Category Archives: Faith

The finish line

 

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Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time now and forever.  Amen.  Jude 24-25

 

These words were embedded into me at a camp I worked at in my twenties for several full summers.  We sang it as a benediction countless times when we met for chapel services at a point that jutted out into a huge lake.  We would canoe to get to it, and met up with two other camps around the lake.  When we sang, nature sang with us.  A thousand strong, we would sing:  “Now onto Him who is able to keep, able to keep  you from falling and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…”

They still echo in my heart some thirty years later.  It is a great promise of the faith.  God is the One who keeps me from falling and will bring me safely home to Heaven.  One day I will stand faultless before Him, with exceeding joy.  Philippians 1:6 reinforces this: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  God started my faith, and God will finish it.  What great news as I muddle through most days.

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, recorded in John 17, He said to the Father, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction (Judas), that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”  Add to that Luke 22:31-32 when Jesus speaks to Simon Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”  

Jesus was guarding Peter’s faith, the other disciples’ faith walk, and he guards ours.  Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “Consequently, He (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost (completely, for eternity) those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”  In other words, Jesus is praying day and night before the throne to guard our faith.  We probably all get sifted like wheat because Satan is the enemy of our souls, but our faith will still stand.  That’s a promise.

This does not mean that we can live however we want and Jesus will pick up the pieces.  If you really belong to Jesus, God is at work changing your desires and giving you the power to live for Him.  Philippians 2:13 tells us, “It is God who at work in you to will and to act according to His good pleasure.”  If you see yourself not longing for holiness and obedience, pray and ask God to change your heart, to place His desires on your heart, and to give you the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to carry it out.    

When God does a work in you that you didn’t have the desire or power to accomplish on your own, then use that as a sign that your faith is driven by God and that you belong to Him.   God is able.  He is able to bring you safely home.  I cry out with David in Psalm 138:8: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.  Do not forsake the work of Your hands.”

 


The Overcomers

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Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world…For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  1 John 4:4 and 1 John 5:4-5

John was writing about false prophets, lying spirits and antichrists that deny that Jesus lived in the flesh and rose from the dead.  That’s who he was saying that we have overcome.  Why?  Because we’re on the power side, the winning side.  The false prophets and lying spirits are from the world and the world listens to the lies.  But we are from God.  God is greater than Satan, greater than false notions and ideas about what is going on and what we need to do.  And He is in us, so that makes us overcomers.  To be an overcomer means to prevail, to conquer or to win the victory.  It also implies that we face a battle.

Do you feel like an overcomer?  Or are you weighed down by the many things from life and from ‘the world’ that pull at you?  We are overrun with ‘fake news’ that makes you wonder what is true and what isn’t, and who’s lying and if there is anyone out there that isn’t involved in deception.  In our daily lives we encounter mockers, haters, obstacles, and internal struggles of all kinds.

The good news  to anchor our souls in is the fact that God is on the throne.  And through faith in Him we can experience joy, freedom and victory.  Our faith isn’t just a random, fuzzy faith: “As long as you believe something sincerely, that’s all that matters,” or “Everything is all the same, just under a different name.  You just need a higher power of some sort.”  1 John 5:5 counters that with this truth:  Our faith must be in Jesus Christ who is the Son of God.

In Acts 4:12 it says that there is “No other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  That name is Jesus.  Don’t believe anything else, no matter how sincerely you think they are okay to blend into your life.  Everyone has to leave some belief system to follow Jesus.  Further, Colossians 2:9-11 declares, “For in Christ the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.’  (NIV)

Jesus is the top dog, with all of the power.  Don’t settle for anything less by doing what Colossians 2:8 tells us: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”  When you place all of your trust in Jesus, you will have the power to overcome whatever comes your way.  

You don’t have to fear, nor do you have to resort to your old way of getting things done.  Maybe you used to use anger or some sort of manipulation to get what you want.  Now, you commit your situation to God and let Him do His work.  You may have been consumed with worry, thinking that somehow through your fretting that things would change.  Now you pray.  Or, you might have taken things into your hands to control, taking charge over others to make them comply to get things done.  With Jesus in your life, now you only concern yourself with your matters and leave God to work in other people’s’ lives just like He has in yours.

You are from God, you have overcome and you will overcome future problems through faith.  You have placed your faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Through that you have a power to see God work in situations that look hopeless, and to use you for His glory in ways you could never have dreamt of on your own.

 


Fully supplied

divine power

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  2 Peter 1:3-4

God’s divine power has given us everything we need for our lives and our path to godliness.  When we take a hold of this we are fully supplied, in other words.  The Christian life isn’t about just accepting a bunch of doctrinal creeds that we nod our heads in agreement to.  It is a power to be experienced and a divine power that saves us and changes us.  In 1 Corinthians 4:20 Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”  And in Ephesians 1:19-20 he prayed that we would know this power in our lives, the same power that rose Jesus from the dead.

What we need to get through this life and to be godly comes from relying on God’s divine power, not our own striving.  According to Peter, this power comes through the knowledge of God.  That is, the more we get to know God, the more we are able to access this power.  Some people want more of God’s power so they can heal others or do big things for God.  But here it implicates that we get more of God’s power so we can be godly and have what we need for this life.

As we get more godly and get life figured out, it isn’t so that we become great somehow, but it is for God’s own glory and excellence.  We become like John the Baptist, who got people ready for Jesus, introduced them to Him, and then got out of the way.  He didn’t look for his own glory or legacy, only that which would point to Jesus.  The more we walk in this divine power, the more humble we become.  The less credit we get and the more Jesus gets.  And it’s okay.

Peter indicates that our knowledge of God’s divine power comes through grabbing onto His precious and very great promises.  We get to know God’s character through actually doing something because we believe in those promises.  Maybe that’s where we move from less talk and more action.  If we believe the promise of James 1 that if we lack wisdom we can ask for it, then we will ask for wisdom and actually expect an answer.  If we believe the promise of Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” then we will actually do the things that God has put on our hearts to do–without fear or hesitation.

When we grow in the knowledge of God and put that knowledge into action, we become more like God and less like our flesh driven self.  That’s what it means to partake in the divine nature.  In other words, we are changed to wanting more of God and less of ourselves.  This will lead us away from the corruption of the world and from our sinful desires.  

I want more of God’s power.  It is easier to talk about what God can do than to actually get out and do something He is prompting me to do.  Right now I am trusting God, along with a small group of people, to establish a halfway house for women once they get out of jail or prison.  It is so difficult to continue walking with Jesus if women go back into their old environment, or if they really don’t have a place to go.

We are believing that God is in this, and now it is time to take action.  We have looked at three different houses, but none of them seem to be ‘the one.’  We are also trusting God for a supervisor to live there, that could hold them accountable to a different way of life and to keep them safe from old ties.  This involves both a larger money and time commitment on our parts, and it is scary.  We are standing on promises such as the ones in Isaiah 58 that talk about spending ourselves on the poor and the oppressed,  the hungry and the afflicted, and then we will see our light rise in darkness and  healing break forth like the noonday light.

God, may we grow in accessing this power through getting to know You better.  May we take a promise a day to stand on and then to actually do something that requires faith in You and power from You.  May we grow to be more like You and less selfish and small minded, and to put away the sinful desires that wage war against our souls.  I can’t wait to see what You will do for the glory of Your great and excellent name!


Need wisdom?

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If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed in the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  James 1:5-8

A dear co-worker’s family has been going through some upheaval with her husband’s job.  It has been a three month roller coaster and they have faced several forks in the road where each choice would take their family down an entirely different path.  He lost over ten pounds in the process because he was so worried he couldn’t eat.  My word to both of them was this passage: if you need wisdom, ask for it and God will give it to you.

Her response was to say, “I guess we haven’t prayed about it.”  How easy it is to name the name of Jesus, but yet not apply Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your steps.”  The husband’s response when I shared the James 1 verses with him was interesting.  He shook his head like he was smacked by the verse and asked, “would you say that again?”  It seemed like such a different idea to him to think that if he needed wisdom to simply ask God and He’ll give it to you.

James tells us that God gives wisdom generously to those who ask.  That’s a great promise.  When he declares that God will give us wisdom to all without reproach, that  means that God doesn’t find fault, he won’t rebuke or criticize us.  I hate telling someone about something that happened or is happening and they jump in with criticism that starts with, “You should have…” or “Why didn’t you…”  God promises that He will give us His wisdom generously and He won’t tell us how stupid we are for getting into that jam in the first place.

James  also gives us some conditions to our asking for wisdom.  We are to ask in faith, without doubting that God is listening to us, that He cares, or that He can actually do something about our situation.  It’s like bringing an umbrella to a prayer meeting calling out for rain.  We need to come to God believing that He can do anything, without ‘hedging our bets.’  That indicates that we bet on both sides just in case God doesn’t come through.

James calls that double minded faith, saying that such a person will not receive anything from the Lord and even calls them ‘unstable.’  Having a half-hearted or not-all-in faith sounds like that in God’s eyes it doesn’t amount to much.  James 1:7 also tells us that such a person will not receive anything from the Lord.

So when you need wisdom, ask God for it.  He gives it generously to anyone who asks, without criticizing or casting blame.  But ask in faith, being all-in when it comes to trusting God.  To my co-worker, stop trying to figure things out on your own.  You say you believe in God, so now it’s time to trust Him, do things His way, and place your life in His hands.  When you do, ‘you’re in good hands,’ as the All State commercial rings out.

 


What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

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Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  James 1:2-4

I didn’t have a very good week.  The  first day of my much awaited month off  started with an extreme gallbladder attack, though I didn’t know what it was for a day.  Day two involved having it removed.  Day 5, I hit a deer, smashing our car and causing the airbags to go off.   Our deductible from our health insurance will cost up to $8000 out of pocket.  

Different versions use the words perseverance, endurance and patience instead of steadfastness.   So, be joyful when troubles come your way, and be steady, persevering, patient, and not crumbling like a cheap card table.  Somehow our trials and troubles, given their full effect, will make us mature, perfect, complete and lacking nothing.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul said that they thought they were going to die and didn’t think they could endure.  But then he said it happened so that they would not rely on themselves, but on God who raises the dead.  Paul was saying there was a purpose in his suffering, which was so that he wouldn’t rely on himself, but on God.  I’ve been saving extra money away, dreaming of retiring from my job which has gotten more grueling for several reasons, including me getting older.  And in a snap that money goes toward something  else.  Perhaps God wants me to rely on Him and not my own resources.  

God also wants to produce in us  a wholehearted faith.   He values that so much that He may, in His love, take away all the other things that we might be tempted to rely on.  In my case, maybe it was money.  God’s aim is that we grow deeper and stronger in our confidence of Him, knowing that He’s all we need.

Finally, God wants our faith to be strong.  Being joyful when troubles come is a reaction that is counter our own emotional response.  Being steady and unwavering because God is our refuge in times of trouble can be a showcase for those around us to see His life at work in us.  Satan stood before God saying that Job’s faith was really because he was so rich and prosperous.  God responded by making a wager that if all of the stuff was gone, Job would still worship Him.  Job proved that his faith wasn’t built on all of the stuff, but that he worshiped God because God is worth it.   

Job’s faith was strong because God planted it in him, just like He did in Moses and the other Hall of Famers, and just like He does in us.  He will grow and build our faith, even protect it.  Jesus told Peter that in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”  

So take heart in your trials, making them a source of your joy.  God will use those troubles to cause us to rely on Him, and to show us that He’s all we need.  When we let God do His work in us through our struggles, He grows us.  God protects our faith even when we are sifted like wheat by Satan.  And in the end, it is “He who keeps us from falling and will present us blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.”


Be Strengthened by Grace

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Do not be led astray by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace…  Hebrews 13:9

My last devotion was about not missing the grace of God because a root of bitterness springs up in you or someone around you.  This root can pull you away with a stubborn and cold heart and produces poisonous and bitter fruit, as Deuteronomy 29:18 warns.

But today, let’s think about how to experience the grace of God and have it actually strengthen us.  There are three things I can think of today that can pull someone away from grace.  I’m sure there are dozens, but let’s start with three.

  1. Thinking that how I’m doing as a Christian is about my performance and measuring up.  Christians my parents’ age seem to have been caught up in what looks good, whether it had meaning or not.  You had to do the right thing, go to every event there was because it wouldn’t ‘look good’ if you didn’t. The Christian life was one of duty and striving to measure up.  It ends up with a ‘see me’ mentality, because if I’m going to wear myself doing these things, I better get the credit for it somewhere.
  2. Strange and diverse teachings of today.  There are so many rabbit trails out there that you can go down that might seem exciting or where it’s at, but don’t really bring you closer to Jesus and what He has for you.  Some might be into the fulness of the Holy Spirit, others into end times, yet others into finding our Jewish roots, and on it goes.
  3. Getting defeated by sin, causing the Christian life to be an impossible roller coaster of some success, but more failure.  The result here is guilt, shame, not even trying to measure up and then going back to your old life.

I won’t want to linger here, because I want to get to ways for your heart to be strengthened by grace.  I’ll stick with three again.

  1. Get off of the performance leash.  Don’t let others control you.  Learn to play to the audience of One: Jesus.  Learn to hear His voice and find confidence in letting what He’s directing you dictate what you get involved in, and where you go.  What others think of you doesn’t matter really, it is what God thinks of you.  If you are living in honest obedience to Him, then cut the leash.
  2. Just get hooked on Jesus.  Take getaways with just your Bible and a notebook, maybe even no food so it doesn’t distract you.  Don’t let up until you’ve gotten through all of the distractions to just be with the lover of your soul.  In John 13:25 we see that John leaned against Jesus’ bosom.  Get that close to Him that you can feel what He feels and you see yourself and others through His eyes.
  3. Understand that your salvation is by grace alone.  It is a gift of God, meaning that you didn’t earn this salvation, God gave it to you.  He took the scales off of your eyes.  When you bring your sins to Him, He throws them as far away as the east is from the west.  You can live in freedom and hold your head high.  You don’t have to listen to the voice of the enemy that either speaks to your mind or through others’ lips.  They are words like, “You’re no good,” “remember all of the rotten things you’ve done,” and “it’s all your fault.”  You are loved, you are free, God has good plans for you and He is well pleased with you.  He is doing a work in you that will sand off the rough edges, so let Him and it will be good.

Let your heart be strengthened today by God’s grace.  Revel in what He has done for you, rest in His presence and lean up against Jesus’ bosom whenever you can.  Grace to you!

 


Don’t Miss Grace

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See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.  Hebrews 12:15

Hebrews 12 begins by talking about setting aside sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus.  In 12:4 it says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  It continues by explaining that if we are disciplined by the Lord, it means we are His children.  Verse 11 declares that if we submit to God’s discipline we will “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness, for those who have been trained by it.”

If we don’t  set aside our sins and weights, resisting to the point of great pain, and if we don’t submit to God’s warning lights, a few things could result.  One is that we continue to run, but we are so weighed down that the Christian life is a burden and a chore.  Another is that we experience God’s spankings over and over until we learn our lesson.  God will discipline His children until they are trained by it.  A third option is that we fail to obtain the grace of God, which sounds awful.

“Failing to obtain the grace of God” could mean that those who never submit to the commands and path to holiness that God gives us really are not believers.  They could be called “professing Christians,” who think they are secure because they go to church or because of some past spiritual experience or good work.  Hebrews is written to those people, urging them to not be presumptuous about their standing with God.

“The root of bitterness” really isn’t about not taking care of resentment and festering bitterness in your heart, though that’s a good thing to do.  It is a reference to Deuteronomy 29:18 that states: “Beware lest there be among you a man…whose heart turns away from this day from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.”

How can this root of bitterness and unbelief spring up in a body of believers and defile many?  Deut. 29:10 answers this by describing “one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’”

You could be pressing into God, yearning to be set free from the ugly consequences of sin that has wreaked havoc in your life, coming to church with an attitude of worship and desperacy.  And then you sit by a person who is rarely moved to sing or worship, that never really has read the Bible, doesn’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and who kind of communicates to you to ‘knock it off.’

Don’t let their stubborn and unbelieving heart deter or defile you.  Grab a hold of the grace of God by setting aside your sins and weights, resisting sin to the point of great personal pain and loss, and submitting to God’s hand of discipline.  Pursue holiness so that you may enjoy God’s grace, yielding a peaceful fruit of righteousness.

*Image from Mick Holt


Losing spiritual weight

freedom

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  Hebrews 12:1

Years ago I was an adult leader at a youth rally.  The speaker sent teens and adults off for a half an hour, arming us with a spiritual inventory to take.  It was like a checklist of questions related to obtaining a clean heart.  It was a chance to see if we were carrying around sins and weights that were bogging us down, and then getting them right before God.

What happened next was awesome.  We regrouped and teenagers began to get up, confessing their sins that they knew God was speaking to them about leaving behind.  Kid after kid got up in tears, voluntarily and  moved by the Spirit, and renounced things.  I’ve not been in such a revival like setting before or after, where people were so visibly moved to be free.  Psalm 66:18-19 is sobering: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”

There is freedom in finding a clean heart, but it is not easy.  The reason it’s not easy is that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our own pride, unforgiveness, and stubborn sin habits.  A couple of years ago I lost over forty pounds.  What freedom to get rid of that weight!  Involved in that process was totally changing my eating habits and sticking to consistent exercise.

To put Hebrews 12:1 into practice may mean a radical change in spiritual and emotional habits.  Sometimes the things that weigh us down aren’t sins, they are just unhealthy spiritual and physical habits or things that zap our love for God and our devotion to Him.  It is like what Luke 8:14 describes from the parable of the sower: “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares (of this world) and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”  Life’s worries, the deceitfulness or seductiveness of riches, and the pursuit of fun are weights that certainly can get in the way of running after Jesus.

Some checklist questions could include:

  • Are there any cares of life that rob your peace and joy?
  • Is your joy found in things other than Jesus and His Word?
  • What would you have a hard time fasting from or giving up for the sake of having a closer walk with Jesus?
  • Is there anything that occupies more of your free time and money than it should?
  • Do you listen to any music, watch any TV shows/movies, or read any books that you seek satisfaction from that either might be ungodly, or competes with your finding satisfaction from God?
  • Are there any unconfessed sins that you secretly harbor?
  • Are there any unresolved conflicts or relationships where you have wronged someone, and it needs to be made right?
  • Are there resentments against certain people or situations that have led to bitterness, rage and malice?  (Malice is the intention or desire to hurt someone else; ill will.)
  • Are you overly concerned about yourself, having most of your conversations and thoughts centering around “I”?  Or are your feelings easily hurt?
  • Do you gossip or talk unkindly about others?
  • Do you cheat, steal, cut corners, exaggerate, or stretch the truth as a habit?
  • Are you undisciplined, lazy, or neglectful of family duties or spiritual habits?
  • Do you have a stubborn heart, or an unteachable attitude?

Clear out some time alone with God and pray the prayer of Psalm 139: 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”


Mind Verbs

Moses

By faith, Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.  Hebrews 11:24-27

Do you have life verses?  Is it hard to just center in one or two?  Well, these verses are in my top three of verses that have been my anchors throughout my journey of faith, one which began over 50 years ago.  There have been up’s and there have been down’s.  There have been many victories and there have been some defeats.  I look back at the tough times when I just had to hang on to promises from the Word, pray and wait.  The mind verbs in these verses just ring in my head.

My experience is that the emotion of following Jesus can wear thin, even get ugly.  Good old Dr. Seuss has some wisdom in his book, “Oh the Place You Will Go.”

You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead. Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.  Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.  Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes, you won’t.  I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.  You can get all hung up  in a prickle-ly perch.  And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch.  You’ll come down from  the Lurch with an unpleasant bump.  And the chances are, then, that you’ll be in a Slump.

When you get in the slump, or when you are at forks in the road, facing value decisions, temptations, opposition, or  the wait of faith, get these mind verbs front and center.  Verbs are action words, like run, skip or hop.  These are mental actions words.  What we are anchored on determines how we choose at the many junctures we face.

Refuse.  Moses refused to be known as royalty, even though life would have been a lot easier.  Choose.  Moses chose to be mistreated rather than to to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  Consider.  Other words  for ‘consider’ are to think carefully about, to contemplate, to deem or to judge.  There’s the value judgment part–you have to weigh which thing pleases God, which doesn’t, or what has more eternal implications.  Moses deemed that the scorn of being a God follower was better in the end.  

Look.  Moses was looking ahead to the reward.  Looking ahead demands short term self denial and not immediate gratification.  It’s called delayed gratification.  One day there will be a reward for that.  See.  Moses somehow saw Him who was invisible.  That God revelation had to have started even before the burning bush, and it continued throughout the difficult days of getting to the Promised Land.