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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