Live as a Citizen of Heaven

Two verses I read recently made me really happy. You know how just reading  something lifts you up, right away? Makes you feel like you could do anything? They are both from the book of Philippians.

“I pray that your love will overflow more and more…Keep on growing in knowledge and understanding…Live pure and blameless lives…be filled with the fruit of your salvation.” – Philippians 1: 5-11 (various.)

The other is from the same chapter, but verse 27: “You must live as citizens of heaven.”

Lately there is so much animosity going around between political parties. I knew I would not vote for the President, but I had my doubts about Romney as well. The future of our country is definitely uncertain, but then, how is that any different than what people said four years ago? Ten years ago? Two decades, or two hundred years, ago? It’s not! The future is uncertain – otherwise,  it wouldn’t be the future! We can make all the plans we want to. We can figure out how to fix the economy and in two years an act of God could destroy this country.

What good would our plans be then? I don’t pen this to say that we shouldn’t make plans to make our lives as a nation or an individual better. We should. That is the responsible part of life; that is Biblical. But the truth is that sometimes life hands us things that can’t be fixed in a timely manner. Meaning – on our timetable. Sometimes time is all it takes and it takes a lot of time!

So what should we do while we wait? Fret about who leads our country? Fret about our role in it? Seriously, what is your role? Is it to change the world? No! All our lives, we as Westerners have been taught that we as individuals can make a difference. Really? How? That is what I’d like to know, because I have wasted thousands of hours of my own life, if not millions, planning ways that I could make the lives of everyone around me better if I could just find the right words, or behave the right way, or be smarter or nicer or tougher or gentler. Ugh!

It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?  That one little light can shape the outcome of billions of people. But it is such an utter lie, I think. The only world we can change is our own – our own individual world. There is a period of time when we are in control of our children before they are old enough to say no. To do what we don’t want them to do. And that is all. For the better part of our lives, the only control we have is over ourselves. There is nothing I can do to fix the peace problem in the Middle East. There is nothing I can do to fix the United States government or to shape the outcome of an election.

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? When Jesus came, so many Christians were pumped because they thought He was going to step up and take the place of oppressive government and make it work for everyone. But He had no desire to do that whatsoever. Why do you think that is? Because it wasn’t important? Because He didn’t care? No. It was important and He did care, but it wasn’t the point of His coming at all.

If everyone stepped out of politics, what would we have? A huge federal government existing solely for itself? Probably so. And how much more screwed up would it be than it is now?

I’m not telling people to avoid voting or debating, but I am advising people to live for eternity, not for the here and now. For example: abortion has always been a hot-button issue since Roe v. Wade. That’s not to say abortions weren’t being performed before that decision – they were. They probably took a lot less lives after the decision. The point is this: you or I cannot change the fact that until “Thy kingdom come,” people are going to want and have abortions. Debate it. Talk about how you feel. Let your opinion or experience help someone else to make a decision. But you cannot make that decision for another living soul. So all the hostility in the world will not change someone’s opinion; it will  just cause more animosity.

The world is chock-full of lost people! That is so sad to me. And there is a “tolerance gospel,” as I like to call it, that has gone a bit astray in trying to win hearts and minds for Christ. We are called to confront sin. We are called for other things as well, but we cannot forget this or wish it away because it’s hard and uncomfortable. But we cannot preach love to everyone if we hate them at the same  time. We cannot call everyone who disagrees with us ignorant or stupid or just plain wrong.

What can we do? We can do what the verses in Philippians say: Keep on growing in knowledge and understanding…Live pure and blameless lives…be filled with the fruit of your salvation. These directions aren’t about us and others – they are about ourselves. The world is full of hurting, lost, and mistaken people – for sure. And we are not supposed to silently watch – passively watch – people in those conditions go by in front of us. But there is a balance here that is totally out of whack.

We, as Christians, are called to be disciples of men. That is a hard pill for me to swallow. I do not at all feel comfortable discussing a stranger’s beliefs in God with him or her. But we can all be examples. We cannot change the world. We can only change ours. So whatever you are called to do, do it!! Do it with grace, mercy, honor, integrity, and excellence.

When Argument Doesn’t Help

Have you ever found yourself arguing with someone who isn’t a Christian and wondering what in the world you are doing wrong, because this person just doesn’t seem  to get it? There is a verse from Romans 14 that states we should not argue about right and wrong “with those who are weak in the faith.”

This verse, verse one, is talking about baby Christians versus mature Christians. But I have found that it is also true when it comes to non-Christians. Despite what seems  so obviously right or wrong to us, non-Christians and even BC’s (Baby Christians) might not know of our values or might not understand them. We all know that living in the world versus living for eternity presents differences of opinion, moral value, and belief systems. It is almost impossible to reconcile those differences between  Christians and non-Christians or BCs.

I looked at it another way. What if you consider yourself to be a mature Christian and I to be a BC? What to do then when you are in  the midst of an argument and there is an obvious disconnect between two Christians? On top of that, Christians who are mature in some ways might have a blind  spot or two.

Does this mean that we just give up trying to get our point across,  or expressing  our opinion, or confronting a fellow Christian when they are sinning? No! It just means you have to think before you do it.

If you are in the midst of an argument and realize that you are on separate pages, just stop! What you say will likely not change the other person’s mind, and it will  probably just escalate a situation. Just admit to the other person that you know you don’t see eye-to-eye, but that you have heard each other out and you would like to just end on an encouraging note.

If the person is a non-Christian, and you realize that the argument is going nowhere, end similarly. If the person is a non-Christian and you just feel you must say something, do so with tact and kindness, and not in an aggressive manner.

But if you are discussing a point, or points,  here are some tips to keep it from becoming an argument, taken from Pastor Rick Warren on

  1. LISTEN! Let the other person finish before interrupting with a point of your own. If you don’t fully hear out the other person, you could be interrupting for nothing. They might me saying something totally different from what you expect.
  2. Stay calm. You’re just talking! “Proverbs 19:11 (NIV) says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” If you’re patient, you’re wise. As a pastor, you need to be patient with people who are less mature and those who misjudge. You need to keep calm,” Warren wrote.
  3. “[T]he real meaning of people is down inside of them. A man of understanding will be able to draw others out with questions. How do you do that? Ask clarifying questions, such as: Who? What? When? How? Questions like that will draw out those you are listening to and let them know you have their attention.”
  4. Mirror back what was said to each other to make sure there are no discrepancies or misunderstandings. For example: the other person might say they believe in something you view as sin, and you need to hear their “why” so you can say it back to make sure you understand each other. You would be monumentally surprised how often what you actually heard the first (or fifth) time is truly not what the other person said! Keep saying it over and over in different ways to make sure your point came across the way you intended. A lot of inflammatory  problems can  be fixed this way. It does take time and patience, but remember that when it comes to opinions and beliefs, we all hold tightly to these. So tightly that it is easy to get offended when someone disagrees with us. By using the mirror technique, you are able to have a tough conversation or exchange in an appropriate manner.

What Does Judging Someone Mean?

While this topic seems so hot right now, it is part of the human condition to judge others so I don’t think this problem in our psyches is a recent development. It’s been at the forefront  of my mind as I examine some of my worst tendencies and how to correct them. One of those, unfortunately,  is a tendency to judge others based on my opinions, beliefs, and values.

1 Corinthians 4:5 states the following: Don’t be judgmental about anyone “ahead of time – before the Lord returns. For He will bring our darkest secrets to light…”

Whoa. That’s the part we tend to forget as we think or talk about the faults of others. There is that niggling fear in the back of our minds, as Christians: what is He going to say about me, and will it be in front of a long line of people waiting to meet Him in heaven? That could prove a bit awkward!!

So what is judgment exactly, and how do we stay away from it? First, here are some things it is not:

  1. Judging is not being angry at someone for their sins. Feelings are feelings; you cannot control them. You can only control how you respond to them.
  2. Judging is not forcing someone who has committed a crime to pay their legal price.
  3. Judging is not confronting someone you care about, out of pure love and not hatred or spite or envy or malice, when they are sinning.

Here’s what judgment IS: Judgment  is feeling superior to someone because of their sin, or their faults. And before you go rushing off to confront all the judgmental people in your life, stop and think: that’s a lot of people! And you’re on the list!

No? You don’t think so? Ok. Here are some normal, every-day ways we judge others:

  • When someone commits a crime, we call them  names: loser, idiot, reject, worthless. The worst criminal in the world is still God’s child.
  • When someone does something sinful, such as engage in promiscuous sex, lie, cheat, steal – etc., we get on our high-horse. We tell ourselves (and possibly even that person) that we would never do such a thing! But hold up though – they could say equally bad things about you!
  • When someone isn’t who we want them to be, we withhold love from them. The people I know who do this have themselves been in this situation, for things that were not at all their fault. Harsh, judgmental, critical people with unrealistic expectations often do this.
  • Any time you think or say that someone isn’t good enough for you, you are judging that person. Jesus told us we are not to throw our pearls to swine. What that means is that  we are open with love towards everyone, but protect your heart (your pearls) from people who only want to harm you. It doesn’t mean you are better than them, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t show them love. They may have done a really terrible thing, but throughout the course of your life you are going to do many sinful things, some of them really terrible.
  • Private people tend to have hidden sins most people, if any, can’t see. It’s easy to point out the visible sins in others through spite. Don’t!


Christians Have it So Easy!

Didn’t you think this when you became a Christian? You were riding that high of recognizing Christ and believing in Him, and you thought you’d hit the jackpot because Christians can handle anything.

Isn’t it funny that lots of Christians around you didn’t seem to be handling things as well as they should? Did you notice that? Did you put two and two together?

“We are dead to the power of sin,” says Paul in Romans 6:11. Hmmm…hold up…are we? As Christians, we still sin. So how are we dead to it? Are some Christians dead to it and others are less loved by God?

In Living Beyond your Feelings, Joyce Meyer wrote that “none of the fruits of the spirit develop without something to make us exercise them.” The fruits are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control, according to Galatians 5:22-23. So if we exercise these fruits, we will be least likely to sin.

When we become Christians, we assume we just inherit these fruits.  We won’t have to work for them. They will come easy to us. Always! Live and learn, right? You quickly find out these fruits are hard work! And we believe we are such failures as Christians, and rather than tell each other our flaws we strive continually to hide them rather than being found out.

As for how we feel about other Christians, there tend to be two categories: those who make excuses for the sins of fellow believers and those who judge fellow believers the harshest.

Neither is the way. Love. Forbearance. And confrontation, when needed, in a loving way. And try to do that with yourself – meaning confront your character flaws and sins in a loving way. Reflect on your progress, reflect on God’s love, and leave the expectations, real or imagined, of others out of it.

Cosmic Fame

There are so many reasons to admire famous people. Excellent entertainment skills; astonishing athletic ability; exceptional leadership. Even great business sense.

I like reading about the accolades of celebrities. I like when they use their fame to good end. It shows a human side to people we so elevate.

However, it is that elevation that causes such trouble. CNN did a story about a woman who stood up to former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

As regards the Sandusky debacle, Vicky Triponey had this to say:

“The culture is deep,” she said. “The culture is making decisions based on how others will react, not based on what’s right and wrong.” It focused on the interests of those at “the top of the chain,” she added. “Others at the bottom didn’t matter.”

She had nothing to do with Sandusky and wasn’t aware of it happening; her problem came when she tried to institute penalties against football players who broke the rules, and she came up against a solid brick wall: Joe Paterno.

The names of celebrities who committed true crimes are endless. I won’t even mention any others. I just want to express that it is nice and normal and good to have people to look up to and admire. It gives us a goal as well; something to strive for. Something we want.

It’s when that gets out of hand – when the hero worship is taken way too far – that we need to take a serious step back and stop excusing famous people who commit crimes. I can promise you that whoever out there you would let off the hook for a critical wrongdoing would not do the same for!