A Learned Skill

What if that thing you are saying, “I’m not very good at it,” is actually a learned skill?

What if you could learn to have better conversations, even with people you don’t know? What if you could learn to be more social despite being an introvert? What if you could become a better friend and connect with people deeply? What if you could get better at gift giving and possibly gift receiving? What if you could learn the skills to become a better human and a better Christian?

I guess you would have to stop making excuses.

There are skills you can acquire to be a better person, and it is not adequate to say, “I can’t.”

The question is, “Are you willing to learn?”

Another Year

Yesterday I completed another trip around the sun.

Each year at this time, I take a few minutes to reflect quietly on my life.

I wish I could say I was older and wiser. I really wish I could say that I have everything figured out and know what I am doing.

Yet, none of those wishes are reality. I am older, I have learned a few new things, and I thought I would share twelve random lessons from the past year.

-You make time for the things you value.
-Relationships make life more enjoyable.
-God always has a way of surprising you.
-It is easy to caricature and label people, yet everyone is highly complex and unique.
-God’s timing is never our timing.
-Holding onto grudges is pointless and painful.
-All repairs cost at least twice as much and take twice as long as you plan.
-People also have a way of surprising you.
-Everyone has stories that they do not tell for numerous reasons.
-Many people want to serve the Lord; they are just waiting to be asked.
-God made some parts of this planet incredibly beautiful.
-Caring about people can break your heart, but don’t stop caring.

How This Preacher Spends His Time

Recently, a new lady in our Church asked me, “What do you do through the week?” At first, I felt slightly offended, but the longer I thought about it, I understood how she could have no idea. Most of my work is done away from the public eye, so most people have no clue what I do. 

Let me share with you where most of my time goes.

1. Personal Development. My number one priority is my walk with God. I spend time reading my Bible, praying, reading books, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and in personal reflection. I am a deeply flawed person who relies on God’s grace to get me through every week, and I need to be reminded of God’s truth daily. 

2. Sermon Writing. I spend a few hours on Monday and all day Tuesday writing what I will say on Sunday. It takes research, thought, writing, and rewriting.

3. Church Leadership. I meet with the Church office administrator almost daily, elders’ meetings, staff meetings, board meetings, and ministry meetings. I spend hours planning events, completing projects, ordering supplies, and casting vision with individuals. 

4. People Stuff. I have all kinds of interactions I am involved in every week. These can range from membership class follow-up to senior adult luncheons, wedding planning, Biblical advice, and hospital visits. There is a string of people through my office each week, along with connections made in my home. 

5. Worship planning. I pick out the videos we use in worship along with most of the songs. I work with a group of people who plan Easter, Christmas, and any special event. In addition, I secure people for communion thoughts and any special activities. My wife helps me a lot as the musician in the family, but I spend hours working on what will happen Sunday morning.    

6. Miscellaneous Projects. There are a host of activities that I do not do regularly but manage to fill up my time. Recently, the Church put together a coffee bar. I messaged with people and got advice, was given donations, went to purchase items, and then put it all together. Sometimes I arrange meals or possibly dream about the next thing. I never lack something to fill my time. 

This week I sat down and put all of my notes for projects into a single document, and it filled two whole pages. We live in a time of unlimited opportunities, and I am trying to do as much for the kingdom as possible. I aim to work forty hours weekly and donate 1-10 hours more. I am asking people in the Church to work full-time and serve in their free time. It would be disrespectful to them and dishonoring to my God for me to do any less.       

Comfort Zones

Alasdair White is often credited with initially using the phrase “comfort zone.” My understanding is that he used it in business management theory. He was trying to get businesses and investors to move away from their familiar ventures into new and unfamiliar areas for greater rewards.

There is disagreement about whether he created or used an already accepted phrase. Either way, it has caught on, and it is hard to go a week without hearing someone say something about getting out of a comfort zone.

We understand that to grow as individuals, we need to get out of our familiar places and habits. For us to make a more significant impact on the world, we need to move beyond the borders of our known existence and head into places that make us uncomfortable.

While we all agree with this premise, very few do it in practice. We like our regular routines because they are comfortable. They make us feel good when the rest of the world is chaotic. Most of us will choose the familiar without hesitation, no matter how often we have said, “I need to get out of my comfort zone.”

Here is one of the amazing things about being a follower of Jesus. If you genuinely try to live for him, you will find that he continually pushes us into situations challenging our comfort. For a Christian, the issue is not, “Am I willing to step out of my comfort zone,” but rather, “Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads?” The first question is about my willingness to take risks, and the second is about my level of faith.

Bad Ideas

Bad ideas do not work, no matter who supports them.

You can get your family behind you. Your friends can voice their approval. Even your Pastor can vocalize his support. If the idea is terrible, it will not work.

Good ideas work even with little to no support.

People can tell you that you are crazy. Critics and commenters can declare how this will never work. But if the idea is good, it will work.

This is true in business, politics, and even the Church.

Perhaps we should spend more time making better ideas and less time making pleas for support.

Local Missions

What would you do if you were sent to be a missionary in a foreign country? Maybe you would try to learn the language they speak first. Perhaps you would want to know the local customs. You could find out all the special days, traditions, and behaviors of the locals. I think you would spend time getting acclimated to the new place where you were seeking to share the message of Jesus.

The truth is, God has placed you in a mission field: The community where you live, where you work, the stores you frequent, and the family where you were born. You have been called to share the good news of Jesus in each of those situations.

What if you became like a missionary in a foreign land? You could learn all about them so that you could share Jesus in a way they understand and accept.

Paul said to the Church in Corinth, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – NIV 2011)

Paul saw himself as a missionary to the people he encountered, do you?

A Most Important Lesson

Of all the things you teach the next generation, be sure to show them how relationships work. This can be your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbor children, or Church children; they all need instruction in relationships.

The first and most significant one is with their heavenly father. Every child needs to be grounded in the truth of God’s love, along with his overflowing mercy and grace. They need to learn to pray, read their Bible, and selflessly serve him so they are equipped to spend a lifetime in a relationship with him

But they also need instruction on how to get along with other people. Most parents are concerned with teaching their children about sports. They are also worried about scholastic advancement. And unfortunately, most give little thought to how their children relate to others.

Let me ask you, have you ever struggled as an adult because you did not know how to relate well to others? Have you spent countless hours in conflict with your spouse or your family? Have you ever vented and fumed about a coworker or neighbor because you could not get along with them? How often have you unknowingly hurt people with something you said or did? Maybe you have spent hours wrapped in loneliness because you didn’t know how to fit in with others.

Living in right relationship with others is a skill. As an adult, no one will care if you can do math or if you know how to throw a ball. They will not care about your athletic achievements or your scholastic aptitude. However, everyone will care about how you relate to others.

As followers of Jesus, we need to be sure the next generation is developing their hearts along with their bodies and minds.

Odds and Ends

The phrase dates back to the fifteen hundreds and was originally “odd ends.” This was the label used with the material to make garments. When someone reached the end of a roll, there was a piece left that was not large enough to do much with it. This was called an odd end. 

By the late sixteen hundreds, the phrase had expanded to become odds and ends with the same use, except now it had developed to include any leftover item. Then in the eighteen hundreds, it became a cliché much as we know it today. It remains a part of speech and is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “various things of different types, usually small and not important, or of little value.”

The one common thread across all modern definitions is that when something is labeled as “odds and ends.” They are an item of insignificance and have no value. They are unimportant scraps with little to no use. 

Today’s reminder is that with God, there are no people who are odds and ends. None. 

Your Potemkin Village

As the story goes, during a visit by Empress Catherine II to Crimea in 1787, Russian minister Grigory Potemkin supposedly constructed fake settlements to conceal the dilapidated conditions of the towns. After the 1783 Russian annexation of Crimea from the Ottoman Empire and the formation of a New Russia, Potemkin became governor of the region. Crimea had been devastated by the war, and Potemkin’s primary task was to rebuild by bringing in Russian settlers. In 1787, as a new war was about to break out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Catherine II, with her court and several ambassadors, made an unprecedented six-month trip to New Russia. Supposedly, Potemkin set up “mobile villages” on the river banks. As soon as the barge carrying the Empress and ambassadors arrived, Potemkin’s men, dressed as peasants, would populate the village. Once the barge left, the village was disassembled, then rebuilt downstream overnight.

Historians debate whether the story is true or fiction. One biographer says that Potemkin decorated the existing villages to make them look nicer than they were. Others say that Potemkin and Catherine were lovers, so it would have been impossible for him to pull off such deceit. Finally, some say he made fake villages, but later years’ stories were greatly exaggerated.

Whatever the case, as early as 1902, the phrase Potemkin Village came to be known as someone who built something fake to fool others. And the description remains today as Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term: “an impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition.”

My question is simple; “What is your Potemkin Village?” What part of your life is fake? Where do you put on a show for other people to hide the truth? You don’t have to be an 18th-century Russian to have a village built to fool other people.  

Our Weakest Moments

Sometimes I say to myself, “I will never fall into that sin.”

Then I find myself standing on the edge of ungodliness, asking myself how I got here.

In our lives, there are moments when we are strong and when we are weak. Our enemy, the Devil, knows when we are weak and tries to attack us at those times. Jesus had not eaten in 40 days when Satan came to him and challenged him by saying, “Turn these stones to bread.” Again, it was at the beginning of his ministry, before any resistance and pain, when he offered a shortcut by saying, “Worship me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth.” 

There are moments for each of us when we are weak and vulnerable. At those times, we must rely entirely on God and his word.

Whatever you feel today, know that the Devil will try to use that against you. We, as believers, must live with our eyes wide open because evil is always lurking. He is waiting for you to show your weakness so he might pounce and try to devour you. 

The things that destroy most people are the things they swore they would never do.