Tuesday, March 31, 2015

5 Daily Activities of Spiritually Healthy People


Just for fun, here are five things you can do every day to cultivate a spiritually healthy life.

(coincidentally, this same model can reflect the weekly life of a spiritually healthy church or a spiritually healthy small group)

1. Receive inspiration from God's Word.
2. Utilize the gifts God has given you.
3. Connect with God's people.
4. Impact those around you with God's message of salvation.
5. Celebrate the blessings of God

Monday, March 30, 2015

3 Easy Steps to Becoming a VENN COMMUNICATOR

James wrote, "You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry."

How would your communication with others change (improve) if you allowed this piece of wisdom to drive your conversations?

I've heard it said that God designed us to communicate well by giving us two ears and one mouth. Therefore we should listen twice as much as we speak. While this may not be a theologically accurate statement, the idea of listening more than speaking carries much value.

Communication is about more than just speaking and listening though. Effective communication is about UNDERSTANDING. Listening alone is very rarely enough to gain understanding and speaking alone is rarely enough to create understanding. A third piece is not just helpful, it's necessary. Effective communication also requires asking.

LISTEN: Understanding begins with listening. It's not enough to simply "hear" what someone else is saying, I need to fully give myself to listening, not just with my ears but with my eyes and my heart and my head. Often I need to dig beneath the initial words I hear to get to the heart of what someone else is trying to say.

Watching their expressions and gestures.

Leaning in.

Noticing their breathing.

Recognizing key words or repeated words.

Establishing eye contact.

These are all critical elements of true listening and they are all tools I can use to gain understanding.

ASK: Too often, communication fails when one person listens once and assumes they've gained complete understanding. Even though you may have heard every word, and observed every piece of non-verbal communication; you still may not be interpreting another person's ideas accurately. Once you've listened, BEFORE YOU RESPOND, ask a question.

Your question may be a simple restatement of what you think you've heard.

Your question might seek clarification about something you've heard.

You might point back to a key word or expression and ask for more input about that.

Whatever question you ask, your goal should be to gain understanding. Before you ever respond to someone else, make sure you know exactly to what you are responding.

I think this is probably what James was talking about when he warned people to be SLOW TO ANGER. Poor communication often leads to anger because someone reacts before they understand. They may have misread a statement or they may be unfairly imputing a feeling or emotion onto someone else. In any of these cases a few simple questions may avoid misunderstanding and will likely steer the conversation clear of anger and hurt feelings.

OFFER: Your words are a gift. Wrap them appropriately. Spouting off the first thing that comes into your mind is almost never a good idea and almost always leads to regret and more problems.

Reuben Feffer's father only speaks one line in the entire movie, Along Came Polly. But his one line provides the life-changing advice desperately needed by Reuben's friend Sandy Lyle. Few words are almost always more helpful than many.

Proverbs 10:19 says, "Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut."

Communication requires us to speak, however it doesn't require us to speak much. Effective speech is:
  • true
  • precise
  • humble
  • kind
  • straightforward

Ineffective speech is:
  • vague
  • accusatory
  • critical
  • loud
  • misleading
Good communication takes effort and time. It doesn't happen overnight. Usually, it takes (at least) two to tango. But even if those around you aren't committed to effective communication, you can still begin taking the steps to be a VENN COMMUNICATOR.

Listen fully.

Ask repeatedly.

Offer your words when necessary.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

22 Possible Responses To The Bible

Psalm 119 is all about God's Word. While reading this chapter, you will quickly discover the author's desire to promote an ACTIVE RESPONSE to the Bible. We don't just read God's Word to increase our knowledge, every reading of Scripture should compel us to do something. Listed below are 22 of Psalm 119's prescribed responses to God's Word. Read through them and figure out which ones might aid you most in your spiritual journey:

Photo by Leo Reynolds
  • Obey God's Word
  • Know God's Word
  • Seek Understanding of God's Word
  • Choose God's Word
  • Desire God's Word
  • Rely on God's Word
  • Find Comfort in God's Word
  • Remember God's Word
  • Return to God's Word
  • Rest in God's Word
  • Long for God's Word
  • Trust God's Word
  • Meditate on God's Word
  • Live by God's Word
  • Depend on God's Word
  • Value God's Word
  • Keep God's Word
  • Be Zealous for God's Word
  • Prioritize God's Word
  • Draw Life From God's Word
  • Rejoice in God's Word
  • Be Thankful for God's Word

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Do You Want To Be On The Right Side of History?

“The right side of history” has become the catch phrase most often used to tell someone their opinion is “old-fashioned.”

I regularly hear the warning, “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” Similarly, a change of opinion is often recommended by someone using the expression, “We’re on the right side of history.”

I understand the point. Culture is moving along a path, and the further we go, the more we realize that things we once thought were right, are not okay (and conversely, things we thought were wrong might actually be okay). People like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot are on the wrong side of history.  Despite the success they had in their early years (and perhaps their later years as well), we look back and judge their actions as wrong. Any momentary success or glory they enjoyed has been rendered null by history.

History can be an unforgiving jerk.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that the line of demarkation which identifies the wrong/right side of history seems to grow more indistinguishable the further away it gets. And sometimes, it seems that maybe history isn’t sure about the sides on which some belong.

Is Constantine on the right or wrong side of history? He effectively ended the persecution of Christians, but he also forced an entire empire to convert to his religion.

Is Alexander the Great on the right or wrong side of history? He massacred millions of people just to expand his own fame, but his exploits also paved the way for Western Civilization to thrive and grow.

Is Thomas Jefferson on the right or wrong side of history? He authored the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to our country, but he was also a slave owner and allegedly fathered illegitimate children with some of his slaves.

It seems that maybe getting on the right side of history might be an almost insurmountable task. I’m exhausted just thinking about what it might take to get there.

More importantly, should Christians ever want to be on the “right side of history?” As I look at the history of our world, it seems that humanity has been on a gradual but very consistent pathway that leads further and further from God. Since the garden, mankind has been asserting its autonomy and rejecting its creator. The cultural journey we are on is following a path that leads away from God.

In the end, only His direct intervention will save us. Then we will likely discover that we pretty much spent our entire lives on the wrong side of history…

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

Monday, February 23, 2015

16 Reasons T.S. Eliot Agreed With Jesus About Our Actions and Motivations

Jesus said, "Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven." His point was pretty clear, there is no eternal value in doing the right things if you do them for the wrong reasons. Here are 16 ideas I have about the things we do and the reasons why we do them:

  1. Doing wrong things for wrong reasons is evil.
  2. Doing wrong things for right reasons is naive.
  3. Doing right things for wrong reasons is selfish.
  4. Doing right things for right reasons is mature.
  5. You cannot earn your way to heaven by doing right things.
  6. One wrong act in your life is enough to disqualify you from heaven.
  7. It only takes a little skunk to ruin a good burger.
  8. The only way to heaven is by accepting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf.
  9. If you do good things to impress other people, you probably will; and that will be your reward.
  10. Impressing other people carries with it no eternal benefit.
  11. We ought to do good things to please God out of a heart of gratitude not a sense of obligation.
  12. Habitually doing good things is a sure way to grow our faith (just as habitual exercise is a sure way to grow our health).
  13. Giving a set amount of money each week grows our faith by teaching us dependence on God.
  14. Consistently setting aside regular time to pray grows our faith by enabling us to see Gods answers to our prayers.
  15. Eliminating distractions from our lives grows our faith by empowering us to focus more attention and energy on God.
  16. We grow our faith and deepen our relationship with God by doing the right things for the right reasons.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Belong Then Believe or Believe Then Belong? Martin Luther Weighs In

Many years ago, the exponential growth of the internet along with an increasing disenchantment with traditional church led to the rise of the Emerging Church movement. Unfortuntely, many valid and helpful criticisms were lost when the movement was co-opted by the “Emergent” group, which turned out to be just another institution peddling religious liberalism for financial gain.

In the midst of this progression, one of the questions oft-raised questions encompassed what could be called an ecclesiological ordo salutis. Essentially, the question was, “Can a person belong to the community of believers before they believe in Christ?” Or, “Must a person believe in Christ before they can be fully welcomed into the community of believers?”

Many people who hold a high view of Scripture and for whom I have a degree of respect disagree on the answer to these questions. Below, I’ve linked to three pretty good articles which summarize differering viewpoints on the issue. Each are short, concise and easy to read. Each is definitely worth reading:

Do Pre-Christians Need to Belong Before they Believe and Become?

Our Problem With the Belong Than Believe Approach to Evangelism

The Church: A Place to Belong For Sinners

I’ve not invested a lot of energy in this debate for many years. I do think it is not a black and white issue, but one which requires us to recognize the importance of both belonging and believing. Perhaps a linear approach is not the best way to think of this issue, as such an approach smells a little like the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction and regeneration can be set aside as a result not the cause in salvation.

But today, I came across this interesting quote by Martin Luther (the 95 theses guy who really enjoyed his wife’s beer). In this quote at least, he seems to be clearly in the Belong then Believe camp. I don’t know if this is a good summary of his lifelong writing on the topic, but it’s interesting at least. It’s also sobering to think that a church’s welcoming nature (or lack thereof) can have a significant impact on the spiritual journey of those seeking Christ. Here’s the quote:
Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in him unless he knew where his believers are?
What do you think? Should one belong before they believe? Or must they believe before they can truly belong? All comments are welcome. Gracious interaction is expected. Let each of us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10 Thoughts On Loving Your Enemies

  1. Love is more than a feeling. It is the active demonstration of commitments made.
  2. You cannot always control your feelings. You can always control your actions (and re-actions).
  3. It’s easy to be loved and to love the people who love you.
  4. It is not easy or natural to love people who will not love you in return.
  5. It is not easy or natural to love people who are unkind to you or who seek to hurt you.
  6. The acid test of those who claim to be God’s children is how well they treat those who are difficult to love.
  7. God’s children love their enemies because God loves His enemies.
  8. God’s enemies are those who disobey Him or harm His creation. This includes everyone. This includes you.
  9. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners… For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
  10. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

10 Simple Actions That Will Brighten Your World

Matthew 5:16 says:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

We are called to light up the world. Our actions every day ought to brighten the world around us. If you're having a hard time deciding how you can brighten your world, try one of these suggestions:
  1. For no reason, order a box of chocolates for someone
  2. Double the tip for your wait-person next time you eat out
  3. Send a hand-written note to a friend who is having a hard time
  4. Pay for someone else’s gas after you pump your own
  5. Write a poem for your spouse or children
  6. Make a list for your boss of “Top Ten Things I Appreciate About You"
  7. Order pizza for your co-workers
  8. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway
  9. Buy lunch for the person ahead of you in line at your favorite fast-food place
  10. Compliment 10 people on their appearance every day for a week

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.