The Forgotten Guidelines

Many years ago, a skinny kid with a pickup truck and a riding lawn mower started a lawncare business. (Yes, that is him in the photo above!) A year later he got married (to me) and started a family. All the while, the company was quickly growing and the demands on his time increased exponentially. Summer droughts came and money was tight. But this kid, who soon grew into a man, was committed to two guidelines from scripture that aren’t very popular–

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10%.

We rarely hear anything about either of these anymore. Oh, every once in awhile we hear about giving–especially if there is building project in the works– but we rarely, if ever, hear about keeping the Lord’s Day.

Are these things something we have to do? Of course not. There is nothing we have to do to be saved. Some cults would teach that if you don’t keep the Sabbath, you aren’t saved. And some groups would imply that giving to their ministry is the paramount command of God. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! If that is what you are hearing, then you are in a false system.

But I do believe there are reasons to seriously consider making these two things a part of our lives. Here’s why–

Let’s look first at the Sabbath Day. When God created the world, He set a pattern to work six days and to rest on the seventh. The week, set up by God in Genesis 1, comes directly from the Bible. The author of Hebrews also references this week set up by God in Hebrews 4, carrying the idea of this rest over into the New Testament. When God specified the seventh day for rest, we know it wasn’t because He needed it. He doesn’t need to sleep or slumber. So why did He do this? I believe He did this not only for His own glory but because He knew that man would need a pattern of rest. Carm.org puts it this way–

On the seventh day, which is the Sabbath day, the day of rest, Christians cease from their work, just as God did. But where we need to be replenished, God does not.

So let’s go back to that kid for a moment. When Eric started our company, he could have easily worked 24/7. The work was there and plentiful and he was full of energy. But he had been taught that Sunday is a day of rest and chose to abide by this even as a young man going into business. As we look back now, we see how this not only provided him with the rest he so desperately needed, but perhaps even saved our marriage and family during those tough years of building the business.

The other day we were talking to a young man who has ventured out on his own to start the same type of business. As he shared about his summer, he talked about how he was working seven days a week– long days with rarely a break. We encouraged him to consider making Sundays a day of rest. For himself and for his family. Owning a company is demanding. Customers want things and they want them now. Establishing that your trucks will not leave the property on Sundays is a simple–and I believe God-given–way to take a much-needed break after a long week.

Of course, some people have jobs in which this is not possible. I do get that. But if we can do this, perhaps it is time to give this some reconsideration. How kind of God to provide this pattern in Genesis 1 that His people can follow,  providing us one day of rest from the work of the week.

So let’s move on to tithing. This one is so different from what it used to be. Or at least from what I remember it being. Growing up, I was taught that you tithe 10% to your church. Period. Oh, sure, there were some parachurch organizations that you gave to but that wasn’t where your main giving went to. It was your church. Since then, there has been an explosion of parachurch organizations. Many of these ministries are good ones and in need of funds. There is nothing wrong with giving to these. But our churches still need our 10% to function. Our pastors need their salaries, our churches have electric and oil bills and need to buy office supplies and pay their secretarial and janitorial staff. This can’t be done unless its committed members are tithing.

I heard someone once say this– “Give to your church first and then give to other organizations.” This is good advice. I remember hearing it and thinking Yes! That makes a lot of sense! I only wish I could remember who to give the credit to for this statement. Of course, this is not a biblical mandate, by any means, so this is a very personal decision that each person needs to work out on their own.

As an aside, I will add here that in the recent years we have made the choice to give only to charities that are committed to spreading the Gospel. Oh, I can’t say we don’t give $10 or $20 here and there to other charities, but we want the bulk of what we give to go towards spreading the true and unadulterated Gospel. Even many charities labeled “Christian” are not spreading the Gospel but, instead, are focused only on fixing temporal situations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with digging wells and providing medical care, but if we aren’t sharing the Gospel, then all of that work has no eternal value. It is critical to care first and foremost for their souls. We really try to make sure that this is the case for the charities we support.

But some of you are probably thinking something like this: I can’t even give 10%, much less anything over and above that.

I get that. I truly do. When we got married, we started life out with (my) college debt. We lived very meagerly in a small apartment. Every dollar counted. We didn’t have much and giving 10% of what we did have meant real sacrifice. It was difficult to place that check in the offering plate each week, but we had been taught by our parents that you give, no matter what.

And, now, looking back over all of those years, we wouldn’t change a thing. God was so faithful! He always provided for us. Always. We had some lean years but we were always able to pay our employees. We always had enough to eat. We could always pay our bills. Not always on time–but they always got paid!

So why do we tithe? We know that God doesn’t need our money. So what’s the deal? I love how Dave Ramsey puts this

So why does He ask us to give 10% to Him? Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees and employers.

Once again, we see that this is a guideline that blesses us. That it was given for our good and our benefit. What a kind God we serve. Something that would seemingly cost us a great deal actually ends up blessing us!

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10% require something from us, don’t they? They require sacrifice and discipline. But the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. We have seen this in our own lives and in the lives of others. Don’t despair if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. You can do this. I believe when we choose to honor God and the patterns He has set before us in scripture, He enables us to follow them. He will walk with us each step of the way.

 

 

How to Succeed in Business

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Twenty-six years ago, a kid, just graduated from college, loaded a used John Deere riding mower on the back of his old pick-up truck and went to work. All these years later, that kid and his bride (my husband and I) have learned a fair amount about running a business. If you are interested in starting your own company or are in the process of starting your own company, you may find these suggestions worthwhile–

1.  Have a thankful heart.  We often joke around about how we had NO idea what we were doing all those years ago. Eric didn’t go into business to make money.  He just did what he loved and what he believed the Lord was calling him to do. As his wife, I just went along for the ride. We didn’t pour over profit and loss statements or balance sheets. We probably should have done a bit more of that, but because we didn’t, we know that God has really protected and cared for us in this venture.  We have seen Him work in marvelous ways–helping us to meet payroll or feed our family in the lean years.  We try very hard to not take his grace and care for us for granted. A thankful heart, even in the midst of the hard times, is important.

2.  Plan for the worst. We try very hard not to over-stretch ourselves financially. We know that at the whim of a culture or the downturn of the dollar, our whole business could change. We keep that in mind as we determine what debt to take out. Eventually, we are trying to work it down to zero, but that takes time. However, we have made some progress and can already see some rewards of our efforts to reduce debt.

3.  Work hard. This sounds so simple, but we have noticed that there are so many who aren’t willing to put in the long hours necessary to get a business up and running. I think this is the main reason that we have been successful–because of my husband’s willingness to work hard (not mine–I don’t have near the same drive). Any success we have experienced is mostly because of the gift of hard work that God has instilled in Eric. We see so many people who want to go into business to make easy money. What they don’t realize is that the money doesn’t come easily at all and it takes a lot of hard, hard work and many, many hours. Especially those first five to ten years. Success can only be realized if you are willing to work hard.

4.  Don’t sacrifice your family. One of the things I appreciated early on was Eric’s willingness to meet the needs of his family despite the long hours. He always (aside from crazy springtime) makes time to talk to me and the kids.  He goes to sports games (most of the time) and plays basketball in the backyard. And, honestly, in our early years, one of the ways he did that was by following God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy. He kept Sundays work-free and our family is stronger because of it. Oh, don’t get me wrong–we did sacrifice as a family with dad’s long hours, but keeping the family a higher priority than the business is important for both the family and the business.

5.  Don’t give up! Persevere through the tough times.  I know sometimes people look at successful companies and assume that they just got lucky, but it’s not like that. At least it wasn’t for us. We have been through some very difficult times (and know that at any time we could go through them again). Eric just keeps going (and drags me with him, even when I feel like giving up!)  He refuses to give up and that has benefited our business over and over again.

6.  Treat your customers and employees like you would want to be treated. So often bosses treat others with condescension and harshness. We try very hard not to do that. Oh, we are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but we want our employees and customers to know that they are valued as people to us and that we realize we would not be where we are today if not for them!

7. Follow God’s way as written in His Word. We sometimes get frustrated when we watch (or hear about) other company’s taking money “under the table”, lying on tax returns, and not getting the proper licenses or insurances.  But, early on, as Christians, we made the choice to be on the “up and up” with everything we do and we have never regretted it.  We can sleep at night because we know that we are doing things as God would want us to and that is what matters most.

8. Don’t get stuck in status quo. No matter what business you find yourself, it is constantly changing. Don’t stick your heels into the ground and determine to stay where you are. That is almost a sure way to kill your company. We have ebbed and flowed with various trends through the years. We have adjusted and changed and moved, all according to where the industry was going. We continue to do this.

9.  Be Generous. Don’t hang on to any material blessing too tightly.  Use what you have to further God’s Kingdom and to support and encourage Christian brothers and sisters.

10. To God be the Glory. Sure, we may have done some things right, but we have done a whole lot more wrong. But through it all we have tried to honor God.  Any credit for any success goes to God alone.  Along with that is the realization that any success is fleeting in the scope of life. We put our future in God’s hands and trust Him completely.

These are just a few of the lessons that we have learned and put into practice over the years. When I asked Eric to read over this, his first concern was that I was bragging too much on him. And maybe it does sound like that. I do have a lot of respect for this man who is my husband. However, much of what we have learned has been through much heartache, tears, and many arguments. It was a long and difficult road.  My main desire here is to spare some of you the same grief we went through.

Many of you are not running companies, but many of these same principles can be applied to any job…any life. It is my prayer that these principles will be helpful to you, wherever you find yourself in life.

 

January Joy Challenge #2: Finding the Balance

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Balance is very important in the life of a Christian, but most of us have a very, very difficult time finding it. You see, somehow we have to find the balance between —

Accepting where the Lord has placed us

and yet,

Continuing to learn and grow from the trials

And between–

Accepting and resting in the grace of God to cover all of our sins

and yet,

Striving to be more pure and holy with each passing day

And between–

Accepting the way God has made us

and yet,

Never giving up on improving ourselves

This is all especially personal to me, because about this time in life (speaking only for myself, you understand), I am not always accepting with much of anything (just being honest here). My kids are almost grown up and I find myself nearing the end of the only full-time job I ever wanted. I don’t look like I want to look. I often don’t act or react like I think I should. I am frustrated that I haven’t progressed more as a Christian. And, a few years ago, I started to realize that happy endings are mostly in movies. Thankfully, there are a few in real life, but even those take a ton of work. Mostly, you just do the best you can with what you are given.

And, look, I have a great life. I know I do. I am not complaining–not a bit. But, somehow, I have to figure out how to accept who and where I am–right now– without giving in to complacency and apathy. And that’s what is so hard. And that’s where joy comes in.

You see, if I can’t accept the circumstances in which God has placed me or in who God created me to be, then discontent will reign in my heart, pushing out joy (Romans 9:20; Psalm 139:14; Philippians 4:11). But if I am too accepting of myself or of my circumstances, then there is no desire to change for the better, also pushing out joy (Philippians 3:12; I Corinthians 9:24-27; Romans 12:1-2) . And, so, somehow we have to find the balance.

So how exactly do we do this?  I confess I am not totally sure. But maybe we should start with this week’s challenge:

Take some time this week to do an inventory of yourself.  Think about what you don’t like about yourself or circumstances. Are they things you can change or are they outside your control?

Prayerfully, give the things you can’t control to the Lord (you know–things like the scar on your face, your husband’s horrible boss, the wayward adult child). In fact, go a step further, and thank the Lord for these things, for they have probably led you to a deeper walk with the Lord.

And then, look at the things you don’t like that you can control (things like a huge amount of debt, laziness, bad temper, extra pounds) and develop a plan to start working on them, yielding them prayerfully to the Lord.

Of course, sometimes issues get lost in the big black hole between the can control and the can’t control –things like marriages and wayward teens. Okay then, if that is the case, we do what we can do and then submit the outcome to God, praying confidently for His will to be done. After all, we know it is His will that our marriages stay together and that our teens follow hard after Him.

This challenge is a little deeper this week and a little more work, too. But, I truly believe that until we can find the balance, we will either be stuck in the land of discontent or find ourselves in the fields of laziness and apathy. May we always be striving, instead, for the life of balance, which will lead us to deeper joy.

Ms. Kinect isn’t always right

Monday’s weather was terrible. It was foggy and damp and downright ugly. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to get my normal walk in so I set up the Your Shape game on XBox Kinect.  My knee has been hurting, but I figured I could modify any exercises as needed. I enthusiastically did a few warm up and cardio routines and then decided to go ahead with a 13 minute toning routine.

3…2…1…begin. Arm up higher. Bend lower. The directions came from a mysterious female voice on the TV (I will call her Ms. Kinect) who could see my every move. I could also see my every move and was trying to match it to the “personal trainer” moving beside me on the screen. If you haven’t experienced seeing yourself on Kinect you are missing out. Well, not really. But the technology is pretty incredible. You can actually see yourself on the screen of your TV. Do you remember the old Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie? If you do, then you will remember Mike TV who ended up shrinking to fit into the TV. Well, that’s what you look like on XBox Kinect. It really is pretty amazing. ANYWAY…

I started doing this toning routine. But it started hurting my knee (and it was a little too hard for me because I’m a bit out of shape, but we’ll just say my knee hurt…!) so I started making up my own modified versions of some of the exercises. I started moving my arms up when the TV trainer’s were down and moving my leg forward when the TV trainer’s leg was behind him. We weren’t in sync at all.

Imagine my surprise when I heard Ms. Kinect say “Bravo!” quite enthusiastically!  She went on to say things like “Good Job!” and “Way to go!” all the while praising me for following my TV trainer so impressively.

It made me laugh because I wasn’t following the trainer at all! To her credit, she did catch my errors a few times.

Oh, my. It made me think. Like usual.

Just because someone says “Bravo!” doesn’t mean it’s true. We can always find someone to say what we want them to say.

If we want to get divorced, we will be able to find someone to say “Absolutely! You deserve to be happy!”

If we want to buy an expensive car or television on credit, we will be able to find someone who says “Yes, what a great idea!”

If we want to involve ourselves in the wrong entertainment, there is always someone saying, “Yes, let’s do it! Let’s go! It will be so much fun!”

So, it would seem to me we’d better seek wise counsel, instead of listening to just anyone. Proverbs contains many verses encouraging us to seek wise and righteous counsel. So how do we know if it’s wise counsel? Here are a few tips to help us–

1. First and foremost, does the counselor’s advice match up with the Word of God? If the counsel is full of just their own opinion without any scripture to back it up, how in the world can we know if it is worthy of following?

2. Is the person counseling us striving to live a holy, righteous life? If they aren’t, then it means they are not walking with God. Notice I didn’t say “perfect life”. It is not about being perfect, but about a desire to walk with God in holiness and purity. If someone is not trying to please God with their life, they will not know how to counsel wisely, because they don’t know Him at all.

3. Let’s be extra cautious if the counselor says exactly what we want them to. There are many people-pleasers who say something just so they will make us happy and no one will be mad at them. These people are not the ones we want to go to for wise counsel. Only those who will tell us the truth are worthy counselors.  Only those brave enough to be honest can be trusted.

These are three things to be on the look-out for when seeking wise counsel for any problem, large or small.

By the way, when I use the term “counsel” I am not necessarily talking about professional counselors. We are all counselors, whether it be to our own kids or our friends or our co-workers. And so, let’s not only seek to find wise counsel, but also to give wise counsel.

This world is full of people-pleasers not willing to tell the truth. It’s full of “counselors” telling others to make themselves happy, no matter the cost.

But just because they are saying it, doesn’t mean it is true. When I heard Ms. Kinect’s words, it was easy. I knew that her words were false praise. I obviously wasn’t doing the right thing. It’s not always so easy in life. But we are called to be discerning and to have a heart ready to listen to wise counsel, whether we like the advice or not. Let’s keep our focus on God’s Word and listen to those who also make it a priority in their lives. And let’s be people who are qualified to give wise counsel– walking with God and willing to tell the truth.

Proverbs 1:5  A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.

Proverbs 12:5  The thoughts of the righteous are right, But the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.

Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.

Proverbs 19:20 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, That you may be wise in your latter days.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: For the Man Who Hated Christmas

This is the second installment of short stories for December’s Wednesday Wisdom. Many of us desire a better way to celebrate this season. Something that goes beyond the commercialization and self-indulgence that is so popular. This family thought of a great way. I thought it worth presenting here. I don’t know for sure if this is a true story, although my guess is that it is. 

____________

 It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.

Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope. Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.

 Christmas Stories: For the Man Who Hated Christmas By Nancy W. Gavin (found here)

Wednesday Wisdom: The Power of a Habit

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or your heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half the things you do, you might just as well turn over to me,
and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done, and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great men.
And, alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine.
Plus, the intelligence of a man.
You may run me for profit, or run me for ruin; it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will put the world at your feet.
Be easy with me, and I will destroy you.
Who am I?

I am a HABIT!

I could not find the author of this profound bit of writing, but when I heard it the other day it struck a chord with me. How many consequences could we avoid by simply changing a habit?  It is so simple, but yet it is so difficult. I can think of several small habits that, if I could change them, would yield tremendous rewards in my life. How about you? 

 

Intentional Christmas

Thanksgiving has come and gone and that can only mean one thing–it’s time to enjoy Christmas!  But do we truly enjoy it? Or do we often end up enduring it? And if we are only enduring Christmas, how do we move from endure to enjoy?  I know lots of people have a variety of thoughts on this.  Some will tell you to just stop sending Christmas cards or to only buy three gifts for your children.  Others talk of not making cookies or of cutting down on their decorations.  But what works for someone else may not work for you. Here are five basic ways that will help anyone enjoy– rather than endure– the Christmas season.

1.  Worry most about what God thinks. Family comes second.  Co-workers, cousins, and others come a distant third. This makes a choice between a work dinner and your child’s program so much easier. It also helps to clarify when choosing between Christmas Eve service at church or a get-together with friends. Oh, I know it’s not that simple and sometimes circumstances dictate certain choices. But this principle can be a helpful starting point.

2.  Examine which traditions you enjoy most and keep doing them. Do you love to bake Christmas cookies? Or perhaps you receive tremendous joy from seeing your house lit up on a dark winter’s night? Others enjoy sending out Christmas cards and making homemade ornaments and shopping for others.  Whatever it is, choose what you love and keep doing it!  Some of you are truly energized by doing it all and there is no detriment to your family life. If that’s the case, good for you!  But if there is something that just isn’t important to you or your family–well, then consider not doing it. The world will not end if you don’t bake Christmas cookies or hang Christmas lights outside.

3.  Ignore the voices around you and mind your own business. You will hear people this time of year start complaining about how much money is spent on gifts or how many lights so-and-so put up or how much food Mrs.______ makes or –you name it–people always find things to criticize. The glorious fact is that the there are truly only a couple of opinions that matter. They are God’s and your family’s. When criticism comes your way, contemplate it for just a moment. If it makes sense, do something about it. But if it doesn’t, just ignore it. On the flip side, provide the same courtesy to others around you. If your neighbor chooses to put up the most beautiful, homemade garland around her door, don’t mutter about the waste of time but, instead, be sure to tell her how amazing it looks! And if the neighbor on the other side chooses not to put out one single decoration, then leave them to make that decision without any criticism from you.

4.  Keep the focus on Jesus. Jesus truly is the reason for the season if we are Christians. But, more and more increasingly, Jesus is not part of the world’s Christmas, where they instead turn their attention to Santa, elves, and occasionally talking animals or angels.  But we have a responsibility to keep Jesus the center of our season.  Whether we are buying gifts or making Christmas cookies or choosing what entertainment to include in our Christmas season, we must remember that we are celebrating because Jesus came to earth to provide a way for us to be saved from our sins. We, of all people, have a true and incredible reason to celebrate!

5. Don’t throw real life routine completely out the window.  We have to be careful we don’t get so busy that we stop having our devotions.  We are not at our best if we are not spending time each day with the Lord. And we need to continue to exercise and eat properly and stick to our budgets. Life doesn’t stop for a month, and if we pretend like it does, we will have consequences to pay on January 1.

So there you have it–a few simple ways to make sure that we enjoy this Christmas season, rather than endure it.  Merry Christmas!

Who Do You Look Like?

When my son was just a little boy, he used to play little league baseball. One day, as I was chatting on the sidelines with one of the moms, she said something like this, “Oh, I know who you look like! I have been trying to think of who you look like and now I have figured it out!” I looked at her, very curious to hear who she thought I resembled. Her next words could have knocked me over with a feather.

“You look just like Cindy Crawford!”

What?? That is the first (and last!) time that anyone has ever compared me to a beautiful model.  But I certainly felt honored. I knew this was a situation where she had no need to flatter or impress me, so I knew she had said it sincerely.

As I remembered this incident the other day, I thought about how my heart’s desire shouldn’t be for people to tell me I look like Cindy Crawford (or any other well-known, gorgeous woman) but, instead, to tell me that I look like Jesus.

Now, while I will never resemble Jesus physically, as he is a man from the middle east, I can resemble him by my actions. As we grow in Christ, we should grow more and more like Him.

Stop and take a minute to think about your life. I know for my own life, there are many areas in which I haven’t resembled Jesus at all.

Here are a few areas for us to think about —

1. Do I look like Jesus in how I love others? Look, anyone can feed orphans or go on a mission trip. I am not talking about the socially acceptable “love for others”, I am talking about the love for others we show in our everyday world.  The reactions and choices we make around our families and in our daily living. When a spouse needs some help and we are lying comfortably on the sofa, do we get up? When there is an interruption to a favorite TV show, do we grow quickly frustrated? When we are in a long line at the store, do we give the clerk an angry look or shower her with frustrated words? If someone criticizes you, do you grow defensive or hold a grudge? All of these are just normal, everyday occurrences, where we have the opportunity to look like Jesus…or not.

2. Do I look like Jesus in what I choose to do with my time? This question covers a lot of ground, doesn’t it? Would Jesus spend so much time on _________? (you fill in the blank with your favorite, time-consuming hobby or pastime). Would Jesus spend so many hours doing this, if there is no eternal value? Of course, there is nothing wrong with hobbies, but we do need to keep it all balanced. It also covers this question: do I spend my precious hours on entertainment that will make others think of Jesus? Or do I waste hours and hours on movies, video games, and listening to music that is against everything my precious Savior stands for?

3. Do I look like Jesus in the area of self-disicpline? This is a challenging question that encompasses two big areas: money and food. I covered the question of food in my recent post entitled The Sin No One Wants to Talk About, so I will move on to the other area– money. This is a challenging one. Money is one of those things where we can hide our true state of affairs. In this age of credit and debt, no one really knows how anyone is doing financially until they completely crash and burn. But, whether we make a little or a lot, we need to ask ourselves if we look like Jesus in how we spend our money. Are we focused on the here and now or are we focused on the eternal? Jesus was very clearly focused on the eternal, which is clear in scripture. So, in order to grow more like Christ, my priorities should be the same.

4. Do I look like Jesus in the words I speak? Words are so powerful. They can cut to the core. I have always thought that the old adage “sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me,” to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Word do hurt– dreadfully. Whether we are talking about someone else behind his back (otherwise known as gossip) or are short-tempered and unkind to someone’s face, words are one of the quickest ways to tell if we resemble Jesus.

 

I don’t know about you, but I see much room for growth in many areas of my own life. In fact, I feel like the older I get, the more work I see ahead of me. But when I look back, I also see that I have come so far. And so, I will keep on going. I know I may not look like Cindy Crawford anymore — it is my guess that, to most people, I never did in the first place — but oh, how I hope I resemble Jesus more and more as I grow older.

I Peter 2:5-11

 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Buzzing Fly

I was reading in my bed.  It was after 10:30 pm and I was comfortably snuggled in for the night with book in hand.  That is, until the fly came around. You know the kind I mean – the kind that buzz around your head loudly and incessantly and move so quickly you can hardly spot them.  At first, I tried to ignore it.  But it was impossible.  It seemed to have some special attraction for my head and would not go away. Irritation set in.  Why now?  Why won’t it just go away? But I got myself out of bed and grabbed a fly swatter and then set up watch.

I am glad no one was watching, because I am sure I looked ridiculous standing there in my pajamas with a fly swatter poised up in the air, just waiting for the annoying fly to land somewhere.  This went on for several minutes but the thing never landed.  It just flew quickly to and fro.

But then I stopped to listen.  I didn’t hear any buzzing.  Perhaps it had left?  I looked around in the light shed by just a single lamp in the room. I couldn’t see it.  I couldn’t hear it.  I sighed and climbed back in bed, the fly swatter within arms’ length, just in case.

I started reading again and enjoyed a few moments of peace and quiet.  A few moments.  Until that crazy fly returned, ruining my peace once again.

This reminds me so much of how it works with problems we don’t want to deal with. We are comfortable…but then our teenager says something worrisome or we hear something disturbing about a family member.  Oh well, perhaps it’s nothing to worry about.  And then we hear something else or perhaps someone even comes to talk to us about a problem they see.  But we don’t want to rock the boat and so the buzzing continues. And then, quite suddenly, the buzzing goes away for awhile and we think the problem has disappeared.  Just about the time we are starting to let our guard down, it shows up again, worse than ever.

You see, most problems won’t just disappear.  If we don’t face them head on, they are not only likely to come back around, they are probably going to get worse.  Unlike a fly that is limited in the damage it can do and is simply an annoyance with a really short life span, problems can blossom into huge things that will change our lives, if we aren’t careful.

A teenager that is interested in an unbeliever can turn into a troubled marriage.

A young adult who gives no care to a budget can turn into a debt-laden adult, struggling to just survive.

A person who gives in to their passion for eating can turn into an obese person who can’t fit in airplane seats or amusement park rides.

A teenager that hangs around with the wrong friends can turn into a pregnant teen or drug user.

A husband that spends too much time online has become the cause of many a divorce.

A wife that flirts with a co-worker becomes the beginning of an affair.

These are just a few of the scenarios that play themselves out if we don’t deal with issues head on.  It is so much easier, in the short-term, to just bury our heads in the sand.  But, oh, the devastating consequences of not dealing with things when they are manageable, instead of waiting until it is almost too late (for nothing is ever “too late” for God).

Of course, there are some times when it is better to wait it out and practice patience while we watch and pray.  And so that is the tricky place we find ourselves in.  But, let’s remember, that watching and praying is doing something, too.

What we don’t want to do is simply ignore problems.

As for that fly, I can’t even remember what happened (isn’t that pathetic?! the sad truth about my 40-something memory) But whatever happened, it did teach me a lesson that evening.

Getting Dropped

Watching our car go up in smoke

I read through the letter in my hand. Disbelief was first. Then came anger. And, finally, resignation. After all, what could we do?  What I was looking at was a letter from the auto insurance company we had been with for over 20 years. I held a letter stating that they were dropping our family due to two cars being totaled within two years. Really? These were the first big accidents that had occurred in our family in all of those years. Apparently that doesn’t matter in the auto insurance world.

And, suddenly, we were on the hunt for a new auto insurance company, which wasn’t going to be easy given that we were just “dropped” by our former company. I called a couple of different agents and they started running the numbers. It wasn’t looking great. Finally, I got a call with a pretty decent number. The estimate was e-mailed and as I went over it my eyes slid to the words “6 month policy”. Oh, great. No wonder the number was decent – it was only for 6 months. So that meant the quoted number was multiplied times two for what looked like a pretty outrageous yearly rate.

Frustration set in. It just didn’t seem fair. In fact, when the agent called me about setting up the policy I started complaining about  how unfair life is in the insurance world. She kindly said she understood and the conversation continued on like that for a moment.

And then, all of a sudden, I stopped. It dawned on me that we are all still alive after two serious accidents. It really was amazing that we walked away without injuries or even death. And then I thought of something else to be thankful for: we can afford to pay the new policy. Oh, we don’t like it and it is annoying…but we can afford it. I was ashamed. I was complaining when I should have been thanking the Lord, once again, for sparing my family in not one, but two, accidents. I should have been thanking the Lord that we were not making a choice between driving and eating.

Oftentimes the irritations we face in life are such small trials in the scope of life. They are inconvenient and annoying. We view them as major trials because they take us out of our comfort zones and force us to go a different direction than we wanted to go. Meanwhile, all around us, are people who are going through what I would call real trials – a loved one with cancer, a birth defect that changes everything, or the loss of a job and questions about survival, just to name a few.

James 1:2 tells us to count it all joy when you fall into various trials. We all face various trials – some are very small and some are very large. But through it all, it is very important to keep perspective and a thankful heart. Many of the small trials grow very dim in the light of the many blessings we have.

And so our family is paying an exorbitant amount for auto insurance this year. But we are all alive and it won’t keep us from eating so I am thankful!