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?

Bird on a ledge

The difference between serving and enabling

Have you ever tried to get ahead by stomping on people? How has that worked for you? I know people who have used the talent and sacrifices of others to gain a place in the business world, and while it might be the fast track to success in business, it rarely is a lasting kind of success.

Bird on a ledge

Bird on a ledge - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Mark 9:35.

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Jesus had the right to demand to be served by His disciples. He was God. He could have commanded that they all bow down to Him and ordered them to follow His every whim. But that wasn’t how Jesus lived. Actually, He lived a life opposite of that. He served other people. He sacrificed Himself and His own comfort to provide for people around Him.

He actually washes the Disciples’ feet at one point. That’s something the lowliest servant was expected to do.

So how does that apply to our lives? Are we supposed to only serve people and make allowances when they walk all over us? Because when you change your perspective to care more about other people, people will take advantage of you. That’s the inevitable consequence of living the way the Jesus did because we live in a broken world and the people we’re trying to help aren’t perfect (kind of like we aren’t perfect). People take advantage of each other, and when you are willing to serve them, you just make it easier for them to use you.

Is that right? Is that how we’re supposed to live? Are we supposed to enable people around us to continue living the way they want while we do nothing but support them?

Here’s where I feel like we need to draw a distinction between serving and enabling.

Being a servant is a mindset. It’s an attitude. You don’t think you’re better than other people. You are willing to drop what you’re doing or suspend what is important to you to help someone else achieve their goals. You love people more than you love yourself. That is the attitude and mindset of a servant.

Enabling is different. Enabling other people means you make excuse for them. It means you never correct them even when they are doing something that is wrong.

But isn’t that just love? One of the aspects of love is that you make allowances for other peoples’ faults. Does that mean we love people so much that we make excuses for them? No. Making an excuse for someone is almost tantamount to accepting their fault. And the Bible doesn’t say love accepts peoples’ faults. It says love doesn’t hold it against them. Recognizing an error in another person’s judgment and addressing it with kindness and concern doesn’t mean that you’re acting superior; it means you love them enough to correct them.

The most successful business people I have met earned their position not by stepping on others but usually by helping other people at their own expense. It’s a backward way of looking at work. It’s a backward way of looking at life. But from what I have seen, “backward” really isn’t as strange as it sounds, especially since it works.

If you want to be first, you need to live like you’re last. If you want to be successful, you need to live like a servant. That’s true. But even if you have the mindset of a servant, it doesn’t negate what is right and what is wrong. And while there will be people who take advantage of you (Christian or not), that doesn’t mean you have to continue to enable them keep taking advantage of you. Address the issue with kindness, concern and humility. Most of the time, people won’t even be aware that they’re doing it; taking advantage of people is almost instinctive.

Just because you are a servant doesn’t mean you have to enable people to live a life that is wrong.

Be humble. Serve others. But love them enough to correct them.