Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Be Alert

Plop me down in front of the television at just about any time of day and within an hour or so, I’ll be dozing off. Even for a football game, movie, or the local news that I actually want to watch.
However, when I get up before dawn and snuggle into some insulated camouflage in a near-freezing deer blind with only three or four hours of sleep under my belt, I stay alert and awake all morning (and, because I don’t drink coffee, it’s not the caffeine keeping me going). I’m just too apprehensive that if I lose focus for even a few seconds I’ll miss the opportunity to take Buckzilla.
Some folks fuss that it gets pretty boring to sit there for hours just waiting and watching. Some guys will take books to read, ipods to listen to, or even a laptop to get some extra work done. But I can’t do any of that. I feel compelled to continually scour the landscape, watching, listening, hoping.
Much more often than not, I go back to camp empty-handed. But, when I’m in that blind again, I’m reinvigorated, refocused, and ready. I’m alert.

It seems to be much more difficult for me to maintain that level of alertness, however, in my daily walk. We have been told over and over that we need to “be alert:”
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
[F]rom among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:30-31, NASB)
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13, NASB)

But . . . “be alert” for what? For what are we supposed to be waiting and watching?
Well, when I’m hunting, I have to watch for subtle movements. Deer seldom come bounding into a clearing to announce their presence. Even when keeping a focused watch, all of the sudden a deer is standing twenty feet from the edge of the woods without ever drawing attention to his entry into the field. It’s almost as if he appeared out of nowhere.
Sometimes, by intently combing the brush and tree lines, I may notice that a portion of a smoother, more symmetrical outline can be seen behind the branches and grass. Patient and careful observation may then yield a flick of an ear or even a blink of an eye. But the deer aren’t wearing blaze orange, jumping up and down, or doing anything else to draw attention to themselves. They come and go and hope to avoid any detection at all as they go about their business.
That’s what we need to be alert for every day.
Yes, the Bible tells us “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But the “roaring lion” is related to what happens when you’re not alert. We must be alert for the prowling, the subtle stalking, the insidious infiltration into our lives.
There’s no need for a precautionary command to “be alert” for a ten ton stampeding elephant. The danger is quite obvious. But we must be alert for those things that are only slight variations in what the landscape around us should look like, almost imperceptible changes.
And it’s more important to know what things are supposed to look like than to try to figure what specific things to be looking for. In other words, rather than focusing on what “the enemy” looks like, focus on what God’s plan looks like. Anything that doesn’t fit perfectly into that, should draw your attention.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is –
His good, pleasing and perfect will
. (Romans 12:2)

Know His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Be alert for anything (no matter how small) that isn’t perfectly consistent with that.
Take aim.
Destroy it.
We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons,
to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning
and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle
that keeps people from knowing God.
We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ
(2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NLT)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Seeking Approval

I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t like to pray in public.
O.K., I know that corporate prayer makes a lot of people nervous - the whole ‘speaking in public’ thing, and all. But that’s not what I mean; I’m O.K. with that aspect.
The problem is that when confronted with praying in public, a spiritual battle begins within me. It is a spiritual battle that rages on in many other areas of my life as well. It is a battle discussed by Paul in Galatians 1:10: Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? (NRSV)
My battle when praying in public: I fight to keep from praying words for the other people to hear versus praying solely to God. I struggle with praying to impress those in the room; to sound ‘pious,’ ‘holy,’ and ‘mature.’ I prefer to wage my battle by praying silently – for just God to hear. But circumstances often force the issue and put me right in the middle of the battle.
But, like I said, this is a battle that flows over into many other areas of my life. I often find myself trying to do even good things – Kingdom things – with the wrong motivations. “Will my extraordinary ‘spirituality’ be recognized in this?” “Will the pastor notice my contribution?” “What will they think of me if I can do that?”
Sometimes I give the battle to the Lord and He does mighty things. Sometimes I just ‘man up’ and the battle results in hay and straw (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
Several years ago, a friend told me a phrase that has helped me some in this battle. He said, “If you knew how little people think of you, you wouldn’t care how little people think of you.” Knowing that I’m easily befuddled, he went on to explain how seldom people actually contemplate their opinions and judgments of others, especially those who are not within their constant sphere of contact. So, since most people will seldom, if ever, even think about me, what they think about me shouldn’t really matter to me.
But God, on the other hand, is constantly thinking about me. How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God! How vast is their sum total! If I tried to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. (Psalm 139:17-18, NET) And what He thinks about me matters. His opinion counts. His approval is of singular importance. He is the One I need to please.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I need to try to ‘please God’ in order to earn my way to heaven or to deserve His love, or anything like that. Those things are already taken care of – by Him, of course.
I can’t make God love me more by my actions. But, by my actions I can love God more. By acknowledging and focusing on Him as the only One whose opinion matters, I start to love and worship Him as He deserves. And I start to align my life with the life He intends for me.
Because He is perfectly holy (in His thoughts, His actions, and His essence), by seeking His approval (rather than man’s) I am seeking His holiness, I am moving toward His holiness. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. (1 Peter 1:15-17)

So, does it make any sense to be so concerned with pleasing men and gaining their approval rather than seeking only God’s approval? Of course not. But getting that truth from my thinking into my heart and then into my actions is a work in progress.
God loves me more than I can realize.
He thinks about me more than I can imagine (Psalm 139).
I would sure like to know that when He is thinking about me, a smile creeps across His face.
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.
Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and
who correctly explains the word of truth
2 Timothy 2:15, NLT

Seeking to please Him,
Craig Hollingsworth

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Significantly Not As Described

Do you use eBay, craigslist, or any of the other on-line “garage sales?” I certainly do. In fact, I’ve bought sunglasses, skis, cel phone accessories, tickets, clothes, and even cows through those sources. Sometimes ‘new,’ sometimes ‘used.’ (I’m not sure if the ‘new’ or the ‘used’ tag would apply to the cows.)
However, my initial exposure and continued primary experience with eBay has been as a seller.
Several years ago, we discovered that we could try to move some of our old inventory through eBay - things we’ve had trouble selling to the few customers that came into one of our brick and mortar stores could be offered to hundreds, or even thousands of ‘virtual’ customers. It hasn’t been a ‘road to riches,’ but we have been able to recoup some investment, often selling items well below our cost in order to create some cash flow and lessen potential losses on those items.
Occasionally, we have a problem. For example, a lady bought something from us on eBay for a Christmas present. A couple of weeks after Christmas, she decided she wanted to return it. So she filed a ‘dispute’ with eBay alleging the item was ‘Significantly Not As Described.’ According to eBay’s User Agreement, an item is ‘Significantly Not As Described’ when “the seller clearly misrepresented the details of the item in a way that affects its value or usability.” Examples they give include: “The item is a completely different item than that represented by the seller in the listing,” or “The condition of the item is significantly different,” or “The item is unusable and was not disclosed as such,” or “The item was advertised as authentic but is not authentic.”
Don’t get me started about the manner eBay handles disputes, etc. Suffice it to say that no investigation was done and eBay just granted a refund without any consideration of the facts, issues, or positions of the parties.

Sooooo . . . .
Genesis 1:27 tells us: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him.” Now, I don’t know about you, but when I look at the image in my mirror, I think, “This item would definitely be classified as Significantly Not As Described!”
“Where’s the value?”
“There is no ‘usability’ in that?!”
“The condition of this item is infinitely different than stated!”
“How can this item be ‘authentic’?”

Nevertheless, regardless of the condition of me, God has resolved this dispute in my favor. He stands behind His claim (“in His image”) and He provides an unconditional, eternal warranty. He doesn’t base His judgment of what I am on what I see, but on what He sees. And He sees things through what His Son has done for me and what I will someday be.
What is it that He sees in me? What else would be in the ‘listing’ of who/what I am? What is the ‘representation’ He has made about me?
For starters:
I am God's child (John 1:12); I am a friend of Jesus (John 15:15); I have been justified (Romans 5:1); I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17); I have been bought with a price and I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); I am a member of Christ's body (1 Corinthians 12:27); I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child (Ephesians 1:3-8); I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins (Colossians 1:13-14); I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10); I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16).
I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine (John 15:5); I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16); I am God's temple (1 Corinthians 3:16); I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21); I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6); I am God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10); I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12); I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).
I am free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2); I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances (Romans 8:28); I am free from any attacks brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39); I have been established, anointed and sealed by God (2 Corinthians 1:21-22); I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me (Philippians 1:6); I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20); I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7); I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18).

I don’t know why He purchased me. But I’m sure glad He did.

As Described,
Craig Hollingsworth