Funny yellow bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Seeing suffering as a privilege

People who really know me know that I struggle with insecurity. On the surface, I am a confident person, sure and decisive. And I’d like to think I’m that way in every situation, but my heart knows better. I’m not double-minded. I know what’s right, and I decide fairly quickly what the right course of action is. But knowing what’s right is easy; you read the Bible. But for me, feeling secure about a decision that doesn’t have a clear answer is difficult, and maybe that comes from being a people pleaser. Maybe it comes from being a perfectionist. Either way, I am easily intimidated.

I’m better than I used to be, and through many circumstances where I had to learn to stand up for myself, I’ve grown more comfortable speaking out or even just speaking up. But when I’m around belligerent people, when I encounter people whose only goal is to browbeat me, usually I quail. I’ve always been that way. I guess it’s the Feeler part of my personality that would rather compromise and bargain through conflict instead of drawing a line and making people cross it.

But every time I back down from a confrontation that I know I shouldn’t have, I feel wretched. After all, God doesn’t operate through fear, and if we are afraid to act when God calls us to do so, we’re just letting Satan control our actions. And honestly, this happens a lot. How many Christians do you know who have run upon difficult situations where they’ve been beaten to the ground emotionally by people around them? I see it in our schools and our colleges. I see it in the workplace. I see it in entertainment.

For me, I could stand up in my college classroom and announce that I followed Christ, and nobody would give me a hard time. But that ten years ago (yikes!). Colleges don’t work that way now. You can say you follow Christ, but you’ll be ridiculed and treated like an idiot. The world has never been more angry and more hateful for those who follow Christ. And when that happens, how on earth are we supposed to react? Do we get angry and hateful back?

Funny yellow bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Funny yellow bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:28-30.

Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

Do you believe this guy? Paul had some nerve, didn’t he? But he happens to know what he’s talking about.

If anyone else had said this, it wouldn’t have the same effect, but Paul knew what it was like to be attacked and beaten and made the focal point for cruel jokes and unfair imprisonment. So when he says not to be intimidated and that suffering is a privilege, he’s not blowing sunshine at us (as my awesome Pastor says). He lived it.

Our world thrives on intimidation because the whole world is insecure. The only way for an insecure person to live with themselves (outside of Christ) is to tear people around them down so they feel better about their failures. The world hates us because it hates itself; it just won’t admit it. So of course the world is going to try to tear us apart. Of course the world is going to try to beat us down. The world hates itself but not enough to change its mind about sin; so the only recourse left is to rip believers apart.

And when we come to that crossroads, we have a choice. We can either quail under the intimidation of people who are only trying to tear us down so they can feel better about themselves. Or we can keep standing with our heads held high and love them like Christ did.

But be warned, if you keep your head up and if you don’t back down, what was merely intimidation will move to full on persecution. If people can’t intimidate you, they’ll try to hurt you. And while you can’t control the people who want to hurt you, you can control how you respond to the hurt.

As Christ-followers, we’re never supposed to repay hurt with hurt, anger with anger, hate with hate. Never. That’s not how Christ lived; that’s now how we should live. We need to love every person who hates us. We need to do good to people who do wrong to us. We need to care for the wounds of the people who would turn around and injure us. That’s what Christ did. And let it be known that you are doing it because Christ told you to.

When you begin to suffer for your faith, count it as a privilege. Don’t see it as a chore or a problem or a bad situation. When (there are no ifs here) you begin to suffer for your faith, get happy. Decide to be joyful about it. Know why?

Well, one, the more you suffer, the more you grow. The more pain you endure, the stronger you get. And God will use that.

Two, the more you suffer, the more people will wonder what you’re about, and you’ll have opportunities like never before to share your faith with others and make a real difference (study the Roman persecution of the Church if you doubt that).

Three, you’ll be happy. If you make up your mind now to rejoice when suffering comes, you won’t just endure the suffering; you’ll enjoy it. I’m not being facetious. And no, suffering isn’t something to look forward to, but what you can look forward to is the good that will come out of it when God brings you through it.

So if you’re facing a bully today, no matter who it is, decide to be strong. Choose to keep moving forward. Don’t back down. Love them in spite of themselves. And when simple intimidation turns to something worse, rejoice. Because the moment you give in to their bullying, they win. And you will have lost your chance to show them how strong God really is.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Share your source of hope and be specific about it

Everybody has bad days once in a while. But some people seem to have it worse than others. Have you ever met someone who just seems to encounter sorrow after sorrow with no break? I have. And most of the time, these folks who suffer so much are often dedicated Christ followers, and the fact that they should be falling apart doesn’t even occur to them. They’re so focused on following Christ that a few hiccups along the way, no matter how inconvenient, don’t bother them at all.

Those people are my heroes.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 1:12-14.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians is arguably my favorite book in the Bible. It’s right up there with Psalms. So encouraging, so uplifting, so practical and full of down-to-earth teaching, Philippians is one of my go-to books.

As I was reading, I stopped on these verses. Paul is addressing the Church at Philippi in this letter, and in a number of places Paul hints at the troubles he’s had along the way. But then you come to this set of verses where he reassures the Philippian believers that everything has happened for a reason and that God is already working out the details of his current imprisonment.

How many of us can say that?

And I’m not talking about being in prison. Not literally. Paul was literally in prison, but this was a different era. But he had definitely gone through some frustrating circumstances, and while I may not be in prison, I can identify with situations in my life going nuts. I can identify with struggling to get through a day. I can understand what it’s like to feel trapped by events in my life.

And because I believe in Christ, I usually don’t have a problem being cheerful about the struggles I’m facing. Actually, I’m known for my cheerfulness. Everyone at my office thinks I’m the most positive person they’ve ever met. And that great.

But what good is being cheerful or positive if no one knows it’s for Christ?

You can be cheerful and positive and encouraging all day long without once mentioning the reason you have hope. And more often than not, that’s where I am. I’m rarely specific, and I just let my coworkers come to their own conclusions. Granted, many times this has still led to deeper, more specific conversations because they all come to me and ask advice or opinion. But it’s rare for me to quote Scripture. It’s rare for me to state out loud why I can be cheerful when everything around me is falling apart.

And that’s wrong.

Paul could say that every person around him knew why he was suffering and why he had hope.

I don’t know if I can say the same. Yes, my believer friends know. Yes, people I’m very comfortable with know. But other people? The ones who I have more of a professional relationship with? They assume I’m “religious.” They know I go to church. They know I read the Bible. They know I live by it. But is that enough?

It’s good to say I believe and live the Bible. But what good does that do when the person I’m talking to has no idea what’s even in the Bible? That statement is just as confusing as any religious dogma.

So my intent is to start being less generic and more specific when it comes to addressing the reason for my hope. Because while cheerfulness alone in difficult circumstances may indicate that you have faith, it isn’t going to help anyone else until they understand the source of your hope.

Imitating the gorilla behind the glass

Imitating other people leaves you empty

I have noticed on many occasions that children constantly mimic the actions and words of adults. Why is that? I can remember trying to mimic my parents as a child. I remember sitting with a pad of paper and pen, scribbling illegibly and pretending I was a secretary, even though I had no idea what a secretary did. But I had seen one on TV and thought it was cool. Children like to imitate adults. I’m not sure if it’s because they want to be more grown up. I can’t remember my reasoning behind my mimicry, but I know I did it.

Something happens when we reach adulthood, though, and our imitation changes. We still do it, but it’s not as innocent. We imitate others to fit in, to manipulate, to present an image of ourselves that is false. Some of it is unintentional, even. We imitate style. We imitate speech patterns. We imitate possessions. Ever heard the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”?

And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, I guess. But where does imitating other people get you? Maybe a relationship that isn’t real? Or a promotion at job you hate? Really, as believers, there’s only one person we’re supposed to be imitating, and that’s Jesus.

Imitating the gorilla behind the glass

Imitating the gorilla behind the glass - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

The verse for today is 1 Peter 2:21.

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

As believers in Christ, we are called to do good things, even if it means that we have to be uncomfortable for a while. As children of Adam and Eve, we know the difference between right and wrong; as children of God, we are called to choose right, and we have the power to choose right.

If you are in a situation where you don’t know the answer or you don’t know how to respond to something that has appeared in your life, the answer is to do what Jesus would have done. The whole WWJD campaign was a good idea, but it’s lost its steam. But the concept behind it is the same as what this verse is talking about.

Do what Jesus would do.

Well? What would Jesus do? How did He live? We’re always saying that: WWJD. But what does that mean? Easy answer? Read 2 Peter 22-25.

He never sinned,
      nor ever deceived anyone. 
 23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
      nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
   He left his case in the hands of God,
      who always judges fairly.
 24 He personally carried our sins
      in his body on the cross
   so that we can be dead to sin
      and live for what is right.
   By his wounds
      you are healed.
 25 Once you were like sheep
      who wandered away.
   But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
      the Guardian of your souls.

Sounds like a pretty tall order, huh?

I can hear people now: Jesus never sinned, but I’m not Jesus. That’s true. That’s a standard that we can’t reach because we were born with a sinful nature. We will sin because we aren’t perfect. But by that same token, sin should never been our goal. We shouldn’t wake up in the morning with the attitude that sin is inevitable and it’s no use resisting it. That’s not why Jesus died for us. He died so that we didn’t have to give in to sin. (reference verse 24 above)

The one that really gets me, though, is that He didn’t retaliate when someone hurt Him. It’s hard to turn the other cheek. It’s hard to try to live at peace with people who have no interest in living at peace with you. But Jesus did. And that’s what He expects from us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe there’s a time and a place to stand up for yourself and for your country. But Jesus didn’t come to Earth to lead a revolution or to start a war. He came to save souls. That was His purpose, and that’s what He did. So that’s how we should live.

Imitating people leaves you empty. Jesus is the only person you can imitate who doesn’t ask that you change who you are to please Him; He accepts you either way. And even though following Him can be uncomfortable and inconvenient at the beginning, at the end of the day the rest of the puzzle pieces of your life will come together and you’ll understand why it matters.

Misconceptions

There’s an idea in the world that being a Christian is easy. I’m sure some well-meaning religious types came up with the concept, but the plain and simple truth is that the Christian life is difficult. But then, I suppose it depends on your perspective.

If, as a believer, you can’t grasp the fact that this world is temporary and that succeeding on Earth financially is a waste of time, this life will be difficult for you.

And I’m not talking about the other misconceptions about the Christian life . . . the ones where Christians can’t drink, can’t do drugs, can’t do this, can’t do that, can’t do the things that are bad for them, can’t choose to live their lives the way they want. Not true. There is nothing saying that a Christian can’t do anything. It’s more along the lines of should or shouldn’t. E.G. you can shoot yourself in the head, but you probably shouldn’t because it’s not good for your health.

No, what makes the Christian life truly difficult is the opposition we face. Once you sign on to be a follower of Christ, you immediately pick up an enemy who hates you more than anything. God created people in His image, and Satan hates everything to do with God. And since Satan can’t match God, he comes after us instead. Because the best way to hurt God is to damage our relationship with Him. And Satan has 10,000 years of practice doing just that.

It’s just fascinating to me that Christians don’t talk about this. That they expect new believers to come into the fold without knowing that spiritual warfare is going on around them. Yeah, it’s freaky to think about, but let’s get real here, people. The Bible says that what we can’t see is what’s real. It’s the things we see that will pass away.

The verse this morning is Matthew 7:13-14.

13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[a] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

There’s only one way to have a relationship with God and that is through Jesus Christ. It’s not your good deeds. It’s not the clothes you wear. It’s not the prayers you pray. It’s not the priests you confess to. Jesus is the only way. The road to heaven is narrow but it’s not exclusive, although that’s what many people will tell you. It’s a road anyone can travel if you’re willing to choose it.

But Christians in our culture have given the misconception to the rest of the world that the road to heaven is wide and that the path is easy. So when people come to Christ, they are startled and discouraged when they meet opposition. Christians give the world the idea that all you have to do is follow Christ and your life will be easy, and that’s a lie. Most of the time, when you decide to follow Christ, your life gets much harder.

But here’s the irony of it: you hardly notice.

If you can keep your perspective straight, you can remember that Satan is the one coming after you, and all he can do is pick on you. And he even has to have God’s permission for that, and if God is allowing him that kind of access, there has to be a reason for it. Because there’s a reason for everything God does and allows.

So if being a Christian is so difficult, why choose it?

Well, to me, I can see that God is always moving. And I believe that God is bigger than my life and the lives of everyone on Earth. And I believe He’s big enough to see how all the pieces fit together; shoot, He’s the one who desgined the puzzle. And I believe that even though He may allow some trouble to come into my life, if I keep holding on to Him, He’ll work everything out. That’s how I’ve lived my life since I was seven years old, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. There have been bumps, though. Canyons. Valleys. Dark places. But there have also been mountain peaks and beautiful sunrises.

And when you get right down to it, do you really want an easy answer? Do you really want everything to just be given to you? Do you really want some religion, something Man came up with, to dictate every step of your life? Wouldn’t you rather be free? Wouldn’t you rather experience life to the fullest? I know I would. And to me, anything worth having was never given to me. It was something I had to seek. Or in this case, it was something that sought me that I chose to accept.

Being a real Christian is difficult. Living a Christian life is even more difficult than just being a Christian. But if you want to have joy and peace during the brief life we live on this shattered, broken ball of dirt we call home for now, it’s the only way that will last.

The simple life

I love the Bible. It’s truly the most amazing book I’ve ever read, full of every sort of story you can imagine. Every story that’s ever been written has roots in the Bible, whether people believe it or not. Today’s verse is so clear, so simple, so wonderful — I’m not even sure what to say about it. . . . .

The verse of the day was actually a single verse, but I went ahead and included the whole paragraph where it’s found. And if you want a truly awesome read, you should look at the whole chapter.

1 Peter 3:13-17

 13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.[c] Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Don’t be afraid of threats. Worship God like He’s the only Person who matters to you, and if someone asks you why you are always full of hope, make sure you tell them why. Make sure you tell them that you have hope because of what Christ did for you. But . . . don’t beat them over the head with your salvation. Salvation isn’t a club to bludgeon people into submission. And the Word is a sword, but it’s not to stab unbelievers with. People who don’t believe in Christ aren’t our enemies. They’re just people God made who haven’t come back to Him yet, and usually the reason they left God and won’t come back to Him is because of Christians.

Live your life with a clear conscience. Always do what is right, even if it means that you will suffer for it. Live in a way that you have no regrets. Live a life looking forward and not mulling over things you’ve done that you can’t change. Live the way you’re supposed to — live the way Christ did — and don’t do anything to compromise your witness, and if you do compromise your witness, apologize. Do what you can to make it right.

And then, if people speak out against you, they won’t have any basis for it. Everyone who matters will know why you live the way you live, and everyone who matters will see the kind of life you live, and the people who say mean things about you will simply be branded as people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

We are called to be an unusual, peculiar people. People who love others in spite of what they do to us. People who help others less blessed than us even if we barely have enough to sustain ourselves. And, because of human nature, even if we live the way we’re supposed to, there will always be someone who hates us. The Bible says somewhere else that Christ was hated; so why do we expect to be loved if we live like He did?

I love verse 17. If we do wrong, we’ll suffer. That’s pretty obvious. So is it smart to do wrong and suffer for it when it’s not what God would have us do anyway? If doing wrong ultimately hurts us and hurts the people around us, why do it? Isn’t it better to do what is right, even if we’ll suffer for it? If we do what’s wrong, we have no defense. But if we do what’s right, God will back us up. And even though we might endure a little bit of suffering from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, in the end, we will have maintained our witness. Our consciences will be clear. And the people who are watching us (there are always people watching us) will see that we’re different, that we’re full of hope, and they’ll wonder why. And maybe, if we’re fortunate, they’ll ask us and we can tell them that we live for Christ and Christ alone.

Don’t be afraid. Live like Christ. Worship God. Know what you believe and why. And stick to it. 

It’s simple. It may not feel simple somedays, but it is.