Small Things Often

Most of us want that one big thing that is going to change everything.  If we could win the lottery and have a large sum of money, it would make life better.  If my wife and I had enough resources to take an extended vacation together, it would help our marriage thrive.  If we could spend a couple of weeks at Disneyworld with the kids, we would all feel so connected.  If we could spend time in a sabbatical reading and prayer, we would be closer to Jesus than ever before. 

The truth about this type of thinking is that it usually does not work.  Life doesn’t get better for the rich; vacations make us more distant; the kids care little about whether we were in their lives at a theme park, and a nap sounds better than prayer.  

What does work to change our lives is doing small things often. Give a little money in the name of Jesus and save a little for a rainy day, and things feel better.  Talk to your wife every day for fifteen minutes, and be sure to tell her that you love her, and you start to feel closer.  Spend an hour of quality time with your kids five days a week, and they start looking forward to you coming home.  Take ten minutes daily to read the Bible and pray, and your spiritual life will deepen.  These little investments will reap a far greater reward than one big event. 

The good news in this truth is that it is available to anyone.  It is not just a solution for the rich or retired.  Each one of us has the power to change our lives simply by doing small things.  What are you doing today that will make your life better in the future?  It doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be often.   

When the Walls Come Down

Most people are guarded emotionally. One challenge for a believer is to let their guard down and allow a few people into their souls. There must be a willingness to share our past struggles, our present issues, and some of the craziness that goes on inside of our heads. Otherwise, all relationships in your life will be surface level and lack the depth you need to grow and mature as a person and a believer.

Here is the flip side to this truth: The more you share of yourself, the more people will feel connected to you as well. Now, everyone knows that one person who shares everything immediately, and we usually avoid them because they are emotionally draining. That is not what I am writing about today. I am telling you that when you get to know someone, you must be willing to share your life with them entirely to have a healthy relationship.

Think about the people you are closest to in your life. Do they know more about your personal issues or less? Are they people who have heard your crazy stories or people who only know the happy ones? Have these people listened to you share your emotions or been kept at arm’s length? Are they the people who know you have failed miserably or those who only know your victories in life?

The people with whom we connect our lives the most are those with which we share the most. It bonds us to them and them to us. When the walls come down in our lives, there is an open opportunity to develop the kind of relationships we need and our hearts long for with each season.

Sure, there is a risk in being vulnerable whenever you drop your guard. The pain of betrayal can hurt, but it will not hurt as much as keeping the walls up and people out of your life. The challenge for today and this week is not to keep from being hurt; it is to keep from becoming cold and guarded. Following Jesus includes sharing your life and pain, not avoiding it.

Critical Thinking Without Being Critical

Recently I read a devotional written by another preacher. As I read it, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. What troubled me was that over thirty people had “liked” the post. My heart sank because people did not see all the flaws.

First, the whole thought was built on a false analogy. It was comparing two things that are not similar, although they might appear to be at a casual glance. Second, it used an unreliable Bible translation (this is a pet peeve of mine). The author must have searched all around to find a verse that was stated just the right way to fit their analogy. Third, the verse used was from the Old Testament, and we ripped entirely out of context to make a point about America, making it a violation of proper Bible interpretation. Finally, it took a concept that is about the people of God and applied it to non-believers who were represented in the false analogy.

In a few seconds, I noticed four big issues with this devotion that made me uncomfortable as a preacher and a follower of Jesus. His disciples are to be people who “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). On top of that, we are to keep watch for “false prophets” and “false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1). Here was an attempt to use the scripture in a way that violates the meaning of the author and the will of God. Christians must be wise about such things.

One aspect of being a believer is that we need to learn critical thinking skills. We are required to listen to the words of others and then use the proper tools to analyze what was said. If we are not able to do that, then we will fall for every wind of teaching (Ephesians 4:14).

Here is the final significant step, though. There is a difference between being a critical thinker and being a critical person. When I finished reading the post that was made, I made a note of it so that I could write this blog, and then I moved along.

The temptation for many of us is to jump into the comment section and tear this person apart. Anyone who disagrees with me will feel the burn of my righteous indignation. I can post links and arguments that will put this person in their place and anyone who chose to listen to him. These are the actions of a critical person.

I hope that every person learns to be a critical thinker without becoming a critical person. I pray that you can process ideas and not be led astray. Once you have done that essential first step, then you will not feel the need to let everyone know you are right. A good brain is a gift, but a good attitude toward those with whom you disagree is a blessing to everyone.

I HATE Death

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but it needs to be said. Through the years, I have lost grandparents, friends, and my dad. In the past two weeks, the loss has continued. A dear, sweet, kind man from the Church in Alaska where I served, passed away from a heart attack. Then a few days ago, Ravi Zacharias, a national speaker who helped to strengthen my faith enormously while I was in college, died of cancer.

All these losses have created moments that took my breath away. Even though death comes as no surprise since we are bound for it, there is still the pain of letting go of those with which we have a connection. I know these reports will not be the last I will receive, and that possibility alone sends me reeling with anxiety if I think about it for too long.

While I stand in stunned silence at the loss of people I know, I also take these times to reflect on the meaning of faith. The single biggest reason I am a follower of Jesus is because of his resurrection. Jesus died, was buried, and then rose to live again on the third day. He is the only person in all recorded history to walk out of the grave under his own power. He defeated death and turned the cemetery into a place of victory. There is no other religious leader who accomplished what he was able to do.

I hate death and the emotional pain of separation that it brings. I love Jesus more. In dark moments like these, his light shines the brightest. In the place that seems hopeless, he brings hope. We grieve loss but cling to the savior who gives us life. I HATE death. Thankfully, I serve a God who hates it too. He hated it so much that he did something about it. Jesus came to bring us resurrection and life. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Do Not Miss the Point

Scrolling through social media, I see pictures of families putting together puzzles, going on hikes, playing games, and fishing together. Often, they post photos that demonstrate how proud they are of their achievements. I want to pause for a moment and ask you not to miss the point.

May the goal of our lives never be accomplishing tasks off our to-do list. Instead, I hope you use your moments to connect with other people in meaningful ways.

It is not who wins the board games, but the time you spent together.
It is not the puzzle you assembled with your kids, but the conversation while searching for pieces.
It is not the fish you catch; it is the memories made with people.
It is not the vacation and the places you have seen, but the people with which you see them.
It is not about the trophies earned at the sporting event, but the time of celebration with those who love and support you.
It is not even about your team winning the big game but connecting to people of like mind.

Every day presents you with opportunities for new experiences and achievements, what makes those precious is the joy of doing it with other people. We were created for community. We are relational beings. The point is not to spend your life alone accomplishing great things but to enjoy this life with people and find joy both with and in them.

Taking Account of the Time

Sometimes God forces us to hit the pause button on our lives. That has truly been the case over the last ten weeks of my life. All my plans went down the drain as the country went under lockdown for the Covid-19 scare. Sports were gone completely, restaurants were closed, shopping was done, meetings of all types were not held, and our lives were left with more free time than we have experienced in years.

I have kept note of the things people are doing with their time. Some people have undertaken house projects from cleaning to building decks, to landscaping. Others have played board games, assembled puzzles, and some have created art. Still, another group has gone for walks, hiked in parks, and tried to enjoy the outdoors. With more time, they have experienced things that their busy schedule was not allowing them to do.

My suggestion for everyone is to take account of this time. Before you jump back into your busy schedule with a thousand things to do every week, take time to think clearly about the last few weeks of your life. Reflect on whether this time has been good for you, your family, and your relationships to have more free time. Do you feel the freedom you have not felt for years? Do you feel healthier, both emotionally and spiritually? Has this experience been good for you?

Take the time to do an honest evaluation. Maybe the answer to your heart cries was not more, more, more, but rather less. Maybe doing less was precisely what you needed. If that is true, how long will it take before you give up and jump back into a rushed life? How long will you continue to live in a way that fills your heart and mind more than your calendar?

Let this time of shutdown be the doorway to a new start.

Wanting A Miracle

Reading the Bible reveals that there were limited times when God did miracles. Those are the moments when he broke into history and did something beyond scientific explanation. He started with them at the creation. Moses and Joshua performed miracles as well as the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Jesus brought miracles, and so did his closest followers in the book of Acts. The rest of the Bible contains little miraculous activity. Abraham, Job, King David, Solomon, and John the Immerser did not perform a single one.

In those sections of the Bible without a miracle, God relied primarily on one thing: People. He invited people to do his mighty work. Through circumstances and situations, he put people into the place where they had to act to bring about his will. He used natural means through ordinary people.

One of my favorite Biblical examples of this is the story of Esther. Nowhere in the book is the name of God mentioned, and yet we see his handiwork all over the place. No one performs a miracle, and yet the circumstances seem almost miraculous. God has people in places where they can be used for his glory if they allow him to work through them. When people are open to his leading like that, there are surprising results.

Some of you have been wanting a miracle. You have wanted God to break into your world and do something beyond explanation. You desire to see his mighty work in your life and the lives of those around you. And yet, no miracle has come to you.

Perhaps God just needs someone to act. He has the right people in the correct places, but they are resistant. For whatever reason, like their selfish pursuits, they have ignored the call of God upon their lives.

I wonder if that might be true for you as well. God may not bring a miracle into your life; instead, he may use you to be someone else’s answer to prayer. Is it possible that he has you in a place where you could be a blessing to someone else? Could you be the person who becomes God’s miracle to someone else?

You will never know the amount of good you can do for the kingdom of God, until you do something.

Turning Me Into Something I Am Not

This is who I am!  This is how God made me!  Accept it!

Is this true?  While I affirm that God made each of us unique inside of our mother’s womb, I do not think he was finished.  He gave you unique ears, eyes, and even fingerprints, but his work was not done.  He took you from that baby into adulthood. Your body grew and changed, and you learned skills along the way.  Throughout your life, you have gained knowledge of yourself, the world, and other people.  You probably felt love and had your heart broken as well.   God was molding and shaping your body and mind with every new experience. 

I do not think he is finished.  He is making you into a mature person of faith.  This requires giving up some things, adding new things, and changing your approach to life.  Your life is a journey toward becoming the person he wants you to be. 

When I was little, I hated broccoli, and I would not touch cauliflower – the albino version of broccoli. My sister made it her mission to convince me I was wrong.  Mixing it in a cheese sauce and cooking it in recipes.  I did not matter, and I still hated it.  Then one day, I cannot remember when, I liked it. Maybe it was the way it was cooked, or perhaps it was because my wife cooked it.  I ate it and lately I have it about once a week. 

C.S. Lewis said, “The things of heaven are an acquired taste.”  They do not come naturally, and like little children, we turn up our nose in disgust.  The longer we live, we learn that God has something better in store for us.  Somewhere along the way, we tasted the life he desires for us and found that it was good either because of our maturity, how it was presented, or who asked us to try it.  Suddenly everything changed, and we now saw that what God wanted us to do was best. 

God is trying to turn you into something you are not.  He wants you to become the best version of yourself as you follow his son.  He wants you to have a right relationship with him, be a godly parent, love your spouse as Jesus loves us, do your work as working for the Lord, and live every moment filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness.  These things probably do not come naturally, but with time you will see that God was right.  Slowly he will turn you into something you are not, which is precisely what he wanted you to become.   

How We See Ourselves

Over the weekend, my Facebook page was flooded with the latest craze. People have been creating avatars of themselves. I can remember being amazed at the little animated paperclip when I first started using Windows software years ago, and now people are creating small animated pictures of themselves that they can share online. The world of communication has profoundly changed.

The first thing I noticed was how most of the avatars that I saw looked nothing like that person. Some of that is the limits of technology as you draw upon basic shapes and styles to capture our individual characteristics. The other side of the issue is the limits of our brain as we do not always realistically see ourselves. We are thinner, taller, have better hair, and the rest of our features seem more like an improved version of ourselves.

I do realize that some of this is the nature of social media. We always post the best version of ourselves in that world. That is not the only issue. Everyone tends to see ourselves as better than others see us. This is true both physically and often spiritually. We see ourselves as great parents, spouses, workers, and even Christians. Our picture of ourselves contains love, kindness, and goodness to overflowing. We have a close relationship with Jesus and follow his every word. We are good people.

The looming question: Is that reality or merely a figment of our imagination?

I guess your answer depends on who we compare ourselves too. If we look at the other parents at school or our next-door neighbor, we can come off looking surprisingly good.

We need to be clear, the standard for our righteousness is not each other, but the life of Jesus. When we do this, we begin to see our flaws vividly. We also see our need for a savior. As long as we compare ourselves to one another, we can feel pretty good about ourselves, and we no longer need Jesus. We create avatars that look good but have no connection to reality.

My Friday Down Time

For the past five years, I have taken my Friday’s entirely off from work. This is the day that I do no work. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. When I leave the building on Thursday, I leave my job behind. If I need to do anything, there is always Saturday. Most of the world gets two days off, and many times I do, but Saturdays are flexible in my schedule. Fridays are not. I have chosen to set aside one day to spend away from the Church and the office.

Three reasons.

  1. Self-Care. On those Fridays, I do things that fill my soul. I spend time in nature fishing, hunting, and metal detecting. I try to quiet my soul from all the outside chaos going on around me. Some days I just lie in bed with my wife and watch movies. Whatever form the day takes, I want it to fill me up and not drain me.
  2. Rest. By Friday, I am tired. I have spent 5-6 full days engaging my brain. I read, study, write, and preach. All of them call not only on intellect but also my emotions. I need a day to recharge. This means, I make no decisions of significance and do no writing (I always write this blog on Thursday).
  3. Family Time. Under normal circumstances, I spend the day with my wife and the evening with my youngest son (who is still at home) or doing something with all my boys. This is the one day I want to invest in my relationship with my wife in a substantial way. We walk, talk, shop, and often do the first two things on my list. We rest and enjoy something outside together.

I often hear that being a pastor is an overly stressful job. There are definitely parts that can drive you crazy. With a single day off, I can refresh and refocus for the work ahead.

I have no idea what your life looks like, but I would suggest this to anyone. Take one day with these three points of emphasis, and it will change your perspective. If it is not possible to take a full day, then set aside an afternoon or an evening. You will be glad you did.