The Greatest

How do you define greatness?  Is a person with a sharp suit and a fast car great?  Or is it a popular and loved person who is truly great?  Maybe someone who follows all the rules of the Bible?  Or maybe it’s the one who works hard and becomes CEO of his company.

nice car!

What Standard?

Could it be that all of these definitions are wrong?  Could someone be winning in his fitness, family, financially, and career, and yet lack what it takes to be great?  Let’s take a moment to look at what the world’s greatest teacher had to say on the subject:

Luke 9:

46 An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”

I’m better!  No, I’m better!

We see in this scene men arguing with each other as to who is better than whom.  Have you ever, perhaps in your mind, compared yourself to those around you and decided that you really are greater than they?  It is easy for us to overlook some of our own shortcomings and see ourselves favorably.  “If only others were more like me,” we think, “this place would be a whole lot better…”

The problem is, besides becoming puffed up with ourselves, we are apt to have a very mixed-up view of greatness and what it takes to be great.  Like the disciples in the Luke 9 story, we focus on external accomplishment and things that impress men.  Jesus taught the disciples, as He teaches us, that God values highest what men often esteem lowest.

Why waste my time with kids?

Children are often looked down on in our society—and not just because of their stature!  😉  Adults will often think of children as silly, naïve, and simple.  Rather than have a conversation with a little kid or tell a story from the Bible, we adults will prefer to spend time on “important things” like washing dishes, paying bills, or even surfing facebook.

In contrast, Jesus defines greatness by one who receives a child in His name.  When we accept children, we accept Jesus, and when we accept Jesus we are accepting God.  To be great, we must be willing to, and take the time to, tell kids about God, about Jesus, and about what He has done.  When is the last time that you shared God with a child?

Will you serve, even if no one cares?

Perhaps we won’t impress those around us with speech about how we told kids about Jesus.  Maybe teaching a Sunday School class of second graders or volunteering to lead game time on Wednesday night will not be rewarded with the thanks of your fellow church members.  Maybe no one will care.  But isn’t that the point?  Do we really love God for who he is, and desire to serve Him and do what He says for that reason only?  Perhaps this is one reason Jesus defines greatness in this way—who will value a child, take the time to pour truth and love into him, even if he must do so thanklessly.  Lord, teach us to be great!

Respond or react?

What do you do when you negative things come your way?  When a friend disagrees with you and puts you down, do you lash out?  When your brother cancels your poker game at the last minute for the third time in a row, do you yell at him for being so irresponsible and unreliable?  What about when a coworker belittles your ideas and makes you feel small?  Do you react by gossiping about her behind her back?

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Your Choice

When people are unkind to us, we have two choices.  We can respond or we can react.  Reacting means doing what we naturally feel and allowing our emotions to choose our words.  In contrast, when we choose to respond to a negative situation, we use our mind and heart to overrule our emotions.

Is It Even About Me?

Often, when we are wronged, we incorrectly take the negative actions of another personally.  People are sometimes rude and inconsiderate, but many times this has nothing to do with you.  First off, if they are habitually rude, that has everything to do with them, and little to do with you.  In other instances, a person may not be habitually negative, but something negative has just happened in their life and they let their disappointment get the best of them.  In a few instances people are truly mean to you because they want to be.  But even in these cases, the right road is to respond, not react.

Forgive First

Each one of us has shortcomings, and as such we are bound to rub each other the wrong way.  When someone hurts you, can get mad and let your feelings boil over into harsh words against the wrongdoer.  Or you can choose to forgive them.  You can forgive, assuming they meant no offense; you can forgive assuming they let their emotions get the best of them, and you can even forgive in cases where it’s clear they were intentionally malicious.  You need not wait for their apology—forgive anyway.  If an apology comes, great!  If not, no big deal.

Create an Opportunity

If you will make the choice to live this way, and act with your will, mind, and heart rather than your emotions, your reward will be peace unknown to the masses who fail to respond and allow themselves to react.  Not only that, but those around you will notice your unusual behavior. They may even ask you why  you live so differently.  Can you think of a better opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Who’s your Neighbor?

Do you consider yourself to be a friendly person?  Would the people who see you, whether at work, as you leave your house, or at the supermarket, speak of how you sought them out in friendship and treated them great?  Do you routinely smile and greet those you pass on the street or in the hall, or is your daily focus primarily on yourself?

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Two Ignore, One Helps

Jesus was once asked by religious leaders who he considered to be his neighbor.  He responded with a familiar parable, the story of the Good Samaritan.  In this parable, we learn of a man who is beaten and robbed.  A few of his countrymen see his helpless condition, yet pass by on the other side of the road.  In contrast, a Samaritan, who is naturally an enemy to the Jewish victim, yet seeks him out, takes him to a doctor, and even covers the expenses for the man’s care.

We often hear this parable as a nice story, meant simply to induce us to be kind.  But remember back to what question Jesus was actually responding to when He told this story.  He was asked who his neighbor was.  Understanding this context gives a deeper meaning to the story than the simple truth that we are to be kind.

Look for Needs

The people of Jesus’ day, much like most people in our day, tended to happily exist in their own small sphere of influence, engaging with people who were like them and who they were familiar with.  Through this parable, Jesus shows clearly that we are to intentionally seek out others, others who may not be very much like us, in order to meet their needs.

The Greatest Need

What is the greatest need which many of our neighbors have?  For any who do not know Christ personally, who have not been washed and cleansed through faith in Christ, their greatest need is salvation of their soul.  Without atonement, mankind is separated from God’s good presence, and any who perish without Jesus will face eternity without Him.  The need for salvation is so widespread, little recognized, and of utmost importance that, if we are looking, we will see it everywhere.

This is the condition of many people we see and walk by each day.  The strangers who we’re ignoring are desperately in need of the truth, the truth that we know.  But someone needs to tell them.  Not only that, but most people aren’t particularly receptive to ideas unfamiliar to them being expressed by strangers.  So what can we do?  We share the gospel with them as a friend.

Be a Friend

Friendship doesn’t come instantaneously, but it can be cultivated in a relatively short period of time.  Start simply by adopting the habit of greeting and smiling at the people who cross your path each day.  You’ll quickly find that a great many people are eager to engage with you, particularly if you’ll ask them open-ended questions about themselves.

As you cultivate friendships with your neighbors, be listening for what they value.  Do they desire wisdom? Or perhaps peace and something solid to rely on?  Or maybe they’re contemplating what happens after death because of a recent loss in their family.  Remember that when you have Jesus, you have the truth and the life that our world desperately needs.  Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, share the truth, and let Jesus call out to the people in your life using you as His mouthpiece.  To God be the glory!

Our Latest Blessing

My wife Michelle and I were greatly blessed yesterday to welcome our third child into the world!  Hannah was born happy and healthy at 7:15 in the morning, and mom and baby are both doing great!

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Our other two, Lydia and Nathan, were excited and intrigued to meet the newest member of our family! Michelle was such a trooper all through the labor and delivery, and all the nurses fawned over how tough she was and for her positive outlook and attitude. I’m married to a pretty amazing lady!

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God’s hand is so apparent in the experience of seeing a baby being born. God has made our bodies with such complexity and ingenious design, and the mysterious process of birth is an incredible sight to behold!

Even with this being our third, I found the beauty and excitement woven into Hannah’s birth transformational. Even as I left the hospital and drove along our familiar street, I felt that I saw the world around me differently. A new child has entered my life, and depends on me for physical, emotional, and spiritual support.

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Through parenthood, we get a small picture of the love God has for us. Like little children, mankind is dependent on God for life and existence. He gives to us great blessings, blessings we don’t deserve, out of his gracious love for us. Though Hannah may slip, make mistakes, fall, or rebel, my love for her will remain. So it is with our Father in heaven. Though we may break his Law, reject His ways, and refuse his Son as Savior, He remains patient with us, and gives us another breath and another chance to turn from sin and accept the Lord Jesus. Praise God for the love he bestows on us, and we thank Him for the precious gift He has given our family this week!

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True Spirituality

What does it mean to be spiritual?  Does a person with a strong spiritual life simply keep all the rules?  And what’s the point of living in true spirituality anyway, when it seems like all you get for your sacrifices is some undefined goody-goody feeling?  Today we’ll explore these questions and more, and learn what the world’s greatest teacher had to say on the subject.

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Actions Speaking Louder

Many of us have had less than positive experiences growing up around Christian people.  Even within the church, it’s all too common to see people talk about all kinds of good things, but then when we see how they live, the disparity is enormous.  What good is it to talk about the right things one ought to do, and then go out and live completely the opposite?  Seeing people living this way can make us jettison the whole idea of Christianity:  who wants to follow a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites?!!

Not Based in Duty or Behavior

Jesus’ picture of spirituality, as contrasted with the heresy described in the previous paragraph, has nothing to do with activity.  Rather, true spirituality is walking in a loving relationship with our Father God.  You see, while we were sinners, alienated from our Creator because of our sin, God sent his son Jesus to come, live a perfect life, and die the death we deserved.  When we respond to this truth and turn from our sin and to Christ as Lord, God grants us new life. Just as God saw our sin placed on Christ at the cross, He now sees Christ’s perfection in us.  No longer are we estranged from our Creator – we are His sons and daughters!

Living in Response to What He Has Done

True spirituality, then, is living in response to this truth, to this great gift of salvation we have received.  When we understand what Christ has done for us, we respond in the only way possible—by loving Him, loving what He loves, and desiring His will.  How do we know what He loved?  In the Scriptures we hear from God who He is, what He has done, and how He desires we live.  Christ taught us that the first commandment is to love God above all else.  The second commandment is to love our neighbors. On these two commandments hang all the teachings of the Law, and if you think about it, sole direction one needs to live as a blessing to those around him.  Though living this way is not easy, and even as followers of Christ we often fall short and sin, this is the way to true spirituality and eternal life:  accept the gift of salvation Christ offers, and devote your life to following Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  He is gentle and humble of heart, and will lead you, protect you, and invite you into His heavenly kingdom.

Does Money Drive Your Decisions?

Have you ever heard someone quote from the Bible that, “money is the root of all evil?” Does God really oppose riches and want His children to avoid nice homes, cars, and other physical possessions?  Is it wrong to seek financial freedom and success?

a formal affair

To start off, let’s check the accuracy of that biblical quote.

1 Timothy 6

7For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Money is Paper

Does this passage teach that money is bad?  Is money the root of all evil?  No. Rather, it is the love of money that is a root of all sorts of evil.  Loving anything more than we love God is idolatry, and to do so violates what Christ said was the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  As the passage above teaches, many foolish men have wandered away from God in the pursuit of their greatest love:  money.

So, if loving money is a danger we must be careful to avoid, should we seek to keep our income low and not bother to learn sound financial principles and habits?  Some have misquoted and misunderstood Scripture in asserting such ideas, only to find that this foolishness has the opposite effect than what was intended.

Money on Your Mind

Which man spends more time thinking about money, the one who earns plenty and has a large savings account or the one who earns little and lives paycheck to paycheck?  All else equal, who places more value on a $100 bill, a man who’s in debt up to his ears or a man who has a $1 million net worth?  A rich man may be miserly or generous, and a poor man may love God or love money, but in general the following applies:  those with plenty of money make fewer decisions based on money than do those who have little.

How Then Shall We Live?

So, what does this mean for us—the majority between poverty and affluence?  How should we live in light of these truths?  I see two major lessons:  First, always check your heart that you’re loving God more than money (or anything else for that matter).  Whether you count yourself rich or not, your heart can be led astray after money, so guard yourself and always see money as a means to serving God, not the other way around.  Lesson number two is this: act wisely now in order that your decisions need not revolve around money later.  Dave Ramsey says in this way:  Live now like no one else so that later, you can live like no one else.

Don’t Be the Joneses

It’s a hard thing to do, saying no to fun trips, activities, and purchases just because “we don’t have the money.”  What makes it even harder is that it’s so easy to borrow money on a credit card or finance a big purchase, and this is exactly what our neighbors do.  But, if you will make the hard decisions and say no today, the money you save and invest will grow and compound, and one day you’ll reach the position of financial strength and freedom where money no longer drives your decisions.  We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Trusting Though Surrounded

Do you expect that following God’s way will make life easier?  If you study the Scripture and seek to keep all its precepts, will your circumstances be easy and smooth?  While our loving Heavenly Father promises many good things to us, His children, a life of comfort and ease isn’t one of them!

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Psalm 3 (New Living Translation)

1O LORD, I have so many enemies;

so many are against me.

2So many are saying,

“God will never rescue him!”

3But you, O LORD, are a shield around me;

you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.

4I cried out to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy mountain.

5I lay down and slept,

yet I woke up in safety,

for the LORD was watching over me.

6I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies

who surround me on every side.

7Arise, O LORD!

Rescue me, my God!

Slap all my enemies in the face!

Shatter the teeth of the wicked!

8Victory comes from you, O LORD.

May you bless your people.

How Can the Wicked Prosper?

Certainly in our society today, we find many people opposed to God and His Word.  As in David’s time, there are many mockers and slanderers of God’s followers.  Sometimes we may think that God should tear down these people directly with His mighty right hand, or at least give us victory over them so they will see the truth in what we speak.  But, God’s ways are not our ways—no, his are much higher.  In His good pleasure, God often holds back his wrath and judgment from those who break his Law and oppose His people.

For a time, we find ourselves surrounded by a mighty army of enemies.  Christians around the world today face physical violence from groups who oppose the gospel, and every day men and women are beaten and even killed for following Jesus.  And God continues to give life and breath to even those who harm and kill His people.  How can God do this??  Why does he allow His people to be surrounded?

He’s Longsuffering with Us, Should He Not Be with Others?

God’s mercy is very great.  His grace, or unmerited favor, is lavished on all of mankind, even those who actively oppose Him.  And while we may desire comfort and ease in our lives by following Him, God knows better.  Often these trials and tests produce greater faith and dependence upon God.  See in the Psalm how David exudes confidence in God and His power during the time when he’s surrounded.  This is the faith that moves mountains—trust in God even in the times when it appears that God’s enemies will triumph.

While There Is Time

The good and bad news is that a day is coming when God’s patience with sinners will end.  When Christ comes to judge all the earth, all who are not covered by His blood will be cast out of His presence for all eternity.  Jesus referred to this hell as a place of weeping and knashing of teeth, and all who oppose God will find themselves there.  Yet while we live and breathe there is yet time.  Have you repented of your sin and unbelief and turned to Christ?  Have you asked Him to wash you clean and adopt you into His family?  Do not let the sun go down today without finding hope and rest in the Lord Christ Jesus.  Call on Him now, and watch as He transforms you into the person you were meant to be!

What Are You Doing Tomorrow?

We’re always making plans for tomorrow—whom we’ll see, what we’ll do, and where we’ll go.  Whether it’s fun activities like attending a party or playing a game of basketball, or mundane tasks like cleaning the garage, we assume that our plans will happen and we’ll have the time to accomplish what we set out to do.  But is this assumption secure?

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One in A Million?

Historically, how many people have never died?  Not too many?  Were any of these people less than (gasp) 40 years old when they died?  Of course, we all recognize that death comes to all men, and to many, the end is not at 75, but much much sooner.  While we lament this verity, many of us (and myself definitely included) seem to ignore the obvious fact that these statistics are applicable to us.

James 4:

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are [just] a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15Instead, [you ought] to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

A Sobering Reminder

Most all of us can think of people in our life, people we may have been very close to, who have passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  It is a shocking and surreal experience to lose someone whom you thought you’d have many more years with.  When people we love go through this valley, it is our charge to comfort and pray for them, and hold them tightly as they walk through the pain.

But it is also our responsibility to take these moments as reminders that life is fleeting.  And not just life in general, but your life, my life!  I may not have tomorrow, and therefore must use today to do that which truly matters.  Only God’s Kingdom is eternal—am I seeking it first, or letting it get crowded out by many other fleeting things?

How We Spend Our Time

Am I using my gifts and talents to pursue that with is God-glorifying and beneficial to my family and those whom I love?  Or am I settling for mediocrity, more of the same, and the lack of excellence that is common among the time-wasters and complainers?

I hope you’ll join me on the journey toward personal growth and the pursuit of your grand calling.  God has seen fit to give me breath for today, and He has a purpose in mind for this life of mine.  May God bless us both as we grow in grace and knowledge of Him.

Your Body Isn’t Yours

Most of the time, when people hear the word stewardship, they think they’re about to hear a sermon about how the pastor wants them to give more money to the church.  If this is your understanding of this term, prepare to hit the reset button.  Stewardship means to manage well something that’s in our possession, but doesn’t really belong to us.

Stay at My Place!

Think of a time where a friend has let you borrow his car, or spend a weekend at his lakehouse.  How did you treat his stuff?  If you’re a good friend, you took great care to use your friend’s property well, avoided damaging it, and cleaned up when you were finished.

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In much the same way, it is important that we recognize that we are not truly owners of our life, money, or even the body we have.  These and all things are gifts from our Heavenly Father, to be used for His glory (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

Need Motivation?

Understanding the concept of stewardship in regard to our physical body has a radical effect on one’s desire to begin and maintain a fitness regimen.  Instead of sitting on the couch thinking, “which sounds more fun, an intense 20 minute workout or watching another episode of Lost?  Hmm…  I think I’ll just forget the workout today,” a person who understands stewardship feels compelled to care for his body through proper exercise.  Just as you make time to change the oil in your car to avoid engine seizure, you are inherently motivated to maintain your physical body to honor and serve the One who entrusted it to you.

Start Today

Make fitness a priority in your life today by clicking the ThriveFit tab above.  You’ll find recommended workouts for all fitness levels and many other resources to assist you in your fitness journey.  Here’s to a fitter and healthier 2013!!

Get Money, Don’t Let Money Get You

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours in pursuit of one thing:  money.  Even though money isn’t the only reason we go to work each day, for most people it’s the main reason.  Though money can get a bad rap sometimes (in particular from those who misquote the Bible as saying that money is the root of all evil), spending the day working to acquire it is not a bad thing.  In fact, if you’re like me and you enjoy eating and having a warm bed to sleep in at night, it’s quite a wonderful thing.  But, money makes for a cruel Master, and we must be sure to take certain steps to keep the money we seek from getting us.

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What the Good Book Says

The quote I mentioned earlier that people often get wrong is from 1 Timothy 6:10:  “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  Similarly, Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24 that, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

A Matter of Priorities

These scriptures, as well as many others throughout the Bible show clearly that money itself isn’t bad, but the way we spend our money tends to reveal where our allegiance lies.  If we are like Christ, our chief desire will be to love and worship God, and money will be a tool or servant under our watch, to be used to glorify God and spread His Gospel.  Conversely, if we seek our own desires first, we will tend to use God as a means toward the end of having more and being more comfortable.  As the wise teacher Hank Haanegraaf says, “instead of loving the Master (Jesus), we only want what is on the Master’s table.”

Fix Your Heart

So, given the understanding that we all tend toward selfishness and are tempted within our own hearts to pursue wealth for the wrong reasons, what can we do to keep money from getting us?  The answer is simple:  give.  All throughout history, God has taught His people to give to Him first.  Though many think that this practice is simply a pragmatic way to fund the church, in fact this has more to do with meeting a need you have than meeting a need the church has.  Here’s why:  God owns everything.  He doesn’t need your money to accomplish His purpose.

Live as You Were Meant To

But what you need is a way to keep your heart from pride, greed, and self-centeredness.  Giving accomplishes this wonderfully, and also comes with the side effects of joy and peace.  When you take the first $100 of your $1,000 paycheck and give it to God, it speaks very clearly to your heart:  “I’m not the most important thing in my life.”  By giving, you recognize that you are simply the manager of God’s money, to use it in accordance with His purposes, and really, what better investment is there?