Pay Now or Pay Later

Recently I saw a meme that went around social media that caught my attention. This one I even “liked” when a few people I know posted it. It looks like this:

For some reason, the statements’ sentiment appeared to ring true, but I could not just let it go. I kept thinking about it until I figured out what was wrong. The statements do not reflect how life works, especially in the eyes of a follower of Jesus.

Most of the time, being undisciplined is easy. Anyone can do it. It does not become hard until down the road, and you need the advantages that being disciplined alone can bring. Skipping exercise every day is easy. Sleeping in is terrific, but down the road, maybe in 40 or 50 years, you will want the benefits that a lifetime of good health will bring, and only then will life be hard. The real issue is not choosing which hard life you will lead. The question is, will you lead a comfortable life now that will turn out to be hard later or a hard life now that will have benefits further down the road? No one has difficulty choosing which hard thing they will do. People have trouble deciding if they want an easy life now, knowing the dangers lie ahead in the distant future.

Every day and every week we wake up, we have a choice. Will we pay the price today knowing the rewards will come later, or will we take it easy today and pay the price somewhere down the road? I believe this is true in this life and in the one to come.

Could Not Have Done It Without You

This has been an unbelievable week at our Church.  In 8 days, we will have held a family visitation for the passing of a Church attendee, a funeral and luncheon afterward, youth group with food, along with a wedding rehearsal plus dinner and the wedding.  This on top of two worship programs on each of the Sundays.  All of this on top of Covid season, where we are continually cleaning and disinfecting to keep everyone safe.  Yet, everything is set up to be completed in two days without a glitch. 

The only way our Church was able to accomplish all this over was because of wonderful people who willingly serve others with their time.  There has been a steady stream of people who have been here to set-up, tear down, clean, cook, and prepare the building.  The number of people who have pulled together to make this week happen has been outstanding when you consider that only a couple of us are paid to do anything, that makes it even more impressive. 

This week has reminded me why the analogies for the Church are so fitting.  Believers together are like a family, always looking out for each other.  The followers of Jesus are like an army who work together to accomplish their tasks.  Christians are like a body, and every part has an important function.  Some get recognition, and others do not, but that does not make one more significant than another.  In today’s analogy, I would say the Church is like a team where everyone plays a vital role in winning. 

The New Testament continually gives instructions on how we are to live with one another.  The group is essential to the work of the Lord.  This week I saw everyone playing their part, and other people were blessed because of it.  The Church is far more than a preacher and a meeting on Sunday.  Everyone here is important, and we could not exist without you. 

Failure Pushed Me Forward

I am embarrassed by what I said and did.  It might not seem like a big deal to other people, but it was a colossal failure to me.  While I hate that story being a part of my life, it was the catalyst that moved me in a new direction. 

That one failure forced me to come face to face with my sin.  I had to rediscover my time with God each day.  It helped me to appreciate my wife and family at a deeper level.  From those days until now, I have taken a different approach to life as a Christian, husband, father, and pastor.  That one mistake radically altered my future even though it is a stain in my past. 

My experience has taught me two things. First, no matter what you are going through, God can use it for good.  The overwhelming pain, unbelievable embarrassment, and sheer disappointment in yourself that you feel now could be the event that makes you a better person and believer.  It is hard to imagine that something horrible could make your life better in the long run, but it can. 

Second, when someone is going through a traumatic breakdown because of their sin.  Do not be quick to judge, point fingers, and spread gossip.  The thing that person is going through at that moment may be the thing God uses to change their life.  It might be the wake-up call they needed. 

The people who make it to the finish line of faith are scarred people. Most of them have a story or two which they never tell in public.  They are forgiven, but it is still embarrassing.  I hate that I had to go through it, and I feel sorry for your pain too.  But if we allow God to use it to redirect us, it can be the event that makes us more like Jesus.  

What Are You Thinking About?

Where does your mind go when you have a few spare minutes?  When the room gets quiet, and you have silence to think about anything in the world, what do you find yourself thinking about?

Recently I listened to a lecture that talked about neural pathways.  While it was a lot of scientific stuff that I did not understand, the speaker’s summary was worth the effort to listen.  He said that our brains have pathways to access and store information, and the more we use them, the easier it is to access that pathway without much work.  The example he used was driving to and from work using the same road every day. You have done it so often that your mind doesn’t need to strain to remember how to do it.  Therefore, some days you get to work or back home and barely remember driving.  The pathway was wide, and your mind quickly guided you home without stress. 

The application is quite simple for such a complex issue.   The things you think about the most are where your mind will naturally wander in quiet moments. 

Addiction happens when you have opened a pathway to something terrible.  Your mind will immediately run to “how can I get my next fix.” This can be anything from drugs to alcohol and especially pornography.  The human brain will open the doors to whatever evil you expose yourself to the most. 

The flip side is also true.  If you spend a large amount of time reading, praying, and studying Godly, positive things, then that is where your mind will immediately gravitate toward those during free moments.  This is why Paul says that Christians should be people who renew their minds (Romans 12:2).  He instructs us to focus on whatever is good and noble and Godly (Philippians 4:8).  The more we think about these things, the more we will naturally move that direction when we are given the freedom to open our minds. 

I once heard a preacher named Joe tell the story about how his dad would always question him with this one question, “Son, where is your mind?” That was, and still is, a great question.

A One Hour Summary of Your Life

Yesterday I spoke at a funeral. The entire thing lasted about 45 minutes. The family then traveled to finish the proceedings with another pastor performing a graveside service. I am guessing that it lasted about 15 minutes. All total, a life of 61 years was summarized in about an hour-long service with a nicely written obituary and a slide show of family pictures.

Whenever I am part of a funeral, my mind cannot help but turn to reflection on my own journey. My entire life, and yours too, will be captured in a few brief words from a pastor and some people who cared about us. Since that is true, I wonder what they will say?

Most of these summaries have four aspects to them:

  1. Their Relationships. This person was a spouse, parent, child, sibling, and friend.
  2. Their Passions. What did this person enjoy the most in life? Where did they spend their time and find the happiness they pursued?
  3. Their Personal Stories. This is what happened that helped me to know and love this person who is now gone.
  4. Their Faith. What we believe means more at the end as we step into eternity.

That is it. People rarely talk about the cars or houses they owned. There are very few references to vacations. I have never heard anyone mention the movies or TV shows they watched. The few exceptions are those who had a real passion for something that falls into one of the four categories, like the lady who saved her whole life to take her sister to New York for a week of fun.

Most of what gets said are quiet moments of seemingly insignificant interactions. There was the way he crawled into bed at night and told stories about his childhood to his kids. People speak of the way she would stop and talk to you about yourself. She never spoke of her needs but was always concerned about others. The stories of selfless service, loving sacrifices, and valuing others fill the air with fond remembrance.

If this is true, then we must be continually reevaluating to make sure we are giving our lives to things that will matter after we are gone. Are we connected to others in meaningful ways? Do our passions align with our goals for life? Is our story touching the lives of others in a positive way? Are we prepared for the final day of our life?

Be assured, one day, your life and mine will get one hour of people’s time. They will take all you have done and boil it down into a few little nuggets of goodness. Be sure they have plenty of things from which to choose. If not, you can start changing today what people will say on that day.

Your Biggest Concern

Are you more concerned that people will follow Jesus or that they will like you?

It is a simple question that requires hours of self-reflection, honest relationships, and time in prayer to answer. Because you are a Christian and a representative of Jesus to the world, it is easy to see the two things as being one. They are not the same, and each one has different ramifications.

If you want people to like you, then you will do anything to win their approval. That often means you will change your views to suit the situation. You will never be able to draw a hard line on anything for fear of someone being on the other side. You will also steer away from anything that pushes people to make difficult decisions. There will be no cross those who follow Jesus to take up daily; instead, it will be positive aphorisms repeated to make people happy. Sections of the Bible will have to be ignored or explained away so as not to offend anyone. Being liked makes it hard for you to stand with Jesus because you are always protecting yourself.

If you want people to follow Jesus, then that is an equally challenging road to walk. You will have to speak the truth and understand that people are rejecting Jesus and not you. You will be forced to ask life-altering questions knowing that some people will resent you for doing it. The Bible will be held in high regard, even though you know others will reject it. Helping people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus is a path that forces you to put down your pride and self-promotion.

This week when you talk to other people, there will be a point where you must ask yourself, “Am I concerned with people following Jesus or liking me?” When that moment comes, you can choose the path of least resistance and immediate gratification and decide to do something that will make other people think you are a great person. The other choice will be to stand for the truth in following Jesus. It will be a difficult decision, but you can choose whichever way you like. Just one, Jesus told his followers, is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through him.

Death By Piranhas

Sharks kill people with one bite.  Their large mouth and rows of sharp teeth can destroy their prey quickly and easily.

Piranhas are small fish.  They do not kill their meals in one bite; instead, a group of them will attack their prey together, tearing it apart one little piece at a time.  They usually live on insects and dead animals, but they have been known to attack larger animals and even humans in extremely rare cases. 

While I do not want to die either way, I have seen this as an analogy for a life of faith.  We live in fear of sharks while swimming with the piranhas.  The attacks on our soul rarely come from one big event; instead, they happen one small bite at a time. 

When writing to the Church in Ephesus, Paul tells them to put on the full armor of God.  One part of this outfit is a shield. He says the shield of faith “with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16 – NIV 2011) We might picture large arrows like modern archery equipment, but the reference is more to tiny darts. These little darts were often thrown by hand and had two purposes.  One was to set the attacker’s shield on fire if it was made of wood.  Two, they find any small open areas and try to penetrate, causing injury.  I find it curious that he does not mention evil having a bomb or a bazooka.  The image is a small weapon over a big one, or in other words, piranhas over sharks.

When evil attacks your heart, mind, and soul, it rarely comes in a catastrophic event.  It is always one little bite or one small dart at a time.  Evil comes at you with temptation, doubt, wrath, lust, despair, vengeance, problems, and trials in our lives.  Paul tells us to hold up the shield of faith and stop them. Faith gives us the strength to stand against evil with courage. 

Today and into the near future, you will be attacked in ways meant to injure you in small ways.  Evil does not need a big weapon to make you fall; it just needs you to let your guard down. 

A Heavenly Thought

Recently I have wondered if our first thought the moment we enter paradise would be, “Why did I try to stay on the earth so long? I fought so hard to live a long life, and compared to this, it was not worth all that effort.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and enjoy every minute with my family and friends, but I keep thinking that every minute on this side of eternity is not as wonderful as every minute on the other side.

The Stories I Make Up in My Head

Why did they do that? 

That one question leads us to make up all kinds of stories in our heads.  We create stories behind their actions or lack thereof.  Inside our minds, we say, “I bet they did not come tonight because they were working late.  You know their job is demanding.” 

Not only do we create stories, but we also assign intent.  We make a scenario that explains the motives behind their actions.  We tell ourselves, “They did that to hurt me,” and our anger grows. Possibly we give them an excuse, “Well, deep down, I know they didn’t mean to hurt me, and I will let it slide this one time.” 

How many times have you been disappointed, angry, frustrated, sympathetic, or sad not because of what someone did but because of the story you created in your head to go along with their action? 

Unfortunately, we far too make many false assumptions, fake stories, and wrong guesses when we do this.  And yet, we continue to do it every day.  One challenge in life for everyone, especially for the believer, is to see the best in other people while silencing the voice in our head. 

I don’t know why you did that unless you tell me. 

My guesses are almost always wrong and do nothing but create tension, anxiety, anger, and even depression.  We must let other people tell us the truth and then accept it at face value.  This is so simple and yet incredibly hard to do.  But if you could do it, I am sure it would improve your marriage, parenting skills and even build stronger friendships.  Often the person standing in the way of you having healthy and happy relationships is you.    

I Probably Should Not Have Said That

People speak with a mental filter. I know this is true because I have watched them change their tone, content, and language when they find out I am a preacher. Suddenly, the filter only allows things through that they think I will find appropriate.

This mental filter was learned through their parents for some people, and it has tiny holes in it. They strain out so much bad stuff that anything remotely questionable seems out of character. Others were not raised by parents who were committed Christians, and the holes in their filters are large. This allows lots of things through that you might think they have no filter at all.

Occasionally, the filter does not catch something. Call it a moment of weakness, being real, or speaking your mind. Blame it on being tired, angry, or frustrated. You say something, and you can tell by the look on other peoples’ faces that you crossed a line.

Those misspoken words were then taken wrong. Other people were offended or hurt. They didn’t understand how you could say that. How could you be so thoughtless, mean, cruel, and ignorant?

You, on the other hand, are embarrassed. Regret and guilt fill your mind and your soul. The statement keeps racing through your brain, “I probably should not have said that.” At least not to those people and in that way. I never meant to hurt or offend anyone. It was a mistake. I am sorry for any pain I might have caused.

One challenge for a believer is not to hold onto every word you hear. One aspect of loving each other is that we are to “keep no record of wrongs.” If the followers of Jesus are truly going to love one another, then we will have to let some things go.

Through the years, I had experienced people getting mad at me over something I said or wrote. Some have left the Church I lead in anger and frustration. Others have run my name down because of one stupid comment. Today I want to acknowledge that we all say things we regret. I promise not to hold them against you if you promise not to hold them against me. Together we can practice the grace of Jesus by saying, “You are forgiven for some things you probably should not have said.”