What’s New with Your New Year?

Here’s to a good start to your new year.

Before I get too far with my own words, let me recommend that you go to Don Miller’s blog and read his post on why our resolutions don’t work.  He will also give you some great practical advice on making resolutions that you will have a better chance keeping.

Go there and then come right back.  I have some ideas to share which might also be of help.  Now, go say hello to Don then see you back here in 5.

Did you find Don Miller’s words to be helpful?  I’m guessing you did.

Now let me get down to business in sharing a few ideas of my own.  My title for this blog post is your first hint.

“What’s New with your New Year?”

Before you get down to the same old list of resolutions you made for the last 10 years……”losing weight, getting more exercise, watching less TV, etc.etc.”    Before you revisit those resolutions, think of something NEW.   When is the last time you volunteered time to a new worthy cause or activity?   Look for a new venue in which to spend some of your money, time and energy……something different, something new.  You are never too old to find something new to do.  Nothing fails quite so fast as stale old resolutions.  You might find that that old resolution of losing a few pounds can find some new inspiration from a purposeful focus on something new, novel and fresh.

Say it out loud.

Next thing I recommend is that you tell somebody what you are up to.  Experts in goal setting tell us that we increase our chances of following through if we share our goal out loud with someone else.  For one thing, you are creating a kind of accountability feature to your goal.  When you share with someone else what you are purposing, you are also giving them permission to ask you how things are going in attaining your goals.

But there is another idea embedded in telling someone what you are up to and it is more important than you might think.  When you say the words out loud to someone, your brain registers a more specific attachment to the goal than if you had only written it on paper.  Saying power leads to staying power.

Write ‘Em Down

Having said that, let me hasten to say that writing down your goals is extremely valuable. Write them down on paper or your Kindle or IPad etc.  Make sure this list is in a place where you will see it regularly.  If you are like me, you will have the goals in a hard copy format and in electronic form as well.  Post one on the bathroom mirror where you shave, comb, brush every morning.

Review the list Several times a Day

Life comes at us fast.  Things scream at us as if they are urgent and we can get distracted from our primary focus.  Revisit your list of goals at least 3 times a day.  If you are old enough, you perhaps remember the old Dr. Pepper bottles which had on them the phrase,  “The Real Pepper Upper”.  But there was also three numbers on the bottle.  10,   2   and   4.  The idea was to promote the product as a great late morning, early afternoon and late afternoon “picker-upper”.    I like the idea of     10     2    and   4    as an ideal way of remembering to review your goals.  I would suggest that an early morning and late evening review would serve as great book ends to the process.   For several years now, I have used 10, 2 and 4 as reminders to take a few minutes on those hours to pray about people and situations I want to keep centered in my life.

Finally I would add these few practical ideas to the mix.

Make your purposes, goals and resolutions specific.

Set some short term outcomes so you can experience success early and often.  Put them on a timeline and when you meet that objective, celebrate.

When you have setbacks or disappointments don’t beat yourself up over it.  Instead, channel your energy toward getting back on track.

May God’s Blessing be Yours in Abundance

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We All Need to Work on Unity

I read the book of Ephesians the other day.  Not for the first time, mind you, but I read it as if for the first time.

The occasion of my reading was shortly after our November elections and I was thinking how much our nation needs to ponder unity and how it is achieved.  This is not the first time in our history we have been divided but there is no mistaking, we are living in times which reflect a great void in the area of confronting our differences with civility and good will. 

We need to re-visit the idea of unity.

We need to work toward it in our churches, our communities and our nation as a whole.

I would suggest a careful and reflective reading of Ephesians as a place to start.  It is a letter which largely urges Christians to get along with Christians but the principles reach far beyond the primary radius originally addressed by Paul.

Ephesians is widely considered to be a “circular” epistle.  It was a letter to be circulated among the churches.  It is evident even in the most casual reading of the epistles of the New Testament, that the preservation of unity and harmony among believers was a surmountable undertaking.  The apostle Paul wrote many of his letters in an attempt to promote and sustain unity in the face of division.  The first of the Corinthian letters is a sharp rebuke of their tendency to “self elevation” and boastful pride.  The Roman and Galatian letters are aimed at the Jew/Gentile divide.  Paul is on of the most voluminous of all biblical writers.  The theme of unity is among his most frequent subjects.  That should tell us something.

Perhaps the world’s last best chance to see how unity can be achieved in a world where bitterness and  hostility abound, can yet arise from the church.  But we will have to get busy.  And we will have to resign ourselves to doing hard things.  Those of us who follow the teachings of Christ must find ways to get along and showcase unity.  Baptist, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Independents and Non-denominationals must find corridors of agreement and demonstrate to the world that Christianity can bring about God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.  We Christians lament over the lack of respect that Christianity gets and yet we have done far too little to dispel these judgements by our actions.

Shortly after the recent presidential election, I tuned into a religious radio program out of Milwaukee in which caller after caller lambasted how other Christians may or may not have voted.  Some of the most acerbic terms and phrases you can imagine were hurled, not by non-believers, but fellow believers.  It was militant in tone and cruel in spirit.   I doubt there were very many agnostics, atheists or secularists tuned in, but if they were, they got plenty of reasons to discount the Christian message.

We must recall and resign ourselves to the challenge of the seventh of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”  (Matt. 5:9)   Peace must be made.  It is not the product of passivity.  It is no mistake that the eighth beatitude is “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matt. 5:10)

This peacemaking is not for sissies and complainers.  People who are peacemakers will come out bumped, bruised and bleeding more times than not.  I know we would prefer this cup to pass, “nevertheless, not my will……but Thy will be done”. (Mark 14:36)

Here are a few things in Ephesians that serve as a schematic for our work together as peacemakers and harmony builders.

1) We must celebrate and embrace the bringing together of all things under one head, Christ.  (Ephesians chapter 1  esp. v. 10)

2) We are all saved by grace and as such must be gracious and patient with one another even in our differences.  Let us cultivate the knack for being personally convicted in our views and yet willing to keep the conversation open with those who draw different conclusions.  (Ephesians chapter 2 esp. v. 8-9)

3) We must recognize the eternal scope of this endeavor.  We are called to form a new society and citizenry as we bring about God’s kingdom on earth.  We must be humble and gentle with one another.  (Ephesians chapter 3-4  esp.  4:2)

4)  We must live as people who reflect the image of God in our homes, our hearts, our families, our marriages and our relationship with all humanity.  It is impossible for us to have an effective witness to the world if our relationships are just as self-centered and fleshly as the rest of the world. (Ephesians chapters 5 – 6)

Our nation and our communities will find hope, healing and wellness as we begin the hard work of unity with those closest to us.  The Christian community can do a better job of getting along with one another.  One of the ways we can begin is in establishing civil conversations with one another so we can hear one another out.  As Stephen Covey said in his 7 Habits For Highly Effective People,  “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.   As my grandmother used to say, “the Lord gave you two ears but only one mouth…..you need to listen at least twice as much as you talk”.

Let’s all just take a breath.  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”   Eph. 4:2-3

There’s a new world waiting to be born.

There’s an old world desperate to see someone get it right.

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The Holy Spirit Dwells Within Me……So What?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 & 6: 19-20

My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit….

I have a physical life and I have a spiritual life.

I receive spiritual refreshment every day as I draw on the benefits of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in me.

I am not alone.

I carry in my body, the capacity to expose God in ways the world can’t readily comprehend unless the Word becomes flesh.

My hands, my heart and my tears bear witness that God is real.

The Spirit prompts me to be less cautionary and to live an adventuresome life to the benefit of all humanity.

I am a jar of clay.  I have treasure inside.

A treasure is no good if left in the purse.  The Spirit, who dwells within, longs to be unleashed in my everyday life.  Crack me open, if you must, but work in me, though me and in spite of me.

Because God’s Spirit dwells within me, I need not fear being unprepared for life’s unexpected turns.

I can face trouble, trial and tragedy.

I am not alone.

When I pray, the Spirit helps me in ways I don’t understand.

When I listen to the Spirit’s prompting and act on it, the Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The Scriptures penetrate deeper when the Spirit helps wedge open my reluctant heart.

Knowing that the Spirit dwells within me, I increasingly grow less tolerant of ungodly thoughts and attitudes.

God’s presence within me prompts me to yearn the Day when I will dwell with Him in eternity.

I carry the Divine Presence within me.

I am not alone.

I am not alone.

I am not alone.

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The Root of a Man

Why do I do the things I do?

Have you ever asked yourself that?

I frequently find myself reflecting on some behavior, attitude or action with a disappointment in my lack of self-discipline and restraint.  Sad to say, but quite often it’s not just “why do I do what I do”  but……. why do I keep on doing what I know is hurtful and damaging to my own life and the people I love best?

For instance, I commit myself to eating healthier only to give in to the super size burger, large fries and sugary soft drink.  I let meaningless things get under my skin even though I know they are temporary and trite.  I get angry over things that really shouldn’t be allowed to affect my mood.  Just when I think I am done with sorry behavior, I find myself caving in again.

At least I’m in good company.

The apostle Paul recorded his own litany of regret and concluded:  “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  Romans 7: 24

Paul’s own version of  “why do I do the things I do?” goes like this:  “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  Rom. 7:15

There’s something at the root of a person that Paul refers to as the “flesh”.  It is termed, “sinful nature” in the New International Version.  According to Paul’s theology, we humans are fleshly beings and given to taking the easy way out when possible.  Even though I don’t believe in original sin, I do believe we are born with a free will which eventually winds up taking the easy path and hence, the human condition is that, while we are not programmed to sin, we all give in eventually.

At the root of our human condition is the unfortunate truth that we will at some time make foolish and tragic choices.  These choices, the Bible calls sin.

Paul follows his lament of this whole matter with a note of optimism and hope.  “Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7: 25

Here are some practical steps to develop righteous habits instead of sinful ones.

1)  Realize that sin is served up by the evil one, Satan.  He doesn’t want us to form righteous habits.  When we attempt to live holy, he is right there making a pitch for being lax in our attempt to live righteously.

2) Reach out to someone who can be an accountability partner with you.  We all need someone with whom we can get encouragement and a kick in the seat of the pants when we need it.

3) Respond to temptation just like Jesus did.  Read scripture and allow God’s word to inform you on how you should conduct yourself.

4)  Repent with a contrite and broken heart.  Sometimes well-intentioned people will suggest that we not “beat ourselves up” for our behaviors.  I suggest that we do need to beat ourselves up a little.  What I mean is that we need to admit that our actions are hurtful to ourselves and others as well.  If we bruise others by our actions we rightfully ought to come out of it with a little painful remorse.  We need to own up to that and hold ourselves accountable.

So, we have at our “root” a problem.  But at the “root” we have a solution.  His name is Jesus.

Finally, I offer a song by my youngest son, Josh called “Root of A Man”.   Listen closely to the words.  You will hear an honest and authentic crying out for answers to the question, “Why do I do what I do?”  You will also hear the call to find the courage to reach out and to reach up for hope and  deliverance.

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As The Deer…..

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God…”  Psalm 42:1

A few months ago I set about to come to a deeper relationship with God.   My process has chiefly been focused on reading and re-reading the many passages which reveal the character of God.  I also have spent as much time contemplating and meditating on God as I have spent on reading scripture.  This step, I have found to require far more discipline than I would have imagined.

Sitting silently in deep thought is an incredibly difficult undertaking for me.  My mind wants to wander to  other things and ideas.   There are few things as difficult in an age such as ours.   But there are few things which would be more beneficial  to us than a regular, disciplined and set time to think and reflect.

So let me get on to the outcome of some of things I have most recently discovered.   My yearning to know God in a deeper more intimate way, has led me to explore God as Trinity.   More specifically, I have considered recently God as manifested as the Holy Spirit.    Therefore, the following are some of my thoughts regarding the Holy Spirit.  I have come to understand that the Holy Spirit of God, while sometimes identified as the comforter, is also a disruptive presence to our own tendency to be complacent.  God brings an unsettledness to our lives.  He defies our attempts to hunker down and get entrenched in the familiar and the comfortable.

The Holy Spirit seems to defy easy explanation but here is a snapshot of some recent thoughts I’ve had.

 The Holy Spirit does not intend to enslave us and make us God’s robots.  The Holy Spirit stands at the ready to infuse us with resolve, courage and stamina to extend us beyond what we have perceived previously as being our limitations. 

 God desires for us that we reach our full potential.  He sends His Spirit to prompt, convict and empower us. 

The Holy Spirit urges us to move beyond slavish legalism.   The Holy Spirit urges us to allow God full residence in our hearts and lives through his agency. 

I’ll add to my own thoughts a quote from Walter Brueggemann which comes from a slightly different direction but hints at the same idea.

“….the discernment to which human persons are enjoined is not simply technical knowledge.  It is, rather, a sense of how things are put together and how things work in God’s inscrutable deployment of creation.  It is the delicate recognition that reality is an intricate network of limits and possibilities, of givens and choices that must be respected, well-managed, and carefully guarded, in order to enhance the well-being will by and granted by YHWH for the whole earth. “  Walter Brueggemann,  An Unsettling God,  The Heart of the Hebrew Bible,  p.72

A yearning for God yields more than information.  It yields an awareness to the ongoing agenda of God.  I will come to know God in direct proportion to my willingness to be moved by Him to carry out His work and His purposes.   Knowing God demands that I respond to His call to be shaped by His hands.

And the quest continues…..

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The “Swooping” Holy Spirit

There’s still  lot about the Holy Spirit I don’t understand.

Maybe I should restate that.  There’s still a lot about the Holy Spirit I don’t comprehend.

The difference in the two statements is this:  The first is built on the idea that I need to study more, use my reasoning and think about the work of the Holy Spirit.   The second statement assumes that there may be no need for more input, information or research…..I just need to open my eyes, ears, heart and head to what the Holy Spirit is trying to reveal to me.

In a recent revisiting of Genesis I noted again these words about the Holy Spirit:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” 

The very first thing we come to understand about the Holy Spirit is that of “hovering” (NIV) or “moving over the surface”.(NASB)

Genesis 1:3 moves us along to the next action of creation, which is the ordering of the creation…..an organizing, if you will, of the components of the cosmos.

I come away from these few verses with these thoughts.  The first thing we comprehend about the Holy Spirit has to do with proximity.  The Holy Spirit is near.  He is hovering just above His next project.  One moment He is hovering over a chaotic landscape of potentially useful and beautiful resources like forests and oceans and rivers and mountains.  In the next moment, the hand of God is….make that His Voice….is ordering and organizing creation into this wide wonderful world called planet earth.

Scholars and academics have long pondered over the Genesis creation account and debated whether we have in these verses a literal and precise description of how the world came to be or whether these sentences are epic Hebrew poetic descriptions of God’s grand project.  I’ll leave you to mull that one over for yourself.   Either way you view it, there is a miracle of cosmic proportions….literally….which is being described here.

Now….back to the Holy Spirit.  When we left him last, He was hovering over the waters.   One moment He is just overhead skimming the surface and then He swoops down (actually I don’t know if the Spirit swoops, but that’s how it seems in my mind’s eye) and the creative ordering begins.  Not only does the ordering begin, but God begins naming names.  God called the expanse, “sky” …..and God called the dry ground, “land”.  v. 8-9

Flash forward to the early earthly ministry of Jesus.  Matthew 3: 13-17 records the baptism of Jesus by John.  “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.”  “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Two things we see in common with Genesis 1.  Here comes the hovering Holy Spirit “swooping” again……this time in the form of a dove.   The dove “lights” upon Jesus.   Notice that the Spirit does not exit.  He remains part of the ongoing narrative.   Chapter 4 will reveal that one of the first things the Spirit does is to lead Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan.

From this point on, the Holy Spirit is right there between

each line in the story.

The second thing in common with the creation account is found in the fact that God speaks.  “This is my Son whom I love…..”  Just as in Genesis when God designates land and sky by giving them a name and establishing their role in how creation is to be ordered.  Here he designates Jesus as His Son and thereby establishes how creation will henceforth be ordered and redeemed through his Son.

And just to be complete, there is a third thing.  God seems real fond of “3’s” so I guess it is interesting that there is a third thing here.  Just as in the afterglow of the Genesis creation when God saw all that he had created and said “it is good”.   At the baptism, God says…. “I am well pleased”.   In both cases, God expresses His approval to what is going on.

These thoughts  bring me to these ideas:

God desires to bring order and redemption to our lives.  He stands ready to help us organize and reorder things which have gotten disordered.

His Holy Spirit hovers just overhead and desires to not only light on our shoulder but to take up residence in our lives.

Once these things take place, we can participate in God’s grand project.  Bought by the blood of the Lamb and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, we are called to work with the Father in bringing chaos into order, first in our own lives and then in the life of all creation.

There’s still a lot I don’t comprehend about the Holy Spirit.

This much I do know.  He is not content to just hover.  He wants a landing place in the center of my life.

And if I agree to participate in this agenda, God will be pleased…..and that would make me very happy.

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Miscellaneous Thoughts and Quotes on Discipleship

A  couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of walking alongside a couple of college students (Tye Hayden and Jesse James) from Ole Miss and their campus minister, Andrew Frazier.

We spent a week together traveling, exploring faith issues and conversing about God’s Divine Agenda and our part in it all.  Their thoughtful questions and spirit of inquiry was contagious.  I came away with an enlivened sense that God desires to do good work through us, if we will walk with Him and embrace His purposes.

Even though the summer is just getting under way I know that these few days will be reflected upon as one of the highlights of my summer activities.

The experience of walking, talking, exploring and thinking about spiritual things with these young men, took me back a few years when I directed a summer intern program designed as a discipleship training experience for college students.  Those recollections along with the fact that I am teaching this quarter on discipleship, got me to thinking along these lines and resulted in the following quotes and thoughts.

“ The heart of being a disciple involves living in intimate union and daily contact with Christ.  Discipleship—the effort both to be a disciple and to make other disciples—is about the immense value of God at work in one individual’s life and the resulting impact on other lives.”  Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, p. 28

The word “Disciple” occurs 269 times in the New Testament.  “Christian” is found three times and was first introduced to refer precisely to disciples of Jesus—in a situation where it was no longer possible to regard them as a sect of the Jews.  (Acts 11:26)    The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.

-Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, p. 3

Nothing less than life in the steps of Christ is adequate to the human soul or the needs of our world.  Any other offer fails to do justice to the drama of human redemption, deprives the hearer of life’s greatest opportunity, and abandons this present life to the evil powers of the age.

The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.

–   Willard,   p. 11-12

I’ll close with a short thought I composed for our class on discipleship.  May this be our personal pledge as disciples of Christ Jesus.

To be a disciple is to be a follower.

It means we follow Jesus.

Where he leads I will follow.

I will go where he goes.

I will do as he does.

I will love as he loves.

I will bring others to him.

Together, we will  learn his

ways and do his work.

I will journey with Jesus.

I will learn from Jesus.

I will never turn back.

I am a disciple.

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