Give Thanks

On this day, let us be reminded to give thanks for the good and bad – the beautiful and the ugly – the easy and the hard – the full and the empty.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Today is Thanksgiving. As I sat down this morning to consider the blessings of this year – some enjoyed, some endured – I realized I do not have words that adequately express the fullness of the bounty that has been poured out upon me and my loved ones. August L. Storm beautifully expresses thanksgiving in everything with words that speak for me and to the deepest places in my heart.

Thanks to God

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heavenly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

On this day, let us be reminded to give thanks for the good and bad – the beautiful and the ugly – the easy and the hard – the full and the empty. Because of God’s great love for us, he has brought us low and high that we might rejoice in His faithful presence giving thanks for His inexpressible gift.

In everything give thanks!

In Appreciation of Fall

As each season brings with it its own brand of artistry and appeal, fall brandishes its own unique beauty.

Psalm 74:18 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.

Fall, the common name for the season wedged between scorching summer and frigid winter as a boundary separating the extremes. Autumn is its formal name. Most of us prefer its common name, as common is comfortable and without pretense. Fall is quite unpretentious.

Unlike summer and winter which bring with them their hot and cold temperatures, fall is moderate in temperature. Yes, moderate temperature, but not without a few warmer days peppered among the moderate to cool. We bask in those days, face to the sun, eyes closed, with the expression of full enjoyment on our faces.

For many who struggle with the heat of summer, fall has become a favorite season. They look forward to this in-between season as one looks forward to a cool drink after a long walk. Others see fall as a short slide into a long, cold, harsh winter. Fall cannot be enjoyed simply for itself because the anticipation of next season is like a black cloud of impending doom looming largely over them. Fall’s joys are stolen by the worry and dread of the future.

As each season brings with it its own brand of artistry and appeal, fall brandishes its own unique beauty. No other season produces such a spectacular array of tree color. Leaf peepers flock to the north to view fall’s reds, yellows and oranges displayed as a blanket across the landscape of hills, mountains and countryside. It’s glory satisfies the beholder.

But alas, as even the fairest of women, fall’s beauty wanes as its season draws closer to winter. Fall rains and winds strip the leaves from the trees. Acorns and pine cones drop to the earth leaving a harvest of provisions for tree and forest dwellers. The last vegetables have been harvested and the apples have been plucked from the trees. Its comfortably predictable.

Fall; Moderate, colorful, fruitful, predictable and seemingly sage. Such admirable attributes! If I were a season I should like to be fall.

 

For Such A Time…

While we are not Paul, we too, have a designated space and time in history. The Lord lovingly and faithfully has chosen our circumstances.

Boundaries change things. Boundaries give us a perimeter within which to remain. Just as a beaver dam changes the course of water, new boundaries refashion our lives and force us to pursue new avenues of living within the new restraints.

Many of us find that Christian community and ministry as we once knew has been suspended. Sunday school teachers, nursery attendants, greeters, ministry team leaders and members have been challenged with the difficulty of finding a place to meet and serve within the walls of the church. Organized ministry has been turned on its head and come to screeching halt. We have new rules of engagement and gathering that limit our ability to assemble and interact as we once did.

We struggle to find our role; to use our gifts to build up the body. It is harder; it requires more thought and takes a bit of creativity. It takes respect, good communication and a solid you-before-me theology to navigate it all while maintaining peace and unity of the body.

While we may blame the Chinese, the Republicans, Democrats, state and local officials or church leaders for our plight; is it not God, who has willed our current circumstances as part of His good plan? And can we agree that His plan is always perfectly executed in wisdom?

Acts 17:26-28a And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.

Far beyond our thinking and planning abilities, God created the world with boundaries that kept each created thing within it’s assigned role. Boundaries give our world and our lives order, safety and freedom.

Boundaries keep the oceans and seas within their allotted space. They keep the stars in the sky. The sun was made for day – the moon for night. Those boundaries keep them in their place and keep them within their designated role.

God created Adam and Eve and placed them within the walls of the Garden of Eden. While the walls of the Garden defined their dwelling place, they had freedom. God also gave them boundaries of eating. They could eat from every tree but one. Those boundaries kept them in perfect communion with God. Boundaries gave their world order and protected them from whatever was outside the Garden.

Paul was a man who knew the loss of freedom. His imprisonment created new challenges to his God-given ministry. Paul did not bemoan the loss of what he could no longer do. He did not become so discouraged by his inability to speak face-to-face with the churches that he sat within the walls of his confinement idle and immobilized, longing for the days of freedom he once enjoyed. He did what was in front him. He focused on what he could do which was to write letters to the churches and send them by way of faithful messengers. While he could not see them he could still speak to them.

The voice of God, through his servant, was not silenced. Paul’s imprisonment was the avenue by which God brought to the world the New Testament books Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Phileman. Prison walls could not stop the gospel. God had planned Paul’s confinement for the purpose of spreading the gospel and encouraging the saints not only for the first century believers but for believers thousands of years in the future. Though Paul had a specific place in time, his letters to the churches were eternal. Did Paul know the significance of his time in prison? Was he aware of the magnitude of the work that God was doing while he was incarcerated? Could he possibly have imagined the eternal weight of glory brought through his inability to carry out his calling in typical ways?

While we are not Paul, we too, have a designated space and time in history. The Lord, lovingly and faithfully, has chosen our circumstances. God has placed us where he wants us and given us resources. These resources may not be the ones we would choose but they are the ones God has chosen for us. He is most magnified and glorified in them.

The year 2020 is one that the world will not soon forget. It has brought with it boundaries that limit our contact with people and yet it is God’s good pleasure to allow them to be imposed. These boundaries challenge the way we think and do ministry. These boundaries confront our idols and expose our heart’s true loves.

So here we are, we still have breath; in Him we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28a). How are we to proceed within the walls of our current boundaries? Are we able to acknowledge the privilege of living in this space and time and run the race that was marked out for us? The trail markers may have changed but the race is still the same and our inheritance it beautiful!

The gospel of Jesus knows no bounds!

Life Is Difficult – Thank You M. Scott Peck

As we are about the business of recreating a better “me” through self awareness and the power of best practices, God is about the business of transforming; creating a new person in Christ, by the power of His Word and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit.

Life is difficult. Most of us muddle our way through trying to escape the difficulties, patch up the wounds and fight against the things that continue to cause us discomfort and pain. Often times the running and kicking back only causes more distress and deepens our discouragement. We are left battle weary and no more trouble free than when we began.

Perhaps, we have imagined life differently; an easier and smoother ride. Matthew 6:34 reminds us that there is always hardship and each day has it’s own trouble. Just as the changing seasons bringing their own blessings and problems, our daily circumstances may change but life is never trouble free. There is always something we would love to avoid, deny or escape.

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, back in the early 80’s. Just as he was on a spiritual journey of making sense of life and people and God, I was on my own similar trek. I struggled to understand the purposes of life, relationships, love, difficulties and pain; the connection between God, myself and real life. I was torn between outwardly pretending that life wasn’t difficult and internally weeping under the weight of it. As a twenty-something, separated and nearly divorced Christian woman who didn’t know her Bible well, this book was revolutionary. It had given me new perspective.

He had me with the first two paragraghs of chapter one.

Life is difficult.”

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I found truth in these few sentences. Reading on, he highlights the necessity of suffering and the value of experiencing pain. He lays out disciplines for experiencing pain and meeting it head on rather than avoiding it. These personal practices were good, wise and helpful. Who would disagree with taking responsibility for your choices or delaying gratification? These are choices that differentiate the proverbial children from adults. My need to grow up, face difficulties head on and do hard things became clear.

And now some 40 years later with many trials and difficulties behind me and a fuller knowledge of the Word of God, I can see that while The Road Less Traveled may have set me on a better track of thinking, the ability to actually walk it well was made possible only by the grace of God. I have seen his hand in even the most painful of times. His love for me has transcended pampering and moved toward perfecting. 

I recognize that the issues and solutions presented in Peck’s book were centered on self and although the idea of grace, a greater power, and God were present, they were not prominent and foremost in his philosophy. These are good personal practices but they are not the embodiment of freedom, pain management, or transformative living. What seemed sensical lacked the fullness of truth and the power to transform the one who was broken by life’s difficulties or battered and bruised by their own poor choices. Though acceptance and surrender are a part of Peck’s spiritual equation, surrender to God is the only solid solution for the human condition.

As we are about the business of recreating a better “me” through self awareness and the power of best practices, God is about the business of transforming; creating a new person in Christ, by the power of His Word and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. Pain, difficulties and disappointments are His tools, by which He shapes and forms us into the likeness of Jesus. How we process difficulties determines the condition of our heart toward God, others and ourselves as well as our ability to surrender to God and be changed into the image of Christ.

Yes! Life is difficult. Life’s difficulties are not without purpose.

Romans 5:3-5  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love have been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17  So we do not lose heart . Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Facing trials head on, accepting circumstances as they are and not as we have hoped them to be is a lesser traveled road. Surrendering our lives, our circumstances, our will and our control to our Loving Father who keeps us sheltered under His wing is the pathway to peace, contentment, joy, renewal and a transformed life.  We will never be as we once were. We will be tempered and humbled.

Life is difficult. There is eternal purpose in our difficulties.

The last line of an interview printed in Psychology Today, quotes M. Scott Peck as saying, “I’m somebody who often, like so many people, preaches what he needs to learn.”

I echo your words, Mr. Peck!

Just a Little Salt, Please

As salt influences both the food and the consumer so our words affect both the conversation and the hearer.

Words have consequences and just as too much salt can ruin a good recipe, careless words can ruin a conversation, relationship, reputation or an opportunity for the gospel. As salt cannot be extracted once it has permeated food so words cannot be taken back once heard by the hearing ear or seen on the written page.

I am a huge fan of salt. I salt everything; meat, fish, eggs, cooked vegetables, salad, green apples and raw rhubarb, pizza, ketchup etc. I salt food before I taste it. There is almost nothing on my plate that escapes the shaker. Salt enhances my eating experience.

I am particularly fond of the combination of salt and sweet. My favorite breakfast is french toast with link sausage drowning in maple syrup. There is nothing quite like salty sausage and syrup. And let us not forget salted caramel in any form or recipe. Is there anything better than a big salted caramel ice cream cone or sundae? I think not!

If you are a baker you know that most sweet/dessert recipes call for a small amount of salt; a dash, a pinch, or perhaps a teaspoon. It’s not a lot. Have you ever wondered, why salt in a sweet recipe? The amount is so small. Would it really matter if you used no salt at all?

Bakers would tell you that salt is essential to color, texture, aroma and flavor. Science tells us that salt affects the consumer by suppressing the bitterness receptors making other flavors stronger and more balanced. Salt changes our food and changes the way the body perceives our food.

A little salt goes a long ways. I have on occasion over salted my food. It turned something yummy into something…else. While I ate it I didn’t really enjoy it. Too much salt ruins the pleasureable experience. And for the record, while salt can be added to anything to enhance the flavor, it cannot be removed, extracted or eliminated once it permeates the food. While salted is good salty is not.

Colossians 4:3-6 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Seasoned with salt is good. A little salt makes it better. Too much salt is the ruin of a good recipe as well as a good conversation. Salty speech is offensive and angry leaving no one wanting a second discussion. This salt Paul speaks of is salty and sweet. Our words should be gracious, clear and well thought out, opening doors for the gospel. They should be wise and winsome, leaving people wanting to hear more, in the same way a bite of a perfectly salted meal increases our desire for another bite.

As salt influences both the food and the consumer so our words affect both the conversation and the hearer.

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat their fruit.

Just as salt impact our food, words have consequences. Careless words can ruin a conversation, relationship, reputation or an opportunity for the gospel. Precious to the hearer are life-giving words of hope that turn our hearts toward God.

In this life I have spoken many salty, careless words; words that affected people and situations that can never be taken back and some that can never be made right. Looking back I can see that God has redeemed those situations and used them as a tool of sanctification in my life. I am forever changed, not by my regret of careless words but by the power of the Holy Spirit who used those circumstances to bring me to my knees before the throne of Grace. God, who is merciful and abounding in steadfast love, uses everything for our good and His glory.

Let your speech be seasoned with salt..

Contagious

While we’ve been encouraged to use reasonable care in preventing the spread of an infectious virus that is highly contagious, it seems that the virus is not the only contagion that has spread rapidly.

Infectious and contagious are words we’ve become very familiar with in the past few months. While we’ve been encouraged to use reasonable care in preventing the spread of an infectious virus that is highly contagious, it seems that the virus is not the only contagion that has spread rapidly. Fear and anxiety have overwhelmed the world as we watch the numbers of cases rise and the elderly succumb.

The rumblings of discontentment can be heard and felt across the world but especially across America where we proudly sing, “let freedom ring.” We are a country that was founded on protecting the freedom of individuals and now we are under new constraints. Discontentment rises as the people become weary of want.

Discontentment is defined as the deep dissatisfaction and overall disappointment and restlessness of spirit. It always makes itself known in words and deeds. Discontentment expresses itself outwardly in annoyance, joylessness, worry, gloom and anger. And like a virus that is spread by human contact and interaction, dissatisfaction is contagious. It infects those around us.

What’s the cure for this disposition of the heart? And how do we stop the spread of this contagious condition? Like every virus stopping it begins with finding the antidote. What we need is a solid dose of acceptance brought about by our faith and trust in God who has written a love story for his people. As believers, we can look the to the past in the Word of God to find the answer for the present and we don’t worry about the future.

In 2 Corinthians 11 & 12 Paul writes of hardship, sacrifice, dangers and suffering endured as a man proclaiming the gospel. In the middle of that he carried the weighty pressure of the responsibility of the church which caused him great anxiety. Most of us have never know this degree of suffering, hardship and anxiety.

And in the midst of this difficulty God spoke to Paul saying, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response? “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness so that the power of God may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak then I am strong.”

When I am weak;” when my options and resources are limited, when I am isolated, when my freedom of choice is temporarily inhibited, I will boast all the more gladly of my situation so that the power of God may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, I am content in all theses things because when I am weak then I am strong.

Paul says in Philippians 4:11, Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.

Paul had plenty of reasons to be discontent in his circumstances and yet he was not. He learned contentment which means he didn’t already know how to be content in every situation. He was schooled by the Lord through what he experienced. Paul learned contentment through what he suffered and endured. He learned it. He was just a man who believed in Jesus as His Lord and Savior. His hardships were a vehicle for growth not an obstacle to it. His response to his difficulties was written for our benefit that we might learn to be content in our circumstances just as he learned from his. He has passed on the secret of contentment to us.

God has proven himself faithful and trustworthy throughout the pages of history. He loves us, as adopted children, with an everlasting love. He beckons us to himself and holds us fast in his arms. In that there is comfort for the weary, discontented soul. Because of this we can accept and surrender to circumstances orchestrated by God, with the assurance that it is for our sanctification and His glory. His work in us through hard things produces Christ-like character and maturity.

We are contagious to those around us. Today we can choose which we will pass on; discontentment or contentment. Both are contagious, infecting others. One is a joy and soul-killing virus and the other peace-giving, life-breathing soul reviver. We decide whether we will fight against our circumstances or be changed into the image of Christ through our circumstances.

And by our choices others are brought low or raised up because we are contagious.

…there is Liberty.

Quarantine is not about your freedoms being taken away. It’s about liberty. Liberty says that I am free as long as my actions do not infringe upon or take away the freedom of others.

We’re doing a new thing. It’s called self-quarantine. We’ve no context for what this means for our future. We’ve never experienced anything globally such as this. We have never experienced anything in our country, our state, our community such as this. The closest my family has come to self-quarantine was the Chickenpox and those quarantined were under 4 feet tall with no drivers’ license, job or responsibility other than making their own bed and picking up their toys.

The Chickenpox was a bit of an inconvenience but nothing more. My kids were itchy and have a few faded scars but other than that our life as a family returned to normal very quickly.

Today we are self-quarantined. Many people are under a mandatory quarantine; only permitted to leave their homes for the necessities of food and medical needs. It seems our state may be heading, very quickly, in that direction. Americans have never known this type of constraint of freedom on a large scale. We, Americans, pride ourselves on our freedoms. We live in a “Free country.” We are free to make our own choices and we resist the government telling us what we can and cannot do with our money, speech, bodies, time etc. We are free to choose. Our state motto is “Live Free or Die.” The idea of quarantine stirs up the perception of loss of Constitutional freedom and produces an inclination to defy the heavy hand of government and defend freedoms.

And so we live in a growing culture of fear. Fear of contracting Covid-19. Fear of spreading the virus. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of economic crash. Fear of losing control. Fear of losing our freedom.

Dictionary.com defines Fear as an unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or threat and defines Freedom as the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Liberty is not exactly the same as freedom though we use the words interchangeably. Liberty is a type or a subset of freedom that carries with it responsibility and duty. It’s the responsible use of freedom; a freedom with boundaries that are considerate of the freedom of others. It does not act selfishly but for the good of others.

Let us turn our focus to Liberty.

This is true liberty:

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good but the good of his neighbor.

Quarantine is not about your freedoms being taken away. It’s about liberty. Liberty says that I am free as long as my actions do not infringe upon or take away the freedom of others. Can we look at this through the eyes of Liberty and with that freedom, love and consider others before and above ourselves?

Let us willingly, fearlessly, obey the strong suggestions, requests and orders of our leaders. Romans 13 says we all must obey those who rule over us. Those in authority serve God. It’s a conscious, humble act of submission to authority. God did not offer this up as an option. It’s a command. Honor God by honoring those in authority. Romans 13 goes on to remind us to love our neighbor as ourselves and that love does no harm to his neighbor. Can our love be identified in our obedience?

As men and women, brothers and sister in Christ, I encourage you to open the hand that clutches tightly to the fears that so easily overwhelm us and grab hold of Jesus, the anchor of our soul and our hope. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have said these things so that you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Now the Lord is Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2 Cor. 3:17

Where the Spirit of the Lord is…

Get Dressed

While we may be attentive to clothing the outer person, God is most concerned with the dressing of the inner person. God calls us to dress according to our identity not our activity.

Everyday it’s the same routine. We get out of bed, remove whatever we slept in, jump into the shower and then get dressed. Women probably spend more time choosing their wardrobe than men. Women not only carefully choose their wardrobe but also their accessories (i.e. earrings, necklace, scarf, shoes, etc.). If we don’t spend a lot of time pondering outer adornments, at the very least, we think about what we’ll be doing for the day and dress for that. We dress appropriately for the task at hand. Since God clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden we have been putting on something to cover the body.

One can easily recognize a person’s vocation or who that person represents by the way he or she is dressed. Police officers are identified by their uniforms. Healthcare professionals are known by their scrubs. A firefighter is recognized by his/her PPE. I know the difference between the FedEx driver and the UPS man not by his face but by his uniform.

They are dressed to be known and recognized before they ever utter a word.

While we may be attentive to clothing the outer person, God is most concerned with the dressing of the inner person.

Colossians 3:12-13 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.

The Word of God uses the same language for physical dressing as for spiritual dressing. Everyday we cover the body with outer garments that are determined by the activities of the day. Not so for spiritual dressing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing for the day. The spiritual dressing is for every day, every activity, every moment. God calls us to dress according to our identity not our activity.

He reminds us the we are:

  • Salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)
  • Image Bearers (Genesis 1:27; Colossians 3:9)
  • Individual members of the body of Christ (1 Cor .12:27)
  • Chosen (1 Peter 2:9)
  • Adopted as Sons, Children of God (Ephesians 1:6; 1 John 3:1-2)
  • New Creations (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • Debtors (Romans 8:12-13)
  • Ambassadors-One who represents the sender in character and authority. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

And in Christ we: Ephesians 1

  • Are blessed with every spiritual blessing
  • Have redemption through the Blood
  • Have forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of His grace
  • Have wisdom and insight
  • Have obtained an inheritance
  • Have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit

Who we are in Christ determines what we put on! That identity establishes our wardrobe. It looks nothing like the self-centered garments of the old man (Ephesians 4:22). We, who are in Christ, must chose to live and dress like the One we represent. We must, with great thought and intention, put on our new garments. We are not the same. We were bought with a price and covered by the blood of Jesus. We are a new creation. Our behaviors, responses and pursuits should match our identity.

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with the beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Everyday you choose what spiritual garments you will wear. Remind yourself who you are in Christ. The new man, holy and beloved, puts on garments of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Wear them with joy, as they are a gift from the one who covered you with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness.

Get dressed!

MY WAY

My personal preferences are a good servant but a lousy master.  They can serve me well but when I become a slave to my preferences I serve no one else.

While sitting in a class (which I wasn’t super excited about in the first place) I found my critical heart becoming increasingly nit-picky.  It began with the subject matter.  Before the speaker even opened his mouth, I had attitude.  As he began to teach I found him as well as his presentation to be distasteful.  Soon I found myself getting up to leave the room.  I needed a break to regroup and regain some perspective before I could head back in.  What I began to realize was, that while critical thinking is vital to true discernment, a critical heart suppresses the Holy Spirit.

My personal preferences are a good servant but a lousy master.  They can serve me well but when I become a slave to my preferences, I serve no one else.

  • My way is right
  • My point of view is right
  • My perceptions are right
  • My thoughts are right
  • My counsel is right

If I believe my methods/preferences are right then, by default, the methods/preferences of others are wrong.  I am setting myself up as the standard by which all other things should follow.  It’s a throne position.  I am exalted in the process of expressing my preferences as truth at the expense of others.

When I am controlled by the narrow view of my personal preferences, there is no room for the way of others or their viewpoints, perceptions, thoughts or counsel.  They cannot be heard in my presence.  I become the authority.  My way becomes the standard by which all things should be perceived, thought of, stated, done and counseled.  I am teaching others my way while I myself remain unteachable.  I do not hear others because I do not listen to others, therefore I cannot learn from others.

It’s a “my way” approach to even the most menial of tasks which are meaningless to the big picture.  Process, not people, is first.

Have you ever found yourself grumbly in everyday circumstances such as:

  • Folding laundry – Do you refold or instruct others how to fold laundry.  Even worse, when you are helping someone else fold their laundry, do you fold their way or your way?
  • Loading the dishwasher – Ever reorganized the dishwasher?
  • Making the Bed – Which side of the top sheet faces the bottom sheet?
  • Toilet Paper – Under or over?- Have you ever changed the roll position…at someone else’s house?
  • Bible Study – Morning, noon, night? And with what method? Inductive, Deductive, SOAP?

The answer is probably “yes” for most of us.  Are any of these things a big deal in light of eternity?  I think most of us would say an emphatic “no.”  And yet, when someone disrespects/disorders our preferences, how do we respond?  Does emotion well up inside of us?  When we believe that our ways should be everyone’s ways we have lost site and control of our preferences.  They rule us, we do not rule them.  There is  no freedom to waiver from them.  We must now adhere to them and enforce them upon others.  In a sense, we are saying, “This is the way, follow me.  If you do not adhere to my way, I will correct you.”  There is a rightness/wrongness but not a righteousness to this way of thinking.  We are in bondage and we put others in bondage to our way of thinking and doing.

So often we measure the good, sufficiency, adequacy or maybe a better word is value of something based on our own preferences.  We evaluate situations and circumstances as if everything about it revolves around us.  Food, temperature, hotels, restaurants, smells, neighborhoods, communities, schools, classes, people, teachers, conferences etc., are assessed by our own personal palate.  It seems our ability to enjoy and appreciate something is based on what we like or dislike.  How many times have you gone to a restaurant with rave reviews only to be disappointed?  Your personal preferences were not met there.  We cannot fathom how people considered it a good place to have dinner!

So, what’s the difference between a fair assessment and a biased one; an assessment that is just or one that is critical because of personal preference?  What is real and what is preferred?  How do we determine if something is good?

We must sort through our own personal preferences, as one sorts through puzzle pieces; by color or flat-edged pieces.  A good puzzle worker sorts first.  How often do our personal preferences get confused with the really important facts?  Before we assess a speaker, program or a class, we must ask ourselves, “What is my measuring stick of value?  Do I have a gospel view?”

The gospel is the picture of self-sacrificing love in action.  For God so loved the world… it was good for the world that Jesus should suffer for it’s sin but not so comfortable for Jesus.  It was greater love.

To assess fairly we must think beyond what we like to what is real, whole-group and gospel centered.  We must have a wide lens view that takes in the whole horizon.  We must see the big picture and give grace to minor details that are not important in fundamental ways.  How would it change the way we evaluate situations, tasks, people, speakers etc. if we saw them in light of the gospel rather than ourselves?  What if, instead of being critical, we look for the good?

I’m not saying we should turn a blind eye to sin.  Matthew 18:15 is very clear about what to do if we see a brother in sin, as is 2 Corinthians 10:5 as it addresses arguments and lofty opinions or anything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.

When we align our personal preferences with the Word of God and measure them by the call to love one another, we are not only God honoring vertically but we are God honoring horizontally.

Philippians 2:3-8   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.

Do nothing from selfish ambition but in humility, look around you.  People are wounded and struggling to survive one day at a time.  Can we find enjoyment in what others enjoy?  Can we give an honest evaluation of a situation based on the needs of others being met?  Can we remember to measure goodness based on what God says is good and not on our own comfort, preference or level of needs being met?

Jesus is the Son and all things revolve around Him.  It is through Him that all things are held together.  His ways are higher.  His thoughts are for all as well as the individual.  He humbled himself by taking on the form of a servant for a lost and dying world of which we are just one of many in that category.

I can have preferences, but my personal preferences are not a measuring stick I can use to determine right or good.  My unit of measure must be higher than myself.  When I measure myself against a Holy God, I am humbled and brought low.  His glory is all I see.  This is true and right perspective.

Isaiah 55:8-9   For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher that your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God’s thoughts and words for us are found between the front and back covers of the Bible.  He has established a true and better way, as His ways are perfect.  Let us choose to be wise thinkers in our assessments and use the Word of God as our system of measure.

Freedom from the bonds of our personal preferences is a gift to those around us!

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Sacrifice

You and I are going to pay for it. Somehow, in some way sacrifice, by definition, is going to cost us something.

Have you ever offered to help someone, given someone something, used your gifts and talents to bless someone, volunteered in places that you don’t love or gone completely out of your comfort zone for the sake of another?  There might be a need you’re willing to fill.   You choose it.  You have an idea of what that will look like and how much you are willing to give.  Your heart desires to be generous with whatever you give.  And then…something happens.  The need is greater than first presented which transitions into the sacrifice being greater.

Let’s say you volunteered to spend the day helping a neighbor do yard work.  You know you have a free day and while you’d rather spend it doing anything else, you offer up that day to help them.  That’s definitely a worthy sacrifice.  But what if, while they appreciate your weekend offer, they really need you in the middle of the week.  You have a job.  You CAN take a day off but do you really want to waste a vacation day on something that doesn’t even benefit you?  Of even great consequence, what if you have used all your vacation time and you would have to take the day unpaid?  Now we’re talking sacrifice!

The disciples left everything to follow Jesus.  (Mark 10:28)  They were sold out for Jesus and yet, they didn’t really understand what “everything” meant.  They knew it cost them their jobs, possibly their friends and family and even their reputations but it wasn’t until Jesus was arrested did they realize it could cost them their lives.  It was at the restoration of Peter (John 21:18) that Jesus assured him that it would cost him his life.  The price of following Jesus was ultimate.

That wasn’t what they thought they signed up for in the beginning.  They followed a man who they came to understand and believe was the Son of God who preached a gospel of Grace, who loved and cared for people, who performed miracle upon miracle for the good of the people and glory of the Father.  This was more costly than they had anticipated.

Merriam Webster defines sacrifice as the surrender of something for the sake of something else.  Sacrifice does not have a payback or reward.  When we truly sacrifice, we have no expectation of personal gain.  It’s not a barter system.  It’s a selfless act for the sake of another.

When the need is great the sacrifice is great.

2 Samuel 24:24  I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.

As the story unfolds, David commands that the people be numbered.   In that, there was sin.  He had chosen a consequence that, up to that point, cost him nothing.  Neither he nor his family paid the price for his sin.  The plague and the pestilence had been visited upon the Israelites and 70,000 were dead.  When David beheld the image of the Angel of the Lord, battle ready with sword in hand, he dropped to his face before the Lord.  The reality of his sin had penetrated his heart.  He pleaded to God to spare the Israelites and to let him and his family bear the burden of punishment.  Again, up until this point he had chosen a consequence that cost him nothing.

David did as the Lord instructed and went to the threshing floor of Araunah to build an altar to the Lord to avert the plague from his people.  When he offered to buy it, Araunah told him to take it and the oxen and wood for the fire.  That’s when David told him he needed to pay for it.  David’s statement in 2 Samuel 24:24 was clarifying.

What a powerful visual!  Do you see it?  The picture of laying it down for the good of others and the glory of God is displayed on the canvas of 2 Samuel 24.  David had to pay for it.  You and I are going to pay for it.  Somehow, in some way sacrifice, by definition, is going to cost us something.  We have example upon example of people in the Bible who  sacrificed everything for the good of others and the glory of God.  Jesus is our greatest example.

Ephesians 5:2  And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

When we offer our time, talents and resources to aid another, we are ultimately offering it up to God as a service and sacrifice to Him.  We serve God by serving others.  When He is our audience it becomes our delight to serve.   In this there is eternal value; for the good of others and the glory of God.

Greater love demands greater sacrifice.  How great is your love?  How great are your sacrifices?

Greater love has no man…