Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Better than a reward

I’m a big fan of the Stargate television franchise, both Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. Maybe that makes me a geek to admit, but I think they’re fascinating. And science fiction is one of my passions because it’s a form of storytelling that allows you to tackle difficult cultural topics without being offensive.

I bring this up today because I just recently watched an episode where one of the characters faces the choice to do the right thing (telling the truth) or to do what she has always done (lie and run away). And one of the other characters encourages her to do the right thing because she will experience relief and happiness as a result.

Is that what happens? Well, not exactly. The character who chooses to do the right thing is actually put in prison and sentenced to life. Not what I would call happy or a relief. If you want to see the episode, it’s called “The Powers That Be” (Stargate: SG-1, Season 9, Episode 5). And it’s the first thing I thought of when I read today’s verse.

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Bee on a sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

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

Crazy science fiction shows aside, truth is true no matter where you find it. And that’s the case with this concept: people who do the right thing can be joyful. But in many instances, our culture defines joy as happiness, and they’re not the same thing.

Happiness anymore is identified with instant gratification. We want immediate results in our favor when we make any choice, difficult or not. That’s why people make bad choices many times because bad choices usually provide instant gratification of some sort, but when the consequences catch up with us, that’s when life isn’t much fun anymore.

Joy is different. Many times, when you do the right thing, when you try to make choices based on the Bible, when you try to live the way God has called us to live, life won’t get easier. On the contrary, it may even get harder. As in the case of this television show episode, even though the character decided to do the right thing, she had a lifetime of bad choices built up that she still had to pay for somehow. Consequences don’t go away just because of one good decision. That’s a law of the universe. If you’ve planted a whole field of bad seed and choose–at the end–to plant a few good seeds, you aren’t going to get an awesome harvest. Maybe those few good seeds will sprout something nice, but the majority of the harvest will be horrible. And that has nothing to do with God. That’s the result of your own choices.

But what if you always make the right call? What if you always do the right thing? Doesn’t that entitle you to some instance or moment of immediate satisfaction, beyond just knowing that you did the right thing?


But at the risk of sounding hyper-spiritual, isn’t joy reward enough? I mean, joy is rarely instant, but it is constant. And why do the right thing at all if you want a reward? Is that the reason to do the right thing? Is that the reason to live the way we’re supposed to live? Isn’t it enough to do right because it’s what God expects?

If we live our lives because we want something in return for our good decisions, I don’t know if we’re living with the right perspective. If we make choices because we will receive a reward for them, I don’t know if our focus is right. Why do you make the choices you make? Why do you do the things you do? What is your motivation for living, for making choices, for choosing between right and wrong?

I’m not saying rewards are bad. No way. I’m just saying I don’t think they should be our focus.

If you’re in a relationship with someone, whether it’s a friendship or a marriage or whatever, do you do good things for that person because they will reward you for it? Do you do good to that person because you expect them to do good back to you? Maybe you do. I don’t know. But to me, in my relationships, I do good for people because I love them. I don’t expect anything in return. I don’t do good for people so they will reward me; I do good for people because I want to be a good friend, an encouragement, a blessing.

Rewards are nice. But what is better is a deeper friendship than I had before.

That’s what’s at stake here. You can do the right thing for God because He will reward you. He’s said He would, and He does. But if all you want is a reward, your life will be shallow. And even the joy you receive won’t satisfy completely because you’ll always want more. But if you do the right thing for God because you want to know Him more, because you want to deepen your relationship with Him, the joy you get will be far better than any financial gain. There’s no end to God, and the better you get to know Him, the more you want to know about Him.So if you’re facing a difficult choice today, choose to do the right thing. Make a decision based on the Bible. Do what God would have you do. But don’t choose based on a reward you might receive. That’s the same motivation you would make a bad decision with. Do the right thing because, even if the results are difficult to handle, you’ll get closer to God, and that’s better than a reward any day.

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.

Reason to rejoice

Well, it’s Monday again.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I used to think peoples’ aversions to Mondays were kind of silly.  I mean, I got the concept — Monday meant you had to go back to work. But Mondays never seemed to be too bad of a day, especially when Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all just about on the same level. But as I’ve gotten older and gotten a real job (that helps), you know what? It’s not silly.

Goodness, Mondays are hard. It’s not only the fact that you have to go back to work (and after an awesome weekend , that’s hard enough) but it’s the accumulation of things that coworkers have done over the weekend, it’s the stacks of things waiting that you didn’t get finished on Friday, it’s the looming shadow of projects you don’t have time to complete that are yet to come.

And when I step back and look at all that, performance-oriented person that I am, I feel tempted to slip into a terrible mood. After all, how can I ever get it all done? And how am I supposed to have a life if I have to expend all my energy at work on projects that I will never complete? How am I supposed to do the things I know God has called me to do when I’m investing all my time and energy in my job, which even though I’m thankful for I know isn’t the end-all of God’s plan for me.

In the midst of all the questions and the temptation to despair, the verse for today is Philippians 4:4.

4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I love Philippians. It’s just as encouraging to me as the Psalms, and it’s a short letter so it’s a fast read too. It’s all about joy and why we should have joy. And the thing I always have to remind myself is that joy and happiness are two separate things.

I may not always be happy, but I can always have joy. It’s like the death of a loved one. It’s not a happy occasion, but I can have joy if that person believed in Christ because I know they’re with him. Like at work–I may not be happy that I’m loaded down with projects, but I can have joy that God gave me a job.

But this verse is different. For grins, I pulled it up in the Amplified Version.

4Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, gladden yourselves in Him]; again I say, Rejoice!

Look at that break out of the word Rejoice. “Delight, gladden yourselves in Him.” What that says to me is that no matter what situation I’m in, I have every reason in the universe to be joyful for the simple reason that God is my Savior. God saved me. He loves me. Jesus is my best friend.

This is saying that no matter how unhappy my situation may be, I should still be able to find joy in my relationship with God. That should be the source of my joy, and that’s what I should focus on. And if I can do that, it doesn’t matter what circumstances may come into my life, I will still be joyful because my perspective is correct.

Before this weekend, I probably would have read this verse differently. And it wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong. But before Pastor’s messages this weekend, I would have thought this meant to focus on the fact that God is working everything out for my good . . . or that God knows what He’s doing . . . or that God can see the big picture so that means I should be joyful about everything.

But the truth is, I should be joyful about God simply because He’s God. It’s not the fact that He’s done anything for me (which He has) or that He’s got plans for me (which He does) or that He will always provide for me (which He will) — it’s the plain and simple truth that God is everything I need. I don’t need my job. I don’t need my friends (although God has given me my friends to help me and He didn’t call anyone to be a hermit). I don’t need money. I don’t need fame. I don’t need anything or anyone but Him.

Today is Monday again. It always seems to come around again. But no matter how difficult the day may become or how high the stack of impossible work on my cubicle desk gets, I will delight myself in my God because when you get right down to it, He is everything to me, He has never let me down, and He’s got everything under control. And in a world that’s spinning out of control, that gives me reason to rejoice.

Why our blessings depend on our choices

Good morning again from Colorado Springs. Today is our last day at this writing conference, and I have to say this has been the most encouraging experiences I’ve ever had at one of these things. I will try to blog about it separately some other time, but I have been extraordinarily impressed with the teachers, the attendees, and the facilities at this conference/workshop.

The verse this morning is Proverbs 23:24.

24 The father of godly children has cause for joy.
What a pleasure to have children who are wise.

I really believe that children are born with a desire to please their parents. Depending on the child, and depending on the parents, some succeed and others don’t. I think a lot of it has to do with how easy it is to please a parent. If a child tries over and over and over to make their mom or dad happy and they never are able to do it, they’ll eventually give up. But if their mom or dad are too easy to please, the child will never strive to achieve anything truly great. So, just like everything else in life, there has to be a balance.

I’m not going to wax eloquent on child-rearing because I don’t have children, so my credibility on such a topic is probably questionable. But anything I believe about children and parenting comes directly out of Scripture. So I guess it’s not really my opinion anyway.

In any case, I know people who have wise children. Do you? I don’t know what it is about children who display wisdom but it’s refreshing, encouraging, and moving. It makes me smile. And I know it makes their parents happy. Well . . . beyond happy. Joyful.

For a parent to have a child who has accepted the truth of Scripture and is actively seeking God in their life is a huge, amazing blessing. Because that parent can take comfort knowing that their child will reap the benefits of leading a godly life. That even though their child may reach places in their life that are dark or scary or depressing, that as long as God leads them, that child will follow and God will protect them. Is there a bigger blessing than that?

I know the joy I felt when any of the students or children I worked with made wise choices. If that’s anything like what a parent feels, I don’t think there’s any feeling like it. You just want to leap and shout for joy and praise God all day long because you can see that someone else has the opportunity to experience the same great things God has taught you.

But I got to thinking. God is our Father. So doesn’t this work for Him too? Doesn’t God rejoice when we make wise decisions? I think He does. And, boy, would I love to see God rejoicing about something. Wouldn’t that be incredible?

Personally, I’m a people pleaser. I like to make people happy. But there’s a big difference between making people happy and bringing them joy. And if you want to bring God joy, just make wise choices. Obey Scripture. Live your life to love others. Trust God no matter what.

That may sound simplistic, but how complicated is it? Most of the time in life, you only have two choices. You have the right choice, and you have the wrong choice. Sometimes you have more than one right choice, and that’s great. But it doesn’t always work that way.

When you’re faced with a wrong choice, why would you make it? To make yourself happy? To please yourself? Sure. Why not? It’s your life, and it’s your choice. Absolutely.

But understand why making wise choices brings God joy:

When we make wise choices, that means He is able to bless us. He is able to give us good things. He is able to provide for us in ways that show us exactly how much He truly loves us.

When we make wrong choices, we prevent Him from doing that.

We don’t bring Him joy by making wise choices because He demands that we obey Him. It’s not that He’s up in heaven on some ego trip, totally dedicated to making sure that our lives are no fun whatsoever. No.

God loves us. And as our father–as our Daddy–He wants to give us good things. But He needs to be able to trust us. And if we can’t be wise with what He’s already given us, how can He trust us with the boatload of blessings He really wants to give us?