Being authentic is about how you listen

When I was a kid, keeping up appearances was pretty normal. Not that you were expected to lie about having a bad day or any of the tough stuff that was going on in life. Not at all. It was just better if you didn’t burden other people with it. That was sort of the general environment of most churches I attended as a younger person. I mean, if you were really having a bad time, you could talk to a pastor or a deacon, but just regular old church-goers didn’t really have the time or the resources to help. That’s just the way it was.

But church in today’s world is a little different. I’m sure there are plenty of people who won’t talk about the difficult things in their lives, but it’s expected now that everyone will be transparent. You walk into a church or a school or a business, and you are who you are. And to a certain extent, that’s somewhat liberating. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to put on a brave face. You can just be yourself.

But what does “being yourself” actually look like? What does it mean? Can you really be 100% transparent with other people, or do you need to draw the line somewhere?

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

New baby lamb, only a few days old, at the Sedgwick County Zoo

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:14-17.

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Being who you are is more than how you dress or how you speak or how you walk. You are more than the clothes you wear or the food you eat or the places you’ve been or the number of letters after your name or the complexity of your job description. That’s not who you are.

I used to be all about me and what I wanted. And even after I chose to follow Jesus, I still wanted my own way most of the time (sometimes I still do!). But over the years, God’s really taught me that I need to be about Him instead of me. The new life He gave me isn’t focused on what I want or what I need or how I can get the most out of life. No, my New Life is about what God wants me to do and how He wants me to do it.

But does having New Life and being a New Creation mean I shouldn’t talk about my problems? Not at all. One of the reasons why Christ-followers are encouraged (commanded, really) to gather together is to pray for each other, to encourage each other, to help each other. And nobody can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong.

But it does mean that you’re humble. You see your troubles from a new perspective. You see them as lessons that God is allowing you to experience so that you can learn something. And you recognize that God has every right to do whatever He wants with your life, without your permission.

That’s what it means to have faith. Authentic faith.

If you are a Christ-follower, you are new. Period. You aren’t the same person you were yesterday, or you shouldn’t be. God is changing you every day, the longer you follow Him, teaching your heart, teaching your soul, how to live the kind of life He wants. And you’re either listening to Him or ignoring Him.

Authenticity isn’t complaining. It’s not pointing fingers. It’s not getting up in arms about everything you think is unfair in your life. I mean, if that’s where you are right now, that’s fine, and you need to talk about it. And you should be honest about the way you feel. But if you want to be an authentic Christ-follower, be honest about what God is teaching you right now. Maybe it’s a good lesson. Maybe it’s a hard lesson. But you know it’s a lesson, and you know you need to learn it.

If you’re authentic, you’ll accept that you’ve still got a long way to go before you become the person God wants you to be. And you’ll be thankful for how far God has brought you, because you know you’re not the person you used to be. And if you’re struggling to understand why God is allowing you to go through these difficult times, bring it up. Ask someone. Please, please ask someone. Don’t hesitate to find another Christ-follower and tell them about where you are in your life and how you’re struggling. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be willing to listen to a godly answer.

It’s one thing to talk. It’s something else to listen and do something about it.

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Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Old thoughts don’t belong in a new life

The brain is a miracle. Have you ever stopped to marvel at it? It’s the most complex computer ever created, and even though we use it every day (some of us less than others), we still don’t understand why it does what it does most of the time. My brain thinks all the time, and mostly I can keep my mouth shut, though when I’m tired who knows what I’ll say.

Most of the time, my thoughts are positive, constructive, helpful, but on rare occasions, they’re the opposite. Sometimes I just wake up and I’m in a bad mood. Sometimes I crawl out of bed and have to face the world when all I want to do is hide from it. And it’s on those days when it’s important to have some kind of rein on your thoughts, because you live what you think. Your life is a reflection of your thoughts, maybe not immediately. You can have bad thoughts and still keep up the appearance of a good life, but if you have lived a life infused with bad thinking, your actions will reveal it.

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:1.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

Our busy, crazy, out-of-control lives make it really easy to focus our thoughts on everything that’s going wrong. Even our life circumstances seem to conspire to get us to think about the unfairness or the injustice we face daily. But as followers of Christ, what should we think about? That’s an important question to ask yourself.

The Bible is the ultimate how-to book. It has everything you need to live a life that’s pleasing to God and satisfying for you. It’s not an easy read. It’s painful most of the time, but if you really take it in and build your life on it, not only will you have peace with God, you’ll have peace with yourself.

One of the topics the Bible tackles frequently is our thought life. I love that phrase: thought life. We all have one. We have our life that we live where everyone can see us, and then we have our thought life that we live in silence, in shadow, in secret from everyone but God. Some people’s thoughts would shock you. What people think in the anonymity of their own minds would rock your world. And sometimes I forget that God can hear me, and honestly that’s embarrassing. It’s worse than cussing at a bad driver when I have a guest in my car.

When we choose to follow Christ, He gives us a new life, and part of that new life is having power to make choices like He does. As a follower of Christ, you can choose not to sin. You can know what sin is and choose not to do it. Part of that comes down to what you’re thinking about. You have power over your thoughts. Just because a random spark of an idea pops into your mind, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. That doesn’t mean it’s something you should spend a lot of time focusing on. Just because you thought it doesn’t make it true or real or good, and you can choose whether to keep thinking about it or discard it.

As Christ-followers, our thoughts should reflect Christ. What we focus on should be the things that last forever. We have new life; why should we nurse old thoughts?

So the next time a thought pops into your brain, examine it. Don’t just cling to it because it’s your thought. Don’t mull over it like it’s something precious inherently. Identify it. Compare it to Scripture. Is it something God would think about? Is it something you would be ashamed to tell Jesus you were thinking about (even though He already knows)? Is it helpful? Is it encouraging? Does it make you better for thinking it?

If it’s a thought that tears you down, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that belittles someone’s existence, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that demonstrates rebellion toward God or other authorities, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that in any way contradicts what God says is right in the Bible, don’t think it. You don’t have to. You have power over your thoughts, so exercise it and think about things that will help you.

It starts with your thinking. Letting your thoughts rot with hurtful, hateful, selfish things will make you a hurtful, hateful, selfish person, and no Christ follower should live like that. Set your sights–focus your thoughts–on the things that are real, the things that matter, the things that will last forever. Before you know it, your life will be focused on the things that are real, the things that matter, the things that will last forever.

Dead sunflower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New life, old choices

What does it mean to live a new life? The Bible is full of examples and statements about becoming a new person and living a new life and all that jazz, but what does it actually mean? How do you actually do it? Do you just trade out your current life for a new, shiny one?  It’s a great thought, being able to stop living the life that you’re living and move on to something better. But is that really how it works?

Dead sunflower - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dead sunflower – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:1.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

This is just one example of many verses that talk about living a new life. When I was little, I really didn’t understand the concept. I didn’t really understand what was wrong with my life that I had to start living a new one. It seemed fine to me.

Of course, as an adult, I can see the parts of my life that I wish I could change. But you don’t get to just switch lives, like in those “reality” TV shows where two different moms trade places or whatever. You only have one life, and that doesn’t change. What changes is your perspective and your motivation.

I love the Message paraphrase. It often grasps in concept what the original language is trying to communicate better than the literal translations, mainly because Greek is so complex that it’s impossible to exactly translate it into an awkward, indolent, lovable language like English without losing some meaning. But this is the same verse (in context) in the Message, verses 1 and 2 actually:

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

I think where a lot of the “new life” confusion comes from is that our American culture has been so steeped in Eastern mysticism that we get the idea that something magical happens when we accept Christ. Maybe we’re not expecting bright lights or ringing bells, but many times I know people do expect to feel something. And they are disappointed when they don’t.

The honest truth about following Christ is that there’s nothing magical about it. It’s a simple choice.

People sin. We do things that make us imperfect. We’ve been imperfect since our first Father, Adam, chose to disobey God’s Law. And because God is perfect, we can’t have a relationship with Him. Perfection can’t remain perfect if it’s tainted by imperfection. But God loved us so much, that He sent Christ, His own perfect Son, to die for us, in our place, so we could be made perfect. So when we choose to believe that Christ did this for us, Christ gives us His righteousness so that when God see us, He doesn’t see our sin, He sees Christ’s perfection. That’s how we’re able to have a face-to-face relationship with God. Through Christ and Christ alone.

A simple choice.

The choices that follow, however, aren’t that simple. Because even though God has forgotten our sins, right now we still have them and we will continue to struggle with them until we die or until Christ comes back for us. Part of being a Christian means that you have a choice, to sin or not to sin. Christ gives you the power to choose not to sin. Before you had Christ, you didn’t have that power.

Living a new life means choosing not to sin.

That’s what the whole concept of “new life” is. You aren’t stuck living the same old life you always were. You have the power through Christ and through the Holy Spirit to choose not to sin. It’s all about choice.

Well then, how do you make choices?

Choice is determined by motivation and perspective. That’s what this verse is talking about. Living a new life means turning away from the things you use to pursue. It means stepping away from the situations and circumstances in the world and getting involved in what Christ is doing. It means paying attention to where God is working and jumping in with both feet. It means learning Scripture and applying it to your life. It means seeing the world and your life through Jesus’ eyes.

If you have new life, that means you have a new perspective. Or at least, you should have a new perspective. Because now you can see the world and everything in it (including yourself) through the filter of real Truth.

So, Christian, when you’re tempted to backbite and bicker and lie and cheat — when you’re tempted to grumble and complain and focus on the negative, recognize that those are old choices. Those are old perspectives, stemming from old motivation. And even though you are free to choose those things, you don’t have to. And they don’t add anything to you or to anyone else. It’s so much better to make a new choice, one that matches your new life. It makes all the difference in the world.