Do This and Your Problems Only Get Bigger

Problem StatementIn the minds of some people, there is a fast way to make your problems go away.  Lie.

Didn’t do your homework?  Tell the teacher you weren’t feeling well. 

Stopped for speeding?  Tell the officer you were trying to get to the hospital quickly because your mother is very sick. 

Trying to sell your home?  Tell the prospective home buyer only what will help sell the house.  Don’t tell about that leaky roof. 

Is the amusement park too expensive?  Tell the attendant that your children are younger than they really are so they can get in with children’s tickets.  

So many of us try to solve our problems by not telling the truth.  Now of course we usually don’t use the word “lie.”  That word sounds bad.  We would see ourselves as simply trying to fix a problem.

However, these really are lies.  When you lie, you do so at a very heavy price.

A number of years ago, I was watching a television news program about prisoners on death row.  At one point, the reporter interviewed a man who had grown up in a very good family and had many advantages in his early years.  Yet, he had murdered someone and now was on death row.

The reporter asked him, “How could this have happened?  You had a good home and a good upbringing.”

The death row inmate said, “A person’s character is much like a tow sack of rocks that one is carrying over his shoulder.  Each time you make a poor decision, lie, or compromise your character in some way, you lose a rock.  That may seem like no big deal at the time.  However, as you go through life lying and compromising, you one day realize that you have no rocks left.  You have compromised your character.”

When we lie, our character is being chipped away little by little with each lie.  If you are like many who lie, you one day look in the mirror and realize that you are not the man or woman you used to be.

Maybe there is a way to deal with our problems through the grace of God instead of only making them bigger.

Question

What are we often tempted to lie instead of facing our problems?

 

Did Becoming Older Bring Me Closer to Jesus?

Nouwen-In-the-Name-of-JesusDid becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus, reflects upon a time when he asked himself this question. The book is not new.Perhaps you read the book some years ago. I did — and now have read the book five or six times.

That question from Nouwen will not go away.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

  • As I reflect upon my behavior,
  • As I think about my attitude,
  • As I consider my words,
  • As I get honest about the thoughts in my heart,
  • As I ponder my life before Jesus,

That question from Nowen will not go away.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

I am blessed to know many older believers who seem to grow in their love for Jesus and their trust in him.

I have witnessed some of these people become more tenderhearted, more singularly focused, and more of a blessing to be with as they grow older. I have known people whose very presence reminded me of Jesus.

I have also known older believers who allowed their fear and anxiety to completely engulf them. Some become bitter and cynical, ready to lash out at whoever appears to be a threat. Others pull back, withdraw, and talk about having “put in their time.”

Maybe you will join with me in reflecting on this important question.

Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?

Once you and I have considered this question, perhaps we

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now need to think about what we might address in our lives in order to have a better outcome in the future.

Questions:

1. Envision the kind of person you want to be five years from now. What kind of husband/wife or father/mother do you wish to be? What kind of friend do you wish to be? How do you need to grow up or mature in order to become closer to Jesus?

2. What is one area of your life that you are willing to address so that you will be closer to Jesus?

 

When You Realize You are Out of Control

outofcontrolOne night I was driving home from my job at UPS.  It was about midnight and was raining. I was in college and was driving my father’s car, which I rarely drove.  As I recall, my car was in the shop being repaired.  I was on Stemmons Expressway (I-35) and going much too fast considering the rain.  At one point, the car began to hydroplane on the water surface.  I remember wondering how I would stop.  The car began to do a 360 on the expressway.  I wondered if I was going to get hit from behind.  Finally after turning around completely, the car came to a stop. I then slowly began to drive ahead again.

I had been totally out of control.

Reynolds Price, novelist and longtime English professor at Duke, spoke at the 1992 Founder’s Day at Duke and challenged his audience with some observations regarding many students.

But you’ll find other sights that breed concern. . . . walk your attentive self through the quads.  Stand at a bus stop at noon rush-hour; roam the reading rooms of the libraries in the midst of term and the panic of exams.  Lastly, eat lunch in a dining hall and note the subjects of conversation and the words employed in student discussion.  (I’m speaking mostly of undergraduates, but not exclusively.) 

Try to conceal your consternation at what is often the main theme of discourse — something less interesting than sex and God, the topics of my time.  If for instance you can eat a whole meal in a moderately occupied Duke dining hall without transcribing a certain sentence at least once, I’ll treat you to the legal pain reliever of your choice.  The sentence runs more or less like this, in male or female voice – - “I can’t believe how drunk I was last night.” 

Considering that the social weekends of many students now begin – - indeed are licensed by us to begin – - at midday on Thursday and continue through the morning hours of Monday (as they never did in the old days of “country club” Duke), maybe the sentence is inevitable – - at least in the bankrupt America we’re conspiring to nurture so lovingly and toward which we blindly, or passively anyhow, wave our students.  

“I can’t believe how drunk I was last night.”

Totally out of control.

Today, Wake Up to More

fluoride_toothpasteWhat do you expect when you wake up each day?

For some people, waking up to another day is no big deal.

  • Same paralyzing problems.
  • Same bad habits.
  • Same negative attitude.
  • Same procrastination.

What if you woke up to more?

What if you believed that the living God was active and moving right in the middle of the ordinary moments of your day?

In David Rohrer’s fine book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry (p. 41), he discusses the ministry of John the Baptist and has some very fine comments about a person’s calling.  The context here is congregational ministry, but I think his point might be helpful to most anyone who is a Jesus-follower.

The prophetic tradition points us in a direction where we see our call not in terms of running the institutions we lead but in terms of inviting people to wake up to God.  If we look at the call narratives for Isaiah and Jeremiah, it doesn’t take long to see that institutional reform is not the thing that is primarily on God’s mind.  What is on God’s mind is that the people who have fallen asleep might have a messenger who would invite them to wake up out of their religious slumber and pay attention to the truth that the living God was in their midst. 

In order for me to practice this, I have to intentionally begin my day remembering this reality.  Otherwise, I simply wake up to another ordinary day and allow it to be shaped by my attitude, my habits, and my anxiety.

So here is how I would like to live today.  Perhaps this will be helpful to you as well.

  • Today, I want to move through my day believing that God is living and active in the ordinary moments.
  • Today, I want to stay awake.  I don’t want to doze off in my religious slumber and totally miss what God will be doing today.
  • Today, I want to pay attention.  I want to look for the gracious hand of God instead focusing on what is lacking, what is wrong, and what is inadequate. 

Maybe you would like to join me in this pursuit.  Don’t worry about having it all together.  Don’t worry about whether or not you will maintain this perspective throughout the day.

Just start!

Question: 

Which one of these three challenges, each of which begins with the word “Today,” do you need to remember today?

 

Make Your Move Now (1)

Chess PawnNew Year’s can be a wonderful time of change and opportunity. We enter this year loved by God, empowered by the Spirit and on a mission from Jesus. Early each December, I give much reflection and prayer to how I will start the new year.

The following are four of eight principles that have been helpful to me in beginning the year.

I am going to use the image of a house in describing each one of these principles. Maybe one or more of these will be helpful to you.

Inspect the condition of your house (James 1:22-25)

Some of you know what it is like to look for a house to buy. You look at various houses to see if you “like” any of them. At some point, you are not only concerned about whether or not you like the house but  also what shape the house is in. If you were to inspect the condition of a house, you might first walk around it and survey the outside and then survey the inside. You might take a look at the paint, the roof, the gutters, and the foundation.

The first of the year is an excellent time to inspect the condition of your life. How is the foundation of your life? How are the significant pieces of your life? How are your character, your ethics, your habits, your relationships?

As you think about where to begin addressing the status of your life, you might consider starting with the obvious. Is there an area of your life that very clearly needs to change? Perhaps this is an intention, a habit, or a behavior in your life that is foreign to the character of God.

Again, you might start with what is obvious and apparent to you.

Refuse to Settle for Being Half-Alive

alive_bigI came across this powerful line in Patrick Morley’s newest book Man Alive (p. 13)

You don’t have to settle for being half-alive.

I thought about this for several days.  I think it stayed with me because I’ve seen so many men and women who shut down long before they actually died.

  • The man who sits in his recliner at 40 years of age and complains about being old.
  • The woman who seems to have shut down once her children left home.
  • The man in his 50s who constantly talks about the years in which he played high school football.
  • The minister who sounds bland and bored as he speaks to the congregation.

So what do half-alive people look like?

Ministry Inside.88

CoffeeBar_rephotography_011Each Thursday, I write a post that is designed with church leaders in mind. Many of these Thursday posts, however, are applicable to those who are not church leaders.  Church leaders and lay people both may find today’s post useful.

During July, I sat in a restaurant with a wonderful man in his 80s.  He is a former college professor, administrator, and minister.  He continues to think, grow, and make a difference.  I asked him to lunch because of particular questions I had about life as well as ministry.  I have always valued his wisdom from a distance.  This conversation, however, would be in person and last about an hour and a half.

My friend was generous with his time, his insight, and his wisdom.  After the conclusion of the lunch, I wrote several pages in my journal, carefully recording his answers to my questions.  I have read through these notes several times.  The conversation was one of the most valuable experiences I had in July.

One of the most important practices of my ministry has been creating the opportunities to learn from various people by simply asking questions.  I will ask someone to coffee or lunch and then ask questions about life, ministry, or leadership.  I have learned so much from these conversations.

I continue to seek out people whom I can learn from.  Let me encourage you to do the same.

How to Pay More Attention to Character than Image

woodenmirrormuseumThe Penn State scandal has underscored a fundamental issue that is present in far too many of us:

Some of us are more concerned about the image we project than the kind of person we really are.

I once heard the story of a couple that purchased a house in an exclusive neighborhood north of Dallas.  They moved into the house and immediately put up coverings over each window.  Months later this couple was arrested and indicted for their participation in some fraudulent scheme.  Authorities came to their home and discovered that the house was basically empty.  They had a cardboard table, a couple of folding chairs, a television, and a single mattress.

The story revealed that the couple had sold their previous home and belongings.  They moved into this exclusive neighborhood to create the impression that they were doing quite well financially.  This home was way beyond their means, and they were able to live there only after selling all their belongings.  Neighbors noticed they never opened their blinds or curtains.  That was because they didn’t want anyone to see that the house was practically empty.

Some people are willing to do most anything to create a particular kind of image.  Image, however, is not a substitute for character.

Image people want to appear cool wherever they are.  If they are on the road traveling with business associates, they want to appear totally with whatever is happening.  If they are at church, they want to appear to be the devoted family person.  Image wants others to know they are “in.”

Image people want others to think they are not lacking in any way.  They may make statements to their family members such as:

  • You don’t want people to think we can’t afford to buy nice things.
  • You don’t want people to think we buy cheap clothes.
  • You don’t want people to think we can’t go on great trips.
  • You don’t want people to think we don’t get invited to nice parties.
  • You don’t want people to think we live in an old neighborhood.
  • You don’t want people to think our kids are not as good as theirs.

Image people are far more concerned with the way they appear than the way they are.  Their Facebook status always communicates that they live one awesome, glorious life every moment of the day.  Really?

They are more concerned about the way others perceive them than the reality of their lives.  This is one reason why a person’s public and private persona can be so different.

Focusing on our image while we neglect our character is like having a manicured lawn around our home while we neglect the cracking foundation.  The house may look appealing at first glance but may be in serious trouble due to a neglected foundation.

4 Critical Areas that Need Your Investment

attentionOne of the greatest resources that you and I have at our disposal is our attention.  There are many demands for our attention.  Yet, every day far too many of us squander this valuable resource due to our own distraction.

We have difficulty giving our full attention to what really matters and being fully present in the moment.  Many of us skim along the surface of most any experience, like a bass boat speeding down a river.  We are in perpetual motion but our lives never get beyond the surface of the moment.

Consider what clamors for our attention:

  • A text appears on your phone.
  • You have a new e-mail message.
  • The phone rings.
  • Someone wants to Skype.
  • You are invited to be a member of a committee.
  • Your child is invited to be on a team.
  • You see a new Tweet from someone who interests you.
  • Your friend updates her Facebook status and you want to respond.
  • You watch television and are bombarded with advertisements.

Each day, somebody somewhere wants your attention.  If you are not intentional about where you direct your attention, others will likely get your attention simply because you are living passively instead of proactively.

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

I never intended to be a minister.

Never.

I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.