Part 2 – Where did Choosing Excellence come from?

Choosing Excellence

What does it mean? Where did it come from?

I have been told I sound like I know it all by using this name or hashtag on my Facebook. I have been told it sounds snobby and better than. ūüė¶ Anyone that knows me, knows that is not my heart.

What I can say for sure, is when you hear God speak to you, wouldn’t it be wise to listen and move? I believe so. Now does that mean I am always obedient – absolutely not and usually because I am scared. But the Lord says, FEAR NOT…….

So, if you remember, we left off discussing how I kept asking God who I am. Begging the Lord to help me figure out my identity after my second divorce and not wanting to be labeled by who others thought I should be, or by who others remembered me as prior to this last marriage, or those who viewed me as a failure for where I was at my age at this point in life. And the Lord told me he was going to teach me how to start “choosing excellence” but first He directed me to read Philippians.

I read and then studied Philippians inductively. This was my first book in the Bible I truly studied after my Israel trip and feeling like the most stupid Christian in the world.

So what did I learn? What it means to start Choosing Excellence!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s start with some fun little facts about Paul who wrote Philippians:

He was 5 years younger than Jesus. He was killed at the age of 56 in Rome for treason in the year 64. The first book Paul wrote was Galatians in 49, then wrote while under house arrest Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians between 60-62. This book (Philippians) was written a mere 30 years after Jesus left the earth.¬† Wow! I think this is so interesting as people will commonly say the Bible was written so long ago, no one really knows what happened back then. Really? I could write a book today about what happened 30 years ago and so could you ūüôā

Paul gets saved in the year 33, the last year of Jesus’ ministry on Earth. He was a Jewish zealot man who killed Jewish Christians as he was interested in the decline of the church. He did this out of what he thought was right at the time. You can read about Paul’s conversion to Christianity in Acts 9.

So why did God tell me to start with Philippians to learn what choosing excellence means. This book overwhelmed me, made me cry, scared me, uplifted me, gave me new perspective, excited me and then made me cry all over again. It opened my eyes, helped me learn history, made me inspired, changed my direction from choosing through emotions and wants to learning how to approve the excellent choices in front of me.

As a Christian, our identity is to be rooted in Christ but how many times do we say it is and yet the slippery slope of identity actually gets rooted in financial security, family name/history and so on. The importance of being rooted in Christ is so that when the storms come, and believe me they will, the storm doesn’t impede us, our journey, our calling and our focus and we can continue to have joy no matter the circumstances.

What is joy? A sense of well being that’s unaffected by circumstance and you cannot call it joy unless you are in a difficult circumstance.

Using the NASB, Paul’s unfavorable circumstances are described below and YET he still rejoices! This means we can too!

Philippians 1:7

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

Philippians 1:12-14

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to every else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

Philippians 1:15-18

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives; thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.

beach woman sunrise silhouette
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I mean, seriously, Paul has been imprisoned and YET he is still choosing joy in these circumstances. He isn’t focused on the here and now, he is focused on the heavenly and the good news of Jesus. Wow! I feel like such a baby during the circumstances I have gone through in life when I am down, depressed and so forth because I haven’t been challenged nearly as much as Paul has.¬† I get so focused on my daily surroundings, what isn’t happening the way I want it to, and YET can you imagine? Being falsely imprisoned for years and still having hope and joy. I have so much to learn God, all this just in the first chapter. Whoa!

As Paul is writing, he inserts a prayer right away in Chapter 1 as he knows all of this is going to be hard to hear, it’s going to change their lives but it will still be difficult.

Philippians 1:9-11

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

The cool thing about this is how many times do we ask someone to do something for us (specifically in marriage) but we never pray for them to be able to do it. This prayer is important to memorize because once you know it and truly understand it, God will have given you what you need in order to approve excellent choices in your life. I will break down this scripture/prayer and a few others when I do the blog on inductive study.

Paul is teaching us three things in this book.

  1. Look long term (heavenly) instead of short term (earthly). If we think short term, we are thinking about our wants and not our needs. We maybe whining about a situation that is challenging and difficult instead of looking how God is using this to strengthen our character, perseverance and hope. This one is a constant work in progress as we are so bombarded on what society tell us we should be, act, think and have.

My marriage definitely fit into this. My second marriage lasted 16 years. I was thinking short term (earthly) as the marriage progressively got worse. I kept telling myself, “I can’t leave, I am a Christian. I can’t leave, what are people going to say and how will they act towards me. I can’t leave, there are still step children at home. I can’t leave because I know God can fix him (spouse). I can’t leave because I will be a failure. I can’t leave because I am a broken spirit with no job right now. I can’t leave because……” and the list went on and on even though I knew how unhealthy it was. I couldn’t look long term (heavenly) to see what God might have in store for me. Please understand that I do NOT advocate divorce unless ALL avenues have been attempted. All I could see was the short term (earthly) things ahead of me and yet I couldn’t see all the things I sacrificed and became by earthly recognition when trying to satisfy my husband and his earthly wants, needs and desires. I couldn’t see the shell of a woman I had become in the here and now (earthly) because I was so focused on him instead of being focused on long term heavenly things (God).¬† I couldn’t see the behaviors I had allowed and the loss of my own character in the short term as we are bombarded in society on who we should be, what we should look like and what we should allow and most of that doesn’t align with long term (heavenly) things. All of this to say that God used all of the stuff I whined, hurt and cried about to strengthen my character and perseverance and bring me back to the woman he has always called me to be. He has given me a hope where I can share my experiences and not be ashamed. He has taught me that I am NOT a victim of domestic violence as society quickly labeled me with (please don’t allow this statement to take offense to you if you have been in this situation as I will do a blog on domestic violence and what Jesus has taught me through it all).¬† HE has given me opportunities to speak to others about all of this and I welcome any opportunity in the future. HE has grown me and showed me how all of this was because of a¬†CHOICE¬†I made years ago to marry someone who wasn’t equally yoked to me. I was a brand new Christian and didn’t understand what that meant and for 16 years, not only did I pay those consequences but so did my children. Our choices matter and they not only affect us but those around us.

2. Living selflessness instead of selfishly -man this one is tough and it doesn’t mean to be a doormat to others. God wants us to bring what we learn individually into a group to make others stronger. Christianity isn’t about individualism. Paul was faced with the choice of going to Heaven which was better for him but he chose to stay on earth in prison. Why? For the sake of others. I cannot even fathom this as Paul writes about it. We need to think about how our choices not only affect us, but how they affect the people around us (spouses, kids, other family members). This again is difficult at times because of our wants and desires. I try in my life to not be a selfish person, and at times, I am not selfish enough so I am working on balance.

Philippians 1:21-26

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.

3. Value: Earthly value or Godly value.  I think we all understand what this means. The difference between things in society verses relationships and people. This one was probably the most tangible one that I and others were able to see the change in me.

A few years ago right after my divorce, when I couldn’t rub two nickels together, Jake accidentally broke my lamp. In the moment when I first heard this, I had the split second thought of, “Why weren’t you more careful and whine, whine, whine, right?” If those thoughts would have come out of my mouth, I would have made him feel bad over a lamp as if I valued the lamp ($50) more than my son. Thankfully, in those split seconds, I realized, it’s material, earthly things that can be replaced. It doesn’t have any Godly value but my son does. Jake’s feeling and knowing he is loved by me far out way a $50 lamp. Seems super simple right? But how many times do we allow things out of our mouth that are hurtful and damaging to a person’s soul?

adult art conceptual dark
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After Jake moved out, I was looking around my townhouse. After studying Philippians, I realized how many earthly things I had. Three TV’s, two computers, two bedrooms and the list went on and it was only me. What in the world did I need all of that space and stuff for? One TV in my living room, one in my bedroom and one in the spare bedroom. I justified it as if someone stays over, they have their own TV and if I am not feeling well, I can watch TV in my own bed. JOKE! Typical households here in the U.S., right? And for what? So I seriously starting looking closely at everything in my townhouse and garage and started selling stuff left and right, gave stuff away, and completely got rid of things. My friend, Susan, still mentions to me from time to time how I completely got rid of everything. I moved into the basement of another friend’s place (Tami) to save money, payoff my debt and have the peace and quiet to start focusing and learning more about Jesus. The possessions made me feel good, like I had worked hard and accomplished something and yet I had no time for anyone or anything. The possessions filled my pride and gave me the opportunity to say, “I am alright after this divorce, look at me” and it appeared that way on the outside to society even though I was lost, hurting and desperately trying to understand who I was and begging Christ to help me find my identity again. People didn’t understand the move or all the things I was getting rid of.¬† They didn’t understand why I was living in someone else’s house. They didn’t understand that I didn’t have all the cool¬† kitchen gadgets anymore or the electronics but I cannot tell you how freeing that way of life had become.¬† I still live pretty frugal and will continue to do that because stuff just clutters your mind and steals your finances.

woman in grey shirt holding brown cardboard box
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I needed to buy a newer vehicle. I did a bunch of research and went into the dealership to purchase a 2012 used SUV.¬† We all know how much fun car shopping can be – PUKE! As I was looking around, the salesman told me he could get me into a brand new 2015 SUV for the same price but it’s a standard model. So thinking through all of that, full warranty, only had 23 miles on it, same payment but instead of 4 years I would be looking at 5 years. I drove the vehicle and thought this was it! The only thing that was bugging me about it was there wasn’t ANY tint on the windows AT ALL so I got the guy to throw in the tint. I was super excited and thanked God for this awesome opportunity but then……….the salesman comes back. He said, “You know, Donna, I want you to drive another one and it won’t raise your payment that much. You deserve to have a nice vehicle.” So I drove the same vehicle only loaded!¬†Roof, heated leather, NICE wheels, all the bells and whistles. The payment wasn’t going up enough to make or break me right?YES, I DESERVED A NICE VEHICLE AFTER MY DIVORCE…………… Oh shoot me right now as I HATE the word DESERVE. I told the salesman I needed a few minutes and I literally walked around the entire lot a couple of times talking out loud to God – I am sure people thought I was crazy! I whined about all the vehicles I had driven over the years, how I have worked hard, how I deserved something nice and I haven’t driven a new vehicle in over 25 years and whine, sob, poor me all the way around the car lot. After about 20 minutes, what did I hear God say, “Donna, choose excellence, remember Paul” and the prayer I memorized came back to me:

Philippians 1:9-11

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

You see, that prayer might not sound like a lot but once you truly understand how to approve the things that are excellent, you can’t get it out of your head!

This was the ultimate temptation of all three things Philippians taught me! Sometimes I hate when God is right.

First, I needed to focus on heavenly things, not earthly things.  For it to be heavenly, I just needed a safe running vehicle for myself and others that may be in it.  But earthly would be showy and boastful.

Second, I needed to think selflessly and not selfishly.  I needed to think about the money and what I could do with the difference. I could buy the loaded one and be selfish because again it would fuel my pride, make me feel like I am worthy in a vehicle, allow people to build me up over it and I could say I was accomplished since my divorce. Or, I could be selfless in this decision and look at how I could use the difference in the car payment towards good in my community, my church, and others who are going through tough times. To me, one of the ways to show the love of Christ when we hear of someone hurting financially for whatever reason is to anonymously donate or provide to someone in need.

Third, I needed to value Godly things and not materialist/earthly things. This vehicle is a tool, a resource to get me to and from Point A and B. It’s to supply a NEED (Godly) and not a WANT (earthly). I am not going to lie, I wanted the loaded vehicle. REALLY BAD! All the cool gadgets, the heated leather in our cold winters, the roof was AMAZING, the stereo I could bump loud and proud, and the wheels sparkled like diamonds. URG! It’s just stuff! The basic model had air, power windows and locks, a nice stereo – really what more do I need?

That was it, I went back and told the salesman to write up the paperwork on the basic model. He was in disbelief and said, “Donna, I don’t understand, you love the black loaded one”. With a smile on my face as I knew I CHOOSE EXCELLENCE, I said, “You are absolutely right, I love that one but I need to choose excellence in my life and God told me the blue basic one is just that. Write it up.” I made a choice that will effect the next 5 years and believe me 16K verses 28K when you are into a loan a couple years, makes all the difference in the world.

blur building business cars
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Never in a million years as I cried out to God about who I was in my lost and broken state, did I think HE could teach me so much through ONE book. Never thought I would change my perspective on so many important facets in life through¬†ONE book. Never could comprehend, at the times I was challenging myself in these choices, that I could truly look back and say, “Thank you, Lord, for showing me how to CHOOSE EXCELLENCE¬†in all my daily decisions through this¬†ONE book!” I am excited to see where God takes this ministry as over the years HE has brought me to teaching inductive study, holding Bible study groups, and now I am blogging. What’s next?

All of these things are preparing me for what lies ahead as Paul writes :

Philippians 3:13

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. 

God has created us all unique with gifts, talents and a calling. I want to thank you as you continue on this journey with me. I don’t always get things right and I will always do my best to be reflective of my own actions, character and influence. I value all of you, your thoughts, your willingness to share and let’s see where Choosing Excellence can take us. Be blessed everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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