Stop trying to hit a ball that’s not in your court

Have you ever made somebody angry? Whether you intended to or not, you hurt someone. What do you do? How do you handle it?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you should take responsibility and ask forgiveness. Period. There’s no hemming and hawing. There’s no rationalization. There’s no trying to get out of it. At least, there shouldn’t be. Own what you did and ask forgiveness.

But what happens if the person you hurt won’t forgive you? What happens if they see your action as unforgivable? What if, despite your trying to make amends to the best of your ability, they still want to hurt you?

bird-sparrowToday’s verses are Matthew 10:26-31.

But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear! Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

We live in a difficult world. Hurting people hurt people. That’s just the way it works, and often times we get caught in the middle. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you will hurt the people around you. And the world has gotten so small that you can hurt someone you don’t even know.

The number one thing to remember is that you should never ever automatically assume you are in the right. You’re a flawed, broken human being, and you could be wrong. Granted, sometimes you aren’t. Sometimes your actions are justified. Sometimes your choices were the right ones. But not always. And you should never assume that you are blameless, because it’s rarely the case.

When there is blame to be cast, accept it. Don’t shrug it off. Look it in the face and don’t flinch. And do what you can to mend fences (within reason). But once you’ve done your part, step back.

It’s important to understand that not everyone will forgive you. And, this is the part that kills me, not everyone will like you. Some people will just dislike you for no reason you can fix. And even if you do everything in your power to make them like you, they still might not.

Ultimately, following Christ isn’t about whether people like you or not. Following Christ is about living a life that honors Jesus. As much as possible, we’re to live peacefully with people around us, but that won’t be possible in every situation.

You can’t live your life in fear of what people may do to you. Maybe another person is holding something against you, but you can’t control them. You aren’t their Holy Spirit, and they have to make the choice to take their hurt to Jesus instead of piling it all on you. All you can do is humbly ask forgiveness, decide not to repeat your actions, and then get on with your life.

In the end, just remember that God isn’t blind. He knows more about your situation than you do, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. He cares about you. He cares about your problems. He cares about your losses. And if He notices when a sparrow falls, you can be sure your troubles won’t go unnoticed.

Have you done everything you can to make peace? Have you done all God asks to resolve the conflict? Then move forward. The ball isn’t in your court anymore, so stop trying to hit it. God sees the truth, and He’ll work out the details in a way that’s better and more beneficial for both sides. What we have to do is to learn to live without resentment.

Don’t be afraid of what people can do to your body or your finances or your possessions. Everything you have is a gift from God anyway. If it’s taken from you in a way you feel isn’t fair, just trust that the Lord will restore it. You might find out that you didn’t need it as much as you thought in the first place .

Advertisements

A life lesson learned while roughing it

I just got back from an epic week of camping in Colorado with my parents. We had a fantastic time, and it was so great to just relax. Even though we were completely isolated for the whole week, God still made Himself obvious. Actually, He was probably more obvious than normal because I wasn’t distracted by everything else in my life.

He reminded me of some pretty cool things as I was reading in front of the campfire or listening to the wind in the pines or marveling at the mountain peaks. So this week, I’ll be sharing some of the lessons I learned (and photos I took) when I was out roughing it.

Campfire at Happy Meadows (c) acw 2015

Campfire at Happy Meadows, west of Colorado Springs

Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

My dad always gets the fires started whenever we go camping. In Colorado, you have to buy local wood to burn, but (in case you don’t know anything about starting a fire), you can’t just light the wood. You have to have something to get the first started. Some people use lighter fluid, but we tend to go more toward the old fashioned methods like paper and kindling.

What was interesting to me this time around is watching how rapidly paper and small strips of wood were consumed. It feels dumb to say it, because it’s obvious. Paper burns fast. And while it might provide a flash of momentary heat, when it’s 40 degrees outside, you need something with substance that’s going to burn for a long time.

The verse for today is talking more about items which are symbolic of deeds and achievements–those things that fire won’t consume. If you accomplish something for God, that accomplishment will last forever. In comparison, accomplishing something for yourself is like wood or hay or stubble. It burns up fast and leaves nothing useful behind.

Taking that into account, how does your list of accomplishments stack up? Have you done things in your life that will last for eternity? Or are you just accomplishing things that make life more comfortable for you (or even others) right now? There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable in this life exactly. I’m not saying that. But if you really think about it, what matters more?

As Christ-followers, this life isn’t our final destination. We have another life to live beyond this one, and we’ll live that life forever. So isn’t it more wise to be preparing for the life to come with more focus and determination than we give to our temporary lives here? What good is it if you live in a big fancy house on Earth for 80 years and when you get to heaven for all eternity, all you have is a tent with a few cans of Spam?

Do what God says. Put priority on His rules, on His plans, on His directions. Do that first. Then let the other things trickle in later. Maybe it means you’ll have to wear less fashionable clothes or drive an old car or live in a smaller house. Maybe not. But you’ll know for sure that if your life ever starts to burn down, the things that matter–the ones that will last forever–will come out untouched.

Peace of mind in a piggy bank

What would you do for God if money wasn’t an option? How would your life change if you lived for God’s Word instead of your paycheck?

The Bible is full of stories about people who took great risks following God. All throughout the Old Testament, men and women who trusted God did impossible things, crazy things, reckless things. If you talked to them while they were doing those impossible, crazy, reckless things, they probably would have agreed with you.

I’m sure Abraham was terrified when he packed up his wife and left everything he knew for a land he didn’t even know existed. Noah built an ark when no one had ever seen a real rainstorm, let alone a flood. Gideon in the time of the Judges had to think it was nuts to attack a massive army of professional soldiers with a measly few hundred men armed only with clay pots, torches, and trumpets.

On and on and on the stories go, building a heritage of crazy faith so it’s not exactly a surprise when 12 unlearned, ignorant men drop what they’re doing and follow after a carpenter from Nazareth. And from there? Men and women gladly gave up their lives in the name of Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to today. The same impossible, crazy, reckless things still happen in today’s world, but we don’t hear about them as much. Does that mean they aren’t happening as often? No, I don’t think that’s the case. I just don’t think they’re happening as often in the United States.

Men and women give up everything to do what God has called them to do. They leave their lives. They leave their families and their comfort zones. They risk poverty and destitution and slavery and death. And I’m willing to bet it happens much more frequently than anyone knows.

Why doesn’t it happen as often in America? I have a theory.

Piggy-BankToday’s verse is Matthew 6:24.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

This is a touchy subject. Money always is. People get defensive about it. And no one ever seems to be able to get it right. Either people talk about it too much or they don’t talk about it enough, but generally speaking whenever money is the topic of conversation, you’re going to have a fight break out.

But the inescapable truth about money is that America has a lot of it. Is it a coincidence that as an overall culture we struggle with doing what God has called us to do?

See, money is deceptive. And it doesn’t have to just be money. It can be possessions. It can be stuff. Whatever you live for that isn’t God. When you have those things, you can get into the habit of thinking you’ll always have them. You can calm your anxieties by reminding yourself you have money in the bank. It’s what you can use to control your life, your problems, etc.

And don’t misunderstand. Having money is wonderful. It’s a blessing. It’s such a gift. If God has given you financial stability and wealth, you have been given a tremendous responsibility to use that gift in a way that honors God.

But if you’re like the rest of lower middle class America, you make it from paycheck to paycheck. You have just enough to be comfortable but not enough to buy whatever you want whenever you want it. And there are days when you can’t help but think, “If I just made a little more money, I wouldn’t have to worry.”

I’ve been to poor countries. And I mean poor. The poorest person in America is still wealthy in comparison. But the poor people I met in the interior of Mexico or the untraveled jungles of Guatemala weren’t consumed with anxiety over what they had or didn’t have. Their lives are simple. Their needs are simple.

American culture serves the dollar. That’s just a fact. Watch television for a few minutes, and you’ll see the truth of it. Money and sex. That’s what we’re about. Our culture is all about creating discontentment, convincing yourself that you need money and stuff to be happy.

That’s what it means to serve money instead of God. Serving money is finding your contentment and your security and your happiness in what you own or how much you have. It’s trying to find peace of mind in a piggy bank when peace of mind only comes from a right relationship with God.

What would you do for God if money wasn’t an option?

It’s a lesson I’m trying to learn, but if you’re a Christ-follower, money should never be an option. Yes, you should be a good steward of what God has given you, but if God has directly indicated that you should do something, you should do it. Money has no say.

Want to do great things for God? Want to be a part of that impossible, crazy, reckless for Jesus club? Throw away your piggy bank. Sure, it has its uses, but it isn’t money that will help you achieve the impossible. That’s God’s job. And you can’t hold on to Him when you’re clutching pennies in your hands.

Make Christmas about why instead of what

I am not a parent, but I do know what it’s like to want to make someone I love happy. I love Christmas. I love the cold weather and the warm sweaters. I love the songs and the lights and the decorations, and I love the general emotion associated with the holiday season. Whether people realize or not, the whole world still stops to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

But more and more, things are started to edge Jesus out of Christmas. And contrary to what many religious people seem to think, it’s not Santa Claus’s fault. It’s ours.

I couldn’t help myself. I heard on the radio today that the Disney Frozen Castle Playset by Mattel was going for nearly $700 on eBay now, because most stores are sold out. I found it on Amazon for $250, in case you’re looking for one. Why would this cheap piece of hinged plastic be worth $700? Well, because we–the American public–are willing to pay $700 to get it for our kids.
frozen_toyset

Don’t get me wrong. I adored the movie Frozen, and I love giving Christmas presents. I love that sense of anticipation I feel when I get to give someone something I know they’ll love. I turn into a giggling idiot on Christmas morning because I’ve filled the underside of our Christmas tree with weird and wacky gifts for the people I love most.

But Christmas isn’t about the gifts you get. It’s honestly not even about the gifts you give. And I’m afraid we’re teaching the next generation that giving and getting is all that matters. Any rational, thinking person can agree that Christmas isn’t about getting. But isn’t about giving?

No. Christmas isn’t about what we can give. It’s about what God gave–His Son. His only Son. So we could be free from sin, confident in the face of death, and live in peace with God.

1174394_46904993Today’s verses are John 3:16-17.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

We give to celebrate that God gave His Son. But we live in a world that tells us to buy everything our children want, and if we don’t, we’re bad parents. We live in a world of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, where people trample each other to get the last Tickle Me Elmo off the shelf (so creepy, by the way).

What message are we sending to our children? Heck, I don’t even have children, and I’m afraid of the self-centered nightmare of a world that is their inheritance.

How do you rise above it? How do you keep the focus where it needs to be? How do you do Christmas right, in a way that honors God and helps our children understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for them?

I don’t know. I can’t even claim to know the answer.

Is it wrong to give gifts to your children? No. Absolutely not. Give tons of gifts to your kids. Give them the things they ask for. Give them the But you can celebrate Christmas without being drawn into the materialism of our culture.

Kids learn by example. So if you place a lot of value on the things you buy, so will they. If you don’t appreciate the things you are given, neither will they. And if you make your Christmas all about the things you get or the things you give, they will too.

Instead, in your own heart, make Christmas about Jesus. Care more about what Jesus says and thinks about Christmas and giving and getting than what the world says. And even if you get your kid a crazy expensive hinged chunk of plastic with stickers on it, that’s great! That’s fine! But don’t make Christmas about the gifts. Make it about why you gave the gifts.

Let’s keep things and people straight

If you live and drive in Wichita, Kansas, you appreciate what it means when you say someone is a good driver. Good drivers are hard to find, and they’re almost nonexistent in Wichita. Yes, I’m exaggerating. But you get the point.

It’s not uncommon when I’m merging from one major highway to the next that I encounter people swerving all over the place, asleep at the wheel, or looking like they’re having a psychotic episode while they’re trying to steer. But something happened yesterday morning that I’m not sure has happened to me before.

I was coming down a long on-ramp. Lots of cars behind me, so I couldn’t slow down too far. And there were three vehicles in the lane I needed to get into. Out front was a giant, huge construction truck of some kind. In the middle was a black Lexus. At the back was a white suburban.

There was just enough room for me to slide in between the black Lexus and the white suburban. At least, there was when I started to merge. Inexplicably, as I was trying to slide in between them, the black Lexus started slowing down. The suburban didn’t slow down, so the space between them (where I was trying to go) was getting smaller and smaller.

The Lexus knew I needed to get over. The lane was ending. IT’s marked all over the place. And I wasn’t being rude. I had my signal on. But whoever was driving kept slowing down.

I didn’t have enough lane to speed up and go around the Lexus, so I just cut it closer than I normally would have liked and pulled in between them anyway. White suburban had to slow down, but they were going to have to slow down anyway because black Lexus kept going slower and slower until they stopped at a steady rate. My exit was coming up so I couldn’t go around, but the suburban did. And so did five other cars behind me.

I couldn’t figure it out because there was so much space between the black Lexus and that big construction truck. And that’s when I realized. The black Lexus was keeping six car lengths away from the big construction truck because it might be throwing rocks, and they didn’t want to chip their fancy paint job.

Now, I’m all for taking care of my car. It’s a valuable machine, and it represents a huge investment. But this black Lexus nearly got me killed. I nearly died because that crazy driver cared more about his paint job than he did about another driver on the road.

Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) from Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (since our topic is about loving things more than people and considering that it’s Christmas, this just seemed appropriate)

Today’s verses are Luke 12:13-15.

Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

Do you know someone who measures his or her life by possessions or status? What I’ve noticed about those people is that if possessions and status are the source of their life’s purpose, that’s what becomes the most important to them. And rightly so. Whatever your life is about should be the most important thing in your life.

But should that be possessions and status? Because the more you care about what you own, the less you care about the people around you. Am I saying that we should live recklessly? Of course not. Am I saying that we shouldn’t take care of the things God has given us? No, that’s not it at all.

What I’m saying is that we should be less concerned about our things and more concerned about people’s lives. It’s like placing the condition of your church’s carpet over the caliber of people who walk on it. It’s like seeing more value in the clothes you’re wearing than helping others who don’t have a roof over their head.

Yes, take care of your things. Yes, be responsible. But please, please get your priorities straight. So what if your fancy, shiny black Lexus hood gets a chip in it? You put more value on helping another driver get safely where she needed to be than in the pristine condition of your car.

Things are things. People are people. Let’s keep them straight.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

You can afford generosity in God’s name

Stingy people aren’t much fun to hang around. If you don’t know any stingy people, count yourself fortunate. They’re exhausting.

I am fortunate to know many, many generous people, but that doesn’t mean I’m surrounded by wealthy folks. Whether you are stingy or generous, it has nothing to do with how much money you have.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 25:37-40.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Some of the most generous people I’ve ever known haven’t been wealthy, at least by what the world would call wealthy. I’ve known some who invited me over for dinner, when they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. I’ve known others who relied on God’s provision from paycheck to paycheck in order to feed their families, but they never hesitate to offer what they have to help someone else.

Generous people humble me, and more than anything they make me want to be generous too. And I’ve learned something about generous people. Because I’ve known a lot of them. They all have something in common.

None of them have anything.

If you ask them about their house, they’ll tell you they don’t own a house. God owns a house and let them use it in His name. If you ask them about their possessions, they’ll tell you they don’t have possessions. God has blessed them with the things that make life easier, and they get to make use of them to help others in His name. The same is true of their finances. Everything they have is God’s, including their money. God is just trusting them to manage it in His name.

Have you ever tried to live that way? Looking at your house, your car, your money, your everything as though it truly belongs to God and He’s just letting you borrow it? Would that change your perspective on the things you call your things? Would that lead you to take better care of the things God has given you? Or would you worry less about them?

If nothing else, it should make us second guess how we use our things.

But what happens if you open your house to strangers and they tear it up? What happens if you give money to someone and they let you down? Believe me, I feel those questions. I come from a school of thought that you’re supposed to be responsible with the things you have, and I don’t think that’s wrong.

But what’s more important? Doing what God says or taking care of things that don’t even belong to you?

God has given us everything we have, and as Americans, we have a lot. I don’t think we really understand how much we have until we leave the country. The areas of Mexico and Guatemala that I’ve been in have been among the poorest I’ve ever seen—and also the kindest and most generous.

Does it make sense for Americans to cling to what doesn’t even belong to them?

Before you decide to favor your things over the people around you, take a moment and really talk to God about it. Yes, we’re supposed to be wise, and I do believe God gave us brains for a reason. But don’t ever let concern for things get between you and doing what God says is right.

No house or car or paycheck is worth that.

When you open your doors and your home and your heart to others, God is able to reach others with His love through you. You get to be an extension of God, welcoming people and loving people and helping people.

Don’t worry about the expense. Remember, God gave you the means to obtain what you have in the first place. If He wants you to have it again, He’ll give it to you.

Don’t lose the opportunity to be Jesus to someone because you’re afraid to lose something you don’t even own.

The only thing that matters

It’s so easy to get caught up in the craziness of life that oftentimes I forget the things that really matter. The pesky little problems in life are small and insignificant but they can seem to big and so troublesome that they’re all I can focus on.

I don’t think I say this enough, but I love the Bible. If you haven’t read it, you really should. And I don’t mean from cover to cover. Just pick a book. Read Philippians. It’s short and full of joy. Read the Gospels and learn about Jesus. Read Ruth. It’s a beautiful love story that is a symbol of God’s love for us. And if you’re sad or depressed or have forgotten what’s really important in life? Read Psalms.

Psalms is uplifting and encouraging. Whenever I read the Psalms, I always find something that encourages me.

I know recently that I have been really stressed out. More stressed out than I have ever been in my life. The issue mostly revolves around work and me not knowing how to deal with the amount of work I have. But let’s be honest here. It’s just a job, and I don’t want to view my job as my purpose for living. It’s not, and it shouldn’t be. Not ever. Because there are more important things. I have never wanted wealth or recognition or fame (although having enough money to buy groceries now is nice), but Psalm 73:25-26 reminded me of something this morning:

 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
      I desire you more than anything on earth.
 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
      but God remains the strength of my heart;
      he is mine forever.

God is all that matters. He’s the most important person in my life. Our relationship is the priority in my life — or it should be. I need to want closeness with Him more than anything else, more than finances, more than comfort, more than my family . . . . more than publication. More than the realization of my dreams. More than anything means more than anything. And I know I haven’t been there.

In every step of my life, God has never left me. No matter where I was physically or spiritually or emotionally, no matter how many times I failed Him, He has never failed me, and He has promised to keep strengthening me and to always be with me.

Everything else in my life pales in comparison to Him. There’s no one like Him. My best friend. My ally. My eternal supporter who knew my gifts and dreams before He gave them to me. And at the end of everything, when it’s just Him and me, I want Him to tell me that I did a good job. That I kept my perspective right. That I lived the way I was supposed to.

That’s more important than anything else. So maybe I need to start living like it.