Me or Thee?

Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Philippians 2:3-4 MSG
In his paraphrased work, Eugene Peterson illustrates Paul’s description of two choices . . . two clear options that focus on our own way or on the way of others . . . on self or on serving.  The apostle gives an example of Jesus’ surrender, submission and service.  Paul instructs that we embrace the “mind of Christ” as we engage those around us.
This strategy requires us to set aside self and serve.  Our promoting and positioning gives way to a passion for and priority of others.
Self-Promotion.  The struggle of our soul is to be selfless.  Faith requires a fight against the flesh . . . saying no to us and yes to others. Paul writes, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3 NLT).  Thinking of others before we think of ourselves is the key to kindness.  Matthew Henry reminds us, “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom”.  Promoting self always means we prioritize self.  Rick Joyner writes, “We can build influence by self promotion, but God will only promote those who do not promote themselves. That which is built on self-promotion will have to be maintained by human striving.”
Self-Positioning.  The apostle gives some advice, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Phil 2:4 NLT). Seeing with clarity and compassion starts with viewing others through God’s eyes.  Brown writes, “Instead of fixing your eyes on those points in which you excel, fix them on those in which your neighbor excels you: this is true ‘humility’.”  Positioning others ahead of ourselves promotes peace.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)
Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeye’s Chicken gives some simple, yet significant thoughts in her book, “Dare to Serve” . . .
  •     “As a leader, the most ambitious thing you will ever attempt is removing yourself from the spotlight.”
  •     “Followers appreciate humble leaders – leaders with the ability to admit mistakes, to apologize, and to be vulnerable in difficult circumstances; leaders who think of others more than themselves.”
  •     “Leaders who serve others have three core values:  human dignity, personal responsibility, and humility.”
  •     “Ambition is a problem if it is all about you.”
  •     “Other-focused leadership inspires people to thrive.  Self-focused leadership induces people to survive.”
Saint Francis gives us the following prayer of selflessness . . .
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.  It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”
It’s not about me . . . it’s about serving instead of self.

Power Within

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Isaiah 40:29
There are days when being weary, weak and worn out starts to win out . . . and, giving in, giving up or giving out seems to be the only way.
We face challenges everyday.  Some are small and some are staggering.
As we face these, some say we should be “committed to the cause”.
As God looks at us, He says we should be “surrendered to the Savior”.
There’s a dividing difference between commitment and surrender.
Commitment is dependent on my determination, my dedication and my drive.  It’s me getting up.
Surrender is relinquishing my rights, my responsibilities and my resources.  It’s me giving in.
Commitment means I’m doing the work.  Surrender means He’s doing the work in me.
Commitment says, “No matter what, I can.”  Surrender says, “No matter what, I can’t.”
Commitment relies on strength.  Surrender rests in weakness.
Commitment alone is lacking.  Surrendering my commitment to God is lasting.
A. W. Tozer writes, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”
Isaiah understands the efforts and the emptiness of our own interference.  He instruct us that God is there for those who are worn out and He is there for those who are weak.
Renewed Strength For The Weary.  Some have been in battle so long that their determination has been depleted.  It may be hard to grasp, but this is exactly where God wants us.  A few verses later, Isaiah reminds us, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” (Is 40:31 NIV)  Our God comes along side to renew and refresh when all strength is gone.  Paul encourages us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16 ESV)
Surrender your weariness to His renewing strength.
New Strength For The Weak.  Some never engaged in the battle because they have no strength.  Fear or failure have paralyzed many into escaping, instead of engaging.  Paul writes, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Tim 1:7 HCSB)  If you are powerless, God will give you power.  The apostle writes to the Christ followers in Phillipi, “I can do all things through Christ who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)
Surrender your weakness to His new strength.
There are times when we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say, we don’t know where to go or we don’t know what to think . . . I’ve been there (what am I saying . . . I’m there now).
Tommy Walker writes the following lyrics,
“When I don’t know what to do, I’ll lift my hands.
When I don’t know what to say, I’ll speak Your praise.
When I don’t know where to go, I’ll run to Your throne.
When I don’t know what to think, I’ll stand on Your truth.
When I don’t know what to do, Lord, I surrender all.”
All to Jesus, we surrender.  Let go and let God.

Do Right. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NLT
I can’t tell you how many times I struggle with the questions, “Am I doing any good?” or “Am I pleasing God?”  The prophet Micah gives instruction to the nations of what pleases God.  It’s not sacrifice, but the heart behind the sacrifice.  Our attitudes drive our actions.
So, what is right and what does God require?  The prophet gives us some insight.
Do What Is Right.  Solomon shares, “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” (Prov 21:3)  Doing what is right promotes the passion, purpose and principles of God.  When we honor Him, we please Him.  Leonard Ravenhill writes, “If we displease God, does it matter whom we please? If we please Him does it matter whom we displease?”  Our doing starts with our being.  Paul reminds us, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:8 NLT)
Love Mercy.  When you love something, you want to share it.  Mercy is defined as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” Abraham Lincoln writes, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”  The prophet Hosea reminds us of the magnificence of showing mercy.  He shares, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  (Hosea 6:6)  Loving mercy is illustrated in our initial response to injustice . . . in our societies, our communities and our homes.
Mercy is a healing salve in our hurting struggles.
Mercy is compassion in our conflicts.
Mercy is grace in our grief.
Love mercy . . . show mercy . . . give mercy.
Walk Humbly With God.  James reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NIV)  Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us . . . significant enough to experience His mercy, grace and love . . . yet willing to serve to express His mercy, grace and love. David Wells writes, “Humility has nothing to do with depreciating ourselves and our gifts in ways we know to be untrue. Even ‘humble’ attitudes can be masks of pride. Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”
Don’t settle on seeing yourself the way others see you . . . be satisfied with the way God sees you . . . worthy, willing and His workmanship.
Walking with God requires our communion with Him, our commitment to Him and our confidence in Him.
Walk well, my friends . . . walk well.

Greatness By Grace

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 ESV

The disciples of Jesus, Peter and John were both fisherman by trade and they came from a small city that had little economic or cultural significance.

Paul, although theologically trained, was a tent maker.
Matthew was a tax collector.
Onesimus was a run away slave.
Cornelius was a soldier.
Rahab was a prostitute.
Moses was a murderer.
David was a conspiring adulterer.

The list goes on and on. Yet, all of these experienced a sense of Kingdom greatness because of grace.

Peter and John tell others what they have seen, heard and experienced . . . they are confident, not condemning. They are not only identified as being with Jesus . . . they are impacted, influenced and inspired by Jesus.

This brand of authenticity, boldness and courage becomes the new “ABC’s” of following God. It isn’t education . . . it’s experience with Jesus. It isn’t a position, it is His presence. It isn’t sitting at the feet of an educator, it’s sitting at the feet of The Master Teacher.

These “uneducated, common men” astonish the traditionalists of the day because they accept the truth of Jesus.

Jesus Changes. Paul writes to the Christ-followers in Corinth, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor 5:17 NLT) We are no longer in chains, we change. We are free from our past and penalties of sin. We are given a promise and peace through our pain and problems. Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:36 NLT) Roy T. Bennett writes, “Never let hard lessons harden your heart; the hard lessons of life are meant to make you better, not bitter.”

Jesus Challenges. A life changed by Jesus challenges the culture . . . with compassion, not condemnation. It’s triumph, not timidity. It’s hope, not hopelessness. We are light to the darkness and salt to the tasteless. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt 5:15-16 NLT). Light illuminates the way. Salt infuses flavor so others can “taste and see that The Lord is good”. (Ps 34:8)

Sunday Adelaja, Founder and Senior Pastor of Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations, in Kiev, Ukraine, writes, “Living in the Glory of God’s presence is to extend his domain of love”

Instead of a fisherman, tent maker, or tax collector, you may be an executive, small business owner, salesman, educator, barista, stay-at-home mom, coach, virtual employee or service provider. We all experience Kingdom greatness and grace . . . not because of prominence, position, power or paycheck . . . but, because we have been in the presence of our God.

This is a day of tender boldness, of truthful bravery and of letting others know that you have truly been with Jesus.

He defines each of us as a destiny maker . . . by changing us and challenging us.

Sometimes You Have To Look Behind The Curtain

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20 ESV

Trusting God is sometimes hard . . . trusting people who are “God’s messengers” in our lives . . . that reaches to a different level of difficulty.

Joseph lived a life of which great novels and award winning movies are made. He was the favorite younger son of a large family. He was honored by his earthly father and his Heavenly Father. Hated by his brothers, they faked his death and sold him into slavery. Even as a slave, he distinguished himself as a leader, rising to a place of prominence and then being falsely accused of sexual misconduct. He was given insight from God, rose to another position of power and became one of the greatest leaders of one of the powerful nations in history.

In the children’s literary classic of the 1900’s, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy and Toto encounter the Wizard. After stalling to fulfill his promises, Toto pulls back a curtain and exposes the Wizard as a middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone. Admitting to being a humbug, he insists that he is a good man but a bad wizard. Looking behind the curtain revealed the real story.

In Joseph’s story, God is revealed as a “behind the scenes” Divine Chess Player moving pieces that strategically bring about His ultimate plan.  As a Sovereign multi-tasker, His insight, influence and impact transcend time. His omniscient perception has been, is and will always be.

God’s Good Plan. By today’s standards, Joseph is a victim. The actions of his brothers and enemies are unfair and unfounded. Their deceptive reactions deliver disastrous results. Joseph’s brothers devise evil against him while God designs and directs the evil for good. As Joseph places his trust in God, his perspective changes from a victim to a victor. Paul reminds us, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom 8:28 NLT). In our lack of patience and limited perception, its easy to lose confidence in God’s plan. Our failure to trace God’s moving hand requires our faith to trust His heart. Elizabeth Elliott writes, “Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.” God always has a plan for His people.

God’s Guiding Presence. God’s omniscient perception is always complimented by his omnipresence . . . He is with you . . . always. George Washington writes, “Providence has at all times been my only dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us.” Moses reassures the Israelites, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deut 31:8 NLT) The Sovereign Savior has been with you in your yesterday, is with you in your today and will be with you in your tomorrow. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 ESV)

God’s Greater Purpose. Joseph’s pain, as well as his prominence are all part of God’s plan for deliverance and destiny. He depends on God’s grace and determines God’s greater good. Joseph perceives God’s broader purpose, “He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Gen 50:20 NLT) Young writes, “This is how you foil the works of evil, growing in grace through the very adversity that was meant to harm you.” Paul tells us, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil 1:6 NLT). God is working in ways that we cannot see to do things that we cannot do.

C. S. Lewis writes, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain, but without stain.”

In our struggles and suffering, God has a good and greater purpose . . . and He guides us with His presence.

Others may devise evil . . . God has destined good. Just take a look behind the curtain.

Time To Recharge

I will fully satisfy the needs of those who are weary and fully refresh the souls of those who are faint.
Jeremiah 31:25 NET
Weary?  Worn out?  Whipped?
We are always on the go . . . always working . . . always connecting.  We give the nod to the novel notion that we are masters of our own lives.  We redefine busyness as blessing . . . when in reality it becomes a burden.
Our Creator knows the chaos that we create.  Returning to Him refocuses life.  Resting in Him results in a replenished life.  Surrendering the demands of our schedule to sit at His feet means we find solace, strength and stamina.
Request To Rest.  Too often, we define our status by the demands on our schedule.  Seemingly, the more we do, the more we are needed.  We want to get away, but we can’t pry ourselves from the perceived priorities of life.  There is no better way to “get away” than to get with God.  He longs for us to escape the trials and turmoil of our days by embracing Him.  Jesus understands our rigors of responsibility and He responds with a request, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28 NET).  We come to Him and He gives rest.
Reason To Rest.  The pressures of each day should push us to God’s presence, not away.  The psalmist cries out, “And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Ps 55:6 ESV)  God designs us to “recycle”, not run all the time.  Our batteries need to recharge.  After Jesus and His disciples met the needs of many, He knew it was time to retreat.  Mark writes, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31 NIV).  Charles Spurgeon writes, “Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength . . . It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”
Results Of Rest.  The prophet Jeremiah is crystal clear in his commentary . . . God fully satisfies and fully refreshes.  Isaiah tells us “the Lord gives you rest from your pain, torment, and the hard labor you were forced to do.” (Is 14:3 HCSB)  When we reside in our Redeemer’s rest, we realize completely renewal, restoration and replenishment.  Jesus says, “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29 NET)
S.D. Gordon writes, “If there be anything that can render the soul calm, dissipate its scruples and dispel its fears, sweeten its sufferings by the anointing of love, impart strength to all its actions, and spread abroad the joy of the Holy Spirit in its countenance and words, it is this simple and childlike repose in the arms of God.”
It’s okay to step away from the pressure and sit in His presence.
Your God is waiting with outstretched arms, willing to give you a respite and wanting you to find rest . . . run to Him, let Him rescue you and be renewed in His embrace.