The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

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You can’t regift when it comes to sacrifice

I’m not above regifting. I’ll admit that. I’m sure that everyone has regifted at some point. Someone gives you a gift and you’re thankful for it, but you have no idea what to do with it. Or you’d never use it anyway. And you happen to know someone who would like it. So what do you do? Hold on to something you’d never use when you could give it to someone who would enjoy it?

That’s a no-brainer for me. It’s making good use of your resources. But you can’t turn around and say that it cost you anything. You can’t regift an item and claim that you did anything to earn it.

RegiftToday’s verses are 2 Samuel 24:19-25.

So David went up to do what the Lord had commanded him. When Araunah saw the king and his men coming toward him, he came and bowed before the king with his face to the ground. “Why have you come, my lord the king?” Araunah asked. David replied, “I have come to buy your threshing floor and to build an altar to the Lord there, so that he will stop the plague.”

“Take it, my lord the king, and use it as you wish,” Araunah said to David. “Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and you can use the threshing boards and ox yokes for wood to build a fire on the altar. I will give it all to you, Your Majesty, and may the Lord your God accept your sacrifice.”

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

There’s not time in this brief little devotional to go into the background of this story. Suffice it to say, David had screwed up royally. This was during the later part of his reign when just about every decision he made was the wrong one. But God had given him instructions on how to make things right.

Part of making things right required that he go to a specific place and offer a sacrifice to God, but when David arrived and tried to purchase the piece of land God had identified, the owner didn’t want to sell it. The guy was more than happy to give it away, but David refused and insisted on buying it because David was required to sacrifice. And if it didn’t cost him something personally, it didn’t mean anything.

I think we forget that sometimes. We talk about sacrifice, but when was the last time any of us actually sacrificed something? And I don’t mean like a burnt offering. I mean giving up something or paying the price for something personally that will benefit someone else. Sacrifice means making yourself uncomfortable for other people. It means doing things you wouldn’t normally do in order to help someone else.

Hey, husbands, when was the last time you gave up a night out with your buddies to help your wife with laundry? Wives, when was the last time you agreed to watch the kid so your husband could have a night off? What about your coworkers? When was the last time you accepted an extra project in order to help someone you work with?

You see what I’m saying. Sacrifice isn’t like regifting. You can regift and regift until you’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean you’ve sacrificed anything. Until it’s cost you something personally, it doesn’t matter. Until you’ve given up something you wanted, you haven’t sacrificed.

And that’s fine. You don’t have to sacrifice anything. That’s what’s great (or maybe not so great) about America. We live in a culture that never has to sacrifice at all. The typical American doesn’t even know the meaning of the word. Our culture is all about only doing what you want, and if it makes you uncomfortable it’s better to just ignore it or sue it. But as Christ-followers, are we really supposed to live that way?

Jesus didn’t die for us so that we could live comfortably. Jesus died for us so that we could have eternal life, and that life isn’t on Earth. So why do we think we need to be comfortable anyway?

David screwed up a lot in his later years, but one thing he got right. He understood that you can’t regift when it comes to sacrifice. You can’t bring someone else’s hard work before God and claim that it’s yours. It doesn’t work that way. So don’t try it.

What’s awesome about sacrificing for God, though, is that it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice. Maybe it seems like you’re giving something up, but in reality you’re only letting something inferior go so God can replace it with something superior. Maybe you sacrifice, but God blesses.

So don’t be afraid to give something up for God. Maybe it’s your pride. Maybe it’s your job. Maybe it’s your perceptions about yourself or others. Just let it go. Maybe it will cost you something personally, but if it’s a sacrifice it’s supposed to.

Pink roses in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for

I get tired of taking things sitting down, you know? There are some days when I want to stand up and fight. I want to argue. I want to lash out at all these people who have taken the important things in life and dragged them through the mud. But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that people don’t usually respond well to strong opinions, especially if they don’t agree with you anyway.

In any situation, a loud answer rarely satisfies the question and usually only draws more loud opinions. And it just gets worse and worse until someone backs down.

Don’t misunderstand. There are some things definitely worth fighting for, but how are we supposed to fight?

Pink roses in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Pink roses in the Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 5:5.

God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.

So what does humility have to do with fighting, you may ask? Well for that answer, we need to check the Amplified Version. It will clear this up a bit:

Blessed (happy, blithesome, joyous, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the meek (the mild, patient, long-suffering), for they shall inherit the earth!

In the Amplified Version, the word is actually meek rather than humble. And while humility and fighting are somewhat related, meekness and fighting go hand in hand–or at least they should for a Christ-follower.

Meekness is another form humility can take. Meekness has best been described as quiet strength. It’s confidence and surety so certain that you don’t need to bluster or brag. Jesus was meek. He had every right to show off and demonstrate His power and knowledge, but He didn’t. In fact, the only time He even showed any form of aggression was chasing the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-17).

Some people portray meekness as weakness. We have this idea that meekness means we need to be pansies, and that’s the opposite of it. Meekness is strength used at the appropriate time. It’s speaking softly and carrying a big stick, to quote Teddy Roosevelt.

If you’re the kind of person who goes off at the drop of a hat, I’m sorry to say that’s not meekness. If you’re the kind of person who gets angry and confrontational about everything, that’s not meekness either. If you’re defensive, if you’re demanding, if you’re difficult–there’s no meekness there. And while the world may consider you a strong person who’s going somewhere, God’s opinion is the opposite.

Meekness matters to God. And according to this verse, it’s not the loud confrontational fighters who are going to be successful in the end. It’s the quiet ones in the back. It’s the soft-spoken ones.

Granted, it’s the soft-spoken people who know where they stand and never compromise. But you don’t have to be a loud-mouthed bully to communicate that. People will know who you are and what you stand for well enough by how you live, by how you treat others, by the choices you make.

Our world reveres people who say what they want to say, no matter how it affects other people. Why do you think “reality” TV is so popular? Our culture idolizes conflict. We set people who tear each other down on pedestals. And the louder you can be about your radical opinions, the more attention you’ll get.

But that’s not how we’re supposed to live. And if you talk to anyone–really talk to them–there is something deep inside them that recognizes the bravado and bluster for what it is: a show. And the moment they really need someone to depend on, they aren’t going to go for the loud-mouthed show offs. They’re going to turn to the rock-solid quiet person who has always been there for them.

Maybe you don’t think that being quiet makes a difference to people, but you’re wrong. Meekness shouts louder than shouting any day, and if you truly focus on maintaining a lifestyle of quiet strength, people will notice. It’s often the things you don’t say that make the most difference. People aren’t stupid. They pick up on more than you realize.

So what does this mean for us today? My life is so busy. And sometimes I feel like I have to shout over the noise in order to be heard. I feel like I have to step up my game and push people out of the way to accomplish the things I want. But that’s not the way I’m supposed to live.

I’m supposed to be meek–to live a life of quiet strength. I’m supposed to be patient. I’m supposed to wait and trust God and if He really has put me where He wants me, He will orchestrate events in His time.

So if you feel the urge to push people around today, even if it’s from a heart with pure intentions, don’t do it. Wait patiently and see what happens. I know it’s a scary thought because the world tells us we’ll be run over if we stand still, and maybe you will. But when has doing what the world says ever been a good idea?

Be quiet today. Not weak. But quiet. Just because you have the strength to do something doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do it.

How does love get smarter?

I love Philippians. It’s such a happy book. I read it as often as I read the Psalms on days that are hard. Today’s verses are Philippians 1:9-10.

 9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.

I love the fact that Paul states he prays that their love will overflow more and more. To me, that says they already love people. Similarly, the fact that he states that he prays that their knowledge and understanding will keep growing insinuates that they already had it. And that is encouraging, especially when so many of the epistles aren’t exactly congratulating churches on a job well done.

But the part of this passage that really caught my eye this morning was that Paul wanted the people of the church of Philippi to understand what really matters so that they could live a pure life. To me, in English, that sounds kind of vague. I mean, obviously, Paul wanted them to grow in love and understanding and wisdom, but are those the things that really matter? Is that what that means?

So, the best I can do (since I don’t speak Greek) is to read the Amplified Version. Usually there isn’t a whole lot of difference between verses, but in this case, there’s a lot more written to explain the concepts of what Paul is saying:

Philippians 1:9-10 (AMP)

9And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight [that your love may display itself in greater depth of acquaintance and more comprehensive discernment],

    10So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value [recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences], and that you may be untainted and pure and unerring and blameless [so that with hearts sincere and certain and unsullied, you may approach] the day of Christ [not stumbling nor causing others to stumble].

Read like this, it’s more of a process. You have to grow in love before you can understand what really matters. Paul is praying for the church of Philippi that their love will grow but not just grow stronger but that as a result of their love, their knowledge and wisdom will deepen.  He wants them to have that because he wants them to learn what really matters.

The way the Amplified Bible defines what really matters is what is “vital” and “excellent and of real value.” It further expands on that by saying “recognizing the highest and best and distinguishing the moral differences.”

Wow.

Okay. What I get from this passage this morning is that to truly comprehend the things that really matter in life, first your love needs to grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Okay. So how does love get smarter? I mean, I’ve always known that love can be wise. Wise love looks past the outside and focuses on the heart. Wise love is humble. Wise love is steady, unerring and unshakable. . . . But smart love? Knowledgeable love? What is that? What does that look like?

Wisdom and understanding are two of those concepts that sound like they would be the same, but they’re completely different. To me, wisdom has always been more like the mature, biblical application of knowledge. That may not be right, but that’s the best way I know how to describe it.

I guess, what I’m seeing this morning is that while we are commanded to love everyone, we aren’t commanded to love everyone the same way. That sounds bad. Let me try to explain. I was up late doing laundry last night, and my coffee isn’t kicking in.

There are different kinds of love, and the same kind of love isn’t good for everyone. It’s not good to love a complete stranger with the same love you love your best friend with. It’s not good to love your best friend with the same love you love a stranger with. Does that make sense? And even between best friends, there are different kinds of love.

Love is the same in that it should always be unconditional, sacrificing, and unselfish. But it manifests in different ways depending on the person you’re talking about. Some people need flowers. Some people need hugs. Some people need to talk. Some people need to be left alone. And even between best friends or lovers or spouses, love has to look different even though the motivation behind it is the same.

To me, that’s smart love. That’s learning how to love people the way they need to be loved. That’s learning how to love God. That’s learning how to love your family and your friends and your spouse and your significant others the way that is most beneficial for them.

Because the more you learn about other people, the less you focus on yourself. And then you can realize that life isn’t about you; it’s about loving God and loving people. But until you get to that point where your love grows in wisdom and knowledge, that’s not going to make sense. But I believe that is what really matters.

Orbus non sufficit

The verse for today has been used over and over again, so unfortunately it’s become something of a cliche. But that doesn’t make it any less true — or any less convicting if you actually sit and think about it.

Mark 8:36

36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

It’s a good question. Jesus said this when He was telling the disciples about His upcoming execution (the disciples either didn’t believe Him or they didn’t undertand what He was saying, which is pretty much par for the course for them). And when He called the crowd to join them, Jesus explained to them that if any of them wanted to be His followers, they had to leave everything behind to do it.

True Christianity is such a paradox. The more you fight to hang on to your life, your possessions, your selfish desires, the faster you will lose them. But if you give all of that over to God (without worrying if it will be restored or not), you’ll find more joy and more happiness than anything you could have attained on your own.

So what purpose is there to gaining the whole world? What purpose is there to gaining wealth and power and status on this crazy, broken-down planet we live on?

Well, okay, let me back up before I start sounding like I’m an advocate of living like a monk. I’m sure living that way has its perks. I’m sure having no earthly attachments must make it easier to focus on God. Does it? I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m not called to sell everything I own and wander around. At least not yet. Though if God ever told me to do that, I would do it. After all, He gave me everything I have, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly through parents and friends.

I have nothing by my own merit. Every good thing in my life has come from God. And the same is true for everyone.

You may feel like you have worked to earn the things in your life, but who gave you the strength to work? Who gave you the intelligence to think? Who has orchestrated every moment of your life to bring you to where you are right now? Do you really think that life is full of coincidences? Do you really believe that you just happened to learn the things you needed to learn so that you could get the job you just happened to get so that you could impress the people you needed to impress to allow you to get where you are right now?

I’m not old. But I’ve lived long enough and have experienced enough to know that there are no coincidences in life.

I’m thankful for everything that God has given me. I have a house and a car and a job. I have food to eat and hobbies to pursue. And I have ambition to improve myself, to make myself better today than I was yesterday. And I am not saying that’s bad. I think it’s good to want to better yourself. I think it’s the right thing to do, actually. The Bible tells us that we need to live excellent lives and to do every task as though we were doing it for Him. With that sort of a work ethic, you can’t help but do well, especially in the lazy workforce we have now.

So what happens if we end up with wealth and status and power without seeking it? Do we throw it away?

No. But we do have a choice as to what we do with it.

You have to also think about the examples in Scripture about wealthy people who were used for God’s glory. Like Job. He was the wealthiest man in the world but he was also the godliest man at the same time, and he became the object of Satan’s attacks for that reason. And when it was all over and He had never been unfaithful to God, God gave him more than He’d had before Satan struck Him down.

It’s not a sin to be wealthy. It’s not a sin to be powerful or to have status above other people.

It’s a sin to think you got it all on your own. And it’s a sin to make those things the center of your life.

If we aren’t careful, wealth and power can become idols in our lives. This is especially relevant in America where we seek both of those things with all the strength we have. But let’s be honest, guys, we can’t take either one of those things with us when we die. And what good will earthly wealth do us in heaven? In heaven, the streets are paved with gold. That should tell you what God thinks of earthly wealth. It’s so common in heaven, He’s used it to pave the streets. And what power can you possibly attain on earth that will translate to heaven? The only power and authority we have comes from God anyway. It won’t be any different in heaven.

Wealth and power are illusions. Living for them is a waste of time because when you finally obtain them, you realize that they were never real.

Living for Christ is a completely different matter. If you’re one of the people who God has specially positioned to have both earthly wealth and authority, you have a unique role to play. Just because you have wealth and status doesn’t mean you have to be selfish. As much as Christians don’t like to talk about it, this world runs on money. And everyone needs money to survive — to buy food, to get from point A to point B, to do ministry. Ministry is expensive, not just in time and effort but in dollars.

So you wealthy Christians out there, have you ever thought about what God might be calling you to do with your money?

Want to prove that money doesn’t matter to you? Give it to God. Find a church that is doing God’s work (real, biblical work and not just some religious cause) and invest there. Invest in ministry. Invest in missionaries. You may think you won’t get a return on that investment, but you will be truly surprised what God can do with a couple of dollars.

Want to prove that status isn’t your god? Be humble before your subordinates. Lead by following. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

You can gain the world if you want, but the world won’t ever be enough for you because it isn’t real. Living for wealth is a waste of time, just like living for power. But if you live for Christ and live the way the Bible teaches, God fills up the emptiness in your heart. And not just full — overflowing. And pretty soon you’ll have so many blessings you don’t know what to do with them all.