Saturday, May 28, 2016

5 Reasons Your Church Should Observe Memorial Day This Weekend

I have a bit of an aversion to disclaimers. We ought to be able to read/listen to those with whom we disagree and then interact in a civil manner. We shouldn’t have to hedge or soften our opinions. We should also have flying cars by now, so here’s my disclaimer:

I’ll be the first to admit I have a certain level of discomfort with the relationships between the American church and politics. I find the religious right AND the religious left a bit too militant and intolerant for my tastes. I get nervous when Sunday programs at church resemble Sam Eagle’s “A Tribute To All Nations, But Especially America.” (you’ll have to visit Hollywood Studios at Disney in Orlando if you’ve never seen it)

Memorial Day, though, is different. Memorial Day is not about a country or politics or even patriotism. Memorial Day is about people, specifically people who made the ultimate sacrifice for our benefit.

This list could probably be longer, but here are 5 reasons churches should at least make mention of Memorial Day this weekend:

1) The Bible encourages us to give honor to whom honor is due. In our nations 240 year history, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives in a cause larger than themselves. Each of them deserve honor. 
2) Someone in your church may have lost a loved one in service to our country. We are to mourn with those who mourn. Observing this day is an opportunity to join your Christian brothers and sisters in mourning. 
3) If you have soldiers or retired soldiers in your church, they have probably lost comrades. I imagine Memorial Day is painful for many of them. Joining them in that pain is one way to demonstrate Jesus’ love. 
4) Jesus said the greatest love of all is the one who lays down his life for his friends. Memorial Day provides one of the most clear human portrayals of Christ’s love for us. For this reason alone, it is worth observing. 
5) We all have many blessings as a result other people’s sacrifice. Taking time to be grateful for those sacrifices is beyond appropriate. A grateful church is a generous church. A generous church is a Godly church.
Memorial Day shouldn’t be the center of your service on Sunday. That spot is reserved for Jesus. This holiday shouldn’t even take precedent over the reading of Scripture. However, it’s a good idea to mention it, to say a prayer and maybe even share words of comfort for those who have lost someone.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Church Is A Place For Team Players

Many years ago our children tried basketball. God didn't bless either of them with the appropriate genes for basketball players. When they first started, the basket seemed to be miles away from them, simply hitting the rim was a major victory.
The basketball they played was very different than the game I see on TV. Since traveling and double dribble were rarely called, and fouls never were, passing wasn't really necessary or helpful. The main focus was shooting. In those days, only a few children were able to even make a basket. The ones who could were the stars.
If you couldn't make a basket, you couldn't really help the team out.
Sometimes, I'm afraid churches can be like that. People who have certain abilities are the "really important" stars. We pay them great attention at the expense of others. We love the teachers and the musicians. We are drawn to the "leaders". We are quick to honor those whose gifts lend themselves to public usage.
This was never God's design for His church. I am convinced one of the church's most important roles is helping people identify their gifts and enabling them to use them. Jesus had a really good plan for his church, and the Holy Spirit can be a really good coach if we let Him.
Real basketball is a team game. Everyone has different skills and abilities. Dribbling and passing and defense and rebounding and screening and cutting and yada,yada,yada are all hugely important. Without them, the shooters are useless.
In church, the funny people and the sensitive people and the merciful people and the excitable people and the question-asking people and the mechanical people and the technical people and the yada,yada,yada people are all hugely important. Without them, the pastors are useless.
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful! (1 Cor. 12:4-7 MSG)
God gives all of us gifts. He gives us different gifts in different amounts and He expects us to use those gifts as He would. Your money is a gift from God. Your possesions are a gift from God. Your time is a gift from God. Your family is a gift from God. Your passions are a gift from God. Your abilities are a gift from God. You must choose whether to use your gifts to serve yourself or to serve God's kingdom.
You are and important part of the team. You have the gifts the team needs to win. Don't be afraid to jump in and contribute.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Garth Brooks Was Right: Getting What You Want Isn't Always Good

Getting what you want out of life isn't necessarily a sign that God is pleased with you.

For example, check out this passage in Mark 5:

Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

Jesus heard the requests of the demons and gave them exactly what they asked. I think we can safely say that Jesus was not happy with the demons nor was he "blessing" them. Getting what they wanted from Him was certainly not a sign that He was pleased with them.

Here's another example, also from Mark 5:
And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.
This time, Jesus heard the requests of the villagers and gave them exactly what they asked. Again, I think we can safely agree that sending Jesus away is not a good idea. Having Jesus abandon you is not a desirable outcome nor would we consider it a blessing. Getting what they wanted from Him was certainly not a sign that He was pleased with them.

Here's the other side of this little equation. Not getting what you want out of life isn't necessarily a sign that God is angry with you.

Here's an example, again from Mark 5:
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Having been healed by Jesus, the man wants to stay with Him and follow Him. Our natural inclination is to assume that this was a reasonable and honorable desire. Yet, this time, Jesus does not give Him what He wanted. However, we can see clearly that Jesus was not angry with the man. In fact, Jesus was entrusting the man with a great mission. Jesus had selected this man to be His representative in the Decapolis. Instead of being just another follower in the crowd, this man was one of the first people to ever receive a lifetime appointment to the mission field! He didn't get what he wanted, but he was given something far better.

When God gives us what we want, the result isn't always what we imagine. Romans 1 is a frightening reminder that sometimes God allows humans to have exactly what they want, and the result is never good:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator... For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions...And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
Before you get jealous of your neighbor because they always seem to get what they want, remember that having our wishes granted isn't always the best thing for us. Sometimes it leads to a bunch of pigs falling off a cliff (a terrible waste of bacon!).

And next time you aren't getting what you want out of life, it might be time to reconsider your desires. It is possible (probable) that God is simply protecting us from ourselves. Garth Brooks says it well, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayer."

God doesn’t always give us what we want, but he always gives us what we need.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Brief List of Truths About Navigating Life's Storms

Mark 4 tells of a journey that began well, went downhill quickly but finished triumphantly. A storm rolled in, threatening to drown the disciples, but at the last minute Jesus intervened. This is a great reminder that we all face storms in life. Sometimes they are light and easily navigated, but sometimes they feel like they will swamp our boat and drown us.

Before you let despair drag you down, consider these 10 true statements about navigating the storms of life:

1. Jesus is never surprised by life's storms.

2. Jesus is never worried by life's storms.

3. Jesus promises we'll get to the other side, but He doesn't promise smooth sailing.

4. Sometimes Jesus takes us into storms for our own good.

5. No storm is so great that it can keep Jesus from taking you where He wants you.

6. No storm is so great that it should lead you to despair.

7. Worry and anxiety roll in when we realize we can't navigate the storm on our own.

8. Jesus' words to you are the same as His words to the storm: "Quiet! Be Still.

9. On the other side of life's storm is increased confidence and faith in Jesus' power and provision.

10. Peace and hope result from our choice to rely on Jesus to take us through the storm.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Solution for Distracted Driving

Why can people not stop texting and driving?

I spend a good amount of time on the road and I am continuously shocked by how many people are driving down the highway with both hands on their phone and their eyes staring squarely down at their phone. This, in spite of a massive campaign against distracted driving and a collective conscience which agrees this is a miserable idea. My guess is that most people either know someone who has been in an accident caused by distracted driving or they have been in one themselves. Yet an incredible amount of people continue to text and drive. Why?

We have programmed them that way

I cannot help but think this is the result of an overdeveloped need for immediate gratification and an unquenchable thirst for positive affirmation.

For years, we’ve told ourselves and we’ve told our children, “You don’t have to wait. You can have it now.” It’s not just microwave ovens and Jimmy Johns that have promoted this myth. It’s credit cards, sales that last “one day only”, sub-prime loans, TiVo, made-for-TV pressure cookers and even fast passes at Disney. Listen to any protest march. Regardless of what they are fighting for, part of their war chant is always, “When do we want it? NOW!” We’ve lost the sense that “anything worth having is worth waiting for.”

Is it any surprise, then, that we cannot wait to check our cell phones. We want that message, and we want it now!

Further, we’ve created in our children and in ourselves an affirmation addiction. We stopped declaring winners and losers in athletic contests because we wanted everyone to “feel” good about their performance. We are creating “safe spaces” at Universities for students who need to hide from challenging or frightening ideas. Remember when we used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We actually believed that was a true statement. Now it’s considered insensitive and hurtful. Only a cretan would be willing to admit they think it’s true.

By feeding this craving for affirmation, we’ve become people who cannot even drive down the road for a few minutes without receiving affirmation from a snapchat, text, retweet or like. We must constantly check our phones to see who is giving us positive affirmation now. If you aren’t sure about this, find a place where people stand in line. Just watch. (I totally get this. I dig when I have red notification bubbles on my social media apps)

How do we stop texting and driving?

The solution is NOT more billboards, commercials or school assemblies. Ironically, the solution will also not come quickly. All good things are worth waiting for, and most of the time, they require waiting.

We must begin to teach our children that they are not as important as they think they are. We must be willing to say things like, “That’s not really a problem.” and (even harder), “I guess that wasn’t good enough. You’ll have to try harder next time.”

We must stop the gravy train. Nothing in life is free (despite what every political candidate tells us) and it’s that very lie which encourages our appetite for immediate gratification. Delay purchases. Choose contentment over accumulation. Say, “no” sometimes to your children (or at the very least say, “not now”).

People who don’t text and drive have two characteristics.
1) They can wait to see what their phone has to say to them.
2) They don’t find their self-worth from a touchscreen.
Maybe if we start there, we can fix the problem.

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.