Submitting an unholy trinity to the Holy Trinity

“Me, myself, and I” is an unholy trinity we must remove from its centrality in our lives.  If we truly seek to follow after God, the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—must supersede us.  There is no room for self-worship and self-promotion.Violet

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'” Matthew 16:24 NIV

Jesus’ command is for all believers—that means you and me.  If we desire to follow Jesus, we must weigh the costs. If we are right now living according to the dictations of our wills and cultural norms, these costs will be great indeed!  Thus, assessing the goal of our wills is a good starting point.

Let us re-evaluate our life goals.  Truly, if our goal for a good life is our well-being at all costs, we will be unable to follow through on Christ’s command to deny ourselves.  We must first combat the lie that our best interest is met only through ensuring we get our own way. Following this lifestyle only leads to resentment and bitterness as people and circumstances inevitably prevent us from leading the happy fulfilling life we idealize (James 4).  Just as the Acts 20:35 attests, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” so also living for the profit of others and God will truly bring the most fulfilling life.

For instance, if you live with another, whether it be a roommate or a spouse or a relative, and you strive to make a home for yourself in the manner you envision, sooner or later the organization you prefer will be a disarray, the cleanliness will not be pristine, the laundry will appear in undesirable locations.  This will lead to an unhappy home if the value is placed on maintaining it your way.  Rather, if you aim to make the house the home the other desires, you will find greater success and happiness.  Removing your expectations removes opportunities for frustration and resentment.

Furthermore, when our objective is the betterment of others and God, the costs of following Jesus are joys to bear to that end instead of hindrances to our aspirations.  I have been convicted recently of the need to change my outlook in this way.  If I am to live for others, my day’s to-do-list needs to be re-prioritized.  However, I don’t mean by re-prioritize what is typically understood in our culture today; I don’t intend to figure out how to be the most efficient or productive.  Rather, it’s starting the day asking, “What can I do today to bring joy to God?” and “What can I do today to bring joy to others?”  The answers to those questions should be the priority of the day’s accomplishments.  When those are complete, often I’ll find the question, “What can I do today to bring joy to me?” will be met incidentally.  That joy will be good and life-giving.  I will have purpose even if perhaps not as much pleasure.  It’s a way I want to live my days instead of asking myself, “What do I need to do today?” and “How productive was I?” at the close of the day.  In this lifestyle, the joy-eating feelings of resentment, defensiveness, guardedness, antagonism, and bitterness will have little opportunity to dominate my emotions.

The cost to following Christ begins with denying ourselves.  It is a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that has a reward both earthly and eternal.  The cost of the alternative is far greater.  Let’s begin today to bend our wills in submission to God’s will, and we will find that in losing our life, we find it, and far greater one at that.

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Unexpected Christmas

This morning listening to Christmas carols, I was struck anew by Kari Jobe’s “Adore Him.”  We’ve grown up with the Christmas story.  It’s no surprise to us.  Of course, God had his Son born in a manger. Of course, shepherds came and saw him.  Of course, he wasn’t born in Herod’s palace… really, though, of course?

Jobe captures the true surprise this is in the first two verses of her carol:

Countless days on a journey that led so far
Endless nights they traveled to follow the star
They did not find a palace, just a humble village home
And searching for a king, but finding a child, no crown, no throne…

Expectation turned to mystery
For nothing was like anything they dreamed
Anticipating the royal and those honored by this world
Instead they gazed in the awestruck eyes of a lowly peasant girl…

Just think how quickly we feel hurt when we don’t get the recognition we deserve or when someone else gets the credit for something we did.  Here, the Creator of the universe came into the world and didn’t get any of the recognition a mere mortal prince receives.

Recently, I among my friends and family, babies have been or will imminently be born. In the anticipation, I have witnessed many people come together before the baby is even born to love him and give him gifts.  The celebration is natural, and everyone adores the baby.

nativityHow is it then, that the most special baby was visited by shepherds-the lowly-and foreigners?  Why, when the priests learned from the magi that their foretold messiah had come, they did not join the party to find him? Those that should have anticipated his coming the most had no share in the welcome.

How beautiful is our God?!  The scriptures are full of commendations to the humble, and our God exemplified that very characteristic.  The one due all glory clothed himself with humility.  His whole life is a testament to that.  All I can do is worship with gratitude–Thanks be to God!

Overcoming Ignobiliphobia – fear of insignificance

It started out just leaning on me.  I could bear the weight and still stand, but it grew stronger.  Pretty soon hunching over didn’t cut it—I was on my knees.  I threw my shoulder into it, but even that gave way.  My arms weren’t strong enough to keep it from coming down on me.

It started nearly three years ago when I graduated college.  What started, you ask?  My fight against insignificance.  I want to be something, do something, have a purpose.  I don’t want to be insignificant.  When in school, I always had the opportunity to prove myself: get better grades, lead more groups, volunteer with more ministries.  The vision cast in college is to discover what you do well in order to choose a career best using those skills, and for me, for God’s glory.  The goal: success and achievement!  Well, I met that goal in graduating a semester early with summa cum laude and a double major.  However, more didn’t follow.  Nope, just insignificance.

Why is insignificance so hard?  We are preached at that we must do much for God and for our neighbor.  We must find ways to prioritize and juggle all the important things in life.  We must figure out what we are created to do and do it.  Some will say it doesn’t have to be big, but everyone secretly hopes that means someone else doesn’t have do something big—not them.  We want to be the servant that reaped 10-fold on his investment.  We want the assurance that God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Note: Not a bad thing to desire, but the merit isn’t our own.)

I am one of those “we.”   One of my greatest fears is that I won’t do what God is calling me to do—that I won’t use the gifts he has given me the most effectively.  I don’t want to be insignificant for God.  I don’t want to disappoint.  For three years, I have prayed, explored options, and moved forward seeking to follow the will of God for my life.  For three years, I haven’t seen great fruits of my labor.  I can’t look back yet and see the purpose God has for this season.  I am still too much in the midst (and mist?) for the hindsight 20/20.

However, I am weary of trying to prove myself.  Instead of avoiding insignificance as if it is a sin or plague, I have come to view it as a refining fire.  God may call me to be insignificant.  I have to be okay with that, because he is the one who is significant.  He always will be, no matter who I am.  I may not be able to point to what I have done for him or for myself or others for that matter.  I may feel like he is wasting the skills and gifts he gave me by not giving me opportunities to exercise them, but if I am emulating him, does that really matter anyway?  It’s about what HE did, not me.  Even more, wasn’t Jesus apt to do the insignificant?  Didn’t he say the least are the greatest?  Didn’t he tell us to be the servant? Yes.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Mark 10:45

My name may never be known, I may never make history, I may never even have descendants to remember my legacy, but I will have an eternal reward.  I will have Jesus forever.  Then I will truly understand how little my significance matters in light of who he is.  The fact that he is God and I am made in his image is truly enough significance.

I couldn’t fight insignificance, but it didn’t crush me.  It taught me that I am less and He is more.

Falling from Pride

Both through recent conversations and humbling experiences, I have grown aware of how much pride seeps into my thoughts, words, and actions.  Pride is one of the seven detestable sins.  It grieves God immensely.  The first sins, those of Adam and Eve as well as Satan himself, are rooted in pride.  How have I grown so numb to this poison eating away at my heart and soul?

Although through much of my early life self-esteem issues plagued me, somehow the misconception that I could do the best in everything if only I tried harder coexisted.  Driving to work the other day—when much of my pondering occurs—I realized that it was pride which prompted me to prove myself likeable or accomplished.  Now in this pursuit to come off as agreeable and capable, being better than others in order to be the best has not been my intention.  It is not about comparison for me.  Otherwise the issue of pride would have been apparent to me long ago.  Rather, it is a sense of redeeming myself in the eyes of others that in lies the problem of arrogance.  It is a rebuff to God to hint at self-reliance.  Falling right back into the sin of Adam and Eve, I act as though I can be like God in my own doing.  I imply that I can self-improve to perfection—to worthiness.

If I live as though I can earn worth in order to secure the ever so desired love and esteem that results from it, I sadly miss out. It is by recognizing my ineptitude and God’s great grace that I have full access to that love without being worthy.  That means the pursuit can be over.  I can bask in the goodness of God now.

The gospel doesn’t say “you’re good enough;” it says “you’re not good enough, but it’s okay because Jesus is.”

However, it takes great humility to accept it.  To say, “No I can’t ever be good enough; I won’t make it.  I will take your offered love just the same, undeservedly,” is immensely hard.  We are such a reward-based society, thus the difficultly in admitting we can attain something so good without deserving it.  If I bow thus in humility before God and accept his goodness in all things without ever achieving what I would deem excellent, then I can far more easily extend grace to others  I will be in the right position as servant to tell the world about the good news of Jesus—what a glorious thought!

Shifting from Sand

The other day, I was sitting on the beach letting the waves lap up over me. In and out they came and went.  It didn’t take long for the sand to erode around me.  It was a challenge just to stay seated upright.  This brought back to mind thoughts I had earlier this month about building one’s foundation on sand or rock.  You know the story–Jesus tells his disciples that the foolish man built his house on the sand and the storm washed it away, unlike the wise man’s which was firmly founded on rock.

The beachAs with almost all that I am learning on this Christian walk, building on rock instead of sand is not a new concept, but the application is more fully revealed.  I remember as child chiding the silly man who thought it was a good idea to build on sand.  Anyone who had made a sand castle knew it couldn’t last!  Even as I grew older and understood the parable to be deeper–about life’s foundations–I did not internalize the application.  I was blind to my own architectural flaws.  It has taken the waves of life shifting my world around me for me to realize where I am founded.

Why am I so unsteady in my emotions, in my trust versus fears, in my anxiety?  Surely, I placed their weight on undependable structures.  Life is always moving.  Waves do not stop lapping.  I have to find a sure grounding if ever I am to be strong through the constant unknowns and trials ahead.  Ah, that is where Christ emerges–the cornerstone, the rock.  I’ve known that is what he is, but I now I know how vital he is to me as my sure foundation.

So much of the temporal has changed, but Jesus still remains the way, the truth, and the life.

He is the only one unchanging.  He is the only one always present with me.  He is the only one who will always be for me, love me.  He is.  Eternally without beginning and thousand years after his coming as a man, he is.  He is faithful to all these generations.  So much of the temporal has changed, but he still remains the way, the truth, and the life.

So, how do I move my foundation from the temporal to Christ?  I believe through prayer, taking thoughts captive, and meditation on the goodness of God, who he is, and who I am in him.  Realignment.

The “I”dol

In the girls’ Bible study I lead, we are going through the book of Isaiah.  One of the themes we repeatedly discussed is false gods.  The Israelites supplemented their worship of God with worship of so many others.  Many people have written on the danger of idols in life including the more recent book Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller.  These writers offer helpful insight into identifying the gods of money, love, success, fame, etc. which occupy our thoughts and actions.  Truly, we all struggle with giving more time and effort to these pursuits than to God.  However, I believe the number one false god in our lives is ourselves.

So much of our society encourages worship of self.  First, there is our body.  We use diets, exercise, supplements, essential oils, and creams to mold our bodies into the perfect body—the young, fit, healthy, beautiful ideal.  Either we succeed and take delight in securing the admiration of others, or we fail and grasp at some validation by advertising instead our unique, “authentic” beauty.    Enter social media and selfies—perfect examples of this plea for others to endorse our value!

Second, there is our ideology.  Relativism dominates society’s thinking.  This is a symptom of each individual’s desire to be right.  No one wants to answer to another.  This has encouraged the moral decline.  However, at the same time, social media and blogs are the battlefield for heated debates.  Why? Because despite relativism, we strive to convince others we hold the right opinion out of the many.  The pinnacle of self-worship is when we secure the worship of others.

Third, there is our time.  This is twofold.  One, we busy ourselves in order to feel productive and important.  This is another demonstration to draw others’ recognition.  Two, since we are busy, we are very possessive of our time.  Most notably in my generation is the lack of commitment to plans.  We are consumed with fear that we will miss out on something we would rather participate in due to some prior commitment.  On the flip side, when we initiate plans with others, it has to be in the time slots we are available.  Dare something unforeseen ruin our tight schedules, and we are incited!

These are just three general illustrations of how self-worship pervades our lives.  Self-worship typically leads to miserable, selfish people who end up alone and unsatisfied with life.  Nobody wants that.  Thankfully there is a better way—worshiping the true, Triune God.

Worshiping God looks different and brings better outcomes.  Take the three examples above.  In worshiping God, we honor him by stewarding our bodies. However, at the same time, Jesus explicitly tells us not to worry about them in Matthew 6.  He also cares far more about the heart than physical appearance—take David for example in 1 Samuel 16.  Finally, God created us and thus there is comfort in knowing that we are beautiful to him.

When we worship God, we also acknowledge his way as the right way—not ours.  This is the hardest one for me.  It takes humility to let go and obey.  However, as we learn to live holy lives as servants, we find joy and fulfillment.

Finally, time.  When God is in control of our lives, we have to be flexible.  Often we won’t know what he is calling us to do until the moment is at hand.  This requires holding our agendas loosely and valuing others over ourselves.  This is contrary to the standards of the world, but it is the right way—the way to true joy, true meaning, and true fulfillment.

As I encourage my girls, we all need to put aside our supplemental gods and wholly devote our lives, our thoughts, our actions to the one, true God.

Valentine’s Day is NOT About Value!

I think the first year Valentine’s Day was no longer associated with the joy of fold-able Valentines and Dad’s and Mom’s anniversary was freshman year of high school.  That year, I walked into biology class to find my lab partner covering our table with a large bouquet of flowers. She pointedly informed me that they were from her boyfriend.  That was just the start!  I soon discovered that this day was an ongoing competition of who would have the most flowers to show off in the halls.  Not once in those four years did a boy give me flowers to carry.  I tried to get through those days without it bothering me.  I mean, I worked at a florist—I knew what a waste it was to carry flowers out of water all day!  They’d be dead before the day was over…

valentinesI also made it through college Valentine’s Days without any flowers or affectionate gifts from a young man.  Most of those years were spent with girlfriends and fun.  However, that “fun” was a deliberate attempt to push down the taste of bile that comes with a Valentine-less Valentine’s Day.  Every year there was an unspoken whisper of hope that this would be the last one—that next year I’d finally be someone’s Valentine.  I look around and know I am not the only one with this struggle.  I remember a college friend expressing her sorrow over breaking up with her boyfriend before Valentine’s Day, making her spend yet another one alone.  Her pain was real, and, two years later, I was in a similar boat feeling that sting.  I am again Valentine-less when most of my friends and all my siblings have a Valentine to make the day meaningful, and yes, I feel that hurt, that disappointment that this is not the year to break my perfect streak of being single on Valentine’s Day.

However, I made a change this year and stopped and asked why?  Why do I care any more on February 14th that I do not have a significant other than on February 13th or 15th?  It is because since childhood our culture has told us that a measure of our value is having a Valentine.  But that is NOT TRUE!  Having someone buy you flowers is nice and thoughtful, but it does not make you worth more than if you had not been a recipient.  Whether you have a Valentine or not, remember God created you—knit you together in your mother’s womb.  He calls you by name and knows the number of hairs on your head.  Though he created the flowers, beautiful as they are, you are of far more value to him.  You are loved on Valentine’s Day and every day. So feel the freedom to embrace this truth and enjoy Valentine’s Day this year.  I will be!

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7 NIV