Tag Archives: self

November 25; The Refuse of the World

I Corinthians 1-4

I know I have expressed my concern over the way we are raising our children to look out for themselves, to consider themselves powerful and capable and good, that they deserve whatever they want at any cost to others. We are reaping the consequences for this foolishness, aren’t we?

Paul says in 4:1 that people should regard us as servants of Christ. Then he goes on to describe what that looks like in his own life. Hold on to your hats:

For it seems that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. (4:9-13) (emphasis mine)

And he’s ok with that!

Now get ready for the kicker:

Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. (verse 16)

Now I know this flies in the face of modern philosophy. The so called child experts and mental health counselors are probably having heart attacks about now. And millennials everywhere are running to their safe places. But hear me when I say what the child experts and mental health counselors teach IS NOT WORKING!

They’ll tell you it’s not their philosophy that is failing, it’s society. It’s intolerance. It’s capitalism. It’s President Trump.

But the real problem is that they have rejected what God says, and made up their own bible. I know without a doubt that what Paul says here in I Corinthians is the answer to all of society’s problems, school shootings, discrimination, abortion, child abuse whatever. We need to think of others more highly than ourselves.

I will also tell you that’s impossible. We are selfish, ego-driven by nature. So before you try to muster up the ability to take a back seat, you need to give your life to Jesus. You need the strength that comes from having the Holy Spirit within you to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies and do good to those who mistreat you, to be the refuse of the world.

The answer to life’s problems is not what we think about ourselves. The answer is Jesus.

 

July 5; The Answer

2 Chronicles 29:1-31:1; Psalms 66-67

I believe that, as the Jews were worshiping pretend gods, deep inside they knew something was not quite right. Something was missing. Then, when Hezekiah cleaned house, restored the temple, reinstated the Passover and worship of God, the Jews could hardly contain their joy.

They came from all around, traveled many difficult miles to get to Jerusalem, to go to where God was.

Have you ever been really, really thirsty? Your tongue probably felt like it was made of cotton balls, you might have begun to see stars. When you took your first sip of water – what was it like? Could you feel the moisture slide down your throat? Were you aware of every drop as it worked its way through your body, refreshing and energizing you down to  your fingers and toes? With each swallow you began to return to your former state of health.

I think that was kind of what the Jews must have experienced as they returned to God.

I look at our present day world full of restless people. I see them worshiping all kinds of pretend gods: science, self, religion, money, relationship, excitement, whatever. And I know the reason they are restless is because deep down they know they are missing something. They are dying of thirst.

Using my analogy, I see these restless people trying to satisfy their thirst by eating potato chips, or drinking toilet water, or convincing themselves they aren’t really dying of thirst.

They make new idols, thinking that’s the answer. Or they turn their attention within themselves believing they’ll find what they need. They might tell themselves they’ve found what they were missing, but deep down inside they keep looking. The restlessness continues.

Friend, I know the answer to the world’s problem. I know it’s exactly the same answer we read about in the lives of the Jews under Hezekiah. It’s what Jesus called, “Living Water.” It’s Jesus Himself.

You might disagree. But that doesn’t change what is true. You might choose to continue to try to find fulfillment making pretend idols, and trying to quench your thirst with pebbles. But I am here to tell you, the answers you are looking for are written to you in love from God Himself. It’s in the pages of the Bible.

I know that if you read it, if you accept who God says He is, and allow Jesus to change you, you will find the answers you were looking for all along.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that (His) ways may be known on earth, (His) salvation among all the nations. (Psalm 67:1)

 

July 3; God and gods

2 Kings 17:3-41, 16:19-26, 18:1-2; Isaiah 5:1-30; 2 Chronicles 28:26-27, 29:1; I Chronicles 4:34-43

The Assyrians had captured the Jews and hauled them off as slaves. Now the king wanted to repopulate the land with people from neighboring nations. These people, of course, came with their portable little gods in tow.

But the king also made sure the new inhabitants were taught about the “god of the land,” and assigned a priest to tell the people how to worship God.

I think the people probably tried to understand about the God of the Jews. But 2 Kings 17 tells us each national group made its own gods. Later in chapter 17 it says this:

They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

Let’s not let that describe us. Oh, I’d be surprised if many of you bow down every day to a shiny little statue sitting on your bedside table. I doubt you sacrifice a child in the fire Sunday morning before you head off to church. But God is asking, what or who is it you and I truly worship?

A relationship? A career? A bank account or fame? Do we spend more time manicuring our lawns than we do serving God? Does our time in God’s Word compare with our screen-time? Are we trying to worship God and something else at the same time?

We need to consider our worship. It is an eternal question each of us must answer. But here’s the other thing that stood out to me this morning.

Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.

I think we need to consider that. We love our children. We adore our grandchildren. And they are taking their cues from us. Ask yourself this: Is my idol of self, or money, or health, or anything else worth my eternal soul, and the eternal souls of those precious people in my life?

Are we going to serve God or gods? Do we want our children worshiping gods… or God?

 

Psalms 22-31; Only God

One thing I learn from hearing David pour out his heart to the Lord is that, God is the source of everything we need. Whether it’s vindication, or strength, or peace, or comfort, or forgiveness, or protection, or victory over sin, God is truly able to do above and beyond what we ask or think.

There is the accepted philosophy in our world that says we can find those things within ourselves; that thinking the right thoughts, or doing the right things will bring about the power to overcome. But I will tell you, like David does, that leaving God out of the mix is a recipe for disaster.

In fact, adding God to the mix doesn’t even help. Until we throw up our hands and admit that we need God alone, our efforts will end in defeat. David learned this truth the hard way. And so have I.

So many times in these psalms, David acknowledges the goodness and faithfulness of God. I don’t see anywhere that David gives himself credit.

Whether we are burdened with personal problems, or with the state of affairs in our nation, may we look only to God for the solution. I like what David says in Psalm 31:

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands… ( vv 14-15a)

 

I Kings 17; Empty

I’ve heard the story of Elijah and the widow for as long as I can remember. In my mind’s eye, I can picture the figures on the flannel board in our Sunday School room. (When was the last time you even saw a flannel board? 🙂 ) The lesson we learned from this Scripture was: GOD SUPPLIES ALL OUR NEEDS.

I read what J. Vernon McGee had to say about this passage today, and he reminded me Elijah had just returned from the desert where God used ravens to feed him, a stream to meet his need for water. McGee pointed me to others who had similar experiences: Moses, Abraham, John the Baptist, Paul. Even Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. GOD STRENGTHENS US IN TIMES OF TROUBLE.

Dr. McGee then talked about the miracle of the healing of the widow’s son. The boy had died. But when Elijah went to him, made contact with him three times, the boy lived again. GOD IS THE DIVINE HEALER.

Do you remember Jesus’ first miracle? The wedding in Cana of Galilee, right? He turned water into wine. GOD GIVES HIS VERY BEST.

Then J. Vernon challenged every lesson I thought I’d learned from these stories. While it is true that God provides what we need, that He is our strength, our healer, and that He does all things well, we miss something important if that’s all we see in these passages.

What does the never-ending flour pot, the desert, the dead boy, and the wine have in common?

NOTHING.

Well, not nothing. But an emptiness, a void, nothingness. The lessons are not just that God prepared people for ministry in the desert. It’s the desert.

It’s not only that God didn’t let the flour run out. It’s the empty pot.

It’s not raising a boy from the dead. It’s the dead boy.

And it was never about the wedding, or even just the wine. It was the empty jars.

All which were filled by God Himself. To make his point, Dr. McGee shared a story about Hudson Taylor. It’s lengthy, but I want to quote it from page 107 in Thru the Bible Commentary Series on 1st and 2nd Kings by J. Vernon McGee. (Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1991):

It is said of Hudson Taylor that when he prepared young missionaries for service in his mission, he insisted, “Remember that when you come out here you are nothing. It is only what God can and will do through you that will be worth anything.” One young missionary replied, “It is hard for me to believe that I am just nothing.” And Hudson Taylor said to him, “Take it by faith because it is true. You are nothing.” You and I are just dried up brooks unless the Word of God is flowing through us.

You, my friend are nothing. I am nothing. Neither of us has anything of value to offer God who owns everything, and who created everything anyway. And until we empty ourselves and allow God to fill us with Himself, we are worth nothing to Him, we cannot be used by Him.

Sorry if that offends your sensitive sense of self.

Paul said he died daily, that he was crucified with Christ, that he was dead to self. If you think you can effectively serve God any other way, you are wrong.

Empty yourself. Let Him fill you to overflowing.

Then stand back and be amazed at what God can and will do through you, for His sake, and for His glory!

Dear Filler of our souls, I pray that all of us reading this chapter in I Kings today will be challenged to BE that desert, that empty pot, that dead boy. Help us to empty ourselves of our hopes and dreams, our talents and our gifts, our egos and our rights. Then, Lord, fill us with YOU. May we be instruments in Your hands, clay in the hands of the Potter, and may You create in each of us pure hearts. Use us today as we yield to Your will. And may Jesus be glorified.

Exodus 21-23; Play Nice

Wouldn’t life be amazing if everybody lived according to the principles God laid down for His children here in these chapters? Murder demands a death sentence, you pay your debts, you are honest, if you are guilty of careless behavior you fess up and pay up, and you don’t mistreat people. It’s the Golden Rule broken down into specific behaviors.

We live in a day where so many people trample over others in order to get ahead. One person’s rights trumps another’s rights, sometimes violently. We live in a society with a sue your neighbor mentality, and we are witnessing the consequences for such selfish and self-centered behavior.

But there are many who aren’t caught up in “self.” I see examples of that almost every day. And I hope you do, too.

I was talking to some friends of mine the other day, and they said they’d received a check from their granddaughter who was almost done paying for her car. They had loaned her the money and she’d been faithful to pay it back. Oh, that’s not unusual, they said. They’ve loaned money to most of their kids and many of their grandkids at one time or another. They never charge interest, and they’ve never been stuck.

In fact, the husband said they let the kids determine how much they can pay a month, AND he lets them keep track of the debt themselves. When the kids tell their parents they are paid in full, the parents trust them that they have indeed met their obligation. Debt paid.

Some of you might say that loaning money without charging interest is not good financially. That money would be gaining interest if it sat in the bank. So, while they are loaning money to their children, they are really losing money.

So?

These two are not in any way wealthy. She is a retired nurse, he a retired county worker. But when I read Exodus 22:25 I thought of them. They are living what God instructed the early Jews to do with their own families.

I know others who are financially generous. My sisters and their husbands are. I know many people who are generous with their time, their talents and abilities. I know honest and thoughtful people who live the Golden Rule every day. And life is better because they do.

Now let’s be clear. None of these good people are earning brownie points with God in order to earn heaven. We saw that in the chapters we read in my former post. But God would love for us to enjoy this life while we’re here. He’d like us to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, generous, thoughtful. He’d like us to treat one another in a way that we’d like to be treated ourselves.

We’re stuck here on this planet until God takes us home. So while we’re here, let’s play nice.

 

All Of Me

“… those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:8)

Paul is talking about what it looks like to be a child of God: Led by the Spirit. Putting to death the deeds of the body. Suffering for Jesus’ sake. Setting our minds on the things of the Spirit.

The opposite is true for those who are in the flesh. Their focus is on “self”: Self-confidence, self-gratification, self-acceptance, self-love. They are led by the things that benefit themselves without a thought of what benefits the Kingdom of God.

Or are they?

Can’t a Christian have a tiny bit of “self” and still be ok? Does God really insist I lose my identity?

I don’t see Paul making provisions for anything other than total submission. It seems he is telling us we are either led by the Spirit, or we’re not.

Oh God, I don’t want any of me left in this body. I want you to fill me, to transform me, to live in and through me. I want to look like You, talk like You, live like You lived while you were here on earth. I want to see people like You see them, love them like You love them. Forgive me for the times when I allow myself to be led by anything other than your Spirit, even if those things sound good. I want to please YOU alone. Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

God Doesn’t Give you… What?

Naaman’s story from 2 Kings 5 is a pretty familiar story for those of us raised going to Sunday School. It’s the story of a little Jewish slave girl who shared her faith in Israel’s prophet, and whose master’s husband Naaman was not only healed of leprosy, but became a believer in Israel’s God because of it.

I’ve read or heard the story many times over the years, but today I had one of those laugh-out-loud moments when I read something in the story I’d never noticed before. Naaman, who was a Syrian warrior, went to Israel on the word of this little Jewish girl, with a letter to the King of Israel written by his boss, the King of Syria. In it, the Syrian King said:

“Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.”

The reaction of Israel’s King is priceless and it is what made me laugh this morning. He tore his clothes, a sign of distress and anguish and says: WHAT? Does he think I’m God? Is this a trick so he’ll have an excuse to go to war with us when I don’t heal this man? I CAN’T DO THIS! WAAAA!

Talk about a major misunderstanding by someone who was looking within himself way too hard.

I laugh because, sadly, I recognize myself in the king’s panic. Sometimes I look at the circumstances of life, feel the weight of expectations on my shoulders, fret about a situation I’m facing, and think I CAN’T DO THIS. Then someone tells me, God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

LIAR!

Read 2 Kings 5. When the prophet Elisha heard that the king was losing his mind over this situation he sent a message to the king: Relax. God’s got this covered.

And God is saying that still. The truth is, God does allow things in our lives that are too much for us to do on our own. If he only sent things our way that we could handle, we wouldn’t need him, would we? God delights in revealing himself in every circumstance you face, good or bad. He wants you to go to him, to trust him, to depend on him, to show the world what he is able to do through you. I am convinced that God is not concerned about strengthening your ego, or teaching you how powerful you are. He wants to point you and me, and everyone around us to Himself as we allow him to handle every situation, as we trust him with every detail.

And I have found that, when I do surrender to him, I am blessed beyond what I can imagine. I believe it’s Satan’s lies that tell you you can handle things on your own, or worse, should handle things on your own. Satan certainly doesn’t want you surrendered to God.

The next time you are tempted to think God won’t give you more than you can handle, think again. Then turn the situation, your very life, over to him and see what he can do when you get out of the way.

The Show Must Go On

I remember, when Mom was dying of cancer, I would drive to work with a heavy heart. Most mornings I would cry as I talked to God about Mom. But when I got to the stop light a mile from school, I would dry my tears and take a few deep breaths. And before walking into the office, I’d put my hand on the doorknob, breathe again, put a smile on my face, and pray, “God, let’s do this. I need you to go in there with me today.” I didn’t want to be there. I wanted time with Mom. I wanted to be alone in my grief. But I was a middle school counselor, and I had a job to do.

It was hard. And listening to the familiar complaints of 11-year-olds tested my patience like never before. Suzie took my pencil. Billy made fun of me. Nobody likes me. The teacher yelled at me. Even the: Mom grounded me or worse, didn’t separate me from my own pain.

But I loved my job, loved those children, and it wasn’t their fault my mother was dying.

I realized today Jesus knows exactly how I felt. His cousin, John, was murdered. His heart must have hurt like mine did. And he needed to be alone. He needed time to grieve. So he went off to a remote place to be by himself.

But the crowds followed him. They had needs only Jesus could meet. So Jesus put a smile on his face, and preached, and healed their sick.

Did you know the feeding of the 5,000 from five loaves and 2 fish happened in the midst of Jesus’ grief? (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9) He had compassion on those needy, demanding, insensitive people, even when his own heart was broken.

I know some of you are going through hardships of your own. Sickness, finances, relationships can cause us to live with the burden of grief on our shoulders. Yet that doesn’t stop the “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy”, or “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” demands from your children, or the deadlines your boss gives you at work, or the electric from being turned off for lack of payment. Life goes on even when we want it to just stop for one minute.

Jesus knows what that feels like. Jesus shows us by example that sometimes the show must go on. Sometimes we have to choose to let God pick us up and help us meet our responsibilities even if we don’t feel like it.

But here’s something else Jesus teaches by example. He made time to get alone and pray. (Matthew 14:23) He didn’t go off to “find himself”. He spent time talking to God.

That’s where our society might be wrong. It says we’ve got to be happy before we can make someone else happy. Put yourself first and things will get better.

But doesn’t Jesus teach us something different? Didn’t he take “self” out of the picture? Didn’t he place God first, others second, and himself after that? I’m thinking if it worked for him, it probably will work for us, too.

Pray, dear one. Pour yourself out before God, give him yourself and your circumstances. Ask him to empower you to be who he wants you to be in the midst of your pain. Bathe yourself in prayer, then trust God to be exactly what you need him to be. Yes, the show must go on. But you don’t have to go on solo. If you know Jesus as your Savior, you have someone who has been there, to guide you, to strengthen you, and to love you like no one else can.

If we take the world’s advise and concentrate on ourselves, we are concentrating on the wrong person. Concentrate on God. Notice the opportunities he gives you to minister to someone else. Take him up on his offer to never leave or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5-8)

Is that a recipe for a trouble-free life? What do you think?

It is, however, a recipe proven by Jesus himself, to be exactly what we need to face the worse life hands us. And to be victors. And to let others see Jesus in us.

God, I pray for grieving people today. Some have burdens that are breaking them. Father, I pray they will come to you and lay that burden down. Give them strength. Give them purpose. Help them to look to you instead of looking within themselves. And may they find peace from allowing you to be exactly what they need to get through today. May they feel your love right this minute. And may Jesus be seen in and through them as they walk through this storm.

August 24

Jeremiah 43:1-44:30; Psalms 71, 116

Psalm 116 is a psalm of hope and filled with praise. The writer reminds us that “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (vs 5). It goes on to say God protects and gives rest, that he answers prayers and gets us through tough times. 

And how can we repay God for all he does for us? Verses 12-14 tell us God wants us to obey him, to live lives that honor him.

But then in verse 15 the psalmist throws in a verse that seems kind of random to me. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” It’s really the only verse in this psalm that talks about death.

I know this verse has been used at funerals and is a comfort to those of us who grieve over the home-going of a believer. But because it seems so out of place here I wonder if the psalmist isn’t talking about another kind of death.

Jesus used the example of a seed that dies before it can grow. Paul said he was crucified with Christ, yet he lives. Dying to self is a theme repeated often in the New Testament. And I wonder if this isn’t what the psalmist is talking about, too.

He goes on to say, “O Lord, truly I am your servant”. 

Just a thought. And a reminder that this life isn’t about me. It’s about God. May I give up control, die to self,  and allow God to have his way in my life. Then I can say with the psalmist:

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (vs 7)