Tag Archives: decisions

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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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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Inquire of the Lord

Delanie prayingI remember that Sunday afternoon well. I had spent the week preparing a sermon, the second I was to give, and thought I had everything covered. I had done the research, checked the cross-references, and had thought up of several examples that should do a fine job reinforcing the message. It was a lazy Alabama afternoon and the Carolina Panthers were about to come on television. As the pre-game commentary droned up I began to feel uneasy. About midway through the first quarter I knew something just wasn’t right. I turned off the television and just spent some time praying. Then I got up and shredded the prepared sermon.

  So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.  – Joshua 9:14-15, ESV

Why did I trash what seemed like a perfectly good sermon? The main reason is because it was the sermon I wanted to give. It was a sermon on a topic I was interested in and thought the church should hear. As I prepared that whole week, I asked God to open my heart and help me deliver it in a way that glorified Him, however, I never once asked about the contents of the sermon. On the most important aspect of the sermon, the central message, I never inquired of the Lord. So there I was Sunday afternoon as the Panthers played, huddled at my kitchen table, writing a whole new sermon.

The consequences to me were minor. I missed watching a football game. However, for Joshua and the Israelites, failing to inquire of the Lord got them into trouble. They didn’t check in with God and made a peace treaty with a deceitful group of folks. Deceitful, because in the next chapter of Joshua we find out that the city of Gibeon was a mighty city. Because Israel had a treaty with Gibeon, enemies attacked Gibeon. Because of that peace treaty, the Israelites were obligated to fight on behalf of the Gibeonites. As a consequence, lives were lost. Valuable time was wasted. All because no one stopped to pray and ask, “Lord, what should we do here?”

Preachers preach on this often and I’ve written on inquiring of God several times in recent memory. The reason is because it is that important. We may not see the truth behind a situation. Surely Joshua and the leaders didn’t. We may be pushing our own agenda. That was my situation. There are a lot of reasons we would be influenced to make the wrong decision in a particular situation. We can’t account for them all. Therefore, if we think or suspect that there’s some gravity to the choice, we need to inquire of God. Not only may we not understand the truth behind a situation, we may not foresee the consequences. That’s what happened to Joshua and company. They didn’t realize that this decision would plunge them into a battle. However, it did. That should give us pause. It should reinforce why we should take decisions before the Lord and wait for His response.

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Don’t Let Fear Force a Bad Decision (Part II)

painFear can short-circuit our thinking and our faith. That is why when we feel fear looming, we must fight to maintain control. As we discussed yesterday, our Heavenly Father is there to help. We don’t want to make a bad decision because of fear. Bad decisions are at different levels. If we are fearful on a math test and blank out on a problem, that’s bad, but it’s not that bad in the scale of things that could go wrong. Something that would be worse is a decision that results in a compromise to our integrity or our faith. Here was such an example:

 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.  – 1 Samuel 13:8-10, ESV

Saul was camped with his army and they were to face the Philistines. Samuel wasn’t as timely as Saul and the soldiers wanted and the desertions began. After all, this wasn’t a professional army. Even a professional army will have desertions if it starts to get afraid or lose hope. Saul saw the desertions and became afraid, too. I’m sure he was thinking in an earthly way, considering whether he had enough forces to face the Philistines. Likely forgotten was Gideon, the previous victories where the Israelites were outnumbered and outclassed yet still won, and even his own victory against the Ammonites. Israel could and would prevail, as long as God was on its side. However, with the desertions happening Saul got scared. Then he did something seriously wrong. He made an offering he wasn’t supposed to make.

Samuel was supposed to make that offering. Israel’s own history should have told Saul that doing this was wrong. Two of Aaron’s sons were struck down for offering “strange fire.” Saul wasn’t even a Levite, much less a descendant of Aaron. He was a Benjamite. He had no business making the offering. Yet, because he didn’t want any more to desert, he rushed things. He performed the burnt offering. This bad decision was a result of fear.

When Samuel showed up, he told Saul the consequences. Saul’s offspring would not remain on the throne forever. As we later learn, Saul was a one and only. There was no dynasty of Saul. David would take his place on the throne. Not only that, but Saul’s sin would eventually lead to another foolish encounter with the Philistines where he and his able-bodied sons were killed. One could further argue that this sin which led to Jonathan’s death meant David didn’t have the confidant and friend to keep him straight as David reigned. As a result, we could say that Saul’s sin here led to the eventual destruction of Israel. This can be the consequences of fear.

When fear begins to grip you, reach out for the Lord. Don’t let it master you. Don’t let it influence you in such a way that you’re willing to compromise your integrity or your faith. Saul did both and there were disastrous and long reaching consequences. We don’t want that to happen to ourselves, our families, our churches, and our communities. The only option sometimes is giving up to the Lord and leaning on His strength. Surrendering to Him is the best decision we can make. It’s the right decision when fear threatens to conquer you. Don’t let fear win. Surrender and let God do the winning.

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Don’t Let Fear Force a Bad Decision (Part I)

Fear Filled BathtubJust as the new shiny can influence us as we are making a decision, so can fear. Fear seems to have a bigger impact. After all, look at politics here in the United States. We lament and complain about the negative campaign ads that various candidates run. And you’d think they’d get the message and stop. They don’t and that’s because the negative message works – getting us to fear what the opposition might do is powerful. Therefore, the negative ads continue. They are selling fear. The one who sells it best often wins.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is built in us to keep us alive. The problem with fear, though, is it can short-circuit our reason and our faith. If we choose to respond because of fear, if we let fear control us, we have a greater potential to make a bad choice. Even if we have the information we need to make the right choice, fear may cause us to ignore it. In other words, fear drives us to the wrong choice. Here’s an example:

  And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you.  – 1 Samuel 12:12-13, ESV

When you look back to why the Israelites wanted a king, Samuel finally gives the real reason. The Ammonites were going to war with the Israelite tribes and the Israelites were afraid. Forgotten was what God did to the Egyptian army. Forgotten was Jericho. Forgotten was Barak. Forgotten was Gideon’s 300. The Israelites wanted an earthly king to rally around in order to repel the latest threat. God was their king, but they wanted something different. He had been faithful. He was with them when they were faithful. He preserved them when they were not. However, the Israelites were scared. Because they were scared they demanded an earthly king.

When you look at the history of Israel’s kings, you see disaster. Saul was terrible. David was a man after God’s own heart but he was a horrible father and that bad parenting led to a civil war. Solomon had a successful and peaceful reign, but then his sons split the nation into two: Israel and Judah. Israel’s kings were more wicked early on and led to Israel’s destruction faster, but Judah didn’t last, either. The earthly kings the Israelites wanted eventually led to their downfall.

We all feel fear. We all know what it’s like to be consumed in its grip. As long as you live, you can experience fear. It may be over something trivial, like a spider on your computer keyboard. Or it may be over something life threatening, like trying to escape a war zone. We have to do our level best not to let fear be our master when it shows up. If you feel the tendrils of fear begin to clutch at your heart, immediately reach out to God in prayer. Ask for courage. Ask for strength. Ask for His assistance, His wisdom, and His protection. Surround yourself with friends who will let you overcome that fear in a righteous way. Don’t let fear force a bad decision. We make enough of those on our own as it is.

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Don’t Be Seduced By the “Shiny”

ferrari f50 and enzoAs a geek, I will admit that I used to be fascinated with the latest gadget news. I still follow several technical sites that get excited at the newest and most awesome. For instance, I read about a hardware manufacturer’s new Windows 8 tablet this morning. For the writer, this was the new “shiny” with respect to tablets. I felt like drool was dripping off my computer screen and onto the keyboard. It’s not just technology. We see this in fashion. We see this in firearms. We see this in knives. We see this in college football prospects. We see this in cars. We see it in all areas of life. We are too often focused on what looks good, what the newest, that we don’t check it’s substance. The research shows that we are often wrong on our first impressions yet we still stick by them. How bad can we get? How about this?

  And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.  – 1 Samuel 9:2, ESV

Saul was the new shiny. He was taller than anyone else. He was the best looking guy around. Certainly he was better looking and a more kingly figure than old Samuel and Samuel’s wicked sons. The people wanted a king. Samuel tried to warn them. They still wanted a king. So God was going to give them exactly what they thought they wanted: a guy that looked like a king when you first saw him. That was Saul. You could go point-by-point on how he was a better candidate, just like the write-up on the latest version of a popular smartphone. People loved him when they looked at him. And if you know your Bible history, he did have some good points. However, this new shiny was a very tarnished man indeed.

We can easily be seduced by looks or appearances, especially if we don’t take time to dig deeper. This is true whether we’re talking about a new phone, a new house, a new car, a new job, or a new potential mate. How many times do we have to hear about a husband ditching his wife and kids for a new, younger, supposedly prettier woman? Now it’s not so uncommon to hear the situation in reverse, whn the woman wants to call it quits. Or what about bouncing from job to job looking for that pay increase, meanwhile burning bridges all along the way? It could be a $50,000 car you don’t really need when you’ve got other financial issues, or the $300,000 house you can’t actually afford the mortgage on. It looks so good we just have to have it. He or she is just, wow, that we’re willing to short circuit common sense to be with that person.

We’ve all been guilty of this, whether it’s a tech gadget or a job or a significant other. The key is to take a step back and look at it with God’s perspective. Wait, we’re not God. How is that possible? We have the Holy Spirit. We have a promise from Him that He’ll give us wisdom if we just ask. Maybe I can’t see like God. However, I can ask God what He sees. When you feel your emotions wind up and your heart start thumping for the new shiny, that’s the time to pause. That’s the time when you really need to calm yourself and seek His face. Otherwise, the new shiny will have a strong power over you. It may win you over on pure emotional appeal. And likely if it does, you’ll walk into a mistake.

On the other hand, if you pause and ask God and you sense that He’s saying it’s okay, then go for it, so long as you know it’s not in violation of the Scriptures (in which case, you can conclude that what you sensed wasn’t really God). There’s nothing wrong marrying a physically beautiful/handsome spouse if that’s the person God has prepared for you. There’s nothing wrong with getting a new smartphone if other priorities aren’t compromised. There isn’t even anything wrong with that shiny sports car or dream house, again, if other priorities aren’t compromised. The catch is that we should make such decisions calmly and with the guidance of our Lord, not on our emotion. Watch out for the shiny. Don’t let it seduce you.

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