You’ve got family you’ve never met

We’re all adopted. You know that right? If you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve been adopted into God’s family, and you automatically have brothers and sisters in every nation on Earth. You may not know their customs. You may not speak their language. But you both belong to Jesus.

There’s nothing more amazing to me than meeting someone from another country and instantly having a connection because you both love Jesus. Even if you have nothing else in common, Jesus is enough to bridge cultures and bring people together as long as He stays the main thing.

We’re all one family. Have you ever thought about that? So why is it easier to focus on how we’re different instead of how we’re the same?

people-crowd-child-kidToday’s verses are Ephesians 2:19-22.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Family means different things to different people. But to me, my family is one of the central, most important factors in my life, but I’m well aware that family isn’t as important to other people. But family, as it was supposed to be, is designed to be our shelter, our starting point, the place where we experience God’s design.

So what would your life look like if you had a brother or a sister you trusted? What would you be like if you were best friends with your brother or sister? Maybe you’re blessed (like me) and have experienced that relationship. Maybe you’re not, and you’d leap for joy at the thought of having someone in your life like that.

Did you ever think that maybe the person you’re looking for is someone you already know?

That guy you sit next to on the bus? If he knows Jesus, he’s your brother. That woman at the office, the one who drives you nuts? If she knows Jesus, she’s your sister. But it’s easier to focus on the things that you don’t like about them than it is to treat them like family.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions about people. Yesterday I was sitting at Mead’s listening to a guy in the corner go off the rails about how much he hates America and wants to change his citizenship and move to Singapore. And I jumped to a conclusion about the man. That he’s not very bright. But that’s wrong of me to say. He could be perfectly bright and just vocal about his opinions. Fair to say I don’t agree with any of his conclusions, but that’s not my job.

Don’t switch your brain off. Obviously sometimes you have to make judgment calls about people or situations, but there’s a vast difference between making a judgment call jumping to conclusions.

If you’re lonely or looking for family, you have one. You have access to family members from around the world. You don’t have to look very far. There are millions of people all around you who know Jesus. We just need to stop seeing them from the outside and hear their hearts instead.

You have family you’ve never met, and eventually you’ll get to see them someday. But there’s nothing wrong with looking for them now. Who knows, they may be just as lonely as you are.

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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.

 

People are like icebergs

Imagine yourself in a small group. Doesn’t have to be church related. Maybe it’s a social club or a work event, and the goal at your table or in your particular circle of chairs is to get to know each other better. What three questions do people ask most frequently? In my experience, it’s name, occupation, and favorite movie. Or maybe favorite dessert (right, Tour Guides?).

Sure, it’s a great ice breaker. Yeah, it’s an easy, non-threatening way to get people talking. But come on. Can you really get to know someone better from those three things?

Names are always fascinating, but in today’s society, a name doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. And a job? Sure, jobs can tell you a lot about somebody, but a job is usually just a title. I’ve learned is that a job title is always only the top layer of someone.

And movies? Maybe in some cases you can learn a lot about someone from the movies they watch, but you can’t learn where a person is at in their lives simply because they enjoy a certain movie.

It’s tempting, though. It’s easy to put people in boxes because they’re easier to control there. In our own minds, if we label and organize people according our assumptions about them, they aren’t threatening anymore. Maybe I do that because I’m an insecure introvert, or maybe it’s more widespread than that.

Whether everyone does it or it’s just me, it’s not a good idea. People are like icebergs, and the real person underneath extends much father below the surface than you can see at a glance.

IcebergToday’s verse is 1 Samuel 16:7 (again).

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I just blogged on this verse last week, but there’s no better statement I know to illustrate what God is reminding me of today. No matter what I see on the outside, a person is much more on the inside. And maybe I can’t see that, but God can.

When you meet someone new, do you automatically classify them in your brain? Do you categorize them or put them on mental shelves or file them away to be examined later? I do. And, honestly, I’m not even sure that approach is wrong.

It’s important to make a judgment call about the people you choose to get close to. If you want to stop partying, it’s not a good idea to strike up a close friendship with a partier. That’s a bad example, but you get the point. Sometimes you have to judge a relationship based on actions, and in many cases, that’s wise.

But if someone tells you their favorite movie or book or even job title, does that give you any insight into his or her heart? Absolutely not! But it’s tempting to see it that way.

You hear someone is a factory worker or a car mechanic, and what do you think? You hear someone is a banker or a stock broker, what do you think? You hear someone is a school teacher or a state employee, what do you think?

We like labels because once we label people, they aren’t threatening to us. Or at least we think they aren’t. That’s the funny thing about icebergs. Even if you label them harmless, they can still sink unsinkable ships.

A person’s heart is usually always different than what they look like on the outside, and there’s no easy, simple, three-question process you can go through that will shed any light on that. You can’t learn everything about a person in a few minutes. There is no such thing as a simple person. There’s no such thing as a person without a story.

So don’t think you can understand where someone is at because they like watching Big Bang Theory or Christmas Vacation. And don’t label someone a wild-eyed right-wing conservative because they watch Fox News. Before you can know where someone is at, you have to know their heart.

That’s what matters. That’s where the real person lives. It’s so much easier to address the outside. It’s so much less stressful to focus on what we can see, but imagine what you’ll miss if you write people off because you’re only looking at what’s obvious. Imagine the opportunities that will walk right past you because you assumed that factory worker was just a factory worker.

No, we can’t see people’s hearts. Only God can do that. But we can stop focusing so much on the outside or on what culture tells us to look at, and we do spend more time getting to know the person underneath.

Have you ever eaten a koosh ball?

If you saw this at a grocery store, what would you think it was?

Rambutan

Some new koosh ball, right? Or a children’s toy? Or a decorative element for a new age dining set? Maybe Christmas ornaments or something to scrub your pots with?

Well, you’d be wrong. This is an image of rambutan. It’s a fruit. You peel back the outside layer and inside is a white fruit that tastes like green grapes. I had one the first time I went to Guatemala in 2007. I think they also grow in Southeast Asia.

But looking at it on the outside, you wouldn’t know it was fruit, would you?

I thought of this when I read today’s verse in 1 Samuel 16:7.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God had sent Samuel to go annoint the new king of Israel, and he ended up at the house of Jesse. And Jesse trotted out his seven sons to let Samual choose from them, and Samuel kept going and going and going until he reached the end of them and none of them were the ones God had chosen. And Samuel didn’t understand.

The oldest seven sons Jesse had were tall and handsome and atheletic and strong. They would make a perfect king. So why was God rejecting all of them?

And this was God’s answer. He didn’t care what each of these boys had on the outside. What mattered to Him was what was on the inside. And when Samuel asked if these were all the sons Jesse had, Jesse admitted that the youngest son was out with the sheep and because he was the youngest, they hadn’t bothered to call him. So they brought the youngest son in, and Samuel knew right then that the youngest son was the one God wanted. The youngest son was named David.

So many times I think I am like Samuel. Since the outside is all I can see, I tend to make judgment calls based on what my eyes are telling me. But that’s wrong. Becuase people are more than what they look like.

Just like the rambutan fruit, someone may be strange looking on the outside but may be sweet on the inside. Many times peoples’ appearances contradict what is actually going on in their hearts, for better or for worse. And in either case, it’s not our job to judge them based on what they look like. It’s our job to love them because Jesus loves them and because God made them the way they are.

So the next time you catch yourself making a judgment call about someone you don’t understand or about someone who looks different than you do, think of the rambutan and remember that God doesn’t care what’s on the outside. God only cares about the heart. That’s all that matters to Him. So that’s all that should matter to us.

Judging

Christians are really good at judging people, which is pretty incredible because that’s not something we’re even capable of doing. It seems easy to look at someone who is doing something we don’t agree with and to levy judgment against them simply for the reason that we don’t like their actions. But there’s a big difference between disliking someone’s actions and judging them as a person.

I find it interesting that many people who say they follow Christ think it’s their mission in life to judge other people, whether they’re making the right choices or not, whether they’re living their lives the right way or not. They say they follow Christ when they do this, but we don’t have a record of Jesus judging anybody. Because that’s not why He came. Jesus came to save people, not condemn them.

The verse today comes from John 3:17.

17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

 Christ was here on a rescue mission.

So where do Christians get the idea that we’re supposed to walk around telling people what they’re doing wrong and how that affects their worth as a person?

Now. I should probably clarify what judging actually means. Judging is passing sentence on a person’s heart based on what their actions.  And if you think about it, that’s all a judge in a court room does. Based on the evidence of a person’s actions or behavior, a judge makes a ruling on whether a person meant to break the law or not . . . and whether he’s sorry about it or not.

Judging is about us determining someone else’s motivation. And that is impossible for us to do. We can’t know someone else’s heart, their reason for doing the things they do, their motivation for living life. That is hidden to us. All we can see is the results of their motivation.

Now . . . can we judge actions? Yes. If you believe the Bible, you believe in right and wrong. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Being jealous is wrong. Disobeying parents is wrong. But stating those facts isn’t being judgmental. That is what the Bible says. Many times. Over and over. The Bible declares that these things are sin. And in the same breath, the Bible turns around and says that all of us are sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another sin. So how can one sinner turn to another sinner and declare himself worth more or less? We can’t. Only God can determine the worth of a soul, and we already know the price He paid for us — His Son.

Now . . . is it wrong to call another Christian on their crap? No. If you know a Christian — someone who professes to follow Christ — and they are living a life that is obviously against God, you as a Christian have a responsibility to step up and talk to them. Christians, we’re family. We are supposed to keep each other honest. We’re supposed to keep each other accountable. And while we can’t see someone’s heart, we can see their actions, and a Christian’s actions should look different than someone who isn’t a Christian. Again, calling another Christian out on repetitive, obvious sin isn’t judging; it’s being obediant to Scripture.

Now . . . is it wrong to see someone sinning and immediately decide that they are not a follower of Christ? Yes.

Is it wrong to speak ill of a person as though you understand their heart and their motivation? Yes.

Is it wrong to see a person’s actions and decide that they aren’t worthy of God? Yes.

Many of us would say we’ve never done those things, but if we say that we’re lying. We do it all the time, whether we mean to or not. Yes, we can see someone’s actions and deem whether or not they are wrong by using the Bible as our moral/ethical compass. But to decide whether or not that person is worthy of being loved? To decide whether or not that person is worthy of being prayed for? To decide whether or not that person is “good” or “bad” person? Wow. Where do we get such egotistical ideas? There’s nobody good. There’s nobody worthy of being loved. Not even us.

So the next time you see someone sinning — whether it’s a little bitty sin or a great big sin — try to remember that while we can judge whether the sin is right or not, the sinner belongs to God. God has already judged. The law already declares us lost. Jesus came to rescue us. And it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to be saved. And if Christ didn’t come to judge people, why do we think we need to?

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Today’s verse is 1 John 1:9.

9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Okay, I’ll be honest, even though I’m probably going to reveal how much of a terrible Christian I am (lol). I didn’t think of grace and peace and repentance when I read this verse this morning. In all honesty, the very first thing I thought of when I read this verse is the well-known Monty Python skit, The Spanish Inquisition.”

We grew up with Monty Python, and I think it’s all pretty hilarious. But this was one of those that sticks with you.

Obviously, it’s a humorous take on a real historical group that did horrible things to torture confessions out of innocent people. It was founded in 1480, and it became well known for forcing confessions out of people. Monty Python’s group had some fun with this in a couple of skits, trying to force confessions out of people with terrifying orders of “poke her with the fluffy pillows!” or “put her in the comfy chair!” I still remember laughing as I watched these crazy guys wearing red poking this old woman with a pillow, chanting, “Confess! Confess! Confess!”

Forced confessions aren’t real. They never are. Maybe in the movies. Or if Jack Bauer is interrogating you, then they’d be real. But in real life, whenever you force someone to confess something, generally you can’t trust it.

Have you ever said you’re sorry for something and didn’t really mean it? I know I have. I have definitely apologized to someone simply to placate them, when deep in my heart I wasn’t sorry at all.

If you’re not really sorry for something, isn’t it a good idea to forgo apologizing for it until you actually regret doing it? Until you have an earnest wish not to do that sort of thing again? Apologizing for it before you really feel sorry about it is dishonest. Saying you’re sorry before you mean it doesn’t really accomplish anything.

If we’re sorry for something, that means we change our minds about our actions or our thoughts; changing our minds about our actions or thoughts means that we realize they were wrong, that they’ve hurt others, and that we are committed to never repeat those thoughts or actions again. It doesn’t always mean we’ll succeed. But we can certainly try.

That’s what the Greek word for repentance actually means. I don’t know if I’m spelling it right, but it’s transliterated metanoya. A change in thinking. People would have you believe that repentance is this giant, overly emotional show of deep feeling. It’s not. It’s a quiet change deep in your own heart and mind that shows you’ve thought about what you’ve done and come to the realization that it was wrong. And that you’ve vowed to stop doing it.

What’s more, repentance is between you and God. It’s not something that other people should get involved in. It’s not our responsibility to make other people confess their sins. One, because we can’t. Two, because we can’t see their hearts or minds to know if their “confession” is real. Three, we have our own sins to repent from, so how can we judge others for theirs?

Now . . . is it wrong to call a friend out on their sin when they know it’s wrong? No. It’s our responsibility as Christians to keep each other accountable. But if that friend still refuses to repent and turn from what they’re doing, you’ve done everything you can and now you have to give them up to God.

It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

But I can tell you this. When you repent — seriously turn from the things that you’ve done — there’s a change in you. We think we’re so smart. We think we’re so wise, living our lives the way we want to live. But we don’t know anything. We are so happy doing what we know is wrong because it makes us feel good, but the Bible isn’t kidding and God isn’t making up the fact that what we sow, we’ll reap. A harvest of it. The exact same thing we planted in abundance much later down the road.

Doing what feels good now even though we know it’s wrong will result in consequences for ourselves, our families and our friends years down the road.

But God is in control; He knows what He’s doing. (Goodness, I think this should be the slogan for this silly devotional blog since I swear I write it down every morning. Maybe it’s because I’m trying so hard to believe it.) But on top of that, He also knows what we are doing. He knows what we are thinking. He knows when we’re really, honestly sorry. And He knows when we’re faking it.

And when it all comes down at the end, it won’t be the Spanish Inquisition we face. It will be Him.