Category Archives: Approval of Others

The Why’s and the What If’s

Life is an interesting experience. Trying to predict what life will bring is virtually impossible. We can plan and plot, but sure enough, something unexpected always seems to be around the corner. This can be good or bad depending on what happens and how we view things. One thing that I have learned, and continue to learn, is that things are often not how they appear on the surface or at first glance. I was reminded of this when seeing a photo from my senior year of high school.

I was a member of the varsity wrestling team at my high school. I was not a great wrestler. I was pretty strong from years of weight lifting, but I did not have nearly as much wrestling experience or skill as a lot of my team members. I also had an issue with endurance, which meant I rarely had matches that went the distance. I was a pin or be pinned kind of wrestler. This resulted in my mediocre record and a lot of quick exits in tournaments.

However, if you look at our senior yearbook, you might get a different idea of my success. I have two fairly prominent photos in the wrestling section of the yearbook, even though there were a lot of guys on the team better than me. This had more to do with having a friend that was a photographer for the yearbook than my actual success in the sport. The photo shown here is my favorite, especially the caption. It says, my opponent “bites the dust as Phil Hill out maneuvers him.” I still shake my head and laugh when I see it. It makes me look pretty tough. At the time, I was actually winning the match by something like 10-0. However, less than a minute later, the match was over and I had been pinned. I made a mistake, he reversed me, put me on my back and pinned me. It is quite a different result than the impression given in the photo.

On the other side of the coin, I also had a couple disappointing experiences. I will not go into details because I do not want to negatively portray someone in print who others might know. Let’s just say that there were other areas of my life and experience where I had more talent and abilities than were on display in my wrestling career. Not only was I passed over for awards or recognition, but, after the fact, I actually learned that a certain individual had gone out of their way to ensure that I was not even nominated for an award. When the individual spoke to me, they said that that they were unable to nominate me. What I learned later, through other individuals who were there for the nomination process, was that this person intentionally refused to nominate me, even when encouraged to do so by others at the meeting.

When I heard about this, it did sting a little. However, before much time had passed, I started to be grateful for that experience. In the end, it led me to devote more time towards interests and activities I might not otherwise have pursued. And those new pursuits are things that have helped provide a foundation for ministry opportunities I am involved in to this day. So, I am thankful that God led me through that time and showed me that disappointment does not have to be end. And that success in the eyes of God is not the same thing as success in the eyes of the world.

Like I mentioned at the start, life is hard to predict. You can plan, work, and strive to accomplish things, but it in the end, the results can be unexpected and even disappointing. You can give your life to something and yet not see the fruit of your labor. At other times, people can look at you and get a completely inaccurate picture of who you are based on the one snapshot they see of your life, for good or bad. It can make you wonder why things happen the way they do. It can make you wonder what life would be like if things were different.

God sees when no one else does. Does it ever seem that living the life of faith in following Jesus Christ has no impact on the world around us? I feel like that at times. I get to the end of my day and wonder what I accomplished that day to glorify God to those I encountered. But God sees all the small choices we make during the day in our goal to honor Him with our lives. As we seek to put our trust in Him, hold fast to His Word, and follow in obedience, God sees. No one else may notice, but nothing escapes Him.

God sees through the snapshots and facades. This is something we also need to remember. We can provide others with snapshots and phony facades of who we are. We can receive all kinds of awards, promotions, recognition, and engage in all the pleasures and rewards these things bring. But if our hearts are not right with God, it is all really meaningless. Read the book of Ecclesiastes sometime. It tells the experience of someone who gave themselves to every type of pleasure and pursuit, but in the end, it left them empty. The final conclusion was, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

God gives what is eternal and will never fade. The treasures of this life will all fade away. Only what God gives lasts for eternity. If we give ourselves to the pursuit of these temporary treasures and rewards, we will arrive at the end of life with empty hands and empty hearts. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

God calls us to be faithful, not successful. God does not call us to change the world. That is His job. We are called to have changed hearts by yielding our lives to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. We are called to follow Christ and to live our lives in obedience to Him in faithfulness. As we walk in faithfulness by the power of God, He can and will use us to shine the light of Jesus and the Gospel. We may be used to impact one person’s life. We may be used to impact the lives of many. In the end, that is really up to God. If we are faithful, then in God’s eyes, this means we are a success. That does not mean we are perfect. But we continue to pursue Christ and allow Him to demonstrate the power of God through us, whether we see the results or not.

Life can leave us with a lot of why’s and what if’s, at least from our perspective. If we let it, this can drive us nuts. It can leave us longing for things as we thought they should be or bitter because we did not get what we thought we deserved. God does not guarantee that things will go our way or that people will recognize us in the manner we think they should. God does guarantee that He is faithful. He guarantees that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him. He does not say how that will look or when we will see it. But nothing escapes God’s notice, and He promises to reward faithfulness, whether anyone else notices or not.

Together for His glory…

Glad to Be a Fool

I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but I remember that I had been talking with our son, Caleb, and something he said made me think this would be a good opportunity to teach him something about God. So, I asked him, “who is the only person who knows everything?” At first, he was not sure how to respond, but after some prodding and after I had repeated the question a few more times, he finally responded. “Mom?” Well, not exactly the answer I was looking for, but we got a good laugh out of it. And, in the end, it is not a bad answer, especially if you are talking to mom!

Obviously, the answer I was looking for was “God.” When you think about it, it is quite astonishing to think about the vast knowledge of God. There is absolutely nothing that escapes His knowledge or attention. There is nothing that he can’t comprehend. No thought, however brief or secret, that He does not know perfectly. Darkness does not hide anything from Him. Psalm 139 is a great reminder of this truth.

God has perfect knowledge. In Romans 11:33, the apostle Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” However, for many, or most, people in the world, His knowledge and wisdom are ignored, dismissed, or even ridiculed. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 that Christ and His cross are a stumbling block and folly to the world. While, in reality, Christ and His work accomplished on the cross demonstrates both the wisdom and power of God. And Paul reminds us that the “foolishness” and “weakness” of God exceeds the wisdom and strength of man (1 Corinthians 1:24-25).

When we hold fast to the truth of God’s Word, we will not be applauded by many people. Biblical truth is seen as irrelevant, out-of-date, exclusive, inconvenient, or foolish by much of the world. Even for many that enter the doors of churches and call themselves “Christians,” they are looking for “truth” that will make them feel better or confirm what they already believe or practice. But don’t push biblical truth on them.

However, by avoiding truth, we actually do ourselves a great disservice. Yes, God does know everything. Yes, He is a holy God. Yes, God judges sin and we are sinners. But God also loves us with a perfect love and He has extended to us His perfect mercy and grace. And if we confess our sins and receive His FREE and perfect gift of salvation and eternal life, God justifies us and declares us to be His sons and daughters. He views us as if we had never sinned. That is amazing!

If you have not received the forgiveness of God through Christ, then you should be terrified to realize that God knows and sees everything. Unfortunately, many people view God as far away and unconnected. If there is a God, then either He doesn’t care, doesn’t know, or will just accept most of us anyway. Only the really bad people, like Hitler, will be judged and punished by God. But that view completely overlooks the tragedy of our sin and that it is utter rebellion against God. It belittles the sacrifice of Jesus, bearing our sins, so that we could be declared righteous and find freedom and joy in Him.

As Paul said to the Corinthians, it is foolishness to the world. It’s a demonstration of weakness. Nothing has really changed since then. Christianity is still viewed as trivial, foolish, or as a crutch. However, it is important for us to view this from the viewpoint of God, not the world. Jim Elliot, a missionary who died taking the gospel to an unreached tribal group, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jesus said it this way. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39).

The world may ridicule us for trusting in God and for following Christ. The world may mock us for what we give up in our pursuit of Christ. But I would rather lose everything this world has to give in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). It is not always easy. It is sometimes hard to see with the eyes of eternity when the temporary is staring us in the eyes and bombarding our senses. We get tired and weary. But I pray that we can have the strength to hold fast to the eternal and to see the glory that awaits us. For, in the end, I would rather be a fool in the eyes of the world than a fool in the eyes of God.

Together for His glory…

Bachelor Degree

Recently, my wife and youngest son, Caleb, were watching the evening news. The news team was doing a report on jobs and career searches. As part of that, a reporter mentioned that for many types of jobs, it was important to have a Bachelor degree. Instantly, Caleb started laughing. He thought it was hilarious that someone would go to college to get a degree in being a single man.

Obviously, Caleb did not understand the meaning of Bachelor degree (nor do many young men who go to college). However, it points out the importance of how we interpret the meanings of things. For instance, there are many religions in the world that would use some of the same words, expressions, and practices as Christianity. At first glance, it can appear that they believe the same thing as taught in the Bible. But if you look below the surface, the differences start to emerge and, in many cases, are completely contrary to the teaching of the Word of God.

I have heard many people say that all religions essentially point to the same God and that as long as you are sincere, that is what is most important. But what if you are sincerely wrong? How can different religions lead to the same God if they teach philosophies and doctrines that are contrary to each other? Ultimately, this does not make sense.

Under the umbrella of Christianity, there are churches and people who live out their lives holding to beliefs that contradict the direct teaching of Scripture. Many of the foundational principles that guide our lives are probably inherited from our culture rather than the Word of God. I wonder, if we really investigated our convictions, what we would find. Would we find that our practice and belief is grounded in truth? Or would we find that there is nothing supporting it other than cultural, religious, or ritualistic fallacies?

Don’t get me wrong. Cultural and religious practices are not inherently evil. However, if they are not grounded in truth and do not encourage us to live righteously, why would we believe or follow them? If someone tells us that, in the end, all religions are basically the same, why would we believe them? Could it be that we really don’t know whether what they say is actually true? Have we just been listening to others tell us what to believe and have never taken the time to investigate, taking truth to heart, and making the convictions are own?

As followers of Christ, we are instructed in the Word to sink our roots into the truth of God,  holding fast and letting those principles and exhortations transform our thinking and way of life to be more like Christ (Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 12:2). We are told that the world will not encourage us to follow God. It will be exactly the opposite. Even within the church, there will be those who try to turn us from the truth. We are told to walk and be built up in the truth of Christ, so that we are not taken captive by the empty philosophies and deceit that are based only in human tradition and wisdom (Colossians 2:6-8). But when we do, we should not expect encouragement from our culture or the rest of the world. Jesus said that because we belong to Him, the world will not love us (John 15:18-25) But Jesus also said to take heart, because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

You don’t need a bachelor degree to follow Jesus. You don’t even need to know what one is. Following Jesus is the process of building a lifelong relationship. He founded the relationship, through His sacrifice and the forgiveness and righteousness He provided through His death on the cross. If we repent and receive the gift He offers to us, we are His, forever. This relationship deepens as we trust Him and fill ourselves with the truth from the Word of God. As we yield ourselves to God, He empowers us by the Holy Spirit to live for Him and to gain in knowledge and godliness, as He transforms us from the inside out, making us more like Christ. When we stand before God, after this life is over, we will not hand Him anything to prove our worthiness, like a degree or diploma. If we are in Christ, we will stand clothed in the righteousness of Christ alone and as the sole reason for why we are in glory. Anything else will be a worthless piece of paper, no matter how many accomplishments are written on it.

Together for His glory…

Two Copper Coins

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” Luke 21:1-4

The world looks at outward appearances. No doubt that the eyes of many people were focused on the large amounts of money that were being placed in the offering boxes that day. They were likely impressed by the size of the gifts to the temple. No one probably noticed the widow as she placed her two small coins into the box. If they did, they may have scoffed or even been embarrassed by her. As we go about our daily lives, trying to live for the Lord, the world will not usually be impressed with us. They judge by earthly standards and, most often, miss the most important things. God never misses anything.

God looks at the heart. Jesus singled out the widow, as an example for his disciples. She had given a very small gift in the eyes of most. It was worth almost nothing and would have had no impact on the ministry of the temple if she had not given it. But Jesus knew her situation and He knew her heart. He knew this was all that she had to live on. Yet, she gave it anyway. It was not much, but she gave it all. Jesus told His disciples that she had given more than anyone else that day. She gave with a heart for her God.

No person or gift is too small for God to use. In our culture of newer and bigger and better, we judge everything by appearances. This leads to many people, organizations, and things being considered insignificant or meaningless because they don’t measure up to the standards of the culture or world. Even our churches have fallen prey to this mindset. You would think we are actually competing against each other, rather than working together to build the kingdom. I think that it is very possible that the greatest work of God is being done by those that no one even notices. People who pour themselves out behind the scenes, doing the work no one else want to do or does not even think to do. In addition, it is often the people who have the least financial resources who give the most. And in the eyes of heaven, two copper coins were more valuable than buckets of money brought by others. Remember, God chooses to use those who cannot boast in their own abilities or resources (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

God can be trusted. This widow trusted God. She was placing her life in the hands of her Creator. When she gave those two coins, God was all she had left. Unfortunately, we usually have too many things we can place our trust in. We also rely on our own strengths and abilities, rather than trusting in God. Very few of us would risk it all, like this widow, completely abandoned to the provision of God. Her God was a big God, not the puny god we place so often believe in. But our God is the One Who holds all things in His hands. He spoke and they became. And in any circumstance, He can and will do whatever is needed to accomplished His purposes. The widow must have believed this. She truly knew her God, and she trusted Him with her life.

In comparison to the eternal God, all of our abilities and resources are small. God is able to accomplish His purposes without anyone or anything. Anytime we start to think too highly of ourselves or what we have to offer, we have completely lost sight of Who God is. If we combine all that we are and all that we have, we are but two copper coins compared to the magnitude of the Almighty God. And yet, He treasures us and chooses to use us to accomplish His glorious purposes. And in His hands, He will do more with two small coins than what could be accomplished with all the wealth and resources the world can offer.

Together for His glory…

My Idolatrous Heart: Approval of God or Others

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

In this week’s journey, I want to look into one of things that many of us, or all of us, struggle with, if we are honest. I think everyone appreciates being told that they have done a good job. When I have worked hard on some project, it is gratifying to know that someone else recognizes the value of what I have done. I also appreciate knowing that my life and ministry have positively influenced someone’s life and helped them grow in their relationship with Christ.

Feedback, whether we are giving or receiving it, is an important part of our lives and growth as individuals and followers of Christ. We see numerous examples of feedback, both encouragement and criticism, in the pages of Scripture. Yet, we also see warnings against seeking the approval of others or placing too much value on what others perceive or say. How do we navigate this path without allowing what others say to us, or think about us, to become an idol in our lives? Here are some things that can help us to accomplish this.

Work for the Lord, regardless of whether our efforts are recognized by others. The passage in Colossians 3:23-24, shown above, is interesting in that the apostle Paul is addressing slaves with these verses. Slaves may rarely, if ever, have been shown any respect. They could perform their work each day with no response of gratitude or appreciation from their master. They could have been mistreated, even when doing everything they were asked to do. Yet, whether they are treated poorly or whether they are recognized for their work, Paul instructs them to work as if they are working for the Lord, not for men. As we live out our lives and conduct the work the Lord has provided for us to do, we should do our work for the Lord, not the approval of others. The Lord will reward us. And if no earthly reward or acknowledgement is ever received, we can know that God will reward us for our faithfulness and obedience.

Consider criticism, when it is received from a trustworthy and godly source. When we are involved in life and ministry, we don’t always receive the type of response that we want. We want positive feedback. When someone comes to us with some advice, exhortation, or challenge, our first response can be to be indignant or offended. However, it could very well be that God is using this person to bring some issue to our attention. Or maybe we don’t get any response, from anyone! We thought we did a good job on something, but no one seemed to notice. Do they all think I did not do well? Was my contribution not important? Again, God may be using this situation to remind us that we called to live for Him and not the approval of others. The Lord disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:3-11). When criticism or silence come our way, we should be willing to evaluate our lives and motives. Consider the source of the critique and seek the Lord for wisdom. The Lord may be trying to tell us something.

Thank God for the encouragement we receive. When someone praises something we have done, we should thank them and give acknowledgement to God for His work in our lives. We need to remember that it was not us who did this alone, but it was God working in us (Ephesians 2:8-10). Apart from Christ, we can do nothing of eternal value (John 15:1-5). It is also important to remember that God chooses the weak and foolish (all of us) to accomplish His purposes, so that no one can boast (1 Corinthians 1:23-31). Thank God that He has graciously allowed us to serve Him and to be a part of what He is doing in the world.

Do not place too much value or importance on praise we receive. Jesus did not entrust Himself to those that followed and even believed in Him for the wonders He did among them (John 2:23-25). This is because He knew the hearts of all people. We are all sinners. If we determine our value or commend ourselves because of the praise we receive, we are basing it on the opinion of those who are fallen, just like us. Yes, godly feedback and encouragement can spur us on to continue pursuing Christ. However, those who praise us today can curse us tomorrow. It happened to Jesus. It will happen to those who follow Him. In addition, when we pursue the praise of others, Jesus said that we have received all of the reward we will get. There is no eternal reward because have coveted the approval of others, rather than God (Matthew 6:1-18).

Above all, seek God’s approval, not that of others. In the end, the only one whose opinion really matters is God. Our desire should be to please Him and to pursue His desires for our lives. When we are in glory, the praise we received from others will count as absolutely nothing. While we can be thankful for the generosity and encouragement of others, our pursuit is to be for God’s approval. Ultimately, God’s approval of us comes only through being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, having received the salvation provided through His sacrificial atonement (Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Beyond that, we can find our joy and satisfaction in knowing Christ and allowing Him to work in us and through us to accomplish His purposes (Philippians 3:7-11).

Praise received from others can be a source of encouragement to us in our walk of faith and ministry. However, it can also become an idol that we crave and pursue after. It can become the driving force behind our lives, our work, and our activity within the church. When this happens, our pursuits are based on what we get out of it rather than the glory and purposes of God. In the end, we will not obtain what we really want, for the praise of others is often tainted and it is fleeting. The approval of God is eternal and brings joy and satisfaction for this life and for eternity.

Together for His glory…