Squashing the selfishness

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“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” James 4:14-16

Well if this scripture didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks, I don’t know what will. Envy, jealousy, selfishness – all the exact opposites of my Word, sacrifice. All issues I have or am still struggling with. And the Bible calls them earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Can you say conviction?

As a blogger, writer, speaker, Bible study leader – it is easy to have selfish motives. In fact, ministry is one of the best places to hide selfish motives of fame and mask them as Holy. How do I know? Because I have been there.

As my blog began to gain followers, visions of a Beth Mooore-ish ministry popped in my head. Everyone would know my name. I would be famous if I just worked hard enough, made the right connections, and learned the industry. It’s sick, really, when you think about it. Seeking my own glory while touting the name of Jesus. And I didn’t even realize I was doing it until The Lord yanked me back. He pulled me back from ministry just long enough to show me my sin.

And you know the amazing thing about The Lord is that He forgives. He didn’t ban me from ministry because selfishness was getting the best of me. He simply pulled me home, led me to repentance, and beckoned my heart towards action.

And part of that action is sacrifice. It is the bare, raw, basting of myself in sacrificial-daily-action based practices.

It’s what I must do. I must make choices to not only write about and speak about His Word, but act upon it. And what acting upon it looks like has changed. Acting in sacrifice for me is not a speaking engagement or working on a book proposal – it is cooking dinner for a friend or helping an elderly woman or homeless child with menial everyday tasks. These are my sacrifices of praise. Thanksgiving to the God who has afforded me infinite blessings.

It’s day 3 of 30 days of sacrifice…already my heart is changing. Obedience is shaping and untwisting the selfish wrinkles of sin that mask dark places in my heart. It brings with it rejuvenation, light, and blessings. And yet battle has just begun.

Jealous, self serving envy is bound to creep its ugly head up a few more times before getting squashed. But The Lord is faithful. He has won. I will fight with Him and we will win. Sacrificing all the while.

Lip service or life service…

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“Praise of God in word and deed are inseparable. Lip service must be accompanied by life service.” Unknown

Lip service is nice. I like it. I like to be able to sound all warm and fluffy and not be tested on it. Words speak easy. Actions require a denser dependence.

When a sister is called to act, she is forced to trust. To go beyond what is natural. To surrender. And ultimately to choose sacrifice.

Sacrifice is not a choice I am capable of on my own. I don’t come by it naturally. My fleshy will fights me every step of the way. And I’m tempted to forget….

To “forget” what God asked me to do.

To “forget” the homeless man on the corner.

And even to “forget” to read the Bible at times with my children so I can get in bed a few minutes earlier.

I tend to forget a lot. And I imagine that’s why The Lord warns us so specifically…

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

The Lord called me to a sacrifice today that I wanted to “forget”. I wanted Him to mention something else…something easier to sacrifice. It’s Saturday after all. This was not how I had planned my Saturday, but He helped me obey.

I’m not going to say a miracle happened because I was obedient. God didn’t reach down out of the sky and place a crown on my head and a million dollars in my hand. But I did feel good. I felt obedient. And that feels good. And with such sacrifices, the Bible tells me He is pleased. And to know we have the ability to turn up the corners of the Lord’s mouth makes me giddy. And maybe I even turned up the mouths of a few others. And so I know that, yes, sacrifice is worth it.

And so 30 days of sacrifice begins…

flake

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16

It holds a monetary value of about ten cents. A tiny plastic snowflake. Purchased from Wal-Mart. Nothing special. Just a sparkly filler for a spot on the Christmas tree. Not worth much of anything, until offered as a sacrifice.

As I laid in bed this morning, said snowflakes caught my eye.

Give them to your children”, the Spirit prompted me.

“Tell them how intricate, unique, and valuable each and every snow flake is, and how their Father created them with such care. Valuable, exceptional, and unique.”

And so I did. It may not have meant much, but the attentiveness of the stare as I gifted each snowflake, said it meant something. It may be soon forgotten, but I pray it is not.

Why is this a sacrifice you ask?

Because it was done as an act of worship and obedience. It seemed a little awkward and weird to do. Sacrifice often does. A King born in a manger…not what we would expect. But He was born as a sacrifice, from birth to death, He came to save us.

Because sacrifice is my word of the year, I want to immerse myself in it. I want to live out every aspect of it. I want to study sacrifice. Internalize it.

Grant it, I will never know sacrifice as intense as my Lord who paid the ultimate price, but I desire just a glimpse of Holy that I might know Him more. Each small sacrifice, obedient step I take, I pray will bring me further towards understanding love that was born to die.

Thirty days of sacrifice. That’s what I commit to. What will it look like? I have no idea. But I will share with you here, and maybe the Lord will lead you on your own journey. With sacrifice…with your own “word” for the year…with whatever He speaks into your heart.

So let it begin…for me with 2 Wal-Mart snowflakes…so simple…and yet it began so long ago with a baby in a manger…so very simple…but when simple becomes sacrifice…well Hallelujah…love comes to set us free.

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The King who comes down…

“Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” Leviticus 9:24

And it came down. The sacrifice carefully selected. Prepared to specification. Offered up. And The Lord came down.

When The Lord prompts me in the area of sacrifice, I become fearful. What will I give up Lord? Will I be able to give my best? Or will I hold back and offer You scraps? Lord, am I even capable of sacrifice?

At times I am so consumed with the taking up that I neglect to contemplate the coming down.

When the Israelites offered up a proper sacrifice, The Lord was faithful to come down. To make His presence known in a mighty way. Fire. All consuming fire. And when they saw it, shouts for joy! Then they fell face down. Worshiping the King. The King who comes down.

Sacrifice means obedience. It’s not about what we give up, but more about the willingness to lay it on the alter. To allow the area to be consumed with Holy fire, and what is not of The Lord – burned off to ash. The willingness to allow His fire to separate what we love into piles of Holy and chaff. To consume our most coveted places as we offer up, and allow Him space to come down.

Please Lord, help us know where – how – and what to offer. Show us the sacrifice and let us not be afraid to bleed. Come down and consume the wasted spaces leaving Holy fire to remind us of You as we fall face down. No one compares to Your Glory. No other fire so cleansing. No other fire are we strengthened to endure, but Yours Lord. Come down. In Your Holy Name we pray, Amen

Sacrifice…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

I wonder what it looks like to sacrifice. I wonder what it looked like from the vantage point of Christ. A sacrifice in full view of God’s mercy. To look upon His greatness and lay it all down, knowing that with all of this, He saves.

I wonder what it would look like if I sacrificed? A sacrifice of obedience given in the view of knowing His will is best. That following advance directives of a Holy King is far more beneficial than the longings of a tainted heart and wandering mind.

And so love and sacrifice hold blessed hands. And this is the word The Lord asks that I focus on this year. Sacrifice. Not just what I might choose to sacrifice. But obedient sacrifices that lead to living with purpose. Sacrifices of praise for what has already come, the gifts unnoticed, but no less divine.

We are urged by our brother to do this thing. To be this living sacrifice. Urged. Pushed forward. Asked with longing so that we might meet our Lord on the road to glory. That we might see a small glimpse of His Holy Splendor while still living.

Obedience washing over us until His purpose is evident not only to us, but to those around us. That they might also catch a glimpse of glory. The ultimate bling, shiny with righteous splendor.

My sacrifices, though paltry evidence compared to His greatness, are necessary to the obedient walk. Anything I might sacrifice will not meet the need for my heart to be saved.

But the choosing to sacrifice my heart to His will, this is a choice He has empowered me with. The right to choose His splendid forgiveness. To accept His sacrificial offering poured out for me. To love Him and let Him teach me about love. To choose Him over my flesh. That’s my sacrifice. A year committed to Him. A year of hoping small offerings will lead to a lifetime of more steadily praising His name.

Counsel was and is well worth it…

One of the hardest things about counseling is that you have to leave the counselor. If you have a good relationship with him/her, this can be super difficult. I remember waiting all week between sessions, saving my anxieties, worries, and cares up in a notebook only to have a mere hour to spill them out. And what if I forgot something? I would either have to call or text her, or wait until next week.

Now things are this way in counseling for a reason. As a counselor myself, I know that this is part of teaching boundaries and promoting growth and problem solving. However, many times I disregarded what I knew about counseling boundaries and got downright angry and upset that she couldn’t be there to help me with my issue NOW!

It’s been a few years since I have been in counseling. That’s weird to say, because at times it feels like yesterday. But I do not walk alone. My sweet and beautiful Christian counselor trained me to become dependent on the One counselor who never leaves, Jesus.

Psalm 16:7 puts it this way, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

I will not be shaken. Life does some shaking doesn’t it? Especially over the last week, our entire country has been shaken. We shake. Our children shake. Shaken is how we live in times such as these. But God’s Word says that with Him at our right hand – we will not be shaken.

Every time my world would shake, I wanted my counselor. She would place my hand with Jesus and send me on my way. It was painful at first, but she was training me to stick with Jesus. The one counselor who is never busy or tired at 2AM. The One who always has an appointment available, without any wait. He gets me in immediately, and doesn’t even charge a fee.

I pray this is the type of counselor I am. The one who places misdirected hands back into the arms of Jesus. Counseling is good and necessary, but only Jesus saves. His is the only hand that never shakes.

And, so maybe you are in counseling right now – or even thinking about going. I could not encourage you more to do so, or to continue going. The counsel I received has allowed Christ to transform my heart and mind. The Christian counsel my husband and I received as a couple saved our marriage. I couldn’t be more thankful. And yet I still go, just in a different way. My husband and I still go, just in a different way. It’s time for us to simply rely on what we have learned and fall hard at the feet of Jesus – our Wonderful Counselor.

If you are frustrated and tired, and haven’t found a Christian counselor you fit with, don’t give up. The search is worth it. If you are sad and depressed and counseling seems pointless, keep going, it’s worth it. And ultimately, rely on The Lord to pick you up in the good and the bad. He’s at your right hand…unshaken.

Praise Him, say what?

“Rejoice in The Lord?”, she said.

What could there possibly be to rejoice in? It’s a lovely thought, but not reality.

A praise fashioned from her heart would seem material, fabricated, fake. Nothing but genuine angst filled her spirit. Why even try to rejoice when all that is natural is tears and sadness.

How is it that we rejoice when the ball seems to constantly miss the goal and our shots have run out? It seems pointless. Hopeless. Senseless. Dare I say, stupid. It even seems stupid.

Direct rejection of reality that moves itself in the direction of faith is a flawless lamp to His feet. When rejection seems inevitable, it’s the very moment when praises need be embraced and accepted. Not just righteously and piously rolling off of our tongues in a fashion fit for an audience. But praises fraught with tears coined from a battle hard fought with life. Praises sacrificially derived from monstrous circumstances not even yet overcome.

But hope runs near. Where praise is, joy is not far behind. Seemingly insurmountable circumstances grant themselves possible in the midst if ballsy praise. And yes this Christian girl did just use the word ballsy.

Psalm 64:10 seems to say it best.

Let the righteous rejoice in The Lord and take refuge in Him; let all the upright in heart praise Him.”

Righteous and upright may seem a bit off the mark to describe the state of our current hearts and minds, but Jesus makes them so. And so sacrifices are lifted from a gut twisted wrenching heart. Praises no other human could fathom offering because they were meant to be uttered by you.

Why can you praise The Lord in the midst of cancer? Because this praise was made for you. Why can you praise The Lord after burying a child? Because this praise can only be given by you. Why praise The Lord with the loss of every conceivable stable person you have known? Because The Lord said praise. And take refuge.

Refuge in Him. Refuge among the baggage. Refuge at the foot of the cross. Refuge in freedom. Refuge and praise. Redemption from pain. Joy born to die and rise again. Refuge and praise in Him.

Free from anger…

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

A spirit of anger seems to infiltrate our family at times. I am convinced it strongly dwells in the backseat of my car. The invisible line never seems to keep my children from “poking” or “prodding” at each other, ending in a berate of screaming he/she touched me! Then either myself of my husband begins screaming for them to stop it and before too long there is crying and name calling and well…let the circus begin.

I’ve never really been that cognizant or concerned about anger until the tragedy occurred this past Friday. I couldn’t help but think about how much anger and hatred had to be dwelling in the young man’s heart who took so many lives? What made him so angry? What makes me angry? What makes my children angry? What makes my husband angry? And I began to realize how big of a price tag anger carries.

Anger wounds relationships. Builds walls. Isolates . Buries. And ultimately, it destructs.

Never has there been a more important time for us to shield our families and ourselves from a spirit of anger.

Anger can spring forth for so many reasons. Unfortunately we cannot control everything that will happen in our lives. Things will happen that make us angry. And it is okay and normal to feel angry for a moment. However we must not let it grow into sin and bitterness. It is our job as parents to teach our children how to cope with anger so that explosive energy goes not build up. Even more it is our job as a family to live transformed. We were set free that we might be undone of anger, we don’t just have to learn to cope with it, we can be set free from it.

Because of the destructive nature of anger, we have decided to pray against a spirit of anger in our family. It hasn’t disappeared yet, but I know it’s on its way out. Perhaps the most difficult struggle will be for my son. He has a lot that he could choose to be angry about. He struggles in school, he stutters, he is diagnosed with intellectual disability, possibly Asperger’s, and sometimes people aren’t very nice to him. But he has a choice, and as his parents we also have a choice. We can choose to watch the anger grow in him or we can teach him how to be a leader despite his circumstances.

Knitting our family tight into the word of God and close into each other is the greatest weapon we have against the anger behind things such as the tragedy last Friday. Would you like to join me? Let’s pray against the stronghold of anger in our family, our friends, and our country. We were made for more than “managing” our anger. God holds us with His righteous right hand above anger and offers forgiveness that anger may not just be managed, but that we might be set free.

Praying peace in the light of brokenness…

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

I turned to the news last night. Not to catch a glimpse of the mass tragedy, but for a weather update. And, yet, there it was. My children began asking questions before I could turn away.

I answered them as best I could. Telling them something really bad happened at a school today. That many people were very sad. I know they caught more details than that, but these were the only words I could come up with.

Fast forward to 7AM this morning. Lauren stumbled teary eyed out of her bedroom. She had a bad dream. She curled up on my lap and began to describe the nightmare. A bad man had come in her school and tried to shoot her. It broke my heart. I spoke a few reassurances over her, held her tight, and began to pray. I prayed for peace that surpasses all understanding to calm her innocent heart and mind.

I was shocked as I immediately felt the tension melt out of her little body. Quickly she drifted back to sleep. And a peace came over the both of us that could only be the hand of God.

Sometimes I pray for peace in the impossible as an act of obedience. It is what Christians are supposed to do. I have no real expectation that He is even capable of answering.

As I prayed, I didn’t expect an instant divine calm to spread over my daughter, but it did. I don’t expect the parents and children closest to this horrific tragedy to find peace. It’s impossible.

But isn’t that what His mighty hand is in the business of doing? The impossible? Please join me in praying for peace for these families and for our own families. We pray out of obedience. It’s what we are called to do. But let’s not stop there. Lets expect peace, and pray like we mean it.

Offer it up…

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:15-16

I’ve never been much for sacrifice. We always had more than enough growing up. I was an only child. You can imagine the shock when I married and began living on college student income. My world flipped upside down. No more designer jeans…paying for our own gas, our own food…I was so frustrated. It didn’t seem right. I couldn’t afford the luxuries I once had.

Being the inovater that I was, I found ways around it. Credit card companies were happy to indulge me with plentiful credit limits, and I was happy to shop. That is, until the bills began stacking higher and higher. Before I knew it I was making decisions between making credit card payments or buying food and paying bills. I made a huge mess of my credit, and am still paying the price years later.

Just the past year we began the Dave Ramsey cash envelope system and RELUCTANTLY, I am learning the art of sacrifice. If it’s not in the envolope, I don’t have it. Sometimes I throw nasty, ugly fits. I get downright angry when I can’t have what I want. You would think working with people in poverty would cure me of the greed disease, but it hasn’t. I still want more – more – more.

And so this very appropriate time of year, I am learning even more the art of sacrifice. Spending hours and hours crammed in a small dressing room will do that to you. Lauren and I both sacrifice for what she loves, ballet. She seems so young to understand this concept so well. She knows that if she chooses to say yes to dance, she will have to say no to other things, and she is okay with that. And so am I.

Maybe that is what was meant when the Bible says a sacrifice of praise….

If we choose to say yes to praise we must say no to other things

 Complaining, bitterness, anger, blaming, selfishness, rage…

It’s hard to praise when you don’t feel like it. When everything in you screams that things are not okay. And yet that is exactly what He calls us to do. Sacrifice is not about what He is asking you to leave behind, it is about what He is asking you to give up…to offer up with open hands to Him.

 

Will our hands contain bitterness…or will they contain praise?

 

Will we come to His throne with thanksgiving in our hearts…or a self-rightous spirit on our lips?

 

Learning to sacrifice is difficult, no doubts. But today let’s focus not on what He is asking us to leave behind but rather what He is asking us to offer up…