Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

More to life than success

God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t prefer one person to another person. Yes, He has a closer relationship with some than others, but that’s not His doing. I really believe that we all could be people after God’s own heard like David was if we would try. And, yes, the Jews are the people God chose to use throughout history (and they are His chosen people), but He doesn’t love the Jews more than He loves any other people.

God is fair. He treats everyone the same. And that’s good to know. Right?

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise in the trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:45.

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

I think Christians get the wrong idea some times. I think we live with the assumption that just because we’ve placed our faith in Christ, that means our lives will never go wrong. I think a lot of Christians proliferate the idea that once you accept Christ into your life, all your problems disappear. I know that’s what Christian media does.

Name a Christian book or movie that portrays a Christian character who gives his or her life to God at the end and gives the impression that everything is going to be fine. Happily ever after endings. Can you think of one? It shouldn’t be hard because that’s about all Christian media communicates. Accept God and your life will be perfect. And that’s not true. Most of the time, when you accept Christ, your life gets harder than it was before.

According to this verse, God treats every person on earth the same way, regardless of whether they believe in Him or not. He lets the sunlight shine on believers and nonbelievers. He lets rain fall on believers and nonbelievers. He blesses both, in spite of the fact that neither group gives Him the credit He deserves most of the time.

So why do Christians get upset when nonbelievers succeed?

I know a lot of people who don’t believe in Christ, and I consider them my friends. They are very successful people, and since they don’t believe in God, they credit themselves for their success. And that’s fine. Because they don’t believe. They don’t know any better. And it’s not my job to correct them. But it’s easy to get caught up in wondering why God allows nonbelievers to succeed when I am stuck in one place and can’t move forward.

It’s frustrating because God treats everyone fairly whether they believe or not. And Christians have expectations while nonbelievers don’t. It’s not that Christians have rules, but we are called to live a certain way. And I think the most frustrating part of watching a nonbeliever succeed is knowing that he or she doesn’t have the same expectations on their lives as a Christian does. Christians are supposed to love each other more than themselves. We’re supposed to sacrifice for each other. We’re supposed to focus more on the life to come than the life we have now. And nonbelievers don’t have to do any of that.

A Christian who sacrifices success because that’s what God has called them to do will encounter the same struggles as someone who doesn’t believe. What point is there in giving my life to Christ if I don’t get any of the perks, right? If I’m going to be stuck in one place and have to give up succeeding because I care more about the people around me than my own dreams, why should I turn my life over to God? Because He won’t treat me any differently either way. And as a weak-minded, puny human being, that doesn’t sound very fair to me.

But that’s because we aren’t looking at it from God’s perspective.

Yes, it is frustrating to watch someone who doesn’t believe succeed in life. Yes, it’s irritating to give your dreams to God and have to sit on them until He says it’s time while you watch people with no regard for spiritual things push forward and succeed, but success in this life is temporary and full of potholes. We get so caught up in watching other people succeed, and we get so upset and frustrated because the most successful people in life aren’t Christians, that we forget the entire point of the Christian life: we weren’t designed for this life.

This life isn’t all we have. This life is just a proving ground.

You can seek success in this life, but what good is it going to do you when you die? That’s why the Bible says we’re supposed to store up treasures in heaven. We’re supposed to be living for the life that’s coming, not for the life that we have now. As a Christian, our perspective needs to be for eternity. We only get 80 or 90 years on Earth. Eternity is forever.

So does it really matter if a nonbeliever gets a promotion and you don’t? Does it really matter if a non-Christian achieves success and gets famous and you don’t? Does it matter at all?

Why should it matter? What is it going to change in the grand scheme of life?

Not much.

So should we give up? Should we not even try to succeed in this life? I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying we need to get our perspectives straight. We need to stop living for the next promotion or the next pay increase, and we need to make the most of the time we have down here to prepare for the life that’s promised to us after we die. And we need to start treating nonbelievers the same way God does: the same way we treat believers. And you never know. If a nonbeliever witnesses a believer being fair? Maybe they’ll grasp the fact that there’s more to life than success.

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Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The difference between a paradox and a contradiction

I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I’m not really smart enough to be a nerd, though, but I’m satisfied with my geek status. I love science fiction. Don’t ask me why; I’m just wired that way. I grew up with Star Trek. I adore Stargate (in spite of the fact that I have been openly mocked for enjoying the movie by those less geeky than myself), and I’ve spent far too much time staying up watching both SG-1 and Atlantis. I love the concepts and the scenarios science fiction allows a writer to explore without offending people.

I love paradoxes. I love being able to examine concepts or ideas or situations that don’t exist but do. Probably the most famous science fiction concept is the grandfather paradox, which pretty much confuses everyone. But it’s a concept that can’t exist even though it could exist. Each possible conclusion seems to negate itself while at the same time making it possible for it to occur in the first place. A paradox. Something that is but isn’t. A statement that seems self-contradictory but actually expresses truth.

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Moth on the gravel road - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:4.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Does that make sense to you? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense to me. This verse is pretty much saying that people who are sad should be happy because they’ll be comforted. Well, to me, needing comfort because I’m sad means I’m sad. Needing comfort because I’ve lost someone or some thing indicates that I’m exactly opposite of happy.

This statement is a contradiction.

Or is it?

Many people believe that the Bible is full of contradictions, possibly because of verses like this, verses that state the impossible as though it is something that is possible. This verse is an example.

To me, I see this verse as a paradox, not a contradiction. Stating that people who are mourning should be happy seems contradictory, but this verse isn’t about being contradictory. It’s talking about how we should handle loss.

If the world were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. If we were perfect, this verse would be contradictory. But the world is broken, and so are we. So what does that mean for this verse and for the countless others like it that speak contradictory truth?

Contradiction is about opposition. If you’re being contradictory, your own goal is to argue. Contradictions state the opposite, whether it is true or not.

Paradox is about truth. And we can’t full wrap our minds around it because we can’t fully understand truth. People are limited. Truth isn’t.

And when something seems contradictory, the first aspect you need to examine is whether or not it’s grounded in truth. I can tell you the sky is green and the grass is blue all day long, but all the evidence says I’m lying (although some folks I know will insist that the sky has no color). I can tell you that you don’t need a degree to get a good job even if all the experts say that’s false. I can tell you any number of statistics or data sets that contradict anything you can think of, but if it’s something I just made up, it has no basis or foundation in truth.

That is a contradiction.

But a paradox?

God blesses people who are sad because they will be comforted.

What truth is that based in? Well, the rest of Scripture to start with. The Bible is full of other promises that God has made to bless and protect people who are experiencing a time of grief. But if you aren’t one who trusts the Bible, look at the experiences of people who follow Christ. While they may not want to relive their time of grief and mourning, they wouldn’t trade it for the world because in those times God became more real to them than ever before.

I guess my point this morning is that when we run into verses in scripture or when we encounter moments in our lives that don’t make sense, we shouldn’t just check out. When bad things happen, we shouldn’t give up on God, and we shouldn’t give up on following the path He’s laid out in front of us. Because He’s doing something. We may not be able to see it, and I know we can’t understand it, but He never stops moving. And all His plans are good.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it untrue.

 

Can Batman and the Joker ever be friends?

Can someone be your friend while he or she is still your enemy? Is that even possible?

Friend and enemy are diametrically opposed terms, even in the dictionary and the thesaurus. If you want an antonym of the word friend, usually that word is enemy. They are polar opposites. So is it possible to be a friend and an enemy at the same time? And I’m not talking about enemies who’ve called a truce either. I’m talking about someone who has enemies suddenly deciding to make them his friends.

We would call that person an idiot, wouldn’t we?

Enemies can’t be trusted. That’s what makes them enemies. Enemies are always out for themselves. They only care about their own interests, and they are usually willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want, despite the cost to others around them, despite the cost to their own friends.

Pursuing a friendship with your enemy is a bad idea.

What would happen if the U.S. pursued a friendship with Al-Quaeda? Or with Osama Bin Laden? What would happen if we pursued a frienship with North Korea? Or Libya? We’d probably be blown to smithereens. They’re our enemies. They hate us, want to destroy us, desire to anihilate us.

Okay. Better example. What would happen if Batman pursued a friendship with the Joker? (Sorry, I’ve been reliving my childhood watching old episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, so this crazy example is fresh in my mind.) Okay? These guys are enemies. They hate each other. The Joker is always looking for ways to hurt Batman, and Batman is always chasing him to lock him away in Arkham Asylum. Batman doesn’t ever forgive him either. They are bitter enemies. Their relationship is a picture of the consummate struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, order and chaos.

Could they ever be friends? Would Batman ever sacrifice one of his own in order to pursue a friendship with the Joker? Could you see Batman allowing Robin or Nightwing or Batgirl to die for the sole purpose of friendship with the Joker?

No. Freakin’. Way. It wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen.

Now, I know both of their character designs are WAY more complex than that. I could spend a whole day just blogging on the two of them.

But my point is that someone who is good shouldn’t ever pursue a real friendship with someone who has no intention of being good. It dangerous for them. It’s dangerous for the people they love. And there’s no point to it in either case.

So what do you make of Romans 5:10?

10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.

God restored our frienship with Him while we were still enemies.

Did you get that?

Not after we were friends. Not while we were thinking about becoming friends. Not after we called a truce. While we were still enemies.

The human race is God’s enemy. God entrusted us with amazing gifts, and we destroyed them all. He gave us the Earth, and we have blown it up and plowed it under. He gave us our bodies, and we misused them. He gave us our families, and we neglected them. Everything we have, God gave to us, and how do we treat it? We either let it rot or we tear it up and throw it in the trash because we think we deserve better.

Yet, while we were God’s enemies, God sacrificed His Son to restore our friendship.

Is He crazy? Didn’t He know that we’re His enemies? Didn’t He realize that He can’t trust us? Didn’t He understand what we are capable of?

Yes. And He did it anyway.

I’m not God’s enemy anymore. I’m one of His delinquent children who sometimes gets it right. By chosing to believe in Jesus, I became a part of His family, but I still get life wrong more often than not.

But God has extended the offer of friendship to people who are still His enemies, the people who don’t believe. Why? Because He loves us.

If you have ever created anything (a work of art, a manuscript, a poem, a computer program, whatever) and poured your heart and soul into it, can you hate it? If you created it perfect, the way you wanted it to be, with no mistakes and no flaws, and you felt that it was a perfect representation of who you are, could you despise it? Man, I have a few manuscripts that aren’t near perfect, but I worked really hard on them and feel like they’re the best I could do . . . . and I love them. I would never abandon them.

That’s what God did with us. He created us perfect; we were the ones who threw it away. But He still wants that relationship with us back, and He was willing to do whatever it took to restore us to the place where we could be friends again.

And I don’t know about you, but friendship with God is something that I don’t take lightly. It’s not really normal for you to call up the Maker of the Universe and chat for a little while, but I do it every morning while I’m driving to work.

It doesn’t make sense for God to love us the way He does, especially when most of the time we are only out for ourselves. But I’m so thankful that He does.

I’m still 100% certain that Batman and the Joker will never make up. But as incredibly awesome as Batman is (he’s my favorite of all time), I’m glad He’s not God. Aren’t you? =)

Return to the land of the living

Good morning, everyone. Yes, I am still alive, and today I feel more like a person and less like a zombie. Wow. It’s been years since I have been that sick. I hated to miss a post, but yesterday I was so out of it I don’t think it would have made any sense.

I don’t think I’m making sense yet, but I am going to post something, mostly because the verse today is challenging.

Matthew 5:43-45

 43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies![b] Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Part of what makes me love Jesus so much was that He was always challenging the normal way of thinking. He was a rebel with a cause, determined to show people that the religious authorities of the time were fake and that God wanted something real.

This verse is a good example of the paradox of Christianity. Love your enemies. A different translation says to bless those who curse you and to do good to those who hate you. Somewhere else it says to pray for those who use you and persecute you.

As believers, we are to love the people who hate us and discriminate against us. 

Does that sound crazy to anyone else?

I also think of the Beatitudes. What sense do those make? The poor are blessed. The sick are blessed. The weak are blessed?

It’s a paradox.

And probably the biggest one of all — that we have to be childlike to enter the kingdom of heaven. Wouldn’t you think our maturity and our experience in faith and life sets us apart from children? Not according to Christ. According to Him, we have to be just like little children to enter heaven, coming to Him for everything, trusting Him that He knows what He’s doing.

Show me an adult who truly trusts someone else. Adults have trust issues. Children don’t (although in our society, that has changed).

We can learn a lot from children. I can tell you honestly that I learned more from the teenagers I worked with than I ever did from anyone my own age.

I guess what I got out of the verse this morning is just a reminder that as Christians we aren’t supposed to stick to the status quo. Not that we are to live above our outside the rules and the law of the land we live in — or that we should go around challenging every authority we find — that’s foolish and combative and very unChristlike.

But are we supposed to be satisfied plugging away at the daily grind never achieving anything for Christ? Are we supposed to be content in our comfort zones, never rocking the boat, never being different, never standing out? Are we supposed to just rock along with the expectations of our peers and our families and our churches and our country?

I don’t think so. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s not what God has called me to do. We are called to be different. Unique. Peculiar. We’re supposed to stand out. People are supposed to know that we’re different. And they won’t know that if we blend in with the rest of the world. 

What’s nice is that in this world it is easier and easier to be different. If you love your enemies, that’s enough to make everyone look at you funny. If you extend mercy to those who deserve punishment, people will wonder what’s wrong with you. And when they ask you why you’re such a weirdo, you have the privilege of telling them that you’re doing as Jesus said–you’re a Child of God and you want to act like it so that everyone will know the truth.

Love your enemies.

It’s a paradox, but it works.