When Options are a Bad Thing

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Most of us love options. It makes us feel like we are in control of things and that we aren’t missing anything. This is why churches offer a ton of programs and why we love going restaurants with huge menus (think the Cheesecake factory). Studies show that, the more options you have, the less likely you are to buy. The more options a church has, the less people plug in. They don’t know what is most important and what they should give their time to.

I love the message version of James 1:5 – 8. It says: If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

That last phrase is crucial.

Many times when we pray, when we seek God’s direction, we don’t fully commit or move forward with God. We keep our options open.

We don’t fully invest in generosity, holding back just in case it rains and God doesn’t provide. We don’t fully commit to community or what He has called us to, just in case we got it wrong. This leaves us feeling in control, but it also keeps us from fully experiencing the life God has for us and has called us to.

Besides control, one of the other reasons we keep our options open in life and with God is boredom. We are creatures who fear boredom, who fear down time. Think about the last time you just sat on your couch. What do you do when life is quiet and nothing is happening? You probably grab your phone and scan twitter, Facebook, pinterest or instagram.

We train ourselves to wait to the last possible minute in life to make a commitment. We tentatively plan on being somewhere, but only if nothing better presents itself.

We keep our options open.

We do this with God. We read something in the bible, hear a sermon and see something we should change, but we wait. What if it wasn’t God speaking? What if there’s a way around this passage? I know the bible says this, but what if I do that?

All the while, we keep our options open.

We want to pray for something, like James tells us, but we don’t. A piece of us doesn’t want God to answer our prayers because that would call us to have faith, to trust, to wait on God and give up control. Instead of pushing all our chips into the corner with God, we hold on to one so we can keep our seat at the table if it doesn’t work out.

And then.

We miss out.

We go adrift. We are tossed around.

If your life feels like it is being tossed around. If you feel like you are being bounced and can barely hang on, there is a moment when you realize, you’ve kept your options open and you aren’t fully trusting God. You haven’t fully trusted His way, you’re still holding on to a piece of yours.

When that happens, James tells us that we don’t just miss out on a small part of Jesus, we miss out on the whole thing. We don’t get anything from the Master. 

We miss it all.

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God Will Let You Have Your Sin

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I was reading Romans 1 the other day and while this passage is often used as to why homosexuality is a sin, I was struck by something else. There is a phrase in vs. 24 and 26 where Paul says, “God gave them up to their dishonorable passions.”

When we choose to sin, and yes, every time we sin we are choosing to sin.

God will allow us to make that choice and experience what comes from that choice. That wording, “gave them up” is a handing over.

Often, when we experience the ramifications of sin, we get angry at God. Why didn’t he intervene? He did, He allowed us to move forward.

The truth of the gospel is that God does and will rescue us from our sin. He does give us a way out of temptation. He also will allow us to have our sin.

Often we complain about the consequences of our sin. Why does God allow our sin to hurt ourselves, others? Why do we bear consequences for what we do wrong? Why are relationships broken because of words? Why do our actions lead to bankruptcy, broken trust? This falls into the area of what God allows.

His will is not for this to happen, but is what He allows.

There is grace found in our consequences. 

When we feel the consequences of our sin, we learn that God is indeed good. In our sin, we learn that God is better than our sin and the temptations we face.

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When You are Most Likely to Sin

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Ever wonder why you sin? What if there was a specific time that you were most likely to give in to temptation? What if you could see negative emotions, thoughts from your past, addictions you thought you were free from coming a mile away?

You can.

In his book Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg shares this:

Psychologist Roy Baumeister has coined the term “ego depletion” to describe a level of fatigue that goes beyond mere physical tiredness. People living in this depleted condition report more tiredness and negative emotions, but those are not the only effects. Depleted people who watch a sad movie become extra sad. When facing temptations like eating chocolate chip cookies, they are more likely to give in. When faced with challenges like an especially difficult assignment at work, they are more likely to fail or turn in lower quality work. The brain area that’s crucial for self-control (the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) actually experiences a slowdown.

The reality is, you and I sin at specific times. Those times are most likely going to be when we are tired, worn down, exhausted. For a pastor, that is most likely on a Sunday night or on a Monday. We are tired at other times, but follow me.

When are you most tired? What time during the day do you feel the weakest in terms of your will to fight sin and temptation?

Let me apply this to pastors and help you understand why this as. I’ve learned while pastors are good at helping others fight sin in their lives, we tend to lack self-awareness.

On Sunday night you have preached hard, led worship hard, sat with people, hugged them, cried with them, counseled them, prayed with them. You have gone to battle for them and with them. You have had hard meetings with people who told you they are leaving the church, that you don’t live up to their standards of things, that you don’t preach the gospel, use too much Bible, are too deep, not deep enough and your head feels like it is spinning because you can’t please them all.

If you aren’t a pastor, you have a day of the week that simply runs you down. You come home exhausted, barely able to stand, let alone think and certainly not up for fighting sin and temptation.

This is the moment we must be aware of.

Often, the reason we fall into sin is because we don’t see it as a battle, or, once we feel tempted we feel like we have already lost the fight with sin so we simply give in to it.

Don’t.

When you see that moment coming, go to sleep, hand your smartphone or table to a spouse, pick up a banana, turn off the TV. Fight the sin you are facing by removing the temptation in your moment of weakness.

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Boldness, Community and How God Moves

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Sunday I’m preaching on Acts 4 and the boldness that the disciples had. One of the things that struck me about their boldness was how closely it went with generosity and community.

Boldness → Generosity → Community

Something in us knows the connection between boldness and community. Something in us also hates this connection. When we are hurting, we want community, but the last thing we want is to be bold to get it. We want it to fall into our laps, for someone to just show up and be a shoulder to cry on, but how can they help if we don’t ask?

Think for a minute, do you need community right now? Do you need someone to walk along side of you right now? What is keeping that from happening?

Boldness. 

You are sitting on the sideline waiting for it to happen.

It’s the same with generosity. In Acts 4, as the church is bold, their generosity increases and they see God add to their number.

This is not an accident.

Boldness → Generosity → Community → God Moving

But it all starts with boldness. It all starts with a step.

Boldness to drop the pretense and be real.

Boldness to ask for help.

Boldness to be weak.

Boldness to open yourself up.

In that moment of boldness, others have the opportunity to be generous, to be community and in our weakness, in our humility, we stop trying to be God so we can see God be God.

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God Does not Withhold His Forgiveness

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I’m reminded as my kids get older that parenting is about the moments we miss or don’t miss. Changes in our kids hearts, seeing the Holy Spirit work in them, helping them make right choices, helping them become who God has called them to be, it happens in moments, in conversations. While some of those might be planned and exactly as we see them working in our heads, by and large, they just happen.

I was reminded of this recently when our kids made some poor choices for some babysitters while Katie and I were out. As we talked with them and led them through a prayer of repentance, I was reminded that God already forgives us.

It was a great truth to remind my kids, God does not withhold his forgiveness from those who ask it. 

In the church, many say they believe this, but few actually do. We talk about grace and forgiveness with the culture around us, but don’t believe that God will really forgive them if they seek it. We also sometimes harbor bitterness at the idea that God would give forgiveness so freely to someone who would sin so willfully. Yet, we sin willfully. And God grants us forgiveness without reserve.

As we talked with our kids, Katie reminded them of 1 John 1:9 which says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

This verse often gets talked about in terms of becoming a follower of Jesus, yet 1 John was written to Christians. Meaning, as a follower of Jesus, you will continue to sin and mess up. You will continue to get it wrong. Which means, you need to continually ask for forgiveness and confess your sins to God. But, that God is faithful and just and forgive us of our sins. I’m blown away that God’s justice in this verse is equated to he forgives us. Imagine that justice. It is forgiveness. Not wrath. Not anger. Not hatred. Not withholding love and his presence, but forgiveness is his justice for a follower of Jesus who confesses his sin.

And…

He will cleanse us of all unrighteousness. He will make us right. He will make us into the person He has called us to be. 

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I Want Breathing Room in Work & Life, Now What?

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When it comes to breathing room, checking a box on Sunday can be the easy part. Actually putting it into practice, having conversations with a boss, a spouse, a child or friend, creating and sticking to a budget or cutting something out of your life, that can be the hard part.

As you move forward with breathing room, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Pray for yourself and the person you are going to talk to. Confess your sin and ask God to be with you and them as you have a conversation. If you are fearful, confess that. If you are worried that they won’t be open to what you’ll say, ask God to move (Daniel 1:9) and change their heart.
  2. Be humble as you talk to those affected by your choices. Daniel was humble, he didn’t go in guns blazing and throw a verse at anyone. He asked and allowed God to work and he allowed the King’s men to be in authority over him.
  3. Be like Daniel, asking your boss or spouse how to move forward, let them be a part of the solution. Let them talk with you about how to move forward, they might have a better idea than you do.
  4. Keep your commitment. Don’t shy away from this as you move forward. The Holy Spirit moved in your heart and our job is to move forward in faith. Trust that.  
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How to Figure out God’s Will

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In his book The Catalyst LeaderBrad Lomenick lists some great questions to ask as you discern God’s will and God’s call on your life:

  1. What are your passions and gifts? At the intersection of these two elements, you’ll find your purpose in life.
  2. What would you work on or want to do for free? That is usually a good sign of what God has designed you to do.
  3. What energized you when you were a child? Does it still animate you? Knowing your calling is often directly connected to childhood passions and gifts.
  4. If you could do anything and take a pay cut, what would that be? You may have to blow up your financial goals in order to pursue your true calling.
  5. What barriers are preventing you from pursuing your true calling? Can you begin removing those?
  6. If you aren’t engaging your gifts and talents where you find yourself now, could you make changes in your current role to better engage those? Don’t rule out the possibility that where you are is where you need to be.

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The Reminder’s God Gives Us

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I read this the other day:

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. -Genesis 13:1 – 4

Abram returned to where he built his first altar.

What I often forget about Abram is that when he started walking and following God in Genesis 12, this was brand new to him. All of a sudden (it seems anyway) a voice told him to pack up and move. That’s it. And he did.

Following this God, took him to Egypt. Where Abram failed and lied.

Why?

Because he didn’t trust God.

So he leaves Egypt and returns to where he started. To where he first heard God. To where he first built an altar.

Often, after our failures and disappointments, God brings us back to where we started. He has a way when our faith is faltering to remind us of a place where our faith was strong. When struggle to trust him, he has a way of taking us to the place where we trusted him. When we find ourselves not on fire, but fizzling out, he has a way of bringing us to the place where we were on fire.

If you are in a place today, where it is hard to trust God, hard to follow God, hard to pray or listen or move forward. Return to where it began. Return to where you trusted, where you listened, prayed and followed.

Go back to where it all began.

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Trusting Jesus with my Worries, Happiness and Stress

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Let’s be honest for a minute, trusting Jesus with our lives is difficult. I find it easy to trust him with my eternity because I often think, “I’ll be dead then.” But trusting him everyday, with relationships, my finances, those who have hurt me, my hang-ups and trusting him with my family and what stressed me out. That’s hard to do.

One of the things I’ve learned to do in this area has to do with how my day starts and end.

A lack of trust in Jesus often comes from a lack of gratitude and a false belief in my control of my life.

At the end of my day, when I land into bed. I spend a few minutes thanking Jesus for the day. The things he gave me, the blessings I have (kids, Katie, food, a place to live, a job I love, health and other things that come to mind). I also talk with him about the things that are stressing me out, the things that are weighing me down. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11 that we are to give him our worries and stress and that he offers us life.

At the beginning of my day, before I get out of bed I spend a few minutes praying through my coming day. Meetings, activities, the things I’m worried about for the day, things for my family. I give them to Jesus. While he already is in control and I am not, this a reminder to me of this truth.

These two practices have helped me to make enormous strides in trusting Jesus to put the pieces of my life back together.

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Piecing Life Together when it Falls Apart

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Maybe you’ve gotten to the end of 2013 and wonder, what did I do this year?

You look back with a sadness of relationships that are broken, people who no longer speak to each other. You think back to those who you were close you last December who are no longer there.

It might be a career that has fallen off the tracks. A dream you had in school last year that doesn’t seem possible anymore.

Maybe you were given horrible health news this year. We as a church have been walking with families who were told this year, “you have cancer and it seems hopeless.”

Sometimes, life feels like a puzzle that you are putting together and you get to the end and discover that there are pieces missing. 

Yet, in one my favorite chapters in the Bible, John 21, we find that Jesus puts the pieces of our life back together.

In this scene, Jesus is on the bank of the Sea of Galilee, where Peter and his friends are doing what they love, fishing. This is what Peter does to relax, unwind. It is what he does for a living.

Peter is still reeling from the pain of denying Jesus 3 times. Watching him die and wondering what lay ahead because of the resurrection. So he fishes. It seems like the natural thing to do. When we are depressed, lost, sad or down in the dumps, we do what we know. So Peter goes fishing.

When they see Jesus, John tells us that Peter jumps in the water and swims to him. The details of John 21 are fascinating to me. He tells us how far Peter swims, how many fish they catch.

He even tells us the kind of fire that Jesus builds: a charcoal fire.

This seems like an odd detail until you remember that in John 18:18, the night Peter denies Jesus three times we are told that Peter is warming himself beside a charcoal fire.

Jesus does this to remind him. Not to rub his nose in it, but to remind him.

When we think of piecing life together, we often want to forget what is broken to move forward. That isn’t possible though. If a marriage falls apart, it is still apart. You can’t forget that. You can’t make that not true. The pieces are there, the brokenness remains, you will feel the affects of that for years, possibly the rest of your life. And so will others.

This fire is an important picture for us.

We have to know that following Jesus does not remove what is true in our lives or what has happened. But Jesus doesn’t leave us there. He transforms us. He changes us.

Then, Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?”

Not because he is hard of hearing or because he wants to annoy Peter, but because Peter denied Jesus three times. He is giving Peter the chance to make things right. Not because Jesus didn’t believe him or because Jesus needed to hear it three times.

Instead, I think Peter needed to say it three times. He needed to know in his own heart that he loves Jesus more than anything.

Grace is often about how we accept it. For many, believing that God forgives them, loves them and gives them grace is a hard thing to believe.

For Peter and maybe you, it might be difficult to believe that Jesus isn’t finished with you. 

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