June 1: Solid Affirmation When Others Don’t Express It

Read Ephesians 1:1-23

Over the course of the past several days, our Bible reading selections have been largely intended to equip you to affirm others.  We have trained our thoughts on helping you to express value to others for who they are and what they do.  I hope you have embraced the opportunity and are experiencing growth in your ability to express this value.

We would be amiss, however, if we somehow ignored the fact that each of us also yearns to hear words of affirmation.  Each of us longs to know that we are valued for who we are and what we do.  But I have some bad news.  Inevitably, each one of us will be disappointed at times in life because we did not receive the affirmation for which we were longing.  Our boss, family member, friend, neighbor may not always express it when we really want it.  If we are not careful, then, we will allow that to somehow impact our own self image.  We will begin to think less of ourselves.  “Maybe I am not so good at that after all.”  “Perhaps my investment doesn’t matter as much as I had hoped!”  You see, our personal identity can suffer.

At times like those, we must remember that our true identity is found in Christ.  It is He who expresses ultimate value over us.  In fact, from today’s reading we should have felt that value in that:

  • We are blessed with every spiritual blessing (v. 3)
  • He has chosen us from eternity past (v. 4a, 11a)
  • He predestined us in love (v. 4b, 11b)
  • He found pleasure in adopting us as sons (and daughters) (v. 5)
  • He has redeemed and forgiven us (v. 7)
  • He has lavished grace on us (v. 8)
  • We exist for the praise of His glory (v. 12)
  • We are sealed with the Holy Spirit (vv. 13, 14)
  • We have been raised and seated with Christ (vv. 19, 20)
  • We are no longer subject to Satan’s power (vv. 20-23)

Each of those represents a statement of value and affirmation that empowers us to maintain an appropriate identity…even if the human accolades never come.

sbk

May 31: Affirmation…”Well Done”

Read Luke 19:11-27

Parables…Jesus used these great earthly stories to illustrate spiritual truths.  He used a story about soils to depict the response of human hearts. He talked about a shepherd’s joy in finding lost sheep to portray His own passion for touching the lives of lost people.  And, in Luke 19, he tells a story of a king, his subjects, and his servants to illustrate His own reign in His kingdom.

When will Jesus reign in a kingdom?  Although He was opposed in the first century, many people then thought His reign would begin immediately.  Instead, He returned to heaven where His final appointment as King is being done.  In the meantime, He has entrusted His people with resources and responsibility.  Upon His return, there will be accountability.  He will see what we have done with those things entrusted to us.  He will reward His servants in accordance with their faithful stewardship.

“Well done!”  Those two powerful words were spoken to the man who had made use of the mina he received and multiplied it ten times over for the king.  Certainly, those words of affirmation reflect the response longed for by every child of God.  But those words are not empty, meaningless, and extended to all.  They are offered to the faithful.

Meanwhile, lest we conclude that the Father’s pleasure is reserved only for the Billy Graham type of over the top fruitful people, notice that even the five-fold return was rewarded.  And we also hear something of significance as the king spoke to the man who had done absolutely nothing with his mina.  The king would have had some level of pleasure with even simple interest on his investment.

I hope that you yearn for the affirmation of your King.  I hope that you try to leverage your resources and responsibilities as fruitfully as you possibly can to His pleasure.  Even if your measurable fruitfulness is not as visible as that of another, He can find great joy in you.

sbk

May 30: Affirmation of Jesus

Read Matthew 3:13-17 and 17:1-13

Christ’s baptism and transfiguration were two milestone events in His ministry.  The first, baptism, marked the inauguration of His ministry.  After that event, Jesus would leave His quiet life as a resident and carpenter in Nazareth to begin to reveal His true identity as Savior and Son of God and to embark on His God-given mission.  The second, transfiguration, served as a glorious revelation of His nature.  His conversation with Moses and Elijah about His departure must have somehow prepared Him for what would soon unfold in Jerusalem…from His crucifixion to His ultimate ascension.

More than merely being milestone events, these two experiences had something else in common.  Both, you see, were occasions on which the Father affirmed His Son.  I have struggled with the question, “Did Jesus really require affirmation from God the Father?”  After all, He was God.  Certainly, He didn’t struggle with things like self-worth or need to be reminded of His value.  Meanwhile, I find myself arguing back that He was also man.  His struggle in Gethsemane in the final hours prior to His crucifixion where His sweat was like blood and when an angel came to strengthen Him seem to imply that affirmation was not such a bad idea or not.

Regardless of whether Jesus required affirmation or not, we do know that the Father openly offered to Jesus the kind of affirmation that we all long for.  “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV)  His Father spoke warmly of their relationship (“my Son”).  He unashamedly gave assurance of His affection (“whom I love”).  He pointed out the joy that He found in Jesus (“with him I am well pleased”).  And He also gave validation to the ministry of Jesus to others (“listen to him”).

The Father has given me a good example of the kinds of affirmation I should generously and honestly offer to those around me.

And you know what?  Even when I long for additional human affirmation, I have this crazy good assurance from John:  “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”  (1 John 3:1a NIV)

I have the same assurance of relationship and affection from the Father that Jesus received.

sbk

May 29: Divine Affirmation

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:6

Each of us loves affirmation.  What kind means the most to you?

Paul must have been affirmed by the visible fruit of his ministry in Thessalonica.  After all, he had seen peoples’ lives and priorities change.  The kinds of things they gave themselves to as a result of his preaching was different.  He had seen evidence with his own eyes that his gospel message had deeply impacted their lives.  That visible fruit that must have affirmed him greatly.

Paul could have been affirmed by audible words of value and praise that the Thessalonians offered to him.  “Thank you so much!”  “God used you!”  “My life is different because of you!” He likely heard expressions like those.  And, if he was like most of us, it must have felt good to hear them.

But while visible fruit and audible words must have given him a good feeling about his ministry, there was a higher calling and a greater affirmation he sought.  He expresses it in 2:4:

“On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”

The two sentences of that verse help greatly those who rely on visible fruit or audible words.  The Lord had entrusted him with the gospel.  As a result, Paul sought to please the Lord.  Though the apostle must have yearned for fruit, he would be no less affirmed if no one had responded.  Had he sensitively, faithfully, and accurately conveyed the message?  If so, God was pleased.

What if no one had offered audible words of praise and affirmation?  It made not difference, because that was not the kind of thing he sought.  If God was pleased, no human pat on the back was needed.

As you yearn for affirmation, be careful that you do not place too much value on visible fruit or audible words.  There is something greater still.  Instead, seek divine pleasure that comes from knowing you did/said that which blessed the Lord.

sbk

May 28: An Affirmation List

Read Romans 16:1-27

If you weren’t careful, you may have read much of this chapter the same way you probably do some of the genealogies of the Old Testament.  You know…those passages with lists of people where one person with an impossible name to pronounce begat a son or daughter with an impossible name to pronounce, lived an unheard of number of years, and then died.  Because of the repetitious ideas and the difficult names in passages like that, you may have the tendency to just zone out.

Of course, this chapter was different.  No one died.  But still, there was the repetition…this time of greetings rather than obituaries.  And still, there were some pretty unusual and challenging names.  Did you zone out as a result?

Just in case you did, you will want to go back and take a closer look at the kind of affirmation that fills those greetings.  Over and over, the apostle Paul is finding ways to express value to these people for who they are and what they do.

  • The great apostle affirms Phoebe as his sister, a helper, and a hostess.
  • He affirms Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis as hard working women.
  • Andronicus and Junias were, according to Paul, outstanding among the apostles.
  • Paul lifts Urbanus up, recognizing him as a fellow worker.
  • Stachys is recognized as a dear friend.
  • He described Apelles as tested and approved.
  • Paul affirms the mother of Rufus as one who had been like a mother to him.

Having written the rest of the letter in more general terms with corporate, plural second person “you” references, this more personal portion of the letter stands out.  How the hearts of those mentioned in these verses must have soared as they found their names recorded and their character and activities recognized.

Who would be on your list of people to affirm?  Perhaps this list gives you some ideas of the kinds of things you would like to express to them.  Perhaps it will help you to find the words to say.  Just make sure that you express that affirmation to others.

sbk

May 27: Affirmation of a One of a Kind and a Hero

Read Philippians 2:19-30

Affirmation…depending on the person and the circumstances, you may tend to be blind as a bat and silent as a squirrel.  What do I mean by that?  The blind bat never sees the qualities/actions of others that merit recognition.  He fails to recognize.  And while squirrels are not always silent, it seems to me that the noise they make is never pleasant.  They chatter when they are quarreling with another squirrel…otherwise, they are pretty quiet and never affirm.  The squirrel fails to verbalize.

In our text for today, Paul seemed to have done a good job at both recognizing and verbalizing.  He gives a glowing description of two different men:  Timothy and Epaphroditus.  As you think about the affirmation you could extend to members of your family, consider some of these broad categories.

Timothy’s uniqueness- He was a “one of a kind” (v. 20).  He demonstrated a selfless compassion for others that Paul had seldom observed elsewhere.  In what positive ways are those closest to you different from most?  Have you expressed that to them?

Timothy’s faithfulness and trustworthiness- He had proven himself over time (v. 22).  Paul mentioned that without hesitation and wasn’t afraid to send him as his own representative.  There are times when passing along privileges and responsibilities can be the greatest expression of affirmation.

Epaphroditus’ titles- Paul called this man “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (v. 25).  Each of those terms seemed to place Epaphroditus at the same level on the organizational chart as the famous Paul.  What adjectives and titles do you use in referring to your family?  Are they endearing and elevating?

Epaphroditus’ reception- Paul considered Epaphroditus to be worthy of a hero’s welcome home (vv. 29, 30).  He had risked his life for the cause of Christ and in service for the Philippian church.  How have those you know demonstrated courage?  In what ways have they taken risks because of faith convictions?

If you are to grow in the affirmation you demonstrate in your family relationships, you will need to open your eyes to recognize the reasons and open your mouth to verbalize them!

sbk

May 26: Blessing and Affirmation

Read Genesis 27:1-46

Affirmation is a powerful influence in the lives of people.  Often, those who receive it have a real sense of value.  And those who lack it feel inadequate.

John Trent, in his book The Blessing, underscores the importance of affirmation.  He describes five elements common to Scriptural blessings and needed by every individual.  These include:

  1. Meaningful and appropriate touch
  2. A spoken message
  3. Attaching high value to the one being      blessed
  4. Picturing a special future for him or her
  5. An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

The blessing of Jacob and Esau pictures for us the importance of affirmation.  If you remember, their parents, Isaac and Rebekah, had played favorites with their kids.  Esau, the first-born of the twins, was Isaac’s favorite.  The two had much in common.  Meanwhile, Rebekah was preferential to Jacob.

With his death imminent, Isaac makes clear his plans to bless Esau.  Let me interrupt the story with a quick reminder here.  Though the blessing described here had different implications that the affirmation you extend to others in your family, don’t wait until late in life to dole it out.  Be as genuine and as generous with it as you can be all along the way.

Back to the story…did you notice how desperate Jacob (and Rebekah) was to receive the blessing?  He was willing to lie and deceive…all in the hope of receiving it.  Do you realize how desperately others in your family want to be affirmed by you?  It would be a shame if they took ungodly steps in their attempt to receive it!

One more observation from the story…did you see how disappointed Esau was when he did not receive his father’s blessing?  Let the words, “Bless me—me too, my father!” ring in your ears.  His disappointment played a key role in him planning retaliation and even marrying a woman, with whom he knew his parents would not agree.  Knowing the potential fall out, don’t you yearn to clearly express value to your family?

Maybe you have heard or even felt the disappointment expressed by people who have said, “I never really felt the approval of a family member!”  May that not be said of those in your family.

sbk

May 25: Other Races and Acceptance

Read Acts 10:1-48

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28

History has been punctuated with horrific stories of one group of people rejecting another…of one group claiming or exercising superiority over another.  It was men over women.  Aryan over Jew.  Caucasian over African American.  Masters over slaves.  Settler over Native Americans.  Nobility over commoners.  And…if you go far enough back, it was Jew over Gentile.

The story of Acts 10 began with two men in two first-century locations – Caesarea and Joppa.  Both men had dreams from God that caused the unthinkable to happen.  These divine dreams brought their two distinctly different lives together.  You see, the one, Peter, was a Jew who had come to recognize Jesus as Messiah.  The other, Cornelius, was a Gentile.  Even though he had evidenced some budding faith, he was not yet a Christ follower…and not a Jew from birth.  It was unthinkable that Peter would have such close contact with Cornelius.  He would certainly not enter the home of or share the gospel with a Gentile.  But God shocked Peter and caused these two lives to intersect

This was a landmark event in which God was beginning to open the eyes of Christ-followers.  He was helping them to realize that all people are deserving of acceptance.  He desires that every person receive compassionate demonstrations of grace and the clear verbalization of the gospel.  He desires that every person within the body of Christ have equal status…that a person is not seen as less significant or inferior because of such things as age, gender, race, or occupation.

Acceptance is what He calls us to.  Not the kind that gives a thumbs up to all faiths or convictions as if they are equally valid.  Not the kind that agrees with every moral and lifestyle choice.  No, it is the kind of acceptance that values all people as being made in the image of God.  And it is the kind of acceptance that demonstrates the same value Jesus places on them in giving His life for them.  It is the kind that views every fellow Jesus follower as a brother or sister in Christ.

Is there a person / are there people towards whom you need to adopt that attitude of acceptance?

sbk

May 24: Favoritism and Acceptance

Read James 2:1-13

Imagine for a moment that we were able to transport you back in time to your days in junior high…complete with weird hairdo and odd clothes (at least by today’s standards).  Were you the first one chosen for the team in gym class or were you the one, of whom it was finally said, “I guess we are stuck with so and so.”?  Were you part of the inside group with the inside scoop (read “latest gossip”)?  Or were the one on the outside…and, perhaps because you were a bit socially awkward, was the gossip about you?

Junior high is certainly a difficult time as people jostle for position, leaving a few casualties in their wake.  It can be a time of cliques and favoritism, which painfully excludes some people.  We can be thankful that we are no longer in junior high!

But although most reading this are no longer in that phase of life, is it possible that favoritism is still just as much a part of our lives?  Is it possible that we have just found more socially acceptable means of expressing that favoritism?

Rather than favoritism, Jesus followers should demonstrate acceptance.  According to James, this is the kind of acceptance that gives little thought to financial stature.  It does not esteem a person more or less because of what he/she wears.  It does not offer unique privileges to those with certain external characteristics.  It does not disrespect others because of the lack of certain things.  It requires that I have the same kind of gracious response to the well-dressed person in Wal-Mart as I have for the person holding the sign asking for a donation at the light as I leave Wal-Mart.

That kind of acceptance of people does not necessitate approval of their choices.  Some of those may be contrary to clear biblical, moral absolutes.  Communicating that kind of acceptance while withholding approval is a tightrope walk you will face frequently.  It will require wisdom every step along the way.  It is a fine line with a potentially dangerous abyss on either side.

God, give me wisdom for that walk in those relationships today!

sbk

May 23: Self-centered or Accepting?

Read 3 John 1-15

John’s third letter is not one in which I have spent much time.  It is very likely that the epistle is also less familiar to you as well.  Personalities like Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius just don’t bring with them memorable stories the way that Gideon, Daniel, and David do.  Nevertheless, these few lines provide us with insight into their lives and a great contrast of their tendencies.

The contrast of Gaius and Diotrephes is especially eye-opening!  Gaius, on the one hand, had walked in the truth that at that point in time was likely conveyed both in written form as documents that circulated among believer and as an oral body of truth.  He was a man given to hospitality, apparently extending care even to believing brothers he did not know.   Gaius was also one who understood and participated in the mission of God.  At least some who had benefited from his hospitality had been itinerant missionaries who had “gone out for the sake of the name” (v. 7).  And John seems to both applaud and challenge Gaius for the support he had/would offer to them.

And then there was Diotrephes.  He was self-centered.  He would not welcome the apostle John and others associated with him.  In fact, he even spread gossip about them.  But that attitude reached beyond John.  He was an isolationist who would not allow outsiders in.  Diotrephes had little room for the truth of God and the fellowship of His people in his life.

Although there are many differences between these two men, perhaps we could boil the contrast down to a single word: “acceptance.”  Gaius was willing and able to accept and bless other valued members of the body of Christ.  Diotrephes, in his pride, was unwilling and unable to recognize, welcome, and minister to others.

This same attitude of acceptance is critical for all followers of Christ.  It is essential for church life and for family relationships.  If you allow pride to slip in, the negative impact of a “Diotrephes outcome” can be felt.  If you find yourself always excluding others, that might be a tendency in you.

Instead, be a welcoming, accepting Gaius.

sbk