How to measure your true weight

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Life would be simple, or so we think if we could measure ourselves based on money saved in the bank–the more, the better, or how many pounds lost from careful eating and exercise–the lighter, the more desirable we are. But we are more than our stuff and our BMI.

Early this morning I had to hit the pause button while reading and praying through Psalm 62. It’s a sober reminder. God weighs us, and we don’t amount to much. 

We don’t weigh much because God is not impressed with our stuff. Everything we have is on loan from God. Somewhere along the journey we fell in love with our stuff and forgot the One who gave it to us.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath. Psalm 62:9

Life for the rich and the poor, when weighed in God’s eternal scale, is nothing more than a breath. In fact, they are lighter than breath.

The Hebrew word, hebel (breath), in some contexts, means complete nothingness, emptiness, or vanity.

We make such a big deal about ourselves and others. We like to catalog people as heavyweights, or stars; people who are either rich, popular, accomplished, influential, or powerful.

And then some people we consider lightweights. They are small potatoes. These folks are physically unimpressive, intellectually deficient, lack money, are weak, ordinary people; no one knows them, or looks to them.

Predictably, we all want access to the heavyweight and ignore the lightweight. Taking selfies with the rich and famous gives us a leg up, and we have something to boast about at our next party.

Psalm 62 reminds us that the brevity of life is evenly distributed among the rich and famous, the poor and obscure.

In the only psalm attributed to Moses, he said, “The days of our lives are seventy years, and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (90:10). Those aren’t words we want to hear. We want to remain forever young, but Scripture reminds us that the years pass and death will one day arrive.

Fame and fortune might be incredible, but it is only for a season. Poverty and obscurity are not desired ways to live, but even this is fleeting. Instead of striving to be among the one percenters, or as the Psalmist calls it, those of high estate, we should trouble ourselves to trust in God.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Psalm 62:5-8

The way to truly measure your weight is to use the “scale” called glory. Who gets the glory in your life? Who gets the thanks and the recognition for your life? If the thanks go to the self, good luck, hard work, your lucky stars, then you and I, rich or poor, are lightweights.

The real heavyweights of this world are those who say,

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. Psalm 115:1

I hope this makes sense. If the self receives the glory, we are lightweights. If God gets the glory, we are heavyweights.


#metoo and #churchtoo a moment for redemption or condemnation?

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Harvey Weinstein. Didn’t know the man, and never paid much attention to his role as a Hollywood power broker. But once the #metoo stories started emerging in the public’s consciousness, we all learned of his serial predatory attacks on women trying to advance their professional careers. We all learned of the destructive scars he inflicted on women.

Powerful men (and some women) are now under the public klieg lights where everyone can see and hold them accountable for their treatment of their subordinates. This is a good thing. Let’s not fool ourselves–at its core, sexual harassment is abuse of power.

A similar revolution is happening in the church. Influential pastors, priests, and church leaders must now face up to the pain they inflict on vulnerable members of their staff and people in their congregations.

Please understand, I am not gloating or finding pleasure in the downfall of these people. If anything, it is forcing me to renew my efforts to live with integrity before God and others. It is causing me to remember Scriptures’ encouragement to “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters (I Timothy 5:2 NLT).”

This moment is also a time of righteous anger. Things hidden are now coming to light. Past wrongs and abuses are now being exposed and dealt with.

But I also believe this is a critical moment in our history to teach young men and young women what it means to respect the inherent dignity and worth of others. This means moving beyond the anger to redemption. Use this point in our history to teach young men and women how to treat and honor each other. Use this moment to teach others that power must be used to build up and not to break down.

It’s time we stop treating women as second-class citizens.

For over thirty-five years, my mother worked as a pharmacist in a public hospital. She endured put-downs, unequal pay, and sexual harassment from doctors and other men at the hospital. Back then, she couldn’t do anything to stop this mistreatment. It was status quo back then if she wanted to keep her job.

She’s ninety-one years old and her working days are long gone. But women like her endured the male predators of the workplace to make things easier for my millennial daughter who is a few years into her professional life.

I pray that the young women and men in our workspaces–religious or marketplace– will be treated as valuable professionals and not as objects of lust.

For this to happen it means that every pastor, leader, manager, professor, boss, must lift up in their settings the value of treating each other with utmost respect and dignity. Anyone failing to live up to this value should be seriously reprimanded or fired.

What do you think?


Why We Must Listen To Feedback

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One Sunday after church, a dear brother stopped me and said, “Pastor Ray, there is a piece of tape on the side of your face. I am not sure if it is a Band-Aid.”

At that, I reached my hand up to the right side of my face and removed a sliver of cellophane tape that I often use to stabilize the microphone headset I wear during worship. That shiny little fleck of tape surprised me, because already that morning I had greeted scores of people, and noone told me that I had tape on my face. I looked at the man and said, “I feel so loved that you would point this out to me. I consider you a real friend.”

There is little that’s more frustrating and scary in life than being blind to what others see and know about you, and no-one says anything. In fact, this kind of behavior is the antithesis of Christian community. In the context of community, it gets worse. Hardly anything is more debilitating and enervating to a community than people knowing things about you to which you are in the dark, and instead of speaking to you, they speak to others about you.

For a woman, it could be as simple as going through the day with red lipstick on your teeth, and no-one tells you. For a man, your zipper is down, or there is leftover shaving cream on the side of your face, or there is spaghetti sauce on your chin. In the course of the day, you’ve had several conversations with co-workers and “friends,” and nobody bothered to point your wardrobe malfunctions and personal peccadillos out to you.

Sometimes the stakes are higher, and the flaws run deeper. Say you have a bad habit of talking over people. Or you repeatedly show a facial expression that some assume is disgust. These tics and habits alienate you from others, may even cost you the chance for a promotion or continued employment.

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to see ourselves in 360 degrees, where everything that people around us see, hear, and perceive about us we also can see? The reality is, we can’t. There are some things that I know about myself, but people see and know things about me that I simply can’t see.  

The only way to solve this self-blindness is through feedback. Of course, this is easier said than done. Feedback informs you of your relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with youit shows you the way that you’re impacting other people, for better or worse. Every day, it’s all around you it’s there; the question is whether you’re paying attention to it or if anyone is telling you.

Giving and receiving helpful feedback is often tricky. When we give feedback to a person, we should be motivated by love and concern to see that person improve and grow. And when we receive feedback, we must be grateful that someone would take the time to speak the “truth” to us. Unfortunately, folks are either timid about giving feedback for fear of hurting a person’s feelings, or our emotions are triggered by defensiveness, anger, or self-loathing when someone points out our flaws and weaknesses. Either way, failure to give timely feedback, and failure to humbly receive what others tell us about ourselves, is a sign of dysfunction.

God’s word has many examples of giving and receiving feedback (Exodus 18:17-26, 2 Samuel 12:7-14). One of my favorites is the story about the bright, articulate, accomplished man who humbled himself and accepted feedback from two people who were simple working-class followers of Jesus. The man listened to the couple’s feedback and encouragement, and he was the better for it. Read Acts 18:24-28 for the rest of the story.

How about how about you? When was the last time you received feedback from others? How did you respond? When was the last time you gave feedback to another person? How did that turn out?

Would love to hear your thoughts below.

Ordinary people serving an Extraordinary God

pexels-photo-1011160.jpegWhat if I told you that in Acts (the book I am preaching for our church’s new sermon series) 39 of the 40 miracles that the Holy Spirit performs occur outside of the church? Now, you don’t have to take my word for it. Read the 28 chapters of Acts for yourself, and take note where you see the raw power of God at work.

What you find will surprise you… The power of God is not going to be found primarily in the pulpit (and, listen, I’m all for the pulpit). The power of God will not be found in the actions of super-Apostles, or in high powered leaders. The real power of the Gospel is released as ordinary, Spirit-filled men and women amplify God’s good news wherever they go, into every part of their communities. Please read Acts 16 and you will understand.

One of the 39 miracles of Acts occurs in the life of a businesswoman named Lydia, on the banks of a river, not in a church. Not much is told about Lydia’s life other than her providential encounter with the Apostle Paul.

Paul was on his second missionary journey when he had a vision of a man who pleaded with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The Apostle responded to the vision by gathering his team and quickly setting off across the Aegean Sea for Macedonia, the northern region of modern-day Greece. When they arrived, Paul and his fellow missionaries passed through the port of Neapolis and headed straight for Philippi, “a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:14 ESV).

Luke, the author of Acts, records that while Paul saw a vision of a man, ironically, his first ministry in Philippi was with a group of women, a group which included Lydia. Paul and his friends sat down and began sharing the Word of God with them.

And then we see the miracle happening, in Acts 16:14, where the Lord opened this Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to Paul’s message. The obstacle many face in not believing the Gospel is the hardness or the closure of their heart. But God “opens the heart” of Lydia. In other words, the Lord takes out the cold heart of stone and puts in the yearning heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

This miracle is the gift that keeps on giving: Filled with new vision and vitality, Lydia presumably tells members of her household, who follow her lead and are baptized with her. We can assume she also tells business contacts, clients, and neighbors. Her “social media” are hard at work spreading the Word, going viral, all over town. In Luke’s account, she then opened her home to Paul and his friends and over time a church was planted in Philippi, in the home of this businesswoman, Lydia.

And here we are today…

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I celebrate all mothers everywhere. But I also celebrate all women who live with open-hearted lives under the power of the Holy Spirit. I celebrate the many ordinary “Lydia’s” who open their homes, their resources, and their hearts in service to their extraordinary God.

Don’t Leave Home Without it!

pexels-photo-210742.jpegEach week, I receive in my inbox a Friday Update from my friend and fellow pastor Mike Woodruff.

His mailings are invariably filled with wise, stimulating ideas for the journey of faith and life.

Among this week’s mailing was a quote from a book that I read a few years ago. The quote is so good, I thought I would pass it on to you.

Losing Our Soul

In her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton compares losing your soul with losing your credit card. She says, “you think it’s in your wallet, so you don’t give it much thought, until one day you reach for it and it’s not there. The minute you realize that it’s gone, you start scrambling, trying to remember when you last used it or at least had it in your possession. No matter what is going on you stop and look for it, because otherwise major damage can be done. Oh that we would feel the same sense of urgency when we become aware that we have lost our souls!” Capital One’s marketing campaign for their credit card asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Perhaps the better question is, “have you seen your soul lately?”

This quote reminds me of the sad account of Samson. Due to carelessness and cavalier attitude, he lost his soul, his strength, and his intimate relationship with God. Here’s the sad account of what happened when he realized his sad reality:

Then Delilah called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.”

But he did not know that the Lord had left him. So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison. Judges 16: 20-21

I also wonder if there is a correlation between the moral and spiritual meltdowns we see in leaders and the failure to keep one’s soul healthy. Just wondering….

Lord, restore my soul, and the soul of all who read these words. Keep us from the foolishness of sin, and all that destroys and scars. Have mercy on us for we are prone to wander from you, the Fountain of Life. Amen.