The Quest for Life’s Purpose & Meaning

CT.4-5
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Jesus replied:  “Love the Lord your God with
all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your mind.” This is the first and greatest
commandment. And the second is like it:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
All the Law and the Prophets hang
on these two commandments.
~ Matthew 22:37-40

The Comparison Trap:  Week Four, Day Five… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

As Christians, we often wonder what our purpose in life is meant to be. We wonder where God might be leading us… how He might be calling us… what He would want us to be doing with our life on this side of eternity.

Seeking and searching for those answers can lead us toward love, peace, joy, and hope, and they can lead us into darkness, depression, addiction or hopelessness. There is often a great struggle to find our purpose.

The Bible is the powerful Word of God.
It full of His words to us.
It is full of instruction.

Authors have made millions speaking at seminars, workshops, writing self-help books, and promoting their latest and greatest methods for figuring out our lives. Truly, the answer to finding our purpose can be summed up in these four Scripture verses.

The answer is:  Love God and love others.

Sandra reminds us that, “when we choose to honor and celebrate one another, we are honoring and celebrating someone precious to God.”  She goes on to say that, “Doing so serves us well by cleaning out envy and jealousy, but Jesus reminds us that it also serves God well.”

Jesus is the one who spoke the words of the Scripture above. He calls us to love God and to love others. This is His purpose for our life, and when we are willing to embrace it, we will be filled with the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Not only will we be filled, but we will also be a part of filling others.

It is a beautiful thing to “love others well by applauding their accomplishments and celebrating their skills.”

It is a beautiful thing to be loved by God, to love Him, and to love others.


 

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Coming Out on Top in One-upmanship

CT.3-2
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Let us not become conceited,
or provoke one another,
or be jealous of one another.
~ Galatians 5:26

The Comparison Trap:  Week Three, Day Two… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

We just finished talking about the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5, and here, just a few verses later, we’re cautioned in reference to one-upmanship.

This is the really ugly part of the comparison trap.

“Well, at least my marriage isn’t like that…”
“I’m SO grateful my child didn’t turn out like hers.”
“My husband might have issues, but at least he didn’t do that.”
“I deserve the promotion over her, because I work harder.”

Pretty ugly, isn’t it?

“Coming out on top in comparison’s game can lead you to conceit, arrogance and pride,” says Sandra. She then reminds us that “God’s blessings are not supposed to come with strings of arrogance or guilt attached.”

We did just get finished reading an impactful devotion about the fruit of the Spirit yesterday, didn’t we? It might be time for a brief review already, because if you are anything like me, you may not have said some of those phrases above, but you’ve probably thought them (are you willing to admit it?).

In his commentary on Galatians, Dr. Tom Constable makes a suggestion:

“Rather than trying to remove all of our former sinful practices ourselves, we should cultivate the spiritual life, and the Holy Spirit will deal with them.”

He goes on to categorize the fruit of the spirit, defining the characteristics based on their word origins in the original Greek language like this:

Mental or God-ward qualities
“Love” (Gr. agape, self-sacrificing affection for others)
“Joy” (Gr. chara, deep-seated gladness regardless of circumstances)
“Peace” (Gr. eirene, inner quietness and repose regardless of circumstances)

Interpersonal or other-ward qualities 
“Patience” (Gr. makrothymia, forbearance even under provocation)
“Kindness” (Gr. chrestotes, benevolence and graciousness)
“Goodness” (Gr. agathosyne, constructive action reaching out to others)

General or self-ward qualities 
“Faithfulness” (Gr. pistis, reliability, trustworthiness)
“Gentleness” (Gr. praytes, acquiescence to authority and consideration of others)
“Self-control” (Gr. enkrateia, ability to master oneself)

When we read through these definitions of what a Spirit-filled life can look like, we don’t associate “ugly” with these words. 

Sandra goes on to remind us that the fruit of the spirit sounds like the exact opposite of the conceit and jealousy we’re warned about in today’s Scripture verse—just a few verses afterward. She says, “To steward God’s blessings well, we just need to display outwardly the qualities of the Spirit that already live inside us.”  

If you are a Christian, then ALL of these qualities do live within you.

Conceit, arrogance and pride also live within us, but when we’re willing to yield to the Spirit, He will steward His blessings very faithfully.


 

When Fruit Grows, Comparisons Don’t

CT.3-1
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


The Comparison Trap:  Week Three, Day One… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

Our study group came back together for our weekly gathering at the end of Week 2 and kicked off Week 3 with Andy Stanley’s teaching on the parable of the talents from Matthew 25. He asked us to consider ourself as a “two-bagger” in relation to the parable and our study in the Comparison Trap, noting that there will always be some who have more and some who have less.

His main point was that, in the end, we will only be asked to give an account for what we’ve been given. The Lord will not compare us to one another or compare our gifts to the gifts given to others, but He will look at what gifts He has given to us and how we have impacted the Kingdom with these gifts.

Andy’s other point in relation to what we’ve been given is that our dissatisfaction says more about how we feel about God than it does about the person who has more or less than we do. He said, “The root of our envy is that God owes us,” and that He’s short-changed us. That’s a big thought to ponder.

That particular concept is such a sharp contrast to the Scripture verse Sandra shares with us in Day One of Week 3, where we’re reminded of how He has not short-changed us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.
~ Galatians 5:22-23

I was recently asked to testify at the criminal sentencing of someone I’ve known for most of my life. In part of my testimony, I shared some of the changes I’d seen in both of us over the years. I was able to compare my life and my relationship with this person from many years ago to the relationship we had come to have, and I used the fruit of the spirit as a part of the reason for the changes and growth I’d seen. It was only because of a willingness to yield to the Spirit that the growth had happened for each of us.

It’s amazing what God can do in our lives when we’re willing to allow Him to do His work in us and through us.

I also remember very early in my personal walk with the Lord when a discussion about the fruit of the spirit took place in my adult Sunday School class. I distinctly recall feeling as though I had “control” over love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, but that I was still lacking a bit in patience and gentleness. I also knew, at that time, that I had a looooong way to go in developing self-control. I’ve come a long way (a few years ago I shared some of that in another writing).

What I didn’t realize in those early Sunday School days, but I do realize now, is that the fruit is singular, not plural. There are nine components to the fruit of the spirit, but not nine characteristics to be accomplished and achieved separately like a list to check off or to compare on a chart.

When we truly are willing to yield and go where we’re led by the Spirit, we will develop His personality and His characteristics all together. I recall seasons of my life where it seemed I struggle to “accomplish” having patience, gentleness and self-control, but it was only because I was not willing to submit these parts of my character to His. It’s good to know He doesn’t give up on us!

When we find ourselves wanting to be a 10-bagger or lifting our chin in pride at the one-bagger, we can recognize how we’ve fallen into the comparison trap. But through our verse and through our reading, Sandra reminds us that God has already richly equipped us with all the very incredible gifts we need to escape this trap.

Somewhere within us, we have a Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, giving us the ability to take captive the thoughts of comparison. When we do, we grow.


 

Finding Hope after Soaps

Soap.HS

Soap operas used to be a part of my weekday life.

I was raised in a household where watching the afternoon television dramas was the norm. If I was home sick from school or if it was summer vacation time, I remember them being on the family room TV. On early-dismissal days, I’d get off the bus and walk up the road quickly so I could catch as much as I could while they were on the TV during the afternoon. I knew the soaps weren’t “real,” and the morals I was being raised with rarely showed up on the screen. Even though our household morals bore no similarity to the soap storylines, I did see some dramatic similarities with what was on that TV in relation to how conflict was handled, often escalated and rarely resolved.

I caught the soap opera bug. I grew into the same habit.

When I went off to college, I started watching the afternoon soaps when I wasn’t in classes. I’d get my calzone and coke in a to-go box from the dining hall, and I’d head back to my dorm room to catch up on Cricket, Danny, Jack, Ridge, Brooke, Thorn, Tom, Margo, Reva, Billy and Josh.

Even to this day, I can still remember their names (oh, that’s just sad!). They were a part of my life. They were the part of my life that made it glamorous and bold to want drama, cat-calls, stilettos, attention, a big house, big money, a big family, a corporate career, and all that was beautiful, but not at all for the right reasons. My search-for-tomorrow dreams about the future launched my young-and-restless life into a search mode for a guiding light as the world turned around me.

The trend continued. With the invention of the video cassette recorder, I could spend a long day at work, come home and eat dinner on the couch, and burn through three-and-a-half hours of soaps in just over two hours while wearing out the decal on the fast-forward button. When the tape would get too fuzzy from record-over after record-over, I’d just toss it and pop a new one into the VCR. Gosh, how I hated when the power would go out and I’d have to reset that darned machine!

That trend continued, too. Then I had kids. At some point, it dawned on me that it probably wasn’t a good idea for my little ones to be taking in fights over who stole whose husband or the myriad of seemingly, slightly odd, father-in-law sleeping with daughter-in-law relationships that I enjoyed watching. … so I’d wait until the kids were napping or off to bed at night before popping the tape into the VCR.

My husband hated my soap-watching habit. He’d blame them for my dramatic outbursts or manipulative scheming to get my way. I’d brush it off saying that it would take me away to another world much like reading a good book would envelop me for a few hours at a time. “What was the difference?” I’d say.

While the soap trend continued, I also started going to a different kind of church. It was one where people carried a Bible with them on Sunday morning, where a band played great-sound music with lyrics I could understand, and one where people didn’t feel like they had to dress up to attend. This place also talked about that Book like it had relevance to my life today…like it was more than just a book filled with stories and ancient history.

So, the soap trend continued and the church thing got going … and then I noticed something else began to change. Church – which I had done most of my life – started to become something I thought about more than for just a few hours on a Sunday morning. It got to be more of a daily time in my life…where it would jump into my thoughts, where it would stop me in my tracks, where it would give me a flashback to a heard word, or where I’d be humming a few bars from a song we’d done on Sunday. That trend continued, too. The prayers in our house turned away from “God is great, God is good” and “now I lay me down to sleep” toward actually having a conversational praise, worship and thank-filled time with some “if I could also ask You for…” in them.

Somewhere along the way, I started to feel convicted about my soap watching. Convicted, as in “I probably shouldn’t be doing this,” as in “this makes me feel weird in a wrong way,” and as in “shouldn’t I be doing something more productive?” kind of way.

You see , “conviction” is one of those words that can be a double-edged sword. It’s one of those words that can have a negative meaning and a positive meaning … one of those words that can be used for offense and for defense. I was feeling “convicted” to stop watching soaps because of their content, and I was feeling “convicted” to move in a new direction.

After a few arguments with myself about the “take me away” aspects versus the “what are you feeding into your mind?” aspects, I decided to stop watching soap operas. Cold turkey. Yes, I decided that’s how I had to do it.

That was about 10 years ago. I have never regretted it. Never.

I think it was a part of that “conviction” thing. And, I also think it was about obedience.

I know now that it was He who was within me who was convicting me and calling me to be obedient to what He was trying to plant within me. It would have been much more difficult for Him to plant something within me that would bear recognizable fruit if my soil was filled with thorns, ridges, discord, jealousy, impurity, selfish ambition, dissension and the like.

Is He calling you? Is He convicting you with a double-edged sword?

 

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Finding Hope in the Woman in the Mirror

FruitSpirit.Mirror.HS

I’ve struggled most of my life with looking in the mirror.
The woman I see staring back at me has usually not been the same woman I am.
The one staring back often feels as though she’s just not good enough.

Three years ago, my journey took a new turn. With that turn, part of me was lost, but part of me was also found. I had decisions to make and a path to walk. None of it would be easy. The reflection wasn’t friendly, but what was reflected became bigger than my own reflection.

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I wear make-up, and I like to wear make-up. My husband and boys tell me I don’t look much different without make-up as compared to what I look like when I do wear it. I disagree. The mirror seems to prefer mascara, eyeliner and lipstick.

The mirror tells me I’m a little “soft” and that I carry a few extra pounds;
the camera shows me that I’m squishy, and it’s more than just a few.

The mirror shows me that my skin is beginning to show its age;
my heart and my love of adventure don’t agree.

The mirror reveals the increase in my graying hair, my stray lip hair and the dark spots here and there from tanning way back when.

The mirror is like a friend who is brutally honest…you know…the one who tells you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear.

The mirror shows me what is on the surface, but — if I stay to look long enough — it shows what is often hidden.

The mirror.

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For Christmas this year, my husband surprised me with two wall decals. He got me the kind that press on, but are removable if one ever wants a change. One was small, and it went up right away, but the other one came in a big roll, and — since shortly after Christmas — it has laid on the floor in our library with a few soft stuffed animals pressing on it to make it flat. MANY times, he has asked me where I’d want it to be put on the wall, as he was VERY ready to stop stepping over it and get it up “for me.”

It was big. I just didn’t know where to put it. Most of the walls in our house are textured, so I just kept saying I didn’t want him to try to put it on a textured wall until I was sure I knew where I wanted it.

About a week ago, I told him I finally knew where I’d like it to be placed. When I told him the location, he questioned me multiple times. He was pleased that I had finally made up my mind, but he doubted the wisdom of my decision. Against his own preference, he decided to honor my wish, and he diligently pressed the letters onto the surface for me. We’re both in agreement now.

The photo you see above is where it now resides.

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In our master bathroom, there’s a folding, three-way mirror I designed and made when we renovated the room a few years ago. These wall decals now hang on the middle section of that mirror. They were a perfect fit, and I think they truly were meant to be there.

You see, the words now stuck on that mirror are the fruit of the Spirit. When I look into that mirror, what reflects back at me is not just me, but what He is leading me to be as I submit to being in step with the Spirit who resides in me.

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control;”

~
excerpted from Galatians 5:22-23 of the NASB

In John, chapter 15 of the Bible, Jesus tells us He is the vine, and we are the branches. The branches grow from the vine and draw their life from the vine. The branches, then, have the ability to bear fruit. His fruit. Perhaps we’ll delve into this vine/branches/fruit topic more in the future, but for now, I want you to know something…

In Him, through Him, and because of my walk with Him, the woman I see staring back at me is becoming more like what He calls me to be.

I’m still a work in progress, but the seeds of His Spirit within me are sprouting and bearing His fruit.

I am struggling less with the mirror, as what is reflected is greater than just my own reflection.

 

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