New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Choosing to live by the Spirit

I’m hoping that spring will be here soon. In other parts of the country (maybe the world), spring may have already settled in but not in Kansas. In Kansas, we’ve enjoyed a few days of summer and apparently today winter is coming back for a (hopefully) last hurrah. Spring is a wonderful time of year where life comes back to the world, a beautiful picture of what God does in our lives. Yes, the allergies are awful, but watching the world turn green and smelling the blossoming flowers and feeling the warm breezes is absolutely worth it. Spring reminds us that life doesn’t end when we think it does.

I have an orchard here at my little farm. It’s nothing spectacular, just a few apricot trees and pear trees that give new definition to the concept of organic. But in springtime, after the blossoms have fallen, the fruit starts to appear. And it’s a good reminder for me that trees that don’t look like they’re accomplishing anything are actually working–they’re producing something.

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:16-24.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

What does it mean to live by the Spirit? Some people take it too far, I think, and turn Spirit-filled living into some emotional experience. I’m not saying living by the Spirit is void of emotion; that’s not it at all. But I really think a hallmark of Spirit-filled living is balance. You aren’t ruled by emotion. You aren’t ruled by the law. You’re ruled by the Spirit.

You can be a follower of Christ and have the Spirit of God in you without being filled by Him. You can believe in Christ but not allow the Spirit to work. So how do you live by the Spirit? Well, first of all, you have to know what God wants, and that’s where Bible reading comes in. And then you have to communicate with God, and that’s where prayer comes in. And then you have listen. That’s the hard part for me. Sitting still and listening for God’s voice is difficult when I feel like I need to be rushing around doing ten things at once. But once you can get the point where you learn to recognize God’s voice and obey, you’ll start noticing a difference in your life. And others around you will start noticing too.

Today’s passage is pretty long but it’s one of the best set of verses about living by the Spirit. It’s a good measurement because if you’re living by the Spirit, your life is going to have certain qualities:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These nine qualities are often called the Fruit of the Spirit, and they are what the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we listen to God’s voice and obey.

So for the month of May, I want to study the Fruit of the Spirit. I want to know what they are, what they mean, and what they look like in our lives. I want to make sure I have them because I want to live a life that is Spirit-led. And the first step of accomplishing that is to be still and listen.

Just like verses 24 and 25 say above, as a follower of Christ, my sinful nature has been nailed to the cross. It has no power over me anymore, and through God’s power, I can resist. I don’t have to sin. I can choose not to sin through Christ’s strength. But just because sin has no power over me and heaven is my eternal destination doesn’t automatically mean that I am filled with the Spirit. I have the Spirit; He’s a part of my life. But that doesn’t mean I let Him lead. And that’s what I want.

It’s not required to live by the Spirit if you’re a Christ-follower but it’s the kind of life that God desires for us. It’s the kind of life that can make a difference in the world, and the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to do anything. God has already taken care of the truly hard part. We just have to listen and take God at His Word, and while that can be challenging sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.

So make up your mind. You can be a Christian and cling to your hell insurance or you can choose to let the Spirit lead. The choice is yours, but I say if I’m going to live for Christ, I want to live all out.

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Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Something to remember

What’s the big deal about rejoicing anyway? The Bible says over and over again that we need to rejoice, and Philippians is full of instances where Paul says to be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.

And I get that we need to be joyful because it will help our perspective. I get that we need to rejoice in difficult circumstances because it will help other people be encouraged. And deep down inside I understand that difficult circumstances come to help us grow and to remind us that this world isn’t home. But there are days when it still feels like an exercise in futility to continue rejoicing when nothing seems to go right.

So on those days when it’s difficult to find joy in anything, maybe we need to remember one important fact.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:4-5.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Maybe this doesn’t bring comfort to you like it does to me, but the idea that the Lord is coming soon is enough to make me jump for joy.

I’ve read this set of verses many times, and every time before I have split them up into two statements: An admonishment to rejoice always and instructions to be considerate because God will be coming back soon. But when I read it this morning, I read it differently.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so maybe it wasn’t intended this way. But what if it’s three statements on how to live instead of two? Rejoice. Be considerate. Remember.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

What if that little tag on the end of that verse isn’t a warning like I’ve always thought it was? I’ve always read it like Paul is saying we need to be considerate or else. Rejoice and put others first, or else God will get you when He comes back soon.

But this morning that’s not how it sounds.

Rejoice always. Making this choice is great for our focus and our perspective.

Be considerate. Making this choice is great for our relationships with others.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you don’t feel like rejoicing, you still have something to rejoice about. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you’re so bogged down with your own troubles that you can’t invest in others for a time, you still have something to look forward to.

With the pressures of daily life and the stress of just living, it’s so easy to forget that God is going to come back for us. It’s so easy to get buried in this life and think this is all there is. But this isn’t all there is. This world isn’t home. God is preparing a place for us that defies explanation, and we will get to live there with Him for all eternity, along with the others who have gone before us in Christ. No more sickness. No more pain. No more night. No more suffering. No more conflict or stress or tension.

That is our home. Not this broken, worn down shell of a world that we turned over to Satan thousands of years ago.

Yes. Rejoice always. That’s not an option. When everything goes wrong, rejoice. When everything goes right, rejoice. Choose to have an attitude that makes you unsinkable.

And be considerate of other people. Put others first. Help others succeed. Encourage others. Be there for others.

But above all else, remember, the Lord is coming soon. The world won’t go on like this forever, and when the ticking clock of Time itself finally winds down, all of us who know Christ will get to go on living with Him.

The little annoying troubles in life are just pebbles in our shoes as we’re walking home. Yeah, they’re irritating, but they’re just little things. And, yes, little things can add up until the sum of them feels like a big thing, but that’s perspective. Because even a mountain of pebbles is still insignificant compared to what God can do with faith the size of a mustard seed.

Red, blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Happiness in spite of a broken heart

God can work with a broken heart. Did you realize that? I mean, we say it all the time. We talk about it in church a lot. God uses broken people, which is fortunate because all of us are broken. But those people with broken hearts have the opportunity to be used in a truly great way.

There’s something about recognizing that you are broken that allows you to let God truly do what He wants to do in your life. I don’t know if it’s because you aren’t hiding. I don’t know if it’s because you’re being honest with God and with yourself and with everyone else. I don’t know. But the humility that comes from understanding how broken we are is something that God can take and make beautiful.

Red, blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Red, blooming rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:9-11.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

That one word therefore has a lot riding on it. It really means something like because. So if we really want to understand what these verses are about, we’d better check the verses that come before it. Since I’m doing a study of Philippians right now, I actually blogged on these verses yesterday. But I’ll add them into this text again too.

Philippians 2:5-8 says: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

And because He did this, God elevated Him. That’s where our verses for today pick up. Because He chose to be humble, because He chose to have a humble attitude even though He deserved to rule, God raised Him up.

This is the way it works with all of us. If we are willing to live humble lives with humble attitudes, not trying to cover up our brokenness with religion but trusting God to help us through, God will move us from the lowest rung on the ladder to a place where we can make a real difference for Him.

For years, I tried to do things on my own. I’m independent like that. Of course, I believed in Christ. I trusted God. But I had my own ideas about what my life needed to look like. I had my own ideas about where I would go to school, who I would marry, where I would live, what I would do for a living. And I was bound and determined to do things my way. But my life really hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would.

Just being honest this morning, I really thought I’d be married by now. Or at least, I thought I would have gone on a date. And there was a time when that really bothered me because isn’t that what is supposed to happen? Aren’t all good little Christian girls supposed to grow up, get married, have kids? That’s the norm. That’s the plan I had. That’s what I wanted when I was younger. But there came a day when I realized that what I wanted for my life wasn’t necessarily what God wanted, and at that point I had a choice to make. I could either focus on my discontentment in how my life had turned out and forge ahead to clear a path toward the goal I wanted–or I could go along with what God wanted, in spite of the fact that it led me in a different direction than I ever thought I’d go.

I haven’t always made the best decisions in my life, but this time I decided to go with God. And I’m glad I did. He has allowed me to do things I never thought I’d get to do. He has opened doors for me to help others in ways I never could have if I had been married and had children.

But before He could use me the way He wanted, I had to let go of the dreams I had for me. I had to take the broken pieces of my dreams and my heart and trust them to God to fix or throw away or do whatever He wanted to do with them. And because I was willing to let go of those broken pieces, He was able to do something with them, reshape them, repurpose them, and recreate them into something so much better than I even knew how to wish for.

There are still days when I think about what it would be like if I had gone down that road of marriage and family, but I’m not sad that I’m not there. Maybe that path is still in my future. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m not worried about it because God has given me something to do today, and as a single person I can accomplish more for God because I can be totally dedicated to Him. Not saying a married person can’t be totally dedicated to God, but I imagine it’s more difficult with a spouse and children. Now I look at being single as a privilege.

I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know if you’re married or divorced or single or widowed or somewhere between all of those. But what I do know is that God can take a broken heart and make it beautiful again. He can take the unhappiness and discontent that living life for yourself, by yourself inevitably brings and turn it into something wonderful and, satisfying and full. But you’ve got to be humble enough to trust Him. You’ve got to be willing to let go of what you think you deserve or what you think life owes you or what you think God owes you.

If you can do that, you’ll be surprised where you end up, and you’ll be amazed what He gives you the opportunity to do.

 

Tree stuck between mountains at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Choose your attitude

I was hired to be a webmaster and a writer, but my first few weeks on the job, I spent the majority of my time as a pack horse. We had a lot of heavy boxes and equipment to move from our office to the hotel where we were holding our national sales meeting. And the team I worked with at the time was entirely composed of women. And not just women–girly women. (We’re in marketing, for heaven’s sake!) Granted, they’re tough, and they work like crazy. But none of them expected me to be able to lift a 50-pound box in dress slacks and heels. That’s when I got to explain that I live on a farm. So I added “He-woman” to my job description that day.

But my manager at the time kept apologizing because hauling boxes and heavy equipment wasn’t why I was hired. It was something extra I had to do, and I think she was concerned that I would be upset about it. But it didn’t bother me. I like being helpful no matter what I’m doing, although at the time I had wished they would have told me what I would be doing so I wouldn’t have worn heels! By the time that day was over, I was tired, but I wasn’t unhappy. I could have been, I suppose. To have been “subjected” to a day of hard labor at a position where I was supposed to be writing might have upset some folks.

But I had already chosen how I was going to feel about the experience. I had chosen to be cheerful about it. I mean, hey, I had a job. And it wasn’t like they were saying, “Lift this box or you’re fired!” No, I hauled those boxes around because they needed to be moved, and I could do it.

Tree stuck between mountains at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Tree stuck between mountains at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:5-8.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Attitude is everything. If your attitude is sour, your perspective and your focus will be sour. It colors everything. But the beautiful thing about attitude (which is also the ugly thing about it) is that you can choose it. You decide when you roll out of bed what your attitude is going to be today.

No, you can’t control the events of the day. No, you can’t control your circumstances (at least, to a point). No, you can’t control other people. But you can control how you react. You can control how you respond. You can control what you think. And while you may not be able to control how you feel, you can choose how you act on your feelings.

For just a moment, try putting yourself in Jesus’ situation. He was God. He is God. He’s always been God. He always will be God. Creator of the universe. Creator of time itself. The beginning of everything. Endless, eternal, worthy of all our praise. God. But when He had the choice to do nothing or to make a way for us to be saved, He chose to save us, even though it meant that He had to give up everything.

This is how the Amplified Version puts it:

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

Jesus had every right to hold on to His status and position, but He didn’t look at it that way. Granted, when He came to Earth, He was still God. He was still God’s Son, but He was human too. It’s like asking me to give up my life to become an amoeba. That’s not a sufficient comparison, but it’s as close as I can get with one cup of coffee.

It’s unthinkable. And Jesus didn’t stop there. Not only did He give up everything, He took it a step further and died a humiliating and excruciating death.

You realize He knew He was coming to His death, right? Jesus knew why He was born. He knew why He was here. All the years He grew up, all the years He lived, all the years He taught, He knew He was here for one purpose–to die for us. But did He complain? Did He mope? Did He grumble? No!

And if that’s the way Jesus lived His whole 33 years in the shadow of impending crucifixion, why can’t we choose to be cheerful when we have to do something at work we don’t think is our responsibility? Why can’t we face frustration and irritation with a smile? Why can’t we stand up for what we believe with joy? Why can’t decide to be content with what we have?

Maybe today is going to suck for you. Maybe the week will be awful. Maybe the month or the year is going to be stressful and overwhelming, and maybe you have no control over anything that’s happening in your life. And the only thing you’re sure of is chaos.

You can’t choose your circumstances. But you can choose how you face them.

Jesus chose His attitude.

Choose yours.

Two scarlet macaws at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Contentment never comes from constant comparison

Can you be happy if you are constantly comparing yourself to other people? I can’t. But what is it about the human condition that leads us to compare ourselves to each other? Nobody has to teach us to do that. We just do it.

We live our lives and one day we meet someone who (in our perception) has something we don’t have. And that automatically means that person is happier than we are, so we compare our lives. We compare our personalities. We compare our achievements. And we compare our failures. In some cases, it ends with simple discontent, but in other cases it becomes raging jealousy.

The plain and simple truth is that our purpose isn’t to compare ourselves to each other. That’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to live. A Christ-follower is supposed to compare themselves to God, to Christ, to live by the example He gave us. Not to live by the life of someone here we think is happy. Because I guarantee, if you pick the person down here you think is the happiest person in the world, if you really get to know them, you’ll discover that their life isn’t as fun as you think it is.

So instead of comparing our lives, which is just a distraction from the things that really matter, shouldn’t we work together?

Two scarlet macaws at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Two scarlet macaws at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 2:1-2.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

After reading through Philippians a few times, I get the feeling that the Church at Philippi had some trouble getting along. Paul even goes so far as to call out names of people who he wanted to stop squabbling. And unfortunately, not much has changed in the Church in 2,000 years. The Church is still the epicenter of many arguments and much unpleasantness, all stemming from the fact that the believers within refuse to get along.

And from what I have seen and experienced, the root cause of why people can’t get along is that they focus on how they are different.

We focus on the differences in our life experience. We focus on the difference in our rearing. We focus on the difference of our level of education. We focus on our age. We focus on our preferences. We focus on our marital status. And we go a step further. Because someone else has money or education or Bible knowledge, we automatically assume they want nothing to do with us, and somehow we begin to resent them even though we don’t even know who they are. Or because someone is popular or well-liked in the church, we form opinions about them and don’t even try to get to know them.

And before you know it, we have convinced ourselves through assumptions and preconceived notions that we can’t be of one mind because we are too different.

But what does Philippians say? What did Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit write to the people who refuse to work together?

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?

Is there any?

Not total. Not complete. Not full. Not entire or whole or a word that indicates we have to be 100% alike.

Any.

Here’s how the Amplified Version puts it:

So by whatever [appeal to you there is in our mutual dwelling in Christ, by whatever] strengthening and consoling and encouraging [our relationship] in Him [affords], by whatever persuasive incentive there is in love, by whatever participation in the [Holy] Spirit [we share], and by whatever depth of affection and compassionate sympathy, fill up and complete my joy by living in harmony and being of the same mind and one in purpose, having the same love, being in full accord and of one harmonious mind and intention.

We aren’t supposed to be the same people. God made us different and put us in different circumstances with different life experiences so that where one person is weak the other person can be strong. But because we like to compare ourselves, because we refuse to be happy with where we are, we only see the differences. So we don’t see how our differences can make us strong through Christ.

I may have absolutely nothing in common with the next person I talk to at my church. They may be married with six kids and love chick flicks and romance novels and only eat turnips. But if that person belongs to Christ, we are family. Everything else is insubstantial in the face of our connection through Christ. Christ is what matters.

So today, if you have formed preconceived notions about another believer, get rid of them. Drop them like a rock. Preconceived notions when you don’t know someone will only do damage, both to the person you assume things about and to you. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Stop looking at other people’s lives and wondering why they deserve to be happy when you don’t. And reach out to someone you don’t know. Prove your preconceived notions wrong. I guarantee you will.

And even if the person you reach out to turns out to be exactly opposite from you, you still have one thing in common. And that one thing, Christ, can make up for everything else.

Funny yellow bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Seeing suffering as a privilege

People who really know me know that I struggle with insecurity. On the surface, I am a confident person, sure and decisive. And I’d like to think I’m that way in every situation, but my heart knows better. I’m not double-minded. I know what’s right, and I decide fairly quickly what the right course of action is. But knowing what’s right is easy; you read the Bible. But for me, feeling secure about a decision that doesn’t have a clear answer is difficult, and maybe that comes from being a people pleaser. Maybe it comes from being a perfectionist. Either way, I am easily intimidated.

I’m better than I used to be, and through many circumstances where I had to learn to stand up for myself, I’ve grown more comfortable speaking out or even just speaking up. But when I’m around belligerent people, when I encounter people whose only goal is to browbeat me, usually I quail. I’ve always been that way. I guess it’s the Feeler part of my personality that would rather compromise and bargain through conflict instead of drawing a line and making people cross it.

But every time I back down from a confrontation that I know I shouldn’t have, I feel wretched. After all, God doesn’t operate through fear, and if we are afraid to act when God calls us to do so, we’re just letting Satan control our actions. And honestly, this happens a lot. How many Christians do you know who have run upon difficult situations where they’ve been beaten to the ground emotionally by people around them? I see it in our schools and our colleges. I see it in the workplace. I see it in entertainment.

For me, I could stand up in my college classroom and announce that I followed Christ, and nobody would give me a hard time. But that ten years ago (yikes!). Colleges don’t work that way now. You can say you follow Christ, but you’ll be ridiculed and treated like an idiot. The world has never been more angry and more hateful for those who follow Christ. And when that happens, how on earth are we supposed to react? Do we get angry and hateful back?

Funny yellow bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Funny yellow bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:28-30.

Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

Do you believe this guy? Paul had some nerve, didn’t he? But he happens to know what he’s talking about.

If anyone else had said this, it wouldn’t have the same effect, but Paul knew what it was like to be attacked and beaten and made the focal point for cruel jokes and unfair imprisonment. So when he says not to be intimidated and that suffering is a privilege, he’s not blowing sunshine at us (as my awesome Pastor says). He lived it.

Our world thrives on intimidation because the whole world is insecure. The only way for an insecure person to live with themselves (outside of Christ) is to tear people around them down so they feel better about their failures. The world hates us because it hates itself; it just won’t admit it. So of course the world is going to try to tear us apart. Of course the world is going to try to beat us down. The world hates itself but not enough to change its mind about sin; so the only recourse left is to rip believers apart.

And when we come to that crossroads, we have a choice. We can either quail under the intimidation of people who are only trying to tear us down so they can feel better about themselves. Or we can keep standing with our heads held high and love them like Christ did.

But be warned, if you keep your head up and if you don’t back down, what was merely intimidation will move to full on persecution. If people can’t intimidate you, they’ll try to hurt you. And while you can’t control the people who want to hurt you, you can control how you respond to the hurt.

As Christ-followers, we’re never supposed to repay hurt with hurt, anger with anger, hate with hate. Never. That’s not how Christ lived; that’s now how we should live. We need to love every person who hates us. We need to do good to people who do wrong to us. We need to care for the wounds of the people who would turn around and injure us. That’s what Christ did. And let it be known that you are doing it because Christ told you to.

When you begin to suffer for your faith, count it as a privilege. Don’t see it as a chore or a problem or a bad situation. When (there are no ifs here) you begin to suffer for your faith, get happy. Decide to be joyful about it. Know why?

Well, one, the more you suffer, the more you grow. The more pain you endure, the stronger you get. And God will use that.

Two, the more you suffer, the more people will wonder what you’re about, and you’ll have opportunities like never before to share your faith with others and make a real difference (study the Roman persecution of the Church if you doubt that).

Three, you’ll be happy. If you make up your mind now to rejoice when suffering comes, you won’t just endure the suffering; you’ll enjoy it. I’m not being facetious. And no, suffering isn’t something to look forward to, but what you can look forward to is the good that will come out of it when God brings you through it.

So if you’re facing a bully today, no matter who it is, decide to be strong. Choose to keep moving forward. Don’t back down. Love them in spite of themselves. And when simple intimidation turns to something worse, rejoice. Because the moment you give in to their bullying, they win. And you will have lost your chance to show them how strong God really is.

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.