Each of us has likely heard the warning “be careful what you wish for”. It seems in our humanness we are often prone to believe the grass IS truly greener on the other side of the fence, or we recreate the “good ole days” into utopia. In the song The Way We Were, Barbara Streisand sings “Mem’ries may be beautiful and yet What’s too painful to remember We simply choose to forget”. Whether imagined or remade we do often seem to romanticize that which is not available to us while diminishing all we have.
One of the most often referenced “be careful what you wish for” stories in scripture is found in 1 Samuel 8, when Israel clamors for a king.
“The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. “ (v.7) And while the choice to reject God’s plan was reflective of their own hardened hearts and rested squarely on their shoulders, their demand was precipitated by Samuel’s sons not fulfilling their God-given duties: “His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” (v 3-5 emphasis added).
I am not sure how many times I have read that passage, but today was the first time those verses stuck out to me. It made me stop to wonder how many times we – individually or as the Church collectively – prompt others to indulge their wishes while ignoring God’s because of our own inaction or disobedience. Another reminder of the importance of allowing God to Father us as we seek to reflect His love and purpose as we in turn father our children and serve those in our circle of influence.
This week I had a surprise and welcome visit from a cousin who was driving through Indiana on his way to Kansas. We had not seen each other in twelve years, and had a lot of catching up to do. We talked about career, family, the upcoming election, and faith. A few times during our evening my cousin referenced 1 Corinthians 6:19 “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”
Thinking about the varied topics of conversation following our time together my mind returned to the previously referenced verse and I realized I have yet to blog about my personal effort to take better care of my body.
Like many Americans, I had experienced a gradual yet steady weight gain since college, nothing drastic…it seemed, just a couple pounds a year, but over the course of my 20+ years since college graduation, that added up being very significant. After a few failed attempts to regain my health I made the decision to try a program which had been successful for a few of my friends. The results: down over 40 pounds (in just three months), more energy, better rest, healthier eating habits, head aches and heart burn have disappeared (except on those infrequent occasions when I over indulge on the wrong foods), and most of the aches and pains I had attributed to my age are now gone. Not only that, but I feel better about my self.
In part because I love helping people, and in part because I wanted some accountability, I became a health coach for the company. If you are ready to make a lifestyle change and take back your health, feel free to email me at email@example.com to schedule a time to talk!
To be fully know and fully loved; I believe this is the heart of each human being – it is the way we were created. Yes, there are some who put on airs, playing the tough-guy persona, and maybe have done so for long enough they really do believe there is no going back or, possibly, their heart has become so hardened they no longer even consider it. Nonetheless, we were created to give and receive love, to live in community, and to live out our unique God-given purpose.
As I write this it is September 15th, so this morning I read Proverbs chapter 15. This is a practice I learned from a pastor of mine in college who always read each day’s corresponding Proverb. As I read, two verses gave me pause; “A greedy and grasping person destroys community; those who refuse to exploit live and let live.” (v. 27) and “And undisciplined, self-willed life is puny, an obedient, God-willed life is spacious.” (v.32) MSG.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about community, the importance of “doing life together” in our homes, our churches, and our communities. Scripture tells us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;” (John 10:10 NIV). One of his primary tools is isolation.
Ross Parsley points out in his book Messy Church, “The truth is most of us end up preferring isolation in our church. It’s safer and there’s no risk of getting hurt. I’ve got my relationship with Jesus and you’ve got yours. If I need some help, I’ll open up – a little – maybe, and receive the initial benefits of community, but as for laying my heart out there to a group of people who may leave or abuse it, that’s not going to happen.” As to the reason for this thought process Parsley says, “When a family fights in a divorce culture, the great fear is that someone might leave.” So, we choose isolation out of fear.
So, how did verses about a greedy and grasping person, or an undisciplined, self-willed life lead me here? To be fully-known and fully-loved requires vulnerability. Love cannot be fully known without risk. When someone is “greedy and grasping” they are by nature self-focused, which as the Proverb says, destroys community. At that, people retreat and are more prone to isolate. As for the other verse; while those who “grasp” may also attain status, power, and wealth, in the end if that is the only motivation, it is truly a “puny” life.
It is only in living an “obedient God-willed” life we can Live Big, which of course is not about getting, but giving. It is not self-focused, but is lived in community. And as Ross Parsley reminds us it may be messy, but it is also full.
There are many good things in which we can involve ourselves, things that serve a purpose but at the same time rob us of the time and energy we need to achieve our true calling. This is a lesson I learned many years ago as I was confessing to a friend my burn out with so many good things (Optimist Club, United Way, and even Church activities) coupled with providing for my family, I was left exhausted. Instead of sympathy my friend offered me this stinging but loving admonishment, “Remember Tom, your family is your first ministry.”
I was reminded of this life-changing rebuke as I was pulling weeds in our strawberry patch this morning. Growing amongst my strawberries were a few beautiful young volunteer tomato plants. At that moment I was reminded of another piece of advice I had once received from a fellow gardener, “If it’s not where it belongs it’s a weed.” Though it didn’t feel right to do it, I took hold of those healthy young plants and pulled them out by their roots.
It is so easy to allow what is good to crowd out and ultimately replace what is best. Sometimes it goes against our very nature, but as we pursue what is best eliminating good things from our lives is just as important as eliminating the bad. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2. Not everything that hinders us is in and of itself sinful, but if we allow it to replace that which is best it serves a similar purpose.
There are many voices that fill our heads. Each day we are bombarded by radio, television, the internet, family, friends, co-workers, the public, and of course those inaudible words which echo – sometimes incessantly – in the private recesses of our mind.
Recently, my daughter Maggie and I spent the weekend being poured into by some amazing worship leaders and songwriters at the Kingdom Songs Retreat (KingdomSongs.org) in Franklin, Tennessee. The weekend was full of encouragement, teaching, songwriting sessions, and an optional open-mic night, where those in attendance could share a song. I decided against putting my name on the list because of course; “All of the songwriters and worship leaders in the room are way more talented than me, they had written better songs and certainly had better voices.” I was listening to the voice of fear – or maybe it was the voice of pride trying to assure I would not stumble over a word, miss a chord, or go flat in the chorus, I am not quite sure. Nonetheless, knowing I did not want to controlled by either, I picked up the pen and added my name to the list, not because I felt as though everyone needed to hear my song, but rather as a way to press against whatever it was that had lobbied so convincingly to keep me only a spectator.
Though this type of situation now happens infrequently, there was a time when I was controlled by many unhealthy voices; voices that validated fears and dismissed any positives in my life. Some, where spoken into my life by people whom I should have been able to trust, others were internal, but all served to squelch my joy and confirm my doubts. “If people knew the real you they would not like you.” “You’re a fake.” “Everyone else is better than you.” “How can you call yourself a Christian when you (fill in the blank),” and the list goes on.
The voices we listen to determine a great deal about how we live our lives; in victory or defeat, in sorrow or joy, in freedom or in bondage, in truth or in fear. Jesus said, My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27) To walk in our true calling, to be our true self, is to follow the voice of Jesus.
So how do we discern the voice of Truth and move beyond habitually yielding to those voices which seek to invalidate our call, silence our witness, and justify our destructive actions or complacency? By renewing our minds through the study of God’s word.
The apostle Paul encourages us, Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
The renewing of my mind began when I accepted as truth and committed to memory several key verses which define who we are as Christians:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 (NET)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 1 John 3:1 (NIV)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (NASB)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:7-9 (NIV)
My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. Proverbs 3:11-13 (NASB)
Committing verses, such as those referenced above, to memory allows us the ability to combat those destructive voices of fear, condemnation, shame, and guilt, which only seek to isolate and destroy. Realizing that God wants only the best for us; understanding the difference between discipline and punishment; and accepting our identity as a child of God; allows us to discern the voice of Jesus who is drawing us to Himself.