Are You a Successful Christian?

Successful Christian

The world around us is enamored with success, isn’t it? We all want to be successful, whether financially, in our careers, as parents, or as members of our community. Success makes us feel good, important, like we are making a difference in the world around us.

Just for kicks, I googled “successful Christian” to see if anything popped up.

And I was shocked. I shouldn’t have been, but I was.

There were hundreds of hits.

People are actually on the internet, searching for how to be a successful Christian.

Is it even possible? Do success and Christianity have anything to do with one another?

The dictionary defines success as the accomplishment or attainment of a goal, or as a favorable outcome to one’s endeavors. Seems a little contradictory to the idea of Christianity, since Christians believe we are saved by grace through faith alone, not by our own works or good deeds.

And judging from the people Jesus spent most of his time with, it doesn’t seem like success was important to him. In fact, just a brief glimpse at His life on earth and you won’t find a predictable model of success.

  • He was poor.
  • He was homeless.
  • He hung out with the outcasts, the downtrodden, the pond scum of society.
  • He broke the rules.
  • He never traveled far.
  • He didn’t establish an earthly kingdom.
  • He was captured, beaten and tortured.
  • He couldn’t even carry His own cross all the way to the top of the hill. Someone had to help Him.
  • He was mocked, stripped and sentenced to a criminal’s death.

Not exactly successful, at least not by our definition.

And yet all of Jesus’ preaching seems to say that the world has it wrong. That if we’re looking to succeed through the means the world offers, we’ll find ourselves at the bottom of the heap. It’s only by turning things upside down, becoming small and serving others, that we become greater.

In our day, the world writes off those it finds incapable of success. But it was no different in the days that Jesus walked the earth.

There was a crazy man, said to be possessed by many demons. The people were afraid of him. He ran around naked in the graveyard. They had chained him up before, but he was strong and he broke free. He spent his days wailing in agony and cutting himself.

The world had written him off.

But Jesus did not. Jesus did not look to the man’s success or lack thereof. He looked at the heart.

And when others were afraid, Jesus bravely touched the man and healed him.

jesus and success

Jesus wasn’t interested in success. He was interested in people.

I talk a lot about special needs here on this blog, because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart. There are voices out there who would say that disabled people are incapable of success, at least by the world’s standards. Some would say the disabled are a burden, that they make no meaningful contribution to society, but instead drain the system.

It’s a logical proposition, but not a loving one.

Because if we are followers of Christ, if we take Him at His word, then we must believe that the disabled are vitally important to God.

It’s easy to point fingers at those with special needs.

Many of them wear their flaws on the outside where the whole world can see, while we have the comfort of hiding ours within. Like the demon possessed man who wore no clothes, the disabled are exposed. Their differences are noticeable.

Yet Jesus makes a beeline to the ones the world has written off.

Jesus loved and healed and ate with people of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds. Real people — from pious religious leaders, to Roman officials, to peasants, fishermen and prostitutes. It didn’t matter if they were successful or not. It only mattered that they had hearts to love.

I’ve been known to have a pity party or two because my life doesn’t look the way I hoped it would in my mid-40s. I am not rich, not famous, and not successful by society’s standards. It would be easy to sulk and feel sorry for myself because of it.

But instead, I choose to dwell on my significance to God. I am vastly important to Him, a jewel worth fighting for, a VIP in His kingdom. And all I had to do to achieve this success? Believe.

Do you believe it about yourself? You are significant to God. You are just the kind of person Jesus would want to hang out with if he were here in physical body. He would be interested in you. Whether or not anyone important knows your name.

Because Jesus does know. Your name is inscribed in the palms of His hands. The world may have written you off. But God has not. And He never will.

You are something far greater than just a success to Him. 

You are HIS.

Your turn! How do you define success? Do you feel pressured by the world around you to conform to certain standards? Are there achievements and goals you set for yourself in order to measure your own success? Keep the conversation going in the comment section. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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What I Learned About Special Needs {from a Disney Movie}

tarzan jane

Last week I played piano for a high school production of Tarzan the Musical, based on the Disney movie. (Have I mentioned how much I love my job?) It was fun, being a part of the orchestra and getting to experience the theater atmosphere again.

Everyone knows the story of Tarzan, but as I listened to the dialogue night after night, I realized how much it resonates with the idea of special needs inclusion.

  • Jane comes to the jungle to do research, encounters Tarzan, realizes that while he is very different from her in his dress, language, and mannerisms, essentially they are the same.
  • Tarzan recognizes the same about Jane.
  • Meanwhile there is the clueless bad guy, who would prefer to treat Tarzan like a circus animal, putting him in a cage and denying him his humanity because he is different.

In the end, as in all Disney tales, love prevails. Jane realizes she cannot live without Tarzan and she stays in the jungle with him to start a new family.

And they live happily ever after.

 

What I Learned about Special Needs from a Disney Movie

1. People with special needs/disabilities are often viewed as “other” simply because they are “different.” 

I watched Toni Morrison discuss racism recently in a TV interview and she made this profound statement: “There is no such thing as race. None. There’s just the human race.”

Her words ring true about race and disability.

Disabled people are people. Just like all other people

Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, there’s a whole slew of the population who secretly think of the disabled as sub-par, incapable, unimportant, and slightly beneath the rest of us. Just the fact that the word “retarded” still gets tossed around so casually is evidence of such a mindset. Far too many think of the disabled as “less than,” a population of people to be pitied, coddled, or tolerated. What a tragedy.

2. Only a person with an open mind and heart can discover the joy of knowing and having relationships with the disabled.

In the musical, Jane comes to the jungle wide-eyed and enthusiastic. While she is shocked by Tarzan’s appearance and behavior at first, she is even more captivated by him. She is not scared. She takes time to get to know him in his environment and to teach him about her culture as she learns about his. As they share with each other, eventually a bond develops.

What’s the takeaway?

In order to include disabled people in our lives, schools, churches, and communities, we have to go where they are. We have to meet them in their own comfortable environment and not insist that they immediately conform to ours. Teaching occurs when trust has already been established, so it is vital that we approach disability with a spirit of openness and the readiness to learn new things ourselves.

Individuals with special needs have so much to teach the rest of the population, but it takes a willingness to learn and build relationships if we are ever to arrive.

tarzan+jane-800

3. Disability is not nearly as dangerous as close-mindedness.

Tarzan was a wild man who could easily be viewed as a threat, a danger to society. Yet in the play, it is Clayton, the man opposed to and ignorant of Tarzan’s humanity who ends up causing the most physical and emotional harm. He sees Tarzan as a savage who belongs in a cage.

When working with disabled kids or adults, safety is certainly a concern. But to refuse to help, include or teach these individuals because of the threat of possible danger is shortsighted. What is far more harmful is an attitude that says the disabled are unworthy or unwanted. Such attitudes can lead to severe widespread emotional–and physical–consequences.

4. People with special needs have the same emotions as everyone else.

Some say that autistic people lack empathy. I disagree. A recent theory suggests that autistics experience so much empathy that it becomes necessary to turn off the emotional switch, just so they can function. This is definitely true of my son.

  • So don’t automatically assume that a non-verbal child who seems to be in his own world can’t experience joy or love.
  • And on the flip side, don’t assume that a child with Down Syndrome or a cognitive disability can’t experience anger or disappointment or shame.

People with special needs have feelings that run the gamut, just like the rest of us.

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There is still so much ground to be covered in the world of disability that it’s hard to envision a Disney-like happy ending. It’s important to keep making strides in the right direction, though, toward inclusion for all.

There’s room in this happily-ever-after jungle for all of us.

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Faith Is a Setting on Your iPhone

faith is a setting on your iPhone

The TV in the orthodontist waiting room is playing Finding Nemo at a million decibels and it’s cold–way too cold in here. I’m a highly sensitive person, so I’m already being pushed past my threshold.

I sit quietly and try to read. And then I hear it.

Click-click-click.  Click-click-click-click-click.

The other woman in here is texting. Rather loudly, since she has the “click” sound turned on, apparently with the volume all the way up.

It takes every fiber of strength I have not to walk over to her and say with all the snark I can muster, “You know, there’s a way to turn off those blasted clicking sounds. Or at least turn them down so the rest of us don’t have to listen to them.”

People do it all the time. Whether it’s the game they’re playing, the annoying texting/fake typewriter clicks, or the loud conversations they decide to have on their phones in a roomful of strangers. Maybe others don’t even notice it.

But for me, a person with no sound filter, it’s sensory-overload torture.

Those texting clicks are the default setting on the iphone. Or at least they used to be. To make them go away, you actually have to go into settings and turn the sounds off.

I’m not a technical person, but even I know how to change my iPhone settings. Which is why I’m dumbfounded that there are people who either don’t know how, or don’t even realize that the settings can be changed.

They just stick with the default.

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Humans have a default setting, too.

In the movie The Giver, Meryl Streep’s character speaks this chilling line: “When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong. Every. Single. Time.”

She’s right–at least in part.

It’s no secret that we as humans are bent toward rebellion. Spend an afternoon with a two-year old and you’ll understand better than you ever wanted to. Rebellion isn’t taught. It comes naturally. We all want what we want when we want it.

We’re all two-year-olds at heart.

Our factory setting is sin and rebellion. We come out of the box bound and determined to choose our own dead-end way.

There are some in the Christian community who would call our default setting “total depravity.” I don’t like that term because it implies that we are unlovable and unworthy of love, that there is nothing good in us. And while I do believe that sin is ugly and detestable to God, the Bible also says that we are created in God’s image and that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Even when I’m in the middle of a full-blown, hell-bent toddler episode of rebellion, God still loves me.

  • He loves me enough not to leave me in the pit.
  • He loves me enough to get Himself dirty and pull me out of the mud.
  • He loves me enough to give up His own life in order to save mine.

If He loves so much, then why on earth would the default setting be rebellion? Why wouldn’t he just fine-tune us to holiness and perfection from the beginning?

Because God won’t force Himself upon anyone. That’s not the way He operates.

He loves us and wants us for His own. But He won’t make us come to Him. He wants us to love Him. But He gives us the option of walking away.

Love isn’t love at all if it isn’t a choice.

It’s like God gives us this amazing, iPhone-ish gift of grace but we still have to go in and change our default settings from rebellion to faith. Trusting Him is a choice.

love isn't love at all if it isn't a choice

It’s super easy to slip back into default mode. Even as committed as I think I am to following Jesus, sin is what comes naturally. It’s easy. Rebellion is in my blood and I’m selfish to the core.

If I don’t check the settings regularly, it doesn’t take long until I’m just like that lady’s iPhone, click-click-clicking away down the wrong path.

Being aware of my own default setting is the first step. Once I know what my default is, I can consciously choose to reset with my eyes and heart toward Jesus.

Want some practical ways to change your settings?

You can check out my Quiet Time Series for more ideas and resources.

So I guess this is my way of walking up to you and saying, “You know you can change those settings, right?”

What are your thoughts? How do you consciously change your settings from rebellion to faith?

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