Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best posts I have read lately. I hope you enjoy.

5 Reasons We Need to Pray For Our Teachers

Don’t Become Weary in Doing Good

Context Matters: Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit

If We Can Worship Anywhere, Why Go To Church?

IDES helping with hurricane recovery on two fronts – International Disaster Emergency Services is an organization in our brotherhood of Churches who specialize in disaster relief. I highly recommend you use them if you are interested in helping in times like these.

Mirror, mirror – A thought worth pondering

Gloom (and doom)

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Stop Doing the Same Things

The old saying does something like this, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result.”

Even with that definition and understanding I still see people doing the same actions repeatedly. Either they repeat their own actions, or they do what everyone else is doing. Very few people who I encounter seem interested in results.

Almost weekly I have a conversation with someone who tells me how tired they are right now. Usually, that is followed by an explanation of how busy they have been lately. The end result of their actions is exhaustion. Here is where it gets interesting to me. Even though their life is draining every ounce of energy out of them, they do nothing to change it. Then somewhere in the not so distant future, they will be tired again because they have been so busy. And on and on it goes, week after week and month after month. I always want to ask them directly, “How long are you going to run on this treadmill before you realize it is leading nowhere?”

It gets worse, we then look out our window and watch our neighbor, co-workers, and the people we admire also running on the treadmill. We guess that must be the best way to live and we repeat the same pattern. Somehow, we never notice their marriages falling apart, children who are far from God, and their emotional wreckage.

People all around us, and quite possibly that person is you, are exhausted, burnt out, struggling in their marriage, fighting with their kids, feeling lonely, and living with a host of other issues. Yet, no one seems to adjust their behavior.

If you want a better life, a life more like Jesus, then you are going to have to stop doing the same old things. If you are not happy with your spiritual life, emotional health or family dynamics then the solution is not found in repeating the same weekly routines over and over again.

The life of faith calls us to a different type of thinking and action. Paul told the Church in Rome that they needed a renewing of their mind that would lead to different action. Only then would they see a different result.

Before you spend this day mindlessly doing the same things would you take a few minutes and ask, “Is this getting the results I desire in my life?” Before you plan another weekend would you ask, “Will my actions these few days get the results I desire?” Before you start next week would you ask yourself, “Why I am I doing the same things every week?”

I believe that Jesus life looked nothing like the culture of his time. Quite possibly God is calling your life to look more like his than anyone else.

Three Additional Ways God Might Be Trying to Teach You

Life is a series of lessons God is using to teach us for us to be more like Jesus. Every day we have the opportunity to learn something new or be reminded of an old truth. Quite often we miss what he is showing us simply because we are not looking for an education. We all know of how God can use Bible reading, the study of scripture and daily quiet time to grow us. Lately, I am noticing three non-traditional ways God has been using to teach me, and he might be using the same methods in your life.

1. Exposure to a new perspective. Some days a new person is thrust into my life who views everything differently. These people come to Church, we encounter in the community, or they might show up in our reading. Their life experience and ours are not similar, and it gives them a unique perspective we have not contemplated. When these people and their views come to us, we have the choice to push them away or learn from them. Maybe that new coworker from another part of the country or the world is there to teach us something. Maybe that neighbor with a different political bent is God’s way of stretching our thinking. Is it possible that God is using a different vantage point to challenge each one of us?

2. Repeated messages. Sometimes it seems that God wants me to hear him, so he sends repeated messengers. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book, a passage of scripture and had a conversation that all seemed to be connected. There have been times that even things as unchristian as a TV show and a movie have appeared linked to my Bible reading. I think it is worth taking note of anything that had been repeated three or more times in recent memory. It is highly likely that God is communicating, and he wants to make sure you are listening.

3. Situations I want to avoid. As an introvert, I know this is true for me. When I see a crowd of people I do not know; my natural inclination is to run and hide. I am beginning to see these situations as opportunities to push myself to be more like Jesus in unnatural ways. You might not be an introvert, and so maybe the opposite is true for you. You need to leave the crowd and spend time quietly alone in reflection. Whenever we are put in positions that are uncomfortable, perhaps those are the moments God is trying to enlarge our faith.

I know of a guy who keeps a journal every evening. His plan is simple, at the end of every day he wants to write down at least one thing that God has taught him that day. There are nights when he writes down several thoughts, but he never goes a day without noticing something. I want to suggest that every day God is not only working in your life but on it. He is putting you into situations and giving you experiences that will make you more like Jesus in every way. Perhaps you have just not taken note of them before this day.

Today is another day in which you can make it your goal to simply “get through it.” It could also be a day where you grow in your faith as God instructs you.

Focus on the Big Picture

We live in a culture of quick fixes and short answers. Tweets were 140 characters but are now a whopping 280. Books and articles are reduced to quotes. News consists of 30 second sound bites no matter how much they are taken out of context. Everything needs to be concise and able to share. You can even post a Bible verse to encapsulate your spiritual walk.

Unfortunately, the scriptures give little attention to timely quotes and momentary lessons. The books of the Bible are extended tales and usually, take a long view of life. The immediate situation is always laid in the context of a bigger story.

I just finished preaching on the book of Ruth and found this truth portrayed to me once again. The story covers at least a dozen years in the first chapter. The rest of the story takes another three months to find some sense of completion, then the story turns and gives us a picture of conception and birth that take another nine months. Finally, the story ends not with one family, but a genealogy of four generations. The final words of the story are hundreds of years in the making.

This is not the only story to highlight this thinking in the Old Testament. Joseph in the book of Genesis must endure slavery, lies, prison and be forgotten before he achieves anything years later. Job is a man who gains, loses, wrestles, and regains over a lifetime. Moses will spend forty years in Egypt, another 40 as a shepherd and then 40 years as a leader. Then the story really doesn’t reach a climax as Moses dies outside of the promised land. Jeremiah watches his countryman go off into exile. God promises to bless them in just a mere 70 years.

God’s word continually reminds us that our story cannot be reduced to a few moments or words. The scenes we see being played out are part of a much bigger story that God himself is writing.

I think we need to be reminded of this every single day. The temptation is to focus on what happened this day and ride the emotional wave of success and defeat as each day closes. The story of your life is much more complicated than one day in 2018. You are part of an intricate story that God has been writing since before you were born and will continue sharing after you are gone. Ruth in the Old Testament did not know the great king David, but her story of faithfulness and commitment will impact generations of unseen people.

Today, no matter how bad things seem, your life is part of a grand story. You need to trust that the author is creating a bigger narrative than just today.

Be Careful with Sports

TJ was a guy I admired. He seemed to be smart, funny and didn’t adhere to anything traditional. He was a little older than me and came from a completely different background, and I listened to him for a unique perspective on the world. One day over a conversation at lunch he was asked about sports, and he said something that caught my attention, “All sports are designed to feed the human ego and nothing more.” He was the very first person in my life that I can remember who questioned the endless sports activities we have here in America.

Through the years I have repeated all or part of what he said to numerous individuals hoping to get their perspective on the sports in which we participate. Usually, the conversation is greeted with surprise and often with heated tones. It was often stated like, “How dare you question this?” Which made me even more concerned over our undying devotion to something we label as a game.

There is always a list of the positive effects of sports in the life of those who participate of which I agree.

1. They promote physical fitness. Every parent is quick to point out that it is better for their kid to be on the field or court than sitting on the couch at home playing video games or watching TV.

2. They are fun activities. All the sports I know about were designed to bring joy to the player. They should result in smiles and pleasant memories.

3. They provide fellowship. You can call it teamwork or whatever label you like. The fundamental component is the interaction with other human beings. Obviously, not all sports are designed for teams, but many contain an element of intrapersonal connection.

These seem to be the primary three reasons most people promote sports, and I can see the values in each of these. But this is where I want to put up a boundary and begin to wave a warning flag, especially to people who call themselves believers. At some point, we can move beyond the foundational goodness of these events and cross into a dark new territory. Here are a few areas where we need to be careful in both our lives and in the hearts of our children.

1. When sports are where we find meaning and self-worth. It is easy to think that if you are bigger, faster or stronger than other people, then you are somehow special. Soon your identity can become wrapped up in your activity. We can think, I have value and worth because I am good at something. My questions are, “What happens when they get hurt? What happens when they meet someone who is bigger, faster or stronger? What happens when they get older and no longer can play?” Finding your sense of self-worth in sports is a dangerous recipe for disappointment.

2. When sports fill us with pride. If you win a few games, it is easy to begin to see yourself as superior to other people. My friend TJ was partially correct in his assessment. Sports are inherently designed to promote one person or team as better than another. Soon that can translate into an inflated ego, and a whole world of terrible actions can follow. The bible is clear that pride proceeds destruction (Prov. 16:18) and a Christian attitude is humility.

3. When sports become our master. This one creeps up on us suddenly. We see all the positive benefits, and so we can throw ourselves into athletics without thinking. Soon your life can be dominated by it. Every evening’s agenda is designed around practices and games. Weekend schedules are prioritized according to the games we are playing. Let me ask you this one huge question, “When a new activity comes up as a possibility is your first thought, ‘What would Jesus want me to do?’ or is it, ‘Will the sports schedule allow it to happen?’” The answer to that question will reveal a great deal about your priorities.

I know as you read this you might think I am an angry old person who hates these kids and all their athletics programs. In fact, the opposite is true. I have four boys who enjoy sports, and I am a fan at most of their games. I have also spent a lifetime watching the effects it is having on our parents and our young people. I want to spend today issuing a warning; please, please be careful with sports.

Five Things You Should Never Communicate to People on Sunday Morning

Every week at our Church there are a group of about 215 people who gather to worship God. It is the highlight of my week as we worship, pray and share what the Bible says. Each week we see new faces, familiar friends and old acquaintances. You are never really sure who will be here on any given day.

Unfortunately, the variety creates some awkward situations and conversations. Here are a few phrases and activities to avoid this Sunday or any time you see people from Church you know.

1. “I never thought I would see you here.” This could also sound like, “You lost?” “Did you lose a bet?” Maybe even, “Will miracles never cease?” No matter how you say it exactly, it still communicates a lack of joy at their attendance. Usually, it makes people feel like an outsider who is not only new but is unwelcome. It sounds better to say, “I am so glad to see you.”

2. “Where have you been stranger?” This can also be stated as “I never thought I would see you here again” or “I thought you moved.” Yes, I know I have not been here, but I am here right now. Instead of your judgmental words how about you talk to me like an adult. Focus more on the person and their presence rather than their recent absence. How about, “It is so good to see you again. I have missed you.”

3. “You’re in my seat.” This may not come out verbally, although it sometimes does, it is often communicated in condensing glances. People feel like they are an intruder rather than a welcome guest. No one has a reserved seat, and it is far better to say, “Here take my seat.”

4. “Do you want to hear all about me.”
Of course, no one says this directly, but it can be communicated in other ways. You can ask questions without listening to the answer. You can talk all about yourself and never ask any questions. You can ignore the person when they try to share something that matters to them. Good communication includes being able to speak, plus listening to the other person. How wonderful it is when someone says, “Tell me about yourself.”

5. “I don’t care about you.” Once again this is one of those things that is communicated non-verbally. When you see a guest or someone, you do not know, and you walk by them without saying a word this statement is clearly heard. If you see people sitting alone in the auditorium and you avoid them and talk to people you already you know it is loudly spoken. Each week we have the chance to welcome people to our community and make them feel happy to be here. It takes effort and can be a little uncomfortable but take the time to tell people, “I am so glad that you have joined us today.”

What we communicate every week sends people a message about what we believe, and it either pushes them closer to Jesus or further away. Some people have been praying that a family member or friend will come to Church or back to Jesus and this is our chance to share the message of Jesus in our words and deeds. I hope this Sunday we will be a group of people who are welcoming others in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The One Thing That Might Be Lacking in Your Spiritual Life

People who want to grow spiritually are always seeking ways in which to do it. It forces them to read their Bible regularly. They develop a habit of prayer. It leads them to conferences and seminars along with sermons and books. In fact, almost all the books that I own are designed to help myself and others become more spiritually mature. The quest to become like Jesus in all that we do pushes people into all kinds of plans and practices.

Lately, I have discovered something that is helping me expand my faith beyond what I had previously experienced. This ground-breaking form of discipleship is simply pouring my life into other people. Some might label it as teaching or possibly mentoring while others might call it discipleship or accountability. By whatever name it wears, one of the best ways to deepen your faith is to be emptying yourself.

The Bible is full of examples of this type of life. Jesus called twelve men to follow him closely as he taught and modeled faith. Paul gathered around him people like Silas, Priscilla and Aquilla, Timothy, and Titus to name a few. Each of these men took a group no bigger than a handful and as small as a single individual and poured their life and learning into them. It can happen formally or informally. It can take place over coffee or in a vehicle. The primary emphasis is not on form but content.

One encouragement is that you expand your reach beyond your own children. Many people I have talked to about this topic have responded that they are focused on their kids and don’t have time for anything else. While I think this is a valid form of ministry, I do not believe it will push you to grow to the depth that working with another adult can do. You need someone to ask you questions, to help you clarify your thinking and respond with mutual encouragement.

Let me ask you today this question, “Who are you pouring your life into?” Is there anyone you can name whom you see as your spiritual child in the faith?

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome on your walk with God is selfishness and self-centered living. Jesus and Paul both modeled a life that was others focused. Maybe that is what it is going to take to make you the kind of person God wants you to be.

If you do not have someone in your life whom you are helping to develop, then today is a good day to start. You can become a mentor, have a conversation, or take the time to share your faith. Make this day about someone else and see how it affects your heart for God.