Saturday, April 5, 2014

Be-Attitude Check (Philippians 4:13)

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NASB95)

For the past several days I have been working through Jesus’ “blessed are” statements in Matthew chapter 5, but today I am taking a break for an attitude check.

Words are powerful things, especially when people use them to speak of or describe others. Their meanings and the impact of them, while being used by one person, really find their impact in the heart and mind of the hearer. In this there is much room for building up, tearing down, and miscommunicating.

Our culture is one of comparative ratings. If we go to a store we find our receipts opportunities to get some kind of a discount, win a prize, or even receive something if we simply take the time to complete a satisfaction survey. Most common in them is a five point assessment along the lines of “very satisfied”, “satisfied”, “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied”, “dissatisfied”, or “very dissatisfied”. We find questions such as, “How likely are you to recommend this store or this product to a friend?” And the response choices are given to us on a similar scale.

We are a people who compare, and make value assessments based upon those comparisons. These comparisons can even be personalized in regard to things such as our looks, health, competency, quality of our work, and how much we are liked or appreciated. In this way our scale might look like “great”, “good”, “okay”, “not so good” and “bad”. And when we are anything other than “very good” then we can begin to question what’s wrong.

While these measurements may be commonplace and even applied on a regular basis in the making of decisions, they can also become very dark traps. These traps can snap closed on us when we don’t measure up to the standard of someone we value, including even ourselves. We can become self-critical. They can snap in when someone else gets selected for a job, and you get left behind wondering what made them so much better. They can snap closed when someone responds to something we have said or done with a measuring word lower on our scale than we anticipated. All of these traps snapping closed might be signs that we find our value and acceptance in the approval of others. At a minimum, they indicate a spiritual struggle over which we need to step back and look to our God who fully accepts us and who has promised to complete the work in us that He started.

There are many words that can trigger negative responses in our hearts. One of them amazingly enough is the word, “good.” On the comparative scale above “good” is next to the top. But have we become so accustomed to wanting to be “great” or “very good” that in some settings “good” is not good enough. As I thought about this word I thought about our God and His creation.

In Genesis 1 we read that God saw the light He created and it was good. He created the expanse in the midst of the waters and the dry land and heaven and sea and He saw that it was good. He created vegetation and it was good. He created the sun, moon, and stars and He saw that they were good. Then He created the sea creatures and the winged birds and they were good. Next we read that he created the land creatures and they also were good. It was at this point that God then created man in His own image, or as Scripture says, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26, NASB95) Our Triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) chose to make man, male and female, and place them in this fully created “good” place. In response to this we read, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31, NASB95)

God’s creation was perfect, exactly as He intended and as He looked upon it He saw that it was “good.” In this light “good” is a powerful word. But even in this there was something missing, and that was man. When God created man and added him to His creation He looked upon all of it and it was then “very good.” Today, as we live in a world racked with sin, hurt, destruction, and disease we are daily reminded that there is something better. What was once very good, oftentimes now is not even close to good, and we long for the better. And when we personally struggle with this comparative scale of good we are reminded of how short we or things come.

In Romans 3 we read, “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” … “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:10, 23, NASB95) We know in our hearts that we have fallen short. But our God turns that which is bad into that which is good.

In this world we continue to struggle, but if we have trusted Christ for our salvation, we are not to struggle as those who have no hope (Romans 8:23-25), but as those who have been saved and made righteous in Christ. Sure, we realize what lies ahead in heaven is perfect, but for now God is in the process of conforming us to the image of His Son, and in this He is doing a good work in us. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NASB95) In this we can also know that God’s good is far and above any great that the world might have to offer. And in this we can give ourselves back to God, submitting ourselves to Him to change and direct our lives. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95)

Another one of those comparative words is “adequate.” This word is usually seen as the middle word on our scales, the one that is equal to “okay.” We often view it as neither most desired or most detested, but as something that will meet the need and serve the purpose. But even this word is easily twisted. In our desire for the best we struggle with that which is seen as less. In the job market, employers hold out for the employee who excels and not the one who will get the job done. When we make a special dinner, certain things which would normally suffice just don’t seem adequate for the occasion. In many ways we view “adequate” as being on some kind of thin line between not working at all.

But this also, is not in line with how God measures things. The first verses that came to my mind in relation to this were 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NASB95) Notice how the good work God intends for us is tied to Him making us adequate to accomplish it. In the English Standard Version “adequate” is translated as “complete,” and the Greek word behind both has the added meaning of being specially fitted or being given a special aptitude in order to meet the situation. In relation to God’s inspired word we are given what we need to do what God intends. Of course, there is a tie here, and that tie is hiding His Word in our hearts and allowing it to shape us such that we are enabled to walk in righteousness. Becoming adequate requires training, but God is committed to training us. The bottom line is that when God makes us adequate for His work He removes any concept that in Him we are then inadequate.

“Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4–6, NASB95)

The last one for today is “Jack of all trades.” I’ve long thought I was this kind of person, realizing that I am very capable in many areas, but in this I have often wondered if there was anything that I was really good at. This can be a dangerous trap, especially if you have a history of comparing yourself to others which I did as a teenager, and which I am still not immune from even today as I am searching out God’s leading for where we are to serve. A “jack of all trades” is a good person to have around because he is adequate to do most anything, but is he the first person you pick when you are looking for a specific expertise?

We are all naturally talented, developed in skills, and gifted in different ways, and God uses the entirety of our individual wiring for His purposes. Falling into the comparative trap of measuring ourselves against others as opposed to submitting to God’s will for our lives with all of our various strengths and even weaknesses is sometimes simple to do. But in this we again have to stop and get our God perspective right. God knows exactly what He intends for each and every one of us, and what we see of this is sometimes only a small picture. We have seasons when God unfolds things before us and we see, but we also have seasons when we have to walk in uncertainty trusting that what we don’t see and can’t control are firmly held in our God’s hands.

Many years ago, I switched out the common phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none” to “Jack of all trades and grateful for the Master’s Son.” For in this new phrase I am reminded of my great hope, one that is not based on my shortcomings but upon the unlimited ability of my God who makes me adequate for His good work.”

Be Attitude Check 1: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NASB95)

If you are struggling in some way today concerning your personal value or the judgment others might have of you, won’t you please step back and look to our God and what He has to say both about who we are in Him and about how He promises to work.

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