Me First

I sometimes can get caught in the trap of looking at the world or other people in my life and thinking “there is so much going on that is wrong that there is no hope” or “this person is so wrong that there is no way I can have anything to do with them” or “it’s their fault” or “why bother, it doesn’t make a difference anyways”.  Notice I said I fall into a trap here because that is exactly what it is.  It is a trap or snare set by the devil to keep me from fulfilling the roles and responsibilities God has given me or to shine the Light that He has placed in my heart.  It is a trap and if we fall into looking outside of ourselves for positive change, or to fix others, or locate the source of the problems in our lives as we “lead” or “shepherd”; then we will be wrong, disappointed, and ineffective.

If positive change is going to happen in my relationships…my workplace…my home…my church…that change has to happen in my life.  It is easy to see the flaws, faults, and failures of others but God calls me to see mine first.  The word of God is likened to a mirror in James 1:23-25.  As I look into the Word, I see myself as I truly am…I see my true self in God’s mirror.

The Word of God exposes me and I am naked and open before Him (Hebrews 4:12-13).  Along with Peter I can say “I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8) and the heart and the words of the Prodigal Son will be my own “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Luke 15:18).

The Word shows me my flaws, faults, and failures but it also shows the forgiveness available in Christ Jesus!  My Savior offers me refreshing spiritually through His blood.  Through God’s Word I see a different way…His way…and I repent or change my mind and how I live and in that, God changes my heart:  “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

I am then in a position to lead if I am quick to deal with my own sins before I seek to correct another (Matthew 7:1-5).  But if I think myself to be something, when I am nothing, I deceive myself (Galatians 6:3).   If I want to be in a position to influence another and before I ever think about it, I must honestly examine myself (Galatians 6:4).

Think about Peter in John 21.  Jesus is restoring him, giving him purpose and though Peter is hearing Jesus…he is in part thinking about John.  Jesus tells him to forget about John for now…focus on Me and what I have for you to do and I will take care of your brother.  Like Peter, we must respond to Jesus call to “follow Me”.  That is our part.  That is our job.

In that, I must be honest about what I see (James 1:24).  I must trust in GOD to mold me and make me into the image of Christ (Jeremiah 18:4; Romans 8:29).  I then can be the change that will result in the glorification of GOD, the edification of the body, and the growth of the family of GOD.

With this mindset, together, we can “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1), if individually we proclaim, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  Each of us committed to being the change that we want to see in the world and we will then be in a position to lead and make a difference…and let God work from the inside out.

My Circumstances and My Heart

My attitude toward cold weather and snow really stinks the longer the winter drags on. I have to be honest. With prayer, including yours, I will hope to improve that attitude.

I bring this up because I was talking to one of our kids about how we can’t keep asking God to change our circumstances until we change our heart about the circumstances in which we find ourselves. While I was “preaching” to my offspring a light bulb went off in my head. Dad realized how many times he has vocally wished to be in a warmer climate. I’ve had enough of winter when March comes. But can the Lord change my heart about this? Yes, if I let Him. Instead of wishing to be elsewhere, I should take time to be thankful for snow and the cold weather. It does have a purpose (potholes, rising coat sales, slower commutes…oh, man, I did it again.). Really, there is a purpose and beauty in the snow and cold.

Our new puppy absolutely loves the snow. She doesn’t share my opinion. Her nose is constantly in the snow, and she just goes crazy jumping around in it. Watching her helps my general grumpiness.

Watching the kids play in the snow is another thing that brings joy to my heart. Going sledding with them has been a blast this winter.

There is the constant reminder in God’s word that our sins, which are like scarlet are made white as snow by God’s grace and Jesus’ blood (Isaiah 1).

So, do you find yourself in a circumstance where your attitude is crummy and unthankful? Are you trying harder to convince God to change your circumstance or to change your heart about it? There is nothing wrong with asking God to change our situation in life, but let’s not forget where the focus should be first and foremost.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Different, Not Wrong

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
(James 3:13-18)

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
(Hebrews 12:14)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
(Romans 12:18)

Strive for peace. Be open to reason. Live peaceably with all men. Those are directives from Jesus, and they apply to marriage, don’t they?

Are there occasions where you and your wife fuss about things that are really a matter of opinion? Dumb question, I know we all do that from time to time. How the house gets cleaned, and in what order…opinion. Whether the toilet roll feeds from the top or the bottom of the roll…opinion. Do you squeeze the tube of toothpaste it the middle of the tube or from the end of it? Opinion.

It may be that you have a very passionate and convincing argument as to why things have to be a certain way, and you may be absolutely convinced you are right, but what if your wife has a different opinion? What if she makes decisions that are different that what you think should be done?

We should ask ourselves, is it wrong, or is it just different?

Do we find ourselves bringing up our viewpoints often in various ways to remind our wives that we don’t like their opinions and ways of doing things? Are we making fun of and using sarcasm to take shots and how they are doing things different than what we would do? Is this a control thing for you that you need to get right with Jesus? If so, then the spirit of Christ needs to rule in our hearts. His peace must also reign supreme. I believe that if we are truly at peace with God, then someone else’s alternative opinions and approaches would not bother us so much.

Before we say something or bring up how our wives do something different and not in line with our approach to things, let’s come to the throne room of God and ask for His wisdom and peace in the matter. How about talking to a wise godly brother in Christ and consulting him privately about it? And by the way, don’t just pick someone you know will agree with you. 🙂

Different is just that, it’s different. It might make you irritable or uncomfortable, and it might even challenge you to restudy your own convictions. But different many times is not wrong.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
(1 Peter 3:7)

They Will All Wear Out Like a Garment

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”
(Hebrews 1:10-12)

There is a beginning and there is an end. In the above passage, we see that the earth and heavens are the work of God, and that “in the beginning” God laid their foundation. We also see here that there is an end as well. The things of this earth will wear out, be rolled up and  changed. Newton’s laws are true, things wear out and go from order to disorder. They have an end in contrast to God who has “no end.”

What gets us so frustrated? What distracts us so easily? The stuff that wears out, changes and ultimately will all have an end. The “here and now” will be the “distant and past” one day. It may be that you have to re-center your mind today to remember the One who always was, is and is to come. I know I need that right now. All this stuff is temporary, and we have to deal with it and live in it, but our mind can’t be drowning in it.

God laid the earth’s foundation and one day it will all be burned up and changed. While we are here, remember that “God is the same and His years have no end.”

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)

Adapting to Change

Adapting to change. Today we may reach 70 degrees here in Michigan and we are looking at possible snow tomorrow night. That’s Michigan for you. If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.

I remember the first winter we were living here in Michigan. It was great, but I was ready for it to be over! So, here we are in April, it is 70 degrees on a Friday, and I start getting out the lawn chairs and the summer stuff from storage. Boy was I excited! On the following Monday, we had two inches of snow. Boy was I deflated! That snow melted really fast, but my attitude about it stayed even after the snow was gone.

Adapting to change

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

There are seasons in life, Solomon said 3,000 years ago. Even in the days of Noah after the flood, God promised that there would always be seasons (Genesis 8:22).

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).

My point with this is not about weather, but about life, of course. Things change. There is a time and a purpose for everything. Sometimes in life we have spring, full of promise and beginnings. Other times it is the dead of winter, cold winds, and blizzards. There are other occasions when it is like that weekend in April I mentioned, we are on top of the mountain and then it seems like someone shoved us from behind and we are rolling down to the valley. The reverse happens as well. You have a monsoon of a thunderstorm followed by a beautiful sunset and a rainbow.

How do you respond to change? Do we adapt well when our plans don’t work out like we expected? Am I the kind of person that curses the frigid temperatures, and then complains when it gets too hot? Do we get grumpy, rigid and inflexible when others try to bring up different ideas or other ways of doing things?

It is vital as men of God and leaders in the homes and churches that we be the kind of men who are flexible and adapt well to change.

Seasons change, God does not

Finally, I leave you with one passage from Hebrews about how things change but God does not. May we put our trust in that one simple concept.

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

Unconsciously Competent

What if I am a knucklehead toward my wife but do not know it? Why not leave me blissfully ignorant? Well, if we want to improve our marriages, then being a blissfully-ignorant knucklehead will not cut it. The goal is to become unconsciously competent, and I’ll explain that in a moment.

The Conscious Competence Ladder

These four levels of growth and development have been used in various ways over the years in secular training. I believe they have a very Biblical basis to them, so I am sharing them with you for your consideration.

Unconsciously incompetent.

You lack abilities, training or skills and you are not aware of it. For example, you are saying and doing things (or not saying or doing things) that are hurting your wife. At this stage, you are just clueless and need to be made aware. She might make you “acutely” (not-so-cutely) aware after she has blown a gasket with you because she is at her wits’ end. I mean, you could blame her for having a conniption fit. Or, you can wake up to the things you are doing that are setting her off.

Consciously incompetent.

Now you are aware that you have been a knucklehead. The actions and words have not really changed. However, your conscience is now pinging you every time you make those mistakes. You realize your need for instruction and growth, and you reach out for help. “I don’t want to be like this anymore and I need counseling and training!”

Consciously competent.

With God’s help and a lot of advice, you begin to treat your wife with honor and respect. The right behavior and words are being demonstrated, but you really have to muscle your mind to do it. It is like hitting a baseball left-handed (if you’re right-handed). Watching someone learn how to drive a stick-shift can be painful, both to you and the car. But once he has it down it becomes second nature. This leads to the final point.

Unconsciously competent.

Finally, your new way of treating your spouse in some ways has become second nature. I am not saying that we never have to think about it again, because James 3 says we can never tame the tongue. What I do mean is that after years of behaving the right way toward your wife, there will be loving deeds that at one time you never would have thought of doing, but now you do them without really thinking about them.

Nobody today has to tell me how to ride a bike, and I don’t have do go through mental steps to get on a bike and ride it. It is second nature. That wasn’t true for me at 5 or 6 years old, though. Now, please understand that we always have to grow as Christians; we never “arrive” at perfection. In one area of my life I may be on step #4, and in another I may be on step #1.

“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Stimulating Change

I Chronicles 29 records one of the great prayers of the bible.  It is a prayer offered by David after the people so willingly provided for the building of the temple.  One of my favorite phrases is in verse 14, “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this?  For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You.”

But reading through this chapter the other day I took note of something that I previously glossed over.  Before the people are stimulated to give, before they begin to make sacrifice, David sets the example.  In verse 2 he says, “Now with all my ability I have provided for the house of my God”.  But David isn’t finished, he goes on to say in verse 3, “Moreover, in my delight in the house of my God, the treasure I have of gold and silver, I give to the house of my God, over and above all that I have already provided for the holy temple”.  In verse 5, he finally calls the people to action saying, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”   The text goes on to say that the people offered willingly and in verse 9, “Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly.”

Stimulating Change

David first sets the example with his own heart, delighting in the house of His God, and with his own actions, giving more and more and more of his possessions, and then he asks of the people.  Obviously, there is direct application as we consider our material possessions and our own spirit of generosity for the work of God but I think this example goes far beyond that.

Would you like people around you to be more loving?  Would you like others to show more mercy and forgiveness?  Is there a need in this world for gentleness and kindness?  I can complain and criticize and point out the negative I see around me or I can take a different approach.  I can fill my heart with the things of God.  I can fill myself with His love, His mercy, and His kindness and then set the example by generously giving those things to others.  Putting my heart, which has been filled by God, into action and treating others with kindness and mercy and love is how I will stimulate real change.

Bonus thought:  The word consecrated means “filled” or “fill”.  So the question David asks the people is “Who then is willing to FILL himself this day to the Lord?”  Do we look at sacrificing the material things of this world as emptying ourselves of things we’d like to hang on to or do we look at it as an opportunity to FILL ourselves to the Lord?