Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

This whole past week I've had blessings on the mind. Preparing for a sermon for the weekend after thanksgiving will do that to you I guess. Anyways, looking at all the blessings we have as Christians and as Americans I was overwhelmed with the question of how we look at the glass of our life - is it half full or half empty with God's blessing?

I mean we live in America, where we stuff ourselves with turkey and call it a holiday. We have stores who compete against each other to open just that little bit earlier so everyone can rush in to shop for black Friday on the day before (Gray Thursday?). We even have commercials of crazy middle-aged women who apparently had a bad experience last year shopping and are convinced they need to condition like someone competing in the Iron Man so they don't pull a muscle this year and miss out on all the deals (here's looking at you Target).

Don't get me wrong I'm all for getting good deals and making the most of our money as God's stewards. But seriously, in America we're conditioned to ask the wrong questions. Is my glass half empty or half full? I think if we as Christians see our glass as anything other than overflowing, we're looking at it from the wrong perspective. God has blessed us immeasurably with Jesus' sacrificial and saving love on the cross. Everything else is icing on the cake, and he wants us to share the cake with others. Our lives should be so filled with Christ's love that we're literally overflowing with it!

So, what's your glass look like this Thanksgiving?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Reason

Stephen R Covey has been credited with the saying "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." While not necessarily even religious in nature, I find this statement to be particularly true when describing one's Christian walk. Perhaps moreso at this time of year than any other, when the world seeks to distract us with doorbuster sales and lit-up houses and flying reindeer and sugarplum fairies and fat men in red suits.

How do YOU keep the main thing the main thing during this time of year? Do you have any special traditions that keep the focus on Christ during the Christmas season?

One thing I've done in years past, and that I'm doing again this year, is to listen to nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas. I listen to music like a fish drinks water. All day long at work, in the car, at home. A lot. All of that is going to be Christmas music for the next month.

Understand, also, that when I say "Christmas music", I'm talking about songs and carols that herald the birth of my savior Jesus Christ. I'm not talking about "holiday music" that sings of Rudolph or jingling bells or chestnuts roasting over an open fire. At best, those songs remind me of my more selfish years when I thought that Christmas was all about me and scoring as many great toys as possible. At worst, those songs actively irritate me, as they attempt, and succeed, at ripping the focus of the season away from The Main Thing.

On my morning commute today, I had tears in my eyes as I heartily sang "Joy To the World" in my car along with Third Day. It was wonderful. I look forward to another month's worth of celebrating Jesus' birth. How about you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Excerpt from the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving given by the Continental Congress in 1777:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance;...

Can you imagine Congress making such a statement today? 
Mentioning Jesus by name?  Shocking!

One of the reasons that I like holidays (a word derived from the phrase Holy Days) like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter is that it gives us an opportunity to stop, reflect and celebrate what God has done.  The Jewish people of the Old Testament certainly understood this principle.  
They took Holy Days very seriously and spent weeks at a time on some of them.  
Even weddings were extended celebrations.  
We are missing that in our modern culture.

Unfortunately, I think many of us don't stop.  We actually ramp up into higher gear.  Guests coming over, visiting relatives, dinners to cook, houses to clean, games to watch, presents to buy, etc.  The purpose of the holiday gets lost, stress increases, relationships strain.  Been there?  The only reflecting going on is about how to get home as quickly as possible.  Celebration?  Maybe a nap.

Take this as a reminder, which I think we need to hear every true Holy Day celebration, to pause from activity, truly reflect on the meaning behind the day, put aside differences (you can always be mad at Uncle Joe next week), put effort into bonding rather than repelling each other, and give God the gratitude and honor He is due.

Onward and upward.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Speed of Life

Refine your perception filter.
Slow the speed of life.
Reframe your daily experiences. 

These are the 3 things advocated by the writer of today's AoM blog.  
He claims the third one is the biggest problem for men today, but I think the second is.  At any rate, I'd like to explore that idea a little bit.  

Under the heading 'The deceleration of the speed of life', the writer says the following:

In a modern world, your life is allowed to move at whichever speed you choose for it. And the predominant setting for most men is “fast,” so you’re likely to default there without consciously deciding on it.  But once you’ve adjusted your perception filter to take in more of life, fast becomes incompatible with your new settings. Fast results in information overload and makes it nearly impossible to choose and analyze the most important micro life events that will allow you to make the progress you want.

When you drive through a city, how much detail do you notice? If you were to travel back through on a bicycle, what might you see then? And if you took the whole day and simply walked across it, what kind of relationship would you build with that place that would have been impossible from a car?

The goal now is to place the emphasis of your actions on “effective” over “efficient.” You must give yourself the opportunity to see the right pieces of life to be worked on. When you move slowly, this is easy to do. But if you move too quickly, it’s very difficult because the temptation to “just get things done” becomes more and more pervasive.

In practical terms, this may mean removing yourself from regular social habits and replacing them with solitude where you can reflect on your day. Or it might mean refusing an extra task at work so that you can give your full attention to the project that’s most important to your success.

When life slows down, improvement speeds up.

 The writer seems to be focusing on work tasks but I think this concept applies in all areas of life.  I definitely see the pace of life as being one of the most detrimental factors in a person's life these days.  We all experience it.  We're too busy.  And the things we're too busy for are usually the important things.  Time with our spouse, time with each of our kids, time with God and His Word, time for exercise, time to help someone out that needs a hand, time to rest, time to think, and on and on.  We let our pace of life control us instead of the reverse.  How many times have you heard someone say 'I know I need to do 'X', but....(insert flimsy excuse) and you think - but can't you see that 'X' is more important than most of what you DO spend your time doing?
Maybe we don't say that out loud because we know we're doing it too. 

Solitude is one of the spiritual disciplines.  One of the best and easiest to read books I've seen on spiritual disciplines is The Life You Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  In  there, he talks about the importance of Solitude.  Solitude is necessary, but it's a lost art/science these days.  It's unheard of.  And if you  took a day, or a weekend, to periodically achieve it - people would wonder what in the world is wrong with you.  So we keep up the relentless pace.  Another book related to this topic is Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson.  I haven't read this book, but I fully agree with his view that there is not only a lack of margins in our lives, but we are many times overextended beyond our limits.  

Do you find time to slow down and meditate/contemplate/rejuvenate on any kind of regular basis?  Are you paying a daily price for not doing it?

Related:  Time Matrix

Trouble Commenting Part 2

I'm still hearing stories of people having trouble commenting.  Until I move this to a new site, I recommend the following:  prior to attempting to make a comment, simply type a test word or phrase (like 'test') and see if it appears as a comment.  If it doesn't, you need to sign in a different way until you can get some kind of comment to appear.  You or I can always delete any 'test' comments.  Sometimes 'anonymous' works and sometimes it doesn't.  I think the most effective way to make comments is to have a gmail account.  It's easy to sign up for through the google home page.  Select Mail from the header and make up a user name and password.  You don't even have to ever use the account for email.  I'll be looking at moving to WordPress during the holidays.  Thanks for all your comments, we don't want to miss any of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Civil War

Do you have a split personality?  
Are you schizophrenic?  
One of the definitions of schizophrenia in is: a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements. 
Does that describe you?

Paul, in Romans 7 describes a heated battle going on right inside of himself.  He describes a dilemma in which he wants to do good but can't.  He doesn't want to do wrong, but does it anyway.  He says there is a power within him that is at war with his mind.  It's sin.  
We also call it the 'natural man' or the 'flesh'.
Paul's description of his struggle is so bleak that some have concluded he wrote these words prior to being converted.  I don't think so.
Have you noticed the same struggle going on within you?  Do you ever ask yourself, "why did I do that again"?  Can't I ever get that right?  God must be mad at me, I'm always failing.

How should we deal with this struggle?  Just keep trying to be good?  
Is there honor in the never-ending struggle?  If you didn't care, there would be no struggle.

Also, who is the real me?
Is the real me the 'spiritual me'?  Or is the real me the 'natural me'. Or are they both me?

I tend to think in terms of the real me being the natural me.  It's the part that wants it's own way, is selfish and prideful, dislikes the things of God.  That was me prior to salvation.  Is it still me?  
2 Corinthians 5:17 says I'm a new creature and the old has passed away.  
But I find old desires still present.  Am I a new creature or some kind of hybrid?  Old and new?

In Galatians 6, Paul is writing to Christians.  In vs. 8 he says: Whoever sows to please the flesh will reap destruction, whoever sows to please the Spirit will reap eternal life.  
As a saved Christian, can I sow destruction for myself?

Also related:  What is my standing before God as a Christian who sins?
I've heard it said, and repeated, that Christ died for ALL of my sins.  That includes past, present and future sins.  Others contend that while my salvation is secure, since I still sin I'm in need of forgiveness from those sins.  Ongoing sin is not forgiven.  What is this difference between sin that is forgiven and allows me entrance into heaven and sin that does affect me?  
And how does it affect me?

A lot to think about.  

I think a useful model may be one where you consider your 'natural man' as getting fed all the time from the world, culture and selfish actions.  He's always pretty strong.  The 'spiritual man' needs to be fed and exercised also.  We do this by reading the Word (eating, man does not live by bread alone), doing what it says or applying what we've learned (exercising), and by prayer.  It would be important to keep the spiritual man as healthy as possible in order to be able to effectively combat the enemy within - whatever you call him and whoever he is.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Insult To Injury

We are going through the book of Romans in class currently.  This past Sunday we began to cover chapter 14.  In that chapter, Paul discusses and contrasts 'stronger' and 'weaker' brothers, freedom and not abusing that freedom, offending and being offended.  
Very interesting stuff.  

Personally, I don't have any problem with the part where we are NOT to look down on others for how they believe they should live their life.  The difficult part for me is this idea of adjusting my life to what is acceptable to others.  It seems to me that it would be very fair to live and let live.  I won't judge you on matters that are 'disputable' or non-essential to being a christian, and you afford me the same respect.  
But that's not what it says.  
Paul states in vs. 15 that I'm not acting in love if I 'distress' my brother with what I'm doing.  He goes on to say that I shouldn't let that which I know is good be spoken about as evil.  Hmmm.  
Vs. 20 - 21 talk about not causing another to stumble or fall.  
So let me get this straight.
I can, by exercising my own legitimate freedom, cause another person to fall because they erroneously believe that what I'm doing is wrong?  Maybe they see me doing what they consider wrong, and are influenced to do the same, which results in their conscience convicting them.  I don't even like to use the word 'conviction' in this context.  I think 'guilt' would be more accurate, and inappropriate guilt at that.  (We can discuss later whether feelings of guilt are ever good)  However, vs. 23 warns that if you have doubts about what you are doing, and go ahead and do it, you're sinning. 

A point was raised that we always, or often, think of ourselves as the 'stronger' brother having to put up with that poor weakling brother.  So maybe I'm just plain wrong, and the one I consider 'weak' is the right one?  Yet, in the context of Romans 14, the stronger brother is the one who doesn't look down on, or condemn, his brother for what he does in these matters.  
By definition, the weaker brother is the one who is offended.

Another point was made that the 'stronger' brother would be the one who gives preference to the one who insists that his way is right.  That seems legit.

I'm no expert on this matter, and I don't have a tidy summary/conclusion.
I'm asking questions.
I hope I haven't offended anyone.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Off To The Races

Is racism alive and well in America in the 21st century?  I think most people would say yes.  Obviously it's not doing as well as it was in the mid-20th century and before.  There are many that would point to a black president as the end of widespread racism in America.  And I do think there's some validity to that point.  But there are still underlying currents of it that show themselves every now and then - in the news, at work, with your friends or acquaintances.

Maybe in our very selves.  

Are you a racist?  At least a little bit?  I think it's possible that racism of some degree is as inescapable as cliques and social hierarchies.  If we dig down deep, do we find that there is a natural aversion to anything that is 'other' or different than our selves.  And if so, then it is perpetuated on both sides.  

I wrote a post recently entitled Politically Correct and out of that came comments regarding the 'PC-ness' of using the term 'African-american' instead of 'black'. It's a sensitive subject - on both sides.  Why does it seem that these topics are somewhat 'taboo' in 'mixed' company?  How do we make progress on this important issue?  I think one way is by having open communication, which is what I'm trying to do here.  The problem is, as I mentioned on the PC post, is that I don't think there are any black readers.  So can we truly have a meaningful dialogue with only one race represented?  I invited a black person, whom I've had these types of discussions with in the past, to view and comment on the PC post.  If they viewed it, they didn't comment.  So, how do we do it?  

A problem with racism is that it lumps people into groups.  It takes the individual out of the picture.  If I have predetermined stereotypes about a race, those will reflect onto the individual and 'color' my attitude and actions.  I hate it when someone tries to tell me about how bad a certain person is before I meet them.  The majority of the time I find that I don't have any problems with that individual, as long as I went in with a clean slate and interacted with that person as though I didn't expect there to be an issue.  It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I'm sure that when we enter in to any kind of relationship with someone expecting there to be problems, that's what we'll get.  The other person will pick up on it and begin thinking the exact same kind of negative thoughts about you.  They will then interact with you just like you 'knew' they were going to do.  A recipe for disaster.

What about the issue of profiling?  If Muslims are the main perpetrators of terror, shouldn't the police pay special attention to those 'types' of people?  Is that racist?  I know doctors who have been detained because of their nationality or name.  Is that fair?  According to Wikipedia, 70% of the prison population is non-white.  Does that mean whites are better people, or that the system is biased, or that social and cultural elements have non-whites at a disadvantage?  

The answer you get probably depends on who you ask, and their own personal bias.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Age Discriminations

In a popular Brad Paisley song called I'm Still a Guy, Brad sings, 'I don't highlight my hair, I've still got a pair.  Yeah honey, I'm still a guy'.  Which led me to think about (now that I'm approaching 50 in the next few - very few - years) the difference between highlighting and hair coloring.  One is strictly an attempt at beautification, the other is an attempt at defying age.  
A small difference maybe.  

Obviously many guys feel the compulsion to keep that virile look going by turning their gray hair to dark via one of the popular men's hair products such as Grecian Formula.  It may be partially pride, it may be partially effective marketing strategy, it may be that their wife wants them to.  

I would wager that those of us who are going gray would say that we don't care as much about the color as the presence of hair.  Especially when you can rock the gray like ol' Gandalf here.  Of course, many times going gray and balding go hand-in-hand.  Same type of problem.  Age related.  Cosmetic and superficial really.  The average U.S. consumer spent $616 on personal beauty care in 2008, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  If there was even 100 million 'consumers', that would come to over 60 billion dollars.  I know that 'beauty care' covers a lot more than hair coloring, but by comparison, less than 2 billion was spent on all types of cancer research that same year (according to the National Cancer Institute).  Gotta have priorities I guess.  

Going gray can be a distinguished look.  It's also probably the single most visible sign of age.  You can be young and fat, but you're not too likely to be young and gray.  
Proverbs 16:31 says:  Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.
There's also a Greek proverb that goes, 'Gray hair is a sign of age, not wisdom'.