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.

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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.

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

People who trust don’t throw tantrums

Why do people get so upset at each other? Have you noticed that happens a lot? More and more frequently it seems. A part of me understands it. Sometimes it takes harsh words to spur the indolent into action. Sometimes it takes threats to accomplish things when people just don’t care.

But are harsh words and threats really necessary?

I overheard someone losing their temper on the phone (yes, I guess this is the week for me listening into other people’s conversations), but I didn’t have to jump to any conclusions about what was happening. This was just out-and-out temper tantrum. Complete with cursing and whining and guilt trips and accusations.

And all I could think about as I listened to it was, “Thank God I don’t work with the public anymore.” I had more than my fair share of customers like that, the ones who blow up when they don’t get their way, the ones who throw a fit because their unrealistic expectations aren’t met.

In those situations, I’d bust my butt to make them happy. I’d go over and above and beyond and lots of other prepositional superlatives to help them have a pleasant experience. And most of the time, after they got their way, they’d admit to not being upset about it but that they were just playing the role so they wouldn’t have to face consequences for their actions.

And that’s not always the case. From the sounds of this conversation today, it was an unfortunate situation. The person on the phone screaming profanity every other word was the victim in the situation, but let me be the first to tell you from a customer service perspective, it doesn’t matter if you’re the victim or not. You come at me screaming profanity, and I just want you to stop talking.

But it got her what she wanted.

And what’s really sad? I know Christians who behave like this. People who claim to believe in Jesus, who follow Him, who love Him, act like children having a tantrum when they don’t think they’re being treated right.

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

I’ve gotten direct with people on the phone before. But I didn’t shout and scream. I didn’t curse and rant.

There’s something about screaming and carrying on that just wears people down. Getting loud with people just makes them want to give you what you want, so I think many people have gotten into the habit of getting loud when they don’t get their way or when they get their feelings hurt.

Just like a child in a toy aisle who doesn’t get what he wants.

But what does that do to you as a person? What kind of person does that turn you into? What kind of message does it send to the people around you? The ones who are unwittingly stuck next to you while you have your screaming, cussing conversation.

I guarantee, if you turn around and start trying to tell me about what church you go to, I’m not going to be interested. If you turn around and start telling me about how you love Jesus, I won’t believe you.

Now am I saying that we should let people walk all over us? No. There’s a time to stand up and be firm. There’s a time to put your foot down and demand justice, what’s fair. But just because you demand it—even if you legally demand it—that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. So what do you do when you don’t get your way? Do you throw a fit? Do you scream and shout until somebody gives you what you want?

Or do you sit back and let God keep His promises?

Maybe it’s God’s way of reminding you who’s in control. Maybe it’s God’s method of teaching you that your material things don’t matter. Maybe it’s God trying to help you understand that your way isn’t the best way.

If you really trust God, you won’t throw a tantrum. You may not be happy about it, but if you honestly trust Him, your world won’t come crashing down just because you didn’t get your way.

Think about it and consider that the next time things don’t go as planned. Believe me, you might not get your way, but you might change someone’s life.

And you’ll certainly be a more pleasant person to stand next to at the grocery store….