What Really Matters?

I’m starting to think differently. Some things matter much less than they once did. I’ve lost my appetite for putting time and money into things that really amount to nothing. At this point in life, I’d rather invest in something meaningful and lasting.

It’s not complicated. People over things. Christ died to save people. He loves us and has given us all things richly to enjoy. But at the end of the day, we have to leave it all behind. Other people are all we can take out of this world.

But most of us are captivated by petty things, things like grass and silverware.

On a 3-mile walk one afternoon, I passed the yard of an elderly couple overseeing the installation of an in-ground sprinkler system. You probably know the type: little black heads that pop out of the ground on a timer.

These white-headed people were meticulously pointing out where the sprinklers needed to be angled more or less to spray the grass and shrubs just so. In response to each instruction, the landscape guys, Latinos wearing bright-colored T-shirts, ran around making adjustments. On the return home, I found them still at, the sun dropping low in the sky.

  • I thought about our dismal attempts at growing a first lawn as new homeowners. In our next home, we promptly put in warm season Zoysia grass plugs, a thick, slow-growing, mostly weed-free variety that filled every bald spot. It’s tan-colored in cool weather and a hearty green in the August heat when all the fescue lawns are brown.

Grass is a low priority in my life these days. If I live to get really old and have disposable income, I hope to God that I am not pouring money into watering dirt.

My time, your time, here is too limited to fixate on cultivating something that’s ultimately cut down. “The grass withers, the flower fades. But the word of God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

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While admiring heirloom jewelry at a shop, I overheard a customer discussing the purchase of an estate silver service valued at about $3,000. That’s $3,000 worth of forks, knives, spoons and serving pieces. It was weighty-looking stuff, polished to a shine that begged for sunglasses, clearly intended to be a family treasure.

At that moment, I wondered how much of the precious things we pass down will be turned into cash with no familial sentiment. Do Millennials even cook regularly let alone know how to set a fine dining table with that kind of cutlery?

A better question: how many hungry people could be fed by converting pricey forks into food donated to soup kitchens, food banks, and rescue missions?

  • I’m resisting the impulse to accumulate. I’m de-cluttering, gifting, learning to live more simply. I’d rather have treasure in heaven, where God is and where I expect to be.

Nothing wrong with beautiful lawns, fine dining, heirlooms. They’re just temporal, earthly. Better to hope in God, who is eternal, and to “do good, be generous and willing to share.” (I Timothy 6:18)

Grass is simply a reminder: time is short.

“As for man, his days are like grass

As a flower of the field, so he flourishes

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

And its place remembers it no more” Psalm 103:15-16

Come to the Light

moths

Intelligence is over-rated.

Moths, so far as I know, don’t have a brain in their heads. But they seem instinctively to understand something that we humans have missed.

We’re meant to come out of the darkness and into the light.

I was sitting in the office a few hours ago with the blinds raised and all the lights in the room glowing brightly when I noticed a host of moths fluttering at the windows, some pasted to the panes as though they might find a way through in spite of the glass wall.

And this doesn’t just happen at my office windows. When I open the kitchen door to a dark garage, waiting moths race into my brightly lit kitchen before I can get the door slammed again. I spend the rest of the evening chasing them from one glowing lamp to another. Some find their way into enclosed overhead lights and, sadly, die there trying to get as close to the source of that light as possible.

Moths, sometimes huge ones, congregate around the outdoor flood lights that grace the corners of my home whenever they’re left on for any length of time.

Moths, you see, are attracted to light despite barriers.

We humans, on the other hand, seek to put as much distance as possible between ourselves and the Light.

Why do we do this? Scripture gives this answer: Men love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil.  (John 3:17-21)

My friend, God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5) His desire is that we draw near to Him that He might draw near to us.

And yes, our God is a consuming fire. Yet, the same fire that can burn down a house also can cook a hot meal and warm cold hands. The same fire that burns away dross simultaneously purifies precious metal.

Instead of stumbling around in the dark, bruising ourselves and piercing ourselves through with many a pain, why don’t we all turn to God to walk in the light as He is in the light? (1 John 1:7)

To quote Oswald Chambers, whose writings you may know through “My Utmost for His Highest”:

  To “walk in the light” means that everything that is of the darkness actually drives me closer to the center of the light.

If we’re hurting, bruised and can’t find our way in the dark, it’s time we admit that and come to the Light. God is not waiting to burn us to cinders. He stands ready to help us find our way home.

May we all someday say with the psalmist: “It is good to be near God…”  (Psalm 73:28)

Forget Fault

 Once upon a time, a family bought a wonderfully clean car for a steal-of-a-deal and considered themselves fortunate to have gotten so lucky… until the car had a catastrophic coolant failure at a traffic light resulting in a repair bill that cost more than the car’s Blue Book value.

These Christian folk had a choice to make: to accept the situation with grace as a “Life Happens” moment while trusting God for the next step or to do what most of us do when something goes wrong: find someone to blame.

The reasoning goes something like this: If something is wrong, it has to be someone’s fault. What we actually mean is,  someone else’s fault.

This family had several blame options. They could have blamed the guy who sold them the car, the driver for failing to check the hood, the mechanic for not pointing out a potential defect, themselves for being gullible consumers or God for not preventing the whole thing.

Needing to assign blame before we can move on is a failure to grapple with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes things really do “just happen,” at least from a human perspective. There is no “fault.”

In the case of that family car, the cause of the problem appeared to be metal fatigue. A metal part suddenly failed.

It’s the rare person who can simply accept something like that and move toward a solution without bitterness, ranker and causing a helluva stink. In corporate-speak, such stinks are known as “venting,” translated as having a fit just to make yourself feel as though you’ve done something. Nothing good ever comes of it, of course, which brings me to the next point.

From a Christian viewpoint even when we can find the smoking gun, what does it really matter? Being able to point to someone and say “whodunit” may make a nice wrap for an Agatha Christie Poirot mystery,” but it doesn’t fix problems, heal relationships or promote spiritual growth.

Maybe the question isn’t  who is to blame but “What can I learn from this?” God always wants us to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  (2 Peter 3:18)  And He uses all of life to accomplish this end.

Our persistence in placing blame is really pointless. (It hasn’t done anything constructive for me.) We’re all guilty of being human. We are faulty creatures who make mistakes, despite our best intentions. When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, my challenge is to take it personally, to see it as opportunity to press into God a little closer, to listen more intently for His voice, to become more God-focused and less self-reliant.

Ultimately, we Christians are called to put our trust in God, not in our circumstances whether they be good or bad. Life really does happen in unpredictable ways, and we can make ourselves crazy by demanding to know the why.

As time goes by, I am learning to leave the mysteries of life in the hands of a faithful, all-wise God, believing that through life’s struggles He is “working in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)

Willing to trade?

Passed a church marquee that read, “Jesus takes trade-ins.”

A trade-in is a transaction. Both parties have to be willing to do business. Jesus will exchange my rusty, wreck of a life for a brand-new one free of charge. He already paid the price in full.

It’s a great deal, if I can get past the notion that I’m giving up something worth keeping.   Not recognizing the old life for the decaying wreck that it is, the human tendency is to try to salvage parts we consider still valuable.

But Christianity is an “either/or” proposition. If I’m in Christ, the old has gone, the new has come. The Bible says, If I try to hang on to my life, I lose it. If I lose it for Christ’s sake, I preserve it. (Luke 17:33)

My candy-apple red Volvo V70 provides an excellent auto object lesson. It’s an old car. I need a new one. I’m thinking trade-in…maybe.

My Volvo is about the age of my youngest child. (To be totally honest, it’s not “my” car. Technically, it  has morphed into the “new driver safe car.”) I love the red wagon. It shines like new, despite its full sun parking space. It has buttery leather upholstery (the driver’s seat is a little worn, but the rest is pristine) and heated seats that still heat. It has a sunroof, too, and a good audio system.

The best part is the Volvo sports suspension and peppy zip! When I need to kick it, say to get out of the path of an 18-wheeler on I-40, it’ll flat out go. Need I say more?

Why get rid of the car, if it’s so great?

Time takes its toll. Parts eventually wear out. Recommended repairs amount to more than Kelley Blue Book value. I could make the investment, but one collision with some texting-while-driving dimwit and I could lose the car in a junk yard total.

Gas is another drawback: Premium grade only, currently priced at more than $4 a gallon and climbing. A newer, greener car would practically pay for itself in better gas mileage and warrantied repairs.

In my head, I know hanging on to the old car is blocking a new purchase. In my heart, however, parting with the Volvo is like leaving a dysfunctional relationship. I know there’s no future in it, but it’s familiar like an old pair of slippers I should have tossed long ago.

To go forward, like Paul, I have to start  “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead…” 

Sooner or later, everyone who is confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has to make a similar decision. Stick with the old life with the hidden issues under the shiny hood or  — in an act of faith  — trade it for the new life Christ offers?

Embracing change means accepting sacrifice, including parting with things we’ve loved. Trade-ins, after all, are package deals. All or nothing. Just as no car dealer is going to accept my Volvo piecemeal  (unless he’s a junk dealer), Christ isn’t looking for partial surrender. He wants it all.

Are you willing to trade?

Cleaning House

Tonight I did a very courageous thing. I looked under my bathroom sink and pulled out the stuff I have been pushing backward into the dark for years. I brought it into the light one bottle, jar and packet at a time. I looked each one over carefully, opened a few, smelled the contents and tried to decipher smudged labels to determine how long I’d had it.

Then I did what I have been avoiding for a long time. I made a decision. I began to toss those fancy plastic packages, one at a time, into my little green waste basket until it positively overflowed.

There was a lot to sort through. Most of it landed in the now bulging bin: mousses, masques, gels and creams; lotions, potions, waxes, oils and spritzes, even a few cute but empty containers. The brands were varied: Body Shop, Avon, Arbonne, MAC, Mizani, Neutrogena, KeraCare, Cream of Nature, Eucerin, Body Shop, Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret.

A lot of wasted money. Some of that stuff, I’m not proud to say, had hardly been touched. Some of it felt slimy when I rubbed it on, broke out my skin or flatly didn’t deliver on the advertising claims. Finally, I let it go.

As I finished my little chore, spontaneously begun as I searched for something practical like a bottle of alcohol, it dawned on me that what I have been doing with cosmetics is a metaphor for what we sometimes do with life. We collect a lot of costly baggage over time only to realize later – if we are honest – that much of it is worthless garbage. Spiritually toxic waste.

Instead of discarding it, we keep it hidden in the back closets of our minds and hearts. We know it’s there, taking up space better reserved for more honorable and productive things. Getting rid of it would mean having to face our bad choices and poor judgments head-on, reliving some of our worst moments.

We would finally have to accept hard truths. We might have to admit that we picked up things along the way – things we thought we had to have, couldn’t live without – only to learn that they were poison. We know now what we are loath to admit: “I was wrong. I made a mistake.”

Confession is hard, but it’s also good for the soul. To confess simply means to agree with what we know to be true, to concede the point, declare it openly… no more denial.

Proverbs 28:13 says, people who conceal their sins won’t prosper, but those who confess and forsake them will have mercy.

I don’t know about you, but I need a lot more mercy and much less hidden junk. So, while it may be the dead of winter, it’s as good a time as any to clean house. I invite you to join me in getting into those dark places and starting to deal with your stuff. Time to start fresh. The best is yet to come!

Need Debt Forgiveness?

  What you don’t know can hurt you. You don’t know what you don’t know. By the time you learn, the fix-it boat may have sailed.  Want a real life example?

While training for my first half-marathon, I reached mile 12 and my right shin decided it simply was not going to keep up that pace. Off I went to physical therapy.

I didn’t know precisely what it would cost, but this was familiar territory. I’d taken my daughter to PT during her senior season of cross country. I chose a different therapist whose location was more convenient, plunked down my co-pays at each of 8 visits and never gave it a second thought.

Imagine my shock when the final bill arrived one month after the last session: $1200-plus. No itemized list of specific charges. Just a bill with a payment address and a note that failing to pay within 30 days would result in additional charges.

Who knew that a few half-hour therapy sessions could cost so much? You might say it was unwise not to consider the end from the beginning. And you’d be right.

I got my therapy, ran my race and claimed my trophy without once considering the ultimate cost of reaching the finish line. It never occurred to me that the price would exceed what I was prepared to pay.

I’m not alone in my lack of foresight.

Plenty of people go blithely through life completely unconcerned about the day of reckoning. Oh, we know we are mortal, that 100 percent of the living will die. Yet, we don’t prepare for our dying day.

We have our reasons.  We say, “When you’re dead, you’re done; so why worry?” Or we’re confident that when life’s bill comes due, our good deeds will cancel our bad debts. In the end, we assume everything will work out. Of course, the end is not an ideal time to find out.

Christianity favors complete disclosure: Dead is not done. “It is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment.” Judgment sounds to me like settling accounts. We’re advised to “count the cost” on the front end of things so we know whether we have what it takes to pay the bill.

Lest we abandon all hope, Christianity offers debt forgiveness. You’ll probably see it advertised in the stands at next Sunday’s Super Bowl: a placard painted with John 3:16. This plan goes by several names: Substitutionary atonement. The Great Exchange. The Gospel.

Christ is our Advocate. He speaks in our defense, having satisfied our debt in full at the Cross. We walk away.

Whether you’re dealing with spiritual indebtness or an unbelievable bill for services rendered, learn from my mistake.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your situation. The Bible says in all your getting, get understanding. If you seek counsel with your money, why not get some for your soul?

I recommend an Advocate. Works for me – body and soul. A health advocate resolved my physical therapy bill.  Final accounting: I actually owed about $400. That, my friend, is deliverance!

Still want to be free?

Sitting outside a Cameron Village boutique the other day, I noticed a sign hanging in the window: “I like my money right where I can see it, hanging in my closet.” (emphasis mine.)

My. Mine. Ownership.

We like to own designer clothes, luxury cars, estate homes, good jewelry, investment properties. What we own speaks of our status, our station, our authority.

When you own it, it is yours to command. With ownership, of course, comes responsibility. The things we own have to be maintained and protected. The greater their value, the greater our responsibility. You might say the things we own have a claim on us.

It may come as a shock, but we Christians are owned by God. We are bought with a price. We are not our own.  That equates to being a slave, not a very appealing prospect to the Western mind with its engrained sense of autonomy.

During an introduction to the book of Titus, Colonial Baptist Church senior pastor Stephen Davey explained that the word in Titus 1:1 translated “servant or bondservant” in most Bible versions is the Greek word “doulos,” which literally means “slave.” The translation is softened so as not to offend Western sensibilities and seem to endorse the brutality of slavery.

Nevertheless, the word is slave. Slaves have masters. They are not free agents, able to do as they please. They go where they are sent, do what they are told. Their choices are limited.

This is our situation as Christians. We have the illusion of autonomy.  We are free from the tyranny of sin, but not free to do anything we like. We are free to do God’s will.

I may not like this, but I can’t really argue with the logic of it. Scripture clearly teaches that our citizenship is in heaven, that heaven is a kingdom and that God sits as King eternal. Even in the natural realm a king rules over his subjects with the right to ask of them what he will.

What hit me was the flip side, that a king bears responsibility for his subjects! For whatever reason, it came as a revelation that God assumes complete responsibility for my care and protection because I am, to quote the name of a gospel choir, “God’s Property.”

I suddenly realized that much of what I struggle to manage and resolve simply isn’t my responsibility. Sure, I am called to do whatever God has assigned me to do, but it is His responsibility to handle any problems that arise while I am on His errands.

What a relief!

When I am staying in a hotel and the hot water goes out or the television set won’t work, I don’t spend one minute worrying about how to fix it. I bring it to the attention of the “owners” via their designated representatives and go about my business expecting them to make it right. It is their responsibility.

It just makes sense that if God calls me to speak, He’s responsible for whether people listen. If He tells me to go, the reception I receive also rests with him. I am to “obey God and leave all the consequences to Him,” as Charles Stanley is fond of saying.

Who doesn’t enjoy Sinatra’s rendition of “My Way” or the idea of being their “own man or woman”? But the truth is, acknowledging God’s rightful role as my owner takes nothing away from me. It’s actually a liberating concept. I don’t have to make anything happen. I am simply responsible for my small part. The battle is not mine, but God’s (2 Ch 20:15).

I am not one to make New Year resolutions, but I’m going to practice bringing to God those things that fall within His purview as owner. I no longer want to shoulder those responsibilities myself. It is exhausting and unnecessary. Turning them over to Him may be slavery, but it sounds like freedom to me.

My New Year is looking happier already! How about yours?