Whose Reward Do You Want?

Whose opinion matters most to you? Your spouse? A parent? Your children? Your boss? A coach? Friends?

As I was growing up, I learned how to garner the approval and praise of others whether in the classroom or on the football field. And like a drug, I discovered how good it felt to be thought well of by others.

Approval and praise from others became addictive. And it came with a price.

Being vulnerable is out of the question. Telling someone you’re not doing well or discouraged or you feel like a failure tarnishes the image. And that just won’t do. The image is everything. You can’t always speak the truth. It’s too risky to tell someone what you really think or to challenge the boss. It might cause tension in the relationship and that doesn’t achieve the goal of being liked.

But living to attract the praise and approval of others means forfeiting the greater reward from God. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about several practices the “hypocrites” used to look good to others. He said the praise they got for their righteous acts was all the reward they would get.

Whose reward do we want…the one from people we can see or the one from the God who’s unseen?

We get to choose.

Next, Jesus talked about forgiving others when they sin against us. He said if we forgive them, then we’ll experience God’s forgiveness. If we don’t forgive them, then we won’t be forgiven either. Will we forgive or hold a grudge?

We get to choose.

Jesus goes on to talk about storing up treasure on earth versus storing up treasure in heaven. Treasures on earth can be destroyed or stolen. Treasures heaven can’t be destroyed or stolen. Jesus says plainly, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

We get to choose.

In the last part of the chapter, Jesus goes into a discussion about the material necessities of life, things like food, drink and clothing. He says those who don’t know God naturally run after and worry about all these things.

But for the second time in the chapter, Jesus reminds us that our Father already knows what we need. And so we don’t have to seek hard after material things. Instead, we can live life as it was intended, seeking hard after God. Jesus says it this way:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We can seek material things or we can seek God. When we seek material things, we miss out on God. When we seek God, He promises to also provide “all these things.”

We get to choose.

We can focus on the physical realm and pick up a few rewards along the way. Of course, it means giving up the rewards God gives. Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the unseen and desire God’s greater reward.

We get to choose.

How to Never Be Disappointed

Would you like to never feel disappointed again? To never feel the sadness that comes with unmet expectations? It’s simple.

Do nothing. Ask for nothing. And expect nothing.

Give up on your dreams. Take no risks. Make only small attempts.

Have no expectations of yourself. Set no goals. Make no plans.

Never express your needs to your spouse. Definitely not your wants.

Never pray. If you do, don’t ask for anything specific.

Don’t talk to strangers. Or ask a friend for help.

Learn to tolerate the job you hate.

Don’t think you have what it takes to start a business, form a non-profit or write a book.

Never seek adventure. Or try to make a difference.

Listen to anyone who tells you “it can’t be done” or “you’re not good enough.” Especially the negative voice in your head.

Fear failure. It guarantees you’ll attempt nothing great.

Just settle. For the life you have now. For the marriage you have now. For the influence you have now. For the financial situation you have now.

Get completely comfortable with the status quo.

It’s that simple.

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Agitated and Anxious?

It’s sunny, very windy and 80 degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas today. But 7 years 8 months and 3 weeks ago, it was a different story. A severe ice storm had just hit. Trees were down and power was out all across Northwest Arkansas. Lots of trees were lost in that storm. Trees that did survive lost branches.

This morning, as I sat on our patio, I heard a loud rustling sound and then a tree branch fell on the driveway about fifteen feet from where I was sitting.

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It’s not uncommon to find branches like this after thunderstorms or just a strong wind like we have today. These branches are the result of the ice storm in January of 2009 when they broke off from the trunk and died. It’s inevitable they’ll crash to the ground. It’s just a matter of a time. All it takes is some agitation from the wind. And yet the same wind that agitates the dead branches has no effect on the healthy ones.

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In the moments leading up to His arrest, the gospel writers tell us Jesus was “troubled” and “overwhelmed with sorrow.” The same Greek word is used in both instances, it literally means:

to agitate, trouble a thing by the movement of its parts to and fro, to cause one inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, to disquiet, make restless, to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread, to render anxious or distressed

Do you ever feel that way?

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Changing Your Mind

Think back over the past 24 hours or so. What emotions have been most prominent?

Have you felt happy or joyful? Peaceful? Content? Secure?

Or have you been angry? Anxious? Worried?

Maybe you’ve felt frustrated. Or discouraged. Or afraid.

More than likely, you’ve experienced multiple emotions…sometimes within just a few minutes. Often, our emotions fluctuate depending on our circumstances. If things are going well, we tend to feel better. When circumstances are hard or confusing, it’s easy to give into negative emotions.

I like to think of negative emotions like the warning lights on the dashboard of a car. When the “check engine” light comes on it usually means there’s something going on underneath the hood that needs to be checked out. It’s the same with emotions like fear, worry, discouragement, anger and anxiety. Those feelings are a signal that something in us needs to be checked out.

Romans 8:5-8 says…

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

The mind set on and governed by the flesh is hostile to God, is unable to submit to God’s law and is characterized by death. But the mind set on the Spirit pleases God and experiences life and peace.

The flesh is that part of us that still desires to live independently of God. It’s that part of us that seeks to get our physical needs met according to the world’s plan. The flesh is consumed with the current, material realm in which we live. The flesh doesn’t give thought to the spiritual realm or eternity.

So what emotions have you been feeling lately? Would you put them under the heading of “life and peace” or “death?”

If you’ve been primarily dealing with negative emotions, then chances are your mind has been set on the flesh. Your feelings don’t randomly occur. They result from your thoughts, from your mindset. The answer for feeling better isn’t to try and change your feelings. The answer lies in changing your thoughts. We have to choose to set our minds on what God’s Spirit desires. And the only way to do that is to invest time in God’s word. There’s no substitute for it.

Maybe the beginning of summer is a good time to make a new start, to change your mindset. Choose to set your mind on what the Spirit desires. Learn to see your circumstances the way God sees them. He promises life and peace to those who do.

Worldview

Do you find it hard to understand why those two brothers in Boston would detonate bombs to kill innocent people? Or how other Muslim terrorists would fly planes into buildings to kill innocent people?

Or how could an abortion doctor from Philadelphia deliver live babies and then cut their spinal cords with scissors to complete the abortion procedure? How could someone commit rape? Why do some people go on looting sprees during natural disasters?

Why are some people in support of higher taxes and others want them lowered? Why do some people devote themselves to serving the poor while others are equally as devoted to accumulating as many material possessions for themselves as they can?

How you live your life and make choices stems from your worldview. In other words, what is the lens through which you view the world? What is it that you truly believe about yourself, about God and about this life?

So how could a terrorist kill innocent people? You first have to understand their worldview to answer that question. Perhaps they feel their god has instructed them to kill those who don’t believe as they do. That would lead them to conclude the people they are killing are in fact not innocent.

How could an abortion doctor kill babies outside the womb? Ultimately, he must believe those babies aren’t fully human. Or that they have no rights. Or that making money from abortions is more important than someone’s life.

Regardless of the question or issue–you must understand someone’s worldview before you can understand their choices.

There’s something even more foundational than someone’s worldview though. And that’s their identity. What do they believe about themselves? Who do they really see themselves as?

There are various aspects to our identity that are all critical. There’s our spiritual identity, our emotional identity, our sexual identity and our personality. There are many factors that go into the development of our identity, but in large measure, I believe it’s determined by the family in which we grew up, authority figures, our view of God and any abuse we may have suffered.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about–let’s say a little boy grew up in a home with an angry, hard-to-please father. The predominant message at home was “you’ll never amount to anything.” The family attends a legalistic church filled with lots of rules to follow.

When this little boy grows up, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he lacks self-confidence and views God as a divine disciplinarian who he’s continually disappointed. Outwardly though, he might be an over-achiever. He’s determined to prove everyone wrong by getting straight A’s and doing his best to follow the rules. Try as he might though, he can’t ever shake the feeling that God is disappointed in him.

Now add in any type of abuse and his identity will be even more damaged. Sexual abuse can lead to confusion regarding sexual identity. Emotional abuse can lead to plaguing negative emotions. Any type of abuse can have a powerfully negative influence on our identity.

It may seem like a small thing, but when I was growing up I distinctly remember the day my mother labeled me as “anti-social” because I wanted to stay home rather than going with my parents to a party. The subtle unintended message from my mother was “there’s something wrong with you.” By nature, I enjoy alone time. I’m energized by solitude, not people. I enjoy people, but that’s not where I get my energy. I wonder though–could some of my reluctance to be in situations with lots of new people come from the “anti-social” label I received forty years ago?

Ultimately, the only way to correct our confused or damage identities is to know and believe the truth. What God says about me is true, regardless of what my mother or coach or friends said.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

So what does God say about your spiritual identity? Your sexual identity? Your emotional identity? And your personality? Unless you know it and  believe it, you will live in bondage to any abuse you suffered or lies you’ve believed.

And unless you understand all this–you’ll never understand why two brothers could kill innocent people and think they were justified.