A Second Look at the Mantra

NotAboutMeWhen I talk to sisters about our walk with the Lord, we often repeat the phrase “It’s not about me,” several times together. Taken from our study of the “meek and quiet spirit” of I Peter 3, we can find practical guidelines for life’s decisions when we understand that every facet of daily living revolves around the fact that I am about helping people go to heaven. If I have this spirit, I dress to help those around me have purity. I arrange my schedule so that it includes faithful worship and can be interrupted when there are needs around me and chances to serve may come my way. I put aside my inhibitions and discomforts and speak to friends about the Lord. I go out of my way to be ethical, even when others may scorn my convictions.

Most of the time when I reach into my core-values-heart-of-hearts and pull out the phrase “It’s not about me,” I do so to give myself the nudge (sometimes I need a shove, though) to do the hard thing–the thing that I do not want to do for my Lord. I do not want to do something good for this enemy because it will make for an uncomfortable encounter. But my conscience presents me with this phrase and I bake that pie or send that card. I want to give my husband a piece of my mind because it just seems like he is too busy lately to even be thinking about what my psyche is needing from this marriage. I pull out the phrase and start concentrating on what I can give to the relationship rather than what I can get. You see how the phrase modifies my behavior when and if I can be strong enough to fully apply it and do the hard things that make life in Christ, ironically, both sacrificial and rewarding.

But, lately, I’ve thought a lot about how the phrase can do more than help make our decisions. It can comfort us. There are times when we can become very discouraged. Sometimes we can, if given the raw end of a deal or facing what we believe to be unjust criticism, begin to want to come to our own defenses. We want to bare our souls to others. We want to tell someone else just how wrong this accusation is or just how much we’ve personally sacrificed to make this good thing occur or to prevent this disaster. Our instinct is often to say, “Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute. Let me just show you some details you’re overlooking!” In short, we may be tempted to toot our own miserable little horns.

And then we remember… ”It’s not about me.” The cause of Christ is about an old rugged cross on a hill called Golgotha. It’s about someone who became discouraged enough to weep drops as blood in a garden where those who were supposed to be watching were asleep. It’s about three years of a grueling ministry in which every day was met with false accusations and misunderstandings. It’s about a trial in which no man came to the defense of a perfectly innocent man. It’s about details overlooked–like 300-plus fulfilled prophecies or scores of people walking around as living proof that He was the very Son of God. It’s about how this misunderstood, falsely accused, beaten-down and discouraged man lived a sinless life, died an undeserved death, and conquered a grave–all for my sins. Yes, I remember. The overriding purpose of my life, the all-encompassing business I’m about is not me, in any sense.

There’s real comfort in the midst of sorrow when we wrap our minds around the fact that, if we are living faithfully, we do not have to prove to any accusers that we are worthy in any way. The fact is, without the blood, we are UNWORTHY in EVERY way. In spite of our best intentions and even the sacrifices we may have made to follow Him, we are still wretched without that old rugged cross. While we work to protect our good reputations, we can move on from discouragement without always feeling the need to vent. We move on from feeling “all alone” remembering Gethsemane. We move on when we’ve been hurt, remembering the cross. We can live with misperceptions when we read its inscription, “King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). He was bruised, but I had iniquities. He was wounded, but I had transgressions. He was striped with that whip, but I was healed. Thus there is nothing, in my sinful state that I can endure that is worthy to even be compared with the glory of the cross. I am, if a sufferer, a guilty sufferer…not a glorified one. But I Peter 4:13 says that if I do have to suffer anything because I am His, that I am sharing or partaking in the suffering with Him and that it (the suffering) will fit me to be a partaker (or share in) His glory when He comes again. I love that. There’s comfort in knowing that the hard things that may come with living for Him are giving me a tiny little piece of the glory with which Jesus has been crowned (Heb. 2:9).

None of us is ready to say, “Bring on the suffering!” Perhaps we should be. In fact, no one reading this has any practical concept of the kind of suffering that was very real to Christians in the Roman Empire in the early days of the kingdom of Christ. But I can tell you, if you are living for Him, you will face a day when you will think, “Ouch, where did that jab come from?” or “That little accusation took me by surprise,” or “It’s no fun being all alone while standing for this moral principle or refraining from this bit of ‘fun’,” or “Well, I’ve cried a bucket of tears over this lost soul,” or “Can this pain over this lost opportunity for Him just please go away?” You already know how this feels, don’t you? It feels like you need consoling. It feels like you need someone to put His arms around you and say, “This is going to be okay.”

And so our Lord does this:

And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. (II Corinthians 1:7)

There is a great consolation for Christians who may be hurting for the Cause. Some who read the blog have written me letters about things that are hurting you… difficult things that have come your way because you are doing your best to live His way to His glory. Today’s post is for you. It is the most comforting part of realizing that Christianity is not about me. In the process of self-denial and Savior exaltation that comes during the blackest of times, I find myself closer to Him, more like Him… I find myself being a partaker with Him–a shareholder with the Lord in both suffering and, one day, glory. It makes me want to go out and live this day for Him!

The Wedding or the Groom?

Recently a sweet girlfriend posed this scenario to a mission team with which she was working:

Suppose your best friend is getting married. Unfortunately she scheduled her wedding on a Sunday, making it impossible for you to worship the Lord on Sunday AND attend the wedding. Which should you choose?

My friend was extremely disappointed that her fellow “missionaries” all said they would choose the best friend’s wedding. Seeking advice about how to respond as she was given the opportunity to address the topic of commitment with them later in the week, my friend asked for any thought I might have about the scenario, the choice and what the heart of a Christian in such a situation should be. Here are my thoughts:

Let’s think about another scenario:

Let’s say you’ve contracted an infectious disease which will eventually exact your life. All’s been done that can be done. It’s just a matter of time for you. Only one thing could save you, but it would require the blood of someone who matches your blood type…all of it. It would require that another give His life for you.

But suppose one morning, a friend’s family walks in your hospital room and tells you that he’s already done it for you. The pure blood has already been deposited in the blood bank in your name. Your friend has given his life so that you would not die. Your friend has given you the ultimate gift. So you have the required procedures and transfusions and, as you finally, whole and extremely thankful for the sacrifice your friend has made, prepare to leave the hospital where you would have died, your dad hands you the note your friend left behind. Your friend asks that you remember him each week in a special way with his family. He asks that you go and be with His family each Friday (the day of your friend’s funeral) for a couple of hours and that you spend some time remembering his life and death… telling his brothers and sisters and his children about the one who gave His life for you and spending a few quiet moments with them just remembering. He wants His children to perpetually be encouraged through you.

And so you do. You become very close to the family of your friend. Week after week at the time appointed you visit with his family. You hold his children close and tell them stories about your friend. You quietly remember that day that he literally gave you the gift of life.

Now, suppose there’s a conflict. A friend is getting married during the time that the memorial is to occur. Should you just skip the memorial…or should you write your friend, a sweet note that says something like this?…

“I love you much. There is no one that I’d rather see engaged to a wonderful man and then as a happily married woman than you! You know I love you. But you know where I’ve committed to be every week at this time. If it were anything other than this obligation, believe me, I would want to be with you. But this is absolutely the top priority in my life. It just has to be. I will not let the one who gave his life for me down. I have promised myself and my family that I will never let anything take precedence over this commitment. Know how much I care. I am reserving another day (you pick the day) just to celebrate with you.”

It’s easy to see what you would do. How much more boldly should we be making the choice for Christ every single Lord’s Day? No earthly friend should ever even be in the competition with our hearts’ affections for our Savior. He gave His life…not a life that was already messed up…but a life that was perfect, without sin, to redeem us from eternal hell. There should never even be a question about the decision to assemble with the family of God, above all else, every single Lord’s day when that family assembles. He asked us not to forsake that commitment (Heb. 10:25).

Now, back to the wedding/worship scenario you presented. When writing that letter to my “best friend” about my prior commitment to the Lord, I should add another line or two:

“It makes me very sad when people choose to preclude worship in deference to things that we think are more important. It makes me sad that all of the people who will be at your wedding will be missing the one activity that is so far more important than your wedding. I know that you already know where I am coming from. Of course you do…we are best friends! I hope we can be best friends forever. That means all the way to heaven and through eternity. But for now, I have to make this choice for myself even without your support, because I will have to meet my Lord in the judgement day all by myself. The One who gave His life for me will look me in the eye on that day. I want to see him face to face and hear the words, ‘Well done.’ You know I love you, girl. There is just One that I love more!”

You may be thinking, “But my best friend will only have one wedding day. I think I should be there for her.”

And you are partly right. She will only have one wedding day. You will only have this one chance to make this clear statement about your commitment to Christ. You will only have this one chance to influence her in this powerful way. She will never forget the example you set on this day. She may respond in silence. She may act hurt. She may respond in bitterness. But throughout her life, whenever she thinks of you, she will remember that you were true to your conscience. She can never accuse you of being hateful or rude or unkind. But she will remember. And one day, she may respond to your letter by making some decisions for heaven. You never know.

One thing’s for sure, though. You will not lead her to the Lord by compromising your convictions. You may enjoy the spot up there in the wedding party as the maid of honor. You may look at the pictures throughout ensuing years. But each time you do you will remember compromise. If you are faithful when you remember, you will regret. You will know you broke a commitment to the Savior. You will wish you could just go back and do it again. But those one-time opportunities that life presents us to sacrifice for the One who gave all for us are rare and, of course, can never be recalled.

p.s. I know it’s not an exact parallel. But Jesus did give His life for me. I did make a commitment to Him and it is not the easy things that make me grow. It’s the sacrificial stuff that has the biggest positive impact on my future and my children. It’s also the stuff that’s hardest to explain to non-believers that generally makes the biggest impression on a soul that may be seeking. Commitment pays…a hundred fold!

Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:29, 30).

Blueberries and the Book (Part Four)

You Won’t Believe This, But…

Glenn Colley is NOT the Little Red Hen. He IS the one who does not particularly like the picking part of the blueberry experience, while he is all about the tasting part of it. Seriously. How many of the mornings did he accompany me out there to those bushes with his basket? Not a single morning. How many pints of those I put in the freezer for winter pies did he pick? Not one. How many bags did he pick for those sisters who love to make cobblers? Ummm…still zero.

“Who will help me pick the berries?” said the Little Red Hen. “Not I,” said the brown cow.

But it was Sunday morning and I was getting ready for church when Glenn walked in my bathroom and here’s the gist of the ensuing conversation:

Glenn: “So who are those blueberries for?”

Me: “Well, I thought I would take some to Mrs. Dorothy and I need to take some to Peggy, and I thought maybe Jennifer, too.”

Glenn: “Well, you know…there are a few people I’ve been thinking of that we should share them with.” (He starts listing his ideas.)

Me: “Wait a minute, now. Have you been picking berries?”

Glenn: “Well, I reckon I have!”

Me: “Oh really? You have?”

Glenn: “Now Cindy, have you not seen any of those berries I picked? Further, haven’t you seen me out there picking, because I HAVE been out there picking…”

Me: “No, I do not believe I have seen any berries you have picked, but I do seem to recall seeing you a couple of times out there, albeit without even as much as a basket.”

Glenn: “Do you know why you have seen me out there without as much as a basket and why you have not seen the berries I have picked?”

Me: “Because every berry you have picked has gone straight from the bush into your mouth? Could that be the reason?”

Glenn: “That’s the reason, exactly! That’s what I’m talking about. Now you should not be saying that I have not been picking berries, because that is simply not true.”

Now, while the above conversation was all in fun, lots of Christians have the same attitude about the spiritual harvest and it’s not so funny.

Have you ever known someone who who seemed to be very scarce when the work was being done, but yet had all kinds of criticisms for those who were doing it and for how it was being done? Judas did this in John twelve when he came down on Mary for anointing Jesus with the precious ointment. He acted as if he was all about giving something to the poor, but the text goes on to say that he actually touted his plan, not because he cared for the poor, but because he “held the bag.” His “berries” were going straight into his mouth.

Have you ever known someone who showed up for all the services (he WAS out there at the berry bushes), but seemed to have a great (and very distracted) time throughout the services–writing notes, texting and visiting with the other teens on the back row? What motivated his coming to services? Did he come out of a pure heart’s desire to honor God or were all of his “berries” going straight into his own mouth?

Do I spend time in prayer telling God what I want and letting Him know I will be patient while He gives it to me? James describes the man who views God as the genie in a bottle who is there for hearing and granting wishes. Hear him in James 1:3:

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

So, back to the Little Red Hen:

“Who will help me plant the seed?” said the Little Red Hen? “Not I,” said the pig.

“Who will help Me water the seed?” said the Little Red Hen? “Not I,” said the horse.

“Who will help me gather the crop?” said the Little Red Hen? “Not I,” said the brown cow.

“Then I will do it myself,” said the Little Red Hen…and so she did.

But as always there came a day of enjoying the fruits of the labor:

“Who will help me eat the fruit?” said the Little Red Hen.

“I will!” said the pig.

“I will!” said the horse.

“I will!” said the brown cow.

“Oh no!” said the Little Red Hen. “I planted the seed, I watered the seed, I gathered the fruit and I will eat the fruit.” And so she did.

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry… ( I Corinthians 3:8,9)

Let’s get busy at the spiritual bushes remembering the sweet and eternal reward that comes “according to his own labor.”

Right Turn

For four days now I’ve been wishing for a right turn. Right is the way I turn now to go to my dad’s regular hospital room and left is the way to the ICU, where he has spent the past three days. I’m thankful for all the turns in life through which the Father leads because I have that wonderful assurance of Romans 8:28. “All things” (the good things and the bad things) “work together” (are assimilated) “for good” (to be in the best eternal interests) “to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose” (for faithful Christians). That makes every turn the right turn for me.

Lots of you already know that my father has been hospitalized since Friday afternoon. For many prayers and kind words and visits and snacks and meals and cards, we are very thankful. Dad’s main problem is pneumonia now and I covet your prayers for some easier breathing. I think the brewing pneumonia and resulting lack of oxygen to the brain last Friday morning was the cause for his disorientation and confusion, As he later said, “Cindy, I have just never been so inept and confused in my whole life.”

I said, “Dad, could you not even think to call me?”

“I could not think of the answers to any questions and I didn’t know what to do.”

So he went to the church building. In all of his confusion, he just put on his coat and tie, grabbed his glasses and his Bible and, in auto-pilot, he drove to the side of the building where he normally parks his car. There are six turns and about five stop lights between his house and the meeting place of the Jacksonville church of Christ. According to the surveillance camera later viewed, he entered the building at 10:24 A.M. and then proceeded to the auditorium. Still confused about why it was empty (apparently thinking it was time for one of the assemblies), he spent the next six hours, likely losing consciousness and falling, struggling to get up and becoming more and more desperate. Thankfully Homer Smith, one of the shepherds of the church, began to wonder about why his car was there and where he was. I was notified and I began asking everyone who might know about where he was until Homer, our new MVE (most valuable elder) found him and called the EMTs, who took him to the ER, where he was later admitted to the ICU.

He’s not out of the woods, but an enzyme count of 14,000–so very dangerously high–has dropped to 800. That’s impressive. He is completely coherent. That’s way better. His breathing is nothing but wheezing! That’s the part, for now, for which we need prayers. It’s really hard to watch and hear him breathe so laboriously.

But there is a blessing trail here. I can quickly enumerate ten of the many blessings about the whole episode:

  1. Win or lose the battle for life on this earth, the battle for life—the real battle–has already been won.
  2. There are ministers of the Father all around His people and they are extremely caring. They are servants with an attitude; the attitude of Matthew 25: 31-40.
  3. Eighty-nine years of relatively good health is a great record. Just being in this hospital or even on this internet makes us aware of so many whose trials are so premature compared to any we might be experiencing. Dad is the only surviving child in a family of eleven children. He’s been very blessed.
  4. When my dad “can’t think of any of the answers to any of the questions,” he goes to the place of worship. (That’s kind of like the Psalmist in Psalm 73.)
  5. There are lots of colder, more desolate places to be unconscious than in the church building.
  6. The proximity of excellent medical facilities in almost any region of our great country is a blessing we consistently count on.
  7. The presence of skilled doctors, nurses, technicians and even smiling volunteers is a very good gift from the Giver of all good gifts.
  8. Cousins, sons-in-law, husbands, fathers-in-law and brothers-in-law who are elders and preachers in the kingdom are double-kin and that’s special. I have about twenty-one of those and they are wonderful.
  9. Dad, the “lost” sheep, was found by a shepherd.
  10. “Clinically improved,” the term used to describe Dad today, is fun to hear and I love turning right.

The Church Compared to a Wife – Conclusion

YOUR PERSONAL ANALOGY

What are you doing about the coming of the Bridegroom?  This is a question that I keep thinking about as a I help my daughter prepare for her big day this July.  I know brides today who wear the name of Christ yet spend thousands of dollars and scores of hours in preparation for the earthly wedding day, while making little or no preparation for the coming of the Lord. Sadly, I even know several brides who have left faithfulness to Christ in deference to earthly husbands who have no allegiance to the Father in the homeland. I am very thankful that neither of these is the case with our Hannah. If Rebekah had chosen to say no to the servant, she would have been rejecting great riches and a place in the royal bloodline of Jesus.  Ephesians five tells us that our bridegroom loved us enough to give Himself for us (Eph. 5: 25).  When we reject the Lord, we reject love in the extreme and we, too, reject a place in the royal family of Christ.

Your earthly marriage is one of vulnerability. Even at best, your bridegroom is fallible and there will be times when He will falter and disappoint you.  Ephesians five holds up a standard of love that will never be perfectly kept during this lifetime. But there is another Bridegroom who has already demonstrated His great love for you. While you were yet a sinner, He died for you (Rom. 5:8). He loved you and gave himself for you (Gal. 2:20). Don’t miss your amazing chance to be the bride in this amazing rags-to-riches love story.

Espoused to  One Husband
II Corinthians 11:2
If I love You, I’ll believe You
Though what You’ve pledged is far away.
What You say about tomorrow
Is what’s real for me today.

If I love You, then I long
To hear Your strong, assuring voice.
I will trust You with my secrets;
Honor You in every choice.

If I love You, I’ll defend You
When others ridicule Your name.
If all the world denies You, still
I’ll  count but loss the shame.

If I love You, I will be there
Whenever You’re expecting me.
I will love whatever You love.
Where You are, I’ll long to be.

If I love You, I will trust You.
All my hopes on You rely.
But should faith and hope be passing,
Love abides to never die!

(Above article first appeared in the Memphis School of Preaching annual lectureship book—2010,  Collierville, Tn)

Can’t Wait To Be A Veteran

As I write this, it’s Veteran’s Day. That means my husband is going to work in his scrungy clothes, because he’s really supposed to be off and no one else will be there. It means there’s a traffic jam in town today because of the parade. And it means there’s a thirty percent off sale at the thrift store. But it means, too, that we pause to think about the great sacrifices made by many men and women who have served in our armed forces. My young nephews are amazed when they hear the accounts about a man named Hitler, about Pearl Harbor, and even about those towers crashing on September 11, 2001. We should never stop telling them. Some of the information we give them will never be transmitted in their classrooms at school because of historic revisionism in attempts to be politically correct.

Some vets are full of actual combat stories. They are men of bravery and our children should know them…especially those aged Christian men of wisdom who fought in World War Two. Some veterans never saw combat. But they were on the boats, in the offices, in training camps, in planes, and in submarines, nonetheless. They were preparing equipment, transporting soldiers, strategizing and enabling others. They were missing their families, writing their girlfriends, wishing for Mom’s cooking and worrying about their kids.

Sometimes when I am with my dad, who is a simple man… a Navy Veteran of WWII, I realize that the simplest statements are really fairly profound and that he knows a lot of these profound truths that he talks about in such plain terms. He’s eighty-eight years old. When I think about the fact that he watched technology change His world from that of the son of a sharecropper, picking cotton by hand on the farm that was, at last, their own– to the dad sitting with me at his dining room table looking at computer images that I want to show him—images that took no film or darkroom and can be transmitted around the world in a second—well, he must have a soundtrack to his life’s video that includes some pretty big gasps of amazement. And somewhere in between the cotton field and the computer, he got on a transport boat in a war and traveled the world. Everybody who has gone from this point A to point B, has got to have some observations about life that are worth sharing.

So I was exiting the hospital in his hometown with him the other day and this little boy that was way beyond cute, got in our pathway. I patted him on the head and picked at him a bit as we walked by. Dad said, “Do you know who the best and most upright people in the world are?…The best people anywhere in the world are little children. They are not ever mean. They have no guile. They are innocent and they love everybody alike. Children are my heroes.”

Sometimes the obvious profundities like this need to be put into words. Jesus said this in Matthew 18:3,4:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I know this is oversimplification, but isn’t it true that if everybody personally applied this one weighty principle about conversion to humility, that there would be no more wars? It’s great to live in a country and an era in which we can honor those who have fought for our freedom. But I am really looking forward to living in a world where there will be no more wars and we will all be veterans of (that means finished with and having come home from) the battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We will all be veterans in heaven. I can’t wait to lay my armor down.