Stop worrying about your clothes

nothing-to-wearRight now I’m really busy.

This weekend I will officiate at a wedding, preach a sermon, and then carry out my pastoral duties at a funeral… the funeral of a friend.

This busy weekend comes right in the middle of a teaching series I am doing at church called, “Making Space.”

As I am preparing to teach this weekend, I am reflecting on some words spoken by Jesus. These words are incredibly appropriate for every busy person… especially people who are driven and slightly distracted!

I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:25-34 NLT)

This is certainly not a call to forgo planning, hard work, or physical well-being. What it is is a call to STOP making secondary things the primary pursuit of your life.

I’ve realized this: when you pursue the primary things, you get the secondary things thrown in. BUT when you pursue the secondary things first you may never get the primary things.

Looking back over my life, I see that I have often allowed busyness to distract me from the primary things (God, relationships, physical well-being, emotional vitality, etc.)… and the result is rarely good.

The times in my life of which I am most proud are the times when I have kept the primary things in focus and enjoyed, subsequently, the secondary things.

So as I work through this busy season in my life, I encourage you to join me in processing what takes up space in your mind:

  • Is it clothes or close friends?
  • Is it paper or people?
  • Is it your job or your God?
  • Is it primary or secondary?

Give it some thought… and then take some time to make necessary adjustments. You’ll not regret it!

If there is a God… why does he allow evil things to happen?

exhausted.jpg

I hear this question a lot. I’ve even wrestled with the “why God?” question myself.

This morning, while reading St. James I had a thought about this matter.

Let me show you what I read and then I’ll share the thought:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT)

So here’s what I thought…

When we ask the “Why does God let this happen?” question we make one or more assumptions:

  1. This life/world is all there is.
  2. I’m as good as I can get.

Let’s break them down.

This life/world is all there is.

The “why God” question works if this life and this world is it… beginning and end. “Why would you let my one shot at life be this awful?” is a fair question if this is all there is.

However, Christians, and other faiths, believe that this life/world is NOT all there is! There is something after this life: experiences to be had, relationships to be enjoyed, and rewards to be received. The opposite of these is true as well. In short, the Scriptures teach us that there is more after this life.

Christians live our lives in this world with the hope that this is NOT all there is! There is more, and that faith helps us navigate suffering, evil, and death. While we grieve and feel pain we are never without hope… because we know there is more.

The pain, suffering, and evil in this world is in direct correlation to the abuse of our free will (but that is a subject for another day). The good news is that regardless of what it looks like here, there is another place… another set of experiences waiting to be had… and that knowledge gives us hope.
This optimism allows us to fully enjoy the good times and courageously navigate the hard times in this world.
And now the second assumption, the one that was highlighted in St. James letter…

I’m as good as I can get.

St. James teaches us that suffering and hard times make us stronger. Anyone who goes to the gym understands this. In fact, we’ve immortalized this idea with a slogan: “No pain, no gain!”

Once again, we see that what is true in the gym is also true in life! Pain makes us stronger… at least it has the potential too if we navigate it well.

For those who say “Why God?” may I suggest that this pain may in fact be your path to a better you? Pain is the flashing light on the dashboard of our lives that finally gets our attention!

C.S. Lewis famously said:

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

As I was processing these thoughts this morning I spent some time journaling and ended with this note:

Suffering, pain, and even evil may actually be the doorway through which we pass into eternal life or a better life.

So, I think that both of these assumptions are wrong: this life/world is all there is, and/or  I am as good as I can be.

I believe, on the other hand that…

This life/world is NOT the end for us. There is something else… so an end here is the first step into there.

I am NOT as good as I can be. I need to get better… and then do it again which means I will need pain and suffering… often delivered in the hands of evil.

If you are in that place… suffering… St. James tells us what to do in the sentences immediately proceeding his instruction on suffering. He writes:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. (James 1:5-8 NLT)

I hope you’re not suffering, but if you are I hope you give some thought to these two ideas, and then shoot me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

Be someone (#plantwhatyouwanttopick)

someoneHere is a sampling of the conversations I had last week with people who are experiencing tough times…

  • A man who survived multiple affairs and is working to put his marriage back together.
  • A lady who is going to die any day now.
  • A dad whose young son has cancer.
  • A man whose wife wants to leave him because he has functioned as a child when she needed a man.
  • A man who is trying to figure out the concept of boundaries.

 

My heart hurts for these men and women. As I listen to them and reflect on their stories I realize a few things:

  • Everyone needs someone who will listen to them.
  • Everyone needs hope.
  • Everyone needs instruction.
  • Everyone needs love.
  • Everyone needs someone

Whether you are trying to die well or live well, at some point you will need someone.

I hope you have someone. I hope you have multiple someones.

If you don’t, can I suggest something that can make all the difference in the world?

Be someone for someone.

Do you ever listen to anyone, or are you the one always talking?

Do you ever help anyone, or are you always the one asking for help?

Do you ever offer to pray for someone, or are you always the one asking for prayer?

If you want these things you must do/be these things! What you plant is what you will pick! If you plant isolation, you will pick loneliness. If you plant anger, you will pick anger. If you plant love… you will pick love.

The good news is that you can plant things that will be good picking later!

Jesus taught us how to do this:

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NLT)

If you want someone to be there for you… then be there for someone! In other words, plant what you want to pick!

When I listened to these stories last week I realized, some of these people have been someone for someone and now, when they need someone there is someone. Others are lonely… struggling… trying to do it alone.

I urge you to start being someone for someone today… because you never know when YOU might need someone.

#plantwhatyouwanttopick

 

Don’t lose what you’ve gained

Last night I was reading the little letter that St. John wrote to a friend of his. He said something really important in this letter:

Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. (2 John verse 8)

You work hard to gain: spiritual vitality, physical strength, intellectual capacity, vibrant relationships, etc.

The crazy thing is that if you stop working… you start losing.

Most things of value are not “once secured always secured.” They must be nurtured and protected.

A huge mistake lots of people make is to work really hard to achieve a goal… and then once they achieve it they stop doing what got them there in the first place!

Some examples:

  • People compete in a bodybuilding show… after the show they gain a ton of weight… and often stop eating and lifting.
  • People go to church because their life is falling apart… it starts to get better… they quit going to church.
  • People pay attention to their marriage because divorce is imminent… it gets better… they decrease their intensity.

If you want to get it… you’ve got to work hard for it.

If you want to keep it… you’ve got to continue to nurture and protect it!

I urge you to look around you. Who/what do you love? Who/what have you worked hard to achieve? Then ask yourself, “If I keep doing what I’m doing will I keep/grow this thing I love so much?”

#dothework

3 ways to develop spiritual strength

photodune-7653254-muscular-man-praying-s-1024x1024Strength is something that I want in every area of my life: physical, emotional, financial, mental… and spiritual.

Mark Bell, a powerlifting coach, always says that, “Strength is never a weakness.” I’m sure that some might argue that… but I think that fundamentally he is correct. Strength is the antidote to so much pain and so many problems!

This morning I was building strength in my spiritual life by spending some time reading and reflecting on some words written by St. Paul in the Bible.

Let me show you what he wrote, and then I want to ask you three questions:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9 NLT)

So here are the three questions:

  1. What are you praying about?
  2. What are you thinking about?
  3. Who are your models?

The answers to these three questions will tell you everything you need to know about your spiritual strength. Your weakness or your strength is directly proportional to your answers.

If you pray about nothing, think about negative things, and model your life after weak people… then you’re going to be spiritually weak (and probably weak in other areas too)!

If you want to change your spiritual weakness into strength then listen to what St. Paul teaches us…

Spiritual strength is developed and sustained when we:

  • Pray about the things that worry us.
  • Think about the things that encourage and inspire us.
  • Model our lives after people who are spiritually strong.

So with this information in mind, let me ask you again:

  1. What are you praying about?
  2. What are you thinking about?
  3. Who are your models?

How to pray

Recently I’ve been reading a version of the Bible called “The Message.” I like to read through this version of the Scriptures every couple of years because of the fresh way it presents classic ideas.

Today I read something about prayer that made me stop, pull out my pen, do some underlining, and make some notes!

Here’s what I read:

“…when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

I LOVE this!

As a public speaker in general, and preacher in particular, it is easy to turn prayer into a demonstration of oratorical ability.

Jesus said, “Don’t.”

God doesn’t care how eloquent I am. Besides that, even if I were a master orator… I’d be competing against every other prayer He hears… and I’m pretty sure there are lots of people with bigger vocabularies and more engaging presentations than me! In other words, if prayer is a performance… I’d get lost in the shuffle of great performers.

Fortunately, Jesus set me free from that way of thinking when He said, “Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

I can do that!

Be alone and genuine before God!

Say what you feel, think, believe, hope, dream, etc. THAT’S WHAT GOD WANTS TO HEAR!

He’s not impressed with your big words and fake passion any more than He is impressed with artificial tears and trumped up faith. He wants you to be real… honest… just you!

I can do that!

Alone… honest… just me and God.

I can do that… and you can too!

And the good news is… that is what God is looking for! Someone who will be alone and honest with Him! He can and will help that person… that’s what Jesus implied when He said, “you will begin to sense his grace.”

Evolution of a dream

Starting this weekend at Church180 we are going to learn how dreams go from beginning to end… and what happens in between!

main_blankI’d bet that at some point in your life you had a dream… a vision of what you wanted to be or do.

But somewhere along the line your dream met reality.

Then you made a decision… to stop dreaming or to start moving.

We are going to learn some lessons from the life of a man named Joseph (sometimes referred to as “The Prince of Egypt”) that will help all of us as we move towards making the dream a reality!

If you can’t be at Church180 at 10 a.m. on Sunday, then make some time next week to go online and follow this conversation at our website – right here. (If you have some time before then you might want to catch up on our conversation called, “Elbow Room”.)