An Anecdotal Fallacy

It is easy to forget about looking at the facts and build a belief system on personal accounts and secondhand stories.  This type of thinking becomes clear when I ask someone about an issue, and they respond by giving me an anecdote from their past. 

For example, I will ask a person what it means to be a good husband, and they will respond by telling me about a time their dad did something nice for their mom.  Another case might be asking someone what it means to be a good person, and they start giving me a tale about a sweet older lady who fed the children free popsicles after school.  

These stories are the foundation of our understanding of the world, and I use them in my sermons to underline the truth of God’s word.  The problem comes when they stand in contradiction to the truth of scripture.  When the story of that sweet old lady is not motivated by faith in Jesus but an effort to earn her way into heaven, we have a problem.  Suddenly we are left to redefine our terms based on the story instead of understanding the Bible.  We shift our thinking, not from sound teaching but experience.  This becomes a slippery slope into weak convictions and blurry moral lines. 

All of us have experiences that mold and shape our thinking.  They cause us to rethink our beliefs and adjust the way we handle other people.  The fallacy is when those stores rewrite the truth of God’s word in our mind to fit our experience.  We are to seek the truth and then notice all the stories that show it to be true. Please don’t take the stories and have them be your foundation of truth and the scriptures secondary. 

Reflection Verses Reaction

The old saying is, “Open mouth, insert foot.” 

Too often, we have encounters that we later regret.  Many of these are during contentious situations.  We have this heated exchange, and then we react by saying something completely wrong or hurtful, and we do more damage than good. 

Amid a complicated, stressful, anxious, or angry situation, your natural response is to open your mouth and pour out all your feelings.  What if there were a better way?  A way you could avoid all the shame, regret, and guilt caused by your mouth. What if, instead of reacting, you chose to reflect first?

I learned this simple trick as a parent: Take the time to count to 10 before responding to your child in a sticky situation.  The principle applies to numerous aspects of life.  When you feel hurt, take time to think about the other person’s feelings and make sure your heart is right with God.  When you are unhappy about how a situation has turned, consider alternatives, and ask God for direction.  When you are filled with anger, step aside, take a deep breath, ask God for wisdom, and get your head right before your mouth engages. 

Of course, you can always take those touchy moments and use them to speak your mind.  Just know that no one has ever regretted taking time to reflect before speaking, but everyone knows what it is like to open their mouth and do more damage than metaphorically inserting their foot. 

My New Lenses

Twelve years ago, I was assigned to a life with glasses.  Every year since then, I have required a stronger prescription.  This past year I began noticing my need around Christmas when I grabbed my Bible to read it during my sermon, it was hard to focus, and I kept losing my place because everything was blurry. 

The trouble with failing vision is that there is nothing I can do it fix it on my own.  I need help to see clearly again.  So I made my trip to the optometrist, and he used all his machines to run tests, check options and make the final diagnosis.  Time had clouded my vision, and a new set of lenses would make everything clear again.  Once they were installed, suddenly everything was restored.  His work was finished, I was happy, and life quickly returned to normal until this time next year when I will be back in his office once again. 

This experience has me thinking about my spiritual lenses.  With time it is easy for issues within us to get blurry.  We lose sight of how things could be and settle into how things are.  There is this drift into lower expectations and compromised goals.  Occasionally we need someone to help us regain what we have lost.  We require encounters like a visit with a mature Christian who can help us feel inspired.  Perhaps an appointment with a pastor or paid counselor is in order.  Maybe we need to sit down with an old friend and recapture the fire that once burned bright in our eyes. 

My guess is that some of you have given up on your God-inspired hopes and dreams.  These could be from long ago or might be from a couple of months ago as we came into the new year. Once you dreamed of a closer walk with God, and now you have quit trying.  There was a time you wanted to make a difference, and now you are only trying to make it through the day. You once had a clear direction for your life, and now things are clouded.

I am so glad the doctor was able to restore what was lost.  It took some effort to make things right again, but it was well worth it. Nothing may have changed to the outside world, but for me, everything looks so much better.

When we are left alone, we drift toward decay.  This is true with our bodies and our souls.  One step to help us improve is to consult with someone who can give us the help we need.  My eyes required it, and our souls need it too.  Maybe it is time to get checked out so that everything will be clear inside of you once again. 

One Lesson from a Lifetime of Ministry

The Church is all I have known. 

Growing up, my parents took me to worship every week.  Throughout my high school years, there was never a doubt where we would be on Sunday morning. 

After high school, I went to Bible college, and being in Church was a regular part of my week and weekend. Then as a sophomore, I began speaking and leading a local Church as a preacher. 

Once while living between ministries, I took some odd jobs to pay the bills, but my family and I were in Church every week.  At over 49 years of age, I cannot recall ever missing more than five times in a single year over my lifetime. 

I know the local Church from a Biblical, experiential, and participatory standpoint.  I have an immense amount of knowledge of the inner workings of a Church community.  There has been a significant amount to learn over my lifetime, but one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that everyone is trying to do what they think is best. 

In all those years, I have only met one person I felt like was a wolf in sheep’s clothing trying for personal gain from the Church community.  Otherwise, everyone in my experience was trying to do their best – the best for themselves, the best for their community of believers, and the best for the Lord.  The issue is that no one seems to be able to agree on what is truly the best. 

The older lady who wants hymns believes that is the best way to worship.  An older gentleman who wants me to read the KJV on Sunday morning honestly believes that is the best translation.  The leader that makes a tough decision that people disagree with is just trying to do what he thinks is best for everyone.  The list could go on and on.  Usually, having disagreements in Church results from people having different views of what they feel is best to do. 

Each week it is easy to cynical, angry, and bitter because people are doing things you do not like.  My encouragement is to see others are doing what they think is best.  Then show them grace when they are wrong, teach where they need education, and love them till they understand your view.  No one you encounter this weekend wants to make your life more difficult; in fact, they want you to experience the best things they know.  Appreciate their heart and seek unity with compassion, mercy, and grace.  That is the only sure way for us all to have the best experience possible with the people of God. 

Unprompted Communication

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are great times to communicate with people. Some of you buy a card, get a family picture, send an email, or write a series of texts to celebrate these occasions.  These days are great opportunities to share with people in a way that makes them feel loved and valued. 

You can also do those things for no reason in particular.  You can send someone a card with a handwritten note inside just because you thought of them.  A family picture with a letter inside can be put in the mail at the beginning of June and not only December.  There is no need to wait to send the email when you have business issues to handle.  A text can be sent to say, “you crossed my mind today.” 

I would argue that the communication you send on days with no particular significance has more value than those sent at special times.  Unprompted cards, letters, emails, and texts speak of importance beyond the formal engagements of the general public.  Those let people know you really care all year round. 

Unexpected kindness is always the most meaningful. 

You Should Know That by Now

A writer once tried to create a list of 1000 things you should know by 21 years old.  He started the dialog by listing the 100 things he thought were important.  Then the readers could go into the comments and add their suggestions to the list. 

This little experiment created quite a stir.  People all over the internet started adding to the list, having dialog about what we should be teaching children both inside the classroom and in the home.  Answers ranged from “how to change a tire” to “how to cook an egg” to “how to write a business letter.” 

As the list grew and expanded, my thoughts turned toward faith.  I wondered, what are the thousand things that a believer in Jesus should know within 21 years of making Jesus their Savior? 

I am not starting a list here, but the question still plagues my mind.  There is this essential truth that the longer you live as a believer, you should acquire a list of concepts, behaviors, and experiences that will develop you into a mature Christian.  Otherwise, your growth is stunted, and you will never be able to function on your own spiritually. 

Just like a child who is sent out into life without necessary skills is a believer sent into the world without basic spiritual knowledge.  Occasionally I want to say to Christians I encounter, “You should know that by now!”  

The problem might be with the Church and how we teach people.  It might also be with the parents who have left everything to the Church.  It might simply be the fault of the individual who did not take responsibility for their own development.  I am not sure who exactly is to blame, and maybe it is partially everyone’s failure. 

I know that there are things you should know as you grow in life and faith. 

As I read over the lists of things people should know by the age of 21, I realized several basic skills I did not possess.  The good news is that it is never too late to learn, no matter what you do not know.  Today can be the day you acquire the knowledge you lack in life or faith.  Never quit learning or growing.    

How You Say It

Shouting might be the least effective way to change people’s minds, yet we use it most of all our vocal tones.  Loud and aggressive talk seems like the way to bring a change of behavior, but it usually doesn’t.

Laughter and a jovial tone can undermine a serious conversation.  It appears the conversation is not being taken seriously and will halt the progress of an open discussion. 

A calm voice does not work very well in emergencies.  People might not believe the issue is real or demands immediate action.  Urgency can be lost when mild tones are used in dire situations. 

How you say something is as important as what you say.

Is it possible that your communication struggles do not come from a lack of honesty, instead from an improper tone? 

Your spouse, children, friends, acquaintances, co-workers are not just hearing the content of your words but also your tone of voice.  One way to improve your communication in every relationship is adjusting how you are saying things, not just what you are saying.   

I’m Not For Everyone

The country band named Brothers Osborne has a song entitled “Not for everyone.” This is definitely not a Christian band with Godly values or Christian music.  Still, when I heard it, something resonated with my life. 

I am unique.  My life experiences, hopes, views, gifts, habits, personality, tone of voice, and beliefs all make me a one-of-a-kind individual.  There is no one quite like me.  With that reality, some people like me and others, well … not so much. 

I always wanted to be like Andy Stanley.  He seems so kind and so well-liked by everyone.  Thousands of people listen to him each week and are blessed by his presence.  Other times I wished I were more like a Rick Warren who smiles and laughs and eases the room when things get tense.  Large numbers listen to his teaching and read his books.  Frequently, I want to be like other people who are well admired for their wit, charm, style, and personality.

Nope, I am just uniquely me.  I am trying to be more like Jesus, but it is always with a Matthew Harris twist.  There seems to be no escape from myself. 

Some days I am angry that I am not someone better.  Other days I am depressed that I do not have a broader appeal.  Why did God make me like this? 

Then one day, it hit me.  I am not for everyone, but a few people like me.  God uses me to bless a small number of people through my speaking and writing.  Some of them might not have come to Jesus or grown in their faith if it were not for people like me.  I might not be for everyone, but God made me to reach some. 

Many people are trying to be someone they are not so that people will like them more.  One of them may be you.  If so, I want you to know that God made you a specific way to a part of his kingdom in a way that only you can.  There is someone out there who needs exactly what you have to offer.  You need to keep working to connect with your people, and I will keep working to connect with mine.  Only together will we be able to reach everyone. 

History Makers

People who change the world and make history rarely set out to do so.  Those who have made a big impact that lasted for generations to come usually are simple people.  They are often without power and prestige, but God used them anyway. 

These people bring change by doing the right thing every time it was required of them.  No matter how inconvenient or what the cost, they just kept doing the right thing. Each day they spoke the truth, loved others, showed concern, and stood against evil. 

One day the right thing they did was noticed because it made a difference to someone else.  They did not wake up one day and do something significant and noticeable.  They did something small every day, and someone could not help but take note. 

I think it is a mirage to set out to be a history maker.  Instead, set out to do the wise, the good, and the Godly thing all the time.  Then watch God use that as he desires. 

Wallowing in the Mess

According to John, there is a story of Jesus seeing a man lying beside the pool of Bethesda.  We are told he has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  Then it says, “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:6 NIV 2011)

It seems like such an odd question.  Of course, he wants to be healed.  Who wouldn’t? That is what my head tells me, but experience has shown me something else.  Many people have no desire to improve their life in any way, even if they have the opportunity. 

A Church I once led had a skilled financial advisor on staff.  We developed a policy that stated, “If you want financial assistance, we are happy to provide it, but you are required to sit down with a financial advisor for free to help you develop a sound financial future.” Suddenly our requests for assistance almost vanished.  Once we told people our policy over the phone, we were greeted by the person hanging up or a simple, “Uh, no!”

Many people do not want to change, even if it is guaranteed to be for the better.  I guess it might be because change is difficult.  The other possibility is that some people love the mess of their lives.  Maybe it is because the chaos brings attention.  People are always concerned. Others offer help and prayers.  Everyone repeats their name and talks about them in certain situations.  They are known by all, even if it is for unsavory reasons. 

Whatever you are struggling with in life, the first and most significant question is always, “Do you WANT to get well?” 

There is probably a way to achieve a better life.  It won’t be easy, but people are willing to help you.  The resources are there, but we cannot give you the desire to use them.  You will have to want it.