Monday, November 28, 2016

Everything isn't a competition.

Before we had kids, Misty and I always joked about how our kids would have terrible competition streaks. Misty and I have always been competitive, even in the least little thing. As our boys have grown we've watched their competitive fires grow too. They compete to see who can get to the car first, who can hit the most shots on a basketball game, or who can win a board game. 

Recently, I witnessed what is possibly the oddest competition ever between our sons. It was a week when our town picked up both the recycling and trash at the curb. As we pulled in that afternoon, I dropped the boys off at the end of the driveway and told them to roll both cans back to the house. And what did they do? You guessed it. They competed to see who could get back to the house quickest with their can in tow. That is either really ingenious or really sad. You choose. But regardless of your view of it, our boys had once again made everything into a competition.

When it comes to childhood games and other trivial matters, it is okay to be competitive. Competition is important in many ways in life. In technology and business it drives innovation. But when we start to let competition with others drive other areas of our life we run into trouble. When we try to compete with others, whether we admit we're competing or not, we find ourselves turning God's blessings into catalysts for sin. If we aren't happy that others are making more money than us, then greed sets up in our hearts. If our neighbors have newer cars or nicer toys, then we allow jealousy and covetousness to take hold of our mind. These sins, and many others, start to take root in our lives because we've allowed what should be seen as blessings to stoke the fires of sin. We should see the blessings God has placed in our life as exactly that, blessings. We shouldn't see them as something lesser than our neighbor's. We shouldn't allow the competition or comparison games to take our eyes off what God is doing in our lives. If anything, we should be thankful for what God has given to us and happy for the blessings He's given to our neighbor.

In Philippians 4:11 (NIV), the Apostle Paul tells us, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Paul new the secret to being content, whether giving to his missionary work was up or down, whether he had food or was hungry, and whether his sandals had holes or not. Whatever circumstance Paul found himself in, He had learned to be content. His secret to contentment was shared in verse 13. He said his secret was, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Paul was able to be content with every circumstance in life because of the strength he received from Christ. When his neighbor had a newer donkey or the latest in Roman fashion, Paul knew he could be content because of the strength Christ gave to him. Through that strength he could resist, envy, greed, jealousy, and coveting. We should take note of Paul's secret to contentment and put it to practice in our own lives. When we do we'll find ourselves less worried about what we have compared to our neighbors and more content with God's blessings in our own lives.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Take a break on the journey.

About 6 years ago, me and the boys went hiking. We wanted to hike from the peak of Mount Mitchell to the peak of Mount Craig. Mount Craig is the 2nd highest peak in the Appalachian mountains and about 1 mile south of the summit of Mount Mitchell. For a 4 and 5 year old, the hike over rugged terrain was very taxing. Like many of our hikes, the boys didn't want any help and were capable of doing the hike on their own two legs. When we reached the peak of Mount Craig, we followed our normal hiking tradition. This tradition is this: dad breaks out snacks and a drink for the boys while they rest and dad takes pictures. These two fearless hikers plopped down on a big rock on the side of the trail, just opposite the marker for the summit of Mount Craig, and enjoyed their hard earned snacks and drinks. The rest and the refreshments helped sustain the boys for the return trip to the car over the same rugged terrain. 

Last week I was reminded of this picturesque day as I prepared for this past Sunday's message. There was a good sermon example involved on the return trip from the summit of Mount Craig. So I went back to look at pictures I had of the hiking trip and saw the boys eating their snacks. I remembered how rejuvenating that break was for the two of them. Sometimes a break is exactly what we need.

Last week I spoke to a person who shared with me about their need to take a break from their church and participation in the work of the church. The person I spoke to had valid reasons for why they needed to stop serving in their church. Some were health related and others were personal in nature. As the person shared with me about their need to take a break from their church I agreed with them that sometimes we do need a break.

Sometimes when we find ourselves exhausted physically and spiritually the best thing we can do is take a break. If that means resting on the side of a trail to recoup for a few minutes, then do it. If it means stepping away from responsibilities at church to keep from being burnt out, then do it. If it means taking a few Sundays away from your regular church experience, then do it. The rest we receive from stepping away can do more than bring us refreshment, it can bring us clarity of mind. It can help us put in perspective the things that were causing our burn out. It can help us see what is really important in the grand scheme of things. It can show us where we need to dedicate our efforts in the work of the Kingdom and what we need to avoid doing. Through it all we see that God is able to work in our time of rest and refreshment to help sustain us for the long journey of faith ahead of us.

Let me close with this one warning. Yes you heard a pastor say it isn't a bad thing to take a break from your regular church experience for a few Sundays. This didn't mean not worshiping God. This means finding a different worship experience so you can gain some rest and perspective. The intention of rest is to continue down the path after being refreshed. Once you've gained your rest and perspective dig back in at your church and worship God with a rejuvenated spirit. Also be sure not to fall into the trap of getting out of the habit of going to worship God on Sundays. Because there are too many people in that trap already!

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