Tuesday, January 3, 2017

5 Ways To Exercise Your Spiritual Muscles

A while back, I downloaded a free app named "human". The app runs silently on your iPhone and tracks your daily activity. The goal of each day is to be in motion (walking, running, etc.) for at least 30 minutes every day.

Many "fitness" fanatics suggest that everyone should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. I'm not sure if the point of the app is to help you reach that goal through your normal daily activities (not terribly effective) or to help people realize that their daily activity is not enough to keep them healthy.

The first day I used the app. I woke up knowing I had a pretty busy day so I was confident I would knock out my 30 minutes easily... Probably by lunch.

That night at 10:30 when I checked the app, I was devastated to discover I had only accumulated 28 minutes of physical activity. Ugh. Slowly the reality set in... My daily routine is simply not enough to keep me healthy. I need to block off time every day to pay attention to my physical health.

And then I realized I had a sermon.




Many Christians live as if an hour in church is all that is required for spiritual health. They live their daily routines (perhaps pausing to pray for a meal) believing that their life's routine is sufficient to sustain their faith. Truth is... Your daily routine is simply not enough to keep you healthy. You must figure out how to block off time every day to pay attention to your spiritual health.

Exercising your spiritual muscles doesn't have to be intense. Here are five simple things you can do to exercise your spiritual muscles.

  1. Listen to a sermon. Download it, get a DVD, subscribe to a podcast.
  2. Sit in creation. Find a quiet place, sit down, look around, and think of all the things in your life for which you can be thankful to God.
  3. Take a prayer walk/drive. Choose a neighborhood and walk or drive through it praying that God would bless the residents and reveal himself to them. (If you drive, pray with your eyes open)
  4. Read a Proverb. Reading any part of the Bible will contribute to your spiritual health. Proverbs are powerfully insightful and practical. If you can read and apply them regularly, they will significantly increase your spiritual health.
  5. Give something away. When we sacrifice ourselves, we are like Jesus. Giving things away reinforces our belief that God is in control and that He has an amazing future which He keeps for us,

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Unrequested Advice is Criticism, but Truthful Confrontation is Loving

I don't remember where I first heard it (a quick web search suggests it may date back as far as George Washington), but somewhere I picked up the idea that:

Unasked for advice is heard as criticism.

Even though I didn't ask for it, this was good advice. Who doesn't understand the pain of listening to someone give you unrequested (and sometimes unnecessary) advice. I remember a fellow once coming to "visit" with me only to leave an hour later having spent the entire time unpacking my many shortcomings. While some of his critiques may have been on target, our relationship and the setting certainly didn't merit such behavior.

So I've really tried to take this idea to heart. I've worked hard to be someone who listens as people unpack their problems, but not to offer up my solutions unless asked for.

Of course, the reverse of this is not true. I need to be careful to not ignore advice just because I didn't ask for it. In fact, Proverbs says:

The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

So, there needs to be a balance. James seems to have it right when he says:

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...

I don't know about you, but sometimes it's that unasked for advice that can get me on the fast track toward anger. Sometimes, it seems like people offer up suggestions that seem to imply I am a total idiot. It's hard in those moments to be "slow to speak and slow to become angry." But that's probably why James says:

for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.




Doh! If I can't be slow to speak and slow to anger, I can't live the righteous life that God desires. So my natural tendencies need to be brought under discipline. I am usually slow to listen because I want to talk. I need to reverse that.

BUT... here's where the dilemma comes in. James finishes his book by saying:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

So, there is a time to give that unasked for advice. There is a time to "confront". And as hard as that is, I have to recognize it as a part of being not just a pastor, but of being a Christian brother. Of course, being quick to listen and slow to speak means I don't rush into confrontation.

Rather it means I do so having measured the situation carefully, having listened to all parties to gain clarity and understanding.

Over time, I've formulated some guidelines for when to "confront" and when to "sit back". Here's my thoughts:
1) Confront when you are certain a clear Biblical teaching is being contradicted. 
2) In such a case, use the Bible to confront, not your own words. 
3) Always present your "case" in humility, acknowledging your perceptions and seeking to "see the best" if possible. 
4) Remember Paul's instructions to protect the unity of the body in all things. 
5) Remember that love is the standard by which all else is to be judged. If you cannot lovingly confront, you shouldn't confront. 
6) Offer thoughts for resolution. If you don't sense your confrontation will lead to restoration/resolution, wait. 
7) Pray before, during, and after.
I'm sure there are a lot more ideas out there. I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Is It More Difficult To Wash Someone's Feet or To Let Them Wash Yours?


Read and contemplate John 13.

Jesus washed the disciples feet.
Image courtesy of christianpost.com
When Peter protested, Jesus explained that unless Peter's feet were washed, he could have no part with Jesus.
We understand Jesus was teaching that we are made clean through His sacrificial and substitutionary death. However, like Peter and the disciples feet, our feet get dirty. We step in the dirt of life.
We need to regularly take time to clean our feet so that they match the rest of our clean self. But here is what I think might be the toughest part of this passage to swallow. We are supposed to wash each other's feet!

Consider this:

If footwashing is a metaphor for cleansing ourselves from the daily dirt (read:SIN) that accumulates, then washing each other's feet means I am not the one responsible for washing the dirt of my feet, you are!
Which means, I have to let you.
Typically, we prefer to handle our own dirt. We want to take care of our own sin issues, and not really let anyone else know about them. But if we are truly going to live up to the example Jesus set for us, we need to learn to allow others to be the instrument of cleansing in our lives.
I need to be open to the possibility that someone else can see the dirt I've accumulated better than I can. I need to be willing to let others question me, probe me, and hold my feet to the fire so that I can be better cleansed. I need to be willing to ask my brothers and sisters to critically examine the fruit of my life and tell me whether or not its time for another good foot-scrubbing.
I need to be willing to clean their feet also. However, I ought to do it like Jesus, with my hands and a damp towel, not a power washer!

Today:

Ask a close friend if they can see dirt in your life that you should deal with. Then ask if they have any suggestions for how you can clean it. Finally, pray together.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Complete Beginner's Guide to Advent

"Advent" is defined as "the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event." The Christian church has entered into the season in which we celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ. Many Christians have never celebrated Advent and are not even sure what it means. The following is a very brief introduction to Advent. It is written specifically for those who want to understand the basics of this season.

The Meaning of Advent

Christmas is a celebration of Christ's first arrival on earth. Advent reminds us that His first arrival was only a taste of what is yet to come. His second arrival will signal the fullness of time and the completion of His plan. All wrongs will be righted, death and sorrow will be banished and peace will rule the world.

Advent is a time to recognize the darkness in which we still live, but to embrace the light that is breaking into our world and which will ultimately overtake and destroy the darkness.

The Complete Beginners Guide to Advent

Decorating for Advent

The advent wreath serves as the primary decoration throughout the season. The circular evergreen wreath may be natural or artificial. The circular shape of the Advent wreath reminds us of the nature of God. He is eternal and his love and mercy have no end. The green of the wreath symbolizes our hope of new life or rebirth.

The wreath contains four candles. Usually three are purple or blue and one is pink. In the center of the wreath is a larger white candle, known as the "Christ candle."
If you would like to create your own wreath, click here for a creative take on the traditional advent wreath. Of course, there is also a pinterest board with many ideas for making your own advent wreath.

The Candles of Advent

The five candles in the Advent wreath each carry their own symbolism. Different religious traditions assign slightly different meanings to each candle, but the general concepts are typically quite similar.
  • The first candle represents Hope or Expectation. Prior to Jesus' first coming, His people were waiting for the Messiah. Today, we are waiting for His second Advent and the fullness of His kingdom.
  • The second, third and fourth candles most commonly represent love, joy and peace. Some traditions also use these three candles to recreate the Christmas narrative. In those situations, the candles may represent angels, shepherds and wise men or annunciation, proclamation and fulfillment.
  • The third candle is usually pink. It represents the joy of the season. Some traditions may reserve the pink candle for the fourth Sunday so that it is closer to the birth of the Christ child.
  • The larger candle in the center is the Christ Candle. Traditionally it is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Celebrating Advent as a Church

Advent Candles: Those Walking in Darkness have Seen a Great LightThe formal celebration of Advent centers around the lighting of the candles each week. As each candle is lit, we are reminded that the light ultimately conquers the darkness. As the darkness recedes, our hope for the new life promised by the Light of the World increases.

Each Sunday during Advent, time during the church service is devoted to lighting a candle, reading Scripture, reading a short devotional and prayer. Each church may have its own tradition which dictates the precise Scriptures used or the readings which are selected.

However the Advent celebration is designed, worshipers are reminded that our hope for the future coming of Christ is rooted in his first coming. Just as the center of the advent wreath is the Christ Candle, at the center of the Advent celebration is the Christ child.

Celebrating Advent as a Family

Many families celebrate Advent in their homes. They may use Advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas. They may engage in fun activities each morning or evening to remind the children of the true meaning of the season. Some families have their own wreaths and light the candles together while reading Scripture.

Find Advent Resources

Learn More About Advent

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

16 Ideas to Make Your Life Better

I was reading this morning in Proverbs 16 and noticed several "better" expressions. Each of these short sayings suggests a counter-cultural idea which is a "better" way of living. So I did a quick search of the entire book and compiled this list from Proverbs of...

The Better Life

  1. wisdom's profit is better than silver and gold.
  2. wisdom is better than jewels
  3. better to be poor and content than to act rich and come to ruin
  4. better to have just a little but respect God than to have much and endure the trouble of wealth
  5. better a salad eaten with those who love you  than a steak with with those who hate you
  6. better to make a little and be righteous than to earn much through injustice
  7. better to have little and share with the poor than to divide spoils with the proud
  8. whoever is slow to anger is better than the might
  9. whoever has self-control is better than a great conqueror
  10. better a grain of rice in a quiet house than a buffet in a house full of strife
  11. better to be poor but have your integrity than to be deceitful
  12. the poor man is better than a liar
  13. better to live in the desert than in a house with a quarrelsome woman (i don't write this stuff...)
  14. a good name is better than riches
  15. it is better to be invited up than to be upwardly mobile
  16. open rebuke is better than hidden love


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Changing Your Relationship with the Bible

How do you approach a cadaver?

Cadavers are that most useful, frightening, intriguing, disgusting, and beneficial tool of medical students everywhere. Doctors and scientists have been using cadavers for thousands of years to gain a better understanding of the human body and the way it functions.

Doubtless, the use of cadavers has saved thousands (millions?) of lives over the years and has led to magnificent scientific, medical, and pharmaceutical advances.

I don't profess to have ever handled a cadaver (I did have one disturbing experience in a funeral home after hours), and I certainly am no expert when it comes to anything scientific. However, let me "simplify" for the sake of brevity the usage of a typical cadaver.

The point of using a cadaver is to be able to pick it apart. If you are exploring a cadaver you will spend enormous amounts of time surveying the body, examining the parts, isolating certain organs, comparing and contrasting different elements, cutting things open, placing some parts under a microscope, analyzing connectedness of different pieces, etc...

But you wouldn't do that to a body that was alive. You can do that, precisely because the cadaver is dead.

How do you approach the Bible?

Do you seek to pick it apart? Do you spend enormous amounts of time surveying the body, examining the parts, isolating certain verses, comparing and contrasting different authors, cutting words open, placing some paragraphs under a microscope, analyzing connectedness of different pieces, etc...?

I wonder if the way we approach the Bible keeps the Bible from really changing our lives? If the Bible is just a cadaver to be picked apart to further our knowledge, then the paragraph above describes exactly how we should approach it.

But, what if it is a living, active thing? What if the whole point of the Bible is not to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives?

Wouldn't that demand a different kind of approach?

What if instead of “reading the Bible”, we allowed the Bible to “read us?” What if we took to heart Peter’s statement that the Word of God is “living”.
Most books are nothing more than slices of dead trees bound up in a dead cow. What makes the Bible different is that the Words on the pages inside the leather binder are actually the Words of God spoken and written to deeply impact our lives.
In a sentence, the subject is the person, thing, or idea that is performing the action. The sentence is about the subject. The verb is the action; it is what the the subject is doing. The verb is the plot of the sentence. The object of a sentence is the person, thing, idea, etc. that is being acted upon. The object is pretty much helpless, subject to the whim of the actions of the subject.

When we talk about objectifying something or someone, we are talking about "behavior in which one person treats another person as an object and not as a fellow human being with feelings and consciousness of his or her own, in other words as, as without agency."

Typically, objectification of someone is a bad thing. To deem powerless the image of God is to drastically mistreat God's creation. You can probably think of a lot of different ways, humans assert power over others by objectifing one another:

  • Bosses objectify their employees to justify huge bonuses while cutting jobs.
  • Generals objectify privates.
  • Pornography objectifies women... and men.
  • Politicians objectify voters.

Objectifying someone is a way to remove the power of that person and impose your will upon them. Here's a silly example:
Liam punched the squirrel.
Who has the power in this sentence? Who is powerless? Who is in control? Who is being affected?

Now consider the object and the subject in each of these sentences:

  • I read the Bible.
  • I study the Bible.
  • I teach the Bible.
  • We learn the Bible.
  • We listen to the Bible.
  • He preached the Bible.

Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these statements, but we need to be careful that we don’t assert power and control over the Bible by making ourselves the subject. What if we were to let the Bible assert power and control over us? What if we thought of the Bible as the subject, and we were the object being acted upon?

  • The Bible reads me.
  • The Bible studies me.
  • The Bible teaches me.

This is a subtle difference, but an important distinction. If I only study the Bible, the outcome is new knowledge. If the Bible studies me, the outcome is lifechange.

The Bible is full of great stories, beautiful poetry, wise instructions, and much more. But these are not like any other stories or poems or rules. They are not written to simply be read or studied or memorized or recited. Simply pursuing in-depth knowledge of the Bible is missing the point.

A few days ago, I referenced James’ words, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.” Those who accumulate vast knowledge about the Word of God but never act on it have deceived themselves.

It is far better to know one verse and allow it to remodel your life than to memorize whole chapters and never change.

When you approach the Bible, do you just read it for information? Learn how to let the Bible read you. Let it expose the parts of you that need to change. Allow it to be alive in your life, making you more like Jesus every day!

Friday, October 7, 2016

10 Neat Tricks To Keep Your Bible Study Fresh

As we prepare to go through our 40 Days In The Word series, I sent out an email today which linked to an article about studying God’s Word. You can link to the article here. The author lists 25 different methods of studying the Bible. I found the list to be fun.

Not every method is for every person, but every person will probably find 2–3 methods that work for them. Below are a couple of my favorites:


Survey the Word
Whether it be the whole of Scripture, an entire book in the Bible, or a given passage, capturing the big picture makes a deeper engagement of the Word more accessible and productive.

Discuss the Word
Discussions about meaning, interpretations, doctrinal substance, and sheer trivia can be a productive means of engaging the Word and driving it more deeply into our hearts.

Hand-copy the Word
Hand-copying the Word slows the brain down and synchronizes the mind with the meaning of a passage. Bible on one side. Journal on the other. Copying the word is a tremendous way to nourish the spirit and align the mind with the thoughts of God. Take. Eat. Enjoy!

Cross-reference the Word
Cross-referencing one passage with another related passage can release as much light into the soul as opening into the night the door of a lit room. Use a concordance. Use in-line references found in a study Bible. Use a computer search capability.

Paraphrase the Word
Good translation can be defined as taking the meaning from one language and capturing it accurately in another language. Paraphrasing is like that, only it is capturing the meaning of a passage and re-expressing that same meaning with different words. The paraphrases don’t have to be of publication quality. Though, if you come to like this type of exercise, you might be surprised by some of what you write and want to share it with others.

Sketch the Word
For the right-brain artistic types among us, sketching the Word is something that is second nature. But even for those of us who do better with straight lines and right angles, sketching the Word can be a rich experience capturing the big idea of a passage or even details best highlighted with a picture or illustration.

Memorize the Word
David said he hid the Word of God in his heart to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11). Scripture memorization is a foundational exercise on which many other forms of Scripture meditation are based.

Display the Word
Some passages are just so wonderful they are best artistically displayed in some fashion. Such passages might be Bible promises to keep in front of us or reminders in our walk with God. Consider commissioning a calligrapher to artistically transcribe your favorite verse in a frameable drawing or painting. Or create a colorful depiction of it yourself in PowerPoint, print it on a color laser printer and have it framed.

Share the Word
What would it do for your own Scripture focus if you were to give away one Bible verse to a different person each of the next 30 days? I encourage you to try. A friend who was studying with me at Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics caught fire with God’s Word and could hardly contain himself. Brian would constantly hand write verses on 3 x 5 cards and leave them in our mail boxes. The personal touch brought these verses to life and I remember feeling like I had received numerous personal messages from God himself. And Brian himself grew deeper as he shared with so many of us. Sharing the Word with others engages us in it more deeply ourselves.


Do the Word!