Thoughts are important. Like seeds that fall into the earth, our thoughts produce attitudes which can grow into actions. As you know, multitudes of ideas and words flow in and out of our minds all day long. We decide which words to keep and which ones to kick out. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is about to bring His children, the Israelites, into the Promised Land. He wants them to have the right thoughts about this, so He gives them two warnings. The first has to do with how we think about the blessing of money and prosperity. As they enter the Promised Land, they will inherit houses, lands, and benefits they never knew during the previous years of desert wanderings. The Lord warned them, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a). God is challenging them to think biblically (correctly) about their blessings. These verses speak to my heart, reminding me that even my ability to work and to provide for my family comes from the Lord’s hand. He is the source! The second warning from the Lord has to do with how we think about ourselves in light of victories we experience. The Lord warned, “…do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’” (Deuteronomy 9:4b). We may not say such proud things (about how “good” we are) outwardly to others, but, if we’re honest, we sometimes let these thoughts lodge in our hearts. The truth is that God doesn’t bless us with victory because of how great or good we are. From Deuteronomy we discover that God blessed the Israelites in part because the inhabitants of the land were being disciplined for their wickedness. Israel was in line to receive the spoils. Thanksgiving is a great reminder for us to humble ourselves. Let us acknowledge we serve a good and kind God who gives us what we don’t deserve and does not give us what we really deserve! So, inside your heart…what are you talking about?
As I sit at the table, I am thinking and praying about what to say at an upcoming funeral. My mind drifts to the idea of “ownership.” Throughout my ministry I have observed thousands of people during times of grief and loss. Why is it that some can sail through times of loss (of even a close relative) and others seem to self-destruct into anger and bitterness? Our response to life hinges on faith in God and perspective concerning ownership. Let’s begin by asking the big questions. Who really owns it all? Did I create my body? Did I choose my relatives? Will I be taking what “I own” with me after I die? If I really don’t own anything, why should I become bitter if something is taken away? So, does not really owning anything now or the prospect of leaving this earth someday with nothing bring despair? Just the opposite. If I don’t own anything, then everything I am allowed to have or experience is an act of grace from God. What I “have” becomes a reason for overflowing thanksgiving! God has given me a biological family and a church family. That’s grace. God has given me people to love and serve. That’s grace. God has given me food and shelter. That’s grace. God has given me strength and a work to do. That’s grace. On and on flows the grace from our God who never stops giving. Rather than looking at people as “mine” or things I use as something I deserve, I can choose to live in gratitude and worship to our Lord for His endless kindness and goodness. No wonder that when we get to heaven, we will join the elders before the throne and proclaim, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 5:11). Truly, it all belongs to Him! It was never “mine” or about me. Thank You, Jesus…it’s all Yours!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Experience is not enough. As we make choices about our future, it’s nice to have “hindsight” and years of experience. However, there’s a subtle danger. We can trust in our experience more than trusting in the Lord. For example, let’s say you are wrestling with the options of a new job. If you have worked for many years and gone through job transitions before, you have the benefit of experience. You have acquired insights about the various paths available to you. However, the particular choice at the present time requires more than the past. We need the present guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit. What may “seem good” may not “be good” for us. God’s Word is clear: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). God’s will for us may lead us into areas that we can’t “figure out” from past experience. Having served as a pastor for over 40 years, I continually find myself in circumstances where I cry out to Him saying, “Lord, I need your wisdom for right now…this time.” Without a healthy sense of dependence on the Lord, we start to think, I can figure this thing out on my own. Think of Solomon. The Bible refers to him as the wisest man on earth. Yet, with all his wisdom and experience, he chose to compromise with idolatry and money. In the end, he suffered from unwanted drama and difficulty…from unwise choices! If this could happen to Solomon, who wrote many chapters of the Bible, we all better take heed. Asking for wisdom is not simply a polite way of letting God know about our choices. Seeking His wisdom is expressing childlike dependence on Him in the present moment. While we appreciate what God teaches us through the experiences of life, our ultimate faith and trust is in the Lord himself. As the songwriter expressed, “I need Thee every hour.” May the God who “gives generously to all” grant you wisdom and discernment for the paths you must choose.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV). A while ago I met a young man on the streets. I had known him for several years, and he shared with me about his daughter (he had a child with his girlfriend as a teen). As he spoke of his visitation hours, my heart went out to his daughter. I couldn’t help thinking, Why don’t people slow down in relationships and consider getting married? Don’t people believe in marriage anymore? Then I thought about what it takes for a successful, long-term marriage (or friendship for that matter). I believe the answer to this is found in the Scriptures. The Bible teaches us about our destructive sinful, selfish nature. We also receive God’s answer in how to overcome our natural inclinations through faith in Christ…in His death and resurrection. Trusting in the presence of “Christ in us” enables us to “crucify” the old nature that fights so hard to have its own way. As you know, two selfish, immature people have close to a zero chance of experiencing closeness and unity. The old selfish nature wearies itself (and distances itself from others) by the constant mantra of “my rights, my respect, and my feelings.” Lasting and satisfying relationships require mature love. God is love, and His love empowers us to banish selfishness to the rear of the bus. As Christians who possess the attitudes of Jesus, we find joy in serving others and seeing them succeed. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, reminded them of the power which love creates in order to bring unity and joy in their midst. They had issues of selfish pride which threatened to divide the church. He said, “[love] does not insist on its own way.” Could it be that the main reason we break relationships with others is because we are filled with ourselves and think only of our benefit? I’m glad Jesus wasn’t thinking about His own rights and benefits when He was crucified. The nails did not keep Jesus on the cross. His love for us kept Him there! May the Lord help us to learn how to love with His sacrificial love.