Monday, August 29, 2011

We've Got Things the Around Way Wrong...uh, the Wrong Way Around

I am a devoted fan of the hit reality tv show "The Biggest Loser."  Often, on that show as the contestants describe themselves and their lives, specifically their journeys to obesity, I hear them say that it was due to the fact that they put everyone else in their lives first.  Then, I hear them describe their time on the Biggest Loser ranch as their time to focus on them.  They usually say that when they get back home, they are going to stop putting themselves last and start focusing on themselves.  

Those statements always bother me when I hear them and, for years now, I've wondered why, but I couldn't figure it out.  I couldn't figure out why a statement that sounds so wonderful would not sit well with me.  While everyone on the show praises the contestants for their new look on life and their new "me first" mentality, I just couldn't get behind it.

This weekend, while I was out shopping, I saw a picture frame for sale that had a picture of a generic happy family in it and on the border, the phrase "it's all about us" was etched in the wood in a repetitious pattern around the frame.  Then, I realized how Satan so subtlely slips those little self-centered thoughts and attitudes into our brains.  I understand the picture frame; I get the concept.  The concept of the picture frame is to love our families and, as long as we love each other and focus on our own family, we'll be all right.  We don't have to reach out to others or grow outside of our comfort zone, but if we stick together, we will thrive.

Jesus taught us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27).  Nowhere does He say to love ourselves.  God did not put us on this earth to love ourselves; Jesus did not die for us so that we could love ourselves.  We are here to first love and serve God, then love and serve others.  So if, for instance, the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" truly became obese because they were so focused on others, then the problem does not lie within them, but in the other people in their lives.  It's not the contestants who need to change their paradigms, but the people around them who need to change.  You see, if we are truly living God's model for our lives and we're taking care of others' needs before our own, then our needs will get met because the people who care about us will meet our needs while we meet the needs of others.  So, the solution is not to start caring about and focusing on ourselves, but that the people around us need to change their focus and the only way they will change their focus is if they see it modeled in us.

Granted, our needs will not always be met by the people in our lives.  While He was on earth, Jesus served others, while all we did was take.  That may be the case for you.  You may feel like you give and give and give, while others just take and take and take, and that may very well be your reality.  However, if we are truly living selfless lives and our reliance is on God, then He will meet all our needs as He promises in Philippians 4:19.

Because I grew up in the American culture, the "me first" mentality has been etched in my brain and I fight it every day.  Every day, there is an internal battle about putting my needs over others' needs.  I have to continually fight against my flesh to push out all the selfishness that lies within, no matter how little or how much is there.  God doesn't want any selfishness to be there.  We can't get caught up in society's emphasis on self.  Instead, we need to try that much harder to model a selfless life so that others will change their perspectives.  If we are all living to meet others' needs, then our needs will be met in the process.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


We have all been wronged by someone at some time.  We will more than likely be wronged by someone again some time in the future.  On the flipside, we have all wronged someone else, too, and probably will again before we leave this earth.  We are not perfect creatures--far from it, actually.  We live in a world of sin; therefore, we will not always do good.  Do we wrong people on purpose?  Some people do, of course, but most of the time, people don't do it purposefully.  I know I don't intentionally do wrong to others, but sometimes it comes across that way.

In Matthew 18: 21-35, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive people.  In response, Jesus tells a story of a master who mercifully wiped away the debt of his servant and let him go without paying what he owed his master.  Later, the same servant, who had been forgiven of his debt, found a fellow servant who owed him money.  The fellow servant begged the man to be patient with him and he would eventually pay him back, but the servant refused and threw his neighbor into jail.  When the master heard about what his servant did after the master had forgiven him of his debt, he called the servant wicked because he showed no mercy on a man who owed him money, when his own debt was cancelled for him.  Consequently, the master threw the servant into jail to be tortured until he could pay back his debt.

No one owes us anything.  If we go through life and relationships with expectations, we will continually feel let down and wronged because no one can live up to others' expectations all the time.  But, if we enter relationships with a merciful spirit and with the knowledge that Jesus paid our ultimate debt on the cross, then we will view people's actions much differently.  We must treat people as if they're on our team and not against us, even if we feel that they have wronged us.  Yes, people do it intentionally, but most of the time, they don't mean to; they don't do it maliciously.  Even if they do wrong us intentionally, their debt is not ours to pay.  Their sins are against God, not us.  He will take care of their wrongs.  Our only job is to do what Jesus commands us in Matthew when He says to not only forgive our brothers and sisters seven times, but seventy-seven times, or as many times as necessary.  In reference to the master throwing the servant into jail to be tortured, Jesus says, " 'This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart' " (Matthew 18:35).

Until Jesus returns, people will continue to sin.  The two things we need to know about this fact is that, first and foremost, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).  When we don't forgive others, Satan is winning the battle because we are fighting against each other.  The other thing we need to know about the fact that people will continue to sin is that when it happens to us, we need to mercifully forgive the person(s) involved.  It doesn't matter if we think they deserve our forgiveness or even whether they seek it.  We didn't deserve Jesus's forgiveness, nor did we seek it, but He gave it freely.  And not just freely, He gave it LOVINGLY.  So, when we forgive our neighbors, our family members, friends, co-workers, and everyone else, we do it lovingly and not begrudgingly.  We do it with the love of Christ.

I know that if the people in my life didn't forgive me, I wouldn't have any relationships.  This is my prayer for my life, that it would be marked by forgiveness and mercy.  People don't realize what they are doing, the true impact of their sin, or even the need for a Savior.  That's why it is so important for us to continually show God's love and mercy and pour it out on everyone around us....they desperately need to see it in action!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Nontraditional Ministry

Ministry doesn't always appear in obvious forms.  I mentioned in a previous post that God has radically shifted my paradigm.  I am naturally a goal-oriented person.  It's okay to be goal-oriented, but it was causing problems for me and my relationships because I was completely goal-oriented.  I put completing tasks before people, even my own family, so God began to change me so I could be more effective for His kingdom.  On one of my runs toward the beginning of the summer, I saw a bolt in the middle of an intersection.  I didn't think anything about it; I just kept running.  Then, gradually, God would put more and more bolts in my path until the thought finally hit me that they could cause someone a flat tire.  I didn't notice it before because I was on a run--that was my goal.  Nothing else mattered.  But God has used those bolts to help change my outlook.  It is more important for me to stop and throw the bolt out of the intersection to save someone's tire than for me to continue running just to accomplish a goal that has nothing to do with anyone but myself.  Still, on my runs God continues to test my commitment to my new paradigm by putting bolts in my path.  I have to choose to stop for just a couple of seconds to pick up the bolt and toss it to the side of the road.  I don't know where the bolts come from, but they are always there when I exercise.