Monday, January 31, 2011

What are you wishing for?

If there's an opposite to the American way of life, the concept of contentment would be a leading contender.

We're a restless people, driven for the newest, biggest, smallest, more thinner, flashier, faster, better ... whatever.

One place I see this reflected is among some of the diehard Apple fans. I've noticed many in this "tribe" follow what is happening at Apple in longing anticipation of the next model, newest addition, or better yet, latest and greatest new product.

We're a people who are always wishing for something better. For something more. For something else.

Contrast that with the Apostle Paul's words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6. "Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth."

A problem is our Americanized meaning of "contentment." We take contentment to mean a place of satisfaction, or being comfortable. Yet the idea of contentment has nothing to do with either of those ideas, or the concept of "volume."

Perhaps the best way to get our minds around the concept of "contentment" is in realizing that contentment is when we finally come to a place where we are happy to stop wishing. That place where we lay aside any longing for more and can honestly say, "This is enough."

Paul discovered that place, as he describes when writing in Philippians 4:11-12, "11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little."

Paul had learned how to stop wishing for more. He had discovered what it was in his life that allowed him to say, "This is enough." He reveals the source in the next verse, Philippians 4:13, "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."

When Christ is our life, we can finally find contentment. There is nothing more to wish for! We've discovered the place where we're content not to wish.

Is your life full of unfulfilled wishes and longings? Or have you come to the place where you can say because of Christ, this is enough?


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Does your source of truth matter?

If you're active in the world of social media, or still buy wall calendars, you'll find on any given day that you'll be blitzed with platitudes providing some statement of "truth" or insight.

On both Twitter and Facebook, I noted comments from more than one person that " ... truth is truth regardless of the source."

It is true that "truth is truth." No matter how you may want to twist or tweak truth, it simply doesn't change for anyone.

But I think it does matter where you turn to for your source(s) of truth.

Some tend to think that quotes from Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, and a host of others as a source of truth is fine. I think there's an inherent danger in looking to sources other than Jesus Christ for truth.

Part of that danger is, when we see persons who teach contrary to the Word of God as sources of truth, we allow them to become sources of truth for us. The more we de-sensitize ourselves to their false teachings by recognizing they occasionally throw out kernels of truth, we make ourselves vulnerable to the falsehoods they more commonly provide.

One of the outcomes of accepting any source for avenues of truth is the fact that many who claim to be Christians, and millions around the globe, have reached the conclusion that all religions are a means to the same end, or the same God.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Jesus Christ clarified this for us with His own words: "Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me'," (John 14:6).

If you like a quote from a known non-Christian personality, does that make you a heretic? Of course not. My point is simply to highlight the potential danger of de-sensitizing ourselves to the false teachings of some by crediting them as a source of occasional truth rather than seeing the bulk of their teaching stands in direct contradiction to the Bible.

While any human being may occasionally utter a statement of truth, Jesus Christ actually is truth. All we believe as truth, and use as truth in our lives, needs to ultimately flow from Him or be in harmony with what He has revealed to us.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Called to do something greater than "build community" ....

I've been convicted of something, so I'm going to make a change.

It's not something earth-shattering, but it's important. It's not a sin, but it is a matter of becoming more biblical. It's correcting something I hadn't noticed adequately but was part of. Here goes:

I will no longer refer to the church as a "community."

I'm making this change because the church isn't a community, isn't supposed to be a "community," and our taking on the cultural language and concept of "community" is making the church into more of a community than it is the church.

"Building community," being in a "faith community," and other such phrases are some of the hot buzz words in our culture. We think if we're community-oriented, we're on the right track. But the concept of community for the church is taking us off track in a major way.

In our culture, community is what you see when you look out your window. It's being part of a group of disconnected people, most of whom you don't know, and usually are content not to. We use communities for what we want and need, and only pay what is demanded (via taxes) while preferring the free services offered. We rarely give anything back to the community unless there's something in it for us.

Communities are, more often than not, made up of shallow relationships. There are some communities which are more supportive than others, but these are more the exception than the rule.

Communities are distant because we keep them at a distance, they don't "live" with us. We come and go in our community according to our own needs and wants, and most interaction is more in passing than on purpose.

Fortunately, Jesus never taught us to go into the world and make communities. Not even communities of disciples. Instead, the Bible describes the church as being the body of Christ, with each of us being a part of the body and connected to one another.

The Bible also describes the church as being the family of God. We aren't simply neighbors (as in community), but brothers and sisters. We belong to each other because we belong to the same family, God's family.

The picture of the church as described in the Bible is vastly more intimate than the concept of community. In your community, you may do something to help the poor, homeless person holding the cardboard sign at the stop light (although many of us lock our car doors, avoid eye contact, and speed away as quickly as possible). BUT ... what if that homeless person was your brother? Or your sister?

Chances are, your response would be dramatically different.

We take care of our family, and our body, very differently than we do our "community."

We live with, love, care for, and cherish our family. And we protect, provide for, and please our body. We give our time, our attention, and most of our resources to our family and taking care of ourselves. That's a significantly greater interest and investment than we give to a "community."

Now here's the problem: the church has become good at building a "faith community" while losing sight that it is much more than that. It's a family, God's family. It's a body that is intimately connected to each other.

Yet, we have created the church to be a community much like the communities we live in, unlike the model of the church we see in the Bible. Those early Christians cared for one another as if they were family, and the result was there was no one among them who had a need left unministered to (Acts 4:32-37). These Christians were known for their love for each other. They acted as if they belonged to one another ... because they did!

When I was a kid, the churches I was a part of had a practice that reminded us that we belong to one another. The church members always referred to each other as "Brother ..." or "Sister ..." So when someone referenced me, they called me "Brother Scotty." That's because we were brothers and sisters in the family of God.

But when we think about community, we don't think of "community" belonging to us in the intimate way family members do. We don't think about, value, or respond to a community in the way we do our family or our body. We don't engage our neighbors we don't know like we do a little sister or big brother that we dearly love.

Jesus didn't instruct us to go make communities. Instead, he wants us, as His body connected together, to be His ambassadors in bringing the lost into His family, NOT His community. The difference in that fact is so vast I'm not going to refer to the church as a community anymore, because it really is --- and must be --- much more!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

If you see one of these, kill it ...

It doesn't take a distinguished political scientist to understand that in America, once Congress funds and launches a new program, that program will likely outlive the majority of us who see the start-up.

These are called "entitlement programs." Social Security and Medicare are two of the most well-known government entitlement programs. Congress has a habit of starting a program, and then keeping it going regardless of whether the program generates positive results or fits within the budget.

The church does something very similar.

In fact, many churches have their own version of "entitlement programs." Like Congress, churches are very good at launching programs and leaving them to continue on regardless of whether there is any positive results or if what they produce are worth the cost.

For example, many churches have Sunday school programs that have been offered for decades with very little results. Many such programs never lead a lost person to Christ. Many do little in building significant Bible knowledge or honestly providing a discipleship experience that eventually leads to the spiritual maturing of participants.

But the programs go on and on and on and on ...

I'm not picking on Sunday school (I've seen some good programs out there). My point is that the church all too often launches programs and never assess the "success" or effectiveness of what it is doing. We settle for that grand ol' statement, "We've always done it this way."

When was the last time your church leaders assessed every single ministry, program, and activity offered at your church to measure actual results? If they did, how many of these would show worthwhile progress as measured in real, direct impact and growth in the lives of people?

Perhaps one of the reasons the church body is biblically illiterate, failing at discipleship, and not reaching the lost for Christ is because we start things and never look at if we're actually accomplishing anything from what we've started.

If a program, ministry, or activity doesn't achieve desired results, it should be cut. Redirect the resources to something that will produce results.

And don't spare the sacred cows!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How great leaders bring about change in people ...

A distinguishing factor between good leaders and great leaders is that great leaders are effective in motivating change in people.

However, people don't tend to like change. Some of the more common motivators for change is personal desire (we'll do it if we want to), fear (afraid what will happen if we don't), competition, a public double-dog dare, or almost direct hits from lightning bolts thrown personally by God.

But there is another source of motivation for change that is often effective: challenge from a leader.

Because people often don't initiate change, a primary role of a leader who really wants to accomplish something is challenging those he leads to change themselves. Until someone literally steps up and puts a direct challenge to us, we often will not initiate real change, even if it's desperately needed. And the more desperately the change is needed, the greater the challenge needs to be.

Church leaders who dangle a lot of biblical content in front of their congregations without challenging people to apply God's Word to their lives in very direct, real ways are leading an audience rather than followers.

To move people in the direction they need to go, challenge them to change, and keep challenging them until they do so. So leaders, go to it ... I challenge you to do so!


Friday, January 21, 2011

What are you griping about?

From the moment you first awake in the morning, how long does it take before you utter (or think) your first complaint?

Many start immediately by complaining mentally (or aloud) that they need to get up to start another day. They do so without a thought that God has decided to bless them with yet another day of life ... something He does not owe them. These people tend to especially curse Mondays and worship Fridays.

Or the complaining begins with the rush of the morning, having to care for children and get them fed and ready for school. Complaining without remembering the value of those children to your life.

If that hasn't started your complaints, they often come in the car while battling traffic on the way to work. How bothersome it is that so many people are out on the roads where they are in your way. Done without a thought to the blessing of having a job (even a "bad" one) to go to.

Once we've started our complaints rolling, we tend to complain throughout the day about anything that inconveniences us. And we usually don't complain just to ourselves, our complaints are usually shared with others where they tend to be encouraged (which just leads to continued complaining).

Then we complain about the traffic on the way home. We complain about having to cook the food God has blessed us with for a dinner. We complain about having to do dishes, bathe children, and having to make time for "others" such as a family when we'd rather just take care of ourselves. Then as we climb into bed, we complain about the hectic day we had.

Many people spend much of their day with a grumbling attitude.
How quickly we go from awaking to complaining really is a reflection of our spiritual health.

Many offer the excuse that "it's only human" to complain, and "everyone does it." They see complaining, a little or a lot, as a natural human behavior.

It is ... for those living naturally, by the "flesh" instead of by the Spirit of God.

The influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not to lead us to complain about the gift of life, or children, or work (provision), or so many of the other things we far too often utter against. The influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives would be to lead us to thank, praise, and be grateful to God for such things.

From the moment you first awake in the morning, how long does it take for you to utter (or think) your first heart-felt thanks and praise to God? That, also, is a reflection of your spiritual health.

Which would best describe you: one who grumbles their way through their day, or one who praises God with a grateful heart? It's the same day, different responses. One is led by the "flesh," the other by the influence of the Holy Spirit in the life.

Which is leading you?


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This can kill spiritual growth in a church ...

A fellow pastor shared with me his puzzlement at the lack of spiritual maturity in his congregation.

Like most churches, the members of his faith community had a variety of opportunities to study scripture together, yet there seemed to be little result from the teaching being offered through the church. So the pastor asked me to take a look at what was going on within the church and offer any feedback that might help the leadership team improve the spiritual development within the church.

I had the chance to sit in on small group gatherings, Sunday school classes, men's group sessions, ministry team meetings, several sermons, and other opportunities where teaching was a focal point or part of the reason for the gathering. After sitting in on all these events, I reported my observations to my pastor friend.

What I discovered happening in this church is something that happens in many churches. I explained to the pastor that while I observed a good deal of solid teaching of biblical information, there was a consistent lack of teaching application to scripture in nearly all the settings I observed. The members of this church were receiving a lot of information from the Bible and building up Bible knowledge, but were receiving very little guidance about how to apply what they were studying to their own lives.

One of the biggest mistakes Bible teachers can make is to assume their "students" know what the application of their lesson is. Too many teachers simply teach content and leave the application to the students. However, many (if not most) of the students are taking in the information but may not even be looking for application.

The problem with that fact is even the Bible is completely useless to us without applying its teachings to our lives. The Word of God transforms lives, but only when it is applied to the life! Thus, teachers need to make sure application of scripture is a central part of their teaching, not simply a sentence or two in their conclusions.

Jesus never taught for theory. He always taught for application. It was His intention that the lives of His listeners would be changed not simply by the hearing of His teaching, but by the doing of it.

If you want to see the members of your faith community grow in spiritual maturity, make sure every teaching opportunity (in any setting) has an adequate focus on helping people understand what the application is for the biblical teaching being offered.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

You gotta taste this ...

Even if you don't have a "sweet tooth," most of us enjoy having a little dessert on occasion.

My family excels at making three specific desserts. Because my parents and their families both come from Arkansas, the desserts that are our "family desserts" have a southern root to them. If you like good, homemade banana pudding, peach cobbler, or raisin pie, you would love dessert made by one of my family members.

My favorite of the three happens to be raisin pie. To my surprise, it seems most people I know have never tasted this delicious dessert. Talk about missing out! Although raisin pie can be rich and sweet, it's hard settling for just one slice!

When I was a teen I spent a little time in Arkansas, which gave me the opportunity to visit with my extended family there. Whenever they gather together, they cook tasty homemade meals, including those delicious "family" desserts.

Unfortunately, when they laid out the spread of desserts, they seemed to have a habit of putting the raisin pie --- my delicious favorite --- right next to the mince meat pie.

I can't stand mince meat pie! Ugh! Gross! I nearly gag just thinking about the terrible taste of mince meat pie!

Here's the problem: mince meat pie and raisin pie look a whole lot alike, and I was never good at telling the difference at a glance. That meant I had to taste the pie to determine if it was raisin pie or mince meat pie.

Want to guess which one I usually tasted first?

You got it ... the horrible mince meat pie!

Sometimes, you really cannot tell if something is great or terrible until you get a taste of it.

The same is true about our spiritual life.

All of us have tasted of sin (Romans 3:23). It may look tasty, but it's really terrible for us.

But look closely at what Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!"

Simply going by sight, many people think what the world offers will taste good. Because of that, we all have indulged, only to discover the disgusting taste that sin ultimately brings. On the other hand, we aren't always attracted to the idea of following Christ by what we see, but once we actually "taste" of the Lord, we find the deliciousness of grace, forgiveness, and life.

What's on your plate? What are you tasting of: the delight of the Lord, or the disgust of the world?


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Here's a real "must read" ...

If you were going to read just one book (other than the Bible) this year, then make it "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt.

Published by WaterBrook Multnomah, this simple paperback is loaded with the hard truth the American church needs to hear. Platt doesn't pull any punches --- not a one! --- in getting to the heart of the problem with the American church. Better yet, he does a masterful job of looking at what, biblically, carrying out the Great Commission really means and how that impacts every individual follower of Christ.

If you're looking for a "feel good" book, you can find lots of those on the shelves of bookstores. This one was written to challenge every Christian to live out a radical faith by sharing a radical gospel in a radical way with the world. That doesn't mean supporting others who do that, or writing a check to a ministry or charity. It means every Christian --- including you --- coming to a place where the American dream is not the pursuit or desire of the heart, but "shaking nations" with the Gospel of Jesus Christ is.

Platt goes beyond stirring us to the very real need the world has for the Gospel of Christ to outlining a practical challenge you can implement in your life that will help you wean yourself from the clutches of the American dream and actually live out your faith in the way Jesus intended.

"Radical" is a book that debunks the myths, delusions and excuses we use regarding our failure in being ambassadors for Christ and provides biblical insight into how we really can make an impact on the world as the body of Christ.

Jesus never intended for the idea of shaking nations with His gospel to be considered a radical idea to the church, it's why He created the church! But in today's American church, it is far from the norm. It's time to change that!


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Add this to your to-do list ...

It's not halfway through the first month of the first year, and many are already assessing their progress --- or lack of it --- with their New Year resolutions.

New goals for the New Year are thought to be a means to make a "new you." All sorts of goals are set and pursued, but few are truly life changing objectives.

If you really want to impact your life in such a way as to guarantee a better, improved you, let me give you another goal to put at the top of your list for things to accomplish in 2011. Here it is: "LOVE GOD."

That's silly, you might think, of course I love God.


I'm not talking about the warm, fuzzy emotions kind of love. Neither am I talking about the appreciation for blessings. Nor am I talking about a generalized "... because He first loved us ..." kind of love.

I'm talking the actualization, the real living out of the most important command ever given to us human beings. Luke mentioned it here in Luke 10:25-28:

"25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: 'Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?' 26 Jesus replied, 'What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?' 27 The man answered, “'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 28 'Right!' Jesus told him. 'Do this and you will live!'"

Does that describe your love for God? A love that squeezes out every ounce of your heart, soul, strength and mind? A total love for God? That's the kind of love God commands of us!

If, while reading that verse, excuses were running through your mind as to how no one could love God that way, then you can rest assured you don't. But God doesn't command us to do something we're incapable of doing, especially with His help. It all comes down to, do you love God enough to love Him completely, totally, unreservedly, just as He commands? Or are you making excuses and trying to justify something far less than a real love for God.

Do you know why so many fall short of this passage? Simply, they do not love God anything close to this degree, if they really do at all. This kind of love will demand a radical surrender of your entire life to God. Most simply don't love God enough to do this ... or else they would!

Do you really want to change and grow in 2011? Then work on loving God this year, and you will be amazed how your year ends.


Monday, January 10, 2011

This is real friendship ...

Friends make a profound difference in life.

One of the greatest examples of real friendship I've ever heard comes from a popular story of two friends who went to war together. I think the setting was Viet Nam. These young men had gone to school together and, as lifelong buddies, signed up to fight in the war together. They were excited they were assigned to serve together, and off to war they went.

Both of these men demonstrated bravery from the day they arrived in the war zone. If anything, their sergeant had to constrain them from taking too great a risk. But one day, while on patrol, things would change. Suddenly, their unit came under attack. The fire from the enemy was intense and kept them from crossing a broad clearing to reach cover on the other side. Someone needed to cross the clearing and set up cover fire for the unit, so one of the friends broke loose from his company and hit a fast run into the center of the clearing ... where he was gunned down.

Immediately upon seeing his friend shot, the other buddy started to jump up and run out to his shot and dying friend. But the sergeant grabbed the soldier and threw him back, yelling at him that if he went out there he would lose his life like his friend was doing. The young man looked out into the field and saw the life draining out of his friend. With a jump he bounded to his feet and into the clearing toward his friend, but was shot down just as he reached his buddy.

The platoon fought valiantly for several more minutes and finally gained the upper hand on the enemy, allowing the soldiers to advance into and across the clearing. The sergeant ran to the young man who had run out to his friend. Seeing the soldier was dying, the sergeant said, "I told you not to go, I warned you! Now don't you wish you would have listened to me?"

At that, the dying soldier looked up at his sergeant and spoke his last words: "Oh no, Sarge. You see, as soon as I got to my buddy he said to me, 'I knew you would come'."

Are you the kind of friend who others, in their most challenging times of life, would say of you, "I knew you would come?"


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Don't forget to take your charger ...

It was obvious someone had helped themselves to my cell phone car charger.

I had turned in my rental car and, while waiting for my flight at the airport gate, I discovered my cell phone car charger was missing from my brief case. I had used it in the rental car, so I must have left it in the car. I called the rental company to see if they would hold it for me, but they reported there wasn't a charger found in the car I turned in.

Oh well.

On my way home, I stopped at the local AT&T store and picked up another car charger for my cell phone.

That's just one charger I had. I kept another charger in my office, and had another that stayed in my brief case or back pack so it was with me wherever I went. I had yet another charger at home ... "just in case."

Because my cell phone was a primary means of staying in contact with people via voice, text, email, and social media, it was important to have a charger available so I could have power anywhere I found myself in order to stay in communication with others.

That's how times are these days, we travel with our chargers!

As Christians, there's another Power Source we need to have with us at all times to help us with our communication with others. It's the power of the Holy Spirit, who can provide us with direction in our communication when we most need it.

Jesus said in Luke 12:11-12, "And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.” Although Jesus is referring to times of persecution here, the Holy Spirit helps us in various times in our need to communicate correctly with others. Even in communicating with God, the Holy Spirit helps us when we just can't find the right words. Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:26-27:

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will."

Better than a cord we have to remember to carry around with us, the Holy Spirit is our Power Source for life who lives within each believer, as described in John 14:16-17, "16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you."

As Christians, we don't have to remember to take the Holy Spirit with us since He dwells within each of us. But having that constant Source of power is beneficial only if we use it by yielding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Do you allow the Holy Spirit to be your source of power for living? Do you stay plugged into God's will for your life through the direction of the Holy Spirit? How do you let the Holy Spirit lead you as a Christian?


Friday, January 7, 2011

Big equipment in a little dining room ...

Henry bragged about his prize possession, and Patricia shook her head at the "junk." Differing values and views of the same thing.

Henry and "Pat" (Patricia) Solomon were dear friends of mine when I was a teenager. In fact, for a short while I lived with them and was best of friends with one of their sons, Del. They were a Mexican-American family, lower middle-class, living in the not-so-ritzy section of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Henry worked as head custodian at an elementary school. He was a short, balding, obese man who spent his time away from work eating and watching television in bed. But he had a kind heart and was sharp at spotting someone in need that he could help.

Henry also had a fondness for collecting things that had some value, but none directly for himself. In other words, things that simply took up space. Like his entire dining room area!

Somewhere, Henry had come across machinery for making and repairing shoes. The equipment worked, but he didn't know how to use it because he had never made or repaired shoes. Nor did he ever learn. But he knew the equipment had value, so he bought it and stored it in the dining room area just off the kitchen of his home.

And there it sat, never to be used.

Whenever someone would come to visit, Henry would show off his equipment, explaining he had everything he needed to make and repair shoes.

But never in his life did he make a shoe, or repair one. But the equipment worked!

Pat was usually patient with Henry, but every now and then she would stand looking at the shoe equipment that devoured her dining room. She would shake her head and mumble something about Henry under her breathe.

But at least the equipment worked!

When Henry died, Pat finally sold the machinery for making and repairing shoes. During Henry's ownership, not a single shoe was made or repaired on the equipment. But at least the equipment worked!

Many people are like Henry. They don't own any machinery for making or repairing shoes, but they do have something valuable which they never use for their benefit or the benefit of others. It's the Truth, as provided by the Word of God.

Studies reveal the "average Christian" rarely ever reads the Bible in any given week. But there the Truth as revealed by God Himself sits in their homes, unused by themselves or others ... but at least the Truth works!

What are you doing with the Truth? How are you using it, for yourself and others? Or is it simply gathering dust in your home?


Sunday, January 2, 2011

The boy at the buffet ...

His eyes nearly visibly bulged and his mouth dropped open. The boy had spotted the dessert section of the restaurant's buffet.

Rows of puddings and cakes lay spread before him.

The little boy began to bounce in place in anticipation as his body worked to keep up with his mind, which was telling him to run to his mother and share with her his great discovery. Which is exactly what the little boy did.

Then he soon lost his smile and exuberance.

His mother explained he could, indeed, have some dessert but only after he ate a "good meal." Initially, the boy's smile dropped and he seemed frozen at the news. But then you could almost see the wheels turning in his mind as he tried to find some remedy to this terrible intrusion to a delightful indulgence.

Suddenly the boy's head snapped up, the eyes widened again, and the smile returned to his face. Like a little soldier on a mission, he marched straight to the buffet where he proceeded to select a single "chicken nugget" with the lightest possible serving of a vegetable and fruit he could get his mother to approve of.

It was obvious what the boy's new plan was: he would obey his mother by first eating a "good meal," but he would minimize that meal as much as possible. After all, he had to leave lots of room for desserts, and he couldn't waste a lot of time on required food stuffs. So the boy sat at the table and quickly devoured his meal, being sure to show his mother the emptiness of his plate. With a nod from the mother, the boy sprang from his seat and ran to the far end of the buffet, only to return a moment later with a plate loaded with samplings of various desserts.

He had obeyed his mother. He had eaten "well." And he had gotten exactly what he wanted ... he minimized what was "good" for him so he could maximize on what he really desired.

The story of the boy above is true, and his behavior is as commonplace among adults as it is with other children. In counseling circles, it's a cognitive distortion simply referred to as minimization and maximization. It's the kind of behavior we adopt when we want to appear compliant and appropriate while manipulating events to achieve our real desires.

We behave this way routinely.

For example, God desires we worship Him, so we show up to church on Sunday morning. But first we fight and argue out the front door of the house, speed our way to church, and act like the purest of saints and the kindest of friends to people we only interact with for an hour or two on Sundays. While we "participate" in a worship service in the midst of all this, it's not the genuine worship God desires. It's minimizing what the "parent" (in this case, God) wants so we can maximize what we want: to be spiritually "safe" while getting on to lunch and back to the house for the football game.

At least, that's a classic scenario we're familiar with.

Such routine behavior is a hodge-podge of distorted thinking that creates a thin resemblance to a whole life, but minimizing the true "nutrients of life" really leaves the person unfulfilled even though the individual is maximizing personal desires.

That's because our life was never to be all about us. We were created to worship, glorify, and enjoy God, and when we apply ourselves to that kind of intimate relationship with our Creator, we find fulfillment that only comes from living out our "creative purpose" (actually achieving what we were created for). When we maximize who God is in our lives, and minimize ourselves in light of Him, we discover fulfillment.

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 16:24-26: "24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?'"

Recently, millions of people sat down and put together New Year resolutions. Some actually wrote down things they want to accomplish during 2011. Perhaps you were one of them. If so, to what degree are the desires you have for yourself in the New Year a maximization of your creative purpose, and minimization of selfish desires? Who is prominent in your planned pursuits: God, or you? How can you make 2011 a year in which you significantly achieve your creative purpose?


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Get ready! Get set ...

It's the very first day of a brand new year and you have already started the day with what will impact your new year more than most things: your habits.

Some habits can be good. Doing things that help us live right and live well by applying a discipline that keeps us habitually in good practices is a positive thing.

But bad habits are often what we find at the core of what keeps us from being the person God would have us be. Sadly, many people launch their fresh start with anticipation of starting old (bad) habits in a new year. The result, from the outset of the new year, is a guarantee that they will become no better a person in the new year than they were in the old (and may actually lose ground).

To purposely make a difference in your life in 2011, you need to jettison the bad habits of the past that kept you from being the person God would have you be, and start applying new habits that work in unison with God's design to grow you up into the likeness of Christ.

Before the year gets any older, let me encourage you to identify the old, negative habits you still need to get rid, as well as identify the new, positive habits you will replace the old ones with. It's not a matter of simply eliminating an old habit. We need a new direction to replace the old.

Starting your new year well will dramatically increase the chances of ending well. The habits you start with are your intentions for the person you want to be at year's end. Are you aiming high, or have you already settled for a re-run of last year?