Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How to LEARN from criticism

A couple nights ago, Detroit Tiger centerfielder Tyler Collins lost a fly ball in the lights or the sun. Because he's paid to catch those balls, and because the Tigers are not playing well right now, the fans rightly booed him. He responded by showing them all the "one way to heaven sign".

Shortly there after, Tyler Collins was sent back to the minor leagues. 


Don't respond to criticism like Tyler Collins did. Instead when someone offers you a critique, LEARN from it.

LISTEN to their words. 

You cannot learn with an open mouth. James, in the Bible, said we should all listen before we speak. A common temptation, when facing criticism, is listening in order to respond. You might find yourself hearing the other person's words, but you're already formulating your answer. Instead listen only to hear what they say. Commit not to respond until you're absolutely sure they said what they want to say, and you understand what they mean.

EMPATHIZE with their viewpoint.

Of course you already know your opinion on the matter, but do you truly understand their perspective? How can you know if their criticism is true, partially true or completely false if you don't grasp their viewpoint? Think about how their experience, their personality, and their previous interactions with you might play in to how they saw the matter at hand. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

ASK clarifying questions.

Do not interrogate the person who is come to you. Do not try to catch them in a contradiction. Do not be defensive. Only use questions to clarify exactly what they are saying. If you are certain you understand, refreeze their opinion in your own words and ask them if you've got it right. If you don't, go back and start over. If they agree that you understand, now is the time to consider whether or not they are right.

REFLECT on the criticism.

Rarely will anyone's criticism of you be 100% correct. Rarely will it be 100% incorrect. Follow the ancient wisdom, chew the fish but spit out the bones. No matter how difficult or painful it might be, find that one nugget of truth and hold onto it. If possible graciously acknowledge your agreement and thank them for loving you enough to point this out.

LIVE accordingly.

Once you've identified the valid criticism, make the change you need to make. It may be small or it may be large; it may be easy or it may be difficult; it may take time or it may be immediate. Make a plan, set it in motion, take the first step.

Criticism is painful, but so is a doctor's shot. Immunizations prevent you from getting sick. Criticism prevents you from growing arrogant. Accept it, embrace it, and never run from it. And most importantly, don't follow Tyler Collins' example.

Monday, April 25, 2016

5 Daily Activities to Create Deep Spiritual Roots

In the parable of the sower, Jesus taught that some people fail in their faith because they lack spiritual depth. When the trials of the world hit (and they always do), these people wither and die. Faithfulness requires us to put down deep spiritual roots. Below are three Bible passages that talk about putting down spiritual roots and five principles I've drawn from these passages:
Deep spiritual roots are the key to withstanding life's storms.

Passage 1: Psalm 1:1-3

Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Limit your time with people whose influence is spiritually shallow (Psalm 1)

The people with whom you spend time will influence you to become like them. To be sure, you can influence them as well, but if you are not intentional about the nature of your relationship, you will become like them more quickly than they become like you.
I often think of a ladder when I read this passage. Imagine two people on the same ladder, one desires to pull the other up and the other is working to pull their partner down. Gravity sides with the low man on the ladder. He will have a much easier time pulling the other down. Our natural tendency toward sin and selfishness causes us to get pulled down much more quickly than we pull others up.
Psalm 1 warns against spending too much time with those who live in opposition to God. They influence you toward spiritual shallowness. Implied in this Psalm is the need to surround yourself with those who will produce spiritual depth in your life. Allow yourself to be influenced by those who will ask tough questions, hold you accountable and encourage you toward faithfulness.

Immerse yourself in God's Word (Psalm 1)

Psalm 1 also declares the person who delights and meditates in God's Word will be blessed. The Bible is God's revelation of Himself to us. Everything we need to know about Him and everything we need to know about living a righteous life is included in its pages. Spiritual depth is the result of time spent with God's Word.
Meditating on God's Word indicates more than simply reading a passage, setting it down and getting on with your day. Meditating means you take God's truth with you throughout the day. You may not be able to memorize an entire chapter and recite it to yourself all day long, but you can identify a principle and repeatedly come back to it during the day. Perhaps you can write it down or email it to yourself. Maybe you can set an alarm on your phone reminding you to take a couple minutes to review what you discovered. Most importantly, seek opportunities to apply God's Word to your daily situations. As you do this, you'll discover a new depth to your spiritual life.

Passage 2: Colossians 2:6-7

Colossians 2:6-7 -- So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Continually demonstrate gratitude to God (Col 2:7)

In Colossians 2, Paul is encouraging a group of Christians to live consistently with their roots in Jesus' example and teaching. This is accomplished, according to Paul, by "overflowing with thankfulness." Saying, "thank you" every so often is nice, but a quick prayer of thanksgiving once a day is hardly "overflowing."
Causing anything to overflow requires filling it with more than it can handle. If you want to overflow with thanksgiving, you must FILL your life with more gratitude than you can handle. That means being thankful even when you don't feel like it.
Begin your day by giving thanks (you can start by thanking God that He woke you up). At various points throughout the day (meals), give thanks. At the conclusion of your day, give thanks. When things go well, give thanks. When others treat you with kindness, give thanks. When things go poorly, give thanks that they aren't worse. When others treat you with malice, give thanks that you are being treated like Jesus was. You can always find something for which to be grateful. The more you thank God, the more you'll be rooted in His Son.

Fill your mind with Biblical teaching (Col 2:7)

This may seem similar to an earlier idea, but an important distinction should be noticed. Psalm 1 focused on what you do on your own. Do you long to study God's Word? Do you carry it with you? Colossians 2 is focused on what you do with others. The key word in this phrase is "taught". You should regularly place yourself in relationships with those who can teach you God's Word.
You can learn from pastors, small group leaders, authors, podcasts, YouTube, blogs, friends, family members and even your children. The key is getting into places where you will hear the truth, submitting yourself to listen to the truth, and opening yourself to be changed by the truth. It's no secret that God's plan for us includes relationships with others. He created us to be shaped by our relationships. Allow yourself to be impacted by those around you so that you can develop a new level of spiritual depth.

Passage 3: Ephesians 3:16-18

Ephesians 3:16-18 -- I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

Choose love (Eph 3:17)

Concentrate on how much Jesus loves you. Paul wrote in Ephesians that God's love is wide, long, high and deep. In other words, it's way bigger than you can imagine. Think about that. The God of the universe loves you more intensely than you could ever love yourself. How do you want to respond to that love?
These verses say that we are rooted and established in love because we have Christ dwelling in our hearts. The more time you spend contemplating Christ's love for you, the more that love will spill out of you and into the lives of all those around you. More importantly, the more you think about Jesus' love for you, the more you will discover your love for Him.
At the end of the day, this is spiritual depth: to love and be loved by your Creator, Savior, Redeemer and Lord.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

7 Spiritual Habits That Will Change Your Life

Steven Covey said, “We make our habits, then our habits make us.” We each choose to cultivate different patterns in our lives. If you desire to grow spiritually, you can facilitate that growth by choosing and developing the right habits.


Read about Jesus every day

The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) give us accurate, historical accounts of Jesus’ life. If you want to follow Jesus, you must know what He did, where He went, how He spoke and who He loved. Read these books and pay special attention to Jesus’ commands. Ask yourself each day how you might become more obedient to Him.

Read a proverb every day

Jesus was wisdom personified. Every aspect of His life was aligned with the truth of Proverbs. Every truth of Proverbs is aligned with Jesus’ life. Wisdom is learned and developed over time. Read at least one verse or chapter of Proverbs every day and let the words sink into your soul as you walk through your daily routine.

Every day, tell someone that God loves them

God loved the world so much He sent His Son to us. He still loves the world and know He has sent us to take His Son to the world. You encounter people, every day, who need to hear that God loves them. Whether they are discouraged, suffering, lonely, confused or even if life seems good; the love of God is a wonderful message. You don’t need to be a theologian and you must not be judgmental. But be loving, speak lovingly and tell them God loves them.


Give money away every day

This may seem crazy, but you need not give away vast amounts. Buy someone a candy bar or a drink from a machine. Pay for someone’s meal at a drive thru. Give a couple dollars to a child. Sometimes, give more sacrificially. You will discover that money is not as important as you thought it was. You will discover that God has given you more than you thought He had. You will discover that all your needs are indeed taken care of (because you will discover that what you thought you needed was not at all your true needs).

Pray for your neighbors every day

Self-centeredness always keeps us from growing. Focus on others cultivates a heart of generosity. By regularly praying for others, you will discover you become closer to them throughout the day. You will listen more attentively and find yourself more concerned with their needs and desires. Praying for your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and others will make you more like Jesus.


Ask advice every day

James said we should all be quick to listen. Finding people who can speak truth into your life, to whom you can regularly listen, will enable you to grow more than you might imagine. Ask those around you to correct you, to guide you and to invest you. Humbly receive their advise, their praise and their criticism. As you listen, you will grow.

Give thanks every day

Close out your day by remembering and acknowledging the many ways God blessed you throughout the day. Remember how He cared for you and protected you. Acknowledge how He provided for your needs. Thank Him for the joy and laughter the day brought and thank Him for carrying you through the day’s sorrows. Thankfulness leads to contentment and contentment to generosity. Generosity is a character trait of our Heavenly Father. Be like Him!

Monday, April 4, 2016

19 Bible Verses To Fight Off Anxiety


When you feel an emptiness of soul gnawing away your insides, you are tempted to fill your life with things you don't need. You shop, you eat, you binge watch Netflix, you medicate, you drink, you smoke, etc...
What if you sought to fill that emptiness with the truth of God?
He doesn't promise to make everything better. Turning your life over to Him is not a free pass out of trouble. Life will still twist and turn unexpectedly. Bad things will still happen to you. People will still mistreat you. Just as Christ suffered, suffering is guaranteed for those who follow Christ.
However, when you yield your life to God you can rest, knowing that you are still responsible for the choices you have, and now He will take care of all the details you cannot control. This new freedom brings purpose for today and hope for tomorrow.
No matter what happens, you know that God will use it for good.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
No matter what is going on today, you know that it is not the end of the story.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
With that in mind, fill your mind with these passages. Allow their truth to fill you next time you must combat anxiety.
Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
This beautiful poem is worth memorizing. Anytime you feel control slipping from your fingers or the shadow of despair creeping over your shoulder, repeat these words to yourself. If necessary, repeat. Remind yourself that your heavenly Father is your loving shepherd and He ONLY leads you where you need to go.
Psalm 33:11 - The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
God is never surprised by what happens. He is in control, He knows what is going on and He knows what He is going to do next.
Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
This is a great verse to remember when it seems that others have seized control and are bent on wounding or destroying you. They have their plans in mind, but God's purposes for you will stand (and his purposes are always good!).
Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Remembering that God is in full control, replace your anxiety with prayer and thanksgiving. Knowing His Son has already provided for your greatest need, leave room for God's peace to fill your mind.
Matthew 6:25-34 -- “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
These are among the most powerfully encouraging words ever spoken by Jesus. He reminds us of the loving attention God pays to even birds and plants. If the Creator cares that much for the smallest of creation, how much more does He care for us, the crown of His creation? Jesus rebukes us for worrying so much about tomorrow, challenging us instead to concentrate on living for God's kingdom today. If we focus on the kingdom, our Father will focus on us.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stop pointing your fingers at everyone else

Why do we point our fingers at other people?

When you were a child, did you ever tell anyone “Whenever you point one finger at me; there are four pointing back at you!” Never mind that this little statement doesn’t account for the thumb, it always seemed like a good way to keep people from pointing their fingers at you.

No one likes to get blamed for stuff. We really don’t like getting blamed for things we didn’t do (on Sunday I talked about one of many cases in which a person was falsely accused and convicted). But the truth is, we also don’t like getting blamed for things of which we are guilty. Have you ever tried to deflect or avoid the blame for something you know you did?

Interestingly, Jesus was willing to not only be accused, but to accept conviction and crucifixion for something He didn’t do. Not only that, He accepted the conviction and judgment for all the wrong everyone ever did! He became sin. He took on himself the punishment for us all. Perhaps, that’s something to think about next time you are falsely accused; you’re in good company!


So… if we so dislike having fingers pointed at us, why do we ever point fingers at others? Undoubtedly, many reasons exist why we are inclined to blame, judge and defame others. Here are just a few:
  • We point our fingers at others because we feel badly about ourselves. If I have to be miserable, I want to have as many others as possible joining me in my misery. If I feel guilty, I want to have as many others as possible joining me in my guilt.
  • We point our fingers at others because we don’t think we measure up. The more I compare myself to others, the more I see the areas in which I fall short. I can always find someone who does something better than me. The more I focus on my shortcomings, the more I need to find someone who I find inferior to me. When I can point out other’s shortcomings, I find myself on the long end of the measuring stick.
  • We point our fingers at others because we feel threatened. I want to hold on to the things I think I’ve earned. I certainly don’t want to be replaced or passed over. When I see someone who may someday exceed my ability our take my place; I need to put them back in theirs. Pointing my finger at them, pointing out their flaws allows me to more tightly hold my own self-esteem.
  • We point our fingers at others because we don’t trust God. If I trust God, I’m willing to allow Him to be in control. Attacking others is my effort to control them and control what is happening around me. People and circumstances are two things none of us can ever control. We can only control how we act and react to the people and situations in our lives. Trusting God means I do the best and most right thing within my control while allowing Him to control everything else.
Recently I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Baban. They are former navy seals who led men through some of the most intense combat operations of the last 30 years. Foundational to their understanding of leadership is the importance of seizing control of yourself. They write:

“Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

This is not only true of leaders, it is true of everyone. You must own everything which is under your control. Pointing your finger at others is an abdication of responsibility.

Willink and Baban later say:

“Implementing Extreme Ownership requires checking your ego and operating with a high degree of humility. Admitting mistakes, taking ownership, and developing a plan to overcome challenges are integral to any successful team.”

Within this quote is a five step plan to help you avoid pointing fingers at others:
1) Check your ego
2) Operate with humility
3) Admit your mistakes
4) Take ownership
5) Develop a plan to overcome challenges
Stop pointing fingers. Don’t let the situations or people you cannot control gain control over you.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Preparing to Preach: Eraser Day

For four weeks, I compile as much information as I can. I study individual words, I read commentaries, I create outlines, I dig around for quotes and stories. By the time, I'm done, I have pages upon pages of charts, lists, drawings and web-clippings.

After a month of collecting, on Thursday, I start cutting.


By Thursday morning, I've narrowed my sermon down to four key movements and one main point. Anything that doesn't fit into those movements or support that point gets erased. By the end of Thursday, I've erased enough to have a sermon that can be preached in less than 30 minutes and will hopefully equip people to take 1-3 next steps on their spiritual journey.

Someday I hope to write more about this process, but for now, it's back to the eraser.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Pastor: How do you find the Sermon Sweet Spot?

Before you step behind the pulpit, or turn on your wireless mic, or fire up your iPad…
How do you know you have the right message?

Every preacher approaches their messages differently. We all have different methods and patterns and systems to help us create the final draft of our sermon. I’m not about to suggest there is only one way to do it (particularly because I use different methods just about every week); however, I am going to suggest three questions that might help you focus in on the most important things you need to say.


What has God said?

I don’t suppose this is a complicated question. What God has said is contained in His Word. I may be old fashioned, but I still think the content of every sermon ought to flow from the pages of the Bible.

If I want to preach the Words of God, I need to immerse myself in them. I need to study them, memorize them, meditate on them. I need to consult others to better understand them. Before I ever preach to others, I ought to have as clear an understanding as possible of what God has said.

Who are these people?

Not every congregation or audience is the same, and how I preach God’s Word to them ought to reflect who they are. Not everyone can always know exactly who their audience is, but if you are a pastor, you MUST spend regular time learning who the people are that sit in those pews every Sunday.

Every Monday I spend time reading notes, comments, prayer requests and praises from my brothers and sisters at The Gathering. They are kind enough to share their lives and thoughts with me by writing on the back of our “connection card” every Sunday. I try to email every one of them with a short note of encouragement so they know I enjoy hearing from them and want to hear more.

I also have other means by which I grow deeper relationships with the people in the pews. The method is not nearly as important as the outcome. If I am going to effectively preach to them, I must find a way to learn:
  • What is going on in their lives
  • How they are struggling
  • Where they have been victorious
  • When they have been disappointed
  • Why they are at our church
  • For whom they are burdened
How can I tell these people what God said?

I could easily spend 30 hours preparing for a sermon and then speak for an hour, dumping a massive amount of information on the congregation. I would walk away feeling good that I have taught and they have learned.

I choose to take the road less travelled.

For me, the most difficult element of sermon preparation is specifically crafting my words to particularly apply to my friends in the pews. I find it much more stressful to choose what I will not say, then to determine what I will say. Not everything I learn in my sermon preparation is what the people on Sunday need to learn. In fact, much of it is not what they need and could possibly distract them from what God truly wants them to hear.

(The Sermon on the Mount was NOT a 45 minute sermon!)

My general rule of thumb is as follows:
If I could preach this sermon to any congregation at any location; I still have work to do before I preach it to my congregation at my church.
Discover what God has said.Determine to whom you’ll be speaking.Discern what they need to hear from God.
Then trust the Holy Spirit to do the hard work!