does it mean to work for peace? To make peace? To maintain peace? This verse is saying those people who strive for peace will be happy because they’ll discover their place in God’s family (according to the Message, which is how it puts it). But what does it mean?

I guess, before we can understand what it means to strive for peace, we really need to understand what peace is to begin with. If you go by the dictionary definition, it’s going to say peace is either a nonwarring state between nations or a general state of mutual harmony between people or groups of people. And that’s great. Both of those are great. But I want to go even further than those generic definitions.

Some people would say that peace is a lack of conflict. And on one hand, I would agree with that. Conflict is the opposite of peace. Conflict, whether it be war or disagreement or dislike or any sort of negative emotion, will keep you up at night worrying or fretting or fighting. But I think peace is more than just a lack of conflict, because conflict is never going to go away–not as long as we live on earth.

The only relationship in our lives that lacks conflict is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ–on God’s part. God has no conflict with us if we have accepted Christ, although there are times when we will have conflict with God because we refuse to do what He tells us, because we think we know better than He does, because we want what we want in spite of what He says is best.

But as long as we live on earth, we will experience conflict. So how can we have peace while we’re here?

To me, peace is reconciliation. And maybe that’s trading a ten-cent word for a fifty-cent word, but think about it. The word reconcile actually originates from a word that means “to make friendly again.” Reconciliation is the act of returning harmony between two people. Reconciliation is making peace where there wasn’t peace before.

Like I said at the start, peace doesn’t just happen. Human nature precludes peace from being a natural state for us. We’re always going to be fighting each other. We’re always going to be in conflict with each other unless someone is actively making and maintaining peace in your relationships. So how do we do that? If the key to being blessed and grasping what God says is important is to make and maintain peace, how do we do it?

Many people have said it but most people attribute the statement to Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice.”

There’s a lot going on in that statement. So many times people get the idea that peace will come about just because we are not actively at war with someone, that is will just happen if we’re not fighting with anybody. But here’s the deal, folks. We will always be fighting with someone. We will always have conflict with others. Why? Because someone is always selfish. Because someone is always looking out for number one. Because someone is always going to do what they want to do no matter how much it might hurt someone else.

Welcome to life on planet Earth. Nothing has changed since we were created.

And the way to make and maintain peace in any relationship is to ensure that justice has a place in it. We have to do what’s right. Someone has to take that stand, someone has to point out truth. If we don’t, the relationship will fall apart. Relationships based on lies never work. A relationship is only going to work if both sides are truthful, if both sides do the right thing, if both sides understand what justice is–and that is true for people, for governments, for nations.

We will always face conflict. It’s not going away until Christ comes back for us, but peace matters to God. He wants us to return to that place of real relationship that we shared before Adam and Eve fell. When it comes to our relationship with Him, the only way to make peace there is through Christ. But when it comes to our relationships with each other, making and maintaining peace comes down to doing what’s right. And unfortunately, sometimes doing the right thing will cause more trouble between people than it solves, but true peace isn’t the absence of conflict. True peace is knowing what’s right and doing it.