Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for the category “God’s Word…My World”

WHY JESUS DIDN’T HALF-ASS

“A job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done right the first time.” It was something like this that my grandmother embedded into us when we spent the summers with her. We “earned our keep,” so to speak. We had a list of chores to do each day. We memorized Bible verses at meal times, we were expected to treat each other with kindness and respect, and she set the bar high. We had to make our beds each morning…perfectly. We had to do the dishes…completely and thoroughly. We had to clean out the toy closets and ball closets…spotlessly. We had to sweep the garage…immaculately. She wasn’t being mean, or harsh, or a taskmaster. She just expected us to pitch in. She wanted us to learn the value of hard work. She wanted us to learn to do a job right…the first time. It’s a waste of time to do a job half-assed, then do it repeatedly until it’s done right, done well, and with care and excellence.

This is what my grandmother taught me. I didn’t care much for those lessons at the time. Matter of fact, I kinda thought it was a crock. Since when do kids go to their grandmother’s house to work? It’s supposed to be all about fun. And, truthfully, we had a lot of fun with her…after the work was done. She loved to play games…after the chores were complete. Part of her mission, I think, was to teach us grandkids to do a job right the first time around. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I ran across a passage this week that made me think of this very thing. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and some of His spit on the man’s tongue. (Yes, this sounds disgusting!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened!” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he began to speak clearly. It was gross, crazy, strange, and miraculous all at the same time.

The people who witnessed this were absolutely blown away. And do you know what their response was? Here’s what they said about Jesus… “He has done everything well…” What they were indicating about Jesus was, “He does everything beautifully, commendably, and with excellence. Jesus does admirable things that are honorable, surpassing good and noble.”

He didn’t just do some things well. He did all things well. He didn’t choose to half-ass a few things now and then. He chose to do the job right (and with excellence) the first time. The Message Translation of Mark 7:37 records it this way, “He’s done it all and done it well.”

I wonder if Jesus grew up with a grandmother like mine?

Or maybe He just knew that it made perfect sense to do everything well. That doing things half-assed is a waste of time. Maybe He sensed that excellence and honor was the way God intended it to be. Maybe He figured out that if you’re gonna do a job, do it right the first time. Because in the end, this is the way, the effort, the attitude, and the character that pleases God…and my grandmother.

 

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WHY I’D BET ON A MILLION-TO-ONE ODDS

Which is easier to do—protest, or pray?

Which do we resort to first—complain, or cry out to God?

Because sometimes we want to appear super spiritual, we quickly offer up the “I pray” answer to those questions. But think about it. When things are awful, when life really stinks, when nothing seems to be going right, which is easier? And which do we do right out of the gate? We protest and complain:

  • “This just isn’t fair!”
  • “Why me?”
  • “God, don’t You care?”
  • “I can never seem to catch a break!”
  • “Why can’t something good happen for a change?”
  • “I am so fed up with this mess of a life!”

Have you ever been in a situation where everyone around you was complaining, protesting, or just flat out negative? It’s tough not to join them, isn’t it? It’s tough to be positive. It’s tough to convince them that things aren’t that bad or that the circumstances will change if they had hope or faith.

Imagine how Moses felt. Shortly after leading the Israelites safely out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt, the masses started protesting. And when I say masses, I mean million (or maybe even plural). In Exodus 15:22-27, a million people protested, but one man prayed. A million people complained about their circumstances, but one man cried out to the Lord.

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One million versus one. Not very good odds, huh?

Whose voice was louder—the million that protested, or the one that prayed? Whose voice ultimately accomplished good—the million that complained, or the one who cried out? It seems crazy to think that in these million-to-one odds, God honored the one. God brought relief to the people. Not because a million of them complained, but because one of them cried out. God met their need. Not because a million of them protested, but because one of them prayed.

In your next difficult situation—when the odds are stacked against you—will you protest or will you pray? In your next challenging circumstance—when the odds are stacked against you—will you complain or will you cry out to God?

If popularity was the issue, I’d bet on the million. But since power is the issue, I’m betting on the one.

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on February 8, 2015)

 

DON’T LOSE A MINUTE

I spent about 10-15 minutes fixing an older gentleman’s watch recently. It wasn’t a simple, ordinary watch. It was a Casio LCD World Time Watch. I didn’t even begin to understand all of its features. It had several different abbreviations on it that I had no idea how to interpret. All I could figure out was that the straight-forward things like time and date were incorrect. After pushing lots of buttons and scrolling through many time zones, I finally got it to function correctly. When I sat there for a moment, I thought of the irony that I had spent so much time on fixing time. I invested so many minutes on the minutes that just tick away on a man’s wrist.

Time. It’s a given. It happens whether we give it permission or not. It passes whether we waste it or invest it in the process. It’s a constant. It’s endlessly moving forward…and forward again…and forward some more.

As I look back over the last year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I waste a lot of time. If I were to calculate the hours spent in doing productive things versus wasted things, I’d be embarrassed to say that wasted wins.

What about you? Do you cherish time? Do you invest in it wisely?

Peter gives us an interesting challenge in the first chapter of his second book. Here’s what he says, “So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus” (2 Peter 1:5-8, MSG).

dont-lose-a-minute

Immediately Peter says, “don’t lose a minute…” You see, we’ll never be able to get time to stand still or go in reverse. We’ll never be able to get back the time that’s already passed us by. Peter, without a watch on his wrist, evidently understood something about time. Perhaps he grasped a little something about investing time versus wasting it.

The best invitation we’ve ever received is to personally and intimately get to know the God of the universe through His Son Jesus. We’ve been given the privilege to participate in God’s amazing, all-encompassing plan to redeem the world. Peter says we should build on this very invitation we’ve been given. We should complement this “basic faith” of ours with things like good character, understanding, discipline, patience, wonder, friendliness, and love. And guess what…all of these qualities take time.

Even though it feels like wasted wins sometimes, if we have these qualities existing and growing in us, then it means that knowing Jesus hasn’t made our lives complacent or unproductive.

So don’t lose a minute. Grow. Learn. Bless someone. Love bigger. Give generously. Be free. Let go. Make the change. Do something. Be full of grace. Speak the words. Live out loud. Don’t miss the opportunity to build on what you’ve been given.

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on January 11, 2015)

 

WHY WHACKED OUT STORIES IN THE BIBLE ACTUALLY MAKE SENSE

For those of you who think the Bible is out of date, irrelevant, and boring think again. The Old Testament is chock full of crazy stories, that not only make you scratch your head and say, “Seriously?” but they’re ripe with application for life today.

Check this out…

Many of you have heard this story before, but maybe not in this light. So hold on and read this whole thing…

There was this super old guy named Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham). He was married to this super old chick named Sarai (whose name was later changed to Sarah). Not something we do much of today, but God—who changed their names—can pretty much do what He wants, right?

So these old folks have no kids. And they’re way past childbearing age. Like waaayy past. Abraham is around 85 years old, and Sarah is around 75. Sarah—feeling every bit of her old age—gets a bright idea to give her maid Hagar to Abraham to sleep with so that in some whacked out way they’ll have a family.

Seriously?

Yep.

Believe it or not, this works. Hagar gets pregnant by 85-year-old Abraham. And guess who’s feeling left out of the picture now? You got it…Sarah! Ya’ think? Totally! Dumb on her, but apparently that was normal back then.

Hagar, now prego with Abraham’s baby, begins to look down on Sarah. According to Sarah, Hagar was disrespectful to her and treated her like she was nothing. So get this…Sarah blames Abraham for the whole thing.

Wait, seriously? Wasn’t this debacle Sarah’s idea in the first place?

Yep.

In her frustration and lashing out at Abraham, Sarah says, “May the Lord decide who is right—you or me!” Now she’s bringing God into this mess, hoping He’ll side with her, not Abraham.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. And here’s where I get to the point of my blog. Abraham responds to Sarah by saying, “You decide. Your maid is your business.”

(As a side note, Sarah was probably angry at Abraham, Hagar, and God. She was the one who was barren. She made the choice to take matters in her own hands and create what she thought to be an amicable solution. But when it backfired, her anger probably ran deeply to those three in closest proximity—Abraham, Hagar the maid, and God. They became the targets of her misfortune.)

After Abraham lets God off the hook and tells Sarah to make a decision about the matter, the very next line in the Bible is, “Sarah was abusive to Hagar and Hagar ran away” (Genesis 16:6, MSG).

You see, Sarah didn’t just react or even overreact. No, she chose. She chose how she treated her maid Hagar. She chose to be abusive. She chose to mistreat her, humiliate her, and treat her cruelly. Granted, Hagar got a little uppity with Sarah and didn’t treat her well. So, I guess you could say Hagar deserved it.

But did she?

Sarah chose. Sarah decided. Sarah opted to take her frustration, anger, humiliation, brokenness, failure, feelings of inadequacy, bitterness, and hurt out on Hagar the maid. She became the target. The target that Sarah chose.

Do you get where I’m going? Sarah had the power to choose how she dealt with this situation when Abraham told her to decide. She could have chosen forgiveness. She could have chosen to build a bridge between herself and Hagar and not a wall. She could have chosen to be the better bigger person in the matter. She could have chosen integrity and honor and respect. She could have chosen to reach out and nurture and guide and love. But instead she chose the opposite.

It’s hard when people treat your poorly. It’s hard when life doesn’t seem fair. It’s hard to keep our frustrations in check. But we do have the power. It’s the power of choice. To choose to respond, not to react. It’s the power to choose love over hatred. To choose bridges, not walls. To choose grace over judgment. To choose mercy over malice.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated, angry, or hurt—and you’re looking to retaliate on those you love—why don’t you consider this whacked out story from an old book called the Bible? Because, you see, it actually makes sense.

At the end of the day, when the blame game ends, you have the power of choice. You control how you respond. Will you allow your emotions to override the right thing to do?

In the words of Abraham, “You decide.”

(***Spoiler Alert***) Abraham and Sarah actually do end up having a kid together…when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. If that’s not whacked out, I don’t know what is.

PITIFUL PREOCCUPATIONS

As I went on my daily morning walk this past week, I somehow managed to get a teeny, tiny rock in my tennis shoe. As I was walking this little nuisance went from my heel for a few paces, to the ball of my foot a few paces later, then up underneath my toes. It jostled around from here to there in my shoe every few steps I took. I thought to myself “if only it would land in one spot where it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t have to stop my walk.” Now, this little nuisance wasn’t the only problem. As I was having this conversation in my head and debating whether or not to stop or keep walking, I was actually listening to a sermon podcast by Bill Hybels. Bill is the pastor at Willow Creek Church in Chicago. I loooooove Bill Hybels. He’s so good, I cling to every word. I don’t want to miss anything he says. But I did because I was distracted by and preoccupied with this stupid little, teeny, tiny pebble in my shoe. I was even trying to tell myself, “Beth, focus on the sermon, not the dumb rock.” But after being distracted and preoccupied by this dumb thing, I realized I missed something key in Bill’s sermon. I was frustrated. And it was so silly…and pitiful really. I went from being encapsulated by a great sermon to distracted and preoccupied with a stupid rock.

I wonder what bigger things in my life I get distracted and preoccupied with? I wonder what key things I miss because I’m distracted and preoccupied? I wonder what distractions and preoccupations I experience that actually steal my joy or rob me of contentment? I wonder what little, insignificant things I get consumed with that get in the way of my missing the bigger, more important picture?

There’s an interesting story in the Old Testament in the book of Esther about guy named Haman. He was the king’s right hand man. He’s the main antagonist in the story of Esther. He was arrogant, proud, and quite full of himself. All the royal officials at the king’s gate were to bow down and honor Haman as directed by the king himself. Only one guy, Mordecai (a Jew), wouldn’t do it. As you can imagine, this ticked off Haman big time. So much so, that Haman didn’t want to only kill Mordecai, he wanted to kill all Jews. Yeah, Haman was a real piece of work. He had issues.

Later in the book, Esther (who was made queen), invited the king and Haman to a banquet. Here’s what happened when Haman left the banquet:

Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. 10 Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home. Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, 11 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 12 “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. 13 But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.” (Esther 5:9-13)

When Haman left the banquet he was “happy and in high spirits.” He was in a great mood, feeling on top of the world. But all that joy was shot to craps when he saw that Mordecai showed him no respect or honor or reverence.

When he arrived home, he went on to brag to his family about how great he was and how everything was going his way. But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t mean a thing to him because of this little distraction and preoccupation called Mordecai the Jew. Haman couldn’t be truly satisfied, he couldn’t enjoy any of the pomp and circumstance surrounding him because of his preoccupation with one guy. He fixated on this one distraction.

Let me ask you two questions:

  1. What preoccupations or distractions or little nuisances have filled your mind lately to the point of your missing out on something greater? Unfortunately, little things like the person who drives us crazy at work can tend to steal our joy. The unkind comment someone made to us a couple weeks ago can linger and affect our enjoyment of the present. The comparison game can cause such preoccupation that we can’t be satisfied with who we are and what we have.
  2. What would you like to be preoccupied with? Paul writes in Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things above, not earthly things.” You see, we have to stay focused on what’s good, godly, and right. Things that God creates, God ordains, God blesses. Those things are worthwhile, important, meaningful, and significant.

If we could only be encapsulated with God and His Word, maybe, just maybe, all of life’s distractions and preoccupations we experience are nothing more than teeny, tiny, pitiful pebbles in our shoe…

 

 

 

 

 

THE KINGDOM OF “SELF-IE”

In May, my husband and I had the privilege of attending the Carrie Underwood concert here in Kansas City. We were given tickets to sit in the Time Warner Executive Suite by one of my husband’s business associates.

I must say, it was a fabulous concert. That girl’s got some pipes on her! She can sing, she can play the guitar, she plays a mean harmonica, and she can all out entertain. I absolutely loved the show.

But something happened in the Time Warner suite that I won’t soon forget. We were joined by eight other people. I’d never met any of them and my husband only knew his business associate and her husband. Two of these eight other people were young girls who were maybe 20 years old. They had plenty to drink while they were there, so they may have been 21, but I’m not convinced of that.

Anyway…when they first came into the suite, they took a few selfies with the stage in the background. I thought nothing of it at the time because many other people (my family included) have done the same thing. But it didn’t stop there. They took selfie after selfie after selfie. While Carrie was performing, they were shooting videos of themselves—with the camera on their phone facing them so they could watch themselves. They sang with Carrie while they videoed themselves, fluffed their hair, and flirted with the camera. They took pictures of themselves in various poses, then texted them to whomever and posted them on social media. They did this over…and over…and over again. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was sorta mesmerized by this all-out display of self-consumption. For about 80-90% of the show, these gals were more enamored with themselves on the screen of their phone than they were with the queen of country music Carrie Underwood.

I was speechless. I was dumbfounded. Again I have never seen anything like this. Ever!

Selfies! Oh my! (And just to be honest…I’ve taken a few of these myself.)

Did you know in 2013, the word “selfie” was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year?

This week I heard there were an estimated 93 million selfies taken every day. I also heard it’s estimated that young adults will take around 25,000 pictures of themselves before they die. It’s no wonder there’s a growing concern that this technology is making us more self-obsessed and more narcissistic than ever before.

But self-obsession and narcissism is nothing new. It just has a different (albeit instant and international) form nowadays.

There’s a story in the Old Testament in which King Saul was told to go completely wipe out the Amelikites—including “men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3). It’s a pretty straight-forward command, but Saul didn’t quite carry it out. He spared the king and some of the choice livestock. In his own self-absorption, however, he was thoroughly convinced that he carried out the order completely and gained victory. He was pretty darn proud of himself. So proud, as a matter of fact, he went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself” (1 Samuel 15:12). That’s right, he set up a victory monument in his own honor, to himself, for himself. If King Saul would have had a smartphone back then, you can bet he would have taken several selfies indicative of his insta-victory and put them on insta-display for all his insta-kingdom to see. King Saul, who was once a humble guy, now had become consumed with one kingdom—the kingdom of self.

Kingdom of SelfieRight before we read about King Saul’s “kingdom of self” moment, we read what God thought about him. God said, “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me…” (1 Samuel 15:11). Ouch! God actually said He regretted making Saul king. Yeah, that one stings. But it was because he turned away from God. He was consumed with himself. Why else would he build a monument in his own honor. I mean…who does that?

I know who. Those girls at the Carrie Underwood concert. All the selfies, all the videos they posted on social media, all the fixation on the camera pointed toward themselves were little monuments in their own honor. All about the kingdom of self. All little moments of turning away from God.

Because how can we be all about God and all about ourselves at the same time? Is there room at the top for both of us? 

Matthew Poole said of King Saul, “But the truth is, he was zealous for his own honour and interest, but lukewarm where God only was concerned.”

If we’re zealous for one, we’re lukewarm for the other.

Selfie, anyone?

WHY?…OR WHY NOT? WHICH IS THE BETTER QUESTION?

A few years ago, a kid I knew went through a phase of answering every question you asked him with a question. He would ask you back the same question you asked him, only with a twist. For instance, if you’d ask him, “Why did you shorts on such a cold day?” He’d answer back, “Why not wear shorts on such a cold day?”

If you asked him, “Why did you leave the meeting early?” He’d respond, “Why not leave the meeting early?”

It was always kinda funny, always kinda unique. And when I considered his responses, I had to stop and think to myself, “Well I guess you have a point there! Why not? What would be a legitimate reason why not?” And usually I couldn’t come up with a viable, legitimate reason why not. So my questions (as to why)—which I originally thought were valid and reasonable—were actually not so much.

There’s an interesting story in three of the four gospels in which Jesus is found eating with some “tax collectors and sinners.” (That’s not my wording—that’s actually what the Bible says.)

“Tax collectors and sinners.” I wonder who all might have been lumped in this category back then? And who—what saintly person, group, or entity—got to label them as such?

So Jesus was hanging out with a group of sinners—criminals, reprobates, outlaws, degenerates, troublemakers, and whoever else. Next thing you know, some “high and mighties” come along and see Him doing this. (Gasp! Say it isn’t so!) Yep! There was Jesus (who was sinless) eating dinner and chillin’ with a house full of heathens. Appalled, I’m sure, they immediately ask some of Jesus’ close friends, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

I suppose from their perspective it’s a valid question, right? Why would Jesus—who was perfect, holy, and righteous—hang out with imperfect, unholy, and unrighteous folks? This was an important, legitimate question in their eyes. I mean, these “high and mighties” wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with anyone who might taint their lily white reputation. So they questioned why. But a more important question in my eyes is “Why not eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Why NotWhy did Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Because He loved them. Jesus didn’t see their faults and flaws. He saw their faces. He didn’t let their immorality keep Him from seeing them as individuals. He saw past the sin, and saw a somebody.

Why did He hang out with sinners?

Why not?

Far too many of us are afraid to associate with the “tax collectors and sinners” in our world. We’re afraid we might be labeled. We’re too protective of our reputation. We fear we can’t relate. We somehow strangely believe “it’s not the Christian thing to do.”

You see, the skeptical eye, the critical heart, the judgmental perspective looks at Jesus and says “Why in the world are you hanging out with sinners?” But the grace-filled eye, the merciful heart, the open perspective says, “Why in the world wouldn’t you?”

Scripture says that Jesus was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” It also says that they were hanging around listening to what He had to say.

Why did Jesus hang out with sinners?

Why not?

Jesus chose to do life with the sinners, the outcasts, the heathens, and all kinds of disreputable folks. So why don’t we?

 

A TWO-STEP PLAN: How Hard Can It Be?

Does God laugh? Is He funny? Does He have a sense of humor? Ask Woody Allen and he’d say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

Your plans, my plans, we all have plans. I don’t know whether God laughs at them or not, but most of the time we take our plans pretty seriously. Plans are those steps you follow or things you do in order to meet a desired outcome. Funny thing is sometimes we follow plans exactly. Sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we struggle to figure out just what the plan is.

When my oldest son was two years old, we pulled into our driveway after running some errands. Since we had an automatic garage door opener but no remote, we had to go inside our house, through the living room, through the dining room to where the door to the garage was, and push the “doorbell” button to open the garage door.

Well on this particular day, instead of going inside with me as he always did, Caleb asked if he could stay outside while I went in to open the garage door. I was a little reluctant because I knew he’d be out of my sight briefly, but went ahead and agreed to it. I told him firmly to stand right by the garage door handle and not to stray off.

I went in through the living room, through the dining room to where the door to the garage was, and pushed the button to open the garage. I looked down at the bottom of the garage door, and as it began to open, I saw Caleb’s little feet standing right there where they were supposed to be. I had a proud momma moment briefly as I thought to myself, “Yes! My boy followed the plan!”

I expected him to trot right into the dining room momentarily, so I stayed inside and began sifting through the mail. That’s when I heard it. The frantic cry coming from the garage: “Help, momma! Momma, help me! Help! Help!”

I quickly peeked out into the garage to the space where his little feet were just seconds before but they weren’t there. No, his feet were now about 4-5’ up in the air dangling and swinging because not only did Caleb follow the plan, he followed it to a T. He stayed right next to the handle on the garage door as instructed—“right next to” as in “held tightly to.” YIKES! (Yes, God has a sense of humor!)

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it’s recorded in Mark 3:13-14 that He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word…”

What's the plan?Did you catch that? There’s a clear plan lodged right there in the text.

“The plan was that they would be with Him, and He would send them out…”

There’s not only a plan, but a definite order here as well. Be with Him first. Send them out second. So somewhere about 2000 years ago, God laid out a two-step plan for His followers. Easy, peasy, right?

I’m pretty sure Solomon was correct, however, when hundreds of years earlier he wrote, “…God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). And because we’ve made ourselves very complicated, we’ve made His plan complicated too. The plan was that they would be with Him, and He would send them out.

How hard is it to “be with Him”? How hard is it to spend time with Him each and every day? How hard is it to spend a few moments reading the Bible, to think about the greatness of God, to pause and thank Him for the good stuff, to ask Him for help, to hang out in His presence, to consider His ways and strive to honor them? How hard is it to follow the plan? It’s as hard as we choose it to be.  It’s as hard as we complicate it to be.

Jesus “invited those He wanted with Him.” Truth is He’s invited you and me as well. Truth is we are wanted. Truth is not only does He want us, He wants us with Him.

“And they climbed together.” Truth is He climbs each and every mountain together with us too.

The plan was—and still is—that they would be with Him, and He would send them out…

It’s simply a matter of following the plan!

RETHINKING YOUR TO-DO LIST

“To-Do” lists. We jot them down on post-it notes, note cards, napkins, scrap paper, on our smart phones, in our minds, and even on our hands. Most of us are wired this way. We need some semblance of order in our lives as much as we need to feel the effects of accomplishment. So we create lists—things we need to do, places we need to go, people we need to talk to or email, items we need to purchase, etc. When those items on our “to-do” list get crossed off, we feel a much needed sense of accomplishment. For many of us, if it doesn’t get on the list, it doesn’t get done. All too often the “need-to-do” item gets filed away in our brain, in that “lost-and-only-sometimes-found” box.

Lists—our attempt to be organized, our attempt to achieve, our attempt to complete.

I’m not knocking the “to-do” lists at all. As a matter of fact, I’m quite a list gal. I operate best when I have the visual list in front of me. And yes, it sure feels great as I see the items on my “to-do” list get checked off one-by-one.

Rethinking Your To Do ListBut have you ever thought about creating a “to-BE” list? Yeah, you heard me right—a “to-BE” list. I was challenged with that thought a while back. A friend and I got together to discuss what exactly is on our spiritual “to-BE” lists. You see, all too often we are consumed with what needs to be done, hence the “to-do” lists. We do, do, and do some more until we’re blue in the face. We teach Sunday school, join the PTA, serve at the local soup kitchen, tithe our 10%, sing in the choir, coach little league, or volunteer at the homeless shelter. But in the grand scheme of things, which is more important: what you do or who you are? This is a tough question, isn’t it? The easy answer of course is who we are is more important than what we do. However, we can’t get wrapped up in the “to-BE” list and totally neglect the “to-DO” list.

Here’s my challenge for you:  Take some time this week to generate a spiritual “to-BE” list. Who do you want to become? What kind of person do you want to be? Who does God want you to become? What kind of characteristics does He want you to work on and adopt for yourself?

Once your list is created, ask yourself how willing you are to work on accomplishing those things. (Granted, most of what’s on your “to-BE” list are things that will be life-long endeavors for you.) In order to complete your “to-BE” list, what things do you need to pray about, surrender, be held accountable for, let go of, share with someone, admit, dig up, or drastically change?

Here’s the thing…I tend to believe that if we generate a spiritual “to-BE” list, and focus on all God wants us to become, our “to-do” lists will be accomplished with greater grace and purpose in mind.

In the words of the Apostle Paul: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).

Go forth and do…but more importantly, go forth and BE!

IN YOUR DRAMA, WHO’S THE MAIN CHARACTER?

When I was in high school I took a class called “Theater Arts.” Basically we did little skits and dramatizations all semester, being coached by one of the best teachers ever. I’m not the world’s greatest actress, but my classmates and I sure had a lot of fun. By semester’s end we did a 3-act play called The Curious Savage. It was centered on the residents and staff of a mental institution. I didn’t have the lead role but I wasn’t a bit-part either. I played the part of “Miss Willie,” a nurse who assists the doctor with the patients. I had two entrances from stage left—one near the beginning of the play in Act I, and one near the end of the play in Act III.

Now…when I mentioned earlier I wasn’t the world’s greatest actress that was really an understatement. You see, at our live performance in front of the entire school, during Act I when I entered at stage left, I mistakenly said my lines from Act III. I took the entire play from Act I to Act III in a brief, but very awkward instant. I’ll never forget it! Someone on stage, far more talented and brilliant than I in the field of acting, quickly helped us recover. (And yes…when Act III came and I entered from stage left, I said the exact same lines. Talk about embarrassing!) Needless to say, that’s all it took for me to realize I would never star on Broadway. I was far better suited to be behind the scenes rather than center stage.

The main character. Center stage. There are certainly times in our lives when we like this kind of attention. We want the kudos and accolades that being front and center bring. We sometimes enjoy being the focus of the crowd, our co-workers, or family.

Then there are times when we don’t set out to achieve this kind of notoriety, but it just happens. When you lead, people follow. When you tell a story, several people tune in. I think this is how John the Baptist was. I think he had a unique personality, lifestyle, and message that made people naturally curious, so he drew a crowd. All kinds of people engaged him in conversation. On one such occasion, he said to the crowd, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Luke 3:16, NIV). There was John—the center of attention, the main character—but he didn’t want to be front and center. He indicated to the multitude that there was one greater than he. He told people about God’s message. He challenged them that it was time to rethink everything. In a sense he said, “No…it’s not about me…it’s all about Jesus.”

Check out how The Message translation renders this same verse: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.” John was the mere stagehand. Jesus was the main character.

Main Character or Stagehand?To be honest with you for a brief moment, I’ve struggled in this very area. I’ve literally been “center stage” a lot over the last 10 years. As a keynote speaker, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people across several states. And while I shared Jesus everywhere I’ve gone, I actually liked being the “main character.” So God has acted, and has gotten me out of the way. Because when it comes right down to it there’s no way I, as the main character, can ignite a fire and change people from the inside out. That’s totally God’s job. And John the Baptist got it.

I’m slowly getting it. I’m slowly, and imperfectly, getting the truth that it’s not about me. And I so want to point people to Jesus. Jesus–not Beth Armstrong–as the main character, as center stage.

What about you? In your life, in your world, in your drama, who is the main character? And who is the mere stagehand?

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