God Says What’s Best (It’s Not About You)

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Approaching Issues with Grace

downloadSo many issues, so many choices in how to approach them.

There are the biggies: gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, and the list goes on. Then there are the ones that we don’t deal with on a national scale, but they soak into the very same topics as well as permeate our daily lives: forgiveness, tolerance, hypocrisy, mercy, pride, rights, humility…

We separate one from another, because we don’t want to have to apply the same standards everywhere. We can support one issue based on a premise that undermines another. We can set ourselves emotionally aside for one issue but come unglued for another. We point out the logical flaws of someone else’s argument but fail to see our own. Worse yet, we apply God’s Word to condemn others while applying God’s Word into our own lives, inviting him to challenge our own faults and offenses.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he went back to the Temple, and all the people came to him, and he sat and taught them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. They forced her to stand before the people. They said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught having sexual relations with a man who is not her husband. The law of Moses commands that we stone to death every woman who does this. What do you say we should do?” They were asking this to trick Jesus so that they could have some charge against him.

But Jesus bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they continued to ask Jesus their question, he raised up and said, “Anyone here who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” Then Jesus bent over again and wrote on the ground.

Those who heard Jesus began to leave one by one, first the older men and then the others. Jesus was left there alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus raised up again and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one judged you guilty?”

She answered, “No one, sir.”

Then Jesus said, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.” (John 8:1-11)

How can we approach all the issues surrounding us? Grace.

We can’t force others to walk the same journey we’ve walked, recognizing every truth we’ve struggled to face. We can’t fix all wrongs or become the keeper of all moral rights and wrongs. God is the judge, and he does a good job of it. He doesn’t need our help. He needs our obedience. And being obedient to God means living out the lives he created us to live, becoming more and more like him every moment of every day.

Can you claim to becoming more like God with every moment of every day?

When we walk with God, the issues become secondary. How we approach every person and every situation comes from the core of our faith. We yield to how he guides our responses, and he knows what he’s doing more than we’ll ever know while walking this journey on earth. When we’re concerned with where God has us and what he’s teaching us, we’ll be a lot less concerned with keeping track of everyone’s issues. Oh, we’ll certainly still be engaged in issues, because God engages us in the community and world we live. But we stop trying to fit God into the issues; we let the issues fit into our relationship with God.

God sent Jesus to place a grace-filled path under your feet. Are you walking on it? As you do, you will be living the grace-filled path out loud for all to see and hear.

But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. (Matthew 7:14a)

Easy Faith

faith-closeupThe boastful cannot stand in Your presence. (Psalm 5:5b)

Pride separates us from God. We have to leave something behind – ourselves – when we approach Him. We can’t have it both ways – our own and His. We might not label it as pride. We call it control, priorities, organization, responsibility, management, or many other things. Things that in our individualistic society sound noble and helpful instead of a hindrance to faith. But it is a hindrance. Seeing things our own way gets in the way of truth. Sure, things might make more sense to us through our own eyes, feelings, and experiences, but with nothing to measure against, how can we possibly know where we are or how we’re doing? Comparing ourselves to others? That rarely ends well. We still pick and choose how authentically we compare.

We often pit pride and humility against each other in simplistic terms, as if pride is feeling good about ourselves or something and humility is being ashamed about ourselves or something. We get it turned upside down and inside out. Pride shuts out others, no matter how inclusive we think we’re being. We simply rationalize who is “us” and who is “them.” Humility welcomes, because it opens our eyes to the truth of our similarities and possibilities. Humility helps us believe.

Faith isn’t easy. Humility isn’t easy.

But easy isn’t the goal of faith.

Be Humble Today

Be-Humble-Today-500x500Just because we disagree and have been on opposite sides of a battle doesn’t mean we toss honesty, humility, peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness to the side. Winning at any and all costs is not winning.

Saul and David definitely had their differences, mainly because of Saul’s jealousy, pride, and struggle for power. Yet, near the end of his life, he had this interaction with his successor, David:

When David finished saying these things to him, Saul replied, “Is that your voice, David my son?” Then Saul wept aloud and said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have done what is good to me though I have done what is evil to you. You yourself have told me today what good you did for me: when the Lord handed me over to you, you didn’t kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him go unharmed? May the Lord repay you with good for what you’ve done for me today.” (1 Samuel 24:16-19)

We don’t have to wait until the end of our lives. In fact, we shouldn’t. Why waste time? Choose to be honest, humble, peaceful, conciliatory, and forgiving. Today.

Losing A Generation

“Why won’t the young people come to help?”

“Young people these days feel entitled to all the things we worked hard to get. They’re not willing to sacrifice anything. They only think of themselves.”

“I’m scared for our country/business/family/church when it comes to these kids taking over.”

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I guess I’m considered a “tweener” of generations right now. I’m in my late 40s. I have a lot of friends who are 60+ and even more who are under 40. As I recently interviewed nonprofit leaders, we often arrived at the topic of involvement and volunteerism, and I frequently heard snide comments about “young people.” I’d ask how we can bridge the gap, and more than one person gave a response of “It’s pretty hopeless,” blaming the younger generation.

However, when we stiff arm a generalized judgment about a group of people, isn’t the gap partly our fault, too? If we’re not willing to build a bridge, mentor, teach, listen, and walk through the messes of life of those trying to figure out the things we might have experienced but now see the solutions as simple and easy, we’re not putting forth the effort, just as we’re blaming others for their lack of effort.

Maybe we’re willing to help because we have more available time. Our families are grown, and we might even be retired from full-time jobs. We’re not balancing a young family’s schedule, several part-time jobs or two parents’ work schedules or building a business, financial pressures, constantly fixing used appliances, cars, and houses that we can barely afford, and so on. Yes, we’re busy, too, but we don’t seem to be able to respect what others are facing. We “remember” those days but somehow picture them a bit differently. We think of how much we served even when things were busy, how simple we kept our lives, or how firmly we kept our kids in line. We look back with rose-colored glasses. Or we remember the past as tough, but we survived and so will others, so why can’t they just buck up and pitch in to help and get more involved?

We wonder why the younger generation doesn’t come help us when we plan a service project…but we schedule it during work hours or sports and other kids’ activities. Instead of judging someone for what he or she isn’t doing, what if we verbalize our appreciation for their commitment to work and involvement in their kids’ lives? Instead of trying to compare someone’s life to the way we remember that same time in our life, why don’t we listen to where people are, refusing to give the easy, general answers of “It will all work out” or “You’ll survive and look back at these years and wish you had them back”?

We might not understand everything another generation is going and has gone through, but that goes both ways. How can we expect others to get to know us and be willing to see our perspective of things if we’re not willing to begin the conversation? When will we realize that complaining about others wanting their own way reveals our selfishness, too? How can we live with hope among people who are different than we are instead of being doomsayers who claim all is lost…unless everyone begins to think and act just as we do.

How rude, self-centered, inflexible, and prideful of us.

In the Bible, a generation isn’t limited to a specific age range of people. A generation most commonly refers to all the people alive at that time. Instead of separating groups of people based on life stage and pitting one against the other, it’s reaching around them all and claiming responsibility together. It’s sharing identity without pointing fingers. It’s humbly getting to know each other, and taking the higher ground needed to find common ground.

Are we willing?

If we’re not, we miss out…and so do the people we pit ourselves against.

 

The Very Important Title

The Very Reverend.

I don’t know who he was, but his photo and name flashed across the screen, advertising his upcoming appearance. It was his title that caught my attention.

Apparently (after doing some Google research), it’s not an unusual title in some customs and denominations. I mean no disrespect, but I began to wonder how it would seem if we began to use the practice with other titles.

The Very Mother

The Very Teacher

The Very Officer

The Very Cashier

The Very Son

The Very Athlete

The Very Musician

The Very Business Owner

I am all for being the best we can be in anything we do.  But “The Very” seems to add an air of importance that undermines what is most important in faith and everyday life: The Very Servant. How can we humbly serve, put ourselves last, and die to ourselves to live in and for Christ when we call attention to our position, worthiness, and service?

Why do we have to call attention to ourselves or attain a lofty title in order to find worth? Worth isn’t actually ours to define, determine, and assign. The Very Sovereign God has that covered. Only He doesn’t need to add anything to His name or identity. His worth is in who He is. He reveals Himself through His many names. But He never exaggerates. He claims the truth. When we try to exalt ourselves, we end up humbled by Him.

It’s much better to choose to be humble, because it positions us well in the first place. And it reflects reality and truth. We aren’t Truth; that identity is fully accomplished and encompassed by Jesus. But we get to be His servant, which means we get to reflect, seek, and rely on Him.

And that thrills and fulfills me…very, very, very much.

(Almost) Out of Control

The only thing you can truly control is your attitude.

We like to think we’re in control in some ways. We like results. We like influence. We want to be able to manage well. We want to stick with a schedule or routine…or not. We want a certain standard…or not. We want someone to respond to us in a certain way. We think we know the best way to comfort or motivate someone. We just want to fix something in order to help someone we love.

It’s good to be responsible. But we can’t do so with the illusion that we are in control. Our responsibility comes out of obedience, not out of authority.

But you can control your attitude and your perspective. You can think you’re bigger, wiser, and more powerful than you are and, even though you might feel and appear to have control at times, it’s a mirage of pride. (We mask pride as responsibility, but when we’re not open to look at the world and ourselves through the lens of truth, it is still selfishness not matter how we disguise or rationalize it.) Or you can humbly seek truth, direction, provision, wisdom, and power from a source that actually has authority.

I often chuckle as I claim to be a recovering control freak, but in reality, it’s not all that funny. I want to believe and trust that my perspective is right (and trustworthy) but the only perspective I can truly trust happens when I set all my preferences aside–whether they seem good or bad to me–and ask God what His perspective is. Then, I follow…as best as I can, even when I don’t understand, even when I don’t see all the pieces, even when something seems counter-intuitive to me. And as I’ve followed Him, I’ve come to realize that He guides out of wisdom and power with authority and perspective that is unparalleled. Yet He is willing to share. He won’t let you down. Ever. Even when things don’t turn out the way you expect or want them to…if you were in control.

Take control by giving it up. After all, it’s really not yours to begin with.