Airplane oxygen masks are a two-step process

I’m not a huge fan of airplane travel, mainly because it’s far less expensive to drive, but sometimes you have to fly. Like when I went to Ireland a few weeks ago. I couldn’t drive to Ireland (well, I could try, but I don’t think I would succeed).

As I sat and listened to the flight attendants run through their little spiel about airplane safety, I smiled when they got to the place about securing your own oxygen mask first. I was traveling with two other people on the way to Ireland, and I had laughingly joked with my sister-in-law that I’d need to make sure one of my travel buddies had her oxygen mask on if we crashed.

That’s the rule with oxygen masks

First, you secure your own and make sure that you are breathing. Then, you help the people around you, children, the elderly, or generally distracted (but totally adorable) traveling companions. It’s a two-step process. First, take care of yourself. Then, take care of those around you.

Exodus 18:17-18 Always PeachyThe problem I usually have (when I’m not flying on an airplane) is that I skip ahead to step two without doing step one. I tend to want to take care of everyone around me first before seeing to my own needs. I want to help people, and I don’t want myself to get in the way. But it’s too much for one person to do alone, and I exhaust myself. (Exodus 18:14-18)

I’ve spent years telling myself this fact over and over again, but only recently did a new way to think about it occur to me. Using airplane oxygen masks correctly is a process.

A two-step process for an airplane

In an emergency situation on an airplane, you can’t just randomly try to help everyone around you. You’ll be in the way of people who are trained for that situation, and you’ll do more damage than you prevent. You’re supposed to stay seated. The best way for you to help those around you is to first take care of yourself.

That goes against my personal programming, but if I don’t first make sure that my thoughts are clear, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be of help to anyone. The truth is, if I don’t take care of my own needs first in that sort of situation, I won’t be able to help anyone around me.

If we accept that concept on an airplane, why can’t we accept it in our everyday lives?

A two-step process for life

Instagram Airplane MasksI’m talking to myself here. I run myself ragged for the benefit of others. I wear myself down and work my immune system to its lowest point for the sake of those around me. It’s how I’m wired. But I need to start looking at taking care of people as a two-step process.

If I want to help others, I need to take care of myself first. I need to sleep, to eat properly, and take care of my physical and spiritual needs first. Granted, that doesn’t mean I completely ignore people who need help, but before I work myself to exhaustion helping the helpless, first I need to make sure I’m strong enough to be of service. And this isn’t just something I’m making up. This is a biblical principle! (Ephesians 5:29-30)

As Christ-followers, we are called to serve others but not at the cost of our relationship with God or our physical health. Life is a balance between being a good steward of what God has given us and giving sacrificially so that others can share our blessings.

Wearing yourself out helping others may be a noble concept, but it’s not practical or healthy. And it’s not what God intended for us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) If you really want to help others to the best of your ability, first take the time to make sure you are taking care of yourself.

Advertisements

Opportunity is an open door

What is opportunity? Have you ever taken the moment to think about it? It’s those common words that sometimes I’m not sure I actually know the definition of. Sometimes it’s the words you say all the time that you don’t know what they actually mean.

For me, I’ve always defined opportunity as the chance to accomplish something. Come to find out, that’s kind of what it actually means. So it’s nice to know my vocabulary is still hanging in there. But think about that. The Chance to Accomplish Something. Even including the word chance gives it an entirely new meaning. Because if you have to have a chance to accomplish something, that means you will encounter other times when you don’t have a chance.

Opportunity is a time when you are in a position to do something. It could be anything. Something huge and life altering. Something small and personal. Whatever. But one thing won’t change: Your opportunity doesn’t stick around forever.

You have a chance to do something at that moment, and if you don’t seize the moment, you might lose it. And you might never get it back.

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:13.

Open gate at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburg, Scotland, UK

Open gate at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburg, Scotland, UK

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

If you’ve made that all-important decision to follow Christ, every day you wake up is another opportunity. God gives us all sorts of chances to do all sorts of amazing things in a day’s time, but the question is, are we paying attention? Are we taking advantage of the opportunities God gives us?

I wish I could say I did. I wish I could tell you that I always jump at the opportunities God sends my way, but I don’t. Sometimes I hide from the opportunities He gives me because I’m afraid or because I’m relying on my own strength and knowledge. And that’s not how we’re supposed to live.

Say you’re walking down the street, and the person in front of you drops money. That’s an opportunity. That’s your chance to accomplish something. But what you accomplish is up to you. If you want to serve yourself, it’s your opportunity to steal, to knowingly take something that doesn’t belong to you. But if you want to please God, it’s your opportunity to help someone else and maybe even tell them about your faith.

That’s what opportunity is. It’s keeping your eyes open and seeing the open doors God has given you every moment of every day and choosing to walk through them for His glory and not for your own.

In America, we have freedom to do many things that other countries only dream of. We aren’t limited (generally speaking). We can roll out of bed one morning and decide to start a business, and if we have the finances or the credit to be able to do it, we can do it. Do you know how rare that is for other people?

But just because you have the freedom to do whatever you want doesn’t mean you can use it to do what is wrong. That’s where we slip up. We think because we’re free that we can do anything and everything. And maybe there’s truth to that, because you certainly can do whatever you want. As a Christ-follower, you can break every rule you can think of, and if you truly belong to God, He won’t cast you out. He won’t protect you from your consequences either. But you are free to do whatever you want.

So Paul is encouraging us to love each other instead of fighting with each other. You can use your freedom to do whatever you want, but why spend it hurting others? Why use your freedom to destroy relationships or ruin your physical health? Instead, use the freedom you have–make the most of your opportunities–to do good for others, to help others, to serve others in the name of Christ.

Those are the opportunities you should be taking. Those are the chances you should be seizing.

So the next time you see the open door of opportunity in front of you, what are you going to do? Sure, you can serve yourself. That’s what most people will do anyway. But if you really are a Christ follower, and you want to see Him do something amazing in your life and in the lives of other people, take that opportunity to serve someone else. Focus on someone else.

If you have the opportunity to help somebody, take it. And do it in the name of Christ. You’ll be amazed at what happens in your heart and in the hearts of the people you’re helping.

Penguin at the Omaha Zoo showing off for the people, Omaha, NE

Don’t make decisions to make people happy

We all know them. They’re everywhere, if you think about it. Hidden in plain sight, disguised as normal, average, everyday citizens.

People pleasers.

(cue dramatic music)

People pleasers are the best. They’re great friends to have because they’ll do anything for you. They’re awesome employees because they’ll work themselves to exhaustion. But put a people pleaser in a position of authority and look out.

And I can say this. Because I am a people pleaser. I am a performance-driven, perfectionistic people pleaser…. a truly fearsome thing to behold.

And it is so much easier–so much nicer–so much less stressful to do whatever people want you to do. It’s like a burden lifted off your back when you can just make someone else happy by doing something for them or serving them in any way. But life doesn’t work that way. You can’t always make people happy. And sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions.

If you’re a people pleaser in a position of authority, you have to have something stronger in your life to fall back on that helps you do the right thing.

Penguin at the Omaha Zoo showing off for the people, Omaha, NE

Penguin at the Omaha Zoo showing off for the people, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is Galatians 1:10.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Galatians is another book of the New Testament written by Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Like Philemon, which I was reading last week, Galatians is a letter, but this letter was written not to an individual but to the Church in Galatia.

Back in the days of the early Church, the religious scene wasn’t like is now. In the US, you can go to any major city and find many different kinds of churches. But back then, every city only had one church. And it was The Church.

And Paul was addressing an issue in the Church, where the people had started believing a different version of the Gospel than what Paul had originally preached there. A false version. And Paul calls them out for believing a lie.

See, Paul didn’t have a problem telling it like it was. But like he says in the verse, if he wanted to please people, He wouldn’t have given his life to Christ.

Why is that? Does that mean if you choose to follow Christ you can’t make people happy?

No, not at all. Following Christ means that you love others and put others first. But loving people and putting other people before yourself doesn’t mean you’re always going to make them happy, because sometimes what’s best will make people unhappy.

And more often than not, accepting God’s direction in our lives starts off with unhappiness. I wish I could tell you it was different, but I can’t. Many times in my life and in my walk with God, I’ve had to accept decisions others have made that I didn’t like–that I didn’t agree with–that made me unhappy. But because I trust God has a reason for everything and that He puts the people of His choosing in authority over me, I submit. I don’t like it, but I do it.

And you know what happens? Pretty soon after, I see that God did know what He was doing. And that the people who had to make that difficult decision that made me so unhappy were doing what God called them to do. And it was me who wasn’t grasping God’s plan.

You can’t live your life to make people happy and live your life following Christ at the same time. Following Christ gives you the chance to make a real difference in people’s lives–in a way you can’t ever do on your own–but that has nothing to do with making them happy.

But Paul wasn’t born a people pleaser. That wasn’t his personality. So standing up and calling people out probably wasn’t something that would shatter his world–like it would do for me.

So how do you do it? How do you do what’s right because it’s right instead of doing what people want so they don’t hate you?

I can’t say I know the answer, but I know what I’ve had to do. And that’s learning to value God’s opinion more than the opinions of people around you. And it’s hard. It’s so hard (but you won’t ask for help because you don’t want people to worry). And you’ll cry a lot (usually where nobody can see you because you don’t want people to worry about that either).

But here’s something I know is true: If you value God’s opinion more than the opinions of people around you, eventually those people–if they know Christ–will do the same. It won’t happen the next day. It may not even happen in a year. But one day, down the road, the people who you made unhappy by your unpopular decision will understand.

People’s opinions change. People’s happiness changes. God never does, and He can outlast the most stubborn of hearts. So you hold on to that. Don’t make decisions to make people happy.

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Even God’s family has responsibilities

Have you ever thought about your responsibilities as a Christ follower? Because we do have responsibilities. I don’t know if anybody really talks about it, but those responsibilities do exist.

I think it’s really easy to forget that God has a plan for each of our lives, especially because people don’t really talk about what He expects from us very often. And some of that may be fear of confusing salvation by works with salvation by grace through faith, but just because we’re afraid of confusing people with a topic isn’t reason enough to avoid talking about it.

In every family, each member has a responsibility. Sort of like in a body, where every part has something it’s designed to do.  When I was little and my family would go camping, each one of us had an assigned job at the campsite, and it was our responsibility to do our part, otherwise things just didn’t get done. So when we choose to join the family of God, why do we think it’s any different?

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Aspen leaves at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Luke 12:48.

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

This is a verse I grew up with, but in thinking about it this morning, it took on new meaning to me. Every American Christian has been given much, whether you are the wealthiest person in the United States or the poorest. Americans have freedom and opportunity, and if we’re willing to work hard, we can better ourselves. That’s not the case in other countries.

So regardless of how you grew up or when you came to know Christ, as a Christian in America, you have a responsibility to use your resources to help others come to know God through Jesus too. You have a responsibility to love people.

But I want to narrow in on a certain group of Christians out there, one that I have a particular burden for. Because I’m one of them. We’re the Christians who started going to church in a baby carrier. We’re the Christians who grew up with the Bible in our homes and, in some cases, in our schools. We’re the ones who’ve known Jesus since we were children.

So what? What difference does that make? What difference does it make if you’ve known Christ since you were 7 versus 47?

If you’ve been given a lot, a lot will be required of you. But if you’ve been entrusted with a lot, even more will be required. The Amplified Version says: “required and demanded of you.”

If you’re a Christian who was raised in a godly home, who had access to a Bible from the earliest days of your youth, who had parents who taught you to respect God and love Him, who had a church that encouraged you to grow in maturity, you haven’t just been given much. You’ve been entrusted with much. And there’s a big difference.

Do you think it was an accident you were born in a Christian home with a Christian family? No. That was part of God’s plan (just like it was part of God’s plan if you weren’t born in a Christian home with a Christian family). There are no accidents. There are no coincidences.

So what are you going to do with that? I’ve known too many Christians who were raised in families that loved God–not perfect families but what family is perfect?–who decided the God-thing wasn’t for them. Too many people who came to know Christ at a young age are just sitting back and doing nothing with the opportunities God has given them.

That’s why long-time Christians find new believers so refreshing. Their faith is so new, so exciting, so alive. Well, guess what, Long-Time Christian? Your faith can be new, exciting, and alive too. You just have to work at it. You just have to keep testing it, keep pushing it, keep expecting God to do amazing things. And He will.

But you can’t sit back and just wait for it to happen. You have to get up. You have to get moving. You have a responsibility to use the knowledge and experience and the life that God has given you to help others.

Imagine what our churches would look like if the experienced Christians actually stood up and did something instead of expecting to be served. What I’m seeing is that the new Christians are the ones jumping up to participate in ministry, and that’s spectacular! That’s the best way to keep growing in faith. But what about the folks who have grown up with their faith? What about the people who’ve known Christ for 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Where are they? What are they doing for Christ today?

I don’t want to pick on anyone. I just want to ask the questions. And I want to hold myself to the same standard. If I’m not doing anything for Christ today, then I’m wasting the life He gave me. I’m wasting the knowledge of the Bible that He gave me. I’m wasting the relationship He gave me. And I’m missing out on a HUGE opportunity to witness the impossible.

Maybe you grew up in a Christian home and you think this God-thing isn’t for you. Can I respectfully urge you to reconsider? You don’t have to have your parents’ faith for God to be real in your life. Actually, you can’t have your parents’ faith. You have to have your own.

No, you can’t lose your salvation. No, God will never reject you. But I can pretty much guarantee you that He won’t be happy with you if you treat His gifts like they aren’t important.

If you grew up in a Christian home, if you’ve known Christ since you were a child, and you aren’t actively involved in serving others today, you’re in trouble. Because you’re part of a family. You’re part of God’s family. And you have a responsibility to that family. You’ve been entrusted with the greatest responsibility there is–loving people, helping people meet Christ–and if you throw it away or ignore it because it makes you uncomfortable or because it’s too much work, God is going to have something to say about that.

Little pink flowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Little is much

Do you want to do something amazing for God? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re okay with sitting on the sidelines and never jumping into a ministry, and that’s okay if you’re satisfied with a life that doesn’t make a real difference. But if you’re the kind of Christ-follower who wants God to be pleased, what do you do with yourself?

I know some people who are able to give financially to the things that God is doing around the world. And I’m not just talking a few dollars here and there. But not everyone can do that, including me. Others jump into full-time ministry and get to serve God for their actual job, and that sounds amazing. But not everyone can do that either. The rest of us have responsibilities, and while you don’t have to have any special qualifications to go into full-time ministry, it does need to be something God has called you to do.

So how can you do something amazing for God if you can’t give lots of money or you aren’t in full-time ministry?

Little pink flowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Little pink flowers at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:16-18.

Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.

I get frustrated because I can’t do more for God. I try to squeeze things into my calendar until I’m so overwhelmed with busyness I don’t even know which end is up anymore. What stood out to me in this verse this morning is a pretty simple concept: Faithful service is an offering to God.

See that?

Paul is talking about how he will be proud that his work and sacrifice was useful if the people of the Church of Philippi hold on to the truth, and even if he were to die, he would still rejoice. The way Paul looked at it, his life was an offering to God. And, while I think we should all look at our lives that way, we shouldn’t discount how important our willingness to serve is to God.

Are you doing something to serve other people right now? Do you look at it as something that doesn’t matter? Something that’s not important? That’s a lie. If you are helping someone else, you’re a hero. If you are offering your love and hard work to help another person, you’re awesome. That’s not something you have to do. That’s not something you can be forced to do. That’s something you choose to do, and if you do it faithfully, over and over and over, when it isn’t requested and when it hurts you financially and emotionally, don’t think that God doesn’t notice.

He does.

So be encouraged. Because the one thing that can please God is faith (Hebrews 11:6). If you’re faithful in your service to others in the name of Christ, you will make a difference for God. And even if the difference you’re making is small, God has a habit of taking small things and making them huge.

The Bible is full of stories where God took something small and used it to change the world.

So if you’re tired and weary from the work you’re doing, don’t give up. Keep working. Keep trusting. And keep everything in perspective because even if you are only able to do a little, God can take that little and do awesome things with it. That’s who He is. That’s who He was in the Old Testament. That’s who Christ introduced us to in the New Testament. And that’s who is here today. He’ll be here tomorrow too.

Don’t give up. There’s an old hymn called “Little Is Much When God Is In It” and I’ve got it stuck in my head at the moment because it’s so true. Part of living a happy life is putting others before yourself, and part of putting others before yourself is service. And anyone can serve. You can hold doors for people. You can help people carry groceries. You can listen to a friend when they need to talk. You can pray.

Don’t take any of those “small” things for granted. Because they aren’t small to the person who you’re helping, and they’re not small to God either.

Front porch pillars and the old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The difference between comparison and focus

Is it wrong to focus on other people? Well … like I blogged about yesterday, it’s not a good idea to compare yourself to others around you. That’s the fastest way to make yourself unhappy. But the older I get, the more I’m beginning to think that another cause of unhappiness in our culture is that we don’t focus on people around us.

There’s a big difference between comparing ourselves to others around us and focusing on them.

Front porch pillars and the old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Front porch pillars and the old schoolhouse at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 2:3-4.

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.

It’s so funny how the world has taken what is true in the Bible and twisted it around. You would think that focusing only on yourself and trying to make yourself happy would work. You would think that if you spent all your time and all your money on making yourself happy you would be. You’d think that if you spent all your energy in an attempt to bring yourself contentment that you would accomplish it. But the more you live for yourself, the more unhappy you will be.

There’s a little book with a funny name nestled in the Old Testament. Its name is so funny most people mispronounce it. The book is Ecclesiastes, and I promise you that if you read it, you will spend most of the time cringing. It hits hard and makes you really think about what it means to be a Christian … which is really strange because it was written hundreds and hundreds of years before Christ was born. King Solomon, son of King David, wrote this little book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at a time in his life when he was searching for meaning. If you don’t know, King Solomon was the greatest, most wealthy king Israel ever had. But this is what he has to say about being happy in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11.

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.

King Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived, found that life was meaningless and empty when he lived for himself. Sound familiar at all, America? I think we are there. As Americans, we have everything we could ever want. Even if our taxes are a little high and we may not agree with every political ideal that comes out of Washington, we still have some semblance of freedom. We’ve never endured real persecution. And we have everything. As a good friend of mine says, even King Solomon couldn’t run down the road and buy a hot fudge sundae.

We have computers and technology and food and cars and music and entertainment and hobbies and the list goes on and on and on. We live in a culture that urges us to get what we want whenever we want it, and even if our economy is struggling, we still buy the things we think will make us happy–whether we can afford them or not.

But are we happy? If King Solomon wasn’t happy when he lived for himself, why would we be? So what’s the answer? What did Philippians say?

Don’t be selfish. Live for others.

No, it’s not a good idea to focus on other people for your identity, for your security, for your purpose. It’s not a good idea to compare yourself to other people so you can feel better about yourself. But you can focus on other people without comparing yourself to them. You can live for other people. You can care about what they care about. You can make sure that other people have what they need to succeed. And the more you give to other people, the happier you will be.

By the world’s thinking, it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice what you could spend on yourself to spend on someone else. But as believers we aren’t called to live by the world’s philosophy, and let’s just be honest, what has the world’s thinking accomplished? Seriously?

So do something for someone else today, even if you don’t feel like it and especially if they don’t deserve it. Granted, you have to be wise, and you have to be responsible with the resources that God has given you. But that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to hide ourselves away and never interact with anyone.

Want to be happy? Want to be content? Focus on others, not to compare yourself to them but because you consider their success more important than your own. When you embrace that kind of humility, your life will be different. And so will your perspective.

Homemade chicken yakisoba

The freedom to serve … or not

Following Christ is pretty awesome. There’s no other life like it because most other lifestyles are bogged down with religious ritual and obligations. Truly living like Christ, truly following God, is a freedom that no other “faith system” even tries to pretend it has.

The irony is that so many Christians don’t really understand the freedom they have, and they spend their lives trying to prove themselves to God by doing good works and demonstrating how good they can be. And there really isn’t anything wrong with that, I guess. But the fact remains that we can’t be good and we have nothing to prove to God. So why would we even try if we know it’s our faith that saves us? Maybe it’s because we’re all performance-driven people. I know I am.

On the other side of the fence, many people believe that we have to do something to earn our salvation because if God just gives out salvation without any expectation on our part, we can break all the rules we want with no punishment. We can do everything that’s wrong with no one to check our behavior. Well, that’s not right either. If you do something wrong, you’re going to have to face the consequences of that action whether you’re a believer or not. And while you may not lose your eternal salvation, you might lose the blessing you could have received if you had done the right thing. There are consequences for everything.

Homemade chicken yakisoba

Homemade chicken yakisoba

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:13.

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

Freedom is a terrible privilege, both in life and in faith. And it’s a tremendous responsibility.

Even in governmental systems, the more freedom a country has the more ethical its citizens need to be. Because there’s no government to keep them in check. We in the United States get all up in arms because our government has gotten to big and so powerful. Well, if we had all maintained our ethical and moral responsibility to be good citizens … it probably wouldn’t have been necessary.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian who lived in the early-to-mid 1800s, said it best: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

The same is true of our lives when we are set free by Christ. We can choose to live our new lives however we want. We can chase every selfish dream, every great ambition, everything anyone else in the world would pursue. Or we can choose to serve others.

The photo really doesn’t have much to do with the thought today, except that it’s a batch of homemade chicken yakisoba I made for some folks who came out to stay at my house some time ago. It didn’t turn out very well, I don’t think. But it looks pretty. And the concept behind it is somewhat relevant. God has given me a house, and He’s given me the resources to help other people. It’s my choice what to do with those resources, though. If I want to keep them all to myself, that’s fine. But what am I missing out on if I don’t share?

It all comes down to your eternal perspective. If you believe that this world is the pinnacle of our lives, then you’re going to live to get everything you can get out of this world. But if you believe that the best is yet to come, you’re going to live in a way that demonstrates that this world isn’t your home.

But even if you live for the life to come, you have to remember that we’re here for a reason. God put each of us where we are so we can learn something, so we can serve each other. We are supposed to live in a way that puts other people before us. We’re supposed to live in a way that honors others more than ourselves. We’re supposed to love the people who don’t understand us, who use us, who say terrible things about us. We’re supposed to serve people who hurt us and disappoint us and who we don’t agree with.

Hey, Christians! What would the people you disagree with think if you did something nice for them instead of grumbling behind their backs or giving them a hard time?

Serve people. Love people. Stand up and do what God says. You have the freedom to choose what you’re going to do today. You can choose how you react to what life (and Satan) throws at you today. Put yourself in the shoes of the people you disagree with. How would you like to be treated?