Life doesn’t wait if you take a wrong step

I’ve been walking two miles a day since April or so, with a few breaks in between for vacations and things of that nature. Kansas weather is a little fickle for walking outside, so to keep to a consistent schedule, I use the treadmill downstairs. It’s a pretty nice set up. I get down there, fire up the treadmill, switch on my audiobook, and walk.

Well, yesterday morning, I reminded myself that clumsiness runs in my family. I took a wrong step. My left foot stepped down on the guard, while my right foot was still on the belt. So, yes, my left foot stayed in one place, my right foot ran out behind me, and I tried my darnedest to do the splits.

I didn’t fall. If we’d gotten it on camera, I’m sure it might have even looked graceful. Because somehow I regained my equilibrium and jumped back on the belt, trying to regain my footing. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t get my feet under me, so I just let the belt carry me off the treadmill. And by that time I’d made such a horrendous racket, my poor parents were upstairs thinking I’d passed out or something.

It was a good reminder for me to pay attention to where I put my feet, even when I’m walking on a treadmill.

EE8A129965Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 9:24.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!

Like a treadmill doesn’t stop if you put your foot down in the wrong place, life doesn’t stop when you fall down either. It feels like it should. When you take a tumble and hit the dirt, you feel like your life should stop. When you get hurt or when someone you love dies or when you run into trouble that shocks you or scares you, it feels like the world stops spinning. But it doesn’t.

Life moves forward. It goes on. And it will go on without you. It’s a harsh reality to accept, but it’s the truth.

I remember my first year at college. I went to a school a thousand miles away from home. When I came home for Christmas after my first semester, I was shocked at how everything had changed. My church had changed. My friends had changed. My family had changed. Life went on without me being there.

Change isn’t bad. We need to remember that and embrace it. Change is normal. So don’t let it catch you off guard. But some changes will hit you harder than others. Some things in life will knock your legs right out from under you.

That unbeatable diagnosis. That painful relationship. That bad decision. Something will throw you for a loop, and before you know it, you’ll be doing splits on a treadmill, one foot locked in place and the other one carried away by life’s current. And you’ll probably end up on your face. It’s at that point you have a choice.

You can stay down, or you can get up again. When you run to win, you get up when you fall down. When you’re chasing a prize, you pick yourself up after you stumble. When you have a purpose for doing what you’re doing, you don’t give up. That’s what this verse is about. It’s about living life for a reason.

You will fall. Nobody’s perfect. You may even fall more than once, but just remember why you’re running. Remember who you’re running for. As Christ-followers, we’re not after an earthly prize. We’re in this race to finish strong in the name of Jesus.

So get up. Dust yourself off. Get back on that treadmill. Run to win.

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One wrong step doesn’t mean you have to fall

The internet and media outlets are overflowing with examples of how people have made really bad choices, and it seems to be getting worse every day. I swear, every day there’s a new tragedy to report on. Every day, someone makes the headlines for a horrible decision he or she made–sometimes recently, sometimes in the past.

And what I find interesting (maybe sad is more like it) is that the majority is quick to condemn. If the person in question screwed up royally and hurt other people or betrayed someone or did something that popular culture says is wrong, just about everybody is ready to jump on the bandwagon and talk about how evil that person is. And it doesn’t matter who they are or where they came from or even what they did. There’s comfort in following the crowd. There’s security in saying the same things everybody around you says, whether you have all the facts or not.

The truth is much more challenging–much less comfortable. Because maybe we haven’t done “what they did” but we’ve done something similar, and if we were to put ourselves in that person’s shoes, how would we want to be treated? Kind of tough when you think about it like that. Gives new meaning to “but for the grace of God” right? Because I’m not special, and neither are you. We all have things in our lives that we wish weren’t there, but that doesn’t change the way God feels about us.

TightropeToday’s verses are Psalm 66:16-20.

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Everybody screws up. Nobody escapes it. And that’s not an excuse for sin. If you sin against God and choose to go against what He says is right, you are responsible for your choices. But God doesn’t favor one person over another. He doesn’t love one race more than another. And there’s nothing of us can do to make Him love us more or less than He already does.

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that because I know what I’ve done. I know what I think, what I feel in my heart of hearts. I know the kind of person I am, and it’s really difficult to accept that someone like God would love me in spite of me. But He does. And I know He does. The Bible says so, and I tend to agree with the Bible when it says stuff.

But the Bible does make it clear that while sin doesn’t stop God from loving us, our attitude toward it will keep Him from hearing us. And our attitude is up to us.

You can call your sin what it is–evil and contrary to who God is. Or you can make excuses for it. You can turn away from it and despise it and seek to never go back to it. Or you can keep dipping your toes in it because it’s fun. What attitude do you think God is going to pay attention to?

It’s not about what you’ve done. It’s about your attitude about what you’ve done. It’s the disposition of your heart toward the wrong you’ve done in your life. Are you sorry for it? Do you want to change? Do you want God to bless you? Do you want God to hear your prayers? Call your sin what it is, and don’t be so quick to jump on other people who’ve fallen off that same proverbial wagon.

We’re all in the same boat down here, people. Nobody lives on a pedestal–not really. We’re all beggars just looking for bread to eat. And God’s within reach, offering a feast to us free of charge, if only we’ll reach out and take it.

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Give grace away because nobody is perfect

How often do you get frustrated with people? I wish I could tell you I was the epitome of patience and forgiveness. But I’m not. Not even on my best days.

Some people just have a gift for finding every button I have, and they seem to thrill at pushing it over and over and over again. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose. Most of the time, I don’t think they even realize that they’re doing it.

Seriously. Think about it. Not every person who drives you nuts is a jerk. It could be that they are oblivious to how they are bothering you, and in that case, it’s in everyone’s best interest to talk it out.

What it really comes down to is understanding that nobody’s perfect. We say that. We say it about ourselves. We say it about each other. But do we really believe it?

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Swan on the water at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:13.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we lived in a world where nobody screwed up? Where everyone loved each other? Where no one hurt each other?

That world is coming one day, but it’s not here yet. For now, we’re locked into this world where people with the best of intentions still end up walking all over other people. People who may just be trying to do the best they can end up hurting people around them. People who are just people make a wrong move and cause irreparable damage.

And what can be done about it? Well, if something wrong was actually done, then learn from it. If mistakes were made, correct them. But what if there was no mistake? What if there was no wrong? What if the only thing two people have against each other is their personalities? What do you do then?

Is one person’s personality wrong?

People come in all shapes and sizes and moods and shades and flavors, and God made them all that way for a reason. He’s got a special plan in mind for every person He’s made (whether they accept that plan is up to them), and while we all do need to do our part, just because your personality doesn’t mesh with someone else’s doesn’t make them wrong. And it doesn’t make you wrong either.

Some people just naturally rub each other the wrong way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t love them. That doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them when they drive you crazy. Believe it or not, you probably drive them crazy too. Remember that next time they have you climbing the walls.

The plain and simple truth? Everybody needs grace. Not one person is sufficient to make it through this life without God’s grace. And if God is good enough and big enough and great enough to give us grace for the things that we have done, don’t you think we can give grace to the people around us?

Now, giving grace doesn’t mean you restore someone who screwed up to a position of high authority right away. That goes into trust issues. But what it does mean is that you don’t hold it over their heads. You don’t keep bringing up their screw-ups and you move on.

That’s what God does for us, and that’s what we should do for each other.

So the next time that family member or coworker or fellow church attender does something to make you angry, take a moment and ask yourself if he knows he’s doing it. And if you feel strong enough, ask him about it. If he knows that what he’s doing drives you crazy and he does it anyway, you might want to rethink that relationship. But most likely, he won’t have any idea.

And in that case? Offer some grace. Forgive him and let it go. Life is too busy and too big and too awesome to spend your life fretting over tiny little upsets.

Give grace away. Everyone needs it.

Beautiful ripe peach on the tree, Entz Family Orchard near Whitewater, KS

Being a “not quite ripe yet” Christian

I get really frustrated with myself a lot of times. Because I can get into the habit of thinking I know everything. I know I don’t really know everything. But I can convince myself that I’ve got a pretty good handle on the Christian life.

I’m not saying you can’t ever get there. I know people who have. But I’m not there yet. I still stumble and fall on my face far more frequently than I care to admit. And then I add pride to my tab, telling myself I’ve got a particular sin by the tail just before it reaches back and bites me.

Beautiful ripe peach on the tree, Entz Family Orchard near Whitewater, KS

Beautiful ripe peach on the tree, Entz Family Orchard near Whitewater, KS

Today’s verses are Romans 7:21-25.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Paul wrote this, and he was probably one of the greatest Christ-followers who lived. If he didn’t have it all the way sorted out, there’s no way I do.

You’ve all heard everyone admit to being “not perfect,” right? Everybody says it. Nobody’s perfect. And that’s obvious. You’d think something so obvious wouldn’t bear repeating so often, but we do it anyway in some lame attempt to excuse our shortcomings.

But the truth we need to understand is that once you’ve chosen to follow Christ, you have two natures living in you. You have your human nature–the fallen nature, the one that desires to live for self and do what feels good. And then you have the Holy Spirit and your redeemed nature, the part of you that has been resurrected to communicate with God. These two natures are constantly at war with each other, so, Christ-follower, if you ever feel torn at times, now you know why.

Every day is a battle between our fallen nature and our redeemed self. There’s a war raging inside us between our two natures, and then there is a war raging outside us, the spiritual forces of heaven and hell fighting for our attention. But the choice to obey one rather than the other is up to us. The choice to focus on one rather than the other is in our court.

And that goes for people who’ve been Christians for a long time too. Don’t think that just because you’ve been “saved” since you were young that you’re immune. Oh, no. If anything, you’re more at risk than someone who’s recently come to Christ. If you’ve known Jesus for most of your life, you’ll be tempted to rely on your own knowledge or understanding of a situation. You’ll say you’re trusting God, but you’re really just doing things they way you want to do them.

No one is safe. No one escapes the desire to be the one calling the shots. We all want it, and some of us get it, only to realize too late that we aren’t qualified to call the shots.

Don’t ever delude yourself into thinking you’ve got the Christian life figured out. God’s bigger picture for all of our lives is too big to wrap our heads around. The moment you start thinking you’ve got it made is the moment God is going to have to remind you that you don’t. And, trust me, that is not a fun place to be.

So the next time you’re feeling confident in your own abilities or your accomplishments, take a moment to chill out. Remember who gave you everything you’ve got. Remember who is actually responsible for getting you where you are today. Maybe you worked for it, yes, but who gave you the strength to work?

Give God the credit He’s due. Keep your perspective straight. Remember that we are all just sinners saved by grace. Not one of us is better than another. None of us have this down.  And all of us–even those who’ve been Christians forever–still have a lot of growing up to do.

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.