Go For the Gold


Most of us live our lives for the trophies.
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Trophies come in all forms: sometimes nothing more than an affirming word tossed in your direction. But pathetic little hoarders that we are, we snatch the compliment before anyone else can and set it on our "self-worth shelf" to admire the gleam until it fades.
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We dust our trophies, relive the memories, and yearn for more-- all while pretending we don't care what anyone else thinks. It's how we're made. We live for approval, and the more important the bestower, the more we value the prize.
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I came across a tiny phrase in the book of Daniel that I'd never paid much thought to. Three times, an angel visited Daniel and each time he began with the words: "You are highly esteemed."
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Imagine that! Imagine going about your business when suddenly a glowing white man stands before you and announces that he's come from Heaven with a message. He smiles and says, "Get up from the ground. Where I come from, you are highly esteemed."
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Max Lucado calls it the "applause of Heaven." What better trophy exists than an angelic message that begins, "I've come to tell you that God thinks you're awesome"?
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The same message was delivered to Mary. Angels always told people not to be afraid, but rarely bestowed such additional honor. So what does that tell us?
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Clearly, although God loves us all and shows no favoritism in saving and redeeming us, there are those who are more highly regarded than others. After all, God was so impressed with Elijah and Enoch, he swooped right down and whisked them to heaven via chariot, rather than the casket.
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So doesn't it make you wonder what you have do to receive that kind of honor? Other places in Scripture imply that God chooses whom he chooses, but I believe our choices have a lot to do with it as well.
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Although not regarded as a prophet during his time, Daniel kept his life pure from his earliest days, even in the face of terrible circumstances. He served and honored God when it did not appear to benefit him in the least. He didn't expect anything from God, but willingly offered his devotion and steadfast loyalty. How many of us can say that?
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I have to admit that for many years my relationship with God was more like a business deal: "I'll keep your commands and You bless me the way I want You to."
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We don't see any hint of that in Daniel's life, or Mary's either.
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Many people in Scripture were considered righteous and pleasing to God, but to get that special message-- "Where I come from, you are highly esteemed"-- took something extra amazing.
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What if we, as believers, were to live ONLY for the applause of Heaven? Not for the blessings, the protection, the provision, but only for God's pleasure. What if every choice we made, every thought that stayed in our minds, every goal, every desire was to seek and obey the will of God--with no thought for what God would do for us in return?
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If an angel appeared to you tonight, would he greet you that way? "You are highly esteemed."
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What better trophy can Earth produce?
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"In heaven, you are highly esteemed." Let that phrase echo in your soul this week. Let it take root and become your all-consuming goal. How would your life change? Your desires? Your plans? Your expectations?
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So examine your shelf of trophies. Are they dusty? Out of date? No one cares anymore? Or were they silver and bronze to begin with. Symbolic reminders that you were never Number One.
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Scrap them. Go for the only one that matters. Go for the gold.

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Peek-a-boo Sun




The sun glows golden in the fall. The warmth we hid from all summer is now welcomed like a long-lost friend.
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On cloudy days, we look eagerly for it as it plays peek-a-boo in the sky and when it bursts forth in all its radiant glory, we pause to bask in it.
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So I ask you, when we don't feel the sun's warmth on our arms and faces, is it gone?
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We say it's gone because we no longer feel it directly impacting our person, but is it really gone? Has the sun actually vanished from the universe? Is it no longer doing its job? Should we start a frantic scramble to find another sun? Create one? Pull one in from another galaxy?
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Of course those suggestions are ridiculous. Anyone knows that whether or not a particular person can feel the sun's rays on any given day has nothing to do with the sun's functioning. The sun is still the sun, doing exactly the job it was created to do both day and night, regardless of whether we see it or feel it.
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But don't we treat God that way?

When things are going great and we feel His pleasure and blessing, we bask in His nearness. We have no doubt that God is on His throne and doing His job.
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But then life grows dark and windy. Storms hit out of the blue. Job loss. Death. Divorce. Relationships shattered. Health deteriorating. We can't see God. Can't feel Him. What happened to the warmth? Where did He go?
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God's tangible presence is a gift equal to no other, the thinnest taste of a glory we cannot comprehend in our mortal state. We long for the thrill of communion with God the way a flower yearns for the sun. But Scripture is clear that we will experience valleys, storms, and darkness when we cannot feel his presence. Regardless of your life choices, the sun won't always shine on you.
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He also promises that He is still there, whether we feel him or not. He's still doing His job, still loving you, still watching over His own, still ready to work everything for your good. That's what walking by faith is all about. Just as the sun is there whether we know it or not, God is still in control no matter how it looks from your vantage point.
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Next time you watch the sun playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, let it remind you that whether you feel the warmth of God's smile at that moment, He is still in control. He knows where you are and He never forgets anyone.


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What's Your Worth?


When was the last time someone said something to you that shook your self-image? Was it an undeserved slight? An overt attack? An accusation?
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We are all at different points on the codependency scale, but for most of us it doesn't take much to impact our opinion of our own worth.
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Codependency can be broadly defined as looking to someone or something to meet a need that can only be met in Christ. We all instantly disqualify ourselves from that, but the truth is we are far more dependent on the opinions of others than we like to admit.
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In the Bible, King Saul was very codependent. He was always conducting popularity polls to find out where he stood with the people. He often made decisions based on how it would make him look to his people, and even to God. When things were going great for his kingdom, he felt great about himself. But when the tides turned, he grew insane with jealousy and his self-worth plummeted.
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On the other hand, Jesus was our perfect example of someone living in an imperfect situation without allowing the choices of those around him to affect his self-worth. He knew that one of his hand-picked followers was eventually going to betray him, yet we have no record of his ever treating Judas any differently than he treated the others. Of all the crowds that flocked to hear him, ate his super-food, and sang his praises, only a handful were left when things got scary.
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Most of us would have reacted quite differently than he did. We would have loudly defended ourselves, decried the disloyal ones, and gotten in the last word. Or on the other hand we might have bent over backward to make them like us better. Maybe we would have made the super-food a weekly occurrence and had Judas sign a loyalty pledge.
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So how do you handle the mistreatment or misbehavior of others in your life?
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Do you allow their problems to affect your worth?
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Do you believe the lies and misperceptions, constantly rechecking your responses to see if the meanies might be right?
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Do you work overtime to clean up their mistakes, cover for them, make excuses, pretending you are doing it for them but all the while knowing your superficial service is done so that you look better?
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God's will for each of us is that we let him meet our basic needs for love, security, self-worth, and significance. When those needs are fulfilled in Him, we don't have to force others to meet them. We're free to let others learn from their mistakes without worrying that their downfall will pull us with them. When we are secure in Christ's love and acceptance, the opinions of man roll off more easily.
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So who gets to decide how valuable you are? The fickle whims of man? Your own fluctuating value system? Or the unchanging standard of God?
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Saul made the wrong choice and he paid the price for it. Jesus knew Who determined his value and because of that, he was able to endure God's agonizing plan without it ever affecting his self-image. He knew who he was. He knew who he wasn't. And no one--even Satan himself-- could shake that confidence.
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Wouldn't it be great if we all followed His example?

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Thankful for What?



This week, it is politically correct to discuss thankfulness.
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What becomes a bit fuzzy is exactly to Whom we are to express that thanks.
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Twice a year, it has become acceptable in American culture to mention God--even going so far as to designate which god we mean by discussing the God that the Pilgrims prayed to.
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In a historical setting, a brief mention of God is fine, say the P.C. Police. Just don't let Him come off the page and into our everyday lives.
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And so we drag out our annual litany of blessings for which we are thankful: food, family, freedom, and friends. Everyone nods and feels spiritual.
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But what happens on Friday? Saturday? Sunday? When life goes back to being stressful. The food is leftovers, the family is fighting, the freedom is costing too much, and the friends stabbed you in the back. Now what?
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True thankfulness does not happen only once a year. The Pilgrims lived hand-to-mouth for many months, relying on God for their very survival. Their feast of thanksgiving was a culmination of the praise and thanks they gave every other day of the year.
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The Apostle Paul encapsulated everyday thankfulness when he described his "thorn in the flesh," which he had begged God to remove and He had not done so.
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Instead, God told him this: "My grace is sufficient for you. My power is perfected in weakness."
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How would you have responded? Most of us would have folded our arms and pouted. "Why not, God?" we would demand. "This is important to me. You must not love me, so I owe you nothing now." We would turn our heads away and withhold our thanks.
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Paul, however, shows us how it's done. He responded, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I glory in my weaknesses, in insults, distresses, persecutions, in difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
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Boast about weakness? Glory in difficulties? What about whining and complaining? What about getting angry with God?
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Thanksgiving is about acknowledging God for who he is and what he has a right to do. A heart of thanksgiving responds to life's ugly situations with humility, recognizing that God is giving me an opportunity to rely on His wisdom and His strength rather than my own.
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So this Thanksgiving, why don't you shock the turkey right off the table by announcing how thankful you are for the worst thing that happened to you this year?
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What follows might be the only moment of silence you hear all day!
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Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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OUCH! That hurts!


Ever walk with a lump in your shoe?
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It's terrible if you can't stop to get rid of it. Maybe you're on a timed hike, trying to keep up with a group, running late...
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You try to ignore it at first, hoping it might resolve itself. Many steps later, you feel the blister forming, but you keep ignoring it. Now, you're hobbling along, every step painful, but you're determined something as small as a rock or a misplaced shoe part isn't going to make you lose whatever it is you're chasing.
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If you continue wearing those shoes with the lump, eventually you'll create a callus where the blister was. Now it hardly hurts at all and you consider the problem solved. It's not solved, of course. That callus causes problems of its own and sometimes you don't ever connect the new problems with the lump that started the whole thing.
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Unconfessed sin is like that. How many times do we commit a dreadful offense against the Lord or someone else, but pride won't let us admit it? We cover it up, shy away from dealing with it, and sweep it under our mental rug, hoping the Lord will forget about it.
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Years go by. We pretend everything is fine with us spiritually, but deep down we know something rubs wrong. There's a pain we can't identify. Life isn't working like it should. We pray and nothing happens. We force ourselves through religious-looking exercises, trying to alleviate the pain, but it does no good. There's a dead spot inside that should feel better, but it only adds to the emptiness.
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If that sounds painfully familiar, I have a question for you: Looking back on your past, is there a sin in your life that you never took to the cross? It was too horrible, too gross and you turned your head away and hoped that was good enough. Or you renamed it, excused it, and wore yourself out justifying it until you felt that callus form over your spirit. It didn't work, did it.
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God offers a salve for those blistering sins. He's already paid the doctor bill to have it worked on. Relief and victory are so close, but you chose your own way to find them. After all, confessing it to God would require you to admit it was wrong and there's something inside each of us that insists on justifying what God plainly calls sin.
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We have to humble ourselves. Admit we messed up. Admit we can't fix it and ask God to do it for us. Humbling self is hard to do. That callus of pride is so tough by now it takes a pretty sharp knife to slice it off, but God has just the one for it. His Word. When we dare compare our action with God's expectation, we quiver in shame. Yep, it was sin all right.
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As a counselor, I am struck by how many problems started from that unconfessed sin way back in the past. Shame. Hardness of heart. Anger. Depression. When I ask, "Is there a sin in your past you never confessed to God?" I am always surprised that the client knows right away which sin it is.
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Such relief and peace come when they get that taken care of. The rock is no longer in the shoe. It's over. The blister can heal and the callus can come off.
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Do you have a callus on your heart? Is there a stubborn area you've been hiding from God, hoping He'd forget? He hasn't. And neither have you. Take it to him. Lay it on the altar and confess how wrong it was. He's not there to beat you up. He's there with the First Aid kit.
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Haven't you limped long enough?

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Who's Number One?



You shall have no other gods before Me.
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Notice what the first commandment does NOT say. It doesn't say instead of Me. It doesn't say that there are no other gods. The key to understanding what the first commandment means lies in those two last words: before Me.
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When we look at Jewish history, we can clearly see what God meant. The Israelites were continually chasing after the gods of the nations around them, forgetting all Jehovah had done for them, and making sacrifices to all kinds of foreign idols.
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We enlightened Americans almost gloss over this commandment as though it no longer applies to us.
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But take a closer look at those two little words: before Me. God is saying that He must be number one in your heart or He is not your God at all. It is not enough to acknowledge Him or agree that He is God Almighty, the Creator. Satan does the same thing.
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God is reminding us here that He must be our top priority in life. Every moment of every day. When we let something or someone rise to usurp that spot, we are violating the first commandment.
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"Oh, I don't do that," you might say. "I read my Bible and pray faithfully. I go to church every Sunday. I live like a Christian. I'm sure I keep the first commandment."
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Oh, really?
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What are you most passionate about? What was the last thing you were really excited about?
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A sports competition? A raise at work? A shopping spree? A hobby?
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If given some free time, how do you usually want to spend it?
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Watching sports? Going to the movies? Watching TV?
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Now, for the tough one: Who or what occupies the seat of greatest love in your heart?
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Your kids? Your spouse? A romance? Your career? Your ministry?
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None of those things are wrong. We are to love our families, enjoy our work, take some time to relax. But where does your passion lie?
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You can easily identify it by asking yourself this question: What is the one thing in my life I am afraid to give to God because He might take it from me?
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Whatever we cannot offer up to God becomes our god. And that's exactly what He means when he says to have no other gods before Him. We can't hide behind devoted religiosity, either. He can spot a self-righteous phony three galaxies away.
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It's not because He's so picky and needy that he peers over our shoulder, nagging us about our likes and favorites. It is because He knows that until He is number one in our lives in every area, we will get ourselves into trouble. We chase after the wrong things, rely on other people or circumstances to meet needs only He can meet, and end up wasting all the potential He gave us.
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Maybe the first commandment is worth another look. If we could only get that one down, we wouldn't even need the other nine.
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