We experience grace so we can extend it

Three years ago yesterday, I ran a red light at the intersection of Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita. It was not a happy day, although it was certainly much better than it could have been. No one was seriously injured, although several cars got pretty badly torn up. Even now, looking back on that day, I am overwhelmed with the grace God poured out on me.

It was my fault. I made a careless choice, and everyone had every right to throw it in my face. But nobody did. Instead, the police officer who showed up was kind. The guy who came to tow my wrecked car made me laugh. My local car dealership loaned me a vehicle off their lot for free so that I could drive around until I purchased a new car. Bountiful, abundant grace.

How on Earth could I hold anything against anyone else after I’ve experienced grace like that?

7D8934864C (1)Today’s verses are Romans 12:3-5.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Everyone steps into God’s story at a different point. Some of us have known Him longer. Others of us haven’t known Him long at all. But if we’re not careful, we can start seeing our experiences and our lives as the standard by which everyone around us should be judged.

Because we made a certain life decision and it worked out for us, that means we’re right, and everyone else is wrong if they don’t take our advice. Because I’ve found a way to use my skills in the church and it’s working for me, that means it’s the only way to do it. Or what if you meet someone who’s obviously living a lifestyle that goes against the Bible? They’re absolutely wrong, so that means you should steer clear of them and not have anything to do with them, right? I mean, they’ll only damage your relation with Jesus. Or, God forbid, you drink Starbucks coffee so you can keep up the conversation with the college kid you met in there the other day.

There’s always this big fuss about judging people, and that’s not the point of this post or this passage. It’s more important to always be ready to extend grace to people around you.

Do people know you as the Christian who’s against everything? Do people identify you as the Christian who criticizes or the Christian who puts guilt trips on other people? Or are you the opposite? Are you the Christian nobody can recognize as a Christian because you’re too busy doing all the same things non-Christians do? There has to be a balance.

Don’t look at someone’s life and decide they aren’t worth your time. You can’t make that call. You don’t know that person. That’s not judging. That’s having compassion on someone else.

Don’t hear someone’s story and instantly start talking about how they could have avoided trouble. Don’t throw it in their face if they’ve trusted you enough to open up to you. They already feel guilty. Laying a guilt trip on them will only make it worse. If what they’ve done is wrong, yes, that needs to be discussed but with the understanding that God can forgive any sin. And that we all need forgiveness. We all need God’s grace. Because we all sin. Each and every one of us.

The next time you see yourself in the mirror, just take a moment to remember that you have screwed up at least as many times as the guy tailgating you has. So let’s give each other a break, huh? I have done enough stuff in my life that I need every inch of grace God can give me, and I’m betting you probably have too.

 

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Wearing a crown doesn’t make you better than the crownless

Do you know people who won’t take you seriously because you’re not important enough? I’ve met of few of those. And, honestly, it used to bother me.

Some people see your job title and decide whether or not you’re worth their time. Other people look at your clothes or the way you talk or the car you drive. We all make judgment calls on people. Let’s face it. We do. But how many of us actually judge whether someone is individually worth our time based on what they look like or based on what station in life they currently happen to be in?

It’s hurtful. Because I’m more than the clothes I’m wearing. I’m more than my job title (or lack thereof). And just because I don’t happen to have trails of letters after my name doesn’t make me less intelligent than someone with a PhD. And it certainly doesn’t give anybody the right to call me less important than someone else.

But more and more I see people rating others, their intellect or their worth, based on external factors. And the only explanation I can come up with for it is that we’re falling deeper and deeper into our own pride. But pride has never been the source of success or peace. It’s actually the opposite.

arroganceToday’s verse is Proverbs 3:34.

The Lord mocks the mockers
    but is gracious to the humble.

This is one of those verses that shoes up all over the Bible. I know this same verse is quoted in both James and I Peter. And if there’s one simple thing to know about the Bible, it’s this: If God repeats Himself, you really want to pay attention.

Other versions of this little Proverb say that “God opposes the proud.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on the side against God. Just saying. I don’t think that sounds like a very secure future.

I know how this life ends. I don’t want to be on the side that God opposes.

The solution is simple. Stop relying on your pride. Don’t be proud.

I said it was simple. Not easy. Because pride is really the root of all our sin. We want to do things our way, not God’s. We want to live our own way, not the way God says is right. And we don’t care what He says. At least, we don’t care until we have to face the consequences of our choices. Then we beg forgiveness and grace, and because God is gracious, He forgives. But once life straightens out again, how many of us go back to making the same stupid choices all over again?

No one person is more important to God than another. God doesn’t play favorites. He never has. He loves us all equally, regardless of history or family or choices. There’s nothing you can do to make Him love you more. Likewise, there’s nothing you can do to make Him love you less.

So why do we get it in our heads that some Christians are better loved than others? That’s our pride talking. Because pride makes us think we can be sufficient. Pride tricks us into believing that God judges on the curve, and He doesn’t.

Maybe you’ve worked hard to achieve your status, and that’s great and wonderful. But please don’t convince yourself that you are solely responsible for it. You’re not. Favor comes from God. Opportunity comes from God. And you’re where you are because God gave you talent and drive and health. Now, it’s up to you to recognize it. Many people don’t, but it doesn’t change the facts.

So the next time you’re tempted to think that super annoying person you’re talking to isn’t worth your time, take a moment and really ask yourself why you believe that. Are you making that call because you don’t like the way they dress? Do you feel that way because they are on a lower pay grade than you?

Granted, if the person you want to avoid is a fool, that’s a different story entirely, and there are biblical definitions for those kinds of people. And you should absolutely run away from those sorts of people. But not everybody is a fool (thank God). More likely, we just let our insecurities get the best of us, and we convince ourselves that we’re superior for some reason that doesn’t really matter.

Just give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Don’t jump to a conclusion about someone just because they are different from you or work in a different industry. After all, you may king of your own little world right now, but that doesn’t mean someday you won’t lose your crown. And then you’ll wish for someone to treat you like an equal.

Don’t wait until then to learn the lesson.

God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. So be humble. And maybe it’s a lesson you won’t have to learn the hard way.

Pride makes us stupid and keeps us that way

A bill I paid online went through yesterday. That was good. But I realized I’d paid the wrong company. That was bad. Yes, I’d issued a credit card payment to my cellular phone provider. And it was no small amount either.

What was my first thought? Quite honestly, my first thought was that I was an idiot. I should have been paying closer attention. And, no, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was going to take some clever cash maneuvering to get things to even out.

But my second thought was to contact my cell phone company to see if they would issue a refund. After all, it’s not like I’m behind or my payments. Or that I’ve ever missed a payment. But would they do that? Could they do that? Was their system even set up that way?

I almost didn’t call. I almost let it go, willing to figure out how to make it work on my own. But I decided to go ahead and try. And guess what? It wasn’t a problem. I talked to a nice lady who had all the answers I needed, and she informed me that I’d be receiving a full refund in about 10 days.

Thinking back on it now, it was silly to assume they couldn’t do a refund. We did refunds at the libraries I’ve worked at, and I’m sure this wasn’t the first time some dimwitted customer issued a payment to the wrong company. Recognizing that they would probably issue a refund was common sense. Most people do.

funny_signToday’s verses are Proverbs 3:21-24.

My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment.
Hang on to them,
for they will refresh your soul.
They are like jewels on a necklace.
They keep you safe on your way,
and your feet will not stumble.
You can go to bed without fear;
you will lie down and sleep soundly.

Our world doesn’t place much value on common sense anymore. Have you noticed that? Everyone is too busy running around and getting in trouble to even think about what common sense looks like. But the Bible considers it valuable–so it must be.

I’m not sure if you can cultivate common sense of if it’s just something you’re born with. Either way, if you have it, don’t let go of it. Common sense is a gift that will help keep life simple.

If you want to have common sense, though, the best thing I can say is not to ever assume anything. Just because you think you know what will happen, don’t stop asking questions. Don’t give up because you think life is going to go one way or another. You don’t know.

I would have had to go through some really complicated money shifting between bank accounts if I hadn’t made the call to my cell phone company. But I was willing to do it because I assumed they wouldn’t issue a refund. But I swallowed my pride at asking what could be construed as a dumb question, and I asked anyway.

I think that’s the key. We don’t want to sound dumb. We want to sound like we’re in control. We never want to ask questions that we don’t already know the answers to. At least, that’s the way it works with me. I’m getting better. Working as a journalist in an industry I didn’t understand helped me with grasping the fact that I still have a lot to learn.

It’s our pride that makes us stupid to begin with, and it’s our pride that keeps us stupid. So let go of pride. Who cares if you ask a dumb question? If someone gives you crap for asking a question you genuinely didn’t know the answer to, their opinions don’t matter anyway.

If you don’t know, ask. It’s common sense. Don’t lose sight of it, and your life will be much simpler.

 

Even if you know it all, you still have a lot to learn

Yesterday, I saw something on Facebook that made me stop and think. That doesn’t usually happen. Facebook is full of what folks like to call “link bait,” which are those stories that litter your newsfeed with sensationalized headlines, but this was different. It was a guest blog post by an author: The Most Important Characteristic of a Good Writer.

I wondered immediately what that would be. At first, my mind went to craft, because a good writer has to know his/her craft. By that, I mean you have to know how to plot. You have to know how to design characters and setting. You have to know the rules and when it’s appropriate to break them. But I clicked on the link anyway because I wanted to find out if I were “a good writer,” because I’m good at all that stuff. And, just being honest, validation is always nice.

But as it turns out, the most important quality for a good writer has nothing to do with craft. Sure, it’s important, but it’s not the most important. According to this post, the most important characteristic for a good writer is humility.

Yeah, but what about character and setting and plot and knowing just how much back story to put in? What about dialogue? What about grammar and spelling and sentence structure and vocabulary?

You can be great at all those things, and you can even write a great book. But you won’t ever be a great writer until you learn to approach your writing–your whole life, really–with humility.

529092_35688940Today’s verse is James 3:13.

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.

Writers are such a fascinating group of people. If you know a writer and call them a friend, you’re fortunate. Writers don’t really make friends easily, which is sad because they need people. Yes, we all need each other, but writers rely on other people more than the average worker. Why? Well, someone has to buy their books. Someone has to read what they write, otherwise they won’t make it in the market.

For me, it’s a difficult line to walk. Being friends with writers can be hard for me because I write a certain way, and other writers don’t always like that. And I have to find the middle ground between doing what I believe is right and listening to another writer’s opinion, which may or may not be correct. And I’m not always good at that, but that takes humility. And when I listen to another person talk about writing, I always learn something. Always.

But I’ve been writing for a long time. I could probably even be approaching what some would call “a successful writer.” And while that’s always been my dream, I’m noticing that it comes along with an increase in pride, which is something I’ve struggled with my whole life.

No, it’s not wrong to believe in what you’re doing or to understand realistically that you do know what you’re talking about. But it’s always wrong to assume you know more than someone else. It’s always wrong to discount someone else’s opinion simply because you don’t agree with it. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to live my someone else’s opinion, but you should never ever treat their opinion like it doesn’t matter. (If they don’t care enough to be kind about what they say to you, I recommend discarding their opinion, though. Because there are opinions meant to help and opinions meant to tear down, and nobody deserves to be torn down.)

And that’s hard. It’s even harder when they disagree with you. But that takes humility–recognizing that even though you know a lot, you still have a lot to learn.

The world tells us that if we live humble lives, we’ll be trampled. We’ll be eaten alive. We’ll never make it. And, honestly, there’s some truth in that. If you live humbly and work humbly and speak humbly, especially in the corporate world, you’ll be torn up, broken down, and left for dead on the side of the figurative highway of life. But remember, success doesn’t come from us. Success comes from God.

What I love about today’s verse is that it calls us to live by humility that comes from wisdom. Humility must come from wisdom, otherwise you will fold in on yourself and never step out and never stand up. There is a time to be bold. There is a time to stand up and be counted. And there is a time to demonstrate the gifts and talents that God has given you for His glory. And insecurity, which so often masquerades a humility, will prevent you from ever taking that step.

Wisdom comes from following Jesus. Trust Him, do what He says is right, and He will give you the wisdom you need to make a truly humble choice. God promises over and over throughout Scripture that if we are humble and put others above ourselves, He will exalt us when the time is right.

Be confident when you know what you’re doing, but don’t ever scorn someone else’s kind opinion, even if you disagree with it. You can always learn something.

The key to achieving lasting success

It’s hard to believe that 2014 is almost over. That’s hard to swallow because I would swear it just started. I know time is supposed to start passing more quickly the older you get, but good grief!

So as I was thinking this morning about the upcoming year and all the wonderful excitement it will hold, I started getting a little nervous. There’s a lot riding on next year. Everyone wants to be successful, but there seem to be hundreds of different ideas on how to be successful. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read every 12-step book on success in the market. I’d much rather spend my time doing something than thinking about doing something.

So is there an easy answer to success? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of easy.

862369_73766129Today’s verse is 1 Peter 5:6.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

The Bible talks about success and victory frequently, which is nice because that’s a question people have often. But I’m not exactly sure the God’s strategy will jive with anyone else’s. God’s strategy for success seems a little backwards.

But then, that’s normal. Usually God’s way is entirely opposite of what the world says anyway, entirely opposite of how we’re wired to think. And this strategy for success is no different.

You want to be successful? Humble yourself.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Seriously, how does that work? If you want to be successful, don’t you have to make a name for yourself? If you want to win, don’t you have to fight harder, live louder, and play meaner than all your competition? Don’t you have to be the smartest person in the room?

No. None of that will make you successful.

Well, let me rephrase. None of that will bring you God’s success. There’s a big difference here. Because you can fight, shout, cheat your way to the top and win access to all the spoils of American affluence. But once you achieve that kind of success, you’ll find that it’s empty and unsatisfying. That kind of success leaves you hollow.

Success that comes from God fills you up. It stops the longing in your heart for more-more-more and overwhelms you with God’s goodness instead. Until one day you wake up and you can’t believe how much God has given you, and all you want to do is rush out and give-give-give to others because God has blessed you so richly.

See the difference?

The trouble is, success that comes from God isn’t always financial. And sometimes that’s better anyway. Not saying that God can’t bless you with money. Some of the most amazing, generous, awesome people I know are Christ-followers God has blessed with a lot of finances, and that’s incredible! But I know just as many Christ-followers who make it from paycheck to paycheck, and they are no less blessed.

But whether God’s success comes to you in a tangible or intangible form, the key to achieving it is humility before God. It’s the complete opposite of what the world teaches.

What does a humble life before God look like? Very simply, it’s doing what God says is right whether you understand it or not. That means living by the Bible. That means obeying God’s Word.

Yes, it’s an easy answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy life. But that’s when we need to remember that this life wasn’t meant to be easy. We’re living in a broken world, after all.

Do you want to be successful in 2015? Not the kind of empty success the world sells–but the success that comes from God? Sure, you do. I don’t know anyone who starts a new year hoping to be a complete and utter failure.

Be humble before God. Don’t live like you know it all. Recognize that God’s in control and do what He says. That’s it. It’s harder than it sounds, but in the time God chooses, God will bring you success. It may not look like what everyone thinks it should, but when you receive it, you won’t want anything else.

The wheat field to the far west of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Seeds will grow without your help

For the last few weeks, I’ve been walking 4 or 5 times a week after I get home from work. Not much. Only about 45 minutes. If I were able to stay home and work on the farm all the time, I wouldn’t need to exercise, but I work a desk job. A whole 8 hours or more can go by in a day at my office, and I’ll realize I’ve only gotten up to go to the bathroom twice. And that’s the only time I’ve been out of my desk chair.

So I decided that I needed to do something about that. And walking seemed to be the only option available to me with my schedule. When it was hot, I’d walk 45 minutes on the treadmill, while I streamed episodes of television shows off Amazon. But since the weather has been so nice in recent weeks (and because my parents are at home with me now in case something unforeseen happens out on the road), I’ve been walking outside. The view is so much nicer (and besides, I’m running out of free episodes of Bleach).

I walk from one section line to the other and back, which works out to be 2 miles. Not much. But not bad, considering I’m just starting out. And I can do it about 45 minutes. As I walk, I usually get to see the sun set or tractors out in the fields or sheep grazing. But last night I saw something that surprised me.

Safe Haven Farm, my home, sits at the south end of a 640 acre plot of wheat and alfalfa, none of which is ours sadly. But it’s surrounded by farmland–mostly wheat. But this time of year, it’s all just dirt. Dirt fields as far as the eye can see. I walk right past a couple of them every night now. Except last night, the dirt field west of Safe Haven Farm had developed green fuzz.

Yes, I’m being silly. It’s winter wheat. But what struck me last night was that the farmer sowed that crop of what in the dark a few days back, and all it took was a weekend and a few days for it to cover the entire field. He didn’t have to babysit it. He didn’t have to watch it. He didn’t have to water it. He just planted it and let it go.

And I think that’s an important lesson I need to learn.

Today’s verse is James 5:7-8.

The wheat field to the far west of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The wheat field to the far west of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

I’m not a micromanager, but I am a control freak. I like to know what’s happening and when and how I can help it be more efficient. But what I’ve learned in life is that the more I interfere, oftentimes the more I slow already-existing processes down.

This verse is directed at people who are getting impatient for Jesus to return for His people, and that’s definitely what it means. But it applies in other situations too. Just because you’re given the opportunity to plant a seed doesn’t mean you’ll get to see it sprout, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll get to harvest it.

Most times what happens is you plant a seed in someone’s life–a good deed, the love of Christ, whatever–and you never see that person again. You may never know how your actions affected that person. You might have to wait till you get to heaven to learn what difference you made in someone else’s life.

And that’s okay. Or at least, it should be okay.

But there’s something in us that wants to do it all. Or maybe that’s just me. If I’m the one who starts something, I want to be the one to finish it. I want to start with that open, empty field and plant the seeds and watch it grow and harvest it for Christ. Me alone.

But that’s selfishness talking. That’s me focusing on what I want and not necessarily what God wants–or what God says is best for me or for the person in question.

The point is this: We all plant seeds. Every day of our lives, we’re planting seeds. I hope it’s all good seed, because good seed produces a good crop. But regardless whether it’s good seed or bad seed, we all plant. But that seed doesn’t need your help to grow.

If a seed is planted, it will grow without you. That’s how God set up the law of planting and harvesting. That’s a natural law. True, some plants need our help to survive, but not all of them. Most plants will go on living and growing whether we’re there to water them or not.

So don’t despair if you plant a seed in someone’s life and then you aren’t able to oversee it. Don’t worry if you’ve planted a seed and you haven’t seen any growth. Seeds will grow on their own, and someone will always be around to harvest a crop that’s ready. You don’t have to do everything.

So embrace the role of seed planter, knowing that what you’re doing is starting a process that God Himself will oversee. And if you’re fortunate enough to get to watch a crop grow–if you’re fortunate enough to be the one who gets to harvest–be thankful.

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Knowing more doesn’t mean you’re always right

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to teach somebody something? Maybe at work or at school or even on a project at home? Have you experienced that brief moment of excitement where you grasp the fact that you know something someone else doesn’t?

Maybe it’s just me. But I like that feeling. Just being honest. There’s something really empowering about realizing that you have knowledge other people don’t.

But just because you know something others don’t doesn’t necessarily make you smarter or more powerful. It just means you’ve had different life experiences that have allowed you to learn things others may not have been exposed to. Knowing more than someone else doesn’t make you superior. It just means you have something to teach.

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:3-5.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

As a child, I loved Bible trivia and sword drills. I loved being able to show people that I knew all the books of the Bible, that I had memorized big passages, that I could hold my ground in nearly scriptural discussion. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of those things. We need to know the Bible. We need to know what it says and what it means and how it applies to our lives.

But so often that sort of knowledge becomes a competition where people who have a proclivity for retaining that type of information excel. And it’s not a competition. It shouldn’t be.

I’m not knocking sword drills. I’m knocking the attitude behind them.

I’ve seen too many new believers who couldn’t find the Book of Amos to save their life–but they have a better grip on God’s grace than any sword drill skills could provide. Which is more important?

I guess I’m just thinking about teaching today because I’m approaching a day where I’m going to have some teaching moments. And when it comes to teaching–especially when I’m teaching writing–my tendency is to think I know all the answers. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I have specific opinions about how it should be done. And that’s great. But that doesn’t mean my way is the only way. That doesn’t mean the people I have to teach are wrong.

Writing is funny like that.

The best teachers in my life haven’t treated me like a dummy. The people I’ve learned the most from in my life have treated me as an equal, as someone searching for answers, just like them. And that’s the kind of teacher I want to be.

I have so many friends who are teachers, and I have so much respect for what they do and how they do it. Nowadays, teaching is a thankless job. I appreciate all that our country’s teachers do to help their students succeed when all the odds are against them.

The best teachers aren’t teaching to do themselves a favor. Teachers teach because they’re putting the needs of their students above themselves. That’s where I want to be, not just in teaching but in life.

Are you facing a situation today where you have to teach somebody something? If so, remember to be humble about it. Just because you had the privilege to learn it doesn’t mean you know more than the person you’re teaching. They may know more than you do about something else, and you wouldn’t appreciate it if they talk down to you.

The funny thing about teachers who are humble is that they are always learning. They never think they’ve learned it all. They’re always willing and open to learn something new.

Be humble about teaching others what you know. You’ll be surprised. Who knows? You might learn more from your students than you teach them.