This is a New Year

Today begins a new year and a new calendar2.jpg decade.

Amazing!

As this new year and new decade begins, I am reflecting on three characteristics that are very important to me. I want these qualities to be exhibited in my life. These are not recent values. These have been important to me for a long time.


1. Graciousness. I love to be in the presence of gracious people. These are people whose very demeanor exhibit grace. They are thoughtful and respectful in their relationships. They do not look for ways to take advantage of others. Instead, they are known for treating people right.

Many years ago, I went on a camping trip with a number of guys, most of whom lived in different parts of the country. We had been camping for a number of days and and were ready to return home. We decided that after we broke camp we would drive into a nearby town for a hot meal in a local cafe. At the conclusion of this meal, one young man volunteered to charge everyone’s order to his credit card, instead of asking the waitress for separate checks.

While we waited at the table for his credit card to be processed, we began reimbursing this young man with cash. For the most part, the guys were very gracious. They made sure that they gave him enough cash to cover the cost of their meal including tax and tip. One person asked the young man to count the money to make sure that he was fully reimbursed for the amount that he had charged onto his credit card. “We want to be sure that you get enough money.”

He counted the money and came up short.

One man in the group had not given him enough money to pay for his meal (much less covering the tax and tip.) This was not a situation in which the man had forgotten his money. Rather, it was an awkward moment because he apparently knew he had not fully reimbursed the young man and was not going to give any explanation. Finally, an older gentleman who was sitting nearby quietly insisted that the guy give the young man more money so that he did come up short.

Gracious people do not try to take advantage of someone else in order to save themselves money. In fact, gracious people do not try to take advantage of another for any reason.


2. Generosity. I love to be in the presence of people who are generous. Some people are generous with their time. Others are generous with their encouraging words. Still others are generous with their money.

Far too many people are less than generous. They seem focused on keeping instead of sharing. They live out of their scarcity instead of their abundance. Meanwhile, some people hardly ever, offer to pay for a friend’s coffee or lunch. In fact, they rarely offer to share in any expense. They will gladly receive someone else’s offer to pay but do not display the same spirit of generosity.

Suppose several families get together for pizza one night in someone’s home. Several plan to go to the grocery store after the meal to get the ingredients for a dessert that they are making that evening. Before these people leave for the store, several hand them cash to help cover the cost of the dessert. Generous people offer to help cover the cost. They want to participate and not just consume.

Generous people are not cheap. They don’t look for ways to avoid paying for something. Rather, they are eager to join in and participate.

This example involves money but there are often opportunities to be generous with time. Have you noticed that some people who are stingy with their time often leave the impression that they are busier than anyone else? Meanwhile, some who are generous with their time rarely call attention to their own schedules.


3. Learning. I love to be in the presence of people who continue to learn and take intentional steps to practice life-long learning.

During the holidays, I read a new biography on the life of Flannery O’Connor (written by Brad Gooch). As I read this wonderful book, I was struck not only by her commitment to write but also her commitment to learn. She read widely and deeply on a variety of subjects. She was interested in theology and philosophy but also birds and her peacocks in particular.

Meanwhile, some of the most boring people are those who long ago became bored themselves. Some people grow older and lose any desire to grow. Their bodies and minds are stuck in a recliner. They get sentimental about past years while they squander the time they have in the present.

Meanwhile, learners never lose their desire to grow and learn. They maintain a genuine curiosity about life.

Do you want to avoid losing your edge? Do you want to keep from being stagnant and stale?

Keep learning!

These three qualities are not New Year’s resolutions. Rather, they reflect some of my values for life. As the new year and new decade begins, I want to consider again some of these values which are so important to me.


Question:

What about you? What values are important as you begin this new year?

  

Refusing to Accept Our Contradictions

Sometimes contradictions seems to be all around us. Maybe you have even found yourself in the middle of one. Here are a few examples:

  • A lawyer who has no will.
  • A funeral home director who gives no thought about his own death and funeral.
  • An agent who sells retirement plans but has no retirement plan for his own family.contradiction.jpg
  • A medical doctor who constantly deals with the health issues of others but gets no exercise and is in poor physical shape.
  • A counselor whose most significant relationships are a mess.
  • A leader who only wants to maintain the status quo.
  • A teacher who has stopped learning.
  • A financial planner who mismanages his family’s money.
  • A nutrition expert who eats only junk food.
  • A minister who has no faith in God.
  • A child of God who does not love others.
  • A Christian who does not intentionally seek to follow Jesus daily.

One question I might ask myself is, “Are there contradictions in my life that are destroying my credibility?” Perhaps a blind spot that so many of us have in common is our failure to see the glaring contradictions in our lives.

Could it be that one of us has a contradiction that is so obvious that others cannot figure out how we could possibly miss it? What if you were to seriously address this in your own life?


Question:

Why are the contradictions in our lives so difficult at times to detect? Can you think of a time in your life when you saw a contradiction and intentionally took steps to address it?

  

Strengthening the Soul (11)

Perhaps you’ve heard people say:

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“We don’t watch that much television.”


Well, maybe.

The truth is that many of us watch far more television than we realize.

In some homes, the television is always on. Literally! The first person who gets up in the morning turns on the television and it may stay on until everyone leaves for work. When they come home in the afternoon, they turn the television on again and it stays on until bedtime.

Really? Do we really want to live this way? Have we thought about this?

Hour after hour the television blares. In some families, they do not have real conversation at dinner because the television is on. Who can have a real conversation when the other person is keeping one eye on the television? What are we shaping and forming in our homes when no one has the other’s undivided attention? What does this say to our children when we seem more interested in a television program than experiencing real conversation with people?

Note these realities from the Center for Screen-Time Awareness :

How many people are in the average American household?            2.55

How many televisions do they have?                                                   2.73

We are a society of more televisions than people!

50% of American homes have at least 3 televisions or more
19% of homes have only 1.

In 1975 only 11% of US households had more than 3 TVs…and 57% only had 1!

The average American home has the television on for well over 8 hours every day. That is an hour more than just a decade ago.

The average American watches 4 hours and 35 minutes of television each day.

Young people 12-17 years of age increased their television viewing by 3% just this year…a pretty big increase in just 12 months.

Teenage girls have dramatically increased their television viewing late at night and early in the morning…maybe they just don’t sleep anymore?

All the above statistics are from Nielson 2006


Consider:
1. For one week, make a note of how long the television is on each day. You may be surprised to know how much television you really are watching.

2. If you are in the habit of leaving the television on each evening, consider having an hour in which you turn it off and your family does something enjoyable for the evening.

3. Consider turning the television on for specific programs instead of just leaving it on throughout the day or evening.

4. Any other suggestions?


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This morning I read a fine article by Gordon MacDonald in the November 2010 issue of stethoscope.jpg Leadership (print). The article is entitled “Your Regular Checkup.” Basically MacDonald says that if a yearly physical exam is important for people then so is a periodic “spiritual exam.”

Sometimes, after one has a physical exam, the physician will make that person aware of a health issue that had gone unnoticed. Likewise there may unnoticed issues of the soul within us that we may not be dealing with. MacDonald writes:

I have become increasingly aware of the enormous amount of activity inside of me that I neither understand nor fully control. Impressions, attitudes, urges, motives, and initiatives bubble up and out of that darkened space, and not all of it is noble. It’s similar to all the physical activity deep inside my body that I don’t know much about either. it just happens with or without my conscious consent. (p. 76)

MacDonald suggests that if one were a physician giving a “spiritual exam,” the following areas might be addressed:

1. My patient’s conversion story. After hearing this story, MacDonald would ask about this person’s current relationship with Jesus.

2. Memory. Reflect on attitudes that could be present in one’s life: “Resentments, anger, unresolved conflict, or regrets that need examination and resolution? Behaviors, attitudes, desires that are costing you the respect of your spouse, your colleagues, your constituency? How about one’s forgiveness capacity, one’s readiness to repent?”

3. Motivation. Consider your motivations. “Why are you doing what you’re doing in leadership? Do you have a sense of calling from God–a call affirmed by others who are close enough to see the Spirit of God in you? Is whatever your call is getting you out of bed in the morning with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm and anticipation? Or has your call degraded into a job, slowly sapping you of your vitality?”

4. Discipline. Finally, MacDonald says that he might ask the following question: “What are the things you systematically push yourself to do because they don’t come naturally to you but which are necessary in order to make you a more effective person and leader?” MacDonald suggests that the following categories of discipline might be considered: “physical, intellectual, financial, time management, emotional, ego, worship.”


Question:

What would you add to these reflections on spiritual health? What has been helpful to you in accessing where you are?

Strengthening the Soul (9)

I really felt ashamed at the end of that day. But, I learned something that I have never forgotten.classroom_desks.jpg

I was in the fourth grade. “Jane” sat in the chair behind me. She often drooled on her desk. She was blond, lanky, and physically challenged. She had difficulty with coordination and often fell down on the playground during recess. On those occasions, she sometimes returned to class with skinned and bloody knees.

One day, the class was returning from recess. Several boys were walking into the classroom and began making fun of Jane. I was already in my chair. They laughed and then I laughed. A few seconds later I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and Jane was looking at me with such a sad look.

“You are my friend and you laughed!”

I felt sick. No excuse. No justification. No good reason. All I knew to do was to say, “I’m sorry.” That sounded pretty small and lame given what I had done. I had betrayed her.

How in the world could I have done something like this? How could I have laughed at someone who had so many obstacles to overcome and only wanted a friend? The truth is that I got caught up in the moment and ignored what was really important.

Now, in 2010, I know that it is still possible to get caught up in whatever is taking place at the moment and forget what is important in life.

Instead of letting the momentum of the moment determine what I do or say, I would like to define the moment:

  • I want to create space in my life for people like Jane. I would like to make room for the disadvantaged, the poor, and those who face many obstacles.
  • I want to make a difference in the world instead of allowing others who speak loudly or forcefully to fill my mind with negative, defeatist thoughts about present and future possibilities.
  • I want to be intentional with the choices in my life instead of taking the path of least resistance.


Question:

I would love to hear your thoughts about this. When do you tend to get caught up in the moment? What has helped you, at times, to move beyond this temptation?   

Strengthening the Soul (7)

What holds you back?

What holds you back from being the kind of person that God has called you to be either as a single or as a married person?

What holds some of us back is our own immaturity. We get stuck in particular patterns of immature behavior. Some of these patterns include:


1. Seeing the problems in my life as someone else’s responsibility.

Immature people spend a lot of energy blaming, reacting, and projecting.

“This is your fault.”

“If it wasn’t for _________, I would be really doing well.”

“It’s not my fault, if you had been through everything I’ve experienced in this marriage, you would have done the same thing.”

“This is my wife’s fault. If she would just act the way she should, we would not have these problems.”


2. Using manipulation to make things happen.

Perhaps you have heard someone say “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” I once heard a minister brag at a conference that he lived by this mantra. Now think about the implication of this. This person doesn’t want to go through the process of getting permission, so he does what he wants, assuming that the other party will forgive. This is nothing less than raw manipulation.

Do we want our children to live like this in our home? “It is easier to ask Dad’s forgiveness than his permission so I took his car once he began his nap.” Or, “It is easier to ask mom’s forgiveness than her permission, so I took some money from her purse and later on apologized.” Is this the way we want our children to behave?


3. Saying whatever might enable me to get what I want.

Some people will say whatever is convenient in order to get what they want. They decide what they will say on the basis of convenience rather than truth. “No, I just made up that story about last week’s sale. I thought it might help my presentation.” Consider these examples:

“Just call in sick.” (When you are not sick.)

“Just tell them that you have to go to a funeral.” (When there is no funeral.)

“Just tell them that you don’t have any money.” (When you have $20 in your wallet.)

“Just pad the numbers on your presentation. Then they will really want to buy it.” (Not being entirely honest.)

“Just tell her that you had to work late.” (While you do something that will only damage any future honesty within your marriage.)


Our own immaturity often reflects our self-centeredness and our stubborn refusal to take responsibility for our lives. Some of us are stuck in patterns of immaturity. Instead of growing as authentic, godly men and women, we waste valuable energy trying to maintain control and avoid responsibility.


Question:

What is one sign of immaturity that you sometimes see in others? Do you have an example of how you have addressed an issue of immaturity in your own life?




   

Strengthening the Soul (6)

Sometimes life is very difficult and even painful.coffee cup (1).jpg

Some of this pain is due to loss. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • The loss of a friend due to a move, a job change, or simply drifting away from one another.
  • The loss of a team. You feel as you are alone on your job. You miss the team at your former job.
  • The loss of your youth. Maybe you see this in your appearance, your weight, or other body features.
  • The loss of your health.
  • The loss of your financial security.
  • The loss of your dream.
  • The loss of your job.
  • The loss of your church. You are at a different church now. You really feel the losses.
  • The loss of your innocence.
  • The loss of your faith.

So often, we attach ourselves to something that promises to relieve us of pain. We may watch television from morning to night. We may constantly be in a hurry, scurrying from one activity to the next without really being present for any of them. Some of us spend more money than we have, while others of us eat more than we ought. Then some live in the dark world of pornography. Still others lose themselves in their families or careers.

Peter Scazzero in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, writes:

The world is filled with illusions and pretense. We convince ourselves that we cannot live without certain earthly pleasures, accomplishments, and relationships. We become “attached” (or “addicted,” to use a contemporary word). We attach our wills to the belief that something less than God will satisfy us. We think if we just accomplish that one big goal, then we will really feel content and good about ourselves. We will be “finished” and able to rest.

But slowly we find the accumulation of things–clothes, new electronic toys, cars, houses–no longer gives us the initial “rush” it once did. The great feeling wears off, so we convince ourselves we need more. We are seduced by the false gods of status, attention, and fame. We fall captive to the illusion that if we just get a few more words of praise from a few more important people, it will somehow be enough.

Does this sound familiar?

We are in pain and so we withdraw. We keep to ourselves. We share our true thoughts with no one. When this pain is not dealt with, we often mask it through some kind of addiction. We will do anything to somehow take the pain away. The problem is that these attachments or addictions only mask pain.

Perhaps, what many of us need is to spend time before God in solitude and silence. Regular time with God will not only help you to see your true self but will be a time to meet God.

If you are not in the habit of doing this, start with ten minutes. Ten minutes with no phone, computer, texting, etc. Ten minutes with no radio or television. Pay attention to your thoughts during this time. Pay attention to what you might feel. Pray that just for a moment that you will see yourself as God sees you.


Question:
What daily or weekly habits have been particularly helpful to you as you attempt to stay attuned to what you are feeling/thinking and what God is calling you to become?


Strengthening the Soul (5)

Do you hesitate about the wrong things?

Sometimes we are more hesitant about doing what is right than doing what we know is wrong.

In other words, we may hesitate greatly to do what we know God wants us to do, while we hardly pause at some opportunities to do wrong.


The itch to sin may feel a lot more intense than the heart felt desire within to live in such a manner as to bring God pleasure.

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In his book, The Royal Way of the Cross, Francois Fenelon wrote:

Do you hesitate or resist so much when the world sought to seduce you through its passions and pleasures? Did you resist evil as stoutly as you resist what is good? When it is a question of going astray, consciousness of heart and reason by indulging vanity or sensual pleasure, we are not so afraid of “going too far;” we choose, we yield unreservedly. But when the question is to believe that we, who did not make ourselves, were made by an All-wise, All-powerful Hand to acknowledge that we owe all to Him from Whom we received all, and Who made us for Himself; then we begin to hesitate . . . . (p. 19)

Some of us are more hesitant about being a fully devoted follower of Jesus than we are about sinning.


Some of us fear . . .

. . . that if we yield to God, he will not come through.

. . . that if we surrender to God, what we experience in him will not be as satisfying as indulging in what our flesh wants.

. . . that if we give ourselves over to God, we will give more than we will get.


Fenelon continues:

What are you afraid of? Of leaving that which will soon leave you?

What are you afraid of? Of following too much goodness, finding a too-loving God; of being drawn by an attraction which is stronger than self, or the charms of this poor world?

What are you afraid of? Of becoming too humble, too detached, too pure, too true, too reasonable, too grateful to your Father which is in heaven? I pray you, be afraid of nothing so much as of this false fear–this foolish, worldly wisdom which hesitates between God and self, between vice and virtue, between gratitude and in gratitude, between life and death. (p. 21)


Question:

Can you relate to this? Have you ever found yourself hesitating more to do what is right than to do what you know is wrong? What was at work in your thinking/heart at that point?

Tuesdays With Tozer (Guest Writer–Margaret Feinberg)

(A.W. Tozer has written a number of books which I have found helpful, convicting, and inspiring. Another very good writer, Margaret Feinberg, recently posted a series on her blog entitled, “Tuesdays with Tozer.” Each post contained a quote from Tozer and then Feinberg’s reflections on that quote. You can find Margaret Feinberg’s blog here. You might enjoy reading her books such as Sacred Echo and Scouting the Divine. Margaret is a good writer. I have read one of her books and regularly read her blog.)

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The following is a post which appeared on her blog earlier in the year:


“The scriptural teaching that the work of God through the church can be accomplished only by the energizing of the Holy Spirit is very hard for humans to accept, for it is a concept that frustrates our own carnal desire for honor and praise, for glory and recognition.”

–A.W. Tozer, Tragedy in the Church: The Missing Gifts



These are the opening words of Tragedy in the Church by A.W. Tozer. Not one to mince words or beat around a metaphorical bush, Tozer cuts to the point and reminds us of our desperate need of the Holy Spirit. Desperate-because our need is greater than we can ever know. Desperate-because God has a way of responding profoundly to those who ache deeply for Him. Desperate-because God rewards those who urgently, actively seek Him.

As Tozer suggests, our dependence on the Holy Spirit humbles us-reminding us of our inadequacies, weaknesses, and inability to do things on our own. Our need for the Holy Spirit is yet another in a laundry list of reminders that we are not God. But oh, how we need Him.



Father, Pour your Holy Spirit afresh on and in me today. Stir up the hunger for your Spirit in my life that you may be the one who is given all honor, praise, glory, and recognition. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Strengthening the Soul (4)

The photograph to the right has become one of the best known pictures in US history. leeharvey.jpg

The photograph became famous because of Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy. The picture was taken as Oswald was being gunned down by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner. This took place on a Sunday morning, November 24, 1963, as Oswald was being transferred to the Dallas County Jail. The photograph won a Pulitzer Prize.

The man standing next to Oswald (in the light suit) is former Dallas homicide detective James Leavelle. Leavelle was told to handcuff himself to Oswald. They walked into the basement area to exit into the police garage where a police car was waiting. Leavelle and a small group had already expressed their reservations about transferring Oswald to the Dallas County Jail because the police had received a number of death threats regarding Oswald. Police Chief Jesse Curry told Leavelle that they were going to do the transfer this way because he had promised the media that the move would be public.

Note the following from yesterday’s Dallas News:

An ambulance rushed Oswald to Parkland Hospital, where President John F. Kennedy had died almost exactly two days before. Leavelle kept trying to revive Oswald, trying to get a pulse. “But he never did gain consciousness,” he said. “We were about halfway to the hospital, when he took a deep breath and then relaxed. I think that is when he died.”

The officer’s last moments with Oswald prompted thousands of questions for Leavelle later, as a stunned world searched for answers. “They’d say, ‘Did he confess? Did he admit it?’ But he never uttered a word.”

Leavelle is about to turn 90. He continues to get telephone calls and letters thanking him for his service.

Isn’t it interesting that Leavelle has been living for 90 years and yet the public only knows him for what happened during just a few seconds of his life?

Sometimes, tragic moments have a way of marking a person’s identity.

I was thinking today about how easy it is to allow a few seconds of our lives to determine and form our identity. One snapshot can often be allowed to be the sum total of our identity and consequently determine much about what we do in the future. For example, a person may have experienced one or more of the following difficulties:

  • Divorced
  • Former drug user
  • Fired twice–loser
  • finished everything required for the Master’s degree but the thesis
  • Filed bankruptcy ten years ago
  • Overweight
  • Got pregnant and not married when 19
  • Helped to get a girl pregnant while in college
  • Parent of a drug addict

For many people, these difficulties have a way of marking them forever–at least in their minds. It is possible for a person to live for 40 years and yet always identify himself as a person who went through a divorce.

Perhaps a good exercise as you begin a new week is reminding yourself of your true identity in Jesus. Your identity in Jesus trumps any failure or any other identity marker. Perhaps your soul needs to hear this.   

Question:

Does this resonate with you? Do you ever find yourself allowing a moment from the past to become your identity marker?