Continually…

There are some things in life that we hope to only once: graduate high school and get married are two examples that come to mind.

Some things happen occasionally. I go to the dentist every 6 months. Each year, I have a birthday and I pay my taxes.

The Bible says that some things should happen continually, or all the time. Here are a few of those things:

“Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” (2 Timothy 3:14)

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)

“Let brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)

Let’s keep these things in front of us not once or twice or occasionally, but every moment of our lives.

Want to make some kids cry?

Two Extra Fat Chocolate Sandwich Cookies With Frosting Isolated on White Background.

There’s a simple recipe. Place three Oreos in the middle of a room with four 5-year olds. Tears will ensue.

Even as children, we default to selfishness. The things we do initiatively are the things that are self-gratifying or self-preserving. We don’t teach kids to be selfish. We teach them to share.

Youth is temporary. Immaturity can last a lifetime. There are an awful lot of grownups who never got taught that the world does not revolve around them. Too many adults throw temper tantrums and feel justified in gratifying every impulse they have. If we assume that our kids will grow out of impulsiveness and selfishness, we’re probably going to be disappointed. We need to teach self-discipline and generosity.

That’s why the early church is so impressive to me. Listen to how Luke described them:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

None of this is “natural” or “normal” human behavior. They learned it from someone. I wonder who that might have been…

The Pursuit of Happiness

Did you know that the average American home is now more than twice the size of a home from the 1950’s? But the average American family is smaller than it was in those days.

Did you know that the average American income is higher than it was in the 1950’s, even when you account for inflation? In 1950, the average American had less than $2,000 in total personal debt. Today’s average is $10,168, not including mortgages.

Despite the fact that we enjoy the highest standard of living on the planet, the best technology, and incredible access to opportunities, “it has been over fifty years since Americans described themselves to pollsters as very happy.” (See David Myers, The American Paradox)

Hear me well: I’m not asking to go back to the good ol’ days. Solomon said not to ask that question (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Here’s what I am asking: what has gone wrong? Why are we unsatisfied?

Perhaps, in our pursuit of happiness, we have traded the things that bring us real meaning for things that are hollow. Only after we bite into the promises of our culture do we find out that they are empty and unsatisfying. The antidote is simple: focus on the simple things that matter most. Invest in your faith, your family, and your friends. All the other stuff is just stuff.

The Great Moon Hoax

On this day in 1835, the New York Sun launched “The Great Moon Hoax.”

In a series of articles, writers announced that a powerful new telescope had allowed astronomers to see life on the moon. The article described vegetation, oceans, animals, bat-like creatures and sapphire temples in vivid detail. People believed it, left and right. The Sun’s circulation skyrocketed during the times.

Fake news isn’t new. Dumb chain letters existed before email. Gossip and lies are as old as humanity.

Before you repeat it, repost it, or forward it, ask yourself if what you are about to say is true. If it isn’t, it’s a lie. Take responsibility for what you share.

Here’s how you might tell:

  • Who wrote it? Does this person or organization have a known agenda or bias? Is it a satire or parody site? there an author’s name attached? Is he or she crazy?
  • What evidence is there? Look for an opportunity to go to the source. Read the original scripture, executive order, scientific publication, or tweet. Don’t assume that the summary matches the headline.
  • When was it written? Is it out of date? Does it claim that something will happen by a certain date, and it didn’t?
  • Who can help me? Can I reach out to someone who has knowledge in this area to help me sort this out?
  • What’s my bias? Am I believing this because it confirms what I already think?

And here’s the biggest question of all: does this show love of God and love of neighbor? If it doesn’t meet that standard, don’t speak, share, or post it. It’s that simple.

Back on the Wagon

How are those new year’s resolutions holding up? You’re now 27 days into the year. Only 64% of them survive the first month according to one 2016 study. Another study labeled January 12 as the “most deadly day” for resolutions.

Here’s what tends to happen: you start off strong, you do great—until you don’t. And since you messed up yesterday, you might as well mess up today…and tomorrow…and now you’re off the wagon.

People battling addictions face the same struggle. Six months of sobriety end in a three-month bender.

What if we planned for the fact that we will fail?

A skydiving instructor explained that it isn’t the initial impact with the ground that kills you. If your chute totally fails, when you hit the ground, you’ll break an awful lot of bones before something worse happens. You bounce – and then land again, but this time, with a bunch of broken bones. It’s what happens after the disaster that proves fatal.

Let’s have high expectations and lofty goals, but let’s plan for what happens after we mess up. Let’s be prepared for the bounce.

If that sounds strange to you, remember that it doesn’t sound weird to God. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” John set a high goal: he didn’t want us to sin! But there’s a healthy dose of realism and preparation that follows. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (Read more in 1 John 2:1-6)

Maybe you’ve already broken your new year’s resolution. Don’t let one failure become the reason for a second. Instead, let it be your fuel for a better future.

What can we learn from the dying?

Death has a certain way of giving us perspective. Perhaps that’s why the teacher wrote, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Bronnie Ware was a palliative care (hospice) nurse for many years. On average, she spent the last 3-12 weeks of life with her patients. Many times, they would spontaneously express regrets about how they had lived their lives. This happened so many times that Ware wrote a book cataloguing the five most common regrets of the dying:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Many people lived their entire lives with a dream that they never even attempted to pursue.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Ware heard this so often that she intentionally simplified her lifestyle so she could “need” less and work less.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many take guilt to the grave rather than risking an apology. Others never said what was most important to the people that were most important.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Don’t we all see friends and talk about getting together—but never do it?

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Worry and dread and anxiety are parasites of joy. Happiness is a choice.

In Christianity, we have an amazing opportunity to learn from the dead. Will you make the decisions necessary to benefit from that knowledge?

Self-Centered Resolutions?

James Hinkle likes to say that the biggest room in anyone’s home is the room for improvement. He’s absolutely correct, and this is the time of year when we think about what we need to improve and how we might work on that. We make our resolutions to spend less, save more, eat less, exercise more, worry less, and pray more—and those are great resolutions. We need to take care of ourselves.

Here’s the thing, though: nobody is going to stand around your casket one day and say, “Man, aren’t you glad he lost those 5 pounds?” “Isn’t that awesome? He had a lot extra to retire on!”

What they will remember is how you treated them, your acts of kindness or your acts of cruelty.

I’m not suggesting that we don’t need to work on self-improvement—all of us do. If our poor self-care leads to an untimely end and puts a burden on others, our loved ones will remember and regret that.

What I am suggesting is, that if you really want to improve yourself, improve yourself in a way that improves others.

If you want to spend less and save more—do it so that you can be more generous with others.

If you want to get in better physical shape—do it so that you can be more present in the lives of your kids and grandkids and serve better in the kingdom.

If you want to worry less and pray more, do it so you can free energy and space to help other people carry their burdens.

We won’t be remembered for being a little better with our money or our health, but we’ll never be forgotten for being kinder and more present for the people around us. If you want to make a difference, make that your resolution for 2019.

A Study of Romans

We spent the last part of 2018 (and the first part of 2019) working through the great book of Romans. If you haven’t spent some time with Romans lately – you really should!

Romans teaches us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

It reminds us that we all stand in desperate need of God’s great kindness and grace.

It teaches us to treat each other with patience and love on the basis of the grace we have received.

It’s just good, and it’s exactly what the church needs to hear today.

If you’re interested in spending some time studying Romans, I’ve put together a study guide that we’ve used. You can find the study guide over on the church website. Enjoy!

Advent of Jesus – Love

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

The advent of Jesus becomes for us the definition of love.

“Love is from God” (1 John 4:7). God created it, or more clearly, revealed it as his divine nature. John continued to write, “God is love” (4:8). Love is so essential to the character of God that love is the first and the second commandment, and the best way to sum up pretty much everything God has ever said.

The reason we love? It came from him to start with. “We love because he first loved us.” (4:19)

Simply put, without Jesus, we wouldn’t know love. A world without God would be a world without love.

Jesus demonstrates the sheer intensity of the love of God. Don’t miss the two-letter word in the famous memory verse: For God so loved the world…God loved us so much that he gave his son. That’s an awfully big “so” for such a little word.

Jesus loves us when we are unlovable. He demonstrates God’s incredible love. He defines it with his word and with is actions. He radiates what it really means. When we celebrate the advents of Jesus, we celebrate the love of God.

Advent of Jesus – Joy

Israel had been incredibly unfaithful to God. They had forgotten his commandments and his promises, but God never forgets. So God used men like Ezra and Nehemiah and even a king named Cyrus to give Israel another chance. They began to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the temple within it. When they read the word of the law, all of the people wept. They saw the pain and suffering their own sin brought upon them.

But after the reading was completed, Nehemiah spoke to the nation. He said, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Despite all the reasons to be sad, Nehemiah promised that the joy God provides would strengthen the nation. Habakkuk said that even if everything good in his land should fail, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

What causes sadness and sorrow? The things that result from sin. Pain, death, separation, and fear.

What causes joy? Being in relationship with the author of light and life and love.

God’s joy is our strength, our fuel for living, our power for righteousness. Joy is part of the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians 5.

The advent of Jesus is powerful to give us real joy for living. Jesus addressed the very real hardships the disciples (and we!) would face. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-24)

Because of Jesus, no matter what sadness we face, we are fueled by indestructible joy.