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.

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.

My Top 9 and a bonus Takeaway from the FBC Annual Meeting

At the risk of missing someone else’s favorite quote, let me say that I did not write down everything. In fact, I was in such awe at Dr. Robert Smith (for instance) that I don’t remember one single note I wrote down.

Still, these quotes resonated with me…in no particular order of importance:

  1. “Don’t try to run someone else’s race.” Rocky Purvis
  2. When things are tough for a prolonged time…”Sometimes you want to quit or coast…but it’s not how you begin the race or even where you are at the halfway point. It’s how you finish.” Rocky Purvis
  3. “Prayer moves the hand of God.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  4. The heavens aren’t opened until someone prays.” Dr. Steve Gaines
  5. “Faithfulness will always lead to fruitfulness.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  6. “A servant who never serves is by definition, not a servant.” Dr. Stephen Rummage
  7. The gospel must first change us before it can change the world- H.B. Charles Jr.
  8. “The gospel is for those who believe, not those who behave.” -H.B. Charles Jr.
  9. “If your hope is tied to things you can lose, you will eventually lose hope.” Dr. Rick Blackwood
  10. Georgia will probably still be #1, since they beat Notre Dame.” (What time does Georgia play?) Tim Coleman.

To the One whom my heart loves…

18169_305409574188_2503807_nWords cannot adequately express what life has been like with you over the last 33 years or so we have known each other. I am beyond grateful for your love, partnership, friendship, encouragement, and companionship. While your birthday isn’t the only occasion worthy of remembering how amazing you are, it is a fitting day.

 

The pictures here are probably more significant to you and me than they will be to those who peruse them with us, but they go back at least 30 years, multiple careers, two kids, lots of ups and downs. I’ve watched you grow in grace, elegance, wisdom, and influence through those years. I have benefitted from that growth.18169_305409579188_5055709_n

I say it often but have never meant it more…(apart from Christ who is preeminent in each and both of our lives) you are the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I would climb any mountain, traverse the driest desert, swim the most treacherous seas, fight the biggest dragons, or scale the most dangerous castle tower to have you as my own.

It has been my honor to serve you and to serve with you throughout our days thus far. I am certain that many adventures yet await us. You have been and will always be my truest love and if I had to do it all over again…I’d choose you every single time.

1399706_10151967944599189_1346436100_oThank you for being my wife, my friend, my confidant, counselor, and sometimes co-conspirator. While I could share these words with you privately, I want the world to see and hear what they may only assume or have never considered…you are ALL THAT and a box of chocolates.

I pray that today brings you smiles, blessings, and abundant joy. Happy 29th birthday again! (No one would believe we are the same age anyway). All my love for All my days.

CJ 4ever

N.S.G.

Peppers, Proverbs, and changing the world

mammoth-jalapeno-hot-pepperThis morning as I was making my lunch and preparing to start my “public” day, I had an incredible moment of reflection. When I was a small child, now more than forty years ago, I was spending the summer with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather (Papa Conner) often ate hot peppers with his dinner meal. One evening, he offered me one of his peppers (and if memory serves, may have even induced me to eat it with the offer to pay me a dollar if I did). I recall eating a bite (about half of the pepper and being less than impressed with the flavor. It was like a “bell pepper” taste. Then I went for the second bite. This one included the seed pod which, by the way, created a five-alarm fire in my mouth and caused me to never want peppers again (at least until much later in life). I remember as I was taking the second bite, that my granddad protested as I bit down. He knew what was going to happen, but I was clueless. He could have explained it a hundred times I would never have grasped the fact that the seedpod is hot; yet, one good bite of experience and I can go back to that moment after four decades like it was YESTERDAY! (My mouth is watering at the thought of it).

It was the DOING that caused the KNOWING to stick with me later.

DOING makes KNOWING STICK!

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.     Proverbs 22:6.

This is the heart of the writer’s instruction in Proverbs. Train a child in the things of God early and God will bring them back to mind. Now this is a principle and not a universal formula. Not all children return to God but many do…and if the training is compelling, then so is the draw to remember later and return.

There is much evidence to support that the love of our hearts, our affections, follow our actions. We DO something and then we come to LOVE something. This is one of the reasons that God tells us to train up our children. (It is also why He gives us commands to obey even before we echo David’s words and declare that we love to obey the commands (Ps 119:47).

Mom and Dad, if you want to make a difference long-term with your children and shape a world in the process…teach them by training. Make bible reading an experience rather than an exhortation. Practice prayer rather than merely promote it. Show them how you seek the Lord’s wisdom rather than merely saying God is wise. Respond to your failures with repentance rather than merely reciting that repentance is required by God.

This type of training will take root in the heart and maybe…when they are old…they will remember it, like the taste of a pepper at dinner forty years ago.

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