I’m Better Than You

Okay. I’m not really better than you. But, we live in a world of comparison. Women are more notorious than men at this game, but men compare, too. When a woman walks into the room, there is a tendency for other women to size her up and compare themselves to her. Are her shoes cuter than mine? I wonder how much she paid for those ______. (You can fill in that blank!) Is her haircut more stylish or her clothes from a better store? Well, maybe so, but look at her purse, it doesn’t even match her shoes. (Says the woman raised in the 80’s).

Men go about the comparison thing differently, but they still do it. Since all men think they’ve got it going on physically (even if they don’t) they tend to compare accomplishments. What car does he drive? What position does he hold? How much power or influence does he have? Does he make more money than I do?

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I think we compare because we are looking for our place. We are looking to see that we are not on the bottom. We know we are bad… but how bad? If we can find someone else a bit worse off than we are in one area or another, then our pitiful state looks a bit less… pitiful. How pitiful is that?

I stopped listening to the news a while back. That may seem just a bit irresponsible of me to some of you. Shouldn’t I know the latest atrocity going on in the world? Don’t I need minute by minute updates from news makers who vow to only inform and not push an agenda? (Well find me that news source and maybe I’ll listen.) While I don’t listen to the news, I do know that racism has once again reared its ugly head in our nation… I mean by a few people. Not all that many, from what I understand. I mean, what are we talking? Tens of… tens? But as usual, the few displaying bad behavior get the attention, because good, upright, loving people are boring and not newsworthy.

Add that to the list of reasons I don’t watch the news.

We compare style, status, and influence. We compare skin color and ethnicity. We judge according to political party and social views. We explore any and everything until we can declare ourselves better than someone else. It’s why those white supremacists do what they do. They have decided that white skin trumps all other shades. I think that’s a fairly arbitrary position, don’t you? Isn’t it a fine coincidence that they happen to have white skin? That worked out pretty well for them, didn’t it?

But the truth is no matter how we scratch and climb to get a little higher than others on the I am better than you scale, we all fall miserably short of the standard. You see, I am not the standard. You are not the standard. No one living or breathing now or ever, except one, is the standard.

It’s Jesus. Jesus is the standard. He is better than you (and me). And thank God for that. Most of us will limit encounters with those we feel we are better than, but Jesus left heaven to pay the price to rescue everyone that He was better than. He left the glory of heaven in exchange for the misery of this world. Why? To make us better than.

There is only one who is Supreme. Only one. Anyone claiming supremacy for anyone other than Christ is allowing themselves to be a tool of the enemy. Comparison is always the enemy of community.

We can throw rocks, protest each other, make more laws and puff ourselves up… but we are no better. The only way we get better is by following Him. We have value only because He added it to us. Before Jesus, we are nothing. No money, status, religion, or skin color is enough to give us the value we need. Apart from Christ, we are nothing. With Christ… we have value.

We can compare, complain, push our fists in the air… but until we begin adding value rather than subtracting it from people, we will never be like Jesus. Many Christians spend far too much time making sure their party or candidate gets into office, or protesting the opponent who did get in, and far too little time adding value to people. If they don’t love you, they won’t listen to you. If you don’t love them, they’ll likely never love you. We have to love first.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Jesus is the standard.

One Liners

I love one liners. Probably because that’s the best my brain can hold onto most days. One of my favorites lately is from the movie, Gifted.

“I thought I taught you to never get on the bad side of small minded people who have a little authority”.

(I’m thinking of Homeowner’s Association board members)

My mother had one that I love, and that also made me think she was a little bit crazy. Whenever I was concerned about someone being upset with me she’d say, “If they kill you, they can’t eat you” which I have just recently decided is a messy translation of a verse in 1 Peter, Chapter 3. No wonder I always felt better when she said it. The Bible according to Bonnie.

Another one of my all-time favorites was spoken years ago by my son, Ryan, who was trying to teach his little brother, Evan, to properly throw a Frisbee. Ryan said, “Aim at my head!” While this was good advice for Frisbee throwing, I do wish there had been a good one liner for Evan with regard to catching a Frisbee. Very shortly after that, Evan had his front tooth knocked out when he unintentionally caught a Frisbee with his mouth.

But just this week, I have a new favorite one liner. I was binge watching the latest season of Madam Secretary on Netflix and there it was. Get this… it is one liner G O L D.

“I want to slay dragons; I don’t want to play Whack-a-Mole with evil.”

whack_a_mole.jpgBe still my heart! I nearly fell off the couch trying to reach my phone so I could write that one down! I mean it SPOKE to me.

Does that ever happen to you? It’s that chord that gets struck deep inside, and you know that line was for you.

I want to do significant things in my life. And since I have likely stepped over the halfway mark of my time on this spinning blue ball, I feel the need to get on with it. For a while now, my focus has been on raising stellar children. Well, the light is now appearing at the end of that tunnel, so Matthew and I are looking forward and asking, “What’s next?”

I think most of us get to this point in the journey and think… I want to do BIG things. I don’t want to merely swim around in my petty problems and temporary struggles.

I want my life to count for something significant. I don’t want to live a life of hit or miss in my fight against the evil one. I want to land punches! I want to wield my sword, and I want to slay dragons!

But what does that look like, really? I can’t exactly show up to my workplace brandishing a sword and speaking in Old English prose, can I? (Can I?) The dragons we face are not the tangible kind. It would be so much easier if they were. At least we’d be able to adequately size up our opponent and pull together an offensive to defeat him. It can get a bit tricky to fight a foe we cannot see with our eyes.

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I get weary of playing what looks like a losing game of Whack-a-Mole with the enemy. Sometimes I land a hit, and other times my efforts are too little, too late. I want to make significant advances for the Kingdom of God. I want to take back territory that has been stolen.

One of my favorite one liners from the Bible was spoken by Mary, the mother of Jesus. You can read the full account in John, Chapter 2, but basically Jesus and Mary are attending a wedding, and the host has run out of wine. The long and short of it is Mary gets Jesus to remedy the issue. He is reluctant, but He honors his mother. Here’s the one liner I’m talking about. She looks at the servants standing nearby and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do”.

BAM. Quite possibly the best one liner of all time!

If we want our lives to count for something. If we want to slay dragons and advance the Kingdom of God here on the earth. If we want to accomplish anything that is worth anything, we must:

Do whatever He tells us to do!

 

 

The Way to a Man’s Heart

I think we’ve all heard that the way to a man’s heart is through is stomach. I am living proof that statement is false. If it had been up to my cooking to secure my place in Matthew’s heart, I’d still be single. Now, the man does like a good meal, but a satiated appetite is fleeting. If I am going to endear myself to him for the long haul, I’ve got to do better than producing good food. I’ve got to reach his heart with something that has staying power.

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If you poll men on their greatest need from their spouses, you might guess that it’s sex. (Let me pause here and apologize to my best friend for talking about s-e-x in the daytime. I promise I’m not going to dwell here, but I have to talk about it just a second.) Sex comes in at a very close second to the thing that they really need the most from us. It’s not love. It’s not humor. It’s not us being thin and beautiful. It’s not money. And it’s definitely not food. The single most important thing they need from us is actually two fold. They need honor and respect from us.

I just lost some of you there, didn’t I? Hang on… stay with me. I know he’s got issues. I understand that he might not be the man of any woman’s dreams. But unless you are from a culture where marriages are arranged, you chose him at some point and found him worthy to be your husband.

Okay.

Maybe you were young and dumb, but there was something, right? Now those rugged good looks have given way to a balding head and a spreading midsection. His once funny jokes have a hint of sarcasm now that life has gotten serious and challenging. And those dad jeans? Mercy, does he have to wear them every day? And when did it become okay to wear socks with sandals?

I don’t have to point out the man’s faults to you, do I? You cannot help but see them. As a matter of fact, some days, they are all you can see. But let’s take a second and lay all that to the side… they’ll still be there.

What if you could have the man of your heart’s desire? I’m not talking about trading him in for another model. I’m talking about rebuilding the one you have…

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What if you could influence your husband with your words? You’ve tried that, you say, and he’s still annoying? I’m not talking about telling him all the things he does wrong. We are good at pointing out faults. I’m talking about speaking life over your husband. The Bible tells us that there is the power of life and death in our words (Proverbs 18:21). How often do we choose to speak death over our husbands and our marriages? Do you find that it’s easier to be critical, and less easy to be edifying? Building someone up is hard work… especially if they are bad at giving us good material to work with. BUT…

What if all it took for you to see changes in your husband is for

you to change?

What we say to and about our spouses has profound influence over our marriages. The simple act of honoring and respecting our spouses with our words can actually begin to change the way we see them, and it can change the person they are. Ephesians 4 says that we are to let no corrupt talk come from our mouths, but only words that build others up.

Begin small. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Find ONE thing for which you can brag on him. Is he a good provider? Brag on that. Find something no matter how small and honor him for it. Does he pick out his own clothes and they match… mostly? It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s true. Tell him. Tell others.

Proverbs Chapter 31 talks about the “virtuous woman”, and says that her husband is respected at the city gate. I would imagine he didn’t get that respect from her trashing him to everyone. I realize it may seem silly to you to speak life to and about a man that seems to fall so short of your mark. But what if it could really work? What if all that stands between you and a blessed marriage is your words? Speak life over your husband and your marriage and watch things start to turn around.

The way to a man’s heart isn’t through his stomach. It’s through his ears.

You Know I Love You

I was an adult before I ever watched the musical, Fiddler on the Roof. I know. It’s crazy. I just didn’t grow up in a musical watching family. But when I finally did see it, one of my favorite parts of the musical is when the father, Tevye, asks his wife, Golde, if she loves him. It’s a new day in society, and their daughter wants to marry for love. Tevye and Golde’s marriage was a traditional, arranged marriage; they did not meet until their wedding day. Now, after thinking about it for the first time in twenty-five years, Tevye wants to know… Does Golde love him?

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She thinks the question is ludicrous. She begins by listing all that she does, and has done, for him. As she works through the list, Tevye says, “But do you love me?” In the end, they both come to the realization that yes, they do love one another. Their love has been through the doing of it rather than the saying of it… but yes.

It’s hard to say for sure the real language of love. People talk about their love languages because of Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages. I’m sorry Gary, it’s a great book, but sometimes I think we can use that as a cop-out. We want to say there’s only one way that we can show or receive love. If you want to show me love, you should speak it to me in this way or that way. Or if you want to receive love from me, you can expect it only to look like this or that.

I can remember another time when someone asked a person if they loved them. After Jesus had risen from the dead and was spending time again with his followers, he spoke with Peter… Peter, the one who had betrayed him not once, but three times. Peter not only had to live with the guilt of the denials, but he also was surely remembering that Jesus had predicted them. They were not Peter’s finest moments.

It was Jesus’s great desire to reconcile Peter back to Himself, so when they were  together Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” (John 21). Those words had to hit Peter hard. Peter knew that neither by his actions or his words had he demonstrated his love for Jesus on that terrible day. I can imagine the anguish Peter had put himself through, but in that moment, Jesus gave him the opportunity to do what he wanted to do that day and could not. So I believe it was with sorrowful eyes that Peter looked at Jesus and said, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

I find myself in Peter’s boat a lot. My behavior, my words, my attitudes do not always demonstrate my love for Jesus. So can I really look into the eyes of the Lord and say, “Jesus… You know I love you”, and expect Him to say that He does know? How does He know? Do I tell Him often enough? Do I love what He loves enough? Is He on my heart and mind as someone that I love above all others? Or do I let other things and relationships diminish the love that only Jesus deserves?

I believe that Jesus did know that Peter truly loved him. I think the days and years of relationship leading up to that horrible day were enough, and I believe Jesus knew Peter’s heart.

I expect that Matthew needs to know I love him. I think that I show him every day that I love him. I try by words, actions, and attitudes to continually let him know he’s top man in my book. But does he have days when he wonders? Some days I forget to take care of stuff he asks me to handle for him. Surely that tells him that I allowed other things to take precedence in my mind, but does he doubt my love for him on those days? I don’t think so. I think because of the days and years of our relationship, he feels let down, but not unloved.

Perhaps the situation is similar with regard to Jesus. Except that while Jesus does not need us to love Him, He wants us to love Him. So when we come up short on loving Him well, as with Peter, He extends grace to us. God wants and deserves the top place in our lives, and it is because of His great mercy and grace that we can meet with Him, make amends, and begin loving Him well again.

Keep Your Lamp Full

Have you looked around lately? Things are kind of bad out there. It’s enough to make a person ask, “Isn’t this enough?” I heard about a baby that was born in Canada, and there was no sex declared on the birth certificate. The parents want to wait and let the child choose that for themselves. I mean how bad does it really have to be before the Father looks to the Son and says, “Saddle up your horse, Jesus.”

I didn’t used to think about end times much. I knew Revelation was super tough to understand, and who knew who was right about how the end of the world will happen? All I knew is that I didn’t know, and I decided to just trust all that to God and think about easier things. Scarlett O’Hara’s got nothing on me.

But that was before. That was before things got this bad. Now, it’s hard to look around at the world and not think that surely Jesus will come back soon.

We don’t really have to tackle Revelation to get a glimpse into end times. In Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonian believers, he talks about how it will go down, and the things to look for when the time is close. It basically describes our present world. Maybe it’s referring to now, maybe it’s not. But if we are wise, we will live as if it’s now. Does that mean we build a bunker, hoard food, stockpile weapons, quit our jobs and preach on street corners about how the End is Near?

th.jpgI don’t think so.

The Bible tells us to live, but to live with our eyes turned to the sky… expecting the return of Jesus (Luke 21). Jesus told a parable to teach us about the time of His return and how things would go down. (Also not in Revelation, but in Matthew 25.) So ten virgins showed up for a wedding carrying oil burning lamps to wait for the bridegroom and the wedding feast. All of their lamps had oil, but only five of the virgins had brought extra oil. When the bridegroom did appear, five virgins had lamps that were empty. While waiting, (and sleeping- the bridegroom didn’t show for a long time), their lamps burned through all of the oil in them.

Quickly, they begged for oil from those who had thought to bring extra, (It’s a classic case of being caught with one’s pants down.) but they sent the unprepared virgins away to go buy oil from a merchant. When they had filled their lamps, they returned only to find the festivities had started, and they were left out. They knocked on the door, the bridegroom answered, but he did not recognize them then, and did not let them in. It was too late, the ship had sailed.

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Here’s the thing. To the untrained eye, I imagine that all ten virgins looked the same. (Hint: the ten virgins represent the church. The Bridegroom is Jesus.) They are appropriately dressed and carrying their lamps. But the moment the bridegroom appears, the five without oil suddenly realize their mistake, and what is missing becomes painfully evident.

I think the moral to the story is it’s not too late until it’s too late, and we don’t know when it’s gonna be too late, so we need to keep our lamps full all the time.

Regardless of what you believe about how the end is going to play out, I think we can all agree we have to be prepared. We prepare by filling our lamps. Luke 21:36 says, “Watch therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” Meaning, evaluate yourself. Make sure you are ready. Check your lamp. Pray that you are worthy to escape what’s coming so that you can stand blameless before Christ on the day of His return. Just because you believe there is a God, or your name is on a church roster somewhere, doesn’t mean your lamp is full. (Matthew 7:22) Jesus seemed to be expecting about half of the church to show up with empty lamps when He returns. That’s not good.

Live life! Love life! But be ready to leave it behind without a single backwards glance. (We can’t act like Lot’s wife. There is nothing we own or possess that is better than being in glory with Jesus. Luke 17:28-33) Stay close to Jesus. Be full with your relationship to Him. It is Jesus who fills our lamps. It is Jesus that makes us worthy.

It’s true. Things are looking bad out there. But Jesus is coming, and that is good!

Chin up!

 

Get Back Up

Lately, the days have been hard. I won’t go into much, because, hey… we’ve all got issues going on, right? Mine are no more challenging than yours, but in the midst of some other challenges, I lost my mother unexpectedly a month ago. Not. Good.

Now, as I go through the business of my day, the thought hits me and I remember… “Oh, yes, my mom is gone.” Or I think, “I need to call and check on mom.” Ugh. It takes the wind right out of my sails when it happens.

I’ve had a lot of people encourage me to embrace the grieving process. I’m not a fan. I know from nursing school that there is an accepted formula for the stages of grief. I get it. I understand that the feelings I am having are normal. I understand that it is my brain’s way of graduating me to my new normal… the one where my mom is gone. It would be completely socially acceptable for me to be in denial, or to be sad, or angry or all of the above.

Back 22 years ago, when Matthew and I lost our baby son, many people encouraged us to join a support group where we could process our grief. I know that support groups help lots of people, but we just didn’t see the use in going to a weekly meeting that would remind us that we lost our child. But that’s what we do in our society. We group together and talk about our woes.

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I’m not interested in socially acceptable.

We get knocked down. In this life, we suffer loss, failure, betrayal, illness and more. No one is exempt.

Aren’t you glad you chose to read this blog today?

We can choose to go the socially acceptable route and process our losses like the scientists tell us that it should go, or we can just get back up.

Take Joshua, in Joshua Chapter Seven of the Old Testament, for example. Because of the shortcoming of one man, Achan, Israel found itself once again losing in battle to its enemy. Talk about a failure. People died! After the tail whipping they got, Joshua and his followers ripped their perfectly good tunics, fell on their faces, and wallowed in their loss.

That is until God told them to cut it out.

God actually said, “Get up. Why are you down on your faces like that?” Joshua 7:10.

God then went on to tell them why they had landed in the spot they were in, and what they needed to do to fix it and move on. He didn’t tell them to continue meeting that way, in a group there on the floor, crying and wailing over their losses and failures.

To tell you the truth, I could join Joshua’s pity party at any moment of the day right now. The hurt is still so raw and real to me. There have been times over the last few weeks that I have felt guilt over moments of laughing or enjoying myself… it just didn’t seem right to me. Crying. Crying seems right.

I don’t like where I am. I much prefer joy and happiness. Yes, I have suffered a great loss, but there are things that I still need to do, a purpose I still have to fulfill. And I don’t think all this sadness and disappointment does much to honor my mom,  fix the other issues in my life, or show gratitude for the life I do have.

Besides, followers of God have always been getting up people.

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When I think of the person I want to be, I can’t help but think of the old school push puppets. Remember those? When you pushed with your thumbs on the base of the toy, the puppet would collapse. But when you’d let go, the puppet would spring back to life just like before. I loved those. I was easily entertained.

Yes. We get knocked down. But we don’t have to stay down. I either trust God in my failure, loss or disappointment, or I don’t. I trust that, in some way, my trial is a part of a grander plan, a plan for which I can only see pieces and parts. A plan that is for my good. If that’s the case, then I trust Him even when things don’t go the way I wanted them to go.

If I really trust Him, I don’t let things keep me on the floor sobbing next to my pal, Joshua.

I get back up.

What’s Best For Me

One of my favorite birthday cards came from my best friend, or maybe I gave it to her. I can’t honestly remember. The front had a very sweet birthday wish, and when the card was opened, it read, “Okay, now let’s talk about me”. Or something like that. You get the gist. It was funny to me because the two of us joke about that so much… you know, things being all about us. We both have a healthy awareness of our own shortcomings in that area.

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It’s in our human nature to be selfish. We come into this world demanding that our needs be met twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As infants, it’s a matter of survival, as adults, it’s just plain unattractive. Have you met the person, who, above all else makes sure their needs are going to be met? That person who rarely considers the desires of others? The person who says,

“I’ve got to do what is best for me”?

I have been that person at times. I have focused on my needs and my wants first. I have also been the person who stood my ground, fought the good fight, given of myself until I had nothing left to give and then still said, “I have to do what is best for me.”

You too? Well, glory. Join the club, we have jackets! Fighting the selfish nature inside all of us is a daily battle. It is a battle that started in the Garden of Eden, and it is a battle humanity will fight until the day of Christ’s return and our sin nature dies forever.

But do you feel like it’s getting worse? Because I feel like it’s getting worse.

All this doing what’s best for me business is swelling to ridiculous proportions. I’m weary of getting phone calls and emails from friends whose lives have been torn apart because their spouse had decided to do what was best for them, and somehow that meant leaving their families behind. And by the way, these aren’t unsaved, un-churched, don’t know how this thing is supposed to go kind of people. I’m talking about people who are in Christian ministry who have served in the church for decades. I mean if we can’t hold it together, how can we lead others to hold it together?

These are perilous times. Paul told Timothy in his second recorded letter to him, this piece of prophesy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

As followers of Christ, and as ministers of His gospel of peace, we are to be the very opposite of the things in that list. Notice the first in the list is that in the last days people will be lovers of self. I believe it is mentioned first because selfishness is a characteristic of the others.

The one in the list that hit me the hardest was the last one. I do not want to have the “appearance of godliness”, but deny its power. How many of us claim Christ, appear to live godly lives, but do not walk in the power of God?

To give in to selfishness, and other things like it, means we deny the power of God at work in our lives. It means in the face of our unique circumstances, we do not trust Him to meet our needs. So we toss it all away and say, “I have to do what’s best for me”.

Even on His worst day, Jesus never said that.

From the crucifixion cross He blessed, forgave, and cared for other people. I know none of us is Jesus, but He is the standard. To live a life of godliness is more about the motivation than the action. We can be busy doing many things with wrong motivation and live powerless lives. We look good and holy on the outside, but we will cave as the screws begin to turn and our weak faith begins to show.

Being selfish is effortless. We can be selfish without even thinking about it, it comes so naturally to us. It’s living a life that mirrors Jesus that takes the effort. But the day we gave our lives away, we also gave up the right to self. So with the mercy of each new day, we die to self and take up our cross anew.

Because it’s not about us.