The Key to Freedom from the Comparison Trap

img_0910Have you ever struggled with comparing yourself to other people? Do you see others’ lives and feel that somehow yours is inferior? Ever compared your children to someone else’s children? Or your appearance to another’s? How about your house or car? Do you often doubt your worth when looking at others? If we are honest, we would all answer these questions with an emphatic, “Yes!” It seems to be a part of our human nature to compare ourselves with other people. It can be our appearance (weight, height, looks, perceived flaws, etc.); or our social status (wealth or lack of it, career, education, friendships, material things, etc.). Or maybe it is our family (spouses, children, pets, etc.). It could even be our spirituality (our experiences, knowledge, ministry, etc.). The list could go on and on.

If you’re like me and have battled this common malady, how has that been working for you? For many years I was miserable no matter what I accomplished, what compliments or affirmation I received, or any satisfaction I may have felt occasionally; nothing was ever good enough. I always managed to find someone that seemed better than me. Many others struggle with this as well. Why do we do this? What is it that drives us to constantly compare ourselves to our fellow humans? In a nutshell, it is insecurity. It is a lack of knowing our true identity as unique, gifted, beloved, accepted, and significant sons and daughters of God. How can we possibly compare ourselves to another when our Creator has made us to be totally unique? That is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are totally different except that they are both fruits. Likewise, we are all humans, and may be similar in many ways, but we are also totally different in terms of our identity.

The comparison trap is a futile, fruitless, and destructive pit that we too easily fall into. It results in basically one of two things: we look at others and think we are somehow better, resulting in pride, or, we consider that they are better, leading to self-deprecation and false humility which is also pride. In other words, either way, measuring ourselves against others leads to self-absorption, which is pride and idolatry. Paul wrote, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12) The only One we are required to compare ourselves to is Jesus. When we focus on Him, we are all equally in need of His mercy, love, and grace.

The key to getting free from the comparison trap is to meditate on who God says we are as stated in His Word, allowing His truth to renew our minds, our ways of seeing and thinking about ourselves and others. As we spend time in His presence and His Word, we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. Then we can learn to love ourselves as He loves us. This is the first step to loving our neighbors as ourselves. Comparison provokes envy, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. Security in our identity enables us to love as He does while expecting nothing in return.

The majority of the world and even the Church is caught in this deadly comparison trap. When we seek God and receive freedom, He will then use us to set many others free – free to be the special, unique, son or daughter He has created and called them to be. Not only does that bring Him untold pleasure, but it will also bring Him the glory and honor He alone deserves.

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The Only Legitimate Form of Control

How-To-Teach-Your-Child-Self-Control-713x509Galatians 5:22-23 is a familar passage: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” The fruit of the Spirit is the manifestation of the character of Jesus seen in and through us when we submit to His leadership. In this brief article, I want to focus on one aspect of these attributes of His nature, the fruit of self-control. Self-control can be described as self-discipline and restraint; willpower and levelheadedness. Vine’s Dictionary defines it as, the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.”  

Jesus exemplified self-control many times, in His dealings with the religious leaders, in His power over temptation, in His willingness to submit to the tortures of, and leading up to His crucifixion, to name a few. He never retailiated when wronged nor tried to defend Himself against His persecutors. He was victorious over the enemy and His own flesh in His wilderness testing. He is our model for what self-control looks like.

As believers, we often work harder to try to control others than we do ourselves. Leaders frequently attempt to control their congregations because of the fears and shame they struggle with. Yet, as Graham Cooke says, “Self-control is the only legitimate form of control in the Church.” Stiving to control others is actually a form of witchcraft, and a sign that the controller is controlled by fear and shame.

Self-control is one facet of God’s Spirit that is sadly lacking in many churches and believers’ lives. A lack of self-control often manifests in angry outbursts and fits of rage, fleshly indulgences like overeating, overspending, pornography, sexual sin and various addictions. Rather than seeing it for what it is and seeking help, many come up with excuses as to why they are the way they are, and that they can’t help themselves, which is another example of a victim mentality. When we succumb to this toxic thinking, we are deceiving no one but ourselves.

Two of the enemy’s favorite forms of temptation are the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. He used this tactic back in the Garden of Eden and still does to this day. If he can tempt us to indulge our fleshly desires and passions, he can damage and even destroy our witness for the Lord. We must learn to recognize his subtle strategy and resist him by submitting to God’s Spirit and the fruit of self-control. If Jesus lives in us, it is not impossible, for He is far greater than the enemy. We can do ALL things through His limitless strength within us!

We become what we behold, so the key to allowing the fruit of the Spirit to flow through us is to meditate upon these virtues as seen in our Lord and Savior. As we meditate upon His Word, we, like Jesus, become the word made flesh, taking on His likeness more every day. When we demonstrate the fruit of self-control, others will take notice and know there is something different about us. And more importantly, we will bring glory and honor to God.

Seasons of Blessing

A former pastor of mine once said, “Seasons of testing are always followed by seasons of Blessings-Glitters-2blessing.” After many years of walking with the Lord, I believe that is true. God is good and He loves to give good gifts to His children. If you’re a parent, you know the exhiliration of surprising your child with something they have desired, and watching the joy erupt on their face, the hugs and kisses they give, and the feelings of gratitude they share. There is nothing quite like it! How much more does our Heavenly Father love to do the same for us? I have no doubt He gets as much joy, if not more, than we do when He blesses us.

Obviously, we would love it if all we ever received from Him were blessings, or at least, so we think. I don’t know of anyone, especially me, that enjoys the trials and testings that make up so much of our lives. I’ve already written briefly on how important those times of difficulty are; if you didn’t read it, you can here.

Though I love the blessings of God, I’ve come to the conclusion that our seasons of blessing can be even more challenging than the times of testing. The reason I believe that is found in Scripture. One example is from Deuteronomy 7-8. In chapter 7, Moses and God remind the children of Israel of all the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon them and will continue to pour out upon them, if they will follow His laws and decrees. Then in chapter 8, He issues a sobering warning, beginning in verse 10, When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.” (8:10-20)

Though we’re no longer under the Law, it is true that blessings often distract us from our need for the Lord. It is easy to forget all that He has done for us, and that which He provides for us. Jesus said it was difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Wealth kept the rich young ruler from following Him, for he could not let his money go. The man whose vast riches inspired him to build bigger barns to store them in lost his life and his soul. In contrast, testings, when dealt with properly, will drive us closer to God. They bless us by reminding us how fragile we, and the things of this world, really are.

Blessings don’t have to destroy us or our relationship with God, however. When stewarded as they should be, they can be a means to bless others. In fact, God often does just that – He blesses us so that we, in turn, may bless others. Blessings can make us more grateful people. Our old nature is hopelessly selfish and greedy, never satisfied. When we meditate upon God’s goodness in seasons of blessings, we should be humbled and thankful that He doesn’t give us what we deserve. This, I believe, is one reason why God chooses to bless us. He is good, and His goodness is a facet of His splendor and glory. Lord, teach us to be grateful people and humble us through your extravagant goodness!

 

 

Guarding Your Heart Against the Danger of Offense

heart_0These days, in our politically correct society, everyone is offended at something or someone, it seems. You hear it on TV; read it on social media; see it in the workplace; even in the Church. Offense has become an epidemic. According to the dictionary, offense means, “something that offends or displeases; the feeling of resentful displeasure caused; the act of attacking; attack or assault.” Everyone has an opinion, and the slightest disagreement often leads to offense. This violation can escalate to anger, hate, even violence. At times it appears that some people are looking for something to be offended about.

The biblical definition of offense means, “to cause one to stumble or fall away; to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority; to cause one to judge unfavorably or unjustly of another; to make indignant.” In Matthew 13 as Jesus taught in the synagogue, many became offended with Him. They couldn’t understand His wisdom and authority because they only knew Him as Mary’s and Joseph’s son. In chapter 11, He told HIs disciples to tell John the Baptist, who was in prison at the time, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” This was after He recounted the things He was doing – healing the sick, raising the dead, and preaching to the poor.

In the parable of the seed and the sower, Jesus said there would be some who would hear the Word and receive it with joy, but, “…since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” Having no root can cause one to be easily offended. Perhaps one of the most sobering verses on the subject is Matthew 24:10. Jesus is teaching His disciples on the signs of the end times and says, “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other… but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” In other words, when believers are not rooted in the Word and trouble or persecution comes, many will become offended with God and those who speak truth, and fall away from the faith. I believe this prophecy is beginning to come to pass.

At it’s core, offense is rooted in pride. This becomes apparent when one takes offense if his views are disagreed with. To think that everything you believe is one hundred percent correct is pride. To attack someone for disagreeing with you is arrogant. The people in the synagogue who took offense at Jesus did so because they believed He was just a common man – the son and brother of ordinary people they knew. His words and anointing defied those beliefs. John the Baptist knew well what Scripture taught about the coming Messiah. It was prophesied He would set captives free. Not only was he in prison, but he was Jesus’ first cousin. Surely Jesus would set him free, he likely thought. Jesus, knowing this, forewarned him about taking offense when He didn’t.

Believers today, especially in our Western, comfort driven culture, are woefully illiterate when it comes to the Bible. Just last year, a study done by LifeWay Research and the United  Kingdom Bible Society found that:

  • Only 45% of regular church attenders read their Bible more than once a week.
  • Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible at all.
  • More than half of Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being.
  • In the United Kingdom, almost 1 in 3 couldn’t identify the Nativity as part of the Bible
  • 27% of British parents think Superman is or might be a biblical story.

Not only is this appalling, but it clearly shows the unprepared state of most believers for the times we are living in, especially in light of Matthew 24:10. And this is in a society that has the greatest access to teachings, conferences, seminars, churches, etc.! There are no doubt many reasons for this, but more importantly, what can we do to guard ourselves from the trap of offense?

It is to our benefit to first of all, take responsibility for our own spiritual growth. While teachings, sermons, conferences and such can be helpful, we must make time for God’s Word, reading, studying, and meditating upon it. Our intimacy with Him depends upon it! We cannot know someone we never spend time with or listen to. Time spent in His Word will transform the way we think, free us from pride, and help us learn humility, if we apply it to our lives. Doing this consistently will help us become rooted and grounded in the truth of His Word and His nature, and guard our hearts against offense.

Insights from Ephesians 1- Every Spiritual Blessing

Grace to you and shalom from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua the EphesiansMessiah. Praised be Adonai, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who in the Messiah has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heaven. In the Messiah He chose us in love before the creation of the universe to be holy and without defect in His presence. (Eph. 1:2-4)

The first chapter of the book of Ephesians contains some of the most powerful truths in the Bible. It reveals great insight into who we are in Christ, and what we have been given as a result of being joined to Him. Meditating upon these truths over several years has been life changing for me. Since God is no respecter of persons, I know it will impact you powerfully as well.

God provides grace for us, the power to live this life to which He has called us. Through the enablement of His indwelling Spirit, we can do all things that He requires of us. Shalom literally means, “security, safety, prosperity, bliss; the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.” This shalom is ours because of what God has done for us through Jesus. Yet this is just the beginning of what we have been given!

Paul goes on to say that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heaven through Christ. Everything that Jesus is, and has, is ours. We are joint heirs with Him. (Rom. 8:17) This includes being conformed into His divine image and nature. (2 Peter 1:3-4) Since God is not bound by time like we are, He sees all of eternity as one continuum. He sees us as already perfected because He sees the end from the beginning.

Through Christ we have wisdom, for He, Himself, is our wisdom. (1 Cor. 1:30) We have revelation through His Spirit, who guides us into all truth. (John 16:13) He has given us power, manifested through the gifts of the Spirit. We have been given His nature which is seen when we bear the fruit of His Spirit. There is absolutely nothing He has forgotten, excluded, or withheld from us that is of, or from, Him.

We were chosen because of His love for us. (1 John 4:19) Knowing before creation that we would sin, He made provision, through Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, for our sanctification. Jesus was slain from before the foundation of the earth. (Rev. 13:8) All of this was planned in advance because of His desire for relationship with us. He sees us as holy and without defect (Song of Sol. 4:7) because of the blood of Jesus.

In just three verses, we get a glimpse of the great love that God has for us, His beloved children. I encourage you to meditate upon these truths and pray that as you do, He will stir within your heart a greater love for Him than you have ever known. Since He has given so much to us, He deserves all that we have to give to Him.