Wear Your Own Clothes

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Could it be a Batman and Bale sighting in Vegas?  Alas, it is only several of the army of celebrity impersonators

Could it be a Batman and Bale sighting in Vegas? Alas, it is only several of the army of celebrity impersonators.

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic.  He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.  David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.  “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.”  So he took them off. – (1 Samuel 17: 39-40) (NIV)

I am writing this blog post in Las Vegas while attending the New Media Expo Conference.   Las Vegas is known for many things.  Before your mind wanders down unintended corridors, what I’m referring to in this case are the slew of celebrity impersonators — everyone from Elvis, to Marilyn Monroe to Michael Jackson.  Some impersonators have gone to great lengths, including cosmetic surgery to pull of their grand illusions.  While we might admire their skill, dedication and uncanny ability to mimic, in the back of our minds we know we are see imitators and not the genuine article.  We are left longing for the authentic.

The scripture above is from the almost universally known story of David and Goliath.   Even atheists use the idiom, “David versus Goliath” to describe a situation when there are opposing forces and one side has a seemingly overwhelming advantage over the other.  Although David killed the giant with a well struck stone hurled from his sling, the sling was not the first weapon placed in David’s hand.  David was first given Saul’s sword along with his armor and helmet.   Scripture tells us that Saul was a head taller that his countrymen (1 Samuel 9:2).  David was not yet an adult (1 Samuel 17:34).   He must have looked like Tom Hanks in the Movie, “Big” when he transformed from being an adult back to a kid but was left wearing his adult clothes.  David quickly realized that Saul’s armor did not fit him.  If David was going to be successful against Goliath he would have to do on his own terms using the weapon that God allowed his to master.  Before taking on Goliath, David recounted his past victories over a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:36).   The Bible does not state, so we cannot say empathetically, but we can surmise in these instances that David’s weapon of choice was his sling.

We all know the outcome of the story.  David’s skillfully flung stone found its mark embedding deeply in Saul’s forehead.  “So David triumphed over the Philistine [Goliath] with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him (1 Samuel 17:50) (NIV).  What if David had attempted to kill Saul with a sword? He would have likely failed miserably.   A sword is an effective weapon when used in close quarters.  Goliath dwarfed David and it highly improbable that David would have been able to get so close as to wield a lethal blow.  On the contrary, a sling is most effective when there is a bit of distance between the person using it and the intended target.

What is the lesson for us in this? God has created us all from the same basic building blocks, but has   arranged the blocks in such a way that we are each a one of kind, unique design.  Even identical twins who share the same genetic makeup do not have the same fingerprints!  God has gifted each of us with unique skills, abilities, temperaments and personalities.  We can all learn from and attempt to emulate the positive traits of role models, but we must apply these lessons in our own way.   We must each wear our own clothes!  You might earn a living being a member of a cover band, but doing so does not add any “new material.” Cover bands do not leave a legacy.  If you want to leave your mark on the body of Christ and the world at large, be the authentic, one of kind creation God intended you to be!

The Invisible Fence

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Dogs-Contained-Invisible-Fence-Sign-K-8743

So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground – Matthew 25:25a (NIV)

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Do you know what an invisible fence is?  If you live in a suburban or rural area in United States, you likely do.   An invisible “fence” consists of a wire buried around the perimeter of a yard.  The wire transmits a mild static electric shock to a receiver located in a dog collar.  Any time a dog wearing a receiver-equipped collar approaches the fence, the dog receives an uncomfortable, but nonlethal,  shock.  After a short time, with the assistance of a trainer, the dog learns where the boundaries of the fence are located and stays confined therein.

Over the last several days, I’ve been reflecting on 2012.  By some measures, it was a pretty pedestrian year, a cocktail of successes, failures, victories, defeats, breakthroughs and setbacks.  My career went a little sideways, but it was that movement that really caused me to embrace my true passion (see my previous blog entry, Are You Making Tent or Pursuing Your Calling?).  After a previously aborted attempt, I got serious about blogging consistently, writing 26 posts.  I got to travel more for pleasure than I have in recent memory, including a family vacation with my brother and in his family to the St. John in the US Virgin Islands.  (That is certainly not our “typical” family vacation.)

I looked back at the things I failed to accomplish last year for clues as to their root causes.  Was I constrained by other people, finances or health?  No.  In the vast majority of cases the answer was one four letter word beginning with an “f”- “fear.”  I had erected my own invisible fence of fear.   I allowed feelings of anxiety and in some cases dread to keep my within a confined space.  I allowed fear to “train” me like a dog wearing a receiver-embedded collar.  There are several similarities to fear and the invisible fence:

  1. While both are extremely uncomfortable, but neither is truly life threatening.
  2. Both are confining
  3. Beyond both lay freedom.

In 2013 I am committed to push against the limits of my invisible fence.  I am committed to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for me” (Heb. 12:1).   Will I always be successful? No, but that’s where the perseverance part come in. If I set out to do this in my own strength, I will fail miserably, but I serve a God who has promised to displace my fear with his power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).

The scripture snippet in the introduction of this post is from a parable that Jesus tells of three servants entrusted with talents (Matt 25:14-30).  Two of the three servants invested their talents wisely and earned a return for their master.  The third servant, motivated by fear, hid his talent, earning nothing.  I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a way that yields a return.

I leave you with this quote that I came across credited to Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Want self-encouragement and motivation? Send an email to your future self.

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Perhaps we haven't quite mastered time travel like Doc and Marty, but we can send emails into the future (courtesy of sean022.blogspot.com)

Perhaps we haven’t quite mastered time travel like Doc and Marty, but we can send emails into the future (courtesy of sean022.blogspot.com)

And David was greatly distressed ; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved , every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 (KJV)

Rikki don’t lose that number; You don’t wanna call nobody else.  Send it off in a letter to yourself. – Lyrics to “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number” by Steely Dan

As you start the New Year, you’ve likely had the chance to take some time off from work, spend time with family, relax, and generally mentally detox.  You may have set formal goals for the New Year, but if not, at the very least you have dreams and aspirations you’d like to see come to pass.   In many ways, this may be the most clear thinking and enthusiastic that you’ll be all year, rivaled only by the week leading up to your vacation.  But what happens?  It’s called life, what John Lennon described as “what happens while you are busy making other plans.”  The daily grind of living occurs and the plans we had to have more consistent devotions, get in shape, become more organized all become casualties to life.  By February we look at our lack of progress, become discouraged and give up.

But what if your January 1st self, your lucid, optimistic and faith-filled self, could reach out to your February 1st self?  Now you can.  In reading Jon Acuff’s book, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job, he referenced using a website called futureme.org to send an email to himself that would be delivered at a date of his choosing in the future. Acuff used the email to remind his future self to avoid a situation his current self was dealing with. I became fascinated with the idea of sending my future self emails and decided to check out futureme.org (the service is free, but the site does accept donations.)  The applications for such emails are only limited by one’s imagination.  I could, as Acuff had done, send a warning to my future self.  I could also send an email to my future self from a time when a great spiritual victory or answer to a deep seated prayer was still fresh.  This email of present victories might equip me for future battles.  But as I penned these words on January 1st, I thought it would be good remind and encourage myself about the goals I set for 2013 and that “God had not given me a spirit of fear, but of love, power and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).  So I used futureme.org to send an email to myself to be delivered on February 1st.  I have no way of knowing what I’ll be facing on February 1st, but whatever it is; encouragement can never be in short supply.

God’s Thread

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Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few. . .1 Samuel 14:6b (NIV)

It seems everyone loves a good suspenseful movie. You know type I’m talking about where the hero or heroine finds themselves in a life-threatening, precarious situation with no visible sign of escape.  If you need a mental picture think of the popular Indiana Jones movie series.  Even if you’ve never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies in their entirety, you’ve likely seen short clips from them showing Indiana Jones being chased by a giant boulder or attempting to outwit a cobra.

Taking a look at redemptive history, it appears that God too has an appetite for suspense.  A pattern seems to emerge where God will make a promise to an individual or community and then either orchestrates or permit events to occur that would seem to undermine the promise.  The Israelites had been in bondage for 430 years in Egypt when God emancipated them and promised to lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  However the escape route that God intentionally chose for the journey was an apparent dead end leading them to be trapped by the Red Sea.  The Egyptians pursued the Israelites and had them boxed in.  The Israelites had two means of escape, one would involve turning around, doing an about face and running headlong into the teeth of the advancing Egyptian army.  The other means, which seemed even more improbable, would be to escape by swimming across the Red Sea, which was 221 miles across and 1,600 feet deep.  This was playing out to be a true cliff hanger if there ever was one, clearly besting anything that Indiana Jones might face.  Why would God place the people he swore to deliver in such peril?  God reveals the answer to Moses, “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:3b)(NIV).  While God shared his plan with Moses, apparently that word had not yet spread throughout the entire Israelite camp, because the people reacted in fear. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:1-12)(NIV). 

God did not abandoned his plan to save is his people.  Instead of utilizing either of the two apparent options of rescue; a.) the Israelites turn and face and Egyptian army head on or b.) the Israelites swim across the Red Sea, he created a third more miraculous option; c.) part the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to walk across on dry land and cause the Red Sea to revert back to its original form and drown the Egyptians when they attempted to follow.

We all like a suspenseful drama provided we’re in the audience and not acting it out. But God does not exempt us from his casting call.  He will see to it that we are protagonists in our own spine tingling stories apparently hemmed us in on all sides with no visible means of escape. Sooner or later we will all find ourselves hanging on by God’s thread and that thread will appear to be fraying. But God’s salvation does not rely on appearances.  He often does his best work when situations appear most dire.  He can save by many or by few.  Even if we are saved by what seems like a hair’s breadth the outcome is no less secure than if we had been saved by a mile.  The more dramatic the rescue, the greater the faith lesson taught to us and the greater the witness to God’s glory.

The Israelites’ lament when they saw the Egyptian chariots approaching turned into a song of praise when they saw those same Egyptians washed up dead on shore of the Red Sea, “who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11)(NIV). 

Do you feel like you are in a tight spot with no visible means of escape?  Remember that God is just helping you to compose your song.

Does Social Media Enhance or Worsen Relationships?

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For fun I created an avatar of myself.  I know it doesn't look much like me, but the hair options were limited and I couldn't add a moustache

For fun I created an avatar of myself. I know it doesn’t look much like me, but the hair options were limited and I couldn’t add a mustache

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. . . Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

I have long thought off and on about the interplay between the online and material worlds.  The proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other devices allow us to easily transport from the terrestrial world to the virtual world and back again.   In cyberspace we can recast ours identities and literally become our own avatars.  My thoughts on the topic were recently rekindled when I saw the following post on Facebook, “why do we talk to one another more on Facebook than we do on church?”  As I thought about the answer to this question, a three word phrase came to mind, the investment required.  It cost little in time or effort to post on Facebook or send out a tweet on Twitter.  It cost even less, literally a few seconds, to “like” a Facebook post or to retweet a tweeton Twitter.  Communicating in this way does not require the interaction of someone else, although that may be the desired outcome.  Depending upon your online reach, you can “speak” to hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously.  How you communicate is under your control.  It is quick, painless, convenient and sanitary.  Online interaction is the combat equivalent of a drone missile strike.  The initiator of the strike is safe, miles away from the target and strike is often surgically precise.  Even if the target is missed, the distance protects the initiator from the carnage.

Old fashion face to face human interaction is quite another matter.  It is the warfare equivalent of hand to hand combat.  The parties are eyeball to eyeball, belly to belly, engaged.  It requires an investment of time, perhaps our most precious commodity and scarcest resource.  (Am I the only one who has been accused on walking past someone without speaking because I was rushing off to do something else?)  Face to face interaction requires a high degree of engagement.  The other party knows immediately if you’re paying attention or not.  Face to face communication introduces risks and a loss of control.  You intended to talk about one topic, but the other party introduces another topic that you had not planned to discuss.  This new topic may knock on one of your emotional doors that you would rather have kept locked.  Do you open the door or ignore the knocking?  You are more exposed in face to face interaction.  People get more a glimpse of the real you, not some carefully crafted online facsimile.  There are people I know in the material world who also have an online presence and I have found myself questioning if they are in fact the same person.

Scripture has a lot to say about coming together in community.  Jesus Christ himself said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).  As Christians we can connect in ways today the writer of the book of Hebrews could never have imagined when he penned the words, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. . .” (Hebrews 10:25a).  There are scores of online communities or “tribes” – – using the word du jour.   I am engaged in a number of online communities and find these interactions powerful as I am able to engage with people from all over the world to find inspiration, encouragement and expertise.

I am not decrying the use of social media.  I love it!  It is a primary tool for how I share my thoughts with the world.  But a quote applied to money can also be applied to social media, “it makes a good servant, but a poor master.” Online interactions cannot be substitutes for in the flesh interaction and relationships.  Many active in social media largely recognize this, which has spanned a new term, “meetup.” A meetup is an in person meeting of parties who typically interact through social media.   Regardless if you’re heavily active in social media, scheduling or allowing for more spontaneous “meetups” in your life is always a good thing.

So back to the question posed in the title of the post, “does social media enhance or worsen relationships?”  You’ve read my thoughts; I would love to read yours.  Please add your comments to  keep the conversation going.

A town without Christmas, but not without Christ

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The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us – Matthew 1:23 (NIV)

On Thursday of this week I was preparing a post for this weekend, but it wasn’t this one.  The events of Friday changed everything.   I’m writing the post I didn’t plan to write or wish I didn’t have to write, but felt compelled to write. Unless you’ve been on a complete media fast, you have no doubt by now heard about the horrific tragedy that occurred in Newtown Connecticut on Friday where a 20 year old gunman killed his own mother before traveling to a nearby elementary school to open fire on children and school administrators before taking his own life.  In the end, 26 people lay dead including 20 children.  President Barach Obama is his emotional address to the nation in the aftermath of the shooting aptly tapped into the nation’s sentiments when he said, “we’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.”

As a parent, especially the parent of an elementary school student, it is very easy for me to place myself in the shoes of those shocked and grieving parents.  Those parents who had been making preparations for Christmas, but now find themselves making plans for funerals.  I find myself haunted by the thought of Christmas gifts already purchased that will go unopened.  The phrase, “one more week more week” keeps playing in my head.  These children would have been on holiday break in a week, likely safe from the reaches of a troubled and evil gunman.  A ghastly pale now lingers over the town of Newtown Connecticut.   Instead of the Grinch, it was Adam Lanza who stole Christmas.

I leave it for others to attempt to answer the “why” questions.   Why did the gunman take his actions? Why did God allow this happen?  Any attempts at answering these questions will bring little consolation and solace to the suffering.  Scripture tells us there is “a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and now is that time to weep with those impacted by this tragedy.  While Newtown may have been robbed of Christmas, they have not been robbed of Christ.  We can be assured that just as Christ was in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew boys, He is the furnace of affliction with the Newtown residents.  Just as he wept at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, he is weeping now with the family members and friends of the shooting victims.   It is during the Advent season, but especially during times like these that we are reminded that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, “God with us.”

I ask that you would agree with me in pray for the following groups:

  • The parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family of those who were killed.
  • The children who were in the school at the time of the shooting who must deal with their own trauma as they grieve the loss of friends and classmates.
  • The first responders who had to witness the grizzly crime scene.  No amount of training would prepare someone to witness such carnage.
  • The schoolteachers and administrators who must carry and “be strong” for their students but whose hearts are breaking inside.
  • Ryan Lanza, the brother of the shooter and son of the first victim.  He is not likely garner public sympathy and will have to deal with the guilt that his brother caused so much heartache for so many people.

Having trouble finding the words to pray?  Might I suggest the words penned by one of my favorite bloggers Debbie Kay on her blog “Hope For The Broken-Hearted.”

What Extra Crap Are You Carrying in Your Backpack?

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This poor little girl is so weighted down by her backpack that she looks like a Himalayan Sherpa! (courtesy of  spineuniverse.com)

This poor little girl is so weighted down by her backpack that she looks like a Himalayan Sherpa! (courtesy of spineuniverse.com)

“let us throw off everything that hinders. . . ” Hebrew 12:1a (NIV)

 My favorite Swiss Army backpack had seen better days. The zippers no longer remained zipped and I became fearful that as I walked I would start to leave a trail of debris behind me like some modern day Hansel and Gretel. Taking the suggestion of a colleague, I opted to order the free backpack available through my employer.  After all, I was lugging around a company furnished laptop in my old backpack anyway.

To say my new backpack was less spacious and luxurious than my old one was an understatement. I quickly realized that in order to use my new backpack, I was going to have to jettison some of the non- essential items I had been carrying around in my old backpack.  As I went through my old backpack I realized I was carrying around a bunch of extra “crap.”    Crap is not the word of choice to describe something that is valuable or necessary.  The extra stuff in my backpack did not start out as crap.  It was useful once.  However like bread at a thrift store bakery, that had started out fresh but had gone beyond its useful shelf life, it was time to throw it out it.  Although I do not care for my new backpack as much as I do my old one, it is certainly much lighter and easier to maneuver as I observed on a recent out of town business trip.

Ironically, that out of town business trip was to attend an executive mastery session hosted by consulting firm, Gap International.   During the session, the Gap consultants walked us participants through completing the year.  We reviewed our successes and accomplishments as well as our disappointment and regrets.  We discussed what we would need to do “get complete” for the year.  This might entail acknowledging the work of our staff, or having a difficult conversation with someone that we’d been putting off.   The idea was to “close the books” on the year, so that one could enter the new year with a fresh start.

After the session, I came to see that cleaning out the extra crap in my old backpack was a metaphor for other areas of my life.  Was there stuff I was carrying around that had outlived its purpose and was no longer useful?  Was there bitterness I had failed to release?  Were there grudges I was harboring? Was I carrying around regrets over failures in the past that were thwarting my current progress?  I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” A yoke is a device for joining a pair of oxen together.  It is meant to redistribute the load the oxen are carrying, making it easier to carry the burden.   When we “team up” with Jesus, he makes our load lighter.

While you’re making year-end preparations, why not “close the books” with Jesus?  Dump all of the hurt, pain bitterness and disappointment from your backpack into his.   Like releasing the ballast from a submarine, or sandbags from a hot-air balloon, you will be able to ascend to higher heights.     “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” – Habakkuk 3:19a.  I can’t think of a better way to close out 2012 and begin 2013.

The Shots We Never Take

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Video of Jack Taylor’s record breaking performance of scoring 138 points in a single basketball game

For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. – Proverbs 24:16 (NIV)

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky, retired hockey great

A few weeks ago, Jack Taylor, a 5-10 sophomore guard from Division III Grinnell College shattered the collegiate basketball scoring record by scoring an incredible 138 points in a single game.   Taylor hoisted up 108 shots converting on 52 of them including 27 three point attempts.  For you statisticians, that means Taylor average one shot every 22 seconds!  In looking at Taylor’s amazing feat, it’s interesting what we do not focus on.  We do not focus on the 52% of the shots that Taylor missed.  Taylor missed 61% of his three point short attempts, but it was by taking these riskier shots that he accumulated so many points.   What inspired Taylor’s record setting feat?  – a shooting slump.  He shot poorly in his most recent games prior to his record setting night and even started off slowly on this occasion. His coaches figured the best way to get him out of scoring slump was for him to shoot his way out of it.

Accomplishment is sports in not measured by perfection.  A major league baseball player can have a hall of fame career by maintaining a .300 batting average, meaning he is only successful 30% of the time.  Taylor’s 39% success rate on three point attempts is considered pretty good even by NBA standards.  I was recently reminded that the sports accomplishment standard applies to areas other areas of life.

I was reading the story of Abraham in the book Genesis.  Abraham is known as “the father of the faith” and inductee into the faith “hall of fame” found In Hebrews, 11th chapter.  Perhaps I was feeling overly critical during my read, but instead of focusing in Abraham’s accomplishments, I found myself focusing in his failings which include:

  • Covering up his marital relationship (twice) with Sarah when confronted by powerful men.
  • Not waiting on God’s timing to allow for Sarah’s promised pregnancy but rather taking matters into his own hands and impregnating Sarah’s maid servant, Hagar. This single act of disobedience set the stage for the unrest between Jews and Arabs that has occurred throughout history and continues until this day.

I came to realize that I was reading Abraham’s account as some audience member watching a sporting event or theatre production.  I needed to get out my seat and get into the game or onto the stage to walk in Abraham’s sandals.  Taking this approach, I gained a greater appreciation for the man, his successes  and his failures.  Hebrews 11:8-9 tells us about old patriarch, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.”

Think about what this passage in saying.  Abraham had to display initial great faith by venturing out to an unseen country based on God’s promise to him. Abraham did have the benefit of the scriptures to comfort, inspire and encourage him for the Bible had not yet been written.  Scripture mentions that God told Abraham to go to the strange land, but makes no mention of God revealing this to the rest of his household.  Can you imagine how hair-brained this revelation seemed to Sarah?  Can’t you hear her saying, “God told  you to go where?”

We look at Abraham’s lack of faith as he hid Sarah’s identity as his wife from Pharaoh (Gen 12:13) and   Abimelech (Gen 20:2).  Let’s remember that in both instances Abraham was a foreigner without legal standing and feared for his life.  When Sarah did not initially become pregnant, it was a culturally acceptable practice to have children through a servant to extend the family line.   I am not being an apologist for Abraham’s misdeeds.  Rather it his misdeeds that link him to us as being not some superhuman demigod, but rather just simply mortal.   However instead of allowing his misdeeds and failures to define him, Abraham persevered in faith.  In the end, Abraham displayed such a great act of faith – the willingness to sacrifice his own son, that it was only outdone by God himself when he gave his son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf.  It is this perseverance that defined Abraham and for which he is remembered.

I started out talking about Jack Taylor’s basketball feats and if a broadcaster were to do an abbreviated play-by-play of Abrahams’s life it might go something like this:

  • Leaves Ur of the Chaldeans – Count it! – he scores!
  • Tells Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister – Abraham clanged that one off of the front rim and misses!
  • Abraham gets Hagar pregnant – He throws up an air ball and misses everything.  Man, is he in a shooting slump!
  • Abraham obeys God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac, but the angel of God stops him from carrying it out – Abraham hits on the three pointer at the buzzer to win the game!

“Every time you don’t make an attempt, you fail automatically” – Marc and Angel tweet.

Is Contentment an Excuse for Complacency?

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But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)

I’d like to thank Ann Musico of 3-D Vitality for planting the seed for this post.  Ann commented on my last post “Learned Contentment – The Secret of Thanksgiving” that “God built a desire for improvement and increase into us.”  I agree with Ann’s sentiments but it got me to thinking about how we look at the relationship between the words “contentment” and “complacency”.  Dictionary.com (It’s funny how no one quotes Webster’s dictionary any more) defines contentment as “the state of being satisfied with who one is or what one has – not wanting more or anything else.”  Complacency is defined as “a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.”  Reading the definitions of these words only further confuses instead of clarifies and it easy to see why we sometimes use the words contentment and complacency interchangeably. In fact, Dictionary.com does list these two words as synonyms.  However the Bible does not view them as such.

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines contentment as “the disposition of mind which one is, through grace, independent of outward circumstances, so as to not be moved by envy, anxiety and discontent.” God through his grace renders true contentment.  Unlike contentment, the Dictionary.com definition of complacency aligns with how the word is used in scripture, being smug and unconcerned, pleased with our own merits without awareness of weakness or danger.  Satan seeks to mimic and distort everything God created as good. The end game of this mimicry is our destruction.  In light of this I see complacency as Satan’s counterfeit of Biblical contentment.  An appropriate biblical synonym for complacency is not contentment but rather laziness.   If we adopt a lifestyle of complacency we fall far short of “the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14b – KJV).

Jesus had some harsh words to say about complacency.  In the parable of the talents found Matthew 25, a man gave three of his servants varying amounts of money, five talents, three talents and one talent respectively.  The man went on a journey but returned and demanded an accounting of his money.  He commended the servants to whom he had given five talents and three talents because they invested the talents and earned a returned (vv. 20-23).  The servant to whom had been given one talent did not invest his talent, but rather buried it in the ground.  Unlike the other two servants, this servant was not commended, but rather condemned by his master, “you wicked, lazy servant. . . . throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vv. 26a, 30).

Even before the fall and the creation of woman, man was expected to work, “the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15 – NIV).  As my former pastor used to say, “before God gave man a wife, he gave him a job.”

Learned Contentment – The Secret to Everlasting Thanksgiving

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I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Philippians 4-12b (NIV)

As I post this, tomorrow will be Thanksgiving Day in the US, a day commonly marked by family, food, football, making Black Friday shopping planning and of course giving thanks.  Perhaps it’s because we have a tendency to grow lax in our thanksgiving the rest of the year, that we set aside a specific day to do so.  The gratitude machine kicks into full gear as we are reminded to “give thanks for the many manifold blessings that God has bestowed upon us.” (Those of you who grew up in church might recognize that last phrase.) Please do not infer that I am in any way belittling the idea of giving thanks or the Thanksgiving holiday. Anything that causes us to reflect upon God’s goodness and gives thanks to him is a good thing.  In just a casual read of the Bible you’d be hard pressed not to find a reference to giving thanks and the Israelites formally offered thanksgiving sacrifices (Leviticus 7:12, 22:29).

What I am suggesting is that we consider an alternate approach to giving thanks from what is typically offered.  When giving thanks we are generally encouraged to “count” our blessings as if they were piled in stacks like chips on some cosmic poker table.  If we exclusively focus on counting our blessings, we may well become distraught as we see our stack diminish through, death of loved ones, divorce, financial setbacks, loss of health, etc.  Instead, our focus and the sum of all our affections needs to be on the one dispensing the blessings, God, and not the blessing themselves.

As new Christians, we tend to seek God and – God and family harmony, God and financial well-being, God and good health.  However, as we continue on our Christian pilgrimage, the difficulties we encounter loosen our grip on the ands. God allows the ands to be knocked from our hands, fall to the ground and shatter into a 1,000 pieces.   At this point we are left with several options.  We can halt our journey to mourn our shattered ands never to continue on, or we can continue on as tough and arduous as it might,  to leave our ands and simply find God alone.  Upon finding God alone we will discover that he is enough and he is the only true source of everlasting thanksgiving.

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul recounts a bit of his spiritual sojourn and the release of his ands,  “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8– NIV).

The brevity of the above passage does not do justice to the difficulty of the process.  Paul writes a bit later on in the book of Philippians that he had to learn the secret of contentment.  It is not something that comes naturally to us as human beings.  The state of sinful mankind is always to desire and possess more.  We can only find true and lasting contentment in the person of Jesus Christ and his divine enablement.

During this Thanksgiving holiday I would encourage you to read the book of Philippians.  It is a brief book of only four chapters that oozes with joy and thanksgiving.  One of the most incredible things about the book is the circumstances under which it was written. Paul wrote it at a time that he was under house arrest in Rome.  As you prayerful meditate on this book and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you.  You will then be able to response to the Apostle’s admonition to, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (4:4 – NIV).

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