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!

CAN YOU BRIDGE THE GAP?

swing-bridge

I have a friend who’s really wigged out by bridges. Not totally creeped out, but pretty freaky about them. I had no idea this existed in her until several years ago. She invited my boys and me down to the lake to spend a few days with her and her kids. We hung out and did some sight-seeing and driving around.

One day we were driving through one of the state parks. It was a pretty remote area with deep woods and winding gravel roads. Somewhere in the middle of the winding and driving on our primitive path, we came upon an old suspension bridge with wooden planks that you could see through straight to the water below. I thought it was cool. So did the kids. They wanted to get out and walk across. So we stopped the car and her uneasiness began. Again, I had no idea she was so wigged out by these things. She wanted no part of getting out of the car. Matter of fact she wanted no part of even driving over the bridge even though car after car had gone over it for years. It wasn’t like she was totally freaking out or anything, but was noticeably bothered. Honestly, at the time I thought she was just messing with me. But, no. Oh no. It was for real. She does not like bridges and this old, rickety suspension bridge was proof positive.

Some time ago at work one of the entertainers at our facility played the Simon and Garfunkel song Bridge Over Troubled Water on the piano. I hadn’t thought about my friend and her freaky bridge aversion in a long time. And for whatever reason, this song brought back that memory. Personally I like the song. If you read the history behind it, you’ll find the “true meaning” of the song lies somewhere between Jesus and heroin and the few strands of gray in Mrs. Simon’s hair.

Here’s the thing…people struggle, people have junk and baggage. When they look through the wooden planks of their lives it’s far from sturdy. And all they see through the weathered and worn out planks is troubled waters. They see failure, shortcomings, regret, poor choices, guilt, remorse, and shattered hopes and dreams. They don’t see peace. They don’t sense calm. They don’t feel stillness. Like the bridge they feel suspended in mid-air without any kind of solid foundation underneath.

Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their hurt and your hope? Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their pain and God’s promises? Can you, even for a moment, bridge the gap between their struggles and your Savior?

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

To my friend’s credit she did drive over the bridge after a little coaxing and several offers from me to take the wheel. We made it. All in one piece. With memories to share and stories to tell when we safely arrived at the other side.

Ah, yes…the other side. Safety is on the other side, but the journey to get there sometimes has to go over old, rickety bridges with weathered and worn out planks.

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
When darkness comes around
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

 Who can you be a bridge for this week?

(*Note: This post originally appeared on the Clutter Interrupted website on November 23, 2014)

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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.

complain

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.

EVERYONE HAS A STORY TO TELL

She was a 17-year-old senior in high school and fell in love with a 24-year-old man who was widowed and had 3 kids. They decided to get married, but there was a catch. Her school had a rule which stated you could not be married and be in high school. She had every credit she needed to graduate except one semester of history. She begged the principal to allow her to stay and complete the requirement so she could get her diploma, but a rule was a rule. That was in 1951.

She was thrown into instant family, taking on her role as wife and step-mom. Soon she and her husband had kids of their own. She fully embraced this responsibility, staying home to raise the kids and keep their home.

Years went by and she never looked back at the high school diploma that was so close, yet so far.

…Until 1999…

Forty-eight years after she would have graduated from high school, she decided to go back and get it. She met with the principal and told him her situation. He listened with a sympathetic ear and kindly told her to seek her GED. She kindly responded back to him, “I don’t want my GED, I want my high school diploma!”

After much consternation, the administration agreed. And she went back to high school for one semester to complete the history credit she lacked. She walked the halls with high school kids. She sat in class with high school kids. I asked her if she was mistakenly thought of as a teacher every now and then. She chuckled.

She completed her one semester history credit. She proudly wore her cap and gown, walked across the stage, and received her high school diploma…forty-eight years later.

Now this is the part of the story where you might expect me to say something like, “This just goes to show you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.” Or, “Never give up on your dream, go for it, and you’ll succeed.” But truthfully, I’m not much of a buyer-inner to those feel-good, shoot-for-the-stars messages. While they work for some, they fall painfully flat for others.

No, this is the part of the story where I tell you everyone has a story to tell. You see, she’s quiet by nature. She’s not forthcoming with much personal information. She loves to be a part of things to listen and observe, but not necessarily to contribute to the conversation. She’s quiet and kind of soft-spoken. But that all changed when I began to ask her questions. One question led to another and before you know it she had shared this incredible story that blew us all away.

Here’s the thing about questions…they can be accusatory in nature, or they can be inquisitive. We can ask questions with an underlying whisper of disapproval or judgment. Or we can ask questions innocently because our curiosity craves an answer. And when it’s the latter, it opens up a whole new world—one that we wish people knew, but are too afraid to share.

Everyone has a story to tell—an opinion, a viewpoint, a conviction, a past—that’s inside them and just may be longing to come out. With our questions, we can carefully and graciously unearth these things in each other. Or with our questions, we can insensitively bury them forever.

Seneca the Younger once said, “If you don’t know, ask.” It’s why and how we ask that make all the difference.

WHY LOVING THE UNLOVABLE STINKS

He’s rude. He’s inappropriate. He’s foul-mouthed. He thinks he’s funny and cute. He makes snide remarks to people and doesn’t care about the outcome. He speaks his mind with total disregard for whomever he wipes out in the wake of his words. He makes more enemies than friends and couldn’t care less.

He’s the topic of frequent conversations and complaints among other residents at the senior living community where I work.

Sometimes he can be charming. Occasionally he can be sweet. But my experience is more the former than the latter.

As I walked up to the table where he was seated recently, I heard him tell his table mates, “This lady here is a real b*tch.” I don’t know if he was kidding or serious. It didn’t matter really.

This summer I personally registered him to vote and hand delivered his form to the Clay County Board of Elections in Liberty, Missouri. I’ve answered questions that he’s inquired about. I always say hello, am always friendly and reach out to him. But quite frankly it’s not easy. To be honest, I’d rather toss him out with the rest of the trash at the end of the day.

Every month, I run our Resident Council meeting. Yesterday he came. Shocker! He doesn’t attend anything…ever. Before the meeting, I make coffee for the residents and serve each one of them. It was all I could do to serve this man—who is rude, difficult, and unkind—without wanting to “accidentally” spill the coffee on him. But serve him I did. I’m pretty sure he muttered a “thank you” somewhere in there. And I thought for a hot second, “maybe this is progress.” I thought wrong. Later in the meeting he got ticked off at me and stormed out. I shook my head and moved on with the meeting.

Loving the unlovable is a real struggle. It’s frustrating. Loving the unlovable is work, there’s no reward, and it’s not any fun—three things which we spoiled, self-centered Americans aren’t particularly fond of.

I was kinda frustrated at the end of the day as I reflected back. My conversation with Jesus at that point went something like this:

“I’m done. I’m not wasting my time with that guy anymore.”

“Love him anyway.”

“But it’s pure work.”

“Indeed it is. But love him anyway.”

“But I never see any progress in my love for him.”

“Doesn’t matter. Love him anyway.”

“But I served that guy coffee today, adding cream and sugar just the way he likes it, and this is the thanks I get in return?”

“Yes! And by the way…it’s not about you!”

“This straight up stinks!”

“Maybe to you. But your loving the unlovable is a sweet fragrance to Me.”

Deep breath. Reboot. Got it.

You see…whether we know it or not…whether we feel it or not…whether we see progress or not…the sweet fragrance of the likeness of Christ can be an irresistible pull toward the Savior.

JESUS, WHERE’S WALDO, & PROBLEM SOLVING

About 15 years ago or so, the Kansas City Star used to put Where’s Waldo in the lineup of comic strips in their Sunday edition. Back in the day, we spent lots of Sundays with my folks who took the paper faithfully. I remember Sunday after Sunday, lying on the family room floor, poring over each comic strip with an occasional grin or chuckle. But one of my favorite parts of the funny papers was Where’s Waldo. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s one of those seek-and-find type things. Waldo is a kinda geeky looking guy with a red and white striped shirt, round glasses, wacky brown hair, and a red and white stocking cap. Where's WaldoEach cartoon features Waldo tucked away in some crazy, action-packed scene. And your job is to find him. I usually couldn’t. I’d spend a good 5-10 minutes searching for the guy, but wasn’t very successful. Then my oldest son, who was about 4 or 5 at the time, would come scrunch down beside me, and within 30 seconds would say, “There he is, momma!” I thought it was coincidence at first. But week after week, I’d search high and low, studying the scene with a careful eye, trying to find Waldo. I’d find someone who closely resembled Waldo, but not Waldo. Then like I said, Caleb would swoop in, and find him in a heartbeat without even trying.

Sometimes I think solutions to our problems are like this. We search high and low, in what feels like some crazy, action-packed scene. We look the scene (aka our problem) up one side and down the other and just can’t seem to find the solution. For us it’s sometimes grueling and clouded by seeing the same reality over and over again. Someone else, however, can take a look at the same reality and see the solution quickly. They can come in with a different perspective—one that’s not emotionally charged—and see the solution.

But here’s the thing…we don’t like those people. Even though they can see clearly what we should do, we don’t listen to their advice. We brush away their wisdom. It’s a pride thing in us. We have trouble admitting the fact that we have weaknesses and need help. There are times when we should seek out wisdom, help, advice, or counsel from others, but instead we just insist on trying harder ourselves.

You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? When He stood at the entrance of the tomb and hollered for Lazarus to come out, scripture records that “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44a).

Why did Jesus do that? Why didn’t Jesus bring Lazarus out all clean and fresh to put a further exclamation point on this miracle? Why did Jesus have Lazarus come out of the tomb all “mummified” like that?

The very next thing Jesus said to those close by was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go (John 11:44b).” That’s why. Jesus asked whoever was near the tomb to help Lazarus take off what bound him. You see, Jesus knew we needed each other. Jesus knew the value of others stepping in to help, to unbind us, to be hands-on in setting us free from our problems.

If you can’t find Waldo, you might ask Caleb to help you.

If you can’t find the solution to your problem, however, you just might consider the Jesus method—of asking those nearby to help unbind you.

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?

 

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