What Sacrificial Giving Looks Like

This an excellent post from The Samaritan Song’s blog. Christ’s example of giving really is the best as she so skillfully points out.

Samaritan's Song

A woman I know, a longtime family friend, lost her husband recently in a devastating freak accident.

They weren’t newlyweds, but they had decades together ahead of them.  They’d had two children together, now in or just out of college, and lived a happy, loving family life.  The loss was sudden and striking and awful.

And there in my mailbox yesterday, only about two weeks after the life-altering loss, sat a card from her.  A bright, cheerful, happy card with a gift inside, wishing my husband and I well in our new home.

I boggled.  Yes, I was the flower girl at her wedding and yes, she’s known me for most of my life.  But I’m not a family member.  I am the adult daughter of a good friend of hers, whom she sees on the occasions I visit home and attend church with my family.  Simply put: I’m largely…

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5 Things Christians Should do this Election Year

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Let’s talk for a moment about those two taboo subjects: religion and politics. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for or how to vote. Nor am I here to relay all the evils of socialism or capitalism or any other ism. In our walk with God, all of our choices should be made based on what pleases God, not what conforms to the present culture.

Consider this question: What is the place of Christians in American politics?

I have seen two positions on this:

  1. Christians need to do everything they can to make the United States enact legislation that mirrors the Bible and work to include Christian teachings into public education.
  2. Christians should have no involvement in politics, Revolution, civil disobedience etcetera. After all, this world is only temporary, right?

Some may say that there is a middle ground, but they must be the silent majority (or minority) because these are the two most promoted views. Regarding the first view, the constitution reflects many Christian principles and would be effective if our lawmakers would stand by it. As to the second, all it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. Sitting on our hands is not going to help anyone.

The United States is a unique country. No matter your color, gender, class, or creed, a citizen is given a vote to elect fellow citizens into office. And, though it may be difficult, a laborer is just as entitled to run for office as a lawyer. Yes, I know, the process is so expensive that most poorer people are unable to run due to lack of personal fundage—but it is possible! I wish I could say the people in office look out for the best interests of the nation as a whole, but unfortunately—like all things involving money and power—there is a high degree of self-interest rather than service.

What roles should we as Christians take in shaping the policies and politics of this country in which we dwell?

#1: Be a good citizen.

This is paramount. Before anyone takes a leadership role of any kind, they should first demonstrate integrity and character. Each of us, especially as Christians can do this one, unless it involves disloyalty to Christ who is our eternal King.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.

Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

~ Romans‬ ‭13:1-7‬ ‭ESV

We may not be political power players, but we can help our small corners of the nation improve by simply being moral people who help our neighbors, show respect towards people in authority, and bestow charity on those less fortunate.

“Whoa! Did you just say ‘show respect to those in authority?'”

I did.

I know there are many who think cops are corrupt, but as someone who has known my fair share of law enforcement, I can tell you that they are primarily composed of ordinary people earning an ordinary living. Many of them are jaded and cynical from dealing with some pretty rotten people day in and day out. They see things you can only imagine in your nightmares. In their job, they deal with jerks and death on a daily basis.

As for the politicians, many of them are undeserving of respect, but we need to guard what we say to them and about them. We are Christians first and foremost; our speech ought to reflect our love for God.

Civil disobedience is condoned by God when government tells us to do something that runs contrary to our service to God. Peter, in Acts 5, told those in authority that they would “obey God rather than men.”

One more thing to consider: In this country, the ultimate authority isn’t the nebulous entity known as the government. It is the Constitution. Military personnel take an oath to “defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic.” The reason that is in place is to protect this nation from corrupt leaders. So, in that respect, those who resist the corruption of our government and work to defend the constitution are, in fact, respecting the law more than those who are in “authority.”

#2: Vote.

I see your eye-roll and hear that sigh of disappointment….

I know this one is old and obvious, but we should not treat this right and responsibility with contempt. Many men and women have sacrificed their lives to afford us this freedom. Do not dishonor their sacrifice by neglecting your duty to choose people for office.

Furthermore, do not just pick the popular candidate—especially in the primaries. Pick the one you honestly believe to be the best. What a difference the outcomes would be if people took time to objectively consider each candidate and the ballot propositions! We get the government we deserve if we neglect this necessary step.

Don’t squander your vote if you have the opportunity.

#3: Pray. A lot.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2.1-4, ESV

I have heard my share of token prayers acknowledging those in charge, and they are good in their own way. Ask yourself this question: Do you honestly believe in the power of prayer? Then start praying! If you are truly worried about the state of the Union, then get on your knees and appeal to God for help… we certainly need it! For suggestions on specific things to pray for our president, click here. For prayers for law enforcement, click here.

#4: Educate.

Teaching the Word of God is the most important thing we can do for our children. It’s imperative that they are trained in what is true, right, moral and just.

Second to this ought to be teaching them about the history of our country and the law. I’m not suggesting blind, brain-washed patriotism. I encourage you to teach your children the things our country has done well, the principles that made her great,  and (this is the most critical point) the fact that God has been instrumental in this country’s success. Yet instruct them also on our darker moments in history and how good people sought to bring about constructive change. Teach critical thinking so that they will be able to discern the truth and lies being thrown at them when they are voting age. Many young people are disillusioned with good principles because they haven’t been carefully taught the opposing side. It’s good to know both sides of an argument so that when they are grown and these dark truths are raised, they will already know how to respond. They won’t feel as though their parents deceived them.

#5: Get involved.

This one may not appeal to many of you. I don’t possess any political ambition myself, but if you really care about changing this country, you may want to consider this. Many people have found ways to be part of the process, projecting a positive influence into a dark realm. Christians can write about their political views, knock on doors for the candidate they support, contribute financially to a campaign, or even run for office themselves.

Before you take this step, I want to give you some warnings:

  1. Guard your heart with all diligence. The higher up you climb on the power rung, the more vulnerable you are to the attacks of Satan.
  2. Guard the Word. Don’t misquote or mishandle God’s Word to fallaciously support your political aims—this has always been a huge problem!
  3. Guard your lips! People say some downright stupid things. Politicians make false promises. Citizens make vulgar statements about the opposing parties/candidates. Even if the statement is true, ask yourself is it true, helpful, necessary, or kind? Do things God’s way and the outcome will be significantly better.

I am thankful to be a citizen of this country. I am thankful to all the men and women who have fought and died for freedom. For the moment, my family can worship God without threat of imprisonment. I can write this blog without fear of my family being tortured or killed. What a blessing! I know that it could all disappear in a flash if God so desired. It is my desire to help—in my own small ways—to preserve the country that has allowed me to be free from violent persecution for my faith in the Lord.

I don’t want our children to lose these precious blessings, do you? You and I need to be active in creating solutions.

What are your thoughts about a Christian’s role in American politics?

And the greatest of these is….? (Comparison Cure #5)

 

This is the final post in the series on Comparison Cures. To read the previous post, click here.

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It always comes down to love, doesn’t it?

Do you rejoice when your child does well? How about your spouse? Why? Because you love them!

Why do other people have it so easy?” was the question that began this series of posts on comparison cures. This minimizing of our blessings and maximizing the perceived blessings of those around us entraps us all at some point with the unfortunate result of creating bitterness, envy, resentment, and ingratitude.

There are cures for this sickness. To date, we’ve covered four: contentment, acceptance, humility and compassion. (Click on each word to read the previous posts). Each cure is a learned behavior. We do not employ these remedies to be self-righteous, create positive chi, or even to feel better. We seek them because we love God and we want to be like him. Like so many things God calls us to do as Chrisians, it all boils down to love. The love God desires from us is a selfless love; a love that demands us to put our needs on the back burner; a love that is learned; a love that puts God first, others second and us last.

How much do we really love others?

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

~ 1 John‬ ‭4:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Are you ready for a truth bomb? There are many people who are difficult to love and strive to make themselves as unloveable as possible. Yet loving others is not optional, it’s commanded! Take a look at the above passage from First John. If we fail to love our brother whom we can see, how can we love God whom we cannot see?

When I look at my neighbors, friends and fellow Christians and resent the good things that happen to them, two things are happening: I am failing to showing gratitude for the blessings I already have and I am failing to cultivate love. It’s not for me to decide whether they deserve what they have. I certainly do not deserve the blessings I have been given!

We are commanded to pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us. We are commanded to love. If we cannot even pray for those “undeserving” neighbors, friends, and fellow Christians, how in the world will we be able to pray for our enemies?

Ask the Lord to help you love the unloveable and quench those feelings of envy, bitterness, resentment and covetous. This type of love runs contrary to our nature. Godly love is not easy, but it is powerful. Imagine how different the church would be if we worked on growing our love and squashing our enviousness?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

~ 1 John 4.7-8, ESV

I want to know the Lord, but in order to do so, I must start crushing my selfish nature and pursue love that seeks the best for others.

What is Genuine Love?

So, we know we are commanded to love, but how do we show love when we don’t feel love? We want to obey God, but we think that if we show love without actually feeling love, we are, in fact, disingenuous. This is a tricky problem.

In Romans 12.9, the NKJV reads, “let love be without hypocrisy.” In Greek and Roman culture, actors were called hypocrites because they created a “counterfeit persona” and were often considered to be untrustworthy because of their ability to affect emotions that they weren’t truly feeling. We don’t want to be hypocrites, right?

Here’s the thing: Just because the emotions are absent, that does not necessarily make you a hypocrite. For example: ask any solid, happily married, veteran couple (married 10 years or more) what “love” is, and they will tell you that love is more than a feeling. When a couple first marries, they do things for the other person because of how they feel. A couple that has been married 10, 20, 30+ years will tell you that they often do things for their spouse in spite of how they feel. They aren’t riding cloud nine every day, but they work to keep the spark alive because their love has grown into something much stronger than emotion—it is a deep, abiding commitment.

So, when we try to rejoice with those who rejoice (even though we don’t feel like it) we are doing so, not from some noble, transcendent emotion, but rather because we are choosing to do what is right. We want to be like God, we want to love God, so we make it our choice to demonstrate love. The feelings will come. It’s not hypocritical to choose to do right even when your feelings are against you.

Did God show you love when you became a Chrisian? Did Jesus deserve death? Did he forgive your sins? Does he continue to extend grace to you?

If that is so: shouldn’t we also extend love and grace to those around us? Are we more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than anyone else on the planet?

Before concluding, consider this passage from Colossians:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

compassionate hearts,

kindness,

humility,

meekness,

and patience, bearing with one another

and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.

And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

~ ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:12-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬, emphasis mine

“Love… binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It really does. It’s no coincidence that Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a commandment and we must strive to fulfill it with each breath we take. Let’s find joy in contentment, peace in acceptance, patience in humility, grace in compassion and connection in love. When you feel the stirrings of envy that come with comparison, ask yourself if you love that person the way God wants you to. Run down your list: Am I being content, accepting etcetera? Set your mind on what is true, noble and praiseworthy.


This concludes the series on Comparison Cures. I hope the series has strengthened you as much as it has me! I hope you’ll leave a note in the comments and share which one was the most helpful to you.

May the Lord be with you, my friends!

The need for Compassion (Comparison Cure #4)

This is the fifth post in the series on Comparison Cures. To read the previous post, click here.

Jenny steeled herself and walked purposefully through the familiar front door. The cozy little house was already buzzing with the chatter of women. Jenny plastered a smile on her face, determined not to be the dark cloud on her friend’s special day.

After exchanging pleasantries with the hostess and a few other ladies, she found her dear friend, Julia, standing near a pile of blue presents and bright balloons. Her protruding belly announced to the world that a new life would soon be making its debut. Jenny wrapped her arms around her friend in a warm embrace.

“How are you feeling?” Jenny asked.

“I’m ok. My back is killing me, but that’s to be expected,” replied Julia. “Are you doing ok?”

Julia knew this wasn’t the best time to ask, but she knew the significance and sacrifice behind Jenny’s presence today. Jenny’s stomach tightened with anxiety as she carefully arranged her features to conceal the sudden twinge in her heart.

“I’m good. Looking forward to seeing you open your gifts! How do you plan to fit all this in your apartment?” said Jenny.

“Who knows? It’s unbelievable how much stuff you need for a little baby. This kid’ll probably have more outfits and blankets than I do.”

Jenny seated herself between two ladies and watched as, one by one, blue onesies, tiny shoes, brightly-colored toys, baby hats and handmade blankets were each removed from their wrappings. With each gift, the cynical old lady on her left muttered about spoiling babies with “unnecessary trinkets” and Telling Jenny that if she ever became a parent she shouldn’t waste money on such trifles. Jenny’s stomach was so knotted and her heart so tight she could hardly breathe. It was hard enough setting aside her own heartache and empty womb to make this a good day for her friend without listening to the bitter voice next to her.

She waited until she could get up without being noticed and went to the bathroom to take some deep breaths. It had been three months since she’d seen that mass of unexpected blood in the toilet; three months since the ultrasound tech had showed her that big empty space in her womb where her baby should have been; three months since she lay sobbing in that cold hospital room with an even colder, indifferent Doctor telling her that miscarriages happen all the time—and to get over it.

She kept on breathing deeply, resolved to hide her emotions. She opened the door and went back to the baby shower. She stood near the edge of the group, served slices of cake and made small talk with a few more ladies. As soon as it was polite to do so, she left the party. Once out of sight of the house she broke into a run until she reached the safe haven of her car. Once the door shut, she released a loud wail and wept heavily. She had done it. She hadn’t ruined her friend’s shower. But why, oh why, did she end up next to that bitter old woman!

“Why, God?” she gasped between sobs, “Why when I’m trying so hard to be happy for my friend and not bitter? I’m trying, Lord. I’m trying. Why did this have to happen today?!”

A month later, Julia lay in a hospital bed, her pale face lined with exhaustion from the arduous labor and emergency C-section. Her little baby boy was in the NICU because something was wrong with his heart. Jenny gently squeezed Julia’s shoulder.

“Everyone’s seen the baby but me,” Julia croaked, “I’m so worried about him.”

Jenny’s heart ached for her friend. “The doctor said he thinks everything will be ok. Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“No,” Julia exhaled, “I just want to hold him.”

A few minutes later, Julia’s husband entered the room, a small bundle wriggling in his arms. He gently laid the little baby boy in Julia’s expectant arms as tears trickled down her face. Why was this happening? Why did her baby have to be threatened with a heart condition? Her eyes took in the face of her newborn boy as she thought about the people in the room. For a brief moment she wondered if Jenny was secretly gloating over her misfortune. Her eyes flicked to Jenny’s face momentarily, but there was nothing but genuine concern reflected there.

Her body relaxed automatically. No. Jenny had set her own feelings aside to celebrate with her, and now she was here, supporting her during this agonizing moment.  No matter what happened next, she was so thankful for Christian sisters like Jenny.

Jenny watched Julia reflectively as her hand absently moved to her abdomen. She wondered if she would face similar complications… if this baby growing within her made it to delivery. That was the thing with babies—miscarriage, stillbirth and deformity were an ever present possibility, but so was the potential for death and disease after the baby was born. She was so thankful she hadn’t missed the opportunity to rejoice with her friend, because today she could support her without any hint of gloating over her distress. God was training her, and for once, she hadn’t failed Him. Compassion in good times and bad is so much more fulfilling than envy and jealousy.


In my original post, I talked about our tendency to compare ourselves with others and wonder why other people seem to have it so much easier than we do. In the above story, Jenny and Julia were both grappling with their own sorrows, but instead of bitterness and resentment, there was genuine love and compassion. There are two things to consider here: first, someone may be bearing a private heartache unknown to you or anyone else; second, their suffering may be imminent and they’ll need your non-gloating sympathy.

Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” How often do we see only the good things that people have and brush aside the weight of their suffering? How can we be compassionate if we choose to overlook their pain?

Consider the following passage from Romans:

Let love be genuine.

Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

~ Romans‬ ‭12:9-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

You may notice that the word “compassion” isn’t mentioned here, but these are actions that enable us to show compassion.  I put parts of the passage in bold to emphasize a few things.

Genuineness is an essential part of compassion.

“Let love be genuine.”

Your compassion will be somewhat ineffective if your love is fake or self-serving. The love we show is to  be the “brotherly” type. As Christians, we ought to pull together just like a blood family does when one of it’s relations falls on hard times.

Constant prayer.

In the middle of Paul’s list is this encouragement to “be constant in prayer.” Why do you think that is there? Because this stuff is downright hard! We need God’s help to go against our own selfish inclinations. In the story above, Jenny set aside her fresh grief to rejoice with her friend and it took a great deal of effort. The important thing was that she took her pain to the Lord in prayer.

We also need to pray for others  as though we were coming to God with our own needs. This is much easier to do if we make regular prayer time and write down our requests so we don’t forget.

Bless those who persecute you.

Sticks and stones don’t need to touch your bones for someone to hurt you. Indifference, rudeness, thoughtlessness and disdain are perfectly lethal weapons. Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who hurt us the most. As children of God, we are supposed to forgive those who hurt us—even when they don’t apologize. Much of our resentment and “why-me-itis” stems from this inability to forgive. We think that people don’t deserve their good fortune, typically because we hate something they’ve done to us or someone else.

How can you show compassion for a brother during hard times if you are gloating over their suffering because you failed to forgive them? You can’t!

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

We are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Most of the time, we find it easier to weep with those who weep. Our pity for their plight stimulates a teeny bit of thankfulness that we are not them. We don’t mind going to the rejoicing party as long as there’s good food and the ability to mask our irritation at their blessings. My friends, that is not the attitude of Christ.

So often we find ourselves avoiding times of rejoicing with others because the ache in our own hearts is too great. We need to work on giving our grief to the Lord and celebrating those good times with others without resenting their temporary good fortune. Life is full of good seasons and bad. Very few people live their entire life on cloud 9. What’s good today will be a distant memory tomorrow.

The story I wrote above is a true story, but the names were changed. Jenny’s willingness to go to that baby shower and celebrate the good times with Julia made her presence more comforting for that same friend during her time of distress. Rejoicing for others in the midst of grief can be done, but only when we die to self and lean on the Lord.

If you find yourself bitterly envious of those who have it better than you, it’s time to work on compassion. Whether you feel they don’t deserve their good fortune or they got what was coming to them, you need to give those feeling to God and act on what you know is right.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

~ Ephesians‬ ‭4:31-32‬ ‭NIV‬‬

 

Coffee Chat 14 – How do I endure?

coffee chat

We haven’t had a coffee chat in forever! I have missed these posts. I hope y’all will grab a cup of tea or coffee and throw in your two cents today!

As I have mentioned in several posts, I am working on memorizing Hebrews 12. It’s coming along, albeit slowly. At this point I don’t care if it takes me three months instead of two because the effort has been so edifying!

The preceding chapter (Hebrews 11) describes what faith is and gives and abundance of examples. It shows that faith involves action, sacrifice and obedience. So in Hebrews 12.1, when the writer says “Therefore…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” We are told to run with endurance. Last time I checked, running was an active thing and endurance means you don’t take a short sprint and then sit for awhile.

Different forms of the word endurance are used 4 times within the first seven verses of Hebrews 12. When a word is repeated in writing it means one of two things: either the author didn’t have a thesaurus handy or they’re trying to draw your attention to something important. In this case, it’s the latter. Endurance is part of our Christian faith.

When it comes to physical activity, I am NOT an endurance runner. I can walk fast for long stretches of time, but I’ve never been much of a runner because it absolutely kills my knees. I know many runners who say it’s about pace and long-term training.

For today’s coffee chat, I want to hear your thoughts on how we endure in our race of faith. What do you do to stay “in shape” and “active?” How do we train for this race and how do we keep pressing forward even when our whole being is protesting against us? I know that verse two of Hebrews 12 tells us to look at Jesus for inspiration, but I want you to share what you do to keep Jesus as your focus and how you train and pace yourself. Another thought—are we the ones doing the training and pacing or is it God?

I look forward to your comments!

The Humility Remedy (Comparison Cure #3)

This is the fourth post in the series on Comparison Cures. To read the previous post, click here.

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Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.

~ C.S. Lewis

Have you ever thought that because you’re a faithful Christian, life should be easy? That is the subtle message of the prosperity gospel, and it is a lie. Your righteousness before God is not an entitlement to a life of ease and pleasure.

In this series of Comparison Cures, we’ve been discussing “remedies” for the disease of “why-me-itis” that we all fall prey to: “Why does that person over there have it so easy when they are lazy, dishonest, etcetera?” “Why does that amazing person over there suffer in that way? They don’t deserve it!” “Why do I have to suffer so much? Haven’t I had it hard enough?”

This comparison game stems from pride and a sense of entitlement. We think that we are somehow a cut above other people. We think (consciously or unconsciously) that we deserve a good life because we are obedient to God. You may not verbalize these thoughts, but when we ask these types of questions, there is a sense that we are better or more deserving than others.

Think of the list of people mentioned in Hebrews 11:

  • Abel
  • Enoch
  • Noah
  • Abraham
  • Sarah
  • Isaac
  • Jacob
  • Joseph
  • Moses’ Parents
  • Moses
  • Gideon
  • Barak
  • Samson
  • Jephthah
  • David
  • Samuel
  • the prophets
  • Daniel (implied)
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (implied)
  • John the Baptist (implied)
  • Stephen (martyr, implied)

Consider what you know about the people on that list, then name one that had it easy.

I came up with zero. At some point or other they all suffered loss, deprivation, or sorrow.

Think of the early Christians. Name one that didn’t deal with fear and persecution.

Think of Jesus. Where would we be if Jesus had thought himself too good to come to earth for us?

Paul brought this up in the following passage:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

~ Philippians 2.3-8, ESV

Just ponder for a moment how you would feel if you considered others as better than yourself. When something good happened, would you think: “no fair! They don’t deserve that?” No, you would think, “The Lord blessed them. I should congratulate them in their happiness. I should rejoice inwardly and outwardly.” Granted, some people make this easier than others. There are certain high-powered people that do deserve destruction, but we are told not to rejoice when our enemy falls. We are even told to pray for them! (You can read more on that here.)

Consider the mind of Christ. He is, was and always has been, God. He was in the beginning with God, creating the earth. He is worthy of glory, honor, praise, and reverence. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And yet, what did he do?

  1. He emptied himself.
  2. He took the form of the beings he helped to create.
  3. He positioned himself as a son in an impoverished family in a go-nowhere district.
  4. He became obedient to God even to the point of death on a cross—the most shameful form of execution.

He didn’t preach from a cushion in a marble palace, nor did He sleep on feather beds in 5-star hotels. The Son of the Living God slept on the ground, wore the same old linen every day and walked all over Judea (no chariots for the King of Kings). He humbled himself to suffer a death he didn’t deserve in the most shameful way possible. Was Jesus righteous? Absolutely. Did he deserve to live such a life? No. But the life He lived reflected God. He showed us through His humble lot the power of God and the impact of God-centered life.

Did he do all that so you could be rich in earthly things?

Umm…

Pause for a moment and really consider that question…

 

No, Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly. Are many of us wealthy and comfortable? Indeed! Just because we didn’t build Trump Tower, doesn’t mean we aren’t blessed. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with having or building wealth, but that is not the point to life or being a Christian. Abundant life is one that is filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control. Abundant life has all these things no matter the circumstances. Abundant life is one that centers it’s focus on Christ, heart overflowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

If we consider the richness of the blessings of Christ, will we so readily feel resentment against others for their temporary earthly fortune?

This remedy of humility is essential. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves under the might hand of God and He will exalt you in due time. The Bible is full of contrasts between pride and humility. Practice humility in your mind and show it outwardly even when you don’t feel like it.

I am so thankful that we have grace for all of our weaknesses. Let’s work on becoming humble in heart, poor in spirit and more like Jesus.

 

Traveling through the storm

image

Snow swirled around us in cottony swaths of white as we inched along interstate 40. A light blanket of snow covered the roadway, marred by parallel lines that marked the pathway of the vehicles preceding us. The SUV ahead was a dim charcoal outline illuminated by its soft red tail lights.

Another gust of wind and snow engulfed us, momentarily blinding us to our surroundings. The atmosphere had a dream-like quality. It was like being on an amusement park ride, but there was little amusing about the situation. My eyes darted left and right scanning for those white road markers that had suddenly become my biggest comfort. Seeing those markers reassured me that we were in no immediate danger of skidding off the road into the ditch. The road signs were ghostly white shapes, their messages hidden from view.

With the constant onslaught of snow, it felt as though we were moving backward down the hill instead of creeping steadily upward at a slow 10-20 miles per hour. Thankfully, the plow had gone before us, making the road smooth, but not icy. There was enough powder to keep traction, but no car wanted to be their own plow.

Every so often, there’d be a break in the onslaught of snow and misty headlights became visible through the tall pines, coming from the west-bound semi-trucks. Suddenly, blinking Amber lights caught our attention as we glimpsed a mustang (only identifiable by its distinctive tail lights) at an awkward angle in the ditch. I called the dispatch center to report the vehicle and they assured me that a tow truck was already en route.

We debated exiting in Flagstaff and waiting out the storm, but it seemed more prudent to press on for at least one more hour (conditions permitting) in an attempt to get out of it before stopping to rest. There was no guarantee where or when the storm would end, but we wanted to try.

This was my first real snowstorm. For a southern California kid who was used to living with 2 seasons instead of 4, this was quite the experience. I worked to stay calm and sent up my fair share of prayers for safe deliverance. When we had checked the forecast the day before, the doppler was clear without any hint of a storm. And yet, a storm descended rapidly upon us and didn’t clear up except for a brief respite outside Winslow, Arizona. (The above picture was taken somewhere the next morning in New Mexico.) We finally escaped the storm in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. I can’t tell you how beautiful black roads are after prolonged hours of traveling on icy ones.

How often do we find ourselves traveling on the road of life, going the right direction, the way clear and planned, when suddenly we are engulfed in a blinding storm? Sometimes the storms hit without warning and we are terrified. There are 3 things to remember when the storm comes—because eventually we will all find ourselves in one.

Jesus has plowed the way for us.

Somewhere up ahead of us during that trip, there was an unseen plow scraping through the snow, clearing a path for us to drive. Hebrews 12 urges us to look ahead to Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” It proceeds to say, “consider Him who endured such hostility against himself lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Jesus showed us how to pray, how to live, how to love and how to forgive. Most importantly, he made it possible for us to walk the path God has laid out for His children. No matter what storm comes our way, He has already plowed the path. We just have to follow his lead. Without His sacrifice, we would never be able to go along that road, it’d be full of ruts, drifts and barriers. He makes it possible for us to come to God.

There is comfort in boundaries.

American roads have excellent signage. Mile markers tell you how far down a certain road in the county you’ve traveled, lines tell you what lane to be in. But what happens when those things are obscured from view—when you can only see what’s immediately in front of you? The signs that night were totally obscured, but we could still see the white poles that indicated the edges of the pavement and we stayed as far away from both edges as possible. God’s Word is like those boundaries. There are times when its message to us is so clear—your life path is smooth and direct and you know how fast to go. There are other times when we can’t see our way so well and those boundary lines are the only thing we can count on to keep us from slipping off into the ditch. Even when the storm is blinding, God will leave those markers in tact. He won’t change the rules so you slide off the road.

There’s a time to press on and a time to rest.

With the plows running, visibility acceptable, and plenty of careful, slow-moving vehicles, we decided to press on through the storm, at least for an hour or more, in the hopes it would abate. Once the snow started turning into a heavy rain, we decided that we might have reached the edge of the storm and pulled off to rest for a few hours. We awoke, revived enough for the remainder of our journey. For the first few hours, the rain relented and we drove quietly through the darkness of early morning. Unfortunately, we spent the next several hours through more storms. Part of experiencing both literal and life storms is to gain discernment. Careful observation and experience helps one to understand how long and how safely a storm can be weathered.

Are you in a storm today? Is your pathway obscured by trouble, grief, doubt, or pain? Remember that God will not leave you or forsake you. Jesus has gone before us, the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the scriptures guide us. We are never truly alone unless we decide to recklessly go our own way… and even then, God will be waiting for us to turn to Him for help, to pull us out of the ditch, or to set us on the right road.

Press on to know the Lord. In fair or foul weather, look to Him.

Acceptance: what it is and what it is not. (Comparison Cure#2)

This is the third post in the series on Comparison cures. To read the previous post, click here.

storm coming

“Live the life you want to live”

“Don’t drift through life. Get where you want to be.”

“How could you let that happen to you?”

“You need to try harder”

Would you say that those are fairly common phrases? I hear them or read them almost daily. So many high-powered people talk about how you are the only thing holding yourself back from a “better” life.

If you have ever seen “The Princess Bride,” then you’ll remember the shrilly little man named Vincini who keeps blurting out the word “inconceivable!” Finally, after several inconceivably conceivable events, his companion, Inyigo Montoya turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” When I hear people say the above phrases or use the word “better” I feel a bit like Inyigo Montoya. I don’t think it means what they think it means. Only God really knows what is best. Sometimes the worst things that happen fashion our hearts to be more like the Lord and less like the world.

So often we think we’ve been dealt a bad hand. We see God as unjust and unfair—though I daresay we only think it in our heart. The truth is, Satan is trying to pull us away from God by any and every means possible. Satan will use wealth and prosperity to create pride, apathy and complacency. He inspired concentration camps to create despair and hopelessness. He destroys families, feeds loneliness and abandonment so that people will seek help outside of God, falling deeper into his clutches. God is not unaware of what goes on, and we are never beyond his reach. God is able to transform any agonizing trial into something glorious if we accept the situation and allow Him to work.

Think of it this way: imagine that a father has told his son that they are going to get ice cream. Through no fault of the father’s, the ice cream shop they frequent has suddenly gone out of business. The Father tries to explain to his Son that there are alternatives, but his little boy is too busy crying and stomping his feet to listen. The Father understands that his son does not understand the unpredictability of life and tries to help him. However, if the little guy is going to ignore the reassurance of his father (and alternate plan to go to another shop) and instead chooses to kick and scream, there will be no ice cream, but a firm reprimand instead.

There is nothing wrong with being upset/hurt/disappointed, but where do you take your pain? Do you allow it to be your focus or do you turn and listen to the Father? Do you accept things and place them in God’s omnipotent hands or do you rage against the machine hoping that all your fighting will change things?

So much of our trouble in comparing ourselves to others is our unwillingness to accept both blessings and trials. But lest you think acceptance is defeat, guess again.

Acceptance is not lazy resignation.

When I hear individuals talk about success, they place those of us “less successful folk” in the lazy category. They look dubiously on the person who sighs and says, “that’s just the way it is” as if they are too complacent. In one way, they are right. We cannot just drift about as though we are fated to have it good or have it bad. We must always work toward our improvement and the improvement of those within our sphere of influence.

However, there are times when things just turn nasty and we have to determine our course of action. In life, we often find ourselves in the midst of a sudden storm. What is our usual reaction? We get upset, we cry, we analyze, we fret, we throw up our hands in defeat—we do everything except turn it over to God. The best course of action is to accept the situation, not in defeat, but as an acknowledgement of reality. People who commit suicide feel resigned to their lot and they think that death will alleviate their pain and the pain of others. What it usually does is create more destruction and grief.

No, lazy resignation is NOT acceptance.

So, what is acceptance and how will it help cure our comparison ills?

Acceptance is Situational Awareness

In law enforcement and the military, a huge portion of their training deals with this idea of Situational Awareness. Those men and women don’t get to create their circumstances. They go where they are needed and often find themselves in some sticky spots. The first and best thing to do is to be alert, sober, vigilant and highly observant. If, for example, an officer finds himself in a place where there is a suspect running down the road on foot, the first thing is to be cognizant of what they look like and where they are going. Are there other suspicious people around who might cause the officer harm? Are they going into a place where they can be cornered? Where is the nearest backup? They have to take the situation as it is and decide what to do with it.

As children of God, there will be seasons of life that are painful. They are not of our making, but are the result of living in this decaying world. The first step is to be aware of the reality and to guard ourselves against the tricks of our enemy (Satan). It’s acceptance of fact. If you jump off a cliff, you’ll die. Someday, the people you love will die. At some point, you will die. There will always be people who grasp for power, control and tyranny. There will always be people who reject God. Companies go under. Jobs disappear. Cancer creeps in. Bad people get good things and good people get bad things. That is reality, however awful it may be. Be aware of it, be on guard against Satan and set your mind on the blessings that you have in the moments that you have them. Lastly, remember the greatest reality of all—this life isn’t the end. Someday we’ll have an eternal life and that’s the better thing.

Acceptance is Trust in God

I’ve been reading the book of Daniel over the past few days and I still marvel at how much Daniel and his three friends placed their trust in God. I wrote about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in a previous post, so I won’t expound on them here. What jumped out at me in this reading was in Daniel 6. It’s a familiar account to many children about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, but the den part wasn’t what struck me.

Here is part of the account:

Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

~ Daniel 6.3-10, ESV

Notice a few important details. Daniel was given a great deal of power in the kingdom and things were only looking up. He had integrity. He was respected. In spite of being away from his homeland in Israel, life was good for him. What these men were planning to do had the potential to destroy him. He would lose every earthly thing—power, wealth, respect, and, of course, his very life.

On the other hand, if he did not continue to serve God, He would lose everything of value—his relationship with God.

Does Daniel weep bitter tears and ask God why these things are happening? Does he try praying in secret so they won’t find out about it?

No.

He didn’t hesitate. He went up to his room, got down on his knees and started praying; And not just praying, but praying visibly. He wanted them all to know, without doubt, that Daniel’s loyalty was to God and not men. He accepted the reality of the situation and made the choice to put his life in God’s omnipotent hands. He trusted that God would take care of him, either in this life or the next.

After being delivered from the lions’ den, the account says this in verse 23: “So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Acceptance is seeing the storm and trusting that somehow, God will pull you through it. When we accept the good and the bad and place it in the hands of the Lord, we have peace. When the fear starts to grip your heart, take it to the Lord in prayer. You will never find peace or rest until you do that.

I want to conclude with this excellent poem by Amy Carmichael:

He said, ‘I will forget the dying faces;
The empty places,
They shall be filled again.
O voices moaning deep within me, cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in forgetting lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will crowd action upon action,
The strife of faction
Shall stir me and sustain;
O tears that drown the fire of manhood cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in endeavour lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will withdraw me and be quiet,
Why meddle in life’s riot?
Shut be my door to pain.
Desire, thou dost befool me, thou shalt cease.’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in aloofness lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will submit; I am defeated.
God hath depleted
My life of its rich gain.
O futile murmurings, why will ye not cease?’
But vain the word; vain, vain:
Not in submission lieth peace.

He said, ‘I will accept the breaking sorrow
Which God tomorrow
Will to His son explain.’
Then did the turmoil deep within me cease.
Not vain the word, not vain;
For in Acceptance lieth peace.