stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

Lose-Lose Proposition

I like being right. I may like knowing that you know I’m right even more than I like being right. It’s hard to tell. That comes from pride, of course. It’s something I have to consciously push past in my relationship with God, with other people, in my job, etc. Having a predisposition to pride doesn’t excuse living pridefully any more than being predisposed to any other sin excuses it. We all have choices to make.

Because I am naturally prideful and like to be right, I used to find myself always ready to be in an argument where I could exercise being right. It didn’t matter if it was a major issue or not. I was ready to argue my case in any situation.

I would keep my eyes and ears out for foolish people to argue. For a while, this made me happy. It’s not like I won every argument, but I won my fair share, and each time stroked my ego. After a while, though, I got tired. It ceased to bring me joy. It only brought me aggravation.

The thing about arguing with fools is that, even if you win, you’ve still spent your time with openly foolish people. That’ll wear you down after a while. Not only will it wear you down, but it will also rub off on you. We tend to assimilate to what we are exposed to often. That’s why the Bible says that bad company corrupts good morals. When I was always looking to argue, it’s safe to say that I was also being a fool.

The Bible tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. That means we need to be prepared to share the Gospel and maybe even defend it at times. It doesn’t tell us to always have an answer for everything and be ready to argue with anyone who wants to argue.

I have found arguing with fools to be a lose-lose proposition. Proverbs supports this. If you don’t answer him he will think he has won, that you’re afraid of him, and he is smarter than you. He may even share that with other people. But if you do answer him, you may have to sink to his level, and other people will see that, too. There’s no way to win with an argumentative lifestyle. The only way to win when it comes to argumentative, foolish people is to make sure that you are primarily spending your time with other people.

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don’t get overrun

I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of making hasty or poor decisions “just this once.” Just this once turns into just a couple times, turns into days, weeks, and months of the same type of decision. Whether that is related to spending, food, or some other area I may slip, I have a long history of struggling with it. I’ve gotten a lot better with it, but how often I have to fight certain impulses lets me know that I’m not where I want to be yet. Maybe I never will “get there,” which is probably fine, because it’ll just give me more chances to learn and exercise self control.

I am not of the belief that you should never make a frivolous purchase just to treat yourself or family, nor do I believe one should never take a cheat meal. What I do believe in is planning and choosing self control over impulse. That looks different in different settings. For example, with dieting, I try to plan my cheat meals. I had something to look forward to, which helped me resist temptations along the way, and through resisting I gained a better ability to resist. With spending, I’ve adopted the habit of waiting at least a day. If I see something I really want, I don’t buy it the first day. Sometimes that costs me the ability to buy it, which I just chalk up to God’s not wanting me to have it. I was recently offered a really good deal on something I really did want for one of my kids, but they insisted that I had to decide that day. The offer was only available the first time it was offered. I explained my conviction, thanked him for the offer, and moved on with my day.

Self control is one of those areas of my life that God has truly convicted me, probably because it had been one of my greatest areas of struggle. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, which means if I’m walking in the Spirit, I will see it. But it’s also a matter of protecting oneself from harm. I’ve come into a lot of harm (mostly financial and health related) from a lack of self control. God doesn’t want me to say, “no,” to things to steal my joy. He wants me to say it, because it’s better, healthier, and full for me to avoid certain things. Self control is given by God, through the Holy Spirit, to protect us and keep us. It’s a big deal. Don’t let yourself get overrun by your impulses, leaving yourself exposed to or suffering some sort of harm.

routine but not a rut

I am a habitual person. Whatever I’m into, I’m really into it. I may not necessarily enjoy it, but I feel the need to do it, because it’s what I always do. Here are a few examples: I loved pop and energy drinks. I couldn’t start a day without one. I couldn’t eat pizza without one. I couldn’t drive long distances without one. Sometimes it had to do with being tired, other times with just wanting something sweet, and other times just because I never did certain things without one in hand. Drinking pop was as much a routine for me as a desire. One of my current routines is to exercise before I start my day. I don’t actually enjoy exercising, though. I don’t go home after the gym and tell Sarah about all the fun I had doing this lift or that lift. I find it boring and tedious. But, it’s what I do now, so I feel like I must do it. On days that I don’t exercise first thing, I feel like something is missing. Plus, I’m generally more tired. Exercise has become part of my routine, and without it, I feel my day was incomplete.

I have a lot of other routines in my life. I do certain things a certain way on a regular schedule. I think routines make a lot of people comfortable, but I know for sure that they make me comfortable. Sometimes my routines become ruts, though. I do something the same time, the same way, every day. My mind isn’t invested in it. I sometimes wonder if I followed my routine a couple hours after doing so, because I honestly don’t remember it. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, but other times it’s very important.

I do read my Bible every day, as a matter of routine, but sometimes it’s more of a rut. I don’t always get much out of it, because I don’t always put much into it. I don’t give it as much thought as I should, but I keep going, because at least I got it done. It’s mindless, though. I caught myself on this just yesterday. I read my Bible before leaving for the gym. Ninety minutes later, I got a notification reminding me to do my reading plan. I thought, “oh yeah, I still have to do that.” When I clicked on it, it was already done. I’d read it. I’d highlighted some stuff. I hadn’t given any of it a second thought, though. I hadn’t hidden any of it in my heart. My eyes passed over it, technically reading it, but nothing got into my mind.

I decided to change my routine a little. I still want Bible reading to be part of my every day schedule, but I don’t want to just read it and forget it. Instead of reading it while I’m getting ready in the morning, I’ve moved it to a different time, to a different place. I want to spend time with God, I want to hear Him. I want to have a regular routine, but I don’t want my relationship with Him to get stuck in a rut.

foolish or wise

I’ve been reading through Proverbs for the last couple of weeks, and something has struck me. I’ve noticed it before, but it really stands out this time. There is a pattern that runs throughout Proverbs. It will often tell you what a wise person would do in a given situation, immediately followed or preceded by what a fool would do in that exact situation. I’ve taken to asking myself after each comparison which sounds more like me. I’m sad to report that I’m not scoring 100% on the wise or righteous side of the aisle.

Here are just a few of the comparisons that have stuck out to me, either because I see foolishness in me, or because I am grateful to have seen a shift from foolishness to wisdom in some of the areas:

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:7-9

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

Proverbs 10:18-19

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 11:9, 12

With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered. Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

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These are just some examples that stood out to me over the last week. There’s so much more! I want to align my life to what God wants. I want to be best described by the things that are true of the Godly, righteous, wise man of Proverbs. I challenge you to read through Proverbs soon. Every time you see a comparison between the foolish and the wise, the Godly and the godless, etc., as yourself which one better describes you. Take it as a challenge to surrender that part of your life to God and begin growing. Don’t settle for a foolish life. A wise life is a full life.

Sarah and I were blessed to be able to attend a respite retreat last week. It was a five-day sabbatical provided by Broom Tree Ministries. It was a wonderful time, provided for us by the donors that support Broom Tree. Side note: you can go to their website and find out how to support them if you’re interested. They’re helping pastors and their spouses stay fresh for ministry, so they can stay in it for the long haul instead of burning out. Anyway, part of the deal is that we must agree to not work while we are there, which is harder than it sounds. It’s easy the first couple of days, but since I really like my job, and there were things that needed to be done, by the time I was caught up on rest, I was itching to work. I didn’t do it, though, because my word matters, and because rest is a spiritual practice.

Our schedule was pretty loose. We could go to breakfast if we wanted, or we could sleep in and grab cinnamon rolls whenever we woke up for the day. We ate lunch with just each other and went over some discussion questions provided for us. For dinner, we ate with a group of other pastors and spouses, along with a couple that was there to care for us and lead discussions within the group. There was no set plan between meals. We were encouraged to read, go for walks, go out on the lake, watch or listen to sermons, or just nap. Whatever we needed to rejuvenate our bodies, minds, and spirits. They didn’t care what we did specifically; they just required us to do read or watch something throughout the week.

I read my Bible a lot. I read a book about God by Tim Keller. I watched a sermon DVD by Louie Giglio. I took four naps, and I spent a lot of time in silence. I did pray for some specific things, but I also spent a lot to time listening for anything God wanted to say. I said, “God, please just speak to me about whatever it is you want me to hear from you,” every day, followed by extended times of just quieting my mind and listening. And God did speak. There were things He wanted to say to me, that I needed for my personal life and for my life at KCC, and I heard Him. He spoke to me about things I didn’t even know I needed to hear, and I’m glad He said them. I may not have heard so much if I hadn’t been in a place of rest, intentionally in times of silence.

I think we get so busy with things that truly do need to get done, plus things that we want to do, that we don’t take time to rest spiritually. God demonstrated rest at the completion of His creation. Jesus demonstrated rest throughout His life on earth, observing the Sabbath and even taking naps. He retreated to be alone, away from people, away from distraction, so He could really communicate with God the Father. I know I need that in my life as a pastor, but you need it, too. God’s call to rest wasn’t just for the priests and pastors; it was for all of His people. Rest is a spiritual practice when it is more than binge-watching TV and playing on your phone. When you rest, in silence, in the presence of God, your communication with Him will be so much better. Your ability to do what He has created you to do will be so much greater. Imagine if you weren’t always busy and sleep deprived. What would keep you from doing what God made you to do?

I was in Philadelphia last week with our youth group for a mission trip. As always, it was a great time. We’ll share a lot more on that in an upcoming service. I just want to share a small thing that happened. It’s small in content, but not in significance.

Every evening, we have church group devotions. It is by far my favorite part of each day on the trip. I get to hear everyone’s one big thing (favorite moment they’d like to share from their day), and then I get to lead our students and leaders in a devotion. It does put some pressure on me, since I’m busy all day but have to write a devotion at some point. God’s always been faithful to lead me, though. I had never missed one or even come close to not getting one done. I always end up with something to say, and it’s always applicable to what our group is experiencing.

I did come close to not getting one done this year. It was Friday night. I had a topic picked that I thought was what God wanted. But every time I tried to write it, nothing would happen. My mind couldn’t even grapple with it. We got to evening worship, which immediately preceded our church group devotions. Fortunately for me, there were a mix up, and there weren’t enough seats. I was left without one. I went to the lobby to just write. I still couldn’t get anywhere, though. I was frustrated. I lamented my lack of progress to Isaac, who was also left without a seat and had joined me in the hall. I don’t remember what he said back to me, but I do remember realizing a short time later that I hadn’t really prayed about it. I had a good idea. Three other people on the trip had mentioned the same topic to me. I assumed that was God affirming it. I never asked, though.

I stopped what I was doing to pray. I asked God to either open my mind to be able to write on that topic, or if I was supposed to be talking about something else, please tell me right away. I sat there for a moment, and I heard God. He said, “Psalm 23.” He said only two words. I immediately flipped to Psalm 23, read it, and started writing. I didn’t stop writing until it was done two pages later. No breaks, no struggles, and no distractions. It was one of the more profound moments on the trip for me, not because of any lesson I learned from it – which I did – but because God spoke to me. He didn’t say a lot. He didn’t say anything that revolutionized the way I live my life. That doesn’t matter to me, though. Just to have reaffirmed that God still speaks, and that He would deign to speak to me, was enough for me.

God does still speak. It won’t always be loud. It won’t always turn your world upside down. But it should always change you. There’s something special about a God that speaks to people that don’t even deserve to be in a relationship with Him in the first place. I hope you’re giving yourself time to listen.

You’ve probably noticed that we do not live in a very gracious society. A lot of people are leaning towards hating people just for having differences in ideological positions. Spouses have left each other, families have become estranged, and friends have become strangers over political differences. In the church, a lot of people take shots at each other for having different convictions and assume the worst intentions of fellow believers in disagreements. Why are we behaving this way? The best I can come up with is that people tend to view people that have different core beliefs as them as the enemy. They certainly don’t consider them friends and family. We can’t make that claim with the way we sometimes treat each other.

Now, let’s suppose that they really are our enemies. As an example, let’s imagine that the number one enemy of Christian Democrats is Christian Republicans, and visa versa. How should you treat them? How do you image God views your treatment of your enemies? The answer isn’t ambiguous. Jesus states the answer plainly.

Luke 6:27-28 (ESV): “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Sometimes we justify our mistreatment of others based on their actions. “Well, he started it!” It never worked for me growing up, and it’s not working for us with God now. He’s explicitly telling us to be good to those that mistreat you. Bless them, not curse them in return. Later in the same conversation, Jesus asks rhetorically what the big deal is if you love and treat well those that love you and treat you well. Seriously, what’s the big deal? Even the worst of the worst usually do that. He reiterates that we ought to love those that are terrible to us and to show mercy to those who are undeserving, just as God has done for us.

Jesus isn’t calling us to something He wasn’t going to do. Of course, we can point to Romans 5:8 to back that up, but there’s actually a great story in the Bible that demonstrates just how gracious Jesus was with His enemies. In John 13, Jesus is having His last supper with His disciples. Judas is there, just like the rest, only he’s not truly one of them. He is at that moment the enemy of Jesus, having already decided to betray Him. Jesus knew it, too. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t kick him out. He lets him stay and eat with the rest of them, and then He goes a step further.

John 13:2-5 (ESV): During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. He did the job of a servant. He did it for all of them, including Judas Iscariot. He knew Judas was getting ready to betray Him. He knew the pain that would bring Him. He was still gracious. He was still loving. He still served Judas and demonstrated tremendous kindness towards him. This is our example, the one we’re supposed to follow and be like. He’s showing us how to treat other people, including our enemies: love them, serve them, and be gracious towards them. I’m not there all the way yet, but that’s how I want to be. How are you doing? How gracious are you towards the undeserving, to the unnerving, and to your enemies?