“That put sweat on the top of my head!”
That is a quote from my father following a delicious, but very mild, chili made by my sister. I couldn’t believe it, but yet I could. My father grew up with a very bland and consistent diet, one that almost always included potatoes. So you can imagine how my father handled it the first time he tasted the chili that I make, cooked with whole jalapenos in it. He told me that he liked it while he wiped away his tears.
It is amazing how much we can adjust our baselines. We learn how to tolerate more and increase our thresholds. This is the principle that you employ when you exercise. This is also the principle you employ when you backslide down that slippery slope of sin.
I recently finished reading Craig Groeschel’s book, Soul Detox. It is a great mirror to hold up to various areas of your life where you have made some subtle, or not-so-subtle, changes in your life. He used an example of watching the Ultimate Fighting Championships to illustrate how we can increase our tolerance for certain things in our lives. I related to that illustration. I remember watching some of the first pay-per-view matches, when it was still an “underground” sport. It made me a little queasy to see the violence, but I watched. And now I am almost always found watching them with friends while I munch away on some ultimate nachos.
That can happen in other areas of our life as well, which was precisely Groeschel’s point. If we don’t take inventory, we could easily become people that others don’t recognize. “The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.” Proverbs 21:8 Proverbs offers us line after line of “either-or” reflections, almost always centered around the daily choices that we make. We allow ourselves many “gray areas,” while the Bible does not. Author Shane Claiborne would call this “highlighting verses,” giving importance to the areas we want to follow. Where I work we call them “thinking errors,” ways that we find to convince ourselves (and no one else) that what we are doing okay.
Lord willing (even if you are not willing) you will be around some family members this week. It may be the case that you haven’t seen some of them in a while, and you will take notice of the changes. But I would like you to take a different seat at the table: look at the changes YOU have made.
EVEN SOMETHING GOOD
Just over a week ago I had one of the best meals that I have had in a long time. The kids at work loved it, and they told me that I HAD to have some. One kid even said, “No offense to (another staff who cooks very, very well), but this is GOOD!” They were right. Mashed potatoes, barbecue chicken with a little Cajun zip, and fresh, warm rolls. It was a delight.
Why? Well, for one, my meal didn’t come out of a bag. Two, it was carefully prepared. And third, it was just that much better than my typical meal. I had allowed something “less than” to become my norm. Food, by itself a good thing, can be our slow ruin. If I were to consume fast food, as I did yesterday, I would slowly slip into a pattern I don’t like: food out of a bag, poorly prepared, and less than my typical meal.
But don’t we do that? Don’t we settle for less than? And, before you know it, you have established a new norm. Fast food doesn’t bother me the same way it has at times, and it’s not because the “secret recipe” has changed. My baseline for “good” has changed. If I could have a daily meal like the one I had last week, I would go hungry before I bought fast food.
What is it for you? Where have you allowed yourself to change your definition of good? If you look at yourself at the table, what has changed? Do you drink more? Have your movie and tv habits changed? What about the music you choose? Driving habits? Work ethic? Choice of language? Choice of friends? Family interactions? Money habits? Internet time? What has changed?
FIND A MIRROR, BUT DON’T BUY A NEW ONE
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7
Those were the Lord’s words to Cain when Cain was found to be angry. By the end of verse 8, Cain has killed his brother Abel and become an example for us to always remember. When a mirror is held up to us, we can either work to improve what we see or allow ourselves to deteriorate (hint: even if you choose to do “nothing,” you will deteriorate. I counted correctly – there are two options). Be accepted or be mastered.
I don’t know what it is for you, but I urge you to take a good, long look in the mirror, identify a struggle, and actively work to correct it. If you were told that an active, growing disease was in your body, would you do nothing? There is no cure for cancer, yet people actively and aggressively attack it. There is no cure for your sinful nature this side of heaven, but don’t you think you should attack it?
For me of late, I have wrestled with materialism. I need look no farther than Scripture to find a mirror. Even today I read verses such as “her poor will I satisfy with food” (Psalm 132:15b) and “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13) And just a few verses after that I read a verse that made me stop: “A wise man attacks the city of the mighty and pulls down the stronghold in which they trust.” Proverbs 21:22
It stopped me because I thought about the stronghold of our world, of our nation, of my home, of my life. Saturday night I stood still for 15 minutes. I would guess that it had been five months since I did that. It was the quiet, reflective time given to the campers at Timberwolf Lake to wrestle with the message of the cross. For me, it was a time to shut up and listen. I heard this: “You work so hard to protect the things of value; how hard do you work to protect the things that are priceless?”
Ever been punched in the gut on a cold, Saturday night next to a completely peaceful lake? I have. It brings tears to your eyes. I do work hard to protect and provide. And get more. But what about the irreplaceables? After I asked God, “What do you mean?” he brought to mind the time I have with my children. The things I should tell them, show them, do for them. My oldest son asked me if they celebrate “Black Friday” in Boston. Wait…what? Celebrate?! Oof. Houston, we have a problem. And there’s my mirror. Now I need a plan of attack, and to check my strongholds.
What are the strongholds in your life? Where have you put your trust? If I told you that there will one day be a consuming fire, would you still choose the house made out of plastic? “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” Hebrews 12:28-29 The last part of the verse comes as a quote from Deuteronomy 4: “do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (verses 23b, 24).
I believe that the passage in Hebrews also points back to the story of Cain and Abel: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” God desires our best. You can either give it, or He can take it. He desires your best as a father or mother wants the best for their child – because they know what the child is capable of achieving. God knows your best – He designed you! Look in the mirror. Look in the mirror of the Word. Change your baseline for good. Detox if necessary so that you can be filled again with God’s homemade Living Bread.
Lord, we fall woefully short. Our ways have not been your ways. Forgive us, Lord. Show us, Lord. Guide us, Lord. Help us, Lord. Amen.