3 Ways the Comparison Game Cripples

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,… (Eph. 1:16-18 ESV)

      In Christ, we all have a ministry. Some work for a “public” or vocational ministry, others less formally minister “privately” to coworkers, colleagues, friends, etc. There are three things we typically tend to compare ourselves to in ministry – 

  1. Insiders – Ministries, other peoples’ ministry efforts, organizations, or businesses
  2. Outsiders – People in “secular” careers, the unsaved, or those not following God’s call (“but I’m doing God’s work!”)
  3. Ideal vs. real – Our internal vision of how things should be vs how they actually are.

      Generally it’s when things aren’t going well. It commonly manifests as either shame, self-doubt, or anxiety. Shame says “Woe is me, I should be further along, like so-and-so.” Doubt says: “If I were all I should be for God, I’d be making a bigger difference doing x, like them.” Anxiety (fear) says “what if program x flops?”. In all of these cases, we’re putting the course before the heart. Why? Because, it’s not about you.
      Can I rub some salt in? Really,  it’s not… about… you. Contrasting where we are to where we think we should be, where others are, or where we’d like to be factors out where God has placed us and what He desires of and for us. God didn’t make you them… He made you you. Does that clear anything up?

      Repeat that to yourself while I do the same, so we both remember it, mmkay? Guilty.

Matters of the Heart
      At the heart of this struggle is this: by grace, God has me right where He wants me. If I’m disappointed with where I am, I have a vertical issue: an idolatry issue with God. What I’m in effect saying is this –

“God should respect my plans and efforts above His.” 

     Core issue: we’ve taken a man-centric view rather than a God-centric view of things. But, take heart – “no temptation has seized you, but that which is common to man.” Easy enough mistake to make. As a card carrying member of the “been there, done that” club, I ain’t mad at ya…

Sovereignty?
     My dissatisfaction with where He has me, even if I’ve been disobedient along the way, is ultimately dissatisfaction with His sovereignty. He can do whatever He wants and He’s not out to make you or I rich, famous, or even successful in and of ourselves. If He has me stalled out (which I’ve felt like many times in “full time ministry”), He’s aware of it. There is not a circumstance that has come about in history that hasn’t passed through his fingers. Nothing surprises God.

Side Note:
      Satan‘s very first ploy was to get Eve to believe she was missing out on something. Trouble is… If you’re longing to be doing something else, there’s a good chance the only thing you’re missing out on is what you’re supposed to be doing right now. Read on, and we’ll uncover what it is we’re really missing… 


Did God Allow It or Cause It?
     I’ve been wrapped around that axle before, too. So, let me ask you… What difference does it make? Are you going to prosecute a case against the God who told the oceans how far they could go and no further? In my darker, heavier moments, I’ve tried it. Losing battle. Turn back. 

     Scripture contains enough references to God causing disaster and affliction (e.g. Daniel 9:14, Psalm 119.75) and God allowing the same (just search “God permitted”) that the doctrine of sovereignty ought to put to rest our anxieties over what isn’t, what could have been, and what calamities or shortcomings are yet to come down the pipe at us.


     This isn’t to say that our desires and dreams don’t matter to God. Louie Gigilio recently tweeted: “What you do matters to God and man, but you matter because of what God has done. First things first.”

What’s Really Missing?
      Paul gets it. His unceasing prayers (above) for the church at Ephesus are that they would know God, not see their ends to their desires met. Rather, that through a deeper heart knowledge of and intimacy with the Father their desires would become His desires. How about you?  

     If a dissatisfaction is a holy dissatisfaction, it is the kind that points us toward knowing God, not questioning Him or our circumstance. I would argue that sanctification is about God purifying us from matters of the heart that obscure us from truly knowing Him. Agreed?

Benediction
     I pray today, that you would come do a deeper intimacy with God so that your anxieties, fears, disappointments, and shame over what is not would be eclipsed and replaced with joy over who He is and what He has done. Don’t be robbed of present joy by what went wrong in the past, is missing in the present, or looms in the future.

“We weren’t meant to be somebody–we were meant to know Somebody” 
– John Piper 

in Christ,

AP

Dealing with Angry People

Orphans in Your Heart
     I have a friend on fire for adopting orphans. He once shared his frustration about many orphan relief efforts like building orphanages, wells, and feeding orphans. “Give the kid a place to live and you’ve still got an orphan.” You’ve met a felt need for the child, but haven’t gone to the root issue. 

     Knowing I’m not in any position to adopt (in this current season) makes my heart immediately bleed for the organization that is building the orphanages, digging the wells, or feeding the children. But, deep down, I know I’ve merely given them a fish, instead of planting them lakeside with a fishing pole and proper instruction.

“A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty;
    rescue them, and you will have to do it again. (Prov. 19:19)”


     Some people are just bound to be angry all the time. Don’t hate them. Anger itself is not a sin, it’s what we do with it that gets us into cahoots with God. We’ve all been discipled by our family of origin what “appropriate” expressions of anger are. Some internalize, others explode, still others manipulate, calculate, or plot revenge. Many fail to learn how to “dump” their anger – they hang onto it like an orphan without an adoption plan. We live in a culture that disciples us deeply in personal revenge rather than trusting in God’s vengeance. Just go watch an action movie.

Know Thy Enemy
     Anger is a debt-debtor relationship that happens when someone or something fails to meet our expectations. It says “you owe me”. Holding onto a ledger full of debt is a toxic condition that turns Prov 19:19 into a prophecy. An outburst of anger is biologically accompanied by the release of the hormone cortisol. God designed our bodies to handle cortisol in short bursts, to protect us in fight or flight situations. Long term, it’s toxic. It’s terrible for their health: “fretting” or holding on to “you owe me”s can keep cortisol levels high leading to stroke, heart attack, low bone density… overall, bad stuff. No wonder God tells us not to fret.
 
     If you have their permission (“can I help you solve this problem?”), you may be able to offer them some help. This can’t be removing the problem or solving it for them – you’ve merely built an orphanage, not answered their deeper need. It must be in helping them understand the debt at the bottom of their heart.  “What does <person/circumstance> owe you?” Understanding that we don’t war against flesh and blood is vital to clearing the emotional confusion surrounding an outburst (or inburst) of anger.

    The deepest need of the person struggling with anger is Christ at the center of their life. A proper understanding of the sovereignty of God equips them with a new Father who is never surprised by their “igniting circumstance”. They need to repeatedly answer through fervent, desperate prayer during many lucid moments: “How does God use affliction to transform us (Psalm 119:75)?” 

     Practical surrender to a sovereign God includes acknowledging He is in the good and the bad, trials are necessary (James 1:3), and it is okay to be angry, but not to sin against others or God.

Power of Prayer?

     Prayer is crucial. While the temple in Israel was rife with the stench of death as thousands of animals were sacrificed daily, the priests would go out with censers filled with incense (representing prayer) that brought a sweet smelling aroma into the outer courts. So, what? Prayer may not change their circumstances, but it brings a sweetness amidst the carnage of unmet expectations. If you can teach them to pray with that understanding, you’re leading them to the answering of their deepest needs.

     The gospel isn’t about “try harder” and “do more” it’s about the impossibility of pleasing God with our own efforts and His unfailing love despite that fact. It’s about what He’s already done. As today’s verse explains, behavior modification doesn’t fix the angry person. Get them out of a bind and they’ll just be angry again about the next thing that goes wrong. Only a new heart can do that.

     Sometimes, a discipleship relationship with another godly man or woman is the critical link needed to help them sort through things on a regular basis. We meet with men, women, and couples often to provide an outside eye and biblical perspective on living the gospel and handling these kinds of issues. Maybe, they just need to grab coffee with a guy like me who’s battled anger frequently, lost often, but found lasting victory in Christ. Give them my card or connect us via a three way email. Aarron at Seasons of Life Ministries dot org.


Pray hard and without ceasing. Love deeply. Forgive thoroughly and often.

Much agape,

AP

So You’re Going to Read the Whole Bible This Year…

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a year out like that, running through Genesis, jogging through Exodus, marching through Leviticus, only to get bogged down and stalled out in the muddy genealogies of Numbers… “Next year…”
 

We attest that we believe scripture to be complete, inspired, and inerrant. We admit that if it’s in the Bible, we can trust God put it in there for a reason. And, when we’re reading Genesis and Exodus, it’s juicy and meaty, but Leviticus is a bit drier and tough. Numbers? Like a mouthful of sawdust, maybe?


From:
http://mikeneglia.blogspot.com/2013/09/3-ways-to-read-genealogies-in-bible.html

What do the genealogies reveal about God? They tell us that He is a faithful Lord, who keeps His covenant from one generation to another. Whoever we are and however far we may have descended from the source of our human life in Adam, we are still part of God’s plan. Over the centuries we have developed differently, we have lost contact with one another, and we have even turned on each other in hostility, but in spite of all that, we are still related and interconnected in ways that go beyond our immediate understanding or experience.
 
Secondly, what do the genealogies say about us? They say that from the world’s point of view, most of us are nobodies. We live and die in a long chain of humanity, but there is not much that anyone will remember about us as individuals. Yet without us, future generations will not be born and the legacy of the past will not be preserved. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a long chain of faithful people who have lived for God in the place where he put them. Even if we know little about our ancestors, we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their loyalty and perseverance, when they had little or nothing to gain from it or to show for it.
 

Finally, what do the genealogies say about God’s dealings with us? They tell us that we are called to be obedient and to keep the faith we have inherited, passing it on undiminished to the next generation. They remind us that there is a purpose in our calling that goes beyond ourselves. Even if we are not celebrated by future generations and leave little for posterity to remember us by, we shall nevertheless have made an indispensable contribution to the purpose of God in history. So the genealogies bring us a message from God, even if they appear on the surface to be barren and unprofitable. All we have to do is ask the right questions, and their meaning will be quickly opened to us.

Noah, Found Drunk… Punishes Wrong Guy!

     “When he [Noah] drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,“Cursed be Canaan! He also said,may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth. (Gen. 9:22-27)”


     A friend asked last week why Noah would curse Canaan and not Ham. As I read through the passage with him, I couldn’t tell. But, on a second reading in a quieter time, a couple of things became apparent to me, so I wrote down my observations and did some research. While some of my conclusions were confirmed, I stumbled on a few additional points for your reading pleasure.

     Noah’s blackout is the first mention of drunkenness of a Holy man in scripture. Moses doesn’t record it as sin in his account. So, why was Ham in trouble? 

The Crime
     Noah wasn’t just an important person. He was the only man chosen by God to have his family saved from the flood and by extension, the only man chosen before Abraham from whom the Messiah would come. He is a patriarch. While his sons could not have known God’s plan through their father, they did know that their father’s family was the only one who would repopulate the devastated planet. Noah was God’s man, their father, and to be respected and revered as such.

     Ephesians 5:12 warns us against tabloid journalism, slander, gossip: “don’t even mention this stuff…” So, we find Noah in an undignified state and Ham given an opportunity to honor or dishonor his father, the Patriarch. Rather than keep it quiet, he tweets it to the only other two men on the planet. This is not the “exposure” Paul talked about in Eph 5:11-13. This is the first case of tabloid journalism. “GUYS – DAD WAS PASSED OUT, NAKED!!!”

     Observe: Shem and Japheth took such care in restoring their father’ dignity that they didn’t even want to accidentally see their father naked. Thus, they approached him walking backward, treating their father and his privacy with great care.

Curse or Prophecy?
     Following this episode, Noah blurts out a curse than many might presume to be residual alcohol, but it is not. Noah appears to bless two of his sons and curse one of his grandsons. It appears that he punishes the guilty son by cursing his youngest son. But, that is actually not the case.

     As we read further in the genealogy, we note that from Shem comes Jacob’s line – the Shemites (Semites) and from Japheth come the gentiles. That the gentiles would one day live in the tents of Shem is a picture of what is also reported in Ephesians 2:14-16 that through the cross, both Jews and gentiles would have access to God through the cross. This is a prophetic utterance. The curse on Canaan was not placed on him by Noah, but by God. Noah was merely prophesying what we now know about the Canaanites – that they would become a wicked, God-hating, idolatrous people.

The Punishment Fit the Crime…
     So, is Ham off the hook? No. Though Noah did not actually curse Canaan, Ham was still punished by his words. History would prove that Ham would have been long dead before the wickedness of his progeny would come to fruition. Therefore, Ham’s punishment was much like his crime: he would now know what he did not want to know and would otherwise never have known.

     For Ham to die before seeing the wickedness of his offspring would have been God’s hand of mercy. But, because of his rebellion against God vis-a-vis his slander against Noah, He was made to know what the tabloids would only hundreds of years later report.

Honor your father and mother… that it may… go well with you…

in Christ,

AP


Why Me? The Most Important Question…

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)”

     I’ve often wondered as I’ve read the Gospel accounts of Jesus why He would do a miracle and then tell someone not to make a big deal of it. I mean, he heals a guy of leprosy and tells him – “Just show the priests and offer sacrifices and keep the rest on the down-low. (Matt 8:8, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14)” What’s with that?

Okay, so Jesus had a reason. I get it.

Why Are You Here, Lord?
     But, he does this awesome, public miracle where he feeds over 5,000 people and comes up with leftovers and then “withdraws” to a mountain. We all know that Christ’s miracles were never done for the sake of spectacle, rather to authenticate the power of God in Christ and for His glory. So, in front of a crowd of thousands – AUTHENTICATED! Your Kingdom come, we’re with you, Lord – now BE OUR KING!

     So, why doesn’t Christ just come out and say it? “I’m the Christ! Repent and come to God!” Instead: Withdrew again to a mountain? Come on!!!

The Core Issue
    The trouble in this scenario is identical to 1 Samuel 8. It is the familiar cry of the depraved soul that says “I want to be like everyone else!” Or, in Israel’s case – “Give us a KING!” The Lord’s reply is similar to the prophet Samuel’s. God told Samuel that the nation hadn’t rejected Samuel, rather God himself. And, so in tragic irony, despite the fact that they wanted to make Christ their king, the people were still rejecting God as their king.

Huh? 
     Though they were asking God in a body to be their king, they didn’t really want to make God their king. In classic Jesus form, Christ knew the motives of their hearts: it wasn’t God they wanted. It was freedom from oppression. But, not as Christ would have it. They wanted freedom from the oppression of man, not the freedom from the oppression of sin, self, and spiritual depravity. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, not like the kingdoms of men…

So, Lemme Askya:
     Lemme ask you this day: do you want Christ, right now, or do you want merely His blessings? Paul Washer once said even the devil himself would like to be back in heaven as long as God wasn’t there and he didn’t have to bow his knee to Christ. So, what do you want? An earthly king to provide for you and go out and fight your wars like the rest of the nations, or do you want a Holy, sovereign, and worthy King that you can worship and serve for eternity? Do you want Christ because you don’t want hell or because you want Christ?

     The Bible asks the same question over and over from Genesis to Revelation: “will you trust Me?” So asks the Lord of you right now: “Why Me? Do you want Me for Me or for my blessings?” Let us resolve to answer that question daily.

Jesus is usually sought after for something else, not for his own sake. – Augustine


in it with you,

AP