God’s great key to ultimate success in life

humble-key-success-honor_1170x350

When I was in third grade, my brother and I would do math speed drills. We were homeschooled, so Mom just decided to give him one of my speed drills, even though he was a year younger. I think he finished in half the time it took me.

Well, I couldn’t have that. I was older. I needed to be better, smarter, faster. So the next time we did a speed drill, I rushed. We finished closer to the same time, but all of his answers were right. Practically none of mine were.

I stink at math. True story. I can do it, but I have to go very slowly and think about every equation three times before I decide on an answer. And for those of you who know my geekwad, nerd-faced little brother, you know he’s faster and more efficient than some calculators.

Eventually, Mom convinced me that I didn’t have to be brilliant at math. I was great at writing, so that’s what I needed to focus on. (Props to Mom. I did!) But my drive to beat my brother at math speed drills didn’t come from a desire to be better at math; it came because I thought I already was better.

And that’s kind of how the world sees it, isn’t it? I was the older sibling, so I was supposed to be more advanced. Or, like in a work place, maybe you have a degree, so you’re supposed to be a better employee than someone who only has a high school diploma. There’s always something about us that makes us better than the next person, right?

That’s not what the Bible teaches. Probably one of the most confusing verses in all of Scripture (practically speaking) is James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” Does that even compute?

God’s great key to ultimate success: Let someone else go first.

Really? What sense does that make? We can’t go out into our cutthroat world and let others go ahead of us. We can’t walk out into the savage landscape of commerce and think of others as better than ourselves. We can’t forfeit our rights to make our own decisions and expect to succeed. Can we?

[su_pullquote align=”right”]God’s great key to ultimate success: Let someone else go first.[/su_pullquote]

The straight facts are pretty simple. The Bible is true. All of the Bible has to be true, or none of it is. So if I believe one part of it, I must believe the rest of it. And that means, God is right, and humility is the key to getting ahead in life.

No, that doesn’t mean you have to let people treat you like a doormat, but it doesn’t mean you get to think you’re better than everyone else for any reason. Nobody is better than anyone else. Some people are gifted in areas others are not, but that’s because we all have different functions. God made us each unique and perfect just the way we are, and instead of competing with each other, we should be more concerned about helping each other.

So be humble. Do what God says is right. Give up your place in line to help someone who needs it. Say nice things about your competitors and treat them with respect.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense in our perspective, but since when have God’s rules ever made sense to our broken world? God is the one who is responsible for exalting us. Success comes from Him. Yes, we can work hard. Yes, we should work hard. But if we succeed in life, we do it through His strength, His grace, and His gifts.

Don’t forget it. Recognize God’s authority in your life, and He’ll take care of the details.

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Being authentic is about how you listen

When I was a kid, keeping up appearances was pretty normal. Not that you were expected to lie about having a bad day or any of the tough stuff that was going on in life. Not at all. It was just better if you didn’t burden other people with it. That was sort of the general environment of most churches I attended as a younger person. I mean, if you were really having a bad time, you could talk to a pastor or a deacon, but just regular old church-goers didn’t really have the time or the resources to help. That’s just the way it was.

But church in today’s world is a little different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who won’t talk about the difficult things in their lives, but it’s expected now that everyone will be transparent. You walk into a church or a school or a business, and you are who you are. And to a certain extent, that’s somewhat liberating. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to put on a brave face. You can just be yourself.

But what does “being yourself” actually look like? What does it mean? Can you really be 100% transparent with other people, or do you need to draw the line somewhere?

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:14-17.

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Being who you are is more than how you dress or how you speak or how you walk. You are more than the clothes you wear or the food you eat or the places you’ve been or the number of letters after your name or the complexity of your job description. That’s not who you are.

I used to be all about me and what I wanted. And even after I chose to follow Jesus, I still wanted my own way most of the time (sometimes I still do!). But over the years, God’s really taught me that I need to be about Him instead of me. The new life He gave me isn’t focused on what I want or what I need or how I can get the most out of life. No, my New Life is about what God wants me to do and how He wants me to do it.

But does having New Life and being a New Creation mean I shouldn’t talk about my problems? Not at all. One of the reasons why Christ-followers are encouraged (commanded, really) to gather together is to pray for each other, to encourage each other, to help each other. And nobody can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong.

But it does mean that you’re humble. You see your troubles from a new perspective. You see them as lessons that God is allowing you to experience so that you can learn something. And you recognize that God has every right to do whatever He wants with your life, without your permission.

That’s what it means to have faith. Authentic faith.

If you are a Christ-follower, you are new. Period. You aren’t the same person you were yesterday, or you shouldn’t be. God is changing you every day, the longer you follow Him, teaching your heart, teaching your soul, how to live the kind of life He wants. And you’re either listening to Him or ignoring Him.

Authenticity isn’t complaining. It’s not pointing fingers. It’s not getting up in arms about everything you think is unfair in your life. I mean, if that’s where you are right now, that’s fine, and you need to talk about it. And you should be honest about the way you feel. But if you want to be an authentic Christ-follower, be honest about what God is teaching you right now. Maybe it’s a good lesson. Maybe it’s a hard lesson. But you know it’s a lesson, and you know you need to learn it.

If you’re authentic, you’ll accept that you’ve still got a long way to go before you become the person God wants you to be. And you’ll be thankful for how far God has brought you, because you know you’re not the person you used to be. And if you’re struggling to understand why God is allowing you to go through these difficult times, bring it up. Ask someone. Please, please ask someone. Don’t hesitate to find another Christ-follower and tell them about where you are in your life and how you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be willing to listen to a godly answer.

It’s one thing to talk. It’s something else to listen and do something about it.

We experience grace so we can extend it

Three years ago yesterday, I ran a red light at the intersection of Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita. It was not a happy day, although it was certainly much better than it could have been. No one was seriously injured, although several cars got pretty badly torn up. Even now, looking back on that day, I am overwhelmed with the grace God poured out on me.

It was my fault. I made a careless choice, and everyone had every right to throw it in my face. But nobody did. Instead, the police officer who showed up was kind. The guy who came to tow my wrecked car made me laugh. My local car dealership loaned me a vehicle off their lot for free so that I could drive around until I purchased a new car. Bountiful, abundant grace.

How on Earth could I hold anything against anyone else after I’ve experienced grace like that?

7D8934864C (1)Today’s verses are Romans 12:3-5.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Everyone steps into God’s story at a different point. Some of us have known Him longer. Others of us haven’t known Him long at all. But if we’re not careful, we can start seeing our experiences and our lives as the standard by which everyone around us should be judged.

Because we made a certain life decision and it worked out for us, that means we’re right, and everyone else is wrong if they don’t take our advice. Because I’ve found a way to use my skills in the church and it’s working for me, that means it’s the only way to do it. Or what if you meet someone who’s obviously living a lifestyle that goes against the Bible? They’re absolutely wrong, so that means you should steer clear of them and not have anything to do with them, right? I mean, they’ll only damage your relation with Jesus. Or, God forbid, you drink Starbucks coffee so you can keep up the conversation with the college kid you met in there the other day.

There’s always this big fuss about judging people, and that’s not the point of this post or this passage. It’s more important to always be ready to extend grace to people around you.

Do people know you as the Christian who’s against everything? Do people identify you as the Christian who criticizes or the Christian who puts guilt trips on other people? Or are you the opposite? Are you the Christian nobody can recognize as a Christian because you’re too busy doing all the same things non-Christians do? There has to be a balance.

Don’t look at someone’s life and decide they aren’t worth your time. You can’t make that call. You don’t know that person. That’s not judging. That’s having compassion on someone else.

Don’t hear someone’s story and instantly start talking about how they could have avoided trouble. Don’t throw it in their face if they’ve trusted you enough to open up to you. They already feel guilty. Laying a guilt trip on them will only make it worse. If what they’ve done is wrong, yes, that needs to be discussed but with the understanding that God can forgive any sin. And that we all need forgiveness. We all need God’s grace. Because we all sin. Each and every one of us.

The next time you see yourself in the mirror, just take a moment to remember that you have screwed up at least as many times as the guy tailgating you has. So let’s give each other a break, huh? I have done enough stuff in my life that I need every inch of grace God can give me, and I’m betting you probably have too.

 

On the privilege of being poor

I heard a statement once that true wealth is never having to say no to guacamole at Chipotle. I hear that, because I really love guacamole, but wow–it’s pricey.

It’s easy to be wealthy in America. Granted, the definition of wealth varies from culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. Wealth can either mean that you have a lot of financial assets at your disposal, or it can mean that you have been blessed with the intangibles of life–health, family, friends, faith, etc.

In my experience, most “good Christians” will say they’re wealthy because of all the blessings God has given them, and that is absolutely true. But for a moment, let’s just get real about this. Because money is real, and the struggles we all face with money are real. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 1:9-10.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

I read this passage over and over again the other night, mainly because it just made me smile. The way God sees things is so different from the way we see things. And this passage isn’t talking about being rich in blessings. This is unashamedly talking about finances.

If you don’t have as much money as someone else, be happy. I’m not sure the phrase “boast about” is the best translation. According to the Amplified Version, someone who is in “humble circumstances” should “glory in his high position.” That doesn’t mean you go around bragging about being poor. That’s just silly. But what you are supposed to do is to recognize that God’s trusted you with an awful lot.

It’s hard to even say that you’re poor when God’s given you so much already, but when you don’t have as much money as other people, you have to have more faith. And, honestly, faith isn’t something that everybody has in equal measure. So if you’ve got more faith than finances, you should understand that it’s an honor to live that lifestyle.

But likewise, if you are one of those folks who have a lot of money, you’re not wrong. It’s not bad to have money. It only becomes a problem when you love your money more than you fear God. If you’ve got a lot of money, you should be thankful at how God is humbling you. Because even if you’ve worked your tail off to earn your wealth, you have to be humble enough to accept that it all belongs to God anyway.

In my life, as well as in the lives of most people I know, the part about glorying in my high position in spite of humble circumstances bit is more relevant. I am not wealthy, financially speaking, and–yes–I do sometimes say no to guacamole at Chipotle. But I was okay with that because I’m rich in other ways. I have eternal life guaranteed. I have friends and family who love me unconditionally (which is priceless, because I’m so not worthy of love). I have free, open access to the throne room of God, who created the Universe, and He’s given me permission to ask Him for the desires of my heart. That’s huge!

But I’d never thought of a lack of finances as an honor. That’s what this verse is saying. Isn’t it funny how we silly little humans twist God’s perfect plans all up until they’re unrecognizable?

Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t aspire to be poor. That’s not the point. If we aspire to anything, it should be to glorify God. That’s the one thing both poor and rich have in common–recognizing God as the source of true wealth.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re poor. God doesn’t have it out for you. It’s actually the other way around. Being poor is a privilege. Not having the same financial status as others gives you an opportunity to show your faith and share your faith with others.

It’s not easy. But faith never is.

Even masters never stop learning

Have you ever seen the work of a master artist? I don’t know a lot about art, and I know even less about painting, but it’s one of the arts that takes my breath away. I would watch the Joy of Painting for hours, just marveling at how Bob Ross could take a paint brush and some colors and transform a blank canvas into a gorgeous landscape (happy little trees and all their friends included).

What’s really amazing to me is that the masters I know understand that they don’t know everything. The true masters realize that they always have something new to learn. Since we’re talking art, let’s talk about Michelangelo. No, not the Ninja Turtle. The artist. He’s known for a few minor, insignificant things like the statue of David (the one missing the arms) and the Sistine Chapel. No, he’s not really well known.

Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Michelangelo is one of the greatest artists of all time. Yet, one of the sketches he was working on late in his 80s had a phrase written on it: “I am still learning.” Imagine. Michelangelo, one of the greatest, most accomplished, most recognized artists in all history, and as far as he was concerned, he was still a student.

Chapelle_sixtine_plafondToday’s verses are Proverbs 9:8-9.

So don’t bother correcting mockers;
they will only hate you.
But correct the wise,
and they will love you.
Instruct the wise,
and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
and they will learn even more.

I do believe there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, but if your search for either of them is grounded in God’s Word, you can’t go wrong. And it’s good to have both, because the Bible often says having both is best. But the best indication of a wise person is that they’re teachable.

Being teachable can be tough. Face it, learning stuff is hard work, and for independent thinkers who like to do things their own way, following class instructions or a teacher’s syllabus can be very frustrating. But for many things in life, there really is only one way, and you have to learn it somewhere.

For a minute, just put yourself in Michelangelo’s shoes (or sandals or whatever people back then wore). This man had painted detailed imagery across the walls and ceilings of a giant cathedral. He’d carved incredible statues and sculptures that retain their priceless value even today. If anyone could have pushed back his chair and declared himself all-knowing on a subject, it was him. But did he do that? No! He declared that he was still learning.

So if a master painter like Michelangelo could be okay with still learning, why can’t we be okay with it too? Is there some great looming deadline hanging over our heads where we need to reach omniscience–or at least subject matter expert status? If there is, it’s a bad idea. You can know a lot about a lot of things, but you’ll never know everything.

Sorry. That’s just the way it works. You will never stop finding things you don’t know, but you can stop learning.

You don’t have to keep learning. You are perfectly free to shut your brain off and glide through life on the accumulated knowledge you built up in high school and college. It’s your choice whether or not to learn. But let’s make one fact very clear: Just because you decide to stop learning doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have all the answers. In fact, you’ll probably find that you have fewer answers than before.

And I’m not talking about being a professional student. There is such a thing as too much education. But don’t ever get it in your head that you know it all, because the moment you do, God will send a lesson your way to bring that ego down a few notches.

Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. Then look for lessons to learn everywhere you go. You can choose to stop learning if you want, but why would you?

Want to be wise? Want to have knowledge? Be willing to keep learning long after you think you’ve already got the answers. You’ll be surprised by what you don’t know and by how much more you still have to learn. That’s what it means to be a master.

Stop seeing your weakness as a failure

The yard at Safe Haven Farm is a mess this morning. It’s so bad we can’t even use the normal back porch door. Instead, we have to come and go through the front door (this is the country; nobody uses the front door). What’s happening? We’re having a new patio installed!

We’re so excited to finally be losing the narrow old porch steps. They were always a tripping hazard, and in the winter time it was even more dangerous. When the new patio is done, we’ll have nice wide steps, a nice wide porch, and a nice patio and curving sidewalk to the driveway. It’ll be beautiful! … But it’s not beautiful right now.

That’s an important lesson about life I need to learn over and over again. When you’re trying to achieve a goal, it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, and usually you have to get your hands dirt. And sometimes cleaning up a mess means you have to make a bigger mess first.

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Following Jesus sounds backwards. Ask an average person off the street if their goal is to be weak, and they’ll probably look at you funny, especially in America. Especially in the Midwest. Around these parts, weakness isn’t something to be celebrated. It’s something to get over.

A storm blows your house down? That stinks. You just build it again. You lose your crop of wheat or corn? Tough potato chips. You get through it and plant against next season. It’s not common to rejoice when things go wrong. It’s not normal to celebrate when you aren’t strong enough to accomplish something on your own.

I struggle with this concept because I don’t like asking for help. Actually, I hate it. I run from store employees before they can ask if I need help finding something. I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I don’t like admitting that I’m incapable of anything. I never have.

So when I run into a problem, I want to fix it immediately. I want to snap my fingers and make it go away, like I think I’m Mary Poppins. But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does following Jesus.

Frankly, when you choose to follow Jesus, you don’t get any stronger. Actually, you learn that it’s okay to be weak, because that’s how you have access to His strength. And His strength is perfect. But when you want to fix things, when you want things your way, on your timetable, it’s hard to back off and let Jesus take over.

Following Jesus is messy business because the world is broken. It’s messier still because I’m messy, and Jesus is still working on me. I’m so thankful Jesus loves messy people, because my life is untangling a strand of Christmas lights. There’s no “easy” solution. You can’t just shake all the knots out. You have to pick the knots apart one at a time, and most of the time it looks like you’re making a worse mess than you had before. But once everything is laid out for Jesus to see, He’ll show you what needs to stay in your life and what needs to go. Then, you can start putting the pieces back together. And you’ll be better for it.

You can’t do it by yourself. You aren’t strong enough. And you know what? It’s okay to not be strong enough. In fact, that’s something to celebrate.

So let’s stop seeing our weakness as failure. Let’s stop seeing our messes as nightmares. And let’s accept them for what they really–growing pains. With Jesus’ help, we’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it on the other side.

Nothing that happens to you is wasted

Jury duty is something I’d always wanted to do, but I didn’t want to do it this month. I just had too much to juggle. Between leaving my old job and starting my own business, plus now having two novels I need to promote and more novels to start working on, February wasn’t a good time.

So when I got the jury summons, I was tempted to come up with some excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. I had legitimate reasons why it would be problematic for me, but I decided that if I were supposed to be on a jury, it would happen.

After all, most people who are called to jury duty never get picked to actually sit on the panel, right?

Right. So, I reported for the selection process on Tuesday morning, and I came back on Tuesday afternoon as one of twelve jurors in a criminal case of theft and falsifying identity. The case finished on Wednesday, and, frankly, I didn’t expect to learn so much. I learned a lot and not just about the legal process.

I do believe that God allows everything in our lives for a purpose, and even though jury duty certainly wasn’t what I had planned for two days out of my week, I had decided to make the best of it. And I came away learning valuable lessons about business practices–lessons I’m not sure I would have learned for myself unless I’d see the consequences played out in court.

jury-box-doneToday’s verse is Proverbs 18:15.

Intelligent people are always ready to learn.
    Their ears are open for knowledge.

Everyday, we face situations and circumstances that aren’t ideal. I don’t enjoy everything I have to do on a daily basis. In fact (as my parents can tell you) there are some things I will do almost anything to avoid doing–like the dishes. 😉

But if we can get our attitudes in the right place, if we can keep our perspective right, we can face those less-than-ideal circumstances with confidence and courage knowing that God is allowing them for a reason. And if God intends for us to experience something, there must be a lesson we need to learn.

The Bible tells us that a mark of wisdom is being willing to learn–not automatically assuming you know everything already. People who live that way usually make really terrible mistakes in their lives.

Maybe there’s something you have to do today or this week that you don’t want to do. Maybe it will make you uncomfortable. I hear you. It’s never fun to be pushed outside your comfort zone, but I can tell you every time I’ve been pushed outside the realm of my experience, I’ve learned something.

So just because you may have to do something you won’t enjoy, don’t automatically discount it as a wasted day. Nothing that happens to you is wasted if you are always willing to learn something.

We make our choices, but God determines our steps. He knows where we’re going and what we need to go through before we get there so that we’ll be ready. So pay attention and don’t let opportunities to learn pass you by. You might regret it down the road.