Loving others when you don’t feel like it

When was the last time you made someone’s day? I got to do it yesterday morning, but in a bit of an unconventional way.

I’m writing this morning’s blog post from the hotel dining room in Philadelphia, right next to a big picture window from where I can see towering skyscrapers and beautiful brick plazas. I’m directly across from a 53 story building, at the top of which is my training conference this morning.

I got into Philly last night, after having spent a night with some dear friends. I wasn’t 100% sure that the building across the street was the one I was supposed to be at, so I popped over and stuck my head inside. Only in this building, they have a stereotypical security guard behind a desk.

I walked inside, and he straightened up and scowled at me. So I just asked him if this was where I could find the conference I was attending. He told me that it was indeed the correct location. I thanked him and politely explained that I had gotten in from Kansas and wanted to make sure I wasn’t lost.

The guy broke out into the biggest grin and said: “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore!” And then he burst into laughter. “I’ve always wanted to say that!”

(not my photo)

(not my photo)

Today’s verse is 1 Peter 4:8.

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.

It can be difficult to show love at times, especially in circumstances where you’re stressed or unhappy, but love is what makes Christ-followers different from the world. Or at least, that’s what should make us different.

Regardless of our circumstances, we are supposed to love people. We’re supposed to be kind to people. We’re supposed to go out of our way to care for people, especially when we don’t feel like it. It’s that kind of love the world needs to see right now.

I don’t know that man at the security desk. He may be there this morning, and if he is I’ll be sure to say hi. But whether I saw him again or not, whether he smiled at me or not, whether he acknowledged that I went out of my way to be polite when I absolutely didn’t feel like it or not, I shouldn’t be impolite to him. I shouldn’t snub him or be rude to him.

Unfortunately, that’s how we behave more often than not. We treat others the way they treat us instead of the way we would prefer to be treated. But that’s not love. That’s selfishness.

Granted, you don’t always get the response I got. Most of the time, people just look at you like you’re nuts. But sometimes–sometimes you get to make somebody’s day. And there’s nothing like that.

So be on the lookout today for how you can cheer somebody up. Believe me, it’ll make your day.

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Choosing to love when you won’t be loved back

When somebody does something mean to me, my first inclination is to do something mean back. I tend to hold to the Golden Rule. I treat other people the way I want to be treated, but there’s a part of me that wants to treat other people the way they treat me. I want people to understand that there are consequences for their actions. If somebody hurts me, I want them to hurt too. Not out of a malicious spirit necessarily (unless we’re talking about bad drivers, and then I just get mad) but because I want them to understand that actions have consequences, which is a lesson our world doesn’t seem to teach anymore.

But whose job is it to teach that lesson? It’s certainly not my job. I’m not responsible for someone else’s behavior. And if I weigh myself down focusing on how other people treat me, I’m going to lose focus of the things in my life that actually are my responsibility.

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter playing in the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:38-41.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.”

This set of verses is still from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is talking about the way His followers should live. It started with the Beatitudes, which were (and still are) a revolutionary approach to living. What was so shocking about these statements that Jesus made was that in the past it was just the actions that caused the issue. There was only a problem if you did something, but what Christ is saying is that even if you think it, it’s as good as doing it. Because what you think affects what you do.

Likewise, He goes on to say that revenge isn’t something that we need to pursue. If somebody hurts us, we shouldn’t hurt them back. You’ve heard the old saying about turning the other cheek? Well, this verse is where that comes from.

True, some people take this to extremes. And I’m not one of those ones who believes that we shouldn’t go to war if we’re attacked. Nation versus nation is a very different concept than person versus person, and this statement is talking about our relationships with each other. So I don’t see that this applies to a government standpoint. Government as an entity has a different set of things to focus on. But I’m not involved in the government. I’m just me. Just a regular person and what I’m supposed to focus on in my life is my relationship with God and my relationship with people.

And that means when some one does me wrong that I’m not to reciprocate. I’m to love them. When someone hurts me, I’m supposed to do something kind for them. When someone steals from me, I’m supposed to give more to them. When someone takes advantage of me, I’m supposed to apply myself cheerfully.

Granted, I think we need to communicate. I think we need to make sure they know they’ve hurt us or that they know what they’re doing is wrong, but then we need to communicate why we’re showing them kindness when they deserve to be shown something else. Otherwise they won’t understand. People who don’t follow Christ don’t understand love. Half the time, people who do follow Christ don’t understand it either. But that’s the point here.

Loving people. It all comes back to that. If you want to know what matters to God, that’s one theme that is repeated over and over and over throughout Scripture. Love people. Love people. Love people. And let God take care of everything else.

We aren’t going to prove to the world that we’re different by how many Bible verses we know or how much money we give to the church or how well-behaved our children are. None of that matters to them. What will show them that we are different is when we love them when they don’t love us back. That kind of love takes a power greater than all of us, and that’s the kind of love that God gives us when we choose to follow Christ.

So if you’re walking into a circumstance today where you know you’re going to be hurt or you know someone is going to take advantage of you, be honest about it. Don’t lie to yourself about it. See, that’s my tendency. I live in denial half the time because I don’t like conflict and it’s easier for me to shrink away from it than to face it. But denying circumstances doesn’t do anyone any good. Be honest. If someone is treating you wrong, recognize it. And make a conscious effort to treat them kindly in return. And when people ask you why (and they will), tell them. You’re choosing to love people who don’t love you because that’s what Christ said to do. And that will make more difference than you know, not only to the people who are watching but also in your own heart.

Sunrise on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Transformation is a choice

At the beginning of a New Year, everyone wants to be a new person. People want new habits, new scales, new everything because they are trying to be new people, whether through diet and exercise or style changes or clothes changes. How many people do you know who have started resolutions to change the way they look?

But it isn’t losing weight that will make you a new person. Changing your clothing style or the church you attend (or its frequency) won’t make you a new person. Maybe your clothes or your weight can make you look like a new person, but to truly change you into a new person you need to change something deeper than your shirt.

You need to change your perspective on life. You need to change the way you think.

Sunrise on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Sunrise on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Romans 12:2.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

You have two choices when it comes to determining how you’re going to think. You can either think about the world and everything in it the way that God has said, or you don’t. There’s no middle ground. And there’s no shortcut either.

There’s no magic switch that makes this easier for you to accomplish. Actually, it isn’t even something you can do. It’s a choice you make, and God is the one who does the rest. That’s what makes this so difficult.

Look at the verse. You can copy the behaviors of the world or you can let God transform you. Those are choices, and those choses are yours.

If you want to be a new person, you have to let God transform your mind from what it is to what He wants it to be. You have to let Him change the way you think. That’s the only way it works. Otherwise, you will stay the same inside, whether you change on the outside or not.

If all you do is change your outside, it’s like putting clean clothes on after you’ve rolled around in the mud. Your clothes look nice, but what’s under it is filthy.

This choice, between the world’s transforming power or God’s transforming power, is something we need to settle in our minds before we even get out of bed in the morning. We have to decide which one is going to hold sway in our lives. Are we going to listen to the world? Or are we going to listen to God?

On the surface, the answer is easy. God all the way, right? That’s the best answer. And if you’re a Christ follower, you know it. But knowing it and living it are two separate things. And usually no matter how good my intentions are to listen to God, I still get sidetracked because thinking the way the world thinks is so much easier.

Letting God transform my life is a process. He started it when I was seven years old, and He’s not even close to finishing with me. It’s a long, painful process because I hold on to the perspectives that the world has taught me, and He keeps telling me that I need to let them go.

Changing the way you think is impossible if you keep filling your head with the status quo of the world. That’s why we need to get to know God. We need to be reading our Bibles. We need to be praying and having conversations with God. However you work your relationship with God, you need to do it, you need to fill your life and your mind with Him, because the more of Him that is in your life, the less of the world can get in.

So before you walk out your door this morning, decide who you’re going to let transform you. The world will try. The world will never stop trying. But the world’s “transformation” is more of a ‘deformation.” There’s nothing the world has changed that has been better for it.

But God? God can take the broken and the hurting and put them back together again. He can heal hearts. He can change lives. He can right wrongs. But it all starts with a choice, and it’s a choice we have to make.

Waves crashing on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Stand firm … on what?

There’s a lot of really bad stuff going on in our world right now. I don’t need to go into detail; most likely, you can come up with a dozen really bad things just off the top of your head without checking the news. Now more than ever is the time when followers of Christ need to stand firm in what we believe. But what truly has me concerned is that the more believers I meet, the more I’m beginning to realize that believers don’t really know what to believe.

I’ve spoken with many people who have chosen to follow Christ, and that’s awesome. That simple choice is the most important, and if it’s a true choice, a real decision, that’s what matters. But making that choice is the easy part; living it afterward is what’s difficult. And I’m not sure if people understand that. No, living it isn’t required, but if you aren’t, you’ll be miserable.

And when I talk to people who say they believe, they don’t seem to understand where to go to find what they’re supposed to believe. That’s because we’ve all grown up in a world that tells us the Bible isn’t relevant. We live in a culture that glorifies everything God says is wrong. So no wonder people are confused. I’ve talked to so many Christians who don’t read the Bible because they don’t understand it or because they think it’s boring.

But here’s the deal, believers, the Bible is where we get our answers. If you say you follow Christ but don’t believe the Bible, what exactly do you believe in?

 

Waves crashing on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Waves crashing on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 10:11-12.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.

It amazes me that Christians can claim Christ in one breath and in the next state a belief that completely contradicts Scripture. I fully believe that someone can be a Christian without understanding what the Bible says. The Bible itself talks about the difference between new believers and mature believers. New believers aren’t expected to know everything all at once; living like a Christ is a process that won’t be complete until we get home.

But many of these people who say they follow Christ and then live exactly opposite have been professing Christians for years. Years upon years. And I can’t say whether their profession is true or not. That’s not my place, and that’s not my purpose. That’s between them and God. I have nothing to say about it.

But I can remark on the lifestyles they choose and the philosophies they accept based on what Scripture says a Christians’s life should look like. And all I can say is that it’s no wonder our culture is rotting from the inside out. Because if Christians refuse to stand for what the Bible says is right, where is the light going to come from?

The trouble is, Christians don’t know what the Bible says. They are swayed by popular opinion and near-sighted, humanist philosophy. Why not? Without Scripture, everything sounds reasonable. Doesn’t it?

Today’s verses were written to the Church at Corinth. You think your church has issues? You should study the Corinthians. What a mess!

Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had harsh, true things to say to them. Reading through it this morning, it sounds like something the Church of America needs to hear:

1 Corinthians 10:1-12

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.

Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snake bites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.

All Scripture is relevant to our culture, even the stories out of the Old Testament (Genesis through Malachi). It just has truth in it that people (especially Christians) don’t want to hear.

We aren’t the first believers. We aren’t the first people to follow God. Other people groups have chosen to follow Christ, but there were people among them who didn’t take it seriously, who wanted their own way in spite of what God said was right. And those people paid for it, along with the rest of their countrymen.

So today, in our shifting, uncertain culture where everyone just does what feels good, be sure you know what you believe. And if you’re sure you know what you believe, test it. Find out where it came from. Know the source. Don’t just accept it because the news told you so or because your pastor told you so or because your teachers told you so. And if the source is true, stand on it.

The Bible was never intended to be a showpiece, gathering dust on the living room coffee table. But somehow we put it there, and many of us haven’t picked it up again. Well, it’s time. Start reading. And if you don’t get it, if you don’t understand, pray about it. You’ll be shocked what God will show you if you just ask.

Rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Loving by example

How much do you love others? Would you be willing to die for someone you loved, to sacrifice your hopes and your dreams so that someone else can achieve theirs? Many people say they’re willing to die for someone else, but do they really mean it? I don’t know, and that’s between them and the person they say they love.

What I do know, though, is that love is a quality not many people truly understand. If we’re going to love anyone else, we really need an example of how to do it. That’s one of the myriad reasons we have Christ.

 

Rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Rose in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:2.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Love takes sacrifice; love is sacrifice. And just the fact that love requires so much from us means it will never ever be easy. If love for someone has ever come easy, you just don’t know them well enough yet. Even if you are the most loving, forgiving, patient person in the universe, someone else will eventually get on your nerves. Know why?

You’re not perfect. No one is. Not the person typing this blog this chilly Thursday morning and not the person you’re currently frustrated with at home, at school or at work.

So how do we handle it? Well, we should handle imperfect people the same way we do with every step along the path of following Christ. We choose to do what Christ did. Love others in spite of what they’ve done or said to us; love others in spite of what we want.

If you believe in Christ, you’ve committed to following Him. That means He becomes your example for how to live. And Christ loved us so much He was willing to die for us.

So does that mean we need to rush out and look for someone to sacrifice ourselves for? No. Not so much. But when was the last time you inconvenienced yourself for someone else? When was the last time you gave up your plans to help someone else? When was the last time you bought groceries for someone who couldn’t afford them even if you weren’t sure you could afford your own groceries? You get the idea.

It’s okay to get frustrated with people, but kind of like despair, it’s not okay to stay there. Don’t stay frustrated. Forgive them and love them, and the best way to do that is to do something kind for them. And if you can’t do something kind for them (for realistic reasons), pray for them. It’s hard to be frustrated with someone you’re praying for.

But if you’re going to sacrifice for someone, make sure that sacrifice comes from love and not fear. It’s strange how love and fear can sometimes share similar qualities. If you’re sacrificing because you’re afraid that someone else will reject you or because you’re afraid that you won’t measure up otherwise, that’s not love. Love is never motivated by performance; yes, performance encourages love and it demonstrates love. But real love shouldn’t hinge on how you act or what you do. So judge the motivation of your sacrifice. If you’re giving away everything you have because you’re afraid of what people think, that’s not love. If you’re giving away everything you have in spite of what people think, that’s a different story.