Loving each other is what makes us different

I decided early on that I wouldn’t comment on this ridiculous red-cup discussion that seems to be dominating all the social media feeds. I don’t know a single Christ-follower who is actually taking it seriously. Actually, what concerns me more about the whole mess is my first reaction to it.

I believed it.

When I read the reports on social media that Christians were upset about the design of Starbucks’s 2015 holiday coffee cups, it didn’t surprise me. I mean, heck, Christians have gotten really upset about a lot of really stupid things before, so why should this be any different?

But as the issue persisted, I started wondering if the whole thing is actually real. Are there actually any Christians out there who have a problem with these crazy red cups? Or was it just a few vocal people who caused a stir that simply went viral?

Regardless, I don’t think my initial reaction to the situation is what it should have been as a Christ-follower.

red-coffee-cup-mugToday’s verses are John 13:34-35.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

How often do you get irritated with other Christians? I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Christians really tick me off. They tick me off faster than non-Christians any day of the week because I have high expectations for Christ-followers. I expect that a Christ-follower is going to want to live like a Christ-follower. I don’t expect someone who has chosen not to follow Jesus to behave like a Christian. Why would they?

But one of the things Jesus said over and over again in Scripture is how we’re supposed to love each other, and He wasn’t talking about Christians loving non-Christians, which of course is true. We’re supposed to love everyone, but Christians are especially supposed to love each other. And part of loving each other is giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

Instead of jumping to conclusions about what other people say about Christians in general, let’s just take a step back for a moment. Just because Christians as a whole tend to be a little panicky and harsh doesn’t mean that they’re stupid and unreasonable and not worth your time. And just because a few media outlets report that Christians are doing/saying things, doesn’t mean they actually are.

Hey, Christian, guess what? You’ve got an enemy out there. Satan would love nothing more than to separate you from your family in Christ, to get you alone and isolated so he can pick you off more easily. That’s what all this antagonism toward other Christians will eventually lead to. We break away from each other. We fight each other. We hurt each other. We believe the worst about each other and keep our distance, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

We’re a family. We’re supposed to be united. Part of loving each other unconditionally is thinking the best about each other, not the worst.

That doesn’t mean that Christians always get it right. And, yes, we need to be aware of that. We each are responsible for what we believe, and that’s between us and God. But you don’t have to believe the same thing as the Christian sitting next to you in order for God to use you.

My first response to the red-cup crisis was ridicule, and I wondered what I would say when I ran into a Christian who was actually upset about the color of a coffee cup. And then, after time passed and I hadn’t met anyone, I started wondering if the person who was in the wrong was me–for assuming that other Christians would even get embroiled in something that’s such a waste of time and energy.

That’s not to say there aren’t antagonistic Christians. I’ve met quite a few of them. And generally, hanging around antagonistic people (Christian or not) isn’t a good idea. But if you’re thrown into a situation where you’ve got to hang around with another Christian, don’t automatically assume that he or she is less knowledgeable than you, less spiritual than you, or less favored than you. Listen to what he or she has to say, and if you agree, great. If you don’t, that’s great too.

If you really are both Christians, you have one thing in common–faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord, and that’s the one thing that actually matters. So start there and build on it.

Let’s love each other, Christians. That means let’s think the best of each other first, until we give each other a reason not to. And if we give each other a reason not to, address the problem with love and respect.

The only thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world is how we love each other. So is it any wonder that the world can’t really tell a difference in us anymore?

Stop trying to get the first and last word

I overheard a conversation between a Libertarian and a left-leaning Republican last night as I was sitting in a local coffee shop. I couldn’t really help but overhear, honestly. They were loud–really loud. And that’s saying something because this coffee shop is always busy, always bustling, and these two folks were straining to be heard above that noise.

Everyone could hear them. That fact wasn’t in question. But even though they could hear each other, I don’t think they were actually listening. They were just talking at each other, talking over each other, interrupting each other. They both had important points to make, important things to say, but they each saw their own perspective as more important. And what resulted wasn’t a conversation. It was just a shouting match, and nobody walked away happy.

New wheat sprouting in the southeast pasture at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New wheat sprouting in the southeast pasture at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 13:12.

To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

This is a verse taken from the Parable of the Sower, sometimes call the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. It’s impossible to break this story down far enough to make a simple point about it. It’s so deep, so rich with meaning, so if you’ve got the time to read the whole thing, you really should. You can find the complete text in Matthew 13:1-23.

There’s just one very simple thought that this verse and its corresponding parable brought to mind, and only a small part of it is common courtesy. I mean, I don’t know where our manners as a culture have gone. It’s like we hit this era in communication where we can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and instantly all our civility has gone out the window.

I’m sure what you have to say is important. I’m sure what I have to say is important. But we both should be adult enough to respect each other enough to listen without interrupting, to consider without prejudice, to hear without condemning. Even if we don’t agree (especially if we don’t agree), we can still listen to each other and be polite in our response and tone.

Granted, what God says is right, and that won’t change. Not ever. Not for anyone or any reason. But we’re all joining God’s story at different places in our walk, and we need to give each other a little grace. Don’t you think?

More than anything, this story always makes me want to be a good listener. I’m a good talker. I’m a storyteller, after all. And while I don’t much like talking in front of people, if I can slip into storytelling mode, I can keep a crowd hooked for hours. But talking is easy and cheap. Listening is hard work.

One of the many points of the parable of the sower is that the farm plants seeds on different types of ground, and each type of ground reacts differently to the seed. But in every case, the seed is good. It’s the ground that has trouble. And that’s the way God’s Word works in our lives. When we read the Bible or hear truth from God’s Word, that’s a seed, and how it will affect our life depends on what kind of soil we’ve cultivated in our hearts.

I want the good soil. The rich, fertile soil that allows that seed to take root and grow strong. And while that works for God’s Word, I want it to work for other people too. I don’t want to be the hard, rocky ground that deflects everything from everyone else. I want to be the person who listens, who hears, who understands.

Now, of course, common sense has to come into play with a heart like that. Everything you allow to be planted in your heart should match up with what God says is true, but you get the idea. Those people who can listen kindly, respond gently, yet stand their ground with confidence and conviction–they have hearts with good soil, where God’s Word can grow and where other people can go to speak their minds and not be turned away.

We don’t have to agree. It’s probably better in some instances that we don’t agree. It keeps us on our toes. But it’s so much better to get along, and you don’t have to agree to do that. You just have to love each other, respect each other. So the next time you’re sitting down with someone to talk about anything, stop trying to get the first and last word. Stop trying to get other people to listen to you and try listening yourself for once.

Who knows? You might hear something you don’t expect.

Where would you be today without your team?

One of the things I’ve always loved about camping is the teamwork. Everyone has a job to do, and as much as possible (when we were younger) we were given jobs that matched our skills. I mean sometimes you just had to wash the coffee pot out, even if you didn’t drink coffee or didn’t like washing dishes. But it was your turn, and coffee pot needed to be cleaned. By doing your part, you helped the whole team.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers forget that we’re on the same team. We hurt each other by what we say or by what we don’t say. We misunderstand each other. We jump to hurtful conclusions. We take sides. We point fingers and exclaim that if the offender was a good enough Christian, he or she would know better than to behave like that. And we forget about grace and mercy and forgiveness, and that without them, we’re just like those who have no hope. And our little team falls apart.

21503D358DToday’s verses are Hebrews 10:23-25.

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The whole world doesn’t belong to the same family. We aren’t all children of God by birth. We become children of God when we choose to follow Jesus. When that happens, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you’ve done or where you’re going. You are immediately adopted into God’s family. And that means the Christian who’s sitting next to you in the church pew is your brother or sister, and you’re going to spend eternity with him or her.

That’s great news if you like the Christian sitting next to you. But what if you don’t like them?

Oh, unscrew that halo. There are plenty of Christians in your life that you don’t like. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s not a sin to dislike someone. But as a Christ-follower, you are called to love them. Period. There’s no discussion. And love means something a little different than our culture believes. Real Love takes a lot more focus and energy and sacrifice and endurance than what our culture calls love. Real Love is only possible with God’s help.

People fail. Even Christians fail. They will disappoint you. They will hurt you. They’ll reject you and betray you and falsely accuse you. And in the face of all that, you are to love them in return. You are to respond to their anger and hurt and misinformation with grace and peace and patience.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you shouldn’t respond with name calling or rumor spreading. You shouldn’t call names. You shouldn’t lash out with angry accusations. And you shouldn’t threaten. Please, please don’t threaten. Threats never help anyone, and they certainly never deepen a relationship. People who are on the same team should never threaten each other.

Instead of threatening, lashing out, trying to hurt your brother or sister in Christ, think of how to approach them with love. Try to consider how they feel. Think about where they are in their life and what might be causing them to act the way they are.

It’s so easy to misunderstand. Are you willing to destroy another person simply because you assume you know what he or she is feeling? Remember, we’re on the same team. Remember, Christ died for that person too. Remember you aren’t perfect, and you’ve probably made as many or more mistakes than the Christian you’re angry at. Where would you be now if the Christians in your life had just given up on you?

Maybe you’re hurting, but don’t hit back. Believe it or not, the whole situation probably isn’t about you anyway. Hurting people hurt people, and none of us are perfect. It’s up to you whether or not to be gracious.

Just know that God has enough of a sense of humor that if you don’t let it go, He’ll make you be next door neighbors in heaven for all eternity. Wouldn’t you rather sort things out down here before He comes back to get us?

We all need each other. So give teamwork a chance. God’s got us on the same team for a reason.

Each of us is but a breath … so don’t waste it in silence

Wednesday and Thursday of last week were very sad days in Wichita, Kansas. The news broke on Thursday that a well-known personality in our amazing city was murdered in a senseless act of violence. It’s one thing when a celebrity in some other part of the country dies or is killed in a car wreck. It’s something else when it happens to someone who touched your own life, even if it were indirectly.

I didn’t know Tanya Tandoc, but I ate at her restaurant frequently. Tanya’s Soup Kitchen is one of those Wichita landmarks that you just have to visit. But beyond her soup and her amazing recipes, from what I am told, Tanya was a really awesome person. And even though I didn’t know her, I feel the city’s loss. I also frequented her brother’s coffee shop–Espresso To Go Go. Both locations. I love their coffee, and everyone inside is always so nice. From what I understand, they had a falling out some time ago, and I’m not sure if they ever made up. Her brother posted a moving, touching statement on Facebook … my heart just hurts for them.

Horrible things happen to good people. The world is broken. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. And it’s a solemn, sobering reminder that if there’s something between you and another loved one–family or not–you should make it right before it’s too late. You might not get another day.

Amazing, beautiful, tasty soups from the incredible Tanya's Soup Kitchen in Wichita, KS

Amazing, beautiful, tasty soups from the incredible Tanya’s Soup Kitchen in Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 39:4-7.

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.
We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.

It’s hard to hold on to hope when bad things happen, but what else can we do? Give up? Sure, you can, but what good does that do? What does that accomplish? And maybe it’s easy to blame God and accuse Him of not caring. He’s an easy target after all, because if He’s so good, why does He let bad things happen?

Well, we know the answer to that. Bad things happen because the world is broken, and we are the ones who broke it. And what our lives come down to is trust–trusting that God is as good as He says He is, trusting that He knows what He’s doing, and that He can bring something beautiful out of tragedy and heartbreak.

It’s easy to get trapped thinking that we have enough time. It’s easy to put stuff off because we can do it tomorrow. But we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We can’t control that. And if we can wrap our heads around it, it would change the way we live. It would change the way we treat people. It would change the way we spend money.

It might be a difficult choice, but isn’t it worth it? If you don’t wake up in the morning, do the people you love know that you love them? Or have you let life and petty squabbles come between you?

Life is brief. Don’t waste it.

How my t-shirt reminded me about loving each other

I was at the grocery store in Hutchinson last week, picking up a few essentials to stock our pantry up for the duration of the sickness that’s still hanging on at my house. So there I was in the pasta aisle, debating the merits of one brand of whole wheat spaghetti versus another, and this lady comes up to me.

“Hey!” she says.

I don’t know this girl. She’s a complete stranger, though generally I’ve found that people in Hutchinson are pretty friendly.

“I love your Doctor Who shirt!”

And that’s when I remembered what I was wearing. My brother bought me this awesome Doctor Who shirt, and I love it. I wear it all the time.

This complete stranger saw it and immediately identified me as a fan, which I am. So she had no second thoughts about commenting on it and then going on to tell me about a web site where you can find all sorts of cool shirts (I fully intend to check it out).

The Doctor Who fandom is more of a culture than anything else. This encounter with a random stranger makes me smile because I’ve done the same thing before, whenever I see others wearing Doctor Who hats or scarves. It’s fun to spot other Whovians because it means I’m part of a really geeky family, one that understands why bananas are good and bow ties are cool.

But can you really tell all that by what somebody’s wearing? Can you really find common ground with someone just because they’re wearing a silly shirt or a funny hat? With Doctor Who or other fandoms, generally, yes, it’s that easy. But it’s not just fictional universes where this happens either.

The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) from BBC's Doctor Who

The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) from BBC’s Doctor Who

Today’s verses are John 13:34-35.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

This is Jesus talking to his disciples at the Last Supper, mere hours before He would be arrested, sentenced at a show trial, and crucified unjustly.

The commandment that Jesus is talking about here is one of the most difficult to keep in all the Bible: Love each other. Not tolerate each other. Not put up with each other. Love each other.

And note that Jesus isn’t talking about loving our enemies here. He’s not talking about loving others who don’t believe. No, He’s talking to a room full of His disciples. Love each other.

In my experience, the hardest people to truly love have been other Christians. Why? Well, there are a host of reasons, but I think a lot of it is that we expect so much from other believers that when they screw up, we think withholding our love will teach them a lesson. But Jesus never says it’s our job to punish another Christian because they can’t be perfect. It’s our job to love regardless.

Granted, love looks different from person to person. In some instances, love means being there for someone. In other instances, love means stepping back. But the motivation always remains the same.

This is so important because it’s the only way the world can identify us as Christians. It has nothing to do with whether or not you go to church. It has nothing to do with how you dress or how you speak. It has nothing to do with whether you’ve been sprinkled or dunked. Do you want to be identified as a Christ-follower? Love each other.

A Christian who loves without hesitation is as obvious to the world as a TARDIS-blue t-shirt to Doctor Who fan. Maybe the world can’t put a name to what you are, but they will know you’re different. You’ll be a shining light on a hill that nobody can ignore, even if they try.

And when you meet someone who loves others the same way you do, immediately you’ll have common ground. It’s happened to me before. I can know nothing about the person I’m sitting next to, but in watching them love other people, I instantly find something to talk about. Sure, I’m shy, but I love to talk about Jesus and what He’s doing in the world and in my life.

So make the choice to love people, especially other Christians. It changes you, and it changes the way others see you.

We all struggle to love somebody

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day, otherwise known as Single’s Awareness Day. Facebook filled with funny cards and photographs. The grocery stores had aisles that practically glowed red with all the candy and flowers and stuffed animals.

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I mean, it’s all right. I’m sure it’s very sweet and romantic if you’re in a relationship, and it’s certainly fun to find cheap chocolate everywhere (unless you’re really not supposed to be eating it anyway). But I’m not sure my feelings about it would change even if I were in a relationship.

In our culture, Valentine’s Day has become known as a holiday of love, where everybody makes it a point to do something special for that special someone in his or her life. And, again, that’s perfectly fine and dandy. It just seems to me that loving each other shouldn’t be a once-a-year thing. Shouldn’t it be an everyday thing? No, maybe buying each other hearts full of chocolate shouldn’t happen every day (though that would be lovely), but spending special time with someone on a regular basis should be a part of a long-term relationship. That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

Valentine’s Day is like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It isn’t something we should celebrate just once a year. It should happen all the time–and even more often if you are a follower of Christ.

valentineToday’s verse is John 13:34

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

This is Jesus talking to the Disciples at the end of the Last Supper. He is preparing to go to the cross in mere hours, and this is one of the final things He says to His followers.

Jesus isn’t being vague here, is He? Love each other. There’s no option there. It’s not, Love each other if you feel like it. Or, Love each other as long as you treat each other the way you want to be treated. All Jesus says is, Love each other. Period.

No frills. No wiggle room. No other options. Love each other. But He doesn’t stop there. He tells us to love each other the way He loves us. So that begs the question, how did Jesus love us? Well, He died for us, didn’t He? He loved us so much He was willing to sacrifice His title, His throne, His home, His comfort, and His glory to die a humiliating and excruciating public death.

I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone that much. Not even myself.

Jesus doesn’t say it would be nice if we could love each other that much. He doesn’t say it would be in our best interests if we could love each other that much–or even that it would please Him if we loved each other that much. He just says do it. He commands it.

Loving each other isn’t convenient. Whether it’s romantic love or the kind of love Jesus is talking about, love takes hard work. It’s not always an easy decision, and it’s rarely without cost. And, frankly, it has very little to do with how you feel. At least, that’s been my experience.

I have to choose to love people. I’m not a recluse or a hermit, but I have those tendencies. Love and mercy are not my gifts. I’ve mentioned before that some people say I’m uncompassionate, and I am. Love doesn’t come easily for me, but I choose to love people because Jesus commanded me to do it.

Granted, some people are easier to love than others. But then, some people make it almost impossible to love them. But somehow I’ve got to figure out how. That doesn’t mean I have to be their best friend. That doesn’t mean I have to go out of my way to spend all my time with them. But it does mean that I need to be kind to them, regardless of whether they are kind in return or not.

So who’s the person in your life that you are trying to love today? Everybody has someone. Don’t be ashamed. We all struggle to love somebody. Just remember that you don’t have to do it alone.

God provides what He requires. He always has. If He requires us to love each other, He will give us the strength and the opportunity to show His love to the people around us. Just be open to it, and live your life the way Jesus would. If you’re following in Jesus’ footsteps, living a life of love will just happen.

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What kind of life do you want to live?

I’d like to think I’m a fairly patient person, but the people who know me best know that I’m not really. I can be patient if I try really really hard, but most of the time it takes so much effort that I’d rather just run around like an idiot until something happens that I can exert some kind of control over. Even though I accomplish absolutely nothing, running around like a madwoman at least makes me feel like I can change things that are beyond me. Anyone else ever feel like that?

Well, you’re not alone. And neither am I. I’m willing to bet everyone has been there and done that at some point in their lives, but that’s not the way we’re commanded to live. We aren’t supposed to plow through life, running over anything and anyone who gets in our way.

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Grasshopper on a windowscreen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:2.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Ouch. Anyone else hear my toes crunching as that verse hops all over them?

I think it’s really interesting that we’re commanded to be humble and gentle all the time, followed by being patient with each other. Haven’t you noticed that impatient people usually aren’t very humble or gentle? And the opposite is true too. The proud and cruel aren’t very patient. I think these are three character qualities that go hand in hand (or hand in hand in hand).

I hate being interrupted, especially when I’m in “the zone” at work or at my home office. But that’s part of my everyday life. So I have to get used to it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. And I honestly do fight the urge to snap at people when they interrupt me because I don’t think they understand exactly how difficult it is to get to a point where I’m being productive only to have them drag me out of it to answer their question.

But since when is my work about me? My work is about my company and doing the best job I can for them. Even my personal writing exists to glorify God. But that’s what that attitude says. “You shouldn’t interrupt me because what I’m doing is more important than what you need.” Yeah? How humble is that?

And once I’m all stirred up, it’s just a short hop and a jump away before I get snappy and mean. And then I turn into a very un-gentle person. But I can’t tell you if this stems from my impatience or if my impatience comes about because of my lack of humility and gentleness. What I do know for sure is that all three of those characteristics—impatience, pride, and meanness—don’t represent the kind of life I want to live. And they sure don’t represent the life a Christian should be living, no matter who you are or what kind of situation you’re in.

The best thing we can do for ourselves and for the people around us is learning to recognize those traits and doing something to stop them. Maybe you don’t mean to feel one or all of them once, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep feeling them. And you certainly don’t have to base your life around them.

Always be humble. Think about what you do before you do it. Don’t automatically assume that people owe you something just by virtue of who you are. And even if they do, think twice before demanding they give it to you.

Always be gentle. There’s never a call for cruelty. There’s never a reason to be mean. There’s never a purpose for tearing people down with your words or your actions. This is one I have to watch because I have a sarcastic streak a mile wide, and sometimes my sarcasm gets the better of me. It’s one thing to tease; it’s something else to hurt. Think about what you say before you say it. You might save yourself and someone else a lot of pain.

And be patient. Just because you know something is true or right doesn’t mean other people have had the same opportunities to learn that you have. Just because your life experiences have taught you valuable wisdom doesn’t mean that other people are stupid because they don’t know the same thing. And just because someone is getting on your nerves doesn’t mean they’re doing it on purpose. Maybe they’re trying to help you. They might be trying to help you into a nervous breakdown, but at least their intentions are good. Chill out. Back off. Calm down. Take a minute or two to refocus and try again.

Maybe we don’t know what causes pride, meanness, or impatience (other than our own sin nature), but there’s plenty of explanation about what encourages patience, humility, and gentleness.

Love.

Seems to be a running theme in the Bible, doesn’t it?

Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Why? Because we love each other. And we love each other because Jesus loved us first.

It’s not easy. Oh boy, it’s not easy. But I guarantee life is so much better if you listen.