Begin Here: Simply Listen

There have been so many times where I have allowed myself to be sidelined by worry. It’s not a point of pride, that’s for certain. As a minister of over 20 years, one who has taught and told and discipled so many people to walk by faith and not by sight, who has repeatedly looked to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 where He expressly tells us not to worry, and where we are reminded that worry is a lack of faith in so many other places where He has these daily interactions with His disciples. I shouldn’t have any doubt in my mind in regards to the struggle that worry creates, and of the handiwork of the enemy that can be found in those faithless places…I should know better. I should be more aware. I should be stronger…right?

IMG_BA10487E7AF9-1

As a pastor, I sometimes put that pedestal underneath of myself and have expectations for myself that can be unfair, ill-advised (seeking my own counsel) and all in all, not God-honoring.
And so I repent, and I repent again later. I’ll likely have to do it again.

So much of worry comes from the lies I tell myself and the lies I listen to from the world and from the enemy. These are all old tricks, old means and they are well worn pathways for so many of us. We let ourselves walk down them without thinking. It’s like navigating our own house in the dark of night. We know where the sofa is, we are aware of the coffee table, and we can walk through without so much as stubbing a toe.

And we fall right back into the pit in the living room floor. We knew it was there. We’ve known it was there. We’ve fallen into it before. And we let it happen again.

Why? Why do we do this? Paul voices this struggle well in Romans 7. It’s something that is deeply familiar to all of us. We know this struggle, and we have the scars from the struggle.

And when we finally look up and open our eyes, our ears begin to listen and we hear the voice of our great God singing over us. An unbroken tune, rich in love, deep with mercy, overwhelming with compassion, rhythmic with grace, peace and a shelter only He can provide. Here we rest. Here we are reminded. Here we begin to listen again, the harsh, broken, sickly-sweet croaking of the enemy is drowned out by the everlasting love of YHWH G_d.

It’s so simple we often forget it, but it’s always there.
Begin here: simply listen.

Passages to help with worry – BibleStudyTools.com 
33 Verses on Anxiety from Debbie McDaniel
Keys to Overcoming Fear – Bible in One Year

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Our Present Father

Do you think that the Queen of England ever forgets her status? Do you think she ever gets up in the morning, looks around the royal bedchambers, notices a staff member setting up the tray for her morning tea, opening the curtains, laying out her things and wonders, “Well, who is this and why are they doing all this?”

No. Of course not. She’s the queen, and that life is what is afforded for her. It is part of her rank and status that she would be so cared for & so well attended. While she may have no real power, she is still beloved by those who are hers.

We often forget what we have been afforded in Christ. We look around at the world God has created, at he provision He has laid out for us, we forget how dearly loved we are. We forget =Whose= we are and we fall into the trap of disbelieving just how deeply and how greatly we are loved.

Galatians 4:1-11

4 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

God has made provision for =you= in Jesus Christ. He has shown the depth of His love, and breadth of His grace. He has given us a wonderful gift beyond measure. But so often we see and observe, and we turn back to what we once had. That is what Paul is dealing with in this portion of his letter to the Galatian church. Why would we turn back to the life that once had us, to the pain that once ensnared us? Why would you turn back to death once you have been brought back to life?

But we do it every day.

We leave behind the rich appointments of grace to wallow in the filth of our own sin.

This is why we are daily glad for grace, and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that corrects us.  There is mourning that comes with this realization, but it is a mourning that is infused with hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,

    the wormwood and the gall!

20 My soul continually remembers it

    and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind,

    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

    his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

    “therefore I will hope in him.”

 

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

    to the soul who seeks him.

26 It is good that one should wait quietly

    for the salvation of the Lord.

You are deeply loved and dearly bought when you are clothed with Christ. You are afforded a richness that comes with being drawn into the presence of the Living God. Jesus gave proof to His disciples after He was resurrected by doing something simple, He ate with them. He wanted them to see that this was the new reality, the new normal. The life they had been appointed to was past and there was something new on the way. This is what Jesus does for us, this is what God has laid out for us. It’s all for =His= glory, but as heirs, we share in the glorious promises of righteousness.

Luke 24:36-49

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

God will take great care to clothe us, care for us and shower us with His love. We are His children, deeply loved, dearly bought. Just as Christ did simple things, like eating fish, to convince His disciples that things really were as they were, even thought it was beyond hope, maybe even beyond belief, He was alive again and there, present with them. Just as He did that, we need to remember that every day, through many convincing proofs, God reminds us that He is present with us, loving us. He is our Abba, our Father, our Daddy & He cares very much for us.

Rest in His arms today. Let Him sing over you. May the joy of the Lord be your strength.

Comfort does little when kept

empathy2
Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.

Galatians 5:25-6:10
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Empathy is the feature of our own emotional health that allows us to resonate with another human being. It keeps them from being just a fixture in our own little world, and places them on equal footing with us. Empathy reinforces humanity, it directs our hearts toward the needs & suffering of others, and it guides us to action to see justice done for the oppressed. Empathy stirs our heart, it engages our mind, it motivates our spirit to do what it best for someone other than our self. It is a gift that keeps us alive, sane, and functioning as a member of a responsible, God-honoring culture & worldview.

Being emotional has often been viewed as a weakness. There have been people and cultures that have maintained that a strict anti-emotionalism will help you to be a better human being, that it helps you to ‘grow up’ and deal with the hardships of life better. For some, being detached emotionally is a sign that you have accepted reality and are now able to function as an adult. Emotionalism is for the weak.

This couldn’t be any farther from the truth, and we can look to Jesus for our example.
When meeting with people who were in need, hurting and broken, Jesus’ response was never cold and calculated, detached and solely observant. Listen:

Matthew 15:32 “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

Mathew 8:14-1514 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”

Matthew 9:1-3And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 10:14 “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 19:41 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,”

John 5:6 “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?””

John 11:32-3532 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

The common thread between Jesus, the people, their situation and the emotional response that Jesus had comes down to two small words “He saw.” That’s it. He observed their suffering, their situation, and simply in the seeing, His heart was provoked by emotion. And in that ’emotional’ state, Jesus acted in the mercy and justice of God to do what was right. He related to those who suffered, and He helped them carry their burdens, and usually took them all together.

This is the example of Christ. This is empathy at work. God is not cold and detached. There is not maturity that results in dismissing the heart and hurt of people who suffer.

Can emotion be used to take advantage of others, can sob stories capture the heart of another and remove them from rational thought? Absolutely. But don’t let the possibility of feeling deeply keep you from feeling. Don’t ever let the possibility of someone’s dishonesty keep you from serving others as Christ already has served them. Empathy doesn’t just keep others human in our own hearts, it keeps us human, too. A lack of empathy, a lack of compassion kills our own heart, and allows us to focus solely on self, dehumanizing others and seeking comfort away from their suffering. It removes us from the sphere of the work of God.

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Empathy & wisdom, paired together, help us walk in the path of the truth & mercy of God as we follow Christ.

Empathy without wisdom condones improper behavior and sinful struggles. Sometimes people hurt because of poor life choices and an improper worldview. These are the instances where empathy leads to compassion which leads to loving correction. It doesn’t keep us from meeting with them, but it guides us as we seek to guide them toward God, understanding their brokenness & our own.We are all responsible for our own choices & actions.

Knowledge without empathy is simply a cold observation of one’s perception of reality. It is cold and uncaring, even if we are right in regards to observing their moral transgressions. God’s mercy in the face of His own justice revealed grace for us & a glorification of Himself in the process. Had He simply observed, we would remain dead in our sin, damned by our own broken actions & motivations.

Pairing them together, we are kept responsible to God & others, seeing a need, and meeting a need while engaging the heart of the other as Christ has done, and drawing them toward Him. Mercy & justice, working together.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.

You are known by God

Do you think that the Queen of England ever forgets her status? Do you think she ever gets up in the morning, looks around the royal bedchambers, notices a staff member setting up the tray for her morning tea, opening the curtains, laying out her things and wonders, “Well, who is this and why are they doing all this?”
No. Of course not. She’s the queen, and that life is what is afforded for her. It is part of her rank and status that she would be so cared for & so well attended. While she may have no real power, she is still beloved by those who are hers.

We often forget what we have been afforded in Christ. We look around at the world God has created, at he provision He has laid out for us, we forget how dearly loved we are. We forget =Whose= we are and we fall into the trap of disbelieving just how deeply and how greatly we are loved.

Galatians 4:1-11
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,
but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

God has made provision for =you= in Jesus Christ. He has shown the depth of His love, and breadth of His grace. He has given us a wonderful gift beyond measure. But so often we see and observe, and we turn back to what we once had. That is what Paul is dealing with in this portion of his letter to the Galatian church. Why would we turn back to the life that once had us, to the pain that once ensnared us? Why would you turn back to death once you have been brought back to life?

But we do it every day.

We leave behind the rich appointments of grace to wallow in the filth of our own sin.

This is why we are daily glad for grace, and for the presence of the Holy Spirit that corrects us.  There is mourning that comes with this realization, but it is a mourning that is infused with hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

You are deeply loved and dearly bought when you are clothed with Christ. You are afforded a richness that comes with being drawn into the presence of the Living God. Jesus gave proof to His disciples after He was resurrected by doing something simple, He ate with them. He wanted them to see that this was the new reality, the new normal. The life they had been appointed to was past and there was something new on the way. This is what Jesus does for us, this is what God has laid out for us. It’s all for =His= glory, but as heirs, we share in the glorious promises of righteousness.

Luke 24:36-49
36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

God will take great care to clothe us, care for us and shower us with His love. We are His children, deeply loved, dearly bought. Just as Christ did simple things, like eating fish, to convince His disciples that things really were as they were, even thought it was beyond hope, maybe even beyond belief, He was alive again and there, present with them. Just as He did that, we need to remember that every day, through many convincing proofs, God reminds us that He is present with us, loving us. He is our Abba, our Father, our Daddy & He cares very much for us.

Rest in His arms today. Let Him sing over you. May the joy of the Lord be your strength.

Acts 22:1-5 // Building Credibility Through Transparency 

“1 ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.’ 2 When they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even quieter. 3 He continued, ‘I am a Jewish man, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict view of our patriarchal law. Being zealous for God, just as all of you are today, 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in jail, 5 as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to bring those who were prisoners there to be punished in Jerusalem.'”

Acts 22:15
==

Paul begins addressing this hostile crowd in Jerusalem by addressing his own past & by exposing his personal history to them. Before they hear anything else, they need to see and know who he is and who he once was. This isn’t for Paul’s credit, but it does establish him as a human being in their eyes. With this kind of mob-mentality and violent rage going on, they needed to be reminded of the simple fact that he was a real human being. They also needed to know that he was someone that understood them. Paul firmly established his credibility in stating that he learned under Gamaliel & by addressing his proximity to the High Priest. He was basically saying that he was, at one point, one of them. He was zealous for the old traditions, just like they were, and he held a deep and abiding love for Jerusalem, the Temple and everything that they held dear…but obviously, something had changed.

When you and I speak to people who are opposed to Christ, who rail against us, it may also be helpful to establish our past with them. I usually tell people that breaking down your testimony into three parts will help them understand you more, see your heart more clearly and discover that you’re not some self-righteous hypocrite. The three parts are quite simple: “This is who I was before I met Jesus. This is how I met Jesus. This is what He’s working in me now.” A personal testimony is difficult to dispute. It is even more powerful when we let them see our imperfections, foibles and flaws. 

Paul wanted this crowd to know who he was, so he could establish a credible link with him and what he was getting ready to tell them. When we GoLove others for the sake of Christ, we need do the same, and that is often best established through personal transparency. Transparency helps people see that we aren’t just trying to lord something over them or to guilt them for not being like us. Instead, it introduces them to the story that God is writing in us, and it allows them to see our weaknesses, which in turn makes them more comfortable and reestablishes our humanity in their eyes. In short, transparency is disarming. 

But transparency does not come naturally. We have to endure it as a discipline. We want to be guarded, we want to keep our walls up. Exposing our weaknesses might give our opponent an opportunity to assault us further or do malign our character. Transparency lets them see into the depths of who we really are and it leaves us standing exposed. But that’s also why transparency is so powerful. It points past us and directly to the handiwork of God. It says, “I don’t have everything together.” Instead transparency points toward our own need for a Savior, and at that point becomes our witness to God’s goodness, faithfulness, mercy and grace. When we are transparent, we quit blocking the view toward Christ. Paul does that wonderfully, both here and in all his writings. We should go and do likewise and let people see Jesus Christ instead of seeing us. 

Acts 12:20-25 // Pride, arrogance, humility & mission trips

“20 He [Herod Agrippa 1] had been very angry with the Tyrians and Sidonians. Together they presented themselves before him. They won over Blastus, who was in charge of the king’s bedroom, and through him they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food from the king’s country. 21 So on an appointed day, dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a public address to them. 22 The assembled people began to shout, “It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he became infected with worms and died.

24 Then God’s message flourished and multiplied. 25 After they had completed their relief mission, Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem, taking along John who is called Mark.”

Acts 12:20-25

Everything we do in life is a series of choices. Every attitude we exhibit, we choose. Every feeling we allow to flourish within us, we choose. Everything we do with our mind, our bodies and our hearts we must choose to either encourage or discourage within ourselves. We are all personally accountbale for all of these choices, and we cannot simply claim to be a victim of our own circumstances, or that we have fallen prey to these difficulties because it ‘wasn’t my choice.’ We don’t often think about the full ramifications of our choices. Aside form the fact that it could consume our days and nights to do so, to think through _all_ of the possible echoes of our choices would overwhelm us and trap us in a place that we cannot deal with and handle. On the opposite extreme, to never consider what we do, to never weigh out the options ,and to just ‘run with our gut’ will leave you in a desolate, dnagerous place as well. We must try to balance choice, responsibility and have some goals and ideals in mind.

A life without foundation becomes an amoral, godless mess. A life with too many rules and regulations becomes an emotionless, Pharisaical mess. Either way, we wouldn’t do a very good job of communicating the Gospel message or living lives that made a positive impact.

So, as we GoLove others in Jesus’ Name, it’s best to look at options, choose what honors God and trust in Him to move through us and those situations. We cannot let choices paralize us, and we cannot let choices that will affect other people go unconsidered. Barnabas, Paul & John Mark obviously made the right choices here, and lives were touched for the Gospel because of it. Herod chose poorly.

We all only have a limited number of days and choices to be made. Let’s make the ones that make an impact for the Kingdom and draw others to God rather than simply feed our ego and comfort the attitudes of sin & self. It’s the smart choice to make.

Acts 11:27-30 // Redefined Priority 

“27 In those days some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world. This took place during the time of Claudius. 29 So each of the disciples, according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.”

Acts 11:27-30

From the beginning, the church has been concerned with serving others and helping to provide for people in their need. From Acts 2 & 3, we see them giving out of their means to each other as they had need, and here, as they grow and as they spread out, they still make a point of caring for those who would suffer. This interconnectedness is a beautiful thing, and we are reminded of our joining together in Christ as we partake of communion each week. We see that physical distance, racial and cultural barriers and anything else that you might think of, do nothing to separate us from one another. We also see, from these earliet examples, that the church has a redefined priority in regards to wealth, time and effort. 

 When you belong to the body of Christ, you have a new understanding of what really matters. It’s not about personal comfort, it’s not about getting your way. It’s not about building up security for yourself and it’s not about making a good impression as the world understands things. Instead, it becomes a matter of seeing others brought comfort, peace and security through whatever means you may have. There is a re-direction of the heart, a new mental focus and a greater understanding that reveals a deeper priority in your heart. Today, time is almost more closely guarded than money, but no matter the resource, to follow Christ means to GoLove people in their need, to step beyond what is comfortable or easy, and into what really and truly matters. 

Compassion redefines us. An understanding of mission redefines us. Our sense of community with one another redefines us. Communion through Christ redefines us. There are so many ways that God has provided for us to stand out as distinctive and different from the world, and it is in these ways that people will see and begins to grasp that we have something together that they lack on their own. That we have a hope, a joy and a purpose that they just cannot manufacture for themselves. And as we live our different, distinctive, redefined priorities, we need to do it knowing that even how we use our time, talent and treasure stands as a marker to a hurting world, a testimony to the goodness of Christ Jesus.  That’s why we care for the widow and orphan in their distress, provide food for the hungry, shelter for the cold and care for the sick…because Jesus made them a priority and told us that whatever we do for one of them, we also are doing for Him. We see things differently and seek to make a difference. 

Make a difference for widows & orphans by clicking HERE.

Provide water for the thirsty HERE.

Provide care for the sick HERE.

Help those in distress HERE

Find opportunities right where you are today and let those redefined priorities begin to speak out loud in your life. It’s not for our personal glory, but for bringing praise, honor and rejoicing to God Himself.