Homemade chicken yakisoba

The freedom to serve … or not

Following Christ is pretty awesome. There’s no other life like it because most other lifestyles are bogged down with religious ritual and obligations. Truly living like Christ, truly following God, is a freedom that no other “faith system” even tries to pretend it has.

The irony is that so many Christians don’t really understand the freedom they have, and they spend their lives trying to prove themselves to God by doing good works and demonstrating how good they can be. And there really isn’t anything wrong with that, I guess. But the fact remains that we can’t be good and we have nothing to prove to God. So why would we even try if we know it’s our faith that saves us? Maybe it’s because we’re all performance-driven people. I know I am.

On the other side of the fence, many people believe that we have to do something to earn our salvation because if God just gives out salvation without any expectation on our part, we can break all the rules we want with no punishment. We can do everything that’s wrong with no one to check our behavior. Well, that’s not right either. If you do something wrong, you’re going to have to face the consequences of that action whether you’re a believer or not. And while you may not lose your eternal salvation, you might lose the blessing you could have received if you had done the right thing. There are consequences for everything.

Homemade chicken yakisoba

Homemade chicken yakisoba

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:13.

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

Freedom is a terrible privilege, both in life and in faith. And it’s a tremendous responsibility.

Even in governmental systems, the more freedom a country has the more ethical its citizens need to be. Because there’s no government to keep them in check. We in the United States get all up in arms because our government has gotten to big and so powerful. Well, if we had all maintained our ethical and moral responsibility to be good citizens … it probably wouldn’t have been necessary.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian who lived in the early-to-mid 1800s, said it best: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

The same is true of our lives when we are set free by Christ. We can choose to live our new lives however we want. We can chase every selfish dream, every great ambition, everything anyone else in the world would pursue. Or we can choose to serve others.

The photo really doesn’t have much to do with the thought today, except that it’s a batch of homemade chicken yakisoba I made for some folks who came out to stay at my house some time ago. It didn’t turn out very well, I don’t think. But it looks pretty. And the concept behind it is somewhat relevant. God has given me a house, and He’s given me the resources to help other people. It’s my choice what to do with those resources, though. If I want to keep them all to myself, that’s fine. But what am I missing out on if I don’t share?

It all comes down to your eternal perspective. If you believe that this world is the pinnacle of our lives, then you’re going to live to get everything you can get out of this world. But if you believe that the best is yet to come, you’re going to live in a way that demonstrates that this world isn’t your home.

But even if you live for the life to come, you have to remember that we’re here for a reason. God put each of us where we are so we can learn something, so we can serve each other. We are supposed to live in a way that puts other people before us. We’re supposed to live in a way that honors others more than ourselves. We’re supposed to love the people who don’t understand us, who use us, who say terrible things about us. We’re supposed to serve people who hurt us and disappoint us and who we don’t agree with.

Hey, Christians! What would the people you disagree with think if you did something nice for them instead of grumbling behind their backs or giving them a hard time?

Serve people. Love people. Stand up and do what God says. You have the freedom to choose what you’re going to do today. You can choose how you react to what life (and Satan) throws at you today. Put yourself in the shoes of the people you disagree with. How would you like to be treated?

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Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

More to life than success

God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t prefer one person to another person. Yes, He has a closer relationship with some than others, but that’s not His doing. I really believe that we all could be people after God’s own heard like David was if we would try. And, yes, the Jews are the people God chose to use throughout history (and they are His chosen people), but He doesn’t love the Jews more than He loves any other people.

God is fair. He treats everyone the same. And that’s good to know. Right?

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:45.

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

I think Christians get the wrong idea some times. I think we live with the assumption that just because we’ve placed our faith in Christ, that means our lives will never go wrong. I think a lot of Christians proliferate the idea that once you accept Christ into your life, all your problems disappear. I know that’s what Christian media does.

Name a Christian book or movie that portrays a Christian character who gives his or her life to God at the end and gives the impression that everything is going to be fine. Happily ever after endings. Can you think of one? It shouldn’t be hard because that’s about all Christian media communicates. Accept God and your life will be perfect. And that’s not true. Most of the time, when you accept Christ, your life gets harder than it was before.

According to this verse, God treats every person on earth the same way, regardless of whether they believe in Him or not. He lets the sunlight shine on believers and nonbelievers. He lets rain fall on believers and nonbelievers. He blesses both, in spite of the fact that neither group gives Him the credit He deserves most of the time.

So why do Christians get upset when nonbelievers succeed?

I know a lot of people who don’t believe in Christ, and I consider them my friends. They are very successful people, and since they don’t believe in God, they credit themselves for their success. And that’s fine. Because they don’t believe. They don’t know any better. And it’s not my job to correct them. But it’s easy to get caught up in wondering why God allows nonbelievers to succeed when I am stuck in one place and can’t move forward.

It’s frustrating because God treats everyone fairly whether they believe or not. And Christians have expectations while nonbelievers don’t. It’s not that Christians have rules, but we are called to live a certain way. And I think the most frustrating part of watching a nonbeliever succeed is knowing that he or she doesn’t have the same expectations on their lives as a Christian does. Christians are supposed to love each other more than themselves. We’re supposed to sacrifice for each other. We’re supposed to focus more on the life to come than the life we have now. And nonbelievers don’t have to do any of that.

A Christian who sacrifices success because that’s what God has called them to do will encounter the same struggles as someone who doesn’t believe. What point is there in giving my life to Christ if I don’t get any of the perks, right? If I’m going to be stuck in one place and have to give up succeeding because I care more about the people around me than my own dreams, why should I turn my life over to God? Because He won’t treat me any differently either way. And as a weak-minded, puny human being, that doesn’t sound very fair to me.

But that’s because we aren’t looking at it from God’s perspective.

Yes, it is frustrating to watch someone who doesn’t believe succeed in life. Yes, it’s irritating to give your dreams to God and have to sit on them until He says it’s time while you watch people with no regard for spiritual things push forward and succeed, but success in this life is temporary and full of potholes. We get so caught up in watching other people succeed, and we get so upset and frustrated because the most successful people in life aren’t Christians, that we forget the entire point of the Christian life: we weren’t designed for this life.

This life isn’t all we have. This life is just a proving ground.

You can seek success in this life, but what good is it going to do you when you die? That’s why the Bible says we’re supposed to store up treasures in heaven. We’re supposed to be living for the life that’s coming, not for the life that we have now. As a Christian, our perspective needs to be for eternity. We only get 80 or 90 years on Earth. Eternity is forever.

So does it really matter if a nonbeliever gets a promotion and you don’t? Does it really matter if a non-Christian achieves success and gets famous and you don’t? Does it matter at all?

Why should it matter? What is it going to change in the grand scheme of life?

Not much.

So should we give up? Should we not even try to succeed in this life? I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying we need to get our perspectives straight. We need to stop living for the next promotion or the next pay increase, and we need to make the most of the time we have down here to prepare for the life that’s promised to us after we die. And we need to start treating nonbelievers the same way God does: the same way we treat believers. And you never know. If a nonbeliever witnesses a believer being fair? Maybe they’ll grasp the fact that there’s more to life than success.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Loving like Jesus when it doesn’t make sense

Christians are supposed to live the way Jesus did. Every “good” Christian knows that. Actually, every “bad” Christian knows it too. So why is it so hard to accomplish? Well, yes, Jesus was perfect. But there is nothing that we have experienced in our lives that He doesn’t understand.

I think we get caught up this time of year remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which is a good thing to remember. It’s everything. If Christ hadn’t come and allowed Himself to suffer for our sins, we would have no hope. If He hadn’t died and risen again, He would be like any other world religious leader. But so many times I think we focus on the fact that He is God that we forget that He was a human being just like we are. And He didn’t just come to die and rise again; He came to show us how to live.

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Setting sun at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

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.

Living a life of love is a lot easier said than done. Loving unlovable people takes some sacrifice, if we’re being honest about it. It’s a lot more convenient to just ignore them, but that’s not what Christ did.

He loved unlovable people. He forgave unforgivable people. He healed incurable people. If anyone was a lost cause, Christ gave them a reason to live and a purpose. He worked more than just physical miracles; He changed people. He still changes people today.

Granted, He didn’t waste much time on fools. And He didn’t concern Himself with the religious leaders who were already sufficient in their own righteousness. But the people who knew they needed help? They flocked to Him by the thousands, and He never turned anyone away.

So how does that example affect my life? How do I live the way Christ did? How do I love the way Christ does?

Jesus doesn’t discriminate. He loves everybody. It doesn’t matter where people came from. Even when Jesus was on earth, He healed everyone, regardless of nationality or race. Or even religious persuasion, if you think about it. Jew. Gentile. Neither. If they came to Him and they believed in Him, He helped them. Whether they were difficult people or kind people, quiet people or loud people, talented people or not-so-talented people, it didn’t matter.

It’s so easy to put labels on people. It’s comforting to be able to categorize others so that I know how to control them or how to handle them, but labels don’t really help. Putting labels on people puts them in a box that I don’t ever let them out of. Jesus didn’t label people. He loved them.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to live for people He loved. Jesus came to die, yes, but He also came to show us how to live. He sacrificed years of His life in service of people around Him.

Many of us are willing to die for the people we love because we know that we’ll go to heaven when we die, but what about living for people you love? That’s a bigger sacrifice. Because you have to give up what you want out of life to live for other people. And that’s difficult.

In our culture today, love is a cheerful happy feeling that swells in response to happiness. But that’s not love. Love is a choice. Love is action. Love is sacrificing yourself–your finances, your future, your job, your wellbeing–for the sake of someone else. And in our self-centered world, love is difficult to find.

Love isn’t easy. And real love is even harder. Jesus is the only one who had it figured out, and I’m thankful for that because as much as I try, I’m not there yet. I’m still pretty selfish myself.

But the only way to please God is with faith. And faith means taking God at His word. So if God says that I’m supposed to love people the way Jesus did, that means I should choose to do it even if it doesn’t make sense, even when it’s difficult.

That’s what Christ did. So that’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s never easy, and it doesn’t always feel good. And anyone who tells you differently hasn’t ever tried it. But nothing worth having was easy to obtain. And God’s got it under control. God knows what He’s doing, He never makes mistakes, and He always keeps His promises.

Bird on a ledge

The difference between serving and enabling

Have you ever tried to get ahead by stomping on people? How has that worked for you? I know people who have used the talent and sacrifices of others to gain a place in the business world, and while it might be the fast track to success in business, it rarely is a lasting kind of success.

Bird on a ledge

Bird on a ledge - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Mark 9:35.

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Jesus had the right to demand to be served by His disciples. He was God. He could have commanded that they all bow down to Him and ordered them to follow His every whim. But that wasn’t how Jesus lived. Actually, He lived a life opposite of that. He served other people. He sacrificed Himself and His own comfort to provide for people around Him.

He actually washes the Disciples’ feet at one point. That’s something the lowliest servant was expected to do.

So how does that apply to our lives? Are we supposed to only serve people and make allowances when they walk all over us? Because when you change your perspective to care more about other people, people will take advantage of you. That’s the inevitable consequence of living the way the Jesus did because we live in a broken world and the people we’re trying to help aren’t perfect (kind of like we aren’t perfect). People take advantage of each other, and when you are willing to serve them, you just make it easier for them to use you.

Is that right? Is that how we’re supposed to live? Are we supposed to enable people around us to continue living the way they want while we do nothing but support them?

Here’s where I feel like we need to draw a distinction between serving and enabling.

Being a servant is a mindset. It’s an attitude. You don’t think you’re better than other people. You are willing to drop what you’re doing or suspend what is important to you to help someone else achieve their goals. You love people more than you love yourself. That is the attitude and mindset of a servant.

Enabling is different. Enabling other people means you make excuse for them. It means you never correct them even when they are doing something that is wrong.

But isn’t that just love? One of the aspects of love is that you make allowances for other peoples’ faults. Does that mean we love people so much that we make excuses for them? No. Making an excuse for someone is almost tantamount to accepting their fault. And the Bible doesn’t say love accepts peoples’ faults. It says love doesn’t hold it against them. Recognizing an error in another person’s judgment and addressing it with kindness and concern doesn’t mean that you’re acting superior; it means you love them enough to correct them.

The most successful business people I have met earned their position not by stepping on others but usually by helping other people at their own expense. It’s a backward way of looking at work. It’s a backward way of looking at life. But from what I have seen, “backward” really isn’t as strange as it sounds, especially since it works.

If you want to be first, you need to live like you’re last. If you want to be successful, you need to live like a servant. That’s true. But even if you have the mindset of a servant, it doesn’t negate what is right and what is wrong. And while there will be people who take advantage of you (Christian or not), that doesn’t mean you have to continue to enable them keep taking advantage of you. Address the issue with kindness, concern and humility. Most of the time, people won’t even be aware that they’re doing it; taking advantage of people is almost instinctive.

Just because you are a servant doesn’t mean you have to enable people to live a life that is wrong.

Be humble. Serve others. But love them enough to correct them.

Attitude is like Faith – you can’t see it but it changes everything

Does anyone else struggle with their attitude? Generally speaking, I’m usually okay, as long as my day is going all right and no one upsets me . . . or if nobody expects more out of me than I’m prepared to give . . . or if people don’t act like buttheads . . . or as long as people don’t drive like idiots . . .or as long as people do their own jobs. If everybody else manages to behave, I am usually able to keep my attitude in check.

But on the days when the people around me don’t behave? Yeah. Watch out.

It’s so strange too because all it takes sometimes is one thing going wrong — or one person acting stupid — and my attitude (and all of my good intentions) can go down the drain. How silly is that? That one person can affect my entire attitude?

My attitude is mine. It’s my choice. It’s not like you’re born with a bad attitude, even though some people act like it. Our attitudes are a choice we make, usually every morning when we wake up. In my case, my attitude is a choice I make after I drink my morning coffee . . . . But it’s a choice I have to keep making throughout the entire day.

Attitudes are kind of like faith because it’s something you choose and have to keep reminding yourself that you’ve chosen even when the world blows up around you. Attitudes aren’t some ethereal, abstract concept floating around in the ambiguity of life’s gray spots: they are real, concrete choices you have to make every moment of every day.

When I wake up in the morning, I can choose that I’m going to have a good attitude today and that no matter what happens to me I’m going to keep that good attitude. But I guarantee that I will have to remind myself of that choice a couple of hours into my day when someone cuts me off in traffic, or when some kamikaze suicide driver pulls out in front of me off Bently Road (it happens every morning). And then I’ll have to remind myself again when I get to work and discover that some project I worked my butt off on yesterday has been redone and I have to spend another week on it.

Attitudes are important because they determine how we handle the events in our lives. It’s beyond optimism and pessimism. That’s more of a personality issue. Like whether or not you say a glass if half empty or half full. I have always said half full. I know someone else who says half empty. I’m an optimist. This other person is a pessimist. But we both have good attitudes.

Attitudes reach beyond our personalities. Beyond our inclinations and proclivities. Beyond our talents and our identities.

The Bible says in Philippians 2:5-8 that we need to have an attitude like Christ had.

5You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

 6 Though he was God,[a]
      he did not think of equality with God
      as something to cling to.
 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
      he took the humble position of a slave[c]
      and was born as a human being.
   When he appeared in human form,[d]
    8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
      and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

That is a tall order. Have an attitude like Christ? Is that even possible? How can we even begin to do something like that?

Jesus was God. Period. It wasn’t that He was a man who God had chosen. It wasn’t that He was a man who had worked hard enough to be good enough. It wasn’t that He was even just the Son of God. He was God. (He is God, rather.) They are one and the same.

While He was on Earth, He could have demanded royal treatment. He could have had people bowing at His feet, worshipping Him. He deserved it. Even before He died for us, He deserved it. He would have been well within His right.

But He didn’t.

He was born in the dirt and filth of a stable. He grew up in a poor home. He was a blue-collar worker, a man who worked with His hands. He was despised by the people of his town because they looked at Him like an illegitimate child.

I’m telling you what, if anyone was entitled to have a bad attitude, it was Jesus.

Just imagine what it was like for Him. God sent Him down here, first of all (They’re the same, but They’re different; don’t ask me to explain the Trinity and don’t try to explain it to me either because you can’t). Jesus had lived in Heaven so how could Earth even begin to compare? It was filthy and nasty and dirty and poverty stricken, full of people who were vile and cruel and wicked on good days. And Jesus was here to die an agonizing death for us, so He lived with that knowledge hanging over His head for His entire life. Can’t you imagine what He must have felt when people mistreated Him? When people spoke ill of Him or made fun of Him or pressed Him to do things for them that they should have done for themselves? He could have easily put on the martyr attitude. Or the put-upon child attitude. Or the whiny attitude.

And it’s not like He’d done anything to deserve ill treatment, either.

He was God, in the flesh, on Earth, being mistreated. And what did He do?

He healed people. He loved people. He laughed with people. He cried with people. He was humble. No, He was beyond humble. I don’t think humble is a good enough word to describe the life Christ lived on Earth. I just think it’s the only term available to us at the moment.

So how can I justify getting angry at bad drivers? How can I justify letting my attitude slip into something dark and moody when someone mistreats me? I can’t. There is no justification for it. I’m sure Jesus had bad days too, but they didn’t affect His entire attitude. And that’s what I need to work on. When events in my life all feel like they’re stacking up into a mountain that’s higher than I can climb, I don’t need to get gunchy . . . I just need to take a step back and let God help.

I need to have an attitude like Jesus did. And I need to keep that attitude, no matter what happens to me throughout a day. I may have to decide to keep that attitude twenty times in a 24-hour period . . . but when the day is over, it will be worth it. Because even if everything in your life is going down the drain, if you can keep a positive attitude and keep your focus on God, you can deal with anything. You can have joy in the worst circumstances. Not only that, but it’s so much easier to remember that God is in control.