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The Bible Blotter

Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Self-improvement

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.

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!

 

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?

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