3 Ways to Check Level in a Tilted World

This past weekend I worked on a fence project and as I checked the level of a trim board, I discovered a curious thing (yeah, I notice the odd stuff). After adjusting to “level”, it actually appeared to be “un-level”. On further inspection from different views I noticed the slope of the ground, coupled with the angles, created a bit of an optical illusion. To be honest, for a moment I actually contemplated nailing it “un-level” so it would “look level”. 

I’m sure builders just check plumb, level and square, then nail it automatically; but it got me to thinking. How often does culture develop slopes around us, creating optical illusions in the search for spiritual “level”? I mean, what’s the real standard as we fasten our positions on various things? Is it the truth of scripture, or some form of it adjusted to “look level”? For example, most people would agree things like lying, stealing, committing murder or adultery are wrong, but a closer look at Jesus’ teaching reveals even contemplation of them is a problem (Matt. 5:28). 

In our world today, we’re faced with social issues and questions (not unlike believers in the 1st century). Like many of you, I’m trying to discern the “lay of the land” and teach our children truth in a tilted world. It’s not easy, but I can tell you from personal experience; it’s a great subject to spend time praying through. God’s truth predates all of us and will be rock solid after we’re gone. As you seek to determine the angles of “level” in your life, here are 3 points to help find the center: 

  • View the Old Testament as Jesus interpreted it – As Jesus taught, He quoted passages from what we call the Old Testament. It’s tempting to pick and choose verses from the OT that condemn what we dislike, but ignore the ones challenging our attitudes and hearts (like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did). In the Gospels, we often find Jesus clarifying and highlighting the bigger picture concerning Himself and the purpose of God’s revealed truth (redemption-John 3:16-17, 14:6). 
  • Priorities as Jesus defined them – Another item on Jesus’ “to-do” list was identifying what should be top priority in the lives of those who call themselves “believers”. When asked about the top commandment, He replied: 

“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” –Matthew 22:37-39 NKJV 

  • Reconciliation as motive – As we interact with people, there’s no shortage of opportunities to use the truth as a weapon. Paul even references the truth of God’s word as a sword (an offensive and defensive weapon) in Ephesians 6:17. However, use of it should ALWAYS be tempered by our mission of reconciling people to Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 that we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation” and are to be “ambassadors for Christ”. The bottom line is that if we love Christ, we’ll love who/what He loves. 

PS. If you’ve read this post, I’ve prayed for you. My first prayer is that you know Jesus personally in a real way and have experienced His love and forgiveness. Second, I pray that you’ll have discernment to apply God’s truth to your life, your circumstances and those you influence – thanks for reading!

Memo: How to Change a Person’s Day

You have the ability to greatly influence someone’s day for the better. I was recently privileged to have the tone of my day completely changed for the better. It was totally unexpected and got me thinking how powerful a personal word is. Truth is, most of us know what I’m about to say to be true, but if you’re like me, a reminder helps nudge you to action. So if you’re willing to help change someone’s day:

Communicate a word of thanks or compliment – A simple note, text, email, or spoken word can be the moment someone’s personal weather forecast changes from “rainy” to “partly cloudy” or even “sunny”. As you do, these two points may also help:

  • Be brief – Knowing in advance the note will be small, greatly increases the likelihood of actually doing it (instead of putting it aside for a time to “really think it through”).
  • Be specific – Drawing attention to something specific has more impact than a general phrase. Both types of statements may be sincere, but mentioning a detail speaks volumes.

Yeah, I know it’s not rocket science, but your friend probably doesn’t need a scientist today, but they could really use a word from you.

Uh, you may want to check the mirror before…

Ever wished you’d checked the mirror before going out in public? Yep, we’ve all had those moments (or witnessed someone else’s). What about checking the spiritual mirror? James 1:22-25 tells us God’s word is like a mirror. He also says those who look into it and act on what they see, will be blessed in what they do. So, do you want your efforts to be blessed? Here are three scenarios Jesus described for us to consider:

Before going out in public: In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus instructs His listeners to avoid seeking the “best seats” and go for the more “lowly seats”. Part of it is practical wisdom, like avoiding the embarrassment of being asked to move, but I believe it’s much more. He finishes the story with a strong warning:

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” -Luke 14:11

So, as we go into public settings, a quick pause to check the mirror may help us avoid some awkward moments and lingering embarrassment. Jesus modeled the life of a servant, not a celebrity and I’m confident His mirror will reflect what he demonstrated.

Before dealing with people: In Luke 16, Jesus told the story of a dishonest steward. The steward was forced to make some quick, seemingly smart deals to ingratiate himself to friends before his termination. The story culminates with instructions to be faithful in the small things, thus avoiding the whole dilemma and later in verse 15 He gives us this “mirror” statement:

“…God knows the heart. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” -Luke 16:16

Sometimes things acceptable in the eyes of culture aren’t acceptable in the eyes of God. Even though it appears the steward made a savvy adjustment, it’s better to make wise choices in the first place. Whether buying, selling or working; checking the mirror first is a great idea because:

  • Motive is always important to God
  • God’s value system is different than the world culture
  • The truth will eventually come out

Before conversations with God: In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells of two men going up to the Temple to pray; one a Pharisee, one a tax collector. The contrast is strong between the two men’s prayer-the Pharisee thankful not be a sinner, the tax collector sorry to be a sinner. Jesus said only one went home justified-the tax collector. Luke tells us in verse 9 that Jesus spoke this parable to some “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others”.

The danger of trusting in our own measurement system (like the Pharisees) is the slide into self-deception. We construct our own standard, smile when we meet it, and then form strong opinions of those who don’t. Jesus clearly taught the opposite-coming to God with a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) and letting Him lift us up.

Over the years, I’ve found myself feeling awkward in all three of these areas at times, but I’m hoping to avoid a repeat. How about you? The mirror can help…

Series: “Thoughts on Luke” Luke 14:7-11, 16:15, 18:9-14

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