Monthly Archives: May 2015

What are you wearing today?


What are you wearing today? I’m asking to make sure that we’re coordinating our outfits. Seriously. No, not the colors and patterns of our wardrobe, but a different type of clothes we are all called to wear if we want to follow Jesus.


“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievance you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love which holds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14


Wouldn’t this be a good scripture passage to put on your closet door or bathroom mirror? Or maybe the rear view mirror of your car. Or your computer monitor or calendar. Put it wherever you will see it often during this next month. Post it on Facebook. Commit it to memory, or at least part of it. What a great reminder, that as we get dressed and check ourselves in the mirror, to check how our heart looks too. Ask others to hold you accountable to this goal.


If you’ve taken the challenge to give up complaining and to get rid of bitterness and anger, there’s no better way to accomplish those goals than by “dressing” for success. After all, no one puts on a formal dress outfit over old work clothes that are stained from the messiness of life. Clothe yourselves with the virtues that reflect God’s best in you. And put on love today. Like the belt of truth and and integrity, let love hold everything together.


Get rid of all bitterness


What is the most destructive force known to man? Nuclear weapons? Deadly viruses? Super volcanos or earthquakes? Certainly, these are destructive forces, but I wonder if there are other equally destructive forces that we carry with us each day.


Consider the power of hate, anger, bitterness, cynicism, sarcasm, mocking, and unforgiveness. We’ve all experienced each of these and perhaps have expressed them ourselves at some point. For some, it becomes a habitual way of living to carry these destructive forces each day and use them as if they were tools to make us feel better. Instead they are acids that eat away at our joy. And besides making us miserable, stealing our joy, and ruining our reputation and legacy, they wreak havoc on others’ lives too.  Spoken or not, bitterness surely destroys a joyful and thankful heart.


I used to be an angry person. People who’ve known me for thirty plus years are surprised to hear it, because – for the most part – I got rid of it. Actually, it wasn’t my doing. I tried to temper my temper but anger controlled me, not the other way around. And anger led to bitterness, and bitterness to unforgiveness. It’s a relentless and destructive cycle that spins out of control. But one day, I found myself near the end of my rope with nowhere to go, except to look up and ask Jesus to take over. I’d done this before, asking God to take my burden, only to put it back on my shoulders before my prayer was over. Maybe you’ve done that too. But this time was different. This time, I could not take back the self-destructive burden of being bitter and angry. I just gave it up.


For the true follower of Christ, these destructive forces have no place in our behavioral repertoire. We’re not to put them on a diet or try to minimize their impact in our lives. We’re not to put them on a 12 step program. We’re told point blank to get rid of them, along with fighting, slander, and all kinds of malice.


God’s Word says our hearts are deceitful above all things. So it’s possible, even likely, to harbor bitterness and unforgiveness and not acknowledge it. Charles Stanley suggests a simple heart check to see if these destructive forces are lingering unnoticed:

“1. IF YOU HATE SOMEONE, YOU CANNOT SHAKE THE MEMORY. Does the scene play out in your mind over and over?

2. IF YOU HATE SOMEONE, YOU CANNOT WISH HIM OR HER WELL. Do you genuinely wish the best for a person who has hurt you?

3. IF YOU HATE SOMEONE, YOU WANT THAT PERSON TO HURT JUST AS YOU HURT. Do you secretly desire this individual to experience the same pain that was thrust upon you?”


If any of these or similar scenarios ring true, it’s time to ask God to search and purify our heart. Prayer and meditating on His truths are effective forces to counter hatred, anger, and bitterness. It’s not just a matter of study, but of asking the Spirit of God to get rid of the poison in our life; asking him for a heart that pleases him. And if bitterness has led to unforgiveness, there is only one solution: forgiving. After all, forgiving is for giving…to others and to yourself.


As a dedicated follower of Christ you and I are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). To do that we have to get rid of everything that doesn’t reflect His image. Don’t wait for the poison to complete its work. Today is the day to get rid of it…for good!


“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32


Living without complaint – Can you do it?


For years, I’ve had a note to myself that reads, “What goals can I pursue, that impacts the world in such a great way, that even if I failed would mean success?” Ending hunger came to mind. Even if we didn’t succeed in ending world hunger, ending it for someone would be success, right?


On a much simpler scale, consider “Stop Complaining.” Complaining is not “world hunger” but it is a drain our our emotional happiness, our relationships, and our productivity. And it’s COMPLETELY within our own power! So what if we simply vowed to stop complaining? Would it be possible? Imagine what your life would be like if you could cut out complaining? Would you become more aware of your relationships with others and your purpose for living? Would you experience more happiness and peace? Would your positive behavior encourage others to complain less?


You already know it’s hard to put the brakes on long-lived habits so you might even question if it’s possible to “give up” complaining. But what if we committed to this anyway, recognizing that every bit of complaining we avoid contributes to a more satisfying and happier life!


Jessica Hullinger wrote an article about people who signed up for the Complaint Restraint Project with the goal of living more positive lives not weighed down by negativity. Physicians tell us that grumbling is costly. When we exhibit negative and unproductive behaviors like complaining or getting angry, our brain emits stress hormones that harm the brain in small but potentially cumulatively damaging ways. This happens even when we listen to others complain. “It’s as bad as secondhand smoke,” says Jon Gordon, author of The No Complaining Rule. “It’s secondhand complaining.”  Even when we think it feels good to vent, it drags us down; it never builds us up. So how do we stop complaining, or at least reduce the impact of Negative Nancy in our lives? Hullinger has some helpful tips:


If it’s a fact and you have no emotion attached to it, maybe it’s an observation. But if it negatively affects the way you feel, if your insides churn or your muscles tense up, maybe it’s really a complaint.

Change starts with awareness. Keep track of your complaining comments. The numbers may astound you at first and give you more incentive to end this negative behavior.

If you have to be part of a complaining conversation, try to add something positive. Commit yourself to positive conversation – with others and with yourself.

Look for and focus on solutions. “Don’t sit around and admire the problem.” Do something about it!

If you find yourself complaining, add “But…” and say something positive. (“My legs hurt but I’m thankful I have legs.”) Yes, it seems awkward at first, but it will become part of your natural response over time.

Change your complaint to thankfulness. Saying, “I get to” instead of “I have to” nurtures our thankful hearts. (“I have to pick up the kids” becomes “I get to pick up the kids.”)


Maybe you won’t stop all complaining in your life. But every bit of complaining you avoid will make your life happier, and probably others’ too. So are you in? How about committing to stop complaining for one month? If you slip up, move on. Try again. It’s not about the power of positive thinking. It’s about the power of positive living. Living thankfully and celebrate the life you have.




There’s a story about a monk who lived in a monastery. He had taken a vow of silence and was not allowed to speak at all, except once every ten years, he was allowed to speak just two words. When his first ten years at the monastery were completed, the abbot said, “It’s been ten years of silence. What two words would you like to speak?”  “Bed…hard…” replied the monk. “I see,” replied the abbot.

Ten years later, the abbot again said, “It has been ten more years. “What are the two words you would like to speak?” “Food… stinks…” said the monk. “I see,” replied the head monk.

Ten more years passed and the abbot asked the monk, “What are your two words now, after these ten years?” “I… quit!” said the monk.  “Well, I can see why,” replied the abbot. “All you ever do is complain.”


We all find reasons to complain, don’t we? I complain a lot more than once every ten years. Probably you do too. We complain about the weather when it’s cold and also when it’s hot, when it’s raining and when it’s dry. We complain and grumble when someone doesn’t do something exactly the way we like it even when they were well intended. We complain about being bored and also complain when life is too busy. We find reason to complain about all kinds of troubles, forgetting what our troubles look like in comparison to the still heavier burdens others bear. We complain about most everything that ultimately tests and strengthens our faith.


It doesn’t serve us well. In fact it always works against us and is a detriment to our Christian testimony. But still we give in to complaining. We don’t want our reputation to be that of a complainer but what are we to do? The key to shutting down a bad habit like complaining is choosing something that is incompatible with it. What if you pinched yourself every time you found yourself complaining and instead focused on one of these behaviors:

Accepting – Stop fighting what you can’t change and find peace in the storm.

Commending – Find reasons to appreciate someone – or your situation.

Agreeing – It’s hard to complain when you find some piece of common ground.

Helping – The cure to many disappointments is found in helping others.

Rejoicing – We can complain about what we’ve lost or rejoice in what remains.

Applauding – Discover the the joy of catching someone (and yourself!) doing something well!

Surrendering – Give up to God what you’re not handling well.


Give yourself the gift of happiness.  Commit to reducing your complaining.


“Be hospitable to one another without complaint.” 1 Peter 4:9


Blessings in disguise


There’s an old Chinese proverb about a man who lost his horse, which he thought to be a bad thing. Later his horse returned bringing a great wild stallion with him. This seemed like a good thing. Then his son went riding on the stallion and fell off, breaking his leg. This was a bad thing for sure, right? But wait. Because of the son’s broken leg, he avoided being drafted into fighting the war and stayed home with his father instead (a good thing).


Sometimes our troubles are actually blessings in disguise.


Paul experienced this. He was shipwrecked, flogged, stoned, and imprisoned. We would consider it a very bad thing if it happened to us. But Paul writes to let others know this “bad thing” was actually a good thing because it actually served to advance the gospel of Christ.


When I broke my leg I mourned not being able to work, but then realized the rest gave me more time for reflection I had ignored. When going through chemotherapy I thought it was bad news because it delayed our mission to Bolivia. But quickly it was revealed that there was a mission for us right in the hospital. When something is lost we take special joy in what remains. In our weakness we find God’s strength. In strength we find the ability to persevere. In perseverance we find hope. In failure we learn humility. In being humbled we find his grace. In grace we find wonder. In our doubts we find renewed reason to believe. In believing we find deliverance. In all our suffering, if it is for the Lord, there is future glory revealed, adding to our hope.


What troubles have brought you bad news?  The natural temptation is to want to get away from them as soon as possible. But maybe, and quite often, there is some good thing in the midst of it ready to be revealed.  To discover it, we have to take our eyes off our problems and look to God for his blessing in disguise, his goodness in the middle of our dark circumstances.


I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. – Psalm 27:13


Unnecessary risks


A man was recently talking about taking unnecessary risks. When he was a boy his father took him to the swimming pool to teach him to swim. His father’s ‘teaching’ method was to throw the boy in the deep end of the pool, figuring he would instinctively learn to hold his breath and dog paddle to the side. But he didn’t. Instead he started to swallow water and began to sink. The next thing he remembered was the paramedics rescuing him. To this day he says he doesn’t like swimming and is very cautious about taking unnecessary risks.


Are you a risk taker? None of us can hide in a safety cocoon. There is an inherent level of risk in most everything we do. But why take unnecessary risks? We know to take more precaution with our belongings when we’re traveling. We’re careful about wandering down dangerous avenues. But there are other forms of risk taking that might escape our attention if we aren’t vigilant. One of them is taking the risk of ignoring God.


Too often the tale is told of a life spent ignoring God and living for self, figuring “I’ll think about God when I’m older.” Sadly, we don’t know when our last opportunity will come. That’s also true of speaking to a friend about God. Many think it’s too awkward and so they put off talking about things that matter most. I remember asking to meet a former employee who had moved to another town before I had spoken to them about Jesus. We met in a mall and I remember both the sense of urgency I had to share with my friend and also how befuddled I must have sounded. Weeks later my friend wrote to thank me saying they had just asked Jesus into their heart. That was a risk worth taking!


But we take unnecessary risks when we ignore God’s nudging our conscience to change our ways. Instead of obeying him right away, we put it off. We think that we will obey when we get our life in order, when we’re sure we can live at a certain standard of living, when it makes more sense to our way of thinking, or when it’s more convenient. But the longer we say “No, not now,” the more likely we will continue to put him off. Wait long enough and the opportunity passes, along with the blessings he intended for us. That’s the lesson of Romans 1 where certain people, knowing God’s truth, exchanged it instead for a lie they wanted to believe. So God gave them over to the depravity of their minds. Sometimes, we get exactly what we ask for! Seeking personal comfort and temporary “gain” when it means losing God’s intended blessings and guidance seems like a dangerous and unnecessary risk, doesn’t it?


Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we don’t seek God’s counsel and don’t read his word daily, we are taking unnecessary risks.  It’s like jumping into the deep end of the pool when you don’t know how to swim. And trust me, in this swimming pool of life, none of us learn how to swim by ourselves! Ask God to reveal what unnecessary risks you are taking, while there is still time to correct them.


Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. – Ephesians 5:15–17


Scary lies


Sometimes lies sound well-intentioned but have far-reaching and disastrous consequences. I think of the popularity of the “Ouija” board game that toys with consulting mediums, and the “Crazy Eight” magic ball and daily horoscopes that purportedly foretell future events. I reflect on the cute little witches and devils that masqueraded on Halloween. The lie we believed was, “It’s just make-believe. It doesn’t matter.”


But beyond the frightful joy we took in such childhood games, we continue to perpetuate truly scary lies as adults. We tell ourselves, “It doesn’t matter” when we are dishonest. We excuse our sins as less serious than others. Jesus revealed this lie when he compared lust to being the same as adultery, and anger the same as murder. The truth is, it does matter what we think in private and what we say to others. Our indifference toward other’s suffering, our obsession with our self-interests, our distractions from seeking God all have consequences as far-reaching as our commitment to purity, honesty, goodness, generosity, empathy and encouragement. The truth is that life matters.


Myron Rush commented in his leadership book Lord of the Marketplace that one of the most damaging is the lie that we have two lives: a moral one and a secular one. We live the moral life when we go to church and say a prayer and we live a separate secular life in every other activity we pursue. A well-known presidential candidate exalted this belief saying that he never let his personal faith influence his public actions. We generally regard such thinking as two-faced, insincere, and untrustworthy. Deep down, we all appreciate What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. We want to believe people who “walk the talk” and don’t live double lives. In our heart of hearts we know the truth: we have just one life to live and it reflects all we are. Our spiritual convictions do indeed impact our every day decisions and life goals. If not, they aren’t really convictions are they?


Another scary lie (if you accept God’s Word to be true) is that “I am a good person” and that “all good people go to heaven.” We like to think that even if we’re not “as good” as Mother Teresa, we’re “pretty good” compared to others. We say, “S/he was a good person” as a mantra at funerals when we don’t know what else to say. Scripture says “there is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:9) Our righteousness or goodness comes through faith in God’s Son, Jesus, not from trying to score enough good deeds in order to make the list. Some take the truth that God is good, ignoring that he is also holy and just. Accepting a part of the truth while rejecting the other, they conclude “a loving God would never punish his children.”


You might think that some lies are too inconsequential to matter or that lies that are told with intention to comfort are not so bad. But lies are truly scary if they lull us into a sense of false security. If we say, “It will all be okay” when in fact great danger is approaching, that isn’t real comfort, is it? If we say, “It doesn’t matter” when a series of small missteps ends up taking us down a dangerous and destructive path, we’re not being helpful, are we? If we could rely on our “goodness” to make us right with God, then Jesus went to the cross for nothing! And if we acknowledge only the goodness of God while rejecting his holiness and just nature, what god are we really worshipping?


Let’s be on guard against lies that seem to offer a sense of comfort and peace but really lead us in dangerous ways. They are the scariest of all lies.


Defibbing white lies


From early childhood, we’re told that lying is wrong and it leads to bad consequences. Kids get punished for lying and sometimes punished for admitting the truth.  As adults, we also get caught between the two. Sometimes we tell “little white lies,” thinking they aren’t so bad.


We encourage children to believe that Santa Claus brings their gifts in a sled drawn by flying reindeer and warn them if they misbehave he will put them on his “naughty list.” (The “good works gospel” starts young.) We tell them “the tooth fairy” will bring them money when their tooth comes out so they won’t be afraid. We tell them their nose will grow long like Pinocchio if they tell a lie or their teeth will grow green and fall out if they don’t brush their teeth. I told one of my young children his dinner was “river chicken” because he hated fish. Truth be told, all these fibs are eventually outed as lies (except maybe the river chicken one).


But it doesn’t stop with parents and children. You probably recognize some of these “adult” lies:

I’m fine (when you’re not).

Nothing’s wrong (when we’re really upset).

No officer, I didn’t realize how fast I was going (when we knew we were speeding).

Of course, I’m listening (when we’re not).

I’ll call you (when we have no intention of keeping in touch).

This was delicious (when it really was horrible).

Just kidding (when we really meant it).

Sorry, I’ve already made plans (when we want to get out of something).

Sure, I remember you! (when we don’t have a clue)

I’m five minutes away (when we haven’t even left yet).


Sometimes we tell lies to excuse ourselves from some wrong doing…like the cartoon of the little blue crayon explaining all the blue marks on the wall. “Red did it” was caption. Or like when I worked retail and forgot a frequent customer’s name. “I know your name but tell me again how you spell it?” (He slowly replied, “S-M-I-T-H”)


Sometimes we tell lies to be polite. One of my favorite illustrations of this was when Lillian Carter was interviewed by a reporter known for their unscrupulous reporting. Hoping to dig up some dirt on the president’s mother, the reporter asked Mrs. Carter, “Have you ever told a lie?” Mrs. Carter replied, “Once.” “When was that?” the reporter snickered. “Earlier when I said I was glad to meet you,” Mrs. Carter retorted.


Sometimes we tell “little white lies” that exaggerate the truth, like the big fish that got away or the extent of that brave deed we once performed. We also tell lies to avoid stress (“Of course, that dress doesn’t make you look fat!”) or to make ourselves look good.


But the truth is we all know that lying is deceptively wrong. It undermines trust. It inhibits our ability to work through real conflict. It compromises our moral beliefs. It encourages us to live shallow lives. And, as our mothers probably told us, it catches up with us and tarnishes our reputation. Additionally, lies take on their own life once the words leave our lips, wreaking consequences we didn’t intend. Let’s admit it. Lies, even those “little white lies” are bad for us.


So how about we make a pledge today that we’ll try to be more honest with ourselves and each other. Not brutal or uncaring, but honest. Let’s admit our forgetfulness and mistakes and own up to our insecurities and doubts. Let’s take a lesson from cardiac resuscitation and “defib” our own hearts and honor our character by protecting the truth in our lives.


Setting limits for God


When you pray, do you set limits for God?


A youth pastor confided in me years ago that he needed to replace his old car. It was just costing him too much to keep running. So in attempt to be a good steward and ‘count the cost’ he researched available used cars. Narrowing his search to just two, he asked God, “should I buy the blue one or the red one?” He prayed this for several days seeking God’s discernment. After pursuing God further on the matter he concluded that he was asking the wrong question of God. It wasn’t “Which of these two cars” but “What is your will Lord?”


Sometimes we set limits for God. We pray for what we want or what we think will be the best solution to our problems. Then we add a condition on the prayer saying, if you will do this for me, then I will do that for you. We set limits on God when we say “If – Then” prayers:

IF you get me out of this mess THEN I will serve you.

IF I can live at a certain standard of living THEN I will give my life to missions.

IF you grant me my request THEN I will thank you.

IF you change my circumstance THEN I will be joyful.

IF you give me more (of whatever) THEN I will be content.

IF you heal me, keep my children safe, and give me a life of comfort, THEN I will trust you.


Instead of praying “If – Then”, try praying “YET STILL”:

I have nothing except your forgiveness, YET STILL I will praise you.

I don’t feel you are close God, YET STILL I will trust you.

I feel alone and abandoned, YET STILL I will seek you.

This person annoys me, YET STILL I will love them.

My world seems meaningless, YET still I will believe in your purpose.

I am anxious and afraid, YET STILL I will rest in your peace.

I am depressed, YET STILL I will find joy in the hope of your promise.

(What other ‘Yet Still’ prayers come to your mind?)


God’s power is not limited by our prayers. Often he grants us even what we don’t ask for. In fact, every moment he grants us a new breath and every day a new opportunity that we don’t even seek, even in our suffering. We don’t ask for cancer, or pain, or loneliness, or poverty. But even in these situations he offers us unexpected blessings and purpose that we didn’t ask. Why? Because his best for us exceeds what we think is best for us. Our plans and dreams are interrupted and sometimes shred to pieces…YET STILL his purpose and plan exceeds our ambitions. YET STILL he is ready to reveal unexpected blessings that grow our faith, our hope, and our love.


Practice praying “YET STILL” to God in the face of your trouble and experience a purpose and a path of his joy for you.

God’s purpose … Or yours?


It seems we all search for meaning. We have this desire to live meaningful lives. We want to understand the meaning of suffering in our lives. Victor Frankl, who endured the harsh reality of a Nazi concentration camp observed, “We can endure any ‘How’ of life if we have a ‘Why'”. (Man’s Search for Meaning) But so often, it seems the ‘Why’ eludes us, so we keep searching.


The Holy Spirit doesn’t convict us of our eternal condition and prompt us to turn to Jesus to be ‘saved’ only to live our lives much the same as before. Such a decision involves making a swap, the old self for a new one, the old desires and ambitions for new ones. We aren’t offered an eternal insurance policy so we can go on living dangerously as before. We were called to change and become “new creations.” We see that in the disciples who dropped everything in order to follow Jesus. They were called to a new and higher purpose.


Jesus tells us there is a cost to following him that involves denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following him wherever he goes…even to the cross. Following him requires swapping our self-seeking purpose in life for his purpose. And it’s a good purpose for living life well, in peace and harmony. But it requires a change in our plans, our lifestyles, and our habits.


Following Jesus also challenges us to change our beliefs and purpose in life, even our purpose for this very day. Society tells us to check off our organized to-do list, get ahead, grab what we can, build ourselves up, accumulate possessions, enjoy pursue happiness at all costs, live in comfort, even luxury. Scripture teaches that God’s plan and purpose for us is to be humble and generous, putting other’s interests before our own, living sacrificially, God-centered not self-centered.


Seeking first the kingdom of God requires that we seek his purpose for our lives. God’s purpose for us isn’t fame or fortune. And I don’t know anyone who willingly chooses cancer, chronic pain, rejection, or loneliness as their purpose in life. But God has a purpose for us to live as fully his even in those conditions.


Abraham was ‘fully persuaded’ that God was able to do what he had promised, and lived according to God’s purpose. Following Jesus requires a purpose in living that also is fully persuaded that God’s plan is better than our own.


Being fully persuaded means that even our small choices demonstrate whether we are following him or going our own way. Choices like becoming frustrated at small things or practicing patience; criticizing others or encouraging them.  When God reveals his truth in our lives it illuminates his purpose for us. And this always requires making adjustments to how we think and act and how we see our purpose. Seek a great purpose in living today, one filled with meaning and eternal reward.


“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Matthew 16:24-27