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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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They’re Called Christians but SHOULD be Called Judgy McJudgerson

Christians LOVE to judge people.

Well, to be honest, it’s a human trait. I asked a group of people to identify ways in which they have been judged or have judged others. What do you think they came up with?

  • We judge people based on appearance
  • We judge people based on their vehicles
  • We judge people’s intelligence based on our ability to understand them (we often see foreigners as less intelligent when they don’t speak English)
  • We judge people based on their punctuality (or lack thereof)
  • We judge people based on their beliefs (whether they have a different faith than we have or even if they believe different elements of our OWN faith! How many Christian denominations do we have now?)

And this is just the first 5 that came to mind. In a couple minutes we came up with a dozen+ items.

judgmentWhile we all judge and are judged, it’s not SUPPOSED to be this way for those in God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to be above it. We’re supposed to let go of judging others. And most people know this. How often have you heard someone say, “Only God can judge me!”

YES! AND HE IS!

What people really mean when they say this is, “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

But the Bible is clear that there IS such a thing as objective truth. There is right and there is wrong. You don’t get to make it up and live life however you want. Well, you CAN, but the end results won’t be the outcome you really desire.

And the Bible doesn’t tell us never to judge. What Jesus really says is this:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)

What Jesus said is that our hearts and motivations ought to be right. When we pass judgment on someone, our ultimate goal is really to change them without caring about the person. We don’t try to get them on board. We don’t try to build them up. This is why interventions rarely work – we try to impose our ideas on someone else but they never have a desire to really change.

plankeyeJudgment tears people down without building people up. Judgment is more concerned with the tiny fault in someone else than the massive fault in ourselves. This is why Jesus gives us this absurdly humorous illustration about a log sticking out of our face.

If our REAL goal is to help people, let’s focus on cleaning our own mess before trying to help people with theirs. Then, when we’re ready to help, it is not, “LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE!” It turns into, “I’ve walked this path, too, and if you want I’m willing to help you find a better way.”

Judgement shuts people down and closes off their spirits to receiving help. Genuine love is about caring for people and walking with them towards growth and maturity. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge.” He says, “Get yourself right and love people.”

God has given us a good way – a better way than the world offers. But when we approach people with judgment, no one is going to hear us.

Dear Oprah, You Make Me Sick

oprahwinfreyThat may be a little extreme. I don’t actually feel a gag reflex to puke. But that’s the emotion (and it’s a REALLY strong emotion) I feel reading about your upcoming tour “The Life You Want.”

It’s not that I have a problem with empowering people. I think it’s a good thing to help motivate people to be the best they can be. Even the Apostle Paul (he wrote bunch of stuff in the Bible) once wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Here’s the difference between a your empowerment and what Paul is talking about: you want people to get better to live a better life for THEIR glory. You even say, “Take your glory and run!” Um…what? Paul wants people to get better and live a changed life for CHRIST’S glory.

You are ME-CENTERED.

Christianity is CHRIST-CENTERED.

This tour is just another in a long line of scams on humanity. It plays to our instinctual drive to be successful. But success isn’t the goal of humanity. And, contrary to what you, Joel Osteen, and others teach, success is NOT possible for everyone.

The Bible (that’s the book that Christians from era to era and culture to culture agree is the revelation of God to humanity) makes it quite clear that sometimes bad things will happen even to the best of people.

Jesus (he’s the ONE the Christian faith recognizes as God-incarnate, the Messiah and Savior of humanity) said:

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

It’s not about “The Life You Want.” The Bible notes:

Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. (Ecclesiastes 5:15)

There’s so much more than living your best life now (that sounds so familiar – it would make a catchy book title). Our best life now means nothing because this life ends. What really matters is living life now with eternal focus. That means we take the focus off of us and put in on Christ and his kingdom.

It saddens me that many Christians will be sucked in to your scheme. Many will be fooled into thinking that you have the ticket to a happy and fulfilling life. Your pseudo-spirituality will sucker a lot of shallow people who don’t realize that Christian faith is exclusive to Jesus; that life will have ups and downs; that good and faithful people will sometimes live hard and crappy lives and die broke.

Yeah, you make me sick.

So until I’m blue in the face I’m going to tell Christians that this is hogwash. My hope is that there are enough of us willing to spread the message that your message stinks.

Sincerely,

Me.

I Won’t Grow Up!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So…you learn something new every day. Case in point: I just learned a cool definition for maturity – from Wikipedia, yes, but I trust them whole-heartedly 😉

In psychology, maturity is the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner. This response is generally learned rather than instinctive, and is not determined by one’s age. Maturity also encompasses being aware of the correct time and place to behave and knowing when to act appropriately

Man! What a definition; the ability to respond in an appropriate manner, knowing how and when to behave appropriately.

When I think about Christian maturity I know a lot of us REALLY come up short of that definition! The Apostle Paul once wrote to the church in Corinth:

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

His distinction between infants and adults is fascinating. There is a naiveté to children in regards to evil. When it comes to our behavior we’re to be like kids – innocent and free from that junk. But when it comes to our thinking it’s time to grow up and be adults. So how were they thinking like children?

They were thinking selfishly.

That pretty much sums it up. Childish behavior is selfish. “It’s about me. What I want. Now. It doesn’t matter where we are. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. Serve me. My way.” This is completely opposite to the definition we just read. Childish behavior isn’t able to delay gratification depending on environment and circumstance.

The same is true in Christianity. Sometimes we behave like little children. We act selfishly. We desire our things. We want our way. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances. It doesn’t matter what else needs to happen. We’re focused on one thing and one thing only – ME!

In the church we see this come into play in a lot of different ways. “I don’t like the music.” “I don’t like how the pastor does….” “They’re sitting in my seat.” “They didn’t do my idea.” And that’s just off the top of my head. It all comes back to being selfishly motivated. When I focus on ME instead of on OTHER then I’m always going to put my wants and desires first, and I will pursue those wants and desires regardless of the appropriate manner, time, or place to engage in such behavior.

But Christianity is not about ME. It never has been. In fact, the only person Christianity has ever been about is Christ, and even he said:

The Son of Man (that’s himself) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

If we are to really strive to be like Jesus, if we are really going to mature as Christians, then we need to be intentional about putting off our selfish drives and start to focus on how we can serve others. That’s what stinks about maturing. Because we LIKE getting our way. We LIKE having the things we want – when we want them. It feels good to have our immaturity catered to – to remain like a spoiled kid. There’s a Peter Pan in all of us that wants to stay with the Lost Boys in Neverland forever. “I WON’T GROW UP!”


Too many Christians take that song as their theme song and join in: “We won’t grow up! We will never grow a day. And if someone tries to make us we will simply run away.” Ouch. Hits a little close to home, huh? I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. We’ve all done it to some degree. But that’s not what God’s family is supposed to look like.

We can do better. We can be better. Paul writes in Romans 12 that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. With God we really can change. We can leave behind childish selfishness and embrace Christian maturity.

It’s time to mature. It’s time to be an adult.

Grow up.

Related Posts:
~ God’s Big Boy
~ Becoming a Better Me
~ Creating Life Change
~ Sustaining Change in Your Life
~ Knowledge Vs. Relationship

Living Through Transition

You will survive
You will survive

Do you remember the first time you drove a manual transmission vehicle on the streets? I do. It was almost 12 years ago. I was newly married and was going to move us into our first apartment together. I arranged to use an automatic transmission moving truck but when we showed up the only vehicle available was stick shift 20 foot truck. Talk about a trial by fire! For the most part I did okay….for the most part. I knew the mechanics and theory behind it, I had simply never driven a stick shift on the roads before.

Most of the driving was highway driving, so that was not too difficult. The hard part came when I was driving to my father-in-law’s house in California. The highway off-ramp brings you out onto a hill at a stop light. So there I am, stopped at the light, facing uphill, knowing that I have difficulty moving from neutral into first. I literally sat there praying, “God, please don’t let me crush the car behind me!” The light turned green, and I just could not get the timing right to get it into first gear. I rolled back a couple of inches, the guy behind me was leaning on his horn and now I’m starting to panic. So I jammed the thing into second gear and hit the gas. It was a jerky ride but I got up the hill!

When we drive manual transmission vehicles, shifting improperly can result in engine damage. When we shift properly we pick up speed. Similarly, if we handle transitions in life poorly the result can be damaging. When we learn how to transition well, we pick up speed and we’re off and flying!

In Nehemiah 4 we see Israel dealing with transition as a people. Up to this point, the Israelites were exiles in Babylon. Eventually the king of Babylon allowed some of the Israelites to return to their homeland. They found the place in ruins. The wall surrounding the great city was crumbling and had gaps. Enemies could easily come and take advantage of weakened defenses. So the people sent word to Nehemiah back in Babylon about the condition of Jerusalem.

I’m sure there are at least a few of us who can admit that we’re going through transitions and it seems as though the walls are falling down around us. So the story goes:

When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious. He mocked the Jews 2before his colleagues and the powerful men of Samaria, and said, “What are these pathetic Jews doing? Can they restore it by themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they ever finish it? Can they bring these burnt stones back to life from the mounds of rubble?” 3 Then Tobiah the Ammonite, who was beside him, said, “Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!”

1. In the midst of transition, we may feel or appear weak. Imagine the enemies of Israel watching the Israelites trying to rebuild the city wall. Israel’s enemies are mocking their attempts to build – that they are unable to get the job done and do it well. They appear so incapable that one man even comments that a fox climbing up would knock the wall down. Clearly, Israel’s enemies do not think very much of Israel during this time of transition.

I remember going through one of life’s transitions when our oldest daughter was born. On the first day of our baby’s life we were all in the hospital room together. My wife was exhausted – she was simply trying to rest. The baby had a wet diaper. This was my chance to step up and be a great husband and father. But, as I opened the diaper to change her wet diaper, she started to poop! In my moment of transition I felt weak. I didn’t know what to do and I started to freak out while the baby was freaking out. It was a weakness that my wife did not share and she told me, “One of you has to remain calm and, since you’re the adult, it should be you!”

Sure, it’s a silly example, but there are many ways we face transition and many ways we feel or appear weak as we move through transitions. Sometimes it is the overwhelming size of the task or the difficulty of facing the unknown as we transition that makes us seem incapable. Perhaps we feel discomfort with how we are going to change or what will be expected of us on the other side of the transition. Maybe we do not feel like we have the strength to see the transition through to the end. We should realize that appearances are not necessarily reality. What our mockers do not understand is that we may appear or even feel weak but we serve a God who is not. Israel’s efforts to transition and rebuild made them seem weak to outsiders, but they did not know the strength of the Israelite’s God – our God. And it is because the Israelites know the strength of their God that they turn to Him.

4 Listen, our God, for we are despised. Make their insults return on their own heads and let them be taken as plunder to a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover their guilt or let their sin be erased from Your sight, because they have provoked the builders.

2. In transition, God’s people first respond in prayer. The first thing Israel does when their enemies find weakness in the time of transition – they hit their knees. They asked God to bring justice, to stand up for them against their enemies who would hurt them as they tried to rebuild. In our own lives, as we transition and build, we find that we are insulted, despised, and attacked. Attacks come from different sources. Sometimes outsiders will insult and attack us. This is what happened to the Israelites. Sometimes the insults and attacks will come from insiders. My wife and I have found that any time God starts to do something in a group or ministry the first thing to be attacked is the group’s unity. Insiders start picking at each other, and the transition that God is trying to bring about is sidetracked. We face attacks from outsiders and insiders in our personal transitions too.

Nearly seven years ago I started taking care of what I ate and started exercising regularly. I was going through a personal life transition to get healthy and I ended up dropping quite a bit of weight. Walking into Bible Study one night, one of the ladies commented that my eating healthy and exercising were starting to show results and a good Christian man, a friend of mine, said, “Ah, it’ll come back.” He was not trying to insult or attack me, but it was as though he said, “A fox climbing up there would knock the whole thing down.”

How we respond in moments like that will determine if we succeed or fail in transition. As you go through your own transitions, you will face these kinds of comments, insults, and attacks. As this church goes through an incredible period of transition, it will see attacks. Some will come from outsiders. Some might come from insiders. The question is, “How will you respond when under attack?” Let us follow the example of Israel and have our primary response be on our knees in prayer. “God, this is the transition you are leading me through, so I ask that you will be my covering and my protector.” But then look what happens after they take their struggles in transition to the Lord:

11 And our enemies said, “They won’t know or see anything until we’re among them and can kill them and stop the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived nearby arrived, they said to us time and again, “Everywhere you turn, they attack us.” 13 So I stationed people behind the lowest sections of the wall, at the vulnerable areas. I stationed them by families with their swords, spears, and bows…. 15 When our enemies realized that we knew their scheme and that God had frustrated it, every one of us returned to his own work on the wall. 16 From that day on, half of my men did the work while the other half held spears, shields, bows, and armor. The officers supported all the people of Judah, 17 who were rebuilding the wall. The laborers who carried the loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other.

3. In transition is that there is no sitting on the sidelines. They’ve taken it to the Lord in prayer to address the attacks and criticisms, then they all get busy doing the work that God has called them to do! There is an interesting phenomenon happening here because there is no such thing as a bystander here in Israel. Nehemiah stationed the people by families along the gaps in the wall, and then they all get to work. They build up with one hand and hold their weapon in the other. There is a very practical reason for this: there is work to be done and no one can afford to sit out.

When I played high school football, my team was not a large team. Because we were smaller in number, every player had to have an offensive and defensive position – playing both sides of the ball when necessary. It wasn’t that some guys were glory hogs and wanted all of the action. If we wanted to man all of the positions to the best of our abilities we all had to stand in the gaps and plug the holes. This is what Israel is doing. Everyone has a role in actively building up and fighting because passive neglect allows the wall to crumb and be open to attack. It is no less different in our lives today. As we face transitions, whether small or monumental, and we realize that we feel or appear weak, and we take our struggles before the Lord, we are to then stand up and start working through the transition! Israel did not complain in prayer, but let God know of the problem and then got to work.

We will never get away from transitions – they happen throughout life. Sometimes they have minimal impact on us. A caterpillar gives way to a butterfly. Diapers give way to pull-ups. Teenagers graduate from high school. Sometimes the transition in monumental. The bank forecloses on the house. We lose our job. Death takes a loved one. The church searches for a new pastor. A time of transition may make you appear weak or disoriented, but appearances are not reality. Transitioning well can lead to rebuilding, greater strength, and increased unity!

How about you? Are you willing to get to work to make it through the transitions in your life? The transitions in your family? The transitions in your church? Do not settle for sitting on the sidelines, but get involved in the building up and defending of the transition God is bringing you through! God is calling you to build and defend, to come back to the city with the crumbling wall and make it a stronghold for the Lord once again.

 
 If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines time to get in the game – to build up with one hand and defend with the other. You will survive this time of transition.

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?

3 Keys to Opening the Right Door for Your Life

closeddoors-733902

I remember one time a year ago…I was feeding the baby oatmeal.

Morning time is our time together. I bathe her, let momma pick out the clothes (‘cause apparently I am physiologically incapable of picking out a shirt and shorts that are supposed to go together), and take the baby downstairs to make breakfast and feed her. We do this almost every morning. We have a rhythm. Anyway…back to my original thought…

There we were having breakfast like normal. At one point she opened her mouth and  I delivered a good sized bite of oatmeal (relax, I was using a baby spoon). It turns out that she wasn’t opening her mouth in an effort to say, My dearest Father, I am ready for more sustenance.” She was merely prepping for a sneeze…

Y                                                         S

U                                                         P

C                                                         L

K                                                         A

!                                                           T

All of which leads me to this little gem: NOT EVERY OPEN DOOR OR OPPORTUNITY IS A SIGN OF WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO! The converse is also true: Not every closed door is a sign that God wants you to give up.

But that’s often how Christians view circumstantial events. I call it “Door Theology.” If the door is open (Christian language for an opportunity has presented itself) then God must want me to walk through it. If the door closes (Christian language for the opportunity is no longer present) then it must mean that God wants me to go in a different direction. Door Theology is huge in the Evangelical church. Every week I hear people espouse this junk. DON’T BUY IT!

Sometimes you will have an open door in your life that God would NOT want you to walk through. And sometimes a door will close that God STILL wants you to pursue. You cannot estimate God’s will simply on your opportunities (or lack thereof).

Well, then, how do we determine and discern God’s will for our lives? Let me highlight three foundational elements that are helpful in discovering God’s will for your life.

1. The Bible – God’s will for you will NEVER contradict his words in the Bible. You never have to wonder if it is God’s will to leave your wife for another woman. It isn’t. It never will be. You never have to wonder if it is God’s will for you. God will not contradict what he has laid out in Scripture. Want to know what his will for you is? If you stay plugged into the Bible on a regular and consistent basis your picture will become more and more clear. The Psalmist writes:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

A WORD OF CAUTION – DON’T SETTLE FOR RANDOM ACTS OF WILL. Sometimes we go to the Bible and randomly pick a sentence and believe it to be God’s will for us. When we read the Bible we ought to do so intelligently. Some things are meant to be universal and apply to all times. Other things are specific to a time, people, and place and are not meant to be directives for us. Don’t read,” Judas went out and hanged himself” and think that it is God’s will for you to do the same. Be smart.

2. Your Conscience – The non-Christian world calls it your conscience. Those of us in the Evangelical movement understand and believe that God is present in this world through his Spirit (often called the Holy Spirit). It is the Spirit of God that speaks to us if we will simply ask and listen. What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell you? Have you asked? Have you been listening? The Apostle Peter was often directed by God’s Spirit and several times writes:

And the Spirit told me to go with them…

A WORD OF CAUTION – DON’T TRUST YOUR “GUT” ALONE. Sometimes we may “feel” that God is trying to say something to us when it is merely our own desires, passions, or even bad pizza from last night. You cannot trust your own feelings alone as God’s will. I knew a guy in college who decided after one semester that God was “calling him” to leave the school and go to a different university. Okay, how can you argue with that? Within a year he was back from the other school. I guess God was confused? Or maybe my friend was putting spiritual labels on his own desires…. Be careful.

3. Counsel – There is something to be said for good counsel and good counselors. Ask other people what they think about God’s will for your life. Talk to them about what you’ve read in the Bible and what you think the Spirit of God is saying to you. Bounce it off of other people and find confirmation. Or bounce it off others and end up rejecting the idea. The Proverbs say:

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

A WORD OF CAUTION – MAKE SURE YOUR COUNSELORS ARE GODLY PEOPLE. If the people you turn to for advice are dirtbags it’s a pretty good bet that they won’t give godly and stellar advice. Find people who care about discernment and doing right by God. Ask THOSE people. Get their input.

And one last word for people who are going through a real difficult time: When going through junk don’t ask, “Is this God’s will?” God doesn’t ever WANT you to go through garbage. Sometimes we go through garbage as a result of other people’s stupidity and/or sinful and evil behavior. Don’t blame God for other people putting you through hell. Instead ask, “How can I honor God even in this situation?”

It’s less about finding the one single path to walk than it is about being a Christ-follower whichever path you may take!

4 Tips for Finding Success

success

My old church has a softball team. We played in the church league against other churches from the area. I was on the team. I loved playing! I’m wasn’t what I would call a wonderful softball player. Actually, I don’t think I was too shabby fielding. It was my hitting that needed work. Lots of work. But it’s a church league and so, while we had a couple of really good players, the rest of us were just out there for the fun of it. Other churches took it WAY more seriously than we did. Some of the teams we had played practiced 3-5 times a week. We practiced 3-5 times a season! After our last public shaming I told the team that, as long as we’re the 3 times a year team playing against the 3 times a week teams, the public shamings will continue. Whatcha gonna do?

I have no doubt that we COULD have been better. It really comes down to what we’re willing to do and how much we’re willing to put in to rise to the next level of play. Isn’t that life, though? So often we want the fast path to success that we’re not willing to put in the hard work and effort to take ourselves to the next level. This truth is present in business, relationships, spirituality, and every other aspect of life. You cannot get better at something without putting in the work to improve.

I think of the Apostle Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica:

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3b)

Paul had already told the Christians in that church what they should be doing in their “walk” (Paul’s way of saying the way you do the things you do) in order to please God. He simply hopes that they continue to do it more and more and more and more. In other words: KEEP PRACTICING THE THINGS YOU KNOW YOU WHOULD BE DOING SO THAT IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE AND SO THAT YOU CAN DO THEM EVEN BETTER.

Think about your life for a second. If you’re like me (and since I feel pretty normal there’s a good chance we have some human similarities) then there are areas of your life in which you would like to see improvement. I would like to be a better musician. I would like to be a better writer. I would like to be a better parent. I would like to be a better pastor. And yes – I would like to be a better softball player.

But how do we actually do it? How do we move from where we are into greater success? Here are a few suggestions I’ve found helpful:

  1. Read voraciously. Make reading a lifetime habit. When we read we learn. Not just how to books and blogs. Not just non-fiction. Read everything. Reading is a great way to keep new information coming in, and the more information we have the better decisions we can make. Read specifically on the area you want to improve. Because I want to be a better preacher I read books on preaching. I follow several blogs on preaching and leadership. I don’t want the pastor I am tomorrow to be the same pastor I was yesterday. I pray that God continually stretches me and helps me improve. So I read.
  2. Find someone who does it better and ask for input. Yes, this is called coaching. It’s important because books will only take you so far before you need to have a live voice give you feedback. When it comes to softball I’ve asked a couple of guys on the team who are our consistent and solid hitters on how I can improve my hitting. They’ve been VERY gracious with me and offered feedback. In the last month alone I’ve seen improvement in my swing. Not that I’ve arrived, mind you, but I see improvement.
  3. Never be satisfied where you are. I’ve never met anyone who said, “I have arrived” be the king of the hill very long. There’s always some way to grow and improve, and if you’re not seeking that growth you’re gonna get left behind (don’t worry, Kirk Cameron will be there with you).
  4. Finally, recognize that you might be able to see improvements in some areas of life but that you weren’t made to be a superstar in all areas. If you sing like a sick cat, maybe vocal coaching and lessons aren’t the best use of your time and money. This is difficult because our culture tells you, “You can be a star at anything if you just try hard enough or pay the right price.” Um…no. You can’t. There are some things I will never do well. It’s just not reality to think I can do anything. So this is your wake up call. Be realistic in finding areas of your life in which you desire and actually can excel.

So how ‘bout it? Where do you want to see growth and improvement in your life? Your relationships? Your job? Your spirituality? What have you found helpful in achieving your success?

Don’t You Wish You Could Be a Better You?

Self-Improvement

My son is a pretty happy-go-lucky kid. He’s full of life and joy and is an all-around awesome three year old. Until it comes time for bath and he’s rather do something else. Then everything changes. Even in his sullenness he’s hilarious. I love how every trip to the bathtub becomes a scene from Dead Man Walking. He acts as though he’s walking to the end of all things instead of just walking to the bathroom.

One day I hope he will understand that making him take a bath was for his own good. Washing up, removing dirt and germs, and personal hygiene are important parts of general health maintenance. But it doesn’t feel that way to him. To him, we’re being mean parents for forcing him to get in the water and use…shudder…soap.

Truth be told we never really grow out of that attitude. There are areas in our life that God wants to clean up. It’s not that he’s a mean God who acts capriciously to amuse himself as we hang our heads and drag our feet. He has our best interest at heart and desires that we stay healthy and germ free (spiritually speaking). This is the kind of thing the writer is talking about in the biblical book of Hebrews:

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” 

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Our natural human tendency is to get dirty. Just like my son likes to play outside and get incredibly sweaty, dirty, and a filthy mess, we do that with our lives. The choices we make, the habits and addictions we become entangled in, and indulging in our own selfish desires makes us dirty and messy people.

God’s intention to give us a bath is for our benefit. And, even though we may not care for bath time, it’s because he cares about us that he teaches us discipline and hygiene and we will see the benefit of it later on.

One last example and then I’ll be off my soapbox. When I was a kid I took piano lessons. I love music and my parents found a great piano teacher who helped me find my own style and voice. But I didn’t like to practice. And I grew to the point where I felt that I was “done” with the lessons. I didn’t want to endure the discipline of it all. Now, as an adult, I really wish that my parents had forced me to endure the discipline more. I wish I were a much better pianist than I am. Had I endured it back then I could reap the produce now.

Don’t buck when God tries to discipline you. He’s not trying to give you restrictive regulations because he’s mean. He’s trying to show you a better way of life so that, in the long run, you will be better off and reap the benefits of a spiritually disciplined life.

It’s time to throw off the sinful behavior that’s been holding you back. It’s time to understand his purpose and intent in holy living. He’s making me better; making me stronger; giving me discipline so that I will benefit and be healthy – so that I can become a better me.

Shirt Sleeves

Before coming to pastor in Central Illinois my family had been in Florida (about halfway between Orlando and Tampa). My kids had no real knowledge of what it was to live in a place that experiences real seasonal change. Last year my two year old spent the entire winter in long-sleeved shirts. That’s all he knew that winter. I vividly remember the day the weather turned warm and we brought out the warm-weather clothes. I put a short-sleeved shirt on him for the first time in his life (as far as his two year old memory knew). He spent five minutes tugging at his short sleeves, trying to pull them down like all of his other shirts. It was pure comedy.

Truth be told, we behave similarly as adults. We become so accustomed to our habits, patterns, and ruts that often we fail to see that there are other ways of doing things. There are other ways of behaving. There are other ways of living life. Our ruts become blinders that disallow us to see anything else. “Of course I can’t change. This is the way things have always been. This is the way things always will be.” At least that’s the lie we tell ourselves. And we thus give ourselves permission to stay stuck in the old ways of living life. This is the mindset that the Apostle Paul writes against in his letter to the Roman Church

“[A]re you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life…. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims…. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God….   Romans 6:3-14

There’s a new way of life that is made possible because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not the people we used to be, so it’s time to stop acting like the people we used to be. A few weeks ago we had the privilege to baptize 12 people after our Sunday worship service. Baptism is the epitome of the life-change made possible through Jesus. It is us declaring to the world: “I have given myself to Jesus and I will now walk his path – not my own.” Now each of those people needs to start living a changed life.

I frequently hear people talk (or see internet memes) about not judging people and that if Jesus loves and accepts without judging then so should we. But I don’t buy it. You know who we don’t judge? We don’t judge outsiders. We don’t judge non-believers. They don’t have the same belief system or value-set. How could we possibly judge them? But we do hold accountable people who profess faith in Jesus. We should not point fingers and say: “How bad you’ve been – you’re gonna burn.” We need to be helping guide others towards Christ and say: “This is the kind of behavior God expects from those who call themselves believers.”

I know what you’re thinking – you’re still picturing that meme that criticizes Christian snobs who judge others’ imperfections. But think about Jesus’ interactions with “sinners”. Did he criticize them for their ways? No, he did not. But look at what he DID do a couple of times. He said: “Go and stop sinning.”

An encounter with Jesus is not a clean slate to behave in devilish ways. An encounter with Jesus calls us to new life and a new way of behaving. I have told my church repeatedly (although not lately – maybe it’s time again) that EVERYONE is welcome in our church and will ALWAYS be welcome in our church. But…once you’re here we expect that you will be on God’s path for spiritual growth and maturity. Come as you are – and then let God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, affect real life change in you.

Have you had an encounter with the Living God? Then don’t keep living in the same ruts you’ve lived in for years. It’s time to break free from those habits and patterns and to begin living a new life characterized by godly growth and maturity.

Otherwise you’ll be tugging at your sleeves for the rest of your life….

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