Tag Archives: God-centered

Time to Check Ourselves

given on Sunday, October 26, 2014

 

Preparing for last Sunday’s service, I had read through the story of The Golden Calf and stumbled into a question in the study aids that have stayed with me all this week, too: What false gods in your life are preventing the true God from living in you?

Think about that for a moment . . . What is a false god? How does a false god interfere with my relationship with God? Why do we pick a false god? How does a false god keep me from being Christian?

These questions haunted me all week. I started checking myself with those questions and knew that the timing of this self-evaluation was ideal because our society is right at the beginning of the holiday season, in the middle of football season, and winding down the summer season with a World Series.

What is a false god? The study note defines a false god as anything that prevents God from working in and through us. A false god becomes the trigger for our behaviors, interferes with our direct communication with God, and clouds our decision-making. We forget permanently or temporarily to see the world as God sees it and to follow his commandments to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and body and to love your neighbor as yourself.

False gods do not have to be a little statue that sits in a place of honor in one’s house. A false god can be an idea, a team, a season, another person, or possibly a personal possession. The false gods in our lives become so important that our behaviors appear to be controlled by that particular interest or object. We begin living our lives around the false god rather than around God, our creator, our heavenly father, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Right now, we are on the brink of holiday season that begins with Halloween, includes Thanksgiving, and wraps up with Christmas and New Years. Walk into any department store and look at the images before you. As you step in, what happens to you? I know what happens to me and I know that there are times when the impulse to follow my personal likes blocks all rational thought.

We sit down in front of our televisions and computer screens, and what behaviors do we demonstrate? Do we select television programs that match the Christian lifestyle or do we select programs that dominate our minds so much that we begin acting un-Christian?

Sports cause us to divide our loyalties. Currently the World Series has us so excited because our home team, the KC Royals, is playing and playing well. It is fun. The excitement of the competition has us turning into royal blue with all the shirts, the gear, and even the music. We are living, eating, and breathing Royals fever. Is it a false god or are we still keeping God central in our lives?

Another issue that might be a false god for us is politics. Is winning a political race so important that we begin name-calling, making false accusations, listening to ads without the facts, or voting based on just one party label? Politics may be so repulsive because of the negative, un-Christian behaviors of the campaign, voters are not even voting. Politics is one false god that makes it almost impossible to demonstrate Christian principles.

False gods cause us to make all kinds of decisions. Some decisions may not be a stumbling block for Christians, but some are. Following how one uses money is one way to check your choice of false gods.

How much money is spent on the World Series tickets? The fans filling the stadiums have chosen to spend hundreds of dollars for one or two seats, parking passes, and team gear. When we hear news stories of a standing room only ticket costing over $300, many of us would wonder how that person is going to meet the monthly budget. Maybe we even wonder, does that fan have a false god?

The examples of how false gods control our lives are easy to find. In fact during the last three months of any calendar year, false gods can be identified more easily than many other times of the year. The marketing companies know that and our airwaves, mailboxes, and even in-boxes are flooded with advertising. False gods make great profits for many businesses.

Obviously that leads us to a critical question? How do Christians maintain God-centered lives in the midst of all the false gods existing around them? The way is God’s way. Follow the teachings of Jesus. Look at life through God’s eyes. Make decisions based on need rather than want. Model a balanced life rather than one centered on a worldly object, an idea, a team, or a political party. When a decision is made, ask yourself what Jesus would do.

Checking one’s self about false gods can be painful. The cheering crowds, the glitzy advertising, and the next-door neighbors all make an argument for false gods, but is any false god offering the gifts God offers?

Keeping our lives centered on God allows us to enjoy all that is around us, including the KC Royals or the KC Chiefs.

A God-centered life provides the purest sense of joy one can ever imagine. The smallest things make us smile. The smell of a grilled brat or burger signals a meal as good as any 5-course gourmet meal can be when God is present at the meal.

The latest styles can light up our eyes as we look at the skill and the beauty of the designer’s choices when we see them through God’s eyes. We see the value and acknowledge the gifts God has given his children to create new and wonderful things.

Our feet tap to the rhythm of the music even while we work. But God gave us the ability to hear the music just like he gave the musicians their skills along with all the production people who make a living with their skills to share the music in its best manner possible. God is there in the studios with them.

God gives us all five senses to experience the world he designed for us. When we feel those chilly nights of fall, we know the promises of winter snow are ahead. When the sun sets in the evening, we witnesses God’s splendor as the sun’s rays shine on the clouds. When the cold winter winds are blown away with the March zephyrs, we feel the promises of God.

The hugs, the handshakes, and even the kisses we use to touch one another in love are God’s gifts, too. How we use the gift of touch is so important to those who struggle to find God’s love. Yet, if we live a God-centered life, we do receive gifts from the touches we extend and we receive from others.

Sadly, too many do not have those God-touches in their lives. Mean and/or inappropriate touch, when false gods are present, can be so damaging. False gods are found in so many different forms. We cannot always keep ourselves safe.

Yet we can live a God-centered life to guard us and others from the damage false gods can create. We can enjoy the same sports, holidays, and events as non-Christian people, but we do not have to let them interfere with our relationship with God or our ability to live out God’s commandments. In fact, the joy we feel in our lives is a priceless gift from God. As the holiday season opens, keep your life God-centered so others may witness the resulting joy of living.

Closing prayer:

Most gracious, giving, loving God,

Thank you for all the wonderment of this world.

Thank you for all the talents given to your children.

Thank you for all the shared gifts your people give.

We know we can be so fickle to follow false gods.

We realize that all the hype swirling around us

makes it easy to join in the false worship.

We check ourselves weekly, but it needs to be daily,

to make sure we stay God-centered.

Guide us through the study of scripture,

Through the fellowship of other Christians,

And by maintaining your commandments.

We want to follow you as the center of our lives.

We want to live a balanced, joy-filled life.

We want to share our glorious lives with others

still struggling to find You among the false gods

filling their lives.

You are the God of grace and the God of glory

now and forever. –Amen.

 

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Why practice thanks?

given on Sunday, November 3, 2013:

         November is here!  No one seems to understand why I dread this month, and that might be why I am discovering a shift in my attitude.  Thank goodness, because I needed a change.

Maybe living around so many enthusiastic deer hunters is part of it.  Maybe it is watching all the fun a Halloween event can be.  Maybe it is the anticipation of the Christmas holiday.  Maybe it is all the birthdays that have developed in the middle of the year.  Why it might even be due to the winning season of the Chiefs and the Mizzou Tigers!

Whatever it is, thank goodness!  I needed to broaden my joy into and through November.  I need to say thanks for giving me a month back to live to the fullest.  I need to practice giving thanks.

Why practice thanks?  Why do Christians need to give thanks to God?  Giving thanks to God, and I dare say to others in our lives, too, is a discipline.  When one disciplines oneself to practice any behavior, that practice becomes internalized in such a manner it takes no thought or effort to carry it out.

Consider what our world would be like if people did not practice certain behaviors or routines.  Think about driving—what if we did not follow the basic traffic laws?  What if we did not practice courtesy on the roadways?  What happens when we make mistakes such as pulling out in front of someone?  Would our lives be safe?  The courtesy we practice on the roadways allows flexibility among drivers who make mistakes or protects us from those who are aggressive.  Aren’t we thankful that almost all drivers do practice courtesy while on the roads?

Still, why does God expect us to practice gratitude as Christians?  The scriptures share various stories about giving thanks, and sometimes it is difficult to identify why we should give thanks.  The story today of the Israelites coming out of Egypt struggling to survive in the desert, wanting a change in the diet of manna that God was providing may seem far-fetched to us, especially right here in the breadbasket of the nation.  Yet, the Israelites were whining and not giving thanks.

How often does that happen in our own lives?  We have everything that we need, but we whine when we do not get what we want.  We watch friends getting more wealth or more stuff than we do, and we whine.  We ask God why do they get it and not us.  Do we stop and practice thanksgiving?  Do we stop watching what others are getting and doing and say thank you God for what we have?

Two of the very reasons I have long dreaded November are now turning into the very reasons I can give thanks to God:

  1. The loss of the green colors and the leaves on the trees signaled the cold, dreariness of winter that I shudder every time I think about it.  Yet, practicing gratitude, I can shift my thinking.  I love the colors of fall and the crispness of the cooler evenings.  The smell of wood burning delights me even when it drifts across my nose as I let the dogs in and out.  The rain this week seemed to provide a glossy finish to the leaves shining in the trees and the ones piling up on the bright green grass.  Thank goodness I can see God’s splendor in this early November day.  Thank you, God, for the delight of nature’s brilliant display.
  2. Over the years, November has signaled loss.  Too many family members seemed to die.  The worst calamities seemed to occur in November—the fire in our woods, the encephalitis Dad developed, and even the assassination of JFK.  But now November has signaled new life with birthdays to celebrate—a sister-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson, a stepson not to mention an uncle and a cousin and who knows how many more.  I can even add an anniversary to that.  Thank goodness I have learned to see the gains of November.  Thank you, God, for the joy of life rather than the sadness of losses.

My manna from heaven may not be the little beads of nourishment that the Israelites woke to find in the mornings.  My manna is discovering that there is more joy in life than the negative.  Learning to practice gratitude is a discipline Christians need.  The outcomes are so important and can demonstrate to others one more value to living a God-centered life.

Giving thanks may not be one of the acts of piety that John Wesley identified, but even Moses and all the examples of faithful leaders from the Bible knew that showing gratitude to God was critical to maintaining a faithful relationship with God.

For the Israelites, the sacrificial rituals became the religious practice that kept them faithful to God.  The sacrifices were highly structured and the gifts were the first, the finest crops or livestock that could be given to God.

The strict rules that the Israelites followed placed the importance on the gift worthy enough to thank God.  The Old Testament tells story after story of sacrifice that the faithful provided as proof of their obedience to God.  The stories also share examples of when sacrifices were not worthy.  In those stories, the failure to provide thanks with the best gifts or to be deceptive in the giving illustrates how destructive impure gratitude can be.

The New Testament reveals the story of God’s sacrifice to us.  With his gift of his son, he strips away the need to demonstrate gratitude in such ritualistic manners.  No more do we offer sacrificial lambs on an altar because God sacrificed his own son so that we may be forgiven our sins.  What an act for which we can be thankful!

Because God offered his Son, we are not exempt from Christian practices.  In fact, because we do not have to offer the tangible evidence that we believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins, our practice of thanksgiving should be central in our lives.

Practicing thanksgiving each and every day keeps us focused on God.  Giving thanks to God, to one another, to family and friends, even to clerks or service providers keeps us positive.  We show the joy that we experience in our lives because we are God-centered.  We see each worker, each person with God’s eyes and we thank God by our actions of Christian love.

People know us by the radiance in our face, by the twinkle in the eyes, by the hugs we share, by the giving we do, by the words of thanks that we give.  These are the results of practicing our faith.  When we keep our lives God-centered, our perspective of who is in control is kept in check.

Here is the challenge for November:  Practice thanksgiving each and every day of the month, of the year, and in the years ahead.  You will see a difference in your life.  You will see a difference in the lives of those around you.  You will witness the shift from loss to joy in your life.  A life filled with thanksgiving is a life filled with God.

Dear Gracious God,

These November days signal the end of a season,

         but thank you for the glory in the colorful leaves.

These November days may be colder and blustery,

         but thank you for the warmth of our homes.

These November days are filled with excitement,

         as hunters prepare for a new season, too.

These November days are filled with anticipation,

         as families look forward to celebrations.

 

As we awake each morning this November,

         keep us centered on giving thanks.

As we arrive at work each day this November,

         let us share our thanksgiving with others.

As we sit down at our tables this November,

         hear our prayers for the blessings we receive.

As we close our eyes each night this November,

         thank you for another day filled with life.

 

Thank you, Gracious Father, for Novembers.

May we practice thanksgiving to the glory of You.  Amen.

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