Tag Archives: choices

Forget the fleeting; pursue the permanent.

In today’s world there is so much pulling at us. Much of it is of little permanent value. Some examples which come to mind:

  • Our position at our place of employment
  • Our position at church
  • The size and market value of our house
  • Our obsession over a sport
  • The type of car we drive or we how we customize it

Some of these things have counterparts which are important. Having a decent job allows us to provide for our family and contribute to the Kingdom. Serving God out of a sense of love and adoration is part of the Christian life. We need shelter to keep us safe. And in some areas of the world, especially in the US, getting back and forth is significantly easier if we have our own car. Those things, in proper perspective, are fine. It’s when we cross the line into obsession and love that we have a serious issue. Only one item on the list doesn’t have a solid parallel, but having grown up playing sports and being a fan, I’ve seen sports do amazing things. Things like stop a civil war: in 2006, when the Ivory Coast qualified for a World Cup, the warring factions agreed to a ceasefire to support their national team, though fighting resumed in 2011.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17, ESV

When we look at our goals, our priorities, our relationships, and our desires, we will reject some as ungodly. Those are the easy ones. Hopefully we will have the courage to turn away from them. However, if you’re like me you’ll find you have some which aren’t easily categorized or which you will find are even put in the godly stack. These others should raise the question, “Why am I pursuing them?” For instance, am I pursuing a relationship with someone because I genuinely want to get to know that person and become a friend or am I doing so because of what that person can do for me? Am I latching on to this latest business opportunity because it’ll add more comfort to my life or because there’s a genuine Kingdom purpose in doing so? Am I serving in this ministry role because I feel called by God to be in the spot I’m in or is it because I like the reputation it gives me and perhaps even the power behind it?

In each case, the argument can be made that there’s a genuine, godly reason to do those things. And in each case we can find a very worldly reason why those things are pursued. This is the point of John’s words. Why am I doing what I do? Why are you? Are we pursuing things of the world, the desires of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life, or are we pursuing Christ? Anything that we pursue that isn’t of Christ is fleeting. It won’t last. What is of Christ is forever. Let’s expend our efforts for what is permanent. Let us invest in what will stand the test of eternity. Let us do these things for the right reason: our love of Christ and our adoration of Him. And let us put aside that which is born out of a love of the world and what it considers precious.

 

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Are you willing to give everything?

Even when we give up something for our faith, we typically expect something back. For instance, the man who sold everything for the plot of land and the merchant who did the same for a pearl both received a treasure for their efforts. In those two cases you could call it a return on investment. They were putting themselves out there, but the risk was known. It was low. They could see what they would get back.

This isn’t to knock the difficulty of giving up everything as they did. The reality is that even knowing the promises in Scripture, the “return on investment,” we still struggle with doing so. What if I told you that attitude-wise we should go farther? How can we go farther than everything? Let’s allow a poor widow to show us:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44, ESV

The widow gave everything with no visible reward or treasure in sight. Her expectation was that God would provide, but she couldn’t see it. She had no certainty it was there. Unlike the man and the merchant from the two parables, when she gave her money, that was it. She was broke. She didn’t have anything more. They had their money. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to get everything back, but they had something. Why would someone put themselves out like this?
The simple answer is love. Let me use an analogy. When I buy a present for my children, I’m not expecting a return on my investment. There’s no tangible treasure coming back my way. I buy the present because seeing their joy, their happiness, is what I’m after. That’s my motivation for buying the present. It has nothing to do with getting some prize or present back. That’s surely what drove the widow. She thought more highly of her God than she did herself. As a result, she brought Him what little she had.

What about us? Are we willing to give everything to Christ with no expectation of anything in return? It’s one thing to give everything when we know we’ve got something coming in return, especially when we know that what we’ve got coming is more valuable than what we are giving. It’s quite another to give without expectation of a reward. However, this is really the only way to give everything. Are you willing to have this kind of faith? Keep in mind that Jesus used money in His lessons because He understands that this is what drives most people and it’s an easy, tangible thing to work with. However, giving everything goes beyond that. It’s about our time, our skills, our focus, even who we are. Am I willing to turn over everything to Him simply because I love Him? Am I willing to give up everything for the lone reason that it brings Him joy? That’s the real standard.

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What is your greatest treasure?

“What do I value most in life?” That’s a question most of us answer evasively. As Christians we know what the Biblical answer is. If asked, we probably give that answer. It’ll be related to Jesus, our relationship to Him, our salvation through grace, or something along those lines. However, though we know and recite the correct answer, if we are honest with ourselves our lives do not reflect the answer we so willingly give. Here’s the standard:

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
– Matthew 13:44-46 (ESV)

Do I treat my relationship with Jesus, my salvation through grace, as so great a treasure that I’d give up anything for it? My mind immediately jumps in with, “Yes! Absolutely!” After all, this is the answer we’ve been conditioned to give. Note what each man gave up in these two parables: everything. If Jesus came visibly to me, would I be willing to give up my house, my stuff, my vehicles, my job, all of my savings, even my family? Yes, I would. His presence would likely be so overwhelming that I would be able to think of nothing else. However, in the absence of His presence what is my answer? If put to the test, how would I respond?

If Christ is my greatest treasure, so great in comparison to everything else, then I wouldn’t hesitate one bit. I would be like the man and merchant in these two parables and I would immediately jump at the chance to be that close to my Savior, to seek to please Him, to love Him back for first loving me. The reality is I know this is not the way I would feel. I would hesitate. I do hesitate. He deserves more.

Is Christ your greatest treasure? Would you be willing to give up everything for Him in an instant if called to do so? Ask yourself these questions slowly and soberly. What stands in your way? What would you have to give up or let go of in order that Jesus would be your greatest treasure? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these answers to you and to help you in giving those things up or letting them go.

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Beware Snap Judgments

One of the things I’ve gotten better at as I’ve gotten older is to be slower to make a judgment call/decision. Don’t get me wrong, when I need to make a snap decision because the situation demands it, I fully understand the consequences of “paralysis by analysis.” There I’ve tended to be just as quick as possible. I ascribe a lot of that to playing sports all my life. However, when there’s time and especially when it’s an important situation, I have gotten better at slowing down and carefully considering my choices before coming to a conclusion:

All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.  – Daniel 6:7-9, ESV

In the commentaries it’s often mentioned that what Darius agreed to here was traditional: that upon taking over new territory the conquering ruler would issue such edicts. It was a method of consolidating power. This situation could also be a warning against blindingly accepting tradition, but that’s another devotional for another time. In any case, many of Daniel’s enemies devised a way, knowing Daniel’s habits, to entrap both him and the king. Therefore, under the guise of a traditional proclamation, they tricked Darius into signing a bad edict. That edict would force him to cast Daniel into a den of lions. Effectively, they had tricked Darius into proclaiming a death sentence on Daniel.

If you know the rest of the story, you know that Daniel didn’t alter his behavior. He prayed as was his practice. He made no measure to hide it. He knew what he was doing was right in the sight of God. As a result, his enemies were able to drag him before Darius and point out the new law. Darius was trapped. Darius carried out the sentence and thankfully God intervened and saved Daniel’s life. God did so to protect Daniel, not to preserve Darius. Even so, when I look at the Scriptures I do not find this to be the norm.

Therefore, we should not expect God to intervene for our every act of foolishness. The Bible is filled with examples where people were foolish and either they or others suffered the consequences of that foolishness. Making a snap judgment when there’s time to consider the choices is foolishness. It was foolish for Darius and it’s foolish when we do it. God has promised us wisdom when we ask for it and are determined to act on it (James 1:5-8). Therefore, we should use His wisdom at every opportunity. We should avoid snap judgments whenever possible. There are plenty of mechanisms out there to help us slow down and not rush a decision. Different things work for different people. If you’re the type who too often acts without thinking things through, do a bit of research and try the different methods. After all, while Christians may look foolish to the world, let it be due to our belief in the truth of Scripture and of a God who intervenes in the life of His people and not in acts of true foolishness. The former glorifies God. The latter glorifies no one.

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Hold on to Your Identity in Christ

Most people we know want us to change. Some change is good. For instance, becoming more kind or more helpful or being in better control of one’s temper are positive changes. However, not all change is good. For instance, if someone wants us to lower our ethics and morals, that’s not a change we should embrace. As Christians, one thing we should cling to is our identity in Christ. We shouldn’t let anyone minimize it or cause us to compromise our relationship with Him. However, that’s exactly the situation Daniel and his three friends found themselves in:

Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego. – Daniel 1:6-7, ESV

Daniel translates to, “My judge is God.” Hananiah means, “God is gracious.” With Mishael we get, “Who is like God?” Finally, Azariah is, “God is my helper.” Those are powerful names which testify to the greatness of God. However, to the chief eunuch, they were Hebrew names and, more importantly, they glorified the God of the Israelites and not one of the pantheon of the Babylonians.Therefore, so far as the Babylonians were concerned, these boys were renamed. Daniel became Belteshazzar, which means, “May Bel protect his life.” Hananiah was renamed Shadrach meaning “Commanded by Shad/Aku.” Mishael was given Meshach, which translates to, “Who is like Shach/Aku?” Azariah was called Abednego, meaning “servant of Nebo/Nego.”

It’s interesting how similar the names are between the two sets. I’m sure this was by design. It’s an attempt to switch out the name of God with the name of a Babylonian god, but keeping the rest of the meaning the same. It was a nudge to get the boys to change. We can say initially that the boys didn’t give up their names. In both chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Daniel, we see the young men referred to as Daniel, Hanahiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In Daniel 3, however, we see Daniel’s friends referred to by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. However, it was Nebuchadnezzar who was referring to the three men. Based on their actions, these men hadn’t forgotten their relationship with God. After all, they stood up to Nebuchadnezzar about his false idol and they went to the furance for it. We see Daniel treated the same way when he’s referred to. The Babylonians called him Belteshazzar. We don’t know if Daniel’s friends started using their Babylonian names primarily because the Bible doesn’t reveal anything about them after Daniel 3. Whatever any of the four were called, though, their identity stayed the same: they were faithful to God.

As we are urged to change, especially when it’s subtle — like the seemingly slight change in the boys’ names, we should be aware of what is being asked of us and make a decision based on what we believe in. If such a change would be to weaken our identity in Christ, to reduce or hamper our relationship with Him, we must resist such a change with everything we have. Our relationship with Christ is more precious than anything or anyone. We must protect it regardless of the cost.

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The Importance of Right Action

alastair shackledIn chess we have this word “kibbitzer.” Someone who noisily comments on a game he or she isn’t playing in is usually called a kibbitzer. Often times, the folks who are called kibbitzers rarely play. In other words, a kibbitzer is all talk and no substance. For chess players engaged in a game, kibbitzers are nuisances because their opinions on what should be played can infect your own and because they can break one’s concentration. Think about that first one for a minute… untested and untried ideas from inexperienced folks competing with tactics and strategies developed by chess players who are trying to execute them during the pressure of the game. Add to that the break in concentration. That’s not a solid recipe for good chess. It’s also not a solid recipe for good ministry.

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” – Isaiah 1:12-17, ESV

The problem with Israel here is that they were doing a fine job of talking about being faithful. They were even going through with the outward signs by keeping the sacrifices and the like. In reality, though, they were all talk and no substance. God accused them of doing evil, of injustice, of oppression, and of not taking care of the orphans and the widows. Now here’s the question that hurts: if God were to speak to us today, would He say the same thing about our churches?

Unfortunately, I think He would. There is a lot of evil that goes on within the walls of many churches. Political agendas, power struggles, how money should be spent, who should get the solo for the Eastern celebration, etc. I’m just touching on the obvious things. Anyone who has been in a church regularly in recent months has likely seen more. Let’s carry that further. How are we, as God’s people, attacking injustice and oppression when we see it (and it’s everywhere)? How are we taking up the cause of the orphan and the widow? Can you point to specific, ongoing ministries in your church that deal with these last three accusations by God? No? Then how are we any different from the Israel of Isaiah’s time?

Simply sitting on the sidelines arguing isn’t what we’re supposed to be about. Caring who gets the credit misses the point that God is supposed to get all the glory. These are serious charges and we’re guilty of them. God told Israel to “fix itself,” to borrow a phrase from my Citadel days. I’m sure He expects us to do the same. We must be a Church that is active in ministry. It must be the right activity, though. In a lot churches today you can stay busy, really busy, with the activities that are going on. However, being busy isn’t the same as being effective. That goes to the first part of the verses. Israel was busy. They were carrying out the feasts and the sacrifices. However, they weren’t being effective. They weren’t doing what they needed to be doing. We’re too often guilty of that same problem. We need to be active, but active in ministering and serving in the ways God has told us to be. We need to “fix ourselves” not only for the benefit of the people around us, but for our own benefit as well.

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Busyness Isn’t the Answer

Bee mysteryIf we have placed Christ first and we’re earnest in that, expect the Enemy to try and disrupt that focus. One of the easiest ways is to get us busy. Think about it. If you’re busy, things that are important with respect to our relationship with Christ will start to slide. It’ll be little by little. We won’t notice at first. Only after things get a good deal further along may we catch on to where we’ve gotten to.

If you want a visual analogy, think about a child you see all the time versus a child you see only once in a while. In the first case, the child is growing and changing, but you probably don’t notice until one day you suddenly do. In the latter case, the change is more noticeable because you’re last mind picture of that child was very different, even if it was only a few months ago.

But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  – Luke 10:40-42, ESV

Mary was consumed with Christ. Martha, on the other hand, was consumed with busyness. And when Martha approached Jesus about how Mary wasn’t involved in Martha’s busyness, she expected support from Jesus. She didn’t get it. Instead, she received a gentle rebuke about how she had choose poorly. Martha had let her busyness get in the way. If folks who were in the physical presence of Jesus could be so affected, then more so we who believe but do not see!

The way to deal with this type of stealthy attack is to be vigilant with respect to our time and our priorities. Our time with our Savior must be protected and treasured. We need to regularly look at our priorities and ensure we’re keeping them appropriately or make a point of adjusting them when we see they are starting to slip. We also should surround ourselves with other believers who can keep an eye on us and who are willing to speak up when they see that we are slipping.

Don’t let busyness take over in this new year. Instead, maintain your priorities and your relationship with Christ by actively guarding both. Take joy in that relationship. Find purpose in it. Be a Mary and not a Martha. If you’re not a Mary, when things get crazy and hectic (and they will), you may find a gentle rebuke instead of a reaffirmation of what you’re doing when you finally make the time to see our Savior in prayer.

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