Are you following a hero who will let you down?

Who’s your hero? That was a question I got asked as a kid frequently, and usually the answer was my parents. That’s not a bad answer. Not at all. It’s not even an untrue answer. I just can’t exactly tell you I thought about it very seriously. It was an answer people liked, so I went with it.

There were people I loved and admired, sure. My parents were among them. And I had an army of role models who have continued to be guiding lights in my life, even now. But a hero?

I caught part of the tribute to Stevie Wonder on TV last night. Lots of famous musical artists from around the world had  gathered to honor this man who had changed their lives. To many of them, Stevie Wonder was their hero. And that’s great. I’m sure he’s a great person. I don’t know him personally. I don’t know his life. I do know he’s been a major influence on music in my lifetime, and I do appreciate that.

But what is a hero?

Maybe Stevie Wonder is a great guy, but do you want to live your life exactly the way he has? Maybe that movie star you admire is really successful, but do you want to make the same choices? Even in your life now. That person who you look up to and spend so much time with, do you really want to pattern your life after theirs?

I guess what I getting at is that any hero you place your faith in on this Earth is going to let you down. Any hero you follow without question is going to give you bad advice at some point. Or they’re going to do something foolish that will make you lose faith in them.

There’s only ever been One Person who could truly live up to the expectations of a true hero.

heroToday’s verses are Hebrews 4:14-16.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Does it sound uber-churchy to say your hero is Jesus? That’s what I was always afraid of, so I would make up other answers of people who I thought were cool. But my real hero has always been Jesus. Why?

He’s never let me down. He’s never broken a promise. He’s never led me wrong. His life was perfect, even though He faced all the same things I have. His death was for me, and with His resurrection I have new life.

In our world, we glorify and glamorize sports teams or musicians. We set actors and politicians up on pedestals. We applaud their humanitarian giving and their generous spirits, and if one of them happens to mention God in a speech, we get all excited. Because you have to be really bold to talk about God in Hollywood.

And I’m sure you do. I’ve never been to Hollywood, so I don’t know. I imagine it’s really intimidating to thank God for the prestigious award you’ve won in front of lights and cameras and everyone. But what’s more important? Thanking God for what He’s done for you or living a life that demonstrates that thankfulness?

We criticize church people for hypocrisy all the time, but we rejoice when somebody famous thanks God for something and then turns around and lives a lifestyle devoid of any sort of conviction or faith.

I don’t want to pick on anyone. Let me tell you, I’ve read a lot of books by a lot of really awesome writers, and if I had the opportunity to pick their brains, I’d love it. But I’m not going to say they’re my hero because they did something I admire.

I’ve seen lots of amazingly talented movie stars and musicians, and maybe I stand in awe of what they are capable of doing. But I would never call one of them my hero just because they can do something I can’t do.

No. To me, a hero is someone you pattern your life after. It’s someone you follow. It’s someone whose footsteps you seek out and walk in. You do what they do, because they’re your hero, and you want to be just like them.

So think seriously before you start claiming people as your heroes. It’s a big deal. Because you will become like whoever you’re following. Pattern your life after another person who’s just as lost as you are, and you’ll end your life without hope, regardless of whether the world calls you successful or not.

Don’t be ashamed to call Jesus your hero. Don’t be afraid that you’ll sound like a crazy person. You might sound nuts, but people thought Jesus was nuts too. So it comes with the territory.

There’s only one hero in our world, and that’s Jesus. He gave His life for us. He gave up everything He had for our sake. He lived a perfect life, and He conquered death. He came to our world and did the impossible, and He made a way for us to do the impossible too.

Who wouldn’t want a hero like that?

Cities aren’t meant to be hidden (and neither is faith)

Homes in the country are easy to spot. At least, they are in Kansas. We’re pretty flat around these parts, so if you’re driving down a dirt road looking for a house, there are a few things you can count on to be true.

Most of the time, you can see a house from miles and miles and miles away. We also don’t have a lot of trees here in the heartland. So many homes are just out in the open. But homes that have been here for a long time are usually always surrounded by some kind of hedgerow. So if you see a big clump of trees in the middle of a field, there’s a good chance there’s a house.

But what if it’s night? Well, then, the best course of action is to look for the yard light. Many farms will have yard lights somewhere on the property that shine brightly enough to illuminate the yard. There are no streetlights in the country, so a yard light is going to stand out for miles and miles around.

That’s the point. Letting people know where you are. There wouldn’t be much point to a yard light that didn’t shine.

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier, Chicago, IL

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:14.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.

Ever try to think about hiding a city? Gosh, that would take a lot of effort. Cities are big. You really couldn’t even hide a small town anymore. But we’re not supposed to hide our cities and towns, just like we’re not supposed to hide our yard lights. Cities and towns and lights all serve a purpose, and the main purpose is for them to be found.

Cities need people, otherwise they wouldn’t be cities.

So if it doesn’t make sense to hide your yard light or to hide a city, why do Christians try to hide Christ?

On one hand, that’s an easy answer. Jesus upsets people. Jesus makes people angry. He calls them to be accountable for their choices, responsible to face their own consequences, or to recognize the fact that they are not the absolutely authority over their own lives. Jesus isn’t popular, and people who follow Him aren’t either.

It’s not fun to be unpopular. You get left out of a lot of things. And you get made fun of and disrespected.

But how else are you going to see the road in the darkness if you don’t use a light? That’s what we forget. The more we try to keep Jesus to ourselves so we don’t offend other people, the more we hurt our own walk. If we don’t live Jesus in public, it’s really difficult to live for Him in private.

Maybe it makes us the butt of unpleasant jokes or causes people to treat us unkindly, but you know what? Jesus never got treated like royalty. Why should we expect it when He didn’t? And He even deserved it.

Living for Christ on a daily basis is a moment-to-moment choice, and it’s not easy. But the more you try to live your life for Him, doing what He says is right and honoring Him with your choices, the more light you’ll have to see by. And then one day you’ll wake up and the road won’t be dark at all. You’ll know exactly where you’re going because you can see.

And then something else amazing will happen. Other people will start tagging along.

It won’t happen overnight, but slowly others will start asking you questions about why you make the choices you make. They’ll want to know why you’re so sure you know where you’re going. And, more than anything else, they’ll be curious about the light you have in your life. They won’t call it that, but you will see more clearly than anyone else they know. And they’ll want to know what your secret is.

If they ask, be ready to tell them. Because it’s not the name-brand batteries in your super-duper LED flashlight that’s illuminating your road. It’s the light from Jesus in your life. And just like you can’t hide a city on a hill in the darkness, you can’t hide the light of Jesus in your actions. People will be drawn to it. So just be ready.

It won’t be easy, but on the day when that person who was making fun of you comes to you and asks for help, you’ll see that it’s all worth it.

Wearing the other team’s colors in the home bleachers

Have you ever seen a sporting event on television where the stadiums are full of a team’s home colors? Around Wichita, it’s black and gold, with a hefty helping of blue and red or Wildcat purple. But there have been times when I’ve seen a sporting event where the stands are full of one color of shirts and hats—except for one or two people, who are wearing the opposing team’s colors.

I’ve always thought those people were very brave. Wearing the enemy’s colors, right? Wouldn’t it be easier to wear the same color as everybody else? Wouldn’t it be wiser not to set yourself apart as different from the rest? Why would you draw attention to yourself like that?

How many times do we use that logic when we’re talking about following Jesus?

Standing_out_from_the_CrowdToday’s verse is Isaiah 29:13.

And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”

It’s so much easier to blend in, to put our heads down, to not stick out. The more you stick out, the more attention you draw. And, let’s just be honest, sometimes attention isn’t fun.

And maybe it’s okay at a sporting event. I’m sure it’s okay in other circumstances to claim allegiance to a team or a cause even if you don’t really support it in your heart. It’s not an earth-shaking trauma if you aren’t a Broncos fan but you wear a Broncos fan jersey to a game. But if you take that same approach with following Jesus, you’re going to have trouble in your life.

With Jesus, it’s all or nothing. Sure, you can get your “hell insurance,” but if that’s all you want out of a relationship with Him, you aren’t going to be very easily satisfied with your life.

I don’t understand the Christians who say they believe in Jesus but consistently go against what the Bible says is right. If you don’t believe the Bible, if you don’t support the teachings of Jesus, if you don’t want to live like a Christian, why do you call yourself a Christian?

I have atheist friends, and I am proud to know them because they are honest about themselves and their lives. I also have encountered Christians who say they have trusted Jesus for their salvation (and I don’t doubt it) but who refuse to live their life by Jesus’ example. And I don’t understand.

They are the same people the prophet Isaiah is talking about in this verse. They honor God with what they say, but their hearts are facing the opposite direction.

Now, are we supposed to run around offending everyone we come into contact with? No! Absolutely not. Jesus wasn’t offensive. Yes, He said things that offended people, but He wasn’t offensive as a person. As a person, He was beloved. Even people who didn’t agree with Him still wanted to talk to Him.

So if you were at a game where God and the World were competing against each other, whose colors would you be wearing? Would you be bold enough to don God’s colors and cheer? Would you be courageous enough to wear God’s colors even if you were sitting amidst a section of only the World’s supporters?

Think about it. Because that’s what we’re called to do.

The ones who matter and the ones who mind

Have you ever been blamed unfairly? I think that’s something everyone experiences. You’re just rocking through life, doing what you do, and somebody comes along and blows up your world when they drop the bomb on you: “You screwed up!”

What do you do when that happens? Do you get angry? Do you respond with a scathing email? Do you crumble in a heap and hate on yourself? There are all sorts of ways to answer an unfair, unfounded accusation. It depends on your personality type. But if you’re a Christ-follower, there’s only one way to react: You react the way Jesus would.

blameToday’s verse is 1 Peter 2:12.

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

The whole “WWJD” craze burned out years ago, and it’s a shame, because it was a beautiful concept. What a great idea to give yourself a reminder on what Jesus would do every time you had to make a decision!

But just because you don’t see the WWJD bracelets around anymore doesn’t mean that you can’t still ask yourself the question. And you should. In every situation. Not just the good ones or the happy ones.

What I would love to do when people blame me unfairly is to put up a huge sign where everyone in the world can see it, showing them that I’m right and my accuser is wrong. Isn’t that horrible? I’m ashamed to say it, but that’s what’s really in my heart when somebody points out my wrong when I haven’t done anything wrong.

But I don’t like confrontation, so my passive aggressive version of that is to create characters just like the people who piss me off and put them in novels where I make them look like idiots.

Yes, the ugly truth of my vindictive side.

But Jesus didn’t do that. If he ever told stories about anyone, He just told the truth, and if they came off as idiots, it wasn’t because He embellished. And He didn’t get angry either. When He was unfairly blamed, He just took it and quietly pointed out the truth.

So that’s what we’re supposed to do.

What I’ve learned about people who blame others unfairly is that they’re often jumping to conclusions. They need someone to blame, so they pick an easy target. Or they’re trying to get the Powers that Be to ignore their own screw ups, so they redirect attention to someone else’s screw ups instead.

Dealing with people like this is a two-fold process. The first step is simple, but it’s not easy. It’s learning how to hold your temper and your tongue when people point fingers at you that you don’t deserve.

It takes time to learn how to do it, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. And the more you realize why people are throwing you under the bus (to get the attention off their own shortcomings), the easier it is to deal with.

The second step takes a lot more effort and long-term planning. It’s living a life that contradicts anything negative that’s said about you. It’s conducting yourself with behavior that is above reproach, so that even if someone accuses you of wrongdoing, nobody would believe it.

Wow, can you live a life like that? Jesus did, and that means you can too. No, it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It just means you need to live the way Jesus did. You make decisions the way Jesus did—not selfishly or anxiously, but with the greater good in mind. Do your best to get along with your coworkers. Don’t get dragged into drama. Try to be a peacemaker. When you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. And always, always do what’s right.

If you live your life that way, it doesn’t matter what anyone accuses you of. No accusation will stick.

If someone has blamed you for something you did wrong, yes, take responsibility for it. Step up. But if you aren’t wrong, respond quietly and gently with the truth and let the pieces fall where they will.

Because the people who mind don’t matter…. and the people who matter don’t mind.

Shaggy donkey at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How assumptions can damage your relationships

Say it’s been a month since you talked to someone. And it’s not someone you know extremely well—more of an acquaintance. After that month passes, do you think any differently of that person? Do the whispers start in your brain that maybe they don’t like you and that’s why they haven’t tried to communicate with you?

I’m an introvert. But being an introvert doesn’t make you shy, though most shy people are introverts. I can be shy when I’m in a new situation or when I’m forced to interact with people I respect a lot. When I’m around people I’m comfortable with, I’ll talk your ear off. But I won’t chase you down to tell you a story. I’m one of those weirdos who waits until you come up to me and express interest in me—then I’ll tell you stories ‘til I’m blue in the face.

But if other people don’t make the effort to talk to me, I don’t even think about pursuing them, unless it’s someone within my really tight circle. And then, it’s not instinctual. I have to remind myself to reach out to people I love. It’s not my default.

For people I’m already very close to, I assume they know I love them. For people I’m only acquaintances with, I assume they don’t like me or I annoy them or they just aren’t interested in me or my life or my perspective.

But there’s an old saying about making assumptions, which I won’t repeat here. But I’m willing to bet most people have heard it. And I was reminded yesterday about the dangers of assuming and how it can cause harm to your relationships.

Shaggy donkey at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Shaggy donkey at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 11:3.

He will delight in obeying the Lord.
    He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.

So how do you get through life when you don’t know all the answers? Quite honestly, we just won’t know everything, and sometimes we’ll have to guess. But I believe there’s a difference between guessing and assuming. A guess implies that you’ve done your research, that you’ve done your best with a subject that has no real concrete answer, and you’ve made the best choice you could. An assumption implies that you’re just taking something for granted, whether it’s actually true or not.

No one should ever live life that way.

Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that you’re right. Don’t assume that someone else is wrong. Don’t assume everyone is happy with you. Don’t assume everyone is angry with you.

Now if you’re guessing—if you’re taking the facts and coming to a logical conclusion, that’s different. But assumption means you’re just choosing to believe something without even looking at the facts.

I hadn’t talked to this one person in ages. Ages and ages. And, to be very honest, I was half expecting that this person had decided I wasn’t really worth talking to. And it didn’t bother me too much. We aren’t close friends. So I assumed I just wasn’t important to this person anymore.

Why? No communication. For me, the introvert, I assumed that lack of communication mean this person no longer wanted to communicate with me anymore at all.

Guess what? I assumed wrong.

We ended up in a room together yesterday and had a great conversation with lots of laughing and storytelling and just general good times. I had stored up a list of things to talk about in the off chance I’d run into this person, and I went over them. And we agreed on every single one.

It was just entirely pleasant.

So I spent the rest of the afternoon kicking myself because I know better than to assume anything about relationships. Just because our positions had changed, just because our relationship had changed somewhat, didn’t mean this person didn’t want to talk to me anymore. It just meant the opportunity for us to talk at all had been greatly diminished. But that didn’t mean my opinion or perspective—or even me personally—was any less valuable.

It’s my own foolish insecurities whispering in my ear.

So who is that person in your life who you haven’t spoken to in a long time? Or maybe they haven’t spoken to you? Are you guessing that they aren’t interested in talking to you? Or are you assuming?

If you have definite evidence that they don’t want to be a part of your life, well that’s not an assumption. That’s a pretty fair guess, especially if they’ve made it clear that they want nothing to do with you.

But if you’re just being emotional about it? Be honest. If you’re just taking something personally? Or if you just have made the decision without any evidence? That’s not a good decision. Decisions made that way rarely turn out for the best.

If it’s a relationship you value, reach out to them. If it’s one you aren’t really interested in pursuing, don’t worry about it (why are you even concerned about it?). If you choose to assume something about them that isn’t true, you’re going to cause your friendship to break apart.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t assume. Don’t take anything for granted. Life is too short and friendships are too precious to risk because you’re scared of the truth.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Dealing with difficult people isn’t about you

Difficult people are everywhere. I’m sure you know a couple. Maybe more than a couple. You probably deal with them in the store, on the road, at school. You might even live with one, and you most likely work with one. Heck, you might even be one.

If you are one … Jesus loves you. Grow up.

For everybody else, keep reading.

Living, dealing, working with difficult people is just something we all have to figure out, because you can’t escape difficult people. If you quit your job because people there are difficult, guess what? Your next job will have difficult people too. If you move out of your house because your family is difficult, guess what? That’s right. You’ll live in an apartment complex or with roommates who are difficult.

So if difficult people are a constant in this universe, the only recourse we have is to learn how to deal with them.

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 2:23-26.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.

There are lots of books and advice on how to manage difficult people, and I’m honestly not sure if there’s one sure answer. But one thing I can tell you that I’ve learned is that if you give a difficult person a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.

Sometimes I think Christ-followers think that being kind to people means that we need to give others everything they ask for. And that’s not kindness, especially if what you’re giving them is bad for them. Like a diabetic. Is it kind to give a diabetic a candy bar? No! I mean, they may want it, but giving it to them will ultimately hurt them. And that’s not kindness. That’s enabling.

Just because someone comes up and asks you for something doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. And it’s not disrespectful or rude to ask some basic questions about what they want. Why do they want it? How soon do they need it? Who else will be affected by their request? Now, granted, you can ask those questions in a disrespectful or rude tone of voice, and that will change the meaning all the way around. But anyone who gets upset at you for asking basic informative questions like that has bigger issues than what you can fix.

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned in dealing with difficult people: It’s not about me.

If a difficult person gets upset at me because of something I’ve done or something I won’t do, it’s not about me. It’s about them. If I have a legitimate reason for refusing to do something and can kindly and gently back up my reasoning and they still get upset, the problem is on their end. Not mine.

Now that doesn’t give you the right to be mean. That doesn’t give you the right to call names or gossip or hurt people, even if they hurt you. You can gently tell someone no. You can kindly refuse to do something, especially if you have a reason for it. And if that person still gets upset with you, you will have the peace of mind knowing that you behaved in a way that would bring honor to God.

Difficult people thrive on drama, and if you refuse to be dragged into their drama, they don’t have anything to feed on. That’s true in any situation, whether you live or work with them. Don’t get upset at them. Don’t yell at them. Don’t call them names or be passive aggressive and try to get them in trouble. Just be honest with them. If they’re off target, tell them gently.

You be the person you’re supposed to be. You do what God says is right. And God will honor that.

And, besides, you never know what God will do in someone else’s heart. You never have a reason to be cruel or mean to someone else. So even though it’s tempting to call names and gossip, don’t.

Stay out of the drama. Speak the truth with love. Gently stand firm for what’s right.

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Living like everyone has a long memory

I don’t often post about work on this blog, mainly because I never want to run the risk of getting too personal in my stories. But my work plays a huge role in my life, and I learn so much from it and from the people I work with. And yesterday, I got a really interesting reminder about the blessing (or danger) of long memories.

Okay. Story time.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a copywriter for a plumbing company. Sometimes I travel to locations around the country where customers are installing our piping systems so I can conduct interviews and write articles. A number of years ago, I was visiting a job site in Cincinnati, and that evening I got to have dinner with the owners of the mechanical contracting shop in charge of the project. We talked industry. We talked politics. We talked plumbing. And then we talked personal interests, and my love of writing came up–along with the science fiction novel I was trying to get published (called Nameless, in case anyone wants to know). Turns out, both of these owners are huge geeks, and they jumped on the topic eagerly, wanting to know how a publishing company works, wanting to understand how writing a book works, wanting to know everything about the book I’d written. At the end of the dinner, they told me they wanted me to keep them updated about the novel so they could buy it when it hits the shelves (in January, published by Crosshair Press).

Well, that was years ago. And there was quite a bit of alcohol consumed around that table. And I honestly figured they hadn’t really meant it. So you can imagine my surprise when the local sales rep from Cincinnati approached me at this year’s National Sales Meeting yesterday and informed me that those two owners had been asking about my book.

I was flabbergasted. I honestly didn’t know what to say. But once I recovered myself, I got to share the exciting news that my book will be published at the beginning of next year, and if they really want to buy it, they will be able to.

Honestly. Two union plumbing contractors interested in my science fiction novel. Of all the things they remembered about me from that night (other than the fact that I only drank water), they remembered my book. And they remembered it well enough to ask about it years afterward.

That made my day.

But then I got to thinking how awful would it have been if they’d remembered something negative about me? So many times people say they don’t have good memories, but what that means is they don’t usually remember good things. When it comes to bad things, people remember in startling detail. And as Christ-followers, we need to be aware of that.

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

An elephant at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 2:11-12.

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

What if I had been rude or distant? What if I had been ignorant or proud? What if I had been stuck up or snotty? I think these guys would have remembered that. Or they would have written me off completely, because that’s how they expect people to act.

What do the people around you think of you? Have you ever thought about it? Granted, you shouldn’t choose your actions based on what other people think of you, but never forget that as followers of Christ, we are here to be examples to those who don’t believe. We are ambassadors for Christ, and we are commanded to live lives that are above reproach. That means even if someone accuses of you doing something wrong, the way you live your life will be enough of a witness to show them a liar.

Do you think living that kind of life is impossible? Nothing is impossible with God. Why do you think He left us the Bible? The Bible has everything that we need to live a Christ-honoring life, and–what’s more–if you live according to what the Bible says, you’ll leave an impression on people. And it’ll be a good impression. An impression they’ll remember for years to come.

No, don’t live your life to please people, but never forget that people are always watching. Maybe it’s not fair, but they’re always waiting for that opportunity to write your faith off as something that’s not real. Don’t give them that opportunity.

Love God. Love people. Be real. And watch God work. Who knows what He’ll use in your life to influence people? Don’t discount anything. We serve a God who can feed 10,000 people with a sack lunch, so why am I shocked that He could intrigue two plumbers with a science fiction novel?