Getting gifts is awesome, but giving them is better

I spent most of the day yesterday doing something I’ve never done before–helping a friend prepare for a Passover meal she’s hosting at her house for more than 20 people.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a Seder Meal, I seriously recommend it. It’s honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I love how it connects the Old Testament to the New Testament.

For years and years, my friend has held a Seder at her home, but because I was working, I couldn’t help get everything ready. Well this year, thanks to my new working situation, I was free to help all day yesterday and all day today too! And, let me tell you, if you think getting a Seder Meal together sounds easy, you’re wrong. Stand and mince 15 pounds of apples and see if you still feel the same way.

With all the sweeping, mopping, shopping, chopping, stirring, baking, cleaning, etc., it was a full exhausting day–and it was an absolute blast. I wore myself out yesterday, and I can’t wait to jump back into it today. And maybe that sounds insane. Maybe that makes me sound like a glutton for punishment. Or maybe that just illustrates the truth of a principle Jesus established 2,000 years ago.

give_receiveToday’s verse is Acts 20:35.

And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

This is actually Paul talking to the leaders of the Church at Ephesus, and he’s reference something Jesus said in Luke 6:38. It’s one of those Jesus principles that doesn’t make sense at first glance.

How can it be more blessed to give than to receive? If you get something, that’s a blessing. If someone gives you something, that’s a great thing. Gifts are among some of life’s greatest joys. That’s why we have birthdays and Christmas and anniversaries and other celebrations where we give gifts to each other, right?

But what abut the person who gives that gift? You’ve been that person, haven’t you? The one who buys a gift carefully and wraps it painstakingly and waits impatiently to be able to give it to the person you love? Isn’t it a tremendous thrill to watch them open it and get so excited? Wouldn’t you call that a blessing?

See, when you get a gift, it’s awesome. But don’t overlook the joy you feel when you are the gift giver. And that applies to everyday situations in life.

When you do something kind for someone, you’re giving them a gift. When you sacrifice your time or resources to help someone, you’re giving them a gift. And maybe it doesn’t sound like it should work, but trust me, when you drop everything and give all you have to someone just because you can? Friends, there’s no joy like that.

When you stumble across someone who needs help and God tells you to help, don’t ignore it. Don’t shove it away. Do it. I promise, the greatest joy you’ve ever known is waiting on the other side. And they’ll thank you. They’ll thank you over and over, and you’ll almost be embarrassed to say “you’re welcome.” Why? Because you will be so grateful for the opportunity to do something in Jesus’ name that you will feel like the one who got the blessing.

That’s been my experience. Whether it’s time or money or talent or whatever, when I give it to help someone else, I get more out of it than I give.

That’s how giving to God works. He always, always gives back more than you let go of. He always, always pays you back more than you sacrifice. And He pays you back in ways you can’t quantify–in ways you can’t put a price on.

Take that time you don’t think you have to do something kind for someone else. Buy a friend’s groceries. Mow a neighbor’s lawn. Make popsicles for someone’s kids (maybe that’s creepy, but we had a neighbor do that when I was little, and it was the highlight of my life at the time).

Just give.

You’ll get more back than you expect. More than you can contain, actually. And somewhere mixed up in all of it, you’ll also have a great time.

So what are you waiting on? Permission? You’ve got it. So get out there and start helping people.

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Your world won’t end when God says no

Think back to the time when you were a child. Do you remember a time when you wanted something? Not just wanted. Desperately needed it. Were convinced your life would end without it. Maybe it was a new doll. Maybe it was a specific pair of tennis shoes. Maybe it was a second helping of Cheerios.

And your authority figure, be it mom or dad or grandparent, said the word every child hates: No.

Oh, the despair! The inhumanity! Mom won’t buy me the new Magic Potty Baby! Life as I know it is over!

You’d think that’s what a kid believes if you’ve ever seen a kid react to the word No. As grownups, we look at that and laugh. Admit it. When a kid pitches a fit over something silly, it’s funny–at least it is to me.

No, I don’t make a habit of walking around laughing at crying children. I’m uncompassionate, but even I’m not that bad. It’s funny because it’s not a big deal. It’s not anything worth getting upset about, but the kid sees it as the end of the world.

Ever wonder if that’s how God feels about us sometimes?

tantrum-729-620x349Today’s verses are Job 42:2-5.

“I know that you can do anything,
and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
I have some questions for you,
and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”

Job 42 is the last chapter of one of the most difficult books of the Bible for me. It’s a difficult book because basically the conclusion is that God is God and we aren’t–and God has the right to do whatever He wants whenever He wants. He is God. He is justified. He is the only One worthy.

I believe that, but, boy, when you like getting your own way, it’s hard to swallow some days. But in those moments where you don’t get your way, think about a parent and a child.

In a normal, healthy relationship, a parent doesn’t withhold good things from a child out of malice. Parents like to make their children happy. Parents like to give their children things that please them. But is everything that pleases a child good for them?

Children love candy, but they shouldn’t have candy all the time. It’s not good for them. Maybe candy makes them happy, but too much of it will make them sick. It’s not a difficult concept for an adult to grasp, but it might be too much for a child. All the kid needs to understand is that mommy or daddy said no, and it’s for the best.

We wonder why children can’t be okay with that, but are we okay when God’s response is the same?

We all want what we want. You want that job. You want that girlfriend or boyfriend. You want that car. God says no, and we have a meltdown.

I had that experience this week. God obviously intended me to go to jury duty, but I didn’t want to. I had other plans this week, and if I didn’t make them happen, it was going to slow everything else down. In my mind, it was potentially catastrophic.

Oh, and I can get huffy with the best of them. Why me, God? There are hundreds of other people in Reno County who could do this? Why does it have to be me?

Grownup temper tantrum. Right there. Didn’t do me any good, and I went to jury duty and learned some things that I needed to know anyway. God knew that would happen. He knew it was best for me, even if I thought it was a waste of time.

Let’s take it a step further. God says you should save sex for marriage. God says abortion is wrong. God says homosexuality is wrong. And what do we do? That’s right. We adults have grownup temper tantrums and storm off.

If God won’t give us our way, we’ll go someplace where we can do what we want. That’s our thinking, isn’t it? But don’t you see the similarities between that type of behavior and a child denied a second helping of Cheerios before dinner?

We all need to come to the same place Job was at–me especially. We need to wrap our brains around the fact that God is God, and He doesn’t need our permission or approval to act or to delay. And just because He leads us into an uncomfortable or inconvenience circumstance doesn’t mean He’s left us behind. And it doesn’t mean He’s not in control either.

You’re not a child anymore. You don’t want to be treated like a child, so stop acting like one. When life doesn’t go your way, don’t throw a temper tantrum. Face it head on, believing that God knows best (He does, by the way), and one day you’ll understand.

Think about it this way. That thing God’s telling you that you can’t have? Maybe you think it’s the end of your world, but God knows it isn’t.

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Get uncomfortable

Are you comfortable? Just in general. If you are, that’s good. One point some Christians really like to focus on is how we need to live sacrificially for Christ, and I don’t dispute that. But what I’ve found to  be true is that even if you sacrifice for Christ, that doesn’t necessarily equal discomfort.

I guess comfort means different things to different people. God gave us this beautiful Earth as our temporary home. It’s here for us to take care of and to enjoy. The trouble comes when we start to value our comfort more than His commands.

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Relaxing in a comfy chair by the windows of our room at Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:7-9.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

I grew up with comfortable faith, and that’s not necessarily bad. We all should be comfortable with what we believe. But I do think it is possible to get too comfortable.

Religious ideas and concepts–the rituals and traditions that identify us as one denomination or another–are comforting, especially if we’ve grown up with them. Whether it’s the Eucharist, practicing confession, reciting liturgy, or skipping the third verse of a hymn, our traditions in the church sometimes give us a false sense of security–that because we choose to live in such-and-such a way or because we choose to hold to such-and-such tradition, we don’t need to ask the hard questions about faith and relationship with God.

It’s difficult to ask hard questions when you’re too comfortable.

I’m not saying that any of our religious traditions are bad or even wrong. Most of the time there is a symbol behind them that means something or should mean something (except skipping the third verse of the hymn, that one I’ve never been able to figure out). But when we rely on those traditions to define our faith, when those religious rituals become more important to us than growing and building our relationship with Christ, something’s wrong.

Or did you think once you meet Christ, that’s all there is to it?

How many relationships have you had where you just meet someone and you never get to know them better? Can you even call that a relationship? Sure, if you want to meet Christ and never speak to Him again, I guess that’s okay. But is that what you really want? If that’s the case, why meet Him at all?

I love this passage today because it always makes me stop and think about how much emphasis I put on living  “a good Christian life.” Yes, obedience is important and expected. Yes, God has given us certain standards we are to live by in order to keep us under His umbrella of blessing. But you know what?

There’s nothing l can do, no lifestyle I can live, no language I can speak, no accomplishment I can achieve that will make me worthy of the awesome gift God has given me through His grace.  That’s what grace is, people.

It’s overwhelming, completely and entirely unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. We can never deserve it. And I love what Paul says in this passage. Yes, living a “good Christian life” is important, but those things we think make us such good Christians are meaningless.

Read this same passage again in the Message:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

Talking like this makes me uncomfortable. Talking about these sorts of things–throwing away the symbols and traditions and rituals–is uncomfortable because I’m a creature of habit. I don’t particularly like change. I like security and certainty and repeatability.

Again, all those things aren’t bad. But compared to knowing Christ, they’re garbage. Actually, they’re worse than garbage. If my research is correct, what Paul calls them is a word that is offensive in nearly any culture (the word usage is something I’m probably going to post on later this week).

The point is, what do you value more? Your comfort? Your security? The certainty and the repeatability of “that’s the way we’ve always done it”?

Or are you willing to get uncomfortable? Are you willing to get your hands dirty? Are you willing to step away from the lists of rules and the stained-glass rituals that make you think you can do something to earn righteousness? Are you willing to offend people with the truth? Are you willing to change your mind about what following Christ actually looks like and sounds like?

If you are, hold on for the ride. Because much like sacrificing for Christ doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, being willing to get uncomfortable isn’t uncomfortable. It’s the most exciting choice you’ll ever make.

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Does the Golden Rule apply to swine?

I get really tired of doing the right thing all the time. Do you? Some days, I just want to blow everyone off and tell them exactly what to go do with themselves. You can read into that whatever you’d like. Just don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Right? =)

People are very frustrating. And I get very frustrated with people, especially the ones I think should know better. People lose their patience with each other. People don’t respect each other. People don’t put each other first. So what do you do with people who hurt each other? How do you respond to people who refuse to put their own desires on hold to work out a solution with someone they have offended? How you know if you’re supposed to do anything at all?

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair

Piglets at the Kansas State Fair - Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.

Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD.

It’s interesting to me that this is the way the longest chapter in the Bible starts out. Psalm 119 has 176 verses, and most of them are about rejoicing about God’s commands. This morning, in the midst of the situations I’m currently dealing with, I could use some joy. And if the key to being joyful is to follow God’s instructions? Well, sign me up. I want to know what God’s instructions are so that I can be joyful. Because in spite of the dictionary definition, joy isn’t dependant on your circumstances. Joy supersedes any situation. Joy comes from God, from the peace you receive knowing that you have done what God desires.

That being said, what are God’s instructions concerning difficult, frustrating people?

Okay. So I Googled “Bible verses about dealing with difficult people” and there are more than 118,000 results. 118,000 results!

Do you think there are so many verses about dealing with frustrating people because everyone gets frustrated with everyone at some point? Granted, some people are superbly gifted at pissing people off, but in general, we all get under each others’ skins at some point because no one is perfect.

And that’s really what I think dealing with frustrating people is all about: realizing that no one is perfect.

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Even when I want to do good things, I still end up choosing to do something that is wrong. And if I can’t be perfect for 30 minutes, why do I expect other people to have an innate righteousness? Why do I expect other people to be good when I can’t be good?

Earlier this week, one of the verses I read was Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Otherwise known as The Golden Rule. I didn’t blog on it because I thought it has been done too many times. But, seriously, of all God’s instructions, this one ranks pretty high up in dealing with difficult people. We shouldn’t stoop to their level. We shouldn’t try to hurt them back if they’ve hurt us — or if they’ve hurt someone we love.

But at the same time, I think there’s another verse to remember. Matthew 7:6 says: “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” And if you keep reading, Matthew 7:12 may sound familiar: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

So how do you balance it?

How do you find the balance between treating other people the way you want to be treated but not wasting what precious time we have on people who will ultimately turn on us? It’s a good question and a hard one to answer, and I don’t know if I know the answer yet. But I can tell you the first thing to check.

Check your own heart.

Just as the Golden Rule is found in both Matthew 7 and Luke 6, there’s another passage in both books that should probably be mentioned:

Luke 6:41-42 and Matthew 7:3-5

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend,let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

It’s easy to write people off because they frustrate you. It’s easy to ignore people because they’re difficult. But before you take any step toward correcting their behavior or judging them for their actions, you need to look in the mirror and check yourself first.

It may not be pleasant. It may not make sense. But this is one of God’s instructions. And if we want to be joyful, we need to follow God’s instructions and trust that He knows what He’s talking about, even if it sounds backward.

Motivation check

I am writing this devotion from my home office for the first time in about a month because it’s finally cool enough to work up here without sweating profusely. After 50+ days of over 100-degree heat (not just 101 or 102 . . . I’m talking 108 and 113), we Kansas people are rejoicing in the cool weather that came in over Labor day. Personally, I hope it stays this way for a while.

I got to go on many adventures with my high school youth pastor — one of my heroes then and still one of my heroes now. And one of the things he would do on our rougher missions trips was to make sure our attitudes were in the right place by yelling, “Motivation check!” And the proper response from the group was, “Oo-rah!” . . . loosely translated, that means, “We’re all good. Let’s keep going.”

Today’s verse is John 14:23.

23 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.

Sometimes I have to examine my motivation for following Christ. Why have I chosen to live my life this way? Why have I chosen to live the way I do? Is it to make others think I am better than they are? Is it because I’m afraid of the world? Is it because I was raised this way and have never experienced anything else?

They’re good, honest questions I think every Christian needs to ask themselves. As I have discussed in previous posts, I really struggle with pride, so I try to do a motivation check every morning when I wake up. Because if I try to live life for my own edification on my own strength, I’m not going to have a very good day–although recently it’s felt like even living for Christ hasn’t resulted in very good days either, but that could just be the time of year. =)

Jesus is talking to the disciples in this chapter, explaining that He’s leaving them but that once He leaves, His Father will send Someone Else, a Comforter, to live in them and talk to them and pray for them and remind them of the things that He has said.

“All who love me will do what I say.”

I want to live my life because I love Jesus. My motivation needs to be my love for Him and my gratitude to Him because of everything He has done for me. That’s where my motivation needs to come from.

Living the Christian life — a real Christian life — just because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t work. Being motivated by justice doesn’t work because as a Christian in a broken world, you won’t be treated justly and you shouldn’t treat others justly either. As Christians in a broken world, most of the time, we have to act justly in our own life but treat others with mercy . . . like Jesus did. And, like Jesus, oftentimes we’ll be treated unfairly. And if you’re just living like a Christian because it’s the right thing to do, it’s hard to keep living that way when no one else around you is doing the right thing.

I think that’s what so many people get caught up in religions . . . and I’m not talking Islam or Buddhism or Mormonism here. I’m talking about Baptists. I’m talking about people who claim to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven but live in a performance-driven relationship with God. Religion is the most dangerous weapon in Satan’s arsenal because once you’re in it, it’s so hard to get out . . . and you think you’re making God happy. But all religion does is make you feel superior to others and it drives a wedge between you and God because God can only help you if you admit you need help.

The only way to successfully live a real Christian lifestyle is to love Jesus with everything you have. Because when everything falls apart and you feel like you’re all alone and you just want to give up because you’re not strong enough to keep going, you won’t be motivated by bringing glory to yourself . . . you won’t be driven by trying to make yourself look better than everyone else . . . and you won’t be afraid. You’ll just love Him. And loving Him will help you get through the darkest days in your life. Because He never leaves. He’s always there. And He understands.

And He reminds me that this life isn’t all there is, even though some days it feels like it. There is more to life than what we see and feel and know. And even though some days . . . or weeks or months . . . may be rough, they’re just a part of a much much bigger story. And that story has a happy ending.

August was a difficult month for me. Full of frustations, personal and professional. I’m praying that September is better, but if it isn’t . . . consider this my morning’s motivation check.

Oo-rah.

Being grateful for spankings

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:7.

7 As I learn your righteous regulations,
      I will thank you by living as I should!

Isn’t it funny how mixed up our thinking is? I read this today and at first I really didn’t understand it. It seemed to me that this verse was saying that as we learn God’s rules, we should live the way He tell us in gratitude for sharing His rules. What?

I think part of my confusion (other than the fact that I stayed up way too late last night and my coffee isn’t having any effect this morning) stems from the fact that I still have trouble wrapping my head around God’s rules as gifts.

God doesn’t just make stuff up. He created the rules and laws He did to protect us but also to help us live healthy, successful lives, both physically and spiritually. And when we obey His rules, He is able to bless us. So the more we obey His rules, the more He can bless us. I say that’s motivation for learning every rule He has, wouldn’t you?

This is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

7I will praise and give thanks to You with uprightness of heart when I learn [by sanctified experiences] Your righteous judgments [Your decisions against and punishments for particular lines of thought and conduct].

So, in effect, what this verse is saying that as we live and break God’s rules, God will punish us . . . and when He does, we need to be grateful for His discipline.

Wow.

That’s a tough one. Because I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time being grateful when I am being punished for something I did wrong. Do I understand that punishment is necessary? Most of the time. But am I grateful for it? Pretty much, no.

But then I got to thinking about growing up. My parents ran a pretty strict household . . . at least, that’s probably what a lot of other parents would think. Really all my mom and dad did was to expect my brother and I to obey the rules. They explained them. And they enforced them. And most of the time, both my brother and I understood the consequences of breaking them . . . and sometimes we did it anyway . . . . Well, maybe I shouldn’t say we. I should probably say I. I was the stubborn, strong-willed, independent child.

And whenever I broke the rules, I was punished. Yes, we spanked in our household. No, I wasn’t scarred for life. Because spankings in our home weren’t spur of the moment things. It wasn’t a simple strike. It wasn’t a moment where Mom hit us in the grocery store and then moved on. Spankings in our home were a production. They took time. A lot of time. First I had to spend some time thinking about what I had done (which most of that, I admit, I spent wallowing in rebellious muttering). Then, Mom came in and explained why she had to spank me, because she loved me too much to let me misbehave. Then came the spanking, which didn’t actually hurt. I think it was the shame that I had disappointed them that caused more pain than that silly little paddle that had my name written on it.

As a child, I understood why my parents disciplined me to a limited extent. I knew the Bible told them that they had to discipline their children, and I knew my parents lived by the Bible. So I got that. And I understood that they loved me. I never doubted that. But I didn’t grasp the concept of the danger a misbehaving child faces if they continue undisciplined until I got older.

Now, I don’t have children so maybe I shouldn’t express my thoughts about this. However, I am child. And I have been a child of my parents, and I am still a child of God. And even though I don’t have children of my own, I know what the Scripture says about raising them because I have lived it.

Sparing discipline of your children for whatever reason is so dangerous. Kids growing up in the world today face choices that will utterly destroy them. And you shouldn’t expect your kids to know the right thing to do automatically. If anything, they will automatically know the wrong thing to do. And God gave them to you to teach them His rules. And if you don’t teach them His rules, they will break them. If your kids don’t take you seriously, how will they ever learn to take God seriously?

And that’s when I started realizing why we should be thankful when God disciplines us. He’s not some overbearing principal in the sky, who’s waiting around a corner to slap our hands with a ruler when we speak out of turn.

He knows the consequences of our actions. He can see where every road will take us. He can see what will happen to us if we disobey. And He is trying with everything He has to keep us off that path because when we ignore Him, it’s like running into a burning house and just waiting for it to collapse on top of us.

So I understand now why David wrote that in gratitude for God’s discipline in his life — discipline that hurts but always occurs to protect us from ourselves — he chose to live the way he should. And I’m praying that I can do that. Because I understand why God corrects me, why He discplines me. He loves me. And just like my parents, He loves me too much to let me do wrong and get away with it. And when I can wrap my head around that concept and learn to love His rules more than my stubborn, strong-willed, damaging indpendence, He will bless me more than I can take in.