Cities aren’t meant to be hidden (and neither is faith)

Homes in the country are easy to spot. At least, they are in Kansas. We’re pretty flat around these parts, so if you’re driving down a dirt road looking for a house, there are a few things you can count on to be true.

Most of the time, you can see a house from miles and miles and miles away. We also don’t have a lot of trees here in the heartland. So many homes are just out in the open. But homes that have been here for a long time are usually always surrounded by some kind of hedgerow. So if you see a big clump of trees in the middle of a field, there’s a good chance there’s a house.

But what if it’s night? Well, then, the best course of action is to look for the yard light. Many farms will have yard lights somewhere on the property that shine brightly enough to illuminate the yard. There are no streetlights in the country, so a yard light is going to stand out for miles and miles around.

That’s the point. Letting people know where you are. There wouldn’t be much point to a yard light that didn’t shine.

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:14.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.

Ever try to think about hiding a city? Gosh, that would take a lot of effort. Cities are big. You really couldn’t even hide a small town anymore. But we’re not supposed to hide our cities and towns, just like we’re not supposed to hide our yard lights. Cities and towns and lights all serve a purpose, and the main purpose is for them to be found.

Cities need people, otherwise they wouldn’t be cities.

So if it doesn’t make sense to hide your yard light or to hide a city, why do Christians try to hide Christ?

On one hand, that’s an easy answer. Jesus upsets people. Jesus makes people angry. He calls them to be accountable for their choices, responsible to face their own consequences, or to recognize the fact that they are not the absolutely authority over their own lives. Jesus isn’t popular, and people who follow Him aren’t either.

It’s not fun to be unpopular. You get left out of a lot of things. And you get made fun of and disrespected.

But how else are you going to see the road in the darkness if you don’t use a light? That’s what we forget. The more we try to keep Jesus to ourselves so we don’t offend other people, the more we hurt our own walk. If we don’t live Jesus in public, it’s really difficult to live for Him in private.

Maybe it makes us the butt of unpleasant jokes or causes people to treat us unkindly, but you know what? Jesus never got treated like royalty. Why should we expect it when He didn’t? And He even deserved it.

Living for Christ on a daily basis is a moment-to-moment choice, and it’s not easy. But the more you try to live your life for Him, doing what He says is right and honoring Him with your choices, the more light you’ll have to see by. And then one day you’ll wake up and the road won’t be dark at all. You’ll know exactly where you’re going because you can see.

And then something else amazing will happen. Other people will start tagging along.

It won’t happen overnight, but slowly others will start asking you questions about why you make the choices you make. They’ll want to know why you’re so sure you know where you’re going. And, more than anything else, they’ll be curious about the light you have in your life. They won’t call it that, but you will see more clearly than anyone else they know. And they’ll want to know what your secret is.

If they ask, be ready to tell them. Because it’s not the name-brand batteries in your super-duper LED flashlight that’s illuminating your road. It’s the light from Jesus in your life. And just like you can’t hide a city on a hill in the darkness, you can’t hide the light of Jesus in your actions. People will be drawn to it. So just be ready.

It won’t be easy, but on the day when that person who was making fun of you comes to you and asks for help, you’ll see that it’s all worth it.

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An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Living like everyone has a long memory

I don’t often post about work on this blog, mainly because I never want to run the risk of getting too personal in my stories. But my work plays a huge role in my life, and I learn so much from it and from the people I work with. And yesterday, I got a really interesting reminder about the blessing (or danger) of long memories.

Okay. Story time.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a copywriter for a plumbing company. Sometimes I travel to locations around the country where customers are installing our piping systems so I can conduct interviews and write articles. A number of years ago, I was visiting a job site in Cincinnati, and that evening I got to have dinner with the owners of the mechanical contracting shop in charge of the project. We talked industry. We talked politics. We talked plumbing. And then we talked personal interests, and my love of writing came up–along with the science fiction novel I was trying to get published (called Nameless, in case anyone wants to know). Turns out, both of these owners are huge geeks, and they jumped on the topic eagerly, wanting to know how a publishing company works, wanting to understand how writing a book works, wanting to know everything about the book I’d written. At the end of the dinner, they told me they wanted me to keep them updated about the novel so they could buy it when it hits the shelves (in January, published by Crosshair Press).

Well, that was years ago. And there was quite a bit of alcohol consumed around that table. And I honestly figured they hadn’t really meant it. So you can imagine my surprise when the local sales rep from Cincinnati approached me at this year’s National Sales Meeting yesterday and informed me that those two owners had been asking about my book.

I was flabbergasted. I honestly didn’t know what to say. But once I recovered myself, I got to share the exciting news that my book will be published at the beginning of next year, and if they really want to buy it, they will be able to.

Honestly. Two union plumbing contractors interested in my science fiction novel. Of all the things they remembered about me from that night (other than the fact that I only drank water), they remembered my book. And they remembered it well enough to ask about it years afterward.

That made my day.

But then I got to thinking how awful would it have been if they’d remembered something negative about me? So many times people say they don’t have good memories, but what that means is they don’t usually remember good things. When it comes to bad things, people remember in startling detail. And as Christ-followers, we need to be aware of that.

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 2:11-12.

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

What if I had been rude or distant? What if I had been ignorant or proud? What if I had been stuck up or snotty? I think these guys would have remembered that. Or they would have written me off completely, because that’s how they expect people to act.

What do the people around you think of you? Have you ever thought about it? Granted, you shouldn’t choose your actions based on what other people think of you, but never forget that as followers of Christ, we are here to be examples to those who don’t believe. We are ambassadors for Christ, and we are commanded to live lives that are above reproach. That means even if someone accuses of you doing something wrong, the way you live your life will be enough of a witness to show them a liar.

Do you think living that kind of life is impossible? Nothing is impossible with God. Why do you think He left us the Bible? The Bible has everything that we need to live a Christ-honoring life, and–what’s more–if you live according to what the Bible says, you’ll leave an impression on people. And it’ll be a good impression. An impression they’ll remember for years to come.

No, don’t live your life to please people, but never forget that people are always watching. Maybe it’s not fair, but they’re always waiting for that opportunity to write your faith off as something that’s not real. Don’t give them that opportunity.

Love God. Love people. Be real. And watch God work. Who knows what He’ll use in your life to influence people? Don’t discount anything. We serve a God who can feed 10,000 people with a sack lunch, so why am I shocked that He could intrigue two plumbers with a science fiction novel?

Trees along the road to the Microsoft Campus, Redmond, WA

Dying to live

 

The trees up here are all changing colors, which is a nice difference from home. And I couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear as I walked yesterday looking at the trees and all their brilliant shades of yellow and gold and red and orange. Natives probably thought I was bonkers.

But the one thought that kept circling my mind is the irony of autumn, because we ooo and ahh over the changing colors of the leaves even though that means the trees are pretty much shutting down for the winter. They’re going to sleep so they can wake up again in spring.

I think autumn is one of my favorite symbols of the new life we have in Jesus as Christ followers.

Trees along the road to the Microsoft Campus, Bellevue, WA

Trees along the road to the Microsoft Campus, Bellevue, WA

Today’s verse is Galatians 2:20.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Death isn’t something we really like to think about. It’s usually surrounded by sorrow and tragedy, but death is a part of life. And as a Christ follower, death is something to look forward to. Jesus said time and time again during His stint on Earth that if people wanted to follow Him, they had to die to self.

What does that even mean? Die to self? Be crucified with Christ? They’re very beautiful pictures, but from a practical standpoint, what do they mean?

Practically speaking, at least the way I understand it, it means to say no to what your old self would have done and say yes to what Christ is telling you to do, what the Bible says to do. It means to live the way the Bible says. It means to conduct your business and your life as though you were Christ’s representative on Earth–which, actually, you are.

I think it’s interesting that we have to die before we can really live for something. Like the trees, if we want to live again in spring, we need to die in autumn.

If you have chosen to believe in Christ, you are a new creation. The person who you used to be is gone, and God has given you a new life now. So you don’t have to make the same old choices you made before. You can start over, just like springtime.

So the next time you see a tree blazing in the brilliant colors of autumn, remember that if you follow Christ, you’re dead to yourself and alive to live for Him. And with Him, you’ll never die again. 

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.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Share your source of hope and be specific about it

Everybody has bad days once in a while. But some people seem to have it worse than others. Have you ever met someone who just seems to encounter sorrow after sorrow with no break? I have. And most of the time, these folks who suffer so much are often dedicated Christ followers, and the fact that they should be falling apart doesn’t even occur to them. They’re so focused on following Christ that a few hiccups along the way, no matter how inconvenient, don’t bother them at all.

Those people are my heroes.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:12-14.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians is arguably my favorite book in the Bible. It’s right up there with Psalms. So encouraging, so uplifting, so practical and full of down-to-earth teaching, Philippians is one of my go-to books.

As I was reading, I stopped on these verses. Paul is addressing the Church at Philippi in this letter, and in a number of places Paul hints at the troubles he’s had along the way. But then you come to this set of verses where he reassures the Philippian believers that everything has happened for a reason and that God is already working out the details of his current imprisonment.

How many of us can say that?

And I’m not talking about being in prison. Not literally. Paul was literally in prison, but this was a different era. But he had definitely gone through some frustrating circumstances, and while I may not be in prison, I can identify with situations in my life going nuts. I can identify with struggling to get through a day. I can understand what it’s like to feel trapped by events in my life.

And because I believe in Christ, I usually don’t have a problem being cheerful about the struggles I’m facing. Actually, I’m known for my cheerfulness. Everyone at my office thinks I’m the most positive person they’ve ever met. And that great.

But what good is being cheerful or positive if no one knows it’s for Christ?

You can be cheerful and positive and encouraging all day long without once mentioning the reason you have hope. And more often than not, that’s where I am. I’m rarely specific, and I just let my coworkers come to their own conclusions. Granted, many times this has still led to deeper, more specific conversations because they all come to me and ask advice or opinion. But it’s rare for me to quote Scripture. It’s rare for me to state out loud why I can be cheerful when everything around me is falling apart.

And that’s wrong.

Paul could say that every person around him knew why he was suffering and why he had hope.

I don’t know if I can say the same. Yes, my believer friends know. Yes, people I’m very comfortable with know. But other people? The ones who I have more of a professional relationship with? They assume I’m “religious.” They know I go to church. They know I read the Bible. They know I live by it. But is that enough?

It’s good to say I believe and live the Bible. But what good does that do when the person I’m talking to has no idea what’s even in the Bible? That statement is just as confusing as any religious dogma.

So my intent is to start being less generic and more specific when it comes to addressing the reason for my hope. Because while cheerfulness alone in difficult circumstances may indicate that you have faith, it isn’t going to help anyone else until they understand the source of your hope.

Living for Christ versus longing for death

Well, today marks my 200th post on this blog. Granted, not all of them are devotionals. But it’s still pretty cool, I think. I had no idea it was getting so big.

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:21.

21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.

You’ve got to love Paul. The guy had a way with words. When he wrote this, he was in prison. And if you expand the section of verses where this specific verse came from, you can see just what kind of a perspective he had on life.

Philippians 1:20-24

 20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

What would life be like if all Christians had this attitude? What would my life be like if I had this attitude? Can you imagine how incredible it would be?

And it’s not about being unafraid of dying. That’s part of it. But I still think that there will be some trepidation in death no matter how much faith you have. It’s not as though anyone can prepare you for what it will be like, after all. The only person who ever came back from the dead chose not to tell us what death will be like en media res. But some people use this verse to hammer home the concept that Christians shouldn’t be afraid of death, and that is very true. That is definitely one way to look at it. But if you look at this section, it’s talking more about life than death. And actually, it’s not even referring to death in the context of death as we normally think about it because for a Christian there’s no such thing as death; there’s just relocation.

While we live on earth, we live for Christ. When we leave earth and go to heaven, we live with Christ and have more life than we can imagine on earth. But while we’re on earth, we can accomplish things for Christ. There’s the difference. That’s the point I guess I want to focus on this morning.

As long as we’re alive, that means God has something for us to do. If we wake up in the morning, that means God wants us to live–and to live for Him. His will isn’t a static thing; it’s dynamic and fluid. While the basic tenants of His will stay the same from day to day, the way it manifests in your life might look different. For example, God’s will for my life yesterday was to go to work and work as hard as I could at my job while reaching out to the people around me and telling as many people as I could about Him, either verbally or nonverbally. Today, His will for me is going to look very much the same. Friday, it’s going to change, because I am leaving at Noon for a brief few days in Colorado with my awesome parents so His will for me will probably include being a courteous driver and being patient while my mom turns down the volume on my music in the car (j/k).

When we wake up in the morning, it’s not an accident. God always has something for us to do. Sometimes we know about it ahead of time. Most of the time, God just expects us to roll with the punches and think on our feet, which requires some knowledge of Scripture and a keen ear for listening to the Holy Spirit.

And while God’s will includes being prepared for death, it doesn’t include longing for it. It doesn’t focus on it. If we just sit around waiting to die or waiting for God to come back, why are we even here? What’s the point of our earthly existence if we’re just going to sit on our blessed assurance and wait for the end?

Paul had it figured out. While he wanted to go home and be with Christ, he knew that staying down here a bit longer would be more beneficial to the people God had sent him to. He recognized that God had a purpose for his life, and he wholeheartedly embraced it.

God gave us life — and those of us who believe in Christ, we have new life! So why don’t we live for Him? Instead of living a life that doesn’t fear death, how about we live a life that’s not afraid of living?

Our life (and death) isn’t about us

The verse for today is Romans 14:8.

8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

I think sometimes Christians get the idea that if we live to see another day, that just means we have permission to live however we want to live. It’s easy to think that because our vision is so narrow. Oftentimes we can only see our own life or the lives of the people close to us.

But according to Romans 14:8, if we get the opportunity to live another day, that means our purpose for that day is to honor God.

Once we decided to follow Christ, that means our lives are no longer our own. We don’t belong to ourselves. Granted, we didn’t belong to ourselves to begin with, as God is the Creator of all. But if you proclaim to be a Christian, that means you have given your life Christ. And that means, you live for Him.

So where do we get off thinking that we get to live for ourselves?

As Christians, our lives need to be about following Christ. My life needs to be about doing what Christ did, saying what Christ said, loving how Christ did. That’s what Christian means. We follow Christ.  We live for Christ.

But so many Christians never get there. They decide to believe that Christ died for them, which is great. That’s awesome, really. But they never take it any further than that. They believe that Christ died for them, but they never get to the point where they understand that He lived for us too. Christ didn’t just die to save us from our sins. He lived for us to give us an example of how to honor God with our lives.

Being a Christian isn’t just about fire insurance. It’s about living a life that brings honor and glory to God with our words, actions and thoughts. Is it easy? No. But as a Christian, it’s what we’re supposed to do.

Once we decide to follow Christ, we need to follow Him. Otherwise, we shouldn’t say we are Christ followers. What’s the point? If you’re not going to follow Christ, why call yourself a Christian? Does that make sense to anyone because it confuses the heck out of me.

But once we get the living for Christ thing down, there’s a flip side we have to consider. Because of course, if we live for Christ, you have to know we also need to be ready to die for Him too.

American Christians don’t really grasp this concept. So a couple of kids get picked on because they wore a Jesus t-shirt to school. Maybe some teenagers have a hard time about holding a Bible study on their campus. We think we’re persecuted? American Christians haven’t got a clue.

More people are killed for their faith in Christ today than in the days of Rome. In China. In the Middle East. In Indonesia. Killed just because they have chosen to believe in Christ. Christians have acid thrown on them. They are stripped away from their families and imprisoned or exiled. They are executed.

But those people understand that if they live, they live to honor God. And if they die, they die to honor God.

So how does this apply to us in America where we are free to believe whatever we want?

Well, you don’t have to be martyred to die for God. I’m thinking right now of one of the dearest people I ever had the privilege to know. If there are any readers of this blog who aren’t from Kansas, I don’t know if you’ll know of Judge Paul Clark. But he was a pretty big deal around here.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quit calling him Judge Clark even after he retired. He is the coolest person I have ever had the honor to know. And he loved God with all his heart. He lived for God every day. He is the kindest person I think I’ve ever met. He always made me smile because even though he couldn’t keep a rhythm to save his life, he still clapped at all the songs during the worship service.

Judge Clark died last Friday. He’d been ill for a long time, and so many of us had been praying that God would heal him. But God chose to bring him home. And I’m so thankful. Because Judge Clark is finally able to get that new body he’d been wanting for so long.

But if you want an example of how to die for God in America, you should look at Judge Clark. He never lost faith. He never got angry. And he used the time he had left to encourage others, to bless other people, and to keep telling people about what Christ had done for him.

You see, Christians get so caught up in living their lives that they think it’s all about them. Well, life isn’t about us. Our lives don’t belong to us. Our lives belong to Christ. So our lives should be about Christ, just like our deaths should be. And whether that means quitting your job and being a missionary . . . or leaving everything you know and love to go to school far away . . . or maybe it means plugging away at a job you don’t necessarily love but believe it’s where God wants you . . . whatever it is and wherever you are in life, your life belongs to God.

Whether you live or die, you belong to God. So whether you’re at the beginning of it or the end, make it about Him, and you won’t regret it.