The Measured Life

January 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

There’s a truism in business that what gets measured gets managed. In other words, if you want to make sure that something is getting done, that a goal is being worked on, make sure you quantify your expectations for it. If you do so, and you regularly check whether progress is being made towards that goal, people are more likely to focus their attention on its completion. It’s an approach that we utilize in our own life as well. We assess our life based on the numbers on the scale, the dollar figures in our bank account or the worth of our house. We quantify our expectations so we know how close (or how far away) we are to fulfilling them.

Sometimes we are apt to try to take a similar approach with our spiritual life. We look at how many times we have read our Bible or how long our prayer time was and we extrapolate these figures to measure our walk with God. Unfortunately, while these things can certainly be utilized as benchmarks for a deepening relationship with our Savior, they are too easily “faked” much like we may choose the scale that gives us the lowest figure. Time invested does not necessarily equal quality of investment and if we simply just watch the clock we may miss the point of our spending time with God altogether.

The other challenge with this approach is that we are not in a position to fully assess the impact of our obedience to God. When God calls us to do something, it may seem like a “small” deal to us and therefore unworthy (from a purely statistical viewpoint) of our time and attention. However, God is often in the business of multiplication. He is not beyond using small acts of obedience to have long-lasting results. Abraham’s son and heirs were all blessed because of his obedience (Gen. 26:4-5). Jesus saw the faith of the paralytic’s friends and not only healed their friend, but forgave him his sins as well (Mt. 9:2-6). Both of these stories, and countless others, have been retold for generations and have taught others what a life of faith looks like. There is no way that the primary actors in these instances could have accurately predicted these results. If they had attempted to do so, their measurements, and perhaps their obedience, may have fallen short.

Jesus told His disciples to let their light shine before others so that “they may see good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). How far and wide God chooses to cast our light is up to Him. Our job is to faithfully live our lives in keeping with what He has called us to do. We will likely be unaware of the full measurement of that faithfulness this side of Heaven, but we can trust that God will use in for His Kingdom’s purposes.

Speaking Softly

January 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

President Teddy Roosevelt was famous for saying “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”

The Bible leaves out the part about the big stick, but does state that “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1a). Since it seems that most people indicate that they dislike conflict, one would think that this truism would be heeded more often. Perhaps the reason that it is not is because we are unsure what a “soft answer” is. Does it mean that we need to keep our opinions to ourselves and only state niceties? After all, the Bible also states that it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). Or perhaps it means that we are to give compliments to those we are frustrated with and by doing so “heap burning coals” on our enemy’s head (Prov. 25:22). While it is assuredly a good thing to both overlook an offense and to say kind things to those who wrong us, there are some circumstances where the continuance and growth of a relationship seem to require that we let someone else know what is bothering us. In this case, how can we ensure that our response can be classified as “soft?”

One way to answer this question is to look at the definition of the words that we use. The word soft can be defined as ”having a pleasing quality involving a subtle effect or contrast rather than sharp definition.” A “soft” answer then won’t draw rigid distinctions but instead will please the other by extending grace. When we respond softly it doesn’t mean that we continue unheard; it means that our response considers the other person and their perspective in shaping our communication efforts.

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to look at an example. For instance, can you hear the difference between telling someone “I didn’t feel like my time was respected” versus stating “You were disrespectful of my time.”? Not only is the second one full of more intense accusation but by using the word “disrespect” it indicts the other’s motives. Both sentences seemingly communicate the same thing, however the first can be more easily classified as a “soft” answer because it indicates a “subtle” contrast rather than a sharp, and perhaps aggressive, distinction.

What is shown in the example above has practical implications for a variety of circumstances in our lives. Our relationships with our spouse, children, friends and other loved ones will benefit from soft answers that diffuse, rather than incite, wrath. However, doing so requires a deliberation and mindfulness to our words that we are usually not quick to employ. Our emotions tend to get the best of us and instead of being “slow to speak” we are quick to voice our opinions. Speaking softly then not only requires that we are purposeful with how we say things, it requires that we take time to think through the implications of our words before we speak. In doing so, our words are more likely to be pleasing to the other and to turn away the wrath that we otherwise might face.

It’s that time of year where many people are focused on their recently made resolutions to improve themselves or their lives. As has been well-documented however, these new-found commitments can be difficult to maintain. Adding another to-do to an already crowded list is a struggle for many people and the motivation that led them to make the goal can often wane as the difficulty of keeping it becomes apparent. Sometimes these resolutions are superfluous and our lack of success in keeping them is inconsequential. Other times, we may be convinced that we are pursuing a path or direction that God has ordained and yet we still wrestle with seeing it through to completion. As we struggle we may begin to question whether we can really do what God has called us to, and our trust in His good plan may weaken.

However, God does not call us to certain ministries or tasks in a vacuum. As the One who names the stars (Ps. 147:4) and who clothes the lilies of the field (Mt. 6:28), He is well aware of the responsibilities and challenges that we face. Therefore, when we struggle with all that is on our plate it seems to me that it is likely that one of two things is occurring – Either we are doing things that we have not been called to do and we are taking on tasks and commitments that God does not intend for us to bear. Or, we are not managing the time and resources that God has given us effectively and we need to seek His wisdom in how we manage our days. Our Heavenly Father is well aware of what we need (Mt. 6:8) and of the constraints that we face, including the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. While He may call us to something that will stretch us, if He calls us to it, He will work through it to bring about His good purpose (Ro. 8:28).

Practically, this means that for many of us we probably need to be more mindful and prayerful about what we commit to do. We may eagerly say “yes” because we like the feeling of being needed or because we hate to disappoint other people. While there are many good things that we could be investing our time in, we need to humbly ask God to direct us to those that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10). At the same time we shouldn’t think that because we don’t know what God has called us to that this is an excuse to either not do anything or to simply pursue things of temporal pleasure. As a child of God, He desires to use you for His Kingdom’s purpose (I Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6). As He does so we need to trust that He will provide everything we need to accomplish the things that He has set before us to do. When we struggle, we need not try to manage it ourselves, but to seek His perspective on our time and our to dos.

Withholding Permission

January 7, 2014 — 4 Comments

As a mom I find that I spend a lot of my time giving instructions. As a mom of a toddler, I find that often these instructions consist in telling my kid what I don’t want her to do. The word “no” is frequently on my lips as I try to teach her what is safe to touch and what isn’t, what should go in her mouth and what shouldn’t, and a hundred other lessons that will hopefully serve her well as she grows and matures. It can be a tiresome endeavor but I know that my consistency now will pay dividends in the years to come.
In helping my daughter learn how she should behave, I often find that my instructions precedes her behavior. In other words, as I watch her roam and wander I can anticipate the steps that might lead to trouble. So before her little hands reach out for the dangerous object, I am telling her that she shouldn’t touch it. As we are walking, I tell her where she shouldn’t go before she gets there. This isn’t because I am controlling; it is because prevention is often better than allowing her to do something which she shouldn’t. I tell her that she doesn’t have permission to do something before she attempts the action because I know that if I were to allow her to do it, the consequences could be far worse.

It is likely that this approach should be adopted more often in my own life as well, specifically when it comes to the temptation to worry. Too frequently I find that I allow myself to grow anxious and then try to tell myself all the reasons that I shouldn’t. However, Jesus said in John 14:1 – “Let not your heart be troubled.” In other words – we shouldn’t give ourselves permission to worry and then instruct ourselves as to why it is unnecessary – we shouldn’t allow our hearts to get to that point in the first place. Our hearts should be so focused on Jesus that there is no competition for its attention. If we are consumed by Christ than we can’t be consumed with anxiety. If we refuse to give ourselves permission to worry than we never have to talk ourselves out of it later on.

This is no easy task. We live in a day and age where worry is not only accepted, it is expected. The media, our friends, and our culture will attempt to fuel a concern with matters over which we have no control. However, we do not have to give into this temptation. Instead, just as I tell my daughter “no” when I can see that she is advancing towards dangerous ground, we can fill our hearts with the promises of Scripture when we feel the temptation to focus on the temporary. We can withhold permission to advance any further and trust that He who has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33b) can overcome whatever we are facing as well.

 

Telling Tales

September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

One of the things I appreciated most about my dad was the fact that he was a great storyteller. It helped that he had an exceptional memory so for almost every occasion he could recall something that was appropriate to share. It wasn’t uncommon to find him holding court, capturing people’s attention with his latest anecdote.  It often surprised me because my dad was actually kind of a shy guy. But when he had something to share, people listened.

This wasn’t a practice that my dad reserved for entertaining others; it was habit that he adopted in interacting with his family too. He told us tales of his childhood and he would share what happened at work. We weren’t ancillary to his life; through his stories he invited us to know about his past and his present. He was careful never to burden us with anything that was beyond what our young hearts could handle, but as the years progressed, so did what he shared.  Now that I think about, his stories were one of his most used instructional tools. As God taught him things, he taught them to us.

Some of my dad’s favorite stories to tell were the ones that demonstrated the pattern of God’s faithfulness in our family’s life. He would share how my mom got a job offer for a teaching job when we were supposed to be on vacation. That may not seem significant in and of itself, except the reason that we weren’t on our scheduled trip was because he had been laid off. Additionally my mom had applied for the job two years previously so the call was unexpected to say the least. Another favorite story was how how God prepared him for his eventual career by taking him through various twists and “detours,” and only in retrospect did he realize that each step along the way, he was learning new skills that would equip him for the work that lay ahead.  He would talk about how God directed him to the Naval Academy or how He orchestrated our move to California. Through every phase of our family’s life my dad was keen to learn what God was teaching him. And by sharing with us, he made sure we learned those lessons as well.

Even now, when the way forward seems uncertain I reflect on the stories that my dad shared. The pattern of God’s faithfulness in my dad’s life gives me confidence that God will prove to be faithful in my life as well. The history of His provision reminds me that He will give me all that I need. And from my dad I learned the importance of making sure that I too am telling the tales of what God is doing. Not only to make sure that I am taking note of His work, but so that others too may know of it too, and give Him praise.

People often say that “familiarity breeds contempt.” This may sometimes be the case, but perhaps even more frequently familiarity gives birth to complacency.  We may not have disdain for those things or people that we are most familiar with, but we do tend to get accustomed to them. As we acclimate to their presence, our care of them tends to wane.

This is often seen in marriages. The formalities and niceties that permeated the dating relationships can disappear as couples live their lives day-in and day-out. We make assumptions about what our husband or wife thinks because we believe we know them so well. Hurt feelings are disregarded and compliments end because we’ve simply grown used to having them around. Our attention to details tends to fade.

Because of this proclivity, we sometimes forget to ask the same questions of our spouse that we would a close friend. These like “how are you doing?” become perfunctory rather than an ardent inquiry into their well-being. For the Christian, an even better question that is often neglected is “how can I be praying for you?” Because we assume we know what is going on in our spouse’s life, we may not think to ask.

However, regularly and intentionally asking our spouse for their prayer requests has several benefits. Namely:

You better understand their challenges and struggles. When you catch up with each other and the end of the day there is often a list of discussion points that must be covered. You need to compare calendars, make plans, and ensure you are on the same page with one another in regards to the kids. While doing this you may think that you have a good understanding of your loved one’s day, but likely you have only a cursory overview. Asking for specific prayer requests helps reveals what issues are most pressing on your spouse’s heart. It reveals what areas or issues are causing them concern, and allows you to partner together in facing them.

You are better prepared to help them. Building off the previous point, when you are aware of the issues that your spouse must contend with during a day, you know better how you may bless them. You may think that your are helping your spouse because you are preparing dinner and getting the laundry done, but perhaps what they really need in that season is someone to take the car in for an oil change which they have intended to do for the last several weeks but it just never got done. This is a simplistic example, but it illustrates the point. We tend to do the same thing that we’ve always done assuming that what has been beneficial in the past carries the same benefit into the future. People and marriages go through seasons and different needs arise. Asking your spouse for their prayer requests not only allows you to petition God for help on their behalf, it may be an opportunity that God uses to speak into your heart on how you may bless the one you love.

You can follow up and keep track. When you say a general prayer for your spouse, God is faithful to respond. The challenge is that you don’t have any idea what the response was. Because you were not specific, it is difficult to demonstrate a specific answer. This means that you can’t follow-up with your spouse to see whether their needs were met, nor can you know whether continued petitioning is needed. Additionally, you have no record of God’s faithful and generous response to your requests, because all your requests were abstract. Throughout Scripture God calls His people to remember what He has done in their lives. Knowing how He has responded to your prayers is one aspect of this. If you have only made general requests on behalf of your spouse, all of your recollections will be general too. While this may provide some comfort the next time you face an uncertain or scary future, specificity would probably provide even greater assurance as you recall the things God has done.

You show your spouse love. One of the marvelous things about prayer is that even nonbelievers tend to appreciate it when you pray for them. Lifting your loved one up to the One who loves them even more than you do and Whose purposes can not be thwarted (Job 42:2) demonstrates your affection and concern. Your spouse will likely face many situations where you can not tangibly provide them what they need. However, you can always pray. As you do so, you are asking the One who controls all to intervene on their behalf. What is a better indication of love than that?

In the busyness of the days it is easy to assume that you know how you should pray for your spouse. However, purposefully asking them for their requests has numerous benefits. As we do so we reveal that our familiarity has not caused us to grow passive. Instead, the more we are aware of their concerns, the more likely we are to bear their burden as our own (see Gal. 6:2). The more we know how we should petition, the more we see the response and the effects of those prayers. And the more purposefully we pray, the more demonstratively we show our love.

The End of Me - “God has called me to be a mother, yes, but first and foremost he has called me to live by faith in the new identity that he has graciously bestowed upon me. He has called me to believe that my life is hidden in Christ, therefore I am called ‘holy and beloved,’ and am counted among God’s ‘chosen ones’ (Col. 3:12). With the strength of the indwelling Spirit, I can now put to death what is earthly in me and ‘put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’ (Col. 3:5,10).”

8 Email Mistakes You Make -  ”I have put a lot of time and thought into the best email practices and have identified 8 dumb email mistakes you may be making (which is to say, 8 dumb email mistakes I have found myself making). Many of these mistakes apply to everyone, though some apply primarily to those of us who tend to sit at a desk most of the day.”

God Loves Us More When He Loves Us For His Glory - “God’s love for us, that makes much of us for his glory, is a greater love than if he ended by making us our greatest treasure, rather than himself. Making himself our end is a greater love than making us his end. The reason this is greater love is that self, no matter how glorified by God (Romans 8:30), will never satisfy a heart that is made for God.”

Sorry Kids: Back to School Means Back to Bedtime - “One of the odd characteristics of our time is our apparent need  for scientific verification of what we should know by simple common sense. Well, help now comes in the form of a research project undertaken by University College London. The bottom line—children with a fixed and consistent bedtime performed better on tests of cognitive ability.’

Nobody Ever Came to Christ Because He Knew Himself to Be Elect - A powerful truth to remember as we evangelize.

Christian Men Think Clearly Christianly - I don’t know how many readers are men, but I thought this post did a good job addressing how Christian men should differ in their response to an attractive women.

Trusted Provision

August 7, 2013 — 2 Comments

I have never once forgotten to feed my child.

Seriously. 

In the time that she has been in this world I have faithfully, and sometimes at the expense of sleep, given her the nourishment she needs.

I consider her feeding routine when planning my day and I prepare for her consumption needs before I leave the house. My husband and I talk about her schedule when we are making plans. Ensuring she doesn’t go hungry is a priority.

Yet despite all this care and attention. there are times that if you listened to my child when I place her in the high chair, you’d be convinced that something quite different was going on.

You may be tempted to think that food is only provided at special occasions and therefore she has to hurriedly scoop it up with rapid inefficiency.

You may be inclined to believe that she only eats when she loudly cajoles me to give her what she desires.

You may even think that I purposefully test her patience – waiting until she is miserable and upset until providing her relief.

None of these are the case.

Yet, as a friend recently reminded me, sometimes my child’s response at the dining table is similar to our response to Christ.

When my daughter gets antsy my faithfulness of the past seems to be obliterated from memory, much like when I worry about the future, forgetting about God’s steadfast provision.

I grow impatient when God’s plan doesn’t align with mine and can throw a temper tantrum that, while unseen, would put a hungry kid’s to shame.

I complain about what I lack, consuming the gifts God has given me with selfishness, entitlement and little appreciation, believing I have to protect what is “mine” lest anyone take it away.

I convince myself I am figuratively starved, when all the evidence suggest I’m well-fed.

My response and that of my kid are eerily the same.

Yet just as I desire to do good to my child, my Heavenly Father delights to do good to me (Mt. 7:11). 

And much like I shake my head at my kid’s antics, God must similarly look at us and marvel at our lack of faith.

After all, He’s always provided in the past. He promises He always will (Mt. 6:25-34).

And while I wish my child would have confidence in the moments between when I place her in the chair and the first bites enter her mouth, I’m grateful for the revealing, if painful, lesson it affords. In my own times of uncertainty, I can look back at all God has done before, and trust that wherever He has placed me now, He will continue to do the same.

The Fine Art Of Selection – This is a topic that God has placed on my heart a lot over the past year. In fact, I was planning to (and may still) write about it. But this post from Randy Alcorn is excellent and contains a lot of sound wisdom regarding how we steward our time.

What Does It Mean To Abide In Christ? - “In a nutshell, abiding in Christ means allowing His Word to fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. In other words, our relationship to Christ is intimately connected to what we do with our Bibles!”

Has Secularization Made Us Smarter? - “Progress in sciences & technology is a step-by-step group effort across generations, with the baton being handed off repeatedly. The unthinking nitwits who repeat the self-inflated theory that we are the smartest people who have ever lived only make themselves seem dumber than if they had remained silent on the issue.”

You’re Awesome – But Not That Awesome - A great reminder that as humans we are special amongst God’s creations, but because we are fallen human, we’re not as special as we like to think.

A Baby Changes Everyone, Not Just Everything – “Watching our kids, we’ve been given a window into the nature of family and community. We are not lone individuals doing our own thing in this world. We are who we are because of the people around us. A baby brother has completed and fulfilled our other two children, enhancing the life of our family in ways I never expected”

The Complacent Christian - “If we assume this desire and concern is not merely feelings but action, it describes the very opposite of complacency. Zeal is like a flame that brings a pot to a boil—it causes our affections for God to come to a boil so that we pursue what delights him and fight against what dishonors him. Zeal is spiritual heat, spiritual energy that flows out through the godly characteristics of love, joy, hope, peace, and so on. It is not a grace on its own as much as it is a quality that affects every part of the Christian life, making us zealous in the way we love, zealous in the way we express hope, zealous in every area and every characteristic and every fruit of the Spirit.”

Do As I Say

August 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

We’ve all probably heard the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do.” Those words have drawn contention from many a teenager’s heart. After all, if someone is telling you to do something it seems that the very least they could do is be adherents to their own advice. It’s understandable to question the wisdom that they are espousing when they aren’t even willing to follow it.

Although it is easy to make sense of the ire that the phrase engenders, it is also easy to comprehend what causes someone to say it. When we are giving advice to another, we tend to offer dispassionate, sensible insight. When we are looking at our own circumstance, we tend to make things harder. We may know what the proper course of action is, but we take in a variety of emotional and personal factors that aren’t part of our consideration when issuing instructions to another. Often times, these additional considerations cause us to do ourselves a disservice. We don’t do what we know we should because we are more inclined to do what we want.

I’ve found that this tendency can be routinely observed in my own life when I am exhorting someone else to trust in God. When speaking into another’s life it is easy to focus on God’s sovereignty and goodness (Rom. 8:28)  and to point out the need to trust God in all circumstances (Prov. 3:5-6), relying on the fact that He will orchestrate the situation for His glory and our good. However, too often I fail to instruct myself to do the same. Instead, I fall into the temptation of thinking that my worry will somehow alleviate the stress of the unknown. I act as if I have the ability to dictate the outcome and that I can craft a plan that will ensure the best result. The fallacy of this is easy to observe when I’m looking at another; I’m less inclined to point it out in myself.

However, just because it is not easy to point out my own lack of trust and the sin of my own worry, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it. Instead, when I find myself focused on the situation instead of my Savior, I need to tell myself what I would tell a friend “Get your eyes back on God.”  I need to recognize that this is good advice – for both of us, and I would be wise to follow it. I should do as I would say and trust that just like God will work for good in their lives, that He will accomplish the same in mine.