Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why So Many People "Get Saved" And Then Get Gone

The task of speaking about God and His plans for the world has always been a daunting one. As humans, we are not perfect and we do not know everything, yet we must do the best we can to talk about this most important idea. As Christians, the story about God and how it relates to us is the core of how we understand everything in life. So we must talk about God, but we must do it humbly, and we must be honest with ourselves when certain words and phrases that worked well in the past, do not serve us as well today. That brings us to the question of why so many people today seem to “get saved” and then get gone.

The idea of “getting saved” isn’t a phrase that most non-church people are familiar with. Normally it’s presented to them as the idea that God can save you from something: a meaningless life, your own selfishness, or being on fire forever in a place called hell. The thought is that if you follow God you won’t be set on fire forever. So, the speaker is counting on the person’s fear to cause them to choose to follow God. If this is the case then the following is only as strong as the fear. That means that when the fear leaves, the following fades. It’s as if the person is being chased to God all the while having their eyes fixed on what’s behind them that may cause them harm, but as soon as the coast looks clear and they see no danger, they walk away from God. No danger = no need for protection. This causes speakers to try to create fear constantly in the hearts of their listeners. Fear of the world being overrun by evil, fear of death, fear of hell after death, fear of Christianity being swept away by other beliefs. But, here’s where things begin to break down.

No one wants to live in fear every day. Fear is miserable and exhausting, and we can only handle so much of it before we break. (Not the mention the fact that God didn’t create us to live in fear) So, people leave the church and sometimes leave God. They find ways to distract themselves from the constant fear.  And leaders are left scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.

I don’t want to throw stones at anyone, or even begin to try to say that somehow I have better intentions than other people. By and large, I feel most Christian leaders do have good intentions, it’s just that they’ve forgotten how to talk to people. They often see people as a means to an end. They care and they want to reach out, it just tends to come across as manipulation instead of love. As a beginning of a solution I would like to offer up the thought that love is a greater motivator than fear. If someone comes to God because they love Him, then their eyes aren’t fixed on what they may be afraid of that’s behind them, but on the God that they want to know better. Running to God instead of away from hell is about relationship not just self-preservation. That is important, because we were created for relationship, and when we find it, our souls are soothed.

So, I’m not afraid of the rise of Islam, or the dangers to traditional marriage in America, but I do care. I care because I care about the people involved. I’m not afraid, because the God I love (albeit imperfectly) is bigger than those issues.The job he has given me (and I believe all followers of God) is to care for others, especially those unlike ourselves. So don’t be afraid, but love. Love the best you can wherever you can. Love wisely with humility and patience, and trust that God has a firm grasp on all the rest. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

How To Get The Approval You Need Without The Pain You Don't

We all want it. You want it. I want it. No matter how much we try to escape it or explain it away, we all want the approval of others. This isn’t simply a “want” however, it’s a legitimate need. We need a sense of approval in our life to be emotionally healthy. Like all needs, though, it’s easy for us to indulge it in unhealthy ways. We need food. We don’t need a dozen Krispy Kremes, 3 Big Macs, and a gallon of sweet tea. We need time off from work. We don’t need to live in our parent’s basement and have 365 days off a year. Approval isn’t bad, it’s necessary, but it has to be sought out in healthy ways. Here are three ways to make sure your need for approval is met in a healthy way:

First Things First

The first and most important approval that we must be assured of, is the approval of God.  Mercifully, the Bible is jammed full of stories and declarations of God’s approval of you. God’s love for us is described as everlasting, and in a letter to Christians in Rome, a writer says,

"And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can't and life can't. The angels can't and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away."   -Romans 8:38

God loves you and won’t ever stop. Approving of you and approving of what you do are not the same thing, however. If God loves us then he would never approve of everything we do. You love your child and therefore, you don’t approve of your her sorting through the bottles of cleaner under your sink to drink whatever looks good.   

You’re Next

The second approval that you need for a healthy life is your own. God loves you while knowing everything about you. He owes you nothing. And, He chooses to love you. It that's true,  then you can choose to love yourself as well. You can’t really think that you are more discerning that God do you? You have to stop beating yourself up. You need to quit assuming that you are the most unintelligent,  unattractive, and unimportant person in the room. You matter, God says so. So, learn to trust God on this one, and agree with him about your worth.

Now Others

Only when you know that the God of the Universe loves you, and you have made peace with yourself can you accept the approval of others in a healthy way. When we have accepted God’s love, we don’t have to desperately seek the approval of others to survive. We accept it when it’s there, and we are ok when it’s not. Find healthy people who love you for who you are , not for what you can do for them. When you have found those good friends, invest in them and enjoy them.

Approval is a key component to a healthy life, but seeking it blindly can also create huge messes for us. Know that God loves you today, just as you are, and that the plans He has for you are better than you can imagine.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How An Innocent Remark About Sweatpants Can Set The Social Media World On Fire (Or Why We Love To See Others Fail)

In the past, most people did their best to remain quiet when others stumbled or failed, but that’s not the case anymore. Social media allows us to have an opinion and still stay miles away from the people involved. Anybody can be brave from far away. So, social media has added courage to our pettiness. Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere are packed with vicious attacks on people who have messed up. The comments are angry and vindictive. Sometimes they are even cloaked in religious talk, people taking the “moral high ground”. Those posts are the hardest of all to read.

Recently a well-known actress quipped that sweatpants are the leading cause of divorce in America. This statement wasn’t made as part of a prepared statement to reporters who had asked about the disheartening rate of divorce in America. It wasn’t an attack against the sweat pant industry. It wasn’t an attack against women and their choice of clothing. It was simply a bit of humor. A quick, light-hearted comment that was meant to make you smile for a second and then move on with your day. But from the response she received you would have thought that Benedict Arnold had come back from the dead to take over America, and had brought Adolf Hitler with him. The “righteous indignation” flooded computer screens and phones until she and her husband had to publicly respond to calm to storm.

So, why do we do this? Why are we so ready to jump on  anything or anyone who seems even a bit off? Every person who attacked the sweat pants comment has said and done things 10x worse at some point. I know I have. So, why do we attack? Because we love to see people fail. It’s ugly, but it’s true. But our attacks while leveled at others, are really saying a lot about us. The core of every nasty comment posted on the internet comes from this deeply held belief:

If everybody is messed up, then my mess won't seem so big.

We know we are messed up, but if everyone else is too, then it doesn’t feel like such a big deal. So we make sure that every misstep, blunder, and outright failure is documented, highlighted, and proclaimed for the world to see. We are overjoyed when someone says the wrong thing or does something inappropriate. In fact, they just need to appear to have messed up or been accused of wrong doing and Facebook will bust at the seams with cyber outrage. This sort of action doesn’t make us feel less broken as people. We are still broken, imperfect people, but we now become angry, judgmental, broken people. So, here are three thoughts to consider to help you address your mess and keep from becoming “that” angry person on social media:

God Always Forgives You

You won’t feel better about your mess after blasting other people about theirs. If you want to deal with your failure and mess it can happen, however. God will forgive you. While the consequences of our actions won’t always go away, our guilt will. God forgives. People who know and embrace forgiveness aren’t as likely to bash others on Twitter….

People Sometimes Forgive You

If your failures have hurt others it’s important to own it and apologize. Sometimes people forgive, sometimes they don’t. You can’t control that. What you can control is being honest with yourself and whomever you have hurt. Get it off your chest, avoid excuses, and go on with your life.

You Need To Forgive You

Sometimes that last part is hard, the “go on with your life” part. Sometimes our actions or words do incredible damage and it feels like we should hang on to our guilt and beat ourselves up. Living in your guilt doesn’t help anyone. Give yourself a break. Let your past go, and oftentimes, all of that pent up anger will go with it.

God has a better plan for your mess than you do. We want to cover it up or hide it behind someone else’s mess. God wants to forgive you, and He wants you to forgive yourself. Only then, can we show others grace instead of criticism, at home, work, and on the internet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How To Have Peace In An Unpredictable World

Everything changes.

Our bodies change. Our jobs change. Our friends change. People around us are constantly changing.  Foods that we used to hate as kids, we love now. Our streets look different. Or, how about this gross fact: every 27 days you shed all of your skin and have entirely new skin. Nothing stays the same.

It can be a little dizzying when you think about it. Much of our anxiety comes from the constant unpredictability we live in. How people think of you is constantly changing. What people expect of you is constantly changing. What will the economy be like in 2 years? How will my children do when they are on their own? Will I get sick? Things that seem ok today could change in a moment. There is only one constant in the universe that never truly changes.


This attribute of God is called immutability. It simply means that God never changes, and it’s one of the most comforting bits of theology we have. Here are 3 things that God’s immutability mean for you:

1)You Are Perfectly Loved

You are not loved more when you behave better, at least not by God.  Neither are you ever loved less. God’s love for you is as great today as it was the day you were born. It will never diminish, and since it is perfect, and already at the maximum level possible, it could never increase. You can’t lose it, you don’t have to work to keep it. You are loved, now and forever.

2)You Are Completely Forgiven

Yeah, I know you’ve really messed up. We all have. I know, it’s hard to believe that you could ever be forgiven for that, but you are. God forgives, and doesn’t ever need to revisit it again. If you desire His forgiveness, you will have it. Also, God will not hold on to things to bring up against you later. One Bible writer paints the picture for us by saying that God separates us from our sins as far as east is from west. That means it’s time to stop feeling guilty for things that you have been forgiven for.

3)You Are Never Alone

Few things are as painful as loneliness, which is why it’s so  important to remember that God is with you and God will be with you. He will not change His mind about you. Run as far as you will, but if you desire God’s presence, it is there, a breath away. People may leave you or betray you. People move and people die. But God will never leave your side.

In a constantly changing world, God never changes. He is our port in the storm, and the stability that we need. I pray that these thoughts will bring you peace today!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, March 12, 2015

How To Survive When Life Is Breaking You Down

We’ve all been there. Maybe someone close to you died. Maybe the checks coming in don’t equal the bills going out. We’ve been betrayed, heartbroken, sick, and frail, and odds are, we’ll be there again. Life on this planet can be difficult, and sometimes we feel broken beyond repair.  In those dark places, where we can’t make sense of things and where even getting out of bed is a struggle, there is hope. Here are two lifelines to cling to when you feel that you can’t keep your head above water any longer:

I can’t be in control, but God is.

Our first reaction when life gets hard is to try to restore some measure of control to our lives. For those who have been rejected and hurt, we know that it’s impossible to control or predict how others will act. We can’t control our bosses decisions, or the pace of disease as it courses through our body. When life is hard, it feels like we have no control over anything at all. This typically amps up our anxiety or creates feelings of depression. In these dark helpless moments, control exists, and it’s in far more capable hands than our own. To remind ourselves that God is in control, even when we are not, gives us hope. God is bigger than your problems, your failures, or your inabilities. Not only is God in control, but He desires good for you and not harm. In the words of Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, God “knows the plans he has for you, plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11). Out of control isn’t so bad, when someone good and capable is in control.

I can’t figure it out, but God knows.

Not being able to make sense of things can be terribly difficult. Life will always have days that bring more than we can understand. People will hurt you for inexplicable reasons, things that seemed solid will shake, and things you trusted will break down. When life gets hard, we try to find all the answers, hoping that once we do, we’ll be able to more clearly see when bad things are coming and avoid them. No matter how hard we try however, we will never be able to see the future before it happens. We will never understand it all, but God does. You might not know the answers right now, but God is not in the dark. He is not anxious about the future. He understands your pain and what you need, and He loves you very much. The courage to believe this fact will get us through many dark days.

I pray that these truths will bring you comfort if you are in a hard spot right now. Don't give up.  Brokenness is not the end of your story, it is often the beginning of a chapter that is more incredible that you have dared to imagine. 

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Time Budget: How Managing Your Most Important Resource Can Change Your Life

Making ends meet is never an easy task and for that reason most people have a budget they use to track their spending. Most of us have learned that having a system to make the best use of our money is incredibly helpful. It allows us to meet our most pressing financial needs, plan for the future, and enjoy the present a bit more. As important as it is to handle your money well, it’s even more crucial to manage your time well. People have run out of money and bounced back tons of times. Once you run out of time, however, there is no bouncing back. Here are three thoughts to help you begin to budget your most important resource more effectively:

Don’t Cheat Your Sleep

You only have 24 hours with which to work each day. The way you use those hours will determine how effective you are today, this week, and 20 years down the road. Most people need between 6 – 8 hours of sleep each night. For the majority of us getting less than 6 or more than 8 on a consistent basis will have negative consequences. It’s easy to accumulate more and more demands on our time each day, and the first place we tend to try to steal hours from is our sleep. Not only does sleep recharge your body, it refocuses your mind. The hours you steal from sleep may help you get ahead today, but they will cost you tomorrow.

Some Hours Are Better Than Others

Let’s face it, you are not equally productive all throughout your day. In the same way that there are limits to the number of hours you have in a day, there are also limits on the number of quality hours you have each day.  We have dips in energy and lags in concentration all throughout our day, it’s one  limitation that we all have in common. Instead of ignoring that limitation and pretending that it doesn’t affect you, plan with it in mind. Take time over the next few days and see when you are the most clear and most focused. Are you better in the morning? Is the evening your most productive time? Are there times when you get tired and are not as sharp? Next, slot your most important tasks into the hours when you are most focused and most motivated. Don’t schedule your tasks according to urgency, but according to importance. You will see an immediate improvement in your productivity.

Think Big Picture

When you choose where you spend those 16-18 hours you have left in your day, begin with the end of your story in mind. When you are 70 what will you have wanted to achieve? How close will you want to be with your family? How important will your physical health be to you? The way you divide your time now will determine how satisfied with life you are then. How many hours will you invest in your family? How much time will you spend at work? What sort of chunk of time will your hobbies gobble up? You need to make all of these decisions in light of what you value the most. So, take some time, sit down and be honest with yourself. Will the way you are using your hours this week make you most satisfied in 5 years, 10, 30?

Time is the one resource you can never recover, so set up your time budget now. Begin to make decisions today that will lead to your greatest satisfaction now and in the future.

Friday, March 6, 2015

3 Healthy Ways To Handle Criticism

Few things have the power to crush your confidence any more than receiving harsh criticism. We live in a time in which social media has made it easy to criticize others, oftentimes anonymously. News and talk shows live off of criticism, some valid and some less so. While criticism can be very painful, it’s a fact of life. Your ability to handle criticism well will not only make you more successful, but will make your life more enjoyable. Here are three things to remember when it comes to handling criticism:

1)It’s Not Personal

Critics may attack the work you are doing or the words you are saying. No one is perfect, and our work and words will often contain flaws. We can handle criticism about our performance when we remember that it's ok to not be perfect. We can not however, survive long when we take criticism personally. To believe that you are less valuable as a person because of the criticism you receive can be devastating. I’ve said it before, but it bears writing again, you are not your performance. Who you are is more than what you do. We all need to remind ourselves of that daily!

2)Know Which Criticism To Ignore

There are critics in the world who just enjoy tearing people down. They were the kids in kindergarten who walked around kicking over your blocks and legos once your tower starting getting tall. They were annoying then and they are annoying now. Also, they are worthless (well, at least their criticism is). Their greatest joy in life is to point out flaws, real or perceived, wherever they see them. They don’t care as much about their own work as they do about criticizing yours. Since they have no real concern for you or the project you may be working on, they must be ignored. Even if they are occasionally right in what they are saying, which brings us to the third point…

3)Have your own team of critics.

Sometimes we need help to see the flaws in our work. We are often too close and can’t see where things might not be working. In those moments a critical eye can be very helpful. The key is to cultivate a group of people that you trust to be your team of critics. When you know that they have your best interest at heart you will be more able to receive their insights without becoming defensive. Make sure your team knows that you are expecting them to find the holes in your work, and not to just encourage you regardless of what they see. Friends who can be honest with you and care for you at the same time are priceless!

Criticism is a part of life, if we let it discourage us or make us defensive we will become less effective and less satisfied. Get a handle on the criticism that surrounds you today!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Book You Must Own At The Best Price Ever

When I stumble upon a book that has been valuable in my life at a good deal, I like to pass it on. A.W. Pink's The Attributes of God has encouraged and challenged me since I was given a copy back in college. It's a relatively short book that works through various attributes of God. It's a wonderful way to spend some devotional time during your day and right now it is absolutely free as an e-book at Amazon. You can download it to your kindle, phone, or computer to read. You can find it here:

A.W. Pink: The Attributes of God

Grab a copy and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What The Bachelor Teaches Us About Us (And It's Not Bad)

After 19 seasons, The Bachelor is still one of the most popular shows on tv. While I’m sure that our fascination with the show says some less than flattering things about us, it also reveals some very good things about those who keep tuning in week after week. One thing in particular stands out as another season of The Bachelor winds down:

We Want To Believe That Love Wins

What a nightmarish scenario. Let’s gather 30 women together (or men) and watch 29 of them get rejected and crushed. Who would watch that? Well, millions of people. Regardless of how painful it can be at times, we can’t stop watching. One of the reasons for that is that we hope that the lone remaining contestant who is chosen will receive true and lasting love with their bachelor. We all hope for a love that can beat the odds. We are hardwired as people to believe that love makes life better. We may get hurt and jaded along the way, but at the end of it all, we still hold on to the hope that love will somehow save the day.

And honestly, we are right to believe that love can save the day. Most of us have experienced love from a spouse, father, mother, friend, or child that has impacted our lives. When we were in a bad place and losing hope, or maybe we had given up on ourselves completely, the thought that someone would love us and believe in us picked us back up. To be loved unselfishly is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. But it doesn’t stop there.

It’s not just the love we receive that can change us, the love we give makes life better as well. To find the courage and stamina to love someone with no thought of what you might get back is life changing. It’s not easy, but there is nothing like it in the world. None of this is new information, Jesus told his disciples that they were to be known for the love they had for each other and for the world. There weren’t going to be known for their right answers (not that there’s anything wrong with wanting right answers), and they weren’t going to be known for the crowds they drew or the money they raised. They were to be known for their great love for others. Quality love is so rare that when you do it well, people notice.

Our deepest hope when we watch The Bachelor then is correct, but just a bit too narrow. Love will indeed save the day. Love will change us and change the world. Romantic love isn’t the only love that will accomplish this however, but all authentic love that we give and receive. So, do the hard work of changing the world today, by choosing to love selflessly and passionately, not just in the presence of romantic feelings, but everywhere.