God Owes Me Nothing

God doesn’t owe me (or anyone else) anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t act like He does at times.

gratitudeHow about you? Have you ever said something like…

  • Surely this won’t last much longer. You (I) have been through so much already!
  • As much as you have given to others, you’ll definitely reap the rewards.
  • I’ve been really responsible with my money lately, so I’m sure I won’t have any unexpected surprises.
  • It’s time for vacation, and you (I) totally deserve a break!
  • I’m looking forward to retirement. I’ve put my time in and it’s time to enjoy life.

Even if we say we don’t think God owes us anything, what we think and say often betrays us. Instead of believing who God is and trusting Him regardless of how life is going or how well we understand it, we turn to a reward system. We might vehemently oppose the concept of karma, yet our reward/punishment system of what we and others deserve or don’t deserve says otherwise.

God doesn’t have to give me anything. His response isn’t dependent on me; it’s dependent on Him. Making it about me gives me way more control than I actually have…control I don’t even want, because I know I can’t handle it. I don’t see all the moving pieces involved. My perspective is selfish. I think I know what I want to happen next. I definitely have an opinion of what I think should happen next. But I’ve been wrong before and will continue to be wrong because of my limited perspective. The best perspective I can have is God’s, and the only way I can have it is to know Him well. Even with my best efforts, I will not fully know Him. There’s always more to know. Thankfully, He’s willing to consistently reveal Himself to me.

Am I willing to pay attention?

Yes. I owe it to God.

He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:10-11)

Life with Attitude

Rejoice_title_1024x1024What makes you rejoice? What brings you great delight? Does what prompts you to rejoice bring great delight to God? Joy is a firm confidence that all is well regardless of the circumstances. Philippians 3:1 says “Be full of joy in the Lord.” God is the source of joy, and God is the object of joy. We rejoice because God is who He says He is, and that means we can trust Him, fully relying on His guidance and provision through any circumstance. Our joy isn’t circumstantial, because our faith isn’t circumstantial. We rejoice because of God but also with God. As we live close to God, we experience life with the glimpse of His perspective. Because God has the big picture, we can trust there is always hope, and if nothing else, we can rejoice in hope.

Knowing God, being in a dynamic relationship with Him, transcends any and all temporal circumstance. Knowing God is inextricably connected with obeying God, and obeying God gives us peace and assurance even in uncertainties. Life isn’t fair, but God is.

The thing is…whether or not life is fair is irrelevant. God doesn’t want us to get stuck in this life. He wants to correct our eyesight so we see into eternity. This life on earth is important, because it’s where we live out our faith. We seek, learn and grow. God doesn’t want us to waste one minute of it. That’s not to say we’re supposed to be perfect. After all, we often learn most through those trials. We experience the most intense joy after a dark night. God doesn’t want us to waste life, not because it’s about us, but because, ultimately, it’s about Him and our relationship with Him. Are you rejoicing through life with God?

The Perspective of Faith

Today’s post is excerpted from the Pure Purpose Bible study. Order a copy for yourself, a gift, or small group.

PureFaithCoverLowRes“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

The perspective of faith is difficult and easy. Difficult, because faith requires us to assume and trust God’s perspective in all things, yet we’re limited in our perspectives, so we only get a glimpse of what God sees and knows. Easy, because faith grounds us in certainty…even when we’re uncertain about the certainty. Because God is trustworthy, we can trust him for his perspective and we can trust him with our lives. We won’t always understand, but we can always find certainty in faith, because faith inherently includes certainty.

All these people are known for their faith, but none of them received what God had promised. God planned to give us something better so that they would be made perfect, but only together with us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Our best effort to assume a godly perspective of faith is to know God and live his Word.

We cannot always know God’s will. We want the answers handed to us when we sometimes don’t even know what questions to ask. If we ask the questions we should ask, we sometimes don’t really want to hear and abide by the answers we get! God’s will is not a mystery if we search for it, but the question is: Are we willing to accept what God reveals as his will, or will we instead decide to hide behind pride and presumptions?

A common question when searching for God’s will is “What does God want me to do?” We can ask this question with sincere intentions, but it’s a question that too easily leads us down a path of what if, either/or, if/then, and so on. Our logic starts to kick in, and our preferences and assumptions can too easily get in the way and cloud our sight and hearing. Perhaps a better question to ask is “Who is God?”…with a follow up of “And based on who God is, how does he want me to respond?”

When we seek the “who” instead of the “what,” “how,” or “why,” we’re less likely to get discombobulated.  The answer still might not be clear, but it also won’t be clouded with the additional questions that can easily lead us down a rabbit trail tangled with our opinions, experiences, and pride.

When I was a young mom, it was difficult for me to put God first in a practical, everyday sense. I thought putting God first meant applying myself to spiritual disciplines, such as prayer and Bible reading and study. I absolutely loved spending as much time as possible in those areas, but I felt an urgent call to help when a daughter needed her diaper changed, meals needed to be prepared, naptime needed to start immediately (or was suddenly over), and many other things that, at times, seemed to nearly crush me under the to-do list. Plus, I was trying to be a good wife, which apparently was supposed to fall somewhere between putting God first and being a good mom. Because I couldn’t handle keeping even two of those in perspective, keeping three prioritized seemed disappointedly impossible.  I felt like a failure. Even on the days I felt like an adequate wife and a decent mom, I was still failing—at least, by my perspective—as a Christ-follower.

It wasn’t an identity crisis. It was a spiritual misapplication. I was setting myself up for failure by holding myself to a standard God never intended. I needed to stop seeing God at the top of everything and instead place him in the center of everything.

Perhaps it’s just semantics, but the shift worked for me. I stopped defining my efforts as failures of faith and began defining every role and responsibility as an opportunity for faith. It was the same basic concept, but a slight change significantly altered my outlook and faith journey.

When I placed God in the center of everything, I realized I wasn’t choosing my daughters over him when I played with them in the yard and walked to the library. I wasn’t choosing my husband over God when I helped him with a house project or watched football. When God is in the center, he touches everything. I consider God’s perspective no matter what I’m doing. I find significance in the most mundane tasks, because I acknowledge there is purpose in it even if I’m uncertain as to what the particular purpose is. When God is at the center of everything, I’m confident the purpose of what I’m doing is to follow and honor him. When I follow and honor him, I’m placing him in the center of everything.

It’s not simply that God is first in everything. He is the absolute foundation of everything. He is invested in everything. He is interested in everything. That is true whether I acknowledge his investment and interest or not. My distortion of God’s position in my life doesn’t change his position. He will always passionately pursue me. What can catapult me farther and faster in spiritual growth is my willingness to line up my life with his will. I can shift my perspective and priorities so that he seems to be off to the side, but he’s still in the center. I’ve simply distorted what I see as reality. God is the center, and when I line up my life with who he is and who he says he created me to be, I have the full assurance of him impacting the practical details of my everyday life.

No matter what I’m doing, God is in the center and emanates to reach every circumstance in the circumference of my life. Claiming God as the center of your life is what a perspective of faith is all about.

The will of God has more to do with controlling our hearts than planning and meeting goals. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (Matthew 6:33) God wants us to surrender our own plans and will, not because we’re giving up but because we’re giving him ourselves. When we place him in the center of everything, we’re declaring his way is better. We follow him, because he has a better perspective and, therefore, a better plan and will! We are limited; God is not. But Jesus said to them, “My Father never stops working, and so I keep working, too.” (John 5:17)

We must remember that we follow a person, not an idea. We have a relationship with Jesus. We don’t just believe in Jesus; we believe him. And it is because of that belief that we follow him. A problem arises when we think Jesus is supposed to give us the details of every single decision and direction we face. However, we don’t even need the details that we so desperately think we need. We want step-by-step directions, the same that we can print or depend on our phones to recite to us. But we don’t need those details. We simply need to follow Jesus. He will give us the details we need. What does that look like?

Consider a carrier pigeon. A carrier pigeon doesn’t have all the details. He can’t read the delivery address let alone have a wifi connection that gives him step-by-step instructions. He knows “home.” He knows where he belongs. He might fly in a circle a few times to get ready and make sure he’s properly oriented, but he’ll then hone in on the direction of home and fly in that direction. We need to be so intimately honed into Jesus that we know the direction we need to move. We don’t need to wait for the step-by-step. He’ll reveal what we need to know along the way. We need to trust that his perspective is the perspective we need—the perspective of faith.

“I do not know the way that I take but well do I know my guide.” (Martin Luther)

Where are you going to be a year from now, five years, or twenty years? If you’re honing in on Jesus, you’ll be closer to him as you journey in faith!

What would your life be like if you completely trusted God?

King of the Mountain

kingofthemountain“I. Am. King. Of. The. Mountain!”

It was the best feeling, standing on top of the mound that seemed unconquerable, especially when others were scrambling up the side, grabbing ahold of you and trying to use the momentum of pulling you back to push themselves up the mound even further. You knew exactly what they were doing because you did the same thing when given the chance. Getting to the top required some sacrifices, and it meant sacrificing of others as much as sacrificing some skin as you ascended.

Ascending seems critical in life. Better house, more money, job promotion. More experiences. More education. More. More. More.

But more by the world’s standards isn’t more by God’s standards.

There’s a difference between ascending and descending in life. It’s a difference between a worldly perspective and a godly perspective. Ascending by the world’s perspective isn’t usually ascending by God’s perspective. In order to ascend by God’s perspective, we have to descend by worldly perspective.

Those who try to keep their lives will lose them. But those who give up their lives will save them. (Luke 17:33)

He must become greater, and I must become less important. (John 3:30)

God’s not saying we have to literally lose everything in order to gain him (although sometimes, that’s the path we’ll take). We don’t have to physically lose our houses, bank accounts, jobs, families, and so on. We have to lose our hold on them. We need to loosen their hold on us. We have to realize that everything we have, from the tangible possessions to intangible characteristics, are not our own. When we’re willing to give it all to God, realizing anything we have is his anyway, we gain a perspective where loss is gain, death is life, poor is rich.

This counter-intuitive perspective is why Jesus said to his followers, “I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, I tell you that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24) A rich man had asked him about eternal life, and Jesus had instructed him to obey his commands…and go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me. (Matthew 19:21) The rich man walked away sorrowfully. The price was too high.

Is it too high for you? Which route of ascending will you choose? The one the world says is best or the one God says is best? Will you ascend to the top of the mountain to get what you think is the most recognition, resources, privilege, opportunities, etc., yet leave God at the bottom of the heap? Or will you leave the world’s values behind and ascend into God’s presence, trusting him to use your obedience and sacrifice?

Consider the choices you’re making right now. Upon what values are they founded? What are you hoping to get in response to the choices you’re making? Where will you end up if you continue the path you’re taking? Are you willing to adjust?

There’s only one King of the mountain. And it’s not you.

Spiritual Breathalyzer

breathalyzerWhat if you could take a spiritual breathalyzer? What would the reading be?

Taking a spiritual breathalyzer certainly isn’t a new concept. Consider Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5.

So be very careful how you live. Do not live like those who are not wise, but live wisely. Use every chance you have for doing good, because these are evil times. So do not be foolish but learn what the Lord wants you to do. Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit. Speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord. Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (verses 15-20)

Paul compares being filled with the Holy Spirit with being filled (drunk) with wine. With what are you filled? Bitterness? Discontentedness? Pain? Sorrow? Guilt? Pride? Greed? Doubt? A spiritual breathalyzer will tell the truth.

Consider what happens when somebody is filled with too much wine.

  • They’re no longer in control.
  • Their perspective and response is changed.
  • They are less inhibited.

And what happens when we are filled with the Holy Spirit?

  • We know we are not in control. God is.
  • God’s perspective eclipses our own, and we respond according to his leading.
  • We are no longer inhibited by bitterness, discontentedness, sorrow, guilt, pride, greed, and doubt. We set aside our self-centered concerns and boldly respond in God’s timing.

Consider your intimacy and comfort with the Holy Spirit. Even as Christians, we are often much more familiar with God the Father and Jesus the Son than the Holy Spirit. We’re often more comfortable with the rational, intelligent approach to faith. We don’t want to be or even seem to be out of control. Yet when we yield to God completely, including being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are not out of control. We simply yield to God’s control. We set our own selfish control issues aside to invite him to have full reign in our lives.

Take a spiritual breathalyzer today. Ask God to give you an accurate reading of where you are spiritually. Let him challenge you in the areas you are clinging to how you want to fill yourself instead of yielding to him. Then respond in obedience. Trust his assessment of you to always be for your spiritual growth and for his glory.

Take Your Temperature

temperatureFeeling unloved doesn’t mean you’re not loved.

Feeling lonely doesn’t mean we’re alone.

Feeling rejected doesn’t mean we’re being rejected.

Feeling jealous doesn’t mean there’s reason for jealousy.

Feeling a myriad of tumultuous emotions doesn’t mean you’re life is a torrent.

Before you send me angry messages of “How dare you tell me my feelings are unjustified!,” let me assure you that’s not my intent. I’m not saying your feelings aren’t what you’re experiencing. I’m not invalidating your feelings. You feel what you feel. What I’m suggesting is this: Consider that feelings might not reflect the reality of a situation. That’s why we’re studying emotions in the context of who God is and who he created us to be. Emotions are intended to enhance life. Sometimes they’re positive and sometimes they’re negative. We’re not going to get rid of all negative emotions, because life isn’t always going to go smoothly. But our emotions can be godly, which means our emotions will accurately reflect the reality of the situation and help us respond in healthy ways. (excerpted from Pure Emotion Bible Study)

I was standing outside on a hot day, a very hot day, and I felt hot. I could feel sweat dripping down my back as my body tried to cool itself down. I found some shade for relief.

I’ve also been outside on cold days, bundled in layers, rubbing my hands together, trying to shift my weight to keep my body moving to generate warmth.

In both extremes, regardless of how hot or cold I felt, I’d venture to guess my actual body temperature was a fairly consistent 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. God created the body to regulate temperature, and it does a really good job at it.

Regardless of how I feel, I need to trust God to filter the reality of a situation, including my emotional response, through the truthfulness of the Holy Spirit. I can feel angry, but the reality of the situation doesn’t call for godly anger. I can feel frustrated, but the truth of the situation may not warrant a frustrated response. The list goes on and on. And with each emotional response, instead of asking, “How do I feel?” and responding out of that feeling with a justification of my behavior, I need to immediately follow the “How do I feel?” question with “Does my emotional response accurately reflect the truthfulness of the situation?” Only God can tell me that, because only God has a sovereign perspective.

We can’t just skip over how we feel. We are emotional. God gave us emotions, and he gave them to us to enhance experiences, not distort them. If we rationalized all of our responses based on how we feel, we’d live in chaos. However, if we don’t recognize our emotions at all, we’d live in denial of who God created us to be.

Our physical bodies feel excessively hot or cold, but our internal temperatures are usually consistent. Our emotions might feel excessive, but God’s truth reveals the reality of each situation, so we can respond with accuracy.

Are you trusting your own assessment of your emotions more than you’re trusting God’s assessment of them? Are you responding with accuracy?

When the Fight Gets Personal

personalattackTo be attacked and accused when it’s justified is one thing. Being faced with the truth can be difficult, but you really can’t argue with the truth. Being wrongly attacked and accused is something else. And it’s difficult to take. When the fight gets personal, it’s tempting to fight back with the same tactics. It’s tempting to assume intentions, fling accusations, and choose the words you know will sting the most. But there’s another way.

I’m capable of fighting dirty. And by “dirty,” I mean anything outside the “fair” zone of Scripture. While I’m not proud of it, I’ll admit I’ve done it before. I’ve flung “you” statements, focusing on the person instead of the issue. I’ve angrily responded to something I heard second-hand or believed someone’s intentions to be instead of searching for the facts. I’ve stewed about something for a season before approaching someone with the issue instead of respecting him or her enough to clarify with compassionate confrontation in a prompt way.

And because I’m admitting to having fought dirty in the past, I’ll also admit something I’ve discovered about fighting dirty: it’s exhausting! It’s exhausting to hang onto things. It’s exhausting to let issues pile up and lead to bitterness. It’s exhausting to try to figure out what someone’s intentions are instead of just asking. It’s exhausting to take control of the situation instead of just asking, “How and when does God want me to respond?”

I don’t take fights as personally as I used to, because I’ve found that when I filter every conflict, issue, relationship, etc., through God’s perspective, my perspective changes. I learn things about myself I didn’t know. He reveals himself to me in fresh ways. I’m rejuvenated even through exhausting conversations. I have peace even in chaotic times.

I try to leave the “I’m being attacked so I need to attack back” mentality behind, because looking beyond it helps me clear my mind and heart, making way for God’s intentions. My perspective is less clouded when I remember I’m not the cause, result, or purpose of something. Involved? Yes. Fully in control? Absolutely not. That’s God’s job.

I recently had a conversation with someone who repeatedly assaulted me with verbal accusations, firmly built on assumptions that (I’m sure) made sense in her mind but made absolutely no logical sense. As she threw one blow after another, I had such an overwhelming peace of God’s presence. He invited me to glimpse at the situation with just a peek into what might be the reality of what was going on. First, she was hurting. I was being blamed for some of the hurt, but it really wasn’t me who could shoulder the blame. (And I’m not saying I am never to blame, because I certainly am! It’s just that I wasn’t to blame in this particular situation.) Instead of anger toward being unjustly accused of a laundry list of infractions, I felt compassion. I was sorry she was struggling. I wanted to help her work through some of the issues. I knew I wasn’t going to be the one to help in the big picture, but I committed to help in any way I could, starting with the way I responded…with respect and compassion instead of retaliation.

Second, I could trust the One I knew could shoulder the pain and hurt. Even though it felt personal, God assured me he didn’t see it that way. He reminded me of the pain he endured for me and reminded me that he’s equipped me to endure some pain for him. I don’t take up his cross because I can handle it. I take it up because he can. I respond in the way that he guides, because he says. I can’t do it in my own strength. I can only respond in his strength.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:24-26, NIV)

Then he told me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘You will not succeed by your own strength or by your own power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord All-Powerful.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Because you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you don’t have to take a lot of other relationship issues too personally. It’s personal when God says it’s personal.