Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Some choices are better than others

Are you ever torn between two good options? Do you ever not know how to make a decision, especially when the two choices facing you are both good? That’s one of the troubles of choosing to follow Christ. You have so many good choices you can make, it’s difficult to choose which one. But even in following Christ, there are good choices and there are great choices. It just depends on what your motivation is for making that choice.

Both choices can lead to real happiness as long as both choices are about Christ and not about us. But the truth of the matter is that God isn’t going to bring us home until He’s done with us down here. If we really are following Christ and making a difference for Him in other people’s lives, it’s better for us to keep doing what we’re doing.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:20-26.

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

Paul wasn’t afraid to die. He was confident that he wasn’t going to, but even if he did die, he wasn’t afraid of it because he knew where he was going. He had confidence in Christ, and that’s what mattered. Actually, that’s what he wanted. He wanted to go home because if he died he would get to go be with Christ. But if he died, he would be gone from here. And there was still work to do. There were still people to help. And Paul recognized that God had put him in place for a reason. God still had a plan for him, and even though dying for his faith would be a good option, living for others was a better one.

Sometimes I think I get so focused on going home that I forget why I’m here in the first place. God doesn’t make mistakes. He puts us where He wants us, and He moves us when He wants us to move, and we can choose to grow where we’re planted (or transplanted) or not. Many people have been killed for their faith in Christ, not in America but all over the world. And there is always a purpose in that. God always uses that. But you don’t have to die for your faith for God to use you.

Do you know other believers in your church? Get to know them. Are you part of a church? Get involved and make a difference. You never know how God can use you until you decide to allow Him to do something with you.

I go through seasons of involvement at my church. I used to be involved in every ministry that was available, but that was back when I was younger. Looking back on that time, I don’t know how I did it. Six years of non-stop craziness, plus school, plus working practically full time. It makes me tired just thinking about it. And I burned out. I ran myself ragged and painted myself into a corner and came crashing down. And that’s not what we’re supposed to do.

If you work yourself to death, maybe that brings glory to God too. I don’t know. But once you’re dead, He can’t use you down here anymore. And burn-out is about the same.

So, yes, I had to step back and recover, but I never stopped investing in people one at a time. And that’s the difference. God puts people in our path for a reason, and if you know Him and you know others who are searching for Him or who need encouragement, why would you refuse to offer it if you have it? You don’t have to be involved in every ministry under the sun. You can just help one person at a time.

And I’m not talking about non-believers right now. Yes, we have a responsibility to reach out to people who don’t believe, but we are also here to build each other up. We’re also here to support each other and hold each other accountable and pray for each other. It’s uncomfortable at times. And it’s usually inconvenient. Satan will make it even more so because the last thing he wants is for believers to show love to each other, because that’s how we show everyone else that we’re different.

It’s one of our purposes for being here. And there’s nothing that brings joy in my life more than when I can fulfill a purpose that was intended for my life. So if you have the opportunity to encourage another believer, if you have the chance to help another believer, do it. Most likely, God brought that person in your path for that specific reason. Maybe the happiness won’t come right away as a result of helping another believer, but it will come.

You want to make a difference for Christ? Yeah. Dying for your faith is a good choice. But living for your brothers and sisters in Christ, showing Jesus’ love to those who believe the same way you do? That’s a better choice.

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Bat staring me down at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God can use impure motives

Have you ever been unhappy because of the way other people act? Have you ever let other people’s actions affect you or their motivation irritate you?

It’s easy for me to stress out about the condition of the world. We have to live in the world, so a lot of the time I get stuck in mourning how things used to be. Or how they were intended to be, and I forget to focus on the things that matter. And I’ve had such a negative experience with so many churches, it’s easy for me to get pretty unhappy and angry at Christians too.

But I found something in Philippians today that made me stop and think.

Bat staring me down at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Bat staring me down at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:15-19.

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.

Paul was writing this at a time when Christianity was new (sort of), and it was spreading like wildfire throughout the world. Jesus’ disciples had stepped up to the plate big time, on a level that even they could never have imagined before Christ had died and rose again. And because of them, many people had come to believe in Christ and went to spread the Word even farther. So the early Church was off to a great start.

But even then there were people intent on the spotlight.

People don’t change, remember? The same kinds of people will always exist as long as the world is broken. Just as we have “preachers” and “ministers” in our culture now who really only care about the way they look and how many people attend their Sunday services, Paul seems to have encountered the same folks in the first century. But Paul isn’t letting their motivation bother him. He doesn’t care why they’re telling others about Christ. He’s just happy that they’re doing it.

I think that’s crazy. I mean it’s awesome, but how can you rejoice when someone’s motivation is to cause you pain? How can you be happy when people are doing things for the wrong reasons (even if they’re doing the right things)? Well I think I already have the answer. I blogged about it last Friday. We have to know what matters and what doesn’t. It all comes down to understanding what is important to God and what isn’t.

And, yes, motivation matters to God. God cares about why we do things. But only God knows why we do things. Do we grasp that? Only God can see into someone else’s heart. Only God can see my own heart. Only God knows my real motivation and my real intentions. I can tell others what I’m thinking, but only God knows if I’m telling the truth.

God cares about motivation, but that’s something only He can judge.

So if someone is doing the right thing but you suspect they’re doing it for the wrong reasons–don’t worry about it.

This is hard for me because heart and motivation and being genuine is high on my list of character qualities I require from people. And I’m not saying we should just let it go if we have irrefutable evidence that someone’s heart is in the wrong place, especially if you’re in a position to say something about it or if you know that person is going to cause trouble in a family or in a church.

But here’s my problem: I focus on the means rather than the end. And in focusing on the means many times I get discouraged because I start to compare others to myself, and I think that God surely can’t use someone with impure motives.

Guess what? He can. And I am evidence of that fact. Because my motives aren’t always pure.

I’m not saying that the end justifies the means. Not at all. But focusing on someone else’s motivation just usually leads me to compare myself and consider myself better than others, and that’s not true. If someone is telling others about Christ with impure motives, maybe it’s not the best situation; but they’re telling others about Christ. What’s true is true no matter who says it or how it is said, and God can always use truth. God is truth, and that’s not something an impure motive can change.

So don’t stress. Don’t be unhappy because you suspect others don’t have pure motives for the things they’re doing that are right on the outside.

Rejoice for the things you can see that are good, and pray about the things you can’t see. God knows their hearts. God knows their intentions. And He’s big enough to make everything work out.

My old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Stuff happens for a reason

Life has never been easy. Life is life, so it’s screwed up because people are screwed up. You can’t trust people most of the time, since everyone is really only out for themselves. There’s no getting around the fact that stuff happens. It just does. So when everything goes wrong or when your best intentions turn around and kick you in the head, it’s easy to believe that there’s no purpose in it. And when there seems to be no purpose in life, that’s when I start getting unhappy.

If I don’t have a purpose and if the things that happen to me don’t have a purpose, what’s the point? If our lives and experiences don’t mean anything, then we really are nothing more than dust in the wind, like that old Kansas song.

But the Bible is pretty clear about why stuff happens. There’s a purpose to everything. God isn’t a god of chaos, and nothing surprises Him. So when stuff happens in our lives, it doesn’t shake Him, and it doesn’t make Him worry. It’s all part of His plan, and He can use it to accomplish something amazing.

 

My old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

My old apricot tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:12-14.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians is one of Paul’s letters, and like most of Paul’s letters (which make up most of the New Testament) he wrote them from prison. I don’t know the actual numbers, but Paul spent a good deal of his life in prison after he started following Christ. But when you read the books that Paul wrote in prison, he isn’t upset and he isn’t discouraged and he isn’t unhappy. On the contrary, most of the time, he sounds pretty joyful about it.

Joyful. About being in prison.

And we’re not talking about prisons like today. Prisons today are like country clubs. Prisons back then? Cold, damp, dark. Full of rats. Prisoners chained to the walls. If they were fed, it was something disgusting. They were beaten. They were mistreated. There were no human rights back then.

It would have been miserable, but Paul takes the perspective that everything he has gone through has been for a purpose. And because of that perspective, the entire prison, even the palace guards (according to the Amplified Version, the palace guard was the Praetorium, for you history buffs) knew why he was there. So Paul used his misfortune to tell others about Christ, and the Christians in prison with him were encouraged.

Can you imagine what that was like? To be in such dire circumstances but still have joy like that?

On Saturday night, a strange man and his wife approached me in the parking lot of a local grocery store, claiming that they needed cash for gas. It’s a story I’ve heard over and over again in many other situations. They’re from out of town and can’t get ahold of family. Yada yada yada. In all those other instances, though, I wasn’t in a position to help, and the people asking were easier to say no to. I don’t carry cash, so I couldn’t give them any. And as much as I want to help people, I had no intention of driving them anywhere. But I didn’t feel like I could just tell them no. So I cut them a check for enough to purchase a gas can from the grocery store and put some gas in it at the station across the street (I already know some of you are freaking out at the moment; please calm down).

And as I was driving away, I started to realize how foolish that decision had been because in one fell swoop I had handed my address, my account number, my routing number and my signature over to two complete strangers. Looking back now, I should have taken them into the store, cashed a check myself, and given them the money. A couple of people I’ve talked to said I shouldn’t have helped them at all, and maybe they’re right. I don’t know. Yes, most likely these folks just wanted money for alcohol or drugs, but maybe they really did need help. Either way, what’s done is done.

It wasn’t an emotional decision. Yes, emotions came into play. But I chose to help those people because Christ helped people. And maybe they’ll take advantage of me, but my resources aren’t mine anyway. I want to be a good steward, and I’m still learning how to be wise. But even if everything in that account disappears, I’m going to trust that God will care of it. I’ve done what I can, and now I have to trust Him.

I’ve taken steps to protect that particular bank account, but here’s the deal: If the money in that account disappears, I’ll be upset, but I want to realize that stuff happens for a reason. Maybe the only reason is to teach me a lesson about learning to live with wisdom. Maybe those people really did need help. Maybe someone else can learn from what I did. But no matter what happens, bad or good, there’s a reason. There’s a purpose. And if God’s the one behind it, that purpose will be good. Whether I screwed up or not, whether I did the right thing or not, God can still use it to make something beautiful happen. And that makes me happy.

So whatever you’re facing today, whether it’s circumstances you don’t deserve or circumstances your actions have caused (like me), remember that stuff happens for a reason. And if God’s in it, that’s reason enough to rejoice because He can use it, and if He can use it, so can you.

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Knowing what matters and what doesn’t

Do you ever wonder what happened to our joy as a culture? Americans used to be pretty happy folks, and anymore I just don’t think that’s the case. But you can leave the U.S. and go to another country, like a third-world country, and you would be shocked because the people living there are happy. And they have nothing. But here in the U.S.? We have everything. We have more than everything. We have every toy imaginable, every tool you could ever need, and more food than we could ever eat–but we still try.

So why aren’t we happy? Why aren’t we content? And what has to happen for us to change?

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflowers facing the sun at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:9-11.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

I’ve posted many times on the difference between joy and happiness, and I recently learned that in the actual language of scripture the words actually mean the same thing. What’s different is where the concepts put their roots. In other words, happiness derived from circumstances can change, so if you are happy because your circumstances are happy, it won’t last. But happiness derived from knowing Christ is solid and strong and unchanging, and even if your circumstances change, God doesn’t. And that’s why, as believers, we can be happy even if our situation isn’t.

But how do we get there?

According to the text, the Church at Philippi was in a pretty good place, but they still had growing they could do. Paul wanted them to keep growing. They had love, but he wanted them to have more love. He wanted them to keep studying so that they could learn more about God and know Him more. He wanted them to understand what really mattered.

So what really matters? Apparently the Church at Philippi needed to grow in love and knowledge and understanding of God before they could grasp it. And the result, once they did grasp it, would be a pure and blameless life. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty good to me. A pure and blameless life full of love, understanding and knowledge sounds like something I could be happy about.

So here’s the deal. If we want that kind of life, we have to understand what matters. And once we understand what matters, I think it will make a huge difference in our level of happiness too. Because we’re all so caught up in things that don’t matter we’ve forgotten how to be happy.

Look at your schedule today. Identify something you plan to accomplish that will produce results beyond right now. I’m willing to bet that the majority of our schedules aren’t filled with events that will change eternity. I mean, look at my list: work, laundry, dishes, housecleaning. I know what I plan to do today. And none of it will produce something eternally significant.

Or will it?

I’m going to work today. I have a job, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. But at the end of the day, it’s just a job. It’s something God has given me that allows me to provide for myself and others financially. But in the grand scheme, the job itself doesn’t matter. What matters is the people there. What matters are the relationships I’ve built. So what if I don’t get a raise? So what if I don’t get the position I wanted? So what if I have to skip lunch once in a while in order to get my projects done? It’s just a job, but the way I react to it will allow me to have an impact for Christ on the people around me. And that does matter. Because when the day is over, the job will still be there; but the people around me might not be.

And if we take that perspective with everything in our lives, I think our attitudes might change a little. Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a vacation to one of the coasts, we all have stuff going on, but in those events you have to identify the aspects that matter. And how do we do that?

Well, the things in our lives that matter are the things that matter to God. The little unimportant things are necessary sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we have to dwell on them. And that doesn’t mean they have to take up more time than their level of importance deserves.

You want to be happy? I believe this is the first step. Understand what’s important to God and make that a priority in your life. Stop spending so much time and energy on the details that don’t matter. Stop fretting over pieces of your life that won’t make a difference in eternity. Identify what really matters and what really doesn’t. And let the other stuff go.

Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

The opportunity in a challenge

Life is full of challenges, and, in my experience, we like to tackle a challenge by throwing optimistic clichés at it. Nothing worth having was ever easy to get. It will be worth it in the end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And so on and so forth.

But rather than regurgitating the same “power of positive thinking” messages over and over again every time something difficult appears in your path, wouldn’t it be more effective to alter your perspective entirely? After all, why does a challenge have to be challenging? What else is a challenge but an opportunity in disguise?

Rough road to San Miguel - Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is James 1:2-4.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

At work yesterday, I found out that my office is going to be majorly restructured — again. My department was part of a major restructure about a year and a half ago. It was a big deal for many people, but my department escaped relatively unscathed. Not this time. And the result is that my boss (who I love) will be staying in one place while the rest of us move to another division.

At first, I tried to think positively. I really don’t like change. I try to like it. I try to accept it, but it’s difficult for me. So when change comes along and I am forced to comply with its wishes, I do my best to look on the bright side. But positive thinking can only get you so far. And that’s the wall I hit yesterday because no matter how positively I think, I can come up with a possible negative scenario for each positive option.

What if our new boss (who hasn’t been selected yet) is uptight and controlling? What if our new boss is a micro-manager and a OCD-ish bully? What if he or she is stingy about vacations and FlexTime? What if we aren’t allowed to take off an hour early for emergencies?

No matter how many positive spins you put on any of those, having a challenging boss could make my professional life very difficult. It could be a challenge. And I could treat it like a challenge. But if I treat it like a challenge, I’m going to be defensive. I’m going to spend all my time scrambling to hold whatever ground I think I already occupy. I’m going to clamp down hard to cling to my rights and my privileges and my this and my that.

But what if I change my mind about what defines a challenge? What if instead of focusing on how I react when it goes wrong, I focus on what opportunities I will have to make a difference? How will that change my attitude? How will that help me grow, not only as an employee but as a believer?

If I look at my professional life with a difficult boss and I treat the situation like an opportunity to make a difference instead of a challenge to be overcome, my entire attitude will change. There won’t be any defensiveness. There won’t be any arguments or scrambling to get out of the kill box. There won’t be a stampede or a rush to gain as much ground and hold on to as much as possible. There will just be meekness and agreeableness and pleasantness.

Isn’t that the way we’re supposed to be anyway?

Now please don’t misunderstand. If you’ve got a boss (or even a coworker) who’s deliberately taking advantage of you, you probably need to say something about it. Or it could be a sign that you’re supposed to move on. But more Christians that I have met are developing an entitlement mentality about their jobs. Yes, as employees we have a right to expect certain things, but I think we take it too far sometimes. A job is a job; your boss is your boss. If you don’t like it, don’t just sit and complain; either change your perspective or quit.

It’s better to change your perspective, honestly. Because if you can learn to change challenge to opportunity in your own mind, there’s not much that will be able to slow you down in every other area of your life. If you can tackle difficulty with true joy, what can Satan throw at you that will stop you? If you can look disappointment square in the eye and try again, knowing that God’s timing is perfect, what can keep you down?

Challenges are a part of life. We have to deal with that. But they don’t have to be challenging. Turn the challenge into an opportunity to grow. And you’ll not only succeed professionally but you’ll learn how to handle the things that really matter in life.

I’m not all right but I’m still peachy

Does God have to hit you over the head with a tw0-by-four on the rare occasion to get you to pay attention? He does that to me an awful lot. I think He does it to help me remember that I don’t know everything and that I’m still very young.

Yesterday I didn’t really go into my thoughts on the verse of the day because I didn’t want to get emotional before I went to work.

Today, since the verse of the day is basically talking about the same thing, I’m going to write down what I’m thinking about it even if I end up crying about it becuase I’ve learned not to ignore things like this. When God is obviously telling me to deal with something, I need to deal with it and not ignore it.

Psalm 18:1-2

1 I love you, Lord;
      you are my strength.
 2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

What do you do when you feel threatened or scared? What do you do when you get upset about something that’s happened in your life?

If you’re anything like me, you hide it. There’s something inside me that hates displaying any sort of weakness to anybody. I know it’s prideful, but it’s my first instinct. Something upsets me–makes me feel like crying–and I automatically shut that part of myself down and ignore it. Like taking all those emotions and shoving them down deep until I can function without really feeling them.

But I think that’s a lie I tell myself. I still feel the emotions I’ve hidden, but they come out in different ways. I get snappier. I get sharper with people. I can’t focus.

I live in denial in a way, I guess. I don’t deny that it happened; I just refuse to think about it. And that’s not healthy.

It’s not managing my emotions. It’s hiding from them. And that’s not healthy.

When I’m threatened or scared or upset about something, I run away from it and bury myself in diversions. I don’t actually face the problem.

What this verse today (and the verse yesterday) tell me is that I’m looking at it all wrong. I shouldn’t run away from the things that upset me. I should run to God with them.

I need to run to Him and tell Him everything that’s bothering me without letting my pride get in the way, and He will take care of it. He’ll protect me. I don’t have to be strong because He is strong for me.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

I can take my sadness to Him and He won’t wonder why I’m sad. I can take my weakness to Him and He won’t think less of me. He’ll just listen. He’ll just be. He won’t try to fix anything or explain why I shouldn’t feel the way I feel. He’ll just love me and let me be sad, and I think that’s what I need. I need to feel safe being sad, to let myself admit that it’s okay to not feel all right about things.

There’s a song called “I’m Not All Right” by a group called Sanctus Real. I was thinking about it just now. There are so many Christians out there who think that we have to be happy all the time and that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be sad because it’s a bad witness. And that’s foolish. Even the great heroes of the Bible mourned and grieved when someone they loved died or when something terrible happened. As a follower of Christ, we are always to have joy, but being joyful doesn’t mean we always have to be happy.

I’m sad. I’m sad that Grandma Bea died. I know that we weren’t close, and I know that I probably shouldn’t be as upset as I am. But I’m still sad. I don’t really know why. It was expected. I knew it was going to happen, and maybe it’s more that I’m sad that time is passing faster and faster every day and there’s nothing I can do about it. I just know I’m sad and being sad is okay for now.

So I’m going to be sad. And I’m going to grieve. But I won’t stay that way. Because God is my refuge and He is also my Healer. And what I don’t understand, He already figured out before He made the world. That’s why I’m always peachy, even when I’m sad.