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?

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A pink saddle at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Being kind to people who you really just want to smack

Loving people is hard work. Have you ever noticed that? I mean, some people are easy to love. They’re those people who make you better. They’re the people who brighten your day when you see them. And I am so very fortunate to be surrounded by people who encourage me and make my life bright. But then, there are the other people. And they are everywhere. You know who I’m talking about. Christian or non-Christian, old or young, at work or at school or at home or even on the street, the other people take your happy mood and stomp all over it. And they almost seem to enjoy doing it. Maybe they would enjoy doing if they enjoyed anything.

Don’t pretend like you aren’t thinking of someone right now. We all have them in our lives. Those people who we cringe when we see coming. I’ve got a couple (no one in my close inner circle though, thank God), and I wish I could tell you I was a good enough Christian that I embrace them with loving, open arms. But that would be a lie. More often than not, I hide. Because hiding is so much better than having to talk to them. Because talking to them runs the risk of me saying something regrettable out loud.

After all, why not? What if they deserve it? What if that extraordinarily irritating person really just needs to be put in his or her place? What if that obstinate, arrogant moron needs a good talking to so that they understand they’re the ignorant ones?

A pink saddle at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

A pink saddle at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS (because I’m going to get on my horse and ride, this morning, folks)

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 passage makes me clench my teeth because there are days–so many days–when the last thing I want to do is love people. I don’t want to love people, especially stupid people. But guess what? Do you know who said this?

Yup. Jesus Himself said this. And there’s no misunderstanding this, no matter what language you read it in, no matter what translation you read it in (yes, for any of you who might be wondering if I’m a heathen, I read multiple translations at the same time! *gasp*). And I believe if Jesus says it, I should do it, whether I want to do it or not, whether I feel like it or not, whether I even like it or not.

Jesus says to love people. I’m supposed to love people like He loves people.

Really?

Yes. Really. (Yes, I’m talking to myself right now.)

But Jesus isn’t telling us to roll over and let people walk over us. He isn’t saying that we’re supposed to walk around with our heads hanging low, sighing unhappily about how we’re supposed to love everyone. “Ho-hum. I have to love that idiot who told a lie about me.” News flash, folks. That’s not love.

Okay. I’m a little snarky this morning. Maybe I should apologize. But there’s a reason.

See, I had planned to do this post anyway because there are just certain people I encounter in life who I have a hard time being kind to. I have a hard time loving them because they just make it so dang hard. So I was going to post about loving each other anyway–and then I discovered that another WordPress blogger decided to repost something I said yesterday and proclaim to all the Internets that I am a Christian Infidel. And most of it stemmed from the fact that I made a somewhat derogatory comment about the King James Version of the Bible.

(Although my statement was less about the KJV and more about people who carry them around clubbing others with them…. “I’ll leave you to your deductions.”)

And you know, I wasn’t even angry about it. It made me laugh more than anything else. But then I got to thinking about it when I started this post. If I had the opportunity to speak to this person, what would I say to him? Not that he would care about anything I say. Obviously, he didn’t read my post. He just pulled out the part he didn’t like and decided I’m a horrible sinner (which I honestly can’t deny). But what would I say? What would I think? Could I look him in the eye and tell him that I love him? In spite of the fact that he’s pretty much twisting my words?

Well, that’s what I need to do. That’s what Jesus does with all of us, if you think about it. How often have I twisted the Bible to suit my own preferences? I’m sure I have. Everyone does. I wish we didn’t, but we do. We don’t want to submit to God’s authority, so we take it on ourselves to rationalize God’s truth to make ourselves feel better about our actions, about our inaction, about the way we treat others. Jesus knows we do that, and He still tells us that He loves us. That’s what makes Him different. That’s what makes Him Jesus.

Christians, that’s what makes us different. When we can look at the people who hurt us, the people who use us, the people who make us so angry we could just scream and tell them that we love them, they can’t say anything against it. When we look at those people–the ones who deserve to hurt, the ones who we think should be punished–and tell them that we love them because Jesus loves us, it shows that what we believe isn’t just for show. It proves that what we believe is real.

And that’s what the world needs right now. The world doesn’t need a translation of the Bible; the world needs the message of the Bible. The world doesn’t need another religious person wandering around making everyone feel guilty; the world needs to know how much Christ loves them and what He did to save them.

That’s what will change the world. It’s not me and it’s not you. It’s Jesus and His love, and the most amazing, awesome, incredible gift He has ever given us is the power and the strength and the courage to love people who don’t deserve it.

So I’m going to march over to my new friend’s blog and thank him for the pingback. He can do what he wants with it, but because of what Jesus has done for me, I am determined to love people today, especially the ones who make me mad. So watch out! If you piss me off today, I’m going to hug you!

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.

Poppy at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Living a life that defies hatred

How do you answer people who ask you what you believe? How do you talk to people in general? It’s something worth thinking about because we communicate so much through tone and body language. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to it, but I think non-verbal communication makes up more than half of how people actually talk to each other.

I read body language before I listen to what people say. Body language often will tell you far more about a person than what is coming out of their mouth. So if a person is communicating anger or unpleasantness with their body language, even if they’re saying nice things, I’m not going to believe they really mean it. And since our culture has devolved into one big chat room, it’s no wonder we are overwhelmed with miscommunications.

We live in an offensive world and an offensive culture. It seems that just about everyone wants to make everybody else angry about something, whether it’s their past mistakes or their current beliefs, religious or political. And it’s tempting to feel like we need to offend others in self-defense. But is that the way to communicate with people? Is that really the way we’re supposed to handle our relationships?

Poppy at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Poppy at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 3:15-16.

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to know what we believe. So when people ask us, we can explain. It’s no less than knowing the policies of your workplace or the rules of your house. But there’s something about following Jesus that really makes people angry.

I attended a writing workshop in June, which is actually where I got a lot of the photography I use on this blog. It’s a place called Glen Eyrie, located in Colorado Springs. One of the speakers made a point to talk about the different eras of how the world has reacted to Christ.

Forty years ago, we were still something of a Christian nation, where even if people didn’t agree with those of us who follow Christ, we were still treated with some amount of respect. But that era changed into an era of Post-Christian thought, where everyone was okay. It was the whole “I’m okay; you’re okay” sort of concept, where everyone has a truth and that truth is okay. Whether that concept is true or not is a different discussion, but that era has slowly come and gone, now replaced with the era we live in today. Anti-Christian. The world we live in is anti-Christ. People are more hostile and more virulently opposed to believers than ever before, and I have never experienced the outpouring of hatred against believers like I have seen in the last year or so.

Yes, it’s a sign of the times, but part of me is curious as to how we got here. And I can’t help but ask, how much of it is our own faults? How much of the treatment Christians now endure has come about because of our reaction to the world? I’m not saying hatred against Christians (or hatred against anyone for that matter) is justified, but I have known many believers who treated non-believers with disdain and contempt. And there’s only so much disdain and contempt anyone can take before they snap.

I’m thinking of a particular church in Topeka, KS, where the congregation protests at soldier funerals with signs that say terrible and untrue things. And if that is the standard by which all Christians are judged, then it’s no wonder the world hates us.

Please understand. I’m really addressing Christians in America at this point. Christians in other nations are a different story. Christians in other nations are truly suffering without cause, truly being persecuted for their faith. American Christians don’t know the meaning of persecution. We sure think we do, but we don’t.

Even if we are treated harshly, even if people say horrible things about us and disrespect us, does that give us a reason to treat them the same way? Absolutely not. No matter what people do to us, we need to love them. We are commanded to love them, commanded to forgive them. Stooping to the level of name calling and back biting only puts us on their level, and if you do that, how can you be different?

Yes, Scripture says that the world will hate us. They hated Christ, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the world would hate us too. I get that. I know that. But we don’t have to give them a  reason. We need to live a life that is above reproach. We need to have relationships that are encouraging and uplifting. We need to say things that are good and kind and true, no matter what people say to us. We need to keep our pride and our tempers in check, and we need to remember what’s important: it’s not about us.

So if somebody asks you what you believe, be able to tell them. And when they get angry at you, speak kindly to them. Don’t give them any ammunition to fight you with. Don’t give them a reason to hate you. And if they’re the sort of person who will hate you in spite of the fact that you have truly done nothing wrong, in spite of logic and reason and kindness, then you can address them and yourself with a clear conscience.

But be real. Most people aren’t like that. And if they are, they’re that way for a reason. Probably because a Christian mistreated them in their past. Maybe you can be the bridge. Maybe you can be the one who stands in the gap. Maybe you can be the Christian who changes their mind. Maybe you can be the one who introduces them to the real Jesus, not just the label of a religious system.

Be real. Be kind. Be true. And love people no matter what they do to you. That will make you different. And even as people try to hate you, they’ll run out of reasons.

How does love get smarter?

I love Philippians. It’s such a happy book. I read it as often as I read the Psalms on days that are hard. Today’s verses are Philippians 1:9-10.

 9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

I love the fact that Paul states he prays that their love will overflow more and more. To me, that says they already love people. Similarly, the fact that he states that he prays that their knowledge and understanding will keep growing insinuates that they already had it. And that is encouraging, especially when so many of the epistles aren’t exactly congratulating churches on a job well done.

But the part of this passage that really caught my eye this morning was that Paul wanted the people of the church of Philippi to understand what really matters so that they could live a pure life. To me, in English, that sounds kind of vague. I mean, obviously, Paul wanted them to grow in love and understanding and wisdom, but are those the things that really matter? Is that what that means?

So, the best I can do (since I don’t speak Greek) is to read the Amplified Version. Usually there isn’t a whole lot of difference between verses, but in this case, there’s a lot more written to explain the concepts of what Paul is saying:

Philippians 1:9-10 (AMP)

9And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight [that your love may display itself in greater depth of acquaintance and more comprehensive discernment],

    10So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value [recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences], and that you may be untainted and pure and unerring and blameless [so that with hearts sincere and certain and unsullied, you may approach] the day of Christ [not stumbling nor causing others to stumble].

Read like this, it’s more of a process. You have to grow in love before you can understand what really matters. Paul is praying for the church of Philippi that their love will grow but not just grow stronger but that as a result of their love, their knowledge and wisdom will deepen.  He wants them to have that because he wants them to learn what really matters.

The way the Amplified Bible defines what really matters is what is “vital” and “excellent and of real value.” It further expands on that by saying “recognizing the highest and best and distinguishing the moral differences.”

Wow.

Okay. What I get from this passage this morning is that to truly comprehend the things that really matter in life, first your love needs to grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Okay. So how does love get smarter? I mean, I’ve always known that love can be wise. Wise love looks past the outside and focuses on the heart. Wise love is humble. Wise love is steady, unerring and unshakable. . . . But smart love? Knowledgeable love? What is that? What does that look like?

Wisdom and understanding are two of those concepts that sound like they would be the same, but they’re completely different. To me, wisdom has always been more like the mature, biblical application of knowledge. That may not be right, but that’s the best way I know how to describe it.

I guess, what I’m seeing this morning is that while we are commanded to love everyone, we aren’t commanded to love everyone the same way. That sounds bad. Let me try to explain. I was up late doing laundry last night, and my coffee isn’t kicking in.

There are different kinds of love, and the same kind of love isn’t good for everyone. It’s not good to love a complete stranger with the same love you love your best friend with. It’s not good to love your best friend with the same love you love a stranger with. Does that make sense? And even between best friends, there are different kinds of love.

Love is the same in that it should always be unconditional, sacrificing, and unselfish. But it manifests in different ways depending on the person you’re talking about. Some people need flowers. Some people need hugs. Some people need to talk. Some people need to be left alone. And even between best friends or lovers or spouses, love has to look different even though the motivation behind it is the same.

To me, that’s smart love. That’s learning how to love people the way they need to be loved. That’s learning how to love God. That’s learning how to love your family and your friends and your spouse and your significant others the way that is most beneficial for them.

Because the more you learn about other people, the less you focus on yourself. And then you can realize that life isn’t about you; it’s about loving God and loving people. But until you get to that point where your love grows in wisdom and knowledge, that’s not going to make sense. But I believe that is what really matters.