Not Alone in the Dark…

We never “really” get over it. That feeling that what we cannot see just might “get us!” When we were small children, our parents may have installed nightlights to show us that nothing was really in the room with us at bedtime. They may have inspected the closet and looked under the bed to demonstrate that nothing bad was there. They may have even explained to us all the reasons our fears were irrational and reminded us that they were on the far side of the house (away from us) and that if we needed them…we only needed to cry out.

The feeling never went away. We wondered if the object of our fears might be lurking in a shadow or may have been overlooked when inspecting the closet. Our real issue was not the darkness but the sense that we were alone.

How does one find peace from the fear and anxiety that bad things happen when we are alone?

I think this is the heartbeat of Jesus’ statement to His followers just prior to His ascension back to the Father in heaven… “and I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus never promised that bad people or bad things would not come against us. He never declared our lives to be filled with unicorns and cotton candy. He, in fact, declared the opposite, “In this world you will have tribulation!” (John 16:33). And at the same time, Christ indicated that we could experience a profound peace, even amid our difficult circumstance.

God’s PEACE is not experienced based on the absence of trouble but on the presence of God.

In Psalm 23, David declared, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” God’s presence put our “trouble” in perspective.

A boy was having difficulties with a bully on the walk to school. After several confrontations, he was so afraid of what would happen that he dreaded even walking that way again. His father, recognizing the real issue, did not promise to remove the bully but chose instead to walk with his son on the journey the next day. When they faced the bully kid along the walk, there was no issue. The bully was the same, but the son had confidence because his dad was bigger than the bully and HE WAS WITH HIM.

Today, as you face the challenges that are guaranteed to come, don’t fear the dark or dread being alone. If you are His child, you are never alone…not even in the dark. “Fear not for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10).

Pray for me…

So, the question is, “Do I share a concern that I have with others so that they can pray for me and with me?” What if I am wired as a pretty private person and prefer not to “air out” my concerns? What if I have a theological understanding that God already knows my needs and I have prayed personally and specifically about them to Him? Perhaps… “What is the value of getting as many people as possible to pray about something? Does God give in and answer a prayer if you get enough uprising of prayer voices?”

A theology of prayer is not one that many people can articulate, and I don’t expect this short article to suddenly change the world on that matter; however, I do want to offer a perspective that I hope will be helpful.

Recently I came to a milestone in my education. After four doctoral seminars and two advanced doctoral seminars, after reading tens of thousands of pages of texts and hundreds of hours of lecture and conversation about numerous subjects…I had to sit for my comprehensive exams (aka Comps). All of the information I was exposed to and thought about for (in my case) nearly two years was on the table and I had to synthesize it and respond to questions about it. One question was an essay response to a prompt and two questions were “oral board” style with faculty members and a subject matter “practitioner” expert.

So, how do you prepare for that? One thing is pray. While I have a generally good grasp of tests…this one seemed to have so much riding on it, that I was genuinely nervous. So, I prayed and I shared the burden of my anxiousness with those close to me (family, close friends, my LIFE Group, etc.). Here are some of the reasons why I shared with others…reasons I will refer to as benefits:

  • Vulnerability. When you ask others to pray for you, you remind everyone, including yourself, that you are not invincible. This promotes humility. It also facilitates trust.
  • People want to help you. Others recognize when you are genuinely burdened about something and they want to help.
  • Community. Christians live in close-quarters with one another. We are on mission together. It would be derelict to withhold the fact that you are distracted by a concern.
  • Encouragement. Knowing others were praying and then receiving encouraging notes and texts mattered. It lifted me.
  • Shared Victory. When I passed my comps, a HUGE weight was lifted. I still have a ton of work to do, but this was really a big hurdle. I felt like I achieved something. I told Jodi, “I can see the light at the other end now.” I also sensed that many other people felt that they shared in that victory. They did, by the way, because we are a community and we labored together in prayer…so the victory is shared! But…the point is…they FELT the victory when WE PASSED the tests. To not share would have denied others of that realized experience of victory.

So, I get “private” and all that…but with so many benefits of having others pray for you…wouldn’t it be wise to admit that maybe God has a better plan and permit the community to function as it is designed?

Who are you “denying” the opportunity to feel victory because you wanted to keep a real burden private.

The Principle of Unintended Consequence…

A wise man once said, “Don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was erected. There may be something beyond the horizon you don’t want to come after you.”

When I was a small child (I don’t remember this, but only the stories told about it) I was spending time with my aunt and uncle in Florida and was curious about a plastic container near a sink. It had little covers over the two very small cup-like things and there was water in them. I had never seen a contact lens holder before, so I opened one of them and inadvertently washed a contact down a drain. It was not what I intended.

Can I call that an accident? Certainly not! It only happened because I was doing something else I was not supposed to be doing. I did not mean for it to happen. It was an unintended consequence.

In leadership, this principle plays out time and again. In church leadership, these choices seem to magnify intensely (mainly because churches are people and the variables on decisions with people are innumerable). Effective leaders, however, must become adept at forecasting unintended consequences. This involves more than acting and then praying that God protects you from consequences. It involves more than asking three friends what they might do in a similar situation. It means learning to examine a matter from a variety of perspectives.

Here are 4 tips:

  • Ask, “Why is this necessary?” Write down the reason that this change or action is required in your current context. In other words: what problem are you seeking to fix, what question are you seeking an answer to, or what outcome are you trying to achieve?
  • Ask, “How will those immediately affected perceive this action?” When Martha hears you say that you are moving her Sunday School class to the other end of the hall, what will go through her mind as to the rationale? Remember, everyone listens through the filter of their own experiences. Those likely differ from yours as a leader.
  • Ask, “How would this be reported on the evening news?” News reports, at times, scare me. In our attention-deprived culture of soundbites, every story is to be condensed to 90 seconds. If someone were observing your action and then editing the entirety of it to 90 seconds, what would make the highlight reel? Your church cancels a particular outreach event…for (prospectively) a hundred good reasons. If none of those were understood, what would onlookers assume was your motive. As bad as it sounds… “what will people think of your decision?”
  • Verify and Adapt. Take your new information and verify that the consequences of the decision or change are worth it. Then, adapt your message to address beforehand as many of the downsides as you uncovered. If the new direction is good…press on, but be wise as you lead others in the new direction. Don’t complain about people throwing rocks at you when you could have removed them but, instead, left them lying around on the ground.

What might you add to this list if you had written the article? I’d love to hear.

Speaking and Listening to Grow…

I have been writing for several days now on my spiritual disciplines to give a glimpse into what it looks like to grow in Christ. I am not speaking of gaining knowledge though growing in Christ requires us to know more information about Him. I have talked about a number of components mentioned in my article HERE. You can follow the threads and see about a Bible Reading Plan, using devotional guides, reading in the Book of Proverbs, and my deeper bible study reading. Today, I want to discuss prayer (and I am using the term ‘want’ loosely).

As I said in the initial article, this is the place where I feel the weakest since I find myself becoming impatient and sometimes distracted in this area. It is one thing to have a prayer time where you ask God to bless your meal…or to heal Aunt Ethel’s big toe injury (both necessary and good aspects of prayer), but I am talking about talking and listening to God.

This time is often divided and many times informal. Here is what I mean.

It begins with acknowledging God for who He is. I start by rehearsing all fo the qualities of God that come to my mind.

Then, the time turns toward confession: God forgive me for these areas SPECIFICALLY that I know inhibit my fellowship with you.

Third, and this is the tricky part…God speak to me. NOW–LISTEN.

Here God is free to turn my mind wherever He wishes. He may remind me of sin, shift my thoughts to His greatness, press me to intercede for someone…or just be silent as He trains me to wait on Him. Then…I ask Him to open my mind to the Scripture. As I am reading, I like to think God is also turning my mind by drawing me to things in Scripture.

Finally, I repeat: God you are great and here is how… God forgive me and this is why…God show me what You want me to know or see and I will wait.

When I sense it is time to move forward I do.

Here are a couple of things that make this hard for me (and maybe for you too):

  • I get in a hurry. I am a slave, at times, to my calendar.
  • My mind is prone to wander. I swear the enemy will flash every shiny squirrel he can to get me off-track.
  • I am selfish. I often want to focus on me and how I can grow and what I want God to show me. God on the other hand, will not share in my self-absorbed madness. He stands quietly just out of view.
  • I like to drive. Waiting and watching and being dependent is an ongoing challenge. I have to work at it.

But, when I get it right: (excuse the forthcoming alliteration. I am a preacher after all).

  • I sense His presence. I can tell God is there.
  • I sense His peace. He speaks to things that are important to me.
  • I sense His purpose. I gain direction.
  • I sense His power. I feel like I can do it (whatever the IT is at that moment).

I hope that helps. If you have a better plan or a thought to contribute I am all ears…as long as I stay focused.

Grace and Peace,

PC.

Growth through Deeper Study

Last week, I wrote an article on How I will grow spiritually in 2018, and since then, I have written several articles on different parts of the disciplines I use in my own spiritual development: Scripture Reading plans, devotionals, and reading from Proverbs. Today I want to discuss the fourth discipline- Reading for Deeper Understanding.

This may sound a little weird, but it shouldn’t. What I am speaking of is a slower, more methodical study of a specific Book in the Bible, along with study tools, to get a deeper understanding.

For instance, right now I am reading the Minor Prophet Hosea again. It is a fairly short book but it will take me a while to work through it because I am in no hurry. I almost always have a commentary available and some tool to help me with the original language. The goal…is to grasp the full context of a passage or a book and understand not only what was said but why it was said, to whom was it spoken, and about what did it refer.

For example: Hosea was a prophet in Israel (Northern Kingdom) for around 40 years. The Israelites living there had forsaken almost everything holy except the name of being God’s people. They acknowledged God but lived like all religious roads ended up at the same place. Furthermore, they pursued many of these religious pursuits through sexual immorality, idolatry, and self-sufficiency. Their priests had abdicated their responsibility of teaching truth and calling for repentance to the point…that the people wrestled with even knowing the truth.

This background sets the context for God’s instructions to Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children with her…giving them weird names of prophetic significance. God said the prostitute (whose name was Gomer by-the-way) would cheat on Hosea and return to harlotry. God then told Hosea to go and pay her ransom and bring her home, purify her, and love her.

Now I will confess…I have had some tough assignments as a minister…but seriously! This has to take the cake! What under heaven is God thinking?

Well, God wants Hosea to live out a parable demonstrating God’s love toward a rebellious people. As Hosea took a wife that slept around, God has taken a people that committed spiritual adultery with every false religion on the block! As Hosea was hurt by his wife’s return to harlotry, God is hurt by ours. As Hosea went and redeemed and purified his wife, receiving her back to himself, God redeems us (sinful spiritual harlots), purifies us and receives us to Himself (See Rom 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, Eph 5:22-33, et. al.)

So with a little help from scholars and taking my time…the depths of knowledge of God’s heart resulting in an overwhelming appreciation for His matchless grace rises up!

So, all that to say that in addition to the other things, I am also involved in this discipline which really is one of the most encouraging parts of my devotional time with God.

Maybe, if you really want to “get it” with God…give it a try. Use a Study Bible or purchase a commentary on a particular book and give it a whirl…after all, if you can understand God better and that results in pasisonate worship…what do you have to lose?

Grace and Peace.

PC.

 

Avoiding the Two-Choice Trap

I like mysteries. A good “cop-drama” or “murder-mystery” is the staple of my television amusement. Whether it is an NCIS episode, Law and Order, Blue Bloods, or the plethora of new legal dramas that pepper my DVR menu- I like dramas. At the same time, when I watch the current “news” channels or peruse much of what I see on Facebook, my eyes twitch and I begin to sympathize with some of the stars of these made-for-TV crime shows. So, WHY?

In most of the mystery shows, there is a common plot. Someone is murdered…there are one or two likely suspects and a tension as to who the culprit is. Then, 2/3 of the way into the narrative, there is a “plot-twist” and a third option becomes available.

What makes me crazy about most news reports on the cable networks? There is rarely a third option. Either you support (for instance) the President and you’re a person of questionable character that hates women, homosexuals, and the poor; or, you are part of the resistance so you hate law enforcement, accountability and desire for the US to become a socialist state.

This same false dichotomy is often applied to Christian beliefs. A Christian holds a moral objection to homosexuality, abortion, or extra-marital sex and suddenly you must hate all people, desire to institute a theocracy, and want women to become second-class citizens in a patriarchal rerun of Mad Men.

These examples are indicative of the false narrative choices fed by impure motives and rhetorical goals of those who seek to win more than seeking to understand. What if it were possible for there to be a third option?

Is it possible to like SOME of what a person does, disagree with other parts, and still speak and act with genuine respect toward one another? In other words, must I affirm everything about a person if I support some things?

What seems true for most things in life is that we would benefit by looking for a “third option.” Certainly, some ground rules apply, but Patterson et. al. touch on this as it relates to relationships in their book Crucial Conversations. In it, the authors advocate for a culture of trust where dialogue is fostered to improve understanding and promote an environment where parties can work toward a common “win.” That is only possible if we accept that there is a third option to most conflicts, AND finding that third option requires dialogue with charitable assumptions.

We DESPERATELY need this in our culture if we are to experience any meaningful progress. We also need a backbone to require parties to come to the table and accept these ground rules. What I mean is: We should not reward obtuse behavior simply because someone wants to be obtuse. If a Senator becomes an obstructionist simply because he is jockeying for power or didn’t like the President (apart from policy)  we, as the People, should usher him out of office.

The behavior we should reward is dialogue. Information is not our enemy but our friend. We learn when we talk. We may not come to consensus, but we might…especially if we are convinced there may be a third way and reject the “fool’s choice” of a two-choice option.

A Proverb a Day…

Last week, I wrote an article on How I would Grow Spiritually in 2018. SImce then, I have shared a few posts expanding on parts of that plan: A Bible Reading Plan and Devotional Diet. Today I want to briefly touch on a third part of my discipline in hopes that you will embrace it as well.

Almost without fail, I read the corresponding chapter of Proverbs with the day of the month. So, today, the 8th, I read Proverbs 8. I have done this for years and the compelling reason for that is simple: A mentor recommended I do it.

I’ve sat in conference after conference that Johnny Hunt has led. I love him as a voice that speaks truth. He has done ministry well and his daily prayer, “Lord, keep me close and clean,” has served as a reminder and, at times, a convictional catalyst in my life. Pastor Johnny reads Proverbs every day.

Here are a few reasons I think you should join me in reading Proverbs:

  • Timelessness. Wisdom literature is just that…wisdom. Wisdom is not based on circumstance of the trial du jour. It is, just beyond the reach of these things and speaks to many of life’s situations.
  • Short. A chapter takes 3-5 minutes…tops. If you read it slowly. The sayings are usually 2-4 lines and are a collection so they are not always connected.
  • Repetition. I have come to realize in my life, that I don’t always need to know NEW stuff as much as I need to be reminded of what I already know.
  • Affirmation. Reading the wisdom sayings remind me just how much God “gets us.”
  • Memorization. I find myself able to easily memorize these proverbs and God draws them out of my soul, seemingly at just the right time, when they can be used to encourage someone else.
  • They make me smile. Sometimes they say stuff about life that makes me want to reply to my Bible…PREACH!
  • Necessity. I need wisdom. Daily. In abundance. Forever.

So, if I were looking to get onboard to some wisdom, I’d start today. I have also found it helpful to note a date (month and year) beside particularly impactful verses. Funny…when you look back over a year, you can see certain themes emerging and recurring…and God may use that to tell you something. At least He does with me.

Why I Read Devotionals…

A few days back I posted an article on How I would grow spiritually in 2018. I wanted to expand on one of the pieces of the plan…why I read devotionals as part of my daily strategy.

Encouragement. God often has a way of speaking to my heart through another writer’s words. Chambers, Blackaby, Johnny Hunt, Boyd Bailey, John Piper… they’ve all been used by God to scratch an itch…sometimes when I did not even know I had one.

Growth. I learn things about how to communicate truth by reading how others do it. I know that sometimes, when I speak, my “prophet” can come out and even a good and true and correct and even helpful word can be lost in the delivery.

Perspective. Community was always part of God’s plan to grow us. Someone once said that if you refuse to listen to others, soon you’ll not have anyone speak to you that has anything to say. (Insert Facebook counseling reference here).

Primer. I usually read my devotionals first. Before by Scripture time. It helps “prime the pump” of my mind…allowing me to ease into an encounter with God’s Word. Devotionals are written conversationally so they digest a little easier. At least they do for me.

My devotional “stash” shifts every year it seems, but I have some classics I come back to often. Here are a few. I recommend checking your App Store if you use a device during your devotional time. All of these except one are available online. Since I always have my tablet with me, they are readily available…taking away the excuse of inconvenience.

My devotional reading takes about 15 minutes a day.

What’s the financial investment? It is up to you. I purchased the print devotional at a conference I think…and the Chambers, while free, I purchased an App for .99 that gives me both classic and modern language and an easy share feature…but it is available in Facebook and online too. It was just convenient to spend the dollar. As always, I recommend a donation to the other ministries who have put together these tools. The time and technology are not free and I think $20 here and there is good stewardship and support.

OBJECTIONS:

No way pastor! I don’t have time for five devotionals. I have a real job! I get it, friend. Two things.

  • First, this is all part of my personal discipline. I am not “on the clock” at my “job” when I get in my quiet time. So, it’s kinda like you and your real job scenario.
  • Second, I didn’t start with five and I am not militant about it. Sometimes their daily writing is boring and I may skim one…or be pressed because I overslept and only get one or two and have to read the others online during the day (if I get to them at all). Maybe try one. CHAMBERS is my classic go to…and Hunt’s Devotional is my favorite…mostly because it is written by pastors and I hear their heart as I read it.

So, enjoy…and if you have something to add or are doing a better plan, share in the comments and I would love to hear and learn from you.

Grace and Peace,

PC.

 

Why I like Bible Reading Plans…

So, yesterday, I posted an article on How I was going to grow in 2018. Today and for a few more days, I am going to expand on parts of that post in hopes of “selling you” on the benefits of some of the components of the plan. [That kind of disclaimer must meet the approval of the Federal Trade Commission- FTC] 🙂

I really have come to like Dr. Robby Gallaty and Replicate ministries. I spent a little time talking with some of the guys who lead this ministry and love the direction. Some of the men in our church use this plan as the backbone of their weekly discipleship group meetings (D-Groups).

While I have “liked” the ministry, this is my first time going through it, in earnest, personally. Here is what I think really connects-

  • Accessibility. I love that there is an app for this that includes the Bible (CSB) though I prefer to read from my print Bible, that there is a plan with checkboxes for the daily Scripture, a built-in place to journal reflections, and the ability to do this in community. (You can form groups that read along the same plan together and even share journal reflections if you wish).
  • Bible-centric. I have a deep conviction that any good growth strategy has to MAJOR on Scripture. Even if you don’t understand everything well in the beginning, by reading it, you gain something and when you read it again, you gain more. I greatly prefer bible-centered time over book-centered (i.e. a group reads a book together and discusses it). Those are good, and have their place, but should never take priority over Scripture study.
  • Cost-effective. I know dudes who will spend $800 for a new phone and tell me they don’t have $20 for a Jesus conference. This ministry takes away that excuse by making the “bones” of this program available at no charge; however, I always recommend supporting their ministry by purchasing books or making a contribution. You don’t manage a tool like this for free.
  • Scalability. By that, I mean that you can get in and out of this by reading, journaling, and memorizing a couple verses in 10-15 minutes a day. Or, as you grow and God speaks, you can invest more time for a greater return on your investment as the Lord leads.

I remember rolling out an initiative at church a few years back and one of my “opportunity people” (the guy who never agrees with anything, and gives you an opportunity grow in grace and improve your prayer time) came up to me to tell me why he thought my plan was wrong and he was going to do his own thing which was better! Well, he didn’t. He ended up leaving the church, and another church, and another church and is now giving some other pastor opportunities to grow in grace. In the end, my experience with him reminded me that, as an old preacher once said, “I like what I do better than what you’re not doing.”

There may be better things out there, and even better for you. If you are doing something that works…GREAT! But if not, try this. If you’re not sure if your system is working the best…try this for a season and you will have something to compare it to. If you have something better, tell me. I love to learn about new and better tools to help people become like Jesus…starting with me.

You can get info on Replicate Ministry and the F-260 Bible Reading plan HERE, or by searching for their App in your devices store.

If you want to discuss joining a group with me to grow together and find some accountability in the new journey, hit me up. We can do it!

Grace and Peace,

PC

How I will grow Spiritually in 2018…

Yesterday, I asked some questions that were challenging to me, as well as to the church I am privileged to lead.

Do you know God better at the end of 2017 than you did at the beginning?

 

How will you ensure that you know God better at the end of 2018 than you do today…Jan 1, 2018?

Almost too obvious to mention…recent studies show that the best spiritual development tool is the Bible. Those who read the Bible demonstrate greater spiritual maturity than those who don’t.

My challenge was to choose to grow by:

  • Take 15 minutes to read God’s Word every day.
  • Choose to attend YOUR CHURCH weekly if at all possible.
  • Serve others in and through your church.

These three actions have produced greater growth in my life than nearly anything I can imagine. Of course, I’m not saying that walking through trials and loving people that drive me nuts sometimes are not also part of God’s growth plan. They are! But, I cannot choose my trials…only respond to them. I cannot manufacture opportunities to rub wings with people that God uses to refine me…only do it when they come into my orbit.

So, how will I intentionally grow in 2018?

Let me list a few resources that are part of my daily discipline for the year:

  • F-260 by Replicate Ministry. This is a great discipleship tool for growth, community and accountability. https://replicate.org/f260-bible-reading-plan/. They have an app which is on my iPad and I timed it this morning- 25 minutes to read 2 chapters, write out memorization verses, and to reflect and journal on my reading. If you’re looking for a system, try this one. I will even connect with you for community and accountability if you message me.
  • Devotionals. I find it helpful for me to read devo thoughts from others. Here are a couple of my daily reads- Solid Joys by Desiring God. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/solid-joys-daily-bible-devotional/id553049864?mt=8 ; Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, https://utmost.org/ ; Wisdom Hunters by Boyd Bailey, https://www.wisdomhunters.com/; Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Blackaby, http://www.blackaby.net/; and a print devotional I picked up from Johnny Hunt, Grace, Hope, and Love: My Daily Devotional. My devotional reading takes about 15 minutes a day. What I like? The different perspectives. God has a way of squeezing in truth when I wasn’t expecting it. I also like that all are on my phone or iPad through an App (except for Johnny Hunt’s devo, though I have Chambers downloaded (cost .99). Total cost is about $17/year.
  • Proverbs. A chapter from Proverbs corresponding to the day of the month. 3-5 minutes
  • Additional Bible reading for deeper study. Apart from preparation to teach and preach, it is part of my discipline to read slowly and research more deeply different books of the Bible. No rigid pace here. I like to Major and Minor prophets a lot, though I do cycle through the NT letters as well. 10 minutes.
  • Prayer. Last but not least, some uninterrupted time of speaking to God and listening…allowing my mind to be directed as God leads it and speaks to me. I personally feel this is my weakest area…due to my own impatience. That’s why we call it a discipline. 10 minutes.

So if you add it up, about an hour and five minutes or so a day.

“Wait…you said, pastor, 15 minutes a day for God.” Sure! That’s a great place to start. Grab one devotional, and Proverbs and 2 chapters a day…or jump on the F-260 plan…or grab a bible reading plan from YouVersion. Start somewhere. God will guide you from there.

I’ll expand a little more later in the week on what this looks like…but NEW YEAR, NEW YOU! Start today and next year, you’ll be blown away at your answer to the question, “How do I know God better at the end of 2018 than at the beginning?”

Grace and Peace.

PC

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