I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b

I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.

So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.

Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically.  According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.

It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!

 “To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond

 

 

Is it true?

“I have chosen the way of truth;” – Psalm 119:30

I read a Facebook post predicting record snowfalls for the entire Midwest this year, with snow beginning as early as September. The impressive weather map showed that we’d have five to ten times the amount of snow we had last year. Just as I was thinking of stocking the pantry, I started reading the comments and realized the article was a hoax. I was feeling anxiety over something that wasn’t even true!

Are you as tired as I am of listening to things we know are lies or exaggerations? I want to know truth – about my health, the world, family, food, finances, and everything else. Not knowing is worse than knowing, even if the truth is hard to hear.

When we take it into the spiritual realm, the stakes are even higher. My spiritual well-being is of eternal importance. I don’t want to risk getting it wrong and I don’t think you do, either! There are three areas I see in which we can discover spiritual truth:

Truth as knowledge: We pursue this truth when we learn, understand, take in new thoughts, and weigh them against what we already know, being willing to adjust our thinking as we learn more.

Truth as experience: This is when we test truth in the laboratory of life. Does it work? Does it last? Does it transform?

Truth as relationship: Whether we realize it or not, our ultimate longing is to know Jesus, the Truth. Every other truth pursuit fits into and finds culmination in our relationship with Him.

Let’s find what is true and trustworthy and discard what is false and misleading. Truth matters!

“Truth is not everything, but without it, nothing goes right.” – Dallas Willard

 

Intersections

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16

A few years ago, Tim Elmore posted a blog about helping today’s students find purpose in life beyond what they see in movies. He cited surveys showing students’ primary goals were becoming famous and/or rich. Elmore questioned such aspirations and suggested we should help young people find something truly worth living for, saying, “Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.”*

Maybe that’s something we should consider, too. As we look around, we realize there are huge needs in our neighborhoods and around the world: hunger, homelessness, war, disease, loneliness, lack of opportunity, mental illness, personal conflicts, and under-education. Which of these problems has God given us strengths, skills, or insights to help solve?

Then, as Christians, we know every person’s greatest need is relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. How much of our lives are consumed with responding to that need? I sense that the more of ourselves we give to introducing people to the One who can meet the deepest longings of their hearts, the more meaningful and satisfying our own lives will be.

We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What are you and I doing to help accomplish God’s will in our world? Maybe today we could ask Him where our strengths intersect with the great or small needs He is showing us. When we begin to serve others in God’s ways, we find another truth: When our obedience intersects with God’s purpose, joy happens!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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*Tim Elmore at growingleaders.com, November 6, 2013.

The Most Important Thing

” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

Anyone who’s been in significant relationships knows that loving can take effort. Think marriage, business partnerships, friendships, raising children. Long-term. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

The most extraordinary relationship we have as humans is with God. Loving Him takes attentive effort mostly because He asks for nothing less than total, life-altering love. Specifically, He tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How can we do that? Let’s look.

“With all your heart” means our love for God will be emotional. We’re to develop positive feelings toward Him and an intense desire for Him. We can’t manufacture those feelings, but we can help them grow in our soul and mind. Here’s how:

The soul is the place where we make decisions. We can choose to love God. After time, loving Him will become part of our very being, but we have to will it first.

Loving God with our minds involves intentionality: We can think about Him, read His Word, learn about Him, and try to understand His view of the world. The more we know about God, the more we will love Him. Love is a spontaneous response to knowing who He is.

And He wants us to do this with all our might – to make loving God the central thing in our lives, doing so  with energy, persistence, and determination.

Summing up, how do we love God as He desires?

  • Will it.
  • Think it.
  • Feel it.
  • Do it with all our might.

According to Jesus, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close!

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Safe Place

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” – Matthew 6:6a

I read recently about hospitals that send home a “baby box” with each new mother. The sturdy cardboard box is just big enough to hold a newborn up to six months, is finished in baby-friendly designs, has a firm mattress on the bottom, and two built- in handles for easy transport from room to room. It is baby’s safe place. Safe from drafts, conversations, siblings, and pets. Baby boxes have been proven in Finland and Canada to significantly reduce infant mortality.

We never outgrow our need for a safe place: A room or a quiet corner can become a place of peace with no distractions. A place where we have only Jesus to look toward, talk to, and listen for.

We need some designated space where we can

  • feel His closeness,
  • be our true selves,
  • express our deepest needs,
  • reveal our most unacceptable thoughts, and
  • never fear attack.

Our safe place is a wall against the outside world – a physical space where we are nurtured, nourished, calmed, and strengthened. It is there we rest and grow. Then, when we are ready, we venture out into the bigger world – prepared to face what God has for us that day. But first we need time in our safe place with Him.

Where’s yours?

“There is a quiet place
far from the rapid pace
where God can soothe my troubled mind.
Sheltered by tree and flower
there in my quiet hour with him
my cares are left behind.
Whether a garden small,
or on a mountain tall
new strength and courage there I find,
and then from that quiet place
I go prepared to face a new day
with love for all mankind.“*

 

*https://www.hymnlyrics.org/requests/there_is_a_quiet_place.php

The “Un’s”

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you; who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.” – Psalm 84:5

What are the “un’s? in your life? Have you ever thought about it? I took it as a personal challenge to spend time with God thinking about three categories of “un’s”: Unfinished Business, Unanswered Prayers, and Unfulfilled Promises.

In God’s presence I asked if there was any Unfinished Business in my life. A relationship to mend? An apology to make? A project to finish? A goal to set? I thought of my commitment to simplify my life, to abide in Him, to be grateful always, to accept imperfection. Recognize any of these? For me they are, as yet, unfinished. In process, but unfinished.

Then, I thought about what I saw as Unanswered Prayers – those for which I was still waiting for answers. Most of them relate to people I love and pray for – health, finances, relationships, marriages, spiritual condition – you know the list. Still praying.

Then there are Unfulfilled Promises. God has promised to heal wounds. He’s working on it, but not finished yet. He promises to train, discipline, and grow us up to be like Jesus. Working on it, not finished yet.

Might you want ask these same questions of God?

  • What is the unfinished business in my life right now?
  • What are the unanswered prayers I need to keep praying and trusting God for?
  • What promises has He made that are not fulfilled – yet?

You will be both encouraged and challenged as you wait for God’s response. And I’m pretty sure you’ll gain insights that surprise you!

“Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.” – Henri Nouwen

 

He still shows up.

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” – Revelation 3:20 (The Message)

God seems to love being part of our ordinary lives. Here’s how we know: After Jesus died and was raised from the tomb, He kept showing up. And it seems these visits were most often in the places where everyday life was happening: on the road, at a meal, or at work.

Remember the story when Jesus walked with two sad disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24)? He listened to their story of the death of the one they thought was going to be their Messiah.  As they walked, He explained to them all the prophecies fulfilled in His life, but they still didn’t realize who He was.

When they stopped for supper, Jesus acted as if He was going to keep traveling, but His two companions asked Him to stay with them. And He did. As a result of that meal, their hearts were warmed, and their minds were opened to understand that God Himself was at their table. He didn’t let them see who He really was until they invited Him to dinner.

Jesus still shows up, but He is a gentleman. He doesn’t push into our lives. He waits for us to acknowledge His presence, to talk to Him, to include Him even in our routine activities. He is with us – at work, on the road, at meals, at play, and at rest. Let’s not ignore Him. Ordinary turns to extraordinary when Jesus is there!

“We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts” – A. W. Tozer