I am not the center

Looking Up

 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. – Psalm 51:15, NIV

I was watching the Big Ten Network (don’t all good Nebraska wives do this on a Saturday night? Good thing I like football.), and the special feature snagged my attention. I mean really hooked my interest with one kid speaking.

“I’m blessed to wake up every morning.” The camera followed Shane Wynn of Indiana out of the locker room as his voice came over the tape. “Why not make it a good day?”

Wow. Out of the mouth of babes. (I so can’t believe I’m writing that about a college kid. Sheesh. Just last night, I told my hubby that the Cowboy’s coach looked too young to be coaching. So did Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins, for that matter. I’m going to find another bottle of hair dye. And some wrinkle cream.).

Back to the point. Attitude. Fresh, clean, exuberant attitude. That’s what Shane Wynn has.

Love. It. And, honestly, envy it a little bit. I’ve been stuck in a downer recently—my first thought in the morning has been, “why does morning have to come so early?” Yikes. What a way to start a whole new, unmarked day, right?

I did some looking yesterday, via google—I google everything. I was researching how to overcome pessimism. It’s possible, right? I hope. Several articles popped up on my screen, and I clicked on a few to see what Prevention Magazine and BHG have to say on the matter. You know, it was interesting. While I didn’t agree with all the advice, a pattern emerged that sunk into my skull.

Pessimistic people—negative people—focus on themselves. In everything, the focus lands on their belly-button, so to speak.

Ouch. Yeah, ouch.

God has this cure for self-centered living. It’s called looking up. God-centeredness. In Experiencing God Henry Blackaby writes,

“To live a God-centered life, you must focus your life on God’s purposes, not your own plans. You must seek to see from God’s viewpoint, rather than from your own distorted human viewpoint.”

I can’t focus on me and on God at the same time. I’m going to have to choose. And since I don’t like the sourness accumulating in my soul, I’m choosing Him. Me-centeredness isn’t working, so starting today, I’m looking up.

How about you? Will you look up with me?

I am not the center

“The World Does Not Revolve Around You”

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father, but is from the world.  And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.  I John 1:15-17

Lust. It’s not a pretty word.  And most often, we think of it as sexual longing.  But that’s only one facet.  We lust for many things that have nothing to do with a roll in the hay.

We lust for lovely homes and fashionable decorations. We lust for lucrative jobs and titles to match them. We lust for the best school districts and highest academic honors.  We lust for the spotlight and for leisure and for shiny new cars, for boats and toys and jewelry galore. We want what we want, really badly. We put ourselves on the throne of our own lives, and maybe even try for the throne of our neighbors’ lives, too.

All of that is passing away. And when it does, the only thing that will matter is the only thing that really ever mattered – God Himself.

My wise mother often told me, “The world does not revolve around you.” She understood human nature so well. All that longing occurs when I put myself in the center of my universe and begin to believe that everything really is about me.  I begin to believe that I deserve that object, that honor, or that life situation, just because I want it.

And that’s why I chose this topic for this week. I’ve slipped recently.  While I haven’t desired everything I listed above, I have begun to focus on what I want and take my focus off of God.

The one who does God’s will remains forever. The one who seeks His kingdom above her own comfort remains forever. The one who is willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of Christ’s mission remains forever.  The one who is willing to suffer so that God’s word will reach those who have never heard – she will remain forever.

And in the end, it won’t matter at all what kind of house she lived in or how many pairs of shoes she owned.


His Time

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. –James 5:7-8, NIV

I have to admit, I’m an impatient gardener. I buy my veggies pre-started, because once I’ve tilled my plot, smoothed it and have it ready to plant, I want to see something green for my efforts. If I stuck to the old fashioned (and more economical) way, I’d poke hard little seeds into the ground, water the bare dirt and…wait. The sun would rise and set, and…I’d still have to wait. Seven to fourteen days, depending on the veggie.

Not my cup of dirt. So, my favorite local nursery gladly accepts my green cash in exchange for their green plants. I carry them home in a flat, let them sit in a sheltered spot for a while, and then set their roots into the cool, loose dirt. Viola! My garden is beautiful. No waiting.

Farmers? They don’t roll that way—because it’s way too expensive. They plow the dirt and plant the seed, and then suck it up and employ some patience, because they have a grander vision than my small plot of veggies. They have more acres to grow than I have wrinkles in my brain, and the best way to farm on a large scale is to wait.

Jesus referred to the world as a field and he commissioned his disciples to get to work. It’s a tough job, though, planting seeds of faith and waiting for green to spout. I seem to want to rush the harvest. Heaven sounds pretty good, and especially on days when I feel wind-whipped and thirsty, I think, “When Lord? How much longer do we have to wait?”

But the God of the planting is the also the God of the harvest. He knows the perfect time to sow, as well as the exact moment to gather. I may think the season of ripeness is here, but my view is hardly panoramic; His is all encompassing. So He leaves me with this admonition: “be patient and stand firm. I am coming.”

His time. Not mine.

I am not the center

Unselfish only in His strength

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 HCSB

I’d had a long day. I was exhausted, and he was filling my aching head with 13-year-old boy noises – silly, repetitive songs and raspberries.  From my point of view, this was incredibly annoying, and so I felt perfectly justified in snapping at him.  It felt good to speak sharply, to let him know exactly how his actions were affecting me.  He should be more respectful of me than to mindlessly make noise when I was tired!

But, with my verbal dagger, my son’s smile faded and his shoulders slumped. He walked out of the room, and I realized I had lost a chance to enjoy a few moments of fading childhood with my boy.  I was too focused on myself – my tiredness, my annoyance – to think how my words would affect him, make him feel.

Of course he forgave me, and even today, he’s up to the same antics. But the point isn’t that I had a poor mothering moment. The point is that I had a me-centered moment, and that happens far too often, especially as I relate to those closest to me.  If I am in the midst of the argument, I think of how hurt I am and how right I am – not on how my words may be hurting the one I’ve squared off against.  Even if I’m not arguing, I am often trying to figure out how to arrange my life to satisfy myself instead of how to arrange it to meet the needs of those around me.

And Jen was so right in yesterday’s post. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we sinful humans rise above our innate selfishness.  When I am filled with the Spirit of the One who sacrificed Himself for me, I can and do put the interests of others before my own.

But it is a daily – no, a moment-by-moment – choice to do so, to yield to God’s power, to put myself under His authority. When I do, I can live out these verses. When I don’t – well, I fall flat on my face.

Imagine a world where all of us lived out these verses. What a unselfish, peaceful world that would be.

I am not the center

I am Not the Center: A Joint Post

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advancement of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is for Christ. Most of the brothers in the lord have gained confidence from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the message fearlessly.  Philippians 1:12-14

From Susan

Paul wrote those words from prison. Really, Paul?

I don’t know that I would have had the same attitude. I think if I had been writing that letter to the Philippian church, it might have gone something like this: “Please pray that I get out of this filthy place!  It’s no fair that I was thrown in here when I hadn’t committed a crime.  It’s cold, and I don’t have a bed, much less a pillow, and the food stinks.  Would someone please go petition my case to the governor or something?  Anyone have the funds to hire me a better lawyer? And would somebody at least try to smuggle me in a Snickers bar? You are coming to see me, aren’t you?  You haven’t forgotten about me, have you?  Because I think God may have.”

Do you see all the “I”s and “me”s in my letter? I sure do.  Paul’s version, however, had a completely different perspective.  “It’s actually a good thing that I’m in prison, because I’ve been able to tell my guards about Christ, and they are all talking about Him to each other.  And my arrest inspired other Christians to boldly share the Good News, so that more people have heard about Jesus because I am in prison than would have if I had never been thrown in here.”

Paul understood that it wasn’t all about him and his personal comfort.   God’s main goal was not to make Paul happy, and Paul was fine with that. He got it that there was a greater purpose for his existence – to glorify God in everything.

How can we apply that lesson today, in 2014?

From Jen:

How indeed. Everything within nags that I need attention, and everything without tells me that I am right. Silencing the demand for me seems impossible. But what is impossible on my own…

This is why Jesus said we needed the Holy Spirit. Living a God centered life isn’t natural, because it requires a shift in paradigm. The fleshly standard goes something like this: A successful life will yield the fruit of self-satisfaction. Wealth. Comfort. Fulfillment in friends and popularity. It will never be trampled on by another, never be overlooked. It will be the whole package of me-centered desires.

But the Bible paints a different picture for the God-centered life. One that bears the fruit of the Spirit living and working within. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control.

So even in prison there is love. Shackled in chains; joy and peace. Left in a moment by unreliable friends, yet there is patience, kindness, goodness. Poured out by God’s providence in a way that is painful? Faithfulness. Treated with brutality; gentleness. Wrongly accused; self-control.

The answer has remained the same throughout the centuries. I live a life in which I am not the focal point. The Christian life is a God-centered life. And the paradox is this: a God-centered life is never overlooked by the creator of the universe. A God-centered life is complete.

I Have Joy

Radiant Joy

Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. – Psalm 34:5 HCSB

Ever see a girl in love? Eyes bright, smile huge, face…radiant. Love has a distinctive way of painting a face with joy.

Why is she glowing? Why does she float through life like she’d spouted invisible wings?

Because she’s happy. She’s with the one who makes her heart flutter and sing, who loves everything about her. Life is good. Perfect. And nothing will douse the glow of her love.

Be good if that were an ever-after story, wouldn’t it? Every one of us married gals would twirl through life without a care in the world. Nothing would erase the everlasting smile from our lips. No harsh words would pass between us and our beloved. There would never be long nights flooded with bitter tears. Never a cold shoulder. Love would just make everything rosy.

Not so much. I’ve got a good marriage, and still I know the difference between reality and fairytales, and that one has Disney written all over it.

But the Bible is not a book of fairytales. It’s peppered with hard stories—stories with an adult rating on them. Stories of real people, broken families, wandering hearts, and deceitful men. Yet in the middle of this Book, King David—a fragile man himself—wrote these words:

I will praise the LORD at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the LORD; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim Yahweh’s greatness with me; let us exalt His name together. I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed.

Stranger still, he likely wrote that while in hiding from a mad-man. David knew disappointment. Knew betrayal. Knew failure. He knew all this by the hands of others, and he knew it by his own doing. And yet he writes, “those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed.” How can he say that?

Because, despite the fact that David didn’t always live a fairytale life, his God never failed. Never failed. LOVE doesn’t, you know. It bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things.

Joy like that? It’s the radiant kind.

I Have Joy

For the Joy Set Before Us

Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB

Jesus didn’t take a clean, quick bullet for me. Those soldiers tortured Him to death while the crowd mocked and humiliated him.  Crucifixion is absolutely the most awful way to die.  And yet, Jesus endured it – every excruciating hour of it —  for the joy set before Him.

That must be some mighty strong joy to make such a death endurable. And keep in mind, Jesus was far from being a helpless prisoner who had no other choice.  He was God in human flesh.  At any point in the process, He could have excused Himself from the torture.  He could have sizzled the soldiers, called down the angels and escaped.  He chose to stay there – endured it – for the joy set before Him.

Which makes me wonder – what sort of joy was He anticipating?

I think it was at least partly the joy of fellowship. His death paid the final price for sin, making it possible for humans to finally have unhindered relationship with God.  Finally, God and his creatures could walk together again with no barriers between them, just like they did in the garden before Adam and Eve sinned.  Jesus was looking forward to that sweet fellowship with us.

Jesus must also have been looking forward to sitting down at God’s right hand. When Jesus became our sin, God turned His back.  I think Jesus was anticipating the joy of reunion with His Father.

Could it also have been the joy of a job well done? The kind of joy that a runner sets his mind on in the last mile of a marathon?  “Every muscle in my body is stinging, I am craving rest and water, yet I will run on because I want the satisfaction of knowing I finished this race.  That future joy is more important than this present pain.”

Hebrews 12 calls us to imitate Jesus – to set our eyes on future joy. Imagine how amazing it will be to finally step into the splendor of Heaven and see God Himself. Think of the wonder of it – how incredible will it be to have a conversation with Jesus face to face?  Then, we will look back on our lives – and the endurance it took to live them – and realize “Yeah.  This was so totally worth it.”

May we endure, for the joy set before us.