Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exposure: A Heresy of the Heart

A number of years ago my husband and I attended a teen's funeral. With a heightened awareness of the pain and suffering in that sanctuary, my anger was aroused as the person in charge laid out one lie after another.  At one point I turned to my husband and whispered, "If this goes on much longer, you are going to have to restrain me."  It took all I had not to stand up and shout, "Heresy!  Heresy!  They're lies! All lies!"

That said, this morning I discovered heresy in my heart.  In an effort to better steward this earthly vessel, I am working my way through the First Place 4 Health Bible studies.  I picked up the book, "Giving Christ First Place" on the recommendation of a pastor's wife and was blessed with a 43-pound loss a few years ago.  Sadly, weight sneaks back, and before I lose complete control, I'm on to another of their studies.  This morning I discovered an insidious thought pattern as I looked at Ephesians 6--the armor of God.

"Identify an area where you have relied on the world's philosophies and psychology in a vain attempt to overcome the spiritual forces that wage war against your soul..." (Daily Victory, Daily Joy p. 63). It didn't take much prayer to recall that yesterday--after completing much of my to-do list, exercising and eating responsibly--I indulged in strawberry milk and animal crackers while running errands. That may not be your definition of gluttony--and it wasn't even a dark sin I snuck off in the corner to commit, but it was outside my allowance for the day. God and I knew it.  My accountability partner, Sara, knows it. But God wasn't finished.  It was more than the act, it was the thought behind the act.

What was I thinking?  "Because I have done this:  ___________; I deserve this:  ______________."  Look back:  because I had completed much of my to-do list, exercised, and eaten responsibly I could now celebrate with 550 "free" calories.  WOO.....hoo.

But, you might argue, that's just positive reinforcement and performance management. There's nothing wrong with rewarding yourself, la da da da da.  And that's what I've told myself, too--until today.  Once I wrote my thoughts on paper I saw their duplicity.  Do I really think that because I've done something right so-many-times-in-a-row I deserve to sin?  Does God really say, "You've been such a good girl, you're entitled to some fun.  Go dabble in your favorite sin and come back when you're ready"?  Not.  The biblical model is to keep doing right, not to grow weary in doing good, to rejoice in God and His righteousness.  There is no comfort in sin.  There is no peace or satisfaction or accomplishment.  "This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. " (Titus 3:8).

We would all agree that God doesn't give out sin-tickets for good behavior, but I have found that I live as if He does (or at least I pretend He does).  How different my life would be if I didn't justify bad behavior based on good behavior.  And how important it is to know God wholly, truly, reverently; living in constant dependence.  And, as the verse on this site reminds me frequently--refreshment follows repentance.  Praise God for revealing heresy--from what I hear, it's a lifelong process.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Whose Party is This?!

Matthew 22

v. 3-5, 11-12: And [the King] sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, “Tell those who have been invited, ‘Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen, and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.’” But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business….

But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” And the man was speechless.

Observation: The King was ready. The feast was ready. The invitation was given. The people had other plans. Then when clothes were provided, the guest expressed his own personal preference—he did not submit himself to wearing what the King provided.

Application: I understand that the "call" of the King is the call to repentance--but I remain God's subject even after I've received His invitation.  How many times do I have “other plans” when it comes to obedience to God? God says, “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” But I have other plans. God says, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are not your own, you were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body.” But I have other plans. God says, “Wives, submit to your husband in everything.” But He doesn’t really mean that, does He? Not everything? I have other plans.

There was one man who was willing to change His plans and come to the King. He put aside his own agenda to celebrate with the King in His household—but his other plan was to wear his own clothes. So, I come to God, I eat His food (by reading the Bible), I spend time with His people, I enjoy the sights and sounds of His kingdom, but I don’t like His taste when it comes to my personal choices and ministry. I’d rather do it my way than His. The rest of them can do whatever…but I’m going to teach Sunday school this way….or I’m going to worship this way…or I’m going to create this fabulous new program…. And God? Where did God’s plan go?

“Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For Many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 13-14)

Only God’s plan. Only God’s way….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Give Me!... Please?

Matthew 20

v. 26b-28: …whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.

Observation: The early laborers to the vineyard had—they had a denarius, they had had a full day’s work—but they wanted more in comparison to the other workers (v. 12). James and John had—they had front row seats to Jesus, they had an eternal kingdom ahead—but they wanted more in comparison to the other disciples (v. 20-24). The blind men had—they had life and were somehow getting by—but they wanted more. They wanted their sight.

In the middle of everyone’s desire for what they didn’t have, Jesus foretold His betrayal, abuse, and death. He was painfully clear about who would be involved and what would happen, but there is no recorded response. The text seems to beg, “Really, Jesus? Are you sure you have that right? You must be mistaken.” There was no recognition of His gift; of His deity; of His lovingkindness from those who surrounded him daily.

Looking more closely at those who wanted more, the laborers felt entitled. They had worked longer. They “grumbled at the landowner.” (v. 11). Good thing I never grumble.

James and John appear to have recruited their mother to help ask Jesus for special treatment. They said, “we are able” to do whatever is asked in exchange for the honor of sitting at your right and left hand. The workers and disciples felt entitled to special treatment from God. Their words and actions reveal that, because of their labor, God was now under obligation to treat them accordingly.

But God is not under obligation to any man. He is God. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (v. 15).

The blind men, on the other hand, cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” They recognized that Jesus may or may not grant their request. They had nothing to offer in return. God’s mercy would be extended or withheld at the discretion of the Master. It was not in the getting that they recognized Jesus’ lordship, it was already His. They laid their pitiful voices and humility at the feet of Jesus. And He healed them.

Application: How do I come to Jesus? Do I come expecting to receive more in comparison to others because of some special service or sacrifice? Or do I recognize Him for who He is—the Son of Man, the representative of man, the gift given to redeem man? When I demand more, when I grumble, when I expect better treatment do I stop to look at Jesus? The One who was delivered to the chief priests and scribes who condemned him to death? Who was then handed Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify? And who, on the third day, was raised up? (v. 18-19).

What did I want again? I think I just forgot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mission Impossible

Matthew 19:1-30

Observation: Marriage, children, money, sacrifice—all of these things Jesus valued differently than men. When Jesus described God’s ideal for marriage, the disciples answered, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” Jesus values life-long commitment.

When children were brought for His blessing, the disciples rebuked them. Jesus welcomed them. Jesus values children.

When the ruler attested that he had kept the 10 commandments, Jesus compared his affection for people with his affection for riches. Jesus values people.

When the disciples questioned the value of their earthly sacrifice in comparison with the rich young ruler, Jesus assured them of His generosity. Jesus values sacrifice.

Application: All of these are impossible. It is impossible for a married couple to live as one entity for a lifetime. It is impossible to value children over and above the demands of life. It impossible to value people more than riches. It is impossible to live a life of sacrifice and service…without Jesus.

In and of myself I will value those things that meet my desires, that quench my thirst—even temporarily. But with Jesus’ indwelling character, I will surrender my desires to be unified with my mate. With Jesus’ help, I will value and bless children, not push them aside or make them wait until a more convenient time. Through Jesus I will see the value in others and willingly give from my abundance to serve those in need. And because of Jesus, I will not measure today’s sacrifice against the riches of another. I will count it all loss to in light of gaining Christ and His righteousness (Philippians 3:8). My values? His values? Today I will ask for opportunities to live out the impossible.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Evangelism and a Cow

I woke to Bubby's bellow outside my window at 5:00 this morning.  Again, David and I jumped out of bed and found our way outside in the dark.  Bubby stayed where he was as I went to him, rubbed his head, and visited quietly with him.  Then, as I called him and walked toward the pasture, he followed.  This time he went with only a little hesitation--no balking.

As I made coffee to start my morning the old-fashioned, traditional way, I reflected on Bubby and the similarities with community friends and students at Friday night's football game.  This last week, Bubby escaped repeatedly. We have fixed the fence in numerous ways, kenneled him in the barn, and made sure his needs are provided.  He keeps walking out of the pasture (yes, we installed an electric fence).  Friday night I had the opportunity to see and spend time with a number of the students and parents I worked with at the high school last year. So many of them have pains, anxieties, and frustrations that weigh them down.  No one is able to adequately calm their hearts or provide peace.  But when I can come alongside them repeatedly, I have the opportunity to build a sense of trust.

God is the One who throws the lasso and allows the pressure, but I can come alongside them with kindness, reassurance, and truth.  It is not a one-time interaction.  As I have the opportunity to present Christ, they balk and shake their heads.  Over time they watch, they listen, they wonder.  And God works.  I am not the cow-whisperer.  I am not the people-whisperer.  But I can speak truth, and love, and grace for it is mine to share and offer.  The pasture is a wonderful place.  It is the best place.  But until others see the goodness of God and He gives them the faith to trust, I will continue to walk alongside, to love, and speak truth.  And I have hope because the Head Roper and I are on the same team.

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken." With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:1-15)

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Cow Whisperer--or Not

The phone rang at 2:30 a.m.  David, my husband, answered and after a brief conversation hurried out of bed and into his clothes.
"Who was that?"
"The sheriff.  Bubby's out," he answered.
"Oh, no..."

Earlier (6:30-a.m.-earlier) that same day the neighbor had pulled into our driveway in his red truck to let us know our cow was in his backyard.  After losing our dog, Pretty, to a car accident last week, I shuddered to think of 600-pound Bubby on the highway....(see

I walked across the pasture toward the neighbors calling his name.  When he heard my voice, he picked his head up from the grass and looked at me, framed by evergreens.  It was precious.  He jumped in the air and ran down the fence line.  I ran alongside him, then walked him the rest of the way home.  After a lovely bite of flowers, he allowed David and I to herd him back through the gate.  "You're the Cow Whisperer," David commented in awe.  I was proud.  It had been so easy to call Bubby and walk him home.

There was no apparent hole in the fence. "Maybe Hoover is missing Pretty and decided to take Bubby out on his morning walk," our daughter, Laura, suggested.  Hoover, our other retriever, has been quite lonely lately.  What a perfect solution!

Now, this call at 2:30 a.m.  I won't go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that the "Cow Whisperer" lost her title.  We searched.  We found.  We lassoed.  We lost.  We chased. We cajoled.  We pushed (thankfully he hasn't learned to kick yet--but there are some unpleasantries associated with pushing an uncooperative cow from behind).  At one point I had the lasso around my waist in an effort to anchor him.  When he took off running, the rope pulled taut around my middle and my foot tangled in the tail-end.  I hit the ground sliding.  Praise the Lord for a husband who threw himself on the rope and kept me from trailing through the soybean field behind a mad cow!

David cinched the lasso close and applied the "Lasso Rule:"  when you pull away or go the wrong direction, your wind pipe will suffer and there is pain; when you come near and go the right direction, there is relief.

What spiritual applications did I learn? 
-  Pride goes before a fall.  God is the One who allowed Bubby to come home so easily that first morning.  I regretted my pride and gloating "before the cock crowed" the next day.
- Sometimes in our Christian walk, we are quick to follow Jesus--we're so excited to see Him that we'll go anywhere just to walk by His side.  It should always be like that.
- There are times, however, when we choose to go our own way and wander outside the protection He's provided.  He then applies "life's lasso."  It chokes us when we turn away and relieves us as we stay close by His side.

You can read this and walk away.  I, unfortunately, am still limping a bit and nursing my bruised hip.  Praise God for real reminders of His loving care, His constant nature, and His patient work!

Monday, September 13, 2010

This Rolling Stone...

I received a phone call from a dear friend this afternoon who opened our conversation by asking, "How busy are you?"  Oh, boy.  My mind raced through a list of to-do's as I caught my breath. 
"Too busy," I admitted.
"How are you handling it?" she asked.  Now, with some people this is an up-front question.  Knowing her, it was a trick question. She loves me enough to be honest.  Bluffing was out of the question. Fortunately, God and I had already had this discussion today.
"I'm handling it one moment at a time.  There's too much to do.  So I told the Lord that if He would prompt and direct me, with His help, I'll be obedient."
"Do you have time for me?"
"This is as good a prompting as I'll get," and a pleasant one, too, I said to myself.
By the time we finished our conversation and hung up the phone, God had blessed me abundantly.  She shared how God is working in her life, where she's struggling, and as she preached to herself, she spoke to my almost-harried heart.
God knows the demands of each hour and each day.  He knows the calling He has on our lives.  I can honestly say that the responsibilities I have taken on are God-given.  I am practicing the art of saying no to those people and things I would say yes to simply as a courtesy or because of other's expectations.  The things on my plate are personal callings from God, but there is no physical, earthly way to accomplish them (need I add: to do them the way I think they should be done?).  Somehow, God does.
So, for tonight's young adult barbecue, my kitchen floor may not be spotless, the cobweb may still be in the windowsill, I will no doubt have a pile of copies to make for Good News Club sitting on the dining room table.  But if God gives sweetness of fellowship and honoring words from our hearts, then it doesn't have to be done to my specifications, does it?  It is the Spirit who burdens, the Father who provides, and the Son who bridges the gap.  In the incomplete moment of this day, there is no moss gathering on these heavenly treasures... God keeps moving me along.  Praise Him, praise Him!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Procrastination and A Heavy Burden

So, yes, at this moment---while you think I am writing to encourage you--I am actually procrastinating.  Perhaps there will be a blessing for you in my personal procrastination.  I should be walking on the treadmill, but I was feeling weary and weighed down.  My usual speed was too fast, my attention drawn elsewhere.  The weighted vest I wear seemed extraordinarily heavy. 
As I sat here at the dining room table typing on my laptop yesterday, there was an interruption in the traffic outside.  I ran out in my grey shorts, t-shirt, and bare feet to see cars stopped and our old golden retriever lying in the road.  God bless the fellow that stopped to help.  I ran through the house to get shoes, then out to the barn where I prayed for something to move her (she must have weighed 100 lbs, even with her ribs on the surface--yes, she was old).  There was a slatted wooden fence piece nearby which I grabbed and carried back to the road.
Traffic was moving as the gentleman stood over Pretty, our dog, directing cars this way and that.  What a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit.  When crisis strikes and we are wounded, the rest of the world moves on--but there was one who stopped, intervened, and helped me carry Pretty to the shade of a nearby tree where she and I waited for my husband to take her into the veterinarian. She was given an injection.  It was all very peaceful.  Her only yelp was at the moment of impact. 
Needing a physical outlet, I found my way outside and pruned roses until our girls arrived home on the school bus.  Now I'm a little tired and sore.  And not wanting to wear this weighted vest and walk my four miles.
In all of this, I was reminded of what I read earlier this week and stopped walking to share it with you:  "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) What a great exchange--my burden for His.  His burden for mine. 
My burden: loss, the desire to please, the want to fix things and change circumstances.  His burden: to please the Father, to trust the Father with all circumstances and things, to walk in obedience.  What a deal.  I give Him my sense of loss, the burden of unnecessary responsibility and cares.  He gives me the ability to trust, rest, and obey.  That makes life much more bearable.  Peaceful.  Joyful.  Free. 
So what do I do with heavy vest?  Maybe I'll wear it tomorrow....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jesus vs. Me

Passage: Matthew 12: 1-29

V. 15b-21: Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah, the prophet: “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”

Observation: In sharing this O.T. prophecy we see the nature of Christ in a few words: He is God’s servant, He is loved of God, He is the Chosen One, He pleases God first and foremost, He announces justice, He seeks peace, He does not draw attention to Himself, He is gentle and merciful, He is patient, He is trustworthy.

Application: I can know that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He continues to serve the Father, to be loved. He is the Chosen One who pleases God first. He makes known the way of justice. He seeks peace. He does not draw attention to Himself, but gently and mercifully cares for that which is losing hope. He continues to patiently wait for His time to lead in justice and victory. He is worthy of our trust.

I can take heart that, as one who is called to be His imitator, this is His calling on my life. I am called to be God’s servant—not my own master, not the servant of my own desires and whims. Through Jesus Christ, I am loved and chosen. I am free to seek His agenda and His will because my own agenda and will are base, temporal, fleeting. Because of His love and choice, I have the freedom and authority to accomplish His purposes. I am not called to quarrel against those who would disagree. It is not my place to cry out. I am not called to draw attention to myself and put myself in the limelight. I am simply called to minister mercy and grace to the hurting, the lost, and those losing hope. In reaching out to those in need, I will patiently wait for His victory and justice, holding out that same hope to others.

So how am I doing? Not well. My flesh does not want to rest in being chosen, but wants to strive for importance. As a matter of fact, it does not want to be chosen at all—it wants to choose “for itself” (no pride there?). My flesh wants to be the one to love, not the one who is loved (again, I want the control). My flesh wants to please me, not Him. It does not want to proclaim justice; it wants to create justice (Clint Eastwood style!). My flesh wants to cry out, to quarrel, and to draw attention to the misdeeds of the world, of circumstance, of sinful man. It wants to hold center stage—now and always. It does not want to flubber over a smoldering wick or apply mercy to a broken reed. It wants victory NOW. It wants confidence and assurance NOW.

Wow. Good thing I’m reading God’s Word. It’s so not who I am. But by God’s grace, and by His Spirit, He will do the work as I submit. Whew. Praise God who gives the victory! Salvation is not a moment of faith; it is a lifetime of faith.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

If I Play My Flute, Will He Come?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010 Matthew 11:1-19

Verses 4-5, 16-17: Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them…. But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”

Observation: Jesus declared His work for what it was—it was visible, it was real, but the problems and difficulties of life continued. John expected Jesus to fix things—his things, his life, his circumstances—but Jesus came to do the will of the Father. He healed, He forgave, He taught. His work was evident, but it wasn’t all that John had in mind. The people also had expectations of Jesus—they wanted Him to play their games, to be part of their world. Instead, He did His Father’s will; He invited them to be part of His world.

Application: Why do I expect Jesus to fix all of my problems? He continues to do the will of the Father. He continues to live a life of humility (after all, He intercedes on my behalf—wouldn’t He have more interesting, important things to do in heaven than pray?! For stinky sinner people?!). He continues to change the hearts of men. He doesn’t play my games. He doesn’t bend to my will. He doesn’t dishonor Himself by becoming part of my world, but He calls me apart to His. He sets me apart to do His will, by His Spirit He empowers and enables me to do become part of His world, to do His work. And I would rather muck around in mine? Lord, forgive me for questioning your amazing work, for playing my flute and expecting you to dance to my tune, for wallowing in self-pity and inviting you to enter in. Please continue your transforming, sanctifying work in my life. Help me to hear and see Your will and way in my life and the lives of those around me. Give me a heart of worship and submission, in the name of the One who saves, in Jesus name. Amen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Life in the Spotlight

Yesterday I prepared an article for submission, then went back to an old file to grab information for the cover letter.  God is so good to remind us of Himself.  Conviction fell as I read this paragraph:

My beliefs about the Bible:
"My life and acts of service are a result of Christ’s working, not my own. I firmly believe that the Word of God, together with the working of His Spirit, is sufficient for my needs. This Word of God is useful for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness to fully equip each believer for the good works God has prepared (II Timothy 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:10). I believe it is the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15, John 17:17), that it is quick, powerful, and useful for discerning our thoughts and intents (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is an offensive weapon against spiritual deceit (Ephesians 6:17), and it keeps us from offending our Father (Psalm 119:11). The Bible is accurate, infallible and eternal. The proper use of God’s Word builds up His Body and accomplishes His will and purpose (Isaiah 55:11)."

Only God.  Only God can take these things we do, these things we say, and turn the spotlight on Himself.  As we continue in ministry--in life--may it that our lives and acts of service continually reflect Jesus Christ Himself.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Memoir of a Once Nice Person

Perhaps you’ve heard it said (or said it yourself), “Ruby-Toes is such a nice person!” Or maybe you are that nice person—the one people like to have on committees, the one who is the first to compliment a new hairstyle or accommodate a different idea.
Nice people are often good listeners and they have a lot of personal contacts. But, as a once-nice person, I’m here to tell you otherwise. When it comes to nice people, what you see is probably not what you get.
As a once-nice person, I have been convicted that niceness is not good. It is not biblical. It is not right. Unless you have already stumbled upon this little-known truth, you may be reading with your mouth agape, in absolute shock. “What’s wrong with being nice?” you ask. Let me tell you my woeful tale.
I was born at a very young age, the oldest of four children, to a pair of up-and-coming professionals. A compliant child, my standard answer to any question of preference was, “I don’t care.” My parents taught me well. Grandma would ask, “Would you like hot cocoa?”
“I don’t care.”
“You don’t care? Either you would or wouldn’t. Would you like some?”
Next standard answer, “Whatever’s easiest for you, Grandma.”
And so life went. It was a blessing to be born with the desire to please. I never rebelled as a teenager (all the options seemed self-destructive or inconvenient). I married early and enjoyed the generosity of a wonderful husband.  Rather than express my preferences, I was proud when I pleased him: “Just give me a template and  watch what I can do.” I was convinced that pleasing others was what Jesus would do. He would give it all up—even the little things—to serve others.

And then, (drum roll please), I saw examples of Jesus not pleasing others, times He disagreed with and defied others. He never said, “It doesn’t matter,” or “whatever’s easiest for you.” He bowed His will to the Father’s, and only the Father's. Oh, boy.

I weighed what I received in return being nice: kind words, added responsibility, smiles, unfair advantages. And I wondered, “What if I wasn’t nice?” Would people still like me? Would they give me what I want? Would they give me what I want?! There it was—my heart's motivation! It was easy to be nice and give in to others’ wants and demands because it gave me power.  The opportunity to get things for myself, to manipulate.  All these years, I had covertly been getting my own way very “nicely.”

Praise the Lord, He intervened. But it was a very trying, difficult number of years. I learned that God designed my preferences  There is nothing sinful about liking things a certain way. I don’t know if this change was harder on me or on my husband. I started to experiment and communicate likes and dislikes. After being married nearly twenty years, my husband discovered he was married to someone he didn’t know—someone who didn’t know herself!

I had to fight the urge to be agreeable all the time. I had to fight the urge to be liked, and wanted, and pleasant. It wasn’t that I wanted trouble, but I wanted freedom; freedom to make choices, freedom from lies, freedom to be myself. And that was okay, because that’s how God made me. I also wanted to be obedient—obedient to God first and foremost instead of being obedient to others’ whims or my own hidden agendas. Whew.

Now, now that I’m not nice, life is a little more hairy. It’s more challenging at times. I’m learning to roll with conflict. To agree to disagree. To learn how to respond when others say “no” directly instead of indirectly. And, overall, I believe I’m more trustworthy. I can be honest with you about how you look, where we should go for lunch, how much I’ve prayed for you lately, and where God is working in my life. I can love you more sincerely because I am willing to acknowledge and overlook your faults instead of bending to your will and then holding a grudge against you for not doing things my way (which I was unwilling or unable to communicate). Though it’s been difficult, I have acknowledged that the base problem is not others, but me: wanting what I want because I want it.

And now, now that I’m not nice, God is showing me all the big and little items I hid behind “curtain number two” the whole time I was pleasing others instead of Him. God’s description of the young boy, Samuel, has been a lifeline to me, “But Samuel was ministering before the LORD -a boy wearing a linen ephod.” (1 Samuel 2:18) Samuel wasn’t ministering to Eli. He wasn’t ministering to the people. He wasn’t even ministering to his parents. Samuel was ministering before the Lord—and others were blessed by His service.

As I continue to work at overcoming niceness, that is my aim: to minister before the Lord, and Him alone. If you are struggling with being a nice person, I challenge you to begin by being honest with God. Spend time in prayer and His Word asking Him to reveal your heart. If you are struggling because you live with a nice person, continue to pray that God would do a work in his or her heart and lovingly challenge that niceness. Being nice is an addiction, but our God is sufficient. He desires our worship and praise to be directed at Him and Him alone.


 Pleasing People: How not to be an "approval junkie" by Lou Priolo

 When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch

 No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice--Instead of Good--Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends by Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. PhD PhD Degler

 Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God by Mark Galli