Don’t rush learning how to follow Jesus

I’m not a patient person. I’m like the least patient person you’ll ever meet. That’s why I marathon television shows. That’s why I rarely read books series until they’re complete. I don’t like waiting for stories to resolve. I want to know what happens right away.

Unfortunately that lack of patience seeps into other areas of my life. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do well in music lessons. My mom is a crazy accomplished classical musician, but she didn’t get there overnight. It took 45 years for her to get to that place. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and be perfect right away. I didn’t want to work at it. I didn’t want to make mistakes and have to learn from them. I wanted the benefit of the skill without the drudgery of the discipline required to achieve it.

Sound familiar to anyone? We all have our sticking points when it comes to patience and discipline. Ironically, I had to learn that I had a lot to learn, regardless of what career path I chose. I settled on writing because I thought I was a great writer when I was little.

Yeah. Wow. Looking back, I knew nothing. And all I’ve learned in 25 years of writing (yes, I wrote my first story in kindergarten) is that I still know nothing, and that I have a lot more to learn. I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning. But learning isn’t about filling your head with information. I mean, that’s part of it. The greater part of learning is patience. It’s hard work to learn. It’s trying and difficult, but the more you work at it, the stronger you get.

S059QDGBOG_1549x1037Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:32-36.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Following Jesus takes discipline. Sorry to burst the bubbles of anyone who signed on expecting an easy ride. Think of following Jesus like two magnets with opposite poles being pressed together. On one side, you’re drawn to Him because you belong to Him, but on the other side you’re repelled because you still have a dark nature that wants your own way. You have to fight yourself every step of the way if you want to follow Jesus.

And then add in the trouble our enemy throws at us. We have an enemy who hates us because Jesus loves us, and our enemy will do everything in his power to distract us, stop us, hurt us, discourage us, and slow us down. But instead of seeing all those obstacles as barriers to following Jesus, try to see them as opportunities to grow.

Don’t rush following Jesus. Enjoy it. It takes time. It takes years. Learn to see the trouble as opportunities for God to show His power. Learn to see people as family members who just don’t know Jesus yet. But the more you seize opportunities to follow Jesus, the stronger you’ll become.

Jesus says to love your enemies. That’s not easy, but that’s part of following Him. You won’t want to do it, and Satan won’t want you to either. But Jesus says it, so we do it. Loving an enemy is an obstacle because they don’t want your love, but if you treat it as an opportunity, your faith will grow. Every time you extend love or kindness or forgiveness to someone who wants to hurt you (and you get nothing in return), it demonstrates to everyone around you and even to yourself that what Jesus says matters more to you than what is commonly or popularly accepted. And God blesses an attitude like that.

 

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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.

Return to the land of the living

Good morning, everyone. Yes, I am still alive, and today I feel more like a person and less like a zombie. Wow. It’s been years since I have been that sick. I hated to miss a post, but yesterday I was so out of it I don’t think it would have made any sense.

I don’t think I’m making sense yet, but I am going to post something, mostly because the verse today is challenging.

Matthew 5:43-45

 43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![b] Pray for those who persecute you! 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.

Part of what makes me love Jesus so much was that He was always challenging the normal way of thinking. He was a rebel with a cause, determined to show people that the religious authorities of the time were fake and that God wanted something real.

This verse is a good example of the paradox of Christianity. Love your enemies. A different translation says to bless those who curse you and to do good to those who hate you. Somewhere else it says to pray for those who use you and persecute you.

As believers, we are to love the people who hate us and discriminate against us. 

Does that sound crazy to anyone else?

I also think of the Beatitudes. What sense do those make? The poor are blessed. The sick are blessed. The weak are blessed?

It’s a paradox.

And probably the biggest one of all — that we have to be childlike to enter the kingdom of heaven. Wouldn’t you think our maturity and our experience in faith and life sets us apart from children? Not according to Christ. According to Him, we have to be just like little children to enter heaven, coming to Him for everything, trusting Him that He knows what He’s doing.

Show me an adult who truly trusts someone else. Adults have trust issues. Children don’t (although in our society, that has changed).

We can learn a lot from children. I can tell you honestly that I learned more from the teenagers I worked with than I ever did from anyone my own age.

I guess what I got out of the verse this morning is just a reminder that as Christians we aren’t supposed to stick to the status quo. Not that we are to live above our outside the rules and the law of the land we live in — or that we should go around challenging every authority we find — that’s foolish and combative and very unChristlike.

But are we supposed to be satisfied plugging away at the daily grind never achieving anything for Christ? Are we supposed to be content in our comfort zones, never rocking the boat, never being different, never standing out? Are we supposed to just rock along with the expectations of our peers and our families and our churches and our country?

I don’t think so. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s not what God has called me to do. We are called to be different. Unique. Peculiar. We’re supposed to stand out. People are supposed to know that we’re different. And they won’t know that if we blend in with the rest of the world. 

What’s nice is that in this world it is easier and easier to be different. If you love your enemies, that’s enough to make everyone look at you funny. If you extend mercy to those who deserve punishment, people will wonder what’s wrong with you. And when they ask you why you’re such a weirdo, you have the privilege of telling them that you’re doing as Jesus said–you’re a Child of God and you want to act like it so that everyone will know the truth.

Love your enemies.

It’s a paradox, but it works.