Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Fearless

What does it mean to have confidence? If you check the dictionary, which is a good place to start if you’re looking for the definition of a word, confidence is full trust. It’s the complete belief that an object will perform or that a person will keep their word. Confidence usually comes from repeated experience where the person or object in question proves over and over again that he/she/it can be trusted.

Confidence is difficult to earn in today’s culture. Trustworthiness isn’t something you find everyday. If you want someone to trust you, you have to work hard to prove it, especially in our culture of skeptics and realists. Not that skepticism or realism is necessarily wrong, but they do get in the way if you are trustworthy and people refuse to trust you because they’ve had bad experiences with other people.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:35-36.

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.

I love the book of Hebrews. Someday I’m going to do a study just on it. I don’t claim to understand everything that’s in it, but the pieces I do grasp always leave me speechless at God’s great love and willingness to bring us into His family.

In this section, the writer is encouraging the readers to persevere, not to give up, and to remember that God is worthy of their trust. That phrase used in verse 35 (παρρησιαν), confident trust, is better translated fearless confidence. Think about that. Fearless confidence.

Wouldn’t you like to have confidence without fear? I sure would. There are so many things in life right now that could go wrong, so many things that have gone wrong, that being able to move forward in confidence with no fear would be miraculous. I’m not a fearful person generally, but I have anxieties and worries like anyone else. I have an active imagination and a brain that never stops racing, so I can come up with worst case scenarios with the best of people.

Fearless confidence isn’t something that only super Christians can claim. It’s something each of us has access to. Fearless confidence stems from trusting God completely, and I honestly think we all start out fearless. And then the “realities” of life set in and we give in to the normal anxieties we face on a daily basis.

If you read the verses before this, the writer is talking about how the early church used to be, when believers trusted God so deeply that no matter what happened to them, they didn’t fret or fear, whether it was persecution or theft of their belongings. But the longer we live and the longer we wait for Christ’s return, the more we have to go through, the more trouble we have to face, the more difficulties we feel like we have to overcome. And after a while it wears us down, and even though our confidence isn’t shaken necessarily, the little fears start creeping in.

But that’s not the way we’re called to live. We are called to live fearless.

Have you ever had a moment when you and God were on the same page? I don’t know how to describe it, but you know it. His presence is practically tangible, His voice is almost audible, and in that moment there’s no doubt in your mind that He can do anything, even though He’s acting through you. I wish I could say those moments were common in my life, but they’re not. But I have experienced them.

In those moments where God is so real to me that I would swear we were walking side by side, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not afraid of what I’ve done in the past or what people will do to me in the future, because in those moments all that matters is Him. When all that matters is Him, you don’t have room for fear.

But fear is tricky. It’s stealthy and deceitful. Fear makes us think that we can accomplish something. Fear makes us feel like we have power over our lives, even though all we’re doing is turning our hair gray and making more work for ourselves. And when it comes down to choosing between fear and confidence, many of us choose fear because it gives us something to do. But fear isn’t worth it. It’s hollow and empty and useless.

And deep inside, we know that there’s no comparison between fear and God, but we choose fear anyway because it’s something we can control–or at least that’s what we think.

That’s what the writer’s talking about here. Don’t throw away your confidence in God because you run into trouble. Don’t choose fear over confidence because you can’t control what’s coming. God has a history of keeping His word, and He’s made us a doozy of a promise. But if we don’t hold on to that trust in Him, we won’t see it.

The world will tell you that fearless confidence is foolish, that trusting anyone on that level is just asking for disappointment. But since when were Christ-followers supposed to take the world’s advice?

God knows what’s He’s doing, and we can’t control our lives anyway. Better to trust Him, to live fearless, and keep moving forward.

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The old Roman road next to the remains of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Living for a day that may never come

Creative people are easily distracted. I’m speaking from personal experience. I can have every intention of focusing on one particular thing, and then I see something else (something shiny) and my whole focus goes out the window. And before I know it, I’m off on some rabbit trail that leads me around in circles, and I can’t even remember what I had intended to finish in the first place. Some people are born with focus in their DNA (like engineers), but for others, focus has to be learned and practiced.

The old Roman road next to the remains of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

The old Roman road next to the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Proverbs 4:25-27.

Look straight ahead,
    and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
    stay on the safe path.
Don’t get sidetracked;
    keep your feet from following evil.

The practicality of the Bible always amazes me. It shouldn’t by now, but I think I’m just awed that God cares about our daily lives so much that He would include things like this. It’s good advice.

How often do we get sidetracked? How often do we wander off the obvious road to try to make it down a path we think is better? How often does our gaze deviate from where we should be looking? I hate to admit it, but for me, the answer is frequently.

I don’t have much trouble with looking back, honestly. I try not to live with regrets, but when it comes to looking forward, I tend to look sideways. I focus on what’s way out in front of me rather than what’s straight ahead. I focus on what I think is coming ten years down the road instead of what’s coming tomorrow. And that’s not necessarily bad, but when you live your life planning for ten years from now, the things that are happening today don’t get done.

We all have opportunities in our lives. I’m sure all of us will have opportunities in our lives ten years from now too, but opportunities ten years from now will be shaped by how you handle the opportunities at your feet today. You can’t plan for what’s coming on the other side of the hill because you can’t see it yet.

Instead, focus on what’s right at your feet. Focus on what you can do today. Maybe it’s not as much fun. Maybe it’s not as glamorous. But if it’s in your path, it’s for you to accomplish, and you’ll learn something from it. Make the choice to deal with what’s in front of you before you start daydreaming about ten years down the road.

I’m not saying to forget about the future. That’s foolish. Planning for the future is wise. But there’s a big difference between planning for what might happen and living your life as though you know what will happen. The future matters, but today matters more because today is the foundation of tomorrow.

So stay on the road. Walk straight. Keep moving forward. Don’t get distracted. You’ll get over the hill to the other side eventually, but when you first see the hill you’re not ready for it. You’ve got to deal with the obstacles in your path first. Then, you’ll be ready to face what’s on the other side.

None of us know the future. We can assume certain things will happen, and we can dream, for sure. But living for the future doesn’t help you with today. And if you live for a day that may never come, what has your life been about?

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Live like a messenger who’s about to get shot

What do you do when people lie about you? How do you react when people talk behind your back? How do you respond when people make fun of you?

I’m a people pleaser, and even thinking about the fact that some people don’t like me makes me feel sick inside. I want everyone to like me. I want every person I meet to feel better because they’ve met me. But while that’s a great goal to strive for, not everyone is going to feel that way. I’m going to rub some people the wrong way. Some people will misunderstand me. And it won’t be because of anything I’ve done, necessarily, but their reaction to me will stem more from their personal experiences than my personality. We all make snap decisions about people.

But as a people pleaser, I like to make people happy. So when they’re not, I am crushed. I can’t focus on anything else other than what I could have done differently to make them happy. But is that important? Is making people happy something we need to spend a lot of time on? When it comes to pleasing people, what does God think?

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Scarlet macaw at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:10-12.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

We’re still in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, studying the things that matter to God. The first time I read through this verse this morning, I actually thought I wouldn’t use it. The rest of the verses at the beginning of Matthew 5 were pretty straightforward when you’re trying to discern the things that matter to God, but this one? Not so much. Because peace matters to God. Humility matters to God. Doing the right thing matters to God. But what about persecution? Persecution matters to God? He wants us to be persecuted?

Does He really?

True, the verse says that we’ll be blessed or happy when we are persecuted for doing the right thing, and that goes back to what’s been said many other times–that God cares about us doing the right thing. But I think this verse is about more than that. Like I said above, I’m a people pleaser, so I’m often tempted to make people happy at the expense of what’s right. I don’t want to be persecuted. I don’t want to be mocked. I don’t want to be lied about or have “evil things” said about me.

But guess what? If you’re living for God, the world is going to say mean things about you. If you’re following Christ, you’re going to be made fun of. People are going to make up stuff about you. It’s what they did to Jesus. Why do we expect things to be different for us? The world hasn’t changed.

So what’s the bottom line here? What does this have to do with God’s expectations for us?

Well, the way I see it, we’re supposed to be living a life that’s so obviously sold out to Christ that we welcome mocking and scorn. Not accept it. Not necessarily expect it. But that we don’t let it shake us when it does come.

Why do people make fun of us? Why do Christians become the brunt of so many cruel jokes or the object of so much hate? Well (just being 100% honest here) in America many Christians I’ve met are so full of themselves that they need some persecution to help them get their heads back on straight. But around the world in general, bring a Christian is very different than being a Christian in America. There is true hate for Christ in the world. There are more Christians martyred for their faith today than there were in Rome.

It comes down to the fact that Christians who are truly following Christ shine light in the darkness, and people like darkness. They like to live the way they want to live. They like to do what they want to do regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and when a Christian comes by living according to God’s love, that light reveals to them that they are accountable for how they’re living. The light makes them uncomfortable. And at the crossroads, they are faced with the choice to either turn to Christ or to shoot the proverbial messenger.

What they think doesn’t matter. What they say doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that they react at all because that shows you that you’re touching a nerve, you’re striking a chord, you’re making a difference–at least enough so that it catches their attention. If your life isn’t different enough to cause a stir, you might want to double check your priorities.

I’m not saying that God wants us to seek persecution. That’s not it at all. But what I get from this verse today is that what matters to God is how we live. It matters that we do the right thing, yes. It matters that we love others, yes. It matters that we do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, etc. But it also matters that we live the kind of life that shines a light into the darkest corners of an unbeliever’s heart so that they are faced with the choice to either turn to Christ or turn away from Him.