Opportunity is an open door

What is opportunity? Have you ever taken the moment to think about it? It’s those common words that sometimes I’m not sure I actually know the definition of. Sometimes it’s the words you say all the time that you don’t know what they actually mean.

For me, I’ve always defined opportunity as the chance to accomplish something. Come to find out, that’s kind of what it actually means. So it’s nice to know my vocabulary is still hanging in there. But think about that. The Chance to Accomplish Something. Even including the word chance gives it an entirely new meaning. Because if you have to have a chance to accomplish something, that means you will encounter other times when you don’t have a chance.

Opportunity is a time when you are in a position to do something. It could be anything. Something huge and life altering. Something small and personal. Whatever. But one thing won’t change: Your opportunity doesn’t stick around forever.

You have a chance to do something at that moment, and if you don’t seize the moment, you might lose it. And you might never get it back.

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:13.

Open gate at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburg, Scotland, UK

Open gate at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburg, Scotland, UK

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

If you’ve made that all-important decision to follow Christ, every day you wake up is another opportunity. God gives us all sorts of chances to do all sorts of amazing things in a day’s time, but the question is, are we paying attention? Are we taking advantage of the opportunities God gives us?

I wish I could say I did. I wish I could tell you that I always jump at the opportunities God sends my way, but I don’t. Sometimes I hide from the opportunities He gives me because I’m afraid or because I’m relying on my own strength and knowledge. And that’s not how we’re supposed to live.

Say you’re walking down the street, and the person in front of you drops money. That’s an opportunity. That’s your chance to accomplish something. But what you accomplish is up to you. If you want to serve yourself, it’s your opportunity to steal, to knowingly take something that doesn’t belong to you. But if you want to please God, it’s your opportunity to help someone else and maybe even tell them about your faith.

That’s what opportunity is. It’s keeping your eyes open and seeing the open doors God has given you every moment of every day and choosing to walk through them for His glory and not for your own.

In America, we have freedom to do many things that other countries only dream of. We aren’t limited (generally speaking). We can roll out of bed one morning and decide to start a business, and if we have the finances or the credit to be able to do it, we can do it. Do you know how rare that is for other people?

But just because you have the freedom to do whatever you want doesn’t mean you can use it to do what is wrong. That’s where we slip up. We think because we’re free that we can do anything and everything. And maybe there’s truth to that, because you certainly can do whatever you want. As a Christ-follower, you can break every rule you can think of, and if you truly belong to God, He won’t cast you out. He won’t protect you from your consequences either. But you are free to do whatever you want.

So Paul is encouraging us to love each other instead of fighting with each other. You can use your freedom to do whatever you want, but why spend it hurting others? Why use your freedom to destroy relationships or ruin your physical health? Instead, use the freedom you have–make the most of your opportunities–to do good for others, to help others, to serve others in the name of Christ.

Those are the opportunities you should be taking. Those are the chances you should be seizing.

So the next time you see the open door of opportunity in front of you, what are you going to do? Sure, you can serve yourself. That’s what most people will do anyway. But if you really are a Christ follower, and you want to see Him do something amazing in your life and in the lives of other people, take that opportunity to serve someone else. Focus on someone else.

If you have the opportunity to help somebody, take it. And do it in the name of Christ. You’ll be amazed at what happens in your heart and in the hearts of the people you’re helping.

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Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Don’t fear your troubles

When you’re going through a difficult time, do you find it comforting or annoying to talk to someone who has been through the same experience? Maybe it depends on the person and maybe it depends on how they talk about it, because in many instances I love gleaning wisdom and advice from someone who has walked a similar path. But in some instances it grates on my nerves to have someone telling me they know exactly how I feel.

Generally speaking, though, when I’m down or at a loss for words, I really appreciate having someone close who knows what I’m going through. And I hope that I’ve been the kind of friend who can offer advice and encouragement to others who are experiencing troubles similar to what I’ve weathered.

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

There are no accidents in our lives. Like I posted yesterday, God has a plan for everything, so that means no coincidences. The place we work, the people we meet, the circumstances we encounter–it’s all a part of something bigger, and there’s a reason for it.

The difficult part is remembering that fact in the thick of it.

Life has trouble. Life has lots of trouble, and each of us is going to hit bumps and potholes that jar us and trip us and send us tripping over our own feet. We’re going to get scrapes and bruises. We’re going to stub our toes and break our nails. We’re going to face sadness and discouragement and depression and fear.

But none of that will kill us. At least, it doesn’t have to. And if you choose not to let those circumstances be the end of your life and instead choose to see them as stepping stones, your life will be so much better. And then, something amazing happens.

One day, you’ll be talking to someone you thought you knew, and you’ll discover that they’re getting ready to go through the same things you did. Those same things in your life that taught you how good God is and how faithful and how awesome. Those same things that helped your faith grow so big and so strong that nothing can shake your trust in God.

You’re going to find people all around you who are going through the same things you did. Maybe not exactly the same, but the emotions will be the same. The fears will be the same. The results will be the same. And then you’ll have the opportunity–the responsibility–to reach out and tell your story. Because if God can be faithful to you, He can be faithful to anyone.

And I promise there is nothing in the world that can compare to sharing your story with someone else and watching their faith and relationship with God grow as a result. In that moment, you become so much more than just a child of God; you get to be a real, tangible part of what He’s doing in other people’s hearts.

So don’t scorn the trouble in your life. Don’t run away from it. And don’t get angry at God. He’s going to help you through it, and after He does, you’re going to know Him so much better than before. And then, you can help other people get to know Him too.

Because what else is the Christian life about if it’s not introducing people to Christ? And how better to do it than to tell the story of how you faced the impossible with God at your side and made it through?

 

Linda Reazin's wonderful toffee made every year for Judgement House, Wichita, KS

Look for the chance to do good

Why is it so much easier to criticize someone than it is to praise them? Have you noticed that? It’s a lot easier to find fault with someone than it is to recognize them for something they did right. Maybe that’s because I’m a perfectionist.

But then how does that explain the strange urge people seem to get when they sit around in groups—to point out anything and everything that’s wrong in their personal situation or in the world in general? Am I alone in noticing that the negativity in our culture seems to be spiraling out of control?

So how do we, as Christ followers, deal with that?

Linda Reazin's wonderful toffee made every year for Judgement House, Wichita, KS

Linda Reazin’s wonderful toffee made every year for Judgement House, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:10.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have the opportunity to do something nice for somebody else? I think we all have. But how many of us have done it? How many of us have seized that opportunity?

It’s easy to talk about being nice to others. It’s not as easy to actually do it. Being nice to other people takes effort, especially if you’ve had a bad day. But the Bible clearly says in more than one place that we need to be kind to each other, and it’s not just talking about Christians being kind to Christians. Christians need to be kind to nonbelievers. Christians, we need to be kind to everyone.

As followers of Christ, we are called to do good. What does that mean? Do good. If it will help someone, if it will make someone smile, if it will show God’s love to someone, do it. And when are we supposed to do this? Well, if you take Scripture literally, right up there it says whenever you have the opportunity.

Whenever you have the chance to do good for someone, do it. And I love how Paul emphasizes the part about doing good to other believers. Sometimes other believers are the most difficult to be kind to. But the way Christians treat each other is supposed to show the world that we’re different.

So be on the lookout for someone you can be kind to. Keep your eyes peeled for someone you can help. You can hold doors for people. You can help people carry groceries or take their cart to the return bin. You can smile at someone in line. You can speak kindly to the stressed-out college student in the drive-thru. You can watch for the opportunity to be an encouragement to someone else.

If you do that, if you spend your time looking for the opportunities to do good, you’ll find you don’t have time to give into the negativity. And soon you’ll find that you don’t want to. And the more time you spend being an encouragement, the more likely people around you will pick up on it too.

Negativity may be contagious, but the best way to fight it is to look for opportunities to brighten people’s lives.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Being nice isn’t enough

Sometimes I read Proverbs, and they don’t sound right. Like the writer took two completely unrelated sentences and joined them together with a comma and coordinating conjunction and expected people to get the point. But as a grammar fiend, it irks me because compound sentences are supposed to be composed of two closely related sentences. And many times verses out of Proverbs feel like they’ve been mashed together.

But something occurred to me this morning. God knows grammar rules. So if a verse out of Proverbs sounds mashed together and unrelated, I’m not reading it right. Maybe that sounds like common sense to you, but it was something of a revelation to me.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 16:21.

The wise are known for their understanding,
    and pleasant words are persuasive.

See what I mean by two sentences that don’t really fit? If I had been writing this sentence, it would sound something like this: “The wise are known for their understanding, and people ask their advice.” Or something like that. Because being known for understanding and persuading with pleasant words don’t sound related at all.

Or do they?

I was having a conversation with a friend last night in regards to someone she knows who is a very persuasive person … in a mean way. She’s apparently one of those types who can launch into a conversation with a particular type of assertive, engineered cruelty designed to get her exactly what she wants. And she’s good at it. She can browbeat anyone within an inch of their lives until they give in and give her what she’s asking for.

Talent? Maybe. Because I couldn’t do that. I make myself sick when I have to confront people at work about doing something for me that they’re supposed to do anyway. I can’t imagine calling someone up and screaming at them until they break.

But when I read this verse today, the part about pleasant words being persuasive caught my attention. Pleasant words are nice, sure, but persuasive? Most of the time when I need something and try to be pleasant about it, I don’t end up persuading anyone.

But here’s where the very related first sentence in that compound construction above comes into play.

Wisdom. Understanding.

Pleasant words by themselves aren’t enough. Pleasant words wielded by someone with understanding? Now that’s a dangerous combination.

Think about it.

If you have wisdom, if you can understand someone, you can communicate with them on every level. Body language. Vocal tone. Understanding means you “get people.” And if you get people, you know how to talk to them. You don’t have to scream. You don’t have to insult or browbeat or attack.

Now I’m not talking about manipulation. I’m talking about communicating. So many times in our world, we don’t communicate with each other. We form preconceived notions about other people so that when they come and ask us for something, we write them off or we dismiss them because we think we know what they want already. Maybe you do. But maybe you don’t.

In the corporate culture where I work, it’s essential to get along with people, but it’s also essential to get information from people. If people around me don’t do their jobs, if they don’t get me the information I need, I can’t do my work. I suspect that many of you who are reading this are in the same position. Well, how do you get what you need from other people who’ve already made up their minds about you?

Get to know them. Understand them. Find out what’s important to them, what matters to them, what drives them. And when you understand that, you can communicate with them on a different level. You can explain what you need, why you need it, why it matters to you, and why it should matter to them.

That’s not manipulation. That’s communication. That’s understanding the people you’re working with. That’s giving the people you work with a window into who you are. And when you can understand people on that level, you don’t have to resort to screaming and threats. You can be pleasant.

Wisdom and pleasant words are powerful tools. They are persuasive, yes, but implementing them at the same time will make a huge difference in your work environment. Because the wiser you become and the more pleasant you become, the more people will like you. And the more you’ll have a chance to help make a difference in their lives.

And that’s more important than getting your way any day. But if you use wisdom and pleasantness together, you might just get both.

Backstage at a puppet show

Backstage

I like drama. Not in life. Not between friends. But on stage. I like to listen and watch stories play out live. Stories are great to read, but watching them told through talented actors with beautiful sets is just as much fun. But there is a part of drama that doesn’t get much spotlight — because it’s not meant to. Beyond the actors, beyond the directors, beyond the writers, the crew of the backstage is essential to a great production.

If the backstage doesn’t function, the piece doesn’t work. The backstage is the well-oiled machine that keeps a show running. Yes, your actors can be phenomenal. And your director can be visionary. And your writing can win awards. But if your backstage isn’t organized enough to bring all the pieces together, nothing will work.

Backstage at a puppet show

Juan, Andres and Jay backstage at a puppet show - Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 6:2-4.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When I read today’s verses, I thought of the backstage.

No one ever talks about the backstage. No one ever talks about the people in the trenches on movie sets. The stage managers, the prop masters, the grunts who do the difficult work usually fade into obscurity. They are the ones listed in the end of the credits in small type that few pay attention to. They are the ones who make the movie or the play happen, and no one will ever see them. If someone ever sees them, especially during the movie or the play, that means they’re not doing their job.

Backstage is invisible. Like shadows. You’re never supposed to see them. Backstage is designed to help the actors and the directors and the writers shine, while they receive little to no credit at all. And the irony is that I don’t think they mind.

Maybe this is a bad example. But I think Christians are supposed to live like they work backstage at a theatrical production. That’s what this statement from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says to me.

People who help others in order to draw attention to their good works are hypocrites. That’s what the religious people of Jesus’ day did. They wanted to make sure everyone knew that they were sacrificing to help people around them. But what Jesus is saying here is that when you help someone, you shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. You should keep it private. You should keep it between you and God.

I love what Jesus said that those who call attention to their good deeds have received all the reward they will get. When we help others just to show off how compassionate we are, all we do is demonstrate that we crave attention and adulation and praise from our peers. And, yes, you may be helping others. But if you only help others to obtain the credit for it? Those good works don’t mean anything.

But if you help someone in secret–if you help someone quietly, without fanfare and without expecting praise–that’s different. That says you care more about the person you’re helping than what you can get out of helping them. And that kind of humility is something that God will bless.

Granted, we are supposed to give God credit for everything. We’re supposed to be ready with an answer if anyone asks us why we live the way we live. So don’t be a backstage Christian when it comes to explaining your faith. That’s not what I’m talking about.

When it comes to helping others, stay in the shadows. Don’t desire adulation or credit, and don’t seek after the spotlight. God knows what’s going on in your heart, and He will make sure you receive the reward you deserve for your actions, either in this life or the life to come.

Stick to the backstage. You can get all the action you can stand without having to make a fool of yourself in front of millions of people. Sounds like a good trade off to me.

The steps toward Tikal

Kicking people while they’re down

Living a real Christian life isn’t easy. It never has been, and it never will be because we live in a broken world and because we have two natures constantly warring inside us. Once we decided to follow Christ, we received the Holy Spirit. So we have God’s spirit in us. But that doesn’t get rid of our old imperfect desires either. So in a way, every Christian is bipolar. We are constantly in a war between our old self and the new self God has created in us.

So what happens when a Christian gives in to the old desires that he or she used to live by?

I’ve seen this happen a lot and most of the time Christians don’t react right. Maybe many of you know this from personal experience like I do, but Christians can be the meanest people on the planet. Wow! People who profess Christ as their Lord can be vicious — and not just to unbelievers but to others who profess Christ. To their brothers and sisters in faith. Sometimes Christians are more cruel to each other than we are to people who don’t believe. Personally, I feel that’s a big reason why those who choose not to believe stay away from us. Because if we can’t love each other, how could we love anyone else?

For Christians who stumble back into old sins, their Christian support groups usually turn on them. And even those Christian support groups that mean well still go about it the wrong way. They use guilt and manipulation. They preach and thump Bibles. And pretty soon the “offender” is so beaten down about the wrongs he or she has done. they have no joy left at all. All thanks to God’s loving people.

Is that the way it’s supposed to work?

The steps toward Tikal

The steps toward Tikal - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Not according to Galatians 6:1, which is today’s verse.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

See how the Bible says we’re supposed to help? Gently and humbly.

The Amplified Version says it this way: without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness.

To me, it all goes back to the golden rule. We need to treat each other like we want to be treated. Put yourself in that “Fallen Christian’s” shoes. How would you feel if suddenly the people who said they would always support you turned their backs on you? How would you feel if someone kicks you while you’re down, when you’re already feeling guilty?

Hey, Christians. It’s not our job to make other people feel guilty. We aren’t the ones who are in charge of convicting people. That’s God’s job. Our job is to love people and live lives that point to Christ, and God will take care of the rest.  The rest is between that person and God. And when someone stumbles and falls back into sin, it’s our job to help them up again — not kick them in the ribs. And we’re to do it gently and humbly.

Why? Because it could be you.

The paths we walk in this world aren’t easy. It’s an uphill climb. It’s a tough battle everyday to live the kind of life we’re supposed to live. And it isn’t a matter of if you will fall; it’s a matter of when. You and I and any other Christian are just as fragile. We can fall any time, and we have no concept how far we can fall, how wrong we can be, how badly we can act, how sinful we can become. If we aren’t prepared, if we aren’t ready for temptation, if we aren’t armed to stand against it, we will fall. There’s no if involved.

And, yes, we need to be vigilant. We need to keep a watchful eye on ourselves to make sure we aren’t pulled into the same sin alongside the person we’re helping, but that’s another topic for another day. We are help others and we are to be gentle about it and humble, understanding that we’re all in the same boat.

We need to remember that when we encounter another Christian who has fallen, it could have been us.