Little shrimp boat shot from the the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Even pirates have a code

I enjoy the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I can’t tell you which one of the four (soon to be five) that I like best because they’re all a ton of fun in their own right, and I’m not sure why that is. There’s just something fun about dressing up like pirates and sword fighting to epic musical scores. Not sure where the allure in that lies, but it’s there.

If you haven’t seen the movies, maybe you’d think the draw would be the fact that pirates have no rules. They can pretty much do whatever they want. And people who can do whatever they want have to be happy, right? That’s bound to be the way to find true joy is to be free from boundaries, free from ethics, free from all the traditional dos and don’ts of civilized society. But what I find interesting is that even bad, scary pirates from those movies have a code of conduct they keep to. True, they’re more like guidelines than actual rules, but it’s still a set code of how they’re supposed to behave, how they’re supposed to treat each other, and how they’re supposed to treat non-pirates.

So if even pirates have a code, wouldn’t it make sense for us to have one too?

 

Little shrimp boat shot from the the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Little shrimp boat shot from the the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:27.

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

I’m not sure why this is difficult, but I have my suspicions. Throughout the Bible, God says over and over again that believers are supposed to love each other and stand together and in that way we’ll show people who don’t believe that we’re different. We have an enemy in the world, who will stop at nothing to see us fail, and he wants nothing more than to take as many people down with him. So his goal is to tear us apart, set us at each other’s throats, and make us fight and split and break our relationships with each other. So instead of seeing the unified Body of Christ, all the world sees is fractured, squabbling factions of Bible thumpers who can’t agree on translations or what kinds of clothing we’re allowed to wear.

I’m bad at this. Because I just want people to read the Bible. I want Christians to stop making up their own rules, and I tend to react emotionally when faced with a believer who has fallen for the lies of legalism. But the truth is this: We are at a place in history right now where the Church needs to stand together more than ever before. We’re coming down to the end here, folks. There’s not much time left, and the last thing we need to be doing is fighting over denominational traditions.

If we agree on something, we need to focus on that. It’s all too easy to focus on where we don’t agree, but that doesn’t help us stand together, united with one spirit and one purpose like Paul beseeched the Church of Philippi to be.

What does it mean to be a citizen of heaven? Well, if you believe in Christ and if you’re one of His followers, you’re already a citizen of heaven. But just because you’re a citizen of heaven doesn’t mean you’re already living like one. I know people who are citizens of America who don’t live like Americans. So what does it mean to be a citizen of heaven? Personally, I think he’s talking about getting along. And that’s not something the Church does very well anymore.

Having a relationship with Christ is freedom. That’s true. There are no rules we are required to follow. There are no standards that we have to meet in order to be worthy. But part of being a Christian is living like one, and while there are no requirements for worthiness, there is a code of conduct that a Christ-follower should submit to. And part of that is loving each other and finding common ground. And if the only common ground you can find is that you both believe that Christ died for your sins and that’s how you get eternal life, stand there. If nothing else, you are brothers or you are sisters in that. That’s the most important point, and if you agree on that, everything else is insignificant. Or at least, it should be.

Living a happy life isn’t a life without rules or boundaries. Actually, a life without rules and boundaries is the fastest way to be unhappy. We all have to know where the line is drawn. And standing together for the faith is a line.

So today, remember that if you belong to Christ, you need to be living like one of heaven’s citizens, which means you need to be getting along with your neighbors. Who knows? That old-fashioned religious person who you just can’t stop fighting with might end up in the mansion next door to you through all of eternity. So you’d better figure out how to get along now rather than later.

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.