I have been invited to speak at a Christian family camp in North Dakota. There will be five services and I’ve decided to speak on the five verses that have had the greatest impact in my life. I don’t mean my favorite verses, but those which have produced change.
Changed by God’s Word
There will be Jeremiah 29:11 where the Lord says His intentions toward us are to prosper us, not to harm us. When I faced a significant choice in my life that would affect all of my family, the Lord arranged for this verse to show up in seven different settings and to each member of my family. It was His way of saying He was in this choice.
Then there is Paul’s counsel to the Philippian Christians, “Do not be anxious about anything…” Anxiety runs through my mother’s side of my family of origin, at least back to my great grandmother. I thought I was exempt, but in recent years I have had to find a way to overcome that nemesis.
“Immanuel, God with us,” is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. Nearly every day in my devotional time I write or read the phrase to myself, “I am not alone.” In my early years I felt very alone and dealt with difficult issues by hiding in one way or another. I work daily to chart a different, more relational path.
When Jesus was walking through a village, he heard Bartimaeus call out and turning, said to him, “What do you want?” I grew up in a spiritual tradition where wanting anything was viewed as egocentric, selfish. The right answer to any question about preference was, “I want whatever God wants.” I realized later that in order to submit my desires to the Lord I must own and declare them. He did not give me a will just to abdicate it.
But the Scripture that has been a constant companion in recent months has been the interesting conversation near the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus is talking to Peter about how Peter will die. Peter looks over and sees the disciple, John. Then he asks Jesus, “What about him?” to which Jesus responds, “What is that to you. . .follow me?”
A few years ago, a prominent pastor of a large church resigned in disgrace. One of the ministries he had started was a leadership event that I had attended regularly and profited much from. Other well-known leaders felt this ministry should be salvaged, and so they rallied around it offering their services, skills, and influence. One of the pastors also initially said he would be supportive, but then withdrew. Word on the street, true or not, was that he didn’t want to hurt his “brand.” When I heard this, I fussed and fumed from my lofty and superior perch. I thought, well they say when the going gets tough, the great leader gets going, but evidently not all of them.
This went on for a day or two until the Lord nudged me and said, “What is that to you? First, why do you think you have enough information to make this judgement, and second, even with adequate information, why do you think you have any standing to be the judge?” And, of course, He was right. If social media has taught us anything, it has certainly taught us that fallen humanity quickly gravitates to a culture of critique where I feel entitled to be judge and jury regarding almost anything and anyone. But we remind ourselves that it was in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve decided they would be the judge of what was best.
Years ago, in the missionary enterprise, it was common for missionaries to all live in close proximity to one another in missionary compounds. There were a number of benefits including safety. But later research showed there was also some downsides. One was that those in the compound began to suspect and easily reject the views from “outside.” The second was the loss of boundaries. Living so close, people saw how others used their time, spent their money, reared their children, behaved towards their spouse. But further, many felt they had the right to become enmeshed in the patterns of others and pass judgement, offering unsolicited advice.
More times than I can name, “what is that to you?” has saved me from foolish and unwise behavior towards others and checked my spirit of entitlement in relation to critiquing others.