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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Recognition, part 11: The Choice

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:24-25 NASB)

thelō. Translated here as "wishes", this word, thelō, means "to will" it or to be determined about something. That verse sounds a little different if you read it as "whoever is determined to save his life will lose it", doesn't it? When we see "wishes", it doesn't seem quite as strong a desire (or as negative), maybe because of a lifetime of "when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true".  Wishing is a fairly inefficient way of making something happen. 

Being determined, however, is a different level of commitment entirely. It is more of a stubborn resolve to have what you want, regardless. Oooh. That sounds bad, doesn't it? We do that, though, don't we? We want what we want, and we determine to have it, but we often fail to think it completely through. Maybe what God wants for us is not what we want for ourselves. Maybe what we want is not best. Does that matter?  All too often, it does not. 

Sometimes, what God has in mind is very different from what we want and, at the start, might look like failure or heartbreak. If we allow God's plan to unfold instead of our own, we will find that there is peace in what we saw as failure, joy in what looked like heartbreak, and a deep relationship with the Almighty that develops along the way. It is a kind of "losing our life" that turns out to save it. 

This may surprise you, but the word translated as "life" is psychē, and is the root word from which we get our word "psychology". It can be used to indicate the physical life, the breath of life, or the soul. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary, in this instance, it is used to indicate "the seat of personality" or character. 

We have come to the heart of the matter now, and we may not like it. When we come to Jesus, we often come determined to stay the same. We want to keep our basic "personality" or character. God, on the other hand, is determined to change us, to mold us into the image of Christ. He wants us to become what He intended us to be (holy, righteous) instead of what the world has dictated we should become. He wants to heal our character flaws and make us good, pure. He wants us to be better than we are. God's plan is always for good and not evil, for welfare and not calamity, but we are often determined to have our own way, that sinful, self-centered way that has created havoc in our lives. 

Jesus was saying that, when we are so determined to stay the same, in character, temperament, lifestyle, it is not going to turn out well for us. In the end, we will not have the life we expected. We cannot have God's best and our own foolish desires at the same time. It is not possible. God will not allow it. It's that simple. 

We have a choice to make. What are we determined to have? What we want or what God wants?  We can't have it both ways. As Joshua told the children of Israel, "Choose you this day whom you will serve." Make a choice. Take a stand. This choosing has eternal consequences, though, so be sure you make a wise choice. Be very sure. 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mamie Tries Looking Back and Going Forward

Heading out this morning, I called out, "Who wants to go to the greenhouse?" Wonder Dogs love GO, so of course both dogs were up for the walk. Mamie was following my every step, so she was first in line. Maggie was in the kitchen eating breakfast. Mamie, Apprentice Wonder Puppy, is only ten months old. She is excited about everything!! She is also crazy about her adopted big sister Maggie the Wonder Dog. This created a big dilemma for little Mamie. She wanted to go, but wanted to be sure Maggie was coming. 

What happened next was the craziest. I have never seen this happen to a dog in my entire life. Mamie probably wishes I would keep it to myself. It was that ... I don't know what to call it. Pitiful? Sad? Funny? Mamie decided to run for the door because she wanted to be first out the door. She always runs. She also wanted to be sure about Maggie and see what she was doing, so Mamie made a not-very-smart decision. This is why she is still an Apprentice Wonder Puppy and not a Wonder dog yet. Mamie decided to run as fast as she could, while at the same time she was looking backward at Maggie. You can probably guess what happened. WHAM!!  Mamie ran, wide open and looking backward, into the door frame. There was a terrible thud and the impact stopped her in her tracks. She was shocked! It was not entirely clear why I got blamed for what Mamie had done all by herself, but she shook her head a little, sat down, and gave me a withering look. Needless to say, that door frame encounter  stopped her looking back for a little while. 

(Lest you worry about little Mamie, get distracted, and miss the point of the story) let me assure you that she is fine and still running wide open.)

As soon as Mamie whammed into the door frame, I thought, "Its really hard to move forward when you are looking back." (I see every event, interaction, and conversation in terms of a story and a lesson, and have for decades. It's a little strange but makes writing much easier). Back to the thoughts. It really is hard to go forward when you are looking back, as anyone with regret can confirm. I don't know about you, but I can always think of something I should have said in a better way, some better action I could have taken, a better decision I could have made. I could easily be overwhelmed with the "what it's" and the "I should have's" and second-guess myself forever. Maybe you know something about second-guessing. It can plague you relentlessly. 

It turns out that the Apostle Paul knew about regret, too, having been an awful terrorist. He wrote about it in a letter to the Philippian church. "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14 NASB) In other words, quit looking back and focus your attention on doing what God has called you to do! That's good advice for those with regrets and for those who second guess themselves. Stop. Just stop and refocus. 

It sounds easy, and it is. How? There's a clue in that verse above. Paul could not look back because he had his attention and his eyes focused on the call of God. He was looking to Jesus, and when you have Jesus in your sights, He is all that matters. 

Are you struggling? Has your looking back, like little Mamie, caused you to run right into a roadblock that has not only stopped you but caused you pain? Take your eyes off the past. Take your eyes off yourself. Fix them on Jesus and leave them there as you pursue that to which He has called you. Stop looking at the pain of the past and start looking toward eternity. One day, all those regrets will not matter a bit. Why not let them go now? 
Press on, and don't look back. 


The Recognition, part 10: lifestyle

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:24-26 NASB)

We've come to a hard part. You may wonder why this series is called "The Recognition" when what Jesus has been discussing is the taking up of your personal cross. This series began with Jesus' question, "Who do people say that I am?" In the verses that follow that question, Jesus revealed more of Himself to the disciples, more about being a follower. It turns out that Jesus is more than a fun guest at a party, more than a miracle worker, more than compelling words. Jesus did not come simply as a sacrifice for our sin and to thus change our eternal destiny. He came to change our present, as well. He came to be our priority, to infuse our entire life with His Spirit. 

In this passage, He begins to talk about losing your life and saving it. The one who wants to save his life, Jesus said, will lose it. The one who loses His life for the sake of Christ will save it. "Whoa!" you make think. Is this a call for some kind of Christian jihad? No. It is not. This is a multi-layered passage and we will cover it in detail over the next few days, but for today, remember that this verse follows the one about taking up your cross and following Jesus. He who left the riches of heaven for us expects the same willingness to leave a life of luxury for a life of service to Him.  

This "life" Jesus speaks of saving is not that of our "life of luxury". He is not saying that, if we follow Him, we will somehow save the lifestyle we have come to enjoy. The median annual household income in the United States in 2013 was $51,939. Compare that to the median annual household income worldwide of  $9,733.  Big difference. The median annual household income in Rwanda is $1,101. In Liberia, however, it is only $781. This difference is incredible. 

A mother and father with children in their home in Liberia will feed and shelter the family for $781 for an entire year. We who are so accustomed to a very comfortable lifestyle, one that would seem luxurious by the standards in much of the world, would do well to consider whether or not we should try so hard to "save" our lifestyle. Perhaps, if we were less committed to our comfortable lifestyle, we could do more to help our brothers and sisters around the world. 

Jesus went on to say, "What is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" All the riches this world offers will not save us. It will not matter one bit how much money we have in the bank, how many expensive toys we have accumulated, when we reach eternity.  If we have forfeited our soul in the process, it will be disastrous. 

A wealthy widow was once asked how much money her husband left behind. "Every bit of it," she replied. Not one dollar, not one toy will make the journey to eternity. The only way to store treasure in heaven is to invest in the Kingdom of God, to live a lifestyle of generosity. 

Jesus taught that the love of money is the root of great evil, and it is true. That love of money is closely tied to the love of the things money can buy. As we begin the study of losing our lives and saving them, we would do well to consider whether or not our present lifestyle is a deterrent to following Jesus. Does it limit our ability to invest in the Kingdom of God? Will we try so hard to keep our lifestyle that we fail to save our soul? How tragic that would be! Is there anything in your lifestyle that needs to change? Perhaps today would be a good time to invite our Lord to change what He will and make us into the disciples He intended us to be. 

Oh, dear ones, there is great joy in following Jesus, and it is worth any sacrifice we are called to make. Fear not. He is worth it. 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lunch Bag Popcorn


The problem of personal extravagance has been on my mind recently, and has triggered a serious effort at better stewardship. I've been attempting to be more frugal in every area, so, since popcorn was on my grocery list, I decided to start trimming my budget right there. I had seen something online about microwaving popcorn in a brown lunch  bag. It is supposed to be much cheaper and better in every way. I didn't believe the hype but decided to give it a try. 


Of course, I had to buy popcorn and opted for name brand at $4.98 for 45 oz.  According to the nutrition facts, that will make 32 servings, which ends up being 15 cents a serving! I thought I might have hit upon a great deal. I checked the price on the brand and flavor I prefer. $2.18 for four servings, or 54 cents per serving. That's a real savings! (If you eat a lot of popcorn.)

Since I couldn't find my brown lunch bags anywhere, I used a white one. It matches the popped kernels and I really like for things to match.


Unfortunately, the white bag is not as thick as the brown ones, and the popcorn blew out the end of the bag. It made a nice pop and was kind of exciting, so I counted it as a plus. Next time, though, I'm using a brown bag or two white ones. 

I used 1/4 cup of kernels, poured it in the bag, folded the top over twice, and put it in the microwave. The instructions said to set it for three minutes or until the popping slows. It took mine 2 minutes and 13 seconds. I burned a few kernels though, so set it for 2 minutes if you try this at home, and pay better attention than I did. 


I still remember popping corn in a pot on the stove, so that is my standard. Next to that, the usual microwave popcorn is pretty poor fare. This lunch bag popcorn is light and fluffy without any of the weird stuff the bags usually have. It was a little boring but Maggie and Mamie thought it was terrific. They didn't get much, though, because corn makes the Wonder Dogs itch. They can get by with just a bite, though. Wonder Dogs LOVE popcorn!!

Well, to tell the truth, it was a lot boring. I  added a little salt and, because I don't like boring, I added a little butter. Still HoHum. I added some Parmesan cheese and that helped. Finally, I added some chili powder and that added just the right zing. It turned out that the lack of zing was partially due to all the zingy stuff going straight to the bottom of the bowl. Without the oil in the commercial bags, there was nothing to which the zingies could cling. 

This was a lot like air-popped popcorn. I had an air popper once. I used it to roast green coffee beans. It works great for roasting coffee, but not so great for popcorn. 

The popcorn was okay. Not great, but okay. For 15 cents a serving, it was fabulous. Next time, I will try a brown bag and add a little oil to the bag, as well as a pinch of salt and whatever zingy hits my fancy. It has potential and, since the price is right, I'm willing to make an effort. I'll keep you posted. 

By the way, I'm not just being "cheap". As you will know if you saw the Flipping Food post, my goal is to make a habit of generosity and to splurge on giving. Being intentionally frugal is the best way I know to finance that kind of spending. I saved 39 cents for the giving splurge tonight. Give it a try! Just think what a difference we could make if we really make an effort! 


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The recognition, part 9: the Joy

And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23 NASB)

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 NASB)

The cross of Jesus was a terrible thing. It was viciously brutal, terrifyingly painful, and sickeningly shameful. We have become so accustomed to the fact of Jesus's death on the cross that we no longer see it as unconscionable that the Spotless Lamb of God should suffer on the cross in our place. Jesus did not endure the cross for fun or because of a whim on the part of His Father. He endured it because we could not, we would not. We, who are so enamored of sin that we do not avoid it, had a death-deserving sin penalty that only He, who was so deeply enamored of us, could pay. It was His love for us that required the cross. 

The only sensible, reasonable response to that kind of love, that kind of sacrifice is deep, abiding gratitude and love in return, as well as a desire to follow wherever He may lead. What Jesus has said is that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him. Why would we refuse Him? Why would we dare?  This One who has done so much for us asks us to do so little in comparison to His own sacrifice. We must not fail in obedience. 

The enemy of our soul would have us believe that this cross-taking is too burdensome, too painful, too terrible.  It is not. Our Lord, who despised the shame of the cross, endured the whole terrible ordeal because He knew that, at the end of the hard time, at the end of His suffering, was JOY. Who would expect the outcome of the cross to be joy? Only Jesus. 

If the outcome of cross-bearing is joy, and the writer of Hebrews tells us it is, why would we avoid it? Dear ones, the time for reckless abandon of our own cross is long past. The time of accounting draws near, when we will give an accounting of all that we have done and not done. We will account for our cross-bearing and our lack of it. We must embrace the cross to which God has called us, and we must follow Jesus. There is no other option that will give us joy in the end. 

Press on. Press on with your cross and endure all the way to the joy that waits ahead. 

The Recognition, part 8: The Daily Cross

And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23 NASB)

The word translated as "daily" is hēmera, and is used to indicate a period of time. It can, as the translation here, indicate a day, but it is translated elsewhere as a lifetime. Perhaps both translations are pertinent. Following Jesus requires that we deny ourselves and pick up our cross, our destiny, that way in which we make the most impact for Christ. 

It is all too common to pick up our cross once or twice, find it difficult, then lay it down again. Jesus, however, was clear. Taking up our cross is to be a daily act of submission to Him. It is to be an act of  hēmera, of daily surrender every day for the rest of our lives. That "every day for the rest of our lives" seems a little overwhelming doesn't it? We have a tendency to think, "No one does anything 'for the rest of their life'!" That, of course is not true. We awaken, have a cup of coffee, bathe, get dressed, eat a meal, go to work. What we do on a daily basis becomes so routine that, in a way, it is nearly effortless, or at least much easier. 

When we take up our cross daily, it eventually becomes our "routine", as well. It becomes a part of us, and we miss that surrender when we omit it. If you fail to eat breakfast before leaving for work, you notice it. In much the same way, omitting Christ from your day can become just as noticeable, just as uncomfortable.  Omitting Christ from our day should be not only uncomfortable, it should become unbearable. 

It is when we make this taking up of the cross a daily part of our lives that we can enjoy the sweet fellowship with our Lord that He intended. It is only in the denying of self and taking up of our cross that we become true followers of Christ. Our Lord did not say we could take up our cross if it was convenient or if we wanted to do it. He was clear. If we want to follow Him, then we will take up our cross, and we will take it up daily. It is not optional. 

As we begin our day, may be be so eager to follow Him that we willingly take up the cross, knowing that we do not bear it alone and that it brings the sweetness of communion with our Lord, all along the way. 

Flinging Food

Belle, our very beautiful Quarter Horse, has taught herself a new trick, and I can't say I'm pleased. This morning, she went into her stall for breakfast, stuck her lovely head into the feed trough, and immediately began flipping that fine head back and forth, flinging food out of the trough. She made several passes through the feed, then settled down to eat. In the process, she lost a fair amount of her meal. 

Lest you think that something was "in" her trough and she was just trying to get it out, let me assure you that the trough was fine less than sixty seconds prior, when I put the feed in there. Unfortunately, this is not the first time she's done the head-flipping, feed-flinging trick. She persists despite the fact that the "flung food" is never replaced. My explanations about wasting food and starving horses around the world have not helped, nor has putting the feed in the trough while she watches. When she's in a mood to fling, she just flings. Belle is extravagant with her feed and wasteful, as well. When I see her flinging the feed out of her trough, it does not make me want to feed her more. Less, maybe, but not more. 

As I watched feed falling to the floor this morning, I wondered how God views my extravagances with the resources He has entrusted to me. Does He sometimes shake His head and think, "If she could be more faithful with what I've already given her, I could trust her with more?" How does He view my waste? My lack of stewardship over some of the things He's entrusted to me? Frankly, God has blessed me with so much that I find it nearly impossible to responsibly manage it all. 

In fact, I'm not the only one with extravagances, nor am I the worst. We live in a nation of extravagance and we are a decadent society. You may disagree with me, but take a look at the definition of "decadent" and you might change your mind. "Low morals and a great love of pleasure", "luxuriously self-indulgent", "decay in standards or morals". Does that sound at all like our country? 

Scripture tells us, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."(Luke 12:48 NASB) WE are the ones who have been given much, and much will be required of us. Those are frightening words to me. Much will be required of us. It is required of stewards that they be found faithful (1Cor 4:2) and that is exactly the requirement for which we, who have been entrusted as stewards of wealth and freedom, will one day give account.

It breaks my heart to see the tragedies around the world, the hungry people, the homeless people. It breaks my heart that I could do more, but don't, because of my own extravagance. By the standards of many, I'm not at all extravagant, but by the standards of most people in our world, I am, and you are, too. I am not proposing that we stop enjoying the blessings God has given, but perhaps a little less pleasure would be in order. Perhaps a little less self-indulgence might allow us to give more, help more, do more. Those of us who can help, should help. 

Dear ones, take a few moments to consider your own stewardship of the blessings God has entrusted to you.  Have you invested in the Kingdom of God? Have you made a lifestyle of generosity toward those in need? How will you give an accounting when that time comes? 

May we not be like Belle, needlessly extravagant and wasteful. Instead, let's make a habit of generosity and splurge on giving so that, when the time for accounting comes, we will have only good news to report to the One who has given so much to us.