Baby red panda forging his own trail at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Should a child challenge an adult?

Have you ever seen a child trying to tell an adult that they’re wrong about something? Sometimes it’s obnoxious. Other times it’s funny. But the child rarely gives correct information. Most of the time when children try to correct adults it’s because children don’t understand everything that an adult understands, which is the way it’s supposed to be.

It’s similar in a working environment. Usually the veterans of a company are the ones who garner respect, and it’s the new hires who go to them for help. But not always.

Sometimes a newer employee has a different perspective that older employees could find very useful if they’re willing to listen.

Today’s verses are Galatians 2:11-14.

Baby red panda forging his own trail at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Baby red panda forging his own trail at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow Jewish traditions?”

It can be intimidating if you are a new believer and you’re in a room with a bunch of other believers who’ve known Christ longer than you. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like.

You feel alone and isolated and uneducated. You feel like everyone else in the room is having a conversation above your head, and if you stopped conversation to ask what they were talking about, you’re just sure they’d laugh at you. Or they’d feel obligated to explain it all over again in small words.

But you shouldn’t feel that way. Sure, it’s probably a good idea to listen when someone who’s been a believer for years talks about what they’ve learned from following Jesus for so long. But just because someone else has known Jesus for a long time doesn’t give them authority over you. And it doesn’t give them the right to look down on you either. We’re all equal under Christ’s blood.

God doesn’t love someone more because they’ve been with Him longer. That’s not how His love works. He doesn’t love someone more because they’ve done more for Him. Just like He doesn’t love someone less because they haven’t done as much.

What I’ve discovered more often than not is that new believers often look at faith and their walk with God in a completely different way than I do. And their perspective helps me see God more clearly, usually because I’ve gotten so set in my ways that I’ve forgotten what He looks like.

I truly value having relationships with new believers because they ask the questions I don’t ask. They see the holes I step over, and they challenge the verses I think I already understand.

Take Paul and Peter for example. Peter was one of Christ’s original 12 disciples, hand-picked by Jesus Himself. Pretty brassy of Paul to call him out in front of everyone, wasn’t it?

Well was Peter being stupid? Was Peter doing something he knew he shouldn’t have been doing? Absolutely. And where were the others to call out the bad behavior? No, Paul did it.

And that’s been my experience with new believers. They are hungry for knowledge, and once they absorb it, they want more. And they’re not afraid to live by it. They’ve left their old life behind recently, and they have no intention of going back to it. Those of us who’ve known Christ for so long don’t even remember a time when we weren’t following Him. Or if we do, it’s so far behind us, we don’t even think about it.

So if you’re a new Christian, don’t hesitate to challenge an experienced believer on what he or she thinks or says. I mean, do it kindly, of course. But don’t be afraid. They need you. They need you to see things differently. They need you to keep them on their toes. They need you to ask the questions they’ve forgotten how to ask.

And in return, I bet you’ll learn something. And you might even make a lifelong friend in the process.

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Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Does the Golden Rule apply to swine?

I get really tired of doing the right thing all the time. Do you? Some days, I just want to blow everyone off and tell them exactly what to go do with themselves. You can read into that whatever you’d like. Just don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Right? =)

People are very frustrating. And I get very frustrated with people, especially the ones I think should know better. People lose their patience with each other. People don’t respect each other. People don’t put each other first. So what do you do with people who hurt each other? How do you respond to people who refuse to put their own desires on hold to work out a solution with someone they have offended? How you know if you’re supposed to do anything at all?

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair - Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD.

It’s interesting to me that this is the way the longest chapter in the Bible starts out. Psalm 119 has 176 verses, and most of them are about rejoicing about God’s commands. This morning, in the midst of the situations I’m currently dealing with, I could use some joy. And if the key to being joyful is to follow God’s instructions? Well, sign me up. I want to know what God’s instructions are so that I can be joyful. Because in spite of the dictionary definition, joy isn’t dependant on your circumstances. Joy supersedes any situation. Joy comes from God, from the peace you receive knowing that you have done what God desires.

That being said, what are God’s instructions concerning difficult, frustrating people?

Okay. So I Googled “Bible verses about dealing with difficult people” and there are more than 118,000 results. 118,000 results!

Do you think there are so many verses about dealing with frustrating people because everyone gets frustrated with everyone at some point? Granted, some people are superbly gifted at pissing people off, but in general, we all get under each others’ skins at some point because no one is perfect.

And that’s really what I think dealing with frustrating people is all about: realizing that no one is perfect.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Even when I want to do good things, I still end up choosing to do something that is wrong. And if I can’t be perfect for 30 minutes, why do I expect other people to have an innate righteousness? Why do I expect other people to be good when I can’t be good?

Earlier this week, one of the verses I read was Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Otherwise known as The Golden Rule. I didn’t blog on it because I thought it has been done too many times. But, seriously, of all God’s instructions, this one ranks pretty high up in dealing with difficult people. We shouldn’t stoop to their level. We shouldn’t try to hurt them back if they’ve hurt us — or if they’ve hurt someone we love.

But at the same time, I think there’s another verse to remember. Matthew 7:6 says: “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” And if you keep reading, Matthew 7:12 may sound familiar: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

So how do you balance it?

How do you find the balance between treating other people the way you want to be treated but not wasting what precious time we have on people who will ultimately turn on us? It’s a good question and a hard one to answer, and I don’t know if I know the answer yet. But I can tell you the first thing to check.

Check your own heart.

Just as the Golden Rule is found in both Matthew 7 and Luke 6, there’s another passage in both books that should probably be mentioned:

Luke 6:41-42 and Matthew 7:3-5

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend,let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

It’s easy to write people off because they frustrate you. It’s easy to ignore people because they’re difficult. But before you take any step toward correcting their behavior or judging them for their actions, you need to look in the mirror and check yourself first.

It may not be pleasant. It may not make sense. But this is one of God’s instructions. And if we want to be joyful, we need to follow God’s instructions and trust that He knows what He’s talking about, even if it sounds backward.

Sacrificial stone

God doesn’t care about your sacrifices

Mayans were scary people. I’m not sure how many folks realize that, but they were. Their entire culture centered around blood and violence. This photograph is one I took on my trip to Guatemala in July 2011. Tikal, the Mayan ruins, is full of these sacrificial stones. From what I understand, the round stone in the front is where the sacrificing would be done, usually I think it was removing the heart. And the stone on the back served as a billboard to list why the person had to die, which usually would have been something along the lines of winning a great competition or triumphing over an enemy on the battlefield.

No, you read that right. The Mayans sacrificed the best to their gods. Not the criminals. Not the dregs of their society. The upper rung. It was a great honor to be sacrificed in Mayan culture.

Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned in wanting to sacrifice only the best, but that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning. Sometimes I struggle with sacrifice because in the religious culture I grew up in, you were expected to sacrifice everything you had in order for God to accept you. You were supposed to give up your life, your dreams, your assets, your hopes–everything. And only then, after you gave up everything you loved, would God be pleased with you.

And while there is nothing wrong with sacrificing all you have (giving things up rather than killing people on stones, of course), do we really need to sacrifice everything for God to accept us?

Sacrificial stone

Sacrificial stone - Tikal, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Psalm 51:16-17.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

This is one of David’s Psalms, the one he wrote after he got his head back on straight after the whole mess with Bathsheba, and it seems pretty cut and dry. God doesn’t want a sacrifice, at least not the kind of sacrifices David was accustomed to offering. Because the Israelite religious system was also based on sacrifices–just not people. They sacrificed the best lambs, bulls, goats, etc. according to what was started in the first five books of the Bible.

But they were expected to sacrifice. So why is David saying that God doesn’t want a sacrifice here?

Have you ever noticed that people who sacrifice everything often want to make sure everyone knows they’ve sacrificed everything? Sometimes sacrifice can become the key to getting attention. Sometimes it can make you famous, depending on what you sacrifice and how you do it. It certainly can make you famous in the church and in the religious community.

I’m not saying that all people who sacrifice are motivated by the desire to be famous. I’m not saying that at all. But remember, I grew up in the church. And I have seen many people who have “sacrificed” something that they didn’t really need to begin with in order to gain the spotlight, to earn the adulation of people around them.

What David is saying here, is that God doesn’t care about what we sacrifice. He cares about the heart behind it.

Sacrifices are nice. They’re good. They help us remember Who we serve and why we serve Him, at least they’re supposed to. But when you get right down to it, sacrificing is a good work. And good works, while they demonstrate that you have faith, they will never make you good enough to get to heaven.

God is pleased when we show that we have faith. And He is pleased when we give up something we want in order to pursue something He’s told us is better. But if we’re giving up our dreams and our lives and our plans so that we can tell everyone around us that we’ve given up our dreams and our lives and our plans, that’s not sacrificing to God. That’s seeking the spotlight.

God doesn’t want our works, and if the sacrifice you make isn’t motivated by a heart that wants to please God and no one else, that sacrifice won’t mean anything. He doesn’t want us to prove ourselves to him. He wants our heart and our will to be submissive to Him.

Real sacrifice is a result of a heart that is submissive to God. And the irony is that when you are truly walking with God, the sacrifices He calls you to make won’t really feel like sacrifices at all.