Monday, January 19, 2015

You Aren't Growing Because You Are Listening To The Wrong People

Stuck in a rut.

No one wants this to be descriptive of their life, yet so many of us spend so much time here. We want to grow. We want to improve. Yet, we often find ourselves fighting the same battle over and over. Never really improving, just working hard to keep from slipping into the shadowy side of ourselves.

Self-improvement comes in two ways:

1) We stop doing things that are bad for us.
2) We start doing things that are good for us.

It really is that simple. So why do we have such a hard time identifying the things that are bad for us? And why do we have such a hard time doing the things that are good for us?
Sometimes... it's because we aren't willing to listen to the right people.
Proverbs 27:6 says: Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

All the people in your life fall into four categories, defined by two questions.

  • Are they more likely to compliment you or criticize you?
  • Do they more likely love you or love you not?
Those who do not love you and are more likely to criticize you are the villains in your life. They make you feel bad. They provide no benefit. You are better off without them. Wisdom invests little to no energy in those relationships.
Those who love you and are more likely to compliment you are the companions in your life. They make you feel good. They provide energy and keep you going. You need many of these people in your life. A wise man surrounds himself with these companions. (But they walk with you, they do not lead you!)
Those who do not love you and are more likely to compliment you are the snakes in your life. They are the most dangerous people you can know. They flatter you and make you feel good, but they are only laying a trap or building their own kingdom. You must learn to recognize these people and not be taken in by their smooth talk and tempting adulation. A wise man is not deceived by the seductive compliments of those who do not love him.
Those who love you and are more likely to criticize you are the prophets in your life. They are the most beneficial people you can know. Their words may not feel good initially, but their instruction has the power to help you grow. You may not want many prophets in your life, but everyone needs at least one. Wisdom is imparted to us by those who lovingly criticize us.

To whom are you more willing to listen?

Most of us prefer the companions. They love us. They tell us what is good about us. They assure us that we are doing okay.
Too often I've observed people swayed by the snakes. Unwilling to look behind the curtain of flattery, they blindly swallow the sugary words endorsements until it is too late, they are overcome by treachery, and they find themselves far away from life's best path.
The reason we don't grow more is because we don't listen to the prophets! No one wants to be criticized, but sometimes criticism is incredibly necessary. Physical trainers often say that "pain is just weakness leaving the body." Criticism is sometimes painful. It might be suggested that loving criticism enables weakness to leave the soul.

Remember the formula for growth?

How can you know what bad things to get rid of in your life if no one will tell you those things? How can you know what good things you are neglecting if no one will tell you those things?
Not long ago, I had a friend serve as a prophet for me. He had noticed something in my life that wasn't completely healthy so he sat down with me and pointed it out. It wasn't really a big deal, just a minor tweak that would enable me to grow. He gave an example of how he saw it playing out, and then suggested some positive steps I could take to create improvement.
In a short conversation he had provided for me the two steps I needed to grow. He showed me a bad thing to stop doing and he suggested some good things for me to start doing. It wasn't the easiest thing to hear. But since I know he has my best interests at heart; I recognized this as beneficial criticism.
I had two choices. I could ignore him and offset his criticism by replaying in my mind all the good things people had said to me in the past week. Drowning his criticism in the flood of platitudes offered by companions would certainly have made me feel better. Or, I could choose to hear and apply his criticism. Only the second choice would lead to growth.

Are you stuck in a rut?

Maybe it's because you aren't listening to the prophets in your life. If you truly want to identify the harmful behaviors in your life, you'll need to find a friend who will point them out. Loving compliments are good and necessary. But like a diet of steak without vegetables, the long term implications are unhealthy.
Find yourself a prophet. Even if their words for you are somewhat bitter, you'll be better for it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Benjamin Franklin Was Wrong: Healthy, Wealthy and Wise is Way Overrated

Benjamin Franklin said, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise." While he may have been correct (generally speaking); I would suggest that healthy, wealthy and wise may not be the best case scenario for those who claim to follow Christ.

Of course the alternative is to be sickly, poor and foolish. That doesn't sound great either. So why would I suggest you might not want to be healthy, wealthy and wise?

Self-Sufficiency is a Myth.

The American way has always been to pull oneself up by ones bootstraps (an impossibility, practically speaking). As a "founding father", Benjamen Franklin certainly helped to shape this piece of our social makeup. While there is much good to be considered in the ethic of hard work and self-determinism, there is also a great danger in assuming that we can somehow be the masters of our own fate.

Hard work and a disciplined life will reap benefits. Those benefits will often last you your entire life on earth. That is good. But will your efforts profit you in eternity?

John wrote to the church in Laodicea, "You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."

Jesus said to his followers and the Pharisees, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

The more convinced we are that we have it "all together", the less we will find room in our lives for Christ. The more we believe that we are healthy, wealthy and wise, the less we will consider our need for a spiritual father, physician or savior.

The more we think of ourselves, the less we'll think of Him.

I hope your life is not difficult. I hope you do well and reap the results of your efforts. I hope you live long and free from pain or disease. I hope you keep learning and understand much.

And I hope you always recognize that you don't have what you need.

Jesus said, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." 

I hope you are never so content with the life you have made, that you don't allow Him to make a far better life for you.

Monday, December 29, 2014

3 Resolutions You Must Make This Year

Here's something new for the blog. Maybe it will happen once, maybe it will happen weekly.
What follows is yesterday's sermon in 10 statements...

1. Jesus provided three primary commands for those who wished to follow him. They were:

2. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength. "All" is the key word.

3. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Here is the foundational principle for what would someday become the golden rule.

4. Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus' love for his followers was a sacrificial love. He said the greatest love of all is a man who lays down his life for his friends. Then He laid down his life for His friends.

5. Prioritizing these commands in our life requires us to DEMONSTRATE our love through ACTION.

6. Our love for God is demonstrated when we obey ALL his commands. If we choose to ignore certain of His expectations, we are demonstrating self-love rather than love for God.

7. Our love for our neighbor is demonstrated when we positively impact every person with whom we come into contact.

8. Our love for one another is demonstrated when we sacrifice our time, talents or treasures for the good of the body of Christ.

9. Our journey of character formation is made up of the whole of every "step" we take.

10. Each new year's resolution you make is a step toward something. Use your resolutions to form your character to match that of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tonight, My Heart is Full.

My heart is full tonight.

And not just because I’m hanging out on the couch with my honey watching a BeeGees tribute band (although that would usually be enough).

Two years ago, Marianne and I moved as far back in the auditorium as we could. We simply wanted to watch our daughter perform in the band and remain as anonymous as possible. We didn’t really know anyone around us, and that was okay.

For several years, we had struggled to move our children out of a dysfunctional school that was not good for them. Now they had started at a new school and were transitioning well, but we were yet a bit numb. We had lost friends; for integrity’s sake, I had left my job; we were making ends meet but had no idea what was around the corner. That night, we just wanted to get in, hear the music and get out.

Tonight was so different.

Tonight we sat with close friends and laughed with the people around us, the parents of our children’s classmates. We watched our daughter do something she loves, surrounded by people who love her. We enjoyed the performance of the children of our closest, life-long friends, people who had made this difficult journey with us.

As we stood to sing carols, surrounded by over 1000 parents, friends and grandparents, I looked over the edge of the balcony and swept my eyes across the crowd of people who used to be strangers but were now friends. There were soccer parent friends and volleyball parent friends, partners in the concession stand and co-chaperones from class trips and parties. I couldn’t help but think how fortunate we are to have been warmly welcomed into this community.

My children are loved by their teachers. They are mentored by coaches who care about every child. They have been positively influenced by older students, and now they are seizing the opportunities to build into the lives of those who follow them. They understand the power of servanthood. I could never have imagined a better environment for their education.

My mind wandered to my church family at The Gathering. Less than a month after that first concert, I received the initial call from a friend wondering if I might be interested in pastoring there. I am so fortunate to teach there every Sunday. I thought about how kind, gracious, generous and loving my church is. I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude that they have been so flexible to allow me to be their pastor and still be a father.

I couldn’t help but think of my friend John and the picture he posted on his Facebook page shortly before his death. He quoted C.S. Lewis, and those words which applied to John’s life certainly apply to mine.

There are far far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.

Indeed, there are.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How do you deal with life's disappointments?

Everybody deals with disappointment in life.

Some people face minor disappointments and some people face major disappointments. Some people deal with unspeakable disappointment.

 But for the Christian, disappointment should never lead to despair. We all have different disappointments in our past, and we all share one common event in the past.

That event is the cross. Christ's work in the past brings peace to our present and gives us hope for the future!


Monday, November 10, 2014

10 Rules To Shape Your Life

Try reading this list every morning to inspire you toward better living. Then examine yourself each night to evaluate your growth.

  1. Be good 
  2. Incentivize desired behavior 
  3. Delay spending 
  4. Seek a third solution 
  5. Compliment effort and virtue 
  6. Invest your energy in that which you can control 
  7. Plan ahead 
  8. Confront others lovingly & only for their benefit 
  9. Do your best 
  10. Give credit; claim blame