20/20: Lesson #4: People Do Change (Though Often Slowly)

Have you ever felt like the change that was needed in your life was awfully slow in coming?

Me, too. But take heart: God is active and change is happening. That’s something I hold on to when I’m discouraged about the pace of change in my own life, or in the lives of others.

Today, I’m posting another lesson from my 20 years of full-time vocational ministry. (May 1 marked 20 years.) So far, we’ve got:

Lesson #3: Grace is the Operational Mode of Ministry

And now today, Lesson #4: People Do Change (Though Often Slowly).

I take great comfort in this fact. There are days when I have to choose to believe it, even when it seems like a leap of faith.

As I have looked back on my 20 years, I’m stunned by how much change I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of others. But in the moment, on that Tuesday afternoon or that Sunday night, it can feel like nothing’s happening.  SlowLife change can seem so painfully slow.  Seeing people take steps backward in their relationships, give into hurts, lose yet again another battle with anger or addiction, lash out in selfish pettiness–it can be so discouraging. Looking in the spiritual mirror can be such a slap in the face. Why am I still struggling with that? 

And yet, what I can say is this: people really do change. When given the grace and the time, when loved and challenged in community, when grace really is the way we ministerwhen we trust the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s life and story, we see real and lasting change happen over time.

Now, of course, not in every case. There are those who truly resist Jesus’ leadership in their lives. I get that. But on the whole, I’ve been more encouraged than discouraged, and it reminds me to take heart when I’m feeling like nothing’s happening, whether in my own life or in the lives of the people I’m loving. I often judge what’s happening based on a snapshot of a particular moment; God sees the panoramic, decades-long movie playing out, and he’s got a much bigger story in mind than you and I can imagine.

And this helps me. It gives me bigger perspective, more hope as continue to love and pray and serve others, as I continue to ask Jesus to lead in my life–God is at work and though it may seem slow, change is happening.
When you look back, what are some of the surprising changes you’ve seen in your own life?

 


Coming up next: Lesson #5: The Local Church is God’s Plan.

Do you have a blind spot? There’s a reason you might not be able to answer that.

We grow when we deal with our blind spots. And the only way we can deal with blind spots is by becoming aware of them, usually with someone else’s help.

200px-Warning_Sign_-_Blind_Spot.svgBut that’s a problem. Because they are blind-spots, we don’t see them (duh) and we don’t think they’re an issue. Which leaves us in a bind.

How can someone help us see what we can’t see?  And if they do point them out, will we even listen, or will we become defensive?

Think about an area of your life that’s pretty good. 

Your parenting. Your eating habits. Your attitude. Your work ethic. Whatever.

Then imagine someone suggesting you’ve got a massive blind spot, right there, in the precise area you’ve been feeling pretty good about.

  • You’re actually very sharp with your kids when you respond.
  • You graze all day and it’s not healthy.
  • You’re cynical and pessimistic.
  • Your last minute work is hurting the team.

Ouch. How do you respond?

  • Are you defensive, or open?
  • Do you deny the allegations, or lean in for more insight?
  • Are you quick to excuse your actions, or are you willing to look more closely into patterns you’ve missed?

Everything depends on what we do next. How we respond when a blind spot’s revealed makes or breaks our personal growth. When we are most tempted to brush past the blind spot, eager to conjure up our defenses and ignore the insight because “they just don’t understand my situation”, at that exact moment we can choose to say, “Tell me more about that. This is new to me.  I want to grow. What are you seeing in my life that is hindering my relationships/hurting my work/harming my influence/halting the progress God wants to make in my life.”  That kind of posture will lead to growth every timeHow we respond when a blind spot's revealed makes or breaks our personal growth.

Listening with openness doesn’t mean the person is correct in their assessment. They may point out something to you that you are already aware of and working on, or isn’t actually a problem. I get that. But–and this is so critical–be willing to grapple through the challenge with a posture of radical openness and rigorous self-reflection, rather than a reactive defensiveness and a resistant attitude.

When we do that, we grow. When we don’t, we won’t. 

So how can you take action? Here’s two ways to start.

  1. Ask a trusted friend to help you identify your blind spots. Let them to speak into your life and thank them for it (it’s hard to do!). You’ll be part of helping them do the same someday.
  2. Be open to grow–yes, in areas of weakness, but also in areas of strength and experience. Ironically, natural gifting and extended experience can create their own blind spots–laziness can creep in, assumptions can hinder further insight and growth, and your peers won’t challenge you because you still might be “better” than them. Posture yourself for growth, get mentors, push yourself to grow in areas you might be missing.

How have you addressed blind spots in your life?

What kind of attitudes have helped you grow?

I’d love to hear your experiences and insight. Make a comment, share your thoughts. Let’s grow together.

 

 

 

 

What are you missing? The #1 habit making the biggest difference in my life right now

Single habits have exponential effect.

Think about it. You start exercising regularly, and you become more discerning about your food choices; you might even find yourself getting better sleep and reading more Scripture. Somehow, one habit had exponential effect on multiple areas.  Charles Duhigg called these “keystone” habits, which include regular exercise, tracking your eating, regular family meals, and even making your bed in the morning.

For me, one keystone habit is making a huge difference: getting up early.

Some of you have doubts already. You starting to check out. I can hear you saying, “Oh, that’s great for you, but I’m not a morning person.”  Can I challenge you on that? You can be, starting with just a small step and getting up slightly earlier than you normally do. Michael Hyatt helped me see how anyone can become a morning person, and I’ve taken his advice to heart. I’ve got my alarm set for 4:55am each morning, and on most days, that’s when I’m getting up.

alarmsHey, I don’t bounce out of the bed like some people do. I drag myself to the coffee maker. The other morning, holding that terrible alarm in my hands, I almost reset it for another half-hour. But then, suddenly, through the pre-caff grogginess, I heard myself saying, “The battle is won or lost based on what I do, right now.” So I got up, and I was glad I did. Most mornings are great.

I’ve got to tell you: this one habit is having enormous effect. The benefits have been so evident that I’m excited to get up even as I’m going to bed at night (which I’ve been doing earlier, obviously).

How has rising early benefited me? In at least 5 ways. 

  1. Unhurried time for Scripture, prayer and spiritual reading. I’ve been reading through the Bible every year for years now, using the YouVersion App for the last few. This habit was already established, but now it never gets crammed in to another YouVersion_Banner__Official_2_part of my day because the morning got away on me. I’m able to read the Scripture and spend time praying, with no interruptions and no pressure. I sip my coffee, eat my breakfast, and read, both Scripture and other spiritual readings.
  2. Keeping a Journal. I’ve wanted to journal for years, but I wrote in fits and starts, with long periods with nothing at all. Whenever I went on retreats, I’d journal a lot, and I found it very helpful. And yet I just couldn’t integrate it into my regular life–until now. Getting up earlier has given me the unhurried space I needed to journal, often becoming an extension of my prayer time.
  3. Leadership Reading. As a leader, I’m committed to growing as a leader. Because “leaders are readers,” I always have a leadership book on the go. I’m a bit astonished what a difference my morning time has made–in the first two months of 2016, I read six leadership books! These readings are helping me grow as a leader, and that will have exponential effect on the rest of my life and ministry. One habit = exponential effect.
  4. Developing my writing. Well, here I am, in the wee hours of the morning, writing to you. Yes, blogging is part of this morning routine. I’ve wanted to write for years, but (you guessed it) never found the time to do it consistently. Guess what? I found it! The time was hiding away in those moments before I normally got up. Now I’m writing at least an hour a day, focusing mostly on this blog for now. This would not be happening if it were not for this one keystone habit of getting up early.
  5. Getting time alone. Even though I’m an extrovert who enjoys a lot of people time in a day, I need time alone. As I get older, I value my solo time even more. What I noticed is this: by getting up early, I’m get the alone time I need so that I’m more mentally ready, more relationally available, and more emotionally present to others when I am with them. This has been especially evident in my family life, as they emerge from the morning fog. Because I’ve already been up for a while, I’m ready for them. And it carries me through the rest of my day. I’ve had time with God and time by myself, so I’m not running on empty. My early morning alone time helps me give more to others.

This one habit is having exponential effect in my life. Could it do the same for you?

I’m not saying you do exactly what I do–not at all. But what do you wish you had more time for? What do you value that always seems be shoved out of your daily calendar? Give rising earlier a try and see what a difference it can make. My practical suggestion is this: get up 30 minutes earlier for 3 weeks. Be intentional with those 30 minutes; do something you value that never gets done. Do you need to sit quietly in the presence of God and pet the cat? Or start a short Bible reading plan? You might try journaling, exercise, poetry, or praying the Lord’s Prayer in a reflective way. I’m confident that you will benefit by simply carving out the time and seeing where it goes!

How have you found the morning helpful for you?

What other keystone habits are making a difference in your life?

 

 

 

Don’t give the devil more credit than he’s due

While the devil tries to destroy our lives, we often blame him for things we should be taking responsibility for.

The devil isn’t responsible for everything that goes wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong: I believe there’s a devil.  Not the horned dude in red tights or the diabolical joker from Far Side hell, but a personal, powerful being who has set himself against all that is good and God’s in the world, destroying and deceiving wherever and whomever he can.

That said, I think we sometimes give him way too much credit.

Wedding cake visual metaphor with figurine cake toppers
Royalty-Free StockPhoto (Rubberball)

A marriage starts to blow up, and the devil gets the blame for destroying it. Maybe . . . or maybe selfishness did that without any help from him.

Health problems surface, and somehow it’s an attack from the evil one. Possibly, or perhaps our bodies really are broken and waiting for resurrection?

division
Google images

Division sets into a local church, and it’s deemed a sign of spiritual oppression. It could be. But what if the division was created by poor leadership? Or hard hearts? I’m sure the devil’s cheering us on, but causing it? Maybe not.

 

A child is killed in an accident. Listen. The devil loves that stuff; he cheers on death because he’s deluded by it’s power. But he didn’t necessarily, or even likely, cause the tragedy. Accidents happen, forces collide, people fall asleep at the wheel, roads get slippery, mistakes are made, vehicles break down.  We live in a broken world, and in the midst of brokenness we long toward the time when all will finally be well, in the resurrection and new creation. But we aren’t there yet.

Next time you hear someone say “Satan’s working overtime in our family, in our church, in our town,” question it. Is that true? Or has the devil become an easy scapegoat, keeping us from actually confessing and repenting for ways we have contributed to the problem. (And by the way, the devil’s more than happy to take the blame if that keeps us from dealing with reality so we repent and change.)

So what should you do when you suspect this might be happening? Two things:

First, do pray against the work of the evil one. Jesus taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” or “from the evil one.”  We are in a war with the evil one, and we must be attentive and aware of his schemes. All that is true. As James 4:7 commands us, when we “submit ourselves to the Lord” and then “resist the devil”, he flees from us.

Lead us not, deliver usBut pray the whole prayer: before we ask for deliverance from evil, we ask that we not be lead into temptation, remember? And for the purposes of this post, I’d like to suggest that one of our temptations is to assume the devil’s handiwork when it well might be our own.

Then, secondly, ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight, so that you can know what is really going on. If it’s Satanic, then fight it appropriately. If it’s sin, confess it and change. If it’s the harsh reality of a broken and not yet redeemed world, then lean into God’s goodness and continue to trust his leadership through the difficulty. But let the Spirit guide you toward wisdom, so that we can live and respond from faith and not from delusion.

Does the devil attack us? Yes. “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe,” as Martin Luther wrote generations ago. But let’s not give him more credit than he’s due. We’ve got plenty of responsibility to take, and by doing so, we will see God’s goodness flow into broken situations, bringing healing and restoration where there had previously been only pain and denial.

Have you experienced situations where human responsibility was ignored because the devil was blamed?

You Can’t Really Get the Bible All By Yourself

We can’t go it alone. 

If we want to understand the Bible and obey its teaching, we need each other.

Why? Because the Bible is a “community book”, from start to finish, written in communities, for communities.

First, it was written in communities of living, active faith in God. Paul attributes writing roles to members of his ministry team, such as Timothy and Silas. I imagine Paul reading aloud to his team, discussing what he was burdened by, hammering through how to say it best, and praying together for good reception (especially for some of the more difficult letters). Luke, the primary author of the Luke-Acts volumes, interviewed people and collected stories, producing a dynamic narrative. Other works in Scripture show community involvement. And, of course, the Holy Spirit was involved every step of the way!

And, secondly, everything was written for particular communities, whether we’re hearing the great Hebrew prophets, the Gospel writers, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Little clusters of the faithful in Babylon, growing groups in Rome, persecuted Christians in Pergamum, all received God’s Word for their communities, as a community. Most early Christians only ever heard God’s Word spoken, Paul’s letters read aloud, Gospel stories discussed while gathered together. Due to illiteracy, many never would read it for themselves. Hearing God’s Word read aloud and then prayerfully discovering what it means and how we can obey as a community is how Christians engaged Scripture for most of Christian history.

PerovVG_PervHristianKievGRM
First Christians in Kiev by Vasily Perov (Wikipedia)

The advent of the printing press, the rise of literacy and the proliferation of writing is a tremendous gift. But one effect this gift has had on Bible reading is to privatize it, relegating Scripture to the silent, mental sphere of individuals. Many Christians, if they read their Bibles at all, do it in silence, alone, with no one else present. And that’s where it stays! For most of our brothers and sisters from the past, that would be a very strange way to engage God’s Word!

Scripture was given to inspire faithfulness in God’s people as a people; to honor that intent, we must engage God’s Word in community, hearing it out loud, taking it in live. Silent reading, personal study, private reflection are all important–don’t hear me wrong. But private practices will always fall short, even misleading us, if they are not sustained within a larger context of community reading, study, reflection and obedience.

What does this mean? It’s pretty simple, actually. Read and study the Bible with other people as a regular part of your life. Don’t accept as normal (silent, private reading) what is really, truly weird. When we read together, not only will we stay more engaged, but others will, too, and together we’ll be able to understand and obey the Bible in ways we’d never be able to alone.

God’s Word was given to us, for us, with an emphasis on the “us”. If there’s no “us”, even in the practice of listening and obeying, then we’ll miss out on much of what God intends us to receive.

How has reading Scripture aloud with others helped you understand the Bible more?

Can you think of a time when obeying God’s Word was only possible because you were receiving it as a community?

 

 

 

 

What are you listening to? My Fave 5 Podcasts

Podcasts are one of the ways I’m always learning.  They are free and I enjoy them while driving, working in my barn or walk the country. Here are five regularly updated podcasts that I never miss. Some are ministry specific, others with more broad appeal. All are valuable.

My Fave 5

  1. The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.  Carey Nieuwhof (pronounced “new-hoff”) is the lead pastor of Connexus Church, a North Point Ministries strategic partner. CN_Podcast_New_Logo_Midsize1He is an influential leader and blogger from Ontario, regularly supporting the Orange Tour.  I find Carey consistently helpful to me as I seek to pastor a church that reaches out to unchurched people. In his weekly podcast, Carey interviews the best of the best, including well-known folks like Andy Stanley and Jon Acuff as well as lesser known leaders doing kingdom work in terrific ways. Carey’s insights, whether on his blog, interviews or books, are challenging and clarifying for me.  (Check out out his newest book, Lasting Impact, here.) I never miss an episode.
  2. The UnSeminary Podcast. Rich Birch, a Canadian leading in a New Jersey church,Rich_Birch hosts this punchy, weekly podcast, all about “the stuff you wished they taught in seminary.” Rich focuses on practical ministry helps for leaders. He is generous, offering many free resources on his UnSeminary blog, as well as a more in-depth membership program. Interviewing ministry leaders across a variety of churches and ministries, Rich podcasts weekly and keeps it pretty short, usually between 20-30 minutes. The topics range from social media and discipleship to Christmas Eve services and fundraising. Valuable listening, every time.
  3. Under the Influence, with Terry O’Reilly, is the most enjoyable podcast I follow. A consummate story-teller, Terry draws together themes from the marketing and advertising world that have much broader cultural implications.  My boys and I love Under the Influence, and stories Terry’s shared are retold and related to other areas of our lives on a regular basis. You may think “I’m not that interested in marketing” but you owe it to yourself to listen to a few episodes anyway. I think you’ll change your mind after you’ve had a taste. Terry and his team have presented podcasts on “ambush marketing” featuring an athlete who used his contact lenses to promote a product, to “the internet of things”, looking at how Terry Onew technology is being used to track usage and data. You’ll hear amazing stories, from Bonny and Clyde to Baywatch to the secret of Mick Jagger’s successful voice and the surprising rise of button-fly Levi’s. Under the Influence is usually only produced for part of the year, with short episodes around 25 minutes long. If you haven’t listened to this podcast, you must try it out!
  4. Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. Andy Stanley is one of our top leaders, consistently and faithfully leading his 1ANDY_STANLEY_LEADERSHIP_PODCASTchurch to reach unchurched people for Jesus. I listen to his preaching for personal discipleship and to hone my preaching craft, but I listen to his short, monthly leadership podcasts to develop as a leader. Hosted by Lane Jones, Andy Stanley, along with occasional guests, focus on key leadership practices such as showing gratitude, leading through change and delegation.  Though his immediate context is the local church (and a big one!), they intentionally broaden the application of their podcast to any leadership context, from ministry to business. I’ve listened to every one, and I’ve learned and grown through the insights I’ve gained. If you are leader, you’ll grow from listening to them, too.
  5. Hardcore History, with Dan Carlin. hardcore-history-43-wrath-of-the-khans-by-dan-carlinWhat can I say about Carlin’s podcasts? Epic long, and deeply, fantastically worth it .(And I mean, EPIC long. Some are 3-4 hours, in a series of five. Yes, that’s right, 16-18 hours . . .).  Dan is such a gripping, passionate, insightful storyteller that the hours fly by. His series The Wrath of the Khans tramples you into the dirt of the Mongolian steppes. Blueprint for Armageddon takes you into the trenches of World War 1 and leaves you bleeding and shell-shocked. Dan takes months to produce a single episode, and it shows. Even though he constantly reminds his listeners that he’s “not a historian, just a fan” (by which I think he means that he does not have a PhD in history), Dan reads deeply and broadly, amassing sources and leading us through diverse opinions to offer a compelling narrative. Worth. Every. Epic. Minute.

There you go–my fav 5 podcasts. I do listen to audio books and I regularly ingest Scripture through audio, especially portions of the Bible through which I am currently preaching or teaching (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the book of Revelation over the last year). I do have other podcasts or preaching that I listen to regularly, but these five seem to always rise to the top of my playlist. If you are willing to try one, you might find they keep resurfacing for you as well.  I hope you do.

What podcasts do you enjoy listening to?