“It’s the little things…”

“If you do this, you’re going to keep doing it.”

Minutes ago, I canceled my Netflix membership. I know that it won’t take much to start it back up, but with my first day of classes at George Fox Evangelical Seminary coming up, I figured it’d help not to have immediate distractions. Between work and school, I won’t have much time to enjoy the shows I’ve enjoyed over the summer. I won’t have much time for anything.

I have a fear of responsibility. Okay, much of that “fear” is actually a habit of procrastination, but there is a portion of it that is fear. I’m not afraid of paying bills, showing up to work or school, or even keeping my room clean. I’m afraid of moving off to a city to attend seminary only to find that I’m not cut out for it.

There is no logical reasoning for this fear; my favorite professor recommended me for this school, a professor at George Fox awarded me six credits based upon my undergraduate work, and deep down I love a good challenge. But ever since I was a kid, despite receiving good grades, I always had this fear that I wasn’t smart enough. In a society that tended to value young men based upon their athletic abilities, I was afraid I wouldn’t measure up intellectually.

Over the years, though, this fear has almost dissipated entirely.

Almost.

It creeps up every now and then – especially when I’m faced with a subject I know nothing about.

And maybe we all have some degree of this kind of fear?

Maybe many of our athletic or extra-curricular achievements are really our efforts to compensate for what we think are our academic shortcomings?

I can’t answer for anyone else, but thinking through my scholastic history I can see plenty of times where I used sports, new clothes, or even my Lego creations to cover up areas where I believed I was less than intelligent in. I can recall plenty of times where I was afraid someone might think of me as stupid.

Obviously this fear of mine has less to do with my level of intelligence and more to do with my image problem. Thankfully enough, we talked about hypocrisy last night.

“We” being a few members of Emmaus Life meeting at Scott’s place for our Villages group – it’s kind of like a Bible study. Scott had us read through Luke 12:1-12 and we discussed various verses we liked, didn’t like, or didn’t understand. We ended the night by talking about an application from the passage (and by eating ice cream).

What stood out to me were Jesus’ words in the opening passage of chapter 12:

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (vv. 1-3)

My immediate reaction was not to think about the things I’ve said when no one else is around, but rather what I’ve thought. People can sometimes guess what you’re thinking, but more often than not, they have no clue. So if you’re thinking about how funny looking they are, they won’t have a clue (of course, they could be thinking of how funny looking you are). Yet what Scott pointed out was the importance of context: What did Jesus say before verses 2 and 3?

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”

Jesus was warning his disciples about the Pharisees because they epitomized what it means to be afraid of how people view you. Jesus says the religious elite are making long prayers, taking the best seats in the synagogues, and always positioning themselves in places of power. And what is social power? Isn’t it entirely public opinion? Isn’t it entirely based upon how others see you?

Jesus is telling his disciples that what others think of them doesn’t matter. Instead what does matter is being a genuine person by simply being honest. Be honest when you mess up. Be honest when you don’t know something.

Be honest.

Plain and simple.

Obviously it’s not that simple – otherwise wouldn’t more people be honest? But what makes it so difficult? What hinders us from being honest? Maybe our friends will think less of us? Maybe our employers won’t think we’re capable? Maybe we experience every bit of social rejection there is to experience?

And that’s Jesus’ point.

“At the end of the day, what can man really do to me?” Scott asked us in rhetorical fashion last night. If, like the very next passage teaches us, we’re supposed to fear God because of His ability to cast us into hell, then why would we ever want to fear man? And yet Jesus says, “Fear not.”

Our reaction to God should be that of awe, yet not to the point of being terrified over everything we do because of what God might do to us. Why is that? God loves us. He cares enough for us to count the number of hairs on our head. If He knows how many hairs on our heads and has the ability to cast us into hell, then why hasn’t He? If we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know that we deserve something much less than heaven.

God keeps us around not for His own personal gain, but for every bit of our own gain. God is delighted in the act of giving, especially to those of us who cannot do anything by our own power, which includes all of us because we can’t make our own hearts beat or our lungs breathe. And the lives we’ve been given are watered down and stifled by our fear of anything other than God – in a word, hypocrisy. After all, isn’t hypocrisy merely a reflection of our fear of social rejection?

How do we stop it, then?

Jon Derby, a member of Emmaus Life and someone I’ve known for about a decade, gave us a wonderful piece of insight last night. He said that it’s the little things we do that change how we live and who we become. A little fib here, a little misrepresentation there and all of a sudden we have people believing we’re someone other than our actual selves. As Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” (Gal. 5:9).

Yet Jon – or as we call him, “Derb” – said it’s the same thing to counter our bad habits: the little things. When we encounter those moments where we have a choice to act in a way that reflects God or act in a way that reflects an image we want for ourselves, if we choose God’s way, little by little, we’ll have the habit of choosing God’s way more often than not.

In last week’s episode of Suits a scene came up that was also brought up in last night’s discussion on hypocrisy. It was a flashback to when Harvey Specter and Donna Paulsen were working at the District Attorney’s office. They were talking about how Harvey’s boss made him bury evidence that might have set two criminals free (burying evidence is against the law):

“Now why don’t you tell me why you didn’t tell me?” (Donna)

“Because you hated me when I was working in the gray; this is the black.” (Harvey)

“I didn’t hate you; I was trying to stop you… If you do this, you’re going to keep doing it.”

What Donna told Harvey that day saved his entire career as an attorney. And all she advised him to do was not to do this once. Not even once. Since that day, Harvey Specter developed a sterling reputation as an undefeated lawyer. If we make up our minds not to do the sinful things once – not even once – and to do the God things instead, imagine what kind of lives we’ll be living.

At the end of the day, we may not have very many friends, a job, or really anything when we choose to act out God’s ways in the little things. But we’ll have a much easier time standing before Him attesting for all the things we did and didn’t do. And we’ll have Jesus to back us up.

“And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn,

To listen, to love, and to pray and discern,

And to do the right thing even when it burns

And to live in the light through treacherous turns.” – Josh Garrels, “Beyond the Blue”

God bless.

Cost of Contact…

Several weeks ago, we were hanging out at Scott and Charissa’s place for our Villages group. We had just finished working through an eight week devotional, The Tangible Kingdom Primer (highly recommend it if you’re looking for a challenge), and Scott wanted to introduce his discipleship training program that he had worked on several months ago.

Initially, we are being trained in learning the model he’s laid out for us. Eventually, though, we’ll be trained to train others; as disciples and disciplers (not a word, I know – just roll with it). For now, though, we’re learning a simple way to approach and engage the people around us in an intentional and meaningful way.

Like in college, it’s all about the C’s. Scott’s model is broken down to four C’s: Contact, Connect, Close to Christ, and Christ-like (that fourth one may be something else; can’t remember exactly – sorry Scott). Where he started with the “Contact” is where my mind and heart have been for the past few weeks.

In John 4 we come across a rather controversial story. Jesus talks with a woman at the well of Jacob, which, as Scott pointed out to us, was a commonplace for gossip and the talk of the town. Notice that the woman came to the well when she thought no one would be there. Why might this be? It’s quite possible she was avoiding public ridicule.

As we come to find out in verse 18, she had had five husbands and the man she was staying with wasn’t one of them. In ancient times, she would have been a social outcast, regarded much like prostitutes. Something as simple as drawing water from the well could be utterly humiliating. “Sir, give me this water,” she tells Jesus, “so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” (4:15).

Scott highlighted this story as a prime example of making contact with someone else. Jesus asked for a drink of water and talked with her for a little bit. And look how dramatically her life was changed by a simple, single conversation. Yet what happened after that encounter is what moved me.

I am oftentimes moved more by the human reactions of others rather than the divine actions of Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, what Jesus does and says throughout Scripture is profound and I wish to exemplify them in every way. But I relate much more closely to the people who react around Him because, like them, I am far from perfect.

After talking with Jesus, the woman goes into her hometown and tells everyone about Him. She says, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (4:29). She went to the people who gossiped about her and slandered her name and told them they were right. She used the fodder for their gossip, her testimony, to tell them about Jesus. When it comes to making contact with other people – especially when we’re telling them about Jesus – there is a cost.

Granted, much of this is speculation. The text itself does not say that her town gossiped about her, but these speculations aren’t arbitrary. People gossip, especially in small towns. What kills gossip? Truth. And yet instead of attempting to deny what they said, she used it to talk about Jesus. She spent much because, in a short conversation with the Man, she received much.

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did,’” (4:39).

In one chat with a woman at the well, the entire town comes to know Jesus. Jesus showed us that contact can be as easy as asking for some water. The Samaritan woman, however, showed us that contact can be extremely costly. And yet I think Jesus looks at this woman proudly; I think He sees what she did – that she humbled herself before her neighbors in order to tell them about Him. If she hadn’t, would the town ever have known that Jesus had come by?

I don’t intend to imply that we should share are deepest, darkest secrets when making contact with people. What I am saying, though, is that we ought to consider how far we are willing to go – are we really willing, if the opportunity presents itself, to share something about ourselves that not everyone knows just so someone new can experience Jesus? It’s a nerve-wracking question, but what does it mean to bear one’s cross?

Count the cost, Jesus says (Luke 14:33). Are the lives of others worth more than your pride? If I’m really trying to follow Jesus, then I’m going to answer “Yes,” even if I don’t want to.

God bless.

Reading to Mean Something…

“Just out of curiosity, how many of us read our Bibles?” Scott, my pastor, asked our Villages group last night. It was a serious question that he didn’t want us to feel guilty over. And we weren’t. We all admitted that we have read some Scripture in recent weeks, but overall we could be reading a little more. “Sporadic” was frequently used when we went person by person around the room – including myself.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the importance of starting each day with some time devoted to God. Whether it was two minutes or twenty minutes, I had said that starting with God – allowing Him to envelope you with His presence – was the most important thing. When I had written that post, I made up my mind to devote my mornings to Him and read more Scripture. It helped, for two-ish days. And once my work schedule had changed, my reading or praying withered to almost not at all. In a matter of days.

I’m not pointing this out to publicly beat myself up (although Jim Carrey in Liar Liar does it really well). I bring it up because I have noticed a definite correlation between the amount of Scripture I read and how Christ-minded I am when at work or the grocery store or just out driving. Actually, I should say how not Christ-minded I am when around others. It’s like I’m a different person.

You probably couldn’t even notice it, either. I’d still be polite and kind and probably have a good thing to say about God or two. Maybe I’d share a thought from a Scripture I had read weeks ago or something from a pastor’s sermon I found deep and really spiritual or whatever. You wouldn’t notice because I have these habits so heavily engrained in my day-to-day walk that they have begun to lack meaning. If I can help it, I don’t want anything I do to lack meaning, especially carry out God’s love.

Again, I’m not trying to get anyone’s pity. It’s not the end of the world that I don’t read my Bible as often as I should. But that’s just it; I don’t do a lot of things as I should. I believe that is the bigger problem. And what I can’t help but notice is that the only remedy is Jesus. If I’m not seeking Him on a day-to-day basis (heck, barely on a once-a-week basis as of late), then how in the world am I going to be able to do things as I should?

Here again comes that indirect challenge from Scott – who, by the way, admitted that he’s also been reading less than he’d like (then again, his wife did just give birth… his wife who read her Bible on the day their baby was born, probably while she was giving birth). Reading our Bible isn’t the thing that’s going to make us change, sure, but it’s a start. After all, who’s the Bible about? God. His Son Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit. If we want to get into tune with what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future, we can start with Scripture.

As Scott reminded us last night; the goal isn’t to get us to check another thing off some imaginary list. When we stand before God, He isn’t going to say, “All of that sinning sure looks bad, but hey, you did read your Bible on a daily basis, so you’re good to go.” The whole goal with Bible reading, prayer, community, giving, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners isn’t to build a golden spiritual résumé where God awards us an honorable spot in heaven’s hierarchy. It’s to let our light shine before others so that God may be praised.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” – Matthew 5:14-16

In order to advance God’s kingdom; to become a more Christ-like person, a better coworker, friend, relative, teammate; and to allow the Helper, the Holy Spirit, more room to roam, we who love Jesus must practice His characteristics. What helps to practice those characteristics? Reading Scripture and seeing how He did things. Praying for eyes to see even further than we can in our current spiritual position. Gathering with a fellowship as they did in Acts to share what we have so that no one lacks anything. Especially meaning.

God gives life to us, which means He gives meaning to us. If we want to mean something to somebody – really anybody – we must get it from the Source of Meaning. Scripture is chock-full of His meaning.

Do not feel guilty if you’re like me and haven’t been reading much of your Bible. That isn’t the goal; the goal is to do something and be somebody with what we read.

God bless.

Growing Village People…

Seven or eight months ago, Emmaus Life started this thing on Monday nights called “Villages.” I’m sure I have talked about it before, but in case I haven’t, it’s sort of like a small group, but yet very different. We all bring our Bibles and some of us bring small notebooks, so it sort of looks like a Bible study. But some nights we start off with a few worship songs. Some nights we don’t even bring our Bibles, but rather food and board games instead. Compared to the Bible studies, small groups, and community groups I’ve ever been to, this is significantly different.

Note that I say “different”; not “better.” I gained a lot from those other Bible studies; new perspectives on God, good friends, and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. What has made Villages so different, though, is that our focus is on each other. We’re not so caught up with controversial topics (like Rob Bell or gay marriage) or focusing all our energy on feeling more spiritual (as if that’s even possible). Instead, we’re pressed to share something of ourselves with each other. Whether it’s a thought, a worry, or simply something we learned that day at school, we’re invested in knowing each other a little more each time we meet with the overall effort of growing a village of Christians.

In essence, we’re growing village people.

Yet there’s something underlying that, too. There’s a purpose to our village: to learn how to develop as a group in order to come back home to our apartments, houses, classrooms, teammates, or even coworkers and carry out the same intentions when interacting with others. What we’re learning is a skill set of relating with other people, regardless of their spiritual affiliation, to care and share as God would have us do. Or, in other words, we’re learning what it means to be “little Christs.”

You’d think that a group of Christians would already have that part covered, right? I mean, isn’t that what all Christians seem to imply, that they have everything figured out – that they have the Truth (emphasis on the capital “T”)? Yet if we look in the Gospels, we see Jesus rebuking the know-it-alls again and again because they put so much of themselves into what they thought they knew that they completely missed out on embodying God’s Law. Modern day Christianity has a large population of those same religious elites.

It’s easy to do, though – especially when a good chunk of the Christian society affirms the know-it-all mindset. With a few prominent pastors and elders speaking out about the “essentials” of Christianity, we’re made to feel as though we’re doing it wrong if we’re doing anything different from what they taught. And when we’re guilted into believing we’re doing something wrong, we seek out whatever it is that we’re supposed to do – whatever would make us in the “right” – and we submit to it. If a pastor says the most essential thing for a Christian is to believe the doctrine of inerrancy or the Trinity or whatever agenda they’d like to promote, then we’re inclined to follow along because we’ve been convinced that whatever we’re following is “essential.” All the while Jesus says the entire Law is summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor.

If that’s the most important thing, then how do we do it? How do we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths? The answer is easy, but its application isn’t: Regarding others as better than ourselves.

Our world teaches us the most important person, the only one in whom we can trust, is ourselves. What’s odd, though, is that in order to even believe the statement, “Trust no one but yourself,” we have to trust the person telling us. We have to trust in someone else. What God’s kingdom is all about, though, is more than trusting someone else; it’s regarding them as more important – as if our individual lives stop until we’ve cared for their lives first. Not to say we should completely disregard our own health, but to say that we won’t grow as individuals until we’ve learned to care for someone else.

Learning how to be “little Christs” in Villages, then, is simply learning how to care for each other – how to practice the first two commandments so often and so well that Christ’s nature will be our nature. It will be such a deeply rooted set of characteristics within us that it won’t matter how stressful work was, how much we disagree about various political issues, or what team we root for; what will matter is whether or not we showed love for the other guy.

Being a village person doesn’t involve costumes and hand-gesturing “Y,” “M,” “C,” or “A.” It involves a group of people who seek God in their individual lives and share their experiences in the communal life. Notice, though, we didn’t call our group “Village”; it’s called “Villages.” It doesn’t really make sense, though, since we’re one group meeting together. But that’s part of the process of going into our work places, grocery stores, coffee shops, sports teams, book clubs, or whatever other group of people we regularly encounter on a weekly basis: We’re creating more villages.

If you really think about all the different places you go from week to week, you begin to realize you have several different villages – even if none of those regular places is a church or Bible study. Let’s face it, most of us probably spend more time around our coworkers, teammates, or classmates than we do our fellow church-goers. If church focuses on something other than loving each other, then what are the chances someone from our regular lives is ever going to see the change in our lives? How are they going to see Christ in us if we aren’t practicing His characteristics?

What I think is most challenging about becoming a village person is that I can’t rely on my casual nature. Villages are intentional; when people ask how you’re doing, they don’t leave until you’ve told them. Yeah, it’s awkward. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. That’s the point. Insisting on caring for someone outside of ourselves isn’t natural, but it’s necessary. It’s necessary for the other person we’re caring about and it’s especially necessary for ourselves.

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, love somebody else. Grow a village. Spread God’s kingdom.

God bless.

Breaking God’s Grasp…

As I have talked about in the past, I am slightly terribly afraid of my car breaking down. Not only do I have a stubborn, self-sufficient mindset and therefore hate having to ask for rides to work, but I hardly know anything about cars. So if a mechanic were to ask me to describe what my car is doing and start naming various parts, I would be lost. Also, no matter what, there’s always a cost.

Such an adventure happened Monday afternoon when a mechanic arrived to check out what’s been going on with my Lumina. On Sunday night, it had broken down (wouldn’t start, actually) just after I had finished running a couple miles. This was the second time it had broken down in less than a week, so I was a little frustrated and called a mechanic for Monday. His name is Dan.

Dan the mechanic is a cool guy. He doesn’t replace any parts until he figures out what the real problem to the car is. And even then, he doesn’t usually charge full price for it all. Anyhow, he revved my Lumina a couple times and used some scanning device to see what was wrong with it. After cleaning out a clogged valve and checking the charge on my spark plugs, he told me these two things were a good starting point to fix my car – and relatively inexpensive at that. Hearing that beautiful word, inexpensive, I was relieved.

Ever since the night before. my mind had been racing through what I have in the bank, what kind of room I might have on my credit card (although I’d hate to use it, I didn’t have much of a choice), and what kind of job prospects I might have lined up. When Dan told me that I wouldn’t have to pay very much to get my car fixed and that I didn’t owe him anything for checking it out (although I promised him $20 the next time I saw him), I was so very relieved. When I left my apartment minutes later to Villages (a small group with Emmaus Life), I started thanking God. Of course, that’s when He taught me something.

My ordeal with my car and fearing expenses got me thinking about what we’re doing in this world. Our political atmosphere has caused us (at least me, anyway) to place so much hope into our jobs or jobs that might be created. It’s believed that this would put some money in peoples’ pockets so they could afford things they need. What I think it actually is, though, is an attempt to recover the American Dream. We want prosperity, comfort, ease, and an absolute pain-free life. But, we often forget, we aren’t going to bring any of that stuff with us. It stays behind.

When we proclaim the Gospel of Christ – even if only to ourselves – we proclaim a hope that extends beyond whatever trials or triumphs were experiencing in this life. We’re saying that all of what we see, feel, taste, smell, and hear on this earth is good, but God’s building something better. And we have to die in this world in order to get to where His latest works are being completed. We’re declaring that we aren’t destined to stay in this life. We’re destined for something better.

If our focus is supposed to shift from ourselves in this dying and decaying world to Him who has defeated death, then why should things like a car breaking down or a job being lost send our minds and hearts into a hurricane of worry and anxiety? Why do we think we would fail if our lives were taken from us in the very next minute? I think it’s because we want to create our own heaven here on earth. We want what we want, not what God wants.

And yet we hardly ever stop to realize that God wants to bless us with the desires of our heart – not what we think the desires of our heart are, but what actually are the desires of our hearts. What’s in the way? What’s blocking us from what God is trying to give us? Worry. Fear. Anxiety. We don’t to fail (or maybe we don’t want to succeed?). What are Jesus’ thoughts about worry, though?

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” – Matthew 6:26-27

“That’s great,” our selfishness might reply, “But birds don’t have ridiculously high student loans or car troubles. Birds don’t have the worries that I have!” Our selfishness is exactly right in one aspect: birds don’t have worries. Where our selfish mindsets err, though, is in thinking that by the act of worrying, things will be mended. I don’t know about you, but I have found myself reasoning against Jesus’ words by saying, “Well, if I let myself worry about it, then maybe my prayers will be more meaningful and genuine. And then maybe they’ll be answered.” But Jesus said it; “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Life cannot be gained from worrying, only taken.

If we are worth more than birds, then doesn’t that mean we’re going to be taken care of? So if we lose our job, our spouse, our children, our house, or even our very own life, aren’t we still going to be with Him? Aren’t we still going to be cared for?

If you love and trust Jesus, then you are in God’s grasp. We often imagine other people or beliefs or anything other than ourselves trying to break us from God’s hand. We imagine demonic forces working to pry His fingers or maybe those moronic church members who have different beliefs than me about baptism – maybe they’re subtly pulling me from God’s fingertips. What I find we hardly ever question, though, is if we’re trying to pry ourselves from His grip?

It is not as ridiculous as it may sound; anytime we act upon our selfish desires and will, we’re acting in opposition to His. We’re trying to have our own control instead of being under His. And yet it is only under His control that we’re able to have any life worth living.

God taught me that it doesn’t matter if my car breaks down or if I lose my job or if I somehow develop a severe cancer and die overnight; I’m in His grasp and I’ll be damned if I’m able to break free.

God bless.

The Real Problem With Coveting…

Tonight some friends from Emmaus Life and I discussed Psalm 73 and how earth with all its stuff isn’t our home. Several stories were shared about friends and extended family members having passed away with the beautiful mindset of going home – although they were literally on their deathbed, they knew full well they were going to Jesus. And as it often does, our focus on the world to come caused us to see this current world with much more clarity.

In this moment of clarity, something hit me about the act of coveting – of being jealous of what someone else has – and what’s really going on.

When I was a kid, my grandpa would buy me the same thing that he bought my older brother. On many of our old toys (now dispersed to various Goodwill locations) we had put our initials because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have known whose Lego guys were whose (even though there were two of every single one of them). If there were ever an item that my brother got and I didn’t (or vice versa), someone wouldn’t be fully happy. Well, at least I know I wouldn’t be happy – even if the of-equal-value item purchased for me was really awesome. In being taught a system of fairness, I also learned how to envy the possessions of others.

For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.

They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.

Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.

Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.

They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.

They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.

Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.

And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. – Psalm 73: 4-13

Coveting is sinful because we envy what someone else has, yes, but it is also sinful because we declare to God that we are not content with what He has given us. Look at what the Psalmist says in verses 12 and 13; “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” He declares his entire walk with the Lord as worthless because he didn’t get what they had. What I see happening here, though, goes beyond discontent with God; it’s getting duped into thinking that we have to have riches, possessions, and every luxury we could ever think of.

Advertisements annoy me. No, it isn’t because many of them are really dumb, but rather because of how they make you feel. I mean sure, some are funny and utilize a lot of creativity, but what’s usually the goal? It’s to get you, the consumer, hooked – to their product, program, or ideology. They want you hooked in order to get your dollar some way, some how. Usually, they leave you to think that if you just had that nice car, that fancy nose trimmer, or that six-pack set of abs, you’d finally be happy – you’d finally be content. But what we oftentimes don’t realize is that we’re being taught to believe that we actually need those things. In reality, if we have God, we have all that we need. Heck, we have more than we need.

And by “more” I don’t mean we’ll suddenly have an insane amount of riches, possessions, and prestige. As we talked about tonight, having the “more” that God freely offers is beyond money, things, and images – it’s beyond time itself. It’s Ephesians 3:20-21 (thanks Jenn); “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” “More” is not limited to material items, but rather directed toward eternal items – our souls.

What happens if we don’t recognize that we got duped? If we believed that we had to have the things that the “wicked” people (as the Psalmist describes them) had? We see hints dropped in verses 4-5 and 10-11; “For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind…. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’” If we believe the first lie that we need things to satisfy us, then we’ll likely believe the second: That everyone has it better off than we do and that our God doesn’t get it. Our view of reality will be distorted. Instead of being ambassadors of peace in a chaotic world, we’ll be lost in the chaos of discontent with the rest.

“But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end,” Psalm 73:16-17

Only when the Psalmist sought God’s counsel on the matter did he see how he had been duped. Some of us may not have the tendency to turn to the Lord for guidance (unless of course, some crisis broke out), but like muscles, it gets stronger the more you use it. The more you make time to seek God for understanding, the deeper your understanding will grow. And what happens when it grows? As the Psalmist concludes: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works,’ – 28. We fear nothing and no one.

What do your possessions mean to you? Are they simply tools to be used to declare God to the people around you or are they what you place your contentment in? Are they evidence of God’s blessing or your accomplishments?

As the Psalmist did, perhaps we, too, should seek the Lord on the matter.

God bless.

Thanksgiving: Glasses to Wear For Christmas…

I know Thanksgiving has already come and gone and everyone has already put up their Christmas tree, but I feel like there was something I missed. Tonight with Emmaus Life’s smaller group (called “Villages”), we discussed a little about our “thankfulness journals” (daily logs of various things we’re thankful for), but more so about the prosperity gospel – the belief that God will constantly bless you with more. I discussed this a few posts ago, but there’s a different element that came to mind tonight at the Lambs’ place. I think it deals more specifically with the root differences between the gospel of Jesus and the prosperity gospel.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, there was a meme I saw several times on Facebook highlighting the fact that on one day everyone gathers together to be grateful for things we already have, but then rush right out at midnight the next day for countless deals and purchasing of more things. What this means to me is that Thanksgiving isn’t really celebrated as its own season. It’s just a day where you eat until you explode, watch a couple football games, and sleep whenever you aren’t eating or watching football (it’s dangerous if you try to multi-task).

I know it’s almost been two weeks since Thanksgiving, but I’m a little bugged by how it’s treated year after year. It really is meant to be a time of the year where we reflect over the various things we’ve been given in life and how different our lives have been since we’ve received that gift. And yet it feels like we, as an American culture, rush right through it to get to the gift-receiving season of Christmas. We go from the one day of gratitude to the twelve (more like twenty-something) days of greed.

What I can’t help but notice is how Thanksgiving is a holiday that comes before Christmas. It’s as though Thanksgiving is really a pair of glasses we put on as we enter the gift-giving season of Christmas. It’s as though we’re meant to come to each other – let alone coming to God – with gratitude, with thanksgiving for all the things and circumstances and situations that have made us who we are, so that we may change the way we give to others – so that we change the way we give to God.

Tonight at Villages we talked about our American mindset of “rights” and this sense of entitlement – that when it comes to things like owning guns, having money, being able to speak our minds, etc., that we have the right (the entitlement) to do so. And if the American world is all you’re living for, then have at it. But what the American world claims for itself is different than what God’s people claim for themselves. For here in America, we have the Bill of Rights. But God’s people – true lovers and followers of God – know that there is no such as “rights.” Instead, we have gifts.

Even the breath I am breathing now is not something I have earned. Yes I’ve worked hard at my job and yes I’ve shown love to my neighbor, but nowhere in all of that have I done anything to earn God’s favor. I did not force God’s hand to grant me certain things. He just did – even when I didn’t want to receive them.

God’s kingdom begins with total depravity – the recognition that you have absolutely nothing to offer Him that He would ever need. There are not tasks which we could do to put God in our debt for everything we’re able to do was given to us by His power and grace. The tree does not owe its branches anything; they grow because it grows.

As this Christmas season shifts into full gear, put on the lenses of thanksgiving. Reflect on the things you were thankful for on Thanksgiving. Add to them. Think of something you’ve been thankful for maybe even within the last minute. Do whatever is needed to set your mind on the mindset of Christ and how everything we have is a gift from Him. And then, once you’ve done all that, go out and share it. We do a lot of “sharing” online, how about we do it in person for this Christmas season?

God bless.