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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Improvement

Um…You Want Me to Drink That?!?

surprise

So recently I stumbled across this video. The basic premise is this: some dude took soda and boiled out all of the water.

What you have left is some nasty looking black tar that is supposed to be sugar and whatever chemicals don’t boil out.

Wow… o_O

It reminded me of part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where he’s talking about the difference between authentic believers and hypocrites:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And then…

Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

And then…

Whenever you fast, don’t be sad-faced like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive so their fasting is obvious to people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you fast, put oil on your head, and wash your face, 18 so that you don’t show your fasting to people but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And again…

Don’t collect for yourselves treasures] on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.

Do you get the sense of what Jesus is saying? He’s saying don’t appear sweet and tasty on the surface but be nasty black tar when you’re boiled down. The follower of Jesus is supposed to be genuine – what you see on the outside is supposed to mirror what’s on the inside.

We’re good at covering up the nasty stuff – aren’t we? Boil us down and you’ll find many of us are covered in the black tar.

But we don’t have to be. We can strive to be genuine and authentic people. It’s not about putting on a show for others to see. It’s about REALLY being God’s woman; God’s man.

So get rid of the sugary sweet fake exterior that covers the gross. Let Jesus really work on getting rid of the nasty, and then be that person all the time.

What’s Holding You Back?

What's Holding You Back?
What’s Holding You Back?

Creating significant change is tough. In America 25% of us blow or discard our New Year’s resolutions in the first day. Change can be so difficult that even people who want to change will most likely fall back into old patterns and not make change permanent. One reason permanent change is so hard is because we continue to hang around people who knew us before the change – we maintain old relationships and patterns of life that don’t want to allow or recognize change in us!  The Apostle Paul wasn’t always a stand-up guy. Before he became a Christian he used to arrest and terrorize Christians. Then God got a hold of him and turned his life around. But even after God changed him, the Bible tells us in Acts 9:26:

“he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.”

It’s often easier to change who you are when you make a clean break and get a fresh start. No one knows your old mistakes or the way you used to be. You get a chance to make brand new mistakes…

I remember my first week on the job as an associate pastor some years back. On Monday morning, the senior pastor was taking me around to introduce me to people in the office. In one room the maintenance guy was laying down some tiling. The pastor introduced us and I stepped forward to give the guy a warm handshake. I didn’t realize it but I stepped right into some tiling mud that he was using to tile the room. The pastor looks down and says, “Watch it – you’re steppin’ in some mud.” And I say, “Oops” and step back.

Then the pastor took me over to introduce me to an office admin lady. After about 30 seconds of talking, he looked down at the carpet and said, “What?!? What did you do?” There were gray footprints from the door way right over to where I was standing! I quickly stepped out of the room to wipe off my feet and, being the good Christian man he was, the pastor whipped out his cell phone and began taking pictures! What a great start, huh?

Saul did not get to start a new job and make fresh impressions. He had to change even when people did not believe he could. Similarly, when we decide to follow Jesus, we need to make permanent changes as we leave behind the old “us” and walk a new path.  Romans 12:1-2 says:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul’s words are just as appropriate today as they were thousands of years ago. We need fresh starts. There are three things I want you to understand from what Paul is saying here, and then four things to do about it.

I. Our change is motivated by God’s mercy

1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God…

God cares about you – the Bible says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” The Bible says that we know Jesus loves us because when we were still sinners he died for us. We didn’t have to get right before he gave his life for us. This is what Paul is trying to say here in Romans. “By the mercies of God….” Because of God’s compassion, he acts on your behalf. All of God’s interaction with humanity is summed up with one pattern: action; reaction. God acts and we respond. The mercy of God compels a response of continual sacrifice – a life of worship. The result of encountering God is that we are forever changed, completely transformed.

There’s a story I once heard about a mother who approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” He spared the woman’s son.

We do not live out our Christian lives because of a massive guilt trip or fear but as a loving response to what God has already done for us. Because he has mercy and compassion and acts on our behalf, our response should be to offer Him our very best-our everything. We accomplish this by turning from the world and living out a different kind of life.

II. Surrender your entire being to God

…to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice

The sacrifice is pleasing to God. What Paul is talking about is our attitudes and the contrast in who we please before we meet Jesus and after we meet Jesus. In our old lives, we lived to bring pleasure to ourselves. Now we should live to bring pleasure to God. It’s easy to picture when you think about children.

A child has only one focus in life – find pleasure. My wife and I hung a humorous little plaque in our daughter’s room that says: Toddler’s Rules: If I want it – it’s mine. If I see it – it’s mine. If it’s mine – it’s mine. Nevertheless, as children mature into adults they realize that the world is not all about them (at least they’re supposed to – I think we all know adults who have yet to mature to this point!). But that’s exactly what I’m talking about! When we make the decision to follow Jesus, our focus needs to be not on us but on Him. In this regard, I think we all have room for improvement. Have you surrendered 100% to Him?

In Romans, Paul sees the Christian life as a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, sacrifice meant killing an animal. Paul does not do away with sacrifice. He only changes what it looks like. Instead of the dead body of an animal, the sacrifice is now the living body of the believer in surrender to Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for all! Worship now moves out of the temple and into everyday life. Worship is not just what we do – it is now who we are.

III. Life now needs to be different than it used to be

2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind

It is no longer acceptable to be the way we were.. Paul writes that a transformation is needed. The Bible is serious about our need to change! In Ephesians Paul writes:

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Later he says, “…put off your old self…to be made new in the attitudes of your mind.”

The Apostle Peter writes:

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…”

He calls us to be changed. Do you admit that you need a change in your life? In your marriage? In your habits? In your attitudes? In your relationships? In your thinking?

It’s time to change. But how do you make change last? It’s like working out. I want to change. I want to get fit.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I know how to use gym equipment. I know things that can help me get in shape. So what’s the problem? I will never get in shape if I never do the exercise. How do we make change permanent?

1. Pray that God will help you change ~If you’re not praying about it, you must not want it that badly! God can do what we could never do. If you really desire to change, start talking to Jesus about it.

2. Become vulnerable and accountable to someone else to help you change ~ It is hard to change without help. When God turned Saul’s life around, God sent good godly men into Saul’s life to help him as he matured as a Christian. We need good godly people in our lives who can be real and honest with us an help us become the people we are supposed to be.

3. Refuse to let people, circumstances, or sin hold you back ~ The disciples did not accept that Saul had truly changed and become a disciple. But Saul continued to pursue God and live a changed life. Sometimes old friends will want to drag us back into old habits and patterns of behavior. Don’t let them. If you have to, make new friends.

4. Take it one day at a time ~ Saul did not become the Apostle Paul overnight. He spent a lot of time growing and maturing with other Christians before he became the man who wrote ½ of the New Testament. Likewise, we can get overwhelmed when we try to live for the big picture change. Focus on one day at a time, and before you know it you will actually be that person that God desires you to be!

God calls us all to be changed. Is it time for change in your life? How is God calling you to change? What are you gonna do about it?

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Related Posts:
~ Sustaining Change in Your Life

Jesus Loves MMA

TAPOUT

Yesterday I did something I never thought I’d do – something my wife cautioned me against. I did it anyway. I asked an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter to put me in several choke holds and submissions in church. Not the smartest idea I’ve ever had, but it was brilliant. Here’s why:

Jesus likes MMA.

No, I don’t think Jesus roots for any particular fighter. He doesn’t root for a specific football, baseball, or rugby team. I don’t think God cares about human sporting events. No in the big picture, anyway.

But MMA is a different kind of sport. It’s all about submission. It’s about getting your opponent to willingly surrender and give up the fight in acknowledgment that you are superior. It’s a perfect example of the way we are supposed to respond to God.

You see, there is a battle going on – conflict within our own hearts. My heart wants things that are not good for it. My heart wants things that seem pleasant but ultimately lead to destruction and decay. My heart wants cupcakes, brownies, cookies, and Twinkies. But that stuff will end up damaging my heart.

On a more serious level, my heart has desires and cravings that are driven by selfishness, greed, and other less-than-noble motivations. There is an internal war within us all. Our own hearts fight between our way and God’s way.

The Bible says that the solution is simple: we have to decide who we want to be friends with. We can choose friendship with the things of this world and follow our hearts or we can choose friendship with God and follow His heart.

It comes down to this: resist the Devil but submit to God.

That’s fight language! We continue to struggle and fight against the evil that pulls us down the wrong road but we submit to God. If you’ve ever watched an MMA fight you’ve seen submission in action.

So I invited a fighter I know to put me in some choke holds. I got together with him a few days before the service and he talked me through what he was going to do. Except when the time came in the service to do our demonstration he wasn’t as gentle as he was during our walk-through. I don’t know what happened – maybe his fighter instinct took over. But when he put that first choke-hold on me he lifted me off my knees. Let’s just say that I tapped out PRETTY QUICKLY!

that's me in a triangle choke hold...
that’s me in a triangle choke hold…

The fight language is pretty appropriate spiritually. We often fight against God. We know what he wants and what he desires. We know the kind of people we ought to be and kind of lives we should live. But we struggle. We fight. We don’t want to submit. And that’s wrong.

The Bible calls us to draw near to God. The Bible calls us to submit – to surrender in the fight and recognize that he is superior to us.

I know what you’re thinking – you’re thinking, “I’m a Christian, I’ve already submitted to God.” But I bet if you were honest with yourself you’d find a couple areas where you’re holding on to the fight. Most of us have some things that we really don’t want to submit to God, no matter how long we’ve been a believer. But can you imagine Christianity if we would all submit in every way to God?

Submit our habits.
Submit our television shows.
Submit our infidelities.
Submit our selfishness.
Submit our pride.
Submit our _______________…

Our hearts are deceptive. They pull us in the wrong direction. But we can end the fight. We can tap out to God and admit that we are not his equal. Choose God’s way over our own way.

How about you? What have you submitted to God? What do you still need to submit? Are you willing to tap out?

 

No Pain Like Lego Pain!

Do You Know Lego Pain?
Do You Know Lego Pain?

I talk a lot. I’m a preacher, you know, so I talk a lot. It’s amazing to me to find out what actually sticks with people. Sometimes it stuff I never intended to stick. For example, one time I told a story about Lego pain.

You know the kind – there is nothing quite like stepping bare-footed on a Lego brick. I talked about it in one sermon and now every time someone sees a Lego meme on Facebook I get tagged and they say, “This made me think of you, Pastor!” Yes, I love Legos. My father passed the love on to me and I’m passing it on to my children.

For years my kids have played with Legos. Technically, I guess you would say they’ve been playing with Duplos. Duplos are the bigger blocks made for younger kids. It the same company and same concept, just harder to swallow pieces and the designs are not very complex. My kids and I have a blast playing and building stuff. You really get to use your imagination when you’re trying to build an airplane or a zoo or a dinosaur out of Duplos.

But something happened yesterday that changed everything. My daughter won a prize at VBS (Vacation Bible School) and she picked out a set of “big kid” Legos. This wasn’t just a 10-piece-your-done set either. It was a car, a helicopter, and an air-traffic tower – maybe 100 pieces total. It was the kind of thing where she couldn’t do it alone – she needed a parent to “help” build (yes, I ended up doing a lot of the building). It was a proud moment for me because my baby girl is growing up and moving up to the Lego big leagues. It was a sad moment for me because my baby girl is growing up and is not the same kid she used to be. But that’s a good thing.

We’re not supposed to stay with the baby toys forever. In fact, if we play with the baby toys for the rest of our lives then there’s probably something wrong. We were designed to grow and move from childish things on to more complex and grown up things. This is especially true in our Christian life and thought.  While we start out as babies, we ought to grow to the point where we put childish ways behind us and move on to mature Christian behavior. The Apostle Paul gets frustrated with the Christians in Corinth because they continue to act in immature worldly ways and have not yet adopted the behavior of mature adult Christians.

For Paul, Christian maturity meant behaving well and leaving behind jealousy, fighting, and quarreling. That’s kid’s stuff. My kids fight and bicker all the time. I joke that I could teach NFL Officials a thing or two because I do more reffing in 5 minutes with my kids than they do in the entire Super Bowl. But as they mature and grow they (hopefully) will move beyond that and treat each other well.

Too many of us are content to stay playing with the baby toys. We enjoy our immaturity and never grow out of it. That’s not cool. It’s not healthy. As Christians, as humans, we ought to strive to grow. Who we are next week should not be the same person we were last week. Eventually we put away the Duplos and pull out the more complicated stuff. It’s part of growing up. Even when we recognize the need to grow up it’s not always easy to do, so let me end with giving a few practical tips on how you can move towards maturity:

  1. Read. Read voraciously. Reading gives us knew information and power and ability to be better than we used to be. Magazines, books, blogs, whatever. Find ways to develop what you know. You can’t implement new ways of behaving if you lack the knowledge of what you need to be like.
  2. Find a coach, mentor, pastor, someone who can help you in the process of maturation. It’s easier to do when you have someone who has walked the path to help you along.
  3. Mentor or teach someone else. Nothing solidifies knowledge in your head as much as teaching that info to someone else.

It’s time to put down the baby toys. It’s time to grow up. Stop acting like an immature Christian and start behaving the way responsible adult believers are supposed to behave. C’mon, we’ll build a neat-o Lego set together!

 

What’s Your Pet Peeve?

Pet Peeve

Everybody has one. Even if you don’t like to admit it or talk about it, there is probably one in your life. Of course, you all know what I am talking about. I am talking about phrases and expressions that you hate, words that irritate and annoy you. Does anyone in your life use an expression or phrase that really tweaks you? My wife hates “A.S.A.P.” She doesn’t mind if I say, “As soon as possible,” but heaven forbid I say “A.S.A.P.” or “A-SAP.” It also bothers her if I say “guac” instead of guacamole. I don’t know why – it’s just one of those things that rubs her the wrong way.

Is there any particular phrase or expression that always bothered you? What is it? For me it was hearing people say, “Same difference.” Aaagghhhh! Either it’s the same or it’s different! The only way you have a same difference is if you compare 9 minus 5 and with 10 minus 6. What do 9 – 5 and 10 – 6 have in common? They have the same difference. Other than math, things are the same or they are different – there is no same difference.

There is, however, something to be said for being the same. If everyone shares similar tastes or has similar interests then companies can sell millions of product X. If your product doesn’t fit the mold of “this is what everyone wants,” you don’t sell very many. Some years back my wife and I enjoyed watching American Inventor on tv. Did anybody else ever watch that show? The premise was this – thousands of people bring their inventive creations before a panel of judges and explain why their product is the next great American invention. It’s like American Idol for inventors. One couple had invented a device called the “Tea Brain.” It was a device that allows you to brew loose-leaf tea in your coffee maker. One judge in particular thought that this was an idea that would appeal to millions of people – there is a large and shared interest in tea. Then came another pair of inventors – engineer buddies from who invented a new claw for hanging bikes.

The judge that loved the “Tea Brain” hated this claw. He thought it would not be universal enough to be popular. This is how our capitalistic society trains us to be. Something is good only if it has mass appeal. If something is too unique and doesn’t blend in enough, it should probably be discarded. Unfortunately, the same is often true of how people are treated.

Our modern world likes to pretend that we embrace differences but there is a limitation on how different people will allow you to be. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference interferes with other people’s actions. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference makes people feel uncomfortable. Look at issues of faith – you can believe whatever you want to believe and I can believe whatever I want to believe and everything is peaches and cream until one person tells another, “You can’t do that” or “You shouldn’t behave like this.” That’s just crossing the line. You and your weird religious beliefs can’t dictate the way I live my life. The funny thing is, when we really examine the issue, differences aren’t really embraced anyway. Those who are “different” are ostracized, mocked, and mistreated.

I’m sure many of you have a story about the awkward and eccentric kid in high school. Maybe you were that kid. You know who I’m talking about, the kid everyone made fun of and teased. The Napoleon Dynamites of the world.

In my high school his name was John. He was different. He stood out. He didn’t fit the mold created by the masses. I always thought, “Thank God I’m not that awkward and geeky. I don’t want to stand out like that – I want to be an accepted part of the group. I think this is a normal reaction for people of all ages. I don’t want to stand out and have others look down on me – I want to be like everyone else. This is the line of thought that Peter is attacking in his letter.

Peter’s message is as clear today as it was for his church centuries ago –

You have a special calling to be God’s people. Therefore you ought to be different from the rest of the world and be like Christ.

4:1-6 – Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge in with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are no dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Peter’s church was a suffering church, but he presents here an idea that we don’t like to accept; present suffering is good for the Christian life. “Say what?!?!? Suffering is good for the Christian life? I don’t believe that. That doesn’t make any sense. If God wanted to make sense, he would say that pleasure is good for the Christian life.” Anyone out there hear me? But I’ll say it again – present suffering is good for the Christian life. I am not saying that God hands out suffering. Peter is not saying that God causes suffering. But suffering has the ability to move us towards God, and Peter patterns human behavior after Jesus’ behavior. If Christ suffered, so can we. So accept suffering, draw close to God, and live for and seek His will.

Peter tells us that we’ve already done enough sin in the past. Now it’s time to live out the calling as His chosen people. We are to be different than we used to be. Notice Peter’s two contrasting time frames: past behavior vs. present and coming behavior. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are in the present and the future because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. Have you seen the movie, Back to the Future?

It’s a classic and one of my favorites. At the beginning of the movie, Marty McFly’s parents are a real mess. They are a mess because they used to be a mess in the past and never changed. Through the course of the movie, Marty travels back in time, has a run-in with his past parents, and then returns to his own time to find that his parents, especially his father, had changed completely. Marty’s dad changed, and who he was in the past was no longer who he was in the future because of his encounter with Marty. Believe it or not, this is what Peter is telling us needs to happen with our own lives. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are supposed to be now because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. We are supposed to be radically different.

Being morally and spiritually different brought abuse to Peter’s church – their old friends didn’t like their new behavior, didn’t understand, and so abused, mocked, and ridiculed the new Christians because of their differences. Like Peter’s church, we have the same responsibility to be different, to stand out from the world and not fit in. It’s okay to be different. No, not just okay – it is what God asks of us – that we be different.

No matter how the world lives, God’s people have a calling to be different, to stand out no matter what the consequences. We don’t need to concern ourselves with their judgment. Peter makes it clear that they will have to give account of their actions and behavior to God. The real question is, are you ready to give account? Are you different? Have gone through a “Back to the Future” transformation, where your current and future actions are different from your past actions?

It’s time to take inventory of your life. Where do stand out from the world? Where do you blend in too much? Your language? Your mental habits? Your sexual behavior? Your social interactions? Your hidden sins that you never want revealed? It’s time for us to stand up and stand out. Our behavior should not reflect the world. Our old friends should be upset that we’re not joining them in their lifestyles anymore. That is not who we are. We are His, and we need to act like it.

Bubba Has a Compulsion

Too Many Apps!
Too Many Apps!

Bubba is what we call our three year old. He’s an awesome kid. He can light up a room with his infectious grin. He’s a very happy kid who naturally attracts affection from everyone who sees him. I don’t think this is parental bias – I actually believe this about my son. But he has a problem. He has a compulsion. He’s addicted to apps.

Yes, you heard that right. He’s addicted to apps. On my wife’s phone. On her Kindle. Wherever he can find them. He’s got a compulsion – he MUST buy new apps.

The other night my wife and I were downstairs talking when our inbox received notification after notification about new apps that “we” had purchased and downloaded. I looked at the time stamp on the emails and exclaimed to my wife, “THIS IS HAPPENING NOW!” Mind you – it was 10 p.m. I bolted off the couch and went bounding up the stairs and burst into the kids’ room to discover that Bub had crept out of bed when the lights were off and parents were downstairs. He snuck into our bedroom and slipped Momma’s Kindle off of the charger and ran back to bed to download apps to his heart’s content. He’s done the same thing with my wife’s phone. In the past two weeks “we” have bought $20 in apps from the Kindle store. It’s kind of like the time our daughter purchased $200 in game tokens for a Facebook game, but that’s a story for a different post.

Anyway, back to Bubba. It’s almost like he can’t help himself. He has a problem. A gaming problem. Any time I hear people talk about having a problem my mind (being the movie fanatic that I am) always goes to the movie Airplane where the main character has a drinking problem.

While I find the word play amusing I understand that lack of self-control is not funny. It’s not just lack of self-control when it comes to alcohol, for there are quite a few areas where not having control leads to serious problems. As humans we often see lack of self-control in spending, alcohol, eating, sexuality, gossip, time management, and every other area of life.

Sometimes we try to play it off as though it’s no big deal. It’s only money. It’s only food. It’s my life – so what if I want to get hammered. The defensive talk goes on and on. The issue isn’t about what you have a right to do vs. what you are restricted from doing. The real issue is about the nature of God’s character and His intended goal for our character.

The Bible is not silent when it comes to self-control:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (I Timothy 3:2)

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness…. (2 Peter 1:5-6)

These are not even all of the passages relating to self-control. Clearly, then, there is something to this self-control thing that God desires us to wrap our minds around and to put into practice. Yet we fail time and again to do it. Why can’t we beat it? It seems to come down to gratification. We throw self-control out the window because we like the feeling of indulgence.

Please understand that this is not to negate the harmful power of physiological addiction on the body. But even then, one of the difficulties in breaking addiction is the strong pull back to gratification. To be honest, one of my greatest struggles with self-control is in the area of my eating. I love food. I love the feeling of consuming great tasting food. I like being full. I dislike being hungry. At least I’m not alone – there are a lot of overweight pastors. In fact, it seems to be the issue of choice for many pastors when it comes to lacking self-control. How many overweight pastors have you seen? There are a lot of us. Yet it’s impossible to deny that God calls us to self-control.

So we wrestle. We wrestle with the knowledge of what we know is God’s “best” for our lives – his desire for our character – and the sinful desire that attempts to satisfy human pleasure and refuse self-control.

Whatever you struggle with in your fight for self-control you should know that you are not alone. It’s part of the human condition. There’s something in all of us that wants to just let go in some area. Sometimes it is harmful, sometimes it is personal. It’s not about whether or not our self-control affects anyone else or not (I’ve heard many alcoholics say, “It’s my life – leave me alone”). What it is really about is that God is characterized by self-control and wants the same for us.

So you can start your journey today. Recognize what it is in your life that you lose self-control to. Make a plan to beat it. Tell someone and allow him to hold you accountable. Find a sponsor. Get into a program. Join a Bible study group. Do something, but don’t just sit back and allow your life to be dominated by your lack. It’s not God’s best for your life. You could be so much more.

And maybe one day we can break Bubba from his app addiction.

 

How about you? Where do you need self-control? Where do you struggle?

Robin Hood Lives: Taking Care Of Others

Did you see this?

It seems that there is a real life Robin Hood roaming the streets of Jackson, Mississippi. He robs from the city to give back to the citizens. Well, he doesn’t say it’s “robbing”, per se. He takes city asphalt and goes around town repairing potholes that the city has been slow to repair. Now the authorities are trying to decide if there has been a criminal act involved.

I’m not going to judge his actions as righteous or villainous, but I do think that his behavior illustrates a biblical point:

People are supposed to be proactive in helping others.

Seems really simple, really. God has called us to be a force of good in the world. Not just hypothetical good. Not just pleasant people to be around. God has called us to proactively help others with whom we come into contact. It seems that most of the western world (even atheists, pagans, and all other religions combined) is familiar with the “Golden Rule.” Even people who do not know the origin of the rule can still recite it (in essence, at any rate).

The writers of the New Testament continued the theme of serving the needs of humanity. James writes that it’s completely worthless to see someone in need and merely say, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” but never lift a finger to help meet their needs. John’s first letter makes a similar point that love requires more than words – love must be backed by action.

It is much too easy to tell people that we care about them without any amount of follow-through. Sometimes our culture seems to promote this. We ask each other how things are going without any real concern for the answer to come. What would we do if people answered, “I’m really struggling today because I’m dealing with….” Would we step up and see how we could bring assistance? Or would we feel awkward and uncomfortable with the idea that the other has broached conversational etiquette by demanding that we care? It is a trap that many of us – even the best intentioned – fall into from time to time. So this isn’t about saying, “Shame on us!” It’s really about saying, “See how far we’ve come from existing in communities of people who stick up for each other, care for each other, and seek the physical well-being and wholeness of our brother and sister.”

So here’s a challenge: the next time you ask someone how they are doing pause and REALLY listen to the answer. If they don’t want to become vulnerable that’s okay – don’t push it. But if people actually do open up to you and you see the needs of others don’t feel awkward. Ask yourself how you can be a resource to bring relief to a troubled person.

So what about our modern day Robin Hood? Who knows. He might be prosecuted. He might be given a warning not to do it again. Whatever the outcome of his particular case I commend people who step up, take initiative, and try to solve problems rather than merely bemoan the troubles.

Step up. Be a problem solver. Show your love and care for humanity by working to make things better. You’ll never know how you might bless someone else.

 

How about you? Have you been the recipient of a Robin Hood or a caring person? Care to share about it?

Sustaining Change in Your Life

It’s super hard to get motivated to change. Most of us have an area of life that we would like to change; to be different; to be better. We have lists of things that we should be doing, ways in which we ought to be growing and changing. But it’s tough. We know who we are and we may have an idea of who we want to be, but making the necessary changes to achieve that change is one of the hardest things in the world. Whenever we set upon a new path towards growth there primary obstacle to achieving that growth is not the outside world pressing against you. The primary obstacle is you. We haven’t fully owned the change.

External motivation only carries you so far. Real change must be internalized if it’s going to last.

What I mean is this: say you struggle with something in your life that could stand some change and growth. You may be married and your spouse is putting pressure on you to change. Your spouse is external motivation. You may change for your spouse (either because you want to please or because you want to end the nagging). If you have not internalized that the change is YOUR decision then the change will never be permanent. Eventually the old habits and patterns of behavior will resurface.

If you want to see lasting change then you have to OWN it! Why are you changing? What is it in you that desires this growth? What and why do you want to be different? It’s hard enough to change with the proper motivation. Without the internal motivation it’s NEVER gonna happen.

Our six year old is a sweet and loving girl (most of the time!). Every once in a while she’ll have huge meltdown, not want to obey mom and dad, and be a real pill. Being the loving kid she is she always comes to make amends later on. She has said, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I will always listen and obey from now on because I love you. You’re my best daddy (she only has one…).”

She’s totally sincere. She really does love me. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will come another instance where she doesn’t want to do what I am telling her to do…and here we go again. She hasn’t internalized change. Cleaning her room is still something that mom and dad are putting on her – she hasn’t internalized and owned the concept.

Adults are like that, too. There may be areas where we really-maybe-kinda-sorta-wouldbenice if we were different; if we could grow; if we could change. But we usually stay in our same ol’ ruts and habits. At least this is nothing new to the human condition. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Roman church:

I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me. Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

Yes! That’s us! As kids and as adults that perfectly characterizes our attitude towards change. Even when we KNOW we should do something, should grow in some way, something within us keeps dragging us back. We fail to own the process and let go of the old us. It’s so nice to hold on to the old us. Old us is comfortable. Old us is familiar. I’m a big fan of The Simpsons cartoon. Homer, the family’s dad, is your all-American couch potato. So much so that he even has a special groove in his couch cushion that fits his buttocks. In one episode someone messes up his groove and he has to go through the process of re-establishing his groove. We like what we like and we are the way we are. People better not mess up my groove.

Change usually happens only when it hurts more to stay the same than it hurts to change.

When it finally hurts too much to stay the same then we’ll go ahead and change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God has cleared the path for change-for letting go of the old us and embracing something remade and reborn!

But how? How can we see real and lasting change? Here are some tips that have worked for me:

  1. Identify what it is that YOU (not someone else) really want to change. If you don’t own it it’s probably not gonna happen.
  2. Identify WHY you want to make the change. What benefit or end result will you achieve?
  3. Find someone who you trust who can hold you accountable to maintaining the change.
  4. Through the whole process pray continually. Yep – ask for divine help in morphing into the new and changed you. In the theological world we might call this sanctification: the process of becoming more and more like Jesus.

There will be good days. There will be bad days. You will have peaks and you will have valleys. The path to growth is not a straight-lined graph. It’s a curvy son-of-a-gun. But if you keep on the path you will eventually find that the valleys of your tomorrows are actually higher than the peaks of your yesterdays. Keep pressing on and you will see it happen.

So…what about you? What do you want to change and improve in your life?

It’s Not My Fault

My family seems to like quirky movies. Recently we’ve discovered Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. It’s quirky and goofy. But this isn’t a movie review, so I’ll get to my point. There’s one scene where the hero confronts the villain. The villain holds the hero responsible for how miserable his life has become. The hero says that life could have turned out differently depending on the choices and decisions the villain made along the way. And then comes one of the best lines of the move. The villain declares:

 Let’s see – take responsibility for my own life or blame you? Ding, ding ding! Blame you win hands down every time!

It’s the kind of line that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It sums up perfectly the attitude that many of us have. No matter what happens in life we will play the victim. We regularly have outbursts:

“My life is not the result of what I have done. My circumstances are not the consequences of my behavior. Oh, no! Don’t you know that this junk is happening because you are a terrible person. If you weren’t so mean I wouldn’t be facing what I’m facing. If you weren’t so terrible my life situation would be a lot easier.”

In fact, it seems that a good deal of social media posts revolve around this victim mentality and blaming others for life. We’ve become a nation of experts at avoiding responsibility; of accepting life as the consequences of our behavior.

But this is an immature view of life. It’s kid stuff. Just ask my six year old. If she behaves in a way she KNOWS she is not supposed to she will quickly tell you that she only did it because of her brother, or sister, or me (Daddy). Were it not for these outside forces acting upon her OF COURSE she never would have done something like that!

 

Kid stuff.

 

But it’s not the way that mature adults are supposed to behave. Well, not Christians at any rate. God calls us to be people of…dare I say it…responsibility. We are supposed to own up to our behavior and accept the consequences.

The New Testament letter of James tells us:

15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

It’s there in verse 16: confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Own up to your behavior. No victim mentality – it’s about grown ups saying, “I did this and I was wrong.” We don’t see a whole lot of that going around. But look at that Bible passage again (go ahead, it’s only the previous paragraph). Notice that James says that our ability to own up and take responsibility has spiritual significance. Forgiveness and healing come when we own up to our behavior. It would seem to indicate that passing the buck would then keep us stuck without forgiveness and without healing. Um…what?

John also talks about that horrible word: confession.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Yep – it’s a whole lot easier to say to the world, “Why are you doing this to me?” It’s easier to play the victim and pretend that we’re innocent. But, in fact, we’re not. The Bible is clear that we’re all broken people. That means that we all (even the best of us) will act out in broken ways. I’m not justifying it. God doesn’t give you the green light to act inappropriately just because it’s “human nature”.

So…bottom line ~ Stop playing the victim when it’s your poor behavior that has cause grief. Don’t blame others but confess and seek forgiveness and healing.

~ Time to accept responsibility for your behavior.

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