April 17, 2016
This was the first scripture I ever attempted to commit to memory, verse and reference. My strategy included writing it on a partial piece of poster board, illustrating each word of the verse with an image for emphasis. “Strife” was an angry face, “vainglory” a mirror, “lowliness” a stick figure doing the limbo. Think of it as an emoticon for each word, in a world where emoticons didn’t exist. In college, I had this poster mounted on the wall opposite the light switch in the narrow passage of my dorm room’s entrance. I can see it now.
Despite the fact that this verse rolls off my tongue better than any other scripture besides John 3:16, it has perpetually been the message of conviction whispered to me most often by the Holy Spirit for the past 23 years. Twenty-three years and counting, I have been trying to assimilate it into my character with substantial success and frequent failure.
The complexity of this verse is that it has segments. You can cut it into three parts and until all three parts come naturally to you, it hasn’t succeeded in changing you to the fullest extent it applies. I guess that’s why it is taking me so long to absorb. Take one step forward, you still have two steps to go. Or in my case, take two steps forward and still have one giant leap miles long to go. Will I ever get there?
First it declares, let NOTHING be done through STRIFE.
You can put a period on that and make it a complete statement. God tells us when you are angry or resentful to put the brakes on your actions. You DO NOT have permission to act on it. “So how am I supposed to respond?” you ask. Well, you don’t respond. You sit on it. You sleep on it. You vent to God about your hurt. You cry out for help. You tolerate it and you envision Jesus, His tolerance, His reaction to strife. It puts your offense into perspective. You let God work on your heart. You aren’t going to get permission from Him to do anything motivated by strife so don’t give yourself permission either. Let Him tell you what to do with that strife.
Second, let NOTHING be done through VAINGLORY.
Well, there goes the selfie culture. What good has vanity ever accomplished? It is an embarrassment to the vain and distasteful to witnesses. If God forbids actions motivated by vanity, or attention-seeking, then check yourself. You DO NOT have permission to do it. The verse explicitly states, “Nothing”.
Then finally, we reach the crux of the message.
The verse continues, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other BETTER than themselves. The scripture effectively gives us “Don’t do”, “Don’t do”, and “Do do” directives.
The purpose of not acting out of strife and not acting out in vain glory is to perfect a lowly state of mind. To be rid of pride. But how? By constantly esteeming others better than yourself. The technique works in reverse as well. If you are struggling with how to change your esteem for another person, start by exercising the don’t do’s. God will aid your change of perspective as you work on restraining your actions.
Sometimes the “Do” step is so challenging that you must first figure out why other people seem to be at the center of all your difficulties. In his book, “The Sense of the Presence of God”, John Baille expresses, “I may do my best to ignore the claim my neighbor makes on me, as I fear I often do. I may act toward him as if he were merely a part of the world in which I dispose and not another disposer of it; merely within the circle of my own dominion and not another centre of it. I may treat him not as a person but as a thing, or, as Kant would way, not an end in himself but as a means to my own ends.”
This quote caught my attention from both the perspective of the speaker and the perspective of the neighbor. From the perspective of the speaker: When am I treating others as the means to my own ends? Since my neighbor is equal in the eyes of God, equally bought with the blood of Jesus, is he of equal merit as myself in my own eyes? If he is not, then I must confess this sin and rethink my perspective of him. I must allow God to change my heart and mind. I must welcome opportunities to exercise actions contrary to my previously erred behavior.
From the perspective of the neighbor: Is my neighbor (or co-worker, or classmate) treating me as the means to her own ends? Does he trample me as if I am disposable in his universe? If he isn’t a believer in Christ, then he doesn’t have the Holy Spirit working in him to show him any other way. He is merely serving his defensive instincts. At least I can understand why strife keeps flaring up between us. I also acknowledge my obligation to treat him as better than myself, according to the guidance of Philippians 2:3, which proceeds toward the greater responsibility of advocacy in verse four.
Philippians 2:4 says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
I am not only obliged to be a good steward of the resources God has entrusted to me, but I am also obliged to be invested in my neighbor’s best interests as well, regardless of his or her treatment of me.
John Baille’s insight helps make this responsibility a little more palatable. He states, “My concern must not be merely for his [my neighbor’s] desires, but for what is right in his desires; not merely for his desires but for his good; not merely for what is desired by him but for what, because it is good in itself, is good for him . . . they [others] embody for me, in my encounter with them, something greater than themselves, an intrinsic right and a universal good.”
This quote casts interpersonal relations into a larger field of view. It presents why treating others better than yourself is worth your personal investment. We should feel empowered to celebrate anyone’s happiness, achievements, prosperity, stability, merits, strengths, and talents because all these are good and right in themselves! I don’t have to be a person’s biggest fan to support the things they are doing right in their lives.
My neighbor has an intrinsic right to be here. God has a purpose for his life and desires an ultimate good for him; therefore, so should I. Because God loves and values him, I am presented the opportunity to manifest God’s love and prove this value to him. The result of Philippians 2:3-4 is really all about my neighbor’s experience with me. My aspiration is to become lowly of mind. If my day can be spent valuing the interests of others while performing all my responsibilities to the glory of God, then I have succeeded.
Many years ago I struggled with hard feelings toward a co-worker. I privately relished the opportunity for her reliance on my work to become known to management. I spoke to God about this nasty attitude brewing within me. He whispered, “She doesn’t have to fall for you to rise.” The climate felt as if it was either her or me, but it wasn’t. So, I began to pray for her best and the good she could acquire from the situation we shared. God answered my prayer; she was spared a public reveal and I was compensated for my contributions.
Malcom S. Forbes said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
While I agree with Mr. Forbes, personally I find taking second place among my family and close friends harder because of our history, my expectations, wants, and needs. I don’t expect, want, or need anything from a stranger, so it is easy for me to be generous with my gestures and kindnesses. But those I interact with on a daily basis have access to stock or deplete my emotional reservoirs; therefore, the stakes are higher. Voluntarily relinquishing the refill on my emotional reservoir is a tall order for me. I have a lot of room to grow here.
Once while playing the mediator in someone else’s conflict, the following words burst out of my mouth, “Humble people don’t get offended. YOU are the problem!” This statement applied to every person involved. The message rang true in the ears of all hearers and brought the argument to an end.
“Humble people don’t get offended” has returned to my mind on several occasions since then when I have been offended. I have to admit, I wasn’t being humble in those instances. When we truly embody a humble spirit, offenses cease to be offenses, but are instead opportunities to treat others better than ourselves.
Universal good is being accomplished every day and all of our classmates, co-workers, customers, even the strangers we come in contact with are involved in it. We have the opportunity to aid this world in looking and acting more like God intended it to be. This begins with me doing nothing motivated by strife, doing nothing motivated by vainglory, esteeming others better than myself, and advocating for the best interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 covers all circumstances and all relationships. I guess that’s why it takes a lifetime to be made permanent.
February 21, 2016
- Accept others. You will have different opinions about what are acceptable behaviors. The Holy Spirit convicts people differently for a reason, or for a season, in order to cover broad territory.
- Sin has been defeated; therefore nothing possesses the same condemnation that it did before Christ was crucified.
- We have a new priority. Anything is sinful which brings hurt, harm, or offense to another person.
- Therefore, always make your decisions in the best interest of the weakest person among you. For example, you don’t watch a horror movie in front of a four-year-old.
- Conviction is key. The Holy Spirit is deliberate with the intuition He places on your heart.
- If peace (the Holy Spirit’s impression on you) permits you to participate, then you are free to follow. If peace forbids you, then it would be a sin to disobey Him.
"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (v. 19-23)
- Everything that is not done in full confidence that your conscience will permit it, is a sin.
- The Holy Spirit calls out different requirements under different circumstances depending on who is vulnerable. Sometimes the person being most influenced is you. Sometimes there is a future pitfall which God is protecting you from by convicting you now.
- Do not belabor whether or not you have God’s permission. If there is doubt, then you don’t.
- With maturity and wisdom, your convictions may change over time. God knows when it is safe for you to experience more freedom. Walking on coals would destroy the feet of a child, but an adult with tough skin may be safe from that harm.
James 4:17 says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (James 4:17)
See how personal the definition of sin is? It is fully contingent on the Holy Spirit’s conviction on your heart. When you know to do good, it is the Holy Spirit who has made that opportunity apparent to you. Because the leading of the Holy Spirit is a personal exchange, the sin committed by disobeying Him is a personal violation as well. You may be called to a higher requirement than your peers. Sin is not the same definition for everyone. God has made known His intentions to lead us individually.
January 10, 2016
June 14, 2015
I have the luxury of frequent, honest conversations with God about my struggles, motives, and agendas. I know that God has a greater understanding of my psyche than I do and I need to tap into what He knows about me. So I climb up on His examining table often and request, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24). Upon request, He hasn’t stopped uncovering the muck buried deeper beneath the previously unearthed terrain.
This conflict of conscience is essential evidence of spiritual health. It reveals that the Holy Spirit is alive within you working to prevail over your true self which has previously operated undeterred. This legitimate conflict doesn’t go away as long as our souls reside inside bodies of flesh. Jesus’ body could be battered, but His spirit, His love, and goodwill would not break. Walking after the Spirit will feel like punishment to your flesh too. The more you cooperate with the Holy Spirit battling against your true self, the more victories you will experience, spiritual fruits will bloom, and your legacy will grow.
Watchman Nee wrote in his book, The Spiritual Man, “The flesh is most defiled (2 Peter 2:10:22); God accordingly does not attempt to change it. There is no method of deliverance other than to put it to death. Even the precious blood of Jesus cannot cleanse the flesh. We find in the Bible how His blood washes our sin but never washes our flesh. It must be crucified (Gal 5:24). The Holy Spirit cannot reform the flesh . . . His abiding in the believer is not for the purpose of improving, but for warring against the flesh (Gal 5:17) . . . Indeed, we should never attempt to repair the flesh in order to make it cooperate with the Spirit of God. The flesh is ordained to death. Only by consigning the flesh to the cross may we be liberated from being enslaved permanently by it.”
When you asked Jesus to come into your heart, did you experience being crucified with Him? Take a moment to think on it now. You can see Jesus strung up on the cross in pain, but can you see yourself up there with Him? Have you ever died to your true self?
Further explanation may aid your consideration:
"The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." ~ Galatians 5:19-21
“To ascertain whether one is of the flesh, he need but inquire of himself if he is doing any of these works of the flesh. It is of course unnecessary for him to commit all in the list in order to be carnal. Were he to do merely one of them he would establish himself beyond doubt as being fleshly. . . All nonetheless are fruits from the same tree . . . for how could he do any one of them if the flesh had relinquished its rule already?” Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man.
Honesty is a virtue without question, but does being true to yourself ever manifest in any of the above listed behaviors? If so, then being true to yourself is not honorable or God-glorifying. Have you considered that such a self does not deserve your loyalty? Perhaps greater blessing would spring forth from defying your true self!
There is one truth that our fallen, human experience understands well and defends as truth. Alternatively, there is the person of Jesus who is The Truth (John 14:6) who patiently allows us to construct realities of our own choosing. He knows that our personal truths will disappear in a breath. We would be wise to conform our personal realities to what reality will look like then.
September 4, 2014
I stepped up to the counter at Starbucks and placed my standard order, a medium mocha made with nonfat milk, no whipped cream. After handing over my credit card, I noticed the barista’s eyes shift away from mine high above my head to the customer behind me. I followed her eyes to see who had captured her attention. Immediately I recognized the 6’5”, perfectly built, dark-skinned man with a gleaming white smile. His dress was understated, a plain black tank top, shiny black gym shorts, a backwards baseball cap, and flip flops. I couldn’t help disclosing that I recognized him,
“You are ______,” I said aloud to him, momentarily star struck but maintaining my composure.
“Yes”, he replied, broadening his super white smile just for me.
“It’s nice to see you,” I said, returning the smile.
“It’s nice to see you too,” he followed politely.
I turned back toward the counter to retrieve my credit card then slid down the bar to wait for my coffee.
After he placed his order he propped himself on a barstool to wait. He directed his focus to the cell phone in his hands. I noticed two teenage girls at a nearby table eyeballing him, whispering, and jostling their cell phones. He had apparently attracted their attention as well. His order was completed before mine. The girls motioned for him to come by their table, he complied, they exchanged words, he flashed his pearly whites and followed with a nod. Then the girls jumped from their chairs and eagerly followed him out the door. This struck me as unusual so I asked a nearby customer who had overheard their conversation what the girls had asked him.
“They asked him if he had gotten out of that macked out BMW in the parking lot,” the customer said.
I shook my head. The girls following him outside made sense. With phones in hand and an exceptional interest in his car, I assumed that they wanted close-up, possibly even interior photos of the car to post to their social media newsfeeds.
"What foolish kids,” I thought. “How could their admiration be so misdirected? If they only knew who they were talking to, they would forget all about that car.”
I grabbed my coffee and exited the coffee shop as the two giddy girls returned from the far corner of the parking lot celebrating the photos they could now publicize.
“Don’t you know who that was?” I asked them, eager to expose their oversight.
“No?” they questioned. Their faces went blank and eyes grew large.
“That was Cullen Jones, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer.”
The girls let out a squeal and turned toward each other with both hands on the sides of their faces and mouths agape. They spun around abruptly to run back and capture the significance of the moment but the opportunity had passed. The striking black BMW pulled out of the parking lot.
As I drove away I replayed the sequence of events in my mind. I was dismayed, stunned, and insulted. How had the girls missed seeing what was so clear to me? How did Cullen feel knowing he had gone unrecognized while his car had received the attention he deserved?
A sermon illustration presented itself to me. How often am I caught in a spiritual stalemate because some “thing” stands between me and God? When I pray, I rattle off a laundry list of requests all the while disregarding the fact that I have God’s undivided attention. I allow unresolved hurts and unanswered questions to weigh me down as God lingers nearby desiring for me to fix my eyes on Him instead of my problems.
As God showed me that I treat Him like the teens had treated Cullen, He consoled me that I am not the only person guilty of this. He reminded me of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
John 4:10 tells us, “Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
“If you knew.” That is the biggest IF I have ever heard.
Jesus knew of the woman’s deep need for salvation. He traveled from Judea to reach her in Samaria yet her priorities were so singularly focused that she could only attend to the water she could drink, see, and feel. If she only knew that the Messiah had come to meet her, then she would have forgotten all about that water.
If she only knew that the gift of God is eternal life, then she would have forsaken the pattern of sin she had been perpetuating.
If those teenage girls only knew that they were speaking to an Olympian, then they would have asked to be photographed with the man instead of his car.
There is a reality occurring among us more real and more profound than our faculties comprehend.
Ezekiel 12:1-2 says, “The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people."
The Spirit of God is ever present. Are we seeing Him or are we mesmerized by things? Are we hearing Him or are empty messages pumping through our headphones? God intends to overhaul our natures, consume our thoughts, and empower our actions. He is available. Are we engaging Him?
I don’t want to go through the motions ignoring the most important part of my day, my relationship with the V.I.P. I want to acknowledge Him, experience Him, and be led by Him. In order for this to happen I must turn my life off of auto-pilot and grant the Lord my undivided attention. He deserves it and will not let me overlook the significance of any moment.
February 16, 2013
Would you like a few minutes to consider the riddle: What tool divides, breaks, and burns?
When I think about it, one tool accomplishing all three jobs seems somewhat implausible. What I need to divide, I usually don’t intend to burn after I divide it, and what I need to break I typically won’t burn. So, what tool would divide, break, AND burn?
Those are three serious jobs and when you need any one of them done, nothing else will suffice. Some things are soft and can be divided with a simple tool like a knife. You can cut the fat away from your steak. Some things are harder and you need to break them off like a dentist chips tartar from your teeth. And some things, well there’s just no good left in some things and they are better off being burned up completely, like clearing the land of a dilapidated house so you can rebuild on fresh soil. In those cases, you must light a fire and burn away the refuse.
Our conversion from sinners into saints is a process which requires different strategies, sometimes dividing, sometimes breaking, sometimes burning. God has provided the one tool which accomplishes all three.
Are there things in your life that need a little reshaping, like a potter taking a scalpel to a mound of clay?
Are there other things in your life where there is a sharp line between the harmful and the helpful which should be completely broken off?
Or is your life a pile of rubble, where a clean slate is the only solution, a total renovation?
Turn to the tool which divides, breaks, and burns.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
God’s Word, the Bible, is living and powerful. It has an agenda of its own. Just pick it up, read, and follow. You will find its instruction serves to help you divide out the thoughts and motives which are harmful to you. Which ones should stay and which ones should go? Could a new concept you have never considered be the breath of fresh air you are missing? How else will you discover where personal progress is needed unless wisdom shines its spotlight into your heart and mind? The Word of God divides like a sword.
"Is not my word like a fire?” says the Lord, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” – Jeremiah 23:29
As you practice what you learn in the Bible, it will help you break free from strongholds which have had a hold on you. You may have never recognized these strongholds before, but the Word of God will bring them to light. If dividing thoughts and emotions doesn’t satisfy what is needed, God’s Word is equipped to empower a clean break.
Breaking can be painful but it is only a transition phase, so persevere. Freedom like you have never experienced is just beyond the breaking. God must free you from the old self and the old life. Your new skin will feel sensitive at first, but it will grow strong. Cling to the Truth of the Word of God. It breaks like a hammer.
And should you find your back against a wall, where the breaking phase has not accomplished a full revolutionary work in you, then deepen your commitment. Lift higher the Word of God, honor it with your whole heart, and God’s holiness will burn away any unrighteousness remaining in you. The Refiner’s fire has laser focus on purification. Hold fast to the Word. It burns like a fire.
The Word of God was not provided to point out aspirations which cannot be achieved. God made His Word living and powerful, able to wage and win wars within you. Let the Word do its job of dividing, breaking, and burning. You will immerge as pure as gold. The Word of God has a power and purpose of its own. It never comes back void.
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” – Isaiah 55:11
February 1, 2013
17 “I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
Sometimes Death works extra hard to make its presence known. Four fathers, three brothers, one husband, and one child of people I know have left this world in the last eight weeks, most without warning. So many precious people are left behind to rebuild their worlds in the absence of a loved one they never imagined having to exist without. I have been where they are, forced to redefine my universe after tragedy. Oh, the unstable footing! The confusion. The oppressive fog of despair! It is a most bitter sentence. My heart is heavy.
19 “I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.”
I am 37 years old, five months, and four days. Why do my days keep climbing when some are called home at six years old, some 16, some 30? How long will my days keep counting or the days of my parents, my siblings and friends, the support I cannot imagine living without?
When will the roster cycle through again and I return to bat to swing blindly at redefining my universe after loss? How can I prepare? How can I reach out to steady the arm of my neighbor currently under fire of the merciless pitcher, Death?
21 “Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
for His compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:17-23
When you are deprived of peace (v.17), when all remembrance of prosperity has fled, (v.17), when splendor has vanished (v.18) and hope has shriveled and died (v. 18) – this one shining sliver can be called to mind (v.21), “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.” (v. 22)
You are not consumed! You are not! You may feel utterly crushed. It may look as if your life is in shambles. The voice in your head may tell you that all is lost. But you are not consumed. You are still breathing.
Maybe you are not doing much more than breathing, but that is okay. You have permission to do nothing but breathe. Sleep. Wake. Continue breathing. Do it again tomorrow. When rational thought returns to you, take your first swing at living armed with this encouragement,
“ . . . His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning. . .”
Motivated by compassion, God redefines your life daily as if He were starting creation from scratch just for you. God does not define life by what is not, but by what is.
Redefining a personal universe after loss is a shapeless pursuit because we can’t create structure around an absence no matter how hard we try. We want to preserve a hole in our new world shaped like the departed loved one but God says,
“No. I am not the God of the dead. Your loved one lives, I have simply relocated him. My compassions do not accommodate death. Today’s definition of life for you is new. Then when you lay your head down tonight, let that definition go. I will wake you to new compassions and introduce you to a different life tomorrow.”
God selectively redefines your life each day. The changes are often subtle, but not so subtle that you cannot discover them. Desire to see. What is today’s new compassion? How has God defined your life differently today from yesterday? These are not difficult questions.
Here is my attempt.
This morning, life is defined as sunny but cold outside. There are no clouds in the sky. I am the grateful owner of two dogs and one fish. God created them and entrusted their little lives to my care. In a few more weeks, the now naked trees in my yard will start sprouting leaves and flowering buds. Life at my house will look much different then.
I am employed and navigate the same sea of faces most days. Yet, one with a 40-year tenure at the company retired yesterday. Another is leaving at the end of next month. The definition of life even in the workplace recycles if you pause to notice.
Outside of work I interface with a small circle of people I frequently have the opportunity to bless and be blessed by. Today I will serve two of them and schedule a visit with a third. I have no children, nieces, or nephews, but God’s compassions are new every morning. Check with me next week, I may have one dog less (hope not!) or one bird more (hope so!). Check with me next month, I may have a nephew. Check with me next year, I may have a husband.
God does not distribute His compassions in universes for us to clutch, but in days for us to spend. He doesn’t allow us to construct our own universes either; no wonder that effort is so futile and fleeting. Life is not defined by what is not, but by what is the substance of today’s mercies. Tomorrow with the sunrise, His compassions will be new, and therefore, the definition of your life will also be new.
Dwell on your fresh dose of life as God has prescribed you for today. Then wake up to a new life tomorrow. It is a challenging mindset to embrace, but the secret to coping, surviving and thriving as an eager recipient of God’s compassion.