What you train your mind to do

A few years ago, I stopped using notes when I preached. It resulted from using my notes less and less through the years, but it also happened because of some changes I made. I decided to put several patterns in place that helped me achieve this goal. These changes included writing less “catchy” outlines and ones that were easier for me to remember, using the passage of scripture as my guide, and keeping my Bible as the primary focus. It was also much more practical than merely writing differently. It meant that I needed my sermon completed by Wednesday morning. Then I could edit and review it on Thursday. Saturday night, I reviewed the sermon at least four times. Finally, I get up early on Sunday morning and review the sermon notes before walking on the local track and talking through the whole thing one more time in complete form and once as a general outline.

These minor changes and patterns have helped me to remember more and more accurately.

I believe you can achieve numerous life goals and dreams in much the same way. Decide what you want to do and then set up patterns to make it happen. For example, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. I believe most of us would like to be more thankful. What would happen if you set up actions to achieve that goal? Things like starting the day with a grateful journal, keeping lists of blessings, and changing what you talk about with friends. Perhaps you could keep all the positive comments people sent you in emails, texts, or online and throw away all the criticism. What if you took steps to train your mind to be thankful more than one day a year?

Perhaps one day, you will wake up and find you can be thankful without thinking about it. Maybe it would be the regular pattern of your life. All you have to do is train your mind to do it.

Used for Good

The item was listed as NIB.  That means it was never used, and it is New In the Box. 

It is an excellent way to find an older item when you are searching online.  Then you know you are getting a product that has never been touched and should have a long life. However, it seems like an odd thing to me.  There are only a couple of possible explanations.  First, someone bought this object and put it away on purpose with the hope of selling it later for a profit.  The other possibility is that someone bought it and simply never used it. Either way, the item is unused and in perfect condition.

Whenever you use something, it will get scratches and dents.  It will start to wear and have signs of use.  But that is what the item was made to do.   It was made to be used.  It was never designed to sit in a box year after year looking nice.  Something that has been used is fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.  While I like finding NIB items online, I cannot help but think, “what a waste.” Someone owned a great piece and then never used it. 

The same is true with people.  God created each one of us with unique gifts and abilities.  Everyone has their own special contribution to give to the kingdom of God.  But know that if you try to do something good, you will sometimes get scratches and dents. Things will not go the way you planned, people will get upset, and your feelings might get hurt.  You will watch things fail, people quit, and others ignore you.  It can be frustrating to serve people in the name of Jesus.  But that is what we were created to do. 

We can keep ourselves safe on the shelf, but only in being used will we each fulfill our purpose.

Setting Your Own Pace

I am a driver who likes to go with the flow.  Whenever I am in the city and shut off the cruise control, I tend to go the speed of everyone around me.  Like many people, I think there is no way the police will give us all tickets. 

There are two things I have noticed about this habit.  First, if someone comes up behind me fast and gets on my back bumper, then I speed up.  I don’t know what I am thinking other than maybe I am going slower than everyone else.  Second, without noticing, I can be flying over 80 mph down the highway.  It is easy to go faster and faster and not notice it.  Meanwhile, I am putting myself and my family at a greater risk of accident and injury.

Life is sometimes like driving.  If we are not careful, we can keep going faster and faster to keep up with everyone else.  We fill our schedules with meetings, parties, appointments, and tasks. Every night is full, and we spend little time thinking and reflecting on God’s work or his word.  We have no extra time for family and friends.  Life is busy. 

Then the minute you try to slow down, someone drives right up on your back bumper and tries to push you to go faster.  Sign up for this sport, school activity, or group is the constant plea. “You are free on Tuesday nights?  Great, that is the night you can help with ….” 

Remember back when Covid shut everything down, and you were enjoying a different kind of life that was less frantic and fast-paced?  Remember how you said, “I will never allow myself to get that busy again?” Well, some of us are right back on the highway and allowing everyone else to set our pace.  Know that God is not pushing you to do more most of the time; it is usually the people around you.

Preaching to the Choir

I don’t know the first time I heard the expression, but I am sure it was at Church.  Without an explanation, I knew what people meant when they said it. 

The phrase “preaching to the choir” was first used in print in 1973 in Ohio.  It is an updated variation of an expression used in England in writing since 1867.  They said, “preaching to the converted.” Both mean that someone is trying to convince a group of people of an idea of which they already agree with the premise. 

The harsh truth for me is that I spend most weeks preaching to people who are completely behind everything I say.  I wish this were not true, but I hope that the people of the congregation, or the converted or choir, would go out each week and tell their non-believing friends what they are learning.  They might even invite them to join them some Sunday.

I can only preach to whoever shows up at our worship time.  Some weeks I preach to the choir, and other weeks, I preach to the choir’s friends. I consider speaking to every single person an honor and a privilege, no matter their background. 

Each week, I walk to the front and begin to preach.  I hope my work is not a cliché, but God’s word will make an impact even when it is. Who knows what God may do in the heart and life of someone who hears my sermon?  Even a person like you.

Dabbling At Faith

The definition of dabbling is to “take part in an activity in a casual or superficial way.” (Oxford Languages Online) Merriam-Webster defines it as “to work or involve oneself superficially or intermittently especially in a secondary activity or interest.”

Casual. Superficial. Intermittently. Secondary.

The list of examples of how to use this word is lengthy online. People dabble at writing, others in music, and still some do it was computer technology. There are thousands of possible actions that are primary, while others are secondary, and people dabble at them.

The one thing I did not see as an example in my search was faith. But still, every week, I encounter people where dabbling is a perfect description. They attend worship at the local Church occasionally. They have only a superficial knowledge of the Bible. They have family, work, and hobbies, and the rest is secondary. They dabble in faith when they have extra time, and in no way do they take it too seriously.

One of the most challenging parts of Church leadership is taking people who dabble at faith and leading them to become fully devoted followers. What do you say or do to get people to take their faith more seriously? I wish I had an answer.

All I know is Jesus never called anyone to have a superficial faith. His words are, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 -NIV 2011)

Maybe the reason the examples online do not include faith is that it is impossible. You cannot dabble at faith and genuinely follow Jesus. But, there are sure a large number of people trying anyway.

That Got Me Thinking

Every sermon I prepare has so much more material than I can say. Each week I have 25-35 minutes to talk about a passage or topic in front of my Church. It takes me somewhere between 10-20 hours to prepare for that moment. I read, research, study, and write knowing that I will not say everything I want.

For many years I struggled with this idea. I saw my sermons go from 15 minutes each week, up to 20, then 30, and at one point about 45 minutes. What do you leave out and still honor the Lord? This was the question I struggled with weekly.

Then God gave me a moment of clarity. What if my goal was not to explain everything; instead, it was to get people thinking? What if people went home saying, ” I know there is more scripture about that topic?” Others might say, “I am not sure that is true. I definitely need to read more.” What if the goal was not to say everything about a topic or passage but just enough to make people want to know more?

One of my favorite teachers said, “Don’t hit the ball and then run around the net and try to hit it back. Let the audience decide if they want to hit it or just let it fall.”

Over the past couple of years, this thinking has infiltrated my sermons, teaching, and writing. As a result, I am willing to be brief, say less, and leave some things open-ended. I still have firm ideas and solid convictions, but I no longer feel like I need to share everything in each setting.

God is big, the Bible is complex, and people seeking the truth will find it. I hope to push people in the right direction, and one of my favorite things to hear when I am finished is, “Preacher, that got me thinking.”

Lots of Great Ideas

My mind is filled with all kinds of inspiring, challenging, and life-altering ideas.  I think this is true for numerous people.  Each of us has accumulated life lessons, practical insights, and excellent advice … all meant for other people.

It is easy to possess ideas for how everyone else should run their lives. However, listening and following your own concepts is much more difficult. 

Maybe this is nowhere more true than in the people of faith.  We read the Bible, listen to teaching, and talk with other believers regularly.  We are exposed to truth and wisdom over and over.  Most of us know far more than we will ever attempt to accomplish. 

What would happen this week if you took one of your pieces of wise instructions and did it yourself?  Most of us know the right things to do; the trouble is doing it. 

Take One Step Today

If you want to make a change, do one thing to get you headed in the right direction. Start doing the right thing, just one time.

Then set a goal of taking the necessary steps for an entire day.

Then aim for a week, then a month, and finally a year.

Change usually starts with a tiny step in the right direction. Then you add another. Another and another follow that. Soon, without even noticing it, you are walking on a new path.

This is true with diet and exercise, reading the Bible, becoming more friendly, or any other positive transformation you want to make.

Starting with a single step seems easy, yet it is the most critical step of all.

Think Small

Sometimes the biggest blessings come in the smallest of actions.

Things like:
-Taking the time to pray for someone.
-Tell that person you prayed for them.
-Dropping a text, email, or note to say something encouraging.
-Sharing an item of which you have extra.
-Giving a small gift, just to let someone know you were thinking of them.
-Adding something to the tip jar.
-Making a snack or dessert to give someone.
-Smiling when you talk to people.
-Telling a person “Thank you” for what they have done.

How many times has someone made your day, week, or month better by some little action? We often want to wait to show our admiration and appreciation in one grand gesture. In reality, the little things mean far more, and they are something any of us can do.

There is no better time to do them than right now.

Are You Worried?

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow” – Swedish proverb

Too often, we view upcoming events in our life through the lens of worry.  Our minds are filled with anxiety and uneasiness as issues appear on the horizon.  We allow ourselves to dwell on the possibility of difficulty or trouble.  We see our uncertain future can only be filled with potential headaches.

Worry is a problem for everyone.  Jesus himself instructed his followers not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34).  And yet, I talk to Christians weekly who are filled with it as they walk into the future. 

One way to overcome worry is to be reminded of the size of the God we serve.  He is bigger than any problem we face.  It is also helpful to remember the actual size of the issues we face.  They can appear much larger than they are based on the size of their shadow. 

To overcome worry, we need great faith in an all-powerful God so that the small objects of this world pale in comparison.