More life than money can buy

It’s strange to think that two weeks ago I had already been in England for a few days. It doesn’t feel like I stayed that long, but I can tell you that I’m glad to be home. I’m sure if a British person came to vacation in the US, they’d be glad to get back to England. A lot of it is what you’re used to. But something really struck me this time around. It was something I knew already, but I hadn’t really made the connection in my own life.

Regardless of what they believe, Americans are raised in a culture of generosity. Most of us are, anyway. And that’s just not something you find in other cultures around the world. But it’s a characteristic that may be waning in the US, and I believe it’s up to the Christ-followers to keep it alive because it’s something that distinguishes us more than we know.

money-e1301854514533Today’s verses are 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

Being generous with either time or money isn’t easy, especially if you have limited amounts of both. But something every Christ-follower should remember is that we are all wealthy. Even if we don’t have loads of money, we are far wealthier than those who came before us.

Think about it. Even if you don’t drink expensive coffee, you can go sit in a Starbucks somewhere and use their free internet. Even if you can’t afford expensive foods, there are places where you can buy things to eat that don’t cost much. And on a really bad day, you can go to the store and buy a big tub of ice cream for a few bucks. Not even King Solomon could do that!

We’re wealthy, but not just in financial opportunity. We’re wealthy in Christ because He’s given us so much. We have His peace. We have His salvation. We have His hope and access to His power and resources. I mean, what more can you even ask for?

Yet it’s still tempting to live a closed life, grappling and clinging to the things we think we’ve earned for ourselves. But that’s a lie. Every good thing you have in your life was given to you, whether you believe that or not. Maybe you’ve earned your money, but God gave you the ability to earn it.

Can you really be stingy with a gift? I mean, sure, if someone has given you a gift it’s yours. They don’t want it back. But can you really claim to have earned it if you actually didn’t? And by that token, can you really cling to it if someone else truly needs it?

There’s nothing wrong with having money. God doesn’t punish the wealthy, and He doesn’t despise those who are financially successful. It’s the opposite really. Those who have money and wealth have a responsibility to use their finances for Christ–to trust more in Him than in their own pocketbooks.

But for the rest of us, those of us who aren’t independently wealthy and have to scrape and save for everything, should we cling to our meager possessions when there are always others around us who have less than we do? If God has given us everything we have, why is it so hard to let it go to help others?

It’s fear. Plain and simple. And I struggle with it every day. Because what if God doesn’t replace what I give away? What if I don’t have enough to pay my bills or feed myself? What if there’s something horrible that happens and I need my finances to get myself out of it?

In all my life, there’s never been a time when God didn’t provide for me. He isn’t going to stop now.

So don’t be afraid to be generous. Don’t fear to share what God has given you with others. God will always take care of you, in more ways than you can imagine, and not just financially but emotionally and spiritually. And you can’t put a price on those things.

Be generous. Give your gifts away for free, whether it’s time or money or love. They were given to you, so don’t cling to them like they’re all that can save you. Because they can’t. Instead, cling to the One who gave them to you. You’ll be surprised how much freedom you gain, and you’ll become a light in a dark world that only has as much hope as money can buy.

You always have something to talk about

Have you ever had to go to someone’s house for a party or an event where you didn’t know anyone there? If you’re an introvert like me, there’s nothing more uncomfortable or awkward. I don’t do small talk very well.

Now add another level of awkward. You don’t come from the same culture or speak the same language. All you can really do is sit quietly and try to understand everything that’s being said and pray that you don’t say or do something offensive.

Ever been there? I have. On multiple occasions. But you know what has saved me? The fact that the other people in the room are Christ-followers.

Last night I got to go to my best friend’s small group, and in any other circumstance it might have been really uncomfortable. But I knew walking in that many of the people in attendance were Christ-followers. And that makes everything different. That means, walking in, I have something in common with them. That means we’re family.

Pipes from the organ at Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, England

Pipes from the organ at Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, England

Today’s verses are Ephesians 2:19-22.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

No matter where you are or who you are, what language you speak or what culture you come from, if you know Christ, you are part of one big family. And you have something in common with the other Christ-followers around you. You’ve got Christ.

You all worship Him. You all live for Him. You all have stories about how He changed your life. And He’s always doing something new.

Having something like that in common is priceless, because it’s something you can talk about that will always change your life and the lives of people around you. And what’s great is that whether you are walking into a room full of Christians or not, Christ will still give you the strength to speak, the courage to be yourself, and the wisdom to know what to say.

So if you’re sitting in a room full of Christians feeling like an outcast, like you have nothing in common with anyone else–don’t. If you are around other Christians, even in a culture that isn’t your own, you have the greatest Person in history in common.

We all struggle to love somebody

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day, otherwise known as Single’s Awareness Day. Facebook filled with funny cards and photographs. The grocery stores had aisles that practically glowed red with all the candy and flowers and stuffed animals.

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I mean, it’s all right. I’m sure it’s very sweet and romantic if you’re in a relationship, and it’s certainly fun to find cheap chocolate everywhere (unless you’re really not supposed to be eating it anyway). But I’m not sure my feelings about it would change even if I were in a relationship.

In our culture, Valentine’s Day has become known as a holiday of love, where everybody makes it a point to do something special for that special someone in his or her life. And, again, that’s perfectly fine and dandy. It just seems to me that loving each other shouldn’t be a once-a-year thing. Shouldn’t it be an everyday thing? No, maybe buying each other hearts full of chocolate shouldn’t happen every day (though that would be lovely), but spending special time with someone on a regular basis should be a part of a long-term relationship. That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

Valentine’s Day is like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It isn’t something we should celebrate just once a year. It should happen all the time–and even more often if you are a follower of Christ.

valentineToday’s verse is John 13:34

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

This is Jesus talking to the Disciples at the end of the Last Supper. He is preparing to go to the cross in mere hours, and this is one of the final things He says to His followers.

Jesus isn’t being vague here, is He? Love each other. There’s no option there. It’s not, Love each other if you feel like it. Or, Love each other as long as you treat each other the way you want to be treated. All Jesus says is, Love each other. Period.

No frills. No wiggle room. No other options. Love each other. But He doesn’t stop there. He tells us to love each other the way He loves us. So that begs the question, how did Jesus love us? Well, He died for us, didn’t He? He loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His title, His throne, His home, His comfort, and His glory to die a humiliating and excruciating public death.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone that much. Not even myself.

Jesus doesn’t say it would be nice if we could love each other that much. He doesn’t say it would be in our best interests if we could love each other that much–or even that it would please Him if we loved each other that much. He just says do it. He commands it.

Loving each other isn’t convenient. Whether it’s romantic love or the kind of love Jesus is talking about, love takes hard work. It’s not always an easy decision, and it’s rarely without cost. And, frankly, it has very little to do with how you feel. At least, that’s been my experience.

I have to choose to love people. I’m not a recluse or a hermit, but I have those tendencies. Love and mercy are not my gifts. I’ve mentioned before that some people say I’m uncompassionate, and I am. Love doesn’t come easily for me, but I choose to love people because Jesus commanded me to do it.

Granted, some people are easier to love than others. But then, some people make it almost impossible to love them. But somehow I’ve got to figure out how. That doesn’t mean I have to be their best friend. That doesn’t mean I have to go out of my way to spend all my time with them. But it does mean that I need to be kind to them, regardless of whether they are kind in return or not.

So who’s the person in your life that you are trying to love today? Everybody has someone. Don’t be ashamed. We all struggle to love somebody. Just remember that you don’t have to do it alone.

God provides what He requires. He always has. If He requires us to love each other, He will give us the strength and the opportunity to show His love to the people around us. Just be open to it, and live your life the way Jesus would. If you’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, living a life of love will just happen.

Softening a hard heart is like rewiring a finished house

My parents have started watching this television show about home inspections. It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about, honestly. But then, I’ve never purchased a home. This show is interesting because 80-90% of the issues these home inspectors have to fix stem from one recurring problem: The builders did it wrong first.

If the builders had built the house to code or laid the foundation correctly or repaired electrical or plumbing problems the right way, the homeowners wouldn’t be having trouble. And no one would have to come along behind them to fix everything that’s wrong.

And, let’s face it, it takes 10 times more effort to go back and fix a problem afterward than it does to do it right the first time.

626111_35347132Today’s verses are Colossians 3:23-24.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.

Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused on what you have to do. It’s so much more fun to do the things you want to do, but life isn’t always fun. And it’s not always supposed to be.

If you’re a follower of Christ, you’ve been entrusted with a lot of responsibility, and not just in your day job but in your daily life as well. Part of that responsibility is living your life in a way that demonstrates God’s grace and Jesus’ love to the people around you–especially those people who you don’t particularly like. The other part of that responsibility is being a good employee.

Whatever you do, whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a chef or an engineer or a stay-at-home mom or a writer (aka a glutton for punishment), you are responsible to do the best you can. And, no, you’re not supposed to do the best you can for the sake of your career or the sake of your boss or the sake of your coworkers. You’re supposed to do the best you can for God Himself.

Maybe your boss signs your paychecks. But all authority comes from God. If you’re a Christ-follower, your first authority is God. You do what He says first before anyone else, and if He says to serve your boss to the best of your ability, that’s why you do it.

What if that boss is hard to get along with? What if that coworker is impossible? What if that job has just become so exhausting and so tedious and so frustrating that you just can’t stand it for one more day?

You have to be willing to work. Period. Laziness doesn’t belong in a Christ-follower’s life. (Please don’t mistake rest for being lazy. That’s another blog post, but believe me when I say they aren’t the same thing.) You have to work. Everyone has to work. God has given us dreams and goals and gifts and abilities and talents that are unique to who we are as people, and we need to be willing to work to achieve them. Because if we’re willing to work and if our hearts are focused on keeping in step with the Lord, He will work events in our lives out to give us the desires of our heart. But it doesn’t just happen. You don’t get rewarded just for sitting on your blessed assurance and expecting a miracle.

At the same time, there has to be a line in the sand somewhere. In my life, God has often used exhaustion and frustration to show me that it’s time for a change. But that’s a choice you have to make personally.

If your situation is so exhausting, so frustrating, so irritating that you can’t stand it anymore–move. Step out. Step back. Change your situation. Make the choice to move on.

If you can stand it, stay. And stop complaining. Because the more you complain about your situation, the more difficult it becomes to work with a willing heart. And if you can’t work with a willing heart for the Lord’s sake, you’re going to start forfeiting blessings.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to do that.

So if the job is tough, power through it. But don’t do it haphazardly. Do it right. Build your foundation solid. Do the job the way it’s supposed to be done, without cutting corners or taking shortcuts. Do it because God has told you to do it.

Just be sure to keep your heart soft. Be willing to work, and be willing to work for the right reason. And if you can’t, you might seriously need to take a long, hard look at your life. Because if your heart is hardened, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort to break it open again.  Sort of like trying to rewire a finished house because it wasn’t done right the first time.

The dangers of insecurity in Christian artists

Everyone is insecure about something. Maybe you’re insecure about your looks. Maybe you’re insecure about your job. Maybe you’re insecure about your talents.

I’m a creative person in a corporate world, and it’s very easy to get very insecure very quickly. I’m a people pleaser. I like it when people tell me I’ve done a good job. I like to make people happy.

When I create something, I pour my heart and soul into it. If I don’t, it comes off stale. If people don’t like what I create, it’s difficult to separate myself from what I created. If people don’t like it, it’s hard not to take it as an insult or a slight. And as a result, I can get very insecure about showing people my work or trying anything new. I’m afraid that if people don’t like it, they won’t like me either.

I know I’m not the only creative type to struggle with this. The problem with that mindset is that we are placing my identity in my work, and that’s not where our identity is supposed to come from.

490270_18101926Today’s verse is Romans 8:15.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”

There’s nothing wrong with your art being an expression of who you are. That’s one of the purposes of art—to be a physical representation of you and your perspective on life. But you are more than that painting on the canvas. You’re more than those words on that page. You’re more than that lump of clay on the wheel. What you created is just a tiny piece of your perspective on the world, and just because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean they hate you.

God created you to be an artist. He gave you the eyes, the ears, the voice, the thought process that is so different from other people around you. You see the world differently, and that’s fine. That’s intentional. But when you find your self-worth in the title artist, you’re in for a rocky road.

So if you don’t find your identity in what you create, where do you find it? If you can’t be satisfied with a manmade title, what title will satisfy you?

How about Child of God? That’s what God did for us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He gave us the gift of adoption into His family, so He’s not just some terrifying unknowable figure far above us. He’s our Father, and we can call Him Daddy.

When you’re a child of God, you answer to the Creator of the Universe. He’s the only one you need to worry about pleasing. Not your friends or your neighbors or your coworkers or your roommates or even (to some extent) your family. Now, because we follow Him, we do our best to live in peace with everyone around us, but He has the ultimate say.

A Child of God who has the gift of artistry has to answer to God Himself, and that’s it. God is your pattern to follow. God is your inspiration. God is your critique partner.

Sure, if you’re working a job that requires you to stay within the bounds of corporate style, do your best. Work for the people in authority over you to the best of your ability because God put you there. And if they don’t like what you create, that’s fine. Don’t see it as a reason to be defensive or insecure about your work.

Whatever you think you are lacking, that becomes your insecurity, and if you aren’t careful to keep your focus in the right place, your insecurity can become your security blanket.

Nothing stifles a creative spirit more than insecurity, but it’s important to understand where that insecurity comes from. If you are an artist and you are feeling insecure, stop for a second and take a deep breath and make sure you know where you’re getting your identity.

Your work may be beautiful and brilliant, but you need something stronger than it to carry you through the days when you can’t remember who you are. Instead of relying on your own creativity to find yourself, try looking to God instead. After all, He’s the Master Creator. He made you. And He’s your biggest fan.

If you can’t be kind, just don’t be unkind

Being kind is hard enough when you like the people around you. When the people are mean or dramatic or harsh or difficult, being kind becomes almost impossible. But as Christ-followers, we are always to respond kindly, even in circumstances when we are standing up for ourselves or against something that is wrong.

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:31-32.

1113096_42782006Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Kindness isn’t something you have to go out of your way to demonstrate. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But what about in those circumstances where you don’t want to be kind? What about the times when people take advantage of you because you’re kind?

Well, it’s true. If you’re kind, people will take advantage of you. You should expect it to a certain extent. But that doesn’t mean we are called to live life as doormats. There is a way to stand up for yourself and be kind at the same time. And what I’ve learned about kindness is sometimes it’s not going out of your way to be nice to people. Sometimes kindness is simply not doing or saying something cruel. Sometimes kindness is not participating in a conversation or not commenting at all. Sometimes kindness is acknowledging someone’s presence politely.

If you don’t know how to start being kind to someone, start by not being unkind.

See that’s where I come from. When someone is mean to me or when someone treats me unfairly, I want to treat them the same way. There’s that part of me that wishes the Golden Rule worked both ways, so that if someone treats me like dirt it gives me the right to treat them like dirt in return. But that’s not what it’s about. And that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live.

If someone is cruel to you or blames you unfairly or just treats you like garbage, don’t reciprocate. That will make it worse. Don’t give them ammunition. Don’t give them a reason to keep picking on you. Sure, if they want to pick on you, they’ll fabricate a reason, but you don’t have to give them one. If you’re giving them the bullets to put in their gun, everybody will think you deserve what you get. But if you don’t give them any reason to hate you, they’ll just be shooting blanks—and people notice things like that.

But you don’t have to buy them chocolate. You don’t have to wash their car. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind to them. I mean, if you have the kind of personality where you can do that, do it! But to me, it’s more important to start with focusing on not being unkind.

Say hi to the guy who makes you mad when you pass him in the hallway. Acknowledge your coworker when she sends you rude emails. When that guy you work with throws you under the bus, gently respond with facts and figures if you have them. And if you don’t, be gracious. But whatever you do, don’t pin the blame on someone else.

None of that would be called “kindness” if you think about it. But what you’re doing when you choose not to be unkind is putting the people around you before yourself. You’re giving up your “right” to pay back blow for blow, and instead you’re thinking about the whole picture instead of just the place you have in it.

If you’re in a situation where you just can’t be kind, don’t stress yourself out about it. Don’t try to force yourself to play a role. If you can’t be kind, then just don’t be unkind. You might be surprised how your life, your perspective, and your relationships change for the better.

It’s impossible to be a better Christian

Christians seem to enjoy beating each other up. Frequently. We’re never good enough for each other, and the only way we seem to know how to help each other “be better Christians” is to point out what we think are shortcomings.

I think we mean well, but some of the people who’ve hurt me the most in my life have been Christians who wanted to help me.

A Christian once sat me down and told me that I needed to be less connected to my family, because it prevented me from maturing in my faith. Another time, a Christian told me I was disobeying God because I was leading a Bible study, and women aren’t supposed to do that. Another Christian told me I was a heretic because I’d combined the words of Christ from John and Matthew in a drama I’d written.

I’m certain all these people wanted to help me be a better Christian, but in every instance, they did more damage than good. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s healthy at times to challenge what you believe, but using guilt as a sledgehammer is never the right approach. Never ever.

guiltToday’s verse is Romans 5:1.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

God is the only one qualified to use guilt as motivation, and He chooses not to. If you are a Christ-follower, your guilt has been washed away. Through Jesus, you have been made right with God, and you have peace with Him. That means there’s nothing you need to do, nothing you need to add, nothing you need to accomplish to make your salvation complete.

It’s done. Finished. Complete.

And God didn’t need our help to do it either.

So when another Christian tells you that you need to do something in order to make God happy, take a second. I’m a performance-driven perfectionist, and I love God with all my heart. I’ll work myself to exhaustion twice over if I know it’s for God, and I’ll do it cheerfully and happily, even as my physical, emotional, and spiritual health collapses. If it’s for God, I’ll do it.

But is it for God? Does God really expect us to do that to ourselves? Or are you just doing it for the Christian who won’t leave you alone about it?

In each instance when Christians confronted me about my problems, they all told me I’d done something to hurt my relationship with God. I needed to stop calling my mom every morning. I needed to sit still and be led at church. I needed to quote scripture on stage instead of telling a story.

But was God the one who was upset about all that? Or was it the people who were confronting me? Did the Christian who wanted me to stop talking to my mom really think it made me immature, or did it make her realize that she had a terrible relationship with her mother? Was the Christian who wanted me to stop leading Bible study concerned for my spiritual wellbeing, or was he feeling guilty because he wasn’t stepping up? And was the Christian who challenged what I wrote really offended, or was he convicted?

I can’t answer any of those questions because they’re all heart problems, and only a few of them are mine. But one thing I have learned from all those examples is that if guilt doesn’t work for God, it won’t work for us.

God doesn’t draw people to Him though guilt. Yes, we all feel guilt, but even though we all have it, we don’t flock to people who make us feel guilty. Do we? No. We run to people we know love us in spite of our guilt, and that’s what God does. God doesn’t use guilt to pound us into submission. He offers free grace—unconditional love that says I’ll pay for your guilt.

The issue here isn’t about becoming a better Christian. Becoming a better Christian puts the responsibility on you. Learn more. Study more. Volunteer more. Do more. But nothing you do will make you a better Christian, because being a Christian isn’t about what you do. It’s about who you know.

That’s why Satan uses guilt so frequently, because guilt drives us away from God. If we see Him as a judge, fearsome and righteous towering over us with a hammer just waiting to smash us, we’ll be too terrified to approach Him. God has already paid the price for our guilt. He sent Jesus to take it away, so there is no guilt between God and those who have chosen to follow Christ. You are made right with Him. So you have peace with Him.

So many times I think Christians get busy on purpose so that they don’t have the time to truly get to know God. That’s where I was for years. It was much easier to work myself to exhaustion than it was to sit quietly in God’s presence and let Him see all of me.

Following Christ is about knowing God.

How do you know God? Well, how do you get to know anyone? You spend time with Him. One on one, where no one will overhear or interfere. Just you and Him.

Want to be a better Christian? You can’t.

But more one-on-one time with God never hurt anybody. And the more time you spend with Him, the more you’ll be like Him. And I don’t know about you, but being a better Christian loses its appeal at the thought of being more like Christ.